THE paper dropped from the hand of Dionysius Curling.
He was not an excitable man, nor a sentimental man, as we know. Yet
had the affair of Clara Melrose taken hold of his imagination in a
remarkable and unprecedented manner.
The statement contained in the Deepdale Gazette shocked him beyond
measure. How to reconcile it with the extraordinary fact of the
lady's presence here, in the midst of her accusers, remained as yet
"She must have lost her senses," thought he.
He had scarce uttered this mental ejaculation when a tap at the door
announced the presence of Martha Beck.
"If you please, sir, the lady wishes to see you."
Dionysius started in his chair. He did not know how be could face
Clara Melrose just then.
"Yes, sir, and she seems to have something on her mind. Dr. Plume
thinks you had best come up and hear what it is, sir."
Dionysius rose slowly, and with dignity. He could not refuse to
listen to what this woman had to say. At the same time he fancied
the interview would turn out to be a confession.
With this feeling on his mind, he walked upstairs, and having been
duly announced, found himself in the presence of Clara Melrose. He
had no intention this time of being ensnared by any womanly device. He
desired Martha Beck to remain in the ante-room, within reach of his
voice, should the lady be taken faint.
Clara Melrose was sitting by the fire in the easy-chair. She was
still pale and wan; but it seemed to Dionysius as though he had
never before seen so sweet, so innocent a countenance. Her blue eyes
expressed naught save truth and purity, her open forehead gave no
hint of guile. Dionysius looked, and while he looked he marvelled.
She glanced up at him, and their eyes met.
Dionysius, bashful as a girl of sixteen, blushed to the very roots
of his hair.
The pale cheek of Clara Melrose remained without an atom of colour.
"I wish again to thank you for your kindness," said she, in the same
dulcet voice that had before half-captivated him, "and to express my
regret for the trouble of which I have been the innocent cause."
Dionysius bowed, as it was imperative he should at the conclusion of
such a speech, and from the lips of a lady.
"I am sure, sir," continued Clara Melrose, in the same dulcet
strains, "you will do me the justice to believe that I came here in
entire ignorance of my dear uncle's death."
Dionysius bowed again. He might have been an automaton.
"Ah, sir, in my dear uncle I have indeed lost a parent. He was
father and mother too. In fact, next to my beloved husband, he was
all I had in the world."
The remembrance of the Deepdale Gazette caused Dionysius at this
juncture to turn red in the face and emit a sound very like choking.
"I resided with my uncle, the late vicar," continued she, her
handkerchief to her eyes. "I was like a daughter to him, and the
remembrance of the happy clays we spent together in this dear house
must needs add to my grief. I am young, sir, in years, but it seems
as if I were already getting old in sorrow."
To look to Dionysius for sympathy, or, indeed, to appeal to him in
any way, was futile. So Clara Melrose proceeded:
"Perhaps you are not aware that my late husband was the nephew of
"I—I—believe I have heard so, madam," stammered Dionysius.
"My husband resided with me in the vicarage, sir, for three happy
years. Ah! so happy!" and the tears trickled down the widowed cheek
of Clara Melrose.
Dionysius looked, or rather, if we might use the
expression, glowered at her.
"Then, sir, came affliction. Ah! I know it is wrong to say so, but
it is hard at times to submit to the chastisements of Heaven!"
She paused, apparently convulsed with grief. Dionysius, alarmed,
glanced towards the door. His movement seemed to rouse her.
"You need not fear, sir, I am not going to faint," said she, smiling
through her tears.
He muttered a few incoherent words, the only intelligible ones being
that he should be most happy, but on what ground did not appear.
Again she smiled, partly at his oddness and want of tact, partly to
encourage him, and to dispel his fears. Then the smile faded, and
she resumed her story.
"Perhaps you may have heard, for my sad history is well known in
Deepdale, that my dear husband fell ill of our country's greatest
"I―I―think I have heard," stammered Dionysius, the contents of the
Deepdale Gazette staring him blankly in the face.
"And you may have been told that he was recommended to seek a warmer
climate?" added she, again appealing to him.
He murmured an inarticulate assent.
"Sir, we were poor. I had hard work to raise the funds which were
absolutely necessary for our journey." Here she paused, deeply
"Ah, sir," resumed the widow, when her grief had somewhat abated,
"as the event proved, all our endeavours were futile. It is true, I
obtained the means of reaching the more genial climate of Madeira,
and we landed in safety; but the dread disease had progressed too
Again she wept. There was something irresistibly touching in her
Dionysius, softened in spite of himself, ventured to offer a few
words of consolation.
"I need not have troubled you with these details, if it had not been
due to myself to explain my unfortunate position. My dear husband
died while in Madeira. Ah! were it not for the hope of reunion in
another and a better world―"
Again her voice failed, and she wept abundantly. Dionysius, further
softened, again attempted to console her.
"I had not heard from my uncle since I left England," resumed she—"a
circumstance which both pained and surprised me. I wrote to him
several times, and once I wrote to my uncle's churchwarden, Mr.
Dionysius gave a great gasp.
"To Mr. Crosskeys," continued Clara Melrose, glancing up at him with
some surprise; "but, alas! he, too, made no reply. I fear my
letters, and also those of my friends, were lost on the passage."
Dionysius made no reply.
"You may imagine my position, sir: a widow in a strange land, and a
destitute widow, likewise. My resources had all been exhausted
during the illness of my husband, and I had not the means of
returning to my own country. Providentially, friends were raised up
to me in my affliction. A sum of money was subscribed to enable me
to take my passage in a ship about to sail for England—a sum barely
sufficient, it is true; but I fondly anticipated finding my beloved
home as I left it, and that my uncle would receive me with open
arms. Alas! I had forgotten the sad and terrible, uncertainty of
She wiped away the tears that had welled forth again in spite of her
efforts to be calm.
"Alas! sir, you know the rest. You know that when, at length, I
arrived—for the vessel was delayed by contrary winds—it was to find
my last anchor reft away, my only refuge gone—except One, whom
indeed I have found to be 'a present help in time of trouble,' and
who found me a friend in my need."
She had told her story, and the dulcet strains of her voice no
longer sounded in his ears.
What was he to think? What was he to believe
Judging from appearances, it was an easy matter to decide. That fair
face, those eyes of tender blue, that absence of all hesitation or
guilty confusion, spoke of innocence.
But then the disclosure of Simon Crosskeys?—a disclosure made in
cold blood without any apparent motive—a full, complete, and, as
yet, uncontradicted assertion of Clara Melrose's guilt. What was he
But greater trials still were in store for him. The lady was,
indeed, somewhat exhausted by her recital. Yet, upheld by a feverish
energy, she was unwilling to let Dionysius go.
"And now, sir," said she, appealing to him with great earnestness,
"what am I to do?"
"Indeed, madam, I—I am incompetent—I really cannot tell you, madam,"
replied he, speaking the last words with precipitation.
"Oh, sir, pray do not leave me, until you have, at least,
heard—heard and advised with me upon my future plans! Pray sit down
again, Mr. Curling."
Mr. Curling did sit down, uneasily, it is true. Still he sat.
"I should like to remain in Deepdale," said Clara Melrose, "where I
am well known and respected."
Respected! could she possibly mean respected?
"I am told by your housekeeper that there is a cottage to let at the
entrance of the village. I know the place well. In my time a lady
resided there who kept a small school for young gentlemen. She used
to train them for larger establishments. Now it occurs to me that,
since she has left, an opening seems made for me by Providence."
"What! to keep a school here in Deepdale!" exclaimed Dionysius, half
out of his senses.
"Why not? My dear uncle took care that I should receive an excellent
education," said Mrs. Melrose, with a smile. "And I am sure my
uncle's parishioners would afford me all the support in their
power," continued she.
"With God's blessing, I might find the means of maintaining myself."
"But—the money," stammered Dionysius. "You said, pardon me, that you
"I know it," replied she; "but, at the same time, I have reason to
expect that some small sum will come to me in consequence of the
lamented death of my uncle."
"Of your uncle!" stammered Dionysius, petrified.
"Yes, sir. He had insured his life for a hundred pounds, to be paid
to me on his decease. Also he had bequeathed to me the furniture of
the vicarage. I am not, therefore, wholly without the means of
carrying out my project. As soon as possible, I should be glad to
have an interview with Mr. Crosskeys. I believe he was named as
"Madam, you cannot be aware," burst out Dionysius. Then he checked
himself with such a violent effort that his face became scarlet.
"I am aware of the difficulty every woman finds in standing her
ground alone," said Clara Melrose, calmly; "but I am not one who
shrinks from exertion. I have been well disciplined, Mr. Curling."
He was silent. What could he say?
"I have written to Mr. Crosskeys," continued she, taking a sealed
envelope from the table, "and with your permission, I will send it
by your servant-man. Indeed, I was about to give it to Martha, when
something occurred to prevent me."
"I am thankful you did not," cried Dionysius, much excited.
She looked at him in surprise.
"Why so?" asked she, mildly.
"Because—no matter, madam—no matter. Only if you would be good
enough to give me—the letter—"
She hesitated, still surprised at his manner.
"I will see that it is delivered," stammered Dionysius, hardly
knowing whether he stood on his head or his feet. "My man is hardly,
in such a delicate matter, to be trusted
Mrs. Melrose, having given him the letter, leaned back and closed
her eyes. It was apparent that even now she had gone beyond her
Dionysius, all his fears revived, hurried into the ante-room to
"Go at once to Mrs. Melrose; she is going to faint." Away flew
Martha Beck, and Dionysius walked leisurely to his study.
"She is innocent as a lamb," thought he, "and Crosskeys is an
"TIME AND TIDE WAIT FOR NO MAN."
"ON my word, Mrs.
Chauncey, this steak is done to a turn," said Reginald Chauncey in a
tone of profound admiration.
Frank heard the observation as he came in at the door of the
breakfast-room, the morning after his arrival at home.
At an early hour that morning, Frank, whose slumbers had been
light and uneasy, had become conscious of stealthy footsteps about
the house, and of the ordinary household arrangements being carried
This circumstance would not have interested him in the least,
had not the suspicion flashed into his mind that the said household
arrangements were being performed solely by his mother.
Under this impression he rose, and cautiously stole
downstairs to the room usually occupied by the family. As he
did so the sounds ceased, and as he approached nearer and nearer the
door opened, a startled face was put out to reconnoitre.
"Mother," said Frank, hastily, and in a tone of annoyance,
"what are you doing?"
"My dear, I have almost finished. I am only seeing to
things a little," replied she, still trembling with fright.
"Can I assist you?"
"Oh, no; and would you please speak lower, lest you should
awake him;" and she made a movement indicating that in the room
overhead Reginald Chauncey was stretched in lordly repose.
Frank retired, not, however, to sleep. A young man
under such circumstances was hardly likely to sleep.
At the present moment Reginald Chauncey, in an elaborate
morning costume, his hair and his whiskers trimmed to a nicety, his
ring on his finger, and his very nails in a state of perfection, sat
at the head of the table. By his side was that day's Times,
as yet unopened, and before him the steak under discussion, and all
his other little epicurean arrangements round about him. His
wife in her plain print dress, her simple cap and black apron, did,
it must be confessed, present somewhat of a contrast to her husband.
Frank and his father had not yet seen each other; when they
did meet, their recognition was not remarkable for its cordiality.
Reginald Chauncey held out two of his smooth, white fingers.
"Ah! Frank, my boy, I hope you're well. Just in
time for breakfast," added he, without giving Frank time to reply.
Then, as if this reception would suffice, and he had done all
that could be expected, he opened his Times, and became
wholly absorbed in its contents.
The breakfast proceeded; Frank and his mother sustaining the
entire conversation. Reginald Chauncey seemed as far removed
from them and their subordinate interests as the Antipodes.
Frank had not as yet revealed to his mother the position in
which he stood, nor his projects for the future. I should say
project, for Frank had but one.
His early education had been to fit him for the medical
profession; and, indeed, he was fitted for it now. He had
carried on his studies when at Deepdale Manor, during the times and
seasons that other men would have chosen for recreation. But
Frank had a quiet energy that could seize upon an object, and pursue
it without slackening his hand till the object was reached.
Besides, he had his mother. It was to meet her urgent and
pressing difficulties—to prevent, in fact, absolute ruin—that he had
engaged himself as tutor to Lord Landon. The step had been
taken during a crisis. There had been many such during in the
history of Frank Chauncey.
But now his thoughts returned to their old channel. He
wished to make his way as a surgeon—then he hoped as a physician;
for in whatever walk of life he was found, there he resolved to
excel. It did occur to him, for he was young, and youth is
sanguine—it did him to him that the time might come when his mother
would be safely sheltered by him from her many trials, when better
and happier days would dawn upon them both. But at present
there would be toil and struggle—labour before rest; the seedtime
before the harvest. And it occurred to him, likewise, as he
beheld his father's countenance, serenely apathetic to all but "last
night's debate," that he would appeal in some sort to his paternal
solicitude. If there were a chord in that cold and selfish
bosom, he would try to strike it; for the man of the world, the
diner-out, the favourite of society, might, perchance, pave the way
for the young novice, especially if that novice were his only son.
When breakfast was over and his mother had retired, then was
Reginald Chauncey had finished the perusal of the Times.
Now he offered it with a smile of infinite condescension to Frank.
He had not asked Frank a single question touching his affairs.
It was not his habit to do so.
"I am an indulgent father," he would say to his set. "I
never interfere in any way with my son."
Frank took the paper, folded ready for his immediate benefit,
but he laid it down again."
"Father," said he, endeavouring to appear at his ease—a
difficult achievement, under the circumstances—"can I have a little
conversation with you?"
"Certainly, my son; I shall be most happy. But you are
aware that I am instantly going out," replied Reginald Chauncey.
"I have not much to say, and I will say it as quickly as I
can," resumed Frank, hastily, "I wished to tell you that I have left
"Well, my son, the world is before you. I am not one to
coerce you in any way. You have but to choose a profession.
I am a man of independent fortune, as you know, and tread in the
footsteps of my ancestors. But if you wish to do otherwise――"
"It is no matter of wishing, sir," said Frank,
hurriedly, but of necessity. "Not that, under any
circumstances, I would be unemployed." He paused, unwilling to
cast the slightest reflection on his father.
And during this pause, we may observe that Reginald
Chauncey's independent fortune brought him in exactly two hundred a
year. His annual expenditure was quite another matter.
"You are aware," resumed Frank, somewhat awkwardly, "that I
was educated for the medical profession. It is my intention—"
"Frank, my dear son," interrupted Reginald Chauncey, in his
blandest manner, "there is an old proverb, that time and tide wait
for no man. I have an appointment at ten o'clock, punctually,
and a little business to transact before I go. I will trouble
you to hand me the inkstand."
Frank did as he was requested, and his father began
immediately to write a note, an employment which so engrossed his
attention that he seemed to forget Frank's very existence.
When he had finished, he placed the note in an envelope, fastened it
down, and, with a serene and smiling countenance, placed it on the
Then he walked hastily to the window.
"Ah! said he, cheerfully, and with alacrity, "I see the cab
at the door. Good morning, my son!"
And, touching Frank's hand with the tips of his well-pared
nails, he quitted the room.
There was a slight confusion in the hall as he took his
actual departure. There were sounds of a coat being brushed,
and sundry final touches being put to his outdoor toilette.
But, when the toilette was completed, Reginald Chauncey—got up to a
state of perfection, from his glossy hat to his well-polished
boots--got into the cab and drove off.
A CONFIDING PARENT.
FRANK turned from
the window with a bitter sigh.
It was hopeless to build upon the sand—to extract sweetness
from wormwood, or to pluck figs from the thorns of the desert.
Equally so to find a vein of parental sympathy in the callous breast
of Reginald Chauncey.
Yet sympathy is a precious boon to struggling, suffering
He sat down by the fire, and having gathered the few
scattered embers together, began to look his fortune steadily in the
face. Not with despondency. No; a more sanguine nature
than Frank's rarely existed. Nor with discontent and repining.
He had all the cheerfulness of youth, and of Christianity too: for
what a great mistake it is to suppose that being a Christian means
being, if not wholly miserable, at least melancholy and
low-spirited, and submitting to a despotic and unrelenting sway!
To be a Christian is to have your burden cast upon One who cares for
you, and fills your breast with a "larger hope" that leaves no room
for doubt or despair.
Frank was, as we said before, fully resolved to become a
medical practitioner. He was prepared for taking this step.
Ere he had been driven to Deepdale Manor he had duly passed his
examination and walked the hospitals. There would be nothing
to do except get his diploma and at once enter on his profession.
Had the countess been content, Frank had remained some time
longer, for he had found the solution of Phil's character and
But, now, he would at once make for himself a position, if he
could; and a name.
There was another theme connected with Frank's residence at
the Manor, on which he dared not dwell.
Among the ideal scenes which his fancy chose to paint, there
would ever appear the dovelike eyes, the auburn hair, the serene
countenance of Lady Lucy.
He had never breathed a syllable of love, not even in its
remotest stages. He was too true a gentleman—too honourable a
man. But he loved her, notwithstanding, with all the zeal and
fervour of his nature. Lucy only knew that she had lost a
This theme having insidiously forced its way into Frank's
mind, he rose and resolved to shake it off by some more profitable
But ere he had time to do so; a light footstep on the stairs
announced that his mother was at hand.
If anything could cheer the forlorn destiny of Reginald
Chauncey's wife, it was the prospect of passing a day with her son.
She had few to sympathize with her—few that were even acquainted
with her sorrows.
There are some women in whom the domestic virtues are
inherent. Home is the theatre of their grandest exploits.
The home circle bounds at once their hopes, their joys, their
Such was the despised wife of Reginald Chauncey. Her
home, alas! had proved a failure and a ruin. Still —amid the
ruin, amid the decaying ashes of a world whose illusions had long
ago been dispelled—the poor woman, heroic in her faith and patience,
remained firm at her post. Not till the last fond wreck was
gone would she abandon it.
True to the instincts of her nature, she never made the son a
confidant of the wrongs practised by the husband. No; the veil
was never raised from before the grim, skeleton in Frank Chauncey's
home. Now she had come to sit with him, bringing in her hand
the work-basket with its faded silk lining, a bridal present, and
intending, as heretofore, to stitch with nimble, unwearying fingers.
She was wont to stitch alone. She was not a nervous woman by
nature, or one apt to brood morbidly, or else she had grown
But Reginald Chauncey's wife had a solace in her woe that the
world knew not of. She was a Christian woman, with a
Christian's consolations and a Christian's joys. In that
lonely deserted room angels might have ministered to her. So
that, though subdued and chastened, she was not despairing; though
cast down, she was not destroyed.
To-day, however, was a high day for Mrs. Chauncey. She
was not alone; and opposite to her was her joy and pride,—her son,
born, as it were, for adversity.
But Frank's office on this especial occasion was not
altogether so consoling as might be expected. He had to tell
his mother of his recent dismissal. It was useless to put off
the news any longer. But though Frank's prospects were not in
his own estimation damaged by the freak of the Big Countess, his
mother would think far otherwise. She looked upon the position
of her son—"tutor to a nobleman," as she fondly observed—as one of
peculiar advantage. Indeed, she began the subject this very
morning by alluding to it.
"You continue to be quite happy, dear, at Lady Landon's?"
Frank did not immediately reply.
"It is such a comfort to me Frank, to think that you are so
well established, and under such patronage. Why, you will be
travelling with his lordship on the Continent, by-and-by."
"Mother," interrupted Frank, smiling, "there is no knowing
where your romantic tendencies may not lead you. His lordship
is barely fourteen."
"Ah! but time passes very quickly, dear; and when—"
"Mother, you must not think of it," said Frank, hastily.
"The fact is, I have left Deepdale Manor."
"Left!" repeated she. Her work dropped on her knee.
"Left! No, Frank; you cannot mean that."
"I am sorry to say that I do, mother. At least, I am
sorry for some reasons; for others I am glad."
"Yes; because I mean now to set about in earnest, and make a
home for myself."
Her face looked so pale and sad. There was such a
trouble in her eyes, that Frank felt half inclined to anathematize
the Big Countess.
"Mother," said he, soothingly, "it may all turn out for the
best. I have long wished to take up a profession."
"But, my dear――"
"Besides, if you knew his lordship personally," continued
Frank, smiling, "you would not build another instant upon that
And, partly to rouse her, partly in his own justification, he
told her how it was the dismissal had come about. He hoped to
win a smile; but no! She sighed as she took up her work; her
hands trembled, so that she could hardly hold the needle. It
may be that she knew more of life's shoals and quicksands, of its
hard and dreary passages, than did Frank.
He began to talk cheerfully and hopefully. He sketched
out his plans. His few years of struggling, it might be—he did
not shrink from them. Sheer perseverance, with God's blessing,
would gradually open the path to independence and prosperity.
He included in this prosperity a home for his mother; but he did not
say so, for it was a tender subject. "If ever she should need
it; and she surely will," said Frank to himself.
He had scarce said the words, when his eye fell upon the note
his father had left upon the mantel-piece. Unwilling to
frustrate any of the plans of the lordly Reginald, he took it up.
"Mother," he began—then he stopped, wonder expressed on every
feature. The note, or letter, or whatever else it was, was
directed to himself. To himself! "Mr. Frank Chauncey."
Much surprised at so unwonted a circumstance, he opened it in haste.
Never to the last day of his life will Frank forget the sensation
that tingled from head to foot, the unutterable horror and dismay
with which he read the words――
FRANK,—It is fortunate
that you are at home. You can take care of your mother.
Ere the day is out, you will most likely receive a visit from chose
unpleasant members of society, the bailiffs. To show the
confidence I have in your judgment, I leave all necessary
arrangements in your hands. I have taken my departure.
Your affectionate parent,
THE VICAR BROUGHT TO THE POINT.
consecutive days, Dionysius Curling went about with the letter
addressed to Simon Crosskeys in his pocket. He was in a state
of the utmost perplexity. To deliver it was impossible; to
keep it back equally undesirable. What was to be done?
He had formed his opinion on the matter; and he was a man remarkable
for adherence to his own principles; in fact, his disposition
inclined to obstinacy. He was convinced of the innocence of
Possessed with this idea, it seemed to him that he had only
to put it forth in suitable language, and the Deepdale world would
recant. Little did he know of Deepdale!
During these three days he kept aloof from any further
interview with the widow. But, it was not therefore a sequence
that the thought of her did not run in his head continually.
Yet she was a lady, and a widow. "Widows are always artful,"
was his favourite axiom; and "to beware of the ladies," was the
point from which he started.
This woman, lying under the ban of society, accused of
positive crime, was the only one of the fairer sex that had in the
slightest degree interested him.
"It is the peculiarity of the case," thought Dionysius, as he
vainly strove to fix his attention on his beloved "æsthetics."
And yet this peculiarity could hardly justify the unwonted
train of ideas that floated through the mind of Dionysius. He
closed his æsthetical volume in despair. That very moment
Martha Beck presented herself at he study door.
"If you please, sir, here is Mr. Crosskeys."
Dionysius started in his chair. He was far gone in
"Ask him to walk in, Martha."
"Please, sir, he has walked in."
And ere Dionysius could recover his scattered ideas, the
redoubtable Simon Crosskeys was upon him. He stiffened into
all his natural angularity in an instant.
"Take a seat, Mr. Crosskeys, if you please."
"Thank ye, sir. Yes; I'll happen sit down a bit."
Simon Crosskeys had the faculty of making himself perfectly
at home wherever he went. He was, however, a man of business.
His time was precious. So, without any circumlocution, he burst upon
Dionysius by saying―
"And now, sir, about that paper?"
Dionysius, uneasy and perplexed, glanced round the room.
Once, he opened the volume that lay close beside him, as if there
might be, in its well-known pages, a solution of the question.
But as none was to be found, he closed it with precipitation.
Simon Crosskeys, meanwhile, spread his broad, open palms upon
his knees, and leaning forward, said, in a tone of great
"Mr. Curling, sir, what are you intending to do?"
Dionysius, more uneasy still, glanced round the room a second
time. Then bringing his eyes to bear on Simon Crosskeys, he
"I intend to do nothing at all."
Simon Crosskeys had not heard that observation with
"I intend to take no step whatever," repeated Dionysius, in a
firm, intelligible voice.
And Simon Crosskeys glanced at him in a somewhat threatening,
certainly a very offensive, manner.
"No," repeated Dionysius; "because it is my calm conviction
that the lady is innocent."
Simon Crosskeys was still glaring. He was a burly man,
with a neck of remarkable thickness. His throat was partly
uncovered, and there seemed a large lump to move up and down in it.
Dionysius, having uttered what he fondly hoped would be the
oracle of Deepdale, relapsed into silence.
He thought he had strangled the slander, as the infant
Hercules did the snakes. But, alas, it was not so!
Bringing down his sinewy fist on the table with a force that
was remarkably unpleasant to the nerves of the young vicar, Simon
Crosskeys thundered forth, "And what may you mean by that, Mr.
"I mean," said Dionysius, speaking with far less stiffness
than usual, "that the proofs of Mrs. Melrose's guilt are not by any
means clear to my mind. Indeed, she appears to know nothing
"About what, sir?"
"The loss of the money."
"Loss! call it robbery, if you please, sir! In these
parts, if we means a spade, we says a spade."
Dionysius bowed politely. He did not wish to bandy
words, if he could help it, with Simon Crosskeys.
"And as to not knowing it, why she isn't likely to!
That beats everything, that does!" said Simon Crosskeys, laughing
The sensibilities of Dionysius began to tingle. "Mr.
Crosskeys," said he, "here is your paper. I beg you will allow
me to retain my own opinion in the matter. I shall treat Mrs.
Melrose with all the courtesy and attention that the widow of a
brother clergyman demands at my hands."
Simon Crosskeys took the paper, still glaring in a menacing
"As you please, sir. You see what the Deepdale
Gazette says, sir."
"The Deepdale Gazette is a local paper, and of limited
influence," began Dionysius.
But Simon Crosskeys cut him short. "The Deepdale
Gazette, sir!" cried he, half choking with choler, "why—it's—it's
the first paper going!"
Dionysius smiled. He was not the most suitable man in
the world to combat the prejudices of the Deepdale population.
By this time Simon Crosskeys had reached the door. So
far so good! A dim persuasion floated through the mind of
Dionysius that his work was done; that, by a few words, he had
altered the current of public opinion, and cast the shield of his
protection round the character of Clara Melrose. Alas! soon
were these pleasant dreams dispersed.
Simon Crosskeys, having arrived at the door, turned round and
faced the vicar.
"If you think, Mr. Curling, to set up that woman over the
heads of us Deepdale folks, you're mistaken. If you don't have
her took up, sir, we shall; and that afore many days is over."
Having hurled this defiance at the head of Dionysius, Simon
"A WONDERFUL WOMAN."
CURLING sat immovable in
his chair. What was he to do? Certainly, he might have
managed the affair with greater tact and dexterity. He might
have conciliated Simon Crosskeys, and, by a train of reasoning,
convinced him. His science, his philosophy, his various gifts
and acquirements, ought to have stood him in some stead: but
Dionysius the man was one thing—Dionysius the scholar was another.
There are some minds, highly cultured, who bring into every-day life
a clear insight into what should or should not be done; in fact,
whose genius and acquirements are welded into wholesome union with
common sense. Such was not Dionysius. The time would come, nay, was
coining fast, when common sense would work through the crust of
pedantry, and he would mellow into a useful and estimable member of
society. But at present he was young, far too young.
One thing, however, was clear as daylight: it would be impossible to
keep the matter from Mrs. Melrose any longer. In spite of Dr. Plume,
in spite of the dangers incident to such a course, he must tell her
! What if he were to convey the intelligence in writing? That might
do; but them--
Ah! Dionysius Curling, you are thinking of those beauteous eyes,
that fair sorrowful face which so haunts you. You would like to
witness the effect produced by your words. Something chivalrous, and
quite newly implanted in your heart, whispers that, whatever
betides, you would be at hand to console and to defend.
The widow had left her chamber, and was now ensconced in the
"She is so eager to get on," said Martha Beck, in explanation of
this change of scene.
If he had thought her lovely when attired in a loose morning
-wrapper, her hair simply gathered into a net, and her appearance
presenting somewhat of the dishabille of the sick chamber, she
seemed tenfold more attractive now. Her deep mourning dress, with
its folds of crape, set off the exceeding whiteness and delicacy of
her complexion. Her lovely hair was coiled round her well-shaped
head, and all unconscious of the disfigurement of a widow's cap. She
came to meet him, holding out her band. " I am so glad to see you!"
said she, with eagerness.
Dionysius blushed as he took the little hand and slightly pressed
it. It is astonishing how tiny it was. "I am all anxiety to hear how
my affairs aye progressing, Mr. Curling," said she. "I have so far
recovered as to be quite able to move."
"Madam, you must not think of it," replied Dionysius, with energy.
She had resumed her place on the sofa. Dionysius, a trifle paler
than usual, sat opposite.
"Excuse me," said she, in her dulcet voice, "I have troubled you far
too long. I shall never forget your kindness to me, Mr.
"I am sure," stammered Dionysius, awkwardly, "you are very welcome."
She smiled. His oddity seemed to amuse her. Then she said, "I have
written to the landlord of the cottage, and find there is no
difficulty in my taking possession of it at once."
He did not speak.
"Pray may I ask if you have seen Mr. Crosskeys?"
Dionysius winced palpably. "I have, madam," replied he, with
"Well?" said Clara Melrose, interrogatively.
"Madam!--There has been some little mistake," stammered the unhappy
"Not about the insurance—there cannot be," said the widow, quickly.
"It is well known that my dear uncle made that small provision for
me. No one in Deepdale would be found to dispute it."
"Exactly so, madam," again stammered Dionysius.
"I am sorry to appear covetous," resumed the widow, sighing, "but in
my position I am compelled to look keenly after my resources. Once
fairly established, I doubt not that I could maintain myself in
"Of course, madam," replied Dionysius, wondering the next minute how
he could have said so.
"Perhaps you are not aware that I am somewhat of a scholar," resumed
the widow, smiling. Her smile was wonderfully captivating to
Dionysius. "My dear uncle drilled me thoroughly in Latin and Greek.
He had an idea that women should have a classical education. What do
you say, Mr. Curling?"
"I really don't know, madam," returned Dionysius, more and more
embarrassed. "Women—ladies, I mean—are rarely able to master the
dead languages to any purpose."
"If you will allow me, I will give you a specimen of what I can do,"
said she, smiling. "I have here a Greek Homer; will you hear me
There was such a charming simplicity in the manner of the request
that Dionysius said, with fervour, "Indeed, madam, I shall be
She took the book in her taper fingers, and a tinge of colour rising
to her cheek, partly from excitement, partly from timidity, she
Oh! noble language of antiquity! language of heroes! surely you
suffered not a whit in flowing from the coral lips of Clara Melrose.
Dionysius was a scholar, remember. This was his own ground. A
blunder, even the most trifling, would have been detected. But no.
The first men of Oxford or of Cambridge might have envied the
correct and musical cadence of Clara Melrose.
When she had laid down the book, the same tinge of colour
beautifying her cheek, her eyes sparkling, and her features glowing
with excitement, he exclaimed, with an energy that startled even
himself, "On my word, Mrs. Melrose, you are a wonderful woman!"
INNOCENT OR GUILTY?
FOR the moment he
had been carried away by his enthusiasm. Not that he was an
enthusiastic man—far from it. The musical utterance of Clara
Melrose head entrapped him into this unwonted state of mind against
his will. He shared the popular prejudice of mankind against
that anomalous being called a "blue stocking."
But every rule has its exceptional cases. A fair face,
coral lips, and eyes of wondrous brightness and beauty might be
allowed to dabble in classic lore with impunity. A middle-aged
spinster is the type of womankind supposed to feed upon the dead
He had revelled in that delicious morsel of Greek—fresh, as
it were, from immortal Hellas. His correct ear had tested it,
syllable by syllable, and found nothing wanting. Each word had
rung out clear and musical as a silver bell. Yes, he was
She laid the book upon the table, and, glancing shyly up at
him, said, with all the simplicity of a girl, "You think it will do,
Alas, for poor Dionysius! His thoughts, floating away
into cloudland, were arrested as by a grip of iron; and a voice
seemed to sound in his ear the ominous words, "Simon Crosskeys."
The look of pleasure died out of his face so quickly, and the
embarrassment and distress expressed themselves so vividly in its
stead, that the widow, little knowing what was in store for her,
said, "You need not be afraid of speaking plainly, Mr. Curling.
I am, perhaps, out of practice."
"Madam," said Dionysius, eagerly, "you read like a 'first
class.' There is no fault whatever to be found with your
Her face brightened up.
"Then, sir, as the vicar of the parish, will you kindly use
your influence to recommend me?"
"Madam," exclaimed Dionysius, the horror of his position
driving him to extremities, "it would be impossible!"
The small graceful head drew itself up with a touch of
wounded pride; her eager eyes fixed themselves on Dionysius while
she repeated, "Impossible?"
"Under the circumstances, it would," replied Dionysius, his
face white with alarm and perplexity.
"Under what circumstances, Mr. Curling?"
She spoke in a clear steady voice, not without a touch of
He had taken the Greek volume into his hands, and was playing
with the leaves. His restless, nervous fingers were unable to
keep still a moment.
Mrs. Melrose was looking at him quietly and without a trace
of confusion. Surprise was the prominent expression visible on
Dionysius was in for it now. To do him justice, his
hesitation, at this juncture, partly proceeded from a desire to put
his communication into the least painful and offensive form.
But as, whatever attainments he might have made in other languages,
he was by no means proficient in the use of his own, he broke down
at the onset. Some men have a graceful and insinuating
address, and can garble any statement, however unpleasant. Not
of this stamp was Dionysius Curling. He blundered out, with
all the abruptness and stiffness of which he was capable, the words—
"I am very sorry, madam—it grieves me to the heart to say
so—but I am informed by some of the most respectable inhabitants of
Deepdale, that you have been guilty—"
He paused. Man as he was, he trembled from head to
She had risen, and was gazing at him in blank astonishment.
"Guilty!" said she, quickly, and, as it seemed,
sharply―"guilty of what?"
She had come quite close up to him in her eagerness. He
shrank away alarmed—and yet with a feeling of fascination too—and,
agitated far more than she was, stammered out the whole story, as he
had read it in the pages of the Deepdale Gazette—the story of
Clara Melrose's guilt.
He did not once glance up, though that he should have done so
was the pretext for this interview. She was so near to him
that he could distinctly hear the beating of her heart.
There was a profound silence.
All at once she moved to the sofa. Dionysius looked up
then. She was pale, and her lips moved, and her brow was knit.
She raised herself to her utmost height, as if confronting
Dionysius. He might have been the culprit—she the judge.
"Who dares to say it?" asked she, sternly—so sternly, that
Still, here was an opportunity, never, perhaps, to occur
again. He would hear from her own lips the words—innocent, or
guilty. Still, whether she should tell him or no, he could
declare to all the world that she was innocent!
"Mrs. Melrose," said he, "I am a comparative stranger in
Deepdale, and therefore unable to judge, from your previous history,
whether this strange and improbable story is correct. But your
assertion will have sufficient weight with me, for I am not to be
moved by popular clamour. Are you innocent, or are you
She stood; her figure still drawn up proudly, her head and
face in full relief. A sunbeam, straggling down upon her from
the half-raised curtain, invested her with a kind of glory, as she
said, "I am innocent!"
THE RESOLVE TO "LIVE IT DOWN."
"I KNEW it!"
cried Dionysius, with fervour, and as from the bottom of his heart;
"I knew it!"
The man—stoic, cynic, whatever you might call him, was
actually in tears.
She moved from the sofa. Her face had lost its
sternness, and her lips quivered painfully. It must come, and
it did—the passionate storm of weeping, the raining of crystal drops
from her azure eyes. For she was a woman, caught, as it were,
in a snare—a very pit of destruction!
She wept; and Dionysius stood and beheld it. His eye
gleamed as, perhaps, it had never gleamed before. His face was
flushed—nay, almost eloquent. A mighty change had come over
the Vicar of Deepdale.
When the storm of grief was past, Clara Melrose looked up,
and pushed back the loosened hair from her damp forehead.
Tears add to the beauty of some women, and they did to hers.
Her eyes seemed all the lovelier for those rain-drops hanging from
their silken lashes. She had sat down to weep, and had rocked
herself to and fro, and made all the pitiful gestures of a woman
frantic with despair. But this had passed. She grew
calmer—calmer by far than he was.
She held out her hand. It was a spontaneous movement,
as if in him she recognized the only friend left to her in the
world. He took the hand. It was yet tremulous with
emotion. As it lay in his grasp it seemed to quiver. He
pressed it gently and respectfully, and, dropping it, retreated a
Then, she thanked him for his generous sympathy, and
convinced him, while he listened, more entranced than ever, that the
slander contained in the Deepdale Gazette was improbable and
impossible. It had either been got up by some malicious and
secret enemy, or was the result of a mistake. Under either of
these circumstances, her plan would be to live it down—here at
He started. The very idea was alarming. Still, it
had a sweetness about it, too. He had been saddened, as be
thought that she would fly—miles away—never again to be seen or
heard of. He fancied her womanly timidity would cause the
natural adoption of such a policy. She would flee, and be seen
no more. But to discover that she had the courage to stand her
ground, and abide where he could cast his protecting shadow round
her—this was very grateful to the feelings of Dionysius. He
was not a man of business, and ill able to advise her in an affair
of such intricacy. But it was inexpressibly sweet that,
notwithstanding this deficiency, she took him into her entire
She declared her intention of immediately removing to the
cottage. In order to do so, she told him that it was necessary
she should be put in possession of the sum of money, which was hers
by right. This money—the hundred pounds mentioned above—was
most probably lying in the bank at Mansfield, the nearest market
town. As the services of Simon Crosskeys were likely to prove
unavailing, she requested Mr. Carling to apply on her behalf to the
authorities of the bank; in fact, to procure her the money.
The proceeds of the furniture had been, doubtless, sunk to defray
the debts contracted by the late vicar after his loss.
And here Clara Melrose wept again, and her tender heart was
well-nigh broken at the thought of what the old man had had to
suffer. "Would I had never left him!" cried she, clasping her
hands and raising her beautiful eyes to heaven. "Alas! had I
but foreseen such a catastrophe, no earthly consideration should
have tempted me from his side." When this display of feeling
was over, Clara Melrose turned to the vicar, and, with one of those
smiles which so captivated him, said, "Will you do me this kindness,
"Madam," said Dionysius, his heart bounding with rapture, "I
would do anything for you!"
She blushed, and cast down her silken lashes.
"The most beautiful," thought Dionysius, "and the most
injured of women!"
The very next morning he rode, post haste, over to Mansfield.
THE BAILIFFS IN THE HOUSE.
CHAUNCEY was, as yet, in
ignorance of the blow that was so soon to fall upon her. She
had risen, and was putting up her work in the basket with its faded
lining, when her eye glanced accidentally towards Frank―her eye,
which was so quick to discern omens of evil. The poor woman
had had an education in them. Frank saw he was observed, and
with a quick gesture crushed up the epistle, and flung it into the
fire. Not for worlds would he have his mother see it. He
could break the news to her gently.
"Frank!" said she hastily, and in evident alarm, "what is
He did not answer all at once. With suppressed emotion
he was forcing the letter into the very heart of the flames.
His mother repeated the question anxiously, and in a tone of
distress. He turned from the fire. The scrap of tinted
paper, luxuriously perfumed, was blazing fiercely. Soon not a
vestige would remain. He went towards his mother. She
was standing with the basket in her hand, but he could perceive that
her hand trembled so much that she was scarcely able to hold it.
He told her by way of preface that the letter was from his father.
"From your father! and to you, Frank—to you?"
For Reginald the magnificent had never yet put pen to paper
to his son.
"Yes, to me. It was to spare your feelings,
dearest mother," added Frank, with some hesitation; "he wishes me to
break to you the news of――"
He paused. She set down her basket. Her eyes had
a terrified expression.
"Has anything happened to him?" she gasped, violently
"No, no; nothing whatever."
"Thank God for that!" cried she, clasping her hands.
"If he is safe, and you are safe, I can bear any other trial."
Frank was silent.
"It was very kind of Reginald," continued she, wiping her
eyes, "to wish to spare me."
"To spare her!" thought Frank.
There was no great difficulty in telling her the news.
It was an event she had expected to happen for many a day. She
only bowed her head in meek submission. Far otherwise had he
told her, what he feared was the case, that her husband had deserted
her. She was a woman of sterling honesty, and a quick sense of
justice. The consciousness of debt had eaten into her soul
like a canker. She had, personally, exercised the self-denial
of an anchorite; but her efforts had been futile. When she
would have built up, another had destroyed; and that other her
husband. True, however, to the instincts of her nature, her
first thought was of him.
"Where is he, Frank? When will he come home?"
"I do not know, mother."
"Ah, I wish he were here!"
The words were spoken with a wail of yearning affection.
Frank, scarce able to control his feelings, walked to the window.
A weight like that of an incubus pressed upon his usually happy
temperament. He felt as though, indeed the sins of the father
were being visited upon the children. Two sharp knocks at the
front door startled him. He turned hastily round to his
mother. She had heard them, and, as if apprehending the full
misery and disgrace that was about to ensue, had sank upon her knees
in the attitude of prayer.
He left her still kneeling. From his own heart there
went up a short petition that God would sustain and comfort her, for
he knew that the moment of distress had actually arrived.
Two men were at the door. Only a single glance sufficed
to tell Frank who, they were and what was their errand.
They were the bailiffs come to take possession.
"Is the governor at home?" said the elder and more forward of
"No," replied Frank, quietly.
"Are you his son, young gentleman?"
Frank, a kind of shiver running through his frame, replied
that he was.
"All right," replied the man, taking a writ from his pocket.
I've got to serve this upon Mr. Reginald Chauncey, Esq. It be
a distraint, sir; and we're come to take possession."
It was a bitter moment for Frank. In this world the
innocent suffer for the guilty. Frank was innocent. He
owed no man anything. He was just, upright, and honourable;
and yet, here he was in colloquy with the bailiffs.
The men had stepped into the hall, and were looking about
There was not much to look at. Bare walls once
handsomely papered, but from which the paper in some place hung in
strips; a stone floor, clean, but bare and comfortless; a worm-eaten
table, and a solitary chair. This was the entrance to Reginald
Chauncey's home. Poverty had eaten out the heart of all which
he once possessed—at least, not poverty, but extravagance.
Frank, stricken dumb with shame and anguish, stood a few
moments in silence, until the elder of the men roused him.
"Well, sir, are we a-going to bide here all day?"
Frank started; then, leading them into the kitchen, he said,
hurriedly, and in a tone of distress―
"You shall have all you want; but may I beg of you to be
considerate to my mother?"
"Is your mother in the house, sir?"
"And not the governor?"
"I told you―" began Frank, but the man stopped him.
"I see—I see! And more's the pity, sir, I say!"
interrupted he. "Well, sir, we want nothing in the world—only
a bit of baccy and a drop of beer; and you may be sure we won't
ill-convenience the lady no ways."
"Thank you," said Frank, warmly; and, having purchased the
goodwill of the bailiffs by a trifle of money, he left them.
A WIFE'S LOVE CAN SURVIVE THE WRECK.
FRANK left the
bailiffs to return to his mother. As he walked upstairs, not
with his usual elastic tread, his heart felt heavy within him.
No tender bond of union had subsisted between Frank and his
father. He would not grieve after him with the pangs of
wounded affection. Still, it was a blow which might almost
crush his mother.
His mother was in the same attitude in which he had left her.
Frank had to touch her ere she moved, and then she rose to her feet
A kind of decrepitude seemed to have come over her. She
sat on the sofa, and looked helplessly round the room—a strange sad
contrast to her former state.
"Frank," said she, eagerly, "is your father come?"
"No, mother, he is not."
He began to speak soothingly, and to utter words of
encouragement and of hope; but his mother heard them not; her eyes
roamed restlessly to and fro, and again she said, eagerly―
"When do you think he will come?"
"I cannot tell, dear mother. He may think it more
expedient to stay away for the present."
"Oh, no! no!" she cried, half angrily. "He would never
leave me to suffer this trouble alone. Your father is no
"He knows that I am with you, mother," was all that Frank
ventured to say.
"Oh, Frank, I wish he could come!"
There was such a pathos in the tone that Frank could not bear
it. He got up, and went again to the window. It was in a
recess, screened from his mother's view; and here he wept like a
When he came out, somewhat relieved by those tears, his
mother was lying on the sofa. He had never seen her in that
attitude before. She was an active woman; her small, upright
figure disdained even to lean back in her chair. Now, it
seemed as if all her vital force was gone. Frank had yet to
learn that beneath the surface, his mother's energies, nay, her very
life, had been slowly ground away.
He stooped down and kissed her. She kissed him in
return, but she did not speak. Her eyes had a wild, wistful
longing, that haunted him for many a day. He covered her with
a shawl, for her hands were as cold as death; then he stirred the
fire, and drew down the blinds, and made what little arrangements he
could for her comfort. After this he stole from the room, to
think over, in the solitude of his chamber, what had better be done.
He was now his mother's sole protector. In fact, he was all
she had in the world; and his whole mind was possessed with the
filial desire to stand as much as possible between her and the
approaching trial. In fact, if she were driven from one
refuge, he must make for her another.
"Yes," thought he, with a glow of generous enthusiasm; "thank
God, I can work."
The most immediate thing that suggested itself was to find
some suitable attendant for her in this hour of need.
Frank could see that she was ill—stricken down, in fact; and
he ground his teeth in very agony as he thought of it.
It would not be possible for her to fulfil her domestic
duties, hitherto so cheerfully and untiringly performed. No.
And had Frank had his way, she would long since have been relieved
from a burden that must have pressed heavily upon her. It was
the drop of wormwood in his cup—the knowledge of what his mother
Quitting the house for a short time he soon arranged the
matter. An old nurse of his—a faithful adherent of the
Chauncey interests—was persuaded to come at once, and render all the
assistance in her power. He flew rather than walked along the
streets, so eager was he to return to his mother. When be had
settled her under the beneficent guardianship of old Susan, be had
another piece of business to transact. It was to institute
inquiries after his father.
He intended to pay a visit to the man who managed the legal
affairs of Reginald Chauncey, and who would be most likely to know
his whereabouts. He did not like this man—few persons did.
And, more than that, he was a total stranger to him, personally.
He had never seen him in his life. Still it was necessary
something should be done to allay the feverish anxieties of Reginald
Frank hoped to find her reposing in same tranquil attitude in
which he had left her. But alas! no. She had risen.
The shawl with which he had so carefully covered her lay upon the
floor, and she had been for some time pacing up and down the room.
When Frank's step was heard, she stopped; her eyes turned
towards the door with the same wistful, yearning look. Frank
knew but too well what it meant. She fancied the footstep
might have been her husband's.
"Frank," said she, hastily and impatiently, "he is not come
"Where is he?"
Frank shook his head.
"My dear, I want to write to him. Poor Reginald!"
Frank's eyes were fixed upon the ground. The grave
expression of his face deepened into actual distress.
"Poor Reginald!" continued the wife, pleading, as it were,
his cause; "he had but a narrow income, Frank, and with his
acquirements and position he was sure to outrun it. Many men
have done so besides him," added she, appealing to her son.
Frank was silent. He could not force himself to say a
word in extenuation of Reginald Chauncey's guilt.
"And now," continued she, with the same piteous, yearning
tone, "I should like to go to him. Where is be, Frank?
You must know; you are not to keep it from me," pressing her hands
to her temples, as if the pain there were intolerable.
"Mother, I do not know as yet."
"As yet! When will you know?" asked she, coming close
up and peering into his face with her eager eyes. "When will
"Perhaps when I have seen my father's lawyer. He may be
able to tell me."
"Will he? Then you must go at once. Oh, why did
you put it off so long?" cried she, reproachfully; her fragile form
trembling from head to foot.
Alas! Frank little knew the deadly sickening fear that
was gnawing at her heart—the dread lest Reginald Chauncey should
come no more. For the love of some women can survive the wreck
of all things!
THE offices of
Reginald Chauncey's lawyer were situated in a paved court, close by
The name of the lawyer was Solomon Twist. He did a
pretty extensive business of a certain kind, both in town and
Some people said he was more of a money-lender than a lawyer;
and others declared him to be a Jew, and connected with a Jewish
house in London. Certainly his first name was Jewish, and so
was his physiognomy. He was seated in his little room,
presenting, as he always did, very much the appearance of a spider
lying in wait for a fly, when his clerk (his familiar spirit—so said
the public) brought him a card, bearing the name of "Mr. Frank
Chauncey." Solomon Twist took it, and smiled.
"Show him in, Jacobs. Yes; I'll see him."
A good-natured manner had Solomon Twist, at times.
A moment after, in walked Frank. Solomon Twist scanned
him from top to toe. He had jotted down all Frank's
characteristics in his mental note-book ere Frank had time to say
good morning. When he had finished, he said: "Glad to make
your acquaintance, Mr. Frank. You favour your father
wonderfully. I never saw such a likeness!"
Frank bowed in reply to this speech. He was not glad
personally, to make the acquaintance of Mr. Twist; and he would not
say he was.
"And now, sir," continued Solomon Twist, rubbing his hands
softly together, "what can I do for you? Want money?—eh?"
There was something so repugnant to Frank's feelings in the
question that he replied, rather curtly,―
"No, Mr. Twist; I do not want money. My business is of
"Indeed; and pray what may it be?"
Frank coloured painfully, and every nerve quivered with
shame, as he said―
"I came about my father."
"Oh, my friend Reginald! Ah, unpleasant circumstance,
very!" said Solomon Twist, carelessly.
Frank bowed his head a moment in terrible humiliation.
"Could you tell me," he asked, at length, what is the amount
of my father's liabilities?"
"Twelve thousand pounds."
He said it glibly; and getting up, stood before the fire, his
hands in his pockets.
"So much as that?" said Frank, sadly.
"Much! Well, I think the figures pretty low,
considering that Mr. Chauncey is a public man. Bless you! a
man must have debts. Hang me if he can help it," said Mr.
"Mr. Chauncey lived high, and gamed high," added he, as Frank
made no reply to the foregoing observation.
"Gambling debts, are they?" said Frank, hastily.
"Well, some of them. Not all."
Another pause of cruel humiliation. Then the clear,
brown eye of Frank Chauncey rested on the countenance of the Jewish
"Mr. Twist," said he, "do you know what has become of my
Solomon Twist shrugged his shoulders.
"A-hem! Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don't, Mr. Frank."
"Because," said Frank, earnestly, and with pathos, "he has a
wife. I have a mother, who is suffering all the tortures of
suspense. Surely this is unnecessary."
"Well, you see, in the first place, ladies are very
unreasonable. Why need she suffer?"
"Because she loves him. He is her husband," replied
Frank, with a simplicity at which Solomon Twist laughed in his
"Well?" said he.
"Well, it would be a great relief to her mind to have some
tidings of him, and to mine also," added Frank.
"Quite right and proper, young gentleman; but, you see, I am
not authorized to tell."
"But you will surely tell me, his son."
Mr. Twist shook his head.
"Not on any account, Mr. Frank. Mind, I highly respect
you, and am very sorry for the lady; but professional secrets never
pass my lips."
Frank thought of his mother, and sighed bitterly.
"At least," said he, rising, "one thing you will disclose to
me. Is there," and Frank spoke with feverish anxiety, "any
hope of my father's speedy return?"
Frank stared at him wildly.
"None whatever," repeated Mr. Twist. Should it be any
consolation to the lady, I will venture to assure her that her
husband is in safety; but as for his return, it would be folly to
"But she does expect it. She is looking for him every
hour," cried Frank, in a tone of deep distress.
"More's the pity," replied Mr. Twist; "for between ourselves,
Mr. Frank, he may never come at all!"
"May the good God help us!" cried Frank, distractedly; "it
will kill my mother!"
slowly home from his visit to the office of Solomon Twist. He
found his mother where he had left her, sitting at the window.
She got up as he came in, and tottering feebly towards him, threw
her arms round his neck.
"Frank, when—when will he come?"
"Mother," said Frank, trying to preface the intelligence as
best he could, "it is very unlikely that my father would run the
risk of being arrested. You forget that."
"Oh, no, I don't. He would think of me before he
thought of that. Where is he?"
Frank, tenderly as was possible, concealing every base
feature in the character of the man who was his father, and her
husband, told her the result of his interview with Mr. Twist.
How it was certain that, for the present at least, Reginald Chauncey
would not return. He put the best construction upon the act,
though in his secret heart he abhorred it. He told her that,
in a worldly point of view, his father's course was most prudent.
That he was scarcely likely to endure the odium of the thing, now it
was made public. That he might have gone among his friends,
and be soliciting their help. He had friends and partisans
that they knew not of. He might find means, since he was a man
of abundant resources, of extricating himself from his difficulties.
Better days would perhaps come—days of re-union and of freedom from
these cruel anxieties.
He thought his mother was listening to his representations,
and had grown somewhat calmer. Alas! she heard them not.
She had heard only one fatal declaration.
Her husband had deserted her. The man for whom she had
toiled so many years, and with whom she had borne so patiently, and
without a murmur. He was gone. He had left her exposed
to the pitiless storm alone.
She had tried to keep her skeleton from the eyes of thee
world; in one sense, she had succeeded but too well. The world
ignored her existence—it fawned at the feet of her husband.
To Frank's communication she answered not a single word.
She rose, a drear wan look was in her face—a look that
haunted Frank for many a day. She kissed him; her hand was
cold as marble. She had a shrunk, withered look, as if she had
suddenly grown some ten years older; then, with a kind of shiver,
she gathered her shawl about her, and still, without uttering a
syllable, quitted the room.
The bailiffs kept their word faithfully to Frank Chauncey.
They did not, as they had expressed it, "illconvenience the lady
The house was large, and the kitchen remote; and, plentifully
supplied with beer and with tobacco, they were civil and content.
Much, however, had to be done. A man, his pen in his
hand, and his ink-horn by his side, came and made an inventory of
the furniture from the top of the house to the bottom. There
was not much of it left, and what there was—as the man somewhat
disrespectfully observed—was "good for nothing." Still, every
bit of it would have to be sold, for the benefit of the creditors.
All this was infinitely distressing and humiliating to Frank.
After the auction he and his mother would have to turn out and shift
for themselves. But none of these things caused him such deep
and increasing anxiety as the state in which his mother was now
plunged. She had not taken to her bed, nor did she even keep
her room. She rose, as usual, the morning after Frank's
disclosure, and came down to breakfast. But, alas! it would
have touched the heart of even Reginald Chauncey had he beheld her.
She could not eat. In vain Frank placed the choicest morsels
before her. In vain he entreated her to make the effort.
"I can't, I can't," was all she said.
Frank called in medical assistance. He began to grow
alarmed. The doctor encouraged him by saying there was no
disease, and no reason why Mrs. Chauncey should not recover, if only
she could rally from her depression. "If!" ah! there was the
Frank knew it not, but the last fibre was giving way in that
loving, broken heart.
She lay on the sofa most part of the clay, only sitting up to
take food or medicine. Frank never left her. He was
young and sanguine, and he hoped against hope. He tried to
induce her to rally. He told her of his plans and projects,
and endeavoured to rouse her to talk, or even to smile. But
no, it was all in vain!
Sometimes, as she lay, her eyes were closed and her lips
faintly moving. Then, Frank held a reverential silence.
He knew that she was praying.
One day, it was getting towards the evening, she asked him to
read the Bible to her. He did so, and then—for the true
Christian is ever a priest unto God—he prayed with her. After
that be ministered to her daily.
Still, he had not surrendered all hope. He thought if
the immediate misery were over things would mend. The darkest
hour, he argued, is the one before the dawn. He wished to
remove her from the house, and to take her away to other scenes.
He mentioned several places, but she shook her head. She
seemed resolved to cling to her home to the last.
"Until I am carried out of it," whispered she.
It was the first allusion she had made to her approaching
death, and Frank's heart failed him as he heard it. He was
sitting by her in the twilight. A faint glimmer fell upon his
mother's face as she spoke. Words can scarcely express how
pinched and ghastly it looked. He sat by her in silence.
His heart was too full to allow him to utter a word. He was
racked with a keen and cruel anguish—an anguish such as he had never
before experienced. It was the fear lest his mother should be
taken from him!
Frank, affected even to tears, was wrestling with his own
heart lest he should give utterance to a sound which might disturb
the repose of the dear one before him, when suddenly she put out her
"Are you there, Frank?"
"Yes, mother, yes." And he was bending over her,
keeping back, as best he might, the surging tide of grief.
She drew him nearer. She had his hand in both of hers,
and her eyes were fixed upon him with the old wistful, yearning look
that touched him to the quick.
"Frank, if ever—and it may be so—if ever your father comes
back to you, will you promise me one thing, sacredly and on your
"I will, mother; I will."
"Should he return in distress—for he is not very prudent,
Frank: it is not his nature—will you receive him, dear? Will
you be kind and loving towards him? Will you share with him
what Providence gives you, and—and as much as in you lies, shield
him from disgrace?" She spoke the last words slowly and
painfully, as if they cost her somewhat.
"Mother," said Frank, his voice scarcely articulate, "I will
promise faithfully, and as before God! But surely you will
yourself, dear mother, be here. You will yourself receive—and
pardon him." He could not help the phrase; it slipped from him
She shook her head. "Not in this world, dear; it may be
yonder." And she pointed upward, her eyes fixed heavenward, as
in a kind of trance.
There was an interval of silence. Who knows what scenes
of light and glory were not opening up to the eyes of the dying
woman? for death is to such but the beginning of life.
At length she spoke again. "There is one more request,
and only one. If he should ever mention my name, and if he
should grieve for me"—she dwelt on the idea, as if it soothed
her—"tell him that I forgive him, and that I died praying for, and
blessing him." She was silent.
Frank, overwhelmed with a horrible grief and desolation,
faltered out his reply. Then he sank on his knees by the
couch. He knew that he would not long have a mother.
And it was so. The weary spirit had gone through its
last earthly conflict. Now, the moonlight flickered on the
face which was growing white and chill as marble.
There was a faint flutter, a sigh, and then the poor despised
wife of Reginald Chauncey was at rest for ever!
HE is a brave man
who defies to the teeth the hydra of public opinion; that is, if his
cause be a just one. Dionysius thought his cause was eminently
just. Was it not the vindication of innocence?
His first step was easy and simple, owing to the prompt,
business-like habits of Clara Melrose. She had already
communicated with her uncle's solicitor, and joint trustee with
Simon Crosskeys, touching the payment of the insurance.
This gentleman at once arranged the matter to her
satisfaction, so that nothing remained but to take up the money.
Dionysius Curling, as we know, had ridden over to Mansfield
to receive it on behalf of Clara Melrose. After the necessary
preliminaries had been gone through, the money was paid to him.
Two fifty-pound notes constituted the sole capital of the widow;
save, indeed, her learning and her industry.
The Vicar of Deepdale rode home in excellent spirits.
He had a soothing vision, all the way, of a sweet face at the
windows of the gloomy old house; and of a sweet voice giving him the
praise which he justly deserved.
He was not mistaken. The face of Clara Melrose did
appear, fair and innocent as ever, at the window. And, a
moment after, she met him in the hall, in a perfect glow of
"Oh, Mr. Curling, how good, how kind you are!"
Dionysius, pleased and flattered, took out his purse, and
delivered up the money. She received it thankfully, but with
"Ah! my poor uncle," said she, weeping. Then, when her
tears had dried up, which they did presently, she disclosed still
further the energy and promptitude of her nature.
The cottage, it appears, was partly furnished. She had
decided to take the furniture at a valuation; nay, indeed, had
already done so. Then she had, through the medium of Martha
Beck, found and hired a young girl, who was to constitute her whole
establishment for the present.
"Until I get my pupils," said she, smiling. And he had
scarcely digested all these facts, when she added another. She
intended to quit the vicarage that very day.
How it would be with her when she emerged from her
hiding-place, the mind of Dionysius was troubled to conjecture.
She seemed so surrounded by an atmosphere of innocence—innocence was
so stamped upon her brow—her manner and bearing bore such evidence
of it, that, after the first moment of grief and indignation she did
not appear to realise her position. Still, when she announced
her intention of quitting the vicarage, Dionysius knew that the
crisis was at hand. He did not say so. He clung, still,
to the hope that his lordly countenance of the widow would avail
much, even as regarded her arch foe, Simon Crosskeys.
The plan Clara Melrose had concocted was to take up her abode
in her new home that very night.
"I can go in the dusk of the evening," she said to Dionysius.
Her servant was already there, getting everything in
readiness for her reception. The house had been thoroughly
cleaned from top to bottom, and the arranging of the furniture could
be done at leisure. It was important for her to take her
departure as speedily as possible.
Dionysius knew why she shrank from going abroad in open
daylight. He knew, full well, why—that last day of her sojourn
in what had once been the home of her child- hood—her sweet face
looked so sad and so serious.
Alas! hers was a case of peculiar hardship and desolation.
Already the iron had entered into her soul.
She had left many friends behind at Deepdale; but not one had
been to inquire after, or to sympathize with, her. Save
Dionysius Curling, she did not seem to have a friend in the world.
It was evident that she felt this keenly; still she did not, as we
said before, realise it to the full. "I shall live it down,"
she kept repeating, "I shall live it down."
Toward evening Dionysius walked with her to the door of her
new house. The night was dark, and the streets deserted;
consequently, he had not to encounter the prejudiced eyes of
Deepdale. In silence and obscurity the widow went forth from
her refuge. Not a word was spoken on the way. She let
her veil down, so that her face was wholly concealed.
Dionysius knew that she was weeping; but he did not attempt, just
then, to console her. He was in grief himself. Coming
events cast their shadows before, and he feared that troublous times
were coming for them both.
When they reached the door of the cottage, she did not invite
him in. It was late, and she evidently wished to be alone.
When he wished her success, she thanked him in a voice that was full
of emotion, and then she said―
"Mr, Curling, there is one request I am about to make."
"Pray ask it," said Dionysius, eagerly and kindly.
"To-morrow is the Sabbath," said she, in a tone of great
seriousness. "I should wish to attend the service at church."
His heart gave a great bound; then it suddenly felt like a
"May I sit in my old place—in my dear uncle's pew?"
The vicarage pew! His pew!
The blood rushed to his face, as, in a moment, there before
him the assembled congregation of Deepdale! Face to face with
Clara Melrose! Yet how could he hesitate? He had thrown
down the gauntlet. As yet, he knew not who would take it up.
What could he say but that he should be very happy?
"Thank you," replied she. "Ah! it will be a trying
Sunday to me," added she, her eyes filling with tears.
When he was gone she went in and closed the door. She
seemed, at first, to be somewhat overwhelmed with the loneliness and
the forlornness of her situation. She sat down, and, covering
her face with her hands, wept till she could weep no more. She
might be thinking of her early happy days, of the peace and the love
that had once been hers, of the familiar faces whom death had
changed and sent away, of the dear voices hushed for ever. Or
she might be thinking of her uncertain and threatening future, and
of the fate that loomed darkly in the distance. And, Simon
Crosskeys would have said, of her guilt.
It is not ours to judge her. I only know that when she
retired to rest, some few hours afterwards, she knelt at her
bedside, her face upturned, her fair hair streaming about her, and
she prayed long and fervently.
AN UNPLEASANT SENSATION.
IT was a bright
and cheerful Sunday morning that followed the installation of Clara
Melrose in her new home. Probably—nay, certainly—there would
be an average gathering of people in the parish church at Deepdale.
To say that Dionysius Curling felt perfectly at his ease as
the hour for Divine service approached would be a mistake. He
was resolved to carry the thing fairly and manfully through.
He had not a single thought of retracing his steps. Still the
raid on public opinion was a somewhat dangerous one.
He walked to church in his usual slow and dignified manner;
his eyes, as was their accustomed habit, were fixed upon the ground:
not so much so, however, but that he could see the usual number of
his parishioners flocking to church. There was Simon
Crosskeys, and there was Nathanael Lewin, each with his wife.
There were the Landons, in their imperial chariot, from the Big
Countess even unto Phil. There were little groups of
ladies—the single women of Deepdale; and, lastly, there were the
labouring classes, of whom the congregation was mainly composed, and
whose attendance was, in part, owing to the wholesome discipline of
the Big Countess.
He was now in the reading-desk. The bell had ceased;
the service was about to begin. As yet, however, the vicarage
pew was empty—a relief, in spite of his chivalry, to the mind of
He grew somewhat calmer. Perhaps she might not come.
And if so, did it augur that she was guilty? Did she fear to
face her accusers
He had scarce dismissed this train of thought as irrelevant
to the time and place, and was giving his whole attention to the
service, when, lo! the latch of the great door was gently and
A small, slight figure, clad in crape and sable, entered.
The congregation were at that identical moment standing;
consequently everybody saw her. She walked up the aisle with a
firm step, her face wholly concealed by her veil.
On reaching the vicarage pew, the most conspicuous position
in the church, she knelt a few moments in prayer.
When she rose, the congregation were still standing.
She opened her book, and then, as if oppressed with heat or
faintness, she threw back her veil, and disclosed to the assembled
world of Deepdale the pale—and, as they esteemed them,
guilty—features of Clara Melrose!
I must not say a murmur went through the congregation.
It would not be correct. Such an outrage rarely occurs in an
English place of worship. Let public feeling be what it may,
respect is had to the sacredness of the spot. And it was so at
Deepdale. But a profound sensation ran, like an electric
chord, from the minister, whose heart was beating wildly beneath his
surplice, to the most obscure individual present. The
congregations felt itself outraged!
There was no defiance in the look of Clara Melrose—not any.
Sweet, serious, but very sad, was the countenance that appeared from
amid the sable mufflings of widowhood. Her innocent eyes
wandered, now and then, as if noting familiar objects and familiar
faces. Then, as if memory suggested thoughts too painful to be
endured, the eyes filled with tears. She wept.
"Crocodile's tears," said the people of Deepdale.
What passed through her mind during the hour of Divine
service is not for us to say. Certain it is she seemed, at
this juncture, not wholly to realize what would be her probable
fate. When the benediction was pronounced, and the
congregation dismissed, she came hurriedly forward, as if yearning
to be received to the arms of those whom she had known and loved
from her cradle. Many such were present that morning in the
parish church of Deepdale.
But friendship, although the ardour of young and
inexperienced minds invests it with a kind of immortal essence, is,
in fact, the most fragile thing on earth. No plant requires
more tender nurture, or will die so soon. Clara Melrose had no
friends, save, indeed, her newly-appointed champion, the vicar.
In the corner of the churchyard was a grassy mound, with a
neat railing placed round it. A plain headstone, with a simple
Scripture text, announced that here reposed the beloved remains of
the Rev. Philip Melrose. It was a grave watered by the tears
of the whole parish. Hither did Clara Melrose direct her
steps; not unnoticed—oh, no. Not a hand had been stretched out
to welcome her. Not a word of consolation had been dropped
from a single lip. But as she withdrew, heart-sick, it might
be, and desolate, evil eyes were watching her—evil tongues already
pronouncing her doom.
"She had gone to the grave to weep."
"This time to-morrow," said Simon Crosskeys, between his
clenched teeth, "that woman shall be where she deserves to be—in
SHE had gone to
the grave to weep. Her steps were hurried, like one
distracted; her face was pale as marble; her breathing short and
quick. She was agitated to her very centre. Her judges,
those who had condemned her, were gone away. Their cruel looks
no longer wounded and terrified her. She was alone with the
A rose-tree had been planted on the grassy mound. It
was bare and leafless now, but an immortelle was lying upon the
grave—an emblem of the unfailing wreaths of Paradise!
Meanwhile, the Vicar of Deepdale was walking quietly home.
His path did not lead him by the spot where Clara Melrose wept.
And had it done so, he would not have intruded on her sorrows.
He had not proceeded many steps ere he beheld an object that
diverted the current of his thoughts, and suggested not the most
agreeable reminiscences. Sitting astride upon a gravestone was
his quondam pupil, Phillimore Roderic Patrick Landon.
Dionysius had a vivid recollection of the muddy boots and the
shock of hair, and he felt no desire to renew the young gentleman's
acquaintance. In plain English, he mended his pace, in order
to get away from him. But he had not proceeded many steps,
when a voice called after him—"Mr. Curling!"
Dionysius, unable to do otherwise, stopped. His
lordship had dismounted, and was now within a few paces of him.
The shock of hair was in tolerable order, for the decencies of the
Sabbath were highly esteemed by the Big Countess, and her household
never failed to present a respectable appearance at church.
Consequently, Phil had rarely been seen to so much advantage by the
"Mr. Curling," he repeated, coming close up to Dionysius,
"what is that woman crying for?"
Dionysius stole a timid glance towards the spot where reposed
the ashes of the Rev. Philip Melrose.
"That lady," he replied, with all the stiffness and pomposity
of his nature,—"that lady is suffering from a combination of
unfortunate circumstances, that it would be quite impossible for me
"But what is she crying for?" asked Phil again, his piercing
eyes fixed upon Dionysius, as though he was not going to be trifled
Simple as the question was, it appeared to perplex Dionysius.
He glanced again at the gravestone; then his eyes roamed
through the churchyard, and finally rested with a troubled
expression on the countenance of Phil.
"Well?" said Phil, somewhat impatiently.
"My lord," replied Dionysius, driven to extremities, "the
lady is weeping, for one reason, because she has recently been
bereaved of a relative."
"Lost a friend, I suppose," said Phil, simplifying the worthy
"Exactly so, my lord," replied Dionysius, bowing.
"Oh! and what else is she crying for, Mr. Curling?"
"My lord, her circumstances are, I regret to say, in a state
of considerable embarrassment and difficulty," replied Dionysius."
"Wants money, I suppose." said Phil, again simplifying.
Dionysius looked extremely shocked. The words had such
a terrible sound in his ears.
"I am afraid she does, my lord," stammered he, in reply to
the piercing eyes of Phil.
Phil, however, whose conversational powers were very limited,
seemed to have elicited all the information he wanted.
Uttering an inarticulate sound, that alarmed Dionysius beyond
measure, be took to his usual mode of progression by turning head
over heals, until he again approached the gravestone from which he
Then, vaulting upon it with great celerity, he sat astride;
in which position, his hair like a mop and his eyes steadily fixed
on the widow, Dionysius left him.
"A mere savage—a creature without reflection, and almost
without reason," was the candid opinion of the Vicar of Deepdale.
Late that evening, just as his household had retired to rest,
there came a knock at the vicarage door.
Dionysius opened it, and lo! barely visible in the darkness,
was the stalwart figure of Simon Crosskeys.
Dionysius, a vague apprehension of evil stealing over him,
asked the farmer what he wanted. Simon had a stick in his
hand, the end of which he was probing into the ground, while he
"Mr. Curling, sir, I'm a going to the town to-morrow.
Happen you'll guess on what errand."
"Indeed?" replied Dionysius, speaking as calmly as he could,
but not without a slight tremor in his voice—"indeed, Mr.
"Yes, sir; I'm a man of my word, and it's my duty to see that
no thieves are harboured at Deepdale."
"On my word," began Dionysius, much incensed—but what he
would have said never reached the ears of Simon Crosskeys.
That redoubtable person was tramping noisily down the gravel walk,
and a few minutes after the swinging of the gate announced that he
had made his exit.
Dionysius closed the door, bolted it, and, going into his
study, wiped the drops of moisture from his forehead.
"Yes," said he, as if it were the result of foregoing
cogitations, "I see no other way open. I will do it at once."
He meant that he would appeal to the Big Countess.
THERE would not
be an hour to lose. Indeed, as the matter stood, Dionysius was
not sure that he should be in time. Simon Crosskeys rarely let
the grass grow under his feet.
The Vicar had lived long enough in Deepdale to become
acquainted with the absolute rule of the countess. Whether
that rule was strong enough to quell the murmurs of the populace
remained to be seen. He hoped it would prove so. If only
he had space and opportunity, he doubted not to establish the
innocence of Clara Melrose. Until that happy period, he would
endeavour to shield her from the malice of her persecutors.
"If Simon Crosskeys prevails, she will never raise her head
again," thought Dionysius.
The question was, at the present moment, how to get audience
of the countess. She was always accessible to her subjects.
She loved nothing so much as adjusting their disputes, and
overruling their affairs. To appeal to her judgment, or her
mercy, was no unusual proceeding at Deepdale. But it was late
in the evening, and it was Sunday. Yet to-morrow would be too
He had risen, and was slowly putting on his great-coat.
Come what might, he must go. Deepdale Manor kept late hours;
there was no fear that the countess would have retired to rest.
He, the vicar of Deepdale, was certain of admittance. He had
now fully equipped himself—his hat was on, and his stick in his
hand. True, his little establishment had gone to bed; but
there was the latch-key, he would use that.
Quietly letting himself out, he stepped forward in the
direction of the Manor.
He had been right in his conjecture—Landon Manor was wide
awake; and the countess, having presided at the tea-table, had now
retired to her boudoir.
Still, a visitor at that hour occasioned some surprise; and
the footman who opened the door stared hard at Dionysius. It
was the same footman who had figured upon a former occasion.
Dionysius sent in his card, and a verbal request to see the countess
on especial business.
The card was carried at once to her ladyship, who received it
"Show Mr. Curling up," replied she. "I will see him
It was a thing she rather liked, and was quite accustomed
She was standing when he entered—her colossal person looking
majestic in her Sunday robes of state. She generally stood
when she judged her subjects. Dionysius, somewhat flurried,
began to apologise for the intrusion.
"But, indeed," said he, quickly, "if I do not appeal to your
ladyship to-night, I fear my cause will be hopeless."
She smiled benignantly at the word appeal. He
had touched the right chord there.
"Sit down, Mr. Curling; pray sit down, and let me hear what
you have to say," replied she.
Dionysius sat down. He had planned a masterly and
elaborate speech, by which he was to dazzle the understanding of the
Big Countess, and which was to be the preface to what he had to
relate. But, his feelings making their way through the crust,
he found himself ignoring this work of art, and narrating, in simple
language, the affecting story of Clara Melrose.
Now the countess possessed an average amount of sensibility,
as well as of common sense, and might be supposed to enter into the
merits of the case with impartiality and with benevolence. But
Dionysius had held out a glittering bait, quite unconsciously to
himself, and she neither heard nor saw anything else. He had
dwelt on the erudition of Clara Melrose, and her proficiency in
Latin and Greek; he had coupled this with the fact that she wished
to open a school in Deepdale.
The eyes of the countess glittered as he made this remark.
Indeed, in her eagerness, she tried to interrupt him; but Dionysius
was not a man to be put aside. He would finish, and he did.
Then the Big Countess clasping her hands, burst forth by
saying, "Oh, Mr. Curling, and do ye think she could teach her Latin
and her Greek to Phil?"
Dionysius hesitated. Even now the vision of the muddy
boots, and the shock of hair, was not wholly obliterated; even now
he felt a kind of tremor as he recalled it.
"Indeed, if she makes Phil a scholar, there is not anything I
wouldn't do!" continued the countess, excitedly.
"Lady Landon," replied Dionysius, forced into the concession,
somewhat against his will, "I am certain if such a thing is possible
Mrs. Melrose can accomplish it."
The countess put out her large hand, and grasped that of
Dionysius so tight that the tears actually came into his eyes with
"Thank you, Mr. Curling, thank you for the word! Phil
shall go to her to-morrow."
"But, if your ladyship remembers," said Dionysius, getting
his hand at liberty, and surveying it with some concern, "Mr.
"Mr. Crosskeys won't," interrupted the countess, her face
radiant with delight. "You need not trouble yourself about
that, I'll settle Mr. Crosskeys for you."
"Thank your ladyship," replied Dionysius, from the bottom of
He would have liked to discuss the point of Clara Melrose's
innocence in all its bearings. But no such thing. The
Big Countess was far too much elated. The one desire of her
heart had been appealed to, and she could talk of nothing else but
the approaching scholarship of Phil. So vast a pinnacle did
she build up on the very slender foundation laid by Dionysius, that
he began to grow uneasy; and, in order to cut short the
conversation, rose to take his leave. His mission had
succeeded beyond his expectations.
"Not that Mrs. Melrose or Mrs. Anybodyelse can put a single
idea into the head of that young savage," thought Dionysius; "he is
beyond the skill of man or woman either. Yet we shall, at
least, have gained a reprieve, if her ladyship settles Simon
CROSSKEYS was not a bad
sort of man by any means; he was a good father, a kind husband, a
civil neighbour, and a most excellent farmer. Still, to look
at him, as he ground his teeth, and puckered up his bushy eyebrows,
and distorted every line in his face, you would have supposed that
envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness had especial place in
his breast. And indeed he was resolved upon the total
destruction of Clara Melrose.
"Root and branch!" said he to his wife, as he went to bed
that memorable Sunday evening—"root and branch!"
"Ah! she deserves all she gets," was the succinct response of
He got up betimes the next morning, and went about his
business with alacrity. He had a great deal to do, and many
hindrances occurred to prevent him from starting off as soon as he
intended; but he cleared them away one by one, and at length,
towards twelve o'clock, he was ready to depart.
His wife had brushed and laid out his Sunday clothes, and
Simon had "cleaned himself," as the saying is, and had put them on.
His horse and gig were at the gate, and, in a few minutes, he would
have been bowling along on the way towards Mansfield. A few
minutes have decided weightier matters thank this!
He was seated in the gig, the reins in his hands, and was
giving his last orders to the lad in attendance, when the trampling
of hoofs made him turn round to look. The carriage of the
Landons was coming full drive towards him. He was about to
start, in order to get out of the way, and also lest he should meet
with another hindrance; and he had touched his horse with the whip,
when the voice of the Big Countess came rolling majestically towards
"Mr. Crosskeys, I wish to speak to you."
Simon Crosskeys was annoyed. Not that he dared show it.
Oh, no! There was nothing for him but to dismount, which he
did reluctantly, and come to the side of the carriage. Her
ladyship sat there alone.
"Well, Mr. Crosskeys," said she, "and where are you setting
off to, in such a hurry, this morning?"
"I am going out on business, may it please your ladyship,"
replied Simon Crosskeys.
"Oh, indeed! Will you please open the carriage door?
I want to get out."
He did so, not with alacrity though, but with evident
The giant countess now stood on terra firma. "I'll step
in for a moment, Mr. Crosskeys, if you please," said she. He
did not please. He was in a fever of impatience to set off.
But there was no help for it. His hat in his hand, he led the
way to the house, muttering, as he did so, that he should have
started an hour ago if Joe Bennett had not chanced to come about his
litter of young pigs. "Instead of last Saturday, as he'd ought
to," said Simon Crosskeys, in an aggrieved tone.
The countess made no reply to this observation. She was
stalking along at a fine rate.
Very soon they reached the house, and Simon conducted her
into the same cold, clean parlour that had on a former occasion been
enlivened by the presence of Dionysius Curling. Here he placed
her a chair, and waited respectfully till she should disclose her
The countess preferred to remain standing, looking in a
literal sense, over Simon's head to the hard wall.
"Well, Mr. Crosskeys," said she, at length, quite placidly,
"I suppose you and I are about to fall out."
"My lady!—what?" gasped Simon, much terrified.
Such an idea would suggest ruin at least, to an inhabitant of
"Fall out—quarrel, I mean, Mr. Crosskeys," continued the
countess, still placidly, and settling her bracelet.
Simon's face was a picture of horror. "My lady, how can
we quarrel? What can we have to quarrel for?" exclaimed he.
"Very easily indeed," replied her ladyship, smiling, "if you
take up one side of a question and I take up the other. What
then, Simon Crosskeys?"
"Oh! but, my lady, I know my duty better than that. I
should never dream of opposing your ladyship," said the farmer,
every rood of whose land was held at the pleasure of the Big
"I am glad to hear it," said Lady Landon, drily; "and,
perhaps, as a proof of your obedience, you will have your horse
taken out of your gig, and stop at home."
"But, my lady," cried Simon Crosskeys, all his ire against
Clara Melrose boiling up in his breast. "I am going on urgent
business; so urgent that I shall not sleep in my bed till it is
"Go then, by all means," said the countess, ironically; "and
when you come back then we can begin to quarrel."
"But my lady, that woman!" began Simon Crosskeys, getting red
"Is innocent," said the Big Countess, solemnly.
"Innocent!" shrieked Simon Crosskeys, almost beside himself.
"Did not I tell you, Mr. Crosskeys, that you would take one
side of the question and that I should take the other?"
Simon, perplexed and aggravated beyond measure, thrust his
hand through his hair. The countess calmly looked over his
head to the wall.
"Mr. Crosskeys," said she, "the words have gone forth from my
lips. Mrs. Melrose is innocent. Hold your tongue"—for he
made a violent effort to speak—"hold your tongue, and listen to me.
Innocent she shall be; and if I can't silence the slanders of this
village it will be a strange thing indeed." She drew herself
up as she spoke to her extremest height.
Simon Crosskeys had never been in such a dilemma before.
What was he to do? To run full tilt on the countess would be
as much as his farm was worth.
She knew she had said enough. Already she was striding
towards the door, leaving Simon Crosskeys in all the agonies of fear
and disappointment. What, let Clara Melrose escape! frustrate
the ends of justice? No, no, for ever no!
"My lady," said he, thrusting himself before her, "if you
would allow me to explain――"
She waved her hand impatiently. "I want to see the
horse taken out of your gig, Simon Crosskeys."
Simon groaned bitterly. He stepped aside by compulsion;
otherwise it appeared as if the countess would have walked over him.
She ascended her carriage with the air of an autocrat. Simon,
as custom strictly enjoined that he should, held open the door.
To bandy words with a subject was not the custom of her ladyship.
She smiled in the face of the discomfited farmer; waved her hand
slightly, and drove off.
He stood with a countenance as rueful as any in the kingdom.
His lips muttered, and the lump in his throat moved up and down with
rapidity. Again and again he passed his hand through his hair,
a gesture denoting the extremest perplexity. Very slowly he
walked towards his gig. Taking the bridle from the hand of the
lad, he sent him about his business. Then he patted the
horse's neck, and pretended to adjust the harness. Next, and
with many pauses, and extreme reluctance, he took off the bridle;
then, after a few groans and shakes of the head, he loosened the
tackle. The horse being now at liberty, he led him into the
stable, and having disposed of the harness, came back and wheeled
the gig into the coach-house. Having so far complied with the
wish of the countess, he crept softly upstairs, divested himself of
his Sunday clothes, and put on his usual working apparel.
Next, and last, he set off into the fields, where he remained the
best part of the day. So effectually had the countess
settled Simon Crosskeys!