Verner's Pride eBook

Verner's Pride by Ellen Wood (author)

The following sections of this BookRags Literature Study Guide is offprint from Gale's For Students Series: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Works: Introduction, Author Biography, Plot Summary, Characters, Themes, Style, Historical Context, Critical Overview, Criticism and Critical Essays, Media Adaptations, Topics for Further Study, Compare & Contrast, What Do I Read Next?, For Further Study, and Sources.

(c)1998-2002; (c)2002 by Gale. Gale is an imprint of The Gale Group, Inc., a division of Thomson Learning, Inc. Gale and Design and Thomson Learning are trademarks used herein under license.

The following sections, if they exist, are offprint from Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: "Social Concerns", "Thematic Overview", "Techniques", "Literary Precedents", "Key Questions", "Related Titles", "Adaptations", "Related Web Sites". (c)1994-2005, by Walton Beacham.

The following sections, if they exist, are offprint from Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults: "About the Author", "Overview", "Setting", "Literary Qualities", "Social Sensitivity", "Topics for Discussion", "Ideas for Reports and Papers". (c)1994-2005, by Walton Beacham.

All other sections in this Literature Study Guide are owned and copyrighted by BookRags, Inc.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section Page

Start of eBook1
CHAPTER I.1
CHAPTER II.10
CHAPTER III.15
CHAPTER IV.20
CHAPTER V.22
CHAPTER VI.30
CHAPTER VII.36
CHAPTER VIII.41
CHAPTER IX.46
CHAPTER X.49
CHAPTER XI.53
CHAPTER XII.59
CHAPTER XIII.67
CHAPTER XIV.73
CHAPTER XV.74
CHAPTER XVI.80
CHAPTER XVII.83
CHAPTER XVIII.88
CHAPTER XIX.91
CHAPTER XX.96
CHAPTER XXI.98
CHAPTER XXII.103
CHAPTER XXIII.111
CHAPTER XXIV.117
CHAPTER XXV.120
CHAPTER XXVI.125
CHAPTER XXVII.130
CHAPTER XXVIII.138
CHAPTER XXIX.141
CHAPTER XXX.144
CHAPTER XXXI.151
CHAPTER XXXII.155
CHAPTER XXXIII.157
CHAPTER XXXIV.162
CHAPTER XXXV.166
CHAPTER XXXVI.171
CHAPTER XXXVII.179
CHAPTER XXXVIII.183
CHAPTER XXXIX.186
CHAPTER XL.194
CHAPTER XLI.201
CHAPTER XLII.208
CHAPTER XLIII.216
CHAPTER XLIV.222
CHAPTER XLV.227
CHAPTER XLVI.231
CHAPTER XLVII.238
CHAPTER XLVIII.244
CHAPTER XLIX.246
CHAPTER L.253
CHAPTER LI.257
CHAPTER LII.262
CHAPTER LIII.269
CHAPTER LIV.277
CHAPTER LV.284
CHAPTER LVI.288
CHAPTER LVII.292
CHAPTER LVIII.296
CHAPTER LIX.300
CHAPTER LX.307
CHAPTER LXI.313
CHAPTER LXII.317
CHAPTER LXIII.322
CHAPTER LXIV.327
CHAPTER LXV.330
CHAPTER LXVI.335
CHAPTER LXVII.337
CHAPTER LXVIII.344
CHAPTER LXIX.348
CHAPTER LXX.353
CHAPTER LXXI.359
CHAPTER LXXII.362
CHAPTER LXXIII.368
CHAPTER LXXIV.371
CHAPTER LXXV.378
CHAPTER LXXVI.383
CHAPTER LXXVII.390
CHAPTER LXXVIII.394
CHAPTER LXXIX.398
CHAPTER LXXX.401
CHAPTER LXXXI.407
CHAPTER LXXXII.413
CHAPTER LXXXIII.418
CHAPTER LXXXIV.421
CHAPTER LXXXV.427
CHAPTER LXXXVI.432
CHAPTER LXXXVII.436
CHAPTER LXXXVIII.442
CHAPTER LXXXIX.449
CHAPTER XC.456
CHAPTER XCI.462
CHAPTER XCII.468
CHAPTER XCIII.471
CHAPTER XCIV.477
CHAPTER XCV.480
COLLINS’ CLEAR-TYPE PRESS, LONDON AND GLASGOW.488

Page 1

CHAPTER I.

Rachel frost.

The slanting rays of the afternoon sun, drawing towards the horizon, fell on a fair scene of country life; flickering through the young foliage of the oak and lime trees, touching the budding hedges, resting on the growing grass, all so lovely in their early green, and lighting up with flashes of yellow fire the windows of the fine mansion, that, rising on a gentle eminence, looked down on that fair scene as if it were its master, and could boast the ownership of those broad lands, of those gleaming trees.

Not that the house possessed much attraction for those whose taste savoured of the antique.  No time-worn turrets were there, or angular gables, or crooked eaves, or mullioned Gothic casements, so chary of glass that modern eyes can scarcely see in or out; neither was the edifice constructed of gray stone, or of bricks gone black and green with age.  It was a handsome, well-built white mansion, giving the promise of desirable rooms inside, whose chimneys did not smoke or their windows rattle, and where there was sufficient space to turn in.  The lower windows opened on a gravelled terrace, which ran along the front of the house, a flight of steps descending from it in its midst.  Gently sloping lawns extended from the terrace, on either side the steps and the broad walks which branched from them; on which lawns shone gay parterres of flowers already scenting the air, and giving promise of the advancing summer.  Beyond, were covered walks, affording a shelter from the sultry noontide sun; shrubberies and labyrinths of many turnings and windings, so suggestive of secret meetings, were secret meetings desirable; groves of scented shrubs exhaling their perfume; cascades and rippling fountains; mossy dells, concealing the sweet primrose, the sweeter violet; and verdant, sunny spots open to the country round, to the charming distant scenery.  These open spots had their benches, where you might sit and feast the eyes through the live-long summer day.

It was not summer yet—­scarcely spring—­and the sun, I say, was drawing to its setting, lighting up the large clear panes of the windows as with burnished gold.  The house, the ornamental grounds, the estate around, all belonged to Mr. Verner.  It had come to him by bequest, not by entailed inheritance.  Busybodies were fond of saying that it never ought to have been his; that, if the strict law of right and justice had been observed, it would have gone to his elder brother; or, rather, to that elder brother’s son.  Old Mr. Verner, the father of these two brothers, had been a modest country gentleman, until one morning when he awoke to the news that valuable mines had been discovered on his land.  The mines brought him in gold, and in his later years he purchased this estate, pulled down the house that was upon it—­a high, narrow, old thing, looking like a crazy tower or a capacious belfry—­and had erected this one, calling it “Verner’s Pride.”

Page 2

An appropriate name.  For if ever poor human man was proud of a house he has built, old Mr. Verner was proud of that—­proud to folly.  He laid out money on it in plenty; he made the grounds belonging to it beautiful and seductive as a fabled scene from fairyland; and he wound up by leaving it to the younger of his two sons.

These two sons constituted all his family.  The elder of them had gone into the army early, and left for India; the younger had remained always with his father, the helper of his money-making, the sharer of the planning out and building of Verner’s Pride, the joint resident there after it was built.  The elder son—­Captain Verner then—­paid one visit only to England, during which visit he married, and took his wife out with him when he went back.  These long-continued separations, however much we may feel inclined to gloss over the fact, do play strange havoc with home affections, wearing them away inch by inch.

The years went on and on.  Captain Verner became Colonel Sir Lionel Verner, and a boy of his had been sent home in due course, and was at Eton.  Old Mr. Verner grew near to death.  News went out to India that his days were numbered, and Sir Lionel Verner was instructed to get leave of absence, if possible, and start for home without a day’s loss, if he would see his father alive.  “If possible,” you observe, they put to the request; for the Sikhs were at that time giving trouble in our Indian possessions, and Colonel Verner was one of the experienced officers least likely to be spared.

But there is a mandate that must be obeyed whenever it comes—­grim, imperative death.  At the very hour when Mr. Verner was summoning his son to his death-bed, at the precise time that military authority in India would have said, if asked, that Colonel Sir Lionel Verner could not be spared, death had marked out that brave officer for his own especial prey.  He fell in one of the skirmishes that took place near Moultan, and the two letters—­one going to Europe with tidings of his death, the other going to India with news of his father’s illness—­crossed each other on the route.

“Steevy,” said old Mr. Verner to his younger son, after giving a passing lament to Sir Lionel, “I shall leave Verner’s Pride to you.”

“Ought it not to go to the lad at Eton, father?” was the reply of Stephen Verner.

“What’s the lad at Eton to me?” cried the old man.  “I’d not have left it away from Lionel, as he stood first, but it has always seemed to me that you had the most right to it; that to leave it away from you savoured of injustice.  You were at its building, Steevy; it has been your home as much as it has been mine; and I’ll never turn you from it for a stranger, let him be whose child he may.  No, no!  Verner’s Pride shall be yours.  But, look you, Stephen! you have no children; bring up young Lionel as your heir, and let it descend to him after you.”

And that is how Stephen Verner had inherited Verner’s Pride.  Neighbouring gossipers, ever fonder of laying down the law for other people’s business than of minding their own, protested against it among themselves as a piece of injustice.  Had they cause?  Many very just-minded persons would consider that Stephen Verner possessed more fair claim to it than the boy at Eton.

Page 3

I will tell you of one who did not consider so.  And that was the widow of Sir Lionel Verner.  When she arrived from India with her other two children, a son and daughter, she found old Mr. Verner dead, and Stephen the inheritor.  Deeply annoyed and disappointed, Lady Verner deemed that a crying wrong had been perpetrated upon her and hers.  But she had no power to undo it.

Stephen Verner had strictly fulfilled his father’s injunctions touching young Lionel.  He brought up the boy as his heir.  During his educational days at Eton and at college, Verner’s Pride was his holiday home, and he subsequently took up his permanent residence at it.  Stephen Verner, though long married, had no children.  One daughter had been born to him years ago, but had died at three or four years old.  His wife had died a very short while subsequent to the death of his father.  He afterwards married again, a widow lady of the name of Massingbird, who had two nearly grown-up sons.  She had brought her sons home with her to Verner’s Pride, and they had made it their home since.

Mr. Verner kept it no secret that his nephew Lionel was to be his heir; and, as such, Lionel was universally regarded on the estate.  “Always provided that you merit it,” Mr. Verner would say to Lionel in private; and so he had said to him from the very first.  “Be what you ought to be—­what I fondly believe my brother Lionel was:  a man of goodness, of honour, of Christian integrity; a gentleman in the highest acceptation of the term—­and Verner’s Pride shall undoubtedly be yours.  But if I find you forget your fair conduct, and forfeit the esteem of good men, so surely will I leave it away from you.”

And that is the introduction.  And now we must go back to the golden light of that spring evening.

Ascending the broad flight of steps and crossing the terrace, the house door is entered.  A spacious hall, paved with delicately-grained marble, its windows mellowed by the soft tints of stained glass, whose pervading hues are of rose and violet, gives entrance to reception rooms on either side.  Those on the right hand are mostly reserved for state occasions; those on the left are dedicated to common use.  All these rooms are just now empty of living occupants, save one.  That one is a small room on the right, behind the two grand drawing-rooms, and it looks out on the side of the house towards the south.  It is called “Mr. Verner’s study.”  And there sits Mr. Verner himself in it, leaning back in his chair and reading.  A large fire burns in the grate, and he is close to it:  he is always chilly.

Ay, always chilly.  For Mr. Verner’s last illness—­at least, what will in all probability prove his last, his ending—­has already laid hold of him.  One generation passes away after another.  It seems but the other day that a last illness seized upon his father, and now it is his turn:  but several years have elapsed since then.  Mr. Verner is not sixty, and he thinks that age is young

Page 4

for the disorder that has fastened on him.  It is no hurried disorder; he may live for years yet; but the end, when it does come, will be tolerably sudden:  and that he knows.  It is water on the chest.  He is a little man with light eyes; very much like what his father was before him:  but not in the least like his late brother Sir Lionel, who was a very fine and handsome man.  He has a mild, pleasing countenance:  but there arises a slight scowl to his brow as he turns hastily round at a noisy interruption.

Some one had burst into the room—­forgetting, probably, that it was the quiet room of an invalid.  A tall, dark young man, with broad shoulders and a somewhat peculiar stoop in them.  His hair was black, his complexion sallow; but his features were good.  He might have been called a handsome man, but for a strange, ugly mark upon his cheek.  A very strange-looking mark indeed, quite as large as a pigeon’s egg, with what looked like radii shooting from it on all sides.  Some of the villagers, talking familiarly among themselves, would call it a hedgehog, some would call it a “porkypine”; but it resembled a star as much as anything.  That is, if you can imagine a black star.  The mark was black as jet; and his pale cheek, and the fact of his possessing no whiskers, made it all the more conspicuous.  He was born with the mark; and his mother used to say—­But that is of no consequence to us.  It was Frederick Massingbird, the present Mrs. Verner’s younger son.

“Roy has come up, sir,” said he, addressing Mr. Verner.  “He says the Dawsons have turned obstinate and won’t go out.  They have barricaded the door, and protest that they’ll stay, in spite of him.  He wishes to know if he shall use force.”

“No,” said Mr. Verner.  “I don’t like harsh measures, and I will not have such attempted.  Roy knows that.”

“Well, sir, he waits your orders.  He says there’s half the village collected round Dawson’s door.  The place is in a regular commotion.”

Mr. Verner looked vexed.  Of late years he had declined active management on his estate; and, since he grew ill, he particularly disliked being disturbed with details.

“Where’s Lionel?” he asked in a peevish tone.

“I saw Lionel ride out an hour ago.  I don’t know where he is gone.”

“Tell Roy to let the affair rest until to-morrow, when Lionel will see about it.  And, Frederick, I wish you would remember that a little noise shakes me:  try to come in more quietly.  You burst in as if my nerves were as strong as your own.”

Mr. Verner turned to his fire again with an air of relief, glad to have got rid of the trouble in some way, and Frederick Massingbird proceeded to what was called the steward’s room, where Roy waited.  This Roy, a hard-looking man with a face very much seamed with the smallpox, was working bailiff to Mr. Verner.  Until within a few years he had been but a labourer on the estate.  He was not liked among the poor tenants, and was generally honoured with the appellation “Old Grips,” or “Grip Roy.”

Page 5

“Roy,” said Frederick Massingbird, “Mr. Verner says it is to be left until to-morrow morning.  Mr. Lionel will see about it then.  He is out at present.”

“And let the mob have it all their own way for to-night?” returned Roy angrily.  “They be in a state of mutiny, they be; a-saying everything as they can lay their tongues to.”

“Let them say it,” responded Frederick Massingbird.  “Leave them alone, and they’ll disperse quietly enough.  I shall not go in to Mr. Verner again, Roy.  I caught it now for disturbing him.  You must let it rest until you can see Mr. Lionel.”

The bailiff went off, growling.  He would have liked to receive carte-blanche for dealing with the mob—­as he was pleased to term them—­between whom and himself there was no love lost.  As he was crossing a paved yard at the back of the house, some one came hastily out of the laundry in the detached premises to the side, and crossed his path.

A very beautiful girl.  Her features were delicate, her complexion was fair as alabaster, and a bright colour mantled in her cheeks.  But for the modest cap upon her head, a stranger might have been puzzled to guess at her condition in life.  She looked gentle and refined as any lady, and her manners and speech would not have destroyed the illusion.  She may be called a protegee of the house, as will be explained presently; but she acted as maid to Mrs. Verner.  The bright colour deepened to a glowing one when she saw the bailiff.

He put out his hand and stopped her.  “Well, Rachel, how are you?”

“Quite well, thank you,” she answered, endeavouring to pass on.  But he would not suffer it.

“I say, I want to come to the bottom of this business between you and Luke,” he said, lowering his voice.  “What’s the rights of it?”

“Between me and Luke?” she repeated, turning upon the bailiff an eye that had some scorn in it, and stopping now of her own accord.  “There is no business whatever between me and Luke.  There never has been.  What do you mean?”

“Chut!” cried the bailiff.  “Don’t I know that he has followed your steps everywhere like a shadder; that he has been ready to kiss the very ground you trod on?  And right mad I have been with him for it.  You can’t deny that he has been after you, wanting you to be his wife.”

“I do not wish to deny it,” she replied.  “You and the whole world are quite welcome to know all that has passed between me and Luke.  He asked to be allowed to come here to see me—­to ‘court’ me, he phrased it—­which I distinctly declined.  Then he took to following me about.  He did not molest me, he was not rude—­I do not wish to make it out worse than it was—­but it is not pleasant, Mr. Roy, to be followed whenever you may take a walk.  Especially by one you dislike.”

“What is there to dislike in Luke?” demanded the bailiff.

“Perhaps I ought to have said by one you do not like,” she resumed.  “To like Luke, in the way he wished, was impossible for me, and I told him so from the first.  When I found that he dodged my steps, I spoke to him again, and threatened that I should acquaint Mr. Verner.  I told him, once for all, that I could not like him, that I never would have him; and since then he has kept his distance.  That is all that has ever passed between me and Luke.”

Page 6

“Well, your hard-heartedness has done for him, Rachel Frost.  It has drove him away from his native home, and sent him, a exile, to rough it in foreign lands.  You may fix upon one as won’t do for you and be your slave as Luke would.  He could have kept you well.”

“I heard he had gone to London,” she remarked.

“London!” returned the bailiff slightingly.  “That’s only the first halt on the journey.  And you have drove him to it!”

“I can’t help it,” she replied, turning to the house.  “I had no natural liking for him, and I could not force it.  I don’t believe he has gone away for that trifling reason, Mr. Roy.  If he has, he must be very foolish.”

“Yes, he is foolish,” muttered the bailiff to himself, as he strode away.  “He’s a idiot, that’s what he is! and so be all men that loses their wits a-sighing after a girl.  Vain, deceitful, fickle creatures, the girls be when they’re young; but once let them get a hold on you, your ring on their finger, and they turn into vixenish, snarling women!  Luke’s a sight best off without her.”

Rachel Frost proceeded indoors.  The door of the steward’s room stood open, and she turned into it, fancying it was empty.  Down on a chair sat she, a marked change coming over her air and manner.  Her bright colour had faded, her hands hung down listless; and there was an expression on her face of care, of perplexity.  Suddenly she lifted her hands and struck her temples, with a gesture that looked very like despair.

“What ails you, Rachel?”

The question came from Frederick Massingbird, who had been standing at the window behind the high desk, unobserved by Rachel.  Violently startled, she sprang up from her seat, her face a glowing crimson, muttering some disjointed words, to the effect that she did not know anybody was there.

“What were you and Roy discussing so eagerly in the yard?” continued Frederick Massingbird.  But the words had scarcely escaped his lips, when the housekeeper, Mrs. Tynn, entered the room.  She had a mottled face and mottled arms, her sleeves just now being turned up to the elbow.

“It was nothing particular, Mr. Frederick,” replied Rachel.

“Roy is gone, is he not?” he continued to Rachel.

“Yes, sir.”

“Rachel,” interposed the housekeeper, “are those things not ready yet, in the laundry?”

“Not quite.  In a quarter of an hour, they say.”

The housekeeper, with a word of impatience at the laundry’s delay, went out and crossed the yard towards it.  Frederick Massingbird turned again to Rachel.

“Roy seemed to be grumbling at you.”

“He accused me of being the cause of his son’s going away.  He thinks I ought to have noticed him.”

Frederick Massingbird made no reply.  He raised his finger and gently rubbed it round and round the mark upon his cheek:  a habit he had acquired when a child, and they could not entirely break him of it.  He was seven-and-twenty years of age now, but he was sure to begin rubbing that mark unconsciously, if in deep thought.  Rachel resumed, her tone a covert one, as if the subject on which she was about to speak might not be breathed, even to the walls.

Page 7

“Roy hinted that his son was going to foreign lands.  I did not choose to let him see that I knew anything, so remarked that I had heard he was gone to London.  ‘London!’ he answered; ’that was only the first halting-place on the journey!’”

“Did he give any hint about John?”

“Not a word,” replied Rachel.  “He would not be likely to do that.”

“No.  Roy can keep counsel, whatever other virtues he may run short of.  Suppose you had joined your fortunes to sighing Luke’s, Rachel, and gone out with him to grow rich together?” added Frederick Massingbird, in a tone which could be taken for either jest or earnest.

She evidently took it as the latter, and it appeared to call up an angry spirit.  She was vexed almost to tears.  Frederick Massingbird detected it.

“Silly Rachel!” he said, with a smile.  “Do you suppose I should really counsel your throwing yourself away upon Luke Roy?—­Rachel,” he continued, as the housekeeper again made her appearance, “you must bring up the things as soon as they are ready.  My brother is waiting for them.”

“I’ll bring them up, sir,” replied Rachel.

Frederick Massingbird passed through the passages to the hall, and then proceeded upstairs to the bedroom occupied by his brother.  A sufficiently spacious room for any ordinary purpose, but it did not look half large enough now for the litter that was in it.  Wardrobes and drawers were standing open, their contents half out, half in; chairs, tables, bed, were strewed; and boxes and portmanteaus were gaping open on the floor.  John Massingbird, the elder brother, was stowing away some of this litter into the boxes; not all sixes and sevens, as it looked lying there, but compactly and artistically.  John Massingbird possessed a ready hand at packing and arranging; and therefore he preferred doing it himself to deputing it to others.  He was one year older than his brother, and there was a great likeness between them in figure and in feature.  Not in expression:  in that, they were widely different.  They were about the same height, and there was the same stoop observable in the shoulders; the features also were similar in cast, and sallow in hue; the same the black eyes and hair.  John had large whiskers, otherwise the likeness would have been more striking; and his face was not disfigured by the strange black mark.  He was the better looking of the two; his face wore an easy, good-natured, free expression; while Frederick’s was cold and reserved.  Many people called John Massingbird a handsome man.  In character they were quite opposite.  John was a harum-scarum chap, up to every scrape; Fred was cautious and steady as Old Time.

Page 8

Seated in the only free chair in the room—­free from litter—­was a tall, stout lady.  But that she had so much crimson about her, she would have borne a remarkable resemblance to those two young men, her sons.  She wore a silk dress, gold in one light, green in another, with broad crimson stripes running across it; her cap was of white lace garnished with crimson ribbons, and her cheeks and nose were crimson to match.  As if this were not enough, she wore crimson streamers at her wrists, and a crimson bow on the front of her gown.  Had you been outside, you might have seen that the burnished gold on the window-panes had turned to crimson, for the setting sun had changed its hue:  but the panes could not look more brightly, deeply crimson, than did Mrs. Verner.  It seemed as if you might light a match at her face.  In that particular, there was a contrast between her and the perfectly pale, sallow faces of her sons; otherwise the resemblance was great.

“Fred,” said Mrs. Verner, “I wish you would see what they are at with the shirts and things.  I sent Rachel after them, but she does not come back, and then I sent Mary Tynn, and she does not come.  Here’s John as impatient as he can be.”

She spoke in a slow, somewhat indifferent tone, as if she did not care to put herself out of the way about it.  Indeed it was not Mrs. Verner’s custom to put herself out of the way for anything.  She liked to eat, drink, and sleep in undisturbed peace; and she generally did so.

“John’s impatient because he wants to get it over,” spoke up that gentleman himself in a merry voice.  “Fifty thousand things I have to do, between now and to-morrow night.  If they don’t bring the clothes soon, I shall close the boxes without them, and leave them a legacy for Fred.”

“You have only yourself to thank, John,” said his mother.  “You never gave the things out until after breakfast this morning, and then required them to be done by the afternoon.  Such nonsense, to say they had grown yellow in the drawers!  They’ll be yellower by the time you get there.  It is just like you! driving off everything till the last moment.  You have known you were going for some days past.”

John was stamping upon a box to get down the lid, and did not attend to the reproach.  “See if it will lock, Fred, will you?” said he.

Frederick Massingbird stooped and essayed to turn the key.  And just then Mrs. Tynn entered with a tray of clean linen, which she set down.  Rachel followed, having a contrivance in her hand, made of silk, for the holding of needles, threads, and pins, all in one.

She looked positively beautiful as she held it out before Mrs. Verner.  The evening rays fell upon her exquisite face, with its soft, dark eyes and its changing colour; they fell upon her silk dress, a relic of Mrs. Verner’s—­but it had no crimson stripes across it; upon her lace collar, upon the little edge of lace at her wrists.  Nature had certainly intended Rachel for a lady, with her graceful form, her charming manners, and her delicate hands.

Page 9

“Will this do, ma’am?” she inquired.  “Is it the sort of thing you meant?”

“Ay, that will do, Rachel,” replied Mrs. Verner.  “John, here’s a huswife for you!”

“A what?” asked John Massingbird, arresting his stamping.

“A needle-book to hold your needles and thread.  Rachel has made it nicely.  Sha’n’t you want a thimble?”

“Goodness knows,” replied John.  “That’s it, Fred! that’s it!  Give it a turn.”

Frederick Massingbird locked the box, and then left the room.  His mother followed him, telling John she had a large steel thimble somewhere, and would try to find it for him.  Rachel began filling the huswife with needles, and John went on with his packing.

“Hollo!” he presently exclaimed.  And Rachel looked up.

“What’s the matter, sir?”

“I have pulled one of the strings off this green case.  You must sew it on again, Rachel.”

He brought a piece of green baize to her and a broken string.  It looked something like the cover of a pocket-book or of a small case of instruments.

Rachel’s nimble fingers soon repaired the damage.  John stood before her, looking on.

Looking not only at the progress of the work, but at her.  Mr. John Massingbird was one who had an eye for beauty; he had not seen much in his life that could match with that before him.  As Rachel held the case up to him, the damage repaired, he suddenly bent his head to steal a kiss.

But Rachel was too quick for him.  She flung his face away with her hand; she flushed vividly; she was grievously indignant.  That she considered it in the light of an insult was only too apparent; her voice was pained—­her words were severe.

“Be quiet, stupid!  I was not going to eat you,” laughed John Massingbird.  “I won’t tell Luke.”

“Insult upon insult!” she exclaimed, strangely excited.  “You know that Luke Roy is nothing to me, Mr. Massingbird; you know that I have never in my life vouchsafed to give him an encouraging word.  But, much as I despise him—­much as he is beneath me—­I would rather submit to have my face touched by him than by you.”

What more she would have said was interrupted by the reappearance of Mrs. Verner.  That lady’s ears had caught the sound of the contest; of the harsh words; and she felt inexpressibly surprised.

“What has happened?” she asked.  “What is it, Rachel?”

“She pricked herself with one of the needles,” said John, taking the explanation upon himself; “and then said I did it.”

Mrs. Verner looked from one to the other.  Rachel had turned quite pale.  John laughed; he knew his mother did not believe him.

“The truth is, mother, I began teasing Rachel about her admirer, Luke.  It made her angry.”

“What absurdity!” exclaimed Mrs. Verner testily, to Rachel.  “My opinion is, you would have done well to encourage Luke.  He was steady and respectable; and old Roy must have saved plenty of money.”

Page 10

Rachel burst into tears.

“What now!” cried Mrs. Verner.  “Not a word can anybody say to you lately, Rachel, but you must begin to cry as if you were heart-broken.  What has come to you, child?  Is anything the matter with you?”

The tears deepened into long sobs of agony, as though her heart were indeed broken.  She held her handkerchief up to her face, and went sobbing from the room.

Mrs. Verner gazed after her in very astonishment.  “What has taken her?  What can it possibly be?” she uttered.  “John, you must know.”

“I, mother!  I declare to you that I know no more about it than Adam.  Rachel must be going a little crazed.”

CHAPTER II.

The Willow pond.

Before the sun had well set, the family at Verner’s Pride were assembling for dinner.  Mr. and Mrs. Verner, and John Massingbird:  neither Lionel Verner nor Frederick Massingbird was present.  The usual custom appeared somewhat reversed on this evening:  while roving John would be just as likely to absent himself from dinner as not, his brother and Lionel Verner nearly always appeared at it.  Mr. Verner looked surprised.

“Where are they?” he cried, as he waited to say grace.

“Mr. Lionel has not come in, sir,” replied the butler, Tynn, who was husband to the housekeeper.

“And Fred has gone out to keep some engagement with Sibylla West,” spoke up Mrs. Verner.  “She is going to spend the evening at the Bitterworths, and Fred promised, I believe, to see her safely thither.  He will take his dinner when he comes in.”

Mr. Verner bent his head, said the grace, and the dinner began.

Later—­but not much later, for it was scarcely dark yet—­Rachel Frost was leaving the house to pay a visit in the adjoining village, Deerham.  Her position may be at once explained.  It was mentioned in the last chapter that Mr. Verner had had one daughter, who died young.  The mother of Rachel Frost had been this child’s nurse, Rachel being an infant at the same time, so that the child, Rachel Verner, and Rachel Frost—­named after her—­had been what is called foster-sisters.  It had caused Mr. Verner, and his wife also while she lived, to take an interest in Rachel Frost; it is very probable that their own child’s death only made this interest greater.  They were sufficiently wise not to lift the girl palpably out of her proper sphere; but they paid for a decent education for her at a day-school, and were personally kind to her.  Rachel—­I was going to say fortunately, but it may be as just to say unfortunately—­was one of those who seem to make the best of every trifling advantage:  she had grown, without much effort of her own, into what might be termed a lady, in appearance, in manners, and in speech.  The second Mrs. Verner also took an interest in her; and nearly a year before this period, on Rachel’s eighteenth birthday, she took her to Verner’s Pride as her own attendant.

Page 11

A fascinating, lovable child had Rachel Frost ever been:  she was a fascinating, lovable girl.  Modest, affectionate, generous, everybody liked Rachel; she had not an enemy, so far as was known, in all Deerham.  Her father was nothing but a labourer on the Verner estate; but in mind and conduct he was superior to his station; an upright, conscientious, and, in some degree, a proud man:  her mother had been dead several years.  Rachel was proud too, in her way; proud and sensitive.

Rachel, dressed in her bonnet and shawl, passed out of the house by the front entrance.  She would not have presumed to do so by daylight; but it was dusk now, the family not about, and it cut off a few yards of the road to the village.  The terrace—­which you have heard of as running along the front of the house—­sloped gradually down at either end to the level ground, so as to admit the approach of carriages.

Riding up swiftly to the door, as Rachel appeared at it, was a gentleman of some five or six and twenty years.  Horse and man both looked thoroughbred.  Tall, strong, and slender, with a keen, dark blue eye, and regular features of a clear, healthy paleness, he—­the man—­would draw a second glance to himself wherever he might be met.  His face was not inordinately handsome; nothing of the sort; but it wore an air of candour, of noble truth.  A somewhat impassive face in repose, somewhat cold; but, in speaking, it grew expressive to animation, and the frank smile that would light it up made its greatest charm.  The smile stole over it now, as he checked his horse and bent towards Rachel.

“Have they thought me lost?  I suppose dinner is begun?”

“Dinner has been in this half-hour, sir.”

“All right.  I feared they might wait.  What’s the matter, Rachel?  You’ve been making your eyes red.”

“The matter!  There’s nothing the matter with me, Mr. Lionel,” was Rachel’s reply, her tone betraying a touch of annoyance.  And she turned and walked swiftly along the terrace, beyond reach of the glare of the gas-lamp.

Up stole a man at this moment, who must have been hidden amid the pillars of the portico, watching the transient meeting, watching for an opportunity to speak.  It was Roy, the bailiff; and he accosted the gentleman with the same complaint, touching the ill-doings of the Dawsons and the village in general, that had previously been carried to Mr. Verner by Frederick Massingbird.

“I was told to wait and take my orders from you, sir,” he wound up with.  “The master don’t like to be troubled, and he wouldn’t give none.”

“Neither shall I give any,” was the answer, “until I know more about it.”

“They ought to be got out to-night, Mr. Lionel!” exclaimed the man, striking his hand fiercely against the air.  “They sow all manner of incendiarisms in the place, with their bad example.”

Page 12

“Roy,” said Lionel Verner, in a quiet tone, “I have not, as you know, interfered actively in the management of things.  I have not opposed my opinion against my uncle’s, or much against yours; I have not come between you and him.  When I have given orders, they have been his orders, not mine.  But many things go on that I disapprove of; and I tell you very candidly that, were I to become master to-morrow, my first act would be to displace you, unless you could undertake to give up these nasty acts of petty oppression.”

“Unless some of ’em was oppressed and kept under, they’d be for riding roughshod over the whole of us,” retorted Roy.

“Nonsense!” said Lionel.  “Nothing breeds rebellion like oppression.  You are too fond of oppression, Roy, and Mr. Verner knows it.”

“They be a idle, poaching, good-for-nothing lot, them Dawsons,” pursued Roy.  “And now that they be behind-hand with their rent, it is a glorious opportunity to get rid of ’em.  I’d turn ’em into the road, without a bed to lie on, this very night!”

“How would you like to be turned into the road, without a bed to lie on?” demanded Lionel.

“Me!” returned Roy, in deep dudgeon.  “Do you compare me to that Dawson lot?  When I give cause to be turned out, then I hope I may be turned out, sir, that’s all.  Mr. Lionel,” he added, in a more conciliating tone, “I know better about out-door things than you, and I say it’s necessary to be shut of the Dawsons.  Give me power to act in this.”

“I will not,” said Lionel.  “I forbid you to act in it at all, until the circumstances shall have been inquired into.”

He sprung from his horse, flung the bridle to the groom, who was at that moment coming forward, and strode into the house with the air of a young chieftain.  Certainly Lionel Verner appeared fitted by nature to be the heir of Verner’s Pride.

Rachel Frost, meanwhile, gained the road and took the path to the left hand; which would lead her to the village.  Her thoughts were bent on many sources, not altogether pleasant, one of which was the annoyance she had experienced at finding her name coupled with that of the bailiff’s son, Luke Roy.  There was no foundation for it.  She had disliked Luke, rather than liked him, her repugnance to him no doubt arising from the very favour he felt disposed to show to her; and her account of past matters to the bailiff was in accordance with the facts.  As she walked along, pondering, she became aware that two people were advancing towards her in the dark twilight.  She knew them instantly, almost by intuition, but they were too much occupied with each other yet to have noticed her.  One was Frederick Massingbird, and the young lady on his arm was his cousin, Sibylla West, a girl young and fascinating as was Rachel.  Mr. Frederick Massingbird had been suspected of a liking, more than ordinary, for this young lady; but he had protested in Rachel’s hearing, as in that of others, that his was only cousin’s love.  Some impulse prompted Rachel to glide in at a field-gate which she was then passing, and stand behind the hedge until they should have gone by.  Possibly she did not care to be seen.

Page 13

It was a still night, and their voices were borne distinctly to Rachel as they slowly advanced.  The first words to reach her came from the young lady.

“You will be going out after him, Frederick.  That will be the next thing I expect.”

“Sibylla,” was the answer, and his accents bore that earnest, tender, confidential tone which of itself alone betrays love, “be you very sure of one thing:  that I go neither there nor elsewhere without taking you.”

“Oh, Frederick, is not John enough to go?”

“If I saw a better prospect there than here, I should follow him.  After he has arrived and is settled, he will write and report.  My darling, I am ever thinking of the future for your sake.”

“But is it not a dreadful country?  There are wolves and bears in it that eat people up.”

Frederick Massingbird slightly laughed at the remark.  “Do you think I would take my wife into the claws of wolves and bears?” he asked, in a tone of the deepest tenderness.  “She will be too precious to me for that, Sibylla.”

The voices and the footsteps died away in the distance, and Rachel came out of her hiding-place, and went quickly on towards the village.  Her father’s cottage was soon gained.  He did not live alone.  His only son, Robert—­who had a wife and family—­lived with him.  Robert was the son of his youth; Rachel the daughter of his age; the children of two wives.  Matthew Frost’s wife had died in giving birth to Robert, and twenty years elapsed ere he married a second.  He was seventy years of age now, but still upright as a dart, with a fine fresh complexion, a clear bright eye, and snow-white hair that fell in curls behind, on the collar of his white smock-frock.

He was sitting at a small table apart when Rachel entered, a candle and a large open Bible on it.  A flock of grandchildren crowded round him, two of them on his knees.  He was showing them the pictures.  To gaze wonderingly on those pictures, and never tire of asking explanations of their mysteries, was the chief business of the little Frosts’ lives.  Robert’s wife—­but he was hardly ever called anything but Robin—­was preparing something over the fire for the evening meal.  Rachel went up and kissed her father.  He scattered the children from him to make room for her.  He loved her dearly.  Robin loved her dearly.  When Robin was a grown-up young man the pretty baby had come to be his plaything.  Robin seemed to love her still better than he loved his own children.

“Thee’st been crying, child!” cried old Matthew Frost.  “What has ailed thee?”

Had Rachel known that the signs of her past tears were so palpable as to call forth remark from everybody she met, as it appeared they were doing, she might have remained at home.  Putting on a gay face, she laughed off the matter.  Matthew pressed it.

“Something went wrong at home, and I got a scolding,” said Rachel at length.  “It was not worth crying over, though.”

Page 14

Mrs. Frost turned round from her saucepan.

“A scolding from the missis, Rachel?”

“There’s nobody else at Verner’s Pride should scold me,” responded Rachel, with a charming little air of self-consequence.  “Mrs. Verner said a cross word or two, and I was so stupid as to burst out crying.  I have had a headache all day, and that’s sure to put me out of sorts.”

“There’s always things to worry one in service, let it be ever so good on the whole,” philosophically observed Mrs. Frost, bestowing her attention again upon the saucepan.  “Better be one’s own missus on a crust, say I, than at the beck and call of others.”

“Rachel,” interrupted old Matthew, “when I let you go to Verner’s Pride, I thought it was for your good.  But I’d not keep you there a day, child, if you be unhappy.”

“Dear father, don’t take up that notion,” she quickly rejoined.  “I am happier at Verner’s Pride than I should be anywhere else.  I would not leave it.  Where is Robin this evening?”

“Robin—­”

The answer was interrupted by the entrance of Robin himself.  A short man with a red face, somewhat obstinate-looking.  His eye lighted up when he saw Rachel; Mrs. Frost poured out the contents of her saucepan, which appeared to be a compound of Scotch oatmeal and treacle.  Rachel was invited to take some, but declined.  She lifted one of the children on her knee—­a pretty little girl named after herself.  The child did not seem well, and Rachel hushed it to her, bringing down her own sweet face caressingly upon the little one’s.

“So I hear as Mr. John Massingbird’s a-going to London on a visit?” cried Robin to his sister, holding out his basin for a second supply of the porridge.

The question had to be repeated three times, and then Rachel seemed to awake to it with a start.  She had been gazing at vacancy, as if buried in a dream.

“Mr. John?  A visit to London?  Oh, yes, yes; he is going to London.”

“Do he make much of a stay?”

“I can’t tell,” said Rachel slightingly.  A certain confidence had been reposed in her at Verner’s Pride; but it was not her business to make it known, even in her father’s home.  Rachel was not a good hand at deception, and she changed the subject.  “Has there not been some disturbance with the Dawsons to-day?  Old Roy was at Verner’s Pride this afternoon, and the servants have been saying he came up about the Dawsons.”

“He wanted to turn ’em out,” replied Robin.

“He’s Grip Roy all over,” said Mrs. Frost.

Old Matthew Frost shook his head.  “There has been ill-feeling smouldering between Roy and old Dawson this long while,” said he.  “Now that it’s come to open war, I misdoubt me but there’ll be violence.”

“There’s ill-feeling between Roy and a many more, father, besides the Dawsons,” observed Robin.

“Ay!  Rachel, child”—­turning his head to the hearth, where his daughter sat apart—­“folks have said that young Luke wants to make up to you.  But I’d not like it.  Luke’s a good-meaning, kind-hearted lad himself, but I’d not like you to be daughter-in-law to old Roy.”

Page 15

“Be easy, father dear.  I’d not have Luke Roy if he were made of gold.  I never yet had anything to say to him, and I never will have.  We can’t help our likes and dislikes.”

“Pshaw!” said Robin, with pardonable pride.  “Pretty Rachel is not for a daft chap like Luke Roy, that’s a head and ears shorter nor other men.  Be you, my dear one?”

Rachel laughed.  Her conscience told her that she enjoyed a joke at Luke’s undersize.  She took a shower of kisses from the little girl, put her down, and rose.

“I must go,” she said.  “Mrs. Verner may be calling for me.”

“Don’t she know you be come out?” asked old Matthew.

“No.  But do not fear that I came clandestinely—­or, as our servants would say, on the sly,” added Rachel, with a smile.  “Mrs. Verner has told me to run down to see you whenever I like, after she has gone in to dinner.  Good-night, dear father.”

The old man pressed her to his heart:  “Don’t thee get fretting again my blessing.  I don’t care to see thee with red eyes.”

For answer, Rachel burst into tears then—­a sudden, violent burst.  She dashed them away again with a defiant, reckless sort of air, broke, into a laugh, and laid the blame on her headache.  Robin said he would walk home with her.

“No, Robin, I would rather you did not to-night,” she replied.  “I have two or three things to get at Mother Duff’s, and I shall stop there a bit, gossiping.  After that, I shall be home in a trice.  It’s not dark; and, if it were, who’d harm me?”

They laughed.  To imagine harm of any sort occurring, through walking a mile or so alone at night, would never enter the head of honest country people.  Rachel departed; and Robin, who was a domesticated man upon the whole, helped his wife to put the children to bed.

Scarcely an hour later, a strange commotion arose in the village.  People ran about wildly, whispering dread words to one another.  A woman had just been drowned in the Willow Pond.

The whole place flocked down to the Willow Pond.  On its banks, the centre of an awe-struck crowd, which had been quickly gathering, lay a body, recently taken out of the water.  It was all that remained of poor Rachel Frost—­cold, and white, and dead!

CHAPTER III.

The news brought home.

Seated in the dining-room at Verner’s Pride, comfortably asleep in an arm-chair, her face turned to the fire and her feet on a footstool, was Mrs. Verner.  The dessert remained on the table, but nobody was there to partake of it.  Mr. Verner had retired to his study upon the withdrawal of the cloth, according to his usual custom.  Always a man of spare habits, shunning the pleasures of the table, he had scarcely taken sufficient to support nature since his health failed.  Mrs. Verner would remonstrate; but his medical attendant, Dr. West, said

Page 16

it was better for him that it should be so.  Lionel Verner (who had come in for the tail of the dinner) and John Massingbird had likewise left the room and the house, but not together.  Mrs. Verner sat on alone.  She liked to take her share of dessert, if the others did not, and she generally remained in the dining-room for the evening, rarely caring to move.  Truth to say, Mrs. Verner was rather addicted to dropping asleep with her last glass of wine and waking up with the tea-tray, and she did so this evening.

Of course work goes on downstairs (or is supposed to go on) whether the mistress of a house be asleep or awake.  It really was going on that evening in the laundry at Verner’s Pride, whatever it may have been doing in the other various branches and departments.  The laundry-maids had had heavy labour on their hands that day, and they were hard at work still, while Mrs. Verner slept.

“Here’s Mother Duff’s Dan a-coming in!” exclaimed one of the women, glancing over her ironing-board to the yard.  “What do he want, I wonder?”

“Who?” cried Nancy, the under-housemaid, a tart sort of girl, whose business it was to assist in the laundry on busy days.

“Dan Duff.  Just see what he wants, Nancy.  He’s got a parcel.”

The gentleman familiarly called Dan Duff was an urchin of ten years old.  He was the son of Mrs. Duff, linen-draper-in-ordinary to Deerham—­a lady popularly spoken of as “Mother Duff,” both behind her back and before her face.  Nancy darted out at the laundry-door and waylaid the intruder in the yard.

“Now, Dan Duff!” cried she, “what do you want?”

“Please, here’s this,” was Dan Duff’s reply, handing over the parcel.  “And, please, I want to see Rachel Frost.”

“Who’s it for?  What’s inside it?” sharply asked Nancy, regarding the parcel on all sides.

“It’s things as Rachel Frost have been a-buying,” he replied.  “Please, I want to see her.”

“Then want must be your master,” retorted Nancy.  “Rachel Frost’s not at home.”

Ain’t she?” returned Dan Duff, with surprised emphasis.  “Why, she left our shop a long sight afore I did!  Mother says, please, would she mind having some o’ the dark lavender print instead o’ the light, ’cause Susan Peckaby’s come in, and she wants the whole o’ the light lavender for a gownd, and there’s only just enough of it.  And, please, I be to take word back.”

“How are you to take word back if she’s not in?” asked Nancy, whose temper never was improved by extra work.  “Get along, Dan Duff!  You must come along again to-morrow if you want her.”

Dan Duff turned to depart, in meek obedience, and Nancy carried the parcel into the laundry and flung it down on the ironing-board.

“It’s fine to be Rachel Frost,” she sarcastically cried.  “Going shopping like any lady, and having her things sent home for her!  And messages about her gownds coming up—­which will she have, if you please, and which won’t she have!  I’ll borror one of the horses to-morrow, and go shopping myself on a side-saddle!”

Page 17

“Has Rachel gone shopping to-night?” cried one of the women, pausing in her ironing.  “I did not know she was out.”

“She has been out all the evening,” was Nancy’s answer.  “I met her coming down the stairs, dressed.  And she could tell a story over it, too, for she said she was going to see her old father.”

But Master Dan Duff is not done with yet.  If that gentleman stood in awe of one earthly thing more than another, it was of the anger of his revered mother.  Mrs. Duff, in her maternal capacity, was rather free both with her hands and tongue.  Being sole head of her flock, for she was a widow, she deemed it best to rule with firmness, not to say severity; and her son Dan, awed by his own timid nature, tried hard to steer his course so as to avoid shoals and quicksands.  He crossed the yard, after the rebuff administered by Nancy, and passed out at the gate, where he stood still to revolve affairs.  His mother had imperatively ordered him to bring back the answer touching the intricate question of the light and the dark lavender prints; and Susan Peckaby—­one of the greatest idlers in all Deerham—­said she would wait in the shop until he came with it.  He stood softly whistling, his hands in his pockets, and balancing himself on his heels.

“I’ll get a basting, for sure,” soliloquised he.  “Mother’ll lose the sale of the gownd, and then she’ll say it’s my fault, and baste me for it.  What’s of her?  Why couldn’t she ha’ come home, as she said?”

He set his wits to work to divine what could have “gone of her”—­alluding, of course, to Rachel.  And a bright thought occurred to him—­really not an unnatural one—­that she had probably taken the other road home.  It was a longer round, through the fields, and there were stiles to climb, and gates to mount; which might account for the delay.  He arrived at the conclusion, though somewhat slow of drawing conclusions in general, that if he returned home that way, he should meet Rachel; and could then ask the question.

If he turned to his left hand—­standing as he did at the gate with his back to the back of the house—­he would regain the high road, whence he came.  Did he turn to the right, he would plunge into fields and lanes, and covered ways, and emerge at length, by a round, in the midst of the village, almost close to his own house.  It was a lonely way at night, and longer than the other, but Master Dan Duff regarded those as pleasant evils, in comparison with a “basting.”  He took his hands out of his pockets, brought down his feet to a level, and turned to it, whistling still.

It was a tolerably light night.  The moon was up, though not very high, and a few stars might be seen here and there in the blue canopy above.  Mr. Dan Duff proceeded on his way, not very quickly.  Some dim idea was penetrating his brain that the slower he walked, the better chance there might be of his meeting Rachel.

Page 18

“She’s just a cat, is that Susan Peckaby!” decided he, with acrimony, in the intervals of his whistling.  “It was her as put mother up to the thought o’ sending me to-night:  Rachel Frost said the things ’ud do in the morning.  ’Let Dan carry ’em up now,’ says Dame Peckaby, ’and ask her about the print, and then I’ll take it home along o’ me.’  And if I go in without the answer, she’ll be the first to help mother to baste me!  Hi! ho! hur! hur-r-r-r!”

This last exclamation was caused by his catching sight of some small animal scudding along.  He was at that moment traversing a narrow, winding lane; and, in the field to the right, as he looked in at the open gate, he saw the movement.  It might be a cat, it might be a hare, it might be a rabbit, it might be some other animal; it was all one to Mr. Dan Duff; and he had not been a boy had he resisted the propensity to pursue it.  Catching up a handful of earth from the lane, he shied it in the proper direction, and tore in at the gate after it.

Nothing came of the pursuit.  The trespasser had earthed itself, and Mr. Dan came slowly back again.  He had nearly approached the gate, when somebody passed it, walking up the lane with a very quick step, from the direction in which he, Dan, was bound.  Dan saw enough to know that it was not Rachel, for it was the figure of a man; but Dan set off to run, and emerged from the gate just in time to catch another glimpse of the person, as he disappeared beyond the windings of the lane.

“’Twarn’t Rachel, at all events,” was his comment.  And he turned and pursued his way again.

It was somewhere about this time that Tynn made his appearance in the dining-room at Verner’s Pride, to put away the dessert, and set the tea.  The stir woke up Mrs. Verner.

“Send Rachel to me,” said she, winking and blinking at the tea-cups.

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Tynn.

He left the room when he had placed the cups and things to his satisfaction.  He called for Rachel high and low, up and down.  All to no purpose.  The servants did not appear to know anything of her.  One of them went to the door and shouted out to the laundry to know whether Rachel was there, and the answering shout “No” came back.  The footman at length remembered that he had seen her go out at the hall door while the dinner was in.  Tynn carried this item of information to Mrs. Verner.  It did not please her.

“Of course!” she grumbled.  “Let me want any one of you particularly, and you are sure to be away!  If she did go out, she ought not to stay as long as this.  Who’s this coming in?”

It was Frederick Massingbird.  He entered, singing a scrap of a song; which was cut suddenly short when his eye fell on the servant.

“Tynn,” said he, “you must bring me something to eat.  I have had no dinner.”

“You cannot be very hungry, or you’d have come in before,” remarked Mrs. Verner to him.  “It is tea-time now.”

Page 19

“I’ll take tea and dinner together,” was his answer.

“But you ought to have been in before,” she persisted; for, though an easy mistress and mother, Mrs. Verner did not like the order of meals to be displaced.  “Where have you stayed, Fred?  You have not been all this while taking Sibylla West to Bitterworth’s.”

“You must talk to Sibylla West about that,” answered Fred.  “When young ladies keep you a good hour waiting, while they make themselves ready to start, you can’t get back precisely to your own time.”

“What did she keep you waiting for?” questioned Mrs. Verner.

“Some mystery of the toilette, I conclude.  When I got there, Amilly said Sibylla was dressing; and a pretty prolonged dressing it appeared to be!  Since I left her at Bitterworth’s, I have been to Poynton’s about my mare.  She was as lame as ever to-day.”

“And there’s Rachel out now, just as I am wanting her!” went on Mrs. Verner, who, when she did lapse into a grumbling mood, was fond of calling up a catalogue of grievances.

“At any rate, that’s not my fault, mother,” observed Frederick.  “I dare say she will soon be in.  Rachel is not given to stay out, I fancy, if there’s a chance of her being wanted.”

Tynn came in with his tray, and Frederick Massingbird sat down to it.  Tynn then waited for Mr. Verner’s tea, which he carried into the study.  He carried a cup in every evening, but Mr. Verner scarcely ever touched it.  Then Tynn returned to the room where the upper servants took their meals and otherwise congregated, and sat down to read a newspaper.  He was a little man, very stout, his plain clothes always scrupulously neat.

A few minutes, and Nancy came in, the parcel left by Dan Duff in her hand.  The housekeeper asked her what it was.  She explained in her crusty way, and said something to the same effect that she had said in the laundry—­that it was fine to be Rachel Frost.  “She’s long enough making her way up here!” Nancy wound up with.

“Dan Duff says she left their shop to come home before he did.  If Luke Roy was in Deerham one would know what to think!”

“Bah!” cried the housekeeper.  “Rachel Frost has nothing to say to Luke Roy.”

Tynn laid down his paper, and rose.  “I’ll just tell the mistress that Rachel’s on her way home,” said he.  “She’s put up like anything at her being out—­wants her for something particular, she says.”

Barely had he departed on his errand, when a loud commotion was heard in the passage.  Mr. Dan Duff had burst in at the back door, uttering sounds of distress—­of fright—­his eyes starting, his hair standing on end, his words nearly unintelligible.

“Rachel Frost is in the Willow Pond—­drownded!”

The women shrieked when they gathered in the sense.  It was enough to make them shriek.  Dan Duff howled in concert.  The passages took up the sounds and echoed them; and Mrs. Verner, Frederick Massingbird, and Tynn came hastening forth.  Mr. Verner followed, feeble, and leaning on his stick.  Frederick Massingbird seized upon the boy, questioning sharply.

Page 20

“Rachel Frost’s a-drowned in the Willow Pond,” he reiterated.  “I see’d her.”

A moment of pause, of startled suspense, and then they flew off, men and women, as with one accord, Frederick Massingbird leading the van.  Social obligations were forgotten in the overwhelming excitement, and Mr. and Mrs. Verner were left to keep house for themselves.  Tynn, indeed, recollected himself, and turned back.

“No,” said Mr. Verner.  “Go with the rest, Tynn, and see what it is, and whether anything can be done.”

He might have crept thither himself in his feeble strength, but he had not stirred out of the house for two years.

CHAPTER IV.

The crowd in the moonlight.

The Willow Pond, so called from its being surrounded with weeping willows, was situated at the corner of a field, in a retired part of the road, about midway between Verner’s Pride and Deerham.  There was a great deal of timber about that part; it was altogether as lonely as could be desired.  When the runners from Verner’s Pride reached it, assistance had already arrived, and Rachel, rescued from the pond, was being laid upon the grass.  All signs of life were gone.

Who had done it?—­what had caused it?—­was it an accident?—­was it a self-committed act?—­or was it a deed of violence?  What brought her there at all?  No young girl would be likely to take that way home (with all due deference to the opinion of Master Dan Duff) alone at night.

What was to be done?  The crowd propounded these various questions in so many marvels of wonder, and hustled each other, and talked incessantly; but to be of use, to direct, nobody appeared capable.  Frederick Massingbird stepped forward with authority.

“Carry her at once to Verner’s Pride—­with all speed.  And some of you”—­turning to the servants of the house—­“hasten on, and get water heated and blankets hot.  Get hot bricks—­get anything and everything likely to be required.  How did she get in?”

He appeared to speak the words more in the light of a wailing regret, than as a question.  It was a question that none present appeared able to answer.  The crowd was increasing rapidly.  One of them suggested that Broom the gamekeeper’s cottage was nearer than Verner’s Pride.

“But there will be neither hot water nor blankets there,” returned Frederick Massingbird.

“The house is the best.  Make haste! don’t let grass grow under your feet.”

“A moment,” interposed a gentleman who now came hastily up, as they were raising the body.  “Lay her down again.”

They obeyed him eagerly, and fell a little back that he might have space to bend over her.  It was the doctor of the neighbourhood, resident at Deerham.  He was a fine man in figure, dark and florid in face, but a more impassive countenance could not well be seen, and he had the peculiarity of rarely looking a person in the face.  If a patient’s eyes were mixed on Dr. West’s, Dr. West’s were invariably fixed upon something else.  A clever man in his profession, holding an Edinburgh degree, and practising as a general practitioner.  He was brother to the present Mrs. Verner; consequently, uncle to the two young Massingbirds.

Page 21

“Has anybody got a match?” he asked.

One of the Verner’s Pride servants had a whole boxful, and two or three were lighted at a time, and held so that the doctor could see the drowned face better than he could in the uncertain moonlight.  It was a strange scene.  The lonely, weird character of the place; the dark trees scattered about; the dull pond with its bending willows; the swaying, murmuring crowd collected round the doctor and what he was bending over; the bright flickering flame of the match-light; with the pale moon overhead, getting higher and higher as the night went on, and struggling her way through passing clouds.

“How did it happen?” asked Dr. West.

Before any answer could be given, a man came tearing up at the top of his speed; several men, indeed, it may be said.  The first was Roy, the bailiff.  Upon Roy’s leaving Verner’s Pride, after the rebuke bestowed upon him by its heir, he had gone straight down to the George and Dragon, a roadside inn, situated on the outskirts of the village, on the road from Verner’s Pride.  Here he had remained, consorting with droppers-in from Deerham, and soothing his mortification with a pipe and sundry cans of ale.  When the news was brought in that Rachel Frost was drowned in the Willow-pond, Roy, the landlord, and the company collectively, started off to see.

“Why, it is her!” uttered Roy, taking a hasty view of poor Rachel.  “I said it wasn’t possible.  I saw her and talked to her up at the house but two or three hours ago.  How did she get in?”

The same question always; from all alike:  how did she get in?  Dr. West rose.

“You can move her,” he said.

“Is she dead, sir?”

“Yes.”

Frederick Massingbird—­who had been the one to hold the matches—­caught the doctor’s arm.

“Not dead!” he uttered.  “Not dead beyond hope of restoration?”

“She will never be restored in this world,” was the reply of Dr. West.  “She is quite dead.”

“Measures should be tried, at any rate,” said Frederick Massingbird warmly.

“By all means,” acquiesced Dr. West.  “It will afford satisfaction, though it should do nothing else.”

They raised her once more, her clothes dripping, and turned with quiet, measured steps towards Verner’s Pride.  Of course the whole assemblage attended.  They were eagerly curious, boiling over with excitement; but, to give them their due, they were earnestly anxious to afford any aid in their power, and contended who should take turn at bearing that wet burden.  Not one but felt sorely grieved for Rachel.  Even Nancy was subdued to meekness, as she sped on to be one of the busiest in preparing remedies; and old Roy, though somewhat inclined to regard it in the light of a judgment upon proud Rachel for slighting his son, felt some twinges of pitying regret.

“I have knowed cases where people, dead from drownding, have been restored to life,” said Roy, as they walked along.

Page 22

“That you never have,” replied Dr. West.  “The apparently dead have been restored; the dead, never.”

Panting, breathless, there came up one as they reached Verner’s Pride.  He parted the crowd, and threw himself almost upon Rachel with a wild cry.  He caught up her cold, wet face, and passing his hands over it, bent down his warm cheek upon it.

“Who has done it?” he sobbed.  “What has done it?  She couldn’t have fell in alone.”

It was Robin Frost.  Frederick Massingbird drew him away by the arm.  “Don’t hinder, Robin.  Every minute may be worth a life.”

And Robin, struck with the argument, obeyed docilely like a little child.

Mr. Verner, leaning on his stick, trembling with weakness and emotion, stood just without the door of the laundry, which had been hastily prepared, as the bearers tramped in.

“It is an awful tragedy!” he murmured.  “Is it true”—­addressing Dr. West—­“that you think there is no hope?”

“I am sure there is none,” was the answer.  “But every means shall be tried.”

The laundry was cleared of the crowd, and their work began.  One of the next to come up was old Matthew Frost.  Mr. Verner took his hand.

“Come in to my own room, Matthew,” he said.  “I feel for you deeply.”

“Nay, sir; I must look upon her.”

Mr. Verner pointed with his stick in the direction of the laundry.

“They are shut in there—­the doctor and those whom he requires round him,” he said.  “Let them be undisturbed; it is the only chance.”

All things likely to be wanted had been conveyed to the laundry; and they were shut in there, as Mr. Verner expressed it, with their fires and their heat.  On dragged the time.  Anxious watchers were in the house, in the yard, gathered round the back gate.  The news had spread, and gentlepeople, friends of the Verners, came hasting from their homes, and pressed into Verner’s Pride, and asked question upon question of Mr. and Mrs. Verner, of everybody likely to afford an answer.  Old Matthew Frost stood outwardly calm and collected, full of inward trust, as a good man should be.  He had learned where to look for support in the darkest trial.  Mr. Verner in that night of sorrow seemed to treat him as a brother.

One hour!  Two hours! and still they plied their remedies, under the able direction of Dr. West.  All was of no avail, as the experienced physician had told them.  Life was extinct.  Poor Rachel Frost was really dead!

CHAPTER V.

The tall gentleman in the lane.

Page 23

Apart from the horror of the affair, it was altogether attended with so much mystery that that of itself would have kept the excitement alive.  What could have taken Rachel Frost near the pond at all?  Allowing that she had chosen that lonely road for her way home—­which appeared unlikely in the extreme—­she must still have gone out of it to approach the pond, must have walked partly across a field to gain it.  Had her path led close by it, it would have been a different matter:  it might have been supposed (unlikely still, though) that she had missed her footing and fallen in.  But unpleasant rumours were beginning to circulate in the crowd.  It was whispered that sounds of a contest, the voices being those of a man and a woman, had been heard in that direction at the time of the accident, or about the time; and these rumours reached the ear of Mr. Verner.

For the family to think of bed, in the present state of affairs, or the crowd to think of dispersing, would have been in the highest degree improbable.  Mr. Verner set himself to get some sort of solution first.  One told one tale; one, another:  one asserted something else; another, the exact opposite.  Mr. Verner—­and in saying Mr. Verner, we must include all—­was fairly puzzled.  A notion had sprung up that Dinah Roy, the bailiffs wife, could tell something about it if she would.  Certain it was, that she had stood amid the crowd, cowering and trembling, shrinking from observation as much as possible, and recoiling visibly if addressed.

A word of this suspicion at last reached her husband.  It angered him.  He was accustomed to keep his wife in due submission.  She was a little body, with a pinched face and a sharp red nose, given to weeping upon every possible occasion, and as indulgently fond of her son Luke as she was afraid of her husband.  Since Luke’s departure she had passed the better part of her time in tears.

“Now,” said Roy, going up to her with authority, and drawing her apart, “what’s this as is up with you?”

She looked round her, and shuddered.

“Oh, law!” cried she, with a moan.  “Don’t you begin to ask, Giles, or I shall be fit to die.”

“Do you know anything about this matter, or don’t you?” cried he savagely.  “Did you see anything?”

“What should I be likely to see of it?” quaked Mrs. Roy.

“Did you see Rachel fall into the pond?  Or see her a-nigh the pond?”

“No, I didn’t,” moaned Mrs. Roy.  “I never set eyes on Rachel this blessed night at all.  I’d take a text o’ scripture to it.”

“Then what is the matter with you?” he demanded, giving her a slight shake.

“Hush, Giles!” responded she, in a tone of unmistakable terror.  “I saw a ghost!”

“Saw a—­what?” thundered Giles Roy.

“A ghost!” she repeated.  “And it have made me shiver ever since.”

Giles Roy knew that his wife was rather prone to flights of fancy.  He was in the habit of administering one sovereign remedy, which he believed to be an infallible panacea for wives’ ailments whenever it was applied—­a hearty good shaking.  He gave her a slight instalment as he turned away.

Page 24

“Wait till I get ye home,” said he significantly.  “I’ll drive the ghosts out of ye!”

Mr. Verner had seated himself in his study, with a view of investigating systematically the circumstances attending the affair, so far as they were known.  At present all seemed involved in a Babel of confusion, even the open details.

“Those able to tell anything of it shall come before me, one by one,” he observed; “we may get at something then.”

The only stranger present was Mr. Bitterworth, an old and intimate friend of Mr. Verner.  He was a man of good property, and resided a little beyond Verner’s Pride.  Others—­plenty of them—­had been eager to assist in what they called the investigation, but Mr. Verner had declined.  The public investigation would come soon enough, he observed, and that must satisfy them.  Mrs. Verner saw no reason why she should be absent, and she took her seat.  Her sons were there.  The news had reached John out-of-doors, and he had hastened home full of consternation.  Dr. West also remained by request, and the Frosts, father and son, had pressed in.  Mr. Verner could not deny them.

“To begin at the beginning,” observed Mr. Verner, “it appears that Rachel left this house between six and seven.  Did she mention to anybody where she was going?”

“I believe she did to Nancy, sir,” replied Mrs. Tynn, who had been allowed to remain.

“Then call Nancy in,” said Mr. Verner.

Nancy came, but she could not say much:  only that, in going up the front stairs to carry some linen into Mrs. Verner’s room, she had met Rachel, dressed to go out.  Rachel had said, in passing her, that she was about to visit her father.

“And she came?” observed Mr. Verner, turning to Matthew Frost, as Nancy was dismissed.

“She came, sir,” replied the old man, who was having an incessant battle with himself for calmness; for it was not there, in the presence of others, that he would willingly indulge his grief.  “I saw that she had been fretting.  Her eyes were as red as ferrets’; and I taxed her with it.  She was for turning it off at first, but I pressed for the cause, and she then said she had been scolded by her mistress.”

“By me!” exclaimed Mrs. Verner, lifting her head in surprise.  “I had not scolded her.”

But as she spoke she caught the eye of her son John, and she remembered the little scene of the afternoon.

“I recollect now,” she resumed.  “I spoke a word of reproof to Rachel, and she burst into a violent flood of tears, and ran away from me.  It surprised me much.  What I said was not sufficient to call forth one tear, let alone a passionate burst of them.”

“What was it about?” asked Mr. Verner.

“I expect John can give a better explanation of it than I,” replied Mrs. Verner, after a pause.  “I went out of the room for a minute or two, and when I returned, Rachel was talking angrily at John.  I could not make out distinctly about what.  John had begun to tease her about Luke Roy, I believe, and she did not like it.”

Page 25

Mr. John Massingbird’s conscience called up the little episode of the coveted kiss.  But it might not be altogether prudent to confess it in full conclave.

“It is true that I did joke Rachel about Luke,” he said.  “It seemed to anger her very much, and she paid me out with some hard words.  My mother returned at the same moment.  She asked what was the matter; I said I had joked Rachel about Luke, and that Rachel did not like it.”

“Yes, that was it,” acquiesced Mrs. Verner.  “I then told Rachel that in my opinion she would have done well to encourage Luke, who was a steady young man, and would no doubt have a little money.  Upon which she began weeping.  I felt rather vexed; not a word have I been able to say to her lately, but tears have been the answer; and I asked what had come to her that she should cry for every trifle as if she were heart-broken.  With that, she fell into a burst of sobs, terrifying to see, and ran from the room.  I was thunderstruck.  I asked John what could be the matter with her, and he said he could only think she was going crazed.”

John Massingbird nodded his head, as if in confirmation.  Old Matthew Frost spoke up, his voice trembling with the emotion that he was striving to keep under—­

“Did she say what it was that had come to her, ma’am?”

“She did not make any reply at all,” rejoined Mrs. Verner.  “But it is quite nonsense to suppose she could have fallen into that wild burst of grief simply at being joked about Luke.  I could not make her out.”

“And she has fallen into fretting, you say, ma’am, lately?” pursued Matthew Frost, leaning his venerable white head forward.

“Often and often,” replied Mrs. Verner.  “She has seemed quite an altered girl in the last few weeks!”

“My son’s wife has said the same,” cried old Matthew.  “She has said that Rachel was changed.  But I took it to mean in her looks—­that she had got thinner.  You mind the wife saying it, Robin?”

“Yes, I mind it,” shortly replied Robin, who had propped himself against the wall, his arms folded and his head bent.  “I’m a-minding all.”

“She wouldn’t eat a bit o’ supper,” went on old Matthew.  “But that was nothing,” he added; “she used to say she had plenty of food here, without eating ours.  She sat apart by the fire with one o’ the little uns in her lap.  She didn’t stay over long; she said the missus might be wanting her, and she left; and when she was kissing my poor old face, she began sobbing.  Robin offered to see her home—­”

“And she wouldn’t have it,” interrupted Robin, looking up for the first time with a wild expression of despair.  “She said she had things to get at Mother Duff’s, and should stop a bit there, a-gossiping.  It’ll be on my mind by day and by night, that if I’d went with her, harm couldn’t have come.”

“And that was how she left you,” pursued Mr. Verner.  “You did not see her after that?  You know nothing further of her movements?”

Page 26

“Nothing further,” assented Robin.  “I watched her down the lane as far as the turning, and that was the last.”

“Did she go to Mrs. Duff’s, I wonder?” asked Mr. Verner.

Oh, yes; several of those present could answer that.  There was the parcel brought up by Dan Duff, as testimony; and, if more had been needed, Mrs. Duff herself had afforded it, for she made one of the crowd outside.

“We must have Mrs. Duff in,” said Mr. Verner.

Accordingly, Mrs. Duff was brought in—­a voluble lady with red hair.  Mr. Verner politely asked her to be seated, but she replied that she’d prefer to stand, if ’twas all the same.  She was used to standing in her shop, and she couldn’t never sit for a minute together when she was upset.

“Did Rachel Frost purchase things of you this evening, Mrs. Duff?”

“Well, she did, and she didn’t,” responded Mrs. Duff.  “I never calls it purchasing of things, sir, when a customer comes in and says, ’Just cut me off so and so, and send it up.’  They be sold, of course, if you look at it in that light; but I’m best pleased when buyers examines the goods, and chats a bit over their merits.  Susan Peckaby, now, she—­”

“What did Rachel Frost buy?” interrupted Mr. Verner, who knew what Mrs. Duff’s tongue was, when it was once set going.

“She looked in at the shop, sir, while I was a-serving little Green with some bone buttons, that her mother had sent her for.  ’I want some Irish for aprons, Mrs. Duff,’ says she.  ’Cut off the proper quantity for a couple, and send it me up some time to-morrow.  I’d not give the trouble,’ says she, ’but I can’t wait to take it now, for I’m in a hurry to get home, and I shall be wanting the aprons.’  ’What quality—­pretty good?’ said I.  ‘Oh, you know,’ says she; ’about the same that I bought last time.  And put in the tape for strings, and a reel of white cotton, No. 30.  And I don’t mind if you put in a piece of that German ribbon, middling width,’ she went on.  ’It’s nicer than tape for nightcaps, and them sort o’ things.’  And with that, sir, she was turning out again, when her eyes was caught by some lavender prints, as was a-hanging just in the doorway.  Two shades of it, there was, dark and light.  ’That’s pretty,’ says she.  ‘It’s beautiful,’ said I; ’they be the sweetest things I have had in, this many a day; and they be the wide width.  Won’t you take some of it for a gownd?’ ‘No,’ says she, ’I’m set up for cotton gownds.’  ‘Why not buy a bit of it for a apron or two?’ I said.  ’Nothing’s cleaner than them lavender prints for morning aprons, and they saves the white.’  So she looked at it for a minute, and then she said I might cut her off a couple o’ yards of the light, and send it up with the other things.  Well, sir, Sally Green went away with her buttons, and I took down the light print, thinking I’d cut off the two yards at once.  Just then, Susan Peckaby comes in for some gray worsted, and she falls

Page 27

right in love with the print.  ‘I’ll have a gownd of that,’ says she, ‘and I’ll take it now.’  In course, sir, I was only too glad to sell it to her, for, like Rachel, she’s good pay; but when I come to measure it, there was barely nine yards left, which is what Susan Peckaby takes for a gownd, being as tall as a maypole.  So I was in a mess; for I couldn’t take and sell it all, over Rachel’s head, having offered it to her.  ’Perhaps she wouldn’t mind having her aprons off the dark,’ says Susan Peckaby; ’it don’t matter what colour aprons is of—­they’re not like gownds.’  And then we agreed that I should send Dan up here at once to ask her, and Susan Peckaby—­who seemed mighty eager to have the print—­said she’d wait till he come back.  And I cut off the white Irish, and wrapped it up with the tape and things, and sent him.”

“Rachel Frost had left your shop, then?”

“She left it, sir, when she told me she’d have some of the lavender print.  She didn’t stay another minute.”

Robin Frost lifted his head again.  “She said she was going to stop at your place for a bit of a gossip, Mother Duff.”

“Then she didn’t stop,” responded that lady.  “She never spoke a single word o’ gossip, or looked inclined to speak it.  She just spoke out short, as if she was in a hurry, and she turned clean out o’ the shop afore the words about the lavender print had well left her.  Ask Sally Green, if you don’t believe me.”

“You did not see which way she took?” observed Mr. Verner.

“No, sir, I didn’t; I was behind my counter.  But, for the matter o’ that, there was two or three as saw her go out of my shop and take the turning by the pound—­which is a good proof she meant to come home here by the field way, for that turning, as you know, sir, leads to nowhere else.”

Mr. Verner did know it.  He also knew—­for witnesses had been speaking of it outside—­that Rachel had been seen to take that turning after she left Mrs. Duff’s shop, and that she was walking with a quick step.

The next person called in was Master Dan Duff—­in a state of extreme consternation at being called in at all.  He was planted down in front of Mr. Verner, his legs restless.  An idea crossed his brain that they might be going to accuse him of putting Rachel into the pond, and he began to cry.  With a good deal of trouble on Mr. Verner’s part, owing to the young gentleman’s timidity, and some circumlocution on his own, the facts, so far as Dan was cognisant of them, were drawn forth.  It appeared that after he had emerged from the field when he made that slight diversion in pursuit of the running animal, he continued his road, and had gained the lonely part near where the pond was situated, when young Broom, the son of Mr. Verner’s gamekeeper, ran up and asked him what was the matter, and whether anybody was in the pond.  Broom did not wait for an answer, but went on to the pond, and Dan Duff followed him.  Sure enough, Rachel Frost was in it.  They knew her by her clothes, as she rose to the surface.  Dan Duff, in his terror, went back shrieking to Verner’s Pride, and young Broom, more sensibly, ran for help to get her out.

Page 28

“How did young Broom know, or suspect, there was anybody in the pond?” questioned Mr. Verner.

“I dun know, please, sir,” sobbed Dan Duff; “that was what he said as he runned off to it.  He asked me if I had seen any folks about, and I said I’d only seen that un in the lane.”

“Whom did you see in the lane?”

“I dun know who it was, please, sir,” returned Dan, sniffing greatly.  “I wasn’t a-nigh him.”

“But you must have been nigh him if you met him in the lane.”

“Please, sir, I wasn’t in the lane then.  I had runned into the field after a cat.”

“After a cat?”

“Please, sir, ’twere a cat, I think.  But it got away, and I didn’t find it.  I saw somebody a-passing of the gate up the lane, but I warn’t quick enough to see who.”

“Going which way?”

“Please, sir, up towards here.  If I hadn’t turned into the field, I should ha’ met him face to face.  I dun know who it was.”

“Did you hear any noise near the pond, or see any movement in its direction, before you were accosted by Broom?”

“Please, sir, no.”

It appeared to be of little use to detain Mr. Duff.  In his stead young Broom was called in.  A fine-grown young fellow of nineteen, whose temperament may be indicated by two words—­cool and lazy.  He was desired to give his own explanation.

“I was going home for the night, sir,” he began, in answer, “when I heard the sound of voices in dispute.  They seemed to come from the direction of the grove of trees near the Willow Pond, and I stayed to listen.  I thought perhaps some of the Dawsons and Roy had come to an encounter out there; but I soon found that one of the voices was that of a woman.  Quite a young voice it sounded, and it was broke by sobs and tears.  The other voice was a man’s.”

“Only two!  Did you recognise them?”

“No, sir, I did not recognise them; I was too far off, maybe.  I only made out that it was two—­a man’s and a woman’s.  I stopped a few minutes, listening, and they seemed to quiet down, and then, as I was going on again, I came up to Mrs. Roy.  She was kneeling down, and—­”

“Kneeling down?” interrupted Mr. Verner.

“She was kneeling down, sir, with her hands clasped round the trunk of a tree, like one in mortal fright.  She laid hold of me then, and I asked what was the matter with her, and she answered that she had been a’most frightened to death.  I asked whether it was at the quarrel, but she only said, ‘Hush! listen!’ and at last she set on to cry.  Just then we heard an awful shriek, and a plunge into the water.  ’There goes something into the Willow Pond,’ said I, and I was turning to run to it, when Mrs. Roy shrieked out louder than the other shriek had been, and fell flat down on the earth.  I never hardly see such a face afore for ghastliness.  The moon was shining out full then, and it daunted me to look at her.  I thought she was dead—­that the fright

Page 29

had killed her.  There wasn’t a bit o’ breath in her body, and I raised her head up, not knowing what to do with her.  Presently she heaved a sort of sigh, and opened her eyes; and with that she seemed to recollect herself, and asked what was in the pond.  I left her and went off to it, meeting Dan Duff—­and we found it was Rachel Frost.  Dan, he set on to howl, and wouldn’t stay, and I went for the nearest help, and got her out.  That’s all, sir.”

“Was she already dead?”

“Well, sir, when you first get a person out of the water it’s hard to say whether they be dead or not.  She seemed dead, but perhaps if there had been means right at hand, she might have been brought-to again.”

A moan of pain from old Matthew.  Mr. Verner continued as it died out—­

“Rachel Frost’s voice must have been one of those you heard in dispute?”

“Not a doubt of that, sir,” replied young Broom.  “Any more than that there must have been foul play at work to get her into the pond, or that the other disputing voice must have belonged to the man who did it.”

“Softly, softly,” said Mr. Verner.  “Did you see any man about?”

“I saw nobody at all, sir, saving Dan Duff and Mrs. Roy; and Rachel’s quarrel could not have been with either of them.  Whoever the other was, he had made himself scarce.”

Robin Frost took a step forward respectfully.

“Did you mind, sir, that Mother Duffs Dan spoke to seeing some person in the lane?”

“I do,” replied Mr. Verner.  “I should like to ask the boy another question or two upon that point.  Call him in, one of you.”

John Massingbird went out and brought back the boy.

“Mind you have your wits sharp about you this time, Mr. Duff,” he remarked.  Which piece of advice had the effect of scaring Mr. Duff’s wits more completely away than they had been scared before.

“You tell us that you saw a man pass up the lane when you were in the field after the cat,” began Mr. Verner.  “Was the man walking fast?”

“Please, sir, yes.  Afore I could get out o’ the gate he was near out o’ sight.  He went a’most as fast as the cat did.”

“How long was it, after you saw him, before you met young Broom, and heard that somebody was in the pond?”

“Please, sir, ’twas a’most directly.  I was running then, I was.”

As the boy’s answer fell upon the room, a conviction stole over most of those collected in it that this man must have been the one who had been heard in dispute with Rachel Frost.

“Were there no signs about him by which you could recognise him?” pursued Mr. Verner.  “What did he look like?  Was he tall or short?”

“Please, sir, he were very tall.”

“Could you see his dress?  Was it like a gentleman’s or a labourer’s?”

“Please, sir, I think it looked like a gentleman’s—­like one o’ the gentlemen’s at Verner’s Pride.”

“Whose?  Like which of the gentlemen’s?” rang out Mr. Verner’s voice, sharply and sternly, after a moment’s pause of surprise, for he evidently had not expected the answer.

Page 30

“Please, sir, I dun know which.  The clothes looked dark, and the man were as tall as the gentlemen, or as Calves.”

Calves?” echoed Mr. Verner, puzzled.

John Massingbird broke into an involuntary smile.  He knew that their tall footman, Bennet, was universally styled “Calves” in the village.  Dan Duff probably believed it to be his registered name.

But Frederick Massingbird was looking dark and threatening.  The suspicion hinted at—­if you can call it a suspicion—­angered him.  The villagers were wont to say that Mr. Frederick had ten times more pride than Mr. John.  They were not far wrong—­Mr. John had none at all.

“Boy!” Frederick sternly said, “what grounds have you for saying it was like one of the gentlemen?”

Dan Duff began to sob.  “I dun know who it were,” he said; “indeed I don’t.  But he were tall, and his clothes looked dark.  Please, sir, if you basted me, I couldn’t tell no more.”

It was believed that he could not.  Mr. Verner dismissed him, and John Massingbird, according to order, went to bring in Mrs. Roy.

He was some little time before he found her.  She was discovered at last in a corner of the steward’s room, seated on a low stool, her head bent down on her knees.

“Now, ma’am,” said John, with unwonted politeness, “you are being waited for.”

She looked up, startled.  She rose from her low seat, and began to tremble, her lips moving, her teeth chattering.  But no sound came forth.

“You are not going to your hanging, Dinah Roy,” said John Massingbird, by way of consolation.  “Mr. Verner is gathering the evidence about this unfortunate business, and it is your turn to go in and state what you know, or saw.”

She staggered back a step or two, and fell against the wall, her face changing to one of livid terror.

“I—­I—­saw nothing!” she gasped.

“Oh, yes, you did!  Come along!”

She put up her hands in a supplicating attitude; she was on the point of sinking on her knees in her abject fear, when at that moment the stern face of her husband was pushed in at the door.  She sprang up as if electrified, and meekly followed John Massingbird.

CHAPTER VI.

DINAH ROY’S “GHOST.”

The moon, high in the heavens, shone down brightly, lighting up the fair domain of Verner’s Pride, lighting up the broad terrace, and one who was hasting along it; all looking as peaceful as if a deed of dark mystery had not that night been committed.

He, skimming the terrace with a fleet foot, was that domain’s recognised heir, Lionel Verner.  Tynn and others were standing in the hall, talking in groups, as is the custom with dependents when something unusual and exciting is going on.  Lionel appeared full of emotion when he burst in upon them.

“Is it true?” he demanded, speaking impulsively.  “Is Rachel really dead?”

Page 31

“She is dead, sir.”

“Drowned?”

“Yes, sir, drowned.”

He stood like one confounded.  He had heard the news in the village, but this decided confirmation of it was as startling as if he now heard it for the first time.  A hasty word of feeling, and then he looked again at Tynn.

“Was it the result of accident?”

Tynn shook his head.

“It’s to be feared it was not, sir.  There was a dreadful quarrel heard, it seems, near to the pond, just before it happened.  My master is inquiring into it now, sir, in his study.  Mr. Bitterworth and some more are there.”

Giving his hat to the butler, Lionel Verner opened the study door, and entered.  It was at that precise moment when John Massingbird had gone out for Mrs. Roy; so that, as may be said, there was a lull in the proceedings.

Mr. Verner looked glad when Lionel appeared.  The ageing man, enfeebled with sickness, had grown to lean on the strong young intellect.  As much as it was in Mr. Verner’s nature to love anything, he loved Lionel.  He beckoned him to a chair beside himself.

“Yes, sir, in an instant,” nodded Lionel.  “Matthew,” he whispered, laying his hand kindly on the old man’s shoulder as he passed, and bending down to him with his sympathising eyes, his pleasant voice, “I am grieved for this as if it had been my own sister.  Believe me.”

“I know it; I know you, Mr. Lionel,” was the faint answer.  “Don’t unman me, sir, afore ’em here; leave me to myself.”

With a pressure of his hand on the shoulder ere he quitted it, Lionel turned to Frederick Massingbird, asking of him particulars in an undertone.

“I don’t know them myself,” replied Frederick, his accent a haughty one.  “There seems to be nothing but uncertainty and mystery.  Mr. Verner ought not to have inquired into it in this semi-public way.  Very disagreeable things have been said, I assure you.  There was not the least necessity for allowing such absurdities to go forth, as suspicions, to the public.  You have not been running from the Willow Pond at a strapping pace, I suppose, to-night?”.

“That I certainly have not,” replied Lionel.

“Neither has John, I am sure,” returned Frederick resentfully.  “It is not likely.  And yet that boy of Mother Duff’s—­”

The words were interrupted.  The door had opened, and John Massingbird appeared, marshalling in Dinah Roy.  Dinah looked fit to die, with her ashy face and her trembling frame.

“Why, what is the matter?” exclaimed Mr. Verner.

The woman burst into tears.

“Oh, sir, I don’t know nothing of it; I protest I don’t,” she uttered.  “I declare that I never set eyes on Rachel Frost this blessed night.”

“But you were near the spot at the time?”

“Oh, bad luck to me, I was!” she answered, wringing her hands.  “But I know no more how she got into the water nor a child unborn.”

Page 32

“Where’s the necessity for being put out about it, my good woman?” spoke up Mr. Bitterworth.  “If you know nothing, you can’t tell it.  But you must state what you do know—­why you were there, what startled you, and such like.  Perhaps—­if she were to have a chair?” he suggested to Mr. Verner in a whisper.  “She looks too shaky to stand.”

“Ay,” acquiesced Mr. Verner.  “Somebody bring forward a chair.  Sit down, Mrs. Roy.”

Mrs. Roy obeyed.  One of those harmless, well-meaning, timid women, who seem not to possess ten ideas of their own, and are content to submit to others, she had often been seen in a shaky state from very trifling causes.  But she had never been seen like this.  The perspiration was pouring off her pinched face, and her blue check apron was incessantly raised to wipe it.

“What errand had you near the Willow Pond this evening?” asked Mr. Verner.

“I didn’t see anything,” she gasped, “I don’t know anything.  As true as I sit here, sir, I never saw Rachel Frost this blessed evening.”

“I am not asking you about Rachel Frost. Were you near the spot?”

“Yes.  But—­”

“Then you can say what errand you had there; what business took you to it,” continued Mr. Verner.

“It was no harm took me, sir.  I went to get a dish o’ tea with Martha Broom.  Many’s the time she have asked me since Christmas; and my husband, he was out with the Dawsons and all that bother; and Luke, he’s gone, and there was nothing to keep me at home.  I changed my gownd and I went.”

“What time was that?”

“‘Twas the middle o’ the afternoon, sir.  The clock had gone three.”

“Did you stay tea there?”

“In course, sir, I did.  Broom, he was out, and she was at home by herself a-rinsing out some things.  But she soon put ’em away, and we sat down and had our teas together.  We was a-talking about—­”

“Never mind that,” said Mr. Verner.  “It was in coming home, I conclude, that you were met by young Broom.”

Mrs. Roy raised her apron again, and passed it over her face but not a word spoke she in answer.

“What time did you leave Broom’s cottage to return home?”

“I can’t be sure, sir, what time it was.  Broom’s haven’t got no clock; they tells the time by the sun.”

“Was it dark?”

“Oh, yes, it was dark, sir, except for the moon.  That had been up a good bit, for I hadn’t hurried myself.”

“And what did you see or hear, when you got near the Willow Pond?”

The question sent Mrs. Roy into fresh tears; into fresh tremor.

“I never saw nothing,” she reiterated.  “The last time I set eyes on Rachel Frost was at church on Sunday.”

“What is the matter with you?” cried Mr. Verner, with asperity.  “Do you mean to deny that anything had occurred to put you in a state of agitation, when you were met by young Broom?”

Mrs. Roy only moaned.

Page 33

“Did you hear people quarrelling?” he persisted.

“I heard people quarrelling,” she sobbed.  “I did.  But I never saw, no more than the dead, who it was.”

“Whose voices were they?”

“How can I tell, sir?  I wasn’t near enough.  There were two voices, a man’s and a woman’s; but I couldn’t catch a single word, and it did not last long.  I declare, if it were the last word I had to speak, that I heard no more of the quarrel than that, and I wasn’t no nearer to it.”

She really did seem to speak the truth, in spite of her shrinking fear, which was evident to all.  Mr. Verner inquired, with incredulity equally evident, whether that was sufficient to put her into the state of tremor spoken of by young Broom.

Mrs. Roy hung her head.

“I’m timid at quarrels, ’specially if it’s at night,” she faintly answered.

“And was it just the hearing of that quarrel that made you sink down on your knees, and clasp hold of a tree?” continued Mr. Verner.  Upon which Mrs. Roy let fall her head on her hands, and sobbed piteously.

Robin Frost interrupted, sarcasm in his tone—­“There’s a tale going on, outside, that you saw a ghost, and it was that as frighted you,” he said to her.  “Perhaps, sir”—­turning to Mr. Verner—­“you’ll ask her whose ghost it was.”

This appeared to put the finishing touch to Mrs. Roy’s discomfiture.  Nothing could be made of her for a few minutes.  Presently, her agitation somewhat subsided; she lifted her head, and spoke as with a desperate effort.

“It’s true,” she said.  “I’ll make a clean breast of it.  I did see a ghost, and it was that as upset me so.  It wasn’t the quarrelling frighted me:  I thought nothing of that.”

“What do you mean by saying you saw a ghost?” sharply reproved Mr. Verner.

“It was a ghost, sir,” she answered, apparently picking up a little courage, now the subject was fairly entered upon.

A pause ensued.  Mr. Verner may have been at a loss what to say next.  When deliberately assured by any timorous spirit that they have “seen a ghost,” it is waste of time to enter an opposing argument.

“Where did you see the ghost?” he asked.

“I had stopped still, listening to the quarrelling, sir.  But that soon came to an end, for I heard no more, and I went on a few steps, and then I stopped to listen again.  Just as I turned my head towards the grove, where the quarrelling had seemed to be, I saw something a few paces from me that made my flesh creep.  A tall, white thing it looked, whiter than the moonlight.  I knew it could be nothing but a ghost, and my knees sunk down from under me, and I laid hold o’ the trunk o’ the tree.”

“Perhaps it was a death’s head and bones?” cried John Massingbird.

“Maybe, sir,” she answered.  “That, or something worse.  It glided through the trees with its great eyes staring at me; and I felt ready to die.”

Page 34

“Was it a man’s or a woman’s ghost?” asked Mr. Bitterworth, a broad smile upon his face.

“Couldn’t have been a woman’s, sir; ’twas too tall,” was the sobbing answer.  “A great tall thing it looked, like a white shadder.  I wonder I be alive!”

“So do I,” irascibly cried Mr. Verner.  “Which way was it going?  Towards the village, or in this direction?”

“Not in either of ’em, sir.  It glided right off at a angle amid the trees.”

“And it was that—­that folly, that put you into the state of tremor in which Broom found you?” said Mr. Verner.  “It was nothing else?”

“I declare, before Heaven, that it was what I saw as put me into the fright young Broom found me in,” she repeated earnestly.

“But if you were so silly as to be alarmed for the moment, why do you continue to show alarm still?”

“Because my husband says he’ll shake me,” she whimpered, after a long pause.  “He never has no patience with ghosts.”

“Serve you right,” was the half-audible comment of Mr. Verner.  “Is this all you know of the affair?” he continued, after a pause.

“It’s all, sir,” she sobbed.  “And enough too.  There’s only one thing as I shall be for ever thankful for.”

“What’s that?” asked Mr. Verner.

“That my poor Luke was away afore this happened.  He was fond of hankering after Rachel, and folks might have been for laying it on his shoulders; though, goodness knows, he’d not have hurt a hair of her head.”

“At any rate, he is out of it,” observed John Massingbird.

“Ay,” she replied, in a sort of self-soliloquy, as she turned to leave the room, for Mr. Verner told her she was dismissed, “it’ll be a corn o’ comfort amid my peck o’ troubles.  I have fretted myself incessant since Luke left, a-thinking as I could never know comfort again; but perhaps it’s all for the best now, as he should ha’ went.”

She curtsied, and the door was closed upon her.  Her evidence left an unsatisfactory feeling behind it.

An impression had gone forth that Mrs. Roy could throw some light upon the obscurity; and, as it turned out, she had thrown none.  The greater part of those present gave credence to what she said.  All believed the “ghost” to have been pure imagination; knowing the woman’s proneness to the marvellous, and her timid temperament.  But, upon one or two there remained a strong conviction that Mrs. Roy had not told the whole truth; that she could have said a great deal more about the night’s work, had she chosen to do so.

No other testimony was forthcoming.  The cries and shouts of young Broom, when he saw the body in the water, had succeeded in arousing some men who slept at the distant brick-kilns; and the tidings soon spread, and crowds flocked up.  These people were eager to pour into Mr. Verner’s room now, and state all they knew, which was precisely the evidence not required; but of further testimony to the facts there was none.

Page 35

“More may come out prior to the inquest; there’s no knowing,” observed Mr. Bitterworth, as the gentlemen stood in a group, before separating.  “It is a very dreadful thing, demanding the most searching investigation.  It is not likely she would throw herself in.”

“A well-conducted girl like Rachel Frost throw herself wilfully into a pond to be drowned!” indignantly repeated Mr. Verner.  “She would be one of the last to do it.”

“And equally one of the last to be thrown in,” said Dr. West.  “Young women are not thrown into ponds without some cause; and I should think few ever gave less cause for maltreatment of any kind than she.  It appears most strange to me with whom she could have been quarrelling—­if indeed it was Rachel that was quarrelling.”

“It is all strange together,” cried Lionel Verner.  “What took Rachel that way at all, by night time?”

“What indeed!” echoed Mr. Bitterworth.  “Unless—­”

“Unless what?” asked Mr. Verner; for Mr. Bitterworth had brought his words to a sudden standstill.

“Well, I was going to say, unless she had an appointment there.  But that does not appear probable for Rachel Frost.”

“It is barely possible, let alone probable,” was the retort of Mr. Verner.

“But still, in a case like this, every circumstance must be looked at, every trifle weighed,” resumed Mr. Bitterworth.  “Does Rachel’s own conduct appear to you to have been perfectly open?  She has been indulging, it would seem, in some secret grief latterly; has been ‘strange,’ as one or two have expressed it.  Then, again, she stated to her brother that she was going to stay at Duffs for a gossip, whereas the woman says she had evidently no intention of gossiping, and barely gave herself time to order the articles spoken of.  Other witnesses observed her leave Duff’s, and walk with a hasty step direct to the field road, and turn down it.  All this does not sound quite clear to me.”

“There was one thing that did not sound clear to me,” broke in Lionel abruptly, “and that was Dinah Roy’s evidence.  The woman’s half a fool; otherwise I should think she was purposely deceiving us.”

“A pity but she could see a real ghost!” cried John Massingbird, looking inclined to laugh, “It might cure her for fancy ones.  She’s right in one thing, however; poor Luke might have got this clapped on his shoulders had he been here.”

“Scarcely,” dissented Dr. West.  “Luke Roy is too inoffensive to harm any one, least of all a woman, and Rachel; and that the whole parish knows.”

“There’s no need to discuss Luke’s name in the business,” said Mr. Verner; “he is far enough away.  Whoever the man may have been, it was not Luke,” he emphatically added.  “Luke would have been the one to succour Rachel, not to hurt her.”

Not a soul present but felt that Mr. Verner spoke in strict accordance with the facts, known and presumptive.  They must look in another quarter than Luke for Rachel’s assailant.

Page 36

Mr. Verner glanced at Mr. Bitterworth and Dr. West, then at the three young men before him.

“We are amongst friends,” he observed, addressing the latter.  “I would ask you, individually, whether it was one of you that the boy, Duff, spoke of as being in the lane?”

They positively disclaimed it, each one for himself.  Each one mentioned that he had been elsewhere at the time, and where he had been.

“You see,” said Mr. Verner, “the lane leads only to Verner’s Pride.”

“But by leaping a fence anywhere, or a gate, or breaking through a hedge, it may lead all over the country,” observed Frederick Massingbird.  “You forget that, sir.”

“No, Frederick, I do not forget it.  But unless a man had business at Verner’s Pride, what should he go into the lane for?  On emerging from the field on this side the Willow Pond, any one, not bound for Verner’s Pride, would take the common path to the right hand, open to all; only in case of wanting to come here would he take the lane.  You cannot suppose for a moment that I suspect any one of you has had a hand in this unhappy event; but it was right that I should be assured, from your own lips, that you were not the person spoken of by young Duff.”

“It may have been a stranger to the neighbourhood, sir.  In that case he would not know that the lane led only to Verner’s Pride.”

“True—­so far.  But what stranger would be likely to quarrel with Rachel?”

“Egad, if you come to that, sir, a stranger’s more likely to pick a quarrel with her than one of us,” rejoined John Massingbird.

“It was no stranger,” said Mr. Verner, shaking his head.  “We do not quarrel with strangers.  Had any stranger accosted Rachel at night, in that lonely spot, with rude words, she would naturally have called out for help; which it is certain she did not do, or young Broom and Mrs. Roy must have heard her.  Rely upon it, that man in the lane is the one we must look for.”

“But where to look?” debated Frederick Massingbird.

“There it is!  The inference would be that he was coming to Verner’s Pride; being on its direct way and nearly close upon it.  But, the only tall men (as the boy describes) at Verner’s Pride, are you three and Bennet.  Bennet was at home, therefore he is exempt; and you were scattered in different directions—­Lionel at Mr. Bitterworth’s, John at the Royal Oak—­I wonder you like to make yourself familiar with those tap-rooms, John!—­and Frederick coming in from Poynton’s to his dinner.”

“I don’t think I had been in ten minutes when the alarm came,” remarked Frederick.

“Well, it is involved in mystery at present,” cried Mr. Bitterworth, shaking hands with them.  “Let us hope that to-morrow will open more light upon it.  Are you on the wing too, doctor?  Then we’ll go out together.”

CHAPTER VII.

THE REVELATION AT THE INQUEST.

Page 37

To say that Deerham was rudely disturbed from its equanimity; that petty animosities, whether concerning Mr. Roy and the Dawsons or other contending spirits, were lost sight of, hushed to rest in the absorbing calamity which had overtaken Rachel; to say that occupations were partially suspended, that there ensued a glorious interim of idleness, for the female portion of it—­of conferences in gutters and collectings in houses; to say that Rachel was sincerely mourned, old Frost sympathised with, and the supposed assailant vigorously sought after, would be sufficient to indicate that public curiosity was excited to a high pitch; but all this was as nothing compared to the excitement that was to ensue upon the evidence given at the coroner’s inquest.

In the absence of any certain data to go upon, Deerham had been content to take uncertain data, and to come to its own conclusions.  Deerham assumed that Rachel, from some reasons which they could not fathom, had taken the lonely road home that night, had met with somebody or other with whom had ensued a quarrel and scuffle, and that, accidentally or by intent, she had been pushed into the pond, the coward decamping.

“Villainy enough! even if ’twas but an accident!” cried wrathful Deerham.

Villainy enough, beyond all doubt, had this been the extent.  But, Deerham had to learn that the villainy had had a beginning previous to that.

The inquest had been summoned in due course.  It sat two days after the accident.  No evidence, tending to further elucidate the matter, was given, than had been elicited that first night before Mr. Verner; except the medical evidence.  Dr. West and a surgeon from a neighbouring town, who had jointly made the post-mortem examination, testified that there was a cause for Rachel Frost’s unevenness of spirits, spoken to by her father and by Mrs. Verner.  She might possibly, they now thought, have thrown herself into the pool; induced to it by self-condemnation.

It electrified Deerham.  It electrified Mr. Verner.  It worse than electrified Matthew Frost and Robin.  In the first impulse of the news, Mr. Verner declared that it could not be.  But the medical men, with their impassive faces, calmly said that it was.

But, so far as the inquiry went, the medical testimony did not carry the matter any further.  For, if the evidence tended to induce a suspicion that Rachel might have found life a burden, and so wished to end it, it only rendered stronger the suspicion against another.  This supplied the very motive for that other’s conduct which had been wanting, supposing he had indeed got rid of her by violence.  It gave the clue to much which had before been dark.  People could understand now why Rachel should hasten to keep a stealthy appointment; why quarrelling should be heard; in short, why poor Rachel should have been found in the pond.  The jury returned an open verdict—­“Found drowned; but how she got into the water, there is no precise evidence to show.”

Page 38

Robin Frost struggled out of the room as the crowd was dispersing.  His eye was blazing, his cheek burning.  Could Robin have laid his hand at that moment upon the right man, there would speedily have ensued another coroner’s inquest.  The earth was not wide enough for the two to live on it.  Fortunately, Robin could not fix on any one, and say, Thou art the man!  The knowledge was hidden from him.  And yet, the very man may have been at the inquest, side by side with himself.  Nay, he probably was.

Robin Frost cleared himself from the crowd.  He gave vent to a groan of despair; he lifted his strong arms in impotency.  Then he turned and sought Mr. Verner.

Mr. Verner was ill; could not be seen.  Lionel came forward.

“Robin, I am truly sorry—­truly grieved.  We all are.  But I know you will not care to-day to hear me say it.”

“Sir, I wanted to see Mr. Verner,” replied Robin.  “I want to know if that inquest can be squashed.”  Don’t laugh at him now, poor fellow.  He meant quashed.

“The inquest quashed!” repeated Lionel.  “Of course it cannot be.  I don’t know what you mean, Robin.  It has been held, and it cannot be unheld.”

“I should ha’ said the verdict,” explained Robin.  “I’m beside myself to-day, Mr. Lionel.  Can’t Mr. Verner get it squashed?  He knows the crowner.”

“Neither Mr. Verner nor anybody else could do it, Robin.  Why should you wish it done?”

“Because it as good as sets forth a lie,” vehemently answered Robin Frost.  “She never put herself into the water.  Bad as things had turned out with her, poor dear, she never did that.  Mr. Lionel, I ask you, sir, was she likely to do it?”

“I should have deemed it very unlikely,” replied Lionel.  “Until to-day,” he added to his own thoughts.

“No, she never did!  Was it the work of one to go and buy herself aprons, and tape, and cotton for sewing, who was on her way to fling herself into a pond, I’d ask the crowner?” he continued, his voice rising almost to a shriek in his emotion.  “Them aprons be a proof that she didn’t take her own life.  Why didn’t they bring it in Wilful Murder, and have the place scoured out to find him?”

“The verdict will make no difference to the finding him, Robin,” returned Lionel Verner.

“I dun know that, sir.  When a charge of wilful murder’s out in a place, again’ some one of the folks in it, the rest be all on the edge to find him; but ‘Found drownded’ is another thing.  Have you any suspicion again’ anybody, sir?”

He put the question sharply and abruptly, and Lionel Verner looked full in his face as he answered, “No, Robin.”

“Well, good-afternoon, sir.”

He turned away without another word.  Lionel gazed after him with true sympathy.  “He will never recover this blow,” was Lionel Verner’s mental comment.

Page 39

But for this unfortunate occurrence, John Massingbird would have already departed from Verner’s Pride.  The great bane of the two Massingbirds was, that they had been brought up to be idle men.  A sum of money had become theirs when Frederick came of age—­which sum you will call large or small, as it may please you.  It would be as a drop of water to the millionaire; it would be as a countless fortune to one in the depths of poverty:  we estimate things by comparison.  The sum was five thousand pounds each—­Mrs. Massingbird, by her second marriage with Mr. Verner, having forfeited all right in it.  With this sum the young Massingbirds appeared to think that they could live as gentlemen, and need not seek to add to it.

Thrown into the luxurious home of Verner’s Pride—­again we must speak by comparison:  Verner’s Pride was luxurious compared to the moderate home they had been reared in—­John and Frederick Massingbird suffered that worst complaint of all complaints, indolence, to overtake them and become their master.  John, careless, free, unsteady in many ways, set on to spend his portion as fast as he could; Frederick, more cold, more cautious, did not squander as his brother did, but he had managed to get rid of a considerable amount of his own share in unfortunate speculations.  While losses do not affect our personal convenience they are scarcely felt.  And so it was with the Massingbirds.  Mr. Verner was an easy man in regard to money matters; he was also a man who was particularly sensitive to the feelings of other people, and he had never breathed a word to his wife about the inexpediency of her keeping her sons at home in idleness.  He feared his motives might be misconstrued—­that it might be thought he grudged the expense.  He had spoken once or twice of the desirability of his step-sons pursuing some calling in life, and intimated that he should be ready to further their views by pecuniary help; but the advice was not taken.  He offered to purchase a commission for one or both of them; he hinted that the bar afforded a stepping-stone to fame.  No; John and Frederick Massingbird were conveniently deaf; they had grown addicted to field-sports, to a life of leisure, and they did not feel inclined to quit it for one of obligation or of labour.  So they had stayed on at Verner’s Pride in the enjoyment of their comfortable quarters, of the well-spread table, of their horses, their dogs.  All these sources of expense were provided without any cost or concern of theirs, their own private expenditure alone coming out of their private purses.  How it was with their clothes, they and Mrs. Verner best knew; Mr. Verner did not.  Whether these were furnished at their own cost, or whether their mother allowed them to draw for such on her, or, indeed, whether they were scoring up long bills on account, Mr. Verner made it no concern of his to inquire.

Page 40

John—­who was naturally of a roving nature, and who, but for the desirable home he was allowed to call his, would probably have been all over the world before he was his present age, working in his shirt sleeves for bread one day, exalted to some transient luck the next—­had latterly taken a fancy in his head to emigrate to Australia.  Certain friends of his had gone out there a year or two previously, and were sending home flaming accounts of their success at the gold-fields.  It excited in John Massingbird a strong wish to join them.  Possibly other circumstances urged him to the step; for it was certain that his finances were not in so desirable a state as they might be.  With John Massingbird to wish a thing was to do it; and almost before the plan was spoken of, even in his own family, he was ready to start.  Frederick was in his confidence, Lionel partly so, and a hint to his mother was sufficient to induce her to preserve reticence on the subject.  John Massingbird had his reasons for this.  It was announced in the household that Mr. Massingbird was departing on a visit to town, the only one who was told the truth being Rachel Frost.  Rachel was looked upon almost as one of themselves.  Frederick Massingbird had also confided it to Sibylla West—­but Frederick and Sibylla were on more confidential terms than was suspected by the world.  John had made a confident on his own part, and that was of Luke Roy.  Luke, despised by Rachel, whom he truly loved, clearly seeing there was no hope whatever that she would ever favour him, was eager to get away from Deerham—­anywhere, so that he might forget her.  John Massingbird knew this; he liked Luke, and he thought Luke might prove useful to him in the land to which he was emigrating, so he proposed to him to join in the scheme.  Luke warmly embraced it.  Old Roy, whom they were obliged to take into confidence, was won over to it.  He furnished Luke with the needful funds, believing he should be repaid four-fold; for John Massingbird had contrived to imbue him with the firm conviction that gold was to be picked up for the stooping.

Only three days before the tragic event occurred to Rachel, Luke had been despatched to London by John Massingbird to put things in a train of preparation for the voyage.  Luke said nothing abroad of his going, and the village only knew he was away by missing him.

“What’s gone of Luke?” many asked of his father.

“Oh, he’s off to London on some spree; he can tell ye about it when he gets back,” was Roy’s answer.

When he got back!  John’s departure was intended for the day following that one when you saw him packing his clothes, but the untimely end of Rachel had induced him to postpone it.  Or, rather, the command of Mr. Verner—­a command which John could not conveniently disobey had he wished.  He had won over Mr. Verner to promise him a substantial sum, to “set him up,” as he phrased it, in Australia; and that sum was not yet handed to him.

Page 41

CHAPTER VIII.

ROBIN’S VOW.

The revelation at the inquest had affected Mr. Verner in no measured degree, greatly increasing, for the time, his bodily ailments.  He gave orders to be denied to all callers; he could not bear the comments that would be made.  An angry, feverish desire to find out who had played the traitor grew strong within him.  Innocent, pretty, child-like Rachel! who was it that had set himself, in his wickedness, deliberately to destroy her?  Mr. Verner now deemed it more than likely that she had been the author of her own death.  It was of course impossible to tell:  but he dwelt on that part of the tragedy less than on the other.  The one injury was uncertain; the other was a fact.

What rendered it all the more obscure was the absence of any previous grounds of suspicion.  Rachel had never been observed to be on terms of intimacy with any one.  Luke Roy had been anxious to court her, as Verner’s Pride knew; but Rachel had utterly repudiated the wish.  Luke it was not.  And who else was there?

The suspicions of Mr. Verner veered, almost against his will, towards those of his own household.  Not to Lionel; he honestly believed Lionel to be too high-principled:  but towards his step-sons.  He had no particular cause to suspect either of them, unless the testimony of Mrs. Duff’s son about the tall gentleman could furnish it; and it may be said that his suspicion strayed to them only from the total absence of any other quarter to fix it upon.  Of the two, he could rather fix upon John, than Frederick.  No scandal, touching Frederick, had ever reached his ears:  plenty of it touching John.  In fact, Mr. Verner was rather glad to help in shipping John off to some faraway place, for he considered him no credit to Verner’s Pride, or benefit to the neighbourhood.  Venial sins sat lightly on the conscience of John Massingbird.

But this was no venial sin, no case of passing scandal; and Mr. Verner declared to that gentleman that if he found him guilty, he would discard him from Verner’s Pride without a shilling of help.  John Massingbird protested, in the strongest terms, that he was innocent as Mr. Verner himself.

A trifling addition was destined to be brought to the suspicion already directed by Mr. Verner towards Verner’s Pride.  On the night of the inquest Mr. Verner had his dinner served in his study—­the wing of a fowl, of which he ate about a fourth part.  Mrs. Tynn attended on him:  he liked her to do so when he was worse than usual.  He was used to her, and he would talk to her when he would not to others.  He spoke about what had happened, saying that he felt as if it would shorten his life.  He would give anything, he added, half in self-soliloquy, to have the point cleared up of who it was young Duff had seen in the lane.  Mrs. Tynn answered this, lowering her voice.

“It was one of our young gentlemen, sir; there’s, no doubt of it.  Dolly saw one of them come in.”

Page 42

“Dolly did!” echoed Mr. Verner.

Mrs. Tynn proceeded to explain.  Dolly, the dairymaid at Verner’s Pride, was ill-conducted enough (as Mrs. Tynn would tell her, for the fact did not give that ruling matron pleasure) to have a sweetheart.  Worse still, Dolly was in the habit of stealing out to meet him when he left work, which was at eight o’clock.  On the evening of the accident, Dolly, abandoning her dairy, and braving the wrath of Mrs. Tynn, should she be discovered, stole out to a sheltered spot in the rear of the house, the usual meeting-place.  Scarcely was she ensconced here when the swain arrived; who, it may be remarked, en passant, filled the important post of waggoner to Mr. Bitterworth.  The spot was close to the small green gate which led to the lane already spoken of; it led to that only; and, while he and Dolly were talking and making love, after their own rustic fashion, they saw Dan Duff come from the direction of the house, and pass through the gate, whistling.  A short while subsequently the gate was heard to open again.  Dolly looked out, and saw what she took to be one of the gentlemen come in, from the lane, walking very fast.  Dolly looked but casually, the moonlight was obscured there, and she did not particularly notice which of them it was; whether Mr. Lionel, or either of Mrs. Verner’s sons.  But the impression received into her mind was that it was one of the three; and Dolly could not be persuaded out of that to this very day.

“Hush—­sh—­sh!” cried she to her sweetheart, “it’s one o’ the young masters.”

The quick steps passed on:  but whether they turned into the yard, or took the side path which would conduct round to the front entrance, or bore right across, and so went out into the public road, Dolly did not notice.  Very shortly after this—­time passes swiftly when people are courting, of which fact the Italians have a proverb—­Dan Duff came bursting back again, calling, and crying, and telling the tidings of Rachel Frost.  This was the substance of what Mrs. Tynn told Mr. Verner.

“Dolly said nothing of this before!” he exclaimed.

“Not she, sir.  She didn’t dare confess that she’d been off all that while from her dairy.  She let drop a word, and I have got it out of her piecemeal.  I have threatened her, sir, that if ever she mentions it again, I’ll get her turned off.”

“Why did you threaten her?” he hastily asked.

Mrs. Tynn dropped her voice.  “I thought it might not be pleasant to have it talked of, sir.  She thinks I’m only afraid of the neglect of work getting to the ears of Mrs. Verner.”

Page 43

This was the trifling addition.  Not very much in itself, but it served to bear out the doubts Mr. Verner already entertained.  Was it John or was it Frederick who had come in?  Or was it—­Lionel?  There appeared to be no more certainty that it was one than another.  Mr. Verner had minutely inquired into the proceedings of John and Frederick Massingbird that night, and he had come to the conclusion that both could have been in the lane at that particular hour.  Frederick, previously to entering the house for his dinner, after he had left the veterinary surgeon’s, Poynton; John, before he paid his visit to the Royal Oak.  John appeared to have called in at several places, and his account was not particularly clear.  Lionel, Mr. Verner had not thought it necessary to question.  He sent for him as soon as his dinner-tray was cleared away:  it was as well to be indisputably sure of him before fastening the charge on either of the others.

“Sit down, Lionel,” said Mr. Verner.  “I want to talk to you.  Had you finished your dinner?”

“Quite, thank you.  You look very ill to-night,” Lionel added, as he drew a chair to the fire; and his tone insensibly became gentle, as he gazed on his uncle’s pale face.

“How can I look otherwise?  This trouble is worrying me to death.  Lionel, I have discovered, beyond doubt, that it was one of you young men who was in the lane that night.”

Lionel, who was then leaning over the fire, turned his head with a quick, surprised gesture towards Mr. Verner.  The latter proceeded to tell Lionel the substance of the communication made to him by Mrs. Tynn.  Lionel sat, bending forward, his elbow on his knee, and his fingers unconsciously running amidst the curls of his dark chestnut hair, as he listened to it.  He did not interrupt the narrative, or speak at its conclusion.

“You see, Lionel, it appears certain to have been some one belonging to this house.”

“Yes, sir.  Unless Dolly was mistaken.”

“Mistaken as to what?” sharply asked Mr. Verner, who, when he made up his own mind that a thing was so-and-so, could not bear to be opposed.  “Mistaken that some one came in at the gate?”

“I do not see how she could be mistaken in that,” replied Lionel.  “I meant mistaken as to its being any one belonging to the house.”

"Is it likely that any one would come in at that gate at night, unless they belonged to the house, or were coming to the house?” retorted Mr. Verner.  “Would a stranger drop from the clouds to come in at it?  Or was it Di Roy’s ‘ghost,’ think you?” he sarcastically added.

Lionel did not answer.  He vacantly ran his fingers through his hair, apparently in deep thought.

“I have abstained from asking you the explicit details of your movements on that evening,” continued Mr. Verner, “but I must demand them of you now.”

Lionel started up, his cheek on fire.  “Sir,” he uttered, with emotion, “you cannot suspect me of having had act or part in it!  I declare, before Heaven, that Rachel was as sacred for me—­”

Page 44

“Softly, Lionel,” interrupted Mr. Verner, “there’s no cause for you to break your head against a wheel.  It is not you whom I suspect—­thank God!  But I wish to be sure of your movements—­to be able to speak of them as sure, you understand—­before I accuse another.”

“I will willingly tell you every movement of mine that evening, so far as I remember,” said Lionel, resuming his calmness.  “I came home when dinner was half over.  I had been detained—­but you know all that,” he broke off.  “When you left the dining-room, I went on to the terrace, and sat there smoking a cigar.  I should think I stayed there an hour, or more; and then I went upstairs, changed my coat, and proceeded to Mr. Bitterworth’s.”

“What took you to Mr. Bitterworth’s that evening, Lionel?”

Lionel hesitated.  He did not choose to say, “Because I knew Sibylla West was to be there;” but that would have been the true answer.  “I had nothing particular to do with my evening, so I went up,” he said aloud.  “Mr. Bitterworth was out.  Mrs. Bitterworth thought he had gone into Deerham.”

“Yes.  He was at Deerham when the alarm was given, and hastened on here.  Sibylla West was there, was she not?”

“She was there,” said Lionel.  “She had promised to be home early; and, as no one came for her, I saw her home.  It was after I left her that I heard what had occurred.”

“About what time did you get there—­I mean to Bitterworth’s?” questioned Mr. Verner, who appeared to have his thoughts filled with other things at that moment than with Sibylla West.

“I cannot be sure,” replied Lionel.  “I think it must have been nine o’clock.  I went into Deerham to the post-office, and then came back to Bitterworth’s.”

Mr. Verner mused.

“Lionel,” he observed, “it is a curious thing, but there’s not one of you but might have been the party to the quarrel that night; so, far as that your time cannot be positively accounted for by minutes and by hours.  I mean, were the accusation brought publicly against you, you would, none of you, be able to prove a distinct alibi, as it seems to me.  For instance, who is to prove that you did not, when you were sitting on the terrace, steal across to a rendezvous at the Willow Pond, or cut across to it when you were at the post-office at Deerham?”

“I certainly did not,” said Lionel quietly, taking the remarks only as they were meant—­for an illustration.  “It might, sir, as you observe, be difficult to prove a decided alibi.  But”—­he rose and bent to Mr. Verner, with a bright smile, a clear, truthful eye—­“I do not think you need one to believe me.”

“No, Lionel, I do not.  Is John Massingbird in the dining-room?”

“He was when I left it.”

“Then go and send him to me.”

John Massingbird was found and despatched to Mr. Verner, without any reluctance on his own part.  He had been bestowing hard words upon Lionel for “taking up the time of the old man” just on the evening when he wanted to take it up himself.  The truth was, John Massingbird was intending to depart the following morning, the Fates and Mr. Verner permitting him.

Page 45

Their interview was a long one.  Two hours, full, had they been closeted together when Robin Frost made his appearance again at Verner’s Pride, and craved once more an interview with Mr. Verner.  “If it was only for a minute—­only for a minute!” he implored.

Remembering the overwhelming sorrow which had fallen on the man, Lionel did not like again to deny him without first asking Mr. Verner.  He went himself to the study.

“Come in,” called out Mr. Verner, in answer to the knock.

He was sitting in his chair as usual; John Massingbird was standing up, his elbow on the mantle-piece.  That their conversation must have been of an exciting nature was evident, and Lionel could not help noticing the signs.  John Massingbird had a scarlet streak on his sallow cheek, never seen there above once or twice in his life, and then caused by deep emotion.  Mr. Verner, on his part, looked livid.  Robin Frost might come in.

Lionel called him, and he came in with Frederick Massingbird.

The man could hardly speak for agitation.  He believed the verdict could not be set aside, he said; others had told him so besides Mr. Lionel.  He had come to ask if Mr. Verner would offer a reward.

“A reward!” repeated Mr. Verner mechanically, with the air of a man whose mind is far away.

“If you’d please to offer it, sir, I’d work the flesh off my bones to pay it back again,” he urged.  “I’ll live upon a crust myself, and I’ll keep my home upon a crust, but what I’ll get it up.  If there’s a reward pasted up, sir, we might come upon the villain.”

Mr. Verner appeared, then, to awake to the question before him, and to awake to it in terrible excitement.

“He’ll never be found, Robin—­the villain will never be found, so long as you and I and the world shall last!”

They looked at him in consternation—­Lionel, Frederick Massingbird, and Robin Frost.  Mr. Verner recollected himself, and calmed his spirit down.

“I mean, Robin,” he more quietly said, “that a reward will be useless.  The villain has been too cunning, rely upon it, to—­to—­leave his traces behind him.”

“It might be tried, sir,” respectfully urged Robin.  “I’d work—­”

“You can come up to-morrow, Robin, and I’ll talk with you,” interrupted Mr. Verner.  “I am too ill—­too much upset to-night.  Come at any hour you please, after twelve, and I will see you.”

“I’ll come, sir.  I’ve registered a vow afore my old father,” went on Robin, lifting his right arm, “and I register it again afore you, sir—­afore our future master, Mr. Lionel—­that I’ll never leave a stone unturned by night nor by day, that I’ll make it my first and foremost business in life to find that man.  And when I’ve found him—­let him be who he will—­either him or me shall die.  So help me—­”

“Be still, Robin!” passionately interposed Mr. Verner, in a voice that startled the man.  “Vows are bad things.  I have found them so.”

Page 46

“It was registered afore, sir,” significantly answered Robin, as he turned away.  “I’ll be up here to-morrow.”

The morrow brought forth two departures from Verner’s Pride.  John Massingbird started for London in pursuit of his journey, Mr. Verner having behaved to him liberally.  And Lionel Verner was summoned in hot haste to Paris, where his brother had just met with an accident, and was supposed to be lying between life and death.

CHAPTER IX.

MR. VERNER’S ESTRANGEMENT.

The former chapters may be looked upon somewhat in the light of an introduction to what is to follow.  It was necessary to relate the events recorded in them, but we must take a leap of not far short of two years from the date of their occurrence.

John Massingbird and his attendant, Luke Roy, had arrived safely at Melbourne in due course.  Luke had written home one letter to his mother, and there his correspondence ended; but John Massingbird wrote frequently, both to Mrs. Verner and to his brother Frederick.  John, according to his own account, appeared to be getting on all one way.  The money he took out had served him well.  He had made good use of it, and was accumulating a fortune rapidly.  Such was his statement; but whether implicit reliance might be placed upon it was a question.  Gay John was apt to deceive himself; was given to look on the bright side, and to imbue things with a tinge of couleur de rose; when, for less sanguine eyes, the tinge would have shone out decidedly yellow.  The time went on, and his last account told of a “glorious nugget” he had picked up at the diggings.  “Almost as big as his head,” a “fortune in itself,” ran some of the phrases in his letters; and his intention was to go down himself to Melbourne and “realise the thousands” for it.  His letter to Frederick was especially full of this; and he strongly recommended his brother to come out and pick up nuggets on his own score.  Frederick Massingbird appeared very much inclined to take the hint.

“Were I only sure it was all gospel, I’d go to-morrow,” observed Frederick Massingbird to Lionel Verner, one day that the discussion of the contents of John’s letter had been renewed, a month or two subsequent to its arrival.  “A year’s luck, such as this, and a man might come home a millionaire.  I wish I knew whether to put entire faith in it.”

“Why should John deceive you?” asked Lionel.

“He’d not deceive me wilfully.  He has no cause to deceive me.  The question is, is he deceived himself?  Remember what grand schemes he would now and then become wild upon here, saying and thinking he had found the philosopher’s stone.  And how would they turn out?  This may be one of the same calibre.  I wonder we did not hear again by the last month’s mail.”

“There’s a mail due now.”

“I know there is,” said Frederick.  “Should it bring news to confirm this, I shall go out to him.”

Page 47

“The worst is, those diggings appear to be all a lottery,” remarked Lionel.  “Where one gets his pockets lined, another starves.  Nay, ten—­fifty—­more, for all we know, starve for the one lucky one.  I should not, myself, feel inclined to risk the journey to them.”

You! It’s not likely you would,” was the reply of Frederick Massingbird.  “Everybody was not born heir to Verner’s Pride.”

Lionel laughed pleasantly.  They were pacing the terrace in the sunshine of a winter’s afternoon, a crisp, cold, bright day in January.  At that moment Tynn came out of the house and approached them.

“My master is up, sir, and would like the paper read to him,” said he, addressing Frederick Massingbird.

“Oh, bother, I can’t stop now,” broke from that gentleman involuntarily.  “Tynn, you need not say that you found me here.  I have an appointment, and I must hasten to keep it.”

Lionel Verner looked at his watch.

“I can spare half an hour,” he observed to himself; and he proceeded to Mr. Verner’s room.

The old study that you have seen before.  And there sat Mr. Verner in the same arm-chair, cushioned and padded more than it had used to be.  What a change there was in him!  Shrunken, wasted, drawn:  surely there would be no place very long in this world for Mr. Verner.

He was leaning forward in his chair, his back bowed, his hands resting on his stick, which was stretched out before him.  He lifted his head when Lionel entered, and an expression, partly of displeasure, partly of pain, passed over his countenance.

“Where’s Frederick?”

“Frederick has an appointment out, sir.  I will read to you.”

“I thought you were going down to your mother’s,” rejoined Mr. Verner, his accent not softening in the least.

“I need not go for this half hour yet,” replied Lionel, taking up the Times, which lay on a table near Mr. Verner.  “Have you looked at the headings of the news, sir; or shall I go over them for you, and then you can tell me what you wish read?”

“I don’t want anything read by you,” said Mr. Verner.  “Put the paper down.”

Lionel did not immediately obey.  A shade of mortification had crossed his face.

“Do you hear me, Lionel?  Put the paper down.  You know how it fidgets me to hear those papers ruffled, when I am not in a mood for reading.”

Lionel rose, and stood before Mr. Verner.  “Uncle, I wish you would let me do something for you.  Better send me out of the house altogether, than treat me with this estrangement.  Will it be of any use my asking you, for the hundredth time, what I did to displease you?”

“I tell you I don’t want the paper read,” said Mr. Verner.  “And if you’d leave me alone I should be glad.  Perhaps I shall get a wink of sleep.  All night, all night, and my eyes were never closed!  It’s time I was gone.”

The concluding sentences were spoken as in soliloquy; not to Lionel.  Lionel, who knew his uncle’s every mood, quitted the room.  As he closed the door, a heavy groan, born of displeasure mingled with pain, as the greeting look had been, was sent after him by Mr. Verner.  Very emphatically did it express his state of feeling with regard to Lionel; and Lionel felt it keenly.

Page 48

Lionel Verner had remained in Paris six months, when summoned thither by the accident to his brother.  The accident need not have detained him half that period of time; but the seductions of the gay French capital had charms for Lionel.  From the very hour that he set foot in Verner’s Pride on his return, he found that Mr. Verner’s behaviour had altered to him.  He showed bitter, angry estrangement, and Lionel could only conceive one cause for it—­his long sojourn abroad.  Fifteen or sixteen months had now elapsed since his return, and the estrangement had not lessened.  In vain Lionel sought an explanation.  Mr. Verner would not enter upon it.  In fact, so far as direct words went, Mr. Verner had not expressed much of his displeasure; he left it to his manner.  That said enough.  He had never dropped the slightest allusion as to its cause.  When Lionel asked an explanation, he neither accorded nor denied it, but would put him off evasively; as he might have put off a child who asked a troublesome question.  You have now seen him do so once again.

After the rebuff, Lionel was crossing the hall when he suddenly halted, as if a thought struck him, and he turned back to the study.  If ever a man’s attitude bespoke utter grief and prostration, Mr. Verner’s did, as Lionel opened the door.  His head and hands had fallen, and his stick had dropped upon the carpet.  He started out of his reverie at the appearance of Lionel, and made an effort to recover his stick.  Lionel hastened to pick it up for him.

“I have been thinking, sir, that it might be well for Decima to go in the carriage to the station, to receive Miss Tempest.  Shall I order it?”

“Order anything you like; order all Verner’s Pride—­what does it matter?  Better for some of us, perhaps, that it had never existed.”

Hastily, abruptly, carelessly was the answer given.  There was no mistaking that Mr. Verner was nearly beside himself with mental pain.

Lionel went round to the stables, to give the order he had suggested.  One great feature in the character of Lionel Verner was its complete absence of assumption.  Courteously refined in mind and feelings, he could not have presumed.  Others, in his position, might have deemed they were but exercising a right.  Though the presumptive heir to Verner’s Pride, living in it, brought up as such, he would not, you see, even send out its master’s unused carriage, without that master’s sanction.  In little things as in great, Lionel Verner could but be a thorough gentleman:  to be otherwise he must have changed his nature.

“Wigham, will you take the close carriage to Deerham Court.  It is wanted for Miss Verner.”

“Very well, sir.”  But Wigham, who had been coachman in the family nearly as many years as Lionel had been in the world, wondered much, for all his prompt reply.  He scarcely ever remembered a Verner’s Pride carriage to have been ordered for Miss Verner.

Page 49

Lionel passed into the high road from Verner’s Pride, and, turning to the left, commenced his walk to Deerham.  There were no roadside houses for a little way, but they soon began, by ones, by twos, until at last they grew into a consecutive street.  These houses were mostly very poor; small shops, beer-houses, labourers’ cottages; but a turning to the right in the midst of the village led to a part where the houses were of a superior character, several gentlemen living there.  It was a new road, called Belvedere Road; the first house in it being inhabited by Dr. West.

Lionel cast a glance across at that house as he passed down the long street.  At least, as much as he could see of it, looking obliquely.  His glance was not rewarded.  Very frequently pretty Sibylla would be at the windows, or her vain sister Amilly.  Though, if vanity is to be brought in, I don’t know where it would be found in an equal degree, as it was in Sibylla West.  The windows appeared to be untenanted, and Lionel withdrew his eyes and passed straightly on his way.  On his left hand was situated the shop of Mrs. Duff; its prints, its silk neckerchiefs, and its ribbons displayed in three parts of its bow-window.  The fourth part was devoted to more ignominious articles, huddled indiscriminately into a corner.  Children’s Dutch dolls and black-lead, penny tale-books and square pink packets of cocoa, bottles of ink and india-rubber balls, side combs and papers of stationery, scented soap and Circassian cream (home made), tape, needles, pins, starch, bandoline, lavender-water, baking-powder, iron skewers, and a host of other articles too numerous to notice.  Nothing came amiss to Mrs. Duff.  She patronised everything she thought she could turn a penny by.

“Your servant, sir,” said she, dropping a curtsy as Lionel came up; for Mrs. Duff was standing at the door.

He merely nodded to her, and went on.  Whether it was the sight of the woman or of some lavender prints hanging in her window, certain it was, that the image of poor Rachel Frost came vividly into the mind of Lionel.  Nothing had been heard, nothing found, to clear up the mystery of that past night.

CHAPTER X.

LADY VERNER.

AT the extremity of the village, lying a little back from it, was a moderate-sized, red brick house, standing in the midst of lands, and called Deerham Court.  It had once been an extensive farm; but the present tenant, Lionel’s mother, rented the house, but only very little of the land.  The land was let to a neighbouring farmer.  Nearly a mile beyond—­you could see its towers and its chimneys from the Court—­rose the stately old mansion, called Deerham Hall, Deerham Court, and a great deal of the land and property on that side of the village, belonged to Sir Rufus Hautley, a proud, unsociable man.  He lived at the Hall; and his only son, between whom and himself it was conjectured there existed some estrangement, had purchased into an Indian regiment, where he was now serving.

Page 50

Lionel Verner passed the village, branched off to the right, and entered the great iron gates which enclosed the courtyard of Deerham Court.  A very unpretending entrance admitted him into a spacious hall, the hall being the largest and best part of the house.  Those great iron gates and the hall would have done honour to a large mansion; and they gave an appearance of pretension to Deerham Court which it did not deserve.

Lionel opened a door on the left, and entered a small ante-room.  This led him into the only really good room the house contained.  It was elegantly furnished and fitted up, and its two large windows looked towards the open country, and to Deerham Hall.  Seated by the fire, in a rich violet dress, a costly white lace cap shading her delicate face, that must have been so beautiful, indeed, that was beautiful still, was a lady of middle age.  Her seat was low—­one of those chairs we are pleased to call, commonly and irreverently, a prie-dieu.  Its back was carved in arabesque foliage, and its seat was of rich violet velvet.  On a small inlaid table, whose carvings were as beautiful, and its top inlaid with mosaic-work, lay a dainty handkerchief of lace, a bottle of smelling-salts, and a book turned with its face downwards, all close at the lady’s elbow.  She was sitting in idleness just then—­she always did sit in idleness—­her face bent on the fire, her small hands, cased in white gloves, lying motionless on her lap—­ay, a beautiful face once, though it had grown habitually peevish and discontented now.  She turned her head when the door opened, and a flush of bloom rose to her cheeks when she saw Lionel.

He went up and kissed her.  He loved her much.  She loved him, too, better than she loved anything in life; and she drew a chair close to her, and he sat down, bending towards her.  There was not much likeness between them, the mother and the son; both were very good-looking, but not alike.

“You see, mother mine, I am not late, as you prophesied I should be,” said he, with one of his sweetest smiles.

“You would have been, Lionel, but for my warning.  I’m sure I wish—­I wish she was not coming!  She must remember the old days in India, and will perceive the difference.”

“She will scarcely remember India, when you were there.  She is only a child yet, isn’t she?”

“You know nothing about it, Lionel,” was the querulous answer.  “Whether she remembers or not, will she expect to see me in such a house, in such a position as this?  It is at these seasons, when people are coming here, who know what I have been and ought to be, that I feel all the humiliation of my poverty.  Lucy Tempest is nineteen.”

Lionel Verner knew that it was of no use to argue with his mother, when she began upon that most unsatisfactory topic, her position; which included what she called her “poverty” and her “wrongs.”  Though, in truth, not a day passed but she broke out upon it.

Page 51

“Lionel,” she suddenly said.

He had been glancing over the pages of the book—­a new work on India.  He laid it down as he had found it, and turned to her.

“What shall you allow me when you come into Verner’s Pride?”

“Whatever you shall wish, mother.  You shall name the sum, not I. And if you name too modest a one,” he added laughingly, “I shall double it.  But Verner’s Pride must be your home then, as well as mine.”

“Never!” was the emphatic answer.  “What! to be turned out of it again by the advent of a young wife?  No, never, Lionel.”

Lionel laughed—­constrainedly this time.

“I may not be bringing home a young wife for this many and many a year to come.”

“If you never brought one, I would not make my home at Verner’s Pride,” she resumed, in the same impulsive voice.  “Live in the house by favour, that ought to have been mine by right?  You would not be my true son to ask me, Lionel.  Catherine, is that you?” she called out, as the movements of some one were heard in the ante-room.

A woman-servant put in her head.

“My lady?”

“Tell Miss Verner that Mr. Lionel is here?”

“Miss Verner knows it, my lady,” was the woman’s reply.  “She bade me ask you, sir,” addressing Lionel, “if you’d please to step out to her.”

“Is she getting ready, Catherine?” asked Lady Verner.

“I think not, my lady.”

“Go to her, Lionel, and ask her if she knows the time.  A pretty thing if you arrive at the station after the train is in!”

Lionel quitted the room.  Outside in the hall stood Catherine, waiting for him.

“Miss Verner has met with a little accident and hurt her foot, sir,” she whispered.  “She can’t walk.”

“Not walk!” exclaimed Lionel.  “Where is she?”

“She is in the store-room, sir; where it happened.”

Lionel went to the store-room, a small boarded room at the back of the hall.  A young lady sat there; a very pretty white foot in a wash-hand basin of warm water, and a shoe and stocking lying; near, as if hastily thrown off.

“Why, Decima! what is this?”

[Illustration:  “Why, Decima! what is this?”]

She lifted her face.  A face whose features were of the highest order of beauty, regular as if chiselled from marble, and little less colourless.  But for the large, earnest, dark-blue eyes, so full of expression, it might have been accused of coldness.  In sleep, or in perfect repose, when the eyelids were bent, it looked strangely cold and pure.  Her dark hair was braided; and she wore a dress something the same in colour as Lady Verner’s.

“Lionel, what shall I do?  And to-day of all days!  I shall be obliged to tell mamma; I cannot walk a step.”

“What is the injury?  How did you meet with it?”

“I got on a chair.  I was looking for some old Indian ornaments that I know are in that high cupboard, wishing to put them in Miss Tempest’s room, and somehow the chair tilted with me, and I fell upon my foot.  It is only a sprain; but I cannot walk.”

Page 52

“How do you know it is only a sprain, Decima?  I shall send West to you.”

“Thank you all the same, Lionel, but, if you please, I don’t like Dr. West well enough to have him,” was Miss Verner’s answer.  “See!  I don’t think I can walk.”

She took her foot out of the basin, and attempted to try.  But for Lionel she would have fallen; and her naturally pale face became paler from the pain.

“And you say you will not have Dr. West!” he cried, gently putting her into the chair again.  “You must allow me to judge for you, Decima.”

“Then, Lionel, I’ll have Jan—­if I must have any one.  I have more faith in him,” she added, lifting her large blue eyes, “than in Dr. West.”

“Let it be Jan, then, Decima.  Send one of the servants for him at once.  What is to be done about Miss Tempest?”

“You must go alone.  Unless you can persuade mamma out.  Lionel, you will tell mamma about this.  She must be told.”

As Lionel crossed the hall on his return, the door was being opened; the Verner’s Pride carriage had just driven up.  Lady Verner had seen it from the window of the ante-room, and her eyes spoke her displeasure.

“Lionel, what brings that here?”

“I told them to bring it for Decima.  I thought you would prefer that Miss Tempest should be met with that rather than with a hired one.”

“Miss Tempest will know soon enough that I am too poor to keep a carriage,” said Lady Verner.  “Decima may use it if she pleases.  I would not.”

“My dear mother, Decima will not be able to use it.  She cannot go to the station.  She has hurt her foot.”

“How did she do that?”

“She was on a chair in the store-room, looking in the cupboard.  She——­”

“Of course; that’s just like Decima!” crossly responded Lady Verner.  “She is everlastingly at something or other, doing half the work of a servant about the house.”

Lionel made no reply.  He knew that, but for Decima, the house would be less comfortable than it was for Lady Verner; and that what Decima did, she did in love.

“Will you go to the station?” he inquired.

“I!  In this cold wind!  How can you ask me, Lionel?  I should get my face chapped irretrievably.  If Decima cannot go, you must go alone.”

“But how shall I know Miss Tempest?”

“You must find her out,” said Lady Verner.  “Her mother was as tall as a giantess; perhaps she is the same.  Is Decima much hurt?”

“She thinks it is only a sprain.  We have sent for Jan.”

“For Jan!  Much good he will do!” returned Lady Verner, in so contemptuous a tone as to prove she had no very exalted opinion of Mr.  “Jan’s” abilities.

Lionel went out to the carriage, and stepped in.  The footman did not shut the door.  “And Miss Verner, sir?”

“Miss Verner is not coming.  The railway station.  Tell Wigham to drive fast, or I shall be late.”

Page 53

“My lady wouldn’t let Miss Decima come out in it,” thought Wigham to himself, as he drove on.

CHAPTER XI.

LUCY TEMPEST.

The words of my lady, “as tall as a giantess,” unconsciously influenced the imagination of Lionel Verner.  The train was steaming into the station at one end as his carriage stopped at the other.  Lionel leaped from it, and mingled with the bustle of the platform.

Not very much bustle, either; and it would have been less, but that Deerham Station was the nearest approach, as yet, by rail, to Heartburg, a town of some note about four miles distant.  Not a single tall lady got out of the train.  Not a lady at all that Lionel could see.  There were two fat women, tearing about after their luggage, both habited in men’s drab greatcoats, or what looked like them; and there was one very young lady, who stood back in apparent perplexity, gazing at the scene of confusion around her.

She cannot be Miss Tempest,” deliberated Lionel.  “If she is, my mother must have mistaken her age; she looks but a child.  No harm in asking her, at any rate.”

He went up to the young lady.  A very pleasant-looking girl, fair, with a peach bloom upon her cheeks, dark brown hair and eyes, soft and brown and luminous.  Those eyes were wandering to all parts of the platform, some anxiety in their expression.

Lionel raised his hat.

“I beg your pardon.  Have I the honour of addressing Miss Tempest?”

“Oh, yes, that is my name,” she answered, looking up at him, the peach bloom deepening to a glow of satisfaction, and the soft eyes lighting with a glad smile.  “Have you come to meet me?”

“I have.  I come from my mother, Lady Verner.”

“I am so glad,” she rejoined, with a frank sincerity of manner perfectly refreshing in these modern days of artificial young ladyism.  “I was beginning to think nobody had come; and then what could I have done?”

“My sister would have come with me to receive you, but for an accident which occurred to her just before it was time to start.  Have you any luggage?”

“There’s the great box I brought from India, and a hair-trunk, and my school-box.  It is all in the van.”

“Allow me to take you out of this crowd, and it shall be seen to,” said Lionel, bending to offer his arm.

She took it, and turned with him; but stopped ere more than a step or two had been taken.

“We are going wrong.  The luggage is up that way.”

“I am taking you to the carriage.  The luggage will be all right.”

He was placing her in it, when she suddenly drew back and surveyed it.

“What a pretty carriage!” she exclaimed.

Many said the same of the Verner’s Pride equipages.  The colour of the panels was of that rich shade of blue called ultra-marine, with white linings and hammer-cloths, while a good deal of silver shone on the harness of the horses.  The servants’ livery was white and silver, their small-clothes blue.

Page 54

Lionel handed her in.

“Have we far to go?” she asked.

“Not five minutes’ drive.”

He closed the door, gave the footman directions about the luggage, took his own seat by the coachman, and the carriage started.  Lady Verner came to the door of the Court to receive Miss Tempest.

In the old Indian days of Lady Verner, she and Sir Lionel had been close and intimate friends of Colonel and Mrs. Tempest.  Subsequently Mrs. Tempest had died, and their only daughter had been sent to a clergyman’s family in England for her education—­a very superior place, where six pupils only were taken.  But she was of an age to leave it now, and Colonel Tempest, who contemplated soon being home, had craved of Lady Verner to receive her in the interim.

“Lionel,” said his mother to him, “you must stop here for the rest of the day, and help to entertain her.”

“Why, what can I do towards it?” responded Lionel.

“You can do something.  You can talk.  They have got Decima into her room, and I must be up and down with her.  I don’t like leaving Lucy alone the first day she is in the house; she will take a prejudice against it.  One blessed thing, she seams quite simple—­not exacting.”

“Anything but exacting, I should say,” replied Lionel.  “I will stay for an hour or two, if you like, mother, but I must be home to dinner.”

Lady Verner need not have troubled herself about “entertaining” Lucy Tempest.  She was accustomed to entertain herself; and as to any ceremony or homage being paid to her, she would not have understood it, and might have felt embarrassed had it been tendered.  She had not been used to anything of the sort.  Could Lady Verner have seen her then, at the very moment she was talking to Lionel, her fears might have been relieved.  Lucy Tempest had found her way to Decima’s room, and had taken up her position in a very undignified fashion at that young lady’s feet, her soft, candid brown eyes fixed upwards on Decima’s face, and her tongue busy with reminiscences of India.  After some time spent in this manner, she was scared away by the entrance of a gentleman whom Decima called “Jan.”  Upon which she proceeded to the chamber she had been shown to as hers, to dress; a process which did not appear to be very elaborate by the time it took, and then she went downstairs to find Lady Verner.

Lady Verner had not quitted Lionel.  She had been grumbling and complaining all that time.  It was half the pastime of Lady Verner’s life to grumble in the ears of Lionel and Decima.  Bitterly mortified had Lady Verner been when she found, upon her arrival from India, that Stephen Verner, her late husband’s younger brother, had succeeded to Verner’s Pride, to the exclusion of herself and of Lionel; and bitterly mortified she remained.  Whether it had been by some strange oversight on the part of old Mr. Verner, or whether it had been intentional, no provision whatever

Page 55

had been left by him to Lady Verner and to her children.  Stephen Verner would have remedied this.  On the arrival of Lady Verner, he had proposed to pay over to her yearly a certain sum out of the estate; but Lady Verner, smarting under disappointment, under the sense of injustice, had flung his proposal back to him.  Never, so long as he lived, she told Stephen Verner, passionately, would she be obliged to him for the worth of a sixpence in money or in kind.  And she had kept her word.

Her income was sadly limited.  It was very little besides her pay as a colonel’s widow; and to Lady Verner it seemed less than it really was, for her habits were somewhat expensive.  She took this house, Deerham Court, then to be let without the land, had it embellished inside and out—­which cost her more than she could afford, and had since resided in it.  She would not have rented under Mr. Verner had he paid her to do it.  She declined all intercourse with Verner’s Pride; had never put her foot over its threshold.  Decima went once in a way; but she, never.  If she and Stephen Verner met abroad, she was coldly civil to him; she was indifferently haughty to Mrs. Verner, whom she despised in her heart for not being a lady.  With all her deficiencies, Lady Verner was essentially a gentlewoman—­not to be one amounted in her eyes to little less than a sin.  No wonder that she, with her delicate beauty of person, her quiet refinements of dress, shrank within herself as she swept past poor Mrs. Verner, with her great person, her crimson face, and her flaunting colours!  No wonder that Lady Verner, smarting under her wrongs, passed half her time giving utterance to them; or that her smooth face was acquiring premature wrinkles of discontent.  Lionel had a somewhat difficult course to steer between Verner’s Pride and Deerham Court, so as to keep friends with both.

Lucy Tempest appeared at the door.  She stood there hesitating, after the manner of a timid school-girl.  They turned round and saw her.

“If you please, may I come in?”

Lady Verner could have sighed over the deficiency of “style,” or confidence, whichever you may like to term it.  Lionel laughed, as he crossed the room to throw the door wider by way of welcome.

She wore a light shot pink dress of peculiar material, a sort of cashmere, very fine and soft.  Looking at it one way it was pink, the other, mauve; the general shade of it was beautiful.  Lady Verner could have sighed again:  if the wearer was deficient in style, so also was the dress.  A low body and short sleeves, perfectly simple, a narrow bit of white lace alone edging them:  nothing on her neck, nothing on her arms, no gloves.  A child of seven might have been so dressed.  Lady Verner looked at her, her brow knit, and various thoughts running through her brain.  She began to fear that Miss Tempest would require so much training as would give her trouble.

Lucy saw the look, and deemed that her attire was wrong.

Page 56

“Ought I to have put on my best things—­my new silk?” she asked.

My new silk!  My best things!  Lady Verner was almost at a loss for an answer.  “You have not an extensive wardrobe, possibly, my dear?”

“Not very,” replied Lucy.  “This was my best dress, until I had my new silk.  Mrs. Cust told me to put this one on for dinner to-day, and she said if Lady—­if you and Miss Verner dressed very much, I could change it for the silk to-morrow.  It is a beautiful dress,” Lucy added, looking ingenuously at Lady Verner, “a pearl gray.  Then I have my morning dresses, and then my white for dancing.  Mrs. Cust said that anything you found deficient in my wardrobe it would be better for you to supply, than for her, as you would be the best judge of what I should require.”

“Mrs. Cust does not pay much attention to dress, probably,” observed Lady Verner coldly.  “She is a clergyman’s wife.  It is sad taste when people neglect themselves, whatever may be the duties of their station.”

“But Mrs. Cust does not neglect herself,” spoke up Lucy, a surprised look upon her face.  “She is always dressed nicely—­not fine, you know.  Mrs. Cust says that the lower classes have become so fine nowadays, that nearly the only way you may know a lady, until she speaks, is by her quiet simplicity.”

“My dear, Mrs. Cust should say elegant simplicity,” corrected Lady Verner.  “She ought to know.  She is of good family.”

Lucy humbly acquiesced.  She feared she herself must be too “quiet” to satisfy Lady Verner.  “Will you be so kind, then, as to get me what you please?” she asked.

“My daughter will see to all these things, Lucy,” replied Lady Verner.  “She is not young like you, and she is remarkably steady, and experienced.”

“She does not look old,” said Lucy, in her open candour.  “She is very pretty.”

“She is turned five-and-twenty.  Have you seen her?”

“I have been with her ever so long.  We were talking about India.  She remembers my dear mamma; and, do you know”—­her bright expression fading to sadness—­“I can scarcely remember her!  I should have stayed with Decima—­may I call her Decima?” broke off Lucy, with a faltering tongue, as if she had done wrong.

“Certainly you may.”

“I should have stayed with Decima until now, talking about mamma, but a gentleman came in.”

“A gentleman?” echoed Lady Verner.

“Yes.  Some one tall and very thin.  Decima called him Jan.  After that, I went to my room again.  I could not find it at first,” she added, with a pleasant little laugh.  “I looked into two; but neither was mine, for I could not see the boxes.  Then I changed my dress, and came down.”

“I hope you had my maid to assist you,” quickly remarked Lady Verner.

“Some one assisted me.  When I had my dress on, ready to be fastened, I looked out to see if I could find any one to do it, and I did.  A servant was at the end of the corridor, by the window.”

Page 57

“But, my dear Miss Tempest, you should have rung,” exclaimed Lady Verner, half petrified at the young lady’s unformed manners, and privately speculating upon the sins Mrs. Cust must have to answer for.  “Was it Therese?”

“I don’t know,” replied Lucy.  “She was rather old, and had a broom in her hand.”

“Old Catherine, I declare!  Sweeping and dusting as usual!  She might have soiled your dress.”

“She wiped her hands on her apron,” said Lucy simply.  “She had a nice face:  I liked it.”

“I beg, my dear, that in future you will ring for Therese,” emphatically returned Lady Verner, in her discomposure.  “She understands that she is to wait upon you.  Therese is my maid, and her time is not half occupied.  Decima exacts very little of her.  But take care that you do not allow her to lapse into English when with you.  It is what she is apt to do unless checked.  You speak French, of course?” added Lady Verner, the thought crossing her that Mrs. Cust’s educational training might have been as deficient on that point, as she deemed it had been on that of “style.”

“I speak it quite well,” replied Lucy; “as well, or nearly as well, as a French girl.  But I do not require anybody to wait on me,” she continued.  “There is never anything to do for me, but just to fasten these evening dresses that close behind.  I am much obliged to you, all the same, for thinking of it, Lady Verner.”

Lady Verner turned from the subject:  it seemed to grow more and more unprofitable.  “I shall go and hear what Jan says, if he is there,” she remarked to Lionel.

“I wonder we did not see or hear him come in,” was Lionel’s answer.

“As if Jan could come into the house like a gentleman!” returned Lady Verner, with intense acrimony.  “The back way is a step or two nearer, and therefore he patronises it.”

She quitted the room as she spoke, and Lionel turned to Miss Tempest.  He had been exceedingly amused and edified at the conversation between her and his mother; but while Lady Verner had been inclined to groan over it, he had rejoiced.  That Lucy Tempest was thoroughly and genuinely unsophisticated; that she was of a nature too sincere and honest for her manners to be otherwise than of truthful simplicity, he was certain.  A delightful child, he thought; one he could have taken to his heart and loved as a sister.  Not with any other love:  that was already given elsewhere by Lionel Verner.

The winter evening was drawing on, and little light was in the room, save that cast by the blaze of the fire.  It flickered upon Lucy’s face, as she stood near it.  Lionel drew a chair towards her.  “Will you not sit down, Miss Tempest?”

A formidable-looking chair, large and stately, as Lucy turned to look at it.  Her eyes fell upon the low one which, earlier in the afternoon, had been occupied by Lady Verner.  “May I sit in this one instead?  I like it best.”

Page 58

“You ‘may’ sit in any chair that the room contains, or on an ottoman, or anywhere that you like,” answered Lionel, considerably amused.  “Perhaps you would prefer this?”

“This” was a very low seat indeed—­in point of fact, Lady Verner’s footstool.  He had spoke in jest, but she waited for no second permission, drew it close to the fire, and sat down upon it.  Lionel looked at her, his lips and eyes dancing.

“Possibly you would have preferred the rug?”

“Yes, I should,” answered she frankly, “It is what we did at the rectory.  Between the lights, on a winter’s evening, we were allowed to do what we pleased for twenty minutes, and we used to sit down on the rug before the fire, and talk.”

“Mrs. Cust, also?” asked Lionel.

“Not Mrs. Cust; you are laughing at me.  If she came in, and saw us, she would say we were too old to sit there, and should be better on chairs.  But we liked the rug best.”

“What had you used to talk of?”

“Of everything, I think.  About the poor; Mr. Cust’s poor, you know; and the village, and our studies, and—­But I don’t think I must tell you that,” broke off Lucy, laughing merrily at her own thoughts.

“Yes, you may,” said Lionel.

“It was about that poor old German teacher of ours.  We used to play her such tricks, and it was round the fire that we planned them.  But she is very good,” added Lucy, becoming serious, and lifting her eyes to Lionel, as if to bespeak his sympathy for the German teacher.

“Is she?”

“She was always patient and kind.  The first time Lady Verner lets me go to a shop, I mean to buy her a warm winter cloak.  Hers is so thin.  Do you think I could get her one for two pounds?”

“I don’t know at all,” smiled Lionel.  “A greatcoat for me would cost more than two pounds.”

“I have two sovereigns left of my pocket-money, besides some silver.  I hope it will buy a cloak.  It is Lady Verner who will have the management of my money, is it not, now that I have left Mrs. Cust’s?”

“I believe so.”

“I wonder how much she will allow me for myself?” continued Lucy, gazing up at Lionel with a serious expression of inquiry, as if the question were a momentous one.

“I think cloaks for old teachers ought to be apart,” cried Lionel.  “They should not come out of your pocket-money.”

“Oh, but I like them to do so.  I wish I had a home of my own!—­as I shall have when papa returns to Europe.  I should invite her to me for the holidays, and give her nice dinners always, and buy her some nice clothes, and send her back with her poor old heart happy.”

“Invite whom?”

“Fraulein Mueller.  Her father was a gentleman of good position, and he somehow lost his inheritance.  When he died she found it out—­there was not a shilling for her, instead of a fortune, as she had always thought.  She was over forty then, and she had to come to England and begin teaching for a living.  She is fifty now, and nearly all she gets she sends to Heidelberg to her poor sick sister.  I wonder how much good warm cloaks do cost?”

Page 59

Lucy Tempest spoke the last sentence dreamily.  She was evidently debating the question in her own mind.  Her small white hands rested inertly upon her pink dress, her clear face with its delicate bloom was still, her eyes were bent on the fire.  But that Lionel’s heart was elsewhere, it might have gone out, there and then, to that young girl and her attractive simplicity.

“What a pretty child you are!” involuntarily broke from him.

Up came those eyes to him, soft and luminous, their only expression being surprise, not a shade of vanity.

“I am not a child; why do you call me one?  But Mrs. Cust said you would all be taking me for a child, until you knew me.”

“How old are you?” asked Lionel.

“I was eighteen last September.”

“Eighteen!” involuntarily repeated Lionel.

“Yes; eighteen.  We had a party on my birthday.  Mr. Cust gave me a most beautifully bound copy of Thomas a Kempis; he had had it bound on purpose.  I will show it to you when my books are unpacked.  You would like Mr. Cust, if you knew him.  He is an old man now, and he has white hair.  He is twenty years older than Mrs. Cust; but he is so good!”

“How is it,” almost vehemently broke forth Lionel, “that you are so different from others?”

“I don’t know.  Am I different?”

“So different—­so different—­that—­that—­”

“What is the matter with me?” she asked timidly, almost humbly, the delicate colour in her cheeks deepening to crimson.

“There is nothing the matter with you,” he answered, smiling; “a good thing if there were as little the matter with everybody else.  Do you know that I never saw any one whom I liked so much at first sight as I like you, although you appear to me only as a child?  If I call here often I shall grow to love you almost as much as I love my sister Decima.”

“Is not this your home?”

“No.  My home is at Verner’s Pride.”

CHAPTER XII.

DR. WEST’S HOME.

The house of Dr. West was already lighted up.  Gas at its front door, gas at its surgery door, gas inside its windows:  no habitation in the place was ever so extensively lighted as Dr. West’s.  The house was inclosed with iron railings, and on its side—­detached—­was the surgery.  A very low place, this surgery; you had to go down a step or two, and then plunge into a low door.  In the time of the last tenant it had been used as a garden tool-house.  It was a tolerably large room, and had a tolerably small window, which was in front, the door being on the side, opposite the side entrance of the house.  A counter ran along the room at the back, and a table, covered with miscellaneous articles, stood on the right.  Shelves were ranged completely round the room aloft, and a pair of steps, used for getting down the jars and bottles, rested in a corner.  There was another room behind it, used exclusively by Dr. West.

Page 60

Seated on the counter, pounding desperately away at something in a mortar, as if his life depended on it, was a peculiar-looking gentleman in shirt-sleeves.  Very tall, very thin, with legs and arms that bore the appearance of being too long even for his tall body, great hands and feet, a thin face dark and red, a thin aquiline nose, black hair, and black prominent eyes that seemed to be always on the stare—­there sat he, his legs dangling and his fingers working.  A straightforward, honest, simple fellow looked he, all utility and practicalness—­if there is such a word.  One, plain in all ways.

It was Janus Verner—­never, in the memory of anybody, called anything but “Jan”—­second and youngest son of Lady Verner, brother to Lionel. He brother to courtly Lionel, to stately Decima, son to refined Lady Verner?  He certainly was; though Lady Verner in her cross moods would declare that Jan must have been changed at nurse—­an assertion without foundation, since he had been nursed at home under her own eye.  Never in his life had he been called anything but Jan; address him as Janus, or as Mr. Verner, and it may be questioned if Jan would have answered to it.  People called him “droll,” and, if to be of plain, unvarnished manners and speech is to be droll, Jan decidedly was so.  Some said Jan was a fool, some said he was a bear.  Lady Verner did not accord him any great amount of favour herself.  She had tried to make Jan what she called a gentleman, to beat into him suavity, gracefulness, tact, gloss of speech and bearing, something between a Lord Chesterfield and a Sir Roger de Coverley; and she had been obliged lo give it up as a hopeless job.  Jan was utterly irreclaimable:  Nature had made him plain and straightforward, and so he remained.  But there was many a one that the world would bow down to as a model, whose intrinsic worth was poor compared to unoffending Jan’s.  Lady Verner would tell Jan he was undutiful.  Jan tried to be as dutiful to her as ever he could; but he could not change his ungainly person, his awkward manner.  As well try to wash a negro white.

Lady Verner had proposed that Jan should go into the army, Jan (plain spoken as a boy, as he was still) had responded that he’d rather not go out to be shot at.  What was she to do with him?  Lady Verner peevishly asked.  She had no money, she lamented, and she would take care Jan was not helped by Mr. Verner.  To make him a barrister, or a clergyman, or a Member of Parliament (it was what Lady Verner said), would cost vast sums of money; a commission could be obtained for him gratis, in consideration of his father’s services.

“Make me an apothecary,” said Jan.

“An apothecary!” echoed Lady Verner, aghast.  “That’s not a gentleman’s calling.”

Jan opened his great eyes.  Had he taken a liking for carpentering, he would have deemed it gentlemanly enough for him.

“What has put an apothecary’s business into your head?” cried Lady Verner.

Page 61

“I should like the pounding,” replied Jan.

“The pounding!” reiterated Lady Verner, in astonishment.

“I should like it altogether,” concluded Jan, “I wish you’d let me go apprentice to Dr. West.”

Jan held to his liking.  In due course of time he was apprenticed to Dr. West, and pounded away to his heart’s content.  Thence he went to London to walk the hospitals, afterwards completing his studies in Paris.  It was at the latter period that the accident happened to Jan that called Lionel to Paris.  Jan was knocked down by a carriage in the street, his leg broken, and he was otherwise injured.  Time and skill cured him.  Time and perseverance completed his studies, and Jan became a licensed surgeon of no mean skill.  He returned to Deerham, and was engaged as assistant to Dr. West.  No very ambitious position, but “it’s good enough for Jan,” slightingly said Lady Verner.  Jan probably thought the same, or he would have sought a better.  He was four-and-twenty now.  Dr. West was a general practitioner, holding an Edinburgh degree only.  There was plenty to do in Deerham and its neighbourhood, what with the rich and what with the poor.  Dr. West chiefly attended the rich himself and left Jan to take care of the poor.  It was all one to Jan.

Jan sat on the counter in the surgery, pounding and pounding.  He had just come in from his visit to Deerham Court, summoned thither by the slight accident to his sister Decima.  Leaning his two elbows on the counter, his pale, puffy cheeks on his hands, and intently watching Jan with his light eyes, was a young gentleman rising fifteen, with an apron tied round his waist.  This was Master Cheese; an apprentice, as Jan once had been.  In point of fact, the pounding now was Master Cheese’s proper work, but he was fat and lazy, and as sure as Jan came into the surgery, so sure would young Cheese begin to grunt and groan, and vow that his arms were “knocked off” with the work.  Jan, in his indolent manner—­and in motion and manner Jan appeared intensely indolent, as if there was no hurry in him; he would bring his words, too, out indolently—­would lift the pounding machine aloft, sit himself down on the counter, and complete the work.

“I say,” said young Cheese, watching the progress of the pestle with satisfaction, “Dame Dawson has been here.”

“What did she want?” asked Jan.

“Bad in her inside, she says.  I gave her three good doses of jalap.”

“Jalap!” echoed Jan.  “Well, it won’t do her much harm.  She won’t take ’em; she’ll throw ’em away.”

“Law, Jan!” For, in the private familiarity of the surgery, young Cheese was thus accustomed unceremoniously to address his master—­as Jan was.  And Jan allowed it with composure.

“She’ll throw ’em away,” repeated Jan.  “There’s not a worse lot for physic in all the parish than Dame Dawson.  I know her of old.  She thought she’d get peppermint and cordials ordered for her—­an excuse for running up a score at the public-house.  Where’s the doctor?”

Page 62

“He’s off somewhere.  I saw one of the Bitterworth grooms come to the house this afternoon, so perhaps something’s wrong there.  I say, Jan, there’ll be a stunning pie for supper!”

“Have you seen it?”

“Haven’t I!  I went into the kitchen when she was making it.  It has got a hare inside it, and forcemeat balls.”

“Who?” asked Jan—­alluding to the maker.

“Miss Deb,” replied young Cheese.  “It’s sure to be something extra good, for her to go and make it.  If she doesn’t help me to a rare good serving, sha’n’t I look black at her!”

“It mayn’t be for supper,” debated Jan.

“Cook said it was.  I asked her.  She thought somebody was coming.  I say, Jan, if you miss any of the castor oil, don’t go and say I drank it.”

Jan lifted his eyes to a shelf opposite, where various glass bottles stood.  Among them was the one containing the castor oil.  “Who has been at it?” he asked.

“Miss Amilly.  She came and filled that great fat glass pot of hers, with her own hands; and she made me drop in some essence of cloves to scent it.  Won’t her hair smell of it to-night!”

“They’ll make castor oil scarce, if they go at it like that,” said Jan indifferently.

“They use about a quart a month; I know they do; the three of ’em together,” exclaimed young Cheese, as vehemently as if the loss of the castor oil was personal.  “How their nightcaps must be greased!”

“Sibylla doesn’t use it,” said Jan.

“Doesn’t she, though!” retorted young Cheese, with acrimony.  “She uses many things on the sly that she pretends not to use.  She’s as vain as a peacock.  Did you hear about—­”

Master Cheese cut his question short.  Coming in at the surgery door was Lionel Verner.

“Well, Jan!  What about Decima?  After waiting ages at the Court for you to come downstairs and report, I found you were gone.”

“It’s a twist,” said Jan.  “It will be all right in a few days.  How’s Uncle Stephen to-day?”

“Just the same.  Are the young ladies in?”

“Go and see,” said Jan.  “I know nothing about ’em.”

“Yes, they are in, sir,” interrupted Master Cheese.  “They have not been out all the afternoon, for a wonder.”

Lionel left the surgery, stepped round to the front door, and entered the house.

In a square, moderate-sized drawing-room, with tasty things scattered about it to catch the eye, stood a young lady, figuring off before the chimney-glass.  Had you looked critically into the substantial furniture you might have found it old and poor; of a different class from the valuable furniture at Verner’s Pride; widely different from the light, elegant furniture at Lady Verner’s.  But, what with white antimacassars, many coloured mats on which reposed pretty ornaments, glasses and vases of flowers, and other trifles, the room looked well enough for anything.  In like manner, had you, with the same critical eye, scanned

Page 63

the young lady, you would have found that of real beauty she possessed little.  A small, pretty doll’s face with blue eyes and gold-coloured ringlets; a round face, betraying nothing very great, or good, or intellectual; only something fascinating and pretty.  Her chief beauty lay in her complexion; by candle-light it was radiantly lovely, a pure red and white, looking like wax-work.  A pretty, graceful girl she looked; and, what with her fascinations of person, of dress, and of manner, all of which she perfectly well knew how to display, she had contrived to lead more than one heart captive, and to hold it in fast chains.

The light of the gas chandelier shone on her now; on her blue gauzy dress, set off with ribbons, on her sleepy, blue eyes, on her rose-coloured cheeks.  She was figuring off before the glass, I say, twisting her ringlets round her fingers, and putting them in various positions to try the effect; her employment, her look, her manner, all indicating the very essence of vanity.  The opening of the door caused her to turn her head, and she shook her ringlets into their proper place, and dropped her hands by her side, at the entrance of Lionel Verner.

“Oh, Lionel! is it you?” said she, with as much composure as if she had not been caught gazing at herself.  “I was looking at this,” pointing to an inverted tumbler on the mantel-piece.  “Is it not strange that we should see a moth at this cold season?  Amilly found it this afternoon on the geraniums.”

Lionel Verner advanced and bent his head to look at the pretty speckled moth reposing so still on its green leaf.  Did he see through the artifice?  Did he suspect that the young lady had been admiring her own pretty face, and not the moth?  Not he.  Lionel’s whole heart had long ago been given to that vain butterfly, Sibylla West, who was gay and fluttering, and really of little more use in life than the moth.  How was it that he had suffered himself to love her?  Suffered!  Love plays strange tricks, and it has fooled many a man as it was fooling Lionel Verner.

And what of Sibylla?  Sibylla did not love him.  The two ruling passions of her heart were vanity and ambition.  To be sometime the mistress of Verner’s Pride was a very vista of desire, and therefore she encouraged Lionel.  She did not encourage him very much; she was rather in the habit of playing fast and loose with him; but that only served to rivet tighter the links of his chain.  All the love—­such as it was!—­that Sibylla West was capable of giving, was in possession of Frederick Massingbird.  Strange tricks again!  It was scarcely credible that one should fall in love with him by the side of attractive Lionel; but so it had been.  Sibylla loved Frederick Massingbird for himself, she liked Lionel because he was the heir to Verner’s Pride, and she had managed to keep both her slaves.

Page 64

Lionel had never spoken of his love.  He knew that his marriage with Sibylla West would be so utterly distasteful to Mr. Verner, that he was content to wait.  He knew that Sibylla could not mistake him—­could not mistake what his feelings were; and he believed that she also was content to wait until he should be his own master and at liberty to ask for her.  When that time should come, what did she intend to do with Frederick Massingbird, who made no secret to her that he loved her and expected to make her his wife?  Sibylla did not know; she did not much care; she was of a careless nature, and allowed the future to take its chance.

The only person who had penetrated to the secret of her love for Frederick Massingbird was her father, Dr. West.

“Don’t be a simpleton, child, and bind yourself with your eyes bandaged,” he abruptly and laconically said to her one day.  “When Verner’s Pride falls in, then marry whoever is its master.”

“Lionel will be its master for certain, will he not?” she answered, startled out of the words.

“We don’t know who will be its master,” was Dr. West’s rejoinder.  “Don’t play the simpleton, I say, Sibylla, by entangling yourself with your cousin Fred.”

Dr. West was one who possessed an eye to the main chance; and, had Lionel Verner been, beyond contingency, “certain” of Verner’s Pride, there is little doubt but he would have brought him to book at once, by demanding his intentions with regard to Sibylla.  There were very few persons in Deerham but deemed Lionel as indisputably certain of Verner’s Pride as though he were already in possession of it.  Dr. West was probably an unusually cautious man.

“It is singular,” observed Lionel, looking at the moth.  “The day has been sunshiny, but far too cold to call these moths into life.  At least, according to my belief; but I am not learned in entomology.”

“Ento—­, what a hard word!” cried Sibylla, in her prettily affected manner.  “I should never find out how to spell it.”

Lionel smiled.  His deep love was shining out of his eyes as he looked down upon her.  He loved her powerfully, deeply, passionately; to him she was as a very angel, and he believed her to be as pure-souled, honest-hearted, and single-minded.

“Where did my aunt go to-day?” inquired Sibylla, alluding to Mrs. Verner.

“She did not go anywhere that I am aware of,” he answered.

“I saw the carriage out this afternoon.”

“It was going to the station for Miss Tempest.”

“Oh! she’s come, then?  Have you seen her?  What sort of a demoiselle does she seem?”

“The sweetest child!—­she looks little more than a child!” cried Lionel impulsively.

“A child, is she?  I had an idea she was grown up.  Have any of you at Verner’s Pride heard from John?”

“No.”

“But the mail’s in, is it not?  How strange that he does not write!”

Page 65

“He may be coming home with his gold,” said Lionel.

They were interrupted.  First of all came in the tea-things—­for at Dr. West’s the dinner-hour was early—­and, next, two young ladies, bearing a great resemblance to each other.  It would give them dire offence not to call them young.  They were really not very much past thirty, but they were of that class of women who age rapidly; their hair was sadly thin, some of their teeth had gone, and they had thin, flushed faces and large twisted noses; but their blue eyes had a good-natured look in them.  Little in person, rather bending forward as they walked, and dressing youthfully, they yet looked older than they really were.  Their light brown hair was worn in short, straggling ringlets in front, and twisted up with a comb behind.  Once upon a time that hair was long and tolerably thick, but it had gradually and spitefully worn down to what it was now.  The Misses West were proud of it still, however; as may be inferred by the disappearance of the castor oil.  A short while back, somebody had recommended to them castor oil as the best specific for bringing on departed hair.  They were inoffensive in mind and manners, rather simple, somewhat affected and very vain, quarrelling with no person under the sun, except Sibylla.  Sibylla was the plague of their lives.  So many years younger than they, they had petted her and indulged her as a child, until at length the child became their mistress.  Sibylla was rude and ungrateful, would cast scornful words at them and call them “old maids,” with other reproachful terms.  There was open warfare between them; but in their hearts they loved Sibylla still.  They had been named respectively Deborah and Amilly.  The latter name had been intended for Amelie; but by some mistake of the parents or of the clergyman, none of them French scholars, Amilly, the child was christened and registered.  It remained a joke against Amilly to this day.

“Sibylla!” exclaimed Deborah, somewhat in surprise, as she shook hands with Lionel, “I thought you had gone to Verner’s Pride.”

“Nobody came for me.  It got dusk, and I did not care to go alone,” replied Sibylla.

“Did you think of going to Verner’s Pride this evening, Sibylla?” asked Lionel.  “Let me take you now.  We shall be just in time for dinner.  I’ll bring you back this evening.”

“I don’t know,” hesitated Sibylla.  The truth was, she had expected Frederick Massingbird to come for her.  “I—­think—­I’ll—­go,” she slowly said, apparently balancing some point in her mind.

“If you do go, you should make haste and put your things on,” suggested Miss Amilly.  And Sibylla acquiesced, and left the room.

“Has Mr. Jan been told that the tea’s ready, I wonder?” cried Miss Deborah.

Mr. Jan apparently had been told, for he entered as she was speaking:  and Master Cheese—­his apron off and his hair brushed—­with him.  Master Cheese cast an inquisitive look at the tea-table, hoping he should see something tempting upon it; eating good things forming the pleasantest portion of that young gentleman’s life.

Page 66

“Take this seat, Mr. Jan,” said Miss Amilly, drawing a chair forward next her own.  “Master Cheese, have the kindness to move a little round:  Mr. Jan can’t see the fire if you sit there.”

“I don’t want to see it,” said literal Jan.  “I’m not cold.”  And Master Cheese took the opportunity which the words gave to remain where he was.  He liked to sit in warmth with his back to the fire.

“I cannot think where papa is,” said Miss Deborah.  “Mr. Lionel, is it of any use asking you to take a cup of tea?”

“Thank you, I am going home to dinner,” replied Lionel.  “Dr. West is coming in now,” he added, perceiving that gentleman’s approach from the window.

“Miss Amilly,” asked Jan, “have you been at the castor oil?”

Poor Miss Amilly turned all the colours of the rainbow; if she had one weakness, it was upon the subject of her diminishing locks.  While Cheese, going red also, administered to Jan sundry kicks under the table, as an intimation that he should have kept counsel.  “I—­took—­just a little drop, Mr. Jan,” said she.  “What’s the dose, if you please?  Is it one tea-spoonful or two?”

“It depends upon the age,” said Jan, “if you mean taken inwardly.  For you it would be—­I say, Cheese, what are you kicking at?”

Cheese began to stammer something about the leg of the table; but the subject was interrupted by the entrance of Sibylla.  Lionel wished them good-evening, and went out with her.  Outside the room door they encountered Dr. West.

“Where are you going, Sybilla?” he asked, almost sharply, as his glance fell upon his daughter and Lionel.

“To Verner’s Pride.”

“Go and take your things off.  You cannot go to Verner’s Pride this evening.”

“But, papa, why?” inquired Sibylla, feeling that she should like to turn restive.

“I have my reasons for it.  You will know them later.  Now go and take your things off without another word.”

Sibylla dared not openly dispute the will of her father, neither would she essay to do it before Lionel Verner.  She turned somewhat unwillingly towards the staircase, and Dr. West opened the drawing-room door, signing to Lionel to wait.

“Deborah, I am going out.  Don’t keep the tea.  Mr. Jan, should I be summoned anywhere, you’ll attend for me, I don’t know when I shall be home.”

“All right,” called out Jan.  And Dr. West went out with Lionel Verner.

“I am going to Verner’s Pride,” he said, taking Lionel’s arm as soon as they were in the street.  “There’s news come from Australia.  John Massingbird’s dead.”

The announcement was made so abruptly, with so little circumlocution or preparation, that Lionel Verner failed at the first moment to take in the full meaning of the words.  “John Massingbird dead?” he mechanically asked.

“He is dead.  It’s a sad tale.  He had the gold about him, a great quantity of it, bringing it down to Melbourne, and he was killed on the road; murdered for the sake of the gold.”

Page 67

“How have you heard it?” demanded Lionel.

“I met Roy just now,” replied Dr. West.  “He stopped me, saying he had heard from his son by this afternoon’s post; that there was bad news in the letter, and he supposed he must go to Verner’s Pride, and break it to them.  He gave me the letter, and I undertook to carry the tidings to Mrs. Verner.”

“It is awfully sudden,” said Lionel, “By the mail, two months ago, he wrote himself to us, in the highest spirits.  And now—­dead!”

“Life, over there, is not worth a month’s purchase just now,” remarked Dr. West; and Lionel could but note that had he been discussing the death of a total stranger, instead of a nephew, he could only have spoken in the same indifferent, matter-of-fact tone.  “By all accounts, society is in a strange state there,” he continued; “ruffians lying in wait ever for prey.  The men have been taken, and the gold found upon them, Luke writes.”

“That’s good, so far,” said Lionel.

When they reached Verner’s Pride, they found that a letter was waiting for Frederick Massingbird, who had not been home since he left the house early in the afternoon.  The superscription was in the same handwriting as the letter Dr. West had brought—­Luke Roy’s.  There could be no doubt that it was only a confirmation of the tidings.

Mrs. Verner was in the drawing-room alone, Tynn said, ready to go in to dinner, and rather cross that Mr. Lionel should keep her waiting for it.

“Who will break it to her—­you or I?” asked Dr. West of Lionel.

“I think it should be you.  You are her brother.”

Broken to her it was, in the best mode they were able.  It proved a severe shock.  Mrs. Verner had loved John, her eldest born, above every earthly thing.  He was wild, random, improvident, had given her incessant trouble as a child and as a man; and so, mother fashion, she loved him best.

CHAPTER XIII.

A CONTEMPLATED VOYAGE.

Frederick Massingbird sat perched on the gate of a ploughed field, softly whistling.  His brain was busy, and he was holding counsel with himself, under the gray February skies.  Three weeks had gone by since the tidings arrived of the death of his brother, and Frederick was deliberating whether he should, or should not, go out.  His own letter from Luke Roy had been in substance the same as that which Luke had written to his father.  It was neither more explanatory, nor less so.  Luke Roy was not a first-hand at epistolary correspondence.  John had been attacked and killed for the sake of his gold, and the attackers and the gold had been taken hold of by the law; so far it said, and no further.  That the notion should occur to Frederick to go out to Melbourne, and lay claim to the gold and any other property left by John, was only natural.  He had been making up his mind to do so for the last three weeks; and perhaps the vision of essaying a little business in the gold-fields on his own account, urged him on.  But he had not fully made up his mind yet.  The journey was a long and hazardous one; and—­he did not care to leave Sibylla.

Page 68

“To be, or not to be?” soliloquised he, from his seat on the gate, as he plucked thin branches off from the bare winter hedge, and scattered them.  “Old stepfather’s wiry yet, he may last an age, and this is getting a horrid, humdrum life.  I wonder what he’ll leave me, when he does go off?  Mother said one day she thought it wouldn’t be more than five hundred pounds. She doesn’t know; he does not tell her about his private affairs—­never has told her.  Five hundred pounds!  If he left me a paltry sum such as that, I’d fling it in the heir’s face—­Master Lionel’s.”

He put a piece of the thorn into his mouth, bit it up, spat it out again, and went on with his soliloquy.

“I had better go.  Why, if nothing to speak of does come to me from old Verner, this money of John’s would be a perfect windfall.  I must not lose the chance of it—­and lose it I should, unless I go out and see after it.  No, it would never do.  I’ll go.  It’s hard to say how much he has left, poor fellow.  Thousands—­if one may judge by his letters—­besides this great nugget that they killed him for, the villains!  Yes, I’ll go—­that’s settled.  And now, to try to get Sibylla.  She’ll accompany me fast enough.  At least, I fancy she would.  But there’s that old West!  I may have a battle over it with him.”

He flung away what remained in his hand of the sticks, leaped off the gate, and bent his steps hastily in the direction of Deerham.  Could he be going, there and then, to Dr. West’s, to try his fate with Sibylla?  Very probably.  Frederick Massingbird liked to deliberate well when making up his mind to a step; but, that once done, he was wont to lose no time in carrying it out.

On this same afternoon, and just about the same hour, Lionel Verner was strolling through Deerham on his way to pay a visit to his mother.  Close at the door he encountered Decima—­well, now—­and Miss Tempest, who were going out.  None would have believed Lionel and Decima to be brother and sister, judging by their attire—­he wore deep mourning, she had not a shred of mourning about her.  Lady Verner, in her prejudice against Verner’s Pride, had neither put on mourning herself for John Massingbird, nor allowed Decima to put it on.  Lionel was turning with them; but Lady Verner, who had seen him from the window, sent a servant to desire him to come to her.

“Is it anything particular, mother?” he hastily inquired.  “I am going with Decima and Lucy.”

“It is so far particular, Lionel, that I wish you to stay with me, instead of going with them,” answered Lady Verner.  “I fancy you are getting rather fond of being with Lucy, and—­and—­in short, it won’t do.”

Lionel, in his excessive astonishment, could only stare at his mother.

“What do you mean?” he asked.  “Lucy Tempest!  What won’t do?”

“You are beginning to pay Lucy Tempest particular attention,” said Lady Verner, unscrewing the silver stopper of her essence-bottle, and applying some to her forehead.  “I will not permit it, Lionel.”

Page 69

Lionel could not avoid laughing.

“What can have put such a thing in your head, mother, I am at a loss to conceive.  Certainly nothing in my conduct has induced it.  I have talked to Lucy as a child, more than as anything else; I have scarcely thought of her but as one——­”

“Lucy is not a child,” interrupted Lady Verner.

“In years I find she is not.  When I first saw her at the railway-station, I thought she was a child, and the impression somehow remains upon my mind.  Too often I talk to her as one.  As to anything else—­were I to marry to-morrow, it is not Lucy Tempest I should make my wife.”

The first glad look that Lionel had seen on Lady Verner’s face for many a day came over it then.  In her own mind she had been weaving a pretty little romance for Lionel; and it was her dread, lest that romance should be interfered with, which had called up her fears, touching Lucy Tempest.

“My darling Lionel, you know where you might go and choose a wife,” she said.  “I have long wished that you would do it.  Beauty, rank, wealth—­you may win them for the asking.”

A slightly self-conscious smile crossed the lips of Lionel.

“You are surely not going to introduce again that nonsense about Mary Elmsley!” he exclaimed.  “I should never like her, never marry her, therefore—­”

“Did you not allude to her when you spoke but now—­that it was not Lucy Tempest you should make your wife?”

“No.”

“To whom, then?  Lionel, I must know it.”

Lionel’s cheek flushed scarlet.  “I am not going to marry yet—­I have no intention of it.  Why should this conversation have arisen?”

The words seemed to arouse a sudden dread on the part of Lady Verner.  “Lionel,” she gasped in a low tone, “there is a dreadful fear coming over me.  Not Lady Mary!  Some one else!  I remember Decima said one day that you appeared to care more for Sibylla West than for her, your sister.  I have never thought of it from that hour to this.  I paid no more attention to it than though she had said you cared for my maid Therese.  You cannot care for Sibylla West!”

Lionel had high notions of duty as well as of honour, and he would not equivocate to his mother.  “I do care very much for Sibylla West,” he said in a low tone; “and, please God, I hope she will sometime be my wife.  But, mother, this confidence is entirely between ourselves.  I beg you not to speak of it; it must not be suffered to get abroad.”

The one short sentence of avowal over, Lionel might as well have talked to the moon.  Lady Verner heard him not.  She was horrified.  The Wests in her eyes were utterly despicable.  Dr. West was tolerated as her doctor; but as nothing else.  Her brave Lionel—­standing there before her in all the pride of his strength and his beauty—­he sacrifice himself to Sibylla West!  Of the two, Therese might have been the less dreadful to the mind of Lady Verner.

Page 70

A quarrel ensued.  Stay—­that is a wrong word.  It was not a quarrel, for Lady Verner had all the talking, and Lionel would not respond angrily; he kept his lips pressed together lest he should.  Never had Lady Verner been moved to make a like scene.  She reproached, she sobbed, she entreated.  And, in the midst of it, in walked Decima and Lucy Tempest.

Lady Verner for once forgot herself.  She forgot that Lucy was a stranger; she forgot the request of Lionel for silence; and, upon Decima’s asking what was amiss, she told all—­that Lionel loved Sibylla West, and meant to marry her.

Decima was too shocked to speak.  Lucy turned and looked at Lionel, a pleasant smile shining in her eyes.  “She is very pretty; very, very pretty; I never saw any one prettier.”

“Thank you, Lucy,” he cordially said; and it was the first time he had called her Lucy.

Decima went up to her brother.  “Lionel, must it be?  I do not like her.”

“Decima, I fear that you and my mother are both prejudiced,” he somewhat haughtily answered.  And there he stopped.  In turning his eyes towards his mother as he spoke of her, he saw that she had fainted away.

Jan was sent for, in all haste.  Dr. West was Lady Verner’s medical adviser; but a feeling in Decima’s heart at the moment prevented her summoning him.  Jan arrived, on the run; the servant had told him she was not sure but her lady was dying.

Lady Verner had revived then; was better; and was re-entering upon the grievance which had so affected her.  “What could it have been?” wondered Jan, who knew his mother was not subject to fainting fits.

“Ask your brother, there, what it was,” resentfully spoke Lady Verner.  “He told me he was going to marry Sibylla West.”

“Law!” uttered Jan.

Lionel stood; haughty, impassive; his lips curling, his figure drawn to its full height.  He would not reproach his mother by so much as a word, but the course she was taking, in thus proclaiming his affairs to the world, hurt him in no measured degree.

“I don’t like her,” said Jan.  “Deborah and Amilly are not much, but I’d rather have the two, than Sibylla.”

“Jan,” said Lionel, suppressing his temper, “your opinion was not asked.”

Jan sat down on the arm of the sofa, his great legs dangling.  “Sibylla can’t marry two,” said he.

“Will you be quiet, Jan?” said Lionel.  “You have no right to interfere.  You shall not interfere.”

“Gracious, Lionel, I don’t want to interfere,” returned Jan simply.  “Sibylla’s going to marry Fred Massingbird.”

“Will you be quiet?” reiterated Lionel, his brow flushing scarlet.

“I’ll be quiet,” said Jan, with composure.  “You can go and ask her for yourself.  It has all been settled this afternoon; not ten minutes ago.  Fred’s going out to Australia, and Sibylla’s going with him, and Deborah and Amilly are crying their eyes out, at the thought of parting with her.”

Page 71

Lady Verner looked up at Jan, an expression of eager hope on her face.  She could have kissed him a thousand times.  Lionel—­Lionel took his hat and walked out.

Believing it?  No.  The temptation to chastise Jan was growing great, and he deemed it well to remove himself out of it.  Jan was right, however.

Much to the surprise of Frederick Massingbird, very much to the surprise of Sibylla, Dr. West not only gave his consent to the marriage as soon as asked, but urged it on.  If Fred must depart in a week, why, they could be married in a week, he said.  Sibylla was thunderstruck:  Miss Deborah and Miss Amilly gave vent to a few hysterical shrieks, and hinted about the wedding clothes and the outfit. That could be got together in a day, was the reply of Dr. West, and they were too much astonished to venture to say it could not.

“You told me to wait for Lionel Verner,” whispered Sibylla, when she and her father were alone, as she stood before him, trembling.  In her mind’s eye she saw Verner’s Pride slipping from her; and it gave her chagrin, in spite of her love for Fred Massingbird.

Dr. West leaned forward and whispered a few words in her ear.  She started violently, she coloured crimson.  “Papa!”

“It is true,” nodded the doctor.

As Lionel passed the house on his way from Deerham Court to Verner’s Pride, he turned into it, led by a powerful impulse.  He did not believe Jan, but the words had made him feel twitchings of uneasiness.  Fred Massingbird had gone then, and the doctor was out.  Lionel looked into the drawing-room, and there found the two elder Misses West, each dissolved in a copious shower of tears.  So far, Jan’s words were borne out.  A sharp spasm shot across his heart.

“You are in grief,” he said, advancing to them.  “What is the cause?”

“The most dreadful voyage for her!” ejaculated Miss Deborah.  “The ship may go to the bottom before it gets there.”

“And not so much as time to think of proper things for her, let alone getting them!” sobbed Miss Amilly.  “It’s all a confused mass in my mind together—­bonnets, and gowns, and veils, and wreaths, and trunks, and petticoats, and calico things for the voyage!”

Lionel felt his lips grow pale.  They were too much engrossed to notice him; nevertheless, he covered his face with his hand as he stood by the mantel-piece.  “Where is she going?” he quietly asked.

“To Melbourne, with Fred,” said Miss Deborah.  “Fred’s going out to see about the money and gold that John left, and to realise it.  They are not to stay:  it will only be the voyage out and home.  But if she should be taken ill out there, and die!  Her sisters died, Mr. Lionel.  Fred is her cousin, too.  Better have married one not of kin.”

They talked on.  Lionel heard them not.  After the revelation, that she was about to marry, all else seemed a chaos.  But he was one who could control his feelings.

Page 72

“I must be going,” said he quietly, moving from his standing-place with calmness.  “Good-day to you.”

He shook hands with them both, amidst a great accession of sobs, and quitted the room.  Running down the stairs at that moment, singing gaily a scrap of a merry song, came Sibylla, unconscious of his vicinity; indeed, of his presence in the house.  She started when she saw him, and stopped in hesitation.

Lionel threw open the door of the empty dining-room, caught her arm and drew her into it—­his bearing haughty, his gestures imperative.  There they stood before each other, neither speaking for some moments.  Lionel’s very lips were livid; and her rich wax-work colour went and came, and her clear blue eyes fell under the stern gaze of his.

“Is this true, which I have been obliged to hear?” was his first question.

She knew that she had acted ill.  She knew that Lionel Verner deserved to have a better part played by him.  She had always looked up to him—­all the Wests had—­as one superior in birth, rank, and station to herself.  Altogether, the moment brought to her a great amount of shame and confusion.

“Answer me one question; I demand it of you,” exclaimed Lionel.  “Have you ever mistaken my sentiments towards you in the least degree?”

“Have—­I—­I don’t know,” she faltered.

“No equivocation,” burst Lionel.  “Have you not known that I loved you? that I was only waiting my uncle’s death to make you my wife?—­Heaven forgive me that I should thus speak as though I had built upon it!”

Sibylla let fall some tears.

“Which have you loved?—­all this while!  Me?—­or him?”

“Oh! don’t speak to me like that,” sobbed Sibylla.  “He asked me to marry him, and—­and—­papa said yes.”

“I ask you,” said Lionel in a low voice, “which is it that you love?”

She did not answer.  She stood before him the prettiest picture of distress imaginable; her hands clasped, her large blue eyes filled with tears, her shower of golden hair shading her burning cheeks.

“If you have been surprised or terrified into this engagement, loving him not, will you give him up for me?” tenderly whispered Lionel.  “Not—­you understand—­if your love be his.  In that case, I would not ask it.  But, without reference to myself at all, I doubt—­and I have my reasons for it—­if Frederick Massingbird be worthy of you.”

Was she wavering in her own mind?  She stole a glance upward—­at his tall, fine form, his attractive face, its lineaments showing out in that moment, all the pride of the Verners.  A pride that mingled with love.

Lionel bent to her—­

“Sibylla, if you love him I have no more to say; if you love me, avow it, as I will then avow my love, my intentions, in the face of day.  Reflect before you speak.  It is a solemn moment—­a moment which holds alike my destiny and yours in its hands.”

Page 73

A rush of blood to her heart, a rush of moisture to her forehead; for Sibylla West was not wholly without feeling, and she knew, as Lionel said, that it was a decision fraught with grave destiny.  But Frederick Massingbird was more to her than he was.

“I have given my promise.  I cannot go from it,” was her scarcely breathed answer.

“May your falsity never come home to you!” broke from Lionel, in the bitterness of his anguish.  And he strode from the room without another word or look, and quitted the house.

CHAPTER XIV.

THE NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING.

Deerham could not believe the news.  Verner’s Pride could not believe it.  Nobody believed it, save Lady Verner, and she was only too thankful to believe it and hug it.  There was nothing surprising in Sibylla’s marrying her cousin Fred, for many had shrewdly suspected that the favour between them was not altogether cousinly favour; but the surprise was given to the hasty marriage.  Dr. West vouchsafed an explanation.  Two of his daughters, aged respectively one year and two years younger than Amilly, had each died of consumption, as all Deerham knew.  On attaining her twenty-fifth year, each one had shown rapid symptoms of the disease, and had lingered but a few weeks.  Sibylla was only one-and-twenty yet; but Dr. West fancied he saw, or said he saw, grounds for fear.  It was known of what value a sea-voyage was in these constitutions; hence his consent to the departure of Sibylla.  Such was the explanation of Dr. West.

“I wonder whether the stated ‘fear of consumption’ has been called up by himself for the occasion?” was the thought that crossed the mind of Decima Verner.  Decima did not believe in Dr. West.

Verner’s Pride, like the rest, had been taken by surprise.  Mrs. Verner received the news with equanimity.  She had never given Fred a tithe of the love that John had had, and she did not seem much to care whether he married Sibylla, or whether he did not—­whether he went out to Australia, or whether he stayed at home.  Frederick told her of it in a very off-hand manner; but he took pains to bespeak the approbation of Mr. Verner.

“I hope my choice is pleasant to you, sir.  That you will cordially sanction it.”

“Whether it is pleasant to me or not, I have no right to say it shall not be,” was the reply of Mr. Verner.  “I have never interfered with you, or with your brother, since you became inmates of my house.”

“Do you not like Sibylla, sir?”

“She is a pretty girl.  I know nothing against her.  I think you might have chosen worse.”

Coldly, very coldly were the words delivered, and there was a strangely keen expression of anguish on Mr. Verner’s face; but that was nothing unusual now.  Frederick Massingbird was content to accept the words as a sanction of approval.

Page 74

A few words—­I don’t mean angry ones—­passed between him and Lionel on the night before the wedding.  Lionel had not condescended to speak to Frederick Massingbird upon the subject at all; Sibylla had refused him for the other of her own free will; and there he let it rest.  But the evening previous to the marriage day, Lionel appeared strangely troubled; indecisive, anxious, as if he were debating some question with himself.  Suddenly he went straight up to Frederick Massingbird’s chamber, who was deep in the business of packing, as his unfortunate brother John had been, not two short years before.

“I wish to speak to you,” he began.  “I have thought of doing so these several days past, but have hesitated, for you may dream that it is no business of mine.  However, I cannot get it off my mind that it may be my duty; and I have come to do it.”

Frederick Massingbird was half buried amid piles of things, but he turned round at this strange address and looked at Lionel.

“Is there nothing on your conscience that should prevent your marrying that girl?” gravely asked Lionel.

“Do you want her left for yourself?” was Fred’s answer, after a prolonged stare.

Lionel flushed to his very temples.  He controlled the hasty retort that rose to his tongue.  “I came here not to speak in any one’s interest but hers.  Were she free as air this moment—­were she to come to my feet and say, ‘Let me be your wife,’ I should tell her that the whole world was before her to choose from, save myself.  She can never again be anything to me.  No.  I speak for her alone.  She is marrying you in all confidence.  Are you worthy of her?”

“What on earth do you mean?” cried Frederick Massingbird.

“If there be any sin upon your conscience that ought to prevent your taking her, or any confiding girl, to your heart, as wife, reflect whether you should ignore it.  The consequences may come home later; and then what would be her position?”

“I have no sin upon my conscience, Poor John, perhaps, had plenty of it.  I do not understand you, Lionel Verner.”

“On your sacred word?”

“On my word, and honour, too.”

“Then forgive me,” was the ready reply of Lionel.  And he held out his hand with frankness to Frederick Massingbird.

CHAPTER XV.

A TROUBLED MIND.

Just one fortnight from the very day that witnessed the sailing of Frederick Massingbird and his wife, Mr. Verner was taken alarmingly ill.  Fred, in his soliloquy that afternoon, when you saw him upon the gate of the ploughed field,—­“Old stepfather’s wiry yet, and may last an age,”—­had certainly not been assisted with the gift of prevision, for there was no doubt that Mr. Verner’s time to die had now come.

Page 75

Lionel had thrown his sorrow bravely from him, in outward appearance at any rate.  What it might be doing for him inwardly, he alone could tell.  These apparently calm, undemonstrative natures, that show a quiet exterior to the world, may have a fire consuming their heartstrings.  He did not go near the wedding; but neither did he shut himself up indoors, as one indulging lamentation and grief.  He pursued his occupations just as usual.  He read to Mr. Verner, who allowed him to do so that day; he rode out; he saw people, friends and others whom it was necessary to see.  He had the magnanimity to shake hands with the bride, and wish her joy.

It occurred in this way.  Mrs. Verner declined to attend the ceremony.  Since the news of John’s death she had been ailing both in body and mind.  But she desired Frederick to take Verner’s Pride in his road when driving away with his bride, that she might say her last farewell to him and Sibylla, neither of whom she might ever see again.  Oh, she’d see them again fast enough, was Fred’s response; they should not be away more than a year.  But he complied with her request, and brought Sibylla.  About three o’clock in the afternoon, the ceremony and the breakfast over, the carriage, with its four horses, clattered on to the terrace, and Fred handed Sibylla out of it.  Lionel was crossing the hall at the moment of their entrance; his horse had just been brought round for him.  To say he was surprised at seeing them there would not be saying enough; he had known nothing of the intended call.  They met face to face.  Sibylla wore a sweeping dress of silk; a fine Indian shawl, the gift of Mrs. Verner, was folded round her, and her golden hair fell beneath her bonnet.  Her eyes fell, also, before the gaze of Lionel.

Never had she looked more beautiful, more attractive; and Lionel felt it.  But, had she been one for whom he had never cared, he could not have shown more courtly indifference.  A moment given to the choking down of his emotion, to the stilling of his beating pulses, and he stood before her calmly self-possessed; holding out his hand, speaking in a low, clear tone.

“Allow me to offer you my good wishes for your welfare, Mrs. Massingbird.”

“Thank you; thank you very much,” replied Sibylla, dropping his hand, avoiding his eye, and going on to find Mrs. Verner.

“Good-bye, Lionel,” said Frederick Massingbird.  “You are going out, I see.”

Lionel shook his hand cordially.  Rival though he had proved to him, he did not blame Frederick Massingbird; he was too just to cast blame where it was not due.

“Fare you well, Frederick.  I sincerely hope you will have a prosperous voyage; that you will come safely home again.”

All this was over, and they had sailed; Dr. West having exacted a solemn promise from his son-in-law that they should leave for home again the very instant that John’s property had been realised.  And now, a fortnight after it, Mr. Verner was taken—­as was believed—­for death.  He himself believed so.  He knew what his own disorder was; he knew that the moment the water began to mount, and had attained a certain height, his life would be gone.

Page 76

“How many hours have I to live?” he inquired of Dr. West.

“Probably for some days,” was the answer.

What could it have been that was troubling the mind of Mr. Verner?  That it was worldly trouble was certain.  That other trouble, which has been known to distract the minds of the dying, to fill them with agony, was absent from his.  On that score he was in perfect peace.  But that some very great anxiety was racking him might be seen by the most casual observer.  It had been racking him for a long time past, and it was growing worse now.  And it appeared to be what he could not, or would not, speak of.

The news of the dangerous change in the master of Verner’s Pride circulated through the vicinity, and it brought forth, amidst other of his friends, Mr. Bitterworth.  This was on the second day of the change.  Tynn received Mr. Bitterworth in the hall.

“There’s no hope, sir, I’m afraid,” was Tynn’s answer to his inquiries.  “He’s not in much pain of body, but he is dreadfully anxious and uneasy.”

“What about?” asked Mr. Bitterworth, who was a little man with a pimpled face.

“Nobody knows, sir; he doesn’t say.  For myself, I can only think it must be about something connected with the estate.  What else can it be?”

“I suppose I can see him, Tynn?”

“I’ll ask, sir.  He refuses visitors in his room, but I dare say he’ll admit you.”

Lionel came to Mr. Bitterworth in the drawing-room.  “My uncle will see you,” he said, after greetings had passed.

“Tynn informs me that he appears to be uneasy in his mind,” observed Mr. Bitterworth.

“A man so changed, as he has been in the last two years, I have never seen,” replied Lionel.  “None can have failed to remark it.  From entire calmness of mind, he has exhibited anxious restlessness; I may say irritability.  Mrs. Verner is ill,” Lionel added, as they were ascending the stairs.  “She has not been out of bed for two days.”

Not in his study now; he had done with the lower part of the house for ever; but in his bed-chamber, never to come out of it alive, was Mr. Verner.  They had got him up, and he sat in an easy-chair by the bedside, partially dressed, and wrapped in his dressing-gown.  On his pale, worn face there were the unmistakable signs of death.  He and Mr. Bitterworth were left alone.

“So you have come to see the last of me, Bitterworth!” was the remark of Mr. Verner.

“Not the last yet, I hope,” heartily responded Mr. Bitterworth, who was an older man than Mr. Verner, but hale and active.  “You may rally from this attack and get about again.  Remember how many serious attacks you have had.”

“None like this.  The end must come; and it has come now.  Hush, Bitterworth!  To speak of recovery to me is worse than child’s play.  I know my time has come.  And I am glad to meet it, for it releases me from a world of care.”

Page 77

“Were there any in this world who might be supposed to be exempt from care, it is you,” said Mr. Bitterworth, leaning towards the invalid, his hale old face expressing the concern he felt.  “I should have judged you to be perfectly free from earthly care.  You have no children; what can be troubling you?”

“Would to Heaven I had children!” exclaimed Mr. Verner; and the remark appeared to break from him involuntarily, in the bitterness of his heart.

“You have your brother’s son, your heir, Lionel.”

“He is no heir of mine,” returned Mr. Verner, with, if possible, double bitterness.

“No heir of yours!” repeated Mr. Bitterworth, gazing at his friend, and wondering whether he had lost his senses.

Mr. Verner, on his part, gazed on vacancy, his thoughts evidently cast inwards.  He sat in his old favourite attitude; his hands clasped on the head of his stick, and his face bent down upon it.  “Bitterworth,” said he presently “when I made my will years ago, after my father’s death, I appointed you one of the executors.”

“I know it,” replied Mr. Bitterworth.  “I was associated—­as you gave me to understand—­with Sir Rufus Hautley.”

“Ay.  After the boy came of age,”—­and Mr. Bitterworth knew that he alluded to Lionel—­“I added his name to those of Sir Rufus and yourself.  Legacies apart, the estate was all left to him.”

“Of course it was,” assented Mr. Bitterworth.

“Since then, I have seen fit to make an alteration,” continued Mr. Verner.  “I mention it to you, Bitterworth, that you may not be surprised when you hear the will read.  Also I would tell you that I made the change of my own free act and judgment, unbiassed by any one, and that I did not make it without ample cause.  The estate is not left to Lionel Verner, but to Frederick Massingbird.”

Mr. Bitterworth had small round eyes, but they opened now to their utmost width.  “What did you say?” he repeated, after a pause, like a man out of breath.

“Strictly speaking, the estate is not bequeathed to Frederick Massingbird; he will inherit it in consequence of John’s death,” quietly went on Mr. Verner.  “It is left to John Massingbird, and to Frederick after him, should he be the survivor.  Failing them both——­”

“And I am still executor?” interrupted Mr. Bitterworth, in a tone raised rather above the orthodox key for a sick-room.

“You and Sir Rufus.  That, so far, is not altered.”

“Then I will not act.  No, Stephen Verner, long and close as our friendship has been, I will not countenance an act of injustice.  I will not be your executor, unless Verner’s Pride goes, as it ought, to Lionel Verner.”

“Lionel has forfeited it.”

“Forfeited it!—­how can he have forfeited it?  Is this”—­Mr. Bitterworth was given to speak in plain terms when excited—­“is this the underhand work of Mrs. Verner?”

“Peace, Bitterworth!  Mrs. Verner knows nothing of the change.  Her surviving son knows nothing of it; John knew nothing of it.  They have no idea but that Lionel is still the heir.  You should not jump to unjust conclusions.  Not one of them has ever asked me how my property was left; or has attempted, by the smallest word, to influence me in its disposal.”

Page 78

“Then, what has influenced you?  Why have you done it?” demanded Mr. Bitterworth, his voice becoming more subdued.

To this question Mr. Verner did not immediately reply.  He appeared not to have done with the defence of his wife and her sons.

“Mrs. Verner is not of a covetous nature; she is not unjust, and I believe that she would wish the estate willed to Lionel, rather than to her sons.  She knows no good reason why it should not be willed to him.  And for those sons—­do you suppose either of them would have gone out to Australia, had he been cognisant that he was heir to Verner’s Pride?”

“Why have you willed it away from Lionel?”

“I cannot tell you,” replied Mr. Verner, in a tone of sharp pain.  It betrayed to Mr. Bitterworth what sharper pain the step itself must have cost.

“It is this which has been on your mind, Verner—­disturbing your closing years?”

“Ay, it is that; nothing else!” wailed Mr. Verner, “nothing else, nothing else!  Has it not been enough to disturb me?” he added, putting the question in a loud, quick accent.  “Setting aside my love for Lionel, which was great, setting aside my finding him unworthy, it has been a bitter trial to me to leave Verner’s Pride to a Massingbird.  I have never loved the Massingbirds,” he continued, dropping his voice to a whisper.

“If Lionel were unworthy,”—­with a stress upon the “were,”—­“you might have left it to Jan,” spoke Mr. Bitterworth.

“Lady Verner has thrown too much estrangement between Jan and me.  No.  I would rather even a Massingbird had it than Jan.”

“If Lionel were unworthy, I said,” resumed Mr. Bitterworth.  “I cannot believe he is.  How has he proved himself so?  What has he done?”

Mr. Verner put up his hands as if to ward off some imaginary phantom, and his pale face turned of a leaden hue.

“Never ask me,” he whispered.  “I cannot tell you.  I have had to bear it about with me,” he continued, with an irrepressible burst of anguish; “to bear it here, within me, in silence; never breathing a word of my knowledge to him, or to any one.”

“Some folly must have come to your cognisance,” observed Mr. Bitterworth; “though I had deemed Lionel Verner to be more free from the sins of hot-blooded youth than are most men.  I have believed him to be a true gentleman in the best sense of the word—­a good and honourable man.”

“A silent stream runs deep,” remarked Mr. Verner.

Mr. Bitterworth drew his chair nearer to his friend, and, bending towards him, resumed solemnly—­

“Verner’s Pride of right (speaking in accordance with our national notions) belonged to your brother, Sir Lionel.  It would have been his, as you know, had he lived but a month or two longer; your father would not have willed it away from him.  After him it would have been Lionel’s.  Sir Lionel died too soon, and it was left to you; but what injunction from your father accompanied it?  Forgive my asking you the question, Stephen.”

Page 79

“Do you think I have forgotten it?” wailed Mr. Verner.  “It has cost me my peace—­my happiness, to will it away from Lionel.  To see Verner’s Pride in possession of any but a Verner will trouble me so—­if, indeed, we are permitted in the next world still to mark what goes on in this—­that I shall scarcely rest quiet in my grave.”

“You have no more—­I must speak plainly, Stephen—­I believe that you have no more right in equity to will away the estate from Lionel, than you would have were he the heir-at-law.  Many have said—­I am sure you must be aware that they have—­that you have kept him out of it; that you have enjoyed what ought to have been his, ever since his grandfather’s death.”

“Have you said it?” angrily asked Mr. Verner.

“I have neither said it nor thought it.  When your father informed me that he had willed the estate to you, Sir Lionel being dead, I answered him that I thought he had done well and wisely; that you had far more right to it, for your life, than the boy Lionel.  But, Stephen, I should never sanction your leaving it away from him after you.  Had you possessed children of your own, they should never have been allowed to shut out Lionel.  He is your elder brother’s son, remember.”

Mr. Verner sat like one in dire perplexity.  It would appear that there was a struggle going on in his own mind.

“I know, I know,” he presently said, in answer.  “The worry, the uncertainty, as to what I ought to do, has destroyed the peace of my later days.  I altered my will when smarting under the discovery of his unworthiness; but, even then a doubt as to whether I was doing right caused me to name him as inheritor, should the Massingbirds die.”

“Why, that must have been a paradox!” exclaimed Mr. Bitterworth.  “Lionel Verner should inherit before all, or not inherit at all.  What your ground of complaint against him is, I know not; but whatever it may be, it can be no excuse for your willing away from him Verner’s Pride.  Some youthful folly of his came to your knowledge, I conclude.”

“Not folly.  Call it sin—­call it crime,” vehemently replied Mr. Verner.

“As you please; you know its proper term better than I. For one solitary instance of—­what you please to name it—­you should not blight his whole prospects for life.  Lionel’s general conduct is so irreproachable (unless he be the craftiest hypocrite under the sun) that you may well pardon one defalcation.  Are you sure you were not mistaken?”

“I am sure.  I hold proof positive.”

“Well, I leave that.  I say that you might forgive him, whatever it may be, remembering how few his offences are.  He would make a faithful master of Verner’s Pride.  Compare him to Fred Massingbird!  Pshaw!”

Mr. Verner did not answer.  His face had an aching look upon it, as it leaned out over the top of his stick.  Mr. Bitterworth laid his hand upon his friend’s knee persuasively.

Page 80

“Do not go out of the world committing an act of injustice; an act, too, that is irreparable, and of which the injustice must last for ever.  Stephen, I will not leave you until you consent to repair what you have done.”

“It has been upon my mind to do it since I was taken worse yesterday,” murmured Stephen Verner.  “Our Saviour taught us to forgive.  Had it been against me only that he sinned, I would have forgiven him long ago.”

“You will forgive him now?”

“Forgiveness does not lie with me.  It was not against me, I say, that he sinned.  Let him ask forgiveness of God and of his own conscience.  But he shall have Verner’s Pride.”

“Better that you should see it in its proper light at the eleventh hour, than not at all, Stephen,” said Mr. Bitterworth.  “By every law of right and justice, Verner’s Pride, after you, belongs to Lionel.”

“You speak well, Bitterworth, when you call it the eleventh hour,” observed Mr. Verner.  “If I am to make this change you must get Matiss here without an instant’s delay.  See him yourself, and bring him back.  Tell him what the necessity is.  He will make more haste for you than he might for one of my servants.”

“Does he know of the bequest to the Massingbirds?”

“Of course he knows of it.  He made the will.  I have never employed anybody but Matiss since I came into the estate.”

Mr. Bitterworth, feeling there was little time to be lost, quitted the room without more delay.  He was anxious that Lionel should have his own.  Not so much because he liked and esteemed Lionel, as that he possessed a strong sense of justice within himself.  Lionel heard him leaving the sick-room, and came to him, but Mr. Bitterworth would not stop.

“I cannot wait,” he said.  “I am bound on an errand for your uncle.”

CHAPTER XVI.

AN ALTERED WILL.

Mr. Bitterworth was bound to the house of the lawyer, Mr. Matiss, who lived and had his office in the new part of Deerham, down by Dr. West’s.  People wondered that he managed to make a living in so small a place; but he evidently did make one.  Most of the gentry in the vicinity employed him for trifling things, and he held one or two good agencies.  He kept no clerk.  He was at home when Mr. Bitterworth entered, writing at a desk in his small office, which had maps hung round it.  A quick-speaking man, with dark hair and a good-natured face.

“Are you busy, Matiss?” began Mr. Bitterworth, when he entered; and the lawyer looked at him through the railings of his desk.

“Not particularly, Mr. Bitterworth.  Do you want me?”

“Mr. Verner wants you.  He has sent me to bring you to him without delay.  You have heard that there’s a change in him?”

“Oh, yes, I have heard it,” replied the lawyer.  “I am at his service, Mr. Bitterworth.”

“He wants his last will altered.  Remedied, I should say,” continued Mr. Bitterworth, looking the lawyer full in the face, and nodding confidentially.

Page 81

“Altered to what it was before?” eagerly cried the lawyer.

Mr. Bitterworth nodded again.  “I called in upon him this morning, and in the course of conversation it came out what he had done about Verner’s Pride.  And now he wants it undone.”

“I am glad of it—­I am glad of it, Mr. Bitterworth.  Between ourselves—­though I mean no disrespect to them—­the young Massingbirds were not fit heirs for Verner’s Pride.  Mr. Lionel Verner is.”

“He is the rightful heir as well as the fit one, Matiss,” added Mr. Bitterworth, leaning over the railings of the desk, while the lawyer was hastily putting his papers in order, preparatory to leaving them, placing some aside on the desk, and locking up others.  “What was the cause of his willing it away from Lionel Verner?”

“It’s more than I can tell.  He gave no clue whatever to his motive.  Many and many a time have I thought it over since, but I never came near fathoming it.  I told Mr. Verner that it was not a just thing, when I took his instructions for the fresh will.  That is, I intimated as much; it was not my place, of course, to speak out my mind offensively to Mr. Verner.  Dr. West said a great deal more to him than I did; but he could make no impression.”

“Was Dr. West consulted, then, by Mr. Verner?”

“Not at all.  When I called at Verner’s Pride with the fresh will for Mr. Verner to execute, it happened that Tynn was out.  He and one of the other servants were to have witnessed the signature.  Dr. West came in at the time, and Mr. Verner said he would do for a witness in Tynn’s place.  Dr. West remonstrated most strongly when he found what it was; for Mr. Verner told him in confidence what had been done.  He, the doctor, at first refused to put his hand to anything so unjust.  He protested that the public would cry shame, would say John Massingbird had no human right to Verner’s Pride, would suspect he had obtained it by fraud, or by some sort of underhand work.  Mr. Verner replied that I—­Matiss—­could contradict that.  At last the doctor signed.”

“When was this?”

“It was the very week after John started for Australia.  I wondered why Mr. Verner should have allowed him to go, if he meant to make him his heir.  Dr. West wondered also, and said so to Mr. Verner, but Mr. Verner made no reply.”

“Mr. Verner has just told me that neither the Massingbirds nor Mrs. Verner knew anything of the fresh will.  I understood him to imply that no person whatever was cognisant of it but himself and you.”

“And Dr. West.  Nobody else.”

“And he gave no reason for the alteration—­either to you or to Dr. West?”

“None at all.  Beyond the assertion that Lionel had displeased him.  Dr. West would have pressed him upon the point, but Mr. Verner repulsed him with coldness.  He insisted upon our secrecy as to the new will; which we promised, and I dare say have never violated.  I know I can answer for myself.”

Page 82

They hastened back to Verner’s Pride.  And the lawyer, in the presence of Mr. Bitterworth, received instructions for a codicil, revoking the bequest of the estate to the Massingbirds, and bestowing it absolutely upon Lionel Verner.  The bequests to others, legacies, instructions in the former will, were all to stand.  It was a somewhat elaborate will; hence Mr. Verner suggested that that will, so far, could still stand, and the necessary alteration be made by a codicil.

“You can have it ready by this evening?” Mr. Verner remarked to the lawyer.

“Before then, if you like, sir.  It won’t take me long to draw that up.  One’s pen goes glibly when one’s heart is in the work.  I am glad you are willing it back to Mr. Lionel.”

“Draw it up then, and bring it here as soon as it’s ready.  You won’t find me gone out,” Mr. Verner added, with a faint attempt at jocularity.

The lawyer did as he was bid, and returned to Verner’s Pride about five o’clock in the afternoon.  He found Dr. West there.  It was somewhat singular that the doctor should again be present, as he had been at the previous signing.  And yet not singular, for he was now in frequent attendance on the patient.

“How do you feel yourself this afternoon, sir?” asked Mr. Matiss, when he entered, his greatcoat buttoned up, his hat in his hand, his gloves on; showing no signs that he had any professional document about him, or that he had called in for any earthly reason, save to inquire in politeness after the state of the chief of Verner’s Pride.

“Pretty well, Matiss.  Are you ready?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’ll do it at once, then.  Dr. West,” Mr. Verner added, turning to the doctor, “I have been making an alteration in my will.  You were one of the former witnesses; will you be so again?”

“With pleasure.  An alteration consequent upon the death of John Massingbird, I presume?”

“No.  I should have made it, had he been still alive.  Verner’s Pride must go to Lionel.  I cannot die easy unless it does.”

“But—­I thought you said Lionel had done—­had done something to forfeit it?” interrupted Dr. West, whom the words appeared to have taken by surprise.

“To forfeit my esteem and good opinion.  Those he can never enjoy again.  But I doubt whether I have a right to deprive him of Verner’s Pride.  I begin to think I have not.  I believe that the world generally will think I have not.  It may be that a Higher Power, to whom alone I am responsible, will judge I have not.  There’s no denying that he will make a more fitting master of it than would Frederick Massingbird; and for myself I shall die the easier knowing that a Verner will succeed me.  Mr. Matiss, be so kind as read over the deed.”

The lawyer produced a parchment from one of his ample pockets, unfolded, and proceeded to read it aloud.  It was the codicil, drawn up with all due form, bequeathing Verner’s Pride to Lionel Verner.  It was short, and he read it in a clear, distinct voice.

Page 83

“Will you like to sign it, sir?” he asked, as he laid it down.

“When I have read it for myself,” replied Mr. Verner.

The lawyer smiled as he handed it to him.  All his clients were not so cautious.  Some might have said, “so mistrustful.”

Mr. Verner found the codicil all right, and the bell was rung for Tynn.  Mrs. Tynn happened to come in at the same moment.  She was retreating when she saw business a-gate, but her master spoke to her.

“You need not go, Mrs. Tynn.  Bring a pen and ink here.”

So the housekeeper remained present while the deed was executed.  Mr. Verner signed it, proclaiming it his last will and testament, and Dr. West and Tynn affixed their signatures.  The lawyer and Mrs. Tynn stood looking on.

Mr. Verner folded it up with his own hands, and sealed it.

“Bring me my desk,” he said, looking at Mrs. Tynn.

The desk was kept in a closet in the room, and she brought it forth.  Mr. Verner locked the parchment within it.

“You will remember where it is,” he said, touching the desk, and looking at the lawyer.  “The will is also here.”

Mrs. Tynn carried the desk back again; and Dr. West and the lawyer left the house together.

Later, when Mr. Verner was in bed, he spoke to Lionel, who was sitting with him.

“You will give heed to carry out my directions, Lionel, so far as I have left directions, after you come into power.”

“I will, sir,” replied Lionel, never having had the faintest suspicion that he had been near losing his inheritance.

“And be more active abroad than I have been.  I have left too much to Roy and others.  You are young and strong; don’t you leave it to them.  Look into things with your own eyes.”

“Indeed I will.  My dear uncle,” he added, bending over the bed, and speaking in an earnest tone, “I will endeavour to act in all things as though in your sight, accountable to God and my own conscience.  Verner’s Pride shall have no unworthy master.”

“Try to live so as to redeem the past.”

“Yes,” said Lionel.  He did not see what precise part of it he had to redeem, but he was earnestly anxious to defer to the words of a dying man.  “Uncle, may I dare to say that I hope you will live yet?” he gently said.

“It is of no use, Lionel.  The world is closing for me.”

It was closing for him even then, as he spoke—­closing rapidly.  Before another afternoon had come round, the master of Verner’s Pride had quitted that, and all other pride, for ever.

CHAPTER XVII.

DISAPPEARED.

Sweeping down from Verner’s Pride towards the church at Deerham came the long funeral train—­mutes with their plumes and batons, relays of bearers, the bier.  It had been Mr. Verner’s express desire that he should be carried to the grave, that no hearse or coaches should be used.

Page 84

“Bury me quietly; bury me without show,” had been his charge.  And yet a show it was, that procession, if only from its length.  Close to the coffin walked the heir, Lionel; Jan and Dr. West came next; Mr. Bitterworth and Sir Rufus Hautley.  Other gentlemen were there, followers or pall-bearers; the tenants followed; the servants came last.  A long, long line, slow and black; and spectators gathered on the side of the road, underneath the hedges, and in the upper windows at Deerham, to see it pass.  The under windows were closed.

A brave heir, a brave master of Verner’s Pride! was the universal thought, as eyes were turned on Lionel, on his tall, noble form, his pale face stilled to calmness, his dark hair.  He chose to walk bare-headed, his hat, with its sweeping streamers, borne in his hand.  When handed to him in the hall he had not put it on, but went out as he was, carrying it.  The rest, those behind him, did not follow his example; they assumed their hats; but Lionel was probably unconscious of it, probably he never gave it a thought.

At the churchyard entrance they were met by the Vicar of Deerham, the Reverend James Bourne.  All hats came off then, as his voice rose, commencing the service.  Nearly one of the last walked old Matthew Frost.  He had not gone to Verner’s Pride, the walk so far was beyond him now, but fell in at the churchyard gate.  The fine, upright, hale man whom you saw at the commencement of this history had changed into a bowed, broken mourner.  Rachel’s fate had done that.  On the right as they moved up the churchyard, was the mound which covered the remains of Rachel.  Old Matthew did not look towards it; as he passed it he only bent his head the lower.  But many others turned their heads; they remembered her that day.

In the middle of the church, open now, dark and staring, was the vault of the Verners.  There lay already within it Stephen Verner’s father, his first wife, and the little child Rachel, Rachel Frost’s foster-sister.  A grand grave this, compared to that lowly mound outside; there was a grand descriptive tablet on the walls to the Verners; while the mound was nameless.  By the side of the large tablet was a smaller one, placed there to the memory of the brave Sir Lionel Verner, who had fallen near Moultan.  Lionel involuntarily glanced up at it, as he stood now over the vault, and a wish came across him that his father’s remains were here, amidst them, instead of in that far-off grave.

The service was soon over, and Stephen Verner was left in his resting-place.  Then the procession, shorn of its chief and prominent features, went back to Verner’s Pride.  Lionel wore his hat this time.

In the large drawing-room of state, in her mourning robes and widow’s cap, sat Mrs. Verner.  She had not been out of her chamber, until within the last ten minutes, since before Mr. Verner’s death; scarcely out of her bed.  As they passed into the room—­the lawyer, Dr. West, Jan, Mr. Bitterworth, and Sir Rufus Hautley—­they thought how Mrs. Verner had changed, and how ill she looked; not that her florid complexion was any paler.  She had, indeed, changed since the news of John Massingbird’s death; and some of them believed that she would not be very long after Mr. Verner.

Page 85

They had assembled there for the purpose of hearing the will read.  The desk of Mr. Verner was brought forward and laid upon the table.  Lionel, taking his late uncle’s keys from his pocket, unlocked it, and delivered a parchment which it contained to Mr. Matiss.  The lawyer saw at a glance that it was the old will, not the codicil, and he waited for Lionel to hand him also the latter.

“Be so kind as read it, Mr. Matiss,” said Lionel, pointing to the will.

It had to be read; and it was of no consequence whether the codicil was taken from the desk before reading the original will, or afterwards, so Mr. Matiss unfolded it, and began.

It was a somewhat elaborate will—­which has been previously hinted.  Verner’s Pride, with its rich lands, its fine income, was left to John Massingbird; in the event of John’s death, childless, it went to Frederick; in the event of Frederick’s death, childless, it passed to Lionel Verner.  There the conditions ended; so that, if it did lapse to Lionel, it lapsed to him absolutely.  But it would appear that the contingency of both the Massingbirds dying had been only barely glanced at by Mr. Verner.  Five hundred pounds were left to Lionel:  five hundred to Jan; five hundred to Decima; nothing to Lady Verner.  Mrs. Verner was suitably provided for, and there were bequests to servants.  Twenty-five pounds for “a mourning ring” were bequeathed to each of the two executors, Sir Rufus Hautley, and Mr. Bitterworth; and old Matthew Frost had forty pounds a year for his life.  Such were the chief features of the will; and the utter astonishment it produced on the minds and countenances of some of the listeners was a sight to witness.  Lionel, Mrs. Verner, Jan, and Sir Rufus Hautley were petrified.

Sir Rufus rose.  He was a thin, stately man, always dressed in hessian boots and the old-fashioned shirt-frill.  A proud, impassive countenance was his, but it darkened now.  “I will not act,” he began.  “I beg to state my opinion that the will is an unfair one—­”

“I beg your pardon, Sir Rufus,” interrupted the lawyer.  “Allow me a word.  This is not the final will of Mr. Verner; much of it has been revoked by a recent codicil.  Verner’s Pride comes to Mr. Lionel.  You will find the codicil in the desk, sir,” he added to Lionel.

Lionel, his pale face haughty, and quite as impassive as that of Sir Rufus, for anything like injustice angered him, opened the desk again.  “I was not aware,” he observed.  “My uncle told me on the day of his death that the will would be found in his desk; I supposed that to be it.”

“It is the will,” said Mr. Matiss.  “But he caused me to draw up a later codicil, which revoked the bequest of Verner’s Pride.  It is left to you absolutely.”

Lionel was searching in the desk.  The few papers in it appeared to be arranged with the most methodical neatness:  but they were small, chiefly old letters.  “I don’t see anything like a codicil,” he observed.  “You had better look yourself, Mr. Matiss; you will probably recognise it.”

Page 86

Mr. Matiss advanced to the desk and looked in it.  “It is not here!” he exclaimed.

Not there!  They gazed at him, at the desk, at Lionel, half puzzled.  The lawyer, with rapid fingers, began taking out the papers one by one.

“No, it is not here, in either compartment.  I saw it was not, the moment I looked in; but it was well to be sure.  Where has it been put?”

“I really do not know anything about it,” answered Lionel, to whom he looked as he spoke.  “My uncle told me the will would be found in his desk.  And the desk has not been opened since his death.”

“Could Mr. Verner himself have changed its place to somewhere else?” asked the lawyer, speaking with more than usual quickness, and turning over the papers with great rapidity.

“Not after he told me where the will was.  He did not touch the desk after that.  It was but just before his death.  So far as I know, he had not had his desk brought out of the closet for days.”

“Yes, he had,” said the lawyer.  “After he had executed the codicil on the evening previous to his death, he called for his desk, and put the parchment into it.  It lay on the top of the will—­this one.  I saw that much.”

“I can testify that the codicil was locked in the desk, and the desk was then returned to the closet, for I happened to be present,” spoke up Dr. West.  “I was one of the witnesses to the codicil, as I had been to the will.  Mr. Verner must have moved it himself to some safer place.”

“What place could be safer than the desk in his own bedroom?” cried the lawyer.  “And why move the codicil and not the will?”

“True,” assented Dr. West.  “But—­I don’t see—­it could not go out of the desk without being moved out.  And who would presume to meddle with it but himself?  Who took possession of his keys when he died?” added the doctor, looking round at Mrs. Verner.

“I did,” said Lionel.  “And they have not been out of my possession since.  Nothing whatever has been touched; desk, drawers, every place belonging to him are as they were left when he died.”

Of course the only thing to do was to look for the codicil.  Great interest was excited; and it appeared to be altogether so mysterious an affair that one and all flocked upstairs to the room; the room where he had died! whence the coffin had but just been borne.  Mrs. Tynn was summoned; and when she found what was amiss, she grew excited; fearing, possibly, that the blame might in some way fall upon her.  Saving Lionel himself, she was the only one who had been alone with Mr. Verner; of course, the only one who could have had an opportunity of tampering with the desk.  And that, only when the patient slept.

“I protest that the desk was never touched, after I returned it to the closet by my master’s desire, when the parchment was put into it!” she cried.  “My master never asked for his desk again, and I never so much as opened the closet.  It was only the afternoon before he died, gentlemen, that the deed was signed.”

Page 87

“Where did he keep his keys?” asked Mr. Bitterworth.

“In the little table-drawer at his elbow, sir.  The first day he took to his bed, he wanted his keys, and I got them out of his dressing-gown pocket for him.  ‘You needn’t put them back,’ he says to me; ’let them stop inside this little drawer.’  And there they stayed till he died, when I gave them up to Mr. Lionel.”

“You must have allowed somebody to get into the room, Mrs. Tynn,” said Dr. West.

“I never was away from the room above two minutes at a time, sir,” was the woman’s reply, “and then either Mr. Lionel or Tynn would be with him.  But, if any of ’em did come in, it’s not possible they’d get picking at the master’s desk to take out a paper.  What good would the paper do any of the servants?”

Mrs. Tynn’s question was a pertinent one.  The servants were neither the better nor the worse for the codicil; whether it were forthcoming, or not, it made no difference to them.  Sir Rufus Hautley inquired upon this point, and the lawyer satisfied him.

“The codicil was to this effect alone,” he explained.  “It changed the positions of Mr. Lionel and Mr. John Massingbird, the one for the other, as they had stood in the will.  Mr. Lionel came into the inheritance, and Mr. Frederick Massingbird to five hundred pounds only.  Mr. John was gone—­as everybody knows.”

“These two, Mr. Lionel and Frederick Massingbird, were the only parties interested in the codicil, then?”

“The only two.  John Massingbird’s name was mentioned, but only to revoke all former bequests to him.”

“Then—­were John Massingbird alive, he could not now succeed to the estate!” cried Sir Rufus.

“He could not, Sir Rufus,” replied the lawyer.  “He would be debarred from all benefit under Mr. Verner’s will.  That is, provided we can come across the codicil.  Failing that, he would succeed were he in life, to Verner’s Pride.”

“The codicil must be found,” cried Mr. Bitterworth, getting heated.  “Don’t say, ‘if we can come across it,’ Matiss.”

“Very good, Mr. Bitterworth.  I’m sure I should be glad to see it found.  Where else are we to look?”

Where else, indeed!  That Mr. Verner could not get out of the room to hide the codicil was an indisputable fact; and nobody else seemed to know anything whatever about it.  The only one personally interested in the suppression of the codicil was Frederick Massingbird; and he, hundreds of miles away, could neither have secured it nor sent his ghost to secure it.  In a less degree, Mrs. Verner and Dr. West were interested; the one in her son, the other in that son’s wife.  But the doctor was not an inmate of Verner’s Pride; and Mrs. Tynn could have testified that she had been present in the room and never left it during each of the doctor’s professional visits, subsequent to the drawing out of the codicil.  As for Mrs. Verner, she had not been out of her bed.  Mr.

Page 88

Verner, at the last, had gone off suddenly, without pain, and there had been no time to call his wife.  Mrs. Tynn excused the negligence by saying she did not think her master had been quite so near his end; and it was a true excuse.  But no one dreamed of attaching suspicion to Mrs. Verner, or to Dr. West.  “I’d rather it had been Lionel to succeed than Frederick,” spoke the former, honestly, some faint idea that people might think she was pleased suggesting the avowal to her.  “Lionel has more right than Fred to Verner’s Pride.”

“More right!” ejaculated Dr. West warmly.  “Frederick Massingbird has no right, by the side of Lionel Verner.  Why Mr. Verner ever willed it away from Lionel we could not understand.”

“Fred needn’t take it—­even if the codicil can’t be found—­he can give it back to Lionel by deed of gift,” said practical Jan. “I should.”

“That my master meant Mr. Lionel to succeed, is certain,” interposed Tynn, the butler.  “Nearly the last word he said to me, before the breath went out of his body, was an injunction to serve Mr. Lionel faithfully at Verner’s Pride, as I had served him.  There can be no difficulty in Mr. Lionel’s succeeding, when my master’s intentions were made so plain.”

“Be quiet, Tynn,” said Lionel.  “I succeed by means of legal right to Verner’s Pride, or I will not succeed at all.”

“That’s true,” acquiesced the lawyer.  “A will is a will, and must be acted upon.  How on earth has that codicil got spirited away?”

How indeed!  But for the plain fact, so positive and palpable before them, of the codicil’s absence, they would have declared the loss to be an impossibility.  Upstairs and down, the house was vainly searched for it; and the conclusion was at length unwillingly come to that Mr. Verner had repented of his bequest, had taken the codicil out of the desk, and burned it.  The suggestion came from Mr. Bitterworth; and Mrs. Tynn acknowledged that it was just possible Mr. Verner’s strength would allow him to accomplish so much, while her back was turned.  And yet, how reconcile this with his dying charges to Lionel, touching the management of the estate?

The broad fact that there was the will, and that alone to act upon, untempered by a codicil, shone out all too clearly.  Lionel Verner was displaced, and Frederick Massingbird was the heir.

Oh, if some impossible electric telegraph could but have carried the news over the waves of the sea, to the ship ploughing along the mid-path of the ocean; if the two fugitives in her could but have been spirited back again, as the codicil seemed to have been spirited away, how triumphantly would they have entered upon their sway at Verner’s Pride.

CHAPTER XVIII.

PERPLEXITY.

It was a terrible blow; there was no doubt of that; very terrible to Lionel Verner, so proud and sensitive.  Do not take the word proud in its wrong meaning.  He did not set himself up for being better than others, or think everybody else dirt beneath his feet; but he was proud of his independence, of his unstained name—­he was proud to own that fine place, Verner’s Pride.  And now Verner’s Pride was dashed from him, and his independence seemed to have gone out with the blow, and a slight seemed to have fallen upon him, if not upon his name.

Page 89

He had surely counted upon Verner’s Pride.  He had believed himself as indisputably its heir, as though he had been Stephen Verner’s eldest son, and the estate entailed.  Never for a moment had a doubt that he would succeed entered his own mind, or been imparted to it from any quarter.  In the week that intervened between Mr. Verner’s death and burial, he had acted as entire master.  It was he who issued orders—­from himself now, not from any other—­it was he who was appealed to.  People, of their own accord, began to call him Mr. Verner.  Very peremptory indeed had been a certain interview of his with Roy the bailiff.  Not, as formerly, had he said, “Roy, my uncle desires me to say so and so;” or, “Roy, you must not act in that way, it would displease Mr. Verner;” but he issued his own clear and unmistakable orders, as the sole master of Verner’s Pride.  He and Roy all but came to loggerheads that day; and they would have come quite to it, but that Roy remembered in time that he, before whom he stood, was his head and master—­his master to keep him on, or to discharge him at pleasure, and who would brook no more insubordination to his will.  So Roy bowed, and ate humble pie, and hated Lionel all the while.  Lionel had seen this; he had seen how the man longed to rebel, had he dared:  and now a flush of pain rose to his brow as he remembered that in that interview he had not been the master; that he was less master now than he had ever been.  Roy would likewise remember it.

Mr. Bitterworth took Lionel aside.  Sir Rufus Hautley had gone out after the blow had fallen, when the codicil had been searched for in vain, had gone out in anger, shaking the dust from his feet, declining to act as executor, to accept the mourning-ring, to have to do with anything so palpably unjust.  The rest lingered yet.  It seemed that they could not talk enough of it, could not tire of bringing forth new conjectures, could not give vent to all the phases of their astonishment.

“What could have been your offence, that your uncle should alter his will, two years ago, and leave the estate from you?” Mr. Bitterworth inquired of Lionel, drawing him aside.

“I am unable to conjecture,” replied Lionel.  “I find by the date of this will that it was made the week subsequent to my departure for Paris, when Jan met with the accident.  He was not displeased with me then, so far as I knew——­”

“Did you go to Paris in opposition to his wish?” interrupted Mr. Bitterworth.

“On the contrary, he hurried me off.  When the news of Jan’s accident arrived, and I went to my uncle with the message, he said to me—­I remember his very words—­’Go off at once; don’t lose an instant,’ and he handed me money for the journey and for my stay; for Jan, also, should any great expense be needed for him; and in an hour I was away on my route.  I stayed six months in Paris, as you may remember—­the latter portion of the time for my own pleasure. 

Page 90

When I did return home, I was perfectly thunderstruck at the change in my uncle’s appearance, and at the change in his manners to me.  He was a bowed, broken man, with—­as it seemed to me—­some care upon his mind; and that I had offended him in some very unfortunate way, and to a great extent, was palpable.  I never could get any solution to it, though I asked him repeatedly.  I do not know, to this hour, what I had done.  Sometimes I thought he was angry at my remaining so long away; but, if so, he might have given me a hint to return, or have suffered some one else to give it, for he never wrote to me.”

“Never wrote to you?” repeated Mr. Bitterworth.

“Not once, the whole of the time I was away.  I wrote to him often; but if he had occasion to send me a message, Mrs. Verner or Fred Massingbird would write it.  Of course, this will, disinheriting me, proves that my staying away could not have been the cause of displeasure—­it is dated only the week after I went.”

“Whatever may have been the cause, it is a grievous wrong inflicted on you.  He was my dear friend, and we have but now returned from laying him in his grave, but still I must speak out my sentiments—­that he had no right to deprive you of Verner’s Pride.”

Lionel knit his brow.  That he thought the same; that he was feeling the injustice as a crying and unmerited wrong, was but too evident.  Mr. Bitterworth had bent his head in a reverie, stealing a glance at Lionel now and then.

“Is there nothing that you can charge your conscience with; no sin, which may have come to the knowledge of your uncle, and been deemed by him a just cause for disinheritance?” questioned Mr. Bitterworth, in a meaning tone.

“There is nothing, so help me Heaven!” replied Lionel, with emotion.  “No sin, no shame; nothing that could be a cause, or the shade of a cause—­I will not say for depriving me of Verner’s Pride, but even for my uncle’s displeasure.”

“It struck me—­you will not be offended with me, Lionel, if I mention something that struck me a week back,” resumed Mr. Bitterworth.  “I am a foolish old man, given to ponder much over cause and effect—­to put two and two together, as we call it; and the day I first heard from your uncle that he had had good cause—­it was what he said—­for depriving you of Verner’s Pride, I went home, and set myself to think.  The will had been made just after John Massingbird’s departure for Australia.  I brought before me all the events which had occurred about that same time, and there rose up naturally, towering above every other reminiscence, the unhappy business touching Rachel Frost.  Lionel”—­laying his hand on the young man’s shoulder and dropping his voice to a whisper—­“did you lead the girl astray?”

Lionel drew himself up to his full height, his lip curling with displeasure.

“Mr. Bitterworth!”

“To suspect you never would have occurred to me.  I do not suspect you now.  Were you to tell me that you were guilty of it, I should have difficulty in believing you.  But it did occur to me that possibly your uncle may have cast that blame on you.  I saw no other solution of the riddle.  It could have been no light cause to induce Mr. Verner to deprive you of Verner’s Pride.  He was not a capricious man.’

Page 91

“It is impossible that my uncle could have cast a shade of suspicion on me, in regard to that affair,” said Lionel.  “He knew me better.  At the moment of its occurrence, when nobody could tell whom to suspect, I remember a word or two were dropped which caused me to assure him I was not the guilty party, and he stopped me.  He would not allow me even to speak of defence; he said he cast no suspicion on me.”

“Well, it is a great mystery,” said Mr. Bitterworth.  “You must excuse me, Lionel.  I thought Mr. Verner might in some way have taken up the notion.  Evil tales, which have no human foundation, are sometimes palmed upon credulous ears for fact, and do their work.”

“Were it as you suggest, my uncle would have spoken to me, had it been only to reproach,” said Lionel.  “It is a mystery, certainly, as you observe; but that is nothing to this mystery of the disappearance of the codicil——­”

“I am going, Lionel,” interrupted Jan, putting his head round the room door.

“I must go, too,” said Lionel, starting from the sideboard against which he had been leaning.  “My mother must hear of this business from no one but me.”

Verner’s Pride emptied itself of its mourners, who betook themselves their respective ways.  Lionel, taking the long crape from his hat, and leaving on its deep mourning band alone, walked with a quick step through the village.  He would not have chosen to be abroad that day, walking the very route where he had just figured chief in the procession, but to go without delay to Lady Verner was a duty.  And a duty was never willingly omitted by Lionel Verner.

CHAPTER XIX.

THE REVELATION TO LADY VERNER.

IN the drawing-room at Deerham Court, in their new black dresses, sat Lady Verner and Decima; Lucy Tempest with them.  Lady Verner held out her hand to Lionel when he entered, and lifted her face, a strange eagerness visible in its refinement.

“I thought you would come to me, Lionel!” she uttered.  “I want to know a hundred things.—­Decima, have the goodness to direct your reproachful looks elsewhere; not to me.  Why should I be a hypocrite, and feign a sorrow for Stephen Verner which I do not feel?  I know it is his burial-day as well as you know it; but I will not make that a reason for abstaining from questions on family topics, although they do relate to money and means that were once his.  I say it would be hypocritical affectation to do so.  Lionel,” she deliberately continued, “has Jan an interest in Verner’s Pride after you, or is it left to you unconditionally?  And what residence is appointed for Mrs. Verner?”

Lionel leaned over the table, apparently to reach something that was lying on it, contriving to bring his lips close to Decima.  “Go out of the room, and take Lucy,” he whispered.

Decima received the hint promptly.  She rose as of her own accord.  “Lucy, let us leave mamma and Lionel alone.  We will come back when your secrets are over,” she added, turning round with a smile as she left the room, drawing Lucy with her.

Page 92

“You don’t speak, Lionel,” impatiently cried Lady Verner.  In truth he did not; he did not know how to begin.  He rose, and approached her.

“Mother, can you bear disappointment?” he asked, taking her hand, and speaking gently, in spite of his agitation.

“Hush!” interrupted Lady Verner.  “If you speak of ‘disappointment’ to me, you are no true son of mine.  You are going to tell me that Stephen Verner has left nothing to me.  Let me tell you, Lionel, that I would not have accepted it—­and this I made known to him.  Accept money from him!  No.  But I will accept it from my dear son,”—­looking at him with a smile—­“now that he enjoys the revenues of Verner’s Pride.”

“It was not with money left, or not left, to you, that I was connecting disappointment,” answered Lionel.  “There is a worse disappointment in store for us than that, mother.”

“A worse disappointment!” repeated Lady Verner, looking puzzled.  “You are never to be saddled with the presence of Mrs. Verner at Verner’s Pride, until her death!” she hastily added.  A great disappointment, that would have been; a grievous wrong, in the estimation of Lady Verner.

“Mother, dear, Verner’s Pride is not mine.”

“Not yours!” she slowly said.  “He surely has not done as his father did before him?—­left it to the younger brother, over the head of the elder?  He has never left it to Jan!”

“Neither to Jan nor to me.  It is left to Frederick Massingbird.  John would have had it, had he been alive.”

Lady Verner’s delicate features became crimson; before she could speak, they had assumed a leaden colour.  “Don’t play with me, Lionel,” she gasped, an awful fear thumping at her heart that he was not playing with her.  “It cannot be left to the Massingbirds!”

He sat down by her side, and gave her the history of the matter in detail.  Lady Verner caught at the codicil, as a drowning man catches at a straw.

“How could you terrify me?” she asked.  “Verner’s Pride is yours, Lionel.  The codicil must be found.”

“The conviction upon my mind is that it never will be found,” he resolutely answered.  “Whoever took that codicil from the desk where it was placed, could have had but one motive in doing it—­the depriving me of Verner’s Pride.  Rely upon it, it is effectually removed ere this, by burning, or otherwise.  No.  I already look upon the codicil as a thing that never existed.  Verner’s Pride is gone from us.”

“But, Lionel, whom do you suspect?  Who can have taken it?  It is pretty nearly a hanging matter to steal a will!”

“I do not suspect any one,” he emphatically answered.  “Mrs. Tynn protests that no one could have approached the desk unseen by her.  It is very unlikely that any one could have burnt it.  They must, first of all, have chosen a moment when my uncle was asleep; they must have got Mrs. Tynn from the room; they must have searched for and found the keys; they must have unlocked the desk, taken the codicil, relocked the desk, and replaced the keys.  All this could not be done without time, and familiarity with facts.  Not a servant in the house—­save the Tynns—­knew the codicil was there, and they did not know its purport.  But the Tynns are thoroughly trustworthy.”

Page 93

“It must have been Mrs. Verner——­”

“Hush, mother!  I cannot listen to that, even from you.  Mrs. Verner was in her bed—­never out of it; she knew nothing whatever of the codicil.  And, if she had, you will, I hope, do her the justice to believe that she would be incapable of meddling with it.”

“She benefits by its loss, at any rate,” bitterly rejoined Lady Verner.

“Her son does.  But that he does was entirely unknown to her.  She never knew that Mr. Verner had willed the estate away from me; she never dreamed but that I, and no other, would be his successor.  The accession of Frederick Massingbird is unwelcome to her, rather than the contrary; he has no right to it, and she feels that he has not.  In the impulse of the surprise, she said aloud that she wished it had been left to me; and I am sure these were her true sentiments.”

Lady Verner sat in silence, her white hands crossed on her black dress, her head bent down.  Presently she lifted it——­

“I do not fully understand you, Lionel.  You appear to imply that—­according to your belief—­no one has touched the codicil.  How, then, can it have got out of the desk?”

“There is only one solution.  It was suggested by Mr. Bitterworth; and, though I refused credence to it when he spoke, it has since been gaining upon my mind.  He thinks my uncle must have repented of the codicil after it was made, and himself destroyed it.  I should give full belief to this were it not that at the very last he spoke to me as the successor to Verner’s Pride.”

“Why did he will it from you at all?” asked Lady Verner.

“I know not.  I have told you how estranged his manner has been to me for the last year or two; but wherefore, or what I had done to displease him, I cannot think or imagine.”

“He had no right to will away the estate from you,” vehemently rejoined Lady Verner.  “Was it not enough that he usurped your father’s birth-right, as Jacob usurped Esau’s, keeping you out of it for years and years, but he must now deprive you of it for ever?  Had you been dead—­had there been any urgent reason why you should not succeed—­Jan should have come in.  Jan is the lawful heir, failing you.  Mark me, Lionel, it will bring no good to Frederick Massingbird.  Rights, violently diverted out of their course, can bring only wrong and confusion.”

“It would be scarcely fair were it to bring him ill,” spoke Lionel, in his strict justice.  “Frederick has had nothing to do with my uncle’s bequeathing the estate to him.”

“Nonsense, Lionel! you cannot make me believe that no cajolery has been at work from some quarter or other,” peevishly answered Lady Verner.  “Tell the facts to an impartial person—­a stranger.  They were always about him—­his wife and those Massingbirds—­and at the last moment it is discovered that he has left all to them, and disinherited you.”

“Mother, you are mistaken.  What my uncle has done, he has done of his own will alone, unbiassed by others; nay, unknown to others.  He distinctly stated this to Matiss, when the change was made.  No, although I am a sufferer, and they benefit, I cannot throw a shade of the wrong upon Mrs. Verner and the Massingbirds.”

Page 94

“I will tell you what I cannot do—­and that is to accept your view of the disappearance of the codicil,” said Lady Verner.  “It does not stand to reason that your uncle would cause a codicil to be made, with all the haste and parade you speak of, only to destroy it afterwards.  Depend upon it, you are wrong.  He never took it.”

“It does appear unlikely,” acquiesced Lionel, after some moments of deliberation.  “It was not likely, either, that he would destroy it in secret; he would have done it openly.  And still less likely, that he would have addressed me as his successor in dying, and given me charges as to the management of the estate, had he left it away from me.”

“No, no; no, no!” emphatically returned Lady Verner.  “That codicil has been stolen, Lionel.”

“But, by whom?” he debated.  “There’s not a servant in the house would do it; and there was no other inmate of it, save myself.  This is my chief difficulty.  Were it not for the total absence of all other suspicion, I should not for a moment entertain the thought that it could have been my uncle.  Let us leave the subject, mother.  It seems to be an unprofitable one, and my head is weary.”

“Are you going to give the codicil tamely up for a bad job, without further search?” asked Lady Verner.  “That I should live—­that I should live to see Sibylla West’s children inherit Verner’s Pride!” she passionately added.

Sibylla West’s children!  Lionel had enough pain at his heart, just then, without that shaft.  A piercing shaft truly, and it dyed his brow fiery red.

“We have searched already in every likely or possible place that we can think of; to-morrow morning, places unlikely and impossible will be searched,” he said, in answer to his mother’s question.  “I shall be aided by the police; our searching is nothing compared with what they can do.  They go about it artistically, perfected by practice.”

“And—­if the result should be a failure?”

“It will be a failure,” spoke Lionel, in his firm conviction.  “In which case I bid adieu to Verner’s Pride.”

“And come home here; will you not, Lionel?”

“For the present.  And now, mother, that I have told you the ill news, and spoiled your rest, I must go back again.”

Spoiled her rest!  Ay, for many a day and night to come.  Lionel disinherited!  Verner’s Pride gone from them for ever!  A cry went forth from Lady Verner’s heart.  It had been the moment of hope which she had looked forward to for years; and, now that it was come, what had it brought?

“My own troubles make me selfish,” said Lionel, turning back when he was half out at the door.  “I forgot to tell you that Jan and Decima inherit five hundred pounds each.”

“Five hundred pounds!” slightingly returned Lady Verner.  “It is but of at piece with the rest.”

He did not add that he had five hundred also, failing the estate.  It would have seemed worse mockery still.

Page 95

Looking out at the door, opposite to the ante-room, on the other side of the hall, was Decima.  She had heard his step, and came to beckon him in.  It was the dining-parlour, but a pretty room still; for Lady Verner would have nothing about her inelegant or ugly, if she could help it.  Lucy Tempest, in her favourite school attitude, was half-kneeling, half-sitting on the rug before the fire; but she rose when Lionel came in.

Decima entwined her arm within his, and led him up to the fire-place.  “Did you bring mamma bad news?” she asked.  “I thought I read it in your countenance.”

“Very bad, Decima.  Or I should not have sent you away while I told it.”

“I suppose there’s nothing left for mamma, or for Jan?”

“Mamma did not expect anything left for her, Decima.  Don’t go away, Lucy,” he added, arresting Lucy Tempest, who, with good taste, was leaving them alone.  “Stay and hear how poor I am; all Deerham knows it by this time.”

Lucy remained.  Decima, her beautiful features a shade paler than usual, turned her serene eyes on Lionel.  She little thought what was coming.

“Verner’s Pride is left away from me, Decima.”

“Left away from you!  From you?”

“Frederick Massingbird inherits.  I am passed over.”

“Oh, Lionel!” The words were not uttered angrily, passionately, as Lady Verner’s had been; but in a low, quiet voice, wrung from her, seemingly, by intense inward pain.

“And so there will be some additional trouble for you in the housekeeping line,” went on Lionel, speaking gaily, and ignoring all the pain at his heart.  “Turned out of Verner’s Pride, I must come to you here—­at least, for a time.  What shall you say to that, Miss Lucy?”

Lucy was looking up at him gravely, not smiling in the least.  “Is it true that you have lost Verner’s Pride?” she asked.

“Quite true.”

“But I thought it was yours—­after Mr. Verner.”

“I thought so too, until to-day,” replied Lionel.  “It ought to have been mine.”

“What shall you do without it?”

“What, indeed!” he answered.  “From being a landed country gentleman—­as people have imagined me—­I go down to a poor fellow who must work for his bread and cheese before he eats it.  Your eyes are laughing, Miss Lucy, but it is true.”

“Bread and cheese costs nothing,” said she.

“No?  And the plate you put it on, and the knife you eat it with, and the glass of beer to help it go down, and the coat you wear during the repast, and the room it’s served in?—­they cost something, Miss Lucy.”

Lucy laughed.  “I think you will always have enough bread and cheese,” said she.  “You look as though you would.”

Decima turned to them.  She had stood buried in a reverie, until the light tone of Lionel aroused her from it. “Which is real, Lionel?  This joking, or that you have lost Verner’s Pride?”

Page 96

“Both,” he answered.  “I am disinherited from Verner’s Pride; better perhaps that I should joke over it, than cry.”

“What will mamma do?  What will mamma do?” breathed Decima.  “She has so counted upon it.  And what will you do, Lionel?”

“Decima!” came forth at this moment from the opposite room, in the imperative voice of Lady Verner.

Decima turned in obedience to it, her step less light than usual.  Lucy addressed Lionel.

“One day at the rectory there came a gipsy woman, wanting to tell our fortunes; she accosted us in the garden.  Mr. Cust sent her away, and she was angry, and told him his star was not in the ascendant.  I think it must be the case at present with your star, Mr. Verner.”

Lionel smiled.  “Yes, indeed.”

“It is not only one thing that you are losing; it is more.  First, that pretty girl whom you loved; then, Mr. Verner; and now, Verner’s Pride.  I wish I knew how to comfort you.”

Lucy Tempest spoke with the most open simplicity, exactly as a sister might have done.  But the one allusion grated on Lionel’s heart.

“You are very kind, Lucy.  Good-bye.  Tell Decima I shall see her some time to-morrow.”

Lucy Tempest looked after him from the window as he paced the inclosed courtyard.  “I cannot think how people can be unjust!” was her thought.  “If Verner’s Pride was rightly his, why have they taken it from him?”

CHAPTER XX.

DRY WORK.

Certainly Lionel Verner’s star was not in the ascendant—­though Lucy Tempest had used the words in jest.  His love gone from him; his fortune and position wrested from him; all become the adjuncts of one man, Frederick Massingbird.  Serenely, to outward appearance, as Lionel had met the one blow, so did he now meet the other; and none, looking on his calm bearing, could suspect what the loss was to him.  But it is the silent sorrow that eats into the heart; the loud grief does not tell upon it.

An official search had been made; but no trace could be found of the missing codicil.  Lionel had not expected that it would be found.  He regarded it as a deed which had never had existence, and took up his abode with his mother.  The village could not believe it; the neighbourhood resented it.  People stood in groups to talk it over.  It did certainly appear to be a most singular and almost incredible thing, that, in the enlightened days of the latter half of the nineteenth century, an official deed should disappear out of a gentleman’s desk, in his own well-guarded residence, in his habited chamber.  Conjectures and thoughts were freely bandied about; while Dr. West and Jan grew nearly tired of the particulars demanded of them in their professional visits, for their patients would talk of nothing else.

Page 97

The first visible effect that the disappointment had, was to stretch Lady Verner on a sick-bed.  She fell into a low, nervous state of prostration, and her irritability—­it must be confessed—­was great.  But for this illness, Lionel would have been away.  Thrown now upon his own resources, he looked steadily into the future, and strove to chalk out a career for himself; one by which—­as he had said to Lucy Tempest—­he might earn bread and cheese.  Of course, at Lionel Verner’s age, and reared to no profession, unfamiliar with habits of business, that was easier thought of than done.  He had no particular talent for literature; he believed that, if he tried his hand at that, the bread might come, but the cheese would be doubtful—­although he saw men, with even less aptitude for it than he, turning to it and embracing it with all the confidence in the world, as if it were an ever-open resource for all, when other trades failed.  There were the three professions; but were they available?  Lionel felt no inclination to become a working drudge like poor Jan; and the Church, for which he had not any liking, he was by far too conscientious to embrace only as a means of living.  There remained the Bar; and to that he turned his attention, and resolved to qualify himself for it.  That there would be grinding, and drudgery, and hard work, and no pay for years, he knew; but, so there might be, go to what he would.  The Bar did hold out a chance of success, and there was nothing in it derogatory to the notions in which he had been reared—­those of a gentleman.

Jan came to him one day about the time of the decision, and Lionel told him that he should soon be away; that he intended to enter himself at the Middle Temple, and take chambers.

“Law!” said Jan.  “Why, you’ll be forty, maybe, before you ever get a brief.  You should have entered earlier.”

“Yes.  But how was I to know that things would turn out like this?”

“Look here,” said Jan, tilting himself in a very uncomfortable fashion on the high back of an arm-chair, “there’s that five hundred pounds.  You can have that.”

“What five hundred pounds?” asked Lionel.

“The five hundred that Uncle Stephen left me.  I don’t want it.  Old West gives me as much as keeps me in clothes and that, which is all I care about.  You take the money and use it.”

“No, Jan.  Thank you warmly, old boy, all the same; but I’d not take your poor little bit of money if I were starving.”

“What’s the good of it to me?” persisted Jan, swaying his legs about.  “I can’t use it:  I have got nothing to use it in.  I have put it in the bank at Heartburg, but the bank may go smash, you know, and then who’d be the better for the money?  You take it and make sure of it, Lionel.”

Lionel smiled at him.  Jan was as simple and single-hearted in his way as Lucy Tempest was in hers.  But Lionel must want money very grievously indeed, before he would have consented to take honest Jan’s.

Page 98

“I have five hundred of my own, you know, Jan,” he said.  “More than I can use yet awhile.”

So he fixed upon the Bar, and would have hastened to London but for Lady Verner’s illness.  In the weak, low state to which disappointment and irritability had reduced her, she could not bear to lose sight of Lionel, or permit him to depart.  “It will be time enough when I am dead; and that won’t be long first,” was the constant burden of her song to him.

He believed his mother to be little more likely to die than he was, but he was too dutiful a son to cross her in her present state.  He gathered certain ponderous tomes about him, and began studying law on his own account, shutting himself up in his room all day to do it.  Awfully dry work he found it; not in the least congenial; and many a time did he long to pitch the whole lot into the pleasant rippling stream, running through the grounds of Sir Rufus Hautley, which danced and glittered in the sun in view of Lionel’s window.

He could not remain at his daily study without interruptions.  They were pretty frequent.  People—­tenants, workmen, and others—­would persist in coming for orders to Mr. Lionel.  In vain Lionel told them that he could not give orders, could not interfere; that he had no longer anything to do with Verner’s Pride.  They could not be brought to understand why he was not their master as usual—­at any rate, why he could not act as one, and interpose between them and the tyrant, Roy.  In point of fact, Mr. Roy was head and master of the estate just now, and a nice head and master he made!  Mrs. Verner, shut up in Verner’s Pride with her ill health, had no conception what games were being played.  “Let be, let be,” the people would say.  “When Mr. Fred Massingbird comes home, Roy’ll get called to account, and receive his deserts;” a fond belief in which all did not join.  Many entertained a shrewd suspicion that Mr. Fred Massingbird was too much inclined to be a tyrant on his own account, to disapprove of the acts of Roy.  Lionel’s blood often boiled at what he saw and heard, and he wished he could put miles between himself and Deerham.

CHAPTER XXI.

A WHISPERED SUSPICION.

Dr. West was crossing the courtyard one day, after paying his morning visit to Lady Verner, when he was waylaid by Lionel.

“How long will my mother remain in this weak state?” he inquired.

Dr. West lifted his arched eyebrows.  “It is impossible to say, Mr. Lionel.  These cases of low nervous fever are sometimes very much protracted.”

“Lady Verner’s is not nervous fever,” dissented Lionel.

“It approaches near to it.”

“The fact is, I want to be away,” said Lionel.

“There is no reason why you should not be away, if you wish it,” rejoined the physician.  “Lady Verner is not in any danger; she is sure to recover eventually.”

“I know that.  At least, I hope it is sure,” returned Lionel.  “But, in the state she is, I cannot reason with her, or talk to her of the necessity of my being away.  Any approach to the topic irritates her.”

Page 99

“I should go, and say nothing to her beforehand,” observed Dr. West.  “When she found you were really off, and that there was no remedy for it, she must perforce reconcile herself to it.”

Every fond feeling within Lionel revolted at the suggestion.  “We are speaking of my mother, doctor,” was his courteously-uttered rebuke.

“Well, if you would not like to do that, there’s nothing for it but patience,” the doctor rejoined, as he drew open one of the iron gates.  “Lady Verner may be no better than she is now for weeks to come.  Good-day, Mr. Lionel.”

Lionel paced into the house with a slow step, and went up to his mother’s chamber.  She was lying on a couch by the fire, her eyes closed, her pale features contracted as if with pain.  Her maid Therese appeared to be busy with her, and Lionel called out Decima.

“There’s no improvement, I hear, Decima.”

“No.  But, on the other hand, there is no danger.  There’s nothing even very serious, if Dr. West may be believed.  Do you know, Lionel, what I fancy he thinks?”

“What?” asked Lionel.

“That if mamma were obliged to exert and rouse herself—­were like any poor person, for instance, who cannot lie by and be nursed—­she would be well directly.  And—­unkind, unlike a daughter as it may seem in me to acknowledge it—­I do very much incline to the same opinion.”

Lionel made no reply.

“Only Dr. West has not the candour to say so,” went on Decima.  “So long as he can keep her lying here, he will do it; she is a good patient for him.  Poor mamma gives way, and he helps her to do it.  I wish she would discard him, and trust to Jan.”

“You don’t like Dr. West, Decima?”

“I never did,” said Decima.  “And I believe that, in skill, Jan is quite equal to him.  There’s this much to be said of Jan, that he is sincere and open as if he were made of glass.  Jan will never keep a patient in bed unnecessarily, or give the smallest dose more than is absolutely requisite.  Did you hear of Sir Rufus Hautley sending for Jan?”

“No.”

“He is ill, it seems.  And when he sent to Dr. West’s, he expressly desired that it might be Mr. Jan Verner to answer the summons.  Dr. West will not forgive that in a hurry.”

“That comes of prejudice,” said Lionel; “prejudice not really deserved by Dr. West.  Since the reading of the will, Sir Rufus has been bitter against the Massingbirds; and Dr. West, as connected with them, comes in for his share of the feeling.”

“I hope he may not deserve it in any worse way than as connected with them,” returned Decima, with more acrimony than she, in her calm gentleness, was accustomed to speak.

The significant tone struck Lionel.  “What do you mean, Decima?”

Decima glanced round.  They were standing at the far end of the corridor at the window which overlooked the domains of Sir Rufus Hautley.  The doors of the several rooms were closed, and no one was about.  Decima spoke in a whisper—­

Page 100

“Lionel, I cannot divest myself of the opinion that—­that——­”

“That what?” he asked, looking at her in wonder, for she was hesitating strangely, her manner shrinking, her voice awe-struck.

“That it was Dr. West who took the codicil.”

Lionel’s face flushed—­partially with pain; he did not like to hear it said, even by Decima.

“You have never suspected so much yourself?” she asked.

“Never, never.  I hope I never shall suspect it.  Decima, you perhaps cannot help the thought, but you can help speaking of it.”

“I did not mean to vex you.  Somehow, Lionel, it is for your sake that I seem to have taken a dislike to the Wests——­”

“To take a dislike to people is no just cause for accusing them of crime,” he interrupted.  “Decima, you are not like yourself to-day.”

“Do you suppose that it is my dislike which caused me to suspect him.  No, Lionel.  I seem to see people and their motives very clearly; and I do honestly believe”—­she dropped her voice still lower—­“that Dr. West is a man capable of almost anything.  At the time when the codicil was being searched for, I used to think and think it over, how it could be—­how it could have disappeared.  All its points, all its bearings, I deliberated upon again and again.  One certain thing was, the codicil could not have disappeared from the desk without its having been taken out.  Another point, almost equally certain to my mind, was that my Uncle Stephen did not take it out, but died in the belief that it was in, and that it would give you your inheritance.  A third point was, that whoever took it must have had some strong motive for the act.  Who (with possible access to the desk) could have had this motive, even in a remote degree?  There were but two—­Dr. West and Mrs. Verner.  Mrs. Verner I judge to be incapable of anything so wrong; Dr. West I believe to be capable of even worse than that.  Hence I drew my deductions.”

“Deductions which I shall never accept, and which I would advise you to get rid of, Decima,” was his answer.  “My dear, never let such an accusation cross your lips again.”

“I never shall.  I have told you; and that is enough.  I have longed to tell you for some time past.  I did not think you would believe me.”

“Believe it, you should say, Decima.  Dr. West take the codicil!  Were I to bring myself to that belief, I think all my faith in man would go out.  You are sadly prejudiced against the Wests.”

“And you in their favour,” she could not help saying.  “But I shall ever be thankful for one thing—­that you have escaped Sibylla.”

Was he thankful for it?  Scarcely, while that pained heart of his, those coursing pulses, could beat on in this tumultuous manner at the bare sound of her name.

In the silence that ensued—­for neither felt inclined to break it—­they heard a voice in the hall below, inquiring whether Mr. Verner was within.  Lionel recognised it as Tynn’s.

Page 101

“For all I know he is,” answered old Catherine.  “I saw him a few minutes agone in the court out there, a-talking to the doctor.”

“Will you please ask if I can speak to him.”

Lionel did not wait further, but descended to the hall.  The butler, in his deep mourning, had taken his seat on the bench.  He rose as Lionel approached.

“Well, Tynn, how are you?  What is it?”

“My mistress has sent me to ask if you’d be so kind as come to Verner’s Pride, sir?” said Tynn, standing with his hat in his hand.  “She bade me say that she did not feel well enough, or she’d have written you a note with the request, but she wishes particularly to see you.”

“Does she wish to see me to-day?”

“As soon as ever you could get there, sir, I fancy.  I am sure she meant to-day.”

“Very well, Tynn.  I’ll come over.  How is your mistress?”

“She’s very well, sir, now; but she gets worried on all sides about things out-of-doors.”

“Who worries her with those tales?” asked Lionel.

“Everybody almost does, sir, as comes a-nigh her.  First it’s one complaint that’s brought to the house, of things going wrong, and then it’s another complaint—­and the women servants, they have not the sense to keep it from her.  My wife can’t keep her tongue still upon it, and can’t see that the rest do.  Might I ask how her ladyship is to-day, sir?”

“Not any better, Tynn.  Tell Mrs. Verner I will be with her almost immediately.”

Lionel lost little time in going to Vender’s Pride.  Turned from it as he had been, smarting under the injustice and the pain, many a one would have haughtily refused to re-enter it, whatever might have been the emergency.  Not so Lionel.  He had chosen to quit Verner’s Pride as his residence, but he had remained entirely good friends with Mrs. Verner, calling on her at times.  Not upon her would Lionel visit his displeasure.

It was somewhat curious that she had taken to sit in the old study of Stephen Verner; a room which she had rarely entered during his lifetime.  Perhaps some vague impression that she was now a woman of business, or ought to be one, that she herself was in sole charge for the absent heir, had induced her to take up her daily sitting amidst the drawers, bureaux, and other places which had contained Mr. Verner’s papers—­which contained them still.  She had, however, never yet looked at one.  If anything came up to the house, leases, deeds, other papers, she would say:  “Tynn, see to it,” or “Tynn, take it over to Mr. Lionel Verner, and ask what’s to be done.”  Lionel never refused to say.

She was sitting back in Mr. Verner’s old chair, now, filling it a great deal better than he used to do.  Lionel took her hand cordially.  Every time he saw her he thought her looking bigger and bigger.  However much she may have grieved at the time for her son John’s death, it had not taken away either her flesh or her high colour.  Nothing would have troubled Mrs. Verner permanently, unless it had been the depriving her of her meals.  Now John was gone, she cared for nothing else in life.

Page 102

“It’s kind of you to come, Lionel,” said she.  “I want to talk to you.  What will you have?—­some wine?”

“Not anything,” replied Lionel.  “Tynn said you wished to see me for something particular.”

“And so I do.  You must take the management of the estate until Fred’s at home.”

The words grated on his ear, and his brow knit itself into lines.  But he answered calmly—­

“I cannot do that, Mrs. Verner.”

“Then what can I do?” she asked.  “Here’s all this great estate, nobody to see after it, nobody to take it in charge!  I’m sure I have no more right to be teased over it than you have, Lionel.”

“It is your son’s.”

“I asked you not to leave Verner’s Pride.  I asked you to take the management of out-door things!  You did so, between your uncle’s death and his burial.”

“Believing that I was taking the management of what was mine,” replied Lionel.

“Why do you visit upon me the blame of all that has happened?” pursued Mrs. Verner.  “I declare that I knew nothing of what was done; I could not believe my own ears when I heard Matiss read out the will.  You should not blame me.”

“I never have blamed you for it, Mrs. Verner.  I believe you to be as innocent of blame in the matter as I am.”

“Then you ought not to turn haughty and cold, and refuse to help me.  They are going to have me up before the Justice Courts at Heartburg!”

“Have you up before the Justice Courts at Heartburg!” repeated Lionel, in great astonishment.

“It’s all through Roy; I know it is.  There’s some stupid dispute about a lease, and I am to be had up in evidence.  Did you hear of the threat?”

“What threat?” asked he.

“Some of the men are saying they’ll burn down Verner’s Pride.  Roy turned them off the brick-yard, and they threaten they’ll do it out of revenge.  If you would just look to things and keep Roy quiet, nothing of this would happen.”

Lionel knew that.

“Mrs. Verner,” he said, “were you the owner of Verner’s Pride, I would spare no pains to help you.  But I cannot act for Frederick Massingbird.”

“What has Fred done to you?” she asked quickly.

“That is not the question—­he has done nothing,” answered Lionel, speaking more rapidly still.  “My management would—­if I know anything of him—­be essentially different from your son’s; different from what he would approve.  Neither would I take authority upon myself only to have it displaced upon his return.  Have Roy before you, Mrs. Verner, and caution him.”

“It does no good.  I have already had him.  He smoothes things over to me, so that black looks white.  Lionel, I must say that you are unkind and obstinate.”

“I do not think I am naturally either one or the other,” he answered, smiling.  “Perhaps it might answer your purpose to put things into the hands of Matiss, until your son’s return.”

Page 103

“He won’t take it,” she answered.  “I sent for him—­what with this court business and the threat of incendiarism, I am like one upon thorns—­and he said he would not undertake it.  He seemed to fear contact with Roy.”

“Were I to take the management, Mrs. Verner, my first act would be to discharge Roy.”

Mrs. Verner tried again to shake his resolution.  But he was quite firm.  And, wishing her good-day, he left Verner’s Pride, and bent his steps towards the village.

CHAPTER XXII.

PECKABY’S SHOP.

On passing through Deerham from Verner’s Pride, a little below the shop of Mrs. Duff, you come upon an opening on the left hand, which led to quite a swarm of cottages.  Many of the labourers congregated here.  If you took this turning, which was called Clay Lane, and continued your way past the cottages in a straight line over the fields, you would arrive at the residence of the gamekeeper, Broom, leaving some brick-fields to the right, and the Willow Pool, which had been the end of poor Rachel Frost, on the left.  But, unless you climbed hedges, you could not get to the pool from this quarter without going round, near the gamekeeper’s.  The path which led to Verner’s Pride past the pool, and which Rachel had taken that unfortunate night, had its commencement higher up in the village, above Mrs. Duff’s.  A few cottages were scattered again beyond the gamekeeper’s, and one or two on this side it; but we have nothing to do with them at present.

A great part of the ill-feeling rife on the estate was connected with these brick-fields.  It had been a great mistake on Mr. Verner’s part ever to put Roy into power; had Mr. Verner been in the habit of going out of doors himself, he would have seen this, and not kept the man on a week.  The former bailiff had died suddenly.  He, the bailiff, had given some little power to Roy during his lifetime; had taken him on as a sort of inferior helper; and Mr. Verner, put to shifts by the bailiffs death, had allowed Roy so to continue.  Bit by bit, step by step, gradually, covertly, the man made good his footing:  no other was put over his head, and in time he came to be called Roy the bailiff, without having ever been formally appointed as bailiff.  He drew his two pounds per week—­his stipulated wages—­and he made, it is hard to say what, besides.  Avarice and tyranny were the predominant passions of Roy’s mind; bad qualities, and likely to bring forth bad fruits when joined to petty power.

About three years previous to Mr. Verner’s death, a stranger had appeared in Clay Lane, and set up a shop there.  Nearly every conceivable thing in the shape of eatables was sold in it; that is, such eatables as are in request among the poor.  Bread, flour, meat, potatoes, butter, tea, sugar, red herrings, and the like.  Soap and candles were also sold; and afterwards the man added green vegetables and coals, the latter doled out by the measure, so much a “kipe.”  The man’s name was Peckaby; he and his wife were without family, and they managed the shop between them.  A tall, strong, brawny man was he; his wife was a remarkably tall woman, fond of gossip and of smart caps.  She would go gadding out for hours at a stretch, leaving him to get through all the work at home, the preparing meals, the serving customers.

Page 104

Folks fly to new things; to do so is a propensity inherent in human nature; and Mr. Peckaby’s shop flourished.  Not that he was much honoured with the complimentary “Mr.”; his customers brought it out short—­“Peckaby’s shop.”  Much intimacy had appeared to exist from the first between him and Roy, so that it was surmised they had been previously acquainted.  The prices were low, the shop was close at hand, and Clay Lane flocked to it.

New things, however, like new faces, are apt to turn out no better than the old; sometimes not as good.  And thus it proved with Peckaby’s shop.  From rather underselling the shops of the village, Peckaby’s shop grew to increase its charges until they were higher than those of anybody else; the wares also deteriorated in value.  Clay Lane awoke to this by degrees, and would have taken its custom away; but that was more easily contemplated than done.  A good many of its families had been allowed to get on Peckaby’s books, and they also found that Roy set his face against their leaving the shop.  For Roy to set his face against a measure was a formidable affair, not readily contended with:  the labourers did not dare to fly in his face, lest he should make an excuse to take their work from them.  He had already discharged several.  So Clay Lane, for the most part, found itself tied to Peckaby’s shop, and to paying some thirty per cent. beyond what they would have paid at the old shops; added to which was the grievance of being compelled to put up with very inferior articles.  Dissatisfaction at this state of things had long been smouldering.  It grew and grew, threatening to break out into open rebellion, perhaps to bloodshed.  The neighbourhood cried shame upon Roy, and felt inclined to echo the cry upon Mrs. Verner; while Clay Lane openly avowed their belief that Peckaby’s shop was Roy’s shop, and that the Peckaby’s were only put in to manage it.

One fearfully hot Monday morning, in the beginning of July, Lionel Verner was passing down Clay Lane.  In another week he would be away from Deerham.  Lady Verner’s illness had commenced near the latter end of April, and it was growing towards the end of June before she began to get better, or would give Lionel leave to depart.  Jan, plain-speaking, truth-telling Jan, had at length quietly told his mother that there was nothing the matter with her but “vexing and temper.”  Lady Verner went into hysterics at Jan’s unfilial conduct; but, certain it was, from that very time she began to amend.  July came in, and Lionel was permitted to fix the day for his departure.

Lionel was walking down Clay Lane.  It was a short cut to Lord Elmsley’s house over the hills, a mile or two distant.  Not a very suitable day for a walk.  Had Lionel been training for a light jockey, without any superfluous weight, he might have dispensed with extra covering in his exercise, and done as effectually without it.  A hotter day never was known in our climate; a more intensely burning

Page 105

sun never rode in the heavens.  It blazed down with a force that was almost unbearable, scorching and withering all within its radius.  Lionel looked up at it; it seemed to blister his face and dazzle his eyes; and his resolution wavered as he thought of the walk before him.  “I have a great mind not to go,” said he mentally.  “They can set up their targets without me.  I shall be half dead by the time I get there.”  Nevertheless, in the indecision, he still walked on.  He thought he’d see how affairs looked when he came to the green fields.  Green! brown, rather.

But Lionel found other affairs to look at before he reached the fields.  On turning a sharp angle of Clay Lane, he was surprised to see a crowd collected, stretching from one side of it to the other.  Not a peaceable crowd evidently, although it was composed for the most part of the gentler sex; but a crowd of threatening arms and inflamed faces, and swaying white caps and noisy tongues.  The female population of Clay Lane had collected there.

Smash! went the breaking of glass in Lionel’s ears as he came in view; smash! went another crash.  Were Peckaby’s shop windows suffering?  A misgiving that it must be so, crossed the mind of Lionel, and he made few steps to the scene of warfare.

Sure enough it was nothing less.  Three great holes were staring in so many panes, the splinters of glass lying inside the shop-window, amidst butter and flour, and other suchlike articles.  The flour looked brown, and the butter was running away in an oily stream; but that was no reason why a shower of broken glass should be added to improve their excellences.  Mr. Peckaby, with white gills and hair raised up on end, stood, the picture of fear, gazing at the damage, but too much afraid to start out and prevent it.  Those big men are sometimes physical cowards.  Another pane smashed! the weapon used being a hard piece of flint coal, which just escaped short of Mr. Peckaby’s head, and Lionel thought it time to interfere.  He pushed into the midst of them.

They drew aside when they saw who it was.  In their hot passions—­hot and angry then—­perhaps no one, friend or enemy, would have stood a chance of being deferred to but Lionel Verner.  They had so long looked upon him as the future lord of Verner’s Pride that they forgot to look upon him as anything less now.  And they all liked Lionel.  His appearance was as oil poured upon troubled waters.

“What is the meaning of this?  What is the matter?” demanded Lionel.

“Oh, sir, why don’t you interfere to protect us, now things is come to this pass?  You be a Verner!” was the prayer of remonstrance from all sides that met his words.

“Give me an explanation,” reiterated Lionel.  “What is the grievance?”

Page 106

The particular grievance of this morning, however easy to explain, was somewhat difficult to comprehend, when twenty tongues were speaking at once—­and those, shrill and excited ones.  In vain Lionel assured them that if one, instead of all, would tell it, he should understand it sooner; that if their tone were subdued, instead of loud enough to be heard yonder at the brick-fields, it might be more desirable.  Excited women, suffering under what they deem a wrong, cannot be made quiet; you may as well try to put down a rising flood.  Lionel resigned himself to his fate, and listened; and at this stage of the affair a new feature of it struck his eye and surprised him.  Scarcely one of the women but bore in her hand some uncooked meat.  Such meat!  Lionel drew himself and his coat from too close proximity to it.  It was of varied hues, and walking away alive.  Upon plates, whole or broken, upon half-saucers, upon dust-pans, upon fire-shovels, held at the end of tongs, hooked on to a fork, spread out in a coal-box; anyhow so as to avoid contact with fingers, these dainty pieces were exhibited for inspection.

By what Lionel could gather, it appeared that this meat had been purchased on Saturday night at Peckaby’s shop.  The women had said then, one and all, that it was not good; and Mr. Peckaby had been regaled with various open conjectures, more plain than polite, as to the state of the animal from which it had been supplied.  Independent of the quality of the meat, it was none the better, even then, for having been kept.  The women scented this; but Peckaby, and Peckaby’s wife, who was always in the shop with her husband on a Saturday night, protested and vowed that their customers’ noses were mistaken; that the meat would be perfectly good and fresh on the Sunday, and on the Monday too, if they liked to keep it so long.  The women, somewhat doubtfully giving ear to the assurance, knowing that the alternative was that or none, bought the meat and took it home.  On Sunday morning they found the meat was—­anything you may imagine.  It was neither cookable nor eatable; and their anger against Peckaby was not diminished by a certain fact which oozed out to them; namely, that Peckaby himself did not cut his Sunday’s dinner off the meat in his shop, but sent to buy it of one of the Deerham butchers.  The general indignation was great; the men, deprived of their Sunday’s meat, joined in it; but nothing could be done until Monday morning.  Peckaby’s shop was always hermetically sealed on a Sunday.  Mr. Verner had been stringent in allowing no Sunday traffic on the estate.

Monday came.  The men went to their work as usual, leaving their wives to deal with the matter.  Behold them assembled with their meat, kept for the occasion in spite of its state, before the shop of Peckaby.  But of redress they could get none; Peckaby was deaf; and Lionel arrived to find hostilities commenced.  Such was the summary of the story.

Page 107

“You are acting very wrongly,” were Lionel’s first words to them in answer.  “You should blame the meat, not Peckaby.  Is this weather for keeping meat?”

“The weather didn’t get to this heat till yesterday in the afternoon,” said they—­and Lionel could not deny the fact.  Mrs. Dawson took up the word.

Our meat warn’t bought at Peckaby’s; our meat were got at Clark’s, and it were sweet as a nut.  ’Twere veal, too, and that’s the worst meat for keeping.  Roy ’ud kill us if he could; but he can’t force us on to Peckaby’s rubbish.  We defy him to’t.”

In point of defying Roy, the Dawsons had done that long ago.  There was open warfare between them, and skirmishes took place occasionally.  The first act of Roy, after it was known that Lionel was disinherited, had been to discharge old Dawson and his sons from work.  How they had managed to live since was a mystery; funds did not seem to run low with them; tales of their night-poaching went about, and the sons got an odd job at legitimate work now and then.

“It’s an awful shame,” cried a civil, quiet woman, Sarah Grind, one of a very numerous family, commonly called “Grind’s lot,” “that we should be beat down to have our victuals and other things at such a place as Peckaby’s!  Sometimes, sir, I’m almost inclined to ask, is it Christians as rules over us?”

Lionel felt the shaft levelled at his family, though not personally at himself.

“You are not beaten down to it,” he said.  “Why do you deal at Peckaby’s?  Stay a bit!  I know what you would urge:  that by going elsewhere you would displease Roy.  It seems to me that if you would all go elsewhere, Roy could not prevent it.  Should one of you attempt to go, he might; but he could not prevent it if you all go with one accord.  If Peckaby’s things are bad—­as I believe they are—­why do you buy them?”

“There ain’t a single thing as is good in his place,” spoke up a woman, half-crying.  “Sir, it’s truth.  His flour is half bone-dust, and his ’taturs is watery.  His sugar is sand, and his tea is leaves dried over again, while his eggs is rotten, and his coals is flint.”

“Allowing that, it is no good reason for your smashing his windows,” said Lionel.  “It is utterly impossible that that can be tolerated.”

“Why do he palm his bad things off upon us, then?” retorted the crowd.  “He makes us pay half as much again as we do in the other shops; and when we gets them home, we can’t eat ’em.  Sir, you be Mr. Verner now; you ought to see as we be protected.”

“I am Mr. Verner; but I have no power.  My power has been taken from me, as you know.  Mrs. Verner is—­”

“A murrain light upon her!” scowled a man from the outskirts of the crowd.  “Why do she call herself Mrs. Verner, and stick herself up for missis at Verner’s Pride, if she is to take no notice on us?  Why do she leave us in the hands of Roy, to be—­”

Page 108

Lionel had turned upon the man like lightning.

“Davies, how dare you presume so to speak of Mrs. Verner in my presence?  Mrs. Verner is not the source of your ills; you must look nearer to you, for that.  Mrs. Verner is aged and ailing; she cannot get out of doors to see into your grievances.”

At the moment of Lionel’s turning to the man, he, Davies, had commenced to push his way towards Lionel.  This caused the crowd to sway, and Lionel’s hat, which he held carelessly in his hand, having taken it off to wipe his heated brow, got knocked down.  Before he could stoop for its rescue, it was trampled out of shape; not intentionally—­they would have protected Lionel and his things with their lives—­but inadvertently.  A woman picked it up with a comical look of despair.  To put on that again was impossible.

“Never mind,” said Lionel good-naturedly.  “It was my own fault; I should have held it better.”

“Put your handkercher over your head, sir,” was the woman’s advice.  “It’ll keep the sun off.”

Lionel smiled, but did not take it.  Davies was claiming his attention; while some of the women seemed inclined to go in for a fight, which should secure the hat.

“Could Mr. Verner get out o’ doors and look into our grievances, the last years of his life, any more, sir, nor she can?” he was asking, in continuation of the subject.

“No, sir; he couldn’t, and he didn’t; but things wasn’t then brought to the pitch as they be now.”

“No,” acquiesced Lionel, “I was at hand then, to interpose between Roy and Mr. Verner.”

“And don’t you think, sir, as you might be able to do the same thing still?”

“No, Davies.  I have been displaced from Verner’s Pride, and from all power connected with it.  I have no more right to interfere with the working of the estate than you have.  You must make the best of things until Mr. Massingbird’s return.”

“There’ll be some dark deed done, then, afore many weeks is gone over; that’s what there’ll be!” was Davies’s sullen reply.  “It ain’t to be stood, sir, as a man and his family is to clam, ’cause Peckaby—­”

“Davies, I will hear no more on that score,” interrupted Lionel.  “You men should be men, and make common cause in that one point for yourselves against Roy.  You have your wages in your hand on a Saturday night, and can deal at any shop you please.”

The man—­he wore a battered old straw hat on his head, which looked as dirty as his face—­raised his eyes with an air of surprise at Lionel.

“What wages, sir?  We don’t get ours.”

“Not get your wages?” repeated Lionel.

“No, sir; not on a Saturday night.  That’s just it—­it’s where the new shoe’s a-pinching.  Roy don’t pay now on a Saturday night.  He gives us all a sort o’ note, good for six shilling, and we has, us or our wives, to take that to Peckaby’s, and get what we can for it.  On the Monday, at twelve o’clock, which is his new time for paying the wages, he docks us of six shilling. That’s his plan now; and no wonder as some of us has kicked at it, and then he have turned us off.  I be one.”

Page 109

Lionel’s brow burned; not with the blazing sun, but with indignation.  That this should happen on the lands of the Verner’s!  Hot words rose to his lips—­to the effect that Roy, as he believed, was acting against the law—­but he swallowed them down ere spoken.  It might not be expedient to proclaim so much to the men.

“Since when has Roy done this?” he asked.  “I am surprised not to have heard of it.”

“This six weeks he have done it, sir, and longer nor that.  It’s get our things from Peckaby’s or it’s not get any at all.  Folks won’t trust the likes of us, without us goes with the money in our hands.  We might have knowed there was some evil in the wind when Peckaby’s took to give us trust.  Mr. Verner wasn’t the best of masters to us, after he let Roy get on our backs—­saving your presence for saying it, sir; but you must know as it’s truth—­but there’s things a-going on now as ’ud make him, if he knowed ’em, rise up out of his grave.  Let Roy take care of hisself, that he don’t get burned up some night in his bed!” significantly added the man.

“Be silent, Davies!  You—­”

Lionel was interrupted by a commotion.  Upon turning to ascertain its cause, he found an excited crowd hastening towards the spot from the brick-fields.  The news of the affray had been carried thither, and Roy, with much intemperate language and loud wrath, had set off at full speed to quell it.  The labourers set off after him, probably to protect their wives.  Shouting, hooting, swearing—­at which pastime Roy was the loudest—­on they came, in a state of fury.

But for the presence of Lionel Verner, things might have come to a crisis—­if a fight could have brought a crisis on.  He interposed his authority, which even Roy did not yet dispute to his face, and he succeeded in restoring peace for the time.  He became responsible—­I don’t know whether it was quite wise of him to do so—­for the cost of the broken windows, and the women were allowed to go home unmolested.  The men returned to their work, and Mr. Peckaby’s face regained its colour.  Roy was turning away, muttering to himself, when Lionel beckoned him aside with an authoritative hand.

“Roy, this must not go on.  Do you understand me?  It must not go on.”

“What’s not to go on, sir?” retorted Roy sullenly.

“You know what I mean.  This disgraceful system of affairs altogether.  I believe that you would be amenable to the law in thus paying the men, or in part paying them, with an order for goods; instead of in open, honest coin.  Unless I am mistaken, it borders very closely upon the truck system.”

“I can take care of myself and of the law, too, sir,” was the answer of Roy.

“Very good.  I shall take care that this sort of oppression is lifted off the shoulders of the men.  Had I known it was being pursued, I should have stopped it before.”

“You have no right to interfere between me and anything now, sir.”

Page 110

“Roy,” said Lionel calmly, “you are perfectly well aware that the right, not only to interfere between you and the estate, but to invest me with full power over it and you, was sought to be given me by Mrs. Verner at my uncle’s death.  For reasons of my own I chose to decline it, and have continued to decline it.  Do you remember what I once told you—­that one of my first acts of power would be to displace you?  After what I have seen and heard to-day, I shall deliberate whether it be not my duty to reconsider my determination, and assume this, and all other power.”

Roy’s face turned green.  He answered defiantly, not in tone, but in spirit—­

“It wouldn’t be for long, at any rate, sir; and Mr. Massingbird, I know, ’ll put me into my place again on his return.”

Lionel did not reply immediately.  The sun was coming down upon his uncovered head like a burning furnace, and he was casting a glance round to see if any friendly shade might be at hand.  In his absorption over the moment’s business he had not observed that he had halted with Roy right underneath its beams.  No, there was no shade just in that spot.  A public pump stood behind him, but the sun was nearly vertical, and the pump got as much of it as he did.  A thought glanced through Lionel’s mind of resorting to the advice of the women, to double his handkerchief cornerwise over his head.  But he did not purpose staying above another minute with Roy, to whom he again turned.

“Don’t deceive yourself, Roy.  Mr. Massingbird is not likely to countenance such doings as these.  That Mrs. Verner will not, I know; and, I tell you plainly, I will not.  You shall pay the men’s wages at the proper and usual time; you shall pay them in full, to the last halfpenny that they earn.  Do you hear?  I order you now to do so.  We will have no underhanded truck system introduced on the Verner estate.”

“You’d like to ruin poor Peckaby, I suppose, sir!”

“I have nothing to do with Peckaby.  If public rumour is to be credited, the business is not Peckaby’s, but yours—­”

“Them that says it is a pack of liars!” burst forth Roy.

“Possibly.  I say I have nothing to do with that.  Peckaby—­”

Lionel’s voice faltered.  An awful pain—­a pain, the like of which, for acute violence, he had never felt—­had struck him in the head.  He put his hand up to it, and fell against the pump.

“Are you ill, sir?” asked Roy.

“What can it be?” murmured Lionel.  “A sudden pain has attacked me here, Roy,” touching his head; “an awful pain.  I’ll get into Frost’s, and sit down.”

Frost’s cottage was but a minute’s walk, but Lionel staggered as he went to it.  Roy attended him.  The man humbly asked if Mr. Lionel would be pleased to lean upon him, but Lionel waved him off.  Matthew Frost was sitting indoors alone; his grandchildren were at school, his son’s wife was busy elsewhere.  Matthew no longer went out to labour.  He had been almost incapable of it before Mr. Verner’s annuity fell to him.  Robin was away at work:  but Robin was a sadly altered man since the death of Rachel.  His very nature appeared to have changed.

Page 111

“My head! my head!” broke from Lionel, as he entered, in the intensity of his pain.  “Matthew, I think I must have got a sun-stroke.”

Old Matthew pulled off his straw hat, and lifted himself slowly out of his chair.  All his movements were slow now.  Lionel had sat himself down on the settle, his head clasped by both hands, and his pale face turned to fiery red—­as deep a crimson as Mrs. Verner’s was habitually.

“A sun-stroke?” echoed old Matthew, leaning on his stick, as he stood before him, attentively regarding Lionel.  “Ay, sir, for sure it looks like it.  Have you been standing still in the sun, this blazing day?”

“I have been standing in it without my hat,” replied Lionel.  “Not for long, however.”

“It don’t take a minute, sir, to do the mischief.  I had one myself, years before you were born, Mr. Lionel.  On a day as hot as this, I was out in my garden, here, at the back of this cottage.  I had gone out without my hat, and was standing over my pig, watching him eat his wash, when I felt something take my head—­such a pain, sir, that I had never felt before, and never wish to feel again.  I went indoors, and Robin, who might be a boy of five, or so, looked frightened at me, my face was so red.  I couldn’t hold my head up, sir; and when the doctor came, he said it was a sun-stroke.  I think there must be particular moments and days when the sun has this power to harm us, though we don’t know which they are nor how to avoid them,” added old Matthew, as much in self-soliloquy as to Lionel.  “I had often been out before, without my hat, in as great heat; for longer, too; and it had never harmed me.  Since then, sir, I have put a white handkerchief inside the crown of my hat in hot weather.  The doctor told me to do so.”

“How long did the pain last?” asked Lionel, feeling his pain growing worse with every moment.  “Many hours?”

Hours?” repeated old Matthew, with a strong emphasis on the word.  “Mr. Lionel, it lasted for days and weeks.  Before the next morning came, sir, I was in a raging fever; for three weeks, good, I was in my bed, above here, and never out of it; hardly the clothes smoothed a-top of me.  Sun-strokes are not frequent in this climate, sir, but when they do come, they can’t be trifled with.”

Perhaps Lionel felt the same conviction.  Perhaps he felt that with this pain, increasing as it was in intensity, he must make the best of his way home, if he would get home at all.  “Good-day, Matthew,” he said, rising from the bench.  “I’ll go home at once!”

“And send for Dr. West, sir, or for Mr. Jan, if you are no better when you get there,” was the parting salutation of the old man.

He stood at the door, leaning on his stick, and watched Lionel down Clay Lane.  “A sun-stroke, for sure,” repeated he, slowly turning in, as the angle of the lane hid Lionel from his view.

CHAPTER XXIII.

Page 112

DAYS AND NIGHTS OF PAIN.

In his darkened chamber at Deerham Court lay Lionel Verner.  Whether it was a sun-stroke, or whether it was but the commencement of a fever, which had suddenly struck him down that day, certain it was, that a violent sickness attacked him, and he lay for many, many days—­days and weeks as old Frost had called it—­between life and death.  Fever and delirium struggled with life, which should get the mastery.

Very little doubt was there, that his state of mind increased the danger of his state of body.  How bravely Lionel had struggled to do battle with his great anguish, he might scarcely have known himself, in all its full intensity, save for this illness.  He had loved Sibylla with the pure fervour of feelings young and fresh.  He could have loved her to the end of life; he could have died for her.  No leaven was mixed with his love, no base dross; it was refined as the purest silver.  It is only these exalted, ideal passions, which partake more of heaven’s nature than of earth’s, that tell upon the heart when their end comes.  Terribly had it told upon Lionel Verner’s.  In one hour he had learned that Sibylla was false to him, was about to become the wife of another.  In his sensitive reticence, in his shrinking pride, he had put a smiling face upon it before the world.  He had watched her marry Frederick Massingbird, and had “made no sign.”  Deep, deep in his heart, fifty fathom deep, had he pressed down his misery, passing his days in what may be called a false atmosphere—­showing a false side to his friends.  It seemed false to Lionel, the appearing what he was not.  He was his true self at night only, when he could turn, and toss, and groan out his trouble at will.  But, when illness attacked him, and he had no strength of body to throw off his pain of mind, then he found how completely the blow had shattered him.  It seemed to Lionel, in his sane moments, in the intervals of his delirium, that it would be far happier to die, than to wake up again to renewed life, to bear about within him that ever-present sorrow.  Whether the fever—­it was not brain fever, though bordering closely upon it—­was the result of this state of mind, more than of the sun-stroke, might be a question.  Nobody knew anything of that inward state, and the sun-stroke got all the blame—­save, perhaps, from Lionel himself.  He may have doubted.

One day Jan called in to see him.  It was in August.  Several weeks had elapsed since the commencement of his illness, and he was so far recovered as to be removed by day to a sitting-room on a level with his chamber—­a wondrously pretty sitting-room over Lady Verner’s drawing-room, but not so large as that, and called “Miss Decima’s room.”  The walls were panelled in medallions, white and delicate blue, the curtains were of blue satin and lace, the furniture blue.  In each medallion hung an exquisite painting in water colours, framed—­Decima’s doing.  Lady Verner was one who liked at times

Page 113

to be alone, and then Decima would sit in this room, and feel more at home than in any room in the house.  When Lionel began to recover, the room was given over to him.  Here he lay on the sofa; or lounged on an easy-chair; or stood at the window, his hands clasping hold of some support, and his legs as tottering as were poor old Matthew Frost’s.  Sometimes Lady Verner would be his companion, sometimes he would be consigned to Decima and Lucy Tempest.  Lucy was pleased to take her share of helping the time to pass; would read to him, or talk to him; or sit down on her low stool on the hearth-rug and only look at him, waiting until he should want something done.  Dangerous moments, Miss Lucy!  Unless your heart is cased in adamant, you can scarcely be with that attractive man—­ten times more attractive now, in his sickness—­and not get your wings singed.

Jan came in one day when Lionel was sitting on the sofa, having propped the cushion up at the back of his head.  Decima was winding some silk, and Lucy was holding the skein for her.  Lucy wore a summer dress of white muslin, a blue sprig raised upon it in tambour-stitch, with blue and white ribbons at its waist and neck.  Very pretty, very simple it looked, but wonderfully according with Lucy Tempest.  Jan looked round, saw a tolerably strong table, and took up his seat upon it.

“How d’ye get on, Lionel?” asked he.

It was Dr. West who attended Lionel, and Jan was chary of interfering with the doctor’s proper patients—­or, rather, the doctor was chary of his doing so—­therefore Jan’s visits were entirely unprofessional.

“I don’t get on at all—­as it seems to me,” replied Lionel.  “I’m sure I am weaker than I was a week ago.”

“I dare say,” said Jan.

“You dare say!” echoed Lionel.  “When a man has turned the point of an illness, he expects to get stronger, instead of weaker.”

“That depends,” said Jan.  “I beg your pardon, Miss Lucy; that’s my foot caught in your dress, isn’t it?”

Lucy turned to disentangle her dress from Jan’s great feet.  “You should not sway your feet about so, Jan,” said she pleasantly.

“It hasn’t hurt it, has it?” asked Jan.

“Oh, no.  Is there another skein to hold, Decima?”

Decima replied in the negative.  She rose, put the paper of silk upon the table, and then turned to Jan.

“Mamma and I had quite a contention yesterday,” she said to him.  “I say that Lionel is not being treated properly.”

“That’s just my opinion,” laconically replied Jan.  “Only West flares up so, if his treatment is called in question.  I’d get him well in half the time.”

Lionel wearily changed his position on the sofa.  The getting well, or the keeping ill, did not appear to interest him greatly.

“Let’s look at his medicine, Decima,” continued Jan.  “I have not seen what has come round lately.”

Decima left the room and brought back a bottle with some medicine in it.

Page 114

“There’s only one dose left,” she remarked to Jan.

Jan took the cork out and smelt it; then he tasted it, apparently with great gusto, as anybody else might taste port wine; while Lucy watched him, drawing her lips away from her pretty teeth in distaste at the proceeding.

“Psha!” cried Jan.

“Is it not proper medicine for him?” asked Decima.

“It’s as innocent as water,” said Jan.  “It’ll do him neither good nor harm.”

And finally Jan poured the lot down his own throat.

Lucy shuddered.

“Oh, Jan, how could you take it?”

“It won’t hurt me,” said literal Jan.

“But it must be so nasty!  I never could have believed any one would willingly drink medicine.  It is bad enough to do it when compelled by sickness.”

“Law!” returned Jan.  “If you call this nasty, Miss Lucy, you should taste some of our physic.  The smell would about knock you down.”

“I think nothing is worse than the smell of drugs,” resumed Lucy.  “The other day, when Lady Verner called in at your surgery to speak to you, and took me with her, I was glad to get into the open air again.”

“Don’t you ever marry a doctor, then, Miss Lucy.”

“I am not going to marry one,” returned Lucy.

“Well, you need not look so fierce,” cried Jan.  “I didn’t ask you.”

Lucy laughed.  “Did I look fierce, Jan?  I suppose I was thinking of the drugs.  I’d never, never be a surgeon, of all things in the world.”

“If everybody was of your mind, Miss Lucy, how would people get doctored?”

“Very true,” answered Lucy.  “But I don’t envy them.”

“The doctors or the people?” asked Jan.

“I meant the doctors.  But I envy the patients less,” glancing involuntarily towards Lionel as she spoke.

Jan glanced at him too.  “Lionel, I’ll bring you round some better stuff than this,” said he.  “What are you eating?”

“Nothing,” put in Decima.  “Dr. West keeps him upon arrowroot and beef-tea, and such things.”

“Slops,” said Jan contemptuously.  “Have a fowl cooked every day, Lionel, and eat it all, if you like, bones and all; or a mutton—­chop or two; or some good eels.  And have the window open and sit at it; don’t lounge on that sofa, fancying you can’t leave it; and to-morrow or the next day, borrow Mrs. Verner’s carriage——­”

“No, thank you,” interposed Lionel.

“Have a fly, then,” composedly went on Jan.  “Rouse yourself, and eat and drink, and go into the air, and you’ll soon be as well as I am.  It’s the stewing and fretting indoors, fancying themselves ill, that keeps folks back.”

Something like a sickly smile crossed Lionel’s wan lips.  “Do you remember how you offended your mother, Jan, by telling her she only wanted to rouse herself?”

“Well,” said Jan, “it was the truth.  West keeps his patients dilly-dallying on, when he might have them well in no time.  If he says anything about them to me, I always tell him so; otherwise I don’t interfere; it’s no business of mine.  But you are my brother, you know.”

Page 115

“Don’t quarrel with West on my account, Jan.  Only settle it amicably between you, what I am to do, and what I am to take.  I don’t care.”

“Quarrel!” said Jan.  “You never knew me to quarrel in your life.  West can come and see you as usual, and charge you, if you please; and you can just pour his physic down the sink.  I’ll send you some bark:  but it’s not of much consequence whether you take it or not; it’s good kitchen physic you want now.  Is there anything on your mind that’s keeping you back?” added plain Jan.

A streak of scarlet rose to Lionel’s white cheek.

“Anything on my mind, Jan!  I do not understand you.”

“Look here,” said Jan, “if there is nothing, you ought to be better than this by now, in spite of old West.  What you have got to do is to rouse yourself, and believe you are well, instead of lying by, here.  My mother was angry with me for telling her that, but didn’t she get well all one way after it?  And look at the poor!  They have their illnesses that bring ’em down to skeletons; but when did you ever find them lie by, after they got better?  They can’t; they are obliged to go out and turn to at work again; and the consequence is they are well in no time.  You have your fowl to-day,” continued Jan, taking himself off the table to depart; “or a duck, if you fancy it’s more savoury; and if West comes in while you are eating it, tell him I ordered it.  He can’t grumble at me for doctoring you.”

Decima left the room with Jan.  Lucy Tempest went to the window, threw it open, drew an easy-chair, with its cushions, near to it, and then returned to the sofa.

“Will you come to the window?” said she to Lionel.  “Jan said you were to sit there, and I have put your chair ready.”

Lionel unclosed his eyelids.  “I am better here, child, thank you.”

“But you heard what Jan said—­that you were not going the right way to get well.”

“It does not much matter, Lucy, whether I get well, or whether I don’t,” he answered wearily.

Lucy sat down; not on her favourite stool, but on a low chair, and fixed her eyes upon him gravely.

“Do you know what Mr. Cust would say to that?” she asked.  “He would tell you that you were ungrateful to God.  You are already half-way towards getting well.”

“I know I am, Lucy.  But I am nearly tired of life.”

“It is only the very old who say that, or ought to say it.  I am not sure that they ought—­even if they were a hundred.  But you are young.  Stay!  I will find it for you.”

He was searching about for his handkerchief.  Lucy found it, fallen on the floor at the back of the sofa.  She brought it round to him, and he gently laid hold of her hand as he took it.

[Illustration:  “He gently laid hold of her hand.”]

“My little friend, you have yet to learn that things, not years, tire us of life.”

Lucy shook her head.

Page 116

“No; I have not to learn it.  I know it must be so.  Will you please to come to the window?”

Lionel, partly because his tormentor (may the word be used? he was sick, bodily and mentally, and would have lain still for ever) was a young lady, partly to avoid the trouble of persisting in “No,” rose, and took his seat in the arm-chair.

“What an obstinate nurse you would make, Lucy!  Is there anything else, pray, that you wish me to do?”

She did not smile in response to his smile; she looked very grave and serious.

“I would do all that Jan says, were I you,” was her answer.  “I believe in Jan.  He will get you well sooner than Dr. West.”

“Believe in Jan?” repeated Lionel, willing to be gay if he could.  “Do you mean that Jan is Jan?”

“I mean that I have faith in Jan.  I have none in Dr. West.”

“In his medical skill?  Let me tell you, Lucy, he is a very clever man, in spite of what Jan may say.”

“I can’t tell anything about his skill.  Until Jan spoke now I did not know but he was treating you rightly.  But I have no faith in himself.  I think a good, true, faithful-natured man should be depended on for cure, more certainly than one who is false-natured.”

“False-natured!” echoed Lionel.  “Lucy, you should not so speak of Dr. West.  You know nothing wrong of Dr. West.  He is much esteemed among us at Deerham.”

“Of course I know nothing wrong of him,” returned Lucy, with some slight surprise.  “But when I look at people I always seem to know what they are.  I am sorry to have said so much.  I—­I think I forgot it was to you I spoke.”

“Forgot!” exclaimed Lionel.  “Forgot what?”

She hesitated at the last sentence, and she now blushed vividly.

“I forgot for the moment that he was Sibylla’s father,” she simply said.

Again the scarlet rose in the face of Lionel.  Lucy leaned against the window-frame but a few paces from him, her large soft eyes, in their earnest sympathy, lifted to his.  He positively shrank from them.

“What’s Sibylla to me?” he asked.  “She is Mrs. Frederick Massingbird.”

Lucy stood in penitence.  “Do not be angry with me,” she timidly cried.  “I ought not to have said it to you, perhaps.  I see it always.”

“See what, Lucy?” he continued, speaking gently, not in anger.

“I see now much you think of her, and how ill it makes you.  When Jan asked just now if you had anything on your mind to keep you back, I knew what it was.”

Lionel grew hot and cold with a sudden fear.  “Did I say anything in my delirium?”

“Nothing at all—­that I heard of.  I was not with you.  I do not think anybody suspects that you are ill because—­because of her.”

“Ill because of her!” he sharply repeated, the words breaking from him in his agony, in his shrinking dread at finding so much suspected.  “I am ill from fever.  What else should I be ill from?”

Page 117

Lucy went close to his chair and stood before him meekly.

“I am so sorry,” she whispered.  “I cannot help seeing things, but I did not mean to make you angry.”

He rose, steadying himself by the table, and laid his hand upon her head, with the same fond motion that a father might have used.

“Lucy, I am not angry—­only vexed at being watched so closely,” he concluded, his lips parting with a faint smile.

In her earnest, truthful, serious face of concern, as it was turned up to him, he read how futile it would be to persist in his denial.

“I did not watch you for the purpose of watching.  I saw how it was, without being able to help myself.”

Lionel bent his head.

“Let the secret remain between us, Lucy.  Never suffer a hint of it to escape your lips.”

Nothing answered him save the glad expression that beamed out from her countenance, telling him how implicitly he might trust to her.

CHAPTER XXIV.

DANGEROUS COMPANIONSHIP.

Lionel Verner grew better.  His naturally good constitution triumphed over the disease, and his sick soreness of mind lost somewhat of its sharpness.  So long as he brooded in silence over his pain and his wrongs, there was little chance of the sting becoming much lighter; it was like the vulture preying upon its own vitals; but that season of silence was past.  When once a deep grief can be spoken of, its great agony is gone.  I think there is an old saying, or a proverb—­“Griefs lose themselves in telling,” and a greater truism was never uttered.  The ice once broken, touching his feelings with regard to Sibylla, Lionel found comfort in making it his theme of conversation, of complaint, although his hearer and confidant was only Lucy Tempest.  A strange comfort, but yet a natural one, as those who have suffered as Lionel did may be able to testify.  At the time of the blow, when Sibylla deserted him with coolness so great, Lionel could have died rather than give utterance to a syllable betraying his own pain; but several months had elapsed since, and the turning-point was come.  He did not, unfortunately, love Sibylla one shade less; love such as his cannot be overcome so lightly; but the keenness of the disappointment, the blow to his self-esteem—­to his vanity, it may be said—­was growing less intense.  In a case like this, of faithlessness, let it happen to man or to woman, the wounding of the self-esteem is not the least evil that must be borne.  Lucy Tempest was, in Lionel’s estimation, little more than a child, yet it was singular how he grew to love to talk with her.  Not for love of her—­do not fancy that—­but for the opportunity it gave him of talking of Sibylla.  You may deem this an anomaly; I know that it was natural; and, like oil poured upon a wound, so did it bring balm to Lionel’s troubled spirit.

Page 118

He never spoke of her save at the dusk hour.  During the broad, garish light of day, his lips were sealed.  In the soft twilight of the evening, if it happened that Lucy was alone with him, then he would pour out his heart—­would tell of his past tribulation.  As past he spoke of it; had he not regarded it as past, he never would have spoken.  Lucy listened, mostly in silence, returning him her earnest sympathy.  Had Lucy Tempest been a little older in ideas, or had she been by nature and rearing less entirely single-minded, she might not have sat unrestrainedly with him, going into the room at any moment, and stopping there, as she would had he been her brother.  Lucy was getting to covet the companionship of Lionel very much—­too much, taking all things into consideration.  It never occurred to her that, for that very reason, she might do well to keep away.  She was not sufficiently experienced to define her own sensations; and she did not surmise that there was anything inexpedient or not perfectly orthodox in her being so much with Lionel.  She liked to be with him, and she freely indulged the liking upon any occasion that offered.

“Oh, Lucy, I loved her!  I did love her!” he would say, having repeated the same words perhaps fifty times before in other interviews; and he would lean back in his easy-chair, and cover his eyes with his hand, as if willing to shut out all sight save that of the past.  “Heaven knows what she was to me!  Heaven only knows what her faithlessness has cost!”

“Did you dream of her last night, Lionel?” answered Lucy, from her low seat where she generally sat, near to Lionel, but with her face mostly turned from him.

And it may as well be mentioned that Miss Lucy never thought of such a thing as discouraging Lionel’s love and remembrance of Sibylla.  Her whole business in the matter seemed to be to listen to him, and help him to remember her.

“Ay,” said Lionel, in answer to the question.  “Do you suppose I should dream of anything else?”

Whatever Lucy may or may not have supposed, it was a positive fact, known well to Lionel—­known to him, and remembered by him to this hour—­that he constantly dreamed of Sibylla.  Night after night, since the unhappy time when he learned that she had left him for Frederick Massingbird, had she formed the prominent subject of his dreams.  It is the strict truth; and it will prove to you how powerful a hold she must have possessed over his imagination.  This he had not failed to make an item in his revelations to Lucy.

“What was your dream last night, Lionel?”

“It was only a confused one; or seemed to be when I awoke.  It was full of trouble.  Sibylla appeared to have done something wrong, and I was defending her, and she was angry with me for it.  Unusually confused it was.  Generally my dreams are too clear and vivid.”

“I wonder how long you will dream of her, Lionel?  For a year, do you think?”

Page 119

“I hope not,” heartily responded Lionel.  “Lucy, I wish I could forget her?”

“I wish you could—­if you do wish to do it,” simply replied Lucy.

“Wish!  I wish I could have swallowed a draught of old Lethe’s stream last February, and never recalled her again!”

He spoke vehemently, and yet there was a little undercurrent of suppressed consciousness deep down in his heart, whispering that his greatest solace was to remember her, and to talk of her as he was doing now.  To talk of her as he would to his own soul:  and that he had now learned to do with Lucy Tempest.  Not to any one else in the whole world could Lionel have breathed the name of Sibylla.

“Do you suppose she will soon be coming home?” asked Lucy, after a silence.

“Of course she will.  The news of his inheritance went out shortly after they started, and must have got to Melbourne nearly as soon as they did.  There’s little doubt they are on their road home now.  Massingbird would not care to stop to look after what was left by John, when he knows himself to be the owner of Verner’s Pride.”

“I wish Verner’s Pride had not been left to Frederick Massingbird!” exclaimed Lucy.

“Frankly speaking, so do I,” confessed Lionel.  “It ought to be mine by all good right.  And, putting myself entirely out of consideration, I judge Frederick Massingbird unworthy to be its master.  That’s between ourselves, mind, Lucy.”

“It is all between ourselves,” returned Lucy.

“Ay.  What should I have done without you, my dear little friend?”

“I am glad you have not had to do without me,” simply answered Lucy.  “I hope you will let me be your friend always!”

“That I will.  Now Sibylla’s gone, there’s nobody in the whole world I care for, but you.”

He spoke it without any double meaning:  he might have used the same words, been actuated by precisely the same feelings, to his mother or his sister.  His all-absorbing love for Sibylla barred even the idea of any other love to his mind, yet awhile.

“Lionel!” cried Lucy, turning her face full upon him in her earnestness, “how could she choose Frederick Massingbird, when she might have chosen you?”

“Tastes differ,” said Lionel, speaking lightly, a thing he rarely did when with Lucy.  “There’s no accounting for them.  Some time or other, Lucy, you may be marrying an ugly fellow with a wooden leg and red beard; and people will say, ‘How could Lucy Tempest have chosen him?’”

Lucy coloured.  “I do not like you to speak in that joking way, if you please,” she gravely said.

“Heigh ho, Lucy!” sighed he.  “Sometimes I fancy a joke may cheat me out of a minute’s care.  I wish I was well, and away from this place.  In London I shall have my hands full, and can rub off the rust of old grievances with hard work.”

“You will not like London better than Deerham.”

“I shall like it ten thousand times better,” impulsively answered Lionel.  “I have no longer a place in Deerham, Lucy.  That is gone.”

Page 120

“You allude to Verner’s Pride?”

“Everything’s gone that I valued in Deerham,” cried Lionel, with the same impulse—­“Verner’s Pride amongst the rest.  I would never stop here to see the rule of Fred Massingbird.  Better that John had lived to take it, than that it should have come to him.”

“Was John better than his brother?”

“He would have made a better master.  He was, I believe, a better man.  Not but that John had his faults, as we all have.”

“All!” echoed Lucy.  “What are your faults?”

Lionel could not help laughing.  She asked the question, as she did all her questions, in the most genuine, earnest manner, really seeking the information.  “I think for some time back, Lucy, my chief fault has been grumbling.  I am sure you must find it so.  Better days may be in store for us both.”

Lucy rose.  “I think it must be time for me to go and make Lady Verner’s tea.  Decima will not be home for it.”

“Where is Decima this evening?”

“She is gone her round to the cottages.  She does not find time for it in the day, since you were ill.  Is there anything I can do for you before I go down?”

“Yes,” he answered, taking her hand.  “You can let me thank you for your patience and kindness.  You have borne with me bravely, Lucy.  God bless you, my dear child.”

She neither went away, nor drew her hand away.  She stood there—­as he had phrased it—­patiently, until he should release it.  He soon did so, with a weary movement:  all he did was wearisome to him then, save the thinking and talking of the theme which ought to have been a barred one—­Sibylla.

“Will you please to come down to tea this evening?” asked Lucy.

“I don’t care for tea; I’d rather be alone.”

“Then I will bring you some up.”

“No, no; you shall not be at the trouble.  I’ll come down, then, presently.”

Lucy Tempest disappeared.  Lionel leaned against the window, looking out on the night landscape, and lost himself in thoughts of his faithless love.  He aroused himself from them with a stamp of impatience.

“I must shake it off,” he cried to himself; “I will shake it off.  None, save myself or a fool, but would have done it months ago.  And yet, Heaven alone knows how I have tried and battled, and how vain the battle has been!”

CHAPTER XXV.

HOME TRUTHS FOR LIONEL.

The cottages down Clay Lane were ill-drained.  It might be nearer the truth to say they were not drained at all.  As is the case with many another fine estate besides Verner’s Pride, while the agricultural land was well drained, no expense spared upon it, the poor dwellings had been neglected.  Not only in the matter of draining, but in other respects, were these habitations deficient:  but that strong terms are apt to grate unpleasingly upon the ear, one might say shamefully deficient.  The consequence was that no autumn ever went over, scarcely any spring, but somebody would be down with ague, with low fever; and it was reckoned a fortunate season if a good many were not prostrate.

Page 121

The first time that Lionel Verner took a walk down Clay Lane after his illness was a fine day in October.  He had been out before in other directions, but not in that of Clay Lane.  He had not yet recovered his full strength; he looked ill and emaciated.  Had he been strong, as he used to be, he would not have found himself nearly losing his equilibrium at being run violently against by a woman, who turned swiftly out of her own door.

“Take care, Mrs. Grind!  Is your house on fire?”

“It’s begging a thousand pardons, sir!  I hadn’t no idea you was there,” returned Mrs. Grind, in lamentable confusion, when she saw whom she had all but knocked down.  “Grind, he catches sight o’ one o’ the brick men going by, and he tells me to run and fetch him in; but I had got my hands in the soap-suds, and couldn’t take ’em convenient out of it at the minute, and I was hasting lest he’d gone too far to be caught up.  He have now.”

“Is Grind better?”

“He ain’t no worse, sir.  There he is,” she added, flinging the door open.

On the side of the kitchen, opposite to the door, was a pallet-bed stretched against the wall, and on it lay the woman’s husband, Grind, dressed.  It was a small room, and it appeared literally full of children, of encumbrances of all sorts.  A string extended from one side of the fire-place to the other, and on this hung some wet coloured pinafores, the steam ascending from them in clouds, drawn out by the heat of the fire.  The children were in various stages of un-dress, these coloured pinafores doubtless constituting their sole outer garment.  But that Grind’s eye had caught his, Lionel might have hesitated to enter so uncomfortable a place.  His natural kindness of heart—­nay, his innate regard for the feelings of others, let them be ever so inferior in station—­prevented his turning back when the man had seen him.

“Grind, don’t move, don’t get off the bed,” Lionel said hastily.  But Grind was already up.  The ague fit was upon him then, and he shook the bed as he sat down upon it.  His face wore that blue, pallid appearance, which you may have seen in aguish patients.

“You don’t seem much better, Grind.”

“Thank ye, sir, I be baddish just now again, but I ain’t worse on the whole,” was the man’s reply.  A civil, quiet, hard-working man as any on the estate; nothing against him but his large flock of children, and his difficulty of getting along any way.  The mouths to feed were many—­ravenous young mouths, too; and the wife, though anxious and well-meaning, was not the most thrifty in the world.  She liked gossiping better than thrift; but gossip was the most prevalent complaint of Clay Lane, so far as its female population was concerned.

“How long is it that you have been ill?” asked Lionel, leaning his elbow on the mantel-piece, and looking down on Grind, Mrs. Grind having whisked away the pinafores.

“It’s going along of four weeks, sir, now.  It’s a illness, sir, I takes it, as must have its course.”

Page 122

“All illnesses must have that, as I believe,” said Lionel.  “Mine has taken its own time pretty well, has it not?”

Grind shook his head.

“You don’t look none the better for your bout, sir.  And it’s a long time you must have been a-getting strong.  Mr. Jan, he said, just a month ago, when he first come to see me, as you was well, so to say, then.  Ah! it’s only them as have tried it knows what the pulling through up to strength again is, when the illness itself seems gone.”

Lionel’s conscience was rather suggestive at that moment.  He might have been stronger than he was, by this time, had he “pulled through” with a better will, and given way less.  “I am sorry not to see you better, Grind,” he kindly said.

“You see me at the worst, sir, to-day,” said the man, in a tone of apology, as if seeking to excuse his own sickness.  “I be getting better, and that’s a thing to be thankful for.  I only gets the fever once in three days now.  Yesterday, sir, I got down to the field, and earned what’ll come to eighteen pence.  I did indeed, sir, though you’d not think it, looking at me to-day.”

“I should not,” said Lionel.  “Do you mean to say you went to work in your present state?”

“I didn’t seem a bit ill yesterday, sir, except for the weakness.  The fever, it keeps me down all one day, as may be to-day; then the morrow I be quite prostrate with the weakness it leaves; and the third day I be, so to speak, well.  But I can’t do a full day’s work, sir; no, nor hardly half of a one, and by evening I be so done over I can scarce crawl to my place here.  It ain’t much, sir, part of a day’s work in three; but I be thankful for that improvement.  A week ago, I couldn’t do as much as that.”

More suggestive thoughts for Lionel.

“He’d a got better quicker, sir, if he could do his work regular,” put in the woman.  “What’s one day’s work out o’ three—­even if ’twas a full day’s—­to find us all victuals?  In course he can’t fare better nor we; and Peckaby’s, they don’t give much trust to us.  He gets a pot o’ gruel, or a saucer o’ porridge, or a hunch o’ bread with a mite o’ cheese.”

Lionel looked at the man.  “You cannot eat plain bread now, can you, Grind?”

“All this day, sir, I shan’t eat nothing; I couldn’t swallow it,” he answered.  “After the fever and the shaking’s gone, then I could eat, but not bread; it seems too dry for the throat, and it sticks in it.  I get a dish o’ tea, or something in that way.  The next day—­my well day, as I calls it—­I can eat all afore me.”

“You ought to have more strengthening food.”

“It’s not for us to say, sir, as we ought to have this here food, or that there food, unless we earns it,” replied Grind, in a meek spirit of contented resignation that many a rich man might have taken a pattern from.  “Mr. Jan he says, ‘Grind,’ says he, ’you should have some meat to eat, and some good beef-tea, and a drop o’ wine wouldn’t do you no harm,’ says he.  And it makes me smile, sir, to think where the like o’ poor folks is to get such things.  Lucky to be able to get a bit o’ bread and a drain o’ tea without sugar, them as is off their work, just to rub on and keep theirselves out o’ the workhouse.  I know I’m thankful to do it.  Jim, he have got a place, sir.”

Page 123

“Jim,—­which is Jim?” asked Lionel, turning his eyes on the group of children, supposing one must be meant.

“He ain’t here, sir,” cried the woman.  “It’s the one with the black hair, and he was six year old yesterday.  He’s gone to Farmer Johnson’s to take care o’ the pigs in the field.  He’s to get a shilling a week.”

Lionel moved from his position.  “Grind,” he said, “don’t you think it would be better if you gave yourself complete rest, not attempting to go out to work until you are stronger?”

“I couldn’t afford it, sir.  And as to its being better for me, I don’t see that.  If I can work, sir, I’m better at work.  I know it tires me, but I believe I get stronger the sooner for it.  Mr. Jan, he says to me, says he, ’Don’t lie by never, Grind, unless you be obliged to it; it only rusts the limbs.’  And he ain’t far out, sir.  Folks gets more harm from idleness nor they do from work.”

“Well, good-day, Grind,” said Lionel, “and I heartily hope you’ll soon be on your legs again.  Lady Verner shall send you something more nourishing than bread, while you are still suffering.”

“Thank ye kindly, sir,” replied Grind.  “My humble duty to my lady.”

Lionel went out.  “What a lesson for me!” he involuntarily exclaimed.  “This poor half-starved man struggling patiently onward through his sickness; while I, who had every luxury about me, spent my time in repining.  What a lesson!  Heaven help me to take it to my heart!”

He lifted his hat as he spoke, his feeling at the moment full of reverence; and went on to Frost’s.  “Where’s Robin?” he asked of the wife.

“He’s in the back room, sir,” was the answer.  “He’s getting better fast.  The old father, he have gone out a bit, a-warming of himself in the sun.”

She opened the door of a small back room as she spoke; but it proved to be empty.  Robin was discerned in the garden, sitting on a bench; possibly to give himself a warming in the sun—­as Mrs. Frost expressed it.  He sat in a still attitude, his arms folded, his head bowed.  Since the miserable occurrence touching Rachel, Robin Frost was a fearfully changed man; never, from the hour that the coroner’s inquest was held and certain evidence had come out, had he been seen to smile.  He had now been ill with ague, in the same way as Grind.  Hearing the approach of footsteps, he turned his head, and rose when he saw it was Lionel.

“Well, Robin, how fares it?  You are better, I hear.  Sit yourself down; you are not strong enough to stand.  What an enemy this low fever is!  I wish we could root it out!”

“Many might be all the healthier for it, sir, if it could be done,” was Robin’s answer, spoken indifferently—­as he nearly always spoke now.  “As for me, I’m not far off being well again.”

“They said in the village you were going to die, Robin, did they not?” continued Lionel.  “You have cheated them, you see.”

Page 124

“They said it, some of ’em, sir, and thought it, too.  Old father thought it.  I’m not sure but Mr. Jan thought it. I didn’t, bad as I was,” continued Robin, in a significant tone.  “I had my oath to keep.”

“Robin!”

“Sir, I have sworn—­and you know I have sworn it—­to have my revenge upon him that worked ill to Rachel.  I can’t die till that oath has been kept.”

“There’s a certain sentence, Robin, given us for our guidance, amid many other such sentences, which runs somewhat after this fashion:  ’Vengeance is mine,’” quietly spoke Lionel.  “Have you forgotten who it is says that?”

“Why did he—­the villain—­forget them sentences?  Why did he forget ’em and harm her?” retorted Robin.  “Sir, it’s of no good for you to look at me in that way.  I’ll never be baulked in this matter.  Old father, now and again, he’ll talk about forgiveness; and when I say, ’weren’t you her father?’ ‘Ay,’ he’ll answer, ’but I’ve got one foot in the grave, Robin, and anger will not bring her back to life.’  No, it won’t,” doggedly went on Robin.  “It won’t undo what was done, neither:  but I’ll keep my oath—­so far as it is in my power to keep it.  Dead though he is, he shall be exposed to the world.”

The words “dead though he is” aroused the attention of Lionel.  “To whom do you allude, Robin?” he asked.  “Have you obtained any fresh clue?”

“Not much of a fresh one,” answered the man, with a stress upon the word “fresh.”  “I have had it this six or seven months.  When they heard he was dead, then they could speak out and tell me their suspicions of him.”

“Who could?  What mystery are you talking?” reiterated Lionel.

“Never mind who, sir.  It was one that kept the mouth shut, as long as there was any good in opening it.  ‘Not to make ill-blood,’ was the excuse gave to me after.  If I had but knowed at the time!” added the man, clenching his fist, “I’d have went out and killed him, if he had been double as far off!”

“Robin, what have you heard?”

“Well, sir, I’ll tell you—­but I have not opened my lips to a living soul,-not even to old father—­The villain that did the harm to Rachel was John Massingbird!”

Lionel remained silent from surprise.

“I don’t believe it,” he presently said, speaking emphatically.  “Who has accused him?”

“Sir, I have said that I can’t tell you.  I passed my word not to do it.  It was one that had cause to suspect him at the time.  And it was never told me—­never told me—­until John Massingbird was dead!”

Robin’s voice rose to a sound of wailing pain, and he raised his hands with a gesture of despair.

“Did your informant know that it was John Massingbird?” Lionel gravely asked.

“They had not got what is called positive proof, such as might avail in a Court of Justice; but they was morally certain,” replied Robin; “and so am I. I am only waiting for one thing, sir, to tell it out to all the world.”

Page 125

“And what’s that?”

“The returning home of Luke Roy.  There’s not much doubt that he knows all about it; I have my reasons for saying so, and I’d like to be quite sure before I tell out the tale.  Old Roy says Luke may be expected home by any ship as comes; he don’t think he’ll stop there, now John Massingbird’s dead.”

“Then, Robin, listen to me,” returned Lionel.  “I have no positive proof, any more than it appears your informant has; but I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that the guilty man was not John Massingbird, but another.  Understand me,” he emphatically continued, “I have good and sufficient reason for saying this.  Rely upon it, whoever it may have been, John Massingbird it was not.”

Robin lifted his eyes to the face of Lionel.

“You say you don’t know this, sir?”

“Not of actual proof.  But so sure am I that it was not he, that I could stake all I possess upon it.”

“Then, sir, you’d lose it,” doggedly answered Robin.  “When the time comes that I choose to speak out—­”

“What are you doing there?” burst forth Lionel, in a severely haughty tone.

It caused Robin to start from his seat.

In a gap of the hedge behind them, Lionel had caught sight of a human face, its stealthy ears complacently taking in every word.  It was that of Roy the bailiff.

CHAPTER XXVI.

THE PACKET IN THE SHIRT-DRAWER.

Mrs. Tynn, the housekeeper at Verner’s Pride, was holding one of those periodical visitations that she was pleased to call, when in familiar colloquy with her female assistants, a “rout out.”  It appeared to consist of turning a room and its contents topsy-turvy, and then putting them straight again.  The chamber this time subjected to the ordeal was that of her late master, Mr. Verner.  His drawers, closets, and other places consecrated to clothes, had not been meddled with since his death.  Mrs. Verner, in some moment unusually (for her) given to sentiment, had told Tynn she should like to “go over his dear clothes” herself.  Therefore Tynn left them alone for that purpose.  Mrs. Verner, however, who loved her personal ease better than any earthly thing, and was more given to dropping off to sleep in her chair than ever, not only after dinner but all day long, never yet had ventured upon the task.  Tynn suggested that she had better do it herself, after all; and Mrs. Verner replied, perhaps she had.  So Tynn set about it.

Look at Mrs. Tynn over that deep, open drawer full of shirts.  She calls it “Master’s shirt-drawer.”  Have the shirts scared away her senses?  She has sat herself down on the floor—­almost fallen back as it seems—­in some shock of alarm, and her mottled face has turned as white as her master’s was, when she last saw him lying on that bed at her elbow.

“Go downstairs, Nancy, and stop there till I call you up again,” she suddenly cried out to her helpmate.

Page 126

And the girl left the room, grumbling to herself; for Nancy at Verner’s Pride did not improve in temper.

Between two of the shirts, in the very middle of the stack, Mrs. Tynn had come upon a parcel, or letter.  Not a small letter—­if it was a letter—­but one of very large size, thick, looking not unlike a government despatch.  It was sealed with Mr. Verner’s own seal, and addressed in his own handwriting—­“For my nephew, Lionel Verner.  To be opened after my death.”

Mrs. Tynn entertained not the slightest doubt that she had come upon the lost codicil.  That the parcel must have been lying quietly in the drawer since her master’s death, was certain.  The key of the drawer had remained in her own possession.  When the search after the codicil took place, this drawer was opened—­as a matter of form more than anything else—­and Mrs. Tynn herself had lifted out the stack of shirts.  She had assured those who were searching that there was no need to do so, for the drawer had been locked up at the time the codicil was made, and the deed could not have been put into it.  They accepted her assurance, and did not look between the shirts.  It puzzled Mrs. Tynn, now, to think how it could have got in.

“I’ll not tell Tynn,” she soliloquised—­she and Tynn being somewhat inclined to take opposite sides of a question, in social intercourse—­“and I’ll not say a word to my mistress.  I’ll go straight off now and give it into the hands of Mr. Lionel.  What a blessed thing!—­If he should be come into his own!”

The inclosed paved court before Lady Verner’s residence had a broad flower-bed round it.  It was private from the outer world, save for the iron gates, and here Decima and Lucy Tempest were fond of lingering on a fine day.  On this afternoon of Mary Tynn’s discovery, they were there with Lionel.  Decima went indoors for some string to tie up a fuchsia plant, just as Tynn appeared at the iron gates.  She stopped on seeing Lionel.

“I was going round to the other entrance, sir, to ask to speak to you,” she said.  “Something very strange has happened.”

“Come in,” answered Lionel.  “Will you speak here, or go indoors?  What is it?”

Too excitedly eager to wait to go indoors, or to care for the presence of Lucy Tempest, Mrs. Tynn told her tale, and handed the paper to Lionel.  “It’s the missing codicil, as sure as that we are here, sir.”

He saw the official-looking nature of the document, its great seal, and the superscription in his uncle’s handwriting.  Lionel did not doubt that it was the codicil, and a streak of scarlet emotion arose to his pale cheek.

“You don’t open it, sir!” said the woman, as feverishly impatient as if the good fortune were her own.

No.  Lionel did not open it.  In his high honour, he deemed that, before opening, it should be laid before Mrs. Verner.  It had been found in her house; it concerned her son.  “I think it will be better that Mrs. Verner should open this, Tynn,” he quietly said.

Page 127

“You won’t get me into a mess, sir, for bringing it out to you first?”

Lionel turned his honest eyes upon her, smiling then.  “Can’t you trust me better than that?  You have known me long enough.”

“So I have, Mr. Lionel.  The mystery is, how it could ever have got into that shirt-drawer!” she continued.  “I can declare that for a good week before my master died, up to the very day that the codicil was looked for, the shirt-drawer was never unlocked, nor the key of it out of my pocket.”

She turned to go back to Verner’s Pride, Lionel intending to follow her at once.  He was going out at the gate when he caught the pleased eyes of Lucy Tempest fixed on him.

“I am so glad,” she simply said.  “Do you remember my telling you that you did not look like one who would have to starve on bread-and-cheese.”

Lionel laughed in the joy of his heart.  “I am glad also, Lucy.  The place is mine by right, and it is just that I should have it.”

“I have thought it very unfair, all along, that Verner’s Pride should belong to her husband, and not to you, after—­after what she did to you,” continued Lucy, dropping her voice to a whisper.

“Things don’t go by fairness, Lucy, in this world,” said he, as he went through the gate.  “Stay,” he said, turning back from it, a thought crossing his mind.  “Lucy, oblige me by not mentioning this to my mother or Decima.  It may be as well to be sure that we are right, before exciting their hopes.”

Lucy’s countenance fell.  “I will not speak of it.  But, is it not sure to be the codicil?”

“I hope it is,” cordially answered Lionel.

Mrs. Tynn had got back before him.  She came forward and encountered him in the hall, her bonnet still on.

“I have told my mistress, sir, that I had found what I believed to be the codicil, and had took it off straight to you.  She was not a bit angry; she says she hopes it is it.”

Lionel entered.  Mrs. Verner, who was in a semi-sleepy state, having been roused up by Mary Tynn from a long nap after a plentiful luncheon, received Lionel graciously—­first of all asking him what he would take—­it was generally her chief question—­and then inquiring what the codicil said.

“I have not opened it,” replied Lionel.

“No!” said she, in surprise.  “Why did you wait?”

He laid it on the table beside her.  “Have I your cordial approval to open it, Mrs. Verner?”

“You are ceremonious, Lionel.  Open it at once; Verner’s Pride belongs to you, more than to Fred; and you know I have always said so.”

Lionel took up the deed.  His finger was upon the seal when a thought crossed him; ought he to open it without further witnesses?  He spoke his doubt aloud to Mrs. Verner.

“Ring the bell and have in Tynn,” said she; “his wife also; she found it.”

Lionel rang.  Tynn and his wife both came in, in obedience to the request.  Tynn looked at it curiously; and began rehearsing mentally a private lecture for his wife, for acting upon her own responsibility.

Page 128

The seal was broken.  The stiff writing-paper of the outer cover revealed a second cover of stiff writing-paper precisely similar to the first; but on this last there was no superscription.  It was tied round with fine white twine.  Lionel cut it, Tynn and Mrs. Tynn waited with the utmost eagerness; even Mrs. Verner’s eyes were open wider than usual.

Alas! for the hopes of Lionel.  The parcel contained nothing but a glove, and a small piece of writing-paper, folded once.  Lionel unfolded it, and read the following lines:—­

“This glove has come into my possession.  When I tell you that I know where it was found and how you lost it, you will not wonder at the shock the discovery has been to me.  I hush it up, Lionel, for your late father’s sake, as much as for that of the name of Verner.  I am about to seal it up that it may be given to you after my death; and you will then know why I disinherit you.  S.V.”

Lionel gazed on the lines like one in a dream.  They were in the handwriting of his uncle.  Understand them, he could not.  He took up the glove—­a thick, fawn-coloured riding-glove—­and remembered it for one of his own.  When he had lost it, or where he had lost it, he knew no more than did the table he was standing by.  He had worn dozens of these gloves in the years gone by, up to the period when he had gone in mourning for John Massingbird, and, subsequently, for his uncle.

“What is it, Lionel?”

Lionel put the lines in his pocket, and pushed the glove toward Mrs. Verner.  “I do not understand it in the least,” he said.  “My uncle appears to have found the glove somewhere, and he writes to say that he returns it to me.  The chief matter that concerns us is”—­turning his eyes on the servants—­“that it is not the codicil!”

Mrs. Tynn lifted her hands.  “How one may be deceived!” she uttered.  “Mr. Lionel, I’d freely have laid my life upon it.”

“It was not exactly my place to speak, sir:  to give my opinion beforehand,” interposed Tynn; “but I was sure that was not the lost codicil, by the very look of it.  The codicil might have been about that size, and it had a big seal like that; but it was different in appearance.”

“All that puzzled me was, how it could have got into the shirt-drawer,” cried Mrs. Tynn.  “As it has turned out not to be the codicil, of course there’s no mystery about that.  It may have been lying there weeks and weeks before the master died.”

Lionel signed to them to leave the room:  there was nothing to call for their remaining in it.  Mrs. Verner asked him what the glove meant.

“I assure you I do not know,” was his reply.  And he took it up, and examined it well again.  One of his riding gloves, scarcely worn, with a tear near the thumb; but there was nothing upon it, not so much as a trace, a spot, to afford any information.  He rolled it up mechanically in the two papers, and placed them in his pocket, lost in thought.

Page 129

“Do you know that I have heard from Australia?” asked Mrs. Verner.

The words aroused him thoroughly.  “Have you?  I did not know it.”

“I wonder Mary Tynn did not tell you.  The letters came this morning.  If you look about”—­turning her eyes on the tables and places—­“you will find them somewhere.”

Lionel knew that Mary Tynn had been too much absorbed in his business to find room in her thoughts for letters from Australia.  “Are these the letters?” he asked, taking up two from a side-table.

“You’ll know them by the post-marks.  Do sit down and read them to me, Lionel.  My sight is not good for letters now, and I couldn’t read half that was in them.  The ink’s as pale as water.  If it was the ink Fred took out, the sea must have washed into it.  Yes, yes, you must I read both to me, and I shall not let you go away before dinner.”

He did not like, in his good nature, to refuse her.  And he sat there and read the long letters.  Read Sibylla’s.  Before the last one was fully accomplished, Lionel’s cheeks wore their hectic flush.

They had made a very quick and excellent passage.  But Sibylla found Melbourne hateful.  And Fred was ill; ill with fever.  A fever was raging in a part of the crowded town, and he had caught it.  She did not think it was a catching fever, either, she added; people said it arose from the over-population.  They could not as yet hear of John, or his money, or anything about him; but Fred would see into it when he got better.  They were at a part of Melbourne called Canvas Town, and she, Sibylla, was sick of it, and Fred drank heaps of brandy.  If it were all land between her and home, she should set off at once on foot, and toil her way back again.  She wished she had never come!  Everything she cared for, except Fred, seemed to be left behind in England.

Such was her letter.  Fred’s was gloomy also, in a different way.  He said nothing about any fever; he mentioned, casually, as it appeared, that he was not well, but that was all.  He had not learned tidings of John, but had not had time yet to make inquiries.  The worst piece of news he mentioned was the loss of his desk, which had contained the chief portion of his money.  It had disappeared in a mysterious manner immediately after being taken off the ship—­he concluded by the light fingers of some crimp, or thief, shoals of whom crowded on the quay.  He was in hopes yet to find it, and had not told Sibylla.  That was all he had to say at present, but would write again by the next packet.

“It is not very cheering news on the whole, is it?” said Mrs. Verner, as Lionel folded the letters.

“No.  They had evidently not received the tidings of my uncle’s death, or we should have heard that they were already coming back again.”

“I don’t know that,” replied Mrs. Verner.  “Fred worships money, and he would not suffer what was left by poor John to slip through his fingers.  He will stay till he has realised it.  I hope they will think to bring me back some memento of my lost boy!  If it were only the handkerchief he used last, I should value it.”

Page 130

The tears filled her eyes.  Lionel respected her grief, and remained silent.  Presently she resumed, in a musing tone—­

“I knew Sibylla would only prove an encumbrance to Fred, out there; and I told him so.  If Fred thought he was taking out a wife who would make shift, and put up pleasantly with annoyances, he was mistaken.  Sibylla in Canvas Town!  Poor girl!  I wonder she married him.  Don’t you?”

“Rather so,” answered Lionel, his scarlet blush deepening.

“I do; especially to go to that place.  Sibylla’s a pretty flower, made to sport in the sunshine; but she never was constituted for a rough life, or to get pricked by thorns.”

Lionel’s heart beat.  It echoed to every word.  Would that she could have been sheltered from the thorns, the rough usages of life, as he would have sheltered her.

Lionel dined with Mrs. Verner, but quitted her soon afterwards.  When he got back to Deerham Court, the stars were peeping out in the clear summer sky.  Lucy Tempest was lingering in the courtyard, no doubt waiting for him, and she ran to meet him as soon as he appeared at the gate.

“How long you have been!” was her greeting, her glad eyes shining forth hopefully.  “And is it all yours?”

Lionel drew her arm within his own in silence, and walked with her in silence until they reached the pillared entrance of the house.  Then he spoke—­

“You have not mentioned it, Lucy?”

“Of course I have not.”

“Thank you.  Let us both forget it.  It was not the codicil.  And Verner’s Pride is not mine.”

CHAPTER XXVII.

DR. WEST’S SANCTUM.

For some little time past, certain rumours had arisen in Deerham somewhat to the prejudice of Dr. West.  Rumours of the same nature had circulated once or twice before during the progress of the last half dozen years; but they had died away again, or had been hushed up, never coming to anything.  For one thing, their reputed scene had not lain at the immediate spot, but at Heartburg; and distance is a great discouragement to ill-natured tattle.  This fresh scandal, however, was nearer.  It touched the very heart of Deerham, and people made themselves remarkably busy over it—­none the less busy because the accusations were vague.  Tales never lose anything in carrying, and the most outrageous things were whispered of Dr. West.

A year or two previous to this, a widow lady named Baynton, with her two daughters, no longer very young, had come to live at a pretty cottage in Deerham.  Nothing was known of who they were, or where they came from.  They appeared to be very reserved, and made no acquaintance whatever.  Under these circumstances, of course, their history was supplied for them.  If you or I went and established ourselves in a fresh place to-morrow, saying nothing of who we were, or what we were, it would only be the signal for some

Page 131

busybody in that place to coin a story for us, and all the rest of the busybodies would immediately circulate it.  It was said of Mrs. Baynton that she had been left in reduced circumstances; had fallen from some high pedestal of wealth, through the death of her husband; that she lived in a perpetual state of mortification in consequence of her present poverty, and would not admit a single inhabitant of Deerham within her doors to witness it.  There may have been as little truth in it as in the greatest canard that ever flew; but Deerham promulgated it, Deerham believed in it, and the Bayntons never contradicted it.  The best of all reasons for this may have been that they never heard of it.  They lived quietly on alone, interfering with nobody, and going out rarely.  In appearance and manners they were gentlewomen, and rather haughty gentlewomen, too; but they kept no servant.  How their work was done, Deerham could not conceive:  it was next to impossible to fancy one of those ladies scrubbing a floor or making a bed.  The butcher called for orders, and took in the meat, which was nearly always mutton-chops; the baker left his bread at the door, and the laundress was admitted inside the passage once a week.

The only other person admitted inside was Dr. West.  He had been called in, on their first arrival, to the invalid daughter—­a delicate-looking lady, who, when she did walk out, leaned on her sister’s arm.  Dr. West’s visits became frequent; they had continued frequent up to within a short period of the present time.  Once or twice a week he called in professionally; he would also occasionally drop in for an hour in the evening.  Some people passing Chalk Cottage (that was what it was named) had contrived to stretch their necks over the high privet hedge which hid the lower part of the dwelling from the road, and were immensely gratified by the fact of seeing Dr. West in the parlour, seated at tea with the family.  How the doctor was questioned, especially in the earlier period of their residence, he alone could tell.  Who were they?  Were they well connected, or ill connected, or not connected at all?  Were they known to fashion?  How much was really their income?  What was the matter with the one whom he attended, the sickly daughter, and what was her name?  The questions would have gone on until now, but that the doctor stopped them.  He had not made impertinent inquiries himself, he said, and had nothing at all to tell.  The younger lady’s complaint arose from disordered liver; he had no objection to tell them that; she had been so long a sufferer from it that the malady had become chronic; and her name was Kitty.

Page 132

Now, it was touching this very family that the scandal had arisen. How it arose was the puzzle; since the ladies themselves never spoke to anybody, and Dr. West would not be likely to invent or to spread stories affecting himself.  Its precise nature was buried in uncertainty, also its precise object.  Some said one thing, some another.  The scandal, on the whole, tended to the point that Dr. West had misbehaved himself.  In what way?  What had he done?  Had he personally ill-treated them—­sworn at them—­done anything else unbecoming a gentleman?  And which had been the sufferer?  The old lady in her widow’s cap? or the sickly daughter? or the other one?  Could he have carelessly supplied wrong medicine; sent to them some arsenic instead of Epsom Salts, and so thrown them into fright, and danger, and anger?  Had he scaled the privet hedge in the night, and robbed the garden of its cabbages?  What, in short, was it that he had done?  Deerham spoke out pretty broadly, as to the main facts, although the rumoured details were varied and obscure.  It declared that some of Dr. West’s doings at Chalk Cottage had not been orthodox, and that discovery had followed.

There are two classes of professional men upon whom not a taint should rest; who ought, in familiar phrase, to keep their hands clean—­the parson of the parish, and the family doctor.  Other people may dye themselves in Warren’s jet if they like; but let as much as a spot get on him who stands in the pulpit to preach to us, or on him who is admitted to familiar intercourse with our wives and children, and the spot grows into a dark thundercloud.  What’s the old saying?  “One man may walk in at the gate, while another must not look over the hedge.”  It runs something after that fashion.  Had Dr. West not been a family doctor, the scandal might have been allowed to die out:  as it was, Deerham kept up the ball, and rolled it.  The chief motive for this, the one that influenced Deerham above all others, was unsatisfied curiosity.  Could Deerham have gratified this to the full, it would have been content to subside into quietness.

Whether it was true, or whether it was false, there was no denying that it had happened at an unfortunate moment for Dr. West.  A man always in debt—­and what he did with his money Deerham could not make out, for his practice was a lucrative one—­he had latterly become actually embarrassed.  Deerham was good-natured enough to say that a handsome sum had found its way to Chalk Cottage, in the shape of silence-money, or something of the sort; but Deerham did not know.  Dr. West was at his wits’ end where to turn to for a shilling—­had been so, for some weeks past; so that he had no particular need of anything worse coming down upon him.  Perhaps what gave a greater colour to the scandal than anything else was the fact that, simultaneously with its rise, Dr. West’s visits to Chalk Cottage had suddenly ceased.

Page 133

Only one had been bold enough to speak upon the subject personally to Dr. West, and that was the proud old baronet, Sir Rufus Hautley.  He rode down to the doctor’s house one day; and, leaving his horse with his groom, had a private interview with the doctor.  That Dr. West must have contrived to satisfy him in some way, was undoubted.  Rigidly severe and honourable, Sir Rufus would no more have countenanced wrongdoing, than he would have admitted Dr. West again to his house, whether as doctor or anything else, had he been guilty of it.  But when Sir Rufus went away, Dr. West attended him to the door, and they parted cordially, Sir Rufus saying something to the effect that he was glad his visit had dispelled the doubt arising from these unpleasing rumours, and he would recommend Dr. West to inquire into their source, with a view of bringing their authors to punishment.  Dr. West replied that he should make it his business to do so.  Dr. West, however, did nothing of the sort; or if he did do it, it was in strict privacy.

Jan sat one day astride on the counter in his frequent abiding-place, the surgery.  Jan had got a brass vessel before him, and was mixing certain powders in it, preparatory to some experiment in chemistry, Master Cheese performing the part of looker-on, his elbows, as usual, on the counter.

“I say, we had such a start here this morning,” began young Cheese, as if the recollection had suddenly occurred to him.  “It was while you had gone your round.”

“What start was that?”

“Some fellow came here, and—­I say, Jan,” broke off young Cheese, “did you ever know that room had got a second entrance to it?”

He pointed to the door of the back room—­a room which was used exclusively by Dr. West.  He had been known to see patients there on rare occasions, but neither Jan nor young Cheese was ever admitted into it.  It opened with a latch-key only.

“There is another door leading into it from the garden,” replied Jan.  “It’s never opened.  It has got all those lean-to boards piled against it.”

“Is it never opened, then?” retorted Master Cheese.  “You just hear.  A fellow came poking his nose into the premises this morning, staring up at the house, staring round about him, and at last he walks in here.  A queer-looking fellow he was, with a beard, and appeared as if he had come a thousand miles or two, on foot.  ‘Is Dr. West at home?’ he asked.  I told him the doctor was not at home; for, you see, Jan, it wasn’t ten minutes since the doctor had gone out.  So he said he’d wait.  And he went peering about and handling the bottles; and once he took the scales up, as if he’d like to test their weight.  I kept my eye on him.  I thought a queer fellow like that might be going to walk off with some physic, like Miss Amilly walks off the castor oil.  Presently he comes to that door.  ‘Where does this lead to?’ said he.  ‘A private room,’ said I, ’and please to keep your hands off it.’  Not he.  He lays hold of the false knob, and shakes it, and turns it, and pushes the door, trying to open it.  It was fast.  Old West had come out of there before going out, and catch him ever leaving that door open!  I say, Jan, one would think he kept skeletons there.”

Page 134

“Is that all?” asked Jan, alluding to the story.

“Wait a bit.  The fellow put his big fist upon the latch-key-hole—­I think he must have been a feller of trees, I do—­and his knee to the door, and he burst it open.  Burst it open, Jan! you never saw such strength.”

“I could burst any door open that I had a mind to,” was the response of Jan.

“He burst it open,” continued young Cheese, “and burst it against old West.  You should have seen ’em stare!  They both stared.  I stared.  I think the chap did not mean to do it; that he was only trying his strength for pastime.  But now, Jan, the odd part of the business is, how did West get in?  If there’s not another door, he must have got down the chimney.”

Jan went on with his compounding, and made no response.

“And if there is a door, he must have been mortal sly over it,” resumed the young gentleman.  “He must have gone right out from here, and in at the side gate of the garden, and got in that way.  I wonder what he did it for?”

“It isn’t any business of ours,” said Jan.

“Then I think it is,” retorted Master Cheese.  “I’d like to know how many times he has been in there, listening to us, when we thought him a mile off.  It’s a shame!”

“It’s nothing to me who listens,” said Jan equably.  “I don’t say things behind people’s backs, that I’d not say before their faces.”

“I do,” acknowledged young Cheese.  “Wasn’t there a row!  Didn’t he and the man go on at each other!  They shut themselves up in that room, and had it out.”

“What did the man want?” asked Jan.

“I’d like to know.  He and old West had it out together, I say, but they didn’t admit me to the conference.  Goodness knows where he had come from.  West seemed to know him.  Jan, I heard something about him and the Chalk Cottage folks yesterday.”

“You had better take yourself to a safe distance,” advised Jan.  “If this goes off with a bang, your face will come in for the benefit.”

“I say, though, it’s you that must take care and not let it go off,” returned Master Cheese, edging, nevertheless, a little away.  “But about that room?  If old West——­”

The words were interrupted.  The door of the room in question was pushed open, and Dr. West came out of it.  Had Master Cheese witnessed the arrival of an inhabitant from the other world, introduced by the most privileged medium extant, he could not have experienced more intense astonishment.  He had truly believed, as he had just expressed it, that Dr. West was at that moment a good mile away.

“Put your hat on, Cheese,” said Dr. West.

Cheese put it on, going into a perspiration at the same time.  He thought nothing less than that he was about to be dismissed.

“Take this note up to Sir Rufus Hautley’s.”

It was a great relief; and Master Cheese received the note in his hand, and went off whistling.

Page 135

“Step in here, Mr. Jan,” said the doctor.

Jan took one of his long legs over the counter, jumped off, and stepped in—­into the doctor’s sanctum.  Had Jan been given to speculation, he might have wondered what was coming; but it was Jan’s method to take things cool and easy, as they came, and not to anticipate them.

“My health has been bad of late,” began the doctor.

“Law!” cried Jan.  “What has been the matter?”

“A general disarrangement of the system altogether, I fancy,” returned Dr. West.  “I believe that the best thing to restore me will be change of scene—­travelling; and an opportunity to embrace it has presented itself.  I am solicited by an old friend of mine, in practice in London, to take charge of a nobleman’s son for some months—­to go abroad with him.”

“Is he ill?” asked literal Jan, to whom it never occurred to ask whether Dr. West had first of all applied to his old friend to seek after such a post for him.

“His health is delicate, both mentally and bodily,” replied Dr. West.  “I should like to undertake it:  the chief difficulty is leaving you here alone.”

“I dare say I can do it all,” said Jan.  “My legs get over the ground quick.  I can take to your horse.”

“If you find you cannot do it, you might engage an assistant,” suggested Dr. West.

“So I might,” said Jan.

“I should see no difficulty at all in the matter if you were my partner.  It would be the same as leaving myself, and the patients could not grumble.  But it is not altogether the thing to leave only an assistant, as you are, Mr. Jan.”

“Make me your partner, if you like,” said cool Jan. “I don’t mind.  What’ll it cost?”

“Ah, Mr. Jan, it will cost more than you possess.  At least, it ought.”

“I have got five hundred pounds,” said Jan.  “I wanted Lionel to have it, but he won’t.  Is that of any use?”

Dr. West coughed.  “Well, under the circumstances——­But it is very little!  I am sure you must know that it is.  Perhaps, Mr. Jan, we can come to some arrangement by which I take the larger share for the present.  Say that, for this year, you forward me——­”

“Why, how long do you mean to be away?” interrupted Jan.

“I can’t say.  One year, two years, three years—­it may be even more than that.  I expect this will be a long and a lucrative engagement.  Suppose, I say, that for the first year you transmit to me the one-half of the net profits, and, beyond that, hand over to Deborah a certain sum, as shall be agreed upon, towards housekeeping.”

“I don’t mind how it is,” said easy Jan.  “They’ll stop here, then?”

“Of course they will.  My dear Mr. Jan, everything, I hope, will go on just as it goes on now, save that I shall be absent.  You and Cheese—­whom I hope you’ll keep in order—­and the errand boy:  it will all be just as it has been.  As to the assistant, that will be a future consideration.”

Page 136

“I’d rather be without one, if I can do it,” cried Jan; “and Cheese will be coming on.  Am I to live with ’em?”

“With Deb and Amilly?  Why not?  Poor, unprotected old things, what would they do without you?  And now, Mr. Jan, as that is settled so far, we will sit down, and go further into details.  I know I can depend upon your not mentioning this abroad.”

“If you don’t want me to mention it, you can.  But where’s the harm?”

“It is always well to keep these little arrangements private,” said the doctor.  “Matiss will draw up the deed, and I will take you round and introduce you as my partner.  But there need not be anything said beforehand.  Neither need there be anything said at all about my going away, until I actually go.  You will oblige me in this, Mr. Jan.”

“It’s all the same to me,” said accommodating Jan.  “Whose will be this room, then?”

“Yours, to do as you please with, of course, so long as I am away.”

“I’ll have a turn-up bedstead put in it and sleep here, then,” quoth Jan.  “When folks come in the night, and ring me up, I shall be handy.  It’ll be better than disturbing the house, as is the case now.”

The doctor appeared struck with the proposition.

“I think it would be a very good plan, indeed,” he said.  “I don’t fancy the room’s damp.”

“Not it,” said Jan.  “If it were damp, it wouldn’t hurt me.  I have no time to be ill, I haven’t.  Damp—­Who’s that?”

It was a visitor to the surgery—­a patient of Dr. West’s—­and, for the time, the conference was broken up, not to be renewed until evening.

Dr. West and Jan were both fully occupied all the afternoon.  When business was over—­as much so as a doctor’s business ever can be over—­Jan knocked at the door of this room, where Dr. West again was.

It was opened about an inch, and the face of the doctor appeared in the aperture, peering out to ascertain who might be disturbing him.  The same aperture which enabled him to see out, enabled Jan to see in.

“Why! what’s up?” cried unceremonious Jan.

Jan might well ask it.  The room contained a table, a desk or two, some sets of drawers, and other receptacles for the custody of papers.  All these were turned out, desks and drawers alike stood open, and their contents, a mass of papers, were scattered everywhere.

The doctor could not, in good manners, shut the door right in his proposed new partner’s face.  He opened it an inch or two more.  His own face was purple:  it wore a startled, perplexed look, and the drops of moisture had gathered on his forehead.  That he was not in the most easy frame of mind was evident.  Jan put one foot into the room:  he could not put two, unless he had stepped upon the papers.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jan, perceiving the signs of perturbation on the doctor’s countenance.

“I have had a loss,” said the doctor.  “It’s the most extraordinary thing, but a—­a paper, which was here this morning, I cannot find anywhere.  I must find it!” he added, in ill-suppressed agitation.  “I’d rather lose everything I possess, than lose that.”

Page 137

“Where did you put it?  When did you have it?” cried Jan, casting his eyes around.

“I kept it in a certain drawer,” replied Dr. West, too much disturbed to be anything but straightforward.  “I have not had it in my hand for—­oh, I cannot tell how long—­months and months, until this morning.  I wanted to refer to it then, and got it out.  I was looking it over when a rough, ill-bred fellow burst the door open——­”

“I heard of that,” interrupted Jan.  “Cheese told me.”

“He burst the door open, and I put the paper back in its place before I spoke to him,” continued Dr. West.  “Half an hour ago I went to take it out again, and I found it had disappeared.”

“The fellow must have walked it off,” cried Jan, a conclusion not unnatural.

“He could not,” said Dr. West; “it is quite an impossibility.  I went back there”—­pointing to a bureau of drawers behind him—­“and put the paper hastily in, and locked it in, returning the keys to my pocket.  The man had not stepped over the threshold of the door then; he was a little taken to, I fancy, at his having burst the door, and he stood there staring.”

“Could he have got at it afterwards?” asked Jan.

“It is, I say, an impossibility.  He never was within a yard or two of the bureau; and, if he had been, the place was firmly locked.  That man it certainly was not.  Nobody has been in the room since, save myself, and you for a few minutes to-day when I called you in.  And yet the paper is gone!”

“Could anybody have come into the room by the other door?” asked Jan.

“No.  It opens with a latch-key only, as this does, and the key was safe in my pocket.”

“Well, this beats everything,” cried Jan.  “It’s like the codicil at Verner’s Pride.”

“The very thing it put me in mind of,” said Dr. West.  “I’d rather—­I’d rather have lost that codicil, had it been mine, than lose this, Mr. Jan.”

Jan opened his eyes.  Jan had a knack of opening his eyes when anything surprised him—­tolerably wide, too, “What paper was it, then?” he cried.

“It was a prescription, Mr. Jan.”

“A prescription!” returned Jan, the answer not lessening his wonder.  “That’s not much.  Isn’t it in the book?”

“No, it is not in the book,” said Dr. West.  “It was too valuable to be in the book.  You may look, Mr. Jan, but I mean what I say.  This was a private prescription of inestimable value—­a secret prescription, I may say.  I would not have lost it for the whole world.”

The doctor wiped the dew from his perplexed forehead, and strove, though unsuccessfully, to control his agitated voice to calmness.  Jan could only stare.  All this fuss about a prescription!

“Did it contain the secret for compounding Life’s Elixir?” asked he.

“It contained what was more to me than that,” said Dr. West.  “But you can’t help me, Mr. Jan.  I would rather be left to the search alone.”

Page 138

“I hope you’ll find it yet,” returned Jan, taking the hint and retreating to the surgery.  “You must have overlooked it amongst some of these papers.”

“I hope I shall,” replied the doctor.

And he shut himself up to the search, and turned over the papers.  But he never found what he had lost, although he was still turning and turning them at morning light.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

MISS DEBORAH’S ASTONISHMENT.

One dark morning, near the beginning of November—­in fact, it was the first morning of that gloomy month—­Jan was busy in the surgery.  Jan was arranging things there according to his own pleasure; for Dr. West had departed that morning early, and Jan was master of the field.

Jan had risen betimes.  Never a sluggard, he had been up now for some hours, and had effected so great a metamorphosis in the surgery that the doctor himself would hardly have known it again:  things in it previously never having been arranged to Jan’s satisfaction.  And now he was looking at his watch to see whether breakfast time was coming on, Jan’s hunger reminding him that it might be acceptable.  He had not yet been into the house; his bedroom now being the room you have heard of, the scene of Dr. West’s lost prescription.  The doctor had gone by the six o’clock train, after a cordial farewell to Jan; he had gone—­as it was soon to turn out—­without having previously informed his daughters.  But of this Jan knew nothing.

“Twenty minutes past eight,” quoth Jan, consulting his watch, a silver one, the size of a turnip.  Jan had bought it when he was poor:  had given about two pounds for it, second-hand.  It never occurred to Jan to buy a better one while that legacy of his was lying idle.  Why should he?  Jan’s turnip kept time to a moment, and Jan did not understand buying things for show.  “Ten minutes yet!  I shall eat a double share of bacon this morning.—­Good-morning, Miss Deb.”

Miss Deb was stealing into the surgery with a scared look and a white face.  Miss Deb wore her usual winter morning costume, a huge brown cape.  She was of a shivery nature at the best of times, but she shivered palpably now.

“Mr. Jan, have you got a drop of ether?” asked she, her poor teeth chattering together.  Jan was too good-natured to tell Deerham those teeth were false, though Dr. West had betrayed the secret to Jan.

“Who’s it for?” asked Jan.  “For you?  Aren’t you well, Miss Deb?  Eat some breakfast; that’s the best thing.”

“I have had a dreadful shock, Mr. Jan.  I have had bad news.  That is—­what has been done to the surgery?” she broke off, casting her eyes around it in wonder.

“Not much,” said Jan.  “I have been making some odds and ends of alteration.  Is the news from Australia?” he continued, the open letter in her hand helping him to the suggestion.  “A mail’s due.”

Miss Deborah shook her head.  “It is from my father, Mr. Jan.  The first thing I saw, upon going into the breakfast parlour, was this note for me, propped against the vase on the mantel-piece.  Mr. Jan”—­dropping her voice to confidence—­“it says he is gone!  That he is gone away for an indefinite period.”

Page 139

“You don’t mean to say he never told you of it before!” exclaimed Jan.

“I never heard a syllable from him,” cried poor Deborah.  “He says you’ll explain to us as much as is necessary.  You can read the note.  Mr. Jan, where’s he gone?”

Jan ran his eyes over the note; feeling himself probably in somewhat of a dilemma as to how much or how little it might be expedient to explain.

“He thought some travelling might be beneficial to his health,” said Jan.  “He has got a rare good post as travelling doctor to some young chap of quality.”

Miss Deborah was looking very hard at Jan.  Something seemed to be on her mind; some great fear.  “He says he may not be back for ever so long to come, Mr. Jan.”

“So he told me,” said Jan.

“And is that the reason he took you into partnership, Mr. Jan?”

“Yes,” said Jan.  “Couldn’t leave an assistant for an indefinite period.”

“You will never be able to do it all yourself.  I little thought, when all this bustle and changing of bedrooms was going on, what was up.  You might have told me, Mr. Jan,” she added, in a reproachful tone.

“It wasn’t my place to tell you,” returned Jan.  “It was the doctor’s.”

Miss Deborah looked timidly round, and then sunk her voice to a lower whisper.  “Mr. Jan, why has he gone away?”

“For his health,” persisted Jan.

“They are saying—­they are saying—­Mr. Jan, what is it that they are saying about papa and those ladies at Chalk Cottage?”

Jan laid hold of the pestle and mortar, popped in a big lump of some hard-looking white substance, and began pounding away at it.  “How should I know anything about the ladies at Chalk Cottage?” asked he.  “I never was inside their door; I never spoke to any one of ’em.”

“But you know that things are being said,” urged Miss Deborah, with almost feverish eagerness.  “Don’t you?”

“Who told you anything was being said?” asked Jan.

“It was Master Cheese.  Mr. Jan, folks have seemed queer lately.  The servants have whispered together, and then have glanced at me and Amilly, and I knew there was something wrong, but I could not get at it.  This morning, when I picked up this note—­it’s not five minutes ago, Mr. Jan—­in my fright and perplexity I shrieked out; and Master Cheese, he said something about Chalk Cottage.”

“What did he say?” asked Jan.

Miss Deborah’s pale face turned to crimson.  “I can’t tell,” she said.  “I did not hear the words rightly.  Master Cheese caught them up again.  Mr. Jan, I have come to you to tell me.”

Jan answered nothing.  He was pounding very fiercely.

“Mr. Jan, I ought to know it,” she went on.  “I am not a child.  If you please I must request you to tell me.”

“What are you shivering for?” asked Jan.

“I can’t help it.  Is—­is it anything that—­that he can be taken up for?”

Page 140

“Taken up!” replied Jan, ceasing from his pounding, and fixing his wide-open eyes on Miss Deborah.  “Can I be taken up for doing this?”—­and he brought down the pestle with such force as to threaten the destruction of the mortar.

“You’ll tell me, please,” she shivered.

“Well,” said Jan, “if you must know it, the doctor had a misfortune.”

“A misfortune!  He!  What misfortune!  A misfortune at Chalk Cottage?”

Jan gravely nodded.  “And they were in an awful rage with him, and said he should pay expenses, and all that.  And he wouldn’t pay expenses—­the chimney-glass alone was twelve pound fifteen; and there was a regular quarrel, and they turned him out.”

“But what was the nature of the misfortune?”

“He set the parlour chimney on fire.”

Miss Deborah’s lips parted with amazement; she appeared to find some difficulty in closing them again.

“Set the parlour chimney on fire, Mr. Jan!”

“Very careless of him,” continued Jan, with composure.  “He had no business to carry gunpowder about with him.  Of course they won’t believe but he flung it in purposely.”

Miss Deborah could not gather her senses.  “Who won’t?—­the ladies at Chalk Cottage?”

“The ladies at Chalk Cottage,” assented Jan.  “If I saw all these bottles go to smithereens, through Cheese stowing gunpowder in his trousers’ pockets, I might go into a passion too, Miss Deb.”

“But, Mr. Jan—­this is not what’s being said in Deerham?”

“Law, if you go by all that’s said in Deerham, you’ll have enough to do,” cried Jan.  “One says one thing and one says another.  No two are ever in the same tale.  When that codicil was lost at Verner’s Pride, ten different people were accused by Deerham of stealing it.”

“Were they?” responded Miss Deborah abstractedly.

“Did you never hear it!  You just ask Deerham about the row between the doctor and Chalk Cottage, and you’ll hear ten versions, all different.  What else could be expected?  As if he’d take the trouble to explain the rights of it to them!  Not that I should advise you to ask,” concluded Jan pointedly.  “Miss Deborah, do you know the time?”

“It must be half-past eight,” she repeated mechanically, her thoughts buried in a reverie.

“And turned,” said Jan.  “I’d be glad of breakfast.  I shall have the gratis patients here.”

“It shall be ready in two minutes,” said Miss Deborah meekly.  And she went out of the surgery.

Presently young Cheese came leaping into it.  “The breakfast’s ready,” cried he.

Jan stretched out his long arm, and pinned Master Cheese.

“What have you been saying to Miss Deb?” he asked.  “Look here; who is your master now?”

“You are, I suppose,” said the young gentleman.

“Very well.  You just bear that in mind; and don’t go carrying tales indoors of what Deerham says.  Attend to your own business and leave Dr. West’s alone.”

Page 141

Master Cheese was considerably astonished.  He had never heard such a speech from easy Jan.

“I say, though, are you going to turn out a bashaw with three tails?” asked he.

“Yes,” replied Jan.  “I have promised Dr. West to keep you in order, and I shall do it.”

CHAPTER XXIX.

AN INTERCEPTED JOURNEY.

Dr. West’s was not the only departure from Deerham that was projected for that day.  The other was that of Lionel Verner.  Fully recovered, he had deemed it well to waste no more time.  Lady Verner suggested that he should remain in Deerham until the completion of the year; Lionel replied that he had remained in it rather too long already, that he must be up and doing.  He was eager to be “up and doing,” and his first step towards it was the proceeding to London and engaging chambers.  He fixed upon the first day of November for his departure, unconscious that that day had also been fixed upon by Dr. West for his.  However, the doctor was off long before Lionel was out of bed.

Lionel rose all excitement—­all impulse to begin his journey, to be away from Deerham.  Somebody else rose with feelings less pleasurable; and that was Lucy Tempest.  Now that the real time of separation had come, Lucy awoke to the state of her own feelings; to the fact, that the whole world contained but one beloved face for her—­that of Lionel Verner.

She awoke with no start, she saw nothing wrong in it, she did not ask herself how it was to end, what the future was to be; any vision of marrying Lionel, which might have flashed across the active brain of a more sophisticated young lady, never occurred to Lucy.  All she knew was that she had somehow glided into a state of existence different from anything she had ever experienced before; that her days were all brightness, the world an Eden, and that it was the presence of Lionel that made the sunshine.

She stood before the glass, twisting her soft brown hair, her cheeks crimson with excitement, her eyes bright.  The morrow morning would be listless enough; but this, the last on which she would see him, was gay with rose hues of love.  Stay! not gay; that is a wrong expression.  It would have been gay but for that undercurrent of feeling which was whispering that, in a short hour or two, all would change to the darkest shade.

“He says it may be a twelvemonth before he shall come home again,” she said to herself, her white fingers trembling as she fastened her pretty morning-dress.  “How lonely it will be!  What shall we do all that while without him?  Oh, dear, what’s the matter with me this morning?”

In her perturbed haste, she had fastened her dress all awry, and had to undo it again.  The thought that she might be keeping them waiting breakfast—­which was to be taken that morning a quarter of an hour earlier than usual—­did not tend to expedite her.  Lucy thought of the old proverb:  “The more haste, the less speed.”

Page 142

“How I wish I dare ask him to come sooner than that to see us!  But he might think it strange.  I wonder he should not come! there’s Christmas, there’s Easter, and he must have holiday then.  A whole year, perhaps more; and not to see him!”

She passed out of the room and descended, her soft skirts of pink-shaded cashmere sweeping the staircase.  You saw her in it the evening she first came to Lady Verner’s.  It had lain by almost ever since, and was now converted into a morning dress.  The breakfast-room was empty.  Instead of being behind her time, Lucy found she was before it.  Lady Verner had not risen; she rarely did rise to breakfast; and Decima was in Lionel’s room, busy over some of his things.

Lionel himself was the next to enter.  His features broke into a glad smile when he saw Lucy.  A fairer picture, she, Mr. Lionel Verner, than even that other vision of loveliness which your mind has been pleased to make its ideal—­Sibylla!

“Down first, Lucy!” he cried, shaking hands with her.  “You wish me somewhere, I dare say, getting you up before your time.”

“By how much—­a few minutes?” she answered, laughing.  “It wants twenty minutes to nine.  What would they have said to me at the rectory, had I come down so late as that?”

“Ah, well, you won’t have me here to torment you to-morrow.  I have been a trouble to you, Lucy, take it altogether.  You will be glad to see my back turned.”

Lucy shook her head.  She looked shyly up at him in her timidity; but she answered truthfully still.

“I shall be sorry; not glad.”

“Sorry!  Why should you be sorry, Lucy?” and his voice insensibly assumed a tone of gentleness.  “You cannot have cared for me; for the companionship of a half-dead fellow, like myself!”

Lucy rallied her courage.  “Perhaps it was because you were half dead that I cared for you,” she answered.

“I suppose it was,” mused Lionel, aloud, his thoughts cast back to the past.  “I will bid you good-bye now, Lucy, while we are alone.  Believe me that I part from you with regret; that I do heartily thank you for all you have been to me.”

Lucy looked up at him, a yearning, regretful sort of look, and her eyelashes grew wet.  Lionel had her hand in his, and was looking down at her.

“Lucy, I do think you are sorry to part with me!” he exclaimed.

“Just a little,” she answered.

If you, good, grave sir, had been stoical enough to resist the upturned face, Lionel was not.  He bent his lips and left a kiss upon it.

“Keep it until we meet again,” he whispered.

Jan came in while they were at breakfast.

“I can’t stop a minute,” were his words when Decima asked him why he did not sit down.  “I thought I’d run up and say good-bye to Lionel, but I am wanted in all directions.  Mrs. Verner has sent for me, and there are the regular patients.”

“Dr. West attends Mrs. Verner, Jan,” said Decima.

Page 143

“He did,” replied Jan.  “It is to be myself, now.  West is gone.”

“Gone!” was the universal echo.  And Jan gave an explanation.

It was received in silence.  The rumours affecting Dr. West had reached Deerham Court.

“What is the matter with Mrs. Verner?” asked Lionel.  “She appeared as well as usual when I quitted her last night.”

“I don’t know that there’s anything more the matter with her than usual,” returned Jan, sitting down on a side-table.  “She has been going in some time for apoplexy.”

“Oh, Jan!” uttered Lucy.

“So she has, Miss Lucy—­as Dr. West has said. I have not attended her.”

“Has she been told it, Jan?”

“Where’s the good of telling her?” asked Jan.  “She knows it fast enough.  She’d not forego a meal, if she saw the fit coming on before night.  Tynn came round to me, just now, and said his mistress felt poorly.  The Australian mail is in,” continued Jan, passing to another subject.

“Is it?” cried Decima.

Jan nodded.

“I met the postman as I was coming out, and he told me.  I suppose there’ll be news from Fred and Sibylla.”

After this little item of information, which called the colour into Lucy’s cheek—­she best knew why—­but which Lionel appeared to listen to impassively, Jan got off the table—­

“Good-bye, Lionel,” said he, holding out his hand.

“What’s your hurry, Jan?” asked Lionel.

“Ask my patients,” responded Jan, “I am off the first thing to Mrs. Verner, and then shall take my round.  I wish you luck, Lionel.”

“Thank you, Jan,” said Lionel.  “Nothing less than the woolsack, of course.”

“My gracious!” said literal Jan.  “I say, Lionel, I’d not count upon that.  If only one in a thousand gets to the woolsack, and all the lot expect it, what an amount of heart-burning must be wasted.”

“Right, Jan.  Only let me lead my circuit and I shall deem myself lucky.”

“How long will it take you before you can accomplish that?” asked Jan.  “Twenty years?”

A shade crossed Lionel’s countenance.  That he was beginning late in life, none knew better than he.  Jan bade him farewell, and departed for Verner’s Pride.

Lady Verner was down before Lionel went.  He intended to take the quarter-past ten o’clock train.

“When are we to meet again?” she asked, holding her hand in his.

“I will come home to see you soon, mother.”

“Soon!  I don’t like the vague word,” returned Lady Verner.  “Why cannot you come for Christmas?”

“Christmas!  I shall scarcely have gone.”

“You will come, Lionel?”

“Very well, mother.  As you wish it, I will.”

A crimson flush—­a flush of joy—­rose to Lucy’s countenance.  Lionel happened to have glanced at her.  I wonder what he thought of it!

His luggage had gone on, and he walked with a hasty step to the station.  The train came in two minutes after he reached it.  Lionel took his ticket, and stepped into a first-class carriage.

Page 144

All was ready.  The whistle sounded, and the guard had one foot on his van-step, when a shouting and commotion was heard.  “Stop!  Stop!” Lionel, like others, looked out, and beheld the long legs of his brother Jan come flying along the platform.  Before Lionel had well known what was the matter, or had gathered in the hasty news, Jan had pulled him out of the carriage, and the train went shrieking on without him.

“There goes my luggage, and here am I and my ticket!” cried Lionel.  “You have done a pretty thing, Jan. What do you say?”

“It’s all true, Lionel.  She was crying over the letters when I got there.  And pretty well I have raced back to stop your journey.  Of course you will not go away now.  He’s dead.”

“I don’t understand yet,” gasped Lionel, feeling, however, that he did understand.

“Not understand,” repeated Jan.  “It’s easy enough.  Fred Massingbird’s dead, poor fellow; he died of fever three weeks after they landed; and you are master of Verner’s Pride.”

CHAPTER XXX.

NEWS FROM AUSTRALIA.

Lionel Verner could scarcely believe in his own identity.  The train, which was to have contained him, was whirling towards London; he, a poor aspirant for future fortune, ought to have been in it; he had counted most certainly to be in it; but here was he, while the steam of that train yet snorted in his ears, walking out of the station, a wealthy man, come into a proud inheritance, the inheritance of his fathers.  In the first moment of tumultuous thought, Lionel almost felt as if some fairy must have been at work with a magic wand.

It was all true.  He linked his arm within Jan’s, and listened to the recital in detail.  Jan had found Mrs. Verner, on his arrival at Verner’s Pride, weeping over letters from Australia; one from a Captain Cannonby, one from Sibylla.  They contained the tidings that Frederick Massingbird had died of fever, and that Sibylla was anxious to come home again.

“Who is Captain Cannonby?” asked Lionel of Jan.

“Have you forgotten the name?” returned Jan.  “That friend of Fred Massingbird’s who sold out, and was knocking about London; Fred went up once or twice to see him.  He went to the diggings last autumn, and it seems Fred and Sibylla lighted on him at Melbourne.  He had laid poor Fred in the grave the day before he wrote, he says.”

“I can scarcely believe it all now, Jan,” said Lionel.  “What a change!”

“Ay.  You won’t believe it for a day or two.  I say, Lionel, Uncle Stephen need not have left Verner’s Pride to the Massingbirds; they have not lived to enjoy it.  Neither need there have been all that bother about the codicil.  I know what.”

“What?” asked Lionel, looking at him; for Jan spoke significantly.

“That Madam Sibylla would give her two ears now to have married you, instead of Fred Massingbird.”

Page 145

Lionel’s face flushed, and he replied coldly, hauteur in his tone, “Nonsense, Jan! you are speaking most unwarrantably.  When Sibylla chose Fred Massingbird, I was the heir to Verner’s Pride.”

I know,” said Jan.  “Verner’s Pride would be a great temptation to Sibylla; and I can but think she knew it was left to Fred when she married him.”

Lionel did not condescend to retort.  He would as soon believe himself capable of bowing down before the god of gold, in a mean spirit, as believe Sibylla capable of it.  Indeed, though he was wont to charm himself with the flattering notion that his love for Sibylla had died out, or near upon it, he was very far off the point when he could think any ill of Sibylla.

“My patients will be foaming,” remarked Jan, who continued his way to Verner’s Pride with Lionel.  “They will conclude I have gone off with Dr. West; and I have his list on my hands now, as well as my own.  I say, Lionel, when I told you the letters from Australia were in, how little we guessed they would contain this news.”

“Little, indeed!” said Lionel.

“I suppose you won’t go to London now?”

“I suppose not,” was the reply of Lionel; and a rush of gladness illumined his heart as he spoke it.  No more toil over those dry old law books!  The study had never been to his taste.

The servants were gathered in the hall when Lionel and Jan entered it.  Decorously sorry, of course, for the tidings which had arrived, but unable to conceal the inward satisfaction which peeped out—­not satisfaction at the death of Fred, but at the accession of Lionel.  It is curious to observe how jealous the old retainers of a family are, upon all points which touch the honour or the well-being of the house.  Fred Massingbird was an alien; Lionel was a Verner; and now, as Lionel entered, they formed into a double line that he might pass between them, their master from henceforth.

Mrs. Verner was in the old place, the study.  Jan had seen her in bed that morning; but, since then, she had risen.  Early as the hour yet was, recent as the sad news had been, Mrs. Verner had dropped asleep.  She sat nodding in her chair, snoring heavily, breathing painfully, her neck and face all one colour—­carmine red.  That she looked—­as Jan had observed—­a very apoplectic subject, struck Lionel most particularly on this morning.

“Why don’t you bleed her, Jan?” he whispered.

“She won’t be bled,” responded Jan.  “She won’t take physic.  She won’t do anything that she ought to do.  You may as well talk to a post.  She’ll do nothing but eat and drink, and fall asleep afterwards, and then wake up to eat and drink and fall asleep again.  Mrs. Verner”—­exalting his voice—­“here’s Lionel.”

Mrs. Verner partially woke up.  Her eyes opened sufficiently to observe Jan; and her mind apparently grew awake to a confused remembrance of facts.  “He’s gone to London,” said she to Jan.  “You won’t catch him:”  and then she nodded again.

Page 146

“I did catch him,” shouted Jan.  “Lionel’s here.”

Lionel sat down by her, and she woke up pretty fully.

“I am grieved at this news for your sake, Mrs. Verner,” he said in a kind tone, as he took her hand.  “I am sorry for Frederick.”

“Both my boys gone before me, Lionel!” she cried, melting into tears—­“John first; Fred next.  Why did they go out there to die?”

“It is indeed sad for you,” replied Lionel.  “Jan says Fred died of fever.”

“He has died of fever.  Don’t you remember when Sibylla wrote, she said he was ill with fever?  He never got well.  He never got well!  I take it that it must have been a sort of intermittent fever—­pretty well one day, down ill the next—­for he had started for the place where John died—­I forget its name, but you’ll find it written there.  Only a few hours after quitting Melbourne, he grew worse and died.”

“Was he alone?” asked Lionel.

“Captain Cannonby was with him.  They were going together up to—­I forget, I say, the name of the place—­where John died, you know.  It was nine or ten days’ distance from Melbourne, and they had travelled but a day of it.  And I suppose,” added Mrs. Verner, with tears in her eyes, “that he’d be put into the ground like a dog!”

Lionel, on this score, could give no consolation.  He knew not whether the fact might be so, or not.  Jan hoisted himself on to the top of a high bureau, and sat in comfort.

“He’d be buried like a dog,” repeated Mrs. Verner.  “What do they know about parsons and consecrated ground out there?  Cannonby buried him, he says, and then he went back to Melbourne to carry the tidings to Sibylla.”

“Sibylla?  Was Sibylla not with him when he died?” exclaimed Lionel.

“It seems not.  It’s sure not, in fact, by the letters.  You can read them, Lionel.  There’s one from her and one from Captain Cannonby.”

“It’s not likely they’d drag Sibylla up to the diggings,” interposed Jan.

“And yet almost as unlikely that her husband would leave her alone in such a place as Melbourne appears to be,” dissented Lionel.

“She was not left alone,” said Mrs. Verner.  “If you’d read the letters, Lionel, you would see.  She stayed in Melbourne with a family:  friends, I think she says, of Captain Cannonby’s.  She has written for money to be sent out to her by the first ship, that she may pay her passage home again.”

This item of intelligence astonished Lionel more than any other.

“Written for money to be sent out for her passage home!” he reiterated. “Has she no money?”

Mrs. Verner looked at him.  “They accuse me of forgetting things in my sleep, Lionel; but I think you must be growing worse than I am.  Poor Fred told us in his last letter that he had been robbed of his desk, and that it had got his money in it.”

“But I did not suppose it contained all—­that they were reduced so low as for his wife to have no money left for a passage.  What will she do there until some can be got out?”

Page 147

“If she is with comfortable folks, they’d not turn her out,” cried Jan.

Lionel took up the letters, and ran his eyes over them.  They told him little else of the facts; though more of the details.  It appeared to have taken place pretty much as Mrs. Verner said.  The closing part of Sibylla’s letter ran as follows:—­

“After we wrote to you, Fred met Captain Cannonby.  You must remember, dear aunt, how often Fred would speak of him.  Captain Cannonby has relatives out here, people in very good position—­if people can be said to be in a position at all in such a horrid place.  We knew Captain Cannonby had come over, but thought he was at the Bendigo diggings.  However, Fred met him; and he was very civil and obliging.  He got us apartments in the best hotel—­one of the very places that had refused us, saying they were crowded.  Fred seemed to grow a trifle better, and it was decided that they should go to the place where John died, and try to get particulars about his money, etc., which in Melbourne we could hear nothing of.  Indeed, nobody seemed to know even John’s name.  Captain Cannonby (who has really made money here in some way—­trading, he says—­and expects to make a good deal more) agreed to go with Fred. Then Fred told me of the loss of his desk and money, his bills of credit, and that; whatever the term may be.  It was stolen from the quay, the day we arrived, and he had never been able to hear of it; but, while there seemed a chance of finding it, he would not let me know the ill news.  Of course, with this loss upon us, there was all the more necessity for our getting John’s money as speedily as might be.  Captain Cannonby introduced me to his relatives, the Eyres, told them my husband wanted to go up the country for a short while, and they invited me to stay with them.  And here I am, and very kind they are to me in this dreadful trouble.
“Aunt Verner, I thought I should have died when, a day or two after they started, I saw Captain Cannonby come back alone, with a long, sorrowful face.  I seemed to know in a moment what had happened; I had thought at the time they started that Fred was too ill to go.  I said to him, ‘My husband is dead!’ and he confessed that it was so.  He had been taken ill at the end of the first day, and did not live many hours.
“I can’t tell you any more, dear Aunt Verner; I am too sick and ill, and if I filled ten sheets with the particulars, it would not alter the dreadful facts.  I want to come home to you; I know you will receive me, and let me live with you always.  I have not any money.  Please send me out sufficient to bring me home by the first ship that sails.  I don’t care for any of the things we brought out; they may stop here or be lost in the sea, for all the difference it will make to me:  I only want to come home.  Captain Cannonby says he will take upon himself now to look after John’s money, and transmit it to us, if he can get it.

Page 148

“Mrs. Eyre has just come in.  She desires me to say that they are taking every care of me, and are all happy to have me with them:  she says I am to tell you that her own daughters are about my age.  It is all true, dear aunt, and they are exceedingly kind to me.  They seem to have plenty of money, are intimate with the governor’s family, and with what they call the good society of the colony.  When I think what my position would have been now had I not met with them, I grow quite frightened.
“I have to write to papa, and must close this.  I have requested Captain Cannonby to write to you himself, and give you particulars about the last moments of Frederick.  Send me the money without delay, dear aunt.  The place is hateful to me now he is gone, and I’d rather be dead than stop in it.

    “Your affectionate and afflicted niece,

    “SIBYLLA MASSINGBIRD.”

Lionel folded the letter musingly.  “It would almost appear that they had not heard of your son’s accession to Verner’s Pride,” he remarked to Mrs. Verner.  “It is not alluded to in any way.”

“I think it is sure they had not heard of it,” she answered “I remarked so to Mary Tynn.  The letters must have been delayed in their passage.  Lionel, you will see to the sending out of the money for me.”

“Immediately,” replied Lionel.

“And when do you come home?”

“Do you mean—­do you mean when do I come here?” returned Lionel.

“To be sure I mean it.  It is your home.  Verner’s Pride is your home, Lionel, now; not mine.  It has been yours this three or four months past, only we did not know it.  You must come home to it at once, Lionel.”

“I suppose it will be right that I should do so,” he answered.

“And I shall be thankful,” said Mrs. Verner.  “There will be a master once more, and no need to bother me.  I have been bothered, Lionel.  Mr. Jan,”—­turning to the bureau—­“it’s that which has made me feel ill.  One comes to me with some worry or other, and another comes to me:  they will come to me.  The complaints and tales of that Roy fidget my life out.”

“I shall discharge Roy at once, Mrs. Verner.”

Mrs. Verner made a deprecatory movement of the hands, as much as to say that it was no business of hers.  “Lionel, I have only one request to make of you:  never speak of the estate to me again, or of anything connected with its management.  You are its sole master, and can do as you please.  Shall you turn me out?”

Lionel’s face flushed.  “No, Mrs. Verner,” he almost passionately answered.  “You could not think so.”

“You have the right.  Had Fred come home, he would have had the right.  But I’d hardly reconcile myself to any other house how.”

“It is a right which I should never exercise,” said Lionel.

“I shall mostly keep my room,” resumed Mrs. Verner; “perhaps wholly keep it:  and Mary Tynn will wait upon me.  The servants will be yours, Lionel.  In fact, they are yours; not mine.  What a blessing! to know that I may be at peace from henceforth:  that the care will be upon another’s shoulders!  My poor Fred!  My dear sons!  I little thought I was taking leave of them both for the last time!”

Page 149

Jan jumped off his bureau.  Now that the brunt of the surprise was over, and plans began to be discussed, Jan bethought himself of his impatient sick list, who were doubtlessly wondering at the non-appearance of their doctor.  Lionel rose to depart with him.

“But, you should not go,” said Mrs. Verner.  “In five minutes I vacate this study; resign it to you.  This change will give you plenty to do, Lionel.”

“I know it will, dear Mrs. Verner.  I shall be back soon, but I must hasten to acquaint my mother.”

“You will promise not to go away again, Lionel.  It is your lawful home, remember.”

“I shall not go away again,” was Lionel’s answer; and Mrs. Verner breathed freely.  To be emancipated from what she had regarded as the great worry of life, was felt to be a relief.  Now she could eat and sleep all day, and never need be asked a single question, or hear whether the outside world had stopped, or was going on still.

“You will just pen a few words for me to Sibylla, Lionel,” she called out.  “I am past much writing now.”

“If it be necessary that I should,” he coldly replied.

“And send them with the remittance,” concluded Mrs. Verner.  “You will know how much to send.  Tell Sibylla that Verner’s Pride is no longer mine, and I cannot invite her to it.  It would hardly be the—­the thing for a young girl, and she’s little better, to be living here with you all day long, and I always shut up in my room.  Would it?”

Lionel somewhat haughtily shrugged his shoulders.  “Scarcely,” he answered.

“She must go to her sisters, of course.  Poor girl! what a thing it seems to have to return to her old house again!”

Jan put in his head.  “I thought you said you were coming, Lionel?”

“So I am—­this instant.”  And they departed together:  encountering Mr. Bitterworth in the road.

He grasped hold of Lionel in much excitement.

“Is it true—­what people are saying?  That you have come into Verner’s Pride?”

“Quite true,” replied Lionel.  And he gave Mr. Bitterworth a summary of the facts.

“Now look there!” cried Mr. Bitterworth, who was evidently deeply impressed; “it’s of no use to try to go against honest right:  sooner or later it will triumph.  In your case, it has come wonderfully soon.  I told my old friend that the Massingbirds had no claim to Verner’s Pride; that if they were exalted to it, over your head, it would not prosper them—­not, poor fellows, that I thought of their death.  May you remain in undisturbed possession of it, Lionel!  May your children succeed to it after you!”

Lionel and Jan continued their road.  But they soon parted company, for Jan turned off to his patients.  Lionel made the best of his way to Deerham Court.  In the room he entered, steadily practising, was Lucy Tempest, alone.  She turned her head to see who it was, and at the sight of Lionel started up in alarm.

Page 150

“What is it?  Why are you back?” she exclaimed.  “Has the train broken down?”

Lionel smiled at her vehemence; at her crimsoned countenance; at her unbounded astonishment altogether.

“The train has not broken down, I trust, Lucy.  I did not go with it.  Do you know where my mother is?”

“She is gone out with Decima.”

He felt a temporary disappointment; the news, he was aware, would be so deeply welcome to Lady Verner.  Lucy stood regarding him, waiting the solution of the mystery.

“What should you say, Lucy, if I tell you Deerham is not going to get rid of me at all?”

“I do not understand you,” replied Lucy, colouring with surprise and emotion.  “Do you mean that you are going to remain here?”

“Not here—­in this house.  That would be a calamity for you.”

Lucy looked as if it would be anything but a calamity.

“You are as bad as our French mistress at the rectory,” she said.  “She would never tell us anything; she used to make us guess.”

Her words were interrupted by the breaking out of the church bells:  a loud peal, telling of joy.  A misgiving crossed Lionel that the news had got wind, and that some officious person had been setting on the bells to ring for him, in honour of his succession.  The exceeding bad taste of the proceeding—­should it prove so—­called a flush of anger to his brow.  His inheritance had cost Mrs. Verner her son.

The suspicion was confirmed.  One of the servants, who had been to the village, came running in at this juncture with open mouth, calling out that Mr. Lionel had come into his own, and that the bells were ringing for it.  Lucy Tempest heard the words, and turned to Lionel.

“It is so, Lucy,” he said, answering the look.  “Verner’s Pride is at last mine.  But—­”

She grew strangely excited.  Lionel could see her heart beat—­could see the tears of emotion gather in her eyes.

“I am so glad!” she said in a low, heartfelt tone.  “I thought it would be so, sometime.  Have you found the codicil?”

“Hush, Lucy!  Before you express your gladness, you must learn that sad circumstances are mixed with it.  The codicil has not been found; but Frederick Massingbird has died.”

Lucy shook her head.  “He had no right to Verner’s Pride, and I did not like him.  I am sorry, though, for himself, that he is dead.  And—­Lionel—­you will never go away now?”

“I suppose not:  to live.”

“I am so glad!  I may tell you that I am glad, may I not?”

She half timidly held out her hand as she spoke.  Lionel took it between both of his, toying with it as tenderly as he had ever toyed with Sibylla’s.  And his low voice took a tone which was certainly not that of hatred, as he bent towards her.

“I am glad also, Lucy.  The least pleasant part of my recent projected departure was the constantly remembered fact that I was about to put a distance of many miles between myself and you.  It grew all too palpable towards the last.”

Page 151

Lucy laughed and drew away her hand, her radiant countenance falling before the gaze of Lionel.

“So you will be troubled with me yet, you see, Miss Lucy,” he added, in a lighter tone, as he left her and strode off with a step that might have matched Jan’s, on his way to ask the bells whether they were not ashamed of themselves.

CHAPTER XXXI.

ROY EATING HUMBLE PIE.

And so the laws of right and justice had eventually triumphed, and Lionel Verner took possession of his own.  Mrs. Verner took possession of her own—­her chamber; all she was ever again likely to take possession of at Verner’s Pride.  She had no particular ailment, unless heaviness could be called an ailment, and steadily refused any suggestion of Jan’s.

“You’ll go off in a fit,” said plain Jan to her.

“Then I must go,” replied Mrs. Verner.  “I can’t submit to be made wretched with your medical and surgical remedies, Mr. Jan.  Old people should be let alone, to doze away their days in peace.”

“As good give some old people poison outright, as let them always doze,” remonstrated Jan.

“You’d like me to live sparingly—­to starve myself, in short—­and you’d like me to take exercise!” returned Mrs. Verner.  “Wouldn’t you, now?”

“It would add ten years to your life,” said Jan.

“I dare say!  It’s of no use your coming preaching to me, Mr. Jan.  Go and try your eloquence upon others.  I always have had enough to eat, and I hope I always shall.  And as to my getting about, or walking, I can’t.  When folks come to be my size, it’s cruel to want them to do it.”

Mrs. Verner was nodding before she had well spoken the last words, and Jan said no more.  You may have met with some such case in your own experience.

When the news of Lionel Verner’s succession fell upon Roy, the bailiff, he could have gnashed his teeth in very vexation.  Had he foreseen what was to happen he would have played his cards so differently.  It had not entered into the head-piece of Roy to reflect that Frederick Massingbird might die.  Scarcely had it that he could die.  A man, young and strong, what was likely to take him off?  John had died, it was true; but John’s death had been a violent one.  Had Roy argued the point at all—­which he did not, for it had never occurred to his mind—­he might have assumed that because John had died, Fred was the more likely to live.  It is a somewhat rare case for two brothers to be cut down in their youth and prime, one closely following upon the other.

Roy lived in a cottage standing by itself, a little beyond Clay Lane, but not so far off as the gamekeeper’s.  On the morning when the bells had rung out—­to the surprise and vexation of Lionel—­Roy happened to be at home.  Roy never grudged himself holiday when it could be devoted to the benefit of his wife.  A negative benefit she may have thought it, since it invariably consisted in what Roy called a “blowing of her up.”

Page 152

Mrs. Roy had heard that the Australian mail was in.  But the postman had not been to their door, therefore no letter could have arrived for them from Luke.  A great many mails, as it appeared to Mrs. Roy, had come in with the like result.  That Luke had been murdered, as his master, John Massingbird, had been before him, was the least she feared.  Her fears and troubles touching Luke were great; they were never at rest; and her tears fell frequently.  All of which excited the ire of Roy.

She sat in a rocking-chair in the kitchen—­a chair which had been new when the absent Luke was a baby, and which was sure to be the seat chosen by Mrs. Roy when she was in a mood to indulge any passing tribulation.  The kitchen opened to the road, as the kitchens of many of the dwellings did open to it; a parlour was on the right, which was used only on the grand occasion of receiving visitors; and the stairs, leading to two rooms above, ascended from the kitchen.  Here she sat, silently wiping away her dropping tears with a red cotton pocket-handkerchief.  Roy was not in the sweetest possible temper himself that morning, so, of course, he turned it upon her.

“There you be, a-snivelling as usual!  I’d have a bucket always at my feet, if I was you.  It might save the trouble of catching rain-water.”

“If the letter-man had got anything for us, he’d have been round here an hour ago,” responded Mrs. Roy, bursting into unrestrained sobs.

Now, this happened to be the very grievance that was affecting the gentleman’s temper—­the postman’s not having gone there.  They had heard that the Australian mail was in.  Not that he was actuated by any strong paternal feelings—­such sentiments did not prey upon Mr. Roy.  The hearing or the not hearing from his son would not thus have disturbed his equanimity.  He took it for granted that Luke was alive somewhere—­probably getting on—­and was content to wait until himself or a letter should turn up.  The one whom he had been expecting to hear from was his new master, Mr. Massingbird.  He had fondly indulged the hope that credential letters would arrive for him, confirming him in his place of manager; he believed that this mail would inevitably bring them, as the last mails had not.  Hence he had stayed at home to receive the postman.  But the postman had not come, and it gave Roy a pain in his temper.

“They be a-coming back, that’s what it is,” was the conclusion he arrived at, when his disappointment had a little subsided.  “Perhaps they might have come by this very ship!  I wonder if it brings folks as well as letters?”

“I know he must be dead!” sobbed Mrs. Roy.

“He’s dead as much as you be,” retorted Roy.  “He’s a-making his fortune, and he’ll come home after it—­that’s what Luke’s a-doing.  For all you know he may be come too.”

The words appeared to startle Mrs. Roy; she looked up, and he saw that her face had gone white with terror.

Page 153

“Why! what does ail you?” cried he, in wonder.  “Be you took crazy?”

“I don’t want him to come home,” she replied in an awe-struck whisper.  “Roy, I don’t want him to.”

“You don’t want to be anything but a idiot,” returned Roy, with supreme contempt.

“But I’d like to hear from him,” she wailed, swaying herself to and fro.  “I’m always a-dreaming of it.”

“You’ll just dream a bit about getting the dinner ready,” commanded Roy morosely; “that’s what you’ll dream about now.  I said I’d have biled pork and turnips, and nicely you be a-getting on with it.  Hark ye!  I’m a-going now, but I shall be in at twelve, and if it ain’t ready, mind your skin!”

He swung open the kitchen door just in time to hear the church bells burst out with a loud and joyous peal.  It surprised Roy.  In quiet Deerham, such sounds were not very frequent.

“What’s up now?” cried Roy savagely.  Not that the abstract fact of the bells ringing was of any moment to him, but he was in a mood to be angry with everything.  “Here, you!” continued he, seizing hold of a boy who was running by, “what be them bells a-clattering for?”

Brought to thus summarily, the boy had no resource but to stop.  It was a young gentleman whom you have had the pleasure of meeting before—­Master Dan Duff.  So fast had he been flying, that a moment or two elapsed ere he could get breath to speak.

The delay did not tend to soothe his capturer; and he administered a slight shake.  “Can’t you speak, Dan Duff?  Don’t you see who it is that’s a-asking of you?  What be them bells a-working for?”

“Please, sir, it’s for Mr. Lionel Verner.”

The answer took Roy somewhat aback.  He knew—­as everybody else knew—­that Mr. Lionel Verner’s departure from Deerham was fixed for that day; but to believe that the bells would ring out a peal of joy on that account was a staggerer even to Roy’s ears.  Dan Duff found himself treated to another shake, together with a sharp reprimand.

“So they be a-ringing for him!” panted he.  “There ain’t no call to shake my inside out of me for saying so.  Mr. Lionel have got Verner’s Pride at last, and he ain’t a-going away at all, and the bells be a-ringing for it.  Mother have sent me to tell the gamekeeper.  She said he’d sure to give me a penny, if I was the first to tell him.”

Roy let go the boy.  His arms and his mouth alike dropped.  “Is that—­that there codicil found?” gasped he.

Dan Duff shook his head.  “I dun know nothink about codinals,” said he.  “Mr. Fred Massingbird’s dead.  He can’t keep Mr. Lionel out of his own any longer, and the bells is a-ringing for it.”

Unrestrained now, he sped away.  Roy was not altogether in a state to stop him.  He had turned of a glowing heat, and was asking himself whether the news could be true.  Mrs. Roy stepped forward, her tears arrested.

“Law, Roy, whatever shall you do?” spoke she deprecatingly.  “I said as you should have kept in with Mr. Lionel.  You’ll have to eat humble pie, for certain.”

Page 154

The humble pie would taste none the more palatable for his being reminded of it by his wife, and Roy drove her back with a shower of harsh words.  He shut the door with a bang, and went out, a forlorn hope lighting him that the news might be false.

But the news, he found, was too true.  Frederick Massingbird was really dead, and the true heir had come into his own.

Roy stood in much inward perturbation.  The eating of humble pie—­as Mrs. Roy had been kind enough to suggest—­would not cost much to a man of his cringing nature; but he entertained a shrewd suspicion that no amount of humble pie would avail him with Mr. Verner; that, in short, he should be discarded entirely.  While thus standing, the centre of a knot of gossipers, for the news had caused Deerham to collect in groups, the bells ceased as suddenly as they had begun, and Lionel Verner himself was observed coming from the direction of the church.  Roy stood out from the rest, and, as a preliminary slice of the humble pie, took off his hat, and stood bare-headed while Lionel passed by.

It did not avail him.  On the following day Roy found himself summoned to Verner’s Pride.  He went up, and was shown to the old business room—­the study.

Ah! things were changed now—­changed from what they had been; and Roy was feeling it to his heart’s core.  It was no longer the feeble invalid, Stephen Verner, who sat there, to whom all business was unwelcome, and who shunned as much of it as he could shun, leaving it to Roy; it was no longer the ignorant and easy Mrs. Verner to whom (as she herself had once expressed it) Roy could represent white as black, and black as white:  but he who reigned now was essentially master—­master of himself and of all who were dependent on him.

Roy felt it the moment he entered; felt it keenly.  Lionel stood before a table covered with papers.  He appeared to have risen from his chair and to be searching for something.  He lifted his head when Roy appeared, quitted the table and stood looking at the man, his figure drawn to its full height.  The exceeding nobility of the face and form struck even Roy.

But Lionel greeted him in a quiet, courteous tone; to meet any one, the poorest person on his estate, otherwise than courteously was next to an impossibility for Lionel Verner.  “Sit down, Roy,” he said.  “You are at no loss, I imagine, to guess what my business is with you.”

Roy did not accept the offered seat.  He stood in discomfiture, saying something to the effect that he’d change his mode of dealing with the men, would do all he could to give satisfaction to his master, Mr. Verner, if the latter would consent to continue him on.

“You must know, yourself, that I am not likely to do it,” returned Lionel briefly.  “But I do not wish to be harsh, Roy—­I trust I never shall be harsh with any one—­and if you choose to accept of work on the estate, you can do so.”

“You’ll not continue me in my post over the brick-yard, sir—­over the men generally?”

Page 155

“No,” replied Lionel, “Perhaps the less we go into those past matters the better. I have no objection to speak of them, Roy; but, if I do, you will hear some home truths that may not be palatable.  You can have work if you wish for it; and good pay.”

“As one of the men, sir?” asked Roy, a shade of grumbling in his tone.

“As one of the superior men!”

Roy hesitated.  The blow had fallen; but it was only what he feared.  “Might I ask as you’d give me a day to consider it over, sir?” he presently said.

“A dozen days if you choose.  The work is always to be had; it will not run away; if you prefer to spend time deliberating upon the point, it is your affair, not mine.”

“Thank ye, sir.  Then I’ll think it over.  It’ll be hard lines, coming down to be a workman, where I’ve been, as may be said, a sort of master.”

“Roy.”

Roy turned back.  He had been moving away.  “Yes, sir.”

“I shall expect you to pay rent for your cottage now, if you remain in it.  Mr. Verner, I believe, threw it into your post; made it part of your perquisites.  Mrs. Verner has, no doubt, done the same.  But that is at an end.  I can show no more favour to you than I do to others.”

“I’ll think it over, sir,” concluded Roy, his tone as sullen a one as he dared let appear.  And he departed.

Before the week was out, he came again to Verner’s Pride, and said he would accept the work, and pay rent for the cottage; but he hoped Mr. Verner would name a fair rent.

“I should not name an unfair one, Roy,” was the reply of Lionel.  “You will pay the same that others pay, whose dwellings are the same size as yours.  Mr Verner’s scale of rents is not high, but low, as you know; I shall not alter it.”

And so Roy continued on the estate.

CHAPTER XXXII.

“IT’S APPLEPLEXY.”

A short period elapsed.  One night Jan Verner, upon getting into bed, found he need not have taken the trouble, for the night-bell rang, and Jan had to get up again.  He opened his window and called out to know who was there.  A boy came round from the surgery door into view, and Jan recognised him for the youngest son of his brother’s gamekeeper, a youth of twelve.  He said his mother was ill.

“What’s the matter with her?” asked Jan.

“Please, sir, she’s took bad in the stomach.  She’s a-groaning awful.  Father thinks she’ll die.”

Jan dressed himself and started off, carrying with him a dose of tincture of opium.  When he arrived, however, he found the woman so violently sick and ill, that he suspected it did not arise simply from natural causes.  “What has she been eating?” inquired Jan.

“Some late mushrooms out of the fields.”

“Ah, that’s just it,” said Jan.  And he knew the woman had been poisoned.  He took a leaf from his pocket-book, wrote a rapid word on it, and ordered the boy to carry it to the house, and give it to Mr. Cheese.

Page 156

“Now, look you, Jack,” said he, “if you want your mother to get well, you’ll go there and back as fast as your legs can carry you.  I can do little till you bring me what I have sent for.  Go past the Willow Pool, and straight across to my house.”

The boy looked aghast at the injunction.  “Past the Willow Pool!” echoed he.  “I’d not go past there, sir, at night, for all the world.”

“Why not?” questioned Jan.

“I’d see Rachel Frost’s ghost, may be,” returned Jack, his round eyes open with perplexity.

The conceit of seeing a ghost amused Jan beyond everything.  He sat down on a high press that was in the kitchen, and grinned at the boy.  “What would the ghost do to you?” cried he.

Jack Broom could not say.  All he knew was that neither he, nor a good many more, had gone near that pond at night since the report had arisen (which, of course, it had, simultaneously with the death) that Rachel’s ghost was to be seen there.

“Wouldn’t you go to save your mother?” cried Jan.

“I’d—­I’d not go to be made winner of the leg of mutton atop of a greased pole,” responded the boy, in a mortal fright lest Jan should send him.

“You are a nice son, Mr. Jack!  A brave young man, truly!”

“Jim Hook, he was a-going by the pond one night, and he see’d it,” cried the boy earnestly.  “It don’t take two minutes longer to cut down Clay Lane, please, sir.”

“Be off, then,” said Jan, “and see how quick you can be.  What has put such a thing into his head?” he presently asked of the gamekeeper, who was hard at work preparing hot water.

“Little fools!” ejaculated the man.  “I think the report first took its rise, sir, through Robin Frost’s going to the pond of a moonlight night, and walking about on its brink.”

“Robert Frost did!” cried Jan.  “What did he do that for?”

“What indeed, sir!  It did no good, as I told him more than once, when I came upon him there.  He has not been lately, I think.  Folks get up a talk that Robin went there to meet his sister’s spirit, and it put the youngsters into a fright.”

Back came Mr. Jack in an incredibly short time.  He could not have come much quicker, had he dashed right through the pool.  Jan set himself to his work, and did not leave the woman until she was better.  That was the best of Jan Verner.  He paid every atom as much attention to the poor as he did to the rich.  Jan never considered who or what his patients were:  all his object was, to get them well.

His nearest way home lay past the pool, and he took it:  he did not fear poor Rachel’s ghost.  It was a sharpish night, bright, somewhat of a frost.  As Jan neared the pool, he turned his head towards it and half stopped, gazing on its still waters.  He had been away when the catastrophe happened; but the circumstances had been detailed to him.  “How it would startle Jack and a few of those timid ones,” said he aloud, “if some night—­”

Page 157

“Is that you, sir?”

Some persons, with nerves less serene than Jan’s, might have started at the sudden interruption there and then.  Not so Jan.  He turned round with composure, and saw Bennet, the footman from Verner’s Pride.  The man had come up hastily from behind the hedge.

“I have been to your house, sir, and they told me you were at the gamekeeper’s, so I was hastening there.  My mistress is taken ill, sir.”

“Is it a fit?” cried Jan, remembering his fears and prognostications, with regard to Mrs. Verner.

“It’s worse than that, sir; it’s appleplexy.  Leastways, sir, my master and Mrs. Tynn’s afraid that it is.  She looks like dead, sir, and there’s froth on her mouth.”

Jan waited for no more.  He turned short round, and flew by the nearest path to Verner’s Pride.

The evil had come.  Apoplexy it indeed was, and Jan feared that all his efforts to remedy it would be of no avail.

“It was by the merest chance that I found it out, sir,” Mrs. Tynn said to him.  “I happened to wake up, and I thought how quiet my mistress was lying; mostly she might be heard ever so far off when she was asleep.  I got up, sir, and took the rushlight out of the shade, and looked at her.  And then I saw what had happened, and went and called Mr. Lionel.”

“Can you restore her, Jan?” whispered Lionel.

Jan made no reply.  He had his own private opinion; but, whatever that may have been, he set himself to the task in right earnest.

She never rallied.  She lived only until the dawn of morning.  Scarcely had the clock told eight, when the death-bell went booming over the village; the bell of that very church which had recently been so merry for the succession of Lionel.  And when people came running from far and near to inquire for whom the passing-bell was ringing out, they hushed their voices and their footsteps when informed that it was for Mrs. Verner.

Verily, within the last year, Death had made himself at home at Verner’s Pride!

CHAPTER XXXIII.

JAN’S REMEDY FOR A COLD.

A cold bright day in mid-winter.  Luncheon was just over at Deerham Court, and Lady Verner, Decima, and Lucy Tempest had gathered round the fire in the dining-room.  Lucy had a cold. She laughed at it; said she was used to colds; but Lady Verner had insisted upon her wrapping herself in a shawl, and not stirring out of the dining-room—­which was the warmest room in the house—­for the day.  So there reclined Lucy in state, in an arm-chair with cushions; half laughing at being made into an invalid, half rebelling at it.

Page 158

Lady Verner sat opposite to her.  She wore a rich black silk dress—­the mourning for Mrs. Verner—­and a white lace cap of the finest guipure.  The white gloves on her hands were without a wrinkle, and her curiously fine handkerchief lay on her lap.  Lady Verner could indulge her taste for snowy gloves and for delicate handkerchiefs now, untroubled by the thought of the money they cost.  The addition to her income, which she had spurned from Stephen Verner, she accepted willingly from Lionel.  Lionel was liberal as a man and as a son.  He would have given the half of his fortune to his mother, and not said, “It is a gift.”  Deerham Court had its carriage and horses now, and Deerham Court had its additional servants.  Lady Verner visited and received company, and the look of care had gone from her face, and the querulousness from her tone.

But it was in Lady Verner’s nature to make a trouble of things; and if she could not do it in a large way, she must do it in a small.  To-day, occurred this cold of Lucy’s, and that afforded scope for Lady Verner.  She sent for Jan as soon as breakfast was over, in defiance of the laughing protestations of Lucy.  But Jan had not made his appearance yet, and Lady Verner waxed wroth.

He was coming in now—­now, as the servant was carrying out the luncheon-tray, entering by his usual mode—­the back-door, and nearly knocking over the servant and tray in his haste, as his long legs strode to the dining-room.  Lady Verner had left off reproaching Jan for using the servants’ entrance, finding it waste of breath:  Jan would have come down the chimney with the sweeps, had it saved him a minute’s time.  “Who’s ill?” asked he.

Lady Verner answered the question by a sharp reprimand, touching Jan’s tardiness.

“I can’t be in two places at once,” good-humouredly replied Jan.  “I have been with one patient since four o’clock this morning, until five minutes ago.  Who is it that’s ill?”

Lucy explained her ailments, giving Jan her own view of them, that there was nothing the matter with her but a bit of a cold.

“Law!” contemptuously returned Jan.  “If I didn’t think somebody must be dying!  Cheese said they’d been after me about six times!”

“If you don’t like to attend Miss Tempest, you can let it alone,” said Lady Verner.  “I can send elsewhere.”

“I’ll attend anybody that I’m wanted to attend,” said Jan.  “Where d’ye feel the symptoms of the cold?” asked he of Lucy.  “In the head or chest?”

“I am beginning to feel them a little here,” replied Lucy, touching her chest.

“Only beginning to feel them, Miss Lucy?”

“Only beginning, Jan.”

“Well, then, you just wring out a long strip of rag in cold water, and put it round your neck, letting the ends rest on the chest,” said Jan.  “A double piece, from two to three inches broad.  It must be covered outside with thin waterproof skin to keep the wet in; you know what I mean; Decima’s got some; oil-skin’s too thick.  And get a lot of toast and water, or lemonade; any liquid you like; and sip a drop of it every minute, letting it go down your throat slowly.  You’ll soon get rid of your sore chest if you do this; and you’ll have no cough.”

Page 159

Lady Verner listened to these directions of Jan’s in unqualified amazement.  She had been accustomed to the very professional remedies of Dr. West.  Decima laughed.  “Jan,” said she, “I could fancy an old woman prescribing this, but not a doctor.”

“It’ll cure,” returned Jan.  “It will prevent the cough coming on; and prevention’s better than cure.  You try it at once, Miss Lucy; and you’ll soon see.  You will know then what to do if you catch cold in future.”

“Jan,” interposed Lady Verner, “I consider the very mention of such remedies beneath the dignity of a medical man.”

Jan opened his eyes.  “But if they are the best remedies, mother?”

“At any rate, Jan, if this is your fashion of prescribing, you will not fill your pockets,” said Decima.

“I don’t want to fill my pockets by robbing people,” returned plain Jan.  “If I know a remedy that costs nothing, why shouldn’t I let my patients have the benefit of it, instead of charging them for drugs that won’t do half the good?”

“Jan,” said Lucy, “if it cost gold I should try it.  I have great faith in what you say.”

“All right,” replied Jan.  “But it must be done at once, mind.  If you let the cold get ahead first, it will not be so efficacious.  And now good-day to you all, for I must be off to my patients.  Good-bye, mother.”

Away went Jan.  And, amidst much laughter from Lucy, the wet “rag,” Jan’s elegant phrase for it, was put round her neck, and covered up.  Lionel came in, and they amused him by reciting Jan’s prescription.

“It is this house which has given her the cold,” grumbled Lady Verner, who invariably laid faults and misfortunes upon something or somebody.  “The servants are for ever opening that side-door, and then there comes a current of air throughout the passage.  Lionel, I am not sure but I shall leave Deerham Court.”

Lionel leaned against the mantel-piece, a smile upon his face.  He had completely recovered his good looks, scared away though they had been for a time by his illness.  He was in deep mourning for Mrs. Verner.  Decima looked up, surprised at Lady Verner’s last sentence.

“Leave Deerham Court, mamma!  When you are so much attached to it!”

“I don’t dislike it,” acknowledged Lady Verner.  “But it suited me better when we were living quietly, than it does now.  If I could find a larger house with the same conveniences, and in an agreeable situation, I might leave this.”

Decima did not reply.  She felt sure that her mother was attached to the house, and would never quit it.  Her eyes said as much as they encountered Lionel’s.

“I wish my mother would leave Deerham Court!” he said aloud.

Lady Verner turned to him.  “Why should you wish it, Lionel?”

“I wish you would leave it to come to me, mother.  Verner’s Pride wants a mistress.”

“It will not find one in me,” said Lady Verner.  “Were you an old man, Lionel, I might then come.  Not as it is.”

Page 160

“What difference can my age make?” asked he.

“Every difference,” said Lady Verner.  “Were you an old man, you might not be thinking of getting married; as it is, you will be.  Your wife will reign at Verner’s Pride, Lionel.”

Lionel made no answer.

“You will be marrying sometime, I suppose?” reiterated Lady Verner, with emphasis.

“I suppose I shall be,” replied Lionel; and his eyes, as he spoke, involuntarily strayed to Lucy.  She caught the look, and blushed vividly.

“How much of that do you intend to drink, Miss Lucy?” asked Lionel, as she sipped the tumbler of lemonade, at her elbow.

“Ever so many tumblers of it,” she answered.  “Jan said I was to keep sipping it all day long.  The water, going down slowly, heals the chest.”

“I believe if Jan told you to drink boiling water, you’d do it, Lucy,” cried Lady Verner.  “You seem to fall in with all he says.”

“Because I like him, Lady Verner.  Because I have faith in him; and if Jan prescribes a thing, I know that he has faith in it.”

“It is not displaying a refined taste to like Jan,” observed Lady Verner, intending the words as a covert reprimand to Lucy.

But Lucy stood up for Jan.  Even at the dread of openly disagreeing with Lady Verner, Lucy would not be unjust to one whom she deemed of sterling worth.

“I like Jan very much,” said she resolutely, in her championship.  “There’s nobody I like so well as Jan, Lady Verner.”

Lady Verner made a slight movement with her shoulders.  It was almost as much as to say that Lucy was growing as hopelessly incorrigible as Jan.  Lionel turned to Lucy.

Nobody you like so well as Jan, did you say?”

Poor Lucy!  If the look of Lionel, just before, had brought the hot blush to her cheek, that blush was nothing compared to the glowing crimson which mantled there now.  She had not been thinking of one sort of liking when she so spoke of Jan:  the words had come forth in the honest simplicity of her heart.

Did Lionel read the signs aright, as her eyes fell before his?  Very probably.  A smile stole over his lips.

“I do like Jan very much,” stammered Lucy, essaying to mend the matter.  “I may like him, I suppose?  There’s no harm in it.”

“Oh! no harm, certainly,” spoke Lady Verner, with a spice of irony.  “I never thought Jan could be a favourite before.  Not being fastidiously polished yourself, Lucy—­forgive my saying it—­you entertain, I conclude, a fellow feeling for Jan.”

Lucy—­for Jan’s sake—­would not be beaten.

“Don’t you think it is better to be like Jan, Lady Verner, than—­than—­like Dr. West, for instance?”

“In what way?” returned Lady Verner.

“Jan is so true,” debated Lucy, ignoring the question.

“And Dr. West was not, I suppose,” retorted Lady Verner.  “He wrote false prescriptions, perhaps?  Gave false advice?”

Page 161

Lucy looked a little foolish.  “I will tell you the difference, as it seems to me, between Jan and other people,” she said.  “Jan is like a rough diamond—­real within, unpolished without—­but a genuine diamond withal.  Many others are but the imitation stone—­glittering outside, false within.”

Lionel was amused.

“Am I one of the false ones, Miss Lucy?”

She took the question literally.

“No; you are true,” she answered, shaking her head, and speaking with grave earnestness.

“Lucy, my dear, I would not espouse Jan’s cause so warmly, were I you,” advised Lady Verner.  “It might be misconstrued.”

“How so?” simply asked Lucy.

“It might be thought that you—­pray excuse the common vulgarity of the suggestion—­were in love with Jan.”

“In love with Jan!” Lucy paused for a moment after the words, and then burst into a merry fit of laughter.  “Oh, Lady Verner!  I cannot fancy anybody falling in love with Jan.  I don’t think he would know what to do.”

“I don’t think he would,” quietly replied Lady Verner.

A peal at the courtyard bell, and the letting down the steps of a carriage.  Visitors for Lady Verner.  They were shown to the drawing-room, and the servant came in.

“The Countess of Elmsley and Lady Mary, my lady.”

Lady Verner rose with alacrity.  They were favourite friends of hers—­nearly the only close friends she had made in her retirement.

“Lucy, you must not venture into the drawing-room,” she stayed to say.  “The room is colder than this.  Come.”

The last “come” was addressed conjointly to her son and daughter.  Decima responded to it, and followed; Lionel remained where he was.

“The cold room would not hurt me, but I am glad not to go,” began Lucy, subsiding into a more easy tone, a more social manner, than she ventured on in the presence of Lady Verner.  “I think morning visiting the greatest waste of time!  I wonder who invented it?”

“Somebody who wanted to kill time,” answered Lionel.

“It is not as though friends, who really cared for each other, met and talked.  The calls are made just for form’s sake, and for nothing else, I will never fall into it when I am my own mistress.”

“When is that to be?” asked Lionel, smiling.

“Oh!  I don’t know,” she answered, looking up at him in all confiding simplicity.  “When papa comes home, I suppose.”

Lionel crossed over to where she was sitting.

“Lucy, I thank you for your partisanship of Jan,” he said, in a low, earnest tone.  “I do not believe anybody living knows his worth.”

“Yes; for I do,” she replied, her eyes sparkling.

“Only, don’t you get to like him too much—­as Lady Verner hinted,” continued Lionel, his eyes dancing with merriment at his own words.

Lucy’s eyelashes fell on her hot cheek.  “Please not to be so foolish,” she answered, in a pleading tone.

Page 162

“Or a certain place—­that has been mentioned this morning—­might have to go without a mistress for good,” he whispered.

What made him say it?  It is true he spoke in a light, joking tone; but the words were not justifiable, unless he meant to follow them up seriously in future.  He did mean to do so when he spoke them.

Decima came in, sent by Lady Verner to demand Lionel’s attendance.

“I am coming directly,” replied Lionel.  And Decima went back again.

“You ought to take Jan to live at Verner’s Pride,” said Lucy to him, the words unconsciously proving that she had understood Lionel’s allusion to it.  “If he were my brother, I would not let him be always slaving himself at his profession.”

“If he were your brother, Lucy, you would find that Jan would slave just as he does now, in spite of you.  Were Jan to come into Verner’s Pride to-morrow, through my death, I really believe he would let it, and live on where he does, and doctor the parish to the end of time.”

“Will Verner’s Pride go to Jan after you?”

“That depends.  It would, were I to die as I am now, a single man.  But I may have a wife and children some time, Lucy.”

“So you may,” said Lucy, filling up her tumbler from the jug of lemonade.  “Please to go into the drawing-room now, or Lady Verner will be angry.  Mary Elmsley’s there, you know.”

She gave him a saucy glance from her soft bright eyes.  Lionel laughed.

“Who made you so wise about Mary Elmsley, young lady?”

“Lady Verner,” was Lucy’s answer, her voice subsiding into a confidential tone.  “She tells us all about it, me and Decima, when we are sitting by the fire of an evening. She is to be the mistress of Verner’s Pride.”

“Oh, indeed,” said Lionel.  “She is, is she!  Shall I tell you something, Lucy?”

“Well?”

“If that mistress-ship—­is there such a word?—­ever comes to pass, I shall not be the master of it.”

Lucy looked pleased.  “That is just what Decima says.  She says it to Lady Verner.  I wish you would go to them.”

“So I will.  Good-bye.  I shall not come in again.  I have a hundred and one things to do this afternoon.”

He took her hand and held it.  She, ever courteous of manner, simple though she was, rose and stood before him to say her adieu, her eyes raised to his, her pretty face upturned.

Lionel gazed down upon it, and, as he had forgotten himself once before, so he now forgot himself again.  He clasped it to him with a sudden movement of affection, and left on it some fervent kisses, whispering tenderly—­

“Take care of yourself, my darling Lucy!”

Leaving her to make the best of the business, Mr. Lionel proceeded to the drawing-room.  A few minutes’ stay in it, and then he pleaded an engagement, and departed.

CHAPTER XXXIV.

Page 163

IMPROVEMENTS.

Things were changed now out of doors.  There was no dissatisfaction, no complaining.  Roy was deposed from his petty authority, and all men were at peace, with the exception, possibly, of Mr. Peckaby.  Mr. Peckaby did not, find his shop flourish.  Indeed, far from flourishing, so completely was it deserted, that he was fain to give up the trade, and accept work at Chuff the blacksmith’s forge, to which employment, it appeared, he had been brought up.  A few stale articles remained in the shop, and the counters remained; chiefly for show.  Mrs. Peckaby made a pretence of attending to customers; but she did not get two in a week.  And if those two entered, they could not be served, for she was pretty sure to be out, gossiping.

This state of things did not please Mrs. Peckaby.  In one point of view the failing of the trade pleased her, because it left her less work to do; but she did not like the failing of their income.  Whether the shop had been actually theirs, or whether it had been Roy’s, there was no doubt that they had drawn sufficient from it to live comfortably and to find Mrs. Peckaby in smart caps.  This source was gone, and all they had now was an ignominious fourteen shillings a week, which Peckaby earned.  The prevalent opinion in Clay Lane was that this was quite as much as Peckaby deserved; and that it was a special piece of undeserved good fortune which had taken off the blacksmith’s brother and assistant in the nick of time, Joe Chuff, to make room for him.  Mrs. Peckaby, however, was in a state of semi-rebellion; the worse, that she did not know upon whom to visit it, or see any remedy.  She took to passing her time in groaning and tears, somewhat after the fashion of Dinah Roy, venting her complaints upon anybody that would listen to her.

Lionel had not said to the men, “You shall leave Peckaby’s shop.”  He had not even hinted to them that it might be desirable to leave it.  In short, he had not interfered.  But, the restraint of Roy being removed from the men, they quitted it of their own accord.  “No more Roy; no more Peckaby; no more grinding down—­hurrah!” shouted they, and went back to the old shops in the village.

All sorts of improvements had Lionel begun.  That is, he had planned them:  begun yet, they were not.  Building better tenements for the labourers, repairing and draining the old ones, adding whatever might be wanted to make the dwellings healthy:  draining, ditching, hedging.  “It shall not be said that while I live in a palace, my poor live in pigsties,” said Lionel to Mr. Bitterworth one day.  “I’ll do what I can to drive that periodical ague from the place.”

“Have you counted the cost?” was Mr. Bitterworth’s rejoinder.

“No,” said Lionel.  “I don’t intend to count it.  Whatever the changes may cost, I shall carry them out.”

Page 164

And Lionel, like other new schemers, was red-hot upon them.  He drew out plans in his head and with his pencil; he consulted architects, he spent half his days with builders.  Lionel was astonished at the mean, petty acts of past tyranny, exercised by Roy, which came to light, far more than he had had any idea of.  He blushed for himself and for his uncle, that such a state of things had been allowed to go on; he wondered that it could have gone on; that he had been blind to so much of it, or that the men had not exercised Lynch law upon Roy.

Roy had taken his place in the brick-yard as workman; but Lionel, in the anger of the moment, when these things came out, felt inclined to spurn him from the land.  He would have done it but for his promise to the man himself; and for the pale, sad face of Mrs. Roy.  In the hour when his anger was at its height, the woman came up to Verner’s Pride, stealthily, as it seemed, and craved him to write to Australia, “now he was a grand gentleman,” and ask the “folks over there” if they could send back news of her son.  “It’s going on of a twelvemonth since he writed to us, sir, and we don’t know where to write to him, and I’m a’most fretted into my grave.”

“My opinion is that he is coming home,” said Lionel.

“Heaven sink the ship first!” she involuntarily muttered, and then she burst into a violent flood of tears.

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Lionel.  “Don’t you want him to come home?”

“No, sir.  No.”

“But why?  Are you fearing”—­he jumped to the most probable solution of her words that he could suggest—­“are you fearing that he and Roy would not agree?—­that there would be unpleasant scenes between them, as there used to be?”

The woman had her face buried in her hands, and she never lifted it as she answered, in a stifled voice, “It’s what I’m a-fearing, sir.”

Lionel could not quite understand her.  He thought her more weak and silly than usual.

“But he is not coming home,” she resumed.  “No, sir, I don’t believe that England will ever see him again; and it’s best as it is, for there’s nothing but care and sorrow here, in the old country.  But I’d like to know what’s become of him; whether he is alive or dead, whether he is starving or in comfort.  Oh, sir!” she added, with a burst of wailing anguish, “write for me, and ask news of him!  They’d answer you.  My heart is aching for it.”

He did not explain to her then, how very uncertain was the fate of emigrants to that country, how next to impossible it might be to obtain intelligence of an obscure young man like Luke; he contented himself with giving her what he thought would be better comfort.

“Mrs. Frederick Massingbird will be returning in the course of a few months, and I think she may bring news of him.  Should she not, I will see what inquiries can be made.”

“Will she be coming soon, sir?”

“In two or three months, I should suppose.  The Misses West may be able to tell you more definitely, if they have heard from her.”

Page 165

“Thank ye, sir; then I’ll wait till she’s home.  You’ll not tell Roy that I have been up here, sir?”

“Not I,” said Lionel.  “I was debating, when you came in, whether I should not turn Roy off the estate altogether.  His past conduct to the men has been disgraceful.”

“Ay, it have, sir!  But it was my fate to marry him, and I have had to look on in quiet, and see things done, not daring to say as my soul’s my own.  It’s not my fault, sir.”

Lionel knew that it was not.  He pitied her, rather than blamed.

“Will you go into the servants’ hall and eat something after your walk?” he kindly asked.

“No, sir, many thanks.  I don’t want to see the servants.  They might get telling that I have been here.”

She stole out from his presence, her pale, sad face, her evidently deep sorrow, whatever might be its source, making a vivid impression upon Lionel.  But for that sad face, he might have dealt more harshly with her husband.  And so Roy was tolerated still.

It was upon these various past topics that Lionel’s mind was running as he walked away from Deerham Court after that afternoon’s interview with Lucy, which he had made so significant.  He had pleaded an engagement, as an excuse for quitting his mother’s drawing-room and her guests.  It must have been at home, we must suppose, for ho took his way straight towards Verner’s Pride, sauntering through the village as if he had leisure to look about him, his thoughts deep in his projected improvements.

Here, a piece of stagnant water was to be filled in; there was the site of his new tenements; yonder, was the spot for a library and reading-room; on he walked, throwing his glances everywhere.  As he neared the shop of Mrs. Duff, a man came suddenly in view, facing him; a little man, in a suit of rusty black, and a white neckcloth, with a pale face and red whiskers, whom Lionel remembered to have seen once before, a day or two previously.  As soon as he caught sight of Lionel he turned short off, crossed the street, and darted out of sight down the Belvidere Road.

“That looks as though he wanted to avoid me,” thought Lionel.  “I wonder who he may be?  Do you know who that man is, Mrs. Duff?” asked he aloud; for that lady was taking the air at her shop-door, and had watched the movement.

“I don’t know much about him, sir.  He have been stopping in the place this day or two.  What did I hear his name was, again?” added Mrs. Duff, putting her fingers to her temples in a considering fit.  “Jarrum, I think.  Yes, that was it.  Brother Jarrum, sir.”

“Brother Jarrum?” repeated Lionel, uncertain whether the “Brother” might be spoken in a social point of view, or was a name bestowed upon the gentleman in baptism.

“He’s a missionary from abroad, or something of that sort, sir.  He is come to see what he can do towards converting us.”

“Oh, indeed,” said Lionel, his lip curling with a smile.  The man’s face had not taken his fancy.  “Honest missionaries do not need to run away to avoid meeting people, Mrs. Duff.”

Page 166

“He have got cross eyes,” responded Mrs. Duff.  “Perhaps that’s a reason he mayn’t like to look gentlefolks in the face, sir.”

“Where does he come from?”

“Well, now, sir, I did hear,” replied Mrs. Duff, putting on her considering cap again, “it were some religious place, sir, that’s talked of a good deal in the Bible.  Jericho, were it?  No.  It began with a J, though.  Oh, I have got it, sir!  It were Jerusalem.  He conies all the way from Jerusalem.”

“Where is he lodging?” continued Lionel.

“He have been lodging at the George and Dragon, sir.  But to-day he have gone and took that spare bedroom as the Peckabys have wanted to let, since their custom fell off.”

“He means to make a stay, then?”

“It looks like it, sir.  Susan Peckaby, she were in here half an hour ago, a-buying new ribbons for a cap, all agog with it.  He’s a-going to hold forth in their shop, she says, and see how many of the parish he can turn into saints.  I say it won’t be a bad ‘turn,’ if it keeps the men from the beer-houses.”

Lionel laughed as he went on.  He supposed it was a new movement that would have its brief day and then be over, leaving results neither good nor bad behind it; and he dismissed the man from his memory.

He walked on, in the elasticity of his youth and health.  All nature seemed to be smiling around him.  Outward things take their hue very much from the inward feelings, and Lionel felt happier than he had done for months and months.  Had the image of Lucy Tempest anything to do with this?  No—­nothing.  He had not yet grown to love Lucy in that idolising manner, as to bring her ever present to him.  He was thinking of the change in his own fortunes; he cast his eyes around to the right and the left, and they rested on his own domains—­domains which had for a time been wrested from him; and as his quick steps rung on the frosty road, his heart went up in thankfulness to the Giver of all good.

Just before he reached Verner’s Pride, he overtook Mr. Bitterworth, who was leaning against a roadside gate.  He had been attacked by sudden giddiness, he said, and asked Lionel to give him an arm home.  Lionel proposed that he should come in and remain for a short while at Verner’s Pride; but Mr. Bitterworth preferred to go home.

“It is one of my bilious attacks coming on,” he remarked, as he went along.  “I have not had a bad one for this four months.”

Lionel took him safe home, and remained with him for some time, talking; the chief theme being his own contemplated improvements, and how to go to work upon them; a topic which seemed to bring no satiety to Lionel Verner.

CHAPTER XXXV.

BACK AGAIN.

It was late when Lionel reached Verner’s Pride.  Night had set in, and his dinner was waiting.

He ate it hurriedly—­he mostly did eat hurriedly when he was alone, as if he were glad to get it over—­Tynn waiting on him.  Tynn liked to wait upon his young master.  Tynn had been in a state of glowing delight since the accession of Lionel.  Attached to the old family, Tynn had felt it almost as keenly as Lionel himself, when the estate had lapsed to the Massingbirds.  Mrs. Tynn was in a glow of delight also.  There was no mistress, and she ruled the household, including Tynn.

Page 167

The dinner gone away and the wine on the table, Lionel drew his chair in front of the fire, and fell into a train of thought, leaving the wine untouched.  Full half an hour had he thus sat, when the entrance of Tynn aroused him.  He poured out a glass, and raised it to his lips.  Tynn bore a note on his silver waiter.

“Matiss’s boy has just brought it.  He is waiting to know whether there’s any answer.”

Lionel opened the note, and was reading it, when a sound of carriage wheels came rattling on to the terrace, passed the windows, and stopped at the hall door.  “Who can be paying me a visit to-night, I wonder?” cried he.  “Go and see, Tynn.”

“It sounded like one of them rattling one-horse flies from the railway station,” was Tynn’s comment to his master, as he left the room.

Whoever it might be, they appeared pretty long in entering, and Lionel, very greatly to his surprise, heard a sound as of much luggage being deposited in the hall.  He was on the point of going out to see, when the door opened, and a lovely vision glided forward—­a young, fair face and form, clothed in deep mourning, with a shower of golden curls shading her damask cheeks.  For one single moment, Lionel was lost in the beauty of the vision.  Then he recognised her, before Tynn’s announcement was heard; and his heart leaped as if it would burst its bounds—­

“Mrs. Massingbird, sir.”

—­leaped within him fast and furiously.  His pulses throbbed, his blood coursed on, and his face went hot and cold with emotion.  Had he been fondly persuading himself, during the past months, that she was forgotten?  Truly the present moment rudely undeceived him.

Tynn shut the door, leaving them alone.  Lionel was not so agitated as to forget the courtesies of life.  He shook hands with her, and, in the impulse of the moment, called her Sibylla; and then bit his tongue for doing it.

She burst into tears.  There, as he held her hand.  She lifted her lovely face to him with a yearning, pleading look.  “Oh, Lionel!—­you will give me a home, won’t you?”

What was he to say?  He could not, in that first instant, abruptly say to her—­No, you cannot have a home here.  Lionel could not hurt the feelings of any one.  “Sit down, Mrs. Massingbird,” he gently said, drawing an easy-chair to the fire.  “You have taken me quite by surprise.  When did you land?”

She threw off her bonnet, shook back those golden curls, and sat down in the chair, a large heavy shawl on her shoulders.  “I will not take it off yet,” she said in a plaintive voice.  “I am very cold.”

She shivered slightly.  Lionel drew her chair yet nearer the fire, and brought a footstool for her feet, repeating his question as he did so.

“We reached Liverpool late yesterday, and I started for home this morning,” she answered, her eyelashes wet still, as she gazed into the fire.  “What a miserable journey it has been!” she added, turning to Lionel.  “A miserable voyage out; a miserable ending!”

Page 168

“Are you aware of the changes that have taken place since you left?” he asked.  “Your aunt is dead.”

“Yes, I know it,” she answered.  “They told me at the station just now.  That lame porter came up and knew me; and his first news to me was that Mrs. Verner was dead.  What a greeting!  I was coming home here to live with her.”

“You could not have received my letter.  One which I wrote at the request of Mrs. Verner in answer to yours.”

“What news was in it?” she asked.  “I received no letter from you.”

“It contained remittances.  It was sent, I say, in answer to yours, in which you requested money should be forwarded for your home passage.  You did not wait for it?”

“I was tired of waiting.  I was sick for home.  And one day, when I had been crying more than usual, Mrs. Eyre said to me that if I were so anxious to go, there need be no difficulty about the passage-money, that they would advance me any amount I might require.  Oh, I was so glad!  I came away by the next ship.”

“Why did you not write saying that you were coming?”

“I did not think it mattered—­and I knew I had this home to come to.  If I had had to go to my old home again at papa’s, then I should have written.  I should have seemed like an intruder arriving at their house, and have deemed it necessary to warn them of it.”

“You heard in Australia of Mr. Verner’s death, I presume?”

“I heard of that, and that my husband had inherited Verner’s Pride.  The news came out just before I sailed for home.  Of course I thought I had a right to come to this home, though he was dead.  I suppose it is yours now?”

“Yes.”

“Who lives here?”

“Only myself.”

“Have I a right to live here—­as Frederick’s widow?” she continued, lifting her large blue eyes anxiously at Lionel.  “I mean would the law give it me?”

“No,” he replied, in a low tone.  He felt that the truth must be told to her without disguise.  She was placing both him and herself in an embarrassing situation.

“Was there any money left to me?—­or to Frederick?”

“None to you.  Verner’s Pride was left to your husband; but at his demise it came to me.”

“Did my aunt leave me nothing?”

“She had nothing to leave, Mrs. Massingbird.  The settlement which Mr. Verner executed on her, when they married, was only for her life.  It lapsed back to the Verner’s Pride revenues when she died.”

“Then I am left without a shilling, to the mercy of the world!”

Lionel felt for her—­felt for her rather more than was safe.  He began planning in his own mind how he could secure to her an income from the Verner’s Pride estate, without her knowing whence it came.  Frederick Massingbird had been its inheritor for a short three or four months, and Lionel’s sense of justice revolted against his widow being thrown on the world, as she expressed it, without a shilling.

Page 169

“The revenues of the estate during the short time that elapsed between Mr. Verner’s death and your husband’s are undoubtedly yours, Mrs. Massingbird,” he said.  “I will see Matiss about it, and they shall be paid over.”

“How long will it be first?”

“A few days, possibly.  In a note which I received but now from Matiss, he tells me he is starting for London, but will be home the beginning of the week.  It shall be arranged on his return.”

“Thank you.  And, until then, I may stay here?”

Lionel was at a nonplus.  It is not a pleasing thing to tell a lady that she must quit your house, in which, like a stray lamb, she has taken refuge.  Even though it be, for her own fair sake, expedient that she should go.

“I am here alone,” said Lionel, after a pause.  “Your temporary home had better be with your sisters.”

“No, that it never shall,” returned Sibylla, in a hasty tone of fear.  “I will never go home to them, now papa’s away.  Why did he leave Deerham?  They told me at the station that he was gone, and Jan was doctor.”

“Dr. West is travelling on the Continent, as medical attendant and companion to a nobleman.  At least—­I think I heard it was a nobleman,” continued Lionel.  “I am really not sure.”

“And you would like me to go home to those two cross, fault-finding sisters!” she resumed.  “They might reproach me all day long with coming home to be kept.  As if it were my fault that I am left without anything.  Oh, Lionel! don’t turn me out!  Let me stay until I can see what is to be done for myself.  I shall not hurt you.  It would have been all mine had Frederick lived.”

He did not know what to do.  Every moment there seemed to grow less chance that she would leave the house.  A bright thought darted into his mind.  It was, that he would get his mother or Decima to come and stay with him for a time.

“What would you like to take?” he inquired.  “Mrs. Tynn will get you anything you wish.  I——­”

“Nothing yet,” she interrupted.  “I could not eat; I am too unhappy.  I will take some tea presently, but not until I am warmer.  I am very cold.”

She cowered over the fire again, shivering much.  Lionel, saying he had a note to write, sat down to a distant table.  He penned a few hasty lines to his mother, telling her that Mrs. Massingbird had arrived, under the impression that she was coming to Mrs. Verner, and that he could not well turn her out again that night, fatigued and poorly as she appeared to him to be.  He begged his mother to come to him for a day or two, in the emergency, or to send Decima.

An undercurrent of conviction ran in Lionel’s mind during the time of writing it that his mother would not come; he doubted even whether she would allow Decima to come.  He drove the thought away from him; but the impression remained.  Carrying the note out of the room when written, he despatched it to Deerham Court by a mounted groom.  As he was returning to the dining-room he encountered Mrs. Tynn.

Page 170

“I hear Mrs. Massingbird has arrived, sir,” cried she.

“Yes,” replied Lionel.  “She will like some tea presently.  She appears very much fatigued.”

“Is the luggage to be taken upstairs, sir?” she continued, pointing to the pile in the hall.  “Is she going to stay here?”

Lionel really did not know what answer to make.

“She came expecting to stay,” he said, after a pause.  “She did not know but your mistress was still here.  Should she remain, I dare say Lady Verner, or my sister, will join her.  You have beds ready?”

“Plenty of them, sir, at five minutes’ notice.”

When Lionel entered the room, Sibylla was in the same attitude, shivering over the fire.  Unnaturally cold she appeared to be, and yet her cheeks were brilliantly bright, as if with a touch of fever.

“I fear you have caught cold on the journey to-day,” he said.

“I don’t think so,” she answered.  “I am cold from nervousness.  I went cold at the station when they told me that my aunt was dead, and I have been shivering ever since.  Never mind me; it will go off presently.”

Lionel drew a chair to the other side of the fire, compassionately regarding her.  He could have found in his heart to take her in his arms, and warm her there.

“What was that about a codicil?” she suddenly asked him.  “When my aunt wrote to me upon Mr. Verner’s death, she said that a codicil had been lost:  or that, otherwise, the estate would have been yours.”

Lionel explained it to her, concealing nothing.

“Then—­if that codicil had been forthcoming, Frederick’s share would have been but five hundred pounds?”

“That is all.”

“It was very little to leave him,” she musingly rejoined.

“And still less to leave me, considering my nearer relationship—­my nearer claims.  When the codicil could not be found, the will had to be acted upon:  and five hundred pounds was all the sum it gave me.”

“Has the codicil never been found?”

“Never.”

“How very strange!  What became of it, do you think?”

“I wish I could think what,” replied Lionel.  “Although Verner’s Pride has come to me without it, it would be satisfactory to solve the mystery.”

Sibylla looked round cautiously, and sunk her voice.  “Could Tynn or his wife have done anything with it?  You say they were present when it was signed.”

“Most decidedly they did not.  Both of them were anxious that I should succeed.”

“It is so strange!  To lock a paper up in a desk, and for it to disappear of its own accord!  The moths could not have got in and eaten it?”

“Scarcely,” smiled Lionel.  “The day before your aunt died, she——­”

“Don’t talk of that,” interrupted Mrs. Massingbird.  “I will hear about her death to-morrow.  I shall be ill if I cry much to-night.”

She sank into silence, and Lionel did not interrupt it.  It continued, until his quick ears caught the sound of the groom’s return.  The man rode his horse round to the stables at once.  Presently Tynn came in with a note.  It was from Lady Verner.  A few lines, written hastily with a pencil:—­

Page 171

“I do not understand your request, Lionel, or why you make it.  Whatever may be my opinion of Frederick Massingbird’s widow, I will not insult her sense of propriety by supposing that she would attempt to remain at Verner’s Pride now her aunt is dead.  It is absurd of you to ask me to come; neither shall I send Decima.  Were I and Decima residing with you, it would not be the place for Sibylla Massingbird.  She has her own home to go to.”

There was no signature.  Lionel knew his mother’s handwriting too well to require the addition.  It was just the note that he might have expected her to write.

What was he to do?  In the midst of his ruminations, Sibylla rose.

“I am warm now,” she said.  “I should like to go upstairs and take this heavy shawl off.”

Lionel rang the bell for Mrs. Tynn.  And Sibylla left the room with her.

“I’ll get her sisters here!” he suddenly exclaimed, the thought of them darting into his mind.  “They will be the proper persons to explain to her the inexpediency of her remaining here.  Poor girl! she is unable to think of it in her fatigue and grief.”

He did not give it a second thought, but snatched his hat, and went down himself to Dr. West’s with strides as long as Jan’s.  Entering the general sitting-room without ceremony, his eyes fell upon a supper-table and Master Cheese; the latter regaling himself upon apple-puffs to his heart’s content.

“Where are the Misses West?” asked Lionel.

“Gone to a party,” responded the young gentleman, as soon as he could get his mouth sufficiently empty to speak.

“Where to?”

“To Heartburg, sir.  It’s a ball at old Thingumtight’s, the doctor’s.  They are gone off in gray gauze, with, branches of white flowers hanging to their curls, and they call that mourning.  The fly is to bring them back at two in the morning.  They left these apple-puffs for me and Jan.  Jan said he should not want any; he’d eat meat; so I have got his share and mine!”

And Master Cheese appeared to be enjoying the shares excessively.  Lionel left him to it, and went thoughtfully back to Verner’s Pride.

CHAPTER XXXVI.

A MOMENT OF DELIRIUM.

The dining-room looked a picture of comfort, and Lionel thought so as he entered.  A blaze of light and warmth burst upon him.  A well-spread tea-table was there, with cold meat, game and else, at one end of it.  Standing before the fire, her young, slender form habited in its black robes, was Sibylla.  No one, looking at her, would have believed her to be a widow; partly from her youth, partly that she did not wear the widow’s dress.  Her head was uncovered, and her fair curls fell, shading her brilliant cheeks.  It has been mentioned that her chief beauty lay in her complexion:  seen by candle-light, flushed as she was now, she was inexpressibly beautiful.  A dangerous hour, a perilous situation for the yet unhealed heart of Lionel Verner.

Page 172

The bright flush was the result of excitement, of some degree of inward fever.  Let us allow that it was a trying time for her.  She had arrived to find Mrs. Verner dead, her father absent; she had arrived to find that no provision had been made for her by Mr. Verner’s will, as the widow of Frederick Massingbird.  Frederick’s having succeeded to the inheritance debarred her even of the five hundred pounds.  It is true there would be the rents, received for the short time it had been his.  There was no doubt that Sibylla, throughout the long voyage, had cherished the prospect of finding a home at Verner’s Pride.  If her husband had lived, it would have been wholly hers; she appeared still to possess a right in it; and she never gave a thought to the possibility that her aunt would not welcome her to it.  Whether she cast a reflection to Lionel Verner in the matter, she best knew:  had she reflected properly, she might have surmised that Lionel would be living at it, its master.  But, the voyage ended, the home gained, what did she find?  That Mrs. Verner was no longer at Verner’s Pride, to press the kiss of welcome upon her lips; a few feet of earth was all her home now.

It was a terrible disappointment.  There could be no doubt of that.  And another disappointment was, to find Dr. West away.  Sibylla’s sisters had been at times over-strict with her, much as they loved her, and the vision of returning to her old home, to them, was one of bitterness.  So bitter, in fact, that she would not glance at its possibility.

Fatigued, low-spirited, feverishly perplexed, Sibylla did not know what she could do.  She was not in a state that night to give much care to the future.  All she hoped was, to stay in that haven until something else could be arranged for her.  Let us give her her due.  Somewhat careless, naturally, of the punctilios of life, it never occurred to her that it might not be the precise thing for her to remain, young as she was, the sole guest of Lionel Verner.  Her voyage out, her residence in that very unconventional place, Melbourne, the waves and storms which had gone over her there in more ways than one, the voyage back again alone, all had tended to give Sibylla Massingbird an independence of thought; a contempt for the rules and regulations, the little points of etiquette obtaining in civilised society.  She really thought no more harm of staying at Verner’s Pride with Lionel, than she would have thought it had old Mr. Verner been its master.  The eyelashes, resting on her hot cheeks, were wet, as she turned round when Lionel entered.

“Have you taken anything, Mrs. Massingbird?”

“No.”

“But you should have done so,” he remonstrated, his tone one of the most considerate kindness.

“I did not observe that tea waited,” she replied, the covered table catching her eye for the first time.  “I have been thinking.”

He placed a chair for her before the tea-tray, and she sat down.  “Am I to preside?” she asked.

Page 173

“If you will.  If you are not too tired.”

“Who makes tea for you in general?” she continued.

“They send it in, made.”

Sibylla busied herself with the tea, in a languid sort of manner.  In vain Lionel pressed her to eat.  She could touch nothing.  She took a piece of rolled bread-and-butter, but left it.

“You must have dined on the road, Mrs. Massingbird?” he said, with a smile.

“I?  I have not taken anything all day.  I kept thinking ’I shall get to Verner’s Pride in time for my aunt’s dinner.’  But the train arrived later than I anticipated; and when I got here she was gone.”

Sibylla bent her head, as if playing with her teaspoon.  Lionel detected the dropping tears.

“Did you wonder where I was going just now, when I went out?”

“I did not know you had been out,” replied Sibylla.

“I went to your sisters’.  I thought it would be better for them to come here.  Unfortunately, I found them gone out; and young Cheese says they will not be home until two in the morning.”

“Why, where can they be gone?” cried Sibylla, aroused to interest.  It was so unusual for the Misses West to be out late.

“To some gathering at Heartburg.  Cheese was eating apple-puffs with unlimited satisfaction.”

The connection of apple-puffs with Master Cheese called up a faint smile into Sibylla’s face.  She pushed her chair away from the table, turning it towards the fire.

“But you surely have not finished, Mrs. Massingbird?”

“Yes, thank you.  I have drunk my tea.  I cannot eat anything.”

Lionel rang, and the things were removed.  Sibylla was standing before the mantel-piece when they were left alone, unconsciously looking at herself in the glass.  Lionel stood near her.

“I have not got a widow’s cap,” she exclaimed, turning to him, the thought appearing suddenly to strike her.  “I had two or three curious things made, that they called widows’ caps in Melbourne, but they were spoiled on the voyage.”

“You have seen some trouble since you went out,” Lionel observed.

“Yes, I have.  It was an ill-starred voyage.  It has been ill-starred from the beginning to the end; all of it together.”

“The voyage has, you mean?”

“I mean more than the voyage,” she replied.  But her tone did not invite further question.

“Did you succeed in getting particulars of the fate of John?”

“No.  Captain Cannonby promised to make inquiries, but we had not heard from him before I came away.  I wish we could have found Luke Roy.”

“Did you not find him?”

“We heard of him from the Eyres—­the friends I was staying with.  It was so singular,” she continued, with some animation in her tone.  “Luke Roy came to Melbourne after John was killed, and fell in with the Eyres.  He told them about John, little thinking that I and Frederick should meet the Eyres afterwards.  John died from a shot.”

Page 174

“From a shot!” involuntarily exclaimed Lionel.

“He and Luke were coming down to Melbourne from—­where was it?—­the Bendigo Diggings, I think; but I heard so much of the different names, that I am apt to confound one with another.  John had a great deal of gold on him, in a belt round his waist, and Luke supposes that it got known.  John was attacked as they were sleeping by night in the open air, beaten, and shot.  It was the shot that killed him.”

“Poor fellow!” exclaimed Lionel, his eyes fixed on vacancy, mentally beholding John Massingbird.  “And they robbed him!”

“They had robbed him of all.  Not a particle of gold was left upon him.  And the report sent home by Luke, that the gold and men were taken, proved to be a mistaken one.  Luke came on afterwards to Melbourne, and tried to discover the men; but he could not.  It was this striving at discovery which brought him in contact with Mr. Eyre.  After we reached Melbourne and I became acquainted with the Eyres, they did all they could to find out Luke, but they were unsuccessful.”

“What had become of him?”

“They could not think.  The last time Mr. Eyre saw him, Luke said he thought he had obtained a clue to the men who killed John.  He promised to go back the following day and tell Mr. Eyre more about it.  But he did not.  And they never saw him afterwards.  Mrs. Eyre used to say to me that she sincerely trusted no harm had come to Luke.”

“Harm in what way?” asked Lionel.

“She thought—­but she would say that it was a foolish thought—­if Luke should have found the men, and been imprudent enough to allow them to know that he recognised them, they might have worked him some ill.  Perhaps killed him.”

Sibylla spoke the last words in a low tone.  She was standing very still; her hands lightly resting before her, one upon another.  How Lionel’s heart was beating as he gazed on her, he alone knew.  She was once again the Sibylla of past days.  He forgot that she was the widow of another; that she had left him for that other of her own free will.  All his past resentment faded in that moment:  nothing was present to him but his love; and Sibylla with her fascinating beauty.

“You are thinner than when you left home,” he remarked.

“I grew thin with vexation; with grief.  He ought not to have taken me.”

The concluding sentence was spoken in a strangely resentful tone.  It surprised Lionel.  “Who ought not to have taken you?—­taken you where?” he asked, really not understanding her.

“He.  Frederick Massingbird.  He might have known what a place that Melbourne was.  It was not fit for a lady.  We had lodgings in a wooden house, near a spot that had used to be called Canvas Town.  The place was crowded with people.”

“But surely there are decent hotels at Melbourne?”

“All I know is he did not take me to one.  He inquired at one or two, but they were full; and then somebody recommended him to get a lodging.  It was not right.  He might have gone to it himself, but he had me with him.  He lost his desk, you know.”

Page 175

“I heard that he did,” replied Lionel.

“And I suppose that frightened him.  Everything was in the desk—­money and letters of credit.  He had a few bank-notes, only, left in his pocket-book.  It never was recovered.  I owe my passage-money home, and I believe Captain Cannonby supplied him with some funds—­which of course ought to be repaid.  He took to drinking brandy,” she continued.

“I am much surprised to hear it.”

“Some fever came on.  I don’t know whether he caught it, or whether it came to him naturally.  It was a sort of intermittent fever.  At times he was very low with it, and then it was that he would drink the brandy.  Only fancy what my position was!” she added, her face and voice alike full of pain.  “He, not always himself; and I, out there in that wretched place, alone.  I went down on my knees to him one day, and begged him to send me back to England.”

“Sibylla!”

He was unconscious that he called her by the familiar name.  He was wishing he could have shielded her from all this.  Painful as the retrospect might be to her, the recital was far more painful to him.

“After that, we met Captain Cannonby.  I did not much like him, but he was kind to us.  He got us to change to an hotel—­made them find room for us—­and then introduced me to the Eyres.  Afterwards, he and Fred started from Melbourne, and I went to stay at the Eyres.”

Lionel did not interrupt her.  She had made a pause, her eyes fixed on the fire.

“A day or two, and Captain Cannonby came back, and said that my husband was dead.  I was not very much surprised.  I thought he would not live when he left me:  he had death written in his face.  And so I am alone in the world.”

She raised her large blue eyes, swimming in tears, to Lionel.  It completely disarmed him.  He forgot all his prudence, all his caution; he forgot things that it was incumbent upon him to remember; and, as many another has done before him, older and wiser than Lionel Verner, he suffered a moment’s impassioned impulse to fix the destiny of a life.

“Not alone from henceforth, Sibylla,” he murmured, bending towards her in agitation, his lips apart, his breath coming fast and loud, his cheeks scarlet.  “Let me be your protector.  I love you more fondly than I have ever done.”

She was entirely unprepared for the avowal.  It may be that she did not know what to make of it—­how to understand it.  She stepped back, her eyes strained on him inquiringly, her face turning to pallor.  Lionel threw his arms around her, drew her to him, and sheltered her on his breast, as if he would ward off ill from her for ever.

“Be my wife,” he fondly cried, his voice trembling with its own tenderness.  “My darling, let this home be yours!  Nothing shall part us more.”

She burst into tears, raised herself, and looked at him.  “You cannot mean it!  After behaving to you as I did, can you love me still?”

Page 176

“I love you far better than ever,” he answered, his voice becoming hoarse with emotion.  “I have been striving to forget you ever since that cruel time; and not until to-night did I know how utterly futile has been the strife.  You will let me love you! you will help me to blot out its remembrance!”

She drew a long, deep sigh, like one who is relieved from some wearing pain, and laid her head down again as he had placed it.  “I can love you better than I loved him,” she breathed, in a low whisper.

“Sibylla, why did you leave me?  Why did you marry him?”

“Oh, Lionel, don’t reproach me!—­don’t reproach me!” she answered, bursting into tears.  “Papa made me.  He did, indeed.”

He made you!  Dr. West?”

“I liked Frederick a little.  Yes, I did; I will not deny it.  And oh, how he loved me!  All the while, Lionel, that you hovered near me—­never speaking, never saying that you loved—­he told me of it incessantly.”

“Stay, Sibylla.  You could not have mistaken me.”

“True.  Yours was silent love; his was urgent.  When it came to the decision, and he asked me to marry him, and to go out to Australia, then papa interfered.  He suspected that I cared for you—­that you cared for me; and he—­he—­”

Sibylla stopped and hesitated.

“Must I tell you all?” she asked.  “Will you never, never repeat it to papa, or reproach him?  Will you let it remain a secret between us?”

“I will, Sibylla.  I will never speak upon the point to Dr. West.”

“Papa said that I must choose Frederick Massingbird.  He told me that Verner’s Pride was left to Frederick, and he ordered me to marry him.  He did not say how he knew, it—­how he heard it; he only said that it was so.  He affirmed that you were cut off with nothing, or next to nothing; that you would not be able to take a wife for years—­perhaps never.  And I weakly yielded.”

A strangely stern expression had darkened Lionel’s face.  Sibylla saw it, and wrung her hands.

“Oh, don’t blame me!—­don’t blame me more than you can help!  I know how weak, how wrong it was; but you cannot tell how entirely obedient we have always been to papa.”

“Dr. West became accidentally acquainted with the fact that the property was left away from me,” returned Lionel, in a tone of scorn he could not entirely suppress.  “He made good use, it seems, of his knowledge.”

“Do not blame me!” she reiterated.  “It was not my fault.”

“I do not blame you, my dearest.”

“I have been rightly served,” she said, the tears streaming down.  “I married him, pressed to it by my father, that I might share in Verner’s Pride; and, before the news came out that Verner’s Pride was ours, he was dead.  It had lapsed to you, whom I rejected!  Lionel, I never supposed that you would cast another thought to me; but, many a time have I felt that I should like to kneel and ask your forgiveness.”

Page 177

He bent his head, fondly kissing her.  “We will forget it together, Sibylla.”

A sudden thought appeared to strike her, called forth, no doubt, by this new state of things, and her face turned crimson as she looked at Lionel.

“Ought I to remain here now?”

“You cannot well do anything else, as it is so late,” he answered.  “Allow Verner’s Pride to afford you an asylum for the present, until you can make arrangements to remove to some temporary home.  Mrs. Tynn will make you comfortable.  I shall be, during the time, my mother’s guest.”

“What is the time now?” asked Sibylla.

“Nearly ten; and I dare say you are tired.  I will not be selfish enough to keep you up,” he added, preparing to depart.  “Good-night, my dearest.”

She burst into fresh tears, and clung to his hand.  “I shall be thinking it must be a dream as soon as you leave me.  You will be sure to come back and see me to-morrow?”

“Come back—­ay!” he said, with a smile; “Verner’s Pride never contained the magnet for me that it contains now.”

He gave a few brief orders to Mrs. Tynn and to his own servant, and quitted the house.  Neither afraid of ghosts nor thieves, he took the field way, the road which led by the Willow Pond.  It was a fine, cold night, his mind was unsettled, his blood was heated, and the lonely route appeared to him preferable to the one through the village.

As he passed the Willow Pond with a quick step, he caught a glimpse of some figure bending over it, as if it were looking for something in the water, or else about to take a leap in.  Remembering the fate of Rachel, and not wishing to have a second catastrophe of the same nature happen on his estate, Lionel strode towards the figure and caught it by the arm.  The head was flung upwards at the touch, and Lionel recognised Robin Frost.

[Illustration:  “He caught a glimpse of a figure bending over it.”]

“Robin! what do you do here?” he questioned, his tone somewhat severe in spite of its kindness.

“No harm,” answered the man.  “There be times, Mr. Lionel, when I am forced to come.  If I am in my bed, and the thought comes over me that I may see her if I only stay long enough upon the brink of this here water, which was her ending, I’m obliged to get up and come here.  There be nights, sir, when I have stood here from sunset to sunrise.”

“But you never have seen her, Robin?” returned Lionel, humouring his grief.

“No; never.  But it’s no reason why I never may.  Folks say there be some of the dead that comes again, sir—­not all.”

“And if you did see her, what end would it answer?”

“She’d tell me who the wicked one was that put her into it,” returned Robin, in a low whisper; and there was something so wild in the man’s tone as to make Lionel doubt his perfect sanity.  “Many a time do I hear her voice a-calling to me.  It comes at all hours, abroad and at home; in the full sunshine, and in the dark night.  ‘Robin!’ it says, ‘Robin!’ But it never says nothing more.”

Page 178

Lionel laid his hand on the man’s shoulder, and drew him with him.  “I am going your way, Robin; let us walk together.”

Robin made no resistance; he went along with his head down.

“I heard a word said to-night, sir, as Miss Sibylla had come back,” he resumed, more calmly; “Mrs. Massingbird, that is.  Somebody said they saw her at the station.  Have you seen her, sir?”

“Yes; I have,” replied Lionel.

“Does she say anything about John Massingbird?” continued the man, with feverish eagerness.  “Is he dead? or is he alive?”

“He is dead, Robin.  There has never been a doubt upon the point since the news first came.  He died by violence.”

“Then he got his deserts,” returned Robin, lifting his hand in the air, as he had done once before when speaking upon the same subject.  “And Luke Roy, sir?  Is he coming?  I’m a-waiting for him.”

“Of Luke, Mrs. Massingbird knows nothing.  For myself, I think he is sure to come home, sooner or later.”

“Heaven send him!” aspirated Robin.

Lionel saw the man turn to his home, and very soon afterwards he was at his mother’s.  Lady Verner had retired for the night.  Decima and Lucy were about retiring.  They had risen from their seats, and Decima—­who was too cautious to trust it to servants—­was taking the fire off the grate.  They looked inexpressibly surprised at the entrance of Lionel.

“I have come an a visit, Decima,” began he, speaking in a gay tone.  “Can you take me in?”

She did not understand him, and Lionel saw by the questioning expression of her face that Lady Verner had not made public the contents of his note to her; he saw that they were ignorant of the return of Sibylla.  The fact that they were so seemed to rush over his spirit as a refreshing dew.  Why it should do so, he did not seek to analyse; and he was all too self-conscious that he dared not.

“A friend has come unexpectedly on a visit, and taken possession of Verner’s Pride,” he pursued.  “I have lent it for a time.”

“Lent it all?” exclaimed the wondering Decima.

“Lent it all.  You will make room for me, won’t you?”

“To be sure,” said Decima, puzzled more than she could express.  “But was there no room left for you?”

“No,” answered Lionel.

“What very unconscionable people they must be, to invade you in such numbers as that!  You can have your old chamber, Lionel.  But I will just go and speak to Catherine.”

She hastened from the room.  Lionel stood before the fire, positively turning his back upon Lucy Tempest.  Was his conscience already smiting him?  Lucy, who had stood by the table, her bed candle in her hand, stepped forward and held out the other hand to Lionel.

“May I wish you good-night?” she said.

“Good-night,” he answered, shaking her hand.  “How is your cold?”

“Oh! it is so much better!” she replied, with animation.  “All the threatened soreness of the chest is gone.  I shall be well by to-morrow.  Lady Verner said I ought to have gone to bed early, but I felt too well.  I knew Jan’s advice would be good.”

Page 179

She left him, and Lionel leaned his elbow on the mantel-piece, his brow contracting as does that of one in unpleasant thought.  Was he recalling the mode in which he had taken leave of Lucy earlier in the day?

CHAPTER XXXVII.

NEWS FOR LADY VERNER:  AND FOR LUCY.

If he did not recall it then, he recalled it later, when he was upon his bed, turning and tossing from side to side.  His conscience was smiting him—­smiting him from more points than one.  Carried away by the impulse of the moment, he had spoken words that night, in his hot passion, which might not be redeemed; and now that the leisure for reflection was come, he could not conceal from himself that he had been too hasty.  Lionel Verner was one who possessed excessive conscientiousness; even as a boy, had impetuosity led him into a fault—­as it often did—­his silent, inward repentance would be always keenly real, more so than the case deserved.  It was so now.  He loved Sibylla—­there had been no mistake there; but it is certain that the unexpected delight of meeting her, her presence palpably before him in all its beauty, her manifested sorrow and grief, her lonely, unprotected position, had all worked their effect upon his heart and mind, had imparted to his love a false intensity.  However the agitation of the moment may have caused him to fancy it, he did not love Sibylla as he had loved her of old; else why should the image of Lucy Tempest present itself to him surrounded by a halo of regret?  The point is as unpleasant for us to touch upon, as it was to Lionel to think of:  but the fact was all too palpable, and cannot be suppressed.  He did love Sibylla:  nevertheless there obtruded the unwelcome reflection that, in asking her to be his wife, he had been hasty; that it had been better had he taken time for consideration.  He almost doubted whether Lucy would not have been more acceptable to him; not loved yet so much as Sibylla, but better suited to him in all other ways; worse than this, he doubted whether he had not in honour bound himself tacitly to Lucy that very day.

The fit of repentance was upon him, and he tossed and turned from side to side upon his uneasy bed.  But, toss and turn as he would, he could not undo his night’s work.  There remained nothing for him but to carry it out, and make the best of it; and he strove to deceive his conscience with the hope that Lucy Tempest, in her girlish innocence, had not understood his hinted allusions to her becoming his wife; that she had looked upon his snatched caresses as but trifling pastime, such as he might offer to a child.  Most unjustifiable he now felt those hints, those acts to have been, and his brow grew red with shame at their recollection.  One thing he did hope, hope sincerely—­that Lucy did not care for him.  That she liked him very much, and had been on most confidential terms with him, he knew; but he did hope her liking went no deeper.  Strange sophistry! how it will deceive the human heart! how prone we are to admit it!  Lionel was honest enough in his hope now:  but, not many hours before, he had been hugging his heart with the delusion that Lucy did love him.

Page 180

Towards morning he dropped into an uneasy sleep.  He awoke later than his usual hour from a dream of Frederick Massingbird.  Dreams play us strange fantasies.  Lionel’s had taken him to that past evening, prior to Frederick Massingbird’s marriage, when he had sought him in his chamber, to offer a word of warning against the union.  He seemed to be living the interview over again, and the first words when he awoke, rushing over his brain with minute and unpleasant reality, were those he had himself spoken in reference to Sibylla:—­“Were she free as air this moment, were she to come to my feet, and say ‘Let me be your wife,’ I should tell her that the whole world was before her to choose from, save myself.  She can never again be anything to me.”

Brave words:  fully believed in when they were spoken:  but what did Lionel think of them now?

He went down to breakfast.  He was rather late, and found they had assembled.  Lady Verner, who had just heard for the first time of Lionel’s presence in the house, made no secret now of Lionel’s note to her.  Therefore Decima and Lucy knew that the “invasion” of Verner’s Pride had been caused by Mrs. Massingbird.

She—­Lady Verner—­scarcely gave herself time to greet Lionel before she commenced upon it.  She did not conceal, or seek to conceal, her sentiments—­either of Sibylla herself, or of the step she had taken.  And Lionel had the pleasure of hearing his intended bride alluded to in a manner that was not altogether complimentary.

He could not stop it.  He could not take upon himself the defence of Sibylla, and say, “Do you know that you are speaking of my future wife?” No, for Lucy Tempest was there.  Not in her presence had he the courage to bring home to himself his own dishonour:  to avow that, after wooing her (it was very like it), he had turned round and asked another to marry him.  The morning sun shone into the room upon the snowy cloth, upon the silver breakfast service, upon the exquisite cups of painted porcelain, upon those seated round the table.  Decima sat opposite to Lady Verner, Lionel and Lucy were face to face on either side.  The walls exhibited a few choice paintings; the room and its appurtenances were in excellent taste.  Lady Verner liked things that pleased the eye.  That silver service had been a recent present of Lionel’s, who had delighted in showering elegancies and comforts upon his mother since his accession.

“What could have induced her ever to think of taking up her residence at Verner’s Pride on her return?” reiterated Lady Verner to Lionel.

“She believed she was coming to her aunt.  It was only at the station, here, that she learned Mrs. Verner was dead.”

“She did learn it there?”

“Yes.  She learned it there.”

“And she could come to Verner’s Pride after that? knowing that you, and you alone, were its master?”

Lionel toyed with his coffee-cup.  He wished his mother would spare her remarks.

Page 181

“She was so fatigued, so low-spirited, that I believed she was scarcely conscious where she drove,” he returned.  “I am certain that the idea of there being any impropriety in it never once crossed her mind.”

Lady Verner drew her shawl around her with a peculiar movement.  If ever action expressed scorn, that one did—­scorn of Sibylla, scorn of her conduct, scorn of Lionel’s credulity in believing in her.  Lionel read it all.  Happening to glance across the table, he caught the eyes of Lucy Tempest fixed upon him with an open expression of wonder.  Wonder at what?  At his believing in Sibylla?  It might be.  With all Lucy’s straightforward plainness, she would have been one of the last to storm Lionel’s abode, and take refuge in it.  A retort, defending Sibylla, had been upon Lionel’s tongue, but that gaze stopped it.

“How long does she purpose honouring Verner’s Pride with her presence, and keeping you out of it?” resumed Lady Verner.

“I do not know what her plans for the present may be,” he answered, his cheeks burning at the thought of the avowal he had to make—­that her future plans would be contingent upon his.  Not the least painful of the results which Lionel’s haste had brought in its train, was the knowledge of the shock it would prove to his mother, whom he so loved and reverenced.  Why had he not thought of it at the time?

Breakfast over, Lionel went out, a very coward.  A coward, in so far as that he had shrunk from making yet the confession.  He was aware that it ought to be done.  The presence of Decima and Lucy Tempest had been his mental excuse for putting off the unwelcome task.

But a better frame of mind came over him ere he had gone many paces from the door; better, at any rate, as regarded the cowardice.

“A Verner never shrank yet from his duty,” was his comment, as he bent his steps back again.  “Am I turning renegade?”

He went straight up to Lady Verner, and asked her, in a low tone, to grant him a minute’s private interview.  They had breakfasted in the room which made the ante-room to the drawing-room; it was their usual morning-room.  Lady Verner answered her son by stepping into the drawing-room.

He followed her and closed the door.  The fire was but just lighted, scarcely giving out any heat.  She slightly shivered, and requested him to stir it.  He did so mechanically—­wholly absorbed by the revelation he had to impart.  He remembered how she had once fainted at nearly the same revelation.

“Mother, I have a communication to make to you,” he began with desperate energy, “and I don’t know how to do it.  It will pain you greatly.  Nothing that I can think of, or imagine, would cause you so much pain.”

Lady Verner seated herself in her low violet-velvet chair, and looked composedly at Lionel.  She did not dread the communication very much.  He was secure in Verner’s Pride; what could there be that she need fear?  She no more cast a glance to the possibility of his marrying the widow of Frederick Massingbird, than she would have done to his marrying that gentleman’s wife.  Buried in this semi-security, the shock must be all the greater.

Page 182

“I am about to marry,” said Lionel, plunging into the news headlong.  “And I fear that you will not approve my choice.  Nay, I know you will not.”

A foreshadowing of the truth came across her then.  She grew deadly pale, and put up her hands, as if to ward off the blow.  “Oh, Lionel! don’t say it! don’t say it!” she implored.  “I never can receive her.”

“Yes, you will, mother,” he whispered, his own face pale too, his tone one of painful entreaty.  “You will receive her for my sake.”

“Is it—­she?”

The aversion with which the name was avoided was unmistakable.  Lionel only nodded a grave affirmative.

“Have you engaged yourself to her?”

“I have.  Last night.”

“Were you mad?” she asked in a whisper.

“Stay, mother.  When you were speaking against Sibylla at breakfast, I refrained from interference, for you did not then know that defence of her was my duty.  Will you forgive me for reminding you that I cannot permit it to be continued, even by you?”

“But do you forget that it is not a respectable alliance for you?” resumed Lady Verner.  “No, not a respectable—­”

“I cannot listen to this; I pray you cease!” he broke forth, a blaze of anger lighting his face.  “Have you forgotten of whom you are speaking, mother?  Not respectable!”

“I say that it is not a respectable alliance for you—­Lionel Verner,” she persisted.  “An obscure surgeon’s daughter, he of not too good repute, who has been out to the end of the world, and found her way back alone, a widow, is not a desirable alliance for a Verner.  It would not be desirable for Jan; it is terrible for you?”

“We shall not agree upon this,” said Lionel, preparing to take his departure.  “I have acquainted you, mother, and I have no more to say, except to urge—­if I may do so—­that you will learn to speak of Sibylla with courtesy, remembering that she will shortly be my wife.”

Lady Verner caught his hand as he was retreating.

“Lionel, my son, tell me how you came to do it,” she wailed.  “You cannot love her! the wife, the widow of another man!  It must have been the work of a moment of folly.  Perhaps she drew you into it!”

The suggestion, “the work of a moment of folly,” was so very close a representation of what it had been, of what Lionel was beginning to see it to have been now, that the rest of the speech was lost to him in the echo of that one sentence.  Somehow, he did not care to refute it.

“She will be my wife, respected and honoured,” was all he answered, as he quitted the room.

Lady Verner followed him.  He went straight out, and she saw him walk hastily across the courtyard, putting on his hat as he traversed it.  She wrung her hands, and broke into a storm of wailing despair, ignoring the presence of Decima and Lucy Tempest.

“I had far rather that she had stabbed him!”

Page 183

The words excited their amazement.  They turned to Lady Verner, and were struck with the marks of agitation on her countenance.

“Mamma, what are you speaking of?” asked Decima.

Lady Verner pointed to Lionel, who was then passing through the front gates.  “I speak of him,” she answered:  “my darling; my pride; my much-loved son.  That woman has worked his ruin.”

Decima verily thought her mother must be wandering in her intellect.  Lucy could only gaze at Lady Verner in consternation.

“What woman?” repeated Decima.

She.  She who has been Lionel’s bane.  She who came and thrust herself into his home last night in her unseemly conduct.  What passed between them Heaven knows; but she has contrived to cajole him out of a promise to marry her.”

Decima’s pale cheek turned to a burning red.  She was afraid to ask questions.

“Oh, mamma! it cannot be!” was all she uttered.

“It is, Decima.  I told Lionel that he could not love her, who had been the wife of another man; and he did not refute it.  I told him she must have drawn him into it; and that he left unanswered.  He replied that she would be his wife, and must be honoured as such.  Drawn in to marry her! one who is so utterly unworthy of him! whom he does not even love!  Oh, Lionel, my son, my son!”

In their own grievous sorrow they noticed not the face of Lucy Tempest, or what they might have read there.

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE MISSES WEST EN PAPILLOTES.

Lionel went direct to the house of Dr. West.  It was early; and the Misses West, fatigued with their night’s pleasure, had risen in a scuffle, barely getting down at the breakfast hour.  Jan was in the country attending on a patient, and, not anticipating the advent of visitors, they had honoured Master Cheese with hair en papillotes.  Master Cheese had divided his breakfast hour between eating and staring.  The meal had been some time over, and the young gentleman had retired, but the ladies sat over the fire in unusual idleness, discussing the dissipation they had participated in.  A scream from the two arose upon the entrance of Lionel, and Miss Amilly flung her pocket-handkerchief over her head.

“Never mind,” said Lionel, laughing good-naturedly; “I have seen curl-papers before, in my life.  Your sitting here quietly, tells me that you do not know what has occurred.”

“What has occurred?” interrupted Deborah, before he could continue.  “It—­it”—­her voice grew suddenly timid—­“is nothing bad about papa?”

“No, no.  Your sister has arrived from Australia.  In this place of gossip, I wonder the news has not travelled to Jan or to Cheese.”

They had started up, poor things, their faces flushed, their eyelashes glistening, forgetting the little episode of the mortified vanity, eager to embrace Sibylla.

Page 184

“Come back from Australia!” uttered Deborah in wild astonishment.  “Then where is she, that she is not here, in her own home?”

“She came to mine,” replied Lionel.  “She supposed Mrs. Verner to be its mistress still.  I made my way here last night to ask you to come up, and found you were gone to Heartburg.”

“But—­she—­is not remaining at it?” exclaimed Deborah, speaking with hesitation, in her doubt, the flush on her face deepening.

“I placed it at her disposal until other arrangements could be made,” replied Lionel.  “I am at present the guest of Lady Verner.  You will go to Sibylla, will you not?”

Go to her?  Ay!  They tore the curl-papers out of their hair, and flung on bonnets and shawls, and hastened to Verner’s Pride.

“Say that I will call upon her in the course of the morning, and see how she is after her journey,” said Lionel.

In hurrying out, they encountered Jan.  Deborah stopped to say a word about his breakfast:  it was ready, she said, and she thought he must want it.

“I do,” responded Jan.  “I shall have to get an assistant, after all, Miss Deb.  I find it doesn’t answer to go quite without meals and sleep; and that’s what I have done lately.”

“So you have, Mr. Jan.  I say every day to Amilly that it can’t go on, for you to be walked off your legs in this way.  Have you heard the cheering news, Mr. Jan?  Sibylla’s come home.  We are going to her now, at Verner’s Pride?”

“I have heard it,” responded Jan.  “What took her to Verner’s Pride?”

“We have yet to learn all that.  You know, Mr. Jan, she never was given to consider a step much, before she took it.”

They tripped away, and Jan, in turning from them, met his brother.  Jan was one utterly incapable of finesse:  if he wanted to say a thing, he said it out plainly.  What havoc Jan would have made, enrolled in the corps of diplomatists!

“I say, Lionel,” began he, “is it true that you are going to marry Sibylla West?”

Lionel did not like the plain question, so abruptly put.  He answered curtly—­

“I am going to marry Sibylla Massingbird.”

“The old name comes the readiest,” said Jan.  “How did it come about, Lionel?”

“May I ask whence you derived your information, Jan?” returned Lionel, who was marvelling where Jan could have heard this.

“At Deerham Court.  I have been calling in, as I passed it, to see Miss Lucy.  The mother is going wild, I think.  Lionel, if it is as she says, that Sibylla drew you into it against your will, don’t you carry it out. I’d not.  Nobody should hook me into anything.”

“My mother said that, did she?  Be so kind as not to repeat it, Jan.  I am marrying Sibylla because I love her; I am marrying her of my own free will.  If anybody—­save my mother—­has aught of objection to make to it, let them make it to me.”

“Oh! that’s it, is it?” returned Jan.  “You need not be up, Lionel, it is no business of mine.  I’m sure you are free to marry her for me.  I’ll be groomsman, if you like.”

Page 185

“Lady Verner has always been prejudiced against Sibylla,” observed Lionel.  “You might have remembered that, Jan.”

“So I did,” said Jan; “though I assumed that what she said was sure to be true.  You see, I have been on the wrong scent lately.  I thought you were getting fond of Lucy Tempest.  It has looked like it.”

Lionel murmured some unintelligible answer, and turned away, a hot flush dyeing his brow.

Meanwhile Sibylla was already up, but not down.  Breakfast she would have carried up to her room, she told Mrs. Tynn.  She stood at the window, looking forth; not so much at the extensive prospect that swept the horizon in the distance, as at the fair lands immediately around.  “All his,” she murmured, “and I shall be his wife at last!”

She turned languidly round at the opening of the door, expecting to see her breakfast.  Instead of which, two frantic little bodies burst in and seized upon her.  Sibylla shrieked—­

“Don’t, Deb! don’t, Amilly!  Are you going to hug me to death?”

Their kisses of welcome over, they went round about her, fondly surveying her from all points with their tearful eyes.  She was thinner; but she was more lovely.  Amilly expressed an opinion that the bloom on her delicate wax face was even brighter than of yore.

“Of course it is, at the present moment,” answered Sibylla, “when you have been kissing me into a fever.”

“She is not tanned a bit with her voyage, that I see,” cried Deborah, with undisguised admiration.  “But Sibylla’s skin never did tan.  Child,” she added, bending towards her, and allowing her voice to become grave, “how could you think of coming to Verner’s Pride?  It was not right.  You should have come home.”

“I thought Mrs. Verner was living still.”

“And if she had been?—­This is Mr. Lionel’s house now; not hers.  You ought to have come home, my dear.  You will come home with us now, will you not?”

“I suppose you’ll allow me to have some breakfast first,” was Sibylla’s answer.  Secure in her future position, she was willing to go home to them temporarily now.  “Why is papa gone away, Deborah?”

“He will be coming back some time, dear,” was Deborah’s evasive answer, spoken soothingly.  “But tell us a little about yourself, Sibylla.  When poor Frederick—­”

“Not this morning, Deborah,” she interrupted, putting up her hand.  “I will tell you all another time.  It was an unlucky voyage.”

“Have you realised John’s money that he left?  That he lost, I should rather say.”

“I have realised nothing,” replied Sibylla—­“nothing but ill luck.  We never got tidings of John in any way, beyond the details of his death; we never saw a particle of the gold belonging to him, or could hear of it.  And my husband lost his desk the day we landed—­as I sent you word; and I had no money out there, and I have only a few shillings in my pocket.”

Page 186

This catalogue of ills nearly stunned Deborah and Amilly West.  They had none too much of life’s great need, gold, for themselves; and the burden of keeping Sibylla would be sensibly felt.  A tolerably good table it was indispensable to maintain, on account of Jan, and that choice eater, Master Cheese; but how they had to pinch in the matter of dress, they alone knew.  Sibylla also knew, and she read arightly the drooping of their faces.

“Never mind, Deborah; cheer up, Amilly.  It is only for a time.  Ere very long I shall be leaving you again.”

“Surely not for Australia!” returned Deborah, the hint startling her.

“Australia?  Well, I am not sure that it will be quite so far,” answered Sibylla, in a little spirit of mischief.  And, in the bright prospect of the future, she forgot past and present grievances, turned her laughing blue eyes upon her sisters, and, to their great scandal, began to waltz round and round the room.

CHAPTER XXXIX.

BROTHER JARRUM.

By the light of a single tallow candle which flared aloft on a shelf in Peckaby’s shop, consecrated in more prosperous days to wares, but bare now, a large collected assemblage was regarding each other with looks of eager interest.  There could not have been less than thirty present, all crammed together in that little space of a few feet square.  The first comers had taken their seats on the counters; the others stood as they could.  Two or three men, just returned from their day’s labour, were there; but the crowd was chiefly composed of the weaker sex.

The attention of these people was concentrated on a little man who faced them, leaning against the wall at the back of the shop, and holding forth in a loud, persuasive tone.  If you object to the term “holding forth,” you must blame Mrs. Duff; it is borrowed from her.  She informed us, you may remember, that the stranger who met, and appeared to avoid, Lionel Verner, was no other than a “missionary from Jerusalem,” taken with an anxiety for the souls of Deerham, and about to do what he could to convert them—­“Brother Jarrum.”

Brother Jarrum had entered upon his work, conjointly with his entry upon Peckaby’s spare bedroom.  He held nightly meetings in Peckaby’s shop, and the news of his fame was spreading.  Women of all ages flocked in to hear him—­you know how impressionable they have the character of being.  A sprinkling of men followed out of curiosity, of idleness, or from propensity to ridicule.  Had Brother Jarrum proved to be a real missionary from Jerusalem—­though, so far as my knowledge goes, such messengers from that city are not common—­genuinely desirous of converting them from wrath to grace, I fear his audience would, after the first night or two, have fallen off considerably. This missionary, however, contrived both to keep his audience and to increase it; his promises partaking more of the mundane nature than do such promises in general.  In point of fact, Brother Jarrum was an Elder from a place that he was pleased to term “New Jerusalem”; in other words, from the Salt Lake city.

Page 187

It has been the fate of certain spots of England, more so than of most other parts of the European world, to be favoured by periodical visits from these gentry.  Deerham was now suffering under the infliction, and Brother Jarrum was doing all that lay in his power to convert half its female population into Mormon proselytes.  His peculiar doctrines it is of no consequence to transcribe; but some of his promises were so rich that it is a pity you should lose the treat of hearing them.  They commenced with—­husbands to all.  Old or young, married or single, each was safe to be made the wife of one of these favoured prophets the instant she set foot in the new city.  This, of course, was a very grand thing for the women—­as you may know if you have any experience of them—­especially for those who were getting on the shady side of forty, and had not changed their name.  They, the women, gathered together and pressed into Peckaby’s shop, and stared at Brother Jarrum with eager eyes, and listened with strained ears, only looking off him to cast admiring glances one to another.

“Stars and snakes!” said Brother Jarrum, whose style of oratory was more peculiar than elegant, “what flounders me is, that the whole lot of you Britishers don’t migrate of yourselves to the desired city—­the promised land—­the Zion on the mountains.  You stop here to pinch and toil and care, and quarrel one of another, and starve your children through having nothing to give ’em, when you might go out there to ease, to love, to peace, to plenty.  It’s a charming city; what else should it be called the City of the Saints for?  The houses have shady veranders round ’em, with sweet shrubs a-creeping up, and white posts and pillows to lean against.  The bigger a household is, the more rooms it have got; not a lady there, if there was a hundred of ’em in family, but what’s got her own parlour and bedroom to herself, which no stranger thinks of going in at without knocking for leaf.  All round and about these houses is productive gardens, trees and flowers for ornament, and fruits and green stuff to eat.  There’s trees that they call cotton wood, and firs, and locusts, and balsams, and poplars, and pines, and acacias, some of ’em in blossom.  A family may live for nothing upon the produce of their own ground.  Vegetables is to be had for the cutting; their own cows gives the milk—­such milk and butter as this poor place, Deerham, never saw—­but the rich flavour’s imparted to ’em from the fine quality of the grass; and fruit you might feed upon till you got a surfeit.  Grapes and peaches is all a-hanging in clusters to the hand, only waiting to be plucked!  Stars! my mouth’s watering now at the thoughts of ’em!  I—­”

“Please, sir, what did you say the name of the place was again?” interrupted a female voice.

“New Jerusalem,” replied Brother Jarrum.  “It’s in the territory of Utah.  On the maps and on the roads, and for them that have not awoke to the new light, it’s called the Great Salt Lake City; but for us favoured saints, it’s New Jerusalem.  It’s Zion—­it’s Paradise—­it’s anything beautiful you may like to call it.  There’s a ballroom in it.”

Page 188

This abrupt wind-up rather took some of the audience aback.  “A ballroom!”

“A ballroom,” gravely repeated Brother Jarrum.  “A public ballroom not far from a hundred feet long; and we have got a theatre for the acting of plays; and we go for rides in winter in sleighs.  Ah! did you think it was with us, out there, as it is with you in the old country?—­one’s days to be made up of labour, labour, labour; no interlude to it but starvation and the crying of children as can’t get nursed or fed!  We like amusement; and we have it; dancing in particular.  Our great prophet himself dances; and all the apostles and bishops dance.  They dance themselves down.”

The assemblage sat with open eyes.  New wonders were revealed to them every moment.  Some of the younger legs grew restless at the mental vision conjured up.

“It’s part of our faith to dance,” continued Brother Jarrum.  “Why shouldn’t we?  Didn’t David dance?  Didn’t Jephthah dance?  Didn’t the prodigal son dance?  You’ll all dance on to the last if you come to us.  Such a thing as old legs is hardly known among us.  As the favoured climate makes the women’s faces beautiful, so it keeps the limbs from growing old.  The ballroom is hung with green branches and flags; you might think it was a scene of trees lit with lamps; and you’d never tire of listening to the music, or of looking at the supper-table.  If you could only see the suppers given, in a picture to-night, it ’ud spoil your sleep, and you’d not rest till you had started to partake of ’em.  Ducks and turkeys, and oysters, and fowls, and fish, and meats, and custards, and pies, and potatoes, and greens, and jellies, and coffee, and tea, and cake, and drinks, and so many more things that you’d be tired only of hearing me say the names.  There’s abundance for all.”

Some commotion amid Brother Jarrum’s hearers, and a sound as of licking of lips.  That supper account was a great temptation.  Had Brother Jarrum started then, straight off for the Salt Lake, the probability is that three-parts of the room would have formed a tail after him.

“What’s the drinks?” inquired Jim Clark, the supper items imparting to his inside a curious feeling of emptiness.

“There’s no lack of drinks in the City of the Saints,” returned Brother Jarrum.  “Whisky’s plentiful.  Have you heard of mint julep?  That is delicious.  Mint is one of the few productions not common out there, and we are learning to make the julep with sage instead.  You should see the plains of sage!  It grows wild.”

“And there’s ducks, you say?” observed Susan Peckaby.  “It’s convenient to have sage in plenty where there’s ducks,” added she to the assembly in general.  “What a land it must be!”

“A land that’s not to be ekalled!  A land flowing with milk and honey!” rapturously echoed Brother Jarrum.  “Ducks is in plenty, and sage grows as thick as nettles do here; you can’t go out to the open country but you put your foot upon it.  Nature’s generally in accordance with herself.  What should she give all them bushes of wild sage for, unless she gave ducks to match?”

Page 189

A problem that appeared indisputable to the minds of Brother Jarrum’s listeners.  They sincerely wished themselves in New Jerusalem.

“Through the streets runs a stream of sparkling water, clear as crystal,” continued Brother Jarrum.  “You have only got to stoop down with a can on a hot summer’s day, and take a drink of it.  It runs on both sides the streets for convenience; folks step out of their houses, and draw it up with no trouble.  You have not got to toil half a mile to a spring of fresh water there!  You’d never forget the silver lake at the base of Antelope Island, once you set eyes on it.”

Several haggard eyes were lifted at this.  “Do silver grow there, like the sage?”

“I spoke metaphorical,” explained Brother Jarrum.  “Would I deceive you?  No.  It’s the Great Salt Lake, that shines out like burnished silver, and bursts on the sight of the new pilgrims when they arrive in bands at the holy city—­the emigrants from this land.”

“Some do arrive then, sir?” timidly questioned Dinah Roy.

“Some!” indignantly responded Brother Jarrum.  “They are arriving continual.  The very evening before I left, a numerous company arrived.  It was just upon sunset.  The clouds was all of rose colour, tipped with purple and gold, and there lay the holy city at their feet, in the lovely valley I told you of last night, with the lake of glittering silver in the distance.  It is a sight for ’em, I can tell you!  The regular-built houses, inclosed in their gardens and buildings, like farm homesteads, and the inhabitants turning out with fiddles, to meet and welcome the travellers.  Some of the pilgrims fainted with joy; some shouted; lots danced; and sobs and tears of delight burst from all.  If the journey had been a little fatiguing—­what of that, with that glorious scene at the end of it?”

“And you see this?” cried a man, Davies, in a somewhat doubtful tone.

“I see it with my two eyes,” answered Brother Jarrum.  “I often see it.  We had had news in the city that a train of new-comers was approaching, mostly English, and we went out to meet ’em.  Not one of us saints, hardly, but was expecting some friend by it—­a sister, or a father, or a sweetheart, maybe; and away we hurried outside the city.  Presently the train came in sight.”

“They have railroads there, then?” spoke a man, who was listening with eager interest.  It was decent, civil Grind.

“Not yet; we shall have ’em shortly,” said Brother Jarrum.  “The train consisted of carts, carriages, vehicles of all sorts; and some rode mules, and some were walking on their legs.  They were all habited nicely, and singing hymns.  A short way afore they arrive at the holy city, it’s the custom for the emigrants to make a halt, and wash and dress themselves, so as to enter proper.  Such a meeting! the kissing and the greeting drownding the noise of the music, and the old men and the little children dancing.  The prophet himself came out, and shook hands with ’em all, his brass band blowing in front of him, and he standing up in his carriage.  Where else would you travel to, I’d like to know, and find such a welcome at the end of your journey?  Houses, and friends, and plenty, all got ready aforehand; and gentlemen waiting to marry the ladies that may wish to enter the holy state!”

Page 190

“There is a plenty?” questioned again that unbelieving man, Davies.

“There’s such a plenty that the new arrivals are advised to eat, for a week or two, only half their fill,” returned Brother Jarrum—­“of fruits in partic’lar.  Some, that have gone right in at the good things without mercy, have been laid up through it, and had to fine themselves down upon physic for a week after.  No; it’s best to be a little sparing at the beginning.”

“What did he say just now about all the Mormons being beautiful?” questioned a pretty-looking girl of her neighbours.  And Brother Jarrum caught the words, although they were spoken in an undertone.

“And so they are,” said he.  “The climate’s of a nature that softens the faces, keeps folks in health, and stops ’em from growing old.  If you see two females in the street, one a saint’s wife, the t’other a new arrival, you can always tell which is which.  The wife’s got a slender waist, like a lady, with a delicate colour in her face, and silky hair; the new-comer’s tanned, and fat, and freckled, and clumsy.  If you don’t believe me, you can ask them as have been there.  There’s something in the dress they wear, too, that sets ’em off.  No female goes out without a veil, which hangs down behind.  They don’t want to hide their pretty faces, not they.”

Mary Green, a damsel of twenty, she who had previously spoken, really did possess a pretty face; and a rapturous vision came over her at this juncture, of beholding it shaded and set off by a white lace veil, as she had often seen Miss Decima Verner’s.

“Now, I can’t explain to you why it is that the women in the city should be fair to the eye, or why the men don’t seem to grow old,” resumed Brother Jarrum.  “It is so, and that’s enough.  People, learned in such things, might tell the cause; but I’m not learned in ’em.  Some says it’s the effect of the New Jerusalem climate; some thinks it’s the fruits of the happy and plentiful life we lead:  my opinion is, it’s a mixture of both.  A man of sixty hardly looks forty, out there.  It’s a great favour!”

One of the ill-doing Dawsons, who had pushed his way in at the shop door in time to hear part of the lavished praise on New Jerusalem, interrupted at this juncture.

“I say, master, if this is as you’re a-telling us, how is it that folks talk so again’ the Mormons?  I met a man in Heartburg once, who had been out there, and he couldn’t say bad enough of ’em.”

“Snakes! but that’s a natural question of yours, and I’m glad to answer it,” replied Brother Jarrum, with a taking air of candour.  “Those evil reports come from our enemies.  There’s another tribe living in the Great Salt Lake City besides ours; and that’s the Gentiles.  Gentiles is our name for ’em.  It’s this set that spreads about uncredible reports, and we’d like to sew their mouths up—­”

Brother Jarrum probably intended to say “unaccredited.”  He continued, somewhat vehemently—­

Page 191

“To sew their mouths up with a needle and thread, and let ’em be sewed up for ever.  They are jealous of us; that’s what it is.  Some of their wives, too, have left ’em to espouse our saints, at which they naggar greatly.  The outrageousest things that enemies’ tongues can be laid to, they say.  Don’t you ever believe ’em; it flounders me to think as anybody can.  Whoever wants to see my credentials, they are at their beck and call.  Call to-morrow morning—­in my room upstairs—­call any other morning, and my certificates is open to be looked at, with spectacles or without ’em, signed in full, at the Great Salt Lake City, territory of Utah, by our prophet, Mr. Brigham Young, and two of his councillors, testifying that I am Elder Silas Jarrum, and that my mission over here is to preach the light to them as are at present asleep in darkness, and bring ’em to the community of the Latter Day Saints. I’m no impostor, I’m not; and I tell you that the false reports come from them unbelieving Gentiles.  Instead of minding their own affairs, they pass their days nagging at the saints.”

“Why don’t they turn saints theirselves?” cried a voice sensibly.

“Because Satan stops ’em.  You have heard of him, you know.  He’s busy everywhere, as you’ve been taught by your parsons.  I put my head inside of your church door, last Sunday night, while the sermon was going on, and I heard your parson tell you as Satan was the foundation of all the ill that was in you.  He was right there; though I’m no friend to parsons in general.  Satan is the head and tail of bad things, and he fills up the Gentiles with proud notions, and blinds their eyes against us.  No wonder!  If every soul in the world turned Latter Day Saint, and come over to us at New Jerusalem, where ’ud Satan’s work be?  We are striving to get you out of the clutches of Satan, my friends, and you must strive for yourselves also.  Where’s the use of us elders coming among you to preach and convert, unless you meet us half-way?  Where’s the good of keeping up that ‘Perpetual Emigration Fund Company,’ if you don’t reap its benefit and make a start to emigrate?  These things is being done for you, not for us.  The Latter Day Saints have got nothing mean nor selfish about ’em.  They are the richest people in the world—­in generosity and good works.”

“Is servants allowed to dress in veils, out there?” demanded Mary Green, during a pause of Brother Jarrum’s, afforded to the audience that they might sufficiently revolve the disinterested generosity of the Latter Day Saint community.

“Veils!  Veils, and feathers, too, if they are so minded,” was Brother Jarrum’s answer; and it fell like a soothing sound on Mary Green’s vain ear.  “It’s not many servants, though, that you’d find in New Jerusalem.”

“Ain’t servants let go out to New Jerusalem?” quickly returned Mary Green.  She was a servant herself, just now out of place, given to spend all her wages upon finery, and coming to grief perpetually with her mistresses upon the score.

Page 192

“Many of ’em goes out,” was the satisfactory reply of Brother Jarrum.  “But servants here are not servants there.  Who’d be a servant if she could be a missis?  Wouldn’t a handsome young female prefer to be her master’s wife than to be his servant?”

Mary Green giggled; the question had been pointedly put to her.

“If a female servant chooses to remain a servant, in course she can,” Brother Jarrum resumed, “and precious long wages she’d get; eighty pound a year—­good.”

A movement of intense surprise amid the audience.  Brother Jarrum went on—­

“I can’t say I have knowed many as have stopped servants, even at that high rate of pay.  My memory won’t charge me with one.  They have married and settled, and so have secured for themselves paradise.”

This might be taken as a delicate hint that the married state, generally, deserved that happy title.  Some of the experiences of those present, however, rather tended to accord it a less satisfactory one, and there arose some murmuring.  Brother Jarrum explained—­

“Women is not married with us for time, but for eternity—­as I tried to beat into you last night.  Once the wife of a saint, their entrance into paradise is safe and certain.  We have not got a old maid among us—­not a single old maid!”

The sensation that this information caused, I’ll leave you to judge; considering that Deerham was famous for old maids, and that several were present.

“No old maids, and no widders,” continued Brother Jarrum, wiping his forehead, which was becoming moist with the heat of argument.  “We have respect to our women, we have, and like to make ’em comfortable.”

“But if their husbands die off?” suggested a puzzled listener.

“The husband’s successor marries his widders,” explained Brother Jarrum.  “Look at our late head and prophet, Mr. Joe Smith—­him that appeared in a vision to our present prophet, and pointed out the spot for the new temple.  He died a martyr, Mr. Joe Smith did—­a prey to wicked murderers.  Were his widders left to grieve and die out after him?  No.  Mr. Brigham Young, he succeeded to his honours, and he married the widders.”

This was received somewhat dubiously; the assemblage not clear whether to approve it or to cavil at it.

“Not so much to be his wives, you know, as to be a kind of ruling matrons in his household,” went on Brother Jarrum.  “To have their own places apart, their own rooms in the house, and to be as happy as the day’s long.  They don’t—­”

“How they must quarrel, a lot of wives together!” interrupted a discontented voice.

Brother Jarrum set himself energetically to disprove this supposition.  He succeeded.  Belief is easy to willing minds.

Page 193

“Which is best?” asked he.—­“To be one of the wives of a rich saint, where all the wives is happy, and honoured, and well dressed; or to toil and starve, and go next door to naked, as a poor man’s solitary wife does here?  I know which I should choose if the two chances was offered me.  A woman can’t put her foot inside the heavenly kingdom, I tell you, unless she has got a husband to lay hold of her hand and draw her in.  The wives of a saint are safe; paradise is in store for ’em; and that’s why the Gentiles’ wives—­them folks that’s for ever riling at us—­leave their husbands to marry the saints.”

“Does the saints’ wives ever leave ’em to marry them others—­the Gentiles?” asked that troublesome Davies.

“Such cases have been heered of,” responded Brother Jarrum, shaking his head with a grave solemnity of manner.  “They have braved the punishment and done it.  But the act has been rare.”

“What is the punishment?” inquired somebody’s wife.

“When a female belonging to the Latter Day Saints—­whether she’s married or single—­falls off from grace and goes over to them Gentiles, and marries one of ’em, she’s condemned to be buffeted by Satan for a thousand years.”

A pause of consternation.

“Who condemns her?” a voice, more venturesome than the rest, was heard to ask.

“There’s mysteries in our faith which can’t be disclosed even to you,” was the reply of Brother Jarrum.  “Them apostate women are condemned to it; and that’s enough.  It’s not everybody as can see the truth.  Ninety-nine may see it, and the hundredth mayn’t.”

“Very true, very true,” was murmured around.

“I think I see the waggins and the other vehicles arriving now!” rapturously exclaimed Brother Jarrum, turning his eyes right up into his head, the better to take in the mental vision.  “The travellers, tired with their journey, washed and shaved, and dressed, and the women’s hair anointed, all flagrant with oil and frantic with joy—­shouting, singing, and dancing to the tune of the advancing fiddles!  I think I see the great prophet himself, with his brass-band in front and his body-guard around him, meeting the travellers and shaking their hands individ’ally!  I think I see the joy of the women, and the nice young girls, when they are led to the hyminial halter in our temple by the saints that have fixed on ’em, to be inducted into the safety of paradise!  Happy those that the prophet chooses for himself!  While them other poor mistaken backsliders shall be undergoing their thousand years of buffetings, they’ll reign triumphant, the saved saints of the Mil—­”

Page 194

How long Brother Jarrum’s harangue might have rung on the wide ears of his delighted listeners, it is not easy to say.  But an interruption occurred, to the proceeding’s.  It was caused by the entrance of Peckaby; and the meeting was terminated somewhat abruptly.  While Susan Peckaby sat at the feet of the saint, a willing disciple of his doctrine, her lord and master, however disheartening it may be to record it, could not, by any means, be induced to open his heart and receive the grace.  He remained obdurate.  Passively obdurate during the day; but rather demonstratively obdurate towards night.  Peckaby, a quiet, civil man enough when sober, was just the contrary when ivre; and since he had joined the blacksmith’s shop, his evening visits to a noted public-house—­the Plough and Harrow—­had become frequent.  On his return home from these visits, his mind had once or twice been spoken out pretty freely as to the Latter Day Saint doctrine:  once he had gone the length of clearing the shop of guests, and marshalling the saint himself to the retirement of his own apartment.  However contrite he may have shown himself for this the next morning, nobody desired to have the scene repeated.  Consequently, when Peckaby now entered, defiance in his face and unsteadiness in his legs, the guests filed out of their own accord; and Brother Jarrum, taking the flaring candle from the shelf, disappeared with it up the stairs.

This has been a very fair specimen of Brother Jarrum’s representations and eloquence.  It was only one meeting out of a great many.  As I said before, the precise tenets of his religious faith need not be enlarged upon:  it is enough to say that they were quite equal to his temporal promises.  You will, therefore, scarcely wonder that he made disciples.  But the mischief, as yet, had only begun to brew.

CHAPTER XL.

A VISIT OF CEREMONY.

Whatever may have been Lionel Verner’s private sentiments, with regard to his choice of a wife—­whether he repented his hasty bargain or whether he did not, no shade of dissatisfaction escaped him.  Sibylla took up her abode with her sisters, and Lionel visited her, just as other men visit the young ladies they may be going to marry.  The servants at Verner’s Pride were informed that a mistress for them was in contemplation, and preparations for the marriage were begun.  Not until summer would it take place, when twelve months should have elapsed from the demise of Frederick Massingbird.

Deerham was, of course, free in its comments, differing in no wise on that score from other places.  Lionel Verner was pitied, and Sibylla abused.  The heir of Verner’s Pride, with his good looks, his manifold attractions, his somewhat cold impassibility as to the tempting snares laid out for him in the way of matrimony, had been a beacon for many a young lady to steer towards.  Had he married Lucy Tempest, had he married Lady Mary Elmsley, had he married a royal princess, he and she would both have been equally cavilled at.  He, for placing himself beyond the pale of competition; she, for securing the prize.  It always was so, and it always will be.

Page 195

His choice of Mrs. Massingbird, however, really did afford some grounds for grumbling.  She was not worthy of Lionel Verner.  So Deerham thought; so Deerham said.  He was throwing himself away; he would live to repent it; she must have been the most crafty of women, so to have secured him!  Free words enough, and harshly spoken; but they were as water by the side of those uttered by Lady Verner.

In the first bitter hour of disappointment, Lady Verner gave free speech to harsh things.  It was in her love for Lionel that she so grieved.  Setting aside the facts that Sibylla had been the wife of another man, that she was, in position, beneath Lionel—­which facts, however, Lady Verner could not set aside, for they were ever present to her—­her great objection lay in the conviction that Sibylla would prove entirely unsuited to him; that it would turn out an unhappy union.  Short and sharp was the storm with Lady Verner; but in a week or two she subsided into quietness, buried her grief and resentment within her, and made no further outward demonstration.

“Mother, you will call upon Sibylla?” Lionel said to her one day that he had gone to Deerham Court.  He spoke in a low, deprecating tone, and his face flushed; he anticipated he knew not what torrent of objection.

Lady Verner met the request differently.

“I suppose it will be expected of me, that I should do so,” she replied, strangely calm.  “How I dislike this artificial state of things!  Where the customs of society must be bowed to, by those who live in it; their actions, good or bad, commented upon and judged!  You have been expecting that I should call before this, I suppose, Lionel?”

“I have been hoping, from day to day, that you would call.”

“I will call—­for your sake.  Lionel,” she passionately added, turning to him, and seizing his hands between hers, “what I do now, I do for your sake.  It has been a cruel blow to me; but I will try to make the best of it, for you, my best-loved son.”

He bent down to his mother, and kissed her tenderly.  It was his mode of showing her his thanks.

“Do not mistake me, Lionel.  I will go just so far in this matter as may be necessary to avoid open disapproval.  If I appear to approve it, that the world may not cavil and you complain, it will be little more than an appearance.  I will call upon your intended wife, but the call will be one of etiquette, of formal ceremony:  you must not expect me to get into the habit of repeating it.  I shall never become intimate with her.”

“You do not know what the future may bring forth,” returned Lionel, looking at his mother with a smile.  “I trust the time will come when you shall have learned to love Sibylla.”

“I do not think that time will ever arrive,” was the frigid reply of Lady Verner.  “Oh, Lionel!” she added, in an impulse of sorrow, “what a barrier this has raised between us—­what a severing for the future!”

Page 196

“The barrier exists in your own mind only, mother,” was his answer, spoken sadly.  “Sibylla would be a loving daughter to you, if you would allow her so to be.”

A slight, haughty shake of the head, suppressed at once, was the reply of Lady Verner.  “I had looked for a different daughter,” she continued.  “I had hoped for Mary Elmsley.”

“Upon this point, at any rate, there need be no misunderstanding,” returned Lionel.  “Believe me once for all, mother:  I should never have married Mary Elmsley.  Had I and Sibylla remained apart for life, separated as wide as the two poles, it is not Mary Elmsley whom I should have made my wife.  It is more than probable that my choice would have pleased you only in a degree more than it does now.”

The jealous ears of Lady Verner detected an undercurrent of meaning in the words.

“You speak just as though you had some one in particular in your thoughts!” she uttered.

It recalled Lucy, it recalled the past connected with her, all too plainly to his mind; and he returned an evasive answer.  He never willingly recalled her:  or it:  if they obtruded themselves on his memory—­as they very often did—­he drove them away, as he was driving them now.

He quitted the house, and Lady Verner proceeded upstairs to Decima’s room—­that pretty room, with its blue panels and hangings, where Lionel used to be when he was growing convalescent.  Decima and Lucy were in it now.  “I wish you to go out with me to make a call,” she said to them.

“Both of us, mamma?” inquired Decima.

“Both,” repeated Lady Verner.  “It is a call of etiquette,” she added, a sound of irony mixing in the tone, “and, therefore, you must both make it.  It is to Lionel’s chosen wife.”

A hot flush passed into the face of Lucy Tempest; hot words rose to her lips.  Hasty, thoughtless, impulsive words, to the effect that she could not pay a visit to the chosen wife of Lionel Verner.

But she checked them ere they were spoken.  She turned to the window, which had been opened to the early spring day, and suffered the cool air to blow on her flushed face, and calmed down her impetuous thoughts.  Was this the course of conduct that she had marked out for herself?  She looked round at Lady Verner and said, in a gentle tone, that she would be ready at any hour named.

“We will go at once,” replied Lady Verner.  “I have ordered the carriage.  The sooner we make it—­as we have to make it—­the better.”

There was no mistake about it.  Lucy had grown to love Lionel Verner. How she loved him, esteemed him, venerated him, none, save her own heart, could tell.  Her days had been as one long dream of Eden.  The very aspect of the world had changed.  The blue sky, the soft-breathing wind, the scent of the budding flowers, had spoken a language to her, never before learned:  “Rejoice in us, for we are lovely!” It was the strange bliss in her own

Page 197

heart that threw its rose hues over the face of nature, the sweet, mysterious rapture arising from love’s first dream; which can never be described by mortal pen; and never, while it lasts, can be spoken of by living tongue. While it lasts.  It never does last.  It is the one sole ecstatic phase of life, the solitary romance stealing in once, and but once, amidst the world’s hard realities; the “fire filched for us from heaven.”  Has it to arise yet for you—­you, who read this?  Do not trust it when it comes, for it will be fleeting as a summer cloud.  Enjoy it, revel in it while you hold it; it will lift you out of earth’s clay and earth’s evil with its angel wings; but trust not to its remaining:  even while you are saying, “I will make it mine for ever,” it is gone.  It had gone for Lucy Tempest.  And, oh! better for her, perhaps, that it should go; better, perhaps, for all; for if that sweet glimpse of paradise could take up its abode permanently in the heart, we should never look, or wish, or pray for that better paradise which has to come hereafter.

But who can see this in the sharp flood tide of despair?  Not Lucy.  In losing Lionel she has lost all; and nothing remained for her but to do battle with her trouble alone.  Passionately and truly as Lionel had loved Sibylla; so, in her turn, did Lucy love him.

It is not the fashion now for young ladies to die of broken hearts—­as it was in the old days.  A little while given to “the grief that kills,” and then Lucy strove to arouse herself to better things.  She would go upon her way, burying all feelings within her; she would meet him and others with a calm exterior and placid smile; none should see that she suffered; no, though her heart were breaking.

“I will forget him,” she murmured to herself ten times in the day.  “What a mercy that I did not let him see I loved him!  I never should have loved him, but that I thought he—­Psha! why do I recall it?  I was mistaken; I was stupid—­and all that’s left to me is to make the best of it.”

So she drove her thoughts away, as Lionel did.  She set out on her course bravely, with the determination to forget him.  She schooled her heart, and schooled her face, and believed she was doing great things.  To Lionel she cast no blame—­and that was unfortunate for the forgetting scheme.  She blamed herself; not Lionel.  Remarkably simple and humble-minded, Lucy Tempest was accustomed to think of every one before herself.  Who was she, that she should have assumed Lionel Verner was growing to love her?  Sometimes she would glance at another phase of the picture:  That Lionel had been growing to love her; but that Sibylla Massingbird had, in some weak moment, by some sleight of hand, drawn him to her again, extracted from him a promise that he could not retract.  She did not dwell upon this; she drove it from her, as she drove away, or strove to drive away, the other thoughts; although the theory, regarding the night of Sibylla’s return, was the favourite theory of Lady Verner.  Altogether, I say, circumstances were not very favourable towards Lucy’s plan of forgetting him.

Page 198

Lady Verner’s carriage—­the most fascinating carriage in all Deerham, with its blue and silver appointments, its fine horses, all the present of Lionel—­conveyed them to the house of Dr. West.  Lady Verner would not have gone otherwise than in state, for untold gold.  Distance allowing her, for she was not a good walker, she would have gone on foot, without attendants, to visit the Countess of Elmsley and Lady Mary; but not Sibylla.  You can understand the distinction.

They arrived at an inopportune moment, for Lionel was there.  At least, Lionel thought it inopportune.  On leaving his mother’s house he had gone to Sibylla’s.  And, however gratified he may have been by the speedy compliance of his mother with his request, he had very much preferred not to be present himself, if the call comprised, as he saw it did comprise, Lucy Tempest.

Sibylla was at home alone; her sisters were out.  She had been leaning back in an invalid chair, listening to the words of Lionel, when a servant opened the door and announced Lady Verner.  Neither had observed the stopping of the carriage.  Carriages often stopped at the house, and visitors entered it; but they were most frequently professional visits, concerning nobody but Jan.  Lady Verner swept in.  For her very life she could not avoid showing hauteur in that moment.  Sibylla sprung from her chair, and stood with a changing face.

Lionel’s countenance, too, was changing.  It was the first time he had met Lucy face to face in the close proximity necessitated by a room.  He had studiously striven not to meet her, and had contrived to succeed.  Did he call himself a coward for it?  But where was the help?

A few moments given to greeting, to the assuming of seats, and they were settled down.  Lady Verner and Decima on a sofa opposite Sibylla; Lucy in a low chair—­what she was sure to look out for; Lionel leaning against the mantel-piece—­as favourite a position of his, as a low seat was of Lucy’s.  Sibylla had been startled by their entrance, and her chest was beating.  Her brilliant colour went and came, her hand was pressed upon her bosom, as if to still it, and she lay rather back in her chair for support.  She had not assumed a widow’s cap since her arrival, and her pretty hair fell around her in a shower of gold.  In spite of Lady Verner’s prejudices, she could not help thinking her very beautiful; but she looked suspiciously delicate.

“It is very kind of you to come to see me,” said Sibylla, speaking timidly across to Lady Verner.

Lady Verner slightly bowed.  “You do not look strong,” she observed to Sibylla, speaking in the moment’s impulse.  “Are you well?”

“I am pretty well.  I am not strong.  Since I returned home, a little thing seems to flutter me, as your entrance has done now.  Lionel had just told me you would call upon me, he thought.  I was so glad to hear it!  Somehow I had feared you would not.”

Candid, at any rate; and Lady Verner did not disapprove the apparent feeling that prompted it; but how her heart revolted at hearing those lips pronounce “Lionel” familiarly, she alone could tell.  Again came the offence.

Page 199

“Lionel tells me sometimes I am so changed since I went out, that even he would scarcely have known me.  I do not think I am so changed as all that.  I had a great deal of vexation and trouble, and I grew thin.  But I shall soon be well again now.”

A pause.

“You ascertained no certain news of John Massingbird, I hear,” observed Lady Verner.

“Not any.  A gentleman there is endeavouring to trace out more particulars.  I heard—­did Lionel mention to you—­that I heard, strange to say, of Luke Roy, from the family I was visiting—­the Eyres?  Lionel”—­turning to him—­“did you repeat it to Lady Verner?”

“I believe not,” replied Lionel.  He could not say to Sibylla, “My mother would tolerate no conversation on any topic connected with you.”

Another flagging pause.

Lionel, to create a divertisement, raised a remarkably, fine specimen of coral from the table, and carried it to his mother.

“It is beautiful,” he remarked.  “Sibylla brought it home with her.”

Lady Verner allowed that it was beautiful.

“Show it to Lucy,” she said, when she had examined it with interest.  “Lucy, my dear, do you remember what I was telling you the other evening, about the black coral?”

Sibylla rose and approached Lucy with Lionel.

“I am so pleased to make your acquaintance,” she said warmly.  “You only came to Deerham a short while before I was leaving it, and I saw scarcely anything of you.  Lionel has seen a great deal of you, I fancy, though he will not speak of you.  I told him one day it looked suspicious; that I should be jealous of you, if he did not mind.”

It was a foolish speech—­foolish of Sibylla to give utterance to it; but she did so in all singleness of heart, meaning nothing.  Lucy was bending over the coral, held by Lionel.  She felt her own cheeks flush, and she saw by chance, not by direct look, that Lionel’s face had turned a deep scarlet.  Jealous of her!  She continued to admire the coral some little time longer, and then resigned it to him with a smile.

“Thank you, Mr. Verner.  I am fond of these marine curiosities.  We had a good many of them at the rectory.  Mr. Cust’s brother was a sailor.”

Lionel could not remember the time when she had called him “Mr. Verner.”  It was right, however, that she should do so; but in his heart he felt thankful for that sweet smile.  It seemed to tell him that she, at any rate, was heart-whole, that she certainly bore him no resentment.  He spoke freely now.

“You are not looking well, Lucy—­as we have been upon the subject of looks.”

“I?  Oh, I have had another cold since the one Jan cured.  I did not try his remedies in time, and it fastened upon me.  I don’t know which barked the most—­I or Growler.”

“Jan says he shall have Growler here,” remarked Sibylla.

“No, Sibylla,” interposed Lionel; “Jan said he should like to have Growler here, if it were convenient to do so, and my mother would spare him.  A medical man’s is not the place for a barking dog; he might attack the night applicants.”

Page 200

“Is it Jan’s dog?” inquired Lucy.

“Yes,” said Lionel.  “I thought you knew it.  Why, don’t you remember, Lucy, the day I—­”

Whatever reminiscence Lionel may have been about to recall, he cut it short midway, and subsided into silence.  What was his motive?  Did Lucy know?  She did not ask for the ending, and the rest were then occupied, and had not heard.

More awkward pauses—­as in these visits where the parties do not amalgamate is sure to be the case, and then Lady Verner slightly bowed to Lucy, as she might have done on their retiring from table, and rose.  Extending the tips of her delicately-gloved fingers to Sibylla, she swept out of the room.  Decima shook hands with her more cordially, although she had not spoken half a dozen words during the interview, and Sibylla turned and put her hand into Lucy’s.

“I hope we shall be intimate friends,” she said.  “I hope you will be our frequent guest at Verner’s Pride.”

“Thank you,” replied Lucy.  And perhaps the sudden flush on her face might have been less vivid had Lionel not been standing there.

He attended them to the carriage, taking up his hat as he passed through the vestibule; for really the confined space that did duty for hall in Dr. West’s house did not deserve the name.  Lady Verner sat on one side the carriage, Decima and Lucy on the seat opposite.  Lionel stood a moment after handing them in.

“If you can tear yourself away from the house for half an hour, I wish you would take a drive with us,” said Lady Verner, her tone of voice no more pleasant than her words.  Try as she would, she could not help her jealous resentment against Sibylla from peeping out.

Lionel smiled, and took his seat by his mother, opposite to Lucy.  He was resolved to foster no ill-feeling by his own conduct, but to do all that lay in his power to subdue it in Lady Verner.  He had not taken leave of Sibylla; and it may have been this, the proof that he was about to return to her, which had excited the ire of my lady.  She, his mother, nothing to him; Sibylla all in all.  Sibylla stood at the window, and Lionel bent forward, nodded his adieu, and raised his hat.

The footman ascended to his place, and the carriage went on.  All in silence for some minutes.  A silence which Lady Verner suddenly broke.

“What have you been doing to your cheeks, Lucy?  You look as if you had caught a fever.”

Lucy laughed.  “Do I, Lady Verner?  I hope it is not a third cold coming on, or Jan will grumble that I take them on purpose—­as he did the last lime.”

She caught the eyes of Lionel riveted on her with a strangely perplexed expression.  It did not tend to subdue the excitement of her cheeks.

Another moment, and Decima’s cheeks appeared to have caught the infection.  They had suddenly become one glowing crimson; a strange sight on her delicately pale face.  What could have caused it?  Surely not the quiet riding up to the carriage of a stately old gentleman who was passing, wearing a white frilled shirt and hessian boots.  He looked as if he had come out of a picture-frame, as he sat there, his hat off and his white hair flowing, courteously, but not cordially, inquiring after the health of my Lady Verner.

Page 201

“Pretty well, Sir Rufus.  I have had a great deal of vexation to try me lately.”

“As we all have, my dear lady.  Vexation has formed a large portion of my life.  I have been calling at Verner’s Pride, Mr. Verner.”

“Have you, Sir Rufus?  I am sorry I was not at home.”

“These fine spring days tempt me out.  Miss Tempest, you are looking remarkably well.  Good-morning, Lady Verner.  Good-morning.”

A bow to Lady Verner, a sweeping bow to the rest collectively, and Sir Rufus rode away at a trot, putting on his hat as he went.  His groom trotted after him, touching his hat as he passed the carriage.

But not a word had he spoken to Decima Verner, not a look had he given her.  The omission was unnoticed by the others; not by Decima.  The crimson of her cheeks had faded to an ashy paleness, and she silently let fall her veil to hide it.

What secret understanding could there be between herself and Sir Rufus Hautley?

CHAPTER XLI.

A SPECIAL VISION TOUCHING MRS. PECKABY.

Not until summer, when the days were long and the nights short, did the marriage of Lionel Verner take place.  Lady Verner declined to be present at it:  Decima and Lucy were.  It was a grand ceremony, of course; that is, it would have been grand, but for an ignominious interruption which occurred to mar it.  At the very moment they were at the altar, Lionel placing the ring on his bride’s finger, and all around wrapt in breathless silence, in a transport of enthusiasm, the bride’s-maids uncertain whether they must go off in hysterics or not, there tore into the church Master Dan Duff, in a state of extreme terror and ragged shirt sleeves, fighting his way against those who would have impeded him, and shouting out at the top of his voice:  “Mother was took with the cholic, and she’d die right off if Mr. Jan didn’t make haste to her.”  Upon which Jan, who had positively no more sense of what was due to society than Dan Duff himself had, went flying away there and then, muttering something about “those poisonous mushrooms.”  And so they were made man and wife; Lionel, in his heart of hearts, doubting if he did not best love Lucy Tempest.

A breakfast at Dr. West’s:  Miss Deborah and Miss Amilly not in the least knowing (as they said afterwards) how they comported themselves at it; and then Lionel and his bride departed.  He was taking her to Paris, which Sibylla had never seen.

Leaving them to enjoy its attractions—­and Sibylla, at any rate, would not fail to do so—­we must give another word to that zealous missionary, Brother Jarrum.

Page 202

The seed, scattered broadcast by Brother Jarrum, had had time to fructify.  He had left the glowing promises of all that awaited them, did they decide to voyage out to New Jerusalem, to take root in the imaginations of his listeners, and absented himself for a time from Deerham.  This may have been crafty policy on Brother Jarrum’s part; or may have resulted from necessity.  It was hardly likely that so talented and enlightened an apostle as Brother Jarrum should confine his labours to the limited sphere of Deerham:  in all probability, they had to be put in requisition elsewhere.  However it may have been, for several weeks towards the end of spring, Brother Jarrum was away from Deerham.  Mr. Bitterworth, and one or two more influential people, of whom Lionel was one, had very strongly objected to Brother Jarrum’s presence in it at all; and, again, this may have been the reason of his quitting it.  However it was, he did quit it; though not without establishing a secret understanding with the more faithful of his converts.  With the exception of these converts, Deerham thought he had left it for good; that it was, as they not at all politely expressed it, “shut of him.”  In this Deerham was mistaken.

On the very day of Lionel Verner’s marriage, Brother Jarrum reappeared in the place.  He took up his abode, as before, in Mrs. Peckaby’s spare room.  Peckaby, this time, held out against it.  However welcome the four shillings rent, weekly, was from Brother Jarrum, Peckaby assumed a lordly indifference to it, and protested he’d rather starve, nor have pison like him in the house.  Peckaby, however, possessed a wife, who, on occasion, wore, metaphorically speaking, his nether garments, and it was her will and pleasure to countenance the expected guest.  Brother Jarrum, therefore, was received and welcomed.

He did not hold forth this time in Peckaby’s shop.  He did not in public urge the delights of New Jerusalem, or the expediency of departure for it.  He kept himself quiet and retired, receiving visits in the privacy of his chamber.  After dark, especially, friends would drop in; admitted without noise or bustle by Mrs. Peckaby; parties of ones, of twos, of threes, until there would be quite an assembly collected upstairs; why should not Brother Jarrum hold his levees as well as his betters?

That something unusual was in the wind, was very evident; some scheme, or project, which it appeared expedient to keep a secret.  Had Peckaby been a little less fond Of the seductions of the Plough and Harrow, his suspicions must have been aroused.  Unfortunately, Peckaby yielded unremittingly to that renowned inn’s temptations, and spent every evening there, leaving full sway to his wife and Brother Jarrum.

About a month thus passed on, and Lionel Verner and his wife were expected home, when Deerham woke up one morning to a commotion.  A flitting had taken place from it in the night.  Brother Jarrum had departed, conveying with him a train of followers.

Page 203

One of the first to hear of it was Jan Verner; and, curious to say, he heard it from Mrs. Baynton, the lady at Chalk Cottage.  Jan, who, let him be called abroad in the night as he would, was always up with the sun, stood one morning in his surgery, between seven and eight o’clock, when he was surprised by the entrance of Mrs. Baynton—­a little woman, with a meek, pinched face, and gray hair.  Since Dr. West’s departure, Jan had attended the sickly daughter, therefore he knew Mrs. Baynton, but he had never seen her abroad in his life.  Her bonnet looked ten years old.  Her daughters were named—­at least, they were called—­Flore and Kitty; Kitty being the sickly one.  To see Mrs. Baynton arrive thus, Jan jumped to the conclusion that Kitty must be dying.

“Is she ill again?” he hastily asked, with his usual absence of ceremony, giving the lady no time to speak.

“She’s gone,” gasped Mrs. Baynton.

“Gone—­dead?” asked Jan, with wondering eyes.

“She’s gone off with the Mormons.”

Jan stood upright against the counter, and stared at the old lady.  He could not understand.  “Who is gone off with the Mormons?” was his rejoinder.

“Kitty is.  Oh, Mr. Jan, think of her sufferings!  A journey like that before her!  All the way to that dreadful place!  I have heard that even strong women die on the road of the hardships.”

Jan had stood with open mouth.  “Is she mad?” he questioned.

“She has not been much better than mad since—­since—­But I don’t wish to go into family troubles.  Can you give me Dr. West’s address?  She might come back for him.”

Now Jan had received positive commands from that wandering physician not to give his address to chance applicants, the inmates of Chalk Cottage having come in for a special interdiction.  Therefore Jan could only decline.

“He is moving about from one place to another,” said Jan.  “To-day in Switzerland, to-morrow in France; the next day in the moon, for what we can tell.  You can give me a letter, and I’ll try and get it conveyed to him somehow.”

Mrs. Baynton shook her head.

“It would be too late.  I thought if I could telegraph to him, he might have got to Liverpool in time to stop Kitty.  There’s a large migration of Mormons to take place in a day or two, and they are collecting at Liverpool.”

“Go and stop her yourself,” said Jan sensibly.

“She’d not come back for me,” replied Mrs. Baynton, in a depressed tone.  “What with her delicate health, and what with her wilfulness, I have always had trouble with her.  Dr. West was the only one—­But I can’t refer to those matters.  Flore is broken-hearted.  Poor Flore! she has never given me an hour’s grief in her life.  Kitty has given me little else.  And now to go off with the Mormons!”

“Who has she gone with?”

“With the rest from Deerham.  They have gone off in the night.  That Brother Jarrum and a company of about five-and-twenty, they say.”

Page 204

Jan could scarcely keep from exploding into laughter.  Part of Deerham gone off to join the Mormons!  “Is it a fact?” cried he.

“It is a fact that they are gone,” replied Mrs. Baynton.  “She has been out several times in an evening to hear that Brother Jarrum, and had become infected with the Mormon doctrine.  In spite of what I or Flore could say, she would go to listen to the man, and she grew to believe the foolish things he uttered.  And you can’t give me Dr. West’s address?”

“No, I can’t,” replied Jan.  “And I see no good that it would be to you, if I could.  He could not get to Liverpool in time, from wherever he may be, if the flight is to take place in a day or two.”

“Perhaps not,” sighed Mrs. Baynton.  “I was unwilling to come, but it seemed like a forlorn hope.”

She let down her old crape veil as she went out at the door; and Jan, all curious for particulars, went abroad to pick up anything he could learn.

About fifteen had gone off, exclusive of children.  Grind’s lot, as it was called, meaning Grind, his wife, and their young ones; Davies had gone, Mary Green had gone, Nancy from Verner’s Pride had gone, and sundry others whom it is not necessary to enumerate.  It was said that Dinah Roy made preparations to go, but her heart failed her at the last.  Some accounts ran that she did start, but was summarily brought up by the appearance of her husband, who went after her.  At his sight she turned without a word, and walked home again, meekly submitting to the correction he saw fit to inflict.  Jan did not believe this.  His private opinion was, that had Dinah Roy started, her husband would have deemed it a red-letter day, and never have sought to bring her back more.

Last, but not least, Mrs. Peckaby had not gone.  No:  for Brother Jarrum had stolen a march upon her.  What his motive in doing this might be was best known to himself.  Of all the converts, none had been so eager for the emigration, so fondly anticipative of the promised delights, as Susan Peckaby; and she had made her own private arrangements to steal off secretly, leaving her unbelieving husband to his solitary fate.  As it turned out, however, she was herself left; the happy company stole off, and abandoned her.

Brother Jarrum so contrived it, that the night fixed for the exodus was kept secret from Mrs. Peckaby.  She did not know that he had even gone out of the house, until she got up in the morning and found him absent.  Brother Jarrum’s personal luggage was not of an extensive character.  It was contained in a blue bag; and this bag was likewise missing.  Not, even then, did a shadow of the cruel treachery played her darken the spirit of Mrs. Peckaby.  Her faith in Brother Jarrum was of unlimited extent; she would as soon have thought of deceiving her own self, as that he could deceive.  The rumour that the migration had taken place, the company off, awoke her from her happy security to a state of raving torture.  Peckaby dodged out of her way, afraid.  There is no knowing but Peckaby himself may have been the stumbling-block in the mind of Brother Jarrum.  A man so dead against the Latter Day Saints as Peckaby had shown himself, would be a difficult customer to deal with.  He might be capable of following them and upsetting the minds of all the Deerham converts, did his wife start with them for New Jerusalem.

Page 205

All this information was gathered by Jan.  Jan had heard nothing for many a day that so tickled his fancy.  He bent his steps to Peckaby’s, and went in.  Jan, you know, was troubled neither with pride nor ceremony; nobody less so in all Deerham.  Where inclination took him, there went Jan.

Peckaby, all black, with a bar of iron in his hand, a leather apron on, and a broad grin upon his countenance, was coming out of the door as Jan entered.  The affair seemed to tickle Peckaby’s fancy as much as it tickled Jan’s.  He touched his hair.  “Please, sir, couldn’t you give her a dose of jalap, or something comforting o’ that sort, to bring her to?” asked he, pointing with his thumb indoors, as he stamped across the road to the forge.

Mrs. Peckaby had calmed down from the rampant state to one of prostration.  She sat in her kitchen behind the shop, nursing her knees, and moaning.  Mrs. Duff, who, by Jan’s help, had survived the threatened death fro “cholic,” and was herself again, stood near the sufferer, in company with one or two more cronies.  All the particulars, Susan Peckaby’s contemplated journey, with the deceitful trick played her, had got wind; and the Deerham ladies were in consequence flocking in.

“You didn’t mean going, did you?” began Jan.

“Not mean going!” sobbed Susan Peckaby, rocking herself to and fro.  “I did mean going, sir, and I’m not ashamed to own to it.  If folks is in the luck to be offered a chance of paradise, I dun know many as ud say they wouldn’t catch at it.”

“Paradise, was it?” said Jan.  “What was it chiefly to consist of?”

“Of everything,” moaned Susan Peckaby.  “There isn’t a thing you could wish for under the sun, but what’s to be had in plenty at New Jerusalem.  Dinners and teas, and your own cows, and big houses and parlours, and gardens loaded with fruit, and garden stuff as decays for want o’ cutting, and veils when you go out, and evening dances, like the grand folks here has, and new caps perpetual!  And I have lost it!  They be gone and have left me!—­oh, o-o-o-h!”

“And husbands, besides; one for everybody!” spoke up a girl.  “You forget that, Mrs. Peckaby.”

“Husbands besides,” acquiesced Susan Peckaby, aroused from her moaning.  “Every woman’s sure to be chose by a saint as soon as she gets out.  There’s not such a thing as a old maid there, and there needn’t be no widders.”

Mrs. Duff turned up bar nose, and turned it wrathfully on the girl who had spoken.

“If they call husbands their paradise, keep me away from ’em, say I. You girls be like young bears—­all your troubles have got to come.  You just try a husband, Bess Dawson; whether he’s a saint, or whether he’s a sinner, let him be of a cranky temper, thwarting you at every trick and turn, and you’ll see what sort of a paradise marriage is!  Don’t you think I’m right, sir?”

Jan’s mouth was extended from ear to ear, laughing.

Page 206

“I never tried it,” said he.  “Were you to have been espoused by Brother Jarrum?” he asked, of Susan Peckaby.

“No, sir, I was not,” she answered, in much anger.  “I did not favour Brother Jarrum.  I’d prefer to pick and choose when I got there.  But I had a great amount of respect for Brother Jarrum, sir, which I’m proud to speak to.  And I don’t believe that he has served me this shameful trick of his own knowledge,” she added, with emphasis.  “I believe there has been some unfortinate mistake, and that when he finds I’m not among the company, he’ll come back for me.  I’d go after them, only that Peckaby’s on the watch.  I never see such a altered man as Peckaby; it had used to be as I could just turn him round my little finger, but he won’t be turned now.”

She finished up with a storm of sobs.  Jan, in an Ecstasy of mirth yet, offered to send her some cordials from the surgery, by way of consolation; not, however, the precise one suggested by Peckaby.  But cordials had no charm in that unhappy moment for Mrs. Peckaby’s ear.

Jan departed.  In quitting the door he encountered a stranger, who inquired if that was Peckaby’s shop.  Jan fancied the man looked something the cut of Brother Jarrum, and sent him in.  His coat and boots were white with dust.  Looking round on the assembled women when he reached the kitchen, the stranger asked which was Mrs. Peckaby.  Mrs. Peckaby looked up, and signified that she was.

“I have a message from the saint and elder, Brother Jarrum,” he mysteriously whispered in her ear.  “It must be give to you in private.”

Mrs. Peckaby, in a tremble of delight, led the stranger to a small shed in the yard, which she used for washing purposes, and called the back ’us.  It was the most private place she could think of, in her fluster.  The stranger, propping himself against a broken tub, proceeded, with some circumlocution and not remarkable perspicuity of speech, to deliver the message with which he was charged.  It was to the effect that a vision had revealed to Brother Jarrum the startling fact, that Susan Peckaby was not to go out with the crowd at present on the wing.  A higher destiny awaited her.  She would be sent for in a different manner—­in a more important form; sent for special, on a quadruped.  That is to say, on a white donkey.[A]

    [Footnote A:  A fact.]

“On a white donkey?” echoed the trembling and joyful woman.

“On a white donkey,” gravely repeated the brother—­for that he was another brother of the community, there could be little doubt.  “What the special honour intended for you may be, me and Brother Jarrum don’t pertend to guess at.  It’s above us.  May be you are fated to be chose by our great prophet hisself.  Any how, it’s something at the top of the tree.”

“When shall I be sent for, sir?” eagerly asked Mrs. Peckaby.

“That ain’t revealed neither.  It may be next week—­it mayn’t be for a year; you must always be on the look-out.  One of these days or nights, you’ll see a white donkey a-standing at your door.  It’ll be the messenger for you from New Jerusalem.  You mount him without a minute’s loss of time, and come off.”

Page 207

But that Mrs. Peckaby’s senses were exalted at that moment far above the level of ordinary mortals’, it might have occurred to her to inquire whether the donkey would be endowed with the miraculous power of bearing her over the sea.  No such common question presented itself.  She asked another.

“Why couldn’t Brother Jarrum have told me this hisself, sir?  I have been a’most mad this morning, ever since I found as they had gone.”

The brother—­this brother—­turned up the whites of his eyes.  “When unknown things is revealed to us, and mysterious orders give, they never come to us a minute afore the time,” he replied.  “Not till Brother Jarrum was fixing the night of departure, did the vision come to him.  It was commanded him that it should be kept from you till the rest were off, and then he were to send back a messenger to tell you—­and many a mile I’ve come!  Brother Jarrum and me has no doubt that it is meant as a trial of your faith.”

Nothing could be more satisfactory to the mind of Mrs. Peckaby than this explanation.  Had any mysterious vision appeared to herself, showing her that it was false, commanding her to disbelieve it, it could not have shaken her faith.  If the white donkey arrived at her door that very night, she would be sure to mount him.

“Do you think it’ll be very long, sir, that I shall have to wait?” she resumed, feverishly listening for the answer.

“My impression is that it’ll be very short,” was the reply.  “And it’s Brother Jarrum’s also.  Any way, you be on the look-out—­always prepared.  Have a best robe at hand continual, ready to clap on the instant the quadruped appears, and come right away to New Jerusalem.”

In the openness of her heart, Mrs. Peckaby offered refreshment to the brother.  The best her house afforded:  which was not much.  Peckaby should be condemned to go foodless for a week, rather than that he should depart fasting.  The brother, however, declined:  he appeared to be in a hurry to leave Deerham behind him.

“I’d not disclose this to anybody if I was you,” was his parting salutation.  “Leastways, not for a day or two.  Let the ruck of ’em embark first at Liverpool.  If it gets wind, some of them may be for turning crusty, because they are not favoured with special animals, too.”

Had the brother recommended Susan Peckaby to fill the tub with water, and stand head downwards in it for a day or two, she was in the mood to obey him.  Accordingly, when questioned by Mrs. Duff, and the other curious ones, what had been the business of the stranger, she made a great mystery over it, and declined to answer.

“It’s good news, by the signs of your face,” remarked Mrs. Duff.

“Good news!” rapturously repeated Susan Peckaby, “it’s heaven.  I say, Mother Duff, I want a new gownd:  something of the very best.  I’ll pay for it by degrees.  There ain’t no time to be lost, neither; so I’ll come down at once and choose it.”

Page 208

“What has happened?” was the wondering rejoinder of Mother Duff.

“Never you mind, just yet.  I’ll tell you about it afore the week’s out.”

And, accordingly, before the week was out, all Deerham was regaled with the news; full particulars.  And Susan Peckaby, a robe of purple, of the stuff called lustre, laid up in state, to be donned when the occasion came, passed her time, night and day, at her door and windows, looking out for the white donkey that was to bear her in triumph to New Jerusalem.

CHAPTER XLII.

A SURPRISE FOR MRS. TYNN.

In the commodious dressing-room at Verner’s Pride, appropriated to its new mistress, Mrs. Verner, stood the housekeeper, Tynn, lifting her hands and her eyes.  You once saw the chamber of John Massingbird, in this same house, in a tolerable litter:  but that was as nothing compared with the litter in this dressing-room, piles and piles of it, one heap by the side of another.  Mary Tynn stood screwed against the wainscoting of the wall:  she had got in, but to get out was another matter:  there was not a free place where she could put her foot.  Strictly speaking, perhaps, it could not be called litter, and Mrs. Verner and her French maid would have been alike indignant at hearing it so classed.  Robes of rich and rare texture; silks standing on end with magnificence; dinner attire, than which nothing could be more exquisite; ball dresses in all sorts of gossamer fabrics; under-skirts, glistening with their soft lustre; morning costumes, pure and costly; shawls of Cashmere and other recherche stuffs, enough to stock a shop; mantles of every known make; bonnets that would send an English milliner crazy; veils charming to look upon; laces that might rival Lady Verner’s embroideries, their price fabulous; handkerchiefs that surely never were made for use; dozens of delicately-tinted gloves, cased in ornamental boxes, costing as much as they did; every description of expensive chaussure; and trinkets, the drawn cheques for which must have caused Lionel Verner’s sober bankers to stare.  Tynn might well heave her hands and eyes in dismay.  On the chairs, on the tables, on the drawers, on the floor, on every conceivable place and space they lay; a goodly mass of vanity, just unpacked from their cases.

Flitting about amidst them was a damsel of coquettish appearance, with a fair skin, light hair, and her nose a turn-up.  Her gray gown was flounced to the waist, her small cap of lace, its pink strings flying, was lodged on the back of her head.  It was Mademoiselle Benoite, Mrs. Verner’s French maid, one she had picked up in Paris.  Whatever other qualities the damsel might lack, she had enough of confidence.  Not many hours yet in the house, and she was assuming more authority in it than her mistress did.

Mr. and Mrs. Verner had returned the night before, Mademoiselle Benoite and her packages making part of their train.  A whole fourgon could not have been sufficient to convey these packages from the French capital to the frontier.  Phoeby, the simple country maid whom Sibylla had taken to Paris with her, found her place a sinecure since the engagement of Mademoiselle Benoite.  She stood now on the opposite side of the room to Tynn, humbly waiting Mademoiselle Benoite’s imperious commands.

Page 209

“Where on earth will you stow ’em away?” cried Tynn, in her wonder.  “You’ll want a length of rooms to do it in.”

“Where I stow ’em away!” retorted Mademoiselle Benoite, in her fluent speech, but broken English.  “I stow ’em where I please.  Note you that, Madame Teen.  Par example!  The chateau is grand enough.”

“What has its grandeur got to do with it?” was Mary Tynn’s answer.  She knew but little of French phrases.

“Now, then, what for you stand there, with your eyes staring and your hands idle?” demanded Mademoiselle Benoite sharply, turning her attack on Phoeby.

“If you’ll tell me what to do, I’ll do it,” replied the girl.  “I could help to put the things up, if you’d show me where to begin.”

“I like to see you dare to put a finger on one of these things!” returned Mademoiselle Benoite.  “You can confine your services to sewing, and to waiting upon me; but not you dare to interfere with my lady’s toilette.  Tiens, I am capable, I hope!  I’d give up the best service to-morrow where I had not sole power!  Go you down to the office, and order me a cup of chocolate, and wait you and bring it up to me.  That maudite drogue, that coffee, this morning, has made me as thirsty as a panthere.”

Phoeby, glancing across at Mrs. Tynn, turned somewhat hesitatingly to pick her way out of the room.  The housekeeper, though not half understanding, contrived to make out that the morning coffee was not approved of.  The French mademoiselle had breakfasted with her, and, in Mrs. Tynn’s opinion, the coffee had been perfect, fit for the table of her betters.

“Is it the coffee that you are abusing?” asked she.  “What was the matter with it?”

“Ciel!  You ask what the matter with it!” returned Mademoiselle Benoite, in her rapid tongue.  “It was everything the matter with it.  It was all bad.  It was drogue, I say; medicine.  There!”

“Well, I’m sure!” resentfully returned the housekeeper.  “Now, I happened to make that coffee myself this morning—­Tynn, he’s particular in his coffee, he is—­and I put in—­”

“I not care if you put in the whole canastre,” vehemently interrupted Mademoiselle Benoite.  “You English know not to make coffee.  All the two years I lived in London with Madame la Duchesse, I never got one cup of coffee that was not enough to choke me.  And they used pounds of it in the house, where they might have used ounces.  Bah!  You can make tea, I not say no; but you cannot make coffee.  Now, then!  I want a great number sheets of silk-paper.”

“Silk-paper?” repeated Tynn, whom the item puzzled.  “What’s that?”

“You know not what silk-paper is!” angrily returned Mademoiselle Benoite. “Quelle ignorance!” she apostrophised, not caring whether she was understood or not. “Elle ne connait pas ce que c’est, papier-de-soie! I must have it, and a great deal of it, do you hear?  It is as common as anything—­silk-paper.”

Page 210

“Things common in France mayn’t be common with us,” retorted Mrs. Tynn.  “What is it for?”

“It is for some of these articles.  If I put them by without the paper-silk round them in the cartons, they’ll not keep their colour.”

“Perhaps you mean silver-paper,” said Mary Tynn.  “Tissue-paper, I have heard my Lady Verner call it.  There’s none in the house, Madmisel Bennot.”

“Madmisel Bennot” stamped her foot.  “A house without silk-paper in it!  When you knew my lady was coming home!”

“I didn’t know she’d bring—­a host of things with her that she has brought,” was the answering shaft lanced by Mrs. Tynn.

“Don’t you see that I am waiting?  Will you send out for some?”

“It’s not to be had in Deerham,” said Mrs. Tynn.  “If it must be had, one of the men must go to Heartburg.  Why won’t the paper do that was over ’em before?”

“There not enough of that.  And I choose to have fresh, I do.”

“Well, you had better give your own orders about it,” said Mary Tynn.  “And then, if there’s any mistake, it’ll be nobody’s fault, you know.”

Mademoiselle Benoite did not on the instant reply.  She had her hands full just then.  In reaching over for a particular bonnet, she managed to turn a dozen or two on to the floor.  Tynn watched the picking up process, and listened to the various ejaculations that accompanied it, in much grimness.

“What a sight of money those things must have cost!” cried she.

“What that matter?” returned the lady’s-maid.  “The purse of a milor Anglais can stand anything.”

“What did she buy them for?” went on Tynn.  “For what purpose?”

Bon!” ejaculated Mademoiselle.  “She buy them to wear.  What else you suppose she buy them for?”

“Why! she would never wear out the half of them in all her whole life!” uttered Tynn, speaking the true sentiments of her heart.  “She could not.”

“Much you know of things, Madame Teen!” was the answer, delivered in undisguised contempt for Tynn’s primitive ignorance.  “They’ll not last her six months.”

“Six months!” shrieked Tynn.  “She couldn’t come to an end of them dresses in six months, if she wore three a day, and never put on a dress a second time!”

“She want to wear more than three different a day sometimes.  And it not the mode now to put on a robe more than once,” returned Mademoiselle Benoite carelessly.

Tynn could only open her mouth.  “If they are to be put on but once, what becomes of ’em afterwards?” questioned she, when she could find breath to speak.

“Oh, they good for jupons—­petticoats, you call it.  Some may be worn a second time; they can be changed by other trimmings to look like new.  And the rest will be good for me:  Madame la Duchesse gave me a great deal. ‘Tenez, ma fille,’ she would say, ’regardez dans ma garde-robe, et prenez autant que vous voudrez.’ She always spoke to me in French.”

Page 211

Tynn wished there had been no French invented, so far as her comprehension was concerned.  While she stood, undecided what reply to make, wishing very much to express her decided opinion upon the extravagance she saw around her, yet deterred from it by remembering that Mrs. Verner was now her mistress, Phoeby entered with the chocolate.  The girl put it down on the mantel-piece—­there was no other place—­and then made a sign to Mrs. Tynn that she wished to speak with her.  They both left the room.

“Am I to be at the beck and call of that French madmizel?” she resentfully asked.  “I was not engaged for that, Mrs. Tynn.”

“It seems we are all to be at her beck and call, to hear her go on,” was Mrs. Tynn’s wrathful rejoinder.  “Of course it can’t be tolerated.  We shall see in a day or two.  Phoeby, girl, what could possess Mrs. Verner to buy all them cart-loads of finery?  She must have spent the money like water.”

“So she did,” acquiesced Phoeby.  “She did nothing all day long but drive about from one place to another and choose pretty things.  You should see the china that’s coming over!”

“I wonder Mr. Lionel let her,” was the thoughtlessly-spoken remark of Tynn.  And she tried, when too late, to cough it down.

“He helped her, I think,” answered Phoeby.  “I know he bought some of that beautiful jewellery for her himself, and brought it home.  I saw him kiss her, through the doorway, as he clasped that pink necklace on her neck.”

“Oh, well, I don’t want to hear about that rubbish,” tartly rejoined Tynn.  “If you take to peep through doorways, girl, you won’t suit Verner’s Pride.”

Phoeby did not like the rebuff.  She turned one way, and Mrs. Tynn went off another.

In the breakfast-room below, in her charming French morning costume, tasty and elegant, sat Sibylla Verner.  With French dresses, she seemed to be acquiring French habits.  Late as the hour was, the breakfast remained on the table.  Sibylla might have sent the things away an hour ago; but she kept a little chocolate in her cup, and toyed with it.  She had never tasted chocolate for breakfast in all her life, previous to this visit to Paris:  now she protested she could take nothing else.  Possibly she may have caught the taste for it from Mademoiselle Benoite.  Her husband sat opposite to her, his chair drawn from the table, and turned to face the room.  A perfectly satisfied, happy expression pervaded his face; he appeared to be fully contented with his lot and with his bride.  Just now he was laughing immoderately.

Perched upon the arm of a sofa, having there come to an anchor, his legs hanging down and swaying about in their favourite fashion, was Jan Verner.  Jan had come in to pay them a visit and congratulate them on their return.  That is speaking somewhat figuratively, however, for Jan possessed no notion of congratulating anybody.  As Lady Verner sometimes resentfully said, Jan had no more social politeness in him than a bear.  Upon entering, Sibylla asked him to take some breakfast.  Breakfast! echoed Jan, did she call that breakfast?  He thought it was their lunch—­it was getting on for his dinner-time.  Jan was giving Lionel a history of the moonlight flitting, and of Susan Peckaby’s expected expedition to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.

Page 212

“It ought to have been stopped,” said Lionel, when his laughter had subsided.  “They are going out to misery, and to nothing else, poor deluded creatures!”

“Who was to stop it?” asked Jan.

“Some one might have told them the truth.  If this Brother Jarrum represented things in rose-coloured hues, could nobody open to their view the other side of the picture?  I should have endeavoured to do it, had I been here.  If they chose to risk the venture after that, it would have been their own fault.”

“You’d have done no good,” said Jan.  “Once let ’em get the Mormon fever upon ’em, and it must run its course.  It’s like the gold fever; nothing will convince folks they are mistaken as to that, except the going out to Australia to the diggings.  That will.”

A faint tinge of brighter colour rose to Sibylla’s cheeks at this allusion, and Lionel knit his brow.  He would have avoided for ever any chain of thought that led his memory to Frederick Massingbird:  he could not bear to think that his young bride had been another’s before she was his.  Jan, happily ignorant, continued.

“There’s Susan Peckaby.  She has got it in her head that she’s going straight off to Paradise, once she is in the Salt Lake City.  Well, now, Lionel, if you, and all the world to help you, set yourselves on to convince her that she’s mistaken, you couldn’t do it.  They must go out and find the level of things for themselves—­there’s no help for it.”

“Jan, it is not likely that Susan Peckaby really expects a white donkey to be sent for her!” cried Sibylla.

“She as fully expects the white donkey, as I expect that I shall go from here presently, and drop in on Poynton, on my way home,” earnestly said Jan.  “He has had a kick from a horse on his shin, and a nasty place it is,” added Jan in a parenthesis.  “Nothing on earth would convince Susan Peckaby that the donkey’s a myth, or will be a myth; and she wastes all her time looking out for it.  If you were opposite their place now, you’d see her head somewhere; poked out at the door, or peeping from the upstairs window.”

“I wish I could get them all back again—­those who have gone from here!” warmly spoke Lionel.

“I wish sometimes I had got four legs, that I might get over double ground, when patients are wanting me on all sides,” returned Jan.  “The one wish is just as possible as the other, Lionel.  The lot sailed from Liverpool yesterday, in the ship American Star.  And I’ll be bound, what with the sea-sickness, and the other discomforts, they are wishing themselves out of it already!  I say, Sibylla, what did you think of Paris?”

“Oh, Jan, it’s enchanting!  And I have brought the most charming things home.  You can come upstairs and see them, if you like.  Benoite is unpacking them.”

“Well, I don’t know,” mused Jan.  “I don’t suppose they are what I should care to see.  What are the things?”

Page 213

“Dresses, and bonnets, and mantles, and lace, and coiffures,” returned Sibylla.  “I can’t tell you half the beautiful things.  One of my cache-peignes is of filigrane silver-work, with drops falling from it, real diamonds.”

“What d’ye call a cache-peigne?” asked Jan.

“Don’t you know?  An ornament for the hair, that you put on to hide the comb behind.  Combs are coming into fashion.  Will you come up and see the things, Jan?”

“Not I!  What do I care for lace and bonnets?” ungallantly answered Jan.  “I didn’t know but Lionel might have brought me some anatomical studies over.  They’d be in my line.”

Sibylla shrieked—­a pretty little shriek of affectation.  “Lionel, why do you let him say such things to me?  He means amputated arms and legs.”

“I’m sure I didn’t,” said Jan.  “I meant models.  They’d not let the other things pass the customs.  Have you brought a dress a-piece for Deb and Amilly?”

“No,” said Sibylla, looking up in some consternation.  “I never thought about it.”

“Won’t they be disappointed, then!  They have counted upon it, I can tell you.  They can’t afford to buy themselves much, you know; the doctor keeps them so short,” added Jan.

“I would have brought them something, if I had thought of it; I would, indeed!” exclaimed Sibylla, in an accent of contrition.  “Is it not a pity, Lionel?”

“I wish you had,” replied Lionel.  “Can you give them nothing of what you have brought?”

“Well—­I—­must—­consider,” hesitated Sibylla, who was essentially selfish.  “The things are so beautiful, so expensive; they are scarcely suited to Deborah and Amilly.”

“Why not?” questioned Jan.

“You have not a bit of sense, Jan,” grumbled Sibylla.  “Things chosen to suit me, won’t suit them.”

“Why not?” repeated Jan obstinately.

“There never was any one like you, Jan, for stupidity,” was Sibylla’s retort.  “I am young and pretty, and a bride; and they are two faded old maids.”

“Dress ’em up young, and they’ll look young,” answered Jan, with composure.  “Give ’em a bit of pleasure for once, Sibylla.”

“I’ll see,” impatiently answered Sibylla.  “Jan, how came Nancy to go off with the Mormons?  Tynn says she packed up her things in secret, and started.”

“How came the rest to go?” was Jan’s answer.  “She caught the fever too, I suppose.”

“What Nancy are you talking of?” demanded Lionel.  “Not Nancy from here!”

“Oh, Lionel, yes!  I forgot to tell you,” said Sibylla.  “She is gone indeed.  Mrs. Tynn is so indignant.  She says the girl must be a fool!”

“Little short of it,” returned Lionel.  “To give up a good home here for the Salt Lake!  She will repent it.”

“Let ’em all alone for that,” nodded Jan, “I’d like to pay an hour’s visit to ’em, when they have been a month in the place—­if they ever get to it.”

Page 214

“Tynn says she remembers, when that Brother Jarrum was here in the spring, that Nancy made frequent excuses for going to Deerham in the evening,” resumed Sibylla.

“She thinks it must have been to frequent those meetings in Peckaby’s shop.”

“I thought the man, Jarrum, had gone off, leaving the mischief to die away,” observed Lionel.

“So did everybody else,” said Jan.  “He came back the day that you were married.  Nancy’s betters got lured into Peckaby’s, as well as Nancy,” he added.  “That sickly daughter at Chalk Cottage, she’s gone.”

Lionel looked very much astonished.

“No!” he uttered.

“Fact!” said Jan.  “The mother came to me the morning after the flitting, and said she had been seduced away.  She wanted to telegraph to Dr. West—­”

Jan stopped dead, remembering that Sibylla was present, as well as Lionel.  He leaped off the sofa.

“Ah, we shall see them all back some day, if they can only contrive to elude the vigilance of the Mormons.  I’m off, Lionel; old Poynton will think I am not coming to-day.  Good-bye, Sibylla.”

Jan hastened from the room.  Lionel stood at the window, and watched him away.  Sibylla glided up to her husband, nestling against him.

“Lionel, tell me.  Jan never would, though I nearly teased his life out; and Deborah and Amilly persisted that they knew nothing. You tell me.”

“Tell you what, my dearest?”

“After I came home in the winter, there were strange whispers about papa and that Chalk Cottage.  People were mysterious over it, and I never could get a word of explanation.  Jan was the worst; he was coolly tantalising, and it used to put me in a passion.  What was the tale told?”

An involuntary darkening of Lionel’s brow.  He cleared it instantly, and looked down on his wife with a smile.

“I know of no tale worth telling you, Sibylla.”

“But there was a tale told?”

“Jan—­who, being in closer proximity to Dr. West than any one, may be supposed to know best of his private affairs—­tells a tale of Dr. West’s having set a chimney on fire at Chalk Cottage, thereby arousing the ire of its inmates.”

“Don’t you repeat such nonsense to me, Lionel; you are not Jan,” she returned, in a half peevish tone.  “I fear papa may have borrowed money from the ladies, and did not repay them,” she added, her voice sinking to a whisper.  “But I would not say it to any one but you.  What do you think?”

“If my wife will allow me to tell her what I think, I should say that it is her duty—­and mine now—­not to seek to penetrate into any affairs belonging to Dr. West which he may wish to keep to himself.  Is it not so, Sibylla mine?”

Sibylla smiled, and held up her face to be kissed.  “Yes, you are right, Lionel.”

Swayed by impulse, more than by anything else, she thought of her treasures upstairs, in the process of dis-interment from their cases by Benoite, and ran from him to inspect them.  Lionel put on his hat, and strolled out of doors.

Page 215

A thought came over him that he would go and pay a visit to his mother.  He knew how exacting of attention from him she was, how jealous, so to speak, of Sibylla’s having taken him from her.  Lionel hoped by degrees to reduce the breach.  Nothing should be wanting on his part to effect it; he trusted that nothing would be wanting on Sibylla’s.  He really wished to see his mother after his month’s absence; and he knew she would be pleased at his going there on this, the first morning of his return.  As he turned into the high road, he met the vicar of Deerham, the Reverend James Bourne.

They shook hands, and the conversation turned, not unnaturally, on the Mormon flight.  As they were talking of it, Roy, the ex-bailiff, was observed crossing the opposite field.

“My brother tells me the report runs that Mrs. Roy contemplated being of the company, but was overtaken by her husband and brought back,” remarked Lionel.

“How it may have been, about his bringing her back, or whether she actually started, I don’t know,” replied Mr. Bourne, who was a man with a large pale face and iron-gray hair.  “That she intended to go, I have reason to believe.”

He spoke the last words significantly, lowering his voice.  Lionel looked at him.

“She paid me a mysterious visit at the vicarage the night before the start,” continued the clergyman.  “A very mysterious visit, indeed, taken in conjunction with her words.  I was in my study, reading by candle-light, when somebody came tapping at the glass door, and stole in.  It was Mrs. Roy.  She was in a state of tremor, as I have heard it said she appeared the night the inquiry was held at Verner’s Pride, touching the death of Rachel Frost.  She spoke to me in ambiguous terms of a journey she was about to take—­that she should probably be away for her whole life—­and then she proceeded to speak of that night.”

“The night of the inquiry?” echoed Lionel.

“The night of the inquiry—­that is, the night of the accident,” returned Mr. Bourne.  “She said she wished to confide a secret to me, which she had not liked to touch upon before, but which she could not leave the place without confiding to some one responsible, who might use it in case of need.  The secret she proceeded to tell me was—­that it was Frederick Massingbird who had been quarrelling with Rachel that night by the Willow Pool.  She could swear it to me, she said, if necessary.”

“But—­if that were true—­why did she not proclaim it at the time?” asked Lionel, after a pause.

“It was all she said.  And she would not be questioned.  ‘In case o’ need, sir, in case anybody else should ever be brought up for it, tell ’em that Dinah Roy asserted to you with her last breath in Deerham, that Mr. Fred Massingbird was the one that was with Rachel.’  Those were the words she used to me; I dotted them down after she left.  As I tell you, she would not be questioned, and glided out again almost immediately.”

Page 216

“Was she wandering in her mind?”

“I think not.  She spoke with an air of truth.  When I heard of the flight of the converts the next morning, I could only conclude that Mrs. Roy had intended to be amongst them.  But now, understand me, Mr. Verner, although I have told you this, I have not mentioned it to another living soul.  Neither do I intend to do so.  It can do no good to reap up the sad tale; whether Frederick Massingbird was or was not with Rachel that night; whether he was in any way guilty, or was purely innocent, it boots not to inquire now.”

“It does not,” warmly replied Lionel.  “You have done well.  Let us bury Mrs. Roy’s story between us, and forget it, so far as we can.”

They parted.  Lionel took his way to Deerham Court, absorbed in thought.  His own strong impression had been, that Mr. Fred Massingbird was the black sheep with regard to Rachel.

CHAPTER XLIII.

LIONEL’S PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS.

Lady Verner, like many more of us, found that misfortunes do not come singly.  Coeval almost with that great misfortune, Lionel’s marriage—­at any rate, coeval with his return to Verner’s Pride with his bride—­another vexation befell Lady Verner.  Had Lady Verner found real misfortunes to contend with, it is hard to say how she would have borne them.  Perhaps Lionel’s marriage to Sibylla was a real misfortune; but this second vexation assuredly was not—­at any rate to Lady Verner.

Some women—­and Lady Verner was one—­are fond of scheming and planning.  Whether it be the laying out of a flower-bed, or the laying out of a marriage, they must plan and project.  Disappointment with regard to her own daughter—­for Decima most unqualifyingly disclaimed any match-making on her own score—­Lady Verner had turned her hopes in this respect on Lucy Tempest.  She deemed that she should be ill-fulfilling the responsibilities of her guardianship, unless when Colonel Tempest returned to England, she could present Lucy to him a wife, or, at least, engaged to be one.  Many a time now did she unavailingly wish that Lionel had chosen Lucy, instead of her whom he had chosen.  Although—­and mark how we estimate things by comparison—­when, in the old days, Lady Verner had fancied Lionel was growing to like Lucy, she had told him emphatically it “would not do.”  Why would it not do?  Because, in the estimation of Lady Verner, Lucy Tempest was less desirable in a social point of view than the Earl of Elmsley’s daughter, and upon the latter lady had been fixed her hopes for Lionel.

All that was past and gone.  Lady Verner had seen the fallacy of sublunary hopes and projects.  Lady Mary Elmsley was rejected—­Lionel had married in direct defiance of everybody’s advice—­and Lucy was open to offers.  Open to offers, as Lady Verner supposed; but she was destined to find herself unpleasantly disappointed.

Page 217

One came forward with an offer to her.  And that was no other than the Earl of Elmsley’s son, Viscount Garle.  A pleasant man, of eight-and-twenty years; and he was often at Lady Verner’s.  He had been intimate there a long while, going in and out as unceremoniously as did Lionel or Jan.  Lady Verner and Decima could tell a tale that no one else suspected.  How, in the years gone by—­some four or five years ago now—­he had grown to love Decima with his whole heart; and Decima had rejected him.  In spite of his sincere love; of the advantages of the match; of the angry indignation of Lady Verner; Decima had steadfastly rejected him.  For some time Lord Garle would not take the rejection; but one day, when my lady was out, Decima spoke with him privately for five minutes, and from that hour Lord Garle had known there was no hope; had been content to begin there and then, and strive to love her only as a sister.  The little episode was never known; Decima and Lady Verner had kept counsel, and Lord Garle had not told tales of himself.  Next to Lionel, Lady Verner liked Lord Garle better than any one—­ten times better than she liked unvarnished Jan; and he was allowed the run of the house as though he had been its son.  The first year of Lucy’s arrival—­the year of Lionel’s illness, Lord Garle had been away from the neighbourhood; but somewhere about the time of Sibylla’s return, he had come back to it.  Seeing a great deal of Lucy, as he necessarily did, being so much at Lady Verner’s, he grew to esteem and love her.  Not with the same love he had borne for Decima—­a love, such as that, never comes twice in a lifetime—­but with a love sufficiently warm, notwithstanding.  And he asked her to become his wife.

There was triumph for Lady Verner!  Next to Decima—­and all hope of that was dead for ever—­she would like Lord Garle to marry Lucy.  A real triumph, the presenting her to Colonel Tempest on his return, my Lady Viscountess Garle!  In the delight of her heart she betrayed something of this to Lucy.

“But I am not going to marry him, Lady Verner,” objected Lucy.

“You are not going to marry him, Lucy?  He confided to me the fact of his intention this morning before he spoke to you.  He has spoken to you, has he not?”

“Yes,” replied Lucy; “but I cannot accept him.”

“You—­cannot!  What are you talking of?” cried Lady Verner.

“Please not to be angry, Lady Verner!  I could not marry Lord Garle.”

Lady Verner’s lips grew pale.  “And pray why can you not?” she demanded.

“I—­don’t like him,” stammered Lucy.

“Not like him!” repeated Lady Verner.  “Why, what can there be about Lord Garle that you young ladies do not like?” she wondered; her thoughts cast back to the former rejection by Decima.  “He is good-looking, he is sensible; there’s not so attractive a man in all the county, Lionel Verner excepted.”

Lucy’s face turned to a fiery glow.  “Had I known he was going to ask me, I would have requested him not to do so beforehand, as my refusal has displeased you,” she simply said.  “I am sorry you should be vexed with me, Lady Verner.”

Page 218

“It appears to me that nothing but vexation is to be the portion of my life!” uttered Lady Verner.  “Thwarted—­thwarted always!—­on all sides.  First the one, then the other—­nothing but crosses and vexations!  What did you say to Lord Garle?”

“I told Lord Garle that I could not marry him; that I should never like him well enough—­for he said, if I did not care for him now, I might later.  But I told him no; it was impossible.  I like him very well as a friend, but that is all.”

Why don’t you like him?” repeated Lady Verner.

“I don’t know,” whispered Lucy, standing before Lady Verner like a culprit, her eyes cast down, and her eyelashes resting on her hot crimsoned face.

“Do you both mean to make yourselves into old maids, you and Decima?” reiterated the angry Lady Verner.  “A pretty pair of you I shall have on my hands!  I never was so annoyed in all my life.”

Lucy burst into tears.  “I wish I could go to papa in India!” she said.

“Do you know what you have rejected?” asked Lady Verner.  “You would have been a peeress of England.  His father will not live for ever.”

“But I should not care to be a peeress,” sobbed Lucy.  “And I don’t like him.”

“Mamma, please do not say any more,” pleaded Decima.  “Lucy is not to blame.  If she does not like Lord Garle she could not accept him.”

“Of course she is not to blame—­according to you, Miss Verner!  You were not to blame, were you, when you rejected—­some one we knew of?  Not the least doubt that you will take her part!  Young Bitterworth wished to have proposed to you; you sent him away—­as you send all—­and refuse to tell me your motive!  Very dutiful you are, Decima!”

Decima turned away her pale face.  She began to think Lucy would do better without her advocacy than with it.

“I cannot allow it to end thus,” resumed Lady Verner to Lucy.  “You must reconsider your determination and recall Lord Garle.”

The words frightened Lucy.

“I never can—­I never can, Lady Verner!” she cried.  “Please not to press it; it is of no use.”

“I must press it,” replied Lady Verner.  “I cannot allow you to throw away your future prospects in this childish manner.  How should I answer for it to Colonel Tempest?”

She swept out of the room as she concluded, and Lucy, in an uncontrollable fit of emotion, threw herself on the bosom of Decima, and sobbed there.  Decima hushed her to her soothingly, stroking her hair from her forehead with a fond gesture.

“What is it that has grieved you lately, Lucy?” she gently asked.  “I am sure you have been grieving.  I have watched you.  Gay as you appear to have been, it is a false gaiety, seen only by fits and starts.”

Lucy moved her face from the view of Decima.  “Oh, Decima! if I could but go back to papa!” was all she murmured.  “If I could but go away, and be with papa!”

Page 219

This little episode had taken place the day that Lionel Verner and his wife returned.  On the following morning Lady Verner renewed the contest with Lucy.  And they were deep in it—­at least my lady was, for Lucy’s chief part was only a deprecatory silence, when Lionel arrived at Deerham Court, to pay that visit to his mother which you have heard of.

“I insist upon it, Lucy, that you recall your unqualified denial,” Lady Verner was saying.  “If you will not accept Lord Garle immediately, at any rate take time for consideration.  I will inform Lord Garle that you do it by my wish.”

“I cannot,” replied Lucy in a firm, almost a vehement tone.  “I—­you must not be angry with me, Lady Verner—­indeed, I beg your pardon for saying it—­but I will not.”

“How dare you, Lucy—­”

Her ladyship stopped at the sudden opening of the door, turning angrily to see what caused the interruption.  Her servant appeared.

“Mr. Verner, my lady.”

How handsome he looked as he came forward!  Tall, noble, commanding.  Never more so; never so much so in Lucy’s sight.  Poor Lucy’s heart was in her mouth, as the saying runs, and her pulses quickened to a pang.  She did not know of his return.

He bent to kiss his mother.  He turned and shook hands with Lucy.  He looked gay, animated, happy.  A joyous bridegroom, beyond doubt.

“So you have reached home, Lionel?” said Lady Verner.

“At ten last night.  How well you are looking, mother mine!”

“I am flushed just now,” was the reply of Lady Verner, her accent a somewhat sharp one from the remembrance of the vexation which had given her the flush.  “How is Paris looking?  Have you enjoyed yourself?”

“Paris is looking hot and dusty, and we have enjoyed ourselves much,” replied Lionel.  He answered in the plural, you observe; my lady had put the question in the singular.  Where is Decima?”

“Decima is sure to be at some work or other for Jan,” was the answer, the asperity of Lady Verner’s tone not decreasing.  “He turns the house nearly upside down with his wants.  Now a pan of broth must be made for some wretched old creature; now a jug of beef tea; now a bran poultice must be got; now some linen cut up for bandages.  Jan’s excuse is that he can’t get anything done at Dr. West’s.  If he is doctor to the parish, he need not be purveyor; but you may just as well speak to a post as speak to Jan.  What do you suppose he did the other day?  Those improvident Kellys had their one roomful of things taken from them by their landlord.  Jan went there—­the woman’s ill with a bad breast, or something—­and found her lying on the bare boards; nothing to cover her, not a saucepan left to boil a drop of water.  Off he comes here at the pace of a steam engine, got an old blanket and pillow from Catherine, and a tea-kettle from the kitchen.  Now, Lionel, would you believe what I am going to tell you?  No!  No one would.  He made the pillow and blanket into a bundle, and walked off with it under his arm; the kettle—­never so much as a piece of paper wrapped round it—­in his other hand!  I felt ready to faint with shame when I saw him crossing the road opposite, that spectacle, to get to Clay Lane, the kettle held out a yard before him to keep the black off his clothes.  He never could have been meant to be your brother and my son!”

Page 220

Lucy laughed at the recollection.  She had had the pleasure of beholding the spectacle.  Lionel laughed now at the description.  Their mirth did not please Lady Verner.  She was serious in her complaint.

“Lionel, you would not have liked it yourself.  Fancy his turning out of Verner’s Pride in that guise, and encountering visitors!  I don’t know how it is, but there’s some deficiency in Jan; something wanting.  You know he generally chooses to come here by the back door:  this day, because he had got the black kettle in his hand like a travelling tinker, he must go out by the front.  He did!  It saved him a few steps, and he went out without a blush.  Out of my house, Lionel!  Nobody ever lived, I am certain, who possessed so little innate notion of the decencies of life as Jan.  Had he met a carriage full of visitors in the courtyard, he would have swung the kettle back on his arm, and gone up to shake hands with them.  I had the nightmare that night, Lionel.  I dreamt a tall giant was pursuing me, seeking to throw some great machine at me, made of tea-kettles.”

“Jan is an odd fellow,” assented Lionel.

“The worst is, you can’t bring him to see, himself, what is proper or improper,” resumed Lady Verner.  “He has no sense of the fitness of things.  He would go as unblushingly through the village with that black kettle held out before him, as he would if it were her Majesty’s crown, borne on a velvet cushion.”

“I am not sure but the crown would embarrass Jan more than the kettle,” said Lionel, laughing still.

“Oh, I dare say; it would be just like him.  Have you heard of the disgraceful flitting away of some of the inhabitants here to go after the Mormons?” added my lady.

“Jan has been telling me of it.  What with one thing and another, Deerham will rise into notoriety.  Nancy has gone from Verner’s Pride.”

“Poor deluded woman!” ejaculated Lady Verner.

“There’s a story told in the village about that Peckaby’s wife—­Decima can tell it best, though.  I wonder where she is?”

Lucy rose.  “I will go and find her, Lady Verner.”

No sooner had she quitted the room, than Lady Verner turned to Lionel, her manner changing.  She began to speak rapidly, with some emotion.

“You observed that I looked well, Lionel.  I told you I was flushed.  The flush was caused by vexation, by anger.  Not a week passes but something or other occurs to annoy me.  I shall be worried into my grave.”

“What has happened?” inquired Lionel.

“It is about Lucy Tempest.  Here she is, upon my hands, and of course I am responsible.  She has no mother, and I am responsible to Colonel Tempest and to my own conscience for her welfare.  She will soon be twenty years of age—­though I am sure nobody would believe it, to look at her—­and it is time that her settlement in life should, at all events, be thought of.  But now, look how things turn out!  Lord Garle—­than whom a better parti could not be wished—­has fallen in love with her.  He made her an offer yesterday, and she won’t have him.”

Page 221

“Indeed!” replied Lionel, constrained to say something, but wishing Lady Verner would entertain him with any other topic.

“We had quite a scene here yesterday.  Indeed, it has been renewed this morning, and your coming in interrupted it.  I tell her that she must have him:  at any rate, must take time to consider the advantages of the offer.  She obstinately protests that she will not.  I cannot think what can be her motive for rejection; almost any girl in the county would jump at Lord Garle.”

“I suppose so,” returned Lionel, pulling at a hole in his glove.

“I must get you to speak to her, Lionel.  Ask her why she declines.  Show her—­”

“I speak to her!” interrupted Lionel in a startled tone.  “I cannot speak to her about it, mother.  It is no business of mine.”

“Good heavens, Lionel! are you going to turn disobedient?—­And in so trifling-a matter as this!—­trifling so far as you are concerned.  Were it of vital importance to you, you might run counter to me; it is only what I should expect.”

This was a stab at his marriage.  Lionel replied by disclaiming any influence over Miss Tempest.  “Where your arguments have failed, mine would not be likely to succeed.”

“Then you are mistaken, Lionel.  I am certain that you hold a very great influence over Lucy.  I observed it first when you were ill, when she and Decima were so much with you.  She has betrayed it in a hundred little ways; her opinions are formed upon yours; your tastes unconsciously bias hers.  It is only natural.  She has no brother, and no doubt has learned to regard you as one.”

Lionel hoped in his inmost heart that she did regard him only as a brother.  Lady Verner continued—­

“A word from you may have great effect upon her; and I desire, Lionel, that you will, in your duty to me, undertake that word.  Point out to her the advantages of the match; tell her that you speak to her as her father; urge her to accept Lord Garle; or, as I say, not to summarily reject him without consideration, upon the childish plea that she ’does not like him.’  She was terribly agitated last night; nearly went into hysterics, Decima tells me, after I left her; all her burden being that she wished she could go away to India.”

“Mother—­you know how pleased I should be to obey any wish of yours; but this is really not a proper business for me to interfere with,” urged Lionel, a red spot upon his cheek.

“Why is it not?” pointedly asked Lady Verner, looking hard at him and waiting for an answer.

“I do not deem it to be so.  Neither would Lucy consider my interference justifiable.”

“But, Lionel, you take up wrong notions!  I wish you to speak in my place, just as if you were her father; in short, acting for her father.  As to what Lucy may consider or not consider in the matter, that is of very little consequence.  Lucy is so perfectly unsophisticated, so simple in her ideas, that were I to desire my maid Therese to give her a lecture, she would receive it as something proper.”

Page 222

“I should be most unwilling to——­”

“Hold your tongue, Lionel.  You must do it.  Here she is.”

“I could not find Decima, Lady Verner,” said Lucy, entering.  “When I had been all over the house for her, Catherine told me Miss Decima had gone out.  She has gone to Clay Lane on some errand for Jan.”

“Oh, of course for Jan!” resentfully spoke Lady Verner.  “Nothing else, I should think, would take her to Clay Lane.  You see, Lionel!”

“There’s nothing in Clay Lane that will hurt Decima, mother.”

Lady Verner made no reply.  She walked to the door, and stood with the handle in her hand, turning round to speak.

“Lucy, I have been acquainting Lionel with this affair between you and Lord Garle.  I have requested him to speak to you upon the point; to ascertain your precise grounds of objection, and—­so far as he can—­to do away with them.  Try your best, Lionel.”

She quitted the room, leaving them standing opposite each other.  Standing like two statues.  Lionel’s heart smote him.  She looked so innocent, so good, in her delicate morning dress, with its gray ribbons and its white lace on the sleeves, open to the small fair arms!  Simple as the dress was, it looked, in its exquisite taste, worth ten of Sibylla’s elaborate French costumes.  Her cheeks were glowing, her hands were trembling, as she stood there in her self-consciousness.

Terribly self-conscious was Lionel.  He strove to say something, but in his embarrassment could not get out a single word.  The conviction of the grievous fact, that she loved him, went right to his heart in that moment, and seated itself there.  Another grievous fact came home to him; that she was more to him than the whole world.  However he had pushed the suspicion away from his mind, refused to dwell on it, kept it down, it was all too plain to him now.  He had made Sibylla his wife.  He stood there, feeling that he loved Lucy above all created things.

He crossed over to her, and laid his hand fondly and gently on her head, as he moved to the door.  “May God forgive me, Lucy!” broke from his white and trembling lips.  “My own punishment is heavier than yours.”

There was no need of further explanation on either side.  Each knew that the love of the other was theirs, the punishment keenly bitter, as surely as if a hundred words had told it.  Lucy sat down as the door closed behind him, and wondered how she should get through the long dreary life before her.

And Lionel?  Lionel went out by Jan’s favourite way, the back, and plunged into a dark lane where neither ear nor eye was on him.  He uncovered his head, he threw back his coat, he lifted his breath to catch only a gasp of air.  The sense of dishonour was stifling him.

CHAPTER XLIV.

FARMER BLOW’S WHITE-TAILED PONY.

Page 223

Lionel Verner was just in that frame of mind which struggles to be carried out of itself.  No matter whether by pleasure or pain, so that it be not that particular pain from which it would fain escape, the mind seeks yearningly to forget itself, to be lifted out anywhere, or by any means, from its trouble.  Conscience was doing heavy work with Lionel.  He had destroyed his own happiness—­that was nothing; he could battle it out, and nobody be the wiser or the worse, save himself; but he had blighted Lucy’s. There was the sting that tortured him.  A man of sensitively refined organisation, keenly alive to the feelings of others—­full of repentant consciousness when wrong was worked through him, he would have given his whole future life and all its benefits, to undo the work of the last few months.  Either that he had never met Lucy, or that he had not married Sibylla. Which of those two events he would have preferred to recall, he did not trust himself to think; whatever may have been his faults, he had, until now, believed himself to be a man of honour.  It was too late.  Give what he would, strive as he would, repent as he would, the ill could neither be undone nor mitigated; it was one of those unhappy things for which there is no redress; they must be borne, as they best can, in patience and silence.

With these thoughts and feelings full upon him, little wonder was there that Lionel Verner, some two hours after quitting Lucy, should turn into Peckaby’s shop.  Mrs. Peckaby was seated back from the open door, crying, and moaning, and swaying herself about, apparently in terrible pain, physical or mental.  Lionel remembered the story of the white donkey, and he stepped in to question her; anything for a minute’s divertisement; anything to drown the care that was racking him.  There was a subject on which he wished to speak to Roy, and that took him down Clay Lane.

“What’s the matter, Mrs. Peckaby?”

Mrs. Peckaby rose from her chair, curtseyed, and sat down again.  But for the state of tribulation she was in, she would have remained standing.

“Oh, sir, I have had a upset,” she sobbed.  “I see the white tail of a pony a-going by, and I thought it might be some’at else.  It did give me a turn!”

“What did you think it might be?”

“I thought it might be the tail of a different sort of animal.  I be a-going a far journey, sir, and I thought it was, may be, the quadruple come to fetch me.  I’m a-going to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.”

“So I hear,” said Lionel, suppressing a smile, in spite of his heavy heart.  “Do you go all the way on the white donkey, Mrs. Peckaby?”

Page 224

“Sir, that’s a matter that’s hid from me,” answered Mrs. Peckaby.  “The gentleman that was sent back to me by Brother Jarrum, hadn’t had particulars revealed to him.  There’s difficulties in the way of a animal on four legs which can’t swim, doing it all, that I don’t pretend to explain away.  I’m content, when the hour comes, sir, to start, and trust.  Peckaby, he’s awful sinful, sir.  Only last evening, when I was saying the quadruple might have mirac’lous parts give to it, like Balum’s had in the Bible, Peckaby he jeered, and said he’d like to see Balum’s or any other quadruple, set off to swim to America—­that he’d find the bottom afore he found the land.  I wonder the kitchen ceiling don’t drop down upon his head!  For myself, sir, I’m rejoiced to trust, as I says; and as soon as the white donkey do come, I shall mount him without fear.”

“What do you expect to find at New Jerusalem?” asked Lionel.

“I could sooner tell you, sir, what I don’t expect; it ’ud take up less time.  There’s a’most everything good at New Jerusalem that the world contains—­Verner’s Pride’s a poor place to it, sir—­saving your presence for saying so.  I could have sat and listened to Brother Jarrum in this here shop for ever, sir, if it hadn’t been that the longing was upon me to get there.  In this part o’ the world we women be poor, cast down, half-famished, miserable slaves; but in New Jerusalem we are the wives of saints, well cared for, and clothed and fed, happy as the day’s long, and our own parlours to ourselves, and nobody to interrupt us.  Yes, Peckaby, I’m a-telling his honour, Mr. Verner, what’s a-waiting for me at New Jerusalem!  And the sooner I’m on my road to it, the better.”

The conclusion was addressed to Peckaby himself.  Peckaby had just come in from the forge, grimed and dirty.  He touched his hair to Lionel, an amused expression playing on his face.  In point of fact, this New Jerusalem vision was affording the utmost merriment to Peckaby and a few more husbands.  Peckaby had come home to his tea, which meal it was the custom of Deerham to enjoy about three o’clock.  He saw no signs of its being in readiness; and, but for the presence of Mr. Verner, might probably have expressed his opinion demonstratively upon the point.  Peckaby, of late, appeared to have changed his nature and disposition.  From being a timid man, living under wife-thraldom, he had come to exercise thraldom over her.  How far Mrs. Peckaby’s state of low spirits, into which she was generally sunk, may have explained this, nobody knew.

“I have had a turn, Peckaby.  I caught sight of a white tail a-going by, and I thought it might be the quadruple a-coming for me.  I was shook, I can tell you.  ’Twas more nor an hour ago, and I’ve been able to do nothing since, but sit here and weep; I couldn’t redd up after that.”

“Warn’t it the quadrepid?” asked Peckaby in a mocking tone.

“No, it weren’t,” she moaned.  “It were nothing but that white pony of Farmer Blow’s.”

Page 225

“Him, was it,” said Peckaby, with affected scorn.  “He is in the forge now, he is; a-having his shoes changed, and his tail trimmed.”

“I’d give a shilling to anybody as ’ud cut his tail off;” angrily rejoined Mrs. Peckaby.  “A-deceiving of me, and turning my inside all of a quake!  Oh, I wish it ’ud come!  The white donkey as is to bear me to New Jerusalem!”

“Don’t you wish her joy of her journey, sir?” cried the man respectfully, a twinkle in his eye, while she rocked herself too and fro.  “She have got a bran new gownd laid up in a old apron upstairs, ready for the start.  She, and a lot more to help her, set on and made it in a afternoon, for fear the white donkey should arrive immediate.  I asks her, sir, how much back the gownd’ll have left in him, by the time she have rode from here to New Jerusalem.”

“Peckaby, you are a mocker!” interposed his lady, greatly exasperated.  “Remember the forty-two as was eat up by bears when they mocked at Elisher!”

“Mrs. Peckaby,” said Lionel, keeping his countenance, “don’t you think you would have made more sure of the benefits of the New Jerusalem, had you started with the rest, instead of depending upon the arrival of the white donkey?”

“They started without her, sir,” cried the man, laughing from ear to ear.  “They give her the slip, while she were a-bed and asleep.”

“It were revealed to Brother Jarrum so to do, sir,” she cried eagerly.  “Don’t listen to him.  Brother Jarrum as much meant me to go, sir, and I as much thought to go, as I mean to go to my bed this night—­always supposing the white donkey don’t come,” she broke off in a different voice.

“Why did you not go, then?” demanded Lionel.

“I’ll tell you about it, sir.  Me and Brother Jarrum was on the best of terms—­which it’s a real gentleman he was, and never said a word nor gave a look as could offend me.  I didn’t know the night fixed for the start; and Brother Jarrum didn’t know it; in spite of Peckaby’s insinuations.  On that last night, which it was Tuesday, not a soul came near the place but that pale lady where Dr. West attended.  She stopped a minute or two, and then Brother Jarrum goes out, and says he might be away all the evening.  Well, he was; but he came in again; I can be on my oath he did; and I give him his candle and wished him a good-night.  After that, sir, I never heard nothing till I got up in the morning.  The first thing I see was his door wide open, and the bed not slept in.  And the next thing I heard was, that the start had took place; they a-walking to Heartburg, and taking the train there.  You might just have knocked me down with a puff of wind.”

“Such a howling and screeching followed on, sir,” put in Peckaby.  “I were at the forge, and it reached all the way to our ears, over there.  Chuff, he thought as the place had took fire and the missis was a-burning.”

Page 226

“But it didn’t last; it didn’t last,” repeated Mrs. Peckaby.  “Thanks be offered up for it, it didn’t last, or I should ha’ been in my coffin afore the day were out!  A gentleman came to me:  a Brother he were, sent express by Brother Jarrum; and had walked afoot all the way from Heartburg.  It had been revealed to Brother Jarrum, he said, that they were to start that partic’lar night, and that I was to be left behind special.  A higher mission was—­What was the word? resigned?—­no—­reserved—­reserved for me, and I was to be conveyed special on a quadruple, which was a white donkey.  I be to keep myself in readiness, sir, always a-looking out for the quadruple’s coming and stopping afore the door.”

Lionel leaned against the counter, and went into a burst of laughter.  The woman told it so quaintly, with such perfect good faith in the advent of the white donkey!  She did not much like the mirth.  As to that infidel Peckaby, he indulged in sundry mocking doubts, which were, to say the least of them, very mortifying to a believer.

“What’s your opinion, sir?” she suddenly asked of Lionel.

“Well,” said Lionel, “my opinion—­as you wish for it—­Would incline to the suspicion that your friend, Brother Jarrum, deceived you.  That he invented the fable of the white donkey to keep you quiet while he and the rest got clear off.”

Mrs. Peckaby Went into a storm of shrieking sobs.  “It couldn’t be! it couldn’t be!  Oh, sir, you be as cruel as the rest!  Why should Brother Jarrum take the others, and not take me?”

“That is Brother Jarrum’s affair,” replied Lionel.  “I only say it looks like it.”

“I telled Brother Jarrum, the very day afore the start took place, that if he took off my wife, I’d follor him on and beat every bone to smash as he’d got in his body,” interposed Peckaby, glancing at Lionel with a knowing smile.  “I did, sir.  Her was out”—­jerking his black thumb at his wife—­“and I caught Brother Jarrum in his own room and shut the door on us both, and there I telled him.  He knew I meant it, too, and he didn’t like the look of a iron bar I happened to have in my hand.  I saw that.  Other wives’ husbands might do as they liked; but I warn’t a-going to have mine deluded off by them Latter Day Saints.  Were I wrong, sir?”

“I do not think you were,” answered Lionel.

“I’d Latter Day ’em! and saint ’em too, if I had my will!” continued wrathful Peckaby.  “Arch-deceiving villuns!”

“Well, good-day, Mrs. Peckaby,” said Lionel, moving to the door.  “I would not spend too much time were I you, looking out for the white donkey.”

“It’ll come! it’ll come!” retorted Mrs. Peckaby, in an ecstasy of joy, removing her hands from her ears, where she had clapped them during Peckaby’s heretical speech.  “I am proud, sir, to know as it’ll come, in spite of opinions contrairey and Peckaby’s wickedness; and I’m proud to be always a-looking out for it.”

Page 227

“This is never it, is it, drawing up to the door now?” cried Lionel, with gravity.

Something undoubtedly was curveting and prancing before the door; something with a white flowing tail.  Mrs. Peckaby caught one glimpse, and bounded from her seat, her chest panting, her nostrils working.  The signs betrayed how implicit was the woman’s belief; how entirely it had taken hold of her.

Alas! for Mrs. Peckaby.  Alas! for her disappointment.  It was nothing but that deceiving animal again, Farmer Blow’s white pony.  Apparently the pony had been so comfortable in the forge, that he did not care to leave it.  He was dodging about and backing, wholly refusing to go forward, and setting at defiance a boy who was striving to lead him onwards.  Mrs. Peckaby sat down and burst into tears.

CHAPTER XLV.

STIFLED WITH DISHONOUR.

“Now, then,” began Peckaby, as Lionel departed, “what’s the reason my tea ain’t ready for me.”

“Be you a man to ask?” demanded she.  “Could I redd up and put on kettles, and, see to ord’nary work, with my inside turning?”

Peckaby paused for a minute.  “I’ve a good mind to wallop you!”

“Try it,” she aggravatingly answered.  “You have not kep’ your hands off me yet to be let begin now.  Anybody but a brute ’ud comfort a poor woman in her distress.  You’ll be sorry for it when I’m gone off to New Jerusalem.”

“Now, look here, Suke,” said he, attempting to reason with her.  “It’s quite time as you left off this folly; we’ve had enough on’t.  What do you suppose you’d do at Salt Lake?  What sort of a life ’ud you lead?”

“A joyful life!” she responded, turning her glance sky-ward.  “Brother Jarrum thinks as the head saint, the prophet hisself, has a favour to me!  Wives is as happy there as the day’s long.”

Peckaby grinned; the reply amused him much.  “You poor ignorant creatur,” cried he, “you have got your head up in a mad-house; and that’s about it.  You know Mary Green?”

“Well?” answered she, looking surprised at this divertissement.

“And you know Nancy from Verner’s Pride as is gone off,” he continued, “and you know half a dozen more nice young girls about here, which you can just set on and think of.  How ’ud you like to see me marry the whole of ’em, and bring ’em home here?  Would the house hold the tantrums you’d go into, d’ye think?”

“You hold your senseless tongue, Peckaby!  A man ’ud better try and bring home more nor one wife here!  The law ’ud be on to him.”

“In course it would,” returned Peckaby!  “And the law knowed what it was about when it made itself into the law.  A place with more nor one wife in it ’ud be compairable to nothing but that blazing place you’ve heerd on as is under our feet, or the Salt Lake City.”

“For shame, you wicked man!”

Page 228

“There ain’t no shame, in saying that; it’s truth,” composedly answered Peckaby.  “Brother Jarrum said, didn’t he, as the wives had a parlour a-piece.  Why do they?  ‘Cause they be obleeged to be kep’ apart, for fear o’ damaging each other, a-tearing and biting and scratching, and a-pulling of eyes out.  A nice figure you’d cut among ’em!  You’d be a-wishing yourself home again afore you’d tried it for a day.  Don’t you be a fool, Susan Peckaby.”

“Don’t you!” retorted she.  “I wonder you ain’t afraid o’ some judgment falling on you.  Lies is sure to come home to people.”

“Just take your thoughts back to the time as we had the shop here, and plenty o’ custom in it.  One day you saw me just a-kissing of a girl in that there corner—­leastways you fancied as you saw me,” corrected Peckaby, coughing down his slip.  “Well, d’ye recollect the scrimmage?  Didn’t you go a’most mad, never keeping’ your tongue quiet for a week, and the place hardly holding of ye?  How ’ud you like to have eight or ten more of ’em, my married wives, like you be, brought in here?”

“You are a fool, Peckaby.  The cases is different.”

“Where’s the difference?” asked Peckaby.  “The men be men, out there; and the women be women.  I might pertend as I’d had visions and revelations sent to me, and dress myself up in a black coat and a white neck-an-kecher, and suchlike paycock’s plumes—­I might tar and feather myself if I pleased, if it come to that—­and give out as I was a prophit and a Latter Day Saint; but where ’ud be the difference, I want to know?  I should just be as good and as bad a man as I be now, only a bit more of a hypocrite.  Saints and prophits, indeed!  You just come to your senses, Susan Peckaby.”

“I haven’t lost ’em yet,” answered she, looking inclined to beat him.

“You have lost ’em; to suppose as a life, out with them reptiles, could be anything but just what I telled you—­a hell.  It can’t be otherways.  It’s again human female natur.  If you went angry mad with jealousy, just at fancying you see a innocent kiss give upon a girl’s face, how ’ud you do, I ask, when it come to wives?  Tales runs as them ‘saints’ have got any number a-piece, from four or five, up to seventy.  If you don’t come to your senses, Mrs. Peckaby, you’ll get a walloping, to bring you to ‘em; and that’s about it.  You be the laughing-stock o’ the place as it is.”

He swung out at the door, and took his way towards the nearest public-house, intending to solace himself with a pint of ale, in lieu of tea, of which he saw no chance.  Mrs. Peckaby burst into a flood of tears, and apostrophised the expected white donkey in moving terms:  that he would forthwith appear and bear her off from Peckaby and trouble, to the triumphs and delights of New Jerusalem.

Lionel, meanwhile, went to Roy’s dwelling.  Roy, he found, was not in it.  Mrs. Roy was; and, by the appearance of the laid-out tea-table, she was probably expecting Roy to enter.  Mrs. Roy sat doing nothing, her arms hung listlessly down, her head also; sunk apparently in that sad state of mind—­whatever may have been its cause—­which was now habitual to her.  By the start with which she sprang from her chair, as Lionel Verner appeared at the open door, it may be inferred that she took him for her husband.  Surely nobody else could have put her in such tremor.

Page 229

“Roy’s not in, sir,” she said, dropping a curtsey, in answer to Lionel’s inquiry.  “May be, he’ll not be long.  It’s his time for coming home, but there’s no dependence on him.”

Lionel glanced round.  He saw that the woman was alone, and he deemed it a good opportunity to ask her about what had been mentioned to him, two or three hours previously, by the Vicar of Deerham.  Closing the door, and advancing towards her, he began.

“I want to say a word to you, Mrs. Roy.  What were your grounds for stating to Mr. Bourne that Mr. Frederick Massingbird was with Rachel Frost at the Willow Pool the evening of her death?”

Mrs. Roy gave a low shriek of terror, and flung her apron over her face.  Lionel ungallantly drew it down again.  Her countenance was turning livid as death.

“You will have the goodness to answer me, Mrs. Roy.”

“It were just a dream sir,” she said, the words issuing in unequal jerks from her trembling lips, “I have been pretty nigh crazed lately.  What with them Mormons, and the uncertainty of fixing what to do—­whether to believe ’em or not—­and Roy’s crabbed temper, which grows upon him, and other fears and troubles, I’ve been a-nigh crazed.  It were just a dream as I had, and nothing more; and I be vexed to my heart that I should have made such a fool of myself, as to go and say what I did to Mr. Bourne.”

One word above all others, caught the attention of Lionel in the answer.  It was “fears.”  He bent towards her, lowering his voice.

“What are these fears that seem to pursue you?  You appear to me to have been perpetually under the influence of fear since that night.  Terrified you were then; terrified you remain.  What is the cause?”

The woman trembled excessively.

“Roy keeps me in fear, sir.  He’s for ever a-threatening.  He’ll shake me, or he’ll pinch me, or he’ll do for me, he says.  I’m in fear of him always.”

“That is an evasive answer,” remarked Lionel.  “Why should you fear to confide in me?  You have never known me to take an advantage to anybody’s injury.  The past is past.  That unfortunate night’s work appears now to belong wholly to the past.  Nevertheless, if you can throw any light upon it, it is your duty to do so.  I will keep the secret.”

“I didn’t know a thing, sir, about the night’s work.  I didn’t,” she sobbed.

“Hush!” said Lionel.  “I felt sure at the time that you did know something, had you chosen to speak.  I feel more sure of it now.”

“No, I don’t, sir; not if you pulled me in pieces for it.  I had a horrid dream, and I went straight off, like a fool, to Mr. Bourne and told it, and—­and—­that was all, sir.”

She was flinging her apron up again to hide her countenance, when, with a faint cry, she let it fall, sprung from her seat, and stood before Lionel.

“For the love of heaven, sir, say nothing to him!” she uttered, and disappeared within an inner door.  The sight of Roy, entering, explained the enigma; she must have seen him from the window.  Roy took off his cap by way of salute.

Page 230

“I hope I see you well, sir, after your journey.”

“Quite well.  Roy, some papers have been left at Verner’s Pride for my inspection, regarding the dispute in Farmer Hartright’s lease.  I do not understand them.  They bear your signature, not Mrs. Verner’s.  How is that?”

Roy stopped a while—­to collect his thoughts, possibly.  “I suppose I signed it for her, sir.”

“Then you did what you had no authority to do.  You never received power to sign from Mrs. Verner.”

“Mrs. Verner must have give me power, sir, if I have signed.  I don’t recollect signing anything.  Sometimes, when she was ill, or unwilling to be disturbed, she’d say, ‘Roy, do this,’ or, ‘Roy, do the other.’  She—­”

“Mrs. Verner never gave you authority to sign,” impressively repeated Lionel.  “She is gone, and therefore cannot be referred to; but you know as well as I do, that she never did give you such authority.  Come to Verner’s Pride to-morrow morning at ten, and see these papers.”

Roy signified his obedience, and Lionel departed.  He bent his steps towards home, taking the field way; all the bitter experiences of the day rising up within his mind.  Ah! try as he would, he could not deceive himself; he could not banish or drown the one ever-present thought.  The singular information imparted by Mr. Bourne; the serio-comic tribulation of Mrs. Peckaby, waiting for her white donkey; the mysterious behaviour of Dinah Roy, in which there was undoubtedly more than met the ear; all these could not cover for a moment the one burning fact—­Lucy’s love, and his own dishonour.  In vain Lionel flung off his hat, heedless of any second sun-stroke, and pushed his hair from his heated brow.  It was of no use; as he had felt when he went out from the presence of Lucy, so he felt now—­stifled with dishonour.

Sibylla was at a table, writing notes, when he reached home.  Several were on it, already written, and in their envelopes.  She looked up at him.

“Oh, Lionel, what a while you have been out!  I thought you were never coming home.”

He leaned down and kissed her.  Although his conscience had revealed to him, that day, that he loved another better, she should never feel the difference.  Nay, the very knowledge that it was so would render him all the more careful to give her marks of love.

“I have been to my mother’s, and to one or two more places.  What are you so busy over, dear?”

“I am writing invitations,” said Sibylla.

“Invitations!  Before people have called upon you?”

“They can call all the same.  I have been asking Mary Tynn how many beds she can, by dint of screwing, afford.  I am going to fill them all.  I shall ask them for a month.  How grave you look, Lionel!”

“In this first early sojourn together in our own house, Sibylla, I think we shall be happier alone.”

“Oh, no, we should not.  I love visitors.  We shall be together all the same, Lionel.”

Page 231

“My little wife,” he said, “if you cared for me as I care for you, you would not feel the want of visitors just now.”

And there was no sophistry in this speech.  He had come to the conviction that Lucy ought to have been his wife, but he did care for Sibylla very much.  The prospect of a house full of guests at the present moment, appeared most displeasing to him, if only as a matter of taste.

“Put it off for a few weeks, Sibylla.”

Sibylla pouted.  “It is of no use preaching, Lionel.  If you are to be a preaching husband, I shall be sorry I married you.  Fred was never that.”

Lionel’s face turned blood-red.  Sibylla put up her hand, and drew it carelessly down.

“You must let me have my own way for this once,” she coaxingly said.  “What’s the use of my bringing all those loves of things from Paris, if we are to live in a dungeon, and nobody’s to see them?  I must invite them, Lionel.”

“Very well,” he answered, yielding the point.  Yielding it the more readily from the consciousness above spoken of.

“There’s my dear Lionel!  I knew you would never turn tyrant.  And now I want something else.”

“What’s that?” asked Lionel.

“A cheque.”

“A cheque?  I gave you one this morning, Sibylla.”

“Oh! but the one you gave me is for housekeeping—­for Mary Tynn, and all that.  I want one for myself.  I am not going to have my expenses come out of the housekeeping.”

Lionel sat down to write one, a good-natured smile on his face.  “I’m sure I don’t know what you will find to spend it in, after all the finery you bought in Paris,” he said, in a joking tone.  “How much shall I fill it in for?”

“As much as you will,” replied Sibylla, too eagerly.  “Couldn’t you give it me in blank, and let me fill it in?”

He made no answer.  He drew it for L100, and gave it her.

“Will that do, my dear?”

She drew his face down again caressingly.  But, in spite of the kisses left upon his lips, Lionel had awoke to the conviction, firm and undoubted, that his wife did not love him.

CHAPTER XLVI.

SHADOWED-FORTH EMBARRASSMENT.

The September afternoon sun streamed into the study at Verner’s Pride, playing with the bright hair of Lionel Verner.  His head was bending listlessly over certain letters and papers on his table, and there was a wearied look upon his face.  Was it called up by the fatigue of the day?  He had been out with some friends in the morning; it was the first day of partridge shooting, and they had bagged well.  Now Lionel was home again, had changed his attire, and was sitting down in his study—­the old study of Mr. Verner.  Or, was the wearied look, were the indented upright lines between the eyes, called forth by inward care?

Those lines were not so conspicuous when you last saw him.  Twelve or fourteen months have elapsed since then.  A portion of that time only had been spent at Verner’s Pride.  Mrs. Verner was restless; ever wishing to be on the wing; living but in gaiety.  Her extravagance was something frightful, and Lionel did not know how to check it.  There were no children; there had been no signs of any; and Mrs. Verner positively made the lack into a sort of reproach, a continual cause for querulousness.

Page 232

She had filled Verner’s Pride with guests after their marriage—­as she had coveted to do.  From that period until early spring she had kept it filled, one succession of guests, one relay of visitors arriving after the other.  Pretty, capricious, fascinating, youthful, Mrs. Verner was of excessive popularity in the country, and a sojourn at Verner’s Pride grew to be eagerly sought.  The women liked the attractive master; the men bowed to the attractive mistress; and Verner’s Pride was never free.  On the contrary, it was generally unpleasantly crammed; and Mrs. Tynn, who was a staid, old-fashioned housekeeper, accustomed to nothing beyond the regular, quiet household maintained by the late Mr. Verner, was driven to the verge of desperation.

“It would be far pleasanter if we had only half the number of guests,” Lionel had said to his wife in the winter.  He no longer remonstrated against any:  he had given that up as hopeless.  “Pleasanter for them, pleasanter for us, pleasanter for the servants.”

“The servants!” slightingly returned Sibylla.  “I never knew before that the pleasure of servants was a thing to be studied.”

“But their comfort is.  At least, I have always considered so, and I hope I always shall.  They complain much, Sibylla.”

“Do they complain to you?”

“They do.  Tynn and his wife say they are nearly worked to death.  They hint at leaving.  Mrs. Tynn is continually subjected also to what she calls insults from your French maid.  That of course I know nothing of; but it might be as well for you to listen to her on the subject.”

“I cannot have Benoite crossed.  I don’t interfere in the household myself, and she does it for me.”

“But, my dear, if you would interfere a little more, just so far as to ascertain whether these complaints have grounds, you might apply a remedy.”

“Lionel, you are most unreasonable!  As if I could be worried with looking into things!  What are servants for?  You must be a regular old bachelor to think of my doing it.”

“Well—­to go to our first point,” he rejoined.  “Let us try half the number of guests, and see how it works.  If you do not find it better, more agreeable in all ways, I will say no more about it.”

He need not have said anything, then.  Sibylla would not listen to it.  At any rate, would not act upon it.  She conceded so far as to promise that she would not invite so many next time.  But, when that next time came, and the new sojourners arrived, they turned out to be more.  Beds had to be improvised in all sorts of impossible places; the old servants were turned out of their chambers and huddled into corners; nothing but confusion and extravagance reigned.  Against some of the latter, Mrs. Tynn ventured to remonstrate to her mistress.  Fruits and vegetables out of season; luxuries in the shape of rare dishes, many of which Verner’s Pride had never heard of, and did not know how to cook, and all of the most costly nature, were daily sent down from London purveyors.  Against this expense Mary Tynn spoke.  Mrs. Verner laughed good-naturedly at her, and told her it was not her pocket that would be troubled to pay the bills.  Additional servants were obliged to be had; and, in short, to use an expression that was much in vogue at Deerham about that time, Verner’s Pride was going the pace.

Page 233

This continued until early spring.  In February Sibylla fixed her heart upon a visit to London.  “Of course,” she told Lionel, “he would treat her to a season in town.”  She had never been to London in her life to stay.  For Sibylla to fix her heart upon a thing, was to have it; Lionel was an indulgent husband.

To London they proceeded in February.  And there the cost was great.  Sibylla was not one to go to work sparingly in any way; neither, in point of fact, was Lionel.  Lionel would never have been unduly extravagant; but, on the other hand, he was not accustomed to spare.  A furnished house in a good position was taken; servants were imported to it from Verner’s Pride; and there Sibylla launched into all the follies of the day.  At Easter she “set her heart” upon a visit to Paris, and Lionel acquiesced.  They remained there three weeks; Sibylla laying in a second stock of toilettes for Mademoiselle Benoite to rule over; and then they went back to London.

The season was prolonged that year.  The House sat until August, and it was not until the latter end of that month that Mr. and Mrs. Verner returned to Verner’s Pride.  Though scarcely home a week yet, the house was filled again—­filled to overflowing; Lionel can hear sounds of talking and laughter from the various rooms, as he bends over his table.  He was opening his letters, three or four of which lay in a stack.  He had gone out in the morning before the post was in.

Tynn knocked at the door and entered, bringing a note.

“Where’s this from?” asked Lionel, taking it from the salver.  Another moment, and he had recognised the handwriting of his mother.

“From Deerham Court, sir.  My lady’s footman brought it.  He asks whether there is any answer.”

Lionel opened the note, and read as follows:—­

“MY DEAR LIONEL,—­I am obliged to be a beggar again.  My expenses seem to outrun my means in a most extraordinary sort of way.  Sometimes I think it must be Decima’s fault, and tell her she does not properly look after the household.  In spite of my own income, your ample allowance, and the handsome remuneration received for Lucy, I cannot make both ends meet.  Will you let me have two or three hundred pounds?

    “Ever your affectionate mother,

    “LOUISA VERNER.”

“I will call on Lady Verner this afternoon, Tynn.”

Tynn withdrew with the answer.  Lionel leaned his brow upon his hand; the weary expression terribly plain just then.

“My mother shall have it at once—­no matter what my own calls may be,” was his soliloquy.  “Let me never forget that Verner’s Pride might have been hers all these years.  Looking at it from our own point of view, my father’s branch in contradistinction of my uncle’s, it ought to have been hers.  It might have been her jointure-house now, had my father lived, and so willed it.  I am glad to help my mother,” he continued, an earnest glow lighting his face.  “If I get embarrassed, why, I must get embarrassed; but she shall not suffer.”

Page 234

That embarrassment would inevitably come, if he went on at his present rate of living, he had the satisfaction of knowing beyond all doubt.  That was not the worst point upon his conscience.  Of the plans and projects that Lionel had so eagerly formed when he came into the estate, some were set afloat, some were not.  Those that were most wanted—­that were calculated to do the most real good—­lay in abeyance; others, that might have waited, were in full work.  Costly alterations were making in the stables at Verner’s Pride, and the working man’s institute at Deerham—­reading-room, club, whatever it was to be—­was progressing swimmingly.  But the draining of the land near the poor dwellings was not begun, and the families, many of them, still herded in consort—­father and mother, sons and daughters, sleeping in one room—­compelled to it by the wretched accommodation of the tenements.  It was on this last score that Lionel was feeling a pricking of conscience.  And how to find the money to make these improvements now, he knew not.  Between the building in progress and Sibylla, he was drained.

A circumstance had occurred that day to bring the latter neglect forcibly to his mind.  Alice Hook—­Hook the labourer’s eldest daughter—­had, as the Deerham phrase ran, got herself into trouble.  A pretty child she had grown up amongst them—­she was little more than a child now—­good-tempered, gay-hearted.  Lionel had heard the ill news the previous week on his return from London.  When he was out shooting that morning he saw the girl at a distance, and made some observation to his gamekeeper, Broom, to the effect that it had vexed him.

“Ay, sir, it’s a sad pity,” was Broom’s answer; “but what else can be expected of poor folks that’s brought up to live as they do—­like pigs in a sty?”

Broom had intended no reproach to his master; such an impertinence would not have crossed his mind; but the words carried a sting to Lionel.  He knew how many, besides Alice Hook, had had their good conduct undermined through the living “like pigs in a sty.”  Lionel had, as you know, a lively conscience; and his brow reddened with self-reproach as he sat and thought these things over.  He could not help comparing the contrast:  Verner’s Pride, with its spacious bedrooms, one of which was not deemed sufficient for the purposes of retirement, where two people slept together, but a dressing-closet must be attached; and those poor Hooks, with their growing-up sons and daughters, and but one room, save the kitchen, in their whole dwelling!

“I will put things on a better footing,” impulsively exclaimed Lionel.  “I care not what the cost may be, or how it may fall upon my comforts, do it I will.  I declare, I feel as if the girl’s blight lay at my own door!”

Again he and his reflections were interrupted by Tynn.

“Roy has come up, sir, and is asking to see you.”

“Roy!  Let him come in,” replied Lionel.  “I want to see him.”

Page 235

It frequently happened, when agreements, leases, and other deeds were examined, that Roy had to be referred to.  Things would turn out to have been drawn up, agreements made, in precisely the opposite manner to that expected by Lionel.  For some of these Roy might have received sanction; but, for many, Lionel felt sure Roy had acted on his own responsibility.  This chiefly applied to the short period of the management of Mrs. Verner; a little, very little, to the latter year of her husband’s life.  Matiss was Lionel’s agent during his absences; when at home, he took all management into his own hands.

Roy came in.  The same ill-favoured, hard-looking man as ever.  The ostensible business which had brought him up to Verner’s Pride, proved to be of a very trivial nature, and was soon settled.  It is well to say “ostensible,” because a conviction arose in Lionel’s mind afterwards that it was but an excuse:  that Roy made it a pretext for the purpose of obtaining an interview.  Though why, or wherefore, or what he gained by it, Lionel could not imagine.  Roy merely wanted to know if he might be allowed to put a fresh paper on the walls of one of his two upper rooms.  He’d get the paper at his own cost, and hang it at his own leisure, if Mr. Verner had no objection.

“Of course I can have no objection to it,” replied Lionel.  “You need not have lost an afternoon’s work, Roy, to come here to inquire that.  You might have asked me when I saw you by the brick-field this morning.  In fact, there was no necessity to mention it at all.”

“So I might, sir.  But it didn’t come into my mind at the moment to do so.  It’s poor Luke’s room, and the missis, she goes on continual about the state it’s in, if he should come home.  The paper’s all hanging off it in patches, sir, as big as my two hands.  It have got damp through not being used.”

“If it is in that state, and you like to find the time to hang the paper, you may purchase it at my cost,” said Lionel, who was of too just a nature to be a hard landlord.

“Thank ye, sir,” replied Roy, ducking his head.  “It’s well for us, as I often says, that you be our master at last, instead of the Mr. Massingbirds.”

“There was a time when you did not think so, Roy, if my memory serves me rightly,” was the rebuke of Lionel.

“Ah, sir, there’s a old saying, ‘Live and learn.’  That was in the days when I thought you’d be a over strict master; we have got to know better now, taught from experience.  It was a lucky day for the Verner Pride estate when that lost codicil was brought to light!  The Mr. Massingbirds be dead, it’s true, but there’s no knowing what might have happened; the law’s full of quips and turns.  With the codicil found, you can hold your own again’ the world.”

“Who told you anything about the codicil being found?” demanded Lionel.

“Why, sir, it was the talk of the place just about the time we heard of Mr. Fred Massingbird’s death.  Folks said, whether he had died, or whether he had not, you’d have come in all the same.  T’other day, too, I was talking of it to Lawyer Matiss, and he said what a good thing it was, that that there codicil was found.”

Page 236

Lionel knew that a report of the turning up of the codicil had travelled to Deerham.  It had never been contradicted.  But he wondered to hear Roy say that Matiss had spoken of it.  Matiss, himself, Tynn, and Mrs. Tynn, were the only persons who could have testified that the supposed codicil was nothing but a glove.  From the finding of that, the story had originally got wind.

“I don’t know why Matiss should have spoken to you on the subject of the codicil,” he remarked to Roy.

“It’s not much that Matiss talks, sir,” was the man’s answer.  “All he said was as he had got the codicil in safe keeping under lock and key.  Just put to Matiss the simplest question, and he’ll turn round and ask what business it is of yours.”

“Quite right of him, too,” said Lionel.  “Have you any news of your son yet, Roy?”

Roy shook his head.  “No, sir.  I’m a-beginning to wonder now whether there ever will be news of him.”

After the man had departed, Lionel looked at his watch.  There was just time for a ride to Deerham Court before dinner.  He ordered his horse, and mounted it, a cheque for three hundred pounds in his pocket.

He rode quickly, musing upon what Matiss had said about the codicil—­as stated by Roy.  Could the deed have been found?—­and Matiss forgotten to acquaint him with it.  He turned his horse down the Belvedere Road, telling his groom to wait at the corner, and stopped before the lawyer’s door.  The latter came out.

“Matiss, is that codicil found?” demanded Lionel, bending down his head to speak.

“What codicil, Mr. Verner?” returned Matiss, looking surprised.

The codicil.  The one that gave me the estate.  Roy was with me just now, and he said you stated to him that the codicil was found—­that it was safe under lock and key.”

The lawyer’s countenance lighted up with a smile.  “What a meddler the fellow is!  To tell you the truth, sir, it rather pleases me to mislead Roy, and put him on the wrong scent.  He comes here, pumping, trying to get what he can out of me:  asking this, asking that, fishing out anything there is to fish.  I recollect, he did say something about the codicil, and I replied, ’Ay, it was a good thing it was found, and safe under lock and key.’  He tries at the wrong handle when he pumps at me.”

“What is his motive for pumping at all?” returned Lionel.

“There’s no difficulty in guessing at that, sir.  Roy would give his two ears to get into place again; he’d like to fill the same post to you that he did to the late Mr. Verner.  He thinks if he can hang about here and pick up any little bit of information that may be let drop, and carry it to you, that it might tell in his favour.  He would like you to discover how useful he could be.  That is the construction I put upon it.”

“Then he wastes his time,” remarked Lionel, as he turned his horse.  “I would not put power of any sort into Roy’s hands, if he paid me in diamonds to do it.  You can tell him so, if you like, Matiss.”

Page 237

Arrived at Deerham Court, Lionel left his horse with his groom, and entered.  The first person to greet his sight in the hall was Lucy Tempest.  She was in white silk; a low dress, somewhat richly trimmed with lace, and pearls in her hair.  It was the first time that Lionel had seen her since his return from London.  He had been at his mother’s once or twice, but Lucy did not appear.  They met face to face.  Lucy’s turned crimson, in spite of herself.

“Are you quite well?” asked Lionel, shaking hands, his own pulses beating.  “You are going out this evening, I see?”

He made the remark as a question, noticing her dress; and Lucy, gathering her senses about her, and relapsing into her calm composure, looked somewhat surprised.

“We are going to dinner to Verner’s Pride; I and Decima.  Did you not expect us?”

“I—­did not know it,” he was obliged to answer.  “Mrs. Verner mentioned that some friends would dine with us this evening, but I was not aware that you and Decima were part of them.  I am glad to hear it.”

Lucy continued her way, wondering what sort of a household it could be where the husband remained in ignorance of his wife’s expected guests.  Lionel passed on to the drawing-room.

Lady Verner sat in it.  Her white gloves on her delicate hands as usual, her essence bottle and laced handkerchief beside her, Lionel offered her his customary fond greeting, and placed the cheque in her hands.

“Will that do, mother mine?”

“Admirably, Lionel.  I am so much obliged to you.  Things get behind-hand in the most unaccountable manner, and then Decima comes to me with a long face, and says here’s this debt and that debt.  It is quite a marvel to me how the money goes.  Decima would like to put her accounts into my hands that I may look over them.  The idea of my taking upon myself to examine accounts!  But how it is she gets into such debt, I cannot think.”

Poor Decima knew only too well.  Lionel knew it also; though, in his fond reverence, he would not hint at such a thing to his mother.  Lady Verner’s style of living was too expensive, and that was the cause.

“I met Lucy in the hall, dressed.  She and Decima are coming to dine at Verner’s Pride, she tells me.”

“Did you not know it?”

“No.  I have been out shooting all day.  If Sibylla mentioned it to me, I forgot it.”

Sibylla had not mentioned it.  But Lionel would rather take any blame to himself than suffer a shade of it to rest upon her.

“Mrs. Verner called yesterday, and invited us.  I declined for myself.  I should have declined for Decima, but I did not think it right to deprive Lucy of the pleasure, and she could not go alone.  Ungrateful child!” apostrophised Lady Verner.  “When I told her this morning I had accepted an invitation for her to Verner’s Pride, she turned the colour of scarlet, and said she would rather remain at home.  I never saw so unsociable a girl; she does not care to go out, as it seems to me.  I insisted upon it for this evening.”

Page 238

“Mother, why don’t you come?”

Lady Verner half turned from him.

“Lionel, you must not forget our compact.  If I visit your wife now and then, just to keep gossiping tongues quiet, from saying that Lady Verner and her son are estranged, I cannot do it often.”

“Were there any cause why you should show this disfavour to Sibylla—­”

“Our compact, our compact, my son!  You are not to urge me upon this point, do you remember?  I rarely break my resolutions, Lionel.”

“Or your prejudices either, mother.”

“Very true,” was the equable answer of Lady Verner.

Little more was said.  Lionel found the time drawing on, and left.  Lady Verner’s carriage was already at the door, waiting to convey Decima and Lucy Tempest to the dinner at Verner’s Pride.  As he was about to mount his horse, Peckaby passed by, rolling a wheel before him.  He touched his cap.

“Well,” said Lionel, “has the white donkey arrived yet?”

A contraction of anger, not, however, unmixed with mirth, crossed the man’s face.

“I wish it would come, sir, and bear her off on’t!” was his hearty response.  “She’s more a fool nor ever over it, a-whining and a-pining all day long, ’cause she ain’t at New Jerusalem.  She wants to be in Bedlam, sir; that’s what she do! it ’ud do her more good nor t’other.”

Lionel laughed, and Peckaby struck his wheel with such impetus that it went off at a tangent, and he had to follow it on the run.

CHAPTER XLVII.

THE YEW-TREE ON THE LAWN.

The rooms were lighted at Verner’s Pride; the blaze from the chandeliers fell on gay faces and graceful forms.  The dinner was over, its scene “a banquet hall deserted”; and the guests were filling the drawing-rooms.

The centre of an admiring group, its chief attraction, sat Sibylla, her dress some shining material that glimmered in the light, and her hair confined with a band of diamonds.  Inexpressibly beautiful by this light she undoubtedly was, but she would have been more charming had she less laid herself out for attraction.  Lionel, Lord Garle, Decima, and young Bitterworth—­he was generally called young Bitterworth, in contradistinction to his father, who was “old Bitterworth”—­formed another group; Sir Rufus Hautley was talking to the Countess of Elmsley; and Lucy Tempest sat apart near the window.

Sir Rufus had but just moved away from Lucy, and for the moment she was alone.  She sat within the embrasure of the window, and was looking on the calm scene outside.  How different from the garish scene within!  See the pure moonlight, side by side with the most brilliant light we earthly inventors can produce, and contrast them!  Pure and fair as the moonlight looked Lucy, her white robes falling softly round her, and her girlish face wearing a thoughtful expression.  It was a remarkably light night; the terrace, the green slopes beyond it, and the clustering trees far away, all standing out clear and distinct in the moon’s rays.  Suddenly her eye rested on a particular spot.  She possessed a very clear sight, and it appeared to detect something dark there; which dark something had not been there a few moments before.

Page 239

Lucy strained her eyes, and shaded them, and gazed again.  Presently she turned her head, and glanced at Lionel.  An expression in her eyes seemed to call him, and he advanced.

“What is it, Lucy?  We must have a set of gallant men here to-night, to leave you alone like this!”

The compliment fell unheeded on her ear.  Compliments from him!  Lionel only so spoke to hide his real feelings.

“Look on the lawn, right before us,” said Lucy to him, in a low tone.  “Underneath the spreading yew-tree.  Do you not fancy the trunk looks remarkably dark and thick?”

“The trunk remarkably dark and thick!” echoed Lionel.  “What do you mean, Lucy?” For he judged by her tone that she had some hidden meaning.

“I believe that some man is standing there.  He must be watching this room.”

Lionel could not see it.  His eyes had not been watching so long as Lucy’s, consequently objects were less distinct.  “I think you must be mistaken, Lucy,” he said.  “No one would be at the trouble of standing there to watch the room.  It is too far off to see much, whatever may be their curiosity.”

Lucy held her hands over her eyes, gazing attentively from beneath them.  “I feel convinced of it now,” she presently said.  “There is some one, and it looks like a man, standing behind the trunk, as if hiding himself.  His head is pushed out on this side, certainly, as though he were watching these windows.  I have seen the head move twice.”

Lionel placed his hands in the same position, and took a long gaze.  “I do think you are right, Lucy!” he suddenly exclaimed.  “I saw something move then.  What business has any one to plant himself there?”

He stepped impulsively out as he spoke—­the windows opened to the ground—­crossed the terrace, descended the steps, and turned on the lawn, to the left hand.  A minute, and he was up at the tree.

But he gained no satisfaction.  The spreading tree, with its imposing trunk—­which trunk was nearly as thick as a man’s body—­stood all solitary on the smooth grass, no living thing being near it.

“We must have been mistaken, after all,” thought Lionel.

Nevertheless, he stood under the tree, and cast his keen glances around.  Nothing could he see; nothing but what ought to be there.  The wide lawn, the sweet flowers closed to the night, the remoter parts where the trees were thick, all stood cold and still in the white moonlight.  But of human disturber there was none.

Lionel went back again, plucking a white geranium blossom and a sprig of sweet verbena on his way.  Lucy was sitting alone, as he had left her.

“It was a false alarm,” he whispered.  “Nothing’s there, except the tree.”

“It was not a false alarm,” she answered.  “I saw him move away as you went on to the lawn.  He drew back towards the thicket.”

“Are you sure?” questioned Lionel, his tone betraying that he doubted whether she was not mistaken.

Page 240

“Oh, yes, I am sure,” said Lucy.  “Do you know what my old nurse used to tell me when I was a child?” she asked, lifting her face to his.  “She said I had the Indian sight, because I could see so far and so distinctly.  Some of the Indians have the gift greatly, you know.  I am quite certain that I saw the object—­and it looked like the figure of a man—­go swiftly away from the tree across the grass.  I could not see him to the end of the lawn, but he must have gone into the plantation.  I dare say he saw you coming towards him.”

Lionel smiled.  “I wish I had caught the spy.  He should have answered to me for being there.  Do you like verbena, Lucy?”

He laid the verbena and geranium on her lap, and she took them up mechanically.

“I do not like spies,” she said, in a dreamy tone.  “In India they have been known to watch the inmates of a house in the evening, and to bow-string one of those they were watching before the morning.  You are laughing!  Indeed, my nurse used to tell me tales of it.”

“We have no spies in England—­in that sense, Lucy.  When I used the word spy, it was with no meaning attached to it.  It is not impossible but it may be a sweetheart of one of the maid-servants, come up from Deerham for a rendezvous.  Be under no apprehension.”

At that moment, the voice of his wife came ringing through the room.  “Mr. Verner!”

He turned to the call.  Waiting to say another word to Lucy, as a thought struck him.  “You would prefer not to remain at the window, perhaps.  Let me take you to a more sheltered seat.”

“Oh, no, thank you,” she answered impulsively.  “I like being at the window.  It is not of myself that I am thinking.”  And Lionel moved away.

“Is it not true that the fountains at Versailles played expressly for me?” eagerly asked Sibylla, as he approached her.  “Sir Rufus won’t believe that they did.  The first time we were in Paris, you know.”

Sir Rufus Hautley was by her side then.  He looked at Lionel.  “They never play for private individuals, Mr. Verner.  At least, if they do, things have changed.”

“My wife thought they did,” returned Lionel, with a smile.  “It was all the same.”

“They did, Lionel, you know they did,” vehemently asserted Sibylla.  “De Coigny told me so; and he held authority in the Government.”

“I know that De Coigny told you so, and that you believed him,” answered Lionel, still smiling.  “I did not believe him.”

Sibylla turned her head away petulantly from her husband.  “You are saying it to annoy me.  I’ll never appeal to you again.  Sir Rufus, they did play expressly for me.”

“It may be bad taste, but I’d rather see the waterworks at St. Cloud than at Versailles,” observed a Mr. Gordon, some acquaintance that they had picked up in town, and to whom it had been Sibylla’s pleasure to give an invitation.  “Cannonby wrote me word last week from Paris——­”

Page 241

“Who?” sharply interrupted Sibylla.

Mr. Gordon looked surprised.  Her tone had betrayed something of eager alarm, not to say terror.

“Captain Cannonby, Mrs. Verner.  A friend of mine just returned from Australia.  Business took him to Paris as soon as he landed.”

“Is he from the Melbourne port?  Is his Christian name Lawrence?” she reiterated breathlessly.

“Yes—­to both questions,” replied Mr. Gordon.

Sibylla shrieked, and lifted her handkerchief to her face.  They gathered round her in consternation.  One offering smelling-salts, one running for water.  Lionel gently drew the handkerchief from her face.  It was white as death.

“What ails you, my dear?” he whispered.

She seemed to recover her equanimity as suddenly as she had lost it, and the colour began to appear in her cheeks again.

“His name—­Cannonby’s—­puts me in mind of those unhappy days,” she said, not in the low tone used by her husband, but aloud—­speaking, in fact, to all around her.  “I did not know Captain Cannonby had returned.  When did he come, Mr. Gordon?”

“About eight or nine days ago.”

“Has he made his fortune?”

Mr. Gordon laughed.  “I fancy not.  Cannonby was always of a roving nature.  I expect he got tired of the Australian world before fortune had time to find him out.”

Sibylla was soon deep in her flirtations again.  It is not erroneous to call them so.  But they were innocent flirtations—­the result of vanity.  Lionel moved away.

Another commotion.  Some great long-legged fellow, without ceremony or warning, came striding in at the window close to Lucy Tempest.  Lucy’s thoughts had been buried—­it is hard to say where, and her eyes were strained to the large yew-tree upon the grass.  The sudden entrance startled her, albeit she was not of a nervous temperament.  With Indian bow-strings in the mind, and fancied moonlight spies before the sight, a scream was inevitable.

Whom should it be but Jan!  Jan, of course.  What other guest would be likely to enter in that unceremonious fashion?  Strictly speaking, Jan was not a guest—­at any rate, not an invited one.

“I had got a minute to spare this evening, so thought I’d come up and have a look at you,” proclaimed unfashionable Jan to the room, but principally addressing Lionel and Sibylla.

And so Jan had come, and stood there without the least shame, in drab trousers, and a loose, airy coat, shaking hands with Sir Rufus, shaking hands with anybody who would shake hands with him.  Sibylla looked daggers at Jan, and Lionel cross.  Not from the same cause.  Sibylla’s displeasure was directed to Jan’s style of evening costume; Lionel felt vexed with him for alarming Lucy.  But Lionel never very long retained displeasure, and his sweet smile stole over his lips as he spoke.

“Jan, I shall be endorsing Lady Verner’s request—­that you come into a house like a Christian—­if you are to startle ladies in this fashion.”

Page 242

“Whom did I startle?” asked Jan.

“You startled Lucy.”

“Nonsense!  Did I, Miss Lucy?”

“Yes, you did a little, Jan,” she replied.

“What a stupid you must be!” retorted gallant Jan.  “I should say you want doctoring, if your nerves are in that state.  You take—­”

“Oh, Jan, that will do,” laughed Lucy.  “I am sure I don’t want medicine.  You know how I dislike it.”

They were standing together within the large window, Jan and Lionel, Lucy sitting close to them.  She sat with her head a little bent, scenting her verbena.

“The truth is, Jan, I and Lucy have been watching some intruder who had taken up his station on the lawn, underneath the yew-tree,” whispered Lionel.  “I suppose Lucy thought he was bursting in upon us.”

“Yes, I did really think he was,” said Lucy, looking up with a smile.

“Who was it?” asked Jan.

“He did not give us the opportunity of ascertaining,” replied Lionel.  “I am not quite sure, mind, that I did see him; but Lucy is positive upon the point.  I went to the tree, but he had disappeared.  It is rather strange why he should be watching.”

“He was watching this room attentively,” said Lucy, “and I saw him move away when Mr. Verner went on the lawn.  I am sure he was a spy of some sort.”

“I can tell you who it was,” said Jan.  “It was Roy.”

“Roy!” repeated Lionel.  “Why do you say this?”

“Well,” said Jan, “as I turned in here, I saw Roy cross the road to the opposite gate.  I don’t know where he could have sprung from, except from these grounds.  That he was neither behind me nor before me as I came up the road, I can declare.”

“Then it was Roy!” exclaimed Lionel.  “He would have had about time to get into the road, from the time we saw him under the tree.  That the fellow is prying into my affairs and movements, I was made aware of to-day; but why he should watch my house I cannot imagine.  We shall have an account to settle, Mr. Roy!”

Decima came up, asking what private matter they were discussing, and Lionel and Lucy went over the ground again, acquainting her with what had been seen.  They stood together in a group, conversing in an undertone.  By and by, Mrs. Verner passed, moving from one part of the room to another, on the arm of Sir Rufus Hautley.

“Quite a family conclave,” she exclaimed, with a laugh.  “Decima, however much you may wish for attention, it is scarcely fair to monopolise that of Mr. Verner in his own house.  If he forgets that he has guests present, you should not help him in the forgetfulness.”

“It would be well if all wished for attention as little as does Miss Verner,” exclaimed Lord Garle.  His voice rung out to the ends of the room, and a sudden stillness fell upon it; his words may have been taken as a covert reproof to Mrs. Verner.  They were not meant as such.  There was no living woman of whom Lord Garle thought so highly as he thought of Decima Verner; and he had spoken in his mind’s impulse.

Page 243

Sibylla believed he had purposely flung a shaft at her.  And she flung one again—­not at him, but at Decima.  She was of a terribly jealous nature, and could bear any reproach to herself, better than that another woman should be praised beside her.

“When young ladies find themselves neglected, their charms wasted on the desert air, they naturally do covet attention, although it be but a brother’s.”

Perhaps the first truly severe glance that Lionel Verner ever gave his wife he gave her then.  Disdaining any defence off his sister, he stood, haughty, impassive, his lips drawn in, his eyes fixed sternly on Sibylla.  Decima remained quiet under the insult, save that she flushed scarlet.  Lord Garle did not.  Lord Garle spoke up again, in the impetuosity of his open, honest nature.

“I can testify that if Miss Verner is neglected, it is her own fault alone.  You are mistaken in your premises, Mrs. Verner.”

The tone was pointedly significant, the words were unmistakably clear, and the room could not but become enlightened to the fact that Miss Verner might have been Lady Garle.  Sibylla laughed a little laugh of disbelief, as she went onwards with Sir Rufus Hautley; and Lionel remained enshrined in his terrible mortification.  That his wife should so have forgotten herself!

“I must be going off,” cried Jan, good-naturedly interrupting the unpleasant silence.

“You have not long come,” said Lucy.

“I didn’t leave word where I was coming, and somebody may be going dead while they are scouring the parish for me.  Good-night to you all; good-night, Miss Lucy.”

With a nod to the room, away went Jan as unceremoniously as he had come; and, not very long afterwards, the first carriage drew up.  It was Lady Verner’s.  Lord Garle hastened to Decima, and Lionel took out Lucy Tempest.

“Will you think me very foolish, if I say a word of warning to you?” asked Lucy, in a low tone to Lionel, as they reached the terrace.

“A word of warning to me, Lucy!” he repeated.  “Of what nature?”

“That Roy is not a good man.  He was greatly incensed at your putting him out of his place when you succeeded to Verner’s Pride, and it is said that he cherishes vengeance.  He may have been watching to-night for an opportunity to injure you.  Take care of him.”

Lionel smiled as he looked at her.  Her upturned face looked pale and anxious in the moonlight.  Lionel could not receive the fear at all:  he would as soon have thought to dread the most improbable thing imaginable, as to dread this sort of violence, whether from Roy, or from any one else.

“There’s no fear whatever, Lucy.”

“I know you will not see it for yourself, and that is the reason why I am presumptive enough to suggest the idea to you.  Pray be cautious! pray take care of yourself!”

He shook his head laughingly as he looked down upon her.  “Thank you heartily all the same for your consideration, Lucy,” said he, and for the very life of him he could not help pressing her hand warmer than was needful as he placed her in the carriage.

Page 244

They drove away.  Lord Garle returned to the room; Lionel stood against one of the outer pillars, looking forth on the lovely moonlight scene.  The part played by Roy—­if it was Roy—­in the night’s doings disturbed him not; but that his wife had shown herself so entirely unlike a lady did disturb him.  In bitter contrast to Lucy did she stand out to his mind that night.  He turned away, after some minutes, with an impatient movement, as if he would fain throw remembrance and vexation from him, Lionel had himself chosen his companion in life, and none knew better than he that he must abide by it; none could be more firmly resolved to do his full duty by her in love.  Sibylla was standing outside the window alone.  Lionel approached her, and gently laid his hand upon her shoulder.

“Sibylla, what caused you to show agitation when Cannonby’s name was mentioned?”

“I told you,” answered Sibylla.  “It is dreadful to be reminded of that miserable time.  It was Cannonby, you know, who buried my husband.”

And before Lionel could say more, she had shaken his hand from her shoulder, and was back amidst her guests.

CHAPTER XLVIII.

MR. DAN DUFF IN CONVULSIONS.

Jan had said somebody might be going dead while the parish was being scoured for him; and, in point of fact, Jan found, on reaching home, that that undesirable consummation was not unlikely to occur.  As you will find also, if you will make an evening call upon Mrs. Duff.

Mrs. Duff stood behind her counter, sorting silks.  Not rich piece silks that are made into gowns; Mrs. Duff’s shop did not aspire to that luxurious class of goods; but humble skeins of mixed sewing-silks, that were kept tied up in a piece of wash-leather.  Mrs. Duff’s head and a customer’s head were brought together over the bundle, endeavouring to fix upon a skein of a particular shade, by the help of the one gas-burner which flared away overhead.

“Drat the silk!” said Mrs. Duff at length.  “One can’t tell which is which, by candle-light.  The green looks blue, and the blue looks green.  Look at them two skeins, Polly; which is the green?”

Miss Polly Dawson, a showy damsel with black hair and a cherry-coloured net at the back of it—­one of the family that Roy was pleased to term the ill-doing Dawsons, took the two skeins in her hand.

“Blest if I can tell!” was her answer.  “It’s for doing up mother’s green silk bonnet, so it won’t do to take blue.  You be more used to it nor me, Mrs. Duff.”

“My eyes never was good for sorting silks by this light,” responded Mrs. Duff.  “I’ll tell you what, Polly; you shall take ’em both.  Your mother must take the responsibility of fixing on one herself; or let her keep ’em till the morning and choose it then.  She should have sent by daylight.  You can bring back the skein you don’t use to-morrow; but mind you keep it clean.”

Page 245

“Wrap ’em up,” curtly returned Miss Polly Dawson.

Mrs. Duff was proceeding to do so, when some tall thin form, bearing a large bundle, entered the shop in a fluster.  It was Mrs. Peckaby.  She sat herself down on the only stool the shop contained, and let the bundle slip to the floor.

“Give a body leave to rest a bit, Mother Duff!  I be turned a’most inside out.”

“What’s the matter?” asked Mrs. Duff, while Polly Dawson surveyed her with a stare.

“There’s a white cow in the pound.  I can’t tell ye the turn it give me, coming sudden upon it.  I thought nothing less, at first glance, but it was the white quadruple.”

“What! hasn’t that there white donkey come yet?” demanded Polly Dawson; who, in conjunction with sundry others of her age and sex in the village, was not sparing of her free remarks to Mrs. Peckaby on the subject, thereby aggravating that lady considerably.

“You hold your tongue, Polly Dawson, and don’t be brazen, if you can help it,” rebuked Mrs. Peckaby.  “I was so took aback for the minute, that I couldn’t neither stir nor speak,” she resumed to Mrs. Duff.  “But when I found it was nothing but a old strayed wretch of a pounded cow, I a’most dropped with the disappointment.  So I thought I’d come back here and take a rest.  Where’s Dan?”

“Dan’s out,” answered Mrs. Duff.

“Is he?  I thought he might have took this parcel down to Sykes’s, and saved me the sight o’ that pound again and the deceiver in it.  It’s just my luck!”

“Dan’s gone up to Verner’s Pride,” continued Mrs. Duff.  “That fine French madmizel, as rules there, come down for some trifles this evening, and took him home with her to carry the parcel.  It’s time he was back, though, and more nor time.  ’Twasn’t bigger, neither, nor a farthing bun, but ’twas too big for her.  Isn’t it a-getting the season for you to think of a new gownd, Mrs. Peckaby?” resumed Mother Duff, returning to business.  “I have got some beautiful winter stuffs in.”

“I hope the only new gownd as I shall want till I gets to New Jerusalem, is the purple one I’ve got prepared for it,” replied Mrs. Peckaby.  “I don’t think the journey’s far off.  I had a dream last night as I saw a great crowd o’ people dressed in white, a-coming out to meet me.  I look upon it as it’s a token that I shall soon be there.”

“I wouldn’t go out to that there New Jerusalem if ten white donkeys come to fetch me!” cried Polly Dawson, tossing her head with scorn.  “It is a nice place, by all that I have heard!  Them saints—­”

A most appalling interruption.  Snorting, moaning, sobbing, his breath coming in gasps, his hair standing up on end, his eyes starting, and his face ghastly, there burst in upon them Master Dan Duff.  That he was in the very height of terror, there could be no mistaking.  To add to the confusion, he flung his arms out as he came in, and his hand caught one of the side panes of glass in the bow window and shattered it, the pieces falling amongst the displayed wares.  Dan leaped in, caught hold of his mother with a spasmodic howl, and fell down on some bundles in a corner of the small shop.

Page 246

Mrs. Duff was dragged down with him.  She soon extricated herself, and stared at the boy in very astonishment.  However inclined to play tricks out of doors, Mr. Dan never ventured to play them, in.  Polly Dawson stared.  Susan Peckaby, forgetting New Jerusalem for once, sprang off her stool and stared.  But that his terror was genuine, and Mrs. Duff saw that it was, Dan had certainly been treated then to that bugbear of his domestic life—­a “basting.”

“What has took you now?” sharply demanded Mrs. Duff, partly in curiosity, partly in wrath.

“I see’d a dead man,” responded Dan, and he forthwith fell into convulsions.

They shook him, they pulled him, they pinched him.  One laid hold of his head, another of his feet; but, make nothing of him, could they.  The boy’s face was white, his hands and arms were twitching, and froth was gathering on his lips.  By this time the shop was full.

“Run across, one of you,” cried the mother, turning her face to the crowd, “and see if you can find Mr. Jan Verner.”

CHAPTER XLIX.

“I SEE’D A DEAD MAN!”

Jan Verner was turning in at his own door—­the surgery—­at a swinging pace.  Jan’s natural pace was a deliberate one; but Jan found so much to do, now he was alone in the business, that he had no resource but to move at the rate of a steam engine.  Otherwise he would never have got through his day’s work.  Jan had tried one assistant, who had proved to be more plague than profit, and Jan was better without him.  Master Cheese, promoted now to tail-coats and turn-up collars, was coming on, and could attend to trifling cases.  Master Cheese wished to be promoted also to “Mister” Cheese; but he remained obstinately excessively short, and people would still call him “Master.”  He appeared to grow in breadth instead of height, and underwent, in consequence, a perpetual inward mortification.  Jan would tell him he should eat less and walk more; but the advice was not taken.

Jan Verner was turning into the surgery at a swinging pace, and came in violent contact with Master Cheese, who was coming out at another sharp pace.  Jan rubbed his chest, and Cheese his head.

“I say, Jan,” said he, “can’t you look where your going?”

“Can’t you look?” returned Jan.  “Where are you off to?”

“There’s something the matter at Duff’s.  About a dozen came here in a body, wanting you.  Bob says Dan Duff was dying.”

Jan turned his eyes on Bob, the surgery-boy.  Bob answered the look—­

“It’s what they said, sir.  They said as Dan Duff was a-dying and a-frothing at the mouth.  It’s about five minutes ago, sir.”

“Did you go over?” asked Jan of Cheese.  “I saw a crowd round Mrs. Duff’s door.”

“No, I didn’t.  I am going now.  I was indoors, having my supper.”

“Then you need not trouble yourself,” returned Jan.  “Stop where you are, and digest your supper.”

Page 247

He, Jan, was speeding off, when a fresh deputation arrived.  Twenty anxious faces at the least, all in a commotion, their tongues going together.  “Dan was frothing dreadful, and his legs was twitchin’ like one in the epilepsies.”

“What has caused it?” asked Jan.  “I saw him well enough an hour or two ago.”

“He see a dead man, sir; as it’s said.  We can’t come to the bottom of it, ’cause of his not answering no questions.  He be too bad, he be.”

“He did see a dead man,” put in Polly Dawson, who made one of the deputation, and was proud of being able to add her testimony to the asserted fact.  “Leastways, he said he did.  I was a-buying some silk, sir, in at Mother Duff’s shop, and Susan Peckaby was in there too, she was, a-talking rubbish about her white donkey, when Dan flounders in upon us in a state not to be told, a-frightening of us dreadful, and a-smashing in the winder with his arm.  And he said he’d seen a dead man.”

Jan could not make sense of the tale.  There was nobody lying dead in Deerham, that he knew of.  He pushed the crowd round the door right and left to get space to enter.  The shop was pretty full already, but numbers pushed in after Jan.  Dan had been carried into the kitchen at the back of the shop, and was laid upon the floor, a pillow under his head.  The kitchen was more crowded than the shop; there was not breathing space; and room could hardly be found for Jan.

The shop was Mrs. Duff’s department.  If she chose to pack it full of people to the ceiling, it was her affair:  but Jan made the kitchen, where the boy lay, his.

“What’s the matter with him, sir?” was the eager question to Jan, the moment he had cast his eyes on the invalid.

“I may be able to ascertain as soon as I have elbow room,” replied Jan.  “Suppose you give it me.  Mrs. Duff may stop, but nobody else.”

Jan’s easy words carried authority in their tone, and the company turned tail and began to file out.

“Couldn’t you do with me in, as well as his mother, sir?” asked Susan Peckaby.  “I was here when he came in, I was; and I knowed what it was a’most afore he spoke.  He have been frightened by that thing in the pound.  Only a few minutes afore, it had turned my inside almost out.”

“No, I can’t,” answered Jan.  “I must have the room clear.  Perhaps I shall send away his mother.”

“I should ha’ liked to know for sure,” meekly observed Susan Peckaby, preparing to resign herself to her fate.  “I hope you’ll ask him, sir, when he comes to, whether it were not that thing in the pound as frightened him.  I took it for some’at else, more’s the grief! but it looks, for all the world, like a ghost in the moonlight.”

“What is in the pound?” demanded Jan.

“It’s a white cow,” responded Susan Peckaby.  “And it strikes me as it’s Farmer Blow’s.  He have got a white cow, you know, sir, like he have got a white pony, and they be always a-giving me a turn, one or t’other of ’em.  I’d like old Blow to be indicted for a pest, I would! a-keeping white animals to upset folks.  It’s not a week ago that I met that cow in the road at dusk—­strayed through a gap in the hedge.  Tiresome beast, a-causing my heart to leap into my mouth!”

Page 248

“If Dan have put himself into this state, and done all this damage, through nothing but seeing of a white cow, won’t I baste him!” emphatically rejoined Mrs. Duff.

Jan at length succeeded in getting the kitchen clear.  But for some time, in spite of all his skill and attention—­and he spared neither—­he could make no impression upon the unhappy Dan.  His mother’s bed was made ready for him—­Dan himself sharing the accommodation of a dark closet in an ordinary way, in common with his brothers—­and Jan carried him up to it.  There he somewhat revived, sufficiently to answer a question or two rationally.  It must be confessed that Jan felt some curiosity upon the subject; to suppose the boy had been thrown into that state, simply by seeing a white cow in the pound, was ridiculous.

“What frightened you?” asked Jan.

“I see’d a dead man,” answered the boy.  “Oh, lor!”

“Well?” said Jan, with composure, “he didn’t eat you.  What is there in a dead man to be alarmed at?  I have seen scores—­handled ’em too.  What dead man was it?”

The boy pulled the bed-clothes over him, and moaned.  Jan pulled them down again.

“Of course you can’t tell!  There’s no dead man in Deerham.  Was it in the churchyard?”

“No.”

“Was it in the pound?” asked Jan triumphantly, thinking he had got it right this time.

“No.”

The answer was an unexpected one.

“Where was it, then?”

“Oh-o-o-o-oh!” moaned the boy, beginning to shake and twitch again.

“Now, Dan Duff, this won’t do,” said Jan.  “Tell me quietly what you saw, and where you saw it.”

“I see’d a dead man,” reiterated Dan Duff.  And it appeared to be all he was capable of saying.

“You saw a white cow on its hind legs,” returned Jan.  “That’s what you saw.  I am surprised at you, Dan Duff.  I should have thought you more of a man.”

Whether the reproof overcame Master Duff’s nerves again, or the remembrance of the “dead man,” certain it was, that he relapsed into a state which rendered it imprudent, in Jan’s opinion, to continue for the present the questioning.  One more only he put—­for a sudden thought crossed him, which induced it.

“Was it in the copse at Verner’s Pride?”

“’Twas at the Willow Pool; he was a-walking round it.  Oh-o-o-o-o-oh!”

Jan’s momentary fear was dispelled.  A night or two back there had been a slight affray between Lionel’s gamekeeper and some poachers:  and the natural doubts arose whether anything fresh of the same nature had taken place.  If so, Dan Duff might have come upon one of them lying, dead or wounded.  The words—­“walking round the pool”—­did away with this.  For the present, Jan departed.

But, if Dan’s organs of disclosure are for the present in abeyance, there’s no reason why we should not find out what we can for ourselves.  You may be very sure that Deerham would not fail to do it.

Page 249

The French madmizel—­as Mrs. Duff styled her, meaning, of course, Mademoiselle Benoite—­had called in at Mrs. Duff’s shop and made a purchase.  It consisted—­if you are curious to know—­of pins and needles, and a staylace.  Not a parcel that would have weighed her down, certainly, had she borne it herself; but it pleased her to demand that Dan should carry it for her.  This she did, partly to display her own consequence, chiefly that she might have a companion home, for Mademoiselle Benoite did not relish the walk alone by moonlight to Verner’s Pride.  Of course young Dan was at the beck and call of Mrs. Duff’s customers, that being, as mademoiselle herself might have said, his specialite.  Whether a customer bought a parcel that would have filled a van, or one that might have gone inside a penny thimble, Master Dan was equally expected to be in readiness to carry the purchase to its destination at night, if called upon.  Master Dan’s days being connected now with the brick-fields, where his specialite appeared to be, to put layers of clay upon his clothes.

Accordingly, Dan started with Mademoiselle Benoite.  She had been making’ purchases at other places, which she had brought away with her—­shoes, stationery, and various things, all of which were handed over to the porter, Dan.  They arrived at Verner’s Pride in safety, and Dan was ordered to follow her in, and deposit his packages on the table of the apartment that was called the steward’s room.

“One, two, three, four,” counted Mademoiselle Benoite, with French caution, lest he should have dropped any by the way.  “You go outside now, Dan, and I bring you something from my pocket for your trouble.”

Dan returned outside accordingly, and stood gazing at the laundry windows, which were lighted up.  Mademoiselle dived in her pocket, took something from thence, which she screwed carefully up in a bit of newspaper, and handed it to Dan.  Dan had watched the process in a glow of satisfaction, believing it could be nothing less than a silver sixpence.  How much more it might prove, Dan’s aspirations were afraid to anticipate.

“There!” said Mademoiselle, when she put it into his hand.  “Now you can go back to your mother.”

She shut the door in his face somewhat inhospitably, and Dan eagerly opened his cadeau.  It contained—­two lumps of fine white sugar.

“Mean old cat!” burst forth Dan.  “If it wasn’t that mother ’ud baste me, I’d never bring a parcel for her again, not if she bought up the shop.  Wouldn’t I like to give all the French a licking?”

Munching his sugar wrathfully, he passed across the yard, and out at the gate.  There he hesitated which way home he should take, as he had hesitated that far gone evening, when he had come up upon the errand to poor Rachel Frost.  More than four years had elapsed since then, and Dan was now fourteen; but he was a young and childish boy of his age, which might be owing to the fact of his being so kept under by his mother.

Page 250

“I have a good mind to trick her!” soliloquised he; alluding, it must be owned, to that revered mother.  “She wouldn’t let me go out to Bill Hook’s to-night; though I telled her as it wasn’t for no nonsense I wanted to see him, but about that there gray ferret.  I will, too!  I’ll go back the field way, and cut down there.  She’ll be none the wiser.”

Now, this was really a brave resolve for Dan Duff.  The proposed road would take him past the Willow Pool; and he, in common with other timorous spirits, had been given to eschew that place at night, since the end of Rachel.  It must be supposed that the business touching the gray ferret was one of importance, for Dan to lose sight of his usual fears, and turn towards that pool.

Not once, from that time to this, had Dan Duff taken this road alone at night.  From that cause probably, no sooner had he now turned into the lane, than he began to think of Rachel.  He would have preferred to think of anything else in the world; but he found, as many others are obliged to find, that unpleasant thoughts cannot be driven away at will.  It was not so much that the past night of misfortune was present to him, as that he feared to meet the ghost of Rachel.

He went on, glancing furtively on all sides, his face and his hair growing hotter and hotter.  There, on his right, was the gate through which he had entered the field to give chase to the supposed cat; there, on the left, was the high hedge; before him lay the length of lane traversed that evening by the tall man, who had remained undiscovered from that hour to this.  Dan could see nothing now; no tall man, no cat; even the latter might have proved a welcome intruder.  He glanced up at the calm sky, at the bright moon riding overhead.  The night was perfectly still; a lovely night, could Dan only have kept the ghosts out of his mind.

Suddenly a horse, in the field on the other side the hedge, set up a loud neigh, right in Dan’s ear.  Coming thus unexpectedly, it startled Dan above everything.  He half resolved to go back, and turned round and looked the way he had come.  But he thought of the gray ferret, and plucked up some courage and went on again, intending, the moment he came in sight of the Willow Pool, to make a dash past at his utmost speed.

The intention was not carried out.  Clambering over the gate which led to the enclosure, a more ready way to Dan than opening it, he was brought within view of the pool.  There it was, down in the dreary lower part, near the trees.  The pool itself was distinct enough, lying to the right, and Dan involuntarily looked towards it.  Not to have saved his life, could Dan have helped looking.

Susan Peckaby had said to Jan, that her heart leaped into her mouth at the sight of the white cow in the pound.  Poor Dan Duff might have said that his heart leaped right out of him, at sight now of the Willow Pool.  For there was some shadowy figure moving round it.

Page 251

Dan stood powerless.  But for the gate behind him he would have turned and ran; to scramble back over that, his limbs utterly refused.  The delay caused him, in spite of his fear, to discern the very obvious fact, that the shadowy figure was not that of a woman habited in white—­as the orthodox ghost of Rachel ought to have been—­but a man’s, wearing dark clothes.  There flashed into Dan’s remembrance the frequent nightly visits of Robin Frost to the pond, bringing with it a ray of relief.

Robin had been looked upon as little better than a lunatic since the misfortune; but, to Dan Duff, he appeared in that moment worth his weight in gold.  Robin’s companionship was as good as anybody’s to ward off the ghostly fears, and Dan set off, full speed, towards him.  To go right up to the pond would take him a few yards out of his way to Bill Hook’s.  What of that?  To exchange words with a human tongue, Dan, in that moment of superstitious fright, would have gone as many miles.

He had run more than half the intervening distance, when he brought himself to a halt.  It had become evident to Dan’s sight that it was not Robin Frost.  Whoever it might be, he was a head and shoulders taller than Robin; and Dan moved up more quietly, his eyes strained forward in the moonlight.  A suspicion came over him that it might be Mr. Verner; Dan could not, at the moment, remember anybody else so tall, unless it was Mr. Jan.  The figure stood now with its back to him; apparently gazing into the pool.  Dan advanced with slow steps; if it was Mr. Verner, he would not presume to intrude upon him; but when he came nearly close, he saw that it bore no resemblance to the figure of Mr. Verner.  Slowly, glidingly, the figure turned round; turned its face right upon Dan, full in the rays of the bright moon; and the most awful yell you ever heard went forth upon the still night air.

It came from Dan Duff.  What could have been its meaning?  Did he think he saw the ghost, which he had been looking out for the last half-hour—­poor Rachel’s?—­saw it beyond this figure which had turned upon him?  Dan alone knew.  That he had fallen into the most appalling terror, was certain.  His eyes were starting, the drops of perspiration poured off him, and his hair rose up on end.  The figure—­just as if it had possessed neither sight nor hearing, neither sense nor sympathy for human sound—­glided noiselessly away; and Dan went yelling on.

Towards home now.  All thought of Bill Hook and the gray ferret was gone.  Away he tore, the nearest way, which took him past the pound.  He never saw the white cow:  had the cow been a veritable ghost, Dan had not seen it then.  The yells subsiding into moans, and the perspiration into fever heat, he gained his mother’s, and broke the window, as you have heard, in passing in.

Such were the particulars; but as yet they were not known.  The first person to elicit them was Roy the bailiff.

Page 252

After Jan Verner had departed, saying he should be back by and by, and giving Mrs. Duff strict orders to keep the boy quiet, to allow nobody near him but herself, and, above all, no questioning, Mrs. Duff quitted him, “that he might get a bit o’ sleep,” she said.  In point of fact, Mrs. Duff was burning to exercise her gossiping powers with those other gossipers below.  To them she descended; and found Susan Peckaby holding forth upon the subject of the white cow.

“You be wrong, Susan Peckaby,” said Mrs. Duff, “It warn’t the white cow at all; Dan warn’t a-nigh the pound.  He told Mr. Jan so.”

“Then what was it?” returned Susan Peckaby.

One of the present auditors was Roy the bailiff.  He had only recently pushed in, and had stood listening in silence, taking note of the various comments and opinions.  As silently, he moved behind the group, and was stealing up the stairs.  Mrs. Duff placed herself before him.

“Where be you a-going, Mr. Roy?  Mr. Jan said as not a soul was to go a-nigh him to disturb him with talk.  A nice thing, it ’ud be, for it to settle on his brain!”

“I ain’t a-going to disturb him,” returned Roy.  “I have seen something myself to-night that is not over-kind.  I’d like to get a inkling if it’s the same that has frightened him.”

“Was it in the pound?” eagerly asked Mrs. Peckaby.

“The pound be smoked!” was the polite answer vouchsafed by Roy.  “Thee’ll go mad with th’ white donkey one of these days.”

“There can’t be any outlet to it, but one,” observed Mrs. Chuff, the blacksmith’s wife, giving her opinion in a loud key.  “He must ha’ seen Rachel Frost’s ghost.”

“Have you been and seen that to-night, Mr. Roy?” cried Susan Peckaby.

“Maybe I have, and maybe I haven’t,” was Roy’s satisfactory reply, “All I say is, I’ve seen something that I’d rather not have seen; something that ’ud have sent all you women into fits.  ’Twarn’t unlike Rachel, and ’twere clothed in white.  I’ll just go and take a look at Dan, Mother Duff.  No fear o’ my disturbing him.”

Mother Duff, absorbed with her visitors, allowed him to go on without further impediment.  The first thing Roy did upon getting upstairs, was to shut the chamber door; the next, to arouse and question the suffering Dan.  Roy succeeded in getting from him the particulars already related, and a little more; insomuch that Dan mentioned the name which the dead man had borne in life.

Roy sat and stared at him after the revelation, keeping silence.  It may have been that he was digesting the wonder; it may have been that he was deliberating upon his answer.

“Look you here, Dan Duff,” said he, by and by, holding the shaking boy by the shoulder.  “You just breathe that name again to living mortal, and see if you don’t get hung up by the neck for it.  ’Twas nothing but Rachel’s ghost.  Them ghosts takes the form of anything that it pleases, ’em to take; whether it’s a dead man’s, or whether it’s a woman’s, what do they care?  There’s no ghost but Rachel’s ’ud be a-hovering over that pond.  Where be your senses gone, not to know that?”

Page 253

Poor Dan’s senses appeared to be wandering somewhere yet; they certainly were not in him.  He shook and moaned, and finally fell into the same sort of stupor as before.  Roy could make nothing further of him, and he went down.

“Well,” said he to the assemblage, “I’ve got it out of him.  The minute he saw me, he stretched his arm out—­’Mr. Roy,’ says he, ’I’m sick to unburden myself to somebody’; and he up and told.  He’s fell off again now, like one senseless, and I question if he’d remember telling me.”

“And what was it?  And what was it?” questioned the chorus.  “Rachel’s ghost?”

“It was nothing less, you may be sure,” replied Roy, his tone expressive of contempt that they should have thought it could be anything less.  “The young idiot must take and go by the pond on this bright night, and in course he saw it.  Right again’ his face, he says, it appeared; there wasn’t no mistaking of it.  It was a-walking round and round the pool.”

Considerable shivering in the assembly.  Polly Dawson, who was on its outskirts, shrieked, and pushed into its midst, as if it were a safer place.  The women drew into a closer circle, and glanced round at an imaginary ghost behind their shoulders.

“Was it that as you saw yourself to-night, Mr. Roy?”

“Never mind me,” was Roy’s answer.  “I ain’t one to be startled to death at sight of a sperit, like boys and women is.  I had my pill in what I saw, I can tell ye.  And my advice to ye all is, keep within your own doors after nightfall.”

Without further salutation, Roy departed.  The women, with one accord, began to make for the staircase.  To contemplate one who had just been in actual contact with the ghost—­which some infidels had persistently asserted throughout was nothing but a myth—­was a sight not to be missed.  But they were driven back again.  With a succession of yells, the like of which had never been heard, save at the Willow Pond that night, Dan appeared leaping down upon them, his legs naked and his short shirt flying behind him.  To be left alone, a prey to ghosts or their remembrances, was more than the boy, with his consciousness upon him, could bear.  The women yelled also, and fell back one upon another; not a few being under the impression that it was the ghost itself.

What was to be done with him?  Before the question was finally decided, Mrs. Bascroft, the landlady of the Plough and Harrow, who had made one of the company, went off to her bar, whence she hastened back again with an immense hot tumbler, three parts brandy, one part water, the whole of which was poured down the throat of Dan.

“There’s nothing like it for restoring folks after a fright,” remarked Mrs. Bascroft.

The result of the dose was, that Dan Duff subsided into a state of real stupor, so profound and prolonged that even Jan began to doubt whether he would awake from it.

CHAPTER L.

Page 254

MR. AND MRS. VERNER.

Lionel Verner sat over his morning letters, bending upon one of them a perplexed brow.  A claim which he had settled the previous spring—­at least, which he believed had been settled—­was now forwarded to him again.  That there was very little limit to his wife’s extravagance, he had begun to know.

In spite of Sibylla’s extensive purchases made in Paris at the time of their marriage, she had contrived by the end of the following winter to run up a tolerable bill at her London milliner’s.  When they had gone to town in the early spring, this bill was presented to Lionel.  Four hundred and odd pounds.  He gave Sibylla a cheque for its amount, and some gentle, loving words of admonition at the same time—­not to spend him out of house and home.

A second account from the same milliner had arrived this morning—­been delivered to him with other London letters.  Why it should have been sent to him, and not to his wife, he was unable to tell—­unless it was meant as a genteel hint that payment would be acceptable.  The whole amount was for eleven hundred pounds, but part of this purported to be “To bill delivered”—­four hundred and odd pounds—­the precise sum which Lionel believed to have been paid.  Eleven hundred pounds! and all the other claims upon him!  No wonder he sat with a bent brow.  If things went on at this rate, Verner’s Pride would come to the hammer.

He rose, the account in his hand, and proceeded to his wife’s dressing-room.  Among other habits, Sibylla was falling into that of indolence, scarcely ever rising to breakfast now.  Or, if she rose, she did not come down.  Mademoiselle Benoite came whisking out of a side room as he was about to enter.

“Madame’s toilette is not made, sir,” cried she, in a tart tone, as if she thought he had no right to enter.

“What of that?” returned Lionel.  And he went in.

Just as she had got out of bed, save that she had a blue quilted silk dressing-gown thrown on, and her feet were thrust into blue quilted slippers, sat Sibylla, before a good fire.  She leaned in an easy-chair, reading; a miniature breakfast service of Sevres china, containing chocolate, on a low table at her side.  Some people like to read a word or two of the Bible, as soon as conveniently may be, after getting up in the morning.  Was that good book the study of Sibylla?  Not at all.  Her study was a French novel.  By dint of patience, and the assistance of Mademoiselle Benoite in the hard words and complicated sentences, Mrs. Verner contrived to arrive tolerably well at its sense.

“Good gracious!” she exclaimed, when Lionel appeared, “are you not gone shooting with the rest?”

“I did not go this morning,” he answered, closing the door and approaching her.

“Have you taken breakfast?” she asked.

“Breakfast has been over a long while.  Were I you, Sibylla, when I had guests staying in the house, I should try and rise to breakfast with them.”

Page 255

“Oh, you crafty Lionel!  To save you the trouble of presiding.  Thank you,” she continued good-humouredly, “I am more comfortable here.  What is this story about a ghost?  The kitchen’s in a regular commotion, Benoite says.”

“To what do you allude?” asked Lionel.

“Dan Duff is dying, or dead,” returned Sibylla.  “Benoite was in Deerham last night, and brought him home to carry her parcels.  In going back again, he saw, as he says, Rachel Frost’s ghost, and it terrified him out of his senses.  Old Roy saw it too, and the news has travelled up here.”

Sibylla laughed as she spoke.  Lionel looked vexed.

“They are very stupid,” he said.  “A pity but they kept such stories to themselves.  If they were only as quiet as poor Rachel’s ghost is, it might be better for some of them.”

“Of course you would wish it kept quiet,” said Sibylla, in a tone full of significance.  “I like to hear of these frights—­it is good fun.”

He did not fathom in the remotest degree the meaning of her tone.  But he had not gone thither to dispute about ghosts.

“Sibylla,” he gravely said, putting the open account into her hand, “I have received this bill this morning.”

Sibylla ran her eyes over it with indifference; first at the bill’s head, to see whence it came, next at its sum total.

“What an old cheat!  Eleven hundred pounds!  I am sure I have not had the half.”

Lionel pointed to the part “bill delivered.”  “Was that not paid in the spring?”

“How can I recollect?” returned Sibylla, speaking as carelessly as before.

“I think you may recollect if you try.  I gave you a cheque for the amount.”

“Oh, yes, I do recollect now.  It has not been paid.”

“But, my dear, I say I gave the cheque for it.”

“I cashed the cheque myself.  I wanted some money just then.  You can’t think how fast money goes in London, Lionel.”

The avowal proved only what he suspected.  Nevertheless it hurt him greatly—­grieved him to his heart’s core.  Not so much the spending of the money, as the keeping the fact from him.  What a lack of good feeling, of confidence, it proved.

He bent towards her, speaking gently, kindly.  Whatever might be her faults to him, her provocations, he could never behave otherwise to her than as a thorough gentleman, a kind husband.

“It was not right to use that cheque, Sibylla.  It was made out in Madame Lebeau’s name, and should have been paid to her.  But why did you not tell me?”

Sibylla shrugged her shoulders in place of answer.  She had picked up many such little national habits of Mademoiselle Benoite’s.  Very conspicuous just then was the upright line on Lionel’s brow.

“The amount altogether is, you perceive, eleven hundred pounds,” he continued.

“Yes,” said Sibylla.  “She’s a cheat, that Madame Lebeau.  I shall make Benoite write her a French letter, and tell her so.”

Page 256

“It must be paid.  But it is a great deal of money.  I cannot continue to pay these large sums, Sibylla.  I have not the money to do it with.”

“Not the money!  When you know you are paying heaps for Lady Verner!  Before you tell me not to spend, you should cease supplying her.”

Lionel’s very brow flushed.  “My mother has a claim upon me only in a degree less than you have,” he gravely said.  “Part of the revenues of Verner’s Pride ought to have been hers years ago; and they were not.”

“If my husband had lived—­if he had left me a little child—­Verner’s Pride would have been his and mine, and never yours at all.”

“Hush, Sibylla!  You don’t know how these allusions hurt me,” he interrupted, in a tone of intense pain.

“They are true,” said Sibylla.

“But not—­forgive me, my dear, for saying it—­not the less unseemly.”

“Why do you grumble at me, then?”

“I do not grumble,” he answered in a kind tone.  “Your interests are mine, Sibylla, and mine are yours.  I only tell you the fact—­and a fact it is—­that our income will not stand these heavy calls upon it.  Were I to show you how much you have spent in dress since we were married—­what with Paris, London, and Heartburg—­the sum total would frighten you.”

“You should not keep the sum total,” resentfully spoke Sibylla.  “Why do you add it up?”

“I must keep my accounts correctly.  My uncle taught me that.”

“I am sure he did not teach you to grumble at me,” she rejoined.  “I look upon Verner’s Pride as mine, more than yours; if it had not been for the death of my husband, you would never have had it.”

Inexpressibly vexed—­vexed beyond the power to answer, for he would not trust himself to answer—­Lionel prepared to quit the room.  He began to wish he had not had Verner’s Pride, if this was to be its domestic peace.  Sibylla petulantly threw the French book from her lap upon the table, and it fell down with its page open.

Lionel’s eyes caught its title, and a flush, not less deep than the preceding flush, darkened his brow.  He laid his open palm upon the page with an involuntary movement, as if he would guard it from the eyes of his wife.  That she should be reading that notorious work!

“Where did you get this?” he cried.  “It is not a fit book for you.”

“There’s nothing-the matter with the book as far as I have gone.”

“Indeed you must not read it!  Pray don’t, Sibylla!  You will be sorry for it afterwards.”

“How do you know it is not a fit book?”

“Because I have read it.”

“There! You have read it!  And you would like to deny the pleasure to me!  Don’t say you are never selfish.”

“Sibylla!  What is fit for me to read may be most unfit for you.  I read the book when I was a young man; I would not read it now.  Is it Benoite’s?” he inquired, seeing the name in the first page.

Page 257

“Yes, it is.”

Lionel closed the book.  “Promise me, Sibylla, that you will not attempt to read more of it.  Give it her back at once, and tell her to send it out of the house, or to keep it under lock and key while it remains within it.”

Sibylla hesitated.

“Is it so very hard a promise?” he tenderly asked.  “I would do a great deal more for you.”

“Yes, Lionel, I will promise,” she replied, a better feeling coming over her.  “I will give it her back now.  Benoite!”

She called loudly.  Benoite heard, and came in.

“Mr. Verner says this is not a nice book.  You may take it away.”

Mademoiselle Benoite advanced with a red face, and took the book.

“Have you any more such books?” inquired Lionel, looking at her.

“No, sir, I not got one other,” hardily replied she.

“Have the goodness to put this one away.  Had your mistress been aware of the nature of the book, she had not suffered you to produce it.”

Mademoiselle went away, her skirts jerking.  Lionel bent down to his wife.

“You know that it pains me to find fault, Sibylla,” he fondly whispered.  “I have ever your welfare and happiness at heart.  More anxiously, I think, than you have mine.”

CHAPTER LI.

COMMOTION IN DEERHAM.

Lionel Verner was strolling out later in the day, and met the shooting-party coming home.  After congratulating them on their good sport, he was turning home with them, when the gamekeeper intimated that he should be glad to speak a word to him in private.  Upon which, Lionel let the gentlemen go on.

“What is it, Broom?” asked he.

“I’m much afeared, sir, if thing’s are not altered, that there’ll be murder committed some night,” answered Broom, without circumlocution.

“I hope not,” replied Lionel.  “Are you and the poachers again at issue?”

“It’s not about the poachers, hang ’em!  It’s about Robin Frost, sir.  What on earth have come to him I can’t conceive.  This last few nights he have took to prowling out with a gun.  He lays himself down in the copse, or a ditch, or the open field—­no matter where—­and there he stops, on the watch, with his gun always pointed.”

“On the watch for what?” asked Lionel.

“He best knows himself, sir.  He’s going quite cracked, it’s my belief; he have been half-way to it this long while.  Sometimes he’s trailing through the brushwood on all fours, the gun ever pointed; but mostly he’s posted on the watch.  He’ll get shot for a poacher, or some of the poachers will shoot him, as sure as it’s a gun that he carries.”

“What can be his motive?” mused Lionel.

“I’m inclined to think, sir, though he is Robin Frost, that he’s after the birds,” boldly returned Broom.

“Then rely upon it that you think wrong, Broom,” rebuked Lionel, “Robin Frost would no more go out poaching, than I should go out thieving.”

Page 258

“I saw him trailing along last night in the moonlight, sir.  I saw his old father come up and talk to him, urging him to go home, as it seemed to me.  But he couldn’t get him; and the old man had to hobble back without Robin.  Robin stopped in his cold berth on the ground.”

“I did not think old Matthew was capable of going out at night.”

“He did last night, sir; that’s for certain.  It was not far; only down away by the brick-kilns.  There’s a tale going abroad that Dan Duff was sent into mortal fright by seeing something that he took to be Rachel’s ghost; my opinion is, that he must have met old Frost in his white smock-frock, and took him for a ghost.  The moon did cast an uncommon white shade last night.  Though old Frost wasn’t a-nigh the Willow Pool, nor Robin neither, and that’s where they say Dan Duff got his fright.  Formerly, Robin was always round that pool, but lately he has changed his beat.  Anyhow, sir, perhaps you’d be so good as drop a warning to Robin of the risk he runs.  He may mind you.”

“I will,” said Lionel.

The gamekeeper touched his hat, and walked away.  Lionel considered that he might as well give Robin the warning then; and he turned towards the village.  Before fairly entering it, he had met twenty talkative persons, who gave him twenty different versions of the previous night’s doings, touching Dan Duff.

Mrs. Duff was at her door when Lionel went by.  She generally was at her door, unless she was serving customers.  He stopped to accost her.

“What’s the truth of this affair, Mrs. Duff?” asked he.  “I have heard many reports of it?”

Mrs. Duff gave as succinct an account as it was in her nature to give.  Some would have told it in a third of the time:  but Lionel had patience; he was in no particular hurry.

“I have been one of them to laugh at the ghost, sir a-saying that it never was Rachel’s, and that it never walked,” she added.  “But I’ll never do so again.  Roy, he see it, as well as Dan.”

“Oh! he saw it, too, did he,” responded Lionel, with a good-natured smile of mockery.  “Mrs. Duff, you ought to be too old to believe in ghosts,” he more seriously resumed.  “I am sure Roy is, whatever he may choose to say.”

“If it was no ghost, sir, what could have put our Dan into that awful fright?  Mr. Jan doesn’t know as he’ll overget it at all.  He’s a-lying without a bit of conscientiousness on my bed, his eyes shut, and his breath a-coming hard.”

“Something frightened him, no doubt.  The belief in poor Rachel’s ghost has been so popular, that every night fright is attributed to that.  Who was it went into a fainting fit in the road, fancying Rachel’s ghost was walking down upon them; and it proved afterwards to have been only the miller’s man with a sack of flour on his back?”

“Oh, that!” slightingly returned Mrs. Duff.  “It was that stupid Mother Grind, before they went off with the Mormons.  She’d drop at her shadder, sir, she would.”

Page 259

“So would some of the rest of you,” said Lionel.  “I am sorry to hear that Dan is so ill.”

“Mr. Jan’s in a fine way over him, sir.  Mrs. Bascroft gave him just a taste of weak brandy and water, and Mr. Jan, when he come to know it, said we might just as well have give him pison; and he’d not answer for his life or his reason.  A pretty thing it’ll be for Deerham, if there’s more lives to be put in danger, now the ghost have took to walk again!  Mr. Bourne called in just now, sir, to learn the rights of it.  He went up and see Dan; but nothing could he make of him.  Would you be pleased to go up and take a look at him, sir?”

Lionel declined, and wished Mrs. Duff good-day.

He could do the boy no good, and had no especial wish to look at him, although he had been promoted to the notoriety of seeing a ghost.  A few steps farther he encountered Jan.

“What is it that’s the matter with the boy?” asked Lionel.

“He had a good fright; there’s no doubt about that,” replied Jan.  “Saw a white cow on its hind legs, it’s my belief.  That wouldn’t have been much.  The boy would have been all right by now, but the women drenched him with brandy, and made him stupidly drunk.  He’ll be better this evening.  I can’t stop, Lionel; I am run off my legs to-day.”

The commotion in the village increased as the evening approached.  Jan knew that young Dan would be well—­save for any little remembrance of the fright which might remain—­when the fumes of the brandy had gone off; But he wisely kept his own counsel, and let the public think he was in danger.  Otherwise, a second instalment of the brandy might have been administered behind Jan’s back.  To have a boy dying of fright from seeing a ghost was a treat in the marvellous line, which Deerham had never yet enjoyed.  There had been no agitation like unto it, since the day of poor Rachel Frost.

Brave spirits, some of them!  They volunteered to go out and meet the apparition.  As twilight approached you could not have got into Mrs. Duff’s shop, for there was the chief gathering.  Arguments were being used to prove that, according to all logic, if a ghost appeared one night, it was safe to appear a second.

“Who’ll speak up to go and watch for it?” asked Mrs. Duff.  “I can’t.  I can’t leave Dan.  Sally Green’s a-sitting up by him now; for Mr. Jan says if he’s left again, he shall hold me responsible.  It don’t stand to reason as I can leave Sally Green in charge of the shop, though I can leave her a bit with Dan.  Not but what I’d go alone to the pond, and stop there; I haven’t got no fear.”

It singularly happened that those who were kept at home by domestic or other duties, had no fear; they, to hear them talk, would rather have enjoyed an encounter solus with the ghost, than not.  Those who could plead no home engagement professed themselves willing to undertake the expedition in company; but freely avowed they would not go alone for the world.

Page 260

“Come! who’ll volunteer?” asked Mrs. Duff.  “It ’ud be a great satisfaction to see the form it appears in, and have that set at rest.  Dan, he’ll never be able to tell, by the looks of him now.”

“I’ll go for one,” said bold Mrs. Bascroft.  “And them as joins me shall each have a good stiff tumbler of some’at hot afore starting, to prime ‘em again’ the cold.”

Whether it was the brave example set, or whether it was the promise accompanying it, certain it was, that there was no lack of volunteers now.  A good round dozen started, filling up the Plough and Harrow bar, as Mrs. Bascroft dealt out her treat with no niggard hand.

“What’s a-doing now?” asked Bascroft, a stupid-looking man with red hair combed straight down his forehead, and coloured shirt-sleeves, surveying the inroad on his premises with surprise.

“Never you mind,” sharply reproved his better half.  “These ladies is my visitors, and if I choose to stand treat round, what’s that to you?  You takes your share o’ liquor, Bascroft.”

Bascroft was not held in very great estimation by the ladies generally, and they turned their backs upon him.

“We are a-going out to see the ghost, if you must know, Bascroft,” said Susan Peckaby, who made one of the volunteers.

Bascroft stared.  “What a set of idiots you must be!” grunted he.  “Mr. Jan says as Dan Duff see nothing but a white cow; he telled me so hisself.  Be you a-thinking to meet that there other white animal on your road, Mrs. Peckaby?”

“Perhaps I am,” tartly returned Mrs. Peckaby.

“One ’ud think so. You can’t want to go out to meet ghostesses; you be a-going out to your saints at New Jerusalem.  I’d whack that there donkey for being so slow, when he did come, if I was you.”

Hastening away from Bascroft and his aggravating tongue, the expedition, having drained their tumblers, filed out.  Down by the pound—­relieved now of its caged inmate—­went they, on towards the Willow Pond.  The tumblers had made them brave.  The night was light, as the preceding one had been; the ground looked white, as if with frost, and the air was cold.  The pond in view, they halted, and took a furtive glance, beginning to feel somewhat chill.  So far as these half glances allowed them to judge, there appeared to be nothing near to it, nothing upon its brink.

“It’s of no good marching right up to it,” said Mrs. Jones, the baker’s wife.  “The ghost mightn’t come at all, if it saw all us there.  Let’s get inside the trees.”

Mrs. Jones meant inside the grove of trees.  The proposition was most acceptable, and they took up their position, the pond in view, peeping out, and conversing in a whisper.  By and by they heard the church clock strike eight.

“I wish it’ud make haste,” exclaimed Susan Peckaby, with some impatience.  “I don’t never like to be away from home long together, for fear of that there blessed white animal arriving.”

Page 261

“He’d wait, wouldn’t he?” sarcastically rejoined Polly Dawson.  “He’d——­”

A prolonged hush—­sh—­sh! from the rest restored silence.  Something was rustling the trees at a distance.  They huddled closer together, and caught hold one of another.

Nothing appeared.  The alarm went off.  And they waited, without result, until the clock struck nine.  The artificial strength within them had cooled by that time, their ardour had cooled, and they were feeling chill and tired.  Susan Peckaby was upon thorns, she said, and urged their departure.

You can go if you like,” was the answer.  “Nobody wants to keep you.”

Susan Peckaby measured the distance between the pond and the way she had to go, and came to the determination to risk it.

“I’ll make a rush for it, I think,” said she.  “I sha’n’t see nothing.  For all I know, that quadruple may be right afore our door now.  If he——­”

Susan Peckaby stopped, her voice subsiding into a shriek.  She, and those with her, became simultaneously aware that some white figure was bearing down upon them.  The shrieks grew awful.

It proved to be Roy in his white fustian jacket.  Roy had never had the privilege of hearing a dozen women shriek in concert before; at least, like this.  His loud derisive laugh was excessively aggravating.  What with that, what with the fright his appearance had really put them in, they all tore off, leaving some hard words for him; and never stopped to take breath until they burst into the shop of Mrs. Duff.

It was rather an ignominious way of returning, and Mrs. Duff did not spare her comments.  If she had went out to meet the ghost, sh’d ha’ stopped till the ghost came, she would!  Mrs. Jones rejoined that them watched-for ghosts, as she had heered, never did come—­which she had said so afore she went out!

Master Dan, considerably recovered, was downstairs then.  Rather pale and shaky, and accommodated with a chair and pillow, in front of the kitchen fire.  The expedition pressed into the kitchen, and five hundred questions were lavished upon the boy.

“What was it dressed in, Dan?  Did you get a good sight of her face, Dan?  Did it look just as Rachel used to look?  Speak up, Dan.”

“It warn’t Rachel at all,” replied Dan.

This unexpected assertion brought a pause of discomfiture.  “He’s head ain’t right yet,” observed Mrs. Duff apologetically; “and that’s why I’ve not asked him nothing.”

“Yes, it is right, mother,” said Dan.  “I never see Rachel last night.  I never said as I did.”

Another pause—­spent in contemplating Dan.  “I knowed a case like this, once afore,” observed old Miss Till, who carried round the milk to Deerham.  “A boy got a fright, and they couldn’t bring him to at all.  Epsum salts did it at last.  Three pints of ’em they give, I think it was, and that brought his mind round.”

“It’s a good remedy,” acquiesced Mrs. Jones.  “There’s nothing like plenty of Epsum salts for boys.  I’d try ’em on him, Mother Duff.”

Page 262

“Dan, dear,” said Susan Peckaby insinuatingly—­for she had come in along with the rest, ignoring for the moment what might be waiting at her door—­“was it in the pound as you saw Rachel’s ghost?”

“’Twarn’t Rachel’s ghost as I did see,” persisted Dan.

“Tell us who it was, then?” asked she, humouring him.

The boy answered.  But he answered below his breath; as if he scarcely dared to speak the name aloud.  His mother partially caught it.

“Whose?” she exclaimed, in a sharp voice, her tone changing.  And Dan spoke a little louder.

“It was Mr. Frederick Massingbird’s!”

CHAPTER LII.

MATTHEW FROST’S NIGHT ENCOUNTER.

Old Matthew Frost sat in his room at the back of the kitchen.  It was his bedroom and sitting-room combined.  Since he had grown feeble, the bustle of the kitchen and of Robin’s family disturbed him, and he sat much in his chamber, they frequently taking his dinner in to him.

A thoroughly comfortable arm-chair had Matthew.  It had been the gift of Lionel Verner.  At his elbow was a small round table, of very dark wood, rubbed to brightness.  On that table Matthew’s large Bible might generally be found open, and Matthew’s spectacled eyes bending over it.  But the Bible was closed to-day.  He sat in deep thought.  His hands clasped upon his stick, something after the manner of old Mr. Verner; and his eyes fixed through the open window at the September sun, as it played on the gooseberry and currant bushes in the cottage garden.

The door opened, and Robin’s wife—­her hands and arms white, for she was kneading dough—­appeared, showing in Lionel; who had come on after his conversation with Mrs. Duff, as you read of in the last chapter; for it is necessary to go back a few hours.  One cannot tell two portions of a history at one and the same time.  The old man rose, and stood leaning on his stick.

“Sit down, Matthew,” said Lionel, in a kindly tone.  “Don’t let me disturb you.”  He made him go into his seat again, and took a chair opposite to him.

“The time’s gone, sir, for me to stand afore you.  That time must go for us all.”

“Ay, that it must, Matthew, if we live.  I came in to speak to Robin.  His wife says she does not know where he is.”

“He’s here and there and everywhere,” was old Matthew’s answer.  “One never knows how to take him, sir, or when to see him.  My late master’s bounty to me, sir, is keeping us in comfort, but I often ask Robin what he’ll do when I am gone.  It gives me many an hour’s care, sir.  Robin, he don’t earn the half of a living now.”

“Be easy, Matthew,” was Lionel’s answer.  “I am not sure that the annuity, or part of it, will not be continued to Robin.  My uncle left it in my charge to do as I should see fit.  I have never mentioned it, even to you; and I think it might be as well for you not to speak of it to Robin.  It is to be hoped that he will get steady and hard-working again; were he to hear that there was a chance of his being kept without work, he might never become so.”

Page 263

“The Lord bless my old master!” aspirated Matthew, lifting his hands.  “The Lord bless you, sir!  There’s not many gentlemen would do for us what him and you have.”

Lionel bent his head forward, and lowered his voice to a whisper.  “Matthew, what is this that I hear, of Robin’s going about the grounds at night with a loaded gun?”

Matthew flung up his hands.  Not with the reverence of the past minute, but with a gesture of despair.  “Heaven knows what he does it for, sir!  I’d keep him in; but it’s beyond me.”

“I know you would.  You went yourself after him last night, Broom tells me.”

Matthew’s eyes fell.  He hesitated much in his answer.  “I—­yes, sir—­I—­I couldn’t get him home.  It’s a pity.”

“You got as far as the brick-kilns, I hear.  I was surprised.  I don’t think you should be out at night, Matthew.”

“No, sir, I am not a-going again.”

The words this time were spoken readily enough.  But, from some cause or other, the old man was evidently embarrassed.  His eyes were not lifted, and his clear face had gone red.  Lionel searched his imagination for a reason, and could only connect it with his son.

“Matthew,” said he, “I am about to ask you a painful question.  I hope you will answer it.  Is Robin perfectly sane?”

“Ay, sir, as sane as I am.  Unsettled he is, ever dwelling on poor Rachel, ever thinking of revenge; but his senses be as much his as they ever were.  I wish his mind could be set at rest.”

“At rest in what way?”

“As to who it was that did the harm to Rachel.  He has had it in his head for a long while, sir, that it was Mr. John Massingbird; but he can’t be certain, and it’s the uncertainty that keeps his mind on the worrit.”

“Do you know where he picked up the notion that it was Mr. John Massingbird?” inquired Lionel, remembering the conversation on the same point that Robin had once held with him, on that very garden bench, in the face of which he and Matthew were now sitting.

Old Matthew shook his head.  “I never could learn, sir.  Robin’s a dutiful son to me, but he’d never tell me that.  I know that Mr. John Massingbird has been like a pill in his throat this many a day.  Oftentimes have I felt thankful that he was dead, or Robin would surely have gone out to where he was, and murdered him.  Murder wouldn’t mend the ill, sir—­as I have told him many a time.”

“Indeed it would not,” replied Lionel.  “The very fact of Mr. John Massingbird’s being dead, should have the effect of setting Robin’s mind at rest—­if it was to him that his suspicions were directed.  For my part, I think Robin is wrong in suspecting him.”

“I think so too, sir.  I don’t know how it is, but I can’t bring my mind to suspect him more than anybody else.  I have thought over things in this light, and I have thought ’em over in that light; and I’d rather incline to believe that she got acquainted with some stranger, poor dear! than that it was anybody known to us.  Robin is in doubt; he has had some cause given him to suspect Mr. John Massingbird, but he is not sure, and it’s that doubt, I say, that worrits him.”

Page 264

“At any rate, doubt or no doubt, there is no cause for him to go about at night with a gun.  What does he do it for?”

“I have asked him, sir, and he does not answer.  He seems to me to be on the watch.”

“On the watch for what?” rejoined Lionel.

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said old Matthew.  “If you’d say a word to him, sir, it might stop it.  He got a foolish notion into his mind that poor Rachel’s spirit might come again, and he’d used to be about the pond pretty near every moonlight night.  That fancy passed off, and he has gone to his bed at night as the rest of us have, up to the last week or so, when he has taken to go out again, and to carry a gun.”

“It was a foolish notion,” remarked Lionel.  “The dead do not come again, Matthew.”

Matthew made no reply.

“I must try and come across Robin,” said Lionel, rising.  “I wish you would tell him to come up to me, Matthew.”

“Sir, if you desire that he shall wait upon you at Verner’s Pride, he will be sure to do so,” said the old man, leaning on his stick as he stood.  “He has not got to the length of disobeying an order of yours.  I’ll tell him.”

It happened that Lionel did “come across” Robin Frost.  Not to any effect, however, for he could not get to speak to him.  Lionel was striking across some fields towards Deerham Court, when he came in view of Roy and Robin Frost leaning over a gate, their heads together in close confab.  It looked very much as though they were talking secrets.  They looked up and saw him; but when he reached the place, both were gone.  Roy was in sight, but the other had entirely disappeared.  Lionel lifted his voice.

“Roy, I want you.”

Roy could not fain deafness, although there was every appearance that he would like to do it.  He turned and approached, putting his hand to his hat in a half surly manner.

“Where’s Robin Frost?”

“Robin Frost, sir?  He was here a minute or two agone.  I met him accidental, and I stopped him to ask what he was about, that he hadn’t been at work this three days.  He went on his way then, down the gap.  Did you want him, sir?”

Lionel Verner’s perceptive faculties were tolerably developed.  That Roy was endeavouring to blind him, he had no doubt.  They had not met “accidental,” and the topic of conversation had not been Robin’s work—­of that he felt sure.  Roy and Robin Frost might meet and talk together all day long.  It was nothing to him.  Why they should strive to deceive him was the only curious part about it.  Both had striven to avoid meeting him; and Roy was talking to him now unwillingly.  In a general way, Robin Frost was fond of meeting and receiving a word from Mr. Verner.

“I shall see him another time,” carelessly remarked Lionel.  “Not so fast, Roy”—­for the man was turning away—­“I have not done with you.  Will you be good enough to inform me what you were doing in front of my house last night?”

Page 265

“I wasn’t doing anything, sir.  I wasn’t there.”

“Oh, yes, you were,” said Lionel.  “Recollect yourself.  You were posted under the large yew tree on the lawn, watching my drawing-room windows.”

Roy looked up at this, the most intense surprise in his countenance.  “I never was on your lawn last night, sir; I wasn’t near it.  Leastways not nearer than the side field.  I happened to be in that, and I got through a gap in the hedge, on to the high road.”

“Roy, I believe that you were on the lawn last night, and watching the house,” persisted Lionel, looking fixedly at his countenance.  For the life of him he could not tell whether the man’s surprise was genuine, his denial real.  “What business had you there?”

“I declare to goodness, if it was the last word I had to speak, that I was not on your lawn, sir—­that I did not watch the house.  I did not go near the house.  I crossed the side field, cornerwise, and got out into the road; and that’s the nearest I was to the house last night.”

Roy spoke unusually impressive for him, and Lionel began to believe that, so far, he was telling truth.  He did not make any immediate reply, and Roy resumed.

“What cause have you got to accuse me, sir?  I shouldn’t be likely to watch your house—­why should I?”

“Some man was watching it,” replied Lionel.  “As you were seen in the road shortly afterwards, close to the side field, I came to the conclusion that it was you.”

“I can be upon my oath that it wasn’t, sir,” answered Roy.

“Very well,” replied Lionel, “I accept your denial.  But allow me to give you a recommendation, Roy—­not to trouble yourself with my affairs in any way.  They do not concern you; they never will concern you; therefore, don’t meddle with them.”

He walked away as he spoke.  Roy stood and gazed after him, a strange expression on his countenance.  Had Lucy Tempest seen it, she might have renewed her warning to Lionel.  And yet she would have been puzzled to tell the meaning of the expression, for it did not look like a threatening one.

Had Lionel Verner turned up Clay Lane, upon leaving Matthew Frost’s cottage, instead of down it, to take a path across the fields at the back, he would have encountered the Vicar of Deerham.  That gentleman was paying parochial visits that day in Deerham, and in due course he came to Matthew Frost’s.  He and Matthew had long been upon confidential terms; the clergyman respected Matthew, and Matthew revered his pastor.

Mr. Bourne took the seat which Lionel had but recently vacated.  He was so accustomed to the old man’s habitual countenance that he could detect every change in it; and he saw that something was troubling him.

“I am troubled in more ways than one, sir,” was the old man’s answer.  “Poor Robin, he’s giving me trouble again; and last night, sir, I had a sort of fright.  A shock, it may be said.  I can’t overget it.”

Page 266

“What was its nature?” asked Mr. Bourne.

“I don’t much like to speak of it, sir; and, beside yourself, there’s not a living man that I’d open my lips to.  It’s an unpleasant thing to have upon the mind.  Mr. Verner, he was here but a few minutes a-gone, and I felt before him like a guilty man that has something to conceal.  When I have told it to you, sir, you’ll be hard of belief.”

“Is it connected with Robin?”

“No, sir.  But it was my going after Robin that led to it, as may be said.  Robin, sir, has took these last few nights to go out with a gun.  It has worrited me so, sir, fearing some mischief might ensue, that I couldn’t sleep; and last evening, I thought I’d hobble out and see if I couldn’t get him home.  Chuff, he said as he had seen him go toward the brick-field, and I managed to get down; and, sure enough, I came upon Robin.  He was lying down at the edge of the field, watching, as it seemed to me.  I couldn’t get him home, sir.  I tried hard, but ’twas of no use.  He spoke respectful to me, as he always does:  ’Father, I have got my work to do, and I must do it.  You go back home, and go to sleep in quiet.’  It was all I could get from him, sir, and at last I turned to go back——­”

“What was Robin doing?” interrupted Mr. Bourne.

“Sir, I suppose it’s just some fancy or other that he has got into his head, as he used to get after the poor child died.  Mr. Verner has just asked me whether he is sane, but there’s nothing of that sort wrong about him.  You mind the clump of trees that stands out, sir, between here and the brick-field, by the path that would lead to Verner’s Pride?” added old Matthew in an altered tone.

“Yes,” said Mr. Bourne.

“I had just got past it, sir, when I saw a figure crossing that bare corner from the other trees.  A man’s shape, it looked like.  Tall and shadowy it was, wearing what looked like a long garment, or a woman’s riding-habit, trailing nearly on the ground.  The very moment my eyes fell upon it, I felt that it was something strange, and when the figure passed me, turning its face right upon me—­I saw the face, sir.”

Old Matthew’s manner was so peculiar, his pause so impressive, that Mr. Bourne could only gaze at him, and wait in wonder for what was coming.

“Sir, it was the face of one who has been dead these two years past—­Mr. Frederick Massingbird.”

If the rector had gazed at old Matthew before, he could only stare now.  That the calm, sensible old man should fall into so extraordinary a delusion, was incomprehensible.  He might have believed it of Deerham in general, but not of Matthew Frost.

“Matthew, you must have been deceived,” was his quiet answer.

“No, sir.  There never was another face like Mr. Frederick Massingbird’s.  Other features may have been made like his—­it’s not for me to say they have not—­but whose else would have the black mark upon it?  The moonlight was full upon it, and I could see even the little lines shooting out from the cheek, so bright was the night.  The face was turned right upon me as it passed, and I am as clear about its being his as I am that it was me looking at it.”

Page 267

“But you know it is a thing absolutely impossible,” urged Mr. Bourne.  “I think you must have dreamt this, Matthew.”

Old Matthew shook his head.  “I wouldn’t have told you a dream, sir.  It turned me all in a maze.  I never felt the fatigue of a step all the way home after it.  When I got in, I couldn’t eat my supper; I couldn’t go to bed.  I sat up thinking, and the wife, she came in and asked what ailed me that I didn’t go to rest.  I had got no sleep in my eyes, I told her, which was true; for, when I did get to bed, it was hours afore I could close ’em.”

“But, Matthew, I tell you that it is impossible.  You must have been mistaken.”

“Sir, until last night, had anybody told me such a thing, I should have said it was impossible.  You know, sir, I have never been given to such fancies.  There’s no doubt, sir; there’s no doubt that it was the spirit of Mr. Frederick Massingbird.”

Matthew’s clear, intelligent eye was fixed firmly on Mr. Bourne’s—­his face, as usual, bending a little forward.  Mr. Bourne had never believed in “spirits”; clergymen, as a rule, do not.  A half smile crossed his lips.

“Were you frightened?” he asked.

“I was not frightened, sir, in the sense that you, perhaps, put the question.  I was surprised, startled.  As I might have been surprised and startled at seeing anybody I least expected to see—­somebody that I had thought was miles away.  Since poor Rachel’s death, sir, I have lived, so to say, in communion with spirits.  What with Robin’s talking of his hope to see hers, and my constantly thinking of her; knowing also that it can’t be long, in the course of nature, before I am one myself, I have grown to be, as it were, familiar with the dead in my mind.  Thus, sir, in that sense, no fear came upon me last night.  I don’t think, sir, I should feel fear at meeting or being alone with a spirit, any more than I should at meeting a man.  But I was startled and disturbed.”

“Matthew,” cried Mr. Bourne, in some perplexity, “I had always believed you superior to these foolish things.  Ghosts might do well enough for the old days, but the world has grown older and wiser.  At any rate, the greater portion of it has.”

“If you mean, sir, that I was superior to the belief in ghosts, you are right.  I never had a grain of faith in such superstition in my life; and I have tried all means to convince my son what folly it was of him to hover round about the Willow Pond, with any thought that Rachel might ‘come again.’  No, sir, I have never been given to it.”

“And yet you deliberately assure me, Matthew, that you saw a ghost last night!”

“Sir, that it was Mr. Frederick Massingbird, dead or alive, that I saw, I must hold to.  We know that he is dead, sir, his wife buried him in that far land; so what am I to believe?  The face looked ghastly white, not like a person’s living.”

Mr. Bourne mused.  That Frederick Massingbird was dead and buried, there could not be the slightest doubt.  He hardly knew what to make of old Matthew.  The latter resumed.

Page 268

“Had I been flurried or terrified by it, sir, so as to lose my presence of mind, or if I was one of those timid folks that see signs in dreams, or take every white post to be a ghost, that they come to on a dark night, you might laugh at and disbelieve me.  But I tell it to you, sir, as you say, deliberately; just as it happened.  I can’t have much longer time to live, sir; but I’d stake it all on the truth that it was the spirit of Mr. Frederick Massingbird.  When you have once known a man, there are a hundred points by which you may recognise him, beyond possibility of being mistaken.  They have got a story in the place, sir, to-day—­as you may have heard—­that my poor child’s ghost appeared to Dan Duff last night, and that the boy has been senseless ever since.  It has struck me, sir, that perhaps he also saw what I did.”

Mr. Bourne paused.  “Did you say anything of this to Mr. Verner?”

“Not I, sir.  As I tell you, I felt like a guilty man in his presence, one with something to hide.  He married Mr. Fred’s widow, pretty creature, and it don’t seem a nice thing to tell him.  If it had been the other gentleman’s spirit, Mr. John’s, I should have told him at once.”

Mr. Bourne rose.  To argue with old Matthew in his present frame of mind, appeared to be about as useless a waste of time as to argue with Susan Peckaby on the subject of the white donkey.  He told him he would see him again in a day or two, and took his departure.

But he did not dismiss the subject from his thoughts.  No, he could not do that.  He was puzzled.  Such a tale from one like old Matthew—­calm, pious, sensible, and verging on the grave, made more impression on Mr. Bourne than all Deerham could have made.  Had Deerham come to him with the story, he would have flung it to the winds.

He began to think that some person, from evil design or love of mischief, must be personating Frederick Massingbird.  It was a natural conclusion.  And Matthew’s surmise, that the same thing might have alarmed Dan Duff, was perfectly probable.  Mr. Bourne determined to ascertain the latter fact, as soon as Dan should be in a state of sufficient convalescence, bodily and mentally, to give an account.  He had already paid one visit to Mrs. Duff’s—­as that lady informed Lionel.

Two or three more visits he paid there during the day, but not until night did he find Dan revived.  In point of fact, the clergyman penetrated to the kitchen just after that startling communication had been made by Dan.  The women were standing in consternation when the vicar entered, one of them strongly recommending that the copper furnace should be heated, and Dan plunged into it to “bring him round.”

“How is he now?” began Mr. Bourne.  “Oh!  I see; he is sensible.”

“Well, sir, I don’t know,” said Mrs Duff.  “I’m afraid as his head’s a-going right off.  He persists in saying now that it wasn’t the ghost of Rachel at all—­but somebody else’s.”

Page 269

“If he was put into a good hot furnace, sir, and kep’ at a even heat up to biling pint for half an hour—­that is, as near biling as his skin could bear it—­I know it ’ud do wonders,” spoke up Mrs. Chuff.  “It’s a excellent remedy, where there’s a furnace convenient, and water not short.”

“Suppose you allow me to be alone with him for a few minutes,” suggested Mr. Bourne.  “We will try and find out what will cure him; won’t we, Dan?”

The women filed out one by one.  Mr. Bourne sat down by the boy, and took his hand.  In a soothing manner he talked to him, and drew from him by gentle degrees the whole tale, so far as Dan’s memory and belief went.  The boy shook in every limb as he told it.  He could not boast immunity from ghostly fears as did old Matthew Frost.

“But, my boy, you should know that there are no such things as ghosts,” urged Mr. Bourne.  “When once the dead have left this world, they do not come back to it again.”

“I see’d it, sir,” was Dan’s only argument—­an all sufficient one with him.  “It was stood over the pool, it was, and it turned round right upon me as I went up.  I see the porkypine on his cheek, sir, as plain as anything.”

The same account as old Matthew’s!

“How was the person dressed?” asked Mr. Bourne.  “Did you notice?”

“It had got on some’at long—­a coat or a skirt, or some’at.  It was as thin as thin, sir.”

“Dan, shall I tell you what it was—­as I believe?  It was somebody dressed up to frighten you and other timid persons.”

Dan shook his head.  “No, sir, ’twasn’t.  ’Twas the ghost of Mr. Frederick Massingbird.”

CHAPTER LIII.

MASTER CHEESE’S FRIGHT—­OTHER FRIGHTS.

Strange rumours began to be rife in Deerham.  The extraordinary news told by Dan Duff would have been ascribed to some peculiar hallucination of that gentleman’s brain, and there’s no knowing but that the furnace might have been tried as a cure, had not other testimony arisen to corroborate it.  Four or five different people, in the course of as many days—­or rather nights—­saw, or professed to have seen, the apparition of Frederick Massingbird.

One of them was Master Cheese.  He was one night coming home from paying a professional visit—­in slight, straightforward cases Jan could trust him—­when he saw by the roadside what appeared to be a man standing up under the hedge, as if he had taken his station there to look at the passers-by.

“He’s up to no good,” quoth Master Cheese to himself.  “I’ll go and dislodge the fellow.”

Accordingly Master Cheese turned off the path where he was walking, and crossed the waste bit—­only a yard or two in breadth—­that ran by the side of the road.  Master Cheese, it must be confessed, did not want for bravery; he had a great deal rather face danger of any kind than hard work; and the rumour about Fred Massingbird’s ghost had been rare nuts for him to crack.  Up he went, having no thought in his head at that moment of ghosts, but rather of poachers.

Page 270

“I say, you fellow——­” he was beginning, and there he stopped dead.

He stopped dead, both in step and tongue.  The figure, never moving, never giving the faintest indication that it was alive, stood there like a statue.  Master Cheese looked in its face, and saw the face of the late Frederick Massingbird.

It is not pleasant to come across a dead man at moonlight—­a man whose body has been safely reposing in the ground ever so long ago.  Master Cheese did not howl as Dan Duff had done.  He set off down the road—­he was too fat to propel himself over or through the hedge, though that was the nearest way—­he took to his heels down the road, and arrived in an incredibly short space of time at home, bursting into the surgery and astonishing Jan and the surgery boy.

“I say, Jan, though, haven’t I had a fright?”

Jan, at the moment, was searching in the prescription-book.  He raised his eyes, and looked over the counter.  Master Cheese’s face had turned white, and drops of wet were pouring off it—­in spite of his bravery.

“What have you been at?” asked Jan.

“I saw the thing they are talking about, Jan.  It is Fred Massingbird’s.”

Jan grinned.  That Master Cheese’s fright was genuine, there could be no mistaking, and it amused Jan excessively.

“What had you been taking?” asked he, in his incredulity.

“I had taken nothing,” retorted Master Cheese, who did not like the ridicule.  “I had not had the opportunity of taking anything—­unless it was your medicine.  Catch me tapping that!  Look here, Jan.  I was coming by Crow Corner, when I saw a something standing back in the hedge.  I thought it was some poaching fellow hiding there, and went up to dislodge him.  Didn’t I wish myself up in the skies?  It was the face of Fred Massingbird.”

“The face of your fancy,” slightingly returned Jan.

“I swear it was, then!  There!  There’s no mistaking him.  The hedgehog on his cheek looked larger and blacker than ever.”

Master Cheese did not fail to talk of this abroad; the surgery boy, Bob, who had listened with open ears, did not fail to talk of it, and it spread throughout Deerham; additional testimony to that already accumulated.  In a few days’ time, the commotion was at its height; nearly the only persons who remained in ignorance of the reported facts being the master and mistress of Verner’s Pride, and those connected with them, relatives on either side.

That some great internal storm of superstition was shaking Deerham, Lionel knew.  In his happy ignorance, he attributed it to the rumour which had first been circulated, touching Rachel’s ghost.  He was an ear-witness to an angry colloquy at home.  Some indispensable trifle for his wife’s toilette was required suddenly from Deerham one evening, and Mademoiselle Benoite ordered that it should be sent for.  But not one of the maids would go.  The Frenchwoman insisted, and there ensued a stormy war.  The girls, one and all, declared they’d rather give up their service, than go abroad after nightfall.

Page 271

When the fears and the superstitions came palpably in Lionel’s way, he made fun of them—­as Jan might have done.  Once or twice he felt half provoked; and asked the people, in a tone between earnest and jest, whether they were not ashamed of themselves.  Little reply made they; not one of them but seemed to shrink from mentioning to Lionel Verner the name that the ghost had borne in life.

On nearly the last evening that it would be light during this moon, Mr. Bourne started from home to pay a visit to Mrs. Hook, the labourer’s wife.  The woman had been ailing for some time; partly from natural illness, partly from chagrin—­for her daughter Alice was the talk of the village—­and she had now become seriously ill.  On this day Mr. Bourne had accidentally met Jan; and, in conversing upon parish matters, he had inquired after Mrs. Hook.

“Very much worse,” was Jan’s answer.  “Unless a change takes place, she’ll not last many days.”

The clergyman was shocked; he had not deemed her to be in danger.  “I will go and see her to-day,” said he.  “You can tell her that I am coming.”

He was a conscientious man; liking to do his duty, and especially kind to those that were in sickness or trouble.  Neither did he willingly break a specific promise.  He made no doubt that Jan delivered the message, and therefore he went; though it was late at night when he started, other duties having detained him throughout the day.

His most direct way from the vicarage to Hook’s cottage, took him past the Willow Pond. He had no fear of ghosts, and therefore he chose it, in preference to going down Clay Lane, which was farther round.  The Willow Pool looked lonely enough as he passed it, its waters gleaming in the moonlight, its willows bending.  A little farther on, the clergyman’s ears became alive to the sound of sobs, as from a person in distress.  There was Alice Hook, seated on a bench underneath some elm-trees, sobbing enough to break her heart.

However the girl might have got herself under the censure of the neighbourhood, it is a clergyman’s office to console, rather than to condemn.  And he could not help liking pretty Alice; she had been one of the most tractable pupils in his Sunday-school.  He addressed her as soothingly, as considerately, as though she were one of the first ladies in his parish; harshness would not mend the matter now.  Her heart opened to the kindness.

“I’ve broke mother’s heart, and killed her!” cried she, with a wild burst of sobs.  “But for me, she might have got well.”

“She may get well still, Alice,” replied the vicar.  “I am going on to see her now.  What are you doing here?”

“I am on my way, sir, to get the fresh physic for her.  Mr. Jan, he said this morning as somebody was to go for it; but the rest have been out all day.  As I came along, I got thinking of the time, sir, when I could go about by daylight with my head up, like the best of ’em; and it overcame me.”

Page 272

She rose up, dried her eyes with her shawl, and Mr. Bourne proceeded onwards.  He had not gone far, when something came rushing past him from the opposite direction.  It seemed more like a thing than a man, with its swift pace—­and he recognised the face of Frederick Massingbird.

Mr. Bourne’s pulses stood still, and then gave a bound onwards.  Clergyman though he was, he could not, for his life, have helped the queer feeling which came over him.  He had sharply rebuked the superstition in his parishioners; had been inclined to ridicule Matthew Frost; had cherished a firm and unalterable belief that some foolish wight was playing pranks with the public; but all these suppositions and convictions faded in this moment; and the clergyman felt that that which had rustled past was the veritable dead and-gone Frederick Massingbird, in the spirit or in the flesh.

He shook the feeling off—­or strove to shake it.  That it was Frederick Massingbird in the flesh he did not give a second supposition to; and that it could be Frederick Massingbird in the spirit, was opposed to every past belief of the clergyman’s life.  But he had never seen such a likeness; and though the similarity in the features might be accidental, what of the black star?

He strove to shake the feeling off; to say to himself that some one, bearing a similar face, must be in the village; and he went on to his destination.  Mrs. Hook was better; but she was lying in the place unattended, all of them out somewhere or other.  The clergyman talked to her and read to her; and then waited impatiently for the return of Alice.  He did not care to leave the woman alone.

“Where are they all?” he asked, not having inquired before.

They were gone to the wake at Broxley, a small place some two miles distant.  Of course!  Had Mr. Bourne remembered the wake, he need not have put the question.

An arrival at last.  It was Jan.  Jan, attentive to poor patients as he was to rich ones, had come striding over, the last thing.  They asked him if he had seen anything of Alice in his walk.  But Jan had come across from Deerham Court, and that would not be the girl’s road.  Another minute, and the husband came in.  The two gentlemen left together.

“She is considerably better, to-night,” remarked Jan.  “She’ll get about now, if she does not fret too much over Alice.”

“It is strange where Alice can have got to,” remarked Mr. Bourne.  Her prolonged absence, coupled with the low spirits the girl appeared to be in, rather weighed upon his mind.  “I met her as I was coming here an hour ago,” he continued.  “She ought to have been home long before this.”

“Perhaps she has encountered the ghost,” said Jan, in a joke.

“I saw it to-night, Jan.”

“Saw what?” asked Jan, looking at Mr. Bourne.

“The—­the party that appears to be personating Frederick Massingbird.”

“Nonsense!” uttered Jan.

Page 273

“I did.  And I never saw such a likeness in my life.”

“Even to the porcupine,” ridiculed Jan.

“Even to the porcupine,” gravely replied Mr. Bourne.  “Jan, I am not joking.  Moreover, I do not consider it a subject for a joke.  If any one is playing the trick, it is an infamous thing, most disrespectful to your brother and his wife.  And if not——­”

“If not—­what?” asked Jan.

“In truth, I stopped because I can’t continue.  Frederick Massingbird’s spirit it cannot be—­unless all our previous belief in the non-appearance of spirits is to be upset—­and it cannot be Frederick Massingbird in life.  He died in Australia, and was buried there.  I am puzzled, Jan.”

Jan was not.  Jan only laughed.  He believed there must be something in the moonlight that deceived the people, and that Mr. Bourne had caught the infection from the rest.

“Should it prove to be a trick that any one is playing,” resumed the clergyman, “I shall——­”

“Hollo!” cried Jan.  “What’s this?  Another ghost?”

They had nearly stumbled over something lying on the ground.  A woman, dressed in some light material.  Jan stooped.

“It’s Alice Hook!” he cried.

The spot was that at which Mr. Bourne had seen her sitting.  The empty bottle for medicine in her hand told him that she had not gone upon her errand.  She was insensible and cold.

“She has fainted,” remarked Jan.  “Lend a hand, will you, sir?”

Between them they got her on the bench, and the stirring revived her.  She sighed once or twice, and opened her eyes.

“Alice, girl, what is it?  How were you taken ill?” asked the vicar.

She looked up at him; she looked at Jan.  Then she turned her eyes in an opposite direction, glanced fearfully round, as if searching for some sight that she dreaded; shuddered, and relapsed into insensibility.

“We must get her home,” observed Jan.

“There are no means of getting her home in her present state, unless she is carried,” said Mr. Bourne.

“That’s easy enough,” returned Jan.  And he caught her up in his long arms, apparently having to exert little strength in the action.  “Put her petticoats right, will you?” cried he, in his unceremonious fashion.

The clergyman put her things as straight as he could, as they hung over Jan’s arm.  “You’ll never be able to carry her, Jan,” said he.

“Not carry her!” returned Jan.  “I could carry you, if put to it.”

And away he went, bearing his burden as tenderly and easily as though it had been a little child.  Mr. Bourne could hardly keep pace with him.

“You go on, and have the door open,” said Jan, as they neared the cottage.  “We must get her in without the mother hearing, upstairs.”

They had the kitchen to themselves.  Hook, the father, a little the worse for what he had taken, had gone to bed, leaving the door open for his children.  They got her in quietly, found a light, and placed her in a chair.  Jan took off her bonnet and shawl—­he was handy as a woman; and looked about for something to give her.  He could find nothing except water.  By and by she got better.

Page 274

Her first movement, when she fully recovered her senses, was to clutch hold of Jan on the one side, of Mr. Bourne on the other.

“Is it gone?” she gasped, in a voice of the most intense terror.

“Is what gone, child?” asked Mr. Bourne.

“The ghost,” she answered.  “It came right up, sir, just after you left me.  I’d rather die than see it again.”

She was shaking from head to foot.  There was no mistaking that her terror was intense.  To attempt to meet it with confuting arguments would have been simply folly, and both gentlemen knew that it would.  Mr Bourne concluded that the same sight, which had so astonished him, had been seen by the girl.

“I sat down again after you went, sir,” she resumed, her teeth chattering.  “I knew there was no mighty hurry for my being back, as you had gone on to mother, and I sat on ever so long, and it came right up again me, brushing my knees with its things as it passed.  At the first moment I thought it might be you coming back, to say something to me, sir, and I looked up.  It turned its face upon me, and I never remember nothing after that.”

“Whose face?” questioned Jan.

“The ghost’s, sir.  Mr. Fred Massingbird’s.”

“Bah!” said Jan.  “Faces look alike in the moonlight.”

“Twas his face,” answered the girl, from between her shaking lips.  “I saw its every feature, sir.”

“Porcupine and all?” retorted Jan, ironically.

“Porkypine and all, sir.  I’m not sure that I should have knowed it at first, but for the porkypine.”

What were they to do with the girl?  Leave her there, and go?  Jan, who was more skilled in ailments than Mr. Bourne, thought it possible that the fright had seriously injured her.

“You must go to bed at once,” said he.  “I’ll just say a word to your father.”

Jan was acquainted with the private arrangements of the Hooks’ household.  He knew that there was but one sleeping apartment for the whole family—­the room above, where the sick mother was lying.  Father, mother, sons, and daughters all slept there together.  The “house” consisted of the kitchen below and the room above it.  There were many such on the Verner estate.

Jan, carrying the candle to guide him, went softly up the creaky staircase.  The wife was sleeping.  Hook was sleeping, too, and snoring heavily.  Jan had something to do to awake him; shaking seemed useless.

“Look here,” said he in a whisper, when the man was aroused, “Alice has had a fright, and I think she may perhaps be ill through it; if so, mind you come for me without loss of time.  Do you understand, Hook?”

Hook signified that he did.

“Very well,” replied Jan.  “Should——­”

“What’s that! what’s that?”

The alarmed cry came from the mother.  She had suddenly awoke.

“It’s nothing,” said Jan.  “I only had a word to say to Hook.  You go to sleep again, and sleep quietly.”

Page 275

Somehow Jan’s presence carried reassurance with it to most people.  Mrs. Hook was contented.  “Is Ally not come in yet?” asked she.

“Come in, and downstairs,” replied Jan.  “Good-night.  Now,” said he to Alice, when he returned to the kitchen, “you go on to bed and get to sleep; and don’t get dreaming of ghosts and goblins.”

They were turning out at the door, the clergyman and Jan, when the girl flew to them in a fresh attack of terror.

“I daren’t be left alone,” she gasped.  “Oh, stop a minute!  Pray stop, till I be gone upstairs.”

“Here,” said Jan, making light of it.  “I’ll marshal you up.”

He held the candle, and the girl flew up the stairs as fast as young Cheese had flown from the ghost.  Her breath was panting, her bosom throbbing.  Jan blew out the candle, and he and Mr. Bourne departed, merely shutting the door.  Labourers’ cottages have no fear of midnight robbers.

“What do you think now?” asked Mr. Bourne, as they moved along.

Jan looked at him. “You are not thinking, surely, that it is Fred Massingbird’s ghost!”

“No.  But I should advise Mr. Verner to place a watch, and have the thing cleared up—­who it is, and what it is.”

“Why, Mr. Verner?”

“Because it is on his land that the disturbance is occurring.  This girl has been seriously frightened.”

“You may have cause to know that, before many hours are over,” answered Jan.

“Why! you don’t fear that she will be seriously ill?”

“Time will show,” was all the answer given by Jan.  “As to the ghost, I’ll either believe in him, or disbelieve him, when I come across him.  If he were a respectable ghost, he’d confine himself to the churchyard, and not walk in unorthodox places, to frighten folks.”

They looked somewhat curiously at the seat near which Alice had fallen; at the Willow Pond, farther on.  There was no trace of a ghost about then—­at least, that they could see—­and they continued their way.  In emerging upon the high road, whom should they meet but old Mr. Bitterworth and Lionel, arm in arm.  They had been to an evening meeting of the magistrates at Deerham, and were walking home together.

To see the vicar and surgeon of a country village in company by night, imparts the idea that some one of its inhabitants may be in extremity.  It did so now to Mr. Bitterworth—­

“Where do you come from?” he asked.

“From Hook’s,” answered Jan.  “The mother’s better to-night; but I have had another patient there.  The girl, Alice, has seen the ghost, or fancied that she saw it, and was terrified, literally, out of her senses.”

“How is she going on?” asked Mr. Bitterworth.

“Physically, do you mean, sir?”

“No, I meant morally, Jan.  If all accounts are true, the girl has been losing herself.”

“Law!” said Jan.  “Deerham has known that this many a month past.  I’d try and stop it, if I were Lionel.”

Page 276

“Stop what?” asked Lionel.

“I’d build ’em better dwellings,” composedly went on Jan.  “They might be brought up to decency then.”

“It’s true that decency can’t put its head into such dwellings as that of the Hooks’,” observed the vicar.  “People have accused me of showing leniency to Alice Hook, since the scandal has been known; but I cannot show harshness to her when I think of the home the girl was reared in.”

The words pricked Lionel.  None could think worse of the homes than he did.  He spoke in a cross tone; we are all apt to do so, when vexed with ourselves.  “What possesses Deerham to show itself so absurd just now?  Ghosts!  They only affect fear, it is my belief.”

“Alice Hook did not affect it, for one,” said Jan.  “She may have been frightened to some purpose.  We found her lying on the ground, insensible.  They are stupid, though, all the lot of them.”

“Stupid is not the name for it,” remarked Lionel.  “A little superstition, following on Rachel’s peculiar death, may have been excusable, considering the ignorance of the people here, and the tendency to superstition inherent in human nature.  But why it should have been revived now, I cannot imagine.”

Mr. Bitterworth and Jan had walked on.  The vicar touched Lionel on the arm, not immediately to follow them.

“Mr. Verner, I do not hold good with the policy which seems to prevail, of keeping this matter from you,” he said, in a confidential tone.  “I cannot see the expediency of it in any way.  It is not Rachel’s Frost’s ghost that is said to be terrifying people.”

“Whose then?” asked Lionel.

“Frederick Massingbird’s.”

Lionel paused, as if his ears deceived him.

Whose?” he repeated.

“Frederick Massingbird’s.”

“How perfectly absurd!” he presently exclaimed.

“True,” said Mr. Bourne.  “So absurd that, were it not for a circumstance which has happened to-night, I scarcely think I should have brought myself to repeat it.  My conviction is, that some person bearing an extraordinary resemblance to Frederick Massingbird is walking about to terrify the neighbourhood.”

“I should think there’s not another face living, that bears a resemblance to Fred Massingbird’s,” observed Lionel.  “How have you heard this?”

“The first to tell me of it was old Matthew Frost.  He saw him plainly, believing it to be Frederick Massingbird’s spirit—­although he had never believed in spirits before.  Dan Duff holds to it that he saw it; and now Alice Hook; besides others.  I turned a deaf ear to all, Mr. Verner; but to-night I met one so like Frederick Massingbird that, were Massingbird not dead, I could have sworn it was himself.  It was wondrously like him, even to the mark on the cheek.”

“I never heard such a tale!” uttered Lionel.

“That is precisely what I said—­until to-night.  I assure you the resemblance is so great, that if we have all female Deerham in fits, I shall not wonder.  It strikes me—­it is the only solution I can come to—­that some one is personating Frederick Massingbird for the purpose of a mischievous joke—­though how they get up the resemblance is another thing.  Let me advise you to see into it, Mr. Verner.”

Page 277

Mr. Bitterworth and Jan were turning round in front, waiting; and the vicar hastened on, leaving Lionel glued to the spot where he stood.

CHAPTER LIV.

MRS. DUFF’S BILL.

Peal! peal! peal! came the sound of the night-bell at Jan’s window as he lay in bed.  For Jan had caused the night-bell to be hung there since he was factotum.  “Where’s the good of waking up the house?” remarked Jan; and he made the alteration.

Jan got up with the first sound, and put his head out at the window.  Upon which, Hook—­for he was the applicant—­advanced.  Jan’s window being, as you may remember, nearly on a level with the ground, presented favourable auspices for holding a face to face colloquy with night visitors.

“She’s mortal bad, sir,” was Hook’s salutation.

“Who is?” asked Jan.  “Alice, or the missis?”

“Not the missis, sir.  The other.  But I shouldn’t ha’ liked to trouble you, if you hadn’t ordered me.”

“I won’t be two minutes,” said Jan.

It seemed to Hook that Jan was only one, so speedily did he come out.  A belief was popular in Deerham that Mr. Jan slept with his clothes on; no sooner would a night summons be delivered to Jan, than Jan was out with the summoner, ready for the start.  Before he had closed the surgery door, through which he had to pass, there came another peal, and a woman ran up to him.  Jan recognised her for the cook of a wealthy lady in the Belvedere Road, a Mrs. Ellis.

“Law, sir! what a provident mercy that you are up and ready!” exclaimed she.  “My mistress is attacked again.”

“Well, you know what to do,” returned Jan.  “You don’t want me.”

“But she do want you, sir.  I have got orders not to go back without you.”

“I suppose she has been eating cucumber again,” remarked Jan.

“Only a bit of it, sir.  About the half of a small one, she took for her supper.  And now the spasms is on her dreadful.”

“Of course they are,” replied Jan.  “She knows how cucumber serves her.  Well, I can’t come.  I’ll send Mr. Cheese, if you like.  But he can do no more good than you can.  Give her the drops and get the hot flannels; that’s all.”

“You are going out, sir!” cried the woman, in a tone that sounded as if she would like to be impertinent. “You are come for him, I suppose?” turning a sharp tongue upon Hook.

“Yes, I be,” humbly replied Hook.  “Poor Ally—­”

The woman set up a scream.  “You’d attend her, that miserable castaway, afore you’d attend my mistress!” burst out she to Jan.  “Who’s Ally Hook, by the side of folks of standing?”

“If she wants attendance, she must have it,” was the composed return of Jan.  “She has got a body and a soul to be saved, as other folks have.  She is in danger; your mistress is not.”

“Danger!  What has that got to do with it?” angrily answered the woman.  “You’ll never get paid there, sir.”

Page 278

“I don’t expect it,” returned Jan.  “If you’d like Cheese, that’s his window,” pointing to one in the house.  “Throw a handful of gravel up, and tell them I said he was to attend.”

Jan walked off with Hook.  He heard a crash of gravel behind him; so concluded the cook was flinging at Mr. Cheese’s window in a temper.  As she certainly was, giving Mr. Jan some hard words in the process.  Just as Lady Verner had never been able to inculcate suavity on Jan, so Dr. West had found it a hopeless task to endeavour to make Jan understand that, in medical care, the rich should be considered before the poor.  Take, for example, that bete noire of Deerham just now, Alice Hook, and put her by the side of a born duchess; Jan would have gone to the one who had most need of him, without reference to which of the two it might be.  Evidently there was little hope for Jan.

Jan, with his long legs, outstripped the stooping and hard-worked labouring man.  In at the door and up the stairs he went, into the sleeping room.

Did you ever pay a visit to a room of this social grade?  If not, you will deem the introduction of this one highly coloured.  Had Jan been a head and shoulders shorter, he might have been able to stand up in the lean-to attic, without touching the lath and plaster of the roof.  On a low bedstead, on a flock mattress, lay the mother and two children, about eight and ten.  How they made room for Hook also, was a puzzle.  Opposite to it, on a straw mattress, slept three sons, grown up, or nearly so; between these beds was another straw mattress where lay Alice and her sister, a year younger; no curtains, no screens, no anything.  All were asleep, with the exception of the mother and Alice; the former could not rise from her bed; Alice appeared too ill to rise from hers.  Jan stooped his head and entered.

A few minutes, and he set himself to arouse the sleepers.  They might make themselves comfortable in the kitchen, he told them, for the rest of the night:  he wanted room in the place to turn himself round, and they must go out of it.  And so he bundled them out.  Jan was not given to stand upon ceremony.  But it is not a pleasant room to linger in, so we will leave Jan to it.

It was pleasanter at Lady Verner’s.  Enough of air, and light, and accommodation there.  But even in that desirable residence it was not all couleur de rose.  Vexations intrude into the most luxurious home, whatever may be the superfluity of room, the admirable style of the architecture; and they were just now agitating Deerham Court.

On the morning which rose on the above night—­as lovely a morning as ever September gave us—­Lady Verner and Lucy Tempest received each a letter from India.  Both were from Colonel Tempest.  The contents of Lady Verner’s annoyed her, and the contents of Lucy’s annoyed her.

It appeared that some considerable time back, nearly, if not quite, twelve months, Lucy had privately written to Colonel Tempest, urgently requesting to be allowed to go out to join him.  She gave no reason or motive for the request, but urged it strongly.  That letter, in consequence of the moving about of Colonel Tempest, had only just reached him; and now had arrived the answer to it.  He told Lucy that he should very shortly be returning to Europe; therefore it was useless for her to think of going out.

Page 279

So far, so good.  However Lucy might have been vexed or disappointed at the reply—­and she was both; still more at the delay which had taken place—­there the matter would have ended.  But Colonel Tempest, having no idea that Lady Verner was a stranger to this request; inferring, on the contrary, that she was a party to it, and must, therefore, be growing tired of her charge, had also written to her an elaborate apology for leaving Lucy so long upon her hands, and for being unable to comply with her wish to be relieved of her.  This enlightened Lady Verner as to what Lucy had done.

She was very angry.  She was worse than angry; she was mortified.  And she questioned Lucy a great deal more closely than that young lady liked, as to what her motive could have been, and why she was tired of Deerham Court.

Lucy, all self-conscious of the motive by which she had been really actuated, stood before her like a culprit.  “I am not tired of Deerham Court, Lady Verner.  But I wished to be with papa.”

“Which is equivalent to saying that you wish to be away from me,” retorted my lady.  “I ask you why?”

“Indeed, Lady Verner, I am pleased to be with you; I like to be with you.  It was not to be away from you that I wrote.  It is a long while since I saw papa; so long, that I seem to have forgotten what he is like.”

“Can you assure me, in all open truth, that the wish to be with Colonel Tempest was your sole reason for writing, unbiassed by any private feeling touching Deerham?” returned Lady Verner, searching her face keenly.  “I charge you answer me, Lucy.”

Lucy could not answer that it was her sole reason, unless she told an untruth.  Her eyes fell under the gaze bent upon her.

“I see,” said Lady Verner.  “You need not equivocate more.  Is it to me that you have taken a dislike? or to any part of my arrangements?”

“Believe me, dear Lady Verner, that it is neither to you nor to your home,” she answered, the tears rising to her eyes.  “Believe me, I am as happy here as I ever was; on that score I have no wish to change.”

It was an unlucky admission of Lucy’s, “on that score.”  Of course, Lady Verner immediately pressed to know on what other score the wish might be founded.  Lucy pleaded the desire to be with her father, which Lady Verner did not believe; and she pleaded nothing else.  It was not satisfactory to my lady, and she kept Lucy the whole of the morning, harping upon the sore point.

Lionel entered, and interrupted the discussion.  Lady Verner put him in possession of the facts.  That for some cause which Lucy refused to explain, she wanted to leave Deerham Court; had been writing, twelve months back, to Colonel Tempest, to be allowed to join him in India; and the negative answer had arrived but that morning.  Lady Verner would like the motive for her request explained; but Lucy was obstinate, and would not explain it.

Lionel turned his eyes on Lucy.  If she had stood self-conscious before Lady Verner, she stood doubly self-conscious now.  Her eyelashes were drooping, her cheeks were crimson.

Page 280

“She says she has no fault to find with me, no fault to find with the arrangements of my house,” pursued Lady Verner.  “Then I want to know what else it is that should drive her away from Deerham.  Look at her, Lionel!  That is how she stands—­unable to give me an answer.”

Lady Verner might equally well have said, Look at Lionel. He stood self-conscious also.  Too well he knew the motive—­absence from him—­which had actuated Lucy.  From him, the married man; the man who had played her false; away, anywhere, from witnessing the daily happiness of him and his wife.  He read it all, and Lucy saw that he did.

“It were no such strange wish, surely, to be where my dear papa is!” she exclaimed, the crimson of her cheeks turning to scarlet.

“No,” murmured Lionel, “no such strange wish.  I wish I could go to India, and free the neighbourhood of my presence!”

A curious wish!  Lady Verner did not understand it.  Lionel gave her no opportunity to inquire its meaning, for he turned to quit the room and the house.  She rose and laid her hand upon his arm to detain him.

“I have an engagement,” pleaded Lionel.

“A moment yet.  Lionel, what is this nonsense that is disturbing the equanimity of Deerham?  About a ghost!”

“Ah, what indeed?” returned Lionel, in a careless tone, as if he would make light of it.  “You know what Deerham is, mother.  Some think Dan Duff saw his own shadow; some, a white cow in the pound.  Either is sufficient marvel for Deerham.”

“So vulgar a notion!” reiterated Lady Verner, resuming her seat, and taking her essence bottle in her delicately gloved hand.  “I wonder you don’t stop it, Lionel.”

“I!” cried Lionel, opening his eyes in considerable surprise.  “How am I to stop it?”

“You are the Lord of Deerham.  It is vulgar, I say, to have such a report afloat on your estate.”

Lionel smiled.  “I don’t know how you are to put away vulgarity from stargazers and villagers.  Or ghosts either—­if they once get ghosts in their heads.”

He finally left the Court, and turned towards home.  His mother’s words about the ghost had brought the subject to his mind; if, indeed, it had required bringing; but the whispered communication of the vicar the previous night had scarcely been out of his thoughts since.  It troubled him.  In spite of himself, of his good sense and reason, there was an undercurrent of uneasiness at work within him.  Why should there be?  Lionel could not have explained had he been required to do it.  That Frederick Massingbird was dead and buried, there could be no shade of doubt; and ghosts had no place in the creed of Lionel Verner.  All true; but the consciousness of uneasiness was there, and he could not ignore it.

Page 281

In the last few days, the old feeling touching Lucy had been revived with unpleasant force.  Since that night which she had spent at his house, when they saw, or fancied they saw, a man hiding himself under the tree, he had thought of her more than was agreeable; more than was right, he would have said, but that he saw not how to avoid it.  The little episode of this morning at his mother’s house had served to open his eyes most completely, to show him how intense was his love for Lucy Tempest.  It must be confessed that his wife did little towards striving to retain his love.

He went along, thinking of these things.  He would have put them from him; but he could not.  The more he tried, the more unpleasantly vivid they became.  “Tush!” said Lionel.  “I must be getting nervous!  I’ll ask Jan to give me a draught.”

He was passing Dr. West’s as he spoke, and he turned into the surgery.  Sitting on the bung of a large stone jar was Master Cheese, his attitude a disconsolate one, his expression of countenance rebellious.

“Is Mr. Jan at home?” asked Lionel.

“No, he’s not at home, sir,” replied Master Cheese, as if the fact were some personal grievance of his own.  “Here’s all the patients, all the making up of the physic left in my charge, and I’d like to know how I am to do it?  I can’t go out to fifty folks at a time?”

“And so you expedite the matter by not going to one!  Where is Mr. Jan?”

“He was fetched out in the night to that beautiful Ally Hook,” grumbled Master Cheese.  “It’s a shame, sir, folks are saying, for him to give his time to her.  I had to leave my warm bed and march out to that fanciful Mother Ellis, through it, who’s always getting the spasms.  And I had about forty poor here this morning, and couldn’t get a bit of comfortable breakfast for ’em.  Miss Deb, she never kept my bacon warm, or anything; and somebody had eaten the meat out of the veal pie when I got back.  Jan will have those horrid poor here twice a week, and if I speak against it, he tells me to hold my tongue.”

“But is Mr. Jan not back yet from Hook’s?”

“No, sir, he’s not,” was the resentful response.  “He has never come back at all since he went, and that was at four o’clock this morning.  If he had gone to cut off all the arms in the house, he couldn’t have been longer!  And I wish him joy of it!  He’ll get no breakfast.  They have got nothing for themselves but bread and water.”

Lionel left his draught an open question, and departed.  As he turned into the principal street again, he saw Master Dan Duff at the door of his mother’s shop.  A hasty impulse prompted Lionel to question the boy of what he saw that unlucky night; or believed he saw.  He crossed over; but Master Dan retreated inside the shop.  Lionel followed him.

“Well, Dan!  Have you overcome the fright of the cow yet?”

“’Twarn’t a cow, please, sir,” replied Dan, timidly. “’Twere a ghost.”

Page 282

“Whose ghost?” returned Lionel.

Dan hesitated.  He stood first on one leg, then on the other.

“Please, sir, ’twarn’t Rachel’s,” said he, presently.

“Whose then?” repeated Lionel.

“Please, sir, mother said I warn’t to tell you.  Roy, he said, if I told it to anybody, I should be took and hanged.”

“But I say that you are to tell me,” said Lionel.  And his pleasant tone, combined, perhaps, with the fact that he was Mr. Verner, effected more with Dan Duff than his mother’s sharp tone or Roy’s threatening one.

“Please, sir,” glancing round to make sure that his mother was not within hearing, “’twere Mr. Fred Massingbird’s.  They can’t talk me out on’t, sir.  I see’d the porkypine as plain as I see’d him.  He were—­”

Dan brought his information to a summary standstill.  Bustling down the stairs was that revered mother.  She came in, curtseying fifty times to Lionel.  “What could she have the honour of serving him with?” He was leaning over the counter, and she concluded he had come to patronise the shop.

Lionel laughed.  “I am a profitless customer, I believe, Mrs. Duff.  I was only talking to Dan.”

Dan sidled off to the street door.  Once there, he took to his heels, out of harm’s way.  Mr. Verner might begin telling his mother more particulars, and it was as well to be at a safe distance.

Lionel, however, had no intention to betray trust.  He stood chatting a few minutes with Mrs. Duff.  He and Mrs. Duff had been great friends when he was an Eton boy; many a time had he ransacked her shop over for flies and gut and other fishing tackle, a supply of which Mrs. Duff professed to keep.  She listened to him with a somewhat preoccupied manner; in point of fact, she was debating a question with herself.

“Sir,” said she, rubbing her hands nervously one over the other, “I should like to make bold to ask a favour of you.  But I don’t know how it might be took.  I’m fearful it might be took as a cause of offence.”

“Not by me.  What is it?”

“It’s a delicate thing, sir, to have to ask about,” resumed she.  “And I shouldn’t venture, sir, to speak to you, but that I’m so put to it, and that I’ve got it in my head it’s through the fault of the servants.”

She spoke with evident reluctance.  Lionel, he scarcely knew why, leaped to the conclusion that she was about to say something regarding the subject then agitating Deerham—­the ghost of Frederick Massingbird.  Unconsciously to himself, the pleasant manner changed to one of constraint.

“Say what you have to say, Mrs. Duff.”

“Well, sir—­but I’m sure I beg a hundred thousand pardings for mentioning of it—­it’s about the bill,” she answered, lowering her voice.  “If I could be paid, sir, it ’ud be the greatest help to me.  I don’t know hardly how to keep on.”

No revelation touching the ghost could have given Lionel the surprise imparted by these ambiguous words.  But his constraint was gone.

Page 283

“I do not understand you, Mrs. Duff.  What bill?”

“The bill what’s owing to me, sir, from Verner’s Pride.  It’s a large sum for me, sir—­thirty-two pound odd.  I have to keep up my payments for my goods, sir, whether or not, or I should be a bankrupt to-morrow.  Things is hard upon me just now, sir; though I don’t want everybody to know it.  There’s that big son o’ mine, Dick, out o’ work.  If I could have the bill, or only part of it, it ’ud be like a God-send.”

“Who owes you the bill?” asked Lionel.

“It’s your good lady, sir, Mrs. Verner.”

Who?” echoed Lionel, his accent quite a sharp one.

“Mrs. Verner, sir.”

Lionel stood gazing at the woman.  He could not take in the information; he believed there must be some mistake.

“It were for things supplied between the time Mrs. Verner came home after your marriage, sir, and when she went to London in the spring.  The French madmizel, sir, came down and ordered some on ’em; and Mrs. Verner herself, sir, ordered others.”

Lionel looked around the shop.  He did not disbelieve the woman’s words, but he was in a maze of astonishment.  Perhaps a doubt of the Frenchwoman crossed his mind.

“There’s nothing here that Mrs. Verner would wear!” he exclaimed.

“There’s many odds and ends of things here, sir, as is useful to a lady’s tilette—­and you’d be surprised, sir, to find how such things mounts up when they be had continual.  But the chief part o’ the bill, sir, is for two silk gownds as was had of our traveller.  Mrs. Verner, sir, she happened to be here when he called in one day last winter, and she saw his patterns, and she chose two dresses, and said she’d buy ’em of me if I ordered ’em.  Which in course I did, sir, and paid for ’em, and sent ’em home.  I saw her wear ’em both, sir, after they was made up, and very nice they looked.”

Lionel had heard quite enough.  “Where is the bill?” he inquired.

“It have been sent in, sir, long ago.  When I found Mrs. Verner didn’t pay it afore she went away, I made bold to write and ask her.  Miss West, she gave me the address in London, and said she wished she could pay me herself.  I didn’t get a answer, sir, and I made bold to write again, and I never got one then.  Twice I have been up to Verner’s Pride, sir, since you come home this time, but I can’t get to see Mrs. Verner.  That French madmizel’s one o’ the best I ever see at putting folks off.  Sir, it goes again the grain to trouble you; and if I could have got to see Mrs. Verner, I never would have said a word.  Perhaps if you’d be so good as to tell her, sir, how hard I’m put to it, she’d send me a little.”

“I am sure she will,” said Lionel.  “You shall have your money to-day, Mrs. Duff.”

He turned out of the shop, a scarlet spot of emotion on his cheek.  Thirty-two pounds owing to poor Mrs. Duff!  Was it thoughtlessness on Sibylla’s part?  He strove to beat down the conviction that it was a less excusable error.

Page 284

But the Verner pride had been wounded to its very core.

CHAPTER LV.

SELF WILL.

Gathered before a target on the lawn, in their archery costume gleaming with green and gold, was a fair group, shooting their arrows in the air.  Far more went into the air than struck the target.  They were the visitors of Verner’s Pride; and Sibylla, the hostess, was the gayest, the merriest, the fairest among them.

Lionel came on to the terrace, descended the steps, and crossed the lawn to join them—­as courtly, as apparently gay, as if that bill of Mrs. Duff’s was not making havoc of his heartstrings.  They all ran to surround him.  It was not often they had so attractive a host to surround; and attractive men are, and always will be, welcome to women.  A few minutes, a quarter of an hour given to them, an unruffled smoothness on his brow, a smile upon his lips, and then he contrived to draw his wife aside.

“Oh, Lionel, I forgot to tell you,” she exclaimed.  “Poynton has been here.  He knows of the most charming pair of gray ponies, he says.  And they can be ours if secured at once.”

“I don’t want gray ponies,” replied Lionel.

“But I do,” cried Sibylla.  “You say I am too timid to drive.  It is all nonsense; I should soon get over the timidity.  I will learn to drive, Lionel.  Mrs. Jocelyn, come here,” she called out.

Mrs. Jocelyn, a young and pretty woman, almost as pretty as Sibylla, answered to the summons.

“Tell Mr. Verner what Poynton said about the ponies.”

“Oh, you must not miss the opportunity,” cried Mrs. Jocelyn to Lionel.  “They are perfectly beautiful, the man said.  Very dear, of course; but you know nobody looks at money when buying horses for a lady.  Mrs. Verner must have them.  You might secure them to-day.”

“I have no room in my stables for more horses,” said Lionel, smiling at Mrs. Jocelyn’s eagerness.

“Yes, you have, Lionel,” interposed his wife.  “Or, if not, room must be made.  I have ordered the ponies to be brought.”

“I shall send them back,” said Lionel, laughing.

“Don’t you wish your wife to take to driving, Mr. Verner?  Don’t you like to see a lady drive?  Some do not.”

“I think there is no necessity for a lady to drive, while she has a husband at her side to drive for her,” was the reply of Lionel.

“Well—­if I had such a husband as you to drive for me, I don’t know but I might subscribe to that doctrine,” candidly avowed Mrs. Jocelyn. “I would not miss these ponies, were I Mrs. Verner.  You can drive them, you know.  They are calling me.  It is my turn, I suppose.”

She ran back to the shooting, Sibylla was following her, but Lionel caught her hand and drew her into a covered walk.  Placing her hand within his arm, he began to pace it.

“I must go back, too, Lionel.”

Page 285

“Presently.  Sibylla, I have been terribly vexed this morning.”

“Oh, now Lionel, don’t you begin about ‘vexing,’” interrupted Sibylla, in the foolish, light, affected manner, which had grown worse of late, more intolerable to Lionel.  “I have ordered the ponies.  Poynton will send them in; and if there’s really not room in the stables, you must see about it, and give orders that room must be made.”

“I cannot buy the ponies,” he firmly said.  “My dear, I have given in to your every wish, to your most trifling whim; but, as I told you a few days ago, these ever-recurring needless expenses I cannot stand.  Sibylla”—­and his voice grew hoarse—­“do you know that I am becoming embarrassed?”

“I don’t care if you are,” pouted Sibylla.  “I must have the ponies.”

His heart ached.  Was this the loving wife—­the intelligent companion for whom he had once yearned?—­the friend who should be as his own soul?  He had married the Sibylla of his imagination; and he woke to find Sibylla—­what she was.  The disappointment was heavy upon him always; but there were moments when he could have cried out aloud in its sharp bitterness.

“Sibylla, you know the state in which some of my tenants live; the miserable dwellings they are forced to inhabit.  I must change this state of things.  I believe it to be a duty for which I am accountable to God.  How am I to set about it if you ruin me?”

Sibylla put her fingers to her ears.  “I can’t stand to listen when you preach, Lionel.  It is as bad as a sermon.”

[Illustration:  Sibylla put her fingers to her ears.]

It was ever thus.  He could not attempt to reason with her.  Anything like sensible conversation she could not, or would not, hold.  Lionel, considerate to her as he ever was, felt provoked.

“Do you know that this unfortunate affair of Alice Hook’s is laid remotely to me?” he said, with a sternness, which he could not help, in his tone.  “People are saying that if I gave them decent dwellings, decent conduct would ensue.  It is so.  God knows that I feel its truth more keenly than my reproachers.”

“The dwellings are good enough for the poor.”

“Sibylla!  You cannot think it.  The laws of God and man alike demand a change.  Child,” he continued in a softer tone, as he took her hand in his, “let us bring the case home to ourselves.  Suppose that you and I had to sleep in a room a few feet square, no chimney, no air, and that others tenanted it with us?  Girls and boys growing up—­nay, grown up, some of them; men and women as we are, Sibylla.  The beds huddled together, no space between them; sickness, fever——­”

“I am only shutting my ears,” interrupted Sibylla.  “You pretend to be so careful of me—­you would not even let me go to that masked ball in Paris—­and yet you put these horrid pictures into my mind!  I think you ought to be ashamed of it, Lionel.  People sleeping in the same room with us!”

Page 286

“If the picture be revolting, what must be the reality?” was his rejoinder. “They have to endure it.”

“They are used to it,” retorted Sibylla.  “They are brought up to nothing better.”

“Just so.  And therefore their perceptions of right and wrong are deadened.  The wonder is, not that Alice Hook has lost herself, but that——­”

“I don’t want to hear about Alice Hook,” interrupted Sibylla.  “She is not very good to talk about.”

“I have been openly told, Sibylla, that the reproach should lie at my door.”

“I believe it is not the first reproach of the kind that has been cast on you,” answered Sibylla, with cutting sarcasm.

He did not know what she meant, or in what sense to take the remark; but his mind was too preoccupied to linger on it.  “With these things staring me in the face, how can I find money for superfluous vanities?  The time has come when I am compelled to make a stand against it.  I will, I must, have decent dwellings on my estate, and I shall set about the work without a day’s loss of time.  For that reason, if for no other, I cannot buy the ponies.”

“I have bought them,” coolly interrupted Sibylla.

“Then, my dear, you must forgive me if I countermand the purchase.  I am resolute, Sibylla,” he continued, in a firm tone.  “For the first time since our marriage, I must deny your wish.  I cannot let you bring me to beggary, because it would also involve you.  Another year or two of this extravagance, and I should be on the verge of it.”

Sibylla flung his arms from her.  “Do you want to keep me as a beggar?  I will have the ponies!”

He shook his head.  “The subject is settled, Sibylla.  If you cannot think for yourself, I must think for you.  But it was not to speak of the ponies that I brought you here.  What is it that you owe to Mrs. Duff?”

Sibylla’s colour heightened.  “It is no business of yours, Lionel, what I owe her.  There may be some trifle or other down in her book.  It will be time enough for you to concern yourself with my little petty debts when you are asked to pay them.”

“Then that time is the present one, with regard to Mrs. Duff.  She applied to me for the money this morning.  At least, she asked if I would speak to you—­which is the same thing.  She says you owe her thirty-two pounds.  Sibylla, I had far rather been stabbed than have heard it.”

“A fearful sum, truly, to be doled out of your coffers!” cried Sibylla, sarcastically.  “You’ll never recover it, I should think!&r