Isa Craig: 'Deepdale Vicarage' (2)

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CHAPTER XIII.

THE DEFENCE.


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 in obscurity.

    "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 Mr. Melrose."

    "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 scourge―consumption?"

    "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 affected.

    "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 far—"

    Again she wept.  There was something irresistibly touching in her sorrow.

    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. Crosskeys."

    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 life!"

    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 to do?

    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 were destitute."

    "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 trustee."

    "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 strength.

    Dionysius, all his fears revived, hurried into the ante-room to Martha Beck.

    "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 idiot!"


 
CHAPTER XIV.

"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 on below.

    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 Frank's opportunity.

    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 Deepdale Manor."

    "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 mantelpiece.

    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.


 
CHAPTER XV.

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 humanity.

    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 capabilities.

    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 friend.

    This theme having insidiously forced its way into Frank's mind, he rose and resolved to shake it off by some more profitable employment.

    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 energies.

    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 hypochondriacal.

    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."

    "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 foundation."

    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――


MY DEAR 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,                                  
R
EGINALD CHAUNCEY.              


 
CHAPTER XVI.

THE VICAR BROUGHT TO THE POINT.


FOR three 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 Mrs. Melrose.

    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 reverie already.

    "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 significance―

    "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 replied―

    "I intend to do nothing at all."

    "Sir?"

    Simon Crosskeys had not heard that observation with sufficient correctness.

    "I intend to take no step whatever," repeated Dionysius, in a firm, intelligible voice.

    "No?"

    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. Curling?"

    "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 it."

    "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 derisively.

    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 manner.

    "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 Crosskeys withdrew.


 
CHAPTER XVII.

"A WONDERFUL WOMAN."


DIONYSIUS 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 drawing-room.

"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. Curling—never!"

"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 extraordinary stiffness.

"Well?" said Clara Melrose, interrogatively.

"Madam!--There has been some little mistake," stammered the unhappy Dionysius.

"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 tolerable comfort."

"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 read?"

There was such a charming simplicity in the manner of the request that Dionysius said, with fervour, "Indeed, madam, I shall be delighted."

She took the book in her taper fingers, and a tinge of colour rising to her cheek, partly from excitement, partly from timidity, she began.

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!"


 
CHAPTER XVIII.

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 languages.

    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 fascinated,

    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, sir?"

    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 Greek."

    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!"

    "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 authority.

    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 her features.

    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 foot.

    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 Dionysius shivered.

    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 guilty?"

    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!"


 
CHAPTER XIX.

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 few paces.

    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 Deepdale.

    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 confidence.

    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, Mr. Curling?"

    "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.


 
CHAPTER XX.

THE BAILIFFS IN THE HOUSE.


MRS. 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 it?"

    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 agitated.

    "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 the two.

    "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 them.

    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?"

    "Yes."

    "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.


 
CHAPTER XXI.

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 with difficulty.

    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 coward, Frank."

    "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 child.

    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 suffered.

    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 Chauncey's wife.

    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 yet?"

    "No, mother."

    "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 you know?"

    "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!


 
CHAPTER XXII.

"£12,000."


THE offices of Reginald Chauncey's lawyer were situated in a paved court, close by the market-place.

    The name of the lawyer was Solomon Twist.  He did a pretty extensive business of a certain kind, both in town and country.

    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 another nature."

    "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. Twist, good-naturedly.

    "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 practitioner.

    "Mr. Twist," said he, "do you know what has become of my father?"

    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 sleeve.

    "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?"

    "None whatever."

    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 expect it."

    "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!"


 
CHAPTER XXIII.

AT REST.


FRANK walked 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 noway."

    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 difficulty.

    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 hand.

    "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 honour?"

    "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 unawares.

    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!


 
CHAPTER XXIV.

A REMOVAL.


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 gratitude.

    "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 tears.

    "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 stone.

    "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.


 
CHAPTER XXV.

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 Dionysius Curling.

    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 noiselessly raised.

    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 gaol!"


 
CHAPTER XXVI.

A THREAT.


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 dead.

    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 vicar.

    "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 to explain."

    "But what is she crying for?" asked Phil again, his piercing eyes fixed upon Dionysius, as though he was not going to be trifled with.

    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 vicar's language.

    "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 had dismounted.

    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 said—

    "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. Crosskeys?"

    "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.


 
CHAPTER XXVII.

THE APPEAL.


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 late.

    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 graciously.

    "Show Mr. Curling up," replied she.  "I will see him here."

    It was a thing she rather liked, and was quite accustomed to—especial business.

    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 the pain.

    "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. Crosskeys will―"

    "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 his heart.

    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."


 
CHAPTER XXVIII.

"SETTLED."


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 his wife.

    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 him.

    "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 sulkiness.

    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 errand.

    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 Deepdale.

    "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 Countess.

    "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 carried out."

    "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 and excited.

    "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!



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