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Title: Cripps, The Carrier: A Woodland Tale (1876)
Author: Richard Doddridge Blackmore
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000361.txt
Language: English
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Title: Cripps, The Carrier: A Woodland Tale (1876)
Author: Richard Doddridge Blackmore


CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I.  THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY

II.  THE SWING OF THE PICKAXE

III.  OAKLEAF POTATOES

IV.  CRIPPS IN A QUANDARY

V.  A RIDE THROUGH THE SNOW

VI.  THE PUBLIC OF THE "PUBLIC"

VII.  THE BEST FOOT FOREMOST

VIII.  BALDERDASH

IX.  CRIPPS IN AFFLICTION

X.  ALL DEAD AGAINST HIM

XI.  KNOCKER VERSUS BELL-PULL

XII.  MR. JOHN SMITH

XIII.  MR. SMITH IS ACTIVE

XIV.  SO IS MR. SHARP

XV.  A SPOTTED DOG

XVI.  A GRAND SMOCK-FROCK

XVII.  INSTALLED AT BRASENOSE

XVIII.  A FLASH OF LIGHT

XIX.  A STORMY NIGHT

XX.  CRIPPS DRAWS THE CORK

XXI.  CINNAMINTA

XXII.  A DELICATE SUBJECT

XXIII.  QUITE ANOTHER PAIR OF SOCKS!

XIV.  SUO SIBI BACULO

XXV.  MISS PATCH

XXVI.  RUTS

XXVII.  RATS

XXVIII.  BOOTS ON

XXIX.  A SPIDER'S DINNER-PARTY

XXX.  THE FIRE-BELL

XXXI.  THROW PHYSIC TO THE DOGS

XXXII.  CRIPPS ON CELIBACY

XXXIII.  KIT

XXXIV.  A WOOLHOPIAN

XXXV.  NIGHTINGALES

XXXVI.  MAY MORN

XXXVII.  MAY-DAY

XXXVIII.  THE DIGNITY OF THE FAMILY

XXXIX.  A TOMBSTONE

XL.  LET ME OUT

XLI.  REASON AND UNREASON

XLII.  MEETING THE COACH

XLIII.  THE MOTIVE

XLIV.  THE MANNER

XLV.  THE POSITION

XLVI.  IN THE MESHES

XLVII.  COMBINED WISDOM

XLVIII.  MASCULINE ERROR

XLIX.  PROMETHEUS VINCTUS

L.  FEMININE ERROR

LI.  UNFILIAL

LII.  UNPATERNAL

LIII.  "THIS WILL DO"

LIV.  CRIPPS BRINGS HOME THE CROWN

LV.  SMITH TO THE RESCUE

LVI.  FATAL ACCIDENT TO THE CARRIER




CRIPPS, THE CARRIER



CHAPTER I

THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY


The little village of Beckley lies, or rather lay many years ago,
in the quiet embrace of old Stow Wood, well known to every Oxford
man who loves the horn or fusil.  This wood or forest (now broken
up into many straggling copses) spread in the olden time across
the main breadth of the highland to the north of Headington,
between the valley of the Cherwell and the bogs of Otmoor.
Beckley itself, though once approached by the Roman road from
Alchester, must for many a century have nursed its rural quietude,
withdrawn as it was from the stage-waggon track from High Wycombe
to Chipping Norton, through Wheatley, Islip, and Bletchingdon, and
lying in a tangle of narrow lanes leading only to one another.  So
Beckley took that cheerful view of life which enabled the fox to
disdain the blandishments of the vintage, and prided itself on its
happy seclusion and untutored honesty.

But as all sons of Adam must have something or other to say to the
rest, and especially to his daughters, this little village carried
on some commerce with the outer world; and did it through a
carrier.

The name of this excellent man was Cripps; and the Carrier's
mantle, or woolsey coat, had descended on this particular Cripps
from many generations.  All the Cripps family had a habit of
adding largely to their number in every generation.  In this they
resembled most other families which have to fight the world, and
therefore recruit their forces zealously; but in one great point
they were very distinct--they agreed among one another.  And ever
since roads were made, or rather lanes began trying to make
themselves, one great tradition had confirmed the dynasty of
Crippses.

This was that the eldest son should take the carrying business;
the second son (upon first avoidance) should have the baker's shop
in Oxford over against old Balliol College; the third should have
the queer old swine-farm in the heart of Stow Forest; the fourth
should be the butcher of Beckley, and the fifth its shoemaker.  If
ever it pleased the Lord to proceed with the masculine fork of the
family (as had happened several times), the sixth boy and the rest
were expected to start on their travels, when big enough.  As for
the girls, the Carrier, being the head of the family, and holding
the house and the stable and cart, was bound to take the maids,
one by one, to and fro under his tilt twice a week, till the
public fell in love with them.

Now, so many things come cross and across in the countless ins and
outs of life, that even the laws of the Crippses failed sometimes,
in some jot or tittle.  Still there they stuck, and strong cause
was needed ere they could be departed from.  Of course the side-
shoots of the family (shoemakers' sons, and so on) were not to be
bound by this great code, however ambitious to be so.  To deal
with such rovers is not our duty.  Our privilege is to trace the
strict succession of the Crippses, the deeds of the Carrier now on
the throne and his second best brother, the baker, with a little
side-peep at the man on the farm, and a shy desire to be very
delicate to the last unmarried "female."

The present head of the family, Zacchary Cripps, the Beckley
carrier, under the laws of time (which are even stricter than the
Cripps' code), was crossing the ridge of manhood towards the
western side of forty, without providing the due successor to the
ancestral driving-board.  Public opinion was already beginning to
exclaim at him; and the man who kept the chandler's shop, with a
large small family to maintain, was threatening to make the most
of this, and set up his own eldest son on the road; though "dot
and carry one" was all he knew about the business.  Zacchary was
not a likely man to be at all upset by this; but rather one of a
tarrying order, as his name might indicate.

Truly intelligent families living round about the city of Oxford
had, and even to this day have, a habit of naming their male
babies after the books of the Bible, in their just canonical
sequence; while infants of the better sex are baptized into the
Apocrypha, or even the Epistles.  So that Zacchary should have
been "Genesis," only his father had suffered such pangs of mind at
being cut down, by the ever-strengthening curtness of British
diction, into "Jenny Cripps," that he laid his thumb to the New
Testament when his first man-child was born to him, and finding a
father in like case, quite relieved of responsibility, took it for
a good sign, and applied his name triumphantly.

But though the eldest born was thus transferred into the New
Testament, the second son reverted to the proper dispensation;
and the one who went into the baker's shop was Exodus, as he
ought to be.  The children of the former Exodus were turned out
testamentarily, save those who were needed to carry the bread out
till their cousin's boys should be big enough.

All of these doings were right enough, and everybody approved of
them.  Leviticus Cripps was the lord of the swine, and Numbers
bore the cleaver, while Deuteronomy stuck to his last, when the
public-house could spare him.  There was only one more brother of
the dominant generation, whose name was "Pentachook," for
thus they pronounced the collective eponym, and he had been
compendiously kicked abroad, to seek his own fortune, right early.

But as for the daughters (who took their names from the best women
of the Apocrypha, and sat up successively under the tilt until
they were disposed of), for the moment it is enough to say that
all except one were now forth and settled.  Some married farmers,
some married tradesmen, one took a miller's eldest son, one had a
gentleman more or less, but all with expectations.  Only the
youngest was still in the tilt, a very pretty girl called Esther.

All Beckley declared that Esther's heart had been touched by a
College lad, who came some five years since to lodge with Zacchary
for the long vacation, and was waited on by this young girl,
supposed to be then unripe for dreaming of the tender sentiment.
That a girl of only fifteen summers should allow her thoughts to
stray, contrary to all common sense and her duty to her betters,
for no other reason (to anybody's knowledge) than that a young man
ate and drank with less noise than the Crippses, and went on about
the moonlight and the stars, and the rubbishy things in the hedges--
that a child like that should know no better than to mix what a
gentleman said with his inner meaning--put it right or left, it
showed that something was amiss with her.  However, the women
would say no more until it was pulled out of them.  To mix or
meddle with the Crippses was like putting one's fingers into a
steel trap.

With female opinion in this condition, and eager to catch at
anything, Mrs. Exodus Cripps, in Oxford, was confined rather
suddenly.  She had kneaded a batch of two sacks of flour, to put
it to rise for the morning, and her husband (who should not
have let her do it) was smoking a pipe, and exciting her.
Nevertheless, it would not have harmed her (as both the doctor and
the midwife said) if only she had kept herself from arguing while
about it.  But, somehow or other, her husband said a thing she
could not agree with, and the strength of her reason went the
other way, and it served him right that he had to rush off in his
slippers to the night-bell.

On the next day, although things were quite brought round, and the
world was the richer by the addition of another rational animal,
Mr. Exodus sent up the crumpet-boy all the way from Broad Street
in Oxford to Beckley, to beg and implore Miss Esther Cripps to
come down and attend to the caudle.  And the crumpet-boy, being
short of breath, became so full of power that the Carrier scarcely
knew what to do in the teeth of so urgent a message.  For he had
made quite a pet of his youngest sister, and the twenty years of
age betwixt them stopped the gap of rivalry.  It was getting quite
late in the afternoon when the crumpet-boy knocked at the
Carrier's door, because he had met upon Magdalen Bridge a boy who
owed him twopence; and eager as he was to fulfil his duty, a sense
of justice to himself compelled him to do his best to get it.  His
knowledge of the world was increased by the failure of this
Utopian vision, for the other boy offered to toss him "double or
quits," and having no specie, borrowed poor Crumpy's last penny to
do it; then, being defeated in the issue, he cast the young
baker's cap over the bridge, and made off at fine speed with his
coin of the realm.  What other thing could Crumpy do than attempt
to outvie his activity?  In a word, he chased him as far as
Carfax, with well-winged feet and sad labour of lungs, but Mercury
laughed at Astræa, and Crumpy had a very distant view of
fivepence.  Recording a highly vindictive vow, he scratched his
bare head, and set forth again, being further from Beckley than at
his first start.

It certainly was an unlucky thing that the day of the week should
be Tuesday--Tuesday, the 19th of December, 1837.  For Zacchary
always had to make his rounds on a Wednesday and a Saturday, and
if he were to drive his poor old Dobbin into Oxford on a Tuesday
evening, how could he get through his business to-morrow?  For
Dobbin insisted on a day in stable whenever he had been in Oxford.
He was full of the air of the laziest place, and perhaps the most
delightful, in the world.  He despised all the horses of low
agriculture after that inspiration, and he sighed out sweet grunts
at the colour of his straw, instead of getting up the next
morning.

Zacchary Cripps was a thoughtful man, as well as a very kind-
hearted one.  In the crown of his hat he always carried a monthly
calendar gummed on cardboard, and opposite almost every day he had
dots, or round O's, or crosses.  Each of these to his very steady
mind meant something not to be neglected; and being (as time went)
a pretty fair scholar--ere School Boards destroyed true
scholarship--with the help of his horse he could make out nearly
every place he had to call at.  So now he looked at the crumpet-
boy, to receive and absorb his excitement, and then he turned to
young Esther, and let her speak first, as she always liked to do.

"Oh, please to go back quite as fast as you can," said Esther to
the Crumpy, "and say that I shall be there before you; or, at any
rate, as soon as you are.  And, Crumpy, there ought to be
something for you.  Dear Zak, have you got twopence?"

"Not I," said the Carrier, "and if I had, it would do him a deal
more harm than good.  Run away down the hill, my lad, and you come
to me at the Golden Cross, perhaps as soon as Saturday, and I'll
look in my bag for a halfpenny.  Run away, boy; run away, or the
bogies will be after you."



CHAPTER II

THE SWING OF THE PICKAXE


The baker's boy felt that his luck was askew upon this day of his
existence, for Carrier Cripps was vexed so much at this sudden
demand for his sister that he never even thought of asking the boy
to have a glass of home-brewed ale.

"Zak, what made you send the boy away?" Esther asked, when she
came downstairs, with her bonnet and short cloak on.  "Of course,
I am very foolish; but he would have been some little company."

"There, now, I never thought of it!  I am doiled, a do believe,
sometimes.  Tramp with you to the Bar mysell, I wull.  Sarve me
right for a-doin' of it."

"Indeed, then, you won't," she answered firmly.  "There's a hard
day's work for you, Zak, to-morrow, with all the Christmas
parcels, and your touch of rheumatics so bad last week."

"Why, bless the cheeld, I be as hearty as ever!"

"Of course you are, Zak; of course you are, and think nought of a
sack of potatoes.  But if you declare to come with me one step,
backward is the only step I take."

"Well, well," said the Carrier, glad on the whole to escape a long
walk and keep conscience clear; "when you say a thing, Etty, what
good is it?  Round these here parts none would harm 'ee.  And none
of they furriners be about just now."

"Good-night, Zak, good-night, dear," cried Esther, to shorten
departure, for Cripps was a man of a slow turn of mind, and might
go on for an hour or two; "I shall sleep there to-night, of
course, and meet you at the Golden Cross to-morrow.  When had I
best be there?"

"Well, you know better than I do.  It might be one o'clock, or it
might be two, or it might be half-past three a'most.  All you have
to do is this--to leave word at the bar with Sally Brown."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," she answered; "I don't like
bars, and I don't like Miss Brown.  I shall look in the yard for
the cart, brother."

"You'll do pretty much as you like.  That much a may be cock-sure
of."  But before he could finish his exposition of his sister's
character, she was out of sight; and he dropped his grumble, and
doubted his mind about letting her go.  Nor that any one at all of
the neighbourhood would hurt her; but that there had been much
talk about a camp of dark-skinned people in Cowley Marsh, not long
ago.  Therefore he laid his palm flat from his eyebrows, to follow
the distance further; and seeing no more than the hedges of the
lane (now growing in the cold wind naked) and the track of the
lane (from wet mud slaking into light-coloured crustiness),
without any figures, or sound, or shadow, or sense of life moving
anywhere--he made for the best side of his cottage-door, and
brightened up the firelight.

The weather had been for some few weeks in a good constitutional
English state; that is to say, it had no settled tendency towards
anything.  Or at any rate, so it seemed to people who took little
heed of it.  There had been a little rain, and then a little snow,
and a touch of frost, and then a sample of fog, and so on: trying
all varieties, to suit the British public.  True Britons, however,
had grumbled duly at each successive overture; so that the winter
was now resolving henceforth only to please itself.  And this
determined will was in the wind, the air, and the earth itself,
just when night began to fall on this dark day of December.

As Esther turned the corner from the Beckley lane into the road,
the broad coach road to Oxford, she met a wind that knew its mind
coming over the crest of Shotover, a stern east wind that whistled
sadly over the brown and barren fields, and bitterly piped in the
roadway.  To the chill of this blast the sere oak-leaves shivered
in the dusk and rattled; the grey ash saplings bent their naked
length to get away from it; and the surly stubs of the hedge went
to and fro to one another.  The slimy dips of the path began to
rib themselves, like the fronds of fern, and to shrink into
wrinkles and sinewy knobs; while the broader puddles, though
skirred by the breeze, found the network of ice veiling over them.
This, as it crusted, began to be capable of a consistent
quivering, with a frail infinitude of spikelets, crossing and yet
carrying into one another.  And the cold work (marred every now
and then by the hurry of the wind that urged it) in the main was
going on so fast, that the face of the water ceased to glisten,
and instead of ruffling lifted, and instead of waving wavered.  So
that, as the surface trembled, any level eye might see little
splinters (held as are the ribs and harl of feathers) spreading,
and rising like stems of lace, and then with a smooth, crisp
jostle sinking, as the wind flew over them, into the quavering
consistence of a coverlet of ice.

Esther Cripps took little heed of these things, or of any other in
the matter of weather, except to say to herself now and then how
bitter cold the wind was, and that she feared it would turn to
snow, and how she longed to be sitting with a cup of "Aunt Exie's"
caudle in the snug room next to the bakehouse, or how glad she
would be to get only as far as the first house of St. Clement's,
to see the lamps and the lights in the shops, and be quit of this
dreary loneliness.  For now it must be three market days since
fearful rumours began to stir in several neighbouring villages,
which made even strong men discontent with solitude towards
nightfall; and as for the women--just now poor Esther would rather
not think of what they declared.  It was all very well to pretend
to doubt it while hanging the clothes out, or turning the mangle;
but as for laughing out here in the dark, and a mile away from the
nearest house--Good Lord!  How that white owl frightened her!

Being a sensible and brave girl, she forced her mind as well as
she could into another channel, and lifted the cover of the basket
in which she had some nice things for "Aunt Exie," and then she
set off for a bold little run, until she was out of breath, and
trembling at the sound of her own light feet.  For though all the
Crippses were known to be of a firm and resolute fibre, who could
expect a young maid like this to tramp on like a Roman sentinel?

And a lucky thing for her it was that she tried nothing of the
sort, but glided along with her heart in her mouth, and her short
skirt tucked up round her.  Lucky also for her that the ground
(which she so little heeded, and so wanted to get over) was in
that early stage of freezing, or of drying to forestall frost, in
which it deadens sound as much as the later stage enlivens it,
otherwise it is doubtful whether she would have seen the Christmas-
dressing of the shops in Oxford.

For, a little further on, she came, without so much as a cow in
the road or a sheep in a field for company, to a dark narrow
place, where the way hung over the verge of a stony hollow, an
ancient pit which had once been worked as part of the quarries of
Headington.  This had long been of bad repute as a haunted and ill-
omened place; and even the Carrier himself, strong and resolute as
he was, felt no shame in whispering when he passed by in the
moonlight.  And the name of the place was the "Gipsy's Grave."
Therefore, as Esther Cripps approached it, she was half inclined
to wait and hide herself in a bush or gap until a cart or waggon
should come down the hill behind her, or an honest dairyman
whistling softly to reassure his shadow, or even a woman no braver
than herself.

But neither any cart came near, nor any other kind of company,
only the violence of the wind, and the keen increase of the frost-
bite.  So that the girl made up her mind to put the best foot
foremost, and run through her terrors at such a pace that none of
them could lay hold of her.

Through yards of darkness she skimmed the ground, in haste only to
be rid of it, without looking forward, or over her shoulders, or
anywhere, when she could help it.  And now she was ready to laugh
at herself and her stupid fears, as she caught through the trees a
glimpse of the lights of Oxford, down in the low land, scarcely
more than a mile and a half away from her.  In the joy of relief
she was ready to jump and pant without fear of the echoes, when
suddenly something caught her ears.

This was not a thing at first to be at all afraid of, but only
just enough to rouse a little curiosity.  It seemed to be nothing
more nor less than the steady stroke of a pickaxe.  The sound came
from the further corner of the deserted quarry, where a crest of
soft and shingly rock overhung a briary thicket.  Any person
working there would be quite out of sight from the road, by reason
of the bend of the hollow.

The blow of the tool came dull and heavy on the dark and frosty
wind; and Esther almost made up her mind to run on, and take no
heed of it.  And so she would have done, no doubt, if she had not
been a Cripps girl.  But in this family firm and settled opinions
had been handed down concerning the rights of property--the rights
that overcome all wrongs, and outlive death.  The brother
Leviticus of Stow Wood had sown a piece of waste at the corner of
the clevice with winter carrots for his herd of swine.  The land
being none of his thus far, his right so to treat it was not
established, and therefore likely to be attacked by any rapacious
encroacher.  Esther felt all such things keenly, and resolved to
find out what was going on.

To this intent she gathered in the skirt of her frock and the
fulling of her cloak, and fending the twigs from her eyes and
bonnet, quietly slipped through a gap in the hedge.  For she knew
that a steep track, trodden by children in the blackberry season,
led from this gap to the deep and tangled bottom of the quarry.
With care and fear she went softly down, and followed the curve of
the hollow.

The heavy sound of the pickaxe ceased, as she came near and
nearer, and the muttering of rough voices made her shrink into a
nook and listen.

"Tell 'ee, I did see zummat moving," said a man, whom she could
dimly make out on the beetling ridge above her, by the light of
the clearing eastern sky; "a zummat moving down yonner, I tell
'ee."

"No patience, I han't no patience with 'ee," answered a taller man
coming forward, and speaking with a guttural twang, as if the roof
of his mouth were imperfect.  "Skeary Jem is your name and nature.
Give me the pick if thee beest aveared.  Is this job to be
finished to-night, or not?"

The answer was only a growl or an oath, and the swing of the tool
began again, while Esther's fright grew hot, and thumped in her
heart, and made her throat swell.  It was all she could do to keep
quiet breath, and prevent herself from screaming; for something
told her that she was watching a darker crime than theft of roots
or robbery of a sheepfold.

In a short or a long time--she knew not which--as she still lay
hid and dared not show her face above the gorse-tuft, a sound of
sliding and falling shale heavily shook her refuge.  She drew
herself closer, and prayed to the Lord, and clasped her hands
before her eyes, and cowered, expecting to be killed at least.
And then she peeped forth, to know what it was about.  She never
had harmed any mortal body; why should she be frightened so?

In the catch of the breath which comes when sudden courage makes
gulp at uncertainty, she lifted herself by a stiff old root, to
know the very worst of it.  Better almost to be killed and be done
with, than bear the heart-pang of this terrible fear.  And there
she saw a thing that struck her so aback with amazement, that
every timid sense was mute.

Whether the sky began to shed a hovering light, or the girl's own
eyes spread and bred a power of vision from their nervous dilation--
at any rate, she saw in the darkness what she had not seen till
now.  It was the body of a young woman (such a body as herself
might be), lying, only with white things round it, in the black
corner, with gravel and earth and pieces of rock rolling down on
it.  There was nothing to frighten a sensible person now that the
worst was known perhaps.  Everybody must be buried at some time.
Why should she be frightened so?

However, Esther Cripps fell faint, and lay in that state long
enough for tons of burying rock to fall, and secret buryers to
depart.



CHAPTER III

OAKLEAF POTATOES


"Of all slow people in this slow place, I am quite certain that
there is none so slow as Cripps, the Carrier."

This "hot spache," as the patient Zacchary would perhaps have
called it, passed the lips of no less a person than old Squire
Oglander.  He, on the 20th day of December (the day after that we
began with), was hurrying up and down the long straight walk of
his kitchen garden, and running every now and then to a post of
vantage, from which he could look over the top of his beloved
holly hedge, and make out some of the zigzags of the narrow lane
from Beckley.  A bitter black frost had now set in, and the Squire
knew that if he wanted anything more fetched out of his ground, or
anything new put into it, it might be weeks before he got another
chance of doing it.  So he made a good bustle, and stamped, and
ran, and did all he could to arouse his men, who knew him too well
to concern themselves about any of his menaces.

"I tell you we are all caught napping, Thomas.  I tell you we
ought to be ashamed of ourselves.  The frost is an inch in the
ground already.  Artichokes, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, even
horse-radish for our Christmas beef--and upon my soul, a row of
potatoes never even dug yet!  Unless I am after you at every
corner--well, I am blessed if I don't see our keeping onions!"

"Now, measter, 'ee no call to be so grum!  None of they things 'll
be a haporth the worse.  The frost 'll ony swaten 'em."

"You zany, I know all your talk.  Hold your tongue.  Not a glass
of beer will I send out, if this is all I get for it.  Sweeten
them, indeed!  And when we want them, are we to dig them with
mattocks, pray?  Or do you thick-heads expect it to thaw to order,
when the pot is bubbling?  Stir your lazy legs, or I'll throw
every one of you on the workhouse the moment the first snow
falls."

The three men grinned at one another, and proceeded leisurely.
They knew much better than the Squire himself what his gentle
nature was, and that he always expiated a scolding with a jug of
beer.

"Man and boy," said the eldest of them, speaking below his breath,
as if this tyranny had extinguished him; "in this here gearden
have I worked, man and boy, for threescore year, and always gi'en
satisfaction.  Workuss!  What would his father a' said, to hear
tell in this gearden of workuss?  Workuss!  Well, let un coom, if
a will!  Can't be harder work, God knoweth."

"Tummuss, Tummuss, you may say that," said another lazy rascal,
shaking his head, with his heel on his spade, and then wiping his
forehead laboriously.  "'Tis the sweat of our brow, Tummuss, none
of 'em thinks on--but there, they was born to be driving of us!"

Squire Oglander made as if he heard them not; and then he hurried
to the hedge again, and stood on the wall of the leaf-mould pit,
and peered over the beard of hollies.  And this time he spied in
the distance Cripps, or at any rate the tilt of the Crippsian
cart, jogging sedately to the rhythm of the feet of Dobbin.

"Hurrah!" cried the Squire, who was still as young in mind as if
he had no body.  "By George, we shall be just in time.  Never mind
what I said, my lads.  I was a little bit cross, I know.  Take out
the crumbs from the bottom of your trenches, and go two inches
deeper.  Our new potatoes are come at last!  Mary, come out with a
gallon of ale."

Squire Oglander, having retired now from the army and all warfare,
was warmly devoted to the arts of peace.  Farming, planting,
gardening, breeding, training of dogs, and so on--all of these
quiet delights fell softly on a very active mind, when the vigour
of the body began to fail.  He loved his farm, and he loved his
garden, and all his attempts at improvement, and nothing better
than to point out his own mistakes to rash admirers.  But where is
the pleasure of showing things to strangers who know nothing?  The
old man's grand delight of all was to astonish his own daughter,
his only child, Grace Oglander.

This it was that made him work so hard at the present moment.  He
was determined to have his kitchen garden in first-rate winter
order by the time his daughter should come home from a visit to
her aunt at Cowley.  Now this sister, Mrs. Fermitage, had promised
to bring home their joint pet Gracie in time for the dinner at
five o'clock that very day, and to dine there with them; so that
it was needful to look alive, and to make quick step of
everything.  Moreover, this good Squire had some little insight
(as behoves a farmer and a sportsman) into the ways and meaning of
the weather of the neighbourhood.  He knew as well as a short-
tailed field-mouse that a long frost was coming.  The sharp dry
rustle of the upturned leaves of holly and of ivy, the heavy stoop
of the sullen sky, the patches of spaded mould already browning
with powdery crispness, the upward shivering look of the grass,
and the loss of all gloss upon everything, and the shuddering
rattle in the teeth of a man who opened his mouth to the wind at
all--many other things than these, as well as all of them, were
here; that any man (not blind, or deaf, or choked in citied
ignorance) might fall to at once, and dig every root of his
potatoes.

But the strange thing, in this present matter, was that Squire
Oglander was bent not only on digging potatoes, but also on
planting them, this very day.  Forsooth it was one of his fixed
dates in the chronicles of the garden, that happen what might, or
be the season whatsoever it chose to be, new potatoes and peas he
would have by the last day of May, at the latest.  And this
without any ignoble resort to forcing-pit, hot-bed, or even cold
frame; under the pure gaze of the sky, by that time they must be
ready.  Now, this may be easy at Ventnor, or Penzance, or even
Bournemouth; but in the highlands of Oxfordshire it requires some
skill and management.  In the first place, both pea and potato
must be of a kind that is ready to awake right early; and then
they must be humoured with a very choice place; and after that
they must be shielded from the winter's rages.  If all these
"musts" can be complied with, and several "ifs" are solved aright,
the gardener (eager as well as patient) may hope to get pleasure
from his early work.

Of all men there was none perhaps more capable of hoping than this
good Squire Oglander.  In his garden and his household, or among
his friends and neighbours, or the world at large, he not only
tried to see, but saw, the very best side of everything.  When
things fell out amiss, he always looked very wise, and shook his
head, and declared that he had predicted them; and before very
long he began to find out that they were not so bad as they might
have been.  His ruddy face, and blue eyes, and sometimes decidedly
waggish nose, as well as his crisp white hair, and way of standing
to be looked at, let everybody know that here was a man of no
great pretension, yet true, and of kind and happy heart, and fit
to be relied upon.  Ten thousand such may be found in England; and
they cannot be too many.

"Inside and outside, all look alive!" cried this gentleman,
running to and fro:  "Gracie will be home; Miss Grace, I mean; and
not a bit of fire in the drawing-room grate!  No Christmas-boxes
for any of you sluts!  Now, I did not mean that, Mary, as you
might know.  Inside the women, and outside the men--now, what is
this paper for, my dear?"

"That there Cripps, sir, have a sent 'un in.  He be gettin' so
pertikular!"

"Quite right.  Quite right.  Business is business.  No man can be
too particular.  Let him sit down and have a pint of ale.  He
wants me to sign this paper, does he?  Very well; tell him to come
next week.  My fingers are cramped with the wind.  Tell Cripps--
now, don't you be in such a hurry, Mary; Cripps is not a marrying
man."

"As if I would touch him with a pair of tongs, sir!  A Hookham to
have a Cripps, sir!--a man who always smells as if he had been a-
combing of a horse!"

"Ah, poor Mary, the grapes are sour.  Tell bachelor Cripps to send
in the bag.  And bring me the little truck-basket, Mary; I dare
say that will hold them.  Just in time, they are only just in
time.  To-morrow would have been a day too late."

The Squire was to pay a guinea for this bushel of early oakleaf
potatoes, a sort that was warranted to beat the ashleaf by a
fortnight, and to crop tenfold as much.  The bag had been sent by
the Henley coach from a nursery near Maidenhead, and left at the
Black Horse in St. Clement's, to be called for by the Beckley
carrier.

"Stay now," cried the Squire; "now I think of it we will unpack
the bag in the brewery, Mary.  They have had a fire there all the
morning.  And it will save making any mess in here.  Miss Grace is
coming, bless her heart!  And she'll give it to me, if she finds
any dirt."

"But, sir, if you please, Master Cripps now just is beginning of
his pint of ale.  And he never hurrieth over that--"

"Well, we don't want Cripps.  We only want the bag.  Jem will
bring it into the brewery, if you want to sit with Cripps.  Cripps
is tired, I dare say.  These young men's legs are not fit for
much.  Stop--call old Thomas; he's the best, after all.  If I want
a thing done, I come back to the old folk, after all."

"Well, sir, I don't think you have any reason to say that.
Howsomever, here cometh Mr. Kale.  Mr. Kale, if you please, you be
wanted."

Presently Thomas Kale, the man who had worked so long in the
garden there, followed his master across the court, with the bag
of potatoes on his back.  The weight was a trifle, of course,
being scarcely over half a hundredweight; but Thomas was too old a
hand to make too light of anything.

"I've knowed the time," he said, setting down the sack on the head
of an empty barrel, "when that there weight would have failed, you
might say, to crook my little finger.  Now, make so bold--do you
know the raison?"

"Why, Thomas, we cannot expect to be always so young as we were
once, you know."

"Nout to do wi' it--less nor nout.  The raison lie all in the
vittels, maister; the vittels is fallen from what they was."

"Thomas, you give me no peace with your victuals.  You must groan
to the cook, not to me, about them.  Now, cut the cord.  Why, what
has Cripps been about?"

The bag was made of a stout grey canvas, not so thick as sacking,
and as the creases of the neck began to open, under the slackening
cord, three or four red stripes were shown, such as are sometimes
to be found in the neck of a leather mail-bag, when the postmaster
has been in a hurry, and dropped his wax too plenteously.  But the
stripes in these creases were not dry and brittle, as of run
sealing-wax, but clammy and damp, as if some thick fluid had oozed
from dripping fingers.

"I don't like the look of it," cried the old Squire.  "Cripps
should be more careful.  He has left the bag down at his brother
the butcher's.  I am sure they never sent it out like this.  Not
that I am of a squeamish order, but still--good God!  What is this
that I see?"

With scarcely time for his cheeks to blanch, or his firm old hands
to tremble, Squire Oglander took from the mouth of the sack a coil
of long bright golden hair.  The brown shade of the potatoes
beneath it set off its glistening beauty.  He knew it at a glance;
there was no such hair in all Oxfordshire but his Gracie's.  A
piece of paper was roughly twisted in and out the shining wreath.
This he spread in the hollow of his palm, and then put on his
spectacles, and read by the waning light these words, "All you
will ever see of her."



CHAPTER IV

CRIPPS IN A QUANDARY


Worth Oglander, now in his seventieth year, although he might be a
trifle fat, was a truly hale and active man.  His limbs were as
sound as his conscience; and he was well content with his life and
age.  He had seen a good deal of the world and of enemies, in the
stirring times of war.  But no wrong lay in the bottom of his
heart, no harm ever done to any one, except that he had killed a
few Frenchmen, perhaps, as all Englishmen used to be forced to do.

Moreover, he had what most folk now, of the very best kind, have
almost outlived, a staunch and steadfast faith in the management
of the world by its Maker.  We are too clever now for all this, of
course.  But it must be allowed that this fine old faith bred
courage, truth, and comfort.

"Whoever has played this trick with me," said the Squire, as soon
as he recovered himself, "is, to say the least of it, a
blackguard.  Even for a Christmas joke, it is carrying things a
great deal too far.  I have played, and been played, many
practical jokes, when there was nothing else to do; in winter-
quarters, and such like.  But this is beyond--  Thomas, run and
fetch Cripps.  I will get to the bottom of this, I am resolved."

In a minute or two Master Cripps came in.  His face was a little
flushed, from the power of the compliments paid to Mary, but his
eyes were quite firm, and his breeches and gaiters strictly under
discipline of the legs inside them.

"Servant, sir," he said, touching his forelock, nearly of the
colour of clover hay; "all correct, I hope, Squire, safe and sound
and in good condition.  That's how I deliver all goods, barring
the will of the A'mighty."

"Tell me the meaning of this."  As he spoke Mr. Oglander held up
the bright wreath of hair, and pointed to the red stains on the
sack.  Cripps, as behoved a slow-minded man, stared at the hair,
and the bag, and the Squire, the roof of the brewery, and all the
tubs; and then began feeling in his hat for orders.

"Cripps, are you dumb; are you tipsy; or what?  Or are you too
much ashamed of yourself?"

"I ain't done nort for to be ashamed of--me, nor my father avoore
me."

"Then will you tell me what this means?  Are you going to keep me
all night, for God's sake?"

"Squire, I never, I never see'd 'un.  I know no more than a sto-
un.  I know no more than the dead, I do."

"Where did you get the bag?  Was it like this?  Who gave it to
you?  Have you let it out of sight?  Did you see anybody come near
it?"

"Squire, I can't tell 'ee such a many things.  They heft up the
barg to me at the Black Horse, where the bargs is alwas left for
you.  I took no heed of 'un, out of common.  And no one have a
titched him since, but me."

There was nothing more to be learned from Cripps, except that he
passed the Black Horse that day a little earlier than usual, and
had not brought his sister Esther, who was to have met him at the
Golden Cross.  He had come home by way of Elsfield, having
something to deliver there, and had given a lift to old Shepherd
Wakeling; but that could have naught to do with it.

It was now getting dark, and the Squire every moment grew more and
more uneasy.  "Keep all this nonsense to yourself now, Cripps," he
said, as he stowed the bag under a tub, and carefully covered his
daughter's hair, and the piece of paper, with a straining sieve;
"it might annoy me very much if this joke went any further, you
know.  I can trust Thomas to hold his tongue, and I hope I can
trust you, neighbour Cripps."

"Your honour knoweth what I be," answered the loyal Carrier.
"Ever since I were a boy--but there, they all knows what I be."

Master Cripps, with his brain "a good piece doiled," as he
afterwards said of it, made his way back to the cart, and mounted
in his special manner.  Although he was only two-score years of
age, he had so much rheumatism in his right knee--whether it
sprang from the mud, or the ruts, or (as he believed) from the
turnpike gates--that he was bound to get up in this way.  First he
looked well up and down the lane, to be sure there was no other
cart in sight, then he said "whoa-hoa" to Dobbin (who was always
quite ready to receive that advice), and then he put his left foot
on the little step, and made sure that it was quite steady.
Throwing his weight on that foot, he laid hold of the crupper with
his right hand, and placed his stiff knee on the flat of the
shaft, never without a groan or two.  At this stage he rested, to
collect his powers; and then with decisive action flung his left
foot upon the footboard, and casting the weight of his body
thither, came down on the seat, with a thump and rattle.  He was
now all right, and Dobbin felt it, and acknowledged the fact with
a grateful grunt.  Then Carrier Cripps took up the reins, and made
a little flourish with his brass-bound whip, and Dobbin put up his
head, and started with his most convenient foot.

"I dunno what to make of this here start," said Cripps to himself,
and his horse and cart, as soon as he had smitten his broad chest
long enough to arouse circulation.  "Seemeth to me a queer thing
truly.  But I never were a hand at a riddle.  Wugg then, Dobbin!
Wun'not go home tonight?"



CHAPTER V

A RIDE THROUGH THE SNOW


Meanwhile the old Squire, with a troubled mind, kept talking and
walking about, and listening for the rumble of his sister's
carriage, the clank of horses' hoofs, and the ring of wheels upon
the frozen road.  He could not believe that any one in the world
would hurt his darling Gracie.  Everybody loved her so, and the
whole parish was so fond of her, and she had such a way of easing
every one's perplexities, that if any villain durst even think of
touching a hair of her blessed head--yet whose hair was it?--whose
hair was it?  And such a quantity as never could have been cut
with her consent!

"This is too much!  I cannot bear it!" he said to himself, after
many a turn, and anxious search of the distance; "Joan's carriage
should have been here long ago.  My darling would have made them
keep their time.  I cannot stop here: I must go to meet them.  But
I need not startle any one."

To provide for this, he just looked in at the kitchen door, and
told the old cook to keep the dinner back awhile; for the roads
were so bad that the ladies were almost sure to be behind their
time; and then he went quietly to the stable, where the horses
were bedded down, and by the light of an old horn lantern saddled
and bridled his favourite hack.

Heavy snow-clouds had been gathering all the afternoon; and now as
he passed through a side-gate into the lane, and turned his mare's
head eastward, the forward flakes were borne by the sharp wind
into his white whiskers.  "We shall have a coarse night of it, I
doubt," he said to himself, as he buttoned his coat.  At every
turn of the lane he hoped to meet his sisters chariot labouring up
the slippery track with the coal-black horses gray with snow, and
somebody well wrapped up inside, to make him laugh at his childish
fears.  But corner after corner he turned, and met no carriage, no
cart, no horse, nor even so much as a man afoot; only the snow
getting thicker and sharper, and the wind beginning to wail to it.
The ruts of the lane grew more distinct, as their combs of frozen
mud attracted and held the driving whiteness; and the frogs of
heavy carthorses might be traced by the hoary increment.  Then in
three or four minutes, a silvery greyness (cast by the brown face
of the roadway underlying the skin of snow) glistened between
steep hedgerows wherein the depth of darkness rested.  Soon even
these showed traitor members, and began to hang the white feather
forth, where drooping spray or jutting thicket stopped the course
of the laden air.  Every hoof of the horse fell softer than it had
fallen the step before, and the old man stooped to heed his reins,
as his hoary eyebrows crusted.

Fear struck colder to his heart than frost, as he turned the last
corner of his way, without meeting presence or token of his sister
or darling daughter.  In the deepening snow he drew his horse up
under the two great yew-trees that overhung his sister's gate, and
fumbled in the dark for the handle.  The close heavy gates were
locked and barred; and nothing had lately passed through them.
Then he hoped that the weather might have stopped the carriage,
and he tugged out the heavy bronze lion's-head in the pillar,
which was the bell-pull.  The bell in the porch of the house
clanged deeply, and the mastiff heavily bayed at him; but he had
to make the bell clang thrice before any servant answered it.

"Who be you there?" at last a gruff voice asked, without stretch
of courtesy.  "This sort of weather, come ringing like that!  If
'ee say much more, I'll let the big dog loose."

"Open the gate, you young oaf," cried the Squire.  "I suppose you
are one of the new lot, eh?  Not to know me, Worth Oglander!"

"Why couldn't you have said so then?" the surly fellow answered,
as he slowly opened one leaf of the gate, sweeping a fringe of
snow back.

"Such a fellow wouldn't be with me half a day.  Are you too big
for your work, sir?  Run on before me, you piecrust in pumps, or
you shall taste my whip, sir."

The footman, for once in his life, took his feet up, and ran in a
bluster of rage and terror to the front door, which he had left
wide open to secure a retreat from violence.  Mr. Oglander struck
his mare, and she started so that he scarcely pulled her head up
under the coigne of his sister's porch.

"What is all this, I would beg to know?  If you think to frighten
me, you are mistaken.  Oh, Worth is it?  Worth, whatever do you
mean by making such a commotion?"

Three or four frightened maids were peeping, safe in the gloom of
the entrance-hall; while the lady of the house came forward
bravely in the lamp-light.

"I will speak to you presently, Joan," said the Squire, as he
vainly searched, with a falling heart, for some dear face behind
her.  "Here, Bob, I know you at any rate; take the old mare to the
stable."

Then, with a sign to his sister, he followed her softly into the
dining-room.  At a glance he saw that she had dined alone, and he
fell into a chair, and could not speak.

"Have you brought back the stockings?  Why, how ill you look?  The
cold has been too much for you, brother.  You should not have come
out.  What was Grace doing to let--"

"Where is my daughter Grace?"

"Your daughter Grace!  My niece Grace!  Why, at home in her
father's house, to be sure!  Worth, are your wits wandering?"

"When did Grace leave you?"

"At three o'clock, yesterday.  How can you ask, when you sent in
such hot haste for her?  You might be quite sure that she would
not linger.  I thought it rather--let me tell you--"

"I never sent for Grace.  I have not seen her!"

Mrs. Fermitage looked at her brother steadily, with one hand
fencing her forehead.  She knew that he was of no drunken kind--
yet once in a way a man might take too much--especially in such
weather.  But he answered her gaze with such eyes that she came up
to him, and began to tremble.

"I tell you, Joan, I never sent for Grace.  If you don't know
where she is--none but God knows!"

"I have told you all," his sister answered, catching her breath at
every word almost--"a letter came from you, overruling the whole
of our arrangement--you were not ill; but you wanted her for some
particular purpose.  She was to walk, and you would meet her; and
walk she did, poor darling!  And I was so hurt that I would not
send--"

"You let her go, Joan!  You let her go!  It was a piece of your
proud temper.  Her death lies at your door.  And so will mine!"

Mr. Oglander was very sorry, as soon as he had spoken thus
unjustly; but the deep pang of the heart devoured any qualms of
conscience.

"Are you sure that you let her go?  Are you sure that she is not
in this house now?" he cried, coming up to his sister, and taking
both hands to be sure of her.  "She must be here; and you are
joking with me."

"Worth, she left this house at two o'clock by that timepiece
yesterday, instead of to-day, as we meant to do.  She would not
let any one go with her, because you were coming down the hill to
meet her.  Not expecting to go home that day, she had a pair of my
silk stockings on, because--well, I need not go into that--and
knowing what a darling little fidget she is, I thought she had
sent you back with them, and to make your peace for so flurrying
me."

"Have you nothing more to tell me, Joan?  I shall go mad while you
dwell on your stockings.  Who brought that letter?  What is become
of it?  Did you see it?  Can you think of anything?  Oh, Joan, you
women are so quick-witted!  Surely you can think of something!"

Mrs. Fermitage knew what her brother meant; but no sign would she
show of it.  The Squire was thinking of a little touch of
something that might have grown up into love, if Grace had not
been so shy about it, and so full of doubts as to what she ought
to do.  Her aunt had been anxious to help this forward; but not
for the world to speak of it.

"Concerning the letter, I only just saw it.  I was up--well, well,
I mean I happened to have something to do in my own room then.
The dear creature knocked at my door, and I could not let her in
at the moment--"

"You were doing your wig--well, well, go on."

"I was doing nothing of the kind--your anxiety need not make you
rude, Worth.  However, she put the letter under the door, and I
saw that it was your handwriting, and so urgent that I was quite
flurried, and she was off in two minutes, without my even kissing
her.  Oh, poor dear!  My little dear!  She said good-bye through
the key-hole, and could not wait for me even to kiss her!"

At this thought the elderly lady broke down, and could for the
moment do nothing but sob.

"Dear heart, dear heart!" cried the Squire, who was deeply
attached to his sister; "don't take on so, my dear good Joan!  We
know of no harm as yet--that is"--for he thought of the coil of
hair, but with strong effort forbore to speak of it--"nothing I
mean in any way positive, or disastrous.  She may have, you know--
she may have taken it into her head to--to leave us for awhile,
Joan."

"To run away!  To elope!  Not she!  She is the last girl in the
world to do it.  Whatever may have happened, she has not done
that.  You ought to know better than that, Worth."

"Perhaps I do; I have no more time to talk of that, or any other
thing.  I shall hurry into Oxford, and see John Smith, and let
everybody know of it.  What do I care what people think?  Send a
man on horseback to Beckley at once.  Have you any man worth a
pinch of salt?  You are always changing so."

"I cannot keep cripples, or sots, dear brother.  Take any one you
please of them."

"Any one who will deign to come, you should say.  Deep snow tries
the mettle of new-comers."



CHAPTER VI

THE PUBLIC OF THE "PUBLIC"


Meanwhile, Esther Cripps, who perhaps could have thrown some light
on this strange affair, was very uneasy in her mind.  She had not
heard, of course, as yet, that Grace Oglander was missing.  But
she could not get rid of the fright she had felt, and the dread of
some dark secret.  Her sister-in-law was in such a condition that
she must not be told of it; and as for her brother Exodus, it
would be worse than useless to speak to him.  He had taken it into
his head, ever since that business with the "College gent," that
his sister was not "right-minded"--that she dreamed things, and
imagined things; and that anything she liked to say should be
listened to, and thought no more of.  And Baker Cripps was one of
those men from whose minds no hydraulic power can lift an idea--
laid once, laid for ever.

Esther had no one to tell her tale to.  She longed to be home at
Beckley; but there had been such symptoms with the baker's wife,
that a woman, of the largest experience to be found in Oxford,
declared that there was another coming.  This was not so.  But
still (as all the women said) it might have been; and where was
the man to lay down the law to them that had been through it?

The whole of this was made quite right in the end and everybody
satisfied; but it prevented poor Esther from going to the Golden
Cross, as she should have done; and the Carrier (having a little
tiff with his brother about a sack of meal, as long ago as
Michaelmas) left him to bake his own bread, and would rather drive
over his dinner than dine with him.

The days of the week are hard to follow, as everybody must have
long found out; but still, from Tuesday to Saturday is a
considerable time to think of.  Master Cripps had two carrying
days, two great days of long voyaging.  Not that he refrained from
coasting here and there about the parish, or up and down a lane or
two, on days of briefer enterprise; or refused to take some
washings round; for he was not the man to be ashamed of earning
sixpence honourably.

But now such weather had set in, that even Cripps, with his active
turn and pride in his honest calling, was forced to stay at home
and boil the bones the butcher sent him, and nurse his stiff knee,
and smoke his pipe, and go no further than his bed of hardy kail,
or Dobbin's stable.  Except that when the sun went down--if it
ever got up, for aught he knew--his social instincts so awoke,
that he managed to go to the corner of the lane, where the
blacksmith kept the public-house.  This was a most respectable
house, frequented very quietly.  Master Cripps, from his
intercourse with the world, and leading position in Beckley, as
well as his pleasant way of letting other people talk, and nodding
when their words were wisdom--Cripps had long been accepted as the
oracle; and he liked it.

Even there--in his brightest moments, when he smoked his pipe and
thought, leaving emptier folk to waste the income of their brain
in words, and even when he had been roused up to settle some vast
question by a brief emphatic utterance--his satisfaction was now
alloyed.  Not from any threat of rival wisdom--that was hopeless--
but from the universal call for a guiding judgment from him.  The
whole of Beckley village now was more upset than had been known
for thirty years and upward.  Ever since Napoleon had been
expected to encamp at Carfax, and all the University went into
white gaiters against him, there had been no such stir of
parochial mind as now was heaving.  Cripps could remember the
former movement, and how his father had lost wisdom by saying that
nothing would come of it--whereas the greatest things came of it;
the tailor was bankrupt by making breeches which the Government
would not pay for, the publican bought a horse and defied his
brewer on the strength of it, and the parish-clerk limped for the
rest of his life through the loss of two toes when tipsy--
therefore Zacchary Cripps was now determined to hide his opinion.

When the mind is in this uncertain state, it fails of receiving
that consideration which it is slowly exerting.  If Cripps had
stood up, and rashly spoken, he must have carried all before him:
whereas now he felt, and was grieved to feel, that shallow fellows
were taking his place, by dint of decisive ignorance.  This Friday
evening, everybody, who had teeth to face the arrowy wind, came
into the Dusty Anvil, well laden with enormous rumours.

Phil Hiss, the blacksmith, had a daughter, who served him as a
barmaid, Amelia, or Mealy Hiss; a year or two older than Miss
Oglander, and in the simple country fashion (setting birth and
rank aside) a true ally and favourite.  Now, some old woman in
Beckley had said, as long ago as yesterday, that she could not
believe but what Mealy Hiss, who dressed herself so outrageous,
knew a deal more than she dared speak out concerning that
wonderful unkid thing about the Squire's daughter.  For her part,
this old woman was sure that a young man lay at the bottom of it.
Them good young ladies that went to the school, and made up soup
and such-like, was not a bit better than the rest of us; and if
butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, pitchforks wouldn't choke
them.  She would say no more, it was no concern of hers; and
everybody knew what she was.  But as sure as her copper burst that
morning, something would come out ere long; and Mealy would be at
the bottom of it!

Miss Amelia Hiss, before she lit her two tallow-candles--which
never was allowed to be done till a quart of beer had been called
for--knew right well that all her wits must be brought into use
that evening.  A young man, who had a liking for her, which she
was beginning to think about, came in before his time to tell her
all that Gammer Gurdon said.  Wherefore she put on her new neck-
ribbon (believed to have come express from London) and her agate
brooch, and other most imposing properties.  With the confidence
of all these, she drew the ale, and kept her distance.

For an hour or so these tactics answered.  Young men, old men, and
good women (who came of course for their husbands' sakes), soberly
took their little drop of beer, nodded to one another, and said
little.  Pressure lay on heart and mind; and nature's safety-
valve, the tongue, was sat upon by prudence.  But this, of course,
could not last long.  Little jerkings of short questions broke the
crust of silence; lips from blowing froth of beer began to relax
their grimness; eyelids that had drooped went up, and winks grew
into friendly gaze; and everybody began to beg everybody's pardon
less.  The genial power of good ale, and the presence of old
friends, were working on the solid English hearts; and every man
was ready for his neighbour to say something.

Hiss, the blacksmith and the landlord, felt that on his heavy
shoulders lay the duty of promoting warmth and cordiality.  He sat
without a coat, as usual, and his woolsey sleeves rolled back
displayed the proper might of arm.  In one grimy hand he held a
pipe, at which he had given the final puff, and in the other a
broad-rimmed penny, ready to drop it into the balance of the brass
tobacco-box, and open it for a fresh supply.  First he glanced at
the door, to be sure that his daughter Mealy could not hear; for
ever since her mother's death he had stood in some awe of
Mealy; and then receiving from Zacchary Cripps a nod of grave
encouragement, he fixed his eyes on him through the smoke, and
uttered what all were inditing of.

"I call this a very rum start, I do, about poor Squire's
daughter."

The public of the public gazed with admiring approval at him.  The
sentiment was their own, and he had put it well and briefly.  In
different ways, according to the state and manner of each of them,
they let him know that he was right, and might hold on by what he
said.  Then Master Hiss grew proud of this, and left it for some
other body to bear the weight of thinking out.  But even before
his broad forefinger had quite finished with his pipe, and pressed
the crown of fuel flat, a man of no particular wisdom, and without
much money, could not check a weak desire to say something
striking.  His name was Batts, and he kept a shop, and many things
in it which he could not sell.  Before he spoke, he took
precautions to secure an audience, by standing up, and rapping the
table with the heel of his half-pint mug.  "Hear, hear!" cried
some young fellow; and Batts was afraid that he had gone too far.

"Gentlemen," said Grocer Batts, the very same man who had
threatened to put his son into the carrying line, "I bows, in
course, to superior wisdom, and them as is always to and fro.  But
every man must think his thoughts, right or wrong, and speak them
out, and not be afeared of no one.  And my mind is that in this
here business, we be all of us going to work the wrong way
altogether."

As no one had any sense as yet of having gone to work at all, in
this or any other matter, and several men had made up their minds
to be thrown out of work on the Saturday night if the bitter
weather lasted, this great speech of Grocer Batts created some
confusion.

"Let 'un go to work, hisself!"  "What do he know about work?"
"Altogether wrong!  Give me the saw-dust for to clear my throat!"
These and stronger exclamations showed poor Batts that it would
have been better for trade if he had held his tongue.  He hid his
discomfiture in his mug, and made believe to drink, although it
had ever so long been empty.

But Carrier Cripps had a generous soul.  He did not owe so much as
a halfpenny piece to Master Batts, neither did he expect to make a
single halfpenny out of him--quite the contrary, in fact; and yet
he came to his rescue.

"Touching what neighbour Batts have said," he began in his slow
and steadfast voice, "it may be neither here nor there; and all of
us be liable, in our best of times, to error.  But I do believe as
he means well, and hath a good deal inside him, and a large family
to put up with.  He may be right, and all us in the wrong.  Time
will show, with patience.  I have knowed so many things as looked
at first unlikely, come true as Gospel in the end, and so many
things I were sure of turn out quite contrairy, that whenever a
man hath aught to say, I likes to hearken to him.  There now, I
han't no more to say; and I leave you to make the best of it."

Zacchary rose, for his time was up; he saw that hot words might
ensue, and he detested brawling.  Moreover, although he did not
always keep strict time with his horse and cart, no man among the
living could be more punctual to his pillow.  With kind "good-
nights" from all, he passed, and left the smoky scene behind.  As
he stopped at the bar to say good-bye, and to pay his score to
Amelia, for whom he had a liking, a short, quick, rosy man came
in, shaking snow from his boots, and seeming to have lost his way
that night.  By the light from the bar, the Carrier knew him, and
was about to speak to him, but received a sign to hold his tongue,
and pass on without notice.  Clumsily enough he did as he was
bidden, and went forth, puzzled in his homely pate by this new
piece of mystery.

For the man who passed him was John Smith, not as yet well-known,
but held by all who had experience of him to be the shrewdest man
in Oxford.  This man quietly went into the sanded parlour, and
took his glass, and showed good manners to the company.  They set
him down as a wayfarer, but a pleasant one, and well to do; and as
words began to kindle with the friction of opinions, he listened
to all that was said, but did not presume to side with any one.



CHAPTER VII

THE BEST FOOT FOREMOST


The arrows of the snowy wind came shooting over Shotover.  It was
Saturday now of that same week with which we began on Tuesday.
The mercury during those four days had not risen once above 28° of
Fahrenheit, and now it stood about 22°, and lower than that in the
river meadows.  Trusty and resolute Dobbin never had a harder job
than now.  Some parts of Headington Hill give pretty smart collar-
work in the best of times; and now with deep snow scarred by
hoofs, and ridged by wheels, but not worn down, hard it seemed for
a horse, however sagacious, to judge what to do.  Dobbin had seen
snow ere now, and gone through a good deal of it.  But that was
before the snow had fallen so thickly on his own mane and tail,
and even his wise eyebrows.  That was in the golden days, when
youth and quick impatience moved him, and the biggest flint before
his wheel was crushed, with a snort at the road-surveyor.

But now he was come to a different state of body, and therefore of
spirit too.  At his time of life it would not do to be extravagant
of strength; it was not comely to kick up the heels; neither was
it wise to cherish indignation at the whip.  So now on the
homeward road, with a heavy Christmas-laden cart to drag, this
fine old horse took good care of himself, and having only a choice
of evils, chose the least that he could find.

Alas, the smallest that he could find were great and very heavy
ills.  Scarcely any man stops to think of the many weary cares
that weigh upon the back of an honest horse.  Men are eloquent on
the trouble that sits behind the horseman; but the silent horse
may bear all that, and the troublesome man in the saddle to boot,
without any poet to pity him.  Dobbin knew all this, but was too
much of a horse to dwell on it.  He kept his tongue well under
bit, and his eyes in sagacious blinkers, and sturdily up the hill
he stepped, while Cripps, his master, trudged beside him.

Every "talented" man must think, whenever he walks beside a horse,
of the superior talents of the horse--the bounty of nature in four
curved legs, the pleasure there must be in timing them, the pride
of the hard and goutless feet, the glory of the mane (to which the
human beard is no more than seaweed in a billow), the power of
blowing (which no man has in a comely and decorous form); and
last, not least, the final blessing of terminating usefully in a
tail.  Zacchary Cripps was a man of five talents, and traded with
them wisely; but often as he walked beside his horse, and smelled
his superiority, he became quite humble, and wiped his head, and
put his whip back in the cart again.  The horse, on the other
hand, looked up to Zacchary with soft faith and love.  He knew
that his master could not be expected quite to understand the ways
a horse is bound to have of getting on in harness--the hundreds of
things that must needs be done--and done in proper order, too--the
duty of going always like a piece of the finest music, with
chains, and shafts, and buckles, and hard leather to be
harmonized, and the load which men are not born to drag, until
they make it for themselves.  Dobbin felt the difference, but he
never grumbled as men do.

He made the best of the situation; and it was a hard one.  The
hill was strong against the collar; and, by reason of the snow,
zigzag and the corkscrew tactics could not be resorted to.  At all
of these he was a dab, by dint of steep experience; but now the
long hill must be breasted, and both shoulders set to it.  The
ruts were as slippery as glass, and did not altogether fit the
wheels he had behind him; and in spite of the spikes which the
blacksmith gave him, the snow balled on his hairy feet.  So he
stopped, and shook himself, and panted with large resolutions; and
Cripps from his capacious pockets fetched the two oak wedges, and
pushed one under either wheel; while Esther, who was coming home
at last, jumped from her seat, to help the load, and patted
Dobbin's kind nose, and said a word or two to cheer him.

"The best harse as ever looked through a bridle," Zacchary
declared across his mane; "but he must be hoomered with his own
way now, same as the rest on us, when us grows old.  Etty, my
dear, no call for you to come down and catch chilblains."

"Zak, I am going to push behind.  I am not big enough to do much
good.  But I would rather be alongside of you, through this here
bend of the road, I would."

For now the dusk was gathering in, as they toiled up the lonesome
and snowy road where it overhung the "Gipsy's Grave."

"This here bend be as good as any other," said Cripps, though
himself afraid of it.  "What ails you, girl?  What hath ailed you,
ever since out of Oxford town you come?  Is it a jail thou be
coming home to?  Oxford turns the head of thee!"

"Now, Zak, you know better than that.  I would liefer be at
Beckley any day.  But I have been that frightened since I passed
this road on Tuesday night that scarce a morsel could I eat or
drink, and never sleep for dreaming."

"Frightened, child?  Lord, bless my heart! you make me creep by
talking so.  There, wait till we be in our own lane--can't spare
the time now to speak of it."

"Oh, but, Zak, if you please, you must.  I have had it on my mind
so long.  And I kept it for you, till we got to the place, that
you might go and see to it."

"Etty, now, this is childish stuff; no time to hearken to any such
tell-up.  Enough to do, the Lord knows there be, without no
foolish stories."

"It is not a foolish story, Zak.  It is what I saw with my own
eyes.  We are close to the place; it was in a dark hollow, just
below the road on here.  I will show you; and then I will stand by
the cart, while you go and seek into it."

"I wun't leave the haigh road for any one, I tell 'ee.  All these
goods is committed to my charge, and my dooty is to stick to them.
A likely thing as I'd leave the cart to be robbed in that there
sort of way.  Ah, ha! they'd soon find out, I reckon, what
Zacchary Cripps is made of."

"Ah, we all know how brave you are, dear Zak.  And perhaps you
wouldn't like to leave me, brother?"

"No, no; of course not.  How could I do it?  All by yourself, and
the weather getting dark.  Hup!  Hup!  Dobbin, there.  Best foot
foremost kills the hill."

But Esther was even more strongly set to tell the story and
relieve her mind, than Zacchary was to relieve his mind by turning
a deaf ear to all of it.  Nevertheless, she might have failed, if
it had not been for a lucky chance.  Dobbin, after a very fine
rush, and spirited bodily tug at the shafts, was suddenly forced
to pull up and pant, and spread his legs, to keep where he was,
until his wind should come back again.  And he stopped with the
off-wheel of the cart within a few yards of the gap in the hedge,
where Esther began her search that night.  She knew the place at a
glance, although in the snow it looked so different; and she ran
to the gap, and peeped as if she expected to see it all again.

In all the beauty of fair earth, few things are more beautiful
than snow on clustering ivy-leaves.  Wednesday's fall had been
shaken off; for even in the coldest weather, jealous winds and
evaporation soon clear foliage of snow.  But a little powdery shed
of flakes had come at noon that very day, like the flitting of a
fairy; and every delicate star shone crisply in its cupped or
pillowed rest.  The girl was afraid to shake a leaf, because she
had her best bonnet on; therefore she drew back, and called the
reluctant Zacchary to gaze.

"Nort but a sight of snow," said he; "it hath almost filled old
quarry up.  Harse have rested, and so have we.  Shan't be home by
candlelight.  Wugg then!  Dobbin--wugg then! wilt 'a?"

"Stop, brother, stop!  Don't be in such a hurry.  Something I must
tell you now, that I have been feared to tell anybody else.  It
was so dreadfully terrible!  Do you see anything in the snow down
there?"

"As I am a sinner, there be something moving.  Jump up into the
cart, girl.  I shall never get round with my things to-night."

"There is something there, Zak, that will never move again.  There
is the dead body of a woman there!"

"No romantics!  No romantics!" the Carrier answered as he turned
away; but his cheeks beneath a week's growth of beard turned as
white as the snow in the buckthorn.  No living man might scare him--
but a woman, and a dead one--

"Come, Zak," cried Esther, having seen much worse than she was
likely now to see, "you cannot be afraid of 'romantics,' Zak.
Come here, and I will show thee."

Driven by shame and curiosity, the valiant Cripps came back to
her, and even allowed himself to be led a little way through the
gap into the deep untrodden and drifted snow.  She took him as far
as a corner, whence the nook of the quarry was visible; and there
with trembling fingers pointed to a vast billow of pure white,
piled by the driving east wind over the grave, as she thought, of
the murdered one.

"Enough," he said, having heard her tale, and becoming at once a
man again in the face of something real; "my dear, what a fright
thou must have had!  How couldst thou have kept it all this time?
I would not tell thee our news at home, for fear of tarrifying
thee in the cold.  Hath no one to Oxford told thee?"

"Told me what?  Oh, Zak, dear Zak, I am so frightened, I can
hardly stand."

"Then run, girl, run!  We must go home, fast as ever we can, for
constable."

He took her to the cart, and reckless of Dobbin's indignation,
lashed him up the hill, and made him trot the whole length of
Beckley lane, then threw a sack over his loins and left his
Christmas parcels in the frost and snow, while he hurried to
Squire Oglander.



CHAPTER VIII

BALDERDASH


Worth Oglander sat in his old oak chair, weary, and very low of
heart, but not altogether broken down.  He had not been in bed
since last Monday night, and had slept, if at all, in the saddle,
or on the roof of the Henley and Maidenhead coach.  For miles he
had scoured the country round, until his three horses quite broke
down, with the weather so much against them; and all the bran to
be got in the villages was made away with in mashes.  One of these
horses "got the pipes;" and had to be tickled before he could eat.

The Squire cared not a button for this.  The most particular of
mankind concerning what is grossly and contemptuously (if not
carnivorously) spoken of as "horseflesh," forgets his tender
feelings towards the noblest of all animals when his own flesh and
blood come into competition with them.  But ride, and lash, and
spur as he might, the old Squire made no discovery.

His daughter, his only child, in whom all the rest of his old life
lived and loved, was gone and lost; not even leaving knowledge of
where she lay, or surety of a better meeting.  His faith in God
was true and firm; for on the whole he was a pious man, although
no great professor: and if it had pleased the Lord to take his
only joy from his old age, he could have tried to bear it.

But thus to lose her, without good-bye, without even knowing how
the loss befell, and with the deep misery of doubting what she
might herself have done--only a chilly stoic, or a remarkably warm
Christian, could have borne it with resignation.  The Squire was
neither of these; but only a simple, kind, and loving-hearted
gentleman; with many faults, and among them, a habit of expecting
the Lord to favour him perpetually.  And of this he could not quit
himself, in the deepest tribulation; but still expected all things
to be tempered to his happiness, according to his own ideas of
what happiness should be.  The clergyman of the parish, a good and
zealous man, had called upon him, and with many words had proved
how thankful he was bound to be for this kindly-ordered
chastisement.  The Squire, however, could not see it.  He listened
with his old politeness, but a sad and weary face, and quietly
said that the words were good, but he could not yet enter into
them.  Hereat the parson withdrew, to wait for a softer and wiser
season.

And now, in the dusk of this cold dark day, Squire Oglander sat
gazing from the window of his dining-room; with his head fallen
back, and his white chin up, and hard-worn hands clasped
languidly.  His heavy eyes dwelled on the dreary snow that buried
his daughter's handiwork--the dwarf plants not to be traced, and
the tall ones only as soft hillocks, like the tufts in a great
white counterpane.  And more and more, as the twilight deepened,
and the curves of white grew dim, he kept repeating below his
voice, "Her winding-sheet, her winding-sheet; and her pretty eyes
wide open perhaps!"

"Now, sir, if you please, you must--you must," cried Mary Hookham,
his best maid, trotting in with her thumbs turned back from a
right hot dish, and her lips up as if she were longing to kiss
him, to let out her feelings.  "Here be a duster, by way of a
cloth, not to scorch the table against Miss Grace comes home
again.  Sir, if you please, you must ate a bit.  Not a bit have
you aten sin' Toosday, and it is enough to kill a carrier's horse.
'Take on,' as my mother have often said; 'take on, as you must,
if your heart is right, when the hand of the Lord is upon you; but
never take off with your victuals.'  And a hearty good woman my
mother is, and have seen much tribulation.  You never would
repent, sir, of hearkening to me, and of trying of her, till such
time as poor Miss Grace comes back.  And not a penny would she
charge you."

"Let her come, if she will," he answered, without thinking twice
about it; for he paid no heed to household matters in his present
trouble.  "Let her come, if you wish it, Mary.  At any rate, she
can do no harm."

"She will do a mort of good, sir.  But now do try to ate a bit.
My mother will make you, if you have her, sir."

The old man did his best to eat; for he knew that he must keep his
strength up, to abide the end of it.  And Mary, without asking
leave, lit four good candles, and drew the curtains, and made the
fire cheerful.  "All of us has our troubles," said Mary; "but
these here pickles is wonderful."

"You are a good girl," answered the Squire; "and you deserve a
good husband.  Now, if either the man from Oxford or young Mr.
Overshute should come, show them in directly; but I can see no
other person.  No more, thank you.  Take all away, Mary."

"Oh my! what a precious little bit you've had!  But as sure as my
name is Mary Hookham, you shall have three glasses of port, sir.
You don't keep no butler, because you knows better; and no
housekeeper, because you don't know mother.  Likewise, Miss Grace
is so clever--but there, now, if she stay long for her honeymoon,
a housekeeper you must have, sir."

The master was tempted to ask what she meant, but he scarcely
thought it worth while, perhaps.  By pressure of advice from all
the womankind within his doors (whenever they could get hold of
him) he had been sped on many bootless errands, as was natural.
For without any ground, except that of their hearts, all the
gentler bosoms of the place were filled with large belief that
this was only a lovely love affair.

Russel Overshute, the heir of the Overshutes of Shotover, was a
young man who could speak for himself, and did it sometimes too
strongly.  He had long been taken prisoner by the sweet spell of
Grace Oglander; and being of a bold and fearless order, he had so
avowed himself.  But her father had always been against him; not
from personal dislike, but simply because he could not bear his
"wild political sentiments."  Worth Oglander was as staunch an old
Tory as ever stood in buckram, although in social and domestic
matters perhaps almost too gentle.  Radical and rascal were upon
his tongue the self-same word; and he passed the salt with the
back of his hand to even a mild Reformer.

And now, as he drank his glass of port, by dint of Mary's
management, and did his best to think about it, as he always used
to do, the door of the room was thrown open strongly, and in
strode Russel Overshute.

"Will you kindly leave the room," he said to the sedulous Mary.
"I wish to say a few words to the Squire of a private nature."

This young gentleman was a favourite with maid-servants
everywhere, because he always spoke to them "just the same as if
they was ladies."  Every housemaid now demands this, in our
advanced intelligence; and doubtless she is right; but forty years
ago it was otherwise, and "Polly, my dear," and a chuck of the
chin, were not as yet vile antiquity.  Mary made a bob of the
order still taught at the village-school, and set a glass for the
gentleman, and simpered, and departed.

"Shake hands with me, Squire," said Overshute, as Mr. Oglander
arose, with cold dignity, and bowed to him.  "You have sent for
me; I rode over at once, the moment that I heard of it.  I
returned from London this afternoon, having been there for a
fortnight.  When I heard the news, I was thunderstruck.  What can
I do to help you?"

"I will not shake hands with you," answered the Squire, "until you
have solemnly pledged your honour, that you know nothing of this--
of this--there, I have no word for it!"  Mr. Oglander trembled,
though his eyes were stern.  His last hope of his daughter's life
lay in the young man before him; and bitterly as he would have
felt the treachery of his only child, and deeply as he despised
himself for harbouring such a suspicion--yet even that disgrace
and blow would be better than the alternative, the only
alternative--her death.

"I should have thought it quite needless," young Overshute
answered, with some disdain, until he observed the father's face,
so broken down with misery; "from any one but you, sir, it would
have been an insult.  If you do not know the Overshutes, you ought
to know your own daughter."

"But against her will--against her will.  Say that you took her
against her will.  You have been from home.  For what else was it?
Tell me the truth, Russel Overshute--only the truth, and I will
forgive you."

"You have nothing to forgive, sir.  Upon the word of an
Englishman, I hadn't even heard of it."

The old man watched his clear keen eyes, with deep tears gathering
in his own.  Then Russel took his hand, and led him tenderly to
his hard oak chair.

For a minute or two not a word was said: the young man doubting
what to say, and the old one really not caring whether he ever
spoke again.  At last he looked up and spread both hands, as if he
groped forth from a heavy dream; and the rheumatism from so much
night-work caught him in both shoulder-blades.

"What is it?--what is it?" he cried.  "I have lived a long time in
this wicked world, and I have not found it painful."

"My dear sir," his visitor answered, pitying him sincerely, and
hiding (like a man) his own deep heart-burn of anxiety, "may I
say, without your being in the least degree offended, what I fancy--
or at least, I mean a thing that has occurred to me?  You will
take it for its worth.  Most likely you will laugh at it; but
taking my chance of that, may I say it?  Will you promise not to
be angry?"

"I wish I could be angry, Russel.  What have I to be angry for?"

"A terrible wrong, if I am right, but not a purely hopeless one.
I have not had time to think it out, because I have been hurried
so.  But, right or wrong, what I think is this--the whole is a
foul scheme of Luke Sharp's."

"Luke Sharp!  My own solicitor!  The most respectable man in
Oxford!  Overshute, you have made me hope, and then you dash me
with balderdash!"

"Well, sir, I have no evidence at all; but I go by something I
heard in London, which supplies the strongest motive; and I know,
from my own family affairs, what Luke Sharp will do when he has
strong motive.  I beg you to keep my guess quite secret.  Not that
I fear a score of such fellows, but that he would be ten times
craftier if he thought we suspected him; and he is crafty enough
without that, as his principal client, the Devil, knows!"

"I will not speak of it," the Squire answered; "such a crotchet is
not worth speaking of, and it might get you into great trouble.
With one thing and another now, I am so knocked about, that I
cannot put two and two together.  But one thing really comforts
me."

"My dear sir, I am so glad!  What is it?"

"That a man of your old family, Russel, and at the same time of
such new ways, is still enabled by the grace of God to retain his
faith in the Devil."

"While Luke Sharp lives I cannot lose it," he answered, with a
bitter smile.  "That man is too deep and consummate a villain to
be uninspired.  But now, sir, we have no time to lose.  You tell
me what you have done, and then I will tell you what I have been
thinking of, unless you are too exhausted."

For the old man, in spite of fierce anxiety, long suspense, and
keen excitement, began to be so overpowered with downright bodily
weariness that now he could scarcely keep his head from nodding,
and his eyes from closing.  The hope which had roused him, when
Overshute entered, was gone, and despair took the place of it;
tired body and sad mind had but a very low heart to work them.
Russel, with a strong man's pity, and the love which must arise
between one man and another whenever small vanity vanishes,
watched the creeping shades of slumber soften the lines of the
harrowed face.  As evening steals along a hill-side where the sun
has tyrannised, and spreads the withering and the wearying of the
day with gentleness, and brings relief to rugged points, and
breadth of calm to everything; so the Squire's fine old face
relaxed in slumber's halo, and tranquil ease began to settle on
each yielding lineament; when open flew the door of the room, and
Mary, at the top of her voice, exclaimed--

"Plaize, sir, Maister Cripps be here."



CHAPTER IX

CRIPPS IN AFFLICTION


"Confound that Cripps!" young Overshute cried, with irritation
getting the better of his larger elements; while the Squire slowly
awoke and stared, and rubbed his gray eyelashes, and said that he
really was almost falling off, and he ought to be quite ashamed of
himself.  Then he begged his visitor's pardon for bad manners, and
asked what the matter was.  "Sir, it is only that fool Cripps,"
said the young man, still in vexation, and signing to Mary to go,
and to shut the door.  "Some trumpery parcel, of course.  They
might have let you rest for a minute or two."

"No, sir, no; if you plaize, sir, no!" cried Mary, advancing with
her hands up.  "Maister Cripps have seen something terrible, and
he hath come straight to his Worship.  He be that out of breath
that he was aforced to lay hold of me, before he could stand
a'most!  He must have met them sheep-stealers!"

"Sheep-stealing again!" said Mr. Oglander, who was an active
magistrate.  "Well, let him come in.  I have troubles of my own;
but I must attend to my duty."

"Let me attend to it," interposed the other, being also one of the
"great unpaid."  "You must not be pestered with such things now.
Try to get some little rest while I attend to this Cripps affair."

"I am much obliged to you," answered the Squire, rising, and
looking wide-awake; "but I will hear what he has to say myself.
Of course, I shall be too glad of your aid if you are not in a
hurry."

Mr. Overshute knew that this fine old Justice, although so good in
the main, was not entirely free from foibles, of which there was
none more conspicuous than a keen and resolute jealousy if any
brother magistrate dared to meddle with Beckley matters.
Therefore Russel for the time withdrew, but promised to return in
half an hour, not only for the sake of consulting with the Squire,
but also because he suspected that Cripps might be come on an
errand different from what Mary had imagined.

Meanwhile, the Carrier could hardly be kept from bursting in head-
foremost.  Betty, the cook, laid hold of him in the passage, while
he was short of breath; but he pushed at even her, although he
ought to have known better manners.  Betty was also in a state of
mind at having cooked no dinner worth speaking of since Tuesday;
and Cripps, if his wits had been about him, must have yielded
space and bowed.  Betty, however, was nearly as wide, and a great
deal thicker than he was; and she spread forth two great arms that
might have stopped even Dobbin with a load downhill.

At last the signal was passed that Cripps might now come on, and
tell his tale; and he felt as if he should have served them right
by refusing to say anything.  But when he saw the Squire's jovial
face drawn thin with misery, and his sturdy form unlike itself,
and the soft puzzled manner in lieu of the old distinct demand to
know everything, Zacchary Cripps came forward gently, and thought
of what he had to tell, with fear.

"What is it, my good fellow?" asked the Squire, perceiving his
hesitation.  "Nothing amiss with your household, I sincerely hope,
my friend?  You are a fortunate man in one thing--you have had no
children yet."

"Ay, ay; your Worship is right enough there.  The Lord lends they,
and He takes them away.  And the taking be worse than the giving
was good."

"Now, Master Cripps, we must not talk so.  All is meant for the
best, I doubt."

"Her may be.  Her may be," Cripps replied.  "The Lord is the one
to pronounce upon that, knowing His own maning best.  But He do
give very hard measure some time to them as have never desarved
it.  Now, there be your poor Miss Grace, for instance.  As nice a
young lady as ever lived; the purtiest ever come out of a bed;
that humble, too, and gracious always, that 'Cripps,' she would
say--nay 'Master Cripps'--she always give me my proper title, even
on a dirty linen day--'Master Cripps,' her always said, 'let me
mark it off, in your hat, for you'--no matter whether it was my
best hat, or the one with the grease come through--'Master
Cripps,' she always say, 'let me mark it out for you.'"

"Very well, Cripps.  I know all that.  It is nothing to what my
Grace was.  And I hope, with God's blessing, she will do it again.
But what is it you are so full of, Cripps?"

The Carrier felt in the crown of his hat, and then inside the
lining; as if he had something entered there, to help him in this
predicament.  And then he turned away, to wipe--as if the weather
was very wet--the drops of the hedge from the daze of his eyes;
and after that he could not help himself, but out with everything.

"I knows where Miss Gracie be," he began with a little defiance,
as if, after all, it was nothing to him, but a thing that he might
have a bet about.  "I knows where our Miss Gracie lies--dead and
cold--dead and cold--without no coffin, nor a winding-sheet--the
purty crature, the purty crature--there, what a fool I be, good
Lord!"

Master Cripps, at the picture himself had drawn, was taken with a
short fit of sobs, and turned away, partly to hunt for his
"kercher," and partly to shun the poor Squire's eyes.  Mr.
Oglander slowly laid down the pen, which he had taken for notes of
a case, and standing as firm as his own great oak-tree (famous in
that neighbourhood), gave no sign of the shock, except in the
colour of his face, and the brightness of his gaze.

"Go on, Cripps, as soon as you can," he said in a calm and gentle
voice.  "Try not to keep me waiting, Cripps."

"I be trying; I be trying all I knows.  The blessed angel be dead
and buried, close to Tickuss's tatie crop, in the corner of
bramble quarry.  At least, I mean Tickuss's taties was there; but
he dug them a fortnight, come Monday, he did."

"The corner of the 'Gipsy's Grave,' as they call it.  Who found
it?  How do you know it?"

"Esther was there.  She seed the whole of it.  Before the snow
come--last Tuesday night."

"Tuesday night!  Ah, Tuesday night!"--for the moment, the old man
had lost his clearness.  "It can't have been Tuesday night--it was
Wednesday when I rode down to my sister's.  Cripps, your sister
must have dreamed it.  My darling was then at her aunt's, quite
safe.  You have frightened me for nothing, Cripps."

"I am glad with all my heart," cried Zacchary; "I am quite sure it
were Tuesday night, because of Mrs. Exie.  And your Worship knows
best of the days, no doubt.  Thank the Lord for all His mercies!
Well, seeing now it were somebody else, in no ways particular, and
perhaps one of them gipsy girls as took the fever to Cowley, if
your Worship will take your pen again, I will tell you all as
Esther seed:--Two men with a pickaxe working, where the stone
overhangeth so, and the corpse of a nice young woman laid for the
stone to bury it natural.  No harm at all in the world, when you
come to think, being nought of a Christian body.  And they let go
the rock, and it come down over, to save all infection.  Lord,
what a turn that Etty gived me, all about a trifle!"  The Carrier
wiped his forehead, and smiled.  "And won't I give it well to
her?"

"Poor girl!  It is no trifle, Cripps, whoever it may have been.
But stop--I am all abroad.  It was Tuesday afternoon when my poor
darling left Mrs. Fermitage.  And to the quarry, across the
fields, from the way she would come, is not half a mile--half a
mile of fields and hedgerows--Oh, Cripps, it was my daughter!"

"Her maight a' been, sure enough," said Cripps, in whom the
reflective vein, for the moment, had crossed the sentimental--
"sure enough, her maight a' been.  A pasture meadow, and a field
of rape, and Gibbs's turnips, and then a fallow, and then into
Tickuss's taties--half an hour maight a' done the carrying--and
consarning of the rest--your Worship, now when did she leave the
lady?  Can you count the time of it?"

"Zacchary now, the will of the Lord be done, without calculation!
My grave is all I care to count on, if my Grace lies buried so.
But before I go to it, please God, I will find out who has done
it!"



CHAPTER X

ALL DEAD AGAINST HIM


"Now, do 'ee put on a muffler, sir," cried Mary, running out with
her arms full, as Mr. Oglander set forth in the bitter air,
without overcoat, but ready to meet everything.  At the door was
his old Whitechapel cart, with a fresh young colt between the
shafts, pawing the snow, and snorting; the only one of his little
stud not lamed by rugged travelling.  The floor of the cart was
jingling with iron tools, as the young horse shook himself; and
the Squire's groom, and two gardeners, were ready to jump in, when
called for.  They stamped a little, and flapped their bodies, as
if they would like a cordial; but their master was too busy with
his own heart to remember it.

"If we be goin' to dig some hours in such weather as this be," Mr.
Kale managed to whisper--"best way put in a good brandy flask,
Mary, my dear, with Master's leave.  Poor soul, a' can't heed
everything."

"Go along," answered Mary; "you have had enough.  Shamed I be of
you, to think of such things, and to look at that poor Hangel!"

"So plaize your Worship, let me drive," said Cripps, who was going
to sit in front.  "A young horse, and you at your time of life,
and all this trouble over you!"

"Give me the reins, my friend," cried his Worship; and Cripps, in
some dread for his neck, obeyed.  The men jumped in, and the young
horse started at a rather dangerous pace.  Many a time had Miss
Grace fed him, and he used to follow her, like a lamb.

"He will take us safe enough," said the Squire; "he seems to know
what he is going for."

Not another word was spoken, until they came to the gap at the
verge of the quarry, where the frosty moon shone through it.  "Tie
him here," said the master shortly, as the groom produced his ring-
rope; "and throw the big cloth over him.  Now, all of you come;
and Cripps go first."

Scared as they were, they could not in shame decline the old man's
orders; and the sturdy Cripps, with a spade on his shoulders, led
through the drifted thicket.  Behind him plodded the Squire, with
an unlit lantern in one hand, and a stout oak staff in the other;
the moonlight glistening in his long white hair, and sparkling
frost in his hoary beard.  The snow before them showed no print
larger than the pad of an old dog-fox pursuing the spluttering
track of a pheasant's spurs; and it crunched beneath their boots
with the crusty impact of crisp severance.  All around was white
and waste with depth of unknown loneliness; and Master Cripps said
for the rest of his life, that he could not tell what he was
about, to do it!

After many flounderings in and out of hollow places, they came to
the corner of the quarry-dingle, and found it entirely choked with
snow.  The driving of the north-east wind had gathered as into a
funnel there, and had stacked the snow of many acres in a hollow
of less than half a rood.  The men stopped short, where the gaunt
brown fern, and then the furze, and then the hazels, in rising
tier waded out of sight; and behind them even some ash-saplings
scarcely had a knuckled joint to lift from out their burial.  Over
the whole the cold moon shone, and made the depth look deeper.
The men stopped short, and looked at their shovels, and looked at
one another.  They may not have been very bright of mind, or
accustomed to hurried conclusions; and doubtless they were, as
true Englishmen are, of a tough unelastic fibre.  All powers of
evil were banded against them, and they saw no turn to take; still
it was not their own wish to go back, without having struck a blow
for it.

"You can do nothing," said the Squire, with perhaps the first
bitter feeling he had yet displayed.  "All things are dead against
me; I must grin, as you say, and bear it.  It would take a whole
corps of sappers and miners a week to clear this place out.  We
cannot even be sure of the spot; we cannot tell where the corner
is; all is smothered up so.  Ill luck always rides ill luck.  This
proves beyond doubt that my child lies here!"

The men were good men, as men go, and they all felt love and pity
for the lost young lady and the poor old master.  Still their
fingers were so blue, and their frozen feet so hard to feel, and
the deep white gulf before them surged so palpably invincible,
that they could not repine at a dispensation which sent them home
to their suppers.

"Nort to be done till change of weather," said Cripps, as they sat
in the cart again; "I reckon they villains knew what was coming,
better nor I, who have kept the road, man and boy, for thirty
year.  The Lord knoweth best, as He always do!  But to my mind He
maneth to kape on snowing and freezing for a month at laste.  Moon
have changed last night, I b'lieve; and a bitter moon we shall
have of it."

And so they did; the bitterest moon, save one, of the present
century.  And old men said that there had not been such a winter,
and such a sight of snow, since the one which the Lord had sent on
purpose to discomfit Bony.

Mr. Oglander, in his lonely home, strove bravely to make the best
of it.  He had none of that grand religious consolation which some
people have (especially for others), and he grounded his happiness
perhaps too much upon his own hearthstone.  His mind was not an
extraordinary one, and his soul was too old-fashioned to demand
periods of purging.

Moreover, his sister Joan came up--a truly pious and devoted
woman, the widow of an Oxford wine-merchant.  Mrs. Fermitage loved
her niece so deeply that she had no patience with any selfish
pinings after her.  "She is gone to the better land," she said;
"the shores of bliss unspeakable!--unless Russel Overshute knows
about her a great deal more than he will tell.  I have far less
confidence in that young man since he took to wear india-rubber.
But to wish her back is a very sinful and unchristian act, I
fear."

"Now, Joan, you know that you wish her back every time that you
sit down, or get up, or go to tea without her."

"Yes, I know, I know, I do.  And most of all when I pour it out--
she used to do it for me.  But, Worth, you can wrestle more than I
can.  The Lord expects so much more of a man!"

Being exhorted thus, the Squire did his best to wrestle.  Not that
any words of hers could carry now their former weight; for if he
had no daughter left, what good was money left to her?  The Squire
did not want his sister's money for himself at all.  Indeed, he
would rather be without it.  Dirty money, won by trade!--but still
it had been his duty always to try to get it for his daughter.
And this is worth a word or two.

At the Oxford bank, and among the lawyers and the leading
tradesmen, it had been a well-known thing that old Fermitage had
not died with less than £150,000 behind him.  Even in Oxford there
never had been a man so illustrious for port wine.  "Fortiter
occupa portum" was the motto over the door to his vaults, and he
fortified port impregnably.  Therefore he supplied all the common-
room cellars, which cannot have too much geropiga; and among the
undergraduates his name was surety for another glass.  And there
really was a port wine basis; so that nobody died of him.

All these things are beside the mark.  Mr. Fermitage, however,
went on, and hit his mark continually; and his mark was that
bull's eye of this golden age, a yellow imprint of a dragon.  So
many of these came pouring in that he kept them in bottles without
any "kicks," sealed, and left to mature, and acquire "the genuine
bottle flavour."  When he had bottled half a pipe of these, and
was thinking of beginning now to store them in the wood, a man
coming down with a tap found him dead; and was too much scared to
steal anything.

This man reproached himself, ever afterwards, for his irresolute
conscience; and the two executors gave him nothing but blame for
his behaviour.  People in Holiwell said that these two took a
dozen bottles of guineas between them, to toast their testator's
memory; but Holiwell never has been famous for the holy thing
lying at the bottom of the well.  Enough that he was dead; and
every man, seeing his funeral, praised him.



CHAPTER XI

KNOCKER VERSUS BELL-PULL


There is, or was, a street in Oxford, near the ruins of the
ancient castle, and behind the new county jail, where one of the
many offsets of the Isis filters its artificial way beneath low
arches and betwixt dead walls; and this street (partly destroyed
since then) was known to the elder generation by the name of
"Cross Duck Lane."  Of course what remains of it now exults in an
infinitely grander title, though smelling thereby no sweeter.
With that we have nothing to do; the street was "Cross Duck Lane"
in our time.

Here, in a highly respectable house, a truly respectable man
was living, with his business and his family.  "Luke Sharp,
gentleman," was his name, description, style, and title; and he
was not by any means a bad man, so as to be an Attorney.

This man possessed a great deal of influence, having much house-
property; and he never in the least disguised his sentiments, or
played fast and loose with them.  Being of a commanding figure,
and fine straightforward aspect, he left an impression, wherever
he went, of honesty, vigour, and manliness.  And he went into very
good society, as often as he cared to do so; for although not a
native of Oxford, but of unknown (though clearly large) origin, he
now was the head, and indeed the entirety, of a long-established
legal firm.  He had married the daughter of the senior partner,
and bought or ousted away the rest; and although the legend on his
plate was still "Piper, Pepper, Sharp, and Co.," every one knew
that the learning, wealth, and honour of the whole concern were
now embodied in Mr Luke Sharp.  Such a man was under no necessity
ever to blow his own trumpet.

His wife, a fat and goodly person, Miranda Piper of former days,
happened to be the first cousin and nearest relative of a famous
man--"Port-wine Fermitage" himself; and his death had affected her
very sadly.  For she found that he had provided for himself a most
precarious future, by unjust disposal of his worldly goods, which
he could not come back to rectify.  To his godson, her only child
and her idol, Christopher Fermitage Sharp, he had left a copy of
Dr. Doddridge's "Expositor," and nothing else!  A golden work, no
doubt--but still golden precepts fill no purse, but rather tend to
empty it.  Mrs. Luke Sharp, though a very good Christian, repacked
and sent back the "Expositor."

If Mr. Sharp had been at home, he would not have let her do so.
He was full at all times of large generous impulse, but never yet
guilty of impulsive acts.  It had always been said that his son
was to have the bottled half-pipe of gold, or the chief body of
it, after the widow's life-interest.  Whereas now, Mrs. Fermitage,
if she liked, might roll all the bottles down the High Street.
She, however, was a careful woman; and it was manifest where the
whole of this Côte d'Or vintage would be binned away--to wit, in
the cellars of Beckley Barton, with the key at Grace Oglander's
very pretty waist.  Mr. Sharp at the moment could descry no cure;
but still to show temper was a vulgar thing.

Now, upon the New Year's Day of 1838, the bitter weather
continuing still, and doing its best to grow more bitter, Mr.
Sharp, being of a festive turn, had closed his office early.  The
demand for universal closing and perpetual holiday had not yet
risen to its present height, and the clerks, though familiar with
the kindness of their principal, scarcely expected such a
premature relief.  But this only added to the satisfaction with
which they went home to their New Year dinners.

But Mr. Sharp, though of early habits, and hungry at proper
seasons, was not preparing for his dinner now.  He had ordered his
turkey to be kept back, and begged his wife to see to it until he
could make out and settle the import of a letter which reached him
about one o'clock.  It had been delivered by a groom on horseback,
who had suffered some inward struggle before he had stooped to
ring the Attorney's bell.  For "Cross Duck House," though a
comfortable place, was not of an aristocratic cast.  The letter
was short, and expounded little.


"SIR,--I shall do myself the honour of calling upon you at four
o'clock this afternoon, upon some important business.

"Obediently yours,

"RUSSEL OVERSHUTE."


It is not altogether an agreeable thing, even for a man with the
finest conscience, such as Mr. Sharp was blest with, to receive a
challenge upon an unknown point, curtly worded in this wise.  And
the pleasure does not increase, when the strong correspondent is
partly suspected of holding unfavourable views towards one, and
the gaze of self-inspection needs a little more time to compose
itself.  Luke Sharp had led an unblemished life, since the follies
of his youth subsided; he subscribed to inevitable charities; and
he waited for his rents, when sure of them.  Still he did not like
that letter.

Now he took off the coat which he wore at his desk, and his
waistcoat of the morning, and washed his nice white hands, and
clothed himself in expensive dignity.  Then he opened his book of
daily entries, and folded blotting-paper, and prepared to receive
instructions, or give advice, or be wise abstractedly.  But he
thought it a sound precaution to have his son Christopher within
earshot; for young Overshute was reputed to be of a rather
excitable nature; therefore Kit Sharp was commanded to finish the
cleaning of his gun--which was his chief delight--in his father's
closet adjoining the office, and to keep the door shut, unless
called for.

The lawyer was not kept waiting long.  As the clock of St. Thomas
struck four, the shoes of a horse rang sharply on the icy road,
and the office-bell kicked up its tongue, with a jerk showing
great extra-mural energy.  "Let him ring again," said Mr. Sharp;
"I defy him to ring much harder."

The defiance was soon proved to be unsound; for in less than ten
seconds, the bell, which had stood many years of strong emotion,
was visited with such a violent spasm that nothing short of the
melting-pot restored its constitution.  A piece clinked on the
passage floor, and the lawyer was filled with unfeigned wrath.
That bell had been ringing for three generations, and was the
Palladium of the firm.

"What clumsy clod-hopper," cried Mr. Sharp, rushing out, as if he
saw nobody--"what beggarly bumpkin has broken my bell?  Mr.
Overshute!--oh!  I beg pardon, I am sure!"

"We must make allowance," said Russel calmly, "for fidgety
animals, Mr. Sharp; and for thick gloves in this frosty weather.
John, take my horse on the Seven-bridges road, and be back in
exactly fifteen minutes.  How kind of you to be at home, Mr.
Sharp!"

With the words, the young man bestowed on the lawyer a short sharp
glance, which entirely failed to penetrate the latter.

"Shut out this cold wind, for Heaven's sake!" he exclaimed, as he
shut in his visitor.  "You young folk never seem to feel the cold.
But you carry it a little too far sometimes.  Ah, I must have been
about your age when we had such another hard winter as this, four
and twenty years ago.  Scarcely so bitter, but a deal more snow;
snow, snow, six feet everywhere.  I was six and twenty then--about
your age, I take it, sir?"

"My age to a tittle," said Overshute; "but I am generally taken
for thirty-two.  How can you have guessed it so?"

"Early thought, sir, juvenile thought, and advanced intelligence
make young people look far in front of their age.  When you come
to my time of life, young sir, your thoughts and your looks will
be younger.  Now take this chair.  Never mind your boots; let them
hiss as they will on the fender.  I like to hear it--a genial
sound--a touch of emery paper in the morning, and there we are,
ready for other boots.  I have had men here come fifty miles
across country, as the crow flies, to see me, when the floods were
out; and go away with minds comforted."

"I have heard of your skill in all legal points.  But I am not
come on that account.  Quibbles and shuffles I detest."

"Well, Mr. Overshute, I have met with a good deal of rudeness in
my early days; before I was known, as I am now.  It was worth my
while to disarm it then.  It is not so now, in your case.  You
belong to a very good county family; and although you are
committed to inferior hands, if you had come in a friendly spirit,
I would have been glad to serve you.  As it is, I can only request
you to say what your purpose is, and to settle it."

Russel Overshute, with his large and powerful eyes, gazed straight
at Sharp; and Mr. Sharp (who had steely eyes--the best of all for
getting on with--not very large, but as keen as need be) therewith
answered complacently, and as if he saw hope of amusement.

"You puzzle me, Sharp," said Overshute--about the worst thing he
could have said; and he knew it before the words had passed.

"I am called, for the most part, 'Mister Sharp,' except by
gentlemen of my own age, or friends who entirely trust me.  Mr.
Russel Overshute, explain how I have puzzled you."

"Never mind that.  You would never understand.  Have you any idea
what has brought me here?"

"Yes, to be plain with you, I have.  One of your least, but very
oldest tenants, has been caught out in poaching.  You hate the
game-laws; you are a Radical, ranter, and reformer.  You know that
your lawyer is good and active, but too well known as a Liberal.
It requires a man of settled principles to contest with the game-
laws."

"You could not be more wide astray!" cried young Overshute
triumphantly, taking in every word the other had said, as a piece
of his victory.  "No, no, thank goodness, we are not come so low
that we cannot get off our tenants, in spite of any evidence; you
must indeed think that our family is quite reduced to the dirt, if
we can no longer do even that much."

"Not at all, sir.  You are much too hot.  I only supposed for the
moment that your principles might have stopped you."

"Oh dear, no!  My mother could not take it at all, in that way.
Now, where have you put Grace Oglander?"

Impetuous Russel, with his nostrils quivering, and his eyes fixed
on the lawyer's, and his right hand clenching his heavy whip,
purposely fired his question thus, like a thunderbolt out of pure
heaven.  He felt sure of producing a grand effect; and so he did,
but not the right one.

"You threaten me, do you?" said Mr. Sharp.  "I think that you make
a mistake, young man.  Violence is objectionable in every way,
though natural with fools, who believe they are the stronger.  I
am sorry to have spoiled your whip; but you will acknowledge that
the fault was yours.  Now, I am ready for reason--if you are."

With a grave bow, Luke Sharp offered Russel the fragments of his
pet hunting-crop, which he had caught from his hand, and snapped
like a stick of peppermint, as he spoke.  Overshute thought
himself a fine, strong fellow, and with very good reason; but the
quickness of his antagonist left him gasping.

"I want no apologies," Mr. Sharp continued, going to his desk;
while the young man looked sadly at his brazen-knockered butt, for
he had been at that admirable college, and cherished his chief
reminiscence of it thus.  "Apologies are always waste of time.
You have threatened me, and you have found your mistake.  Such a
formidable antagonist makes one's hand shake.  Still, I think that
I can hit my key-hole."

"You can always make your keys fit, I dare say.  But you never
could do that to me again."

"Very likely not.  I shall never care to try it.  Physical force
is always low.  But, as a gentleman, you must own that you first
offered violence."

"Mr. Sharp, I confess that I did.  Not in word, or deed; but still
my manner fairly imported it.  And the first respect I ever felt
for you, I feel now, for your quickness and pluck."

"I am pleased with any respect from you; because you have little
for anything.  Now, repeat your question, moderately."

"Where have you put Grace Oglander?"

"Let me offer you a chair again.  Striding about with frozen feet
is almost the worst thing a man can do.  However, you seem to be a
little excited.  Have you brought me a letter from my client, to
authorize this inquiry?"

"From Mr. Oglander?  Oh no!  He has no idea of my being here."

"We will get over that.  You are a friend of his, and a neighbour.
He has asked you, in a general way, to help him in this sad great
trouble."

"Not at all.  He would rather not have my interference.  He does
not like its motive."

"And the motive is, that like many other people, you were attached
to this young lady?"

"Certainly, I am.  I would give my life at any moment for her."

"Well, well; I will not speak quite so strongly as you do.  Life
grows dearer as it gets more short.  But still, I would give my
best year remaining to get to the bottom of this problem."

"You would?" cried young Overshute, looking at him, with
admiration of his strength and truth.  "Give me your hand, sir?  I
have wronged you!  I see that I am but a hasty fool!"

"You should never own that," said the lawyer.



CHAPTER XII

MR. JOHN SMITH


Meanwhile all Beckley and villages around were seething with a
ferment of excitement and contradiction.  Esther Cripps had been
strictly ordered by the authorities to hold her tongue; and so far
as in her lay she did so.  But there were others--the Squire's
three men, and even the Carrier himself, who had so many things to
think, that they were pretty sure to say some of them.  One or two
of them had wives; and though these women could not be called by
their very worst friends "inquisitive," it was not right and
lawful that they should be debarred of everything.  They did all
they could not to know any more than they were really bound to
know; and whatever was forced upon them had no chance of going any
further.

This made several women look at one another slyly, each knowing
more than the other, and nodding while sounding the other's
ignorance.  Until, with one accord they grew provoked at being
treated so; and truth being multiplied to its cube became, of
course, infinite error.

Now, Mrs. Fermitage having been obliged to return to Cowley, Mary
Hookham's mother had established her power by this time; and
being, as her daughter had pronounced, a conspicuous member of the
females, she exerted herself about all that was said, and saw the
other side of everything.  She never went to no public-house--
nobody could say that of her; but perhaps she could put two and
two together every bit as well as them that did.  It had been her
fortune to acquire exceptional experience--or, as she put it more
plainly, "she had a seed a many things;" and the impressions left
thereby upon her idiosyncrasy (or, in her own words, "what she
come to think") was and were that nothing could be true that she
had not known the like of.  This was the secret of her success in
life--which, however, as yet bore no proportion to her merits.
She frankly scouted as "a pack of stuff" everything to which her
history afforded no vivid parallel.  In a word, she believed only
what she had seen.

Now, incredulity is a grand power.  To be able to say, "Oh, don't
tell me," or "None of your stuff!" when the rest of the audience,
stricken with awe, is gaping, confers at once the esteem of
superior intellect and vigour.  And when there are good high
people, who derive comfort from the denial, the chances are that
the active sceptic does not get the worst of it.

Mrs. Hookham plainly declared that Esther's tale was neither more
nor less than a trumpery cock-and-bull story.  She would not call
it a parcel of lies, because the poor girl might have dreamed it.
Walking in the snow was no more than walking in one's sleep; she
knew that, from her own experience; and if there had been no snow
as yet, that made her all the more sure to be right; the air was
full of it, and of course it would have more power overhead.
Depend upon it, she had seen a bush, if indeed she did see
anything, and being so dazed by the weather, she had gone and
dreamed the rest of it.

Beckley, on the other hand, having known Esther ever since she
toddled out of her cradle, and knowing her brothers, the carrier,
the baker, and the butcher, and having no experience yet of Mother
Hookham's wisdom, as good as told the latter lady not to be "so
bounceable."  She must not come into this parish, and pretend to
know more about things that belonged to it than those who were
bred and born there.

But Mrs. Hookham's opinion was, in one way, very important,
however little weight it carried at the Dusty Anvil.  Mr. Oglander
himself had to depend for his food entirely on Mrs. Hookham's
efforts; for Betty, the cook, went purely off her head, after all
she had gone through; and they put her in bed with a little barley-
water, and much malt liquor in a nobler form.  And though Mrs.
Hookham at her time of life was reluctant so to demean herself,
she found all the rest such a "Noah's compass," that she roused up
the fires of departed youth, and flourished with the basting-
ladle.  A clever well-conditioned dame, with a will of her own, is
somebody.

"Now, sir," she cried, rushing in to the Squire, with a basin of
first-rate ox-tail soup, upon that melancholy New Year's Day, "you
have been out in the snow again!  No use denying of it, sir; I can
see it by the chattering of your teeth.  I call it a bad, wicked
thing to go on so.  Flying in the face of the Lord like that!"

"You are a most kind and good soul, Mrs. Hookham.  But surely you
would not have me sit with my hands crossed, doing nothing."

"No, no; surely not.  Take the spoon in one hand, and the basin in
the other.  You owe it to yourself to keep up your strength, and
to some one else as well, good sir."

"I have no one else now to owe it to," the old man answered, sadly
tucking his napkin into his waistcoat pockets.

"Yes, you have.  You have your Miss Gracie, alive and kicking, as
sure as I be; and with a deal more of life in front of her; though
scarce a week passes but what I takes my regular dose of calumny.
Ah, if it had not been for that, I never could have been twenty
year a widow."

"Don't cry, Mrs. Hookham.  I beg you not to cry.  You have many
good children to look after; and there still is abundance of
calomel.  But why do you talk so about my darling?"

"Because, sir, please God, I means to see you spend many a happy
year together.  Lord have mercy, if I had took for granted every
trouble as come upon me, who could a' tried for to cheat me this
day?  My goodness, don't go for to swallow the bones, sir!"

"To be sure not.  No, I was not thinking.  Of course there are
bones in every tail."

"And a heap of bones in them Crippses' tale, sir, as won't go down
with me nohow.  Have faith in the mercy of the Lord, sir; and in
your own experience."

"That is exactly what I try to do.  There cannot be any one in the
world so bad as to hurt my Gracie.  Mrs. Hookham, you never can
have seen anybody like her.  She was so full of life and kindness
that everybody who knew her seemed to have her in their own
family.  She never made pretence to be above herself, or any one;
and she entered into everybody's trouble quite as if she had
brought it on.  She never asked them any questions, whether it
might have been their own fault; and she gave away all her own
money first before she came to me for more.  She was so simple,
and so pleasant, and so full of playful ways--but there, when I
think of that, it makes me almost as bad as you women are.  Take
out the dish.  I am very much obliged to you."

"Not a bit, sir, not a bit as yet," the brisk dame answered, with
tears on her cheeks.  "But before very long, you will own that you
was; when you find every word I say come true.  Oh my!  How that
startled me!  Somebody coming the short way from the fields!  That
wonderful man, as is always prowling about, unbeknown to any one.
They don't like me in the village much, civil as I am to all of
them.  But as sure as six is half a dozen, that Smith is the one
they ought to hate."

"If he is there, show him in at once," said the Squire, without
further argument; "and let no one come interrupting us."

This was very hard upon Mrs. Hookham; and she could not help
showing it in her answer.

"Oh, to be sure, sir!  Oh, to be sure not!  What is my poor
opinion compared to his?  Ah well, it is a fine thing to be a
man!"

The man, for whose sake she was thus cast out, seemed to be of the
same opinion.  He walked, and looked, and spoke as if it was
indeed a fine thing to be a man; but the finest of all things to
be the man inside his own cloth and leather.  Short and thick of
form he was, and likely to be at close quarters a dangerous
antagonist.  And the set of his jaws, and the glance of his eyes,
showed that no want of manhood would at the critical moment
disable him.  His face was of a strong red colour, equally spread
all over it, as if he lived much in the open air, and fed well,
and enjoyed his food.

"John Smith, your Worship--John Smith," he said, without troubling
Mrs. Hookham.  "I hope I see your Worship better.  Don't rise, I
beg of you.  May I shut the door?  Oh, Mary, your tea is waiting."

"Mary, indeed!" cried widow Hookham, ungraciously departing;
"young man, address my darter thus!"

"Now, what have you done, Smith, what have you done?" the old
gentleman asked, stooping over him.  "Or have you done nothing at
all as usual?  You tell me to have patience every day, and every
day I have less and less."

"The elements are against us, sir.  If the weather had been
anything but what it is, I must have known everything long ago.
Stop, sir, stop; it is no idle excuse, as you seem to fancy.  It
is not the snow that I speak of; it is the intense and deadly
cold, that keeps all but the very strong people indoors.  How can
any man talk when his beard is frozen?  Look, sir!"

From his short brown beard he took lumps of ice, beginning to thaw
in the warmth of the room, and cast them into the fire to hiss.
Mr. Oglander gazed as if he thought that his visitor took a
liberty, but one that could not matter much.  "Go on, sir, with
your report," he said.

"Well, sir, in this chain of crime," Mr. Smith replied in a
sprightly manner, "we have found one very important link."

"What is it, Smith?  Don't keep me waiting.  Don't fear me.  I am
now prepared to stand anything whatever."

"Well, sir, we have discovered, at last, the body of your
Worship's daughter."

The Squire bowed, and hid his face.  By the aid of faith, he had
been hoping against hope, till it came to this.  Then he looked
up, with his bright old eyes for the moment very steady, and said
with a firm though hollow voice--

"The will of the Lord be done!  The will of the Lord be done,
Smith."

"The will of the Lord shall not be done," cried Mr. Smith
emphatically, and striking his thick knees with his fist, "until
the man who has done it shall be swung, Squire, swung!  Make up
your mind to that, your Worship.  You may safely make up your mind
to that."

"What good will it do me?" the father asked, talking with himself
alone.  "Will it ever bring back my girl--my child?  Bereaved I
am, but it cannot be long!  I shall meet her in a better world,
Smith."

"To be sure your Worship will, with the angels and archangels.
But to my mind that will be no satisfaction, till the man has
swung for it."

"Excuse me for a moment, will you, Mr. Smith, excuse me?  I have
no right to be overcome, and I thought I had got beyond all that.
Ring the bell, and they will bring you cold sirloin and a jug of
ale.  Help yourself, and don't mind me.  I will come back
directly.  No, thank you; I can walk alone.  How many have had
much worse to bear!  You will find the under-cut the best."



CHAPTER XIII

MR. SMITH IS ACTIVE


Mr. John Smith was a little upset at seeing the Squire so put out.
But he said to himself:  "It is natural--after all, it is natural.
Poor old chap! he has taken it as well as could be expected.
However, we must all live; and I feel uncommonly peckish just now.
I declare I would rather have had something hot, this weather.
But in such a case, one must put up with things.  I wonder if they
have got any horseradish.  All frozen hard in the ground, I fear--
no harm, at any rate, in asking."

With this self-commune he rang the bell; and Mary, by her mother's
order, answered.  "I'll not go nigh the baste!" cried widow
Hookham, still indignant.  Mary, like a good maid, laid the cloth
without a syllable, and, like a good young woman, took the keenest
heed of Mr. Smith, without letting him dream that she peeped at
him.

"Thank you, Mary," said Mr. Smith, to open conversation.

"My mother's name is Mary," she answered, "and perhaps you would
like some pickles."

"By all means, as there is no horseradish.  Bring onions,
gherkins, and walnuts, Mary.  But above all things, walnuts."

"You must have what you can get," said Mary.  "I will go and tell
master what you require."

"On no account, Mary; on no account!  He is gone away to pray, I
believe.  On no account disturb him."

"Poor dear, I should hope not.  Perhaps you can manage with what I
have set before you."

"I will do my best," he answered.

"The scum of the earth!" said Mary to herself; good servants being
the most intensely aristocratic of all the world.

"He never dined at a gentleman's table before, and his head is
turned with it.  Our kitchen is too good for him.  But poor master
never heeds nothing now."

As soon, however, as Mr. Smith had appeased the rage of hunger,
and having called for a glass of hot brandy and water, was
clinking the spoon in it, the Squire showed that he did heed
something, by coming back calmly to talk with him.  Mr. Oglander
had passed the bitterest hour of his long life yet; filled at
every turn of thought with yearning to break down and weep.
Sometimes his mind was so confused that he did not know how old he
was, but seemed to be in the long past days, with his loving wife
upon his arm, and their Gracie toddling in front of them.  He
spoke to them both as he used to do, and speaking cleared his
thoughts again; and he shook away the dreamy joy in the blank
forlorn of facts.  At last he washed his face, and brushed his
silver hair and untended beard, and half in the looking-glass
expected to see his daughter scolding him, because he knew that he
had neglected many things she insisted on; and his conscience
caught him when he seemed to be taking a low advantage.

"I hope you have been treated well," he said, with his fine old-
fashioned bow, to Smith, as he came back again.  "I do not often
leave my guests to attend to themselves in this way."

"Don't apologize, Squire, I beg you.  I have done first chop, I
assure you, sir.  I have not tasted real mustard, ground at home
as yours is, since I was up in Durham county, where they never
grow it."

"Well, Mr. Smith," said the Squire, trying to smile at his
facetiousness, "I am very glad that you have done well.  In
weather like this, a young man like you must want a good deal of
nourishment.  But now, will you--will you tell me--"

"Yes, your Worship, everything!  Of course you are anxious; and I
thoroughly enter into your feelings.  There are none of the women
at the door, I hope?"

"Such things do not happen in my house.  I will not interrupt
you."

"Very well, sir; then sit down here.  You must be aware in the
first place, then, that I was not likely to be content with your
way of regarding things.  The Lord is the Lord of the weather, of
course, and does it without consulting us.  Nevertheless, He
allows us also to do our best against it.  So I took the bull by
the horns, as John Bull, by his name, has a right to do.  I just
resolved to beat the weather, and have it out with everything.  So
I communicated with the authorities in London.  You know we are in
a transition state--a transition state at present, sir--between
the old system and the new."

"Yes, yes, of course I know all that."

"Very well, your Worship, we are obliged, of course, to be doubly
careful.  In London, we are quite established; but down here, we
must feel our way.  The magistrates, saving your Worship's
presence, look upon us with dislike, as if we were superseding
them.  That will wear off, your Worship, and the new system will
work wonders."

"Yes, so you all say.  But now, be quick.  What wonders have you
wrought, John Smith?"

"Well, I was going to tell your Worship when you interrupted me.
You know that story of Cripps, the Carrier, and his sister--what's
her name?  Well, some folk believed it, and some bereaved it.  I
did neither of the two, but resolved to get to the bottom of it.
Your Worship was afraid, you remember--well, then, let us say
daunted, sir--or, if you will not have that, we may say, that you
trusted in Providence."

"It was not quite that; but still, Mr. Smith--"

"Your Worship will excuse me.  Things of that sort happen always,
and the people are always wrong that do it.  I trusted in
Providence once myself, but now I trust twice in my own self first
and leave Providence to come after me.  Ha, ha!  I speak my mind.
No offence, your Worship.  Well then, this was what I did.  A
brave regiment of soldiers having newly returned from India, was
ordered to march from London to the Land's End for change of
temperature.  They had not been supplied, of course, with any
change of clothes for climate, and they felt it a little, but were
exhorted not to be too particular.  Two companies were to be
billeted at Abingdon last evening; and having, of course, received
notice of that, I procured authority to use them.  They shivered
so that they wanted work; and there is nothing, your Worship, like
discipline."

"Of course, I know that from my early days.  Will you tell your
story speedily?"

"Sir, that is just what I am doing.  I brought them with out many
words to the quarry, where ten times the number of our clodhoppers
would only have shovelled at one another.  Bless my heart! they
did work, and with order and arrangement.  Being clothed all in
cotton, they had no time to lose, unless they meant to get frozen;
and it was a fine sight, I assure your Worship, to see how they
showed their shoulder-blades, being skinny from that hot climate,
and their brown-freckled arms in the white of the drift, and the
Indian steam coming out of them!  In about two hours all the
ground was clear, and the trees put away, like basket-work; and
then we could see what had happened exactly, and even the mark of
the pickaxes.  Every word of that girl was proved true to a
tittle!  I never heard finer evidence.  We can even see that two
men had been at work, and the stroke of their tools was different.
You may trust me for getting up a case; but I see that you have no
patience, Squire.  We shovelled away all the fallen rock, and
mould, and stumps, and furze-roots; and, at last, we came to the
poor, poor innocent body, as fresh as the daylight!"

"I can hear no more!  You have lost no child--if you have, perhaps
you could spare it.  Tell me nothing--nothing more!  But prove
that it was my child!"

"Lord a' mercy, your Worship!  Why, you are only fit to go to bed!
Here, Mary!  Mary!  Mother Hookham!  Curse the bell--I have broken
it!  Your master is taken very queer!  Look alive, woman!  Stir
your stumps!  A pot of hot water and a foot-tub!  Don't get scared--
he will be all right.  I always carry a fleam with me.  I can
bleed him as well as any doctor.  Hold his head up.  Let me feel.
Oh, he is not going to die just yet!  Stop your caterwauling!
There, I have relieved his veins.  He will know us all in a minute
again.  He ought to have had a deal more spirit.  I never could
have expected this.  I smoothed off everything so nicely--just as
if it was a lady--"

"Did you, indeed!  I have heard every word," said widow Hookham
sternly.  "You locked the door, or I would have had my ten nails
in you long ago!  Poor dear!  What is a scum like you?  And after
all, what have you done, John Smith?"



CHAPTER XIV

SO IS MR. SHARP


On the very next day it was known throughout the parish and the
neighbourhood that the ancient Squire had broken down at last,
under the weight of anxieties.  Nobody blamed him much for this,
except his own sister and Mr. Smith.  Mrs. Fermitage said that he
ought to have shown more faith and resignation; and John Smith
declared that all his plans were thrown out by this stupidity.
What proper inquiry could be held, when the universal desire was
to spare the feelings and respect the affliction of a poor old
man?

Mr. Smith was right.  An inquest truly must be held upon the body
which had been found by the soldiers.  But the Coroner, being a
good old friend and admirer of the Oglanders, contrived that the
matter should be a mere form, and the verdict an open nullity.
Mr. Luke Sharp appeared, and in a dignified reserve was ready to
represent the family.  He said a few words, in the very best
taste, and scarcely dared to hint at things which must be painful
to everybody left alive to think of them.  How the crush of tons
of rock upon an unprotected female form had made it impossible to
say--and how all the hair (which more than any other human gift
survived the sad, sad change), having been cut off, was there no
longer--and how there was really nothing except a pair of not over
new silk stockings, belonging to a lady of lofty position in the
county, and the widow of an eminent gentleman, but not required,
he might hope, to present herself so painfully.  Mr. Sharp could
say no more; and the jury felt that he now must come, or, failing
him, his son, Kit Sharp, into the £150,000 of "Port-wine
Fermitage."

Therefore they returned the verdict carried in his pocket by them,
"Death by misadventure of a young lady, name unknown."  Their
object was to satisfy the Squire and their consciences; and they
found it wise, as it generally is, not to be too particular.  And
the Coroner was the last man to make any fuss about anything.

"Are you satisfied now, Mr. Overshute?" asked Lawyer Sharp, as
Russel met him in the passage of the Quarry Arms, where the
inquest had been taken.  "The jury have done their best, at once
to meet the facts of the case, and respect the feelings of the
family."

"Satisfied!  How can I be?  Such a hocus-pocus I never knew.  It
is not for me to interfere, while things are in this wretched
state.  Everybody knows what an inquest is.  No doubt you have
done your duty, and acted according to your instructions.  Come in
here, where we can speak privately."

Mr. Sharp did not look quite as if he desired a private interview.
However, he followed the young man with the best grace he could
muster.

"I am going to speak quite calmly, and have no whip now for you to
snap," said Russel, sitting down, as soon as he had set a chair
for Mr. Sharp; "but may I ask you why you have done your utmost to
prevent what seemed, to an ordinary mind, the first and most
essential thing?"

"The identification?  Yes, of course.  Will you come and satisfy
yourself?  The key of the room is in my pocket."

"I cannot do it.  I cannot do it," answered the young man,
shuddering.  "My last recollection must not be--"

"Young sir, I respect your feelings.  And need I ask you, after
that, whether I have done amiss in sparing the feelings of the
family?  And there is something more important than even that at
stake just now.  You know the poor Squire's sad condition.  The
poor old gentleman is pretty well broken down at last, I fear.
What else could we expect of him?  And the doctor his sister had
brought from London says that his life hangs positively upon a
thread of hope.  Therefore we are telling him sad stories, or
rather, I ought to say, happy stories; and though he is too sharp
to swallow them all, they do him good, sir--they do him good."

"I can quite understand it.  But how does that bear--I mean you
could have misled him surely about the result of this inquest?"

"By no means.  He would have insisted on seeing a copy of The
Herald.  In fact, if the jury could not have been managed, I had
arranged with the editor to print a special copy giving the
verdict as we wanted it.  A pious fraud, of course; and so it is
better to dispense with it.  This verdict will set him up again
upon his poor old legs, I hope.  He seemed to dread the final blow
so, and the bandying to and fro of his unfortunate daughter's
name.  I scarcely see why it should be so; but so it is, Mr.
Overshute."

"Of course it is.  How can you doubt it?  How can it be otherwise?
You can have no good blood in you--I beg your pardon, I speak
rashly; but I did not mean to speak rudely.  All I mean to say is
that you need no more explain yourself.  I seem to be always
doubting you; and it always shows what a fool I am."

"Now, don't say that," Mr. Luke Sharp answered, with a fine and
genial smile.  "You are acknowledged to be the most rising member
of the County Bench.  But still, sir, still there is such a thing
as going too far with acuteness, sir.  You may not perceive it
yet; but when you come to my age, you will own it."

"Truly.  But who can be too suspicious, when such things are done
as these?  I tell you, Sharp, that I would give my head off my
shoulders, this very instant, to know who has done this damned
villainy!--this infernal--unnatural wrong, to my darling--to my
darling!"

"Mr. Overshute, how can we tell that any wrong has been done to
her?"

"No wrong to take her life!  No wrong to cut off all her lovely
hair, and to send it to her father!  No wrong to leave us as we
are, with nothing now to care for!  You spoke like a sensible man
just now--oh, don't think that I am excitable."

"Well, how can I think otherwise?  But do me the justice to
remember that I do not for one moment assert what everybody takes
for granted.  It seems too probable, and it cannot for the present
at least be disproved, that here we have the sad finale of the
poor young lady.  But it must be borne in mind that, on the other
hand, the body--"

"The thing could be settled in two minutes--Sharp, I have no
patience with you!"

"So it appears; and, making due allowance, I am not vexed with
you.  You mean, of course, the interior garments, the nether
clothing, and so on.  There is not a clue afforded there.  We have
found no name on anything.  The features and form, as I need not
tell you--"

"I cannot bear to hear of that.  Has any old servant of the
family; has the family doctor--"

"All those measures were taken, of course.  We had the two oldest
servants.  But the one was flurried out of her wits, and the other
three-quarters frozen.  And you know what a fellow old Splinters
is, the crustiest of the crusty.  He took it in bitter dudgeon
that Sir Anthony had been sent for to see the poor old Squire.
And all he would say was, 'Yes, yes, yes; you had better send for
Sir Anthony.  Perhaps he could bring--oh, of course he could bring--
my poor little pet to life again!'  Then we tried her aunt, Mrs.
Fermitage, one of the last who had seen her living.  But bless
you, my dear sir, a team of horses would not have lugged her into
the room.  She cried, and shrieked, and fainted away."

"'Barbarous creatures!' she said, 'you will have to hold another
inquest, if you are so unmanly.  I could not even see my dear
husband,' and then she fell into hysterics, and we had to send two
miles for brandy.  Now, sir, have we anything more to do?  Shall
we send a litter or a coffin for the Squire himself?"

"You are inclined to be sarcastic.  But you have taken a great
deal upon yourself.  You seem to have ordered everything.  Mr.
Luke Sharp everywhere!"

"Will you tell me who else there was to do it?  It has not been a
very pleasant task, and certainly not a profitable one.  I shall
reap the usual reward--to be called a busybody by every one.  But
that is a trifle.  Now, if there is anything you can suggest, Mr.
Overshute, it shall be done at once.  Take time to think.  I feel
a little tired and in need of rest.  There has been so much to
think of.  You should have come to help us sooner.  But, no doubt,
you felt a sort of delicacy about it.  The worthy jurymen's feet
at last have ceased to rattle in the passage.  My horse will not
be here just yet.  You will not think me rude, if I snatch a
little rest, while you consider.  For three nights I have had no
sleep.  Have I your good permission, sir?  Here is the key of that
room, meanwhile."

Russel Overshute was surprised to see Mr. Sharp draw forth a large
silk handkerchief, with spots of white upon a yellow ground, and
spread it carefully over the crown of his long, deep head, and
around his temples down to the fine grey eyebrows.  Then lifting
gaitered heels upon the flat wide bar of the iron fender--the
weather being as cold as ever--in less than a minute Mr. Luke
Sharp was asleep beyond all contradiction.  He slept the sleep of
the just, with that gentle whisper of a snore which Aristotle
hints at to prove that virtue being, as she must be, in the mean,
doth in the neutral third of life maintain a middle course between
loud snore and silent slumber.

If Mr. Sharp had striven hard to produce a powerful effect, young
Overshute might have suspected him; but this calm, good sleep and
pure sense of rest laid him open for all the world to take a
larger view of him.  No bad man could sleep like that.  No narrow-
minded man could be so wide to nature's noblest power.  Only a
fine and genial soul could sweetly thus resign itself.  The soft
content of well-earned repose spoke volumes in calm silence.  Here
was a good man (if ever there was one), at peace with his
conscience, the world, and heaven!

Overshute was enabled thus to look at things more loftily;--to
judge a man as he should be judged, when he challenges no verdict;--
to see that there are large points of view, which we lose by
worldly wisdom, and by little peeps through selfish holes, too one-
eyed and ungenerous.  Overshute could not bear the idea of any
illiberality.  He hated suspicion in anybody, unless it were just;
as his own should be.  In this condition of mind he pondered,
while the honest lawyer slept.  And he could not think of anything
neglected, or mismanaged much, in the present helpless state of
things.



CHAPTER XV

A SPOTTED DOG


When at last the frost broke up, and streams began to run again,
and everywhere the earth was glad that men should see her face
once more; and forest-trees, and roadside pollards, and bushes of
the common hedgerow, straightened their unburdened backs, and
stood for spring to look at them; a beautiful young maiden came as
far as she could come, and sighed; as if the beauty of the land
awaking was a grief to her.

This pretty lady, in the young moss-bud, and slender-necked
chalice of innocence, was laden with dews of sorrow, such as
nature, in her outer dealings with the more material world, defers
until autumnal night and russet hours are waiting.  Scarcely in
full bloom of youth, but ripe for blush or dreaminess, she felt
the power of early spring, and the budding hope around her.

"Am I to be a prisoner always, ever more a prisoner?" she said, as
she touched a willow catkin, the earliest of all, the silver one.
She stroked the delicate silken tassel, doubtful of its prudence
yet; and she looked for leaves, but none there were, and nothing
to hold commune.

The feeble sun seemed well content to have a mere glimpse of the
earth again, and spread his glances diffidently, as if he expected
shadow.  Nevertheless, there he was at last; and the world
received him tenderly.

"It has been such a long, long time.  It seems to grow longer, as
the days draw out, and nobody comes to talk to me.  My place it is
to obey, of course--but still, but still--there he is again!"

The girl drew back; for a fine young man, in a grand new velvet
shooting-coat, wearing also a long shawl waistcoat and good buck-
skin breeches, which (combined with calf-skin gaiters) set off his
legs to the uttermost,--in all this picturesque apparel, and
swinging a gun right gallantly, there he was, and no mistake!  He
was quietly trying through the covert, without any beaters, but
with a brace of clever spaniels, for woodcock, snipe, or rabbit
perhaps; the season for game being over.  A tall, well-made, and
rather nice young man (so far as a bashful girl might guess) he
seemed at this third view of him; and of course it would be an
exceedingly rude and pointed thing to run away.  Needless, also,
and indeed absurd; because she was sure that when last they met,
he was frightened much more than she was.  It was nothing less
than a duty now, to find out whether he had recovered himself.  If
he had done so, it would be as well to frighten him even more this
time.  And if he had not, it would only be fair to see what could
be done for him.

One of his dogs--a "cocking spannel," as the great Mr. Looker
warranted--a good young bitch, with liver-coloured spots, and drop
ears torn by brambles, and eyes full of brownish yellow light, ran
up to the girl confidentially, and wagged a brief tail, and
sniffed a little, and with sound discretion gazed.  Each black
nostril was like a mark of panting interrogation, and one ear was
tucked up like a small tunnel, and the eye that belonged to it
blinked with acumen.

"You pretty dear, come and let me pat you," the young lady cried,
looking down at the dog, as if there were nobody else in the
world.  "Oh, I am so fond of dogs--what is your name?  Come and
tell me, darling."

"Her name is 'Grace,'" said the master, advancing in a bashful but
not clumsy way.  "The most beautiful name in the world, I think."

"Oh, do you think so, Mr.--but I beg your pardon, you have not
told me what your own name is, I think."

"I hope you are quite well," he answered, turning his gun away
carefully; "quite well this fine afternoon.  How beautiful it is
to see the sun, and all the things coming back again so!"

"Oh yes! and the lovely willow-trees!  I never noticed them so
before.  I had no idea that they did all this.  She was stroking
the flossiness as she spoke.

"Neither had I," said the young man, trying to be most agreeable,
and glancing shyly at the haze of silver in lily fingers
glistening; "but do not you think that they do it because--because
they can scarcely help themselves?"

"No! how can you be so stupid?  Excuse me--I did not mean that, I
am sure.  But they do it because it is their nature; and they like
to do it."

"You know them, no doubt; and you understand them, because you are
like them."

He was frightened as soon as he had said this; which he thought
(while he uttered it) rather good.

"I am really astonished," the fair maid said, with the gleam of a
smile in her lively eyes, but her bright lips very steadfast, "to
be compared to a willow-tree.  I thought that a willow meant--but
never mind, I am glad to be like a willow."

"Oh no! oh no!  You are not one bit--I am sure you will never be
like a willow.  What could I have been thinking of?"

"No harm whatever, I am sure of that," she answered, with so sweet
a look, that he stopped from scraping the toe of his boot on a
clump of moss; and in his heart was wholly taken up with her--"I
am sure that you meant to be very polite."

"More than that--a great deal more than that--oh, ever so much
more than that!"

She let him look at her for a moment, because he had something
that he wanted to express.  And she, from pure natural curiosity,
would have been glad to know what it was.  And so their eyes dwelt
upon one another just long enough for each to be almost ashamed of
leaving off; and in that short time they seemed to be pleased with
one another's nature.  The youth was the first to look away;
because he feared that he might be rude; whereas a maiden cannot
be rude.  With the speed of a glance she knew all that, and she
blushed at the colour these things were taking.  "I am sure that I
ought to go," she said.

"And so ought I, long and long ago.  I am sure I cannot tell why I
stop.  If you were to get into any trouble--"

"You are very kind.  You need not be anxious.  If you do not know
why you stop--the sooner you run away at full speed the better."

"Oh, I hope you won't say that," he replied, being gifted by
nature with powers of courting, which only wanted practice.  "I
really think that you scarcely ought to say so unkind a thing as
that."

"Very well, then.  May I say this, that you have important things
to attend to, and that it looks--indeed it does--as if it was
coming on to rain?"

"I assure you there is no fear of that--although, if it did, there
is plenty of shelter.  But look at the sun--how it shines in your
hair!  Oh, why do you keep your hair so short?  It looks as if it
ought to be ten feet long."

"Well, suppose that it was--not quite ten feet, for that would be
rather hard to manage--but say only half that length, and then for
a very good reason was all cut off--but that is altogether another
thing, and in no way can concern you.  I give you a very good day,
sir."

"No, no! you will give me a very bad day, if you hurry away so
suddenly.  I am anxious to know a great deal more about you.  Why
do you live in this lonely place, quite as if you were imprisoned
here?  And what makes you look so unhappy sometimes, although your
nature is so bright?  There! what a brute I am!  I have made you
cry.  I ought to shoot myself."

"You must not talk of such wicked things.  I am not crying; I am
very happy--at least, I mean quite happy enough.  Good-bye! or I
never shall bear you again."

As she turned away, without looking at him, he saw that her pure
young breast was filled with a grief he must not intrude upon.
And at the same moment he caught a glimpse through the trees of
some one coming.  So he lifted his smart Glengarry cap, and in sad
perplexity strode away.  But over his shoulder he softly said--"I
shall come again--you must let me do that--I am sure that I can
help you."

The young lady made no answer; but turned as soon as she thought
he was out of sight, and wistfully looked after him.

"Here comes that Miss Patch, of course," she said.  "I wonder
whether she has spied him out.  Her eyes are always everywhere."

"Oh, my darling child," cried Miss Patch, an elderly lady of great
dignity; "I had no idea you were gone so far.  Come in, I beg of
you, come this moment; what has excited you like this?"

"Nothing at all.  At least, I mean, I am not in the least excited.
Oh! look at the beautiful sunset!"

Miss Patch, with deep gravity, took out her spectacles, placed
them on her fine Roman nose, and gazed eastward to watch the
sunset.

"Oh dear no! not there," cried her charge in a hurry; "here, it is
all in this direction."

"I thought that I saw a spotted dog," the lady answered, still
gazing steadily down the side of the forest by which the youth had
made his exit; "a spotted dog, Grace, I am almost sure."

"Yes, I dare say.  I believe that there is a dog with some spots
in the neighbourhood."



CHAPTER XVI

A GRAND SMOCK-FROCK


Upon the Saturday after this, being market-day at Oxford, Zacchary
Cripps was in and out with the places and the people, as busy as
the best of them.  The number of things that he had to do used to
set his poor brain buzzing; until he went into the Bar--not the
grand one, but the Hostler's Bar, at the Golden Cross--and left
dry froth at the bottom of a pewter quart measure of find old ale.
At this flitting trace of exhaustion he always gazed for a moment
as if he longed to behold just such another, and then, with a sigh
of self-dedication to all the great duties before him, out he
pulled his leather bag, and counted fourpence four times over
(without any multiplication thereof, but a desire to have less
subtraction), and then he generally shook his head, in penitence
at his own love of good ale, and the fugitive fate of the passion.
The last step was to deposit his fourpence firmly upon the metal
counter, challenging all the bad pence and half-pence pilloried
there as a warning; and then with a glance at the barmaid Sally,
to encourage her still to hope for him, away went Cripps to the
duties of the day.

These always took him to the market first, a crowded and very
narrow quarter then, where he always had a great host of
commissions, at very small figures, to execute.  His honesty was
so broadly known that it was become quite an onerous gift, as
happens in much higher grades of life.  Folk, all along both his
roads of travel, naturally took great advantage of it; being
certain that he would spend their money quite as gingerly as his
own, and charge them no more than he was compelled by honesty
towards himself to charge.

Farmers, butchers, poulterers, hucksters, chandlers, and grocers--
black, yellow, and green--all knew Zacchary Cripps, and paid him
the compliment of asking fifty per cent. above what they meant, or
even hoped to take.  Of this the Carrier was well aware, and upon
the whole it pleased him.  The triumph each time of rubbing down,
by friction of tongue and chafe of spirit, eighteen-pence into a
shilling, although it might be but a matter of course, never lost
any of its charms for him.  His brisk eyes sparkled as he pulled
off his hat, and made the most learned annotations there--if
learning is (as generally happens) the knowledge of what nobody
else can read.

But now, before he had filled the great leathern apron of his
capacities--which being full, his hat had no room for any further
entries--a thing came to pass which startled him; so far at least
as the road and the world had left him the power of starting.  He
saw his own brother, Leviticus, standing in friendly talk with a
rabbit-man; a man whose reputation was not at a hopeless distance
beyond reproach; a man who had been three times in prison--whether
he ought or ought not to have been, this is a difficult point to
debate.  His friends contended that he ought not--if so, he of
course was wrong to go there.  His enemies vowed that he ought to
be there--if so, he could rightly be nowhere else.  The man got
the benefit of both opinions, in a powerfully negative condition
of confidence on the part of the human brotherhood.  But for all
that, there were bigger rogues to be found in Oxford.

Cripps, however, as the head of the family, having seigneurial
rights by birth--as well as, in his own opinion, force of superior
intellect--saw, and at once discharged, his duty.  No taint of
poached rabbits must lie, for a moment, on the straightforward
path of the Crippses.  Zacchary, therefore, held up one hand, as a
warning to Tickuss to say no more, until he could get at him--for
just at this moment a dead lock arose, through a fight of four
women about a rotten egg--but when that had lapsed into hysterics,
the Carrier struggled to his brother's elbow.

Leviticus Cripps was a large, ruddy man, half a head taller than
the heir of the house, but not so well built for carrying boxes.
His frame was at the broadest and thickest of itself at that very
important part of the human system which has to do with aliment.
But inasmuch as all parts do that, more or less directly, accuracy
would specify (if allowable) his stomach.  Here he was well
developed; but narrowed or sloped towards less essential points;
whereas the Carrier was at his greatest across and around the
shoulders.  A keen physiologist would refer this palpable
distinction to their respective occupations.  The one fed pigs and
fed upon them, and therefore required this local enlargement for
sympathy, and for assimilation.  The other bore the burden of good
things for the benefit of others; which is anything but fattening.

Be that as it will, they differed thus; and they differed still
more in countenance.  Zacchary had a bright open face, with a
short nose of brave and comely cock, a mouth large, pleasant, and
mild as a cow's, a strong square forehead, and blue eyes of great
vivacity, and some humour.  He had true Cripps' hair, like a horn-
beam hedge in the month of January; and a thick curly beard of
good hay colour, shaven into three scollops like a clover leaf.
His manner of standing, and speaking, and looking was sturdy, and
plain, and resolute; and he stuck out his elbows, and set his
knuckles on his hips, whenever both hands were empty.

On the contrary, Tickuss, his brother, looked at every one, and at
all times, rather as if he were being suspected.  Wrongly
suspected, of course, and puzzled to tell at all why it should be
so; and as a general rule, a little surly at such injustice.  The
expression of his face was heavy, slow-witted, and shyly
inquisitive; his hair was black, and his eyes of a muddy brown
with small slippery pupils; and he kept his legs in a fidgety
state, as if prone to be wanted for running away.  In stature,
however, and weight this man was certainly above the average; and
he would rather do a good than a bad thing, whenever the motives
were equivalent.

But if his soul could not always walk in spotless raiment, his
body at least was clad in the garb of innocence.  No man in Oxford
market wore a smock that could be compared with his.  For on such
great occasions Leviticus came in a noble shepherd's smock, long
and flowing around him well, a triumph of mind in design and
construction, and a marvel of hand in fine stitching and plaiting,
goffering, crimping, and ironing.  The broad turned-over collar
was like a snowdrift tattooed by fairies, the sleeves were
gathered in as religiously as a bishop's gossamer; and the front
was foursquare with cunning work; a span was the length, and a
span the breadth, like the breastplate over the ephod.  As for
Tickuss himself, he cared no more than the wool of a pig for such
trifles; beyond this, that he liked to have his neighbours looking
up to, and the women looking after, him.  Even in the new
unsullied sanctity of this chasuble, he would grasp by the tail an
Irish pig, if sore occasion befell them both.  It was Mrs.
Leviticus who adorned him (after a sea of soap-suds and many irons
tested ejectively) with this magnificent vesture, suggested to
feminine capacity, perhaps, in the days of the Tabernacle.

"Leviticus," said Zacchary sternly, leading him down a wet red
alley, peopled only with cooped chicks, and paved with unsaleable
giblets; "Leviticus, what be thou doing, this day?  Many queer
things have I seed of thee--but to beat this here--never nothing!"

"I dunno what dost mean," Tickuss answered unsteadily.

"Now, I call that a lie," said the Carrier firmly but mildly, as
if well used thereto; as a dog is to fleas in the summer time.

"A might be; and yet again a might not," Tickuss replied, with
keen sense of logic, but none of impeached ethics.

"Do 'ee know, or do 'ee not?"--the ruthless Carrier pressed him--
"that there hosebird have a been in jail?"

"Now, I do believe; let me call to mind"--said Tickuss, with his
duller eyes at bay--"that I did hear summat as come nigh that.
But, Lord bless you, the best of men goes to jail sometimes!  Do
you call to mind old Squire Dempster--"

"Naught to do wi' it! naught to do wi' it?" Zacchary cried, with a
crack of his thumb.  "That were an old gentleman's misfortune; the
same as Saint Paul and Saint Peter did once.  But that hosebird I
see you talking along of, have been in jail three times--three
times I tell 'ee--and no miracle.  And if ever I sees you dealing
with him--" he closed his sentence emphatically, by shaking his
fist in the immediate neighbourhood of his brother's retiring
nose.

"Well, well! no need to take on so, Zak," cried the bigger man at
safe distance; "you might bear in mind that I has my troubles, and
no covered cart at the tail of me.  And a family, Zak, as wears
out more boots than a tanyard a week could make good to 'em.  But
there, I never finds anybody gifted with no consideration.  Why,
if I was to talk till to-morrow night--"

"If you was to talk to next Leap-year's day, you could not fetch
right out of wrong, Tickuss.  And you know pretty well what I be.
Now, what was you doing of with that black George?  Mind, no lies
won't go down with me."

"Best way go and get him to tell 'ee," the younger brother
answered sulkily.  "It will do 'ee good like, to get it out of
he."

"No harm to try," answered Cripps with alacrity; "no fear for me
to be seen along of un; only for the likes of you, Tickuss."

The Carrier set off, to stake his higher repute against lowest
communications; but his brother, with no "heed of smock or of
crock," took three long strides and stopped him.

"Hearken me, hearken me, Zak!" he cried, with a start at a cock
that crowed at him, and his face like the wattles of chanticleer--
"Zak, for the sake of the Lord in heaven, and of my seven little
ones,--stop a bit!"

"I bain't in no hurry that I know on," replied the Cripps of pure
conscience; "you told me to ask of him, and I were a-goin' on the
wag to do so."

"Come out into the Turl, Zak; come out into the Turl a minute;
there is nobody there now.  They young College-boys be all at
their lessons, or hunting.  There is no place to come near the
Turl for a talk, when they noisy College chaps are gone."

By a narrow back lane they got into the Turl, at that time of day
little harassed by any, unless it were the children of the porter
of Lincoln or Exeter.  "Now, what is it thou hast got to say?"
asked Zacchary.  But this was the very thing the younger brother
was vainly seeking for.

"Nort, nort, Zak; nort of any 'count," he stammered, after casting
in his slow imagination for a good, fat, well-seasoned lie.

"Now spake out the truth, man, whatever it be," said the Carrier,
trying to encourage him; "Tickuss, thou art always getting into
scrapes by manes of crooked dealing.  But I'll not turn my back on
thee, if for once canst spake the truth like a man, brother."

Leviticus struggled with his nature, while his little eyes rolled
slowly, and his plaited breastplate rose and fell.  He stole some
irresolute glances at his brother's clear, straightforward face;
and he might have saved himself by doing what he was half-inclined
to do.  But circumstances aided nature to defeat his better star.
The wife of the porter of Lincoln College had sent forth one of
her little girls to buy a bunch of turnips.  She knew that turnips
would be very scarce after so much hard weather; but her stew
would be no good without them; and among many other fine emotions,
anxiety was now foremost.  So she thrust forth her head from the
venerable porch, and at the top of her voice exclaimed--"Turmots,
turmots, turmots!"

At that loud cry, Leviticus Cripps turned pale--for his conscience
smote him.  "She meaneth me, she meaneth me, she meaneth my turmot-
field;" he whispered, with his long legs bent for departure; "'tis
a thousand pound they have offered, Zak.  Come away, come away,
down Ship Street; there is a pump, and I want some water."

"But tell me what thou wast agoing to say," cried his brother,
laying hold of him.

"Dash it!  I will tell thee the truth, then, Zak.  I just went and
cut up a maisly sow--as fine a bit of pork as you ever clapped
eyes on, but for they little beauty spots.  And the clerk of the
market bought some for his dinner; and he have got a bad cook, a
cantankerous woman, and now I be in a pretty mess!"

"Not a word of all that do I believe," said Cripps.



CHAPTER XVII

INSTALLED AT BRASENOSE


Master Cripps was accustomed mainly to daylight roads and open
ways.  It was true that he had a good many corners to turn between
Beckley and Oxford, whether his course were through Elsfield and
Marston, or the broader track from Headington.  But for all sharp
turns he had two great maxims--keep on the proper side, and go
slowly.  By virtue of these, he had never been damaged himself, or
forced to pay damages; and when he was in a pleasant vein, at the
Dusty Anvil, or anywhere else, it was useless to tell him that any
mischance need happen to a man who heeded this--that is to say, if
he drove a good horse, and saw to the shoeing of the nag himself.
Of course there was also the will of the Lord.  But that was quite
sure to go right, if you watched it.

If he has any good substance in him, a man who spends most of his
daylight time in the company of an honest horse, is sure to
improve so much that none of his bad companions know him--
supposing that he ever had any.  The simplicity and the good will
of the horse, his faith in mankind, and his earnest desire to earn
his oats, and have plenty of them; also the knowledge that his
time is short, and his longest worn shoes will outlast him; and
that when he is dead, quite another must be bought, who will cost
twice as much as he did--these things (if any sense can be made of
them) operate on the human mind, in a measure, for the most part,
favourable.

Allowance, therefore, must be made for Master Leviticus Cripps and
his character, as often as it is borne in mind that he, from
society of good horses, was (by mere mischance of birth) fetched
down to communion with low hogs.  Not that hogs are in any way
low, from a properly elevated gazing-point; and taking, perhaps,
the loftiest of human considerations, they are, as yet, fondly
believed to be much better on a dish than horses.

But that--as Cripps would plainly put it--is neither here nor
there just now; and it is ever so much better to let a man make
his own excuses, which he can generally do pretty well.

"Cripps, well met!" cried Russel Overshute, seizing him by the
apron, as Zacchary stood at the corner of Ship Street, to shake
his head after his brother, who had made off down the Corn Market;
"you are the very man I want to see!"

"Lor' a mercy now, be I, your Worship?  Well, there are not many
gentlemen as it does me more good to look at."

Without any flattery he might say that.  It was good, after
dealing with a crooked man, to set eyes upon young Overshute.  In
his face there was no possibility of lie, hidden thought, or
subterfuge.  Whatever he meant was there expressed, in quick bold
features, and frank bright eyes.  His tall straight figure, firm
neck, and broad shoulders helped to make people respect what he
meant; moreover, he walked as if he had always something in view
before him.  He never turned round to look after a pretty girl, as
weak young fellows do.  He admired a pretty girl very much; but
had too much respect for her to show it.  He had made his choice,
once for all in life; and his choice was sweet Grace Oglander.

"I made sure of meeting you, Master Cripps; if not in the market,
at any rate where you put up your fine old horse.  I like a man
who likes his horse.  I want to speak to you quietly, Cripps."

"I am your man, sir.  Goo where you plaiseth.  Without no
beckoning, I be after you."

"There is nothing to make any fuss about, Cripps.  And the whole
world is welcome to what I say, whenever there is no one else
concerned.  At present, there are other people concerned;--and get
out of the way, you jackanapes!"

In symmetry with his advanced ideas, he should not have spoken
thus--but he spake it; and the eavesdropper touched his hat, and
made off very hastily.

Russel was not at all certain of having quite acted up to his
better lights, and longed to square up all the wrong with a
shilling; but, with higher philosophy, suppressed that foolish
yearning.  "Now, Cripps, just follow me," he said.

The Carrier grumbled to himself a little, because of all his
parcels, and the change he was to call for somewhere, and a woman
who could not make up her mind about a bullock's liver--not to
think of more important things in every other direction.  No one
thought nothing of the value of his time; every bit the same as if
he was a lean old horse turned out to grass!  In spite of all
that, Master Cripps did his best to keep time with the long legs
before him.  Thus was he led through well-known ways to the modest
gate of Brasenose, which being passed, he went up a staircase near
the unpretentious hall of that very good society.  "Why am I
here?" thought Cripps, but, with his usual resignation, added, "I
have aseed finer places nor this."  This, in the range of his
great experience, doubtless was an established truth.  But even
his view of the breadth of the world received a little twist of
wonder, when over a narrow dark doorway, which Mr. Overshute
passed in silence, he read--for read he could--these words, "Rev.
Thomas Hardenow."  "May I be danged," said Cripps, "if I ever come
across such a queer thing as this here be!"

However, he quelled his emotions and followed the lengthy-striding
Overshute into a long low room containing uncommonly little
furniture.  There was no one there, except Overshute, and a scout,
who flitted away in ripe haste, with an order upon the buttery.

"Now, Cripps, didst thou ever taste college ale?" Mr. Overshute
asked, as he took a chair like the dead bones of Ezekiel.  "Master
Carrier, here thou hast the tokens of a new and important
movement.  In my time, chairs were comfortable.  But they make
them now, only to mortify the flesh."

"Did your Worship mean me to sit down?" asked Cripps, touching the
forelock which he kept combed for that purpose.

"Certainly, Cripps.  Be not critical; but sit."

"I thank your Worship kindly," he answered with little cause for
gratitude.  "I have a-druv many thousand mile on a seat no worse
nor this, perhaps."

"Your reservation is wise, my friend.  Your driving-board must
have been velvet to this.  But the new lights are not in our
Brewery yet.  If they get there, they will have the worst of it.
Here comes the tankard!  Well done, old Hooper.  Score a gallon to
me for my family."

"With pleasure, sir," answered Hooper, truly, while he set on the
table a tray filled with solid luncheon.  "Ah, I see you remember
the good old times, when there was those in this college, sir,
that never thought twice about keeping down the flesh; and better
flesh, sir, they had ever so much than these as are always a-
doctoring of it.  Ah, when I comes to recall to my mind what my
father said to me, when fust he led me in under King Solomon's
nose--'Bob, my boy,' he says to me--"

"Now, Hooper, I know that his advice was good.  The fruit thereof
is in yourself.  You shall tell me all about it the very next time
I come to see you."

"Ah, they never cares now to hearken," said Hooper to himself, as,
with the resignation of an ancient scout, he coughed, and bowed,
and stroked the cloth, and contemplated Cripps with mild surprise,
and then made a quiet exit.  As for listening at the door, a good
scout scorns such benefit.  He likes to help himself to something
more solid than the words behind him.

"If I may make so bold," said the Carrier, after waiting as long
as he could, with Overshute clearly forgetting him; "what was it
your Worship was going to tell me?  Time is going by, sir, and our
horse will miss his feeding."

"Attend to your own, Cripps, attend to your own.  I beg your
pardon for not helping you.  But that you can do for yourself, I
dare say.  I am trying to think out something.  I used to be
quick; I am very slow now."

Cripps made a little face at this, to show that the ways of his
betters had good right to be beyond him; and then he stood upon
his sturdy bowed legs, and turned a quick corner of eye at the
door, in fear of any fasting influence, and seeing nothing of the
kind, with pleasure laid hold of a large knife and fork.

"Lay about you, Cripps, my friend; lay about you to your utmost."
So said Mr. Overshute, himself refusing everything.

"Railly now, I dunno, your Worship, how to get on, all a-ating by
myself.  Some folk can, and some breaks down at it.  I must have
somebody to ate with me--so be it was only now a babby, or a dog."

"I thank you for the frank comparison, Cripps.  Well, help me, if
you must--ah, I see you can carve."

"I am better at the raw mate, sir; but I can make shift when
roasted.  Butcher Numbers my brother, your Worship--but perhaps
you never heered on him?"

"Oh yes, I know, Cripps.  A highly respectable thriving man he is
too.  All your family thrive, and everybody speaks so well of
them.  Why, look at Leviticus!  They tell me he has three hundred
pigs!"

Like most men who have the great gift of gaining good will and
popularity, Russel Overshute loved a bit of gossip about his
neighbours.

"Your Worship," said Cripps, disappointing him of any new
information, "pigs is out of my way altogether.  When I was a
young man of tender years, counteracted I was for to carry a pig.
Three pounds twelve shillings and four pence he cost me, in less
than three-quarters of a mile of road; and squeak, squeak, all the
way, as if I was a-killing of him, and not he me.  Seemeth he
smelled some apples somewhere, and he went through a chaney clock,
and a violin, and a set of first-born babby-linen for Squire
Corser's daughter; grown up now she is, your Worship must a met
her riding.  And that was not the worst of it nother--"

"Well, Cripps, you must tell me another time.  It was terribly
hard upon you.  But, my friend, the gentleman who lives here will
be back for his hat, when the clock strikes two.  Cap and gown
off, when the clock strikes two.  From two until five he walks
fifteen miles, whatever the state of the weather is."

"Lord bless me, your Worship, I could not travel that, with an
empty cart, and all downhill!"

"Never mind, Cripps.  Will you try to listen, and offer no
observation?"

"To say nort,--does your Worship mean?  Well, all our family be
esteemed for that."

"Then prove the justice of that esteem; for I have a long story to
tell you, Cripps, and no long time to do it in."



CHAPTER XVIII

A FLASH OF LIGHT


The Carrier, with a decisive gesture, ceased from both solid and
liquid food, and settled his face, and whole body, and members
into a grim and yet flexible aspect, as if he were driving a half-
broken horse, and must be prepared for any sort of start.  And yet
with all this he reconciled a duly receptive deference, and a
pleasant readiness, as if he were his own Dobbin, just fresh from
stable.

"I need not tell you, Master Cripps," said Russel, "how I have
picked up the many little things, which have been coming to my
knowledge lately.  And I will not be too positive about any of
them; because I made such a mistake in the beginning of this
inquiry.  All my suspicions at first were set on a man who was
purely innocent--a legal gentleman of fair repute, to whom I have
now made all honourable amends.  In the most candid manner he has
forgiven me, and desires no better than to act in the best faith
with us."

"Asking your pardon for interrupting--did the gentleman happen to
have a sharp name?"

"Yes, Cripps, he did.  But no more of that.  I was over sharp
myself, no doubt; he is thoroughly blameless, and more than that,
his behaviour has been most generous, most unwearying, most--  I
never can do justice to him."

"Well, your Worship, no--perhaps not.  A would take a rare sharp
un to do so."

"You hold by the vulgar prejudice--well, I should be the last to
blame you.  That, however, has nothing to do with what I want to
ask you.  But first, I must tell you my reason, Cripps.  You know
I have no faith whatever in that man John Smith.  At first I
thought him a tool of Mr.--never mind who--since I was so wrong.
I am now convinced that John Smith is 'art and part' in the whole
affair himself.  He has thrown dust in our eyes throughout.  He
has stopped us from taking the proper track.  Do you remember what
discredit he threw on your sister's story?"

"He didn't believe a word of un.  Had a good mind, I had, to a'
knocked un down."

"To be sure, Cripps, I wonder that you forbore.  Though violent
measures must not be encouraged.  And I myself thought that your
sister might have made some mistakes through her scare in the
dark.  Poor thing!  Her hair can have wanted no bandoline ever
since, I should fancy.  What a brave girl too not to shriek or
faint!"

"Well, her did goo zummut queer, sir, and lie down in the quarry-
pit.  Perhaps 'twas the wisest thing the poor young wench could
do."

"No doubt it was--the very wisest.  However, before she lost her
wits she noticed, as I understand her to say--or rather she was
particularly struck with the harsh cackling voice of the taller
man, who also had a pointed hat, she thinks.  It was not exactly a
cackling voice, nor a clacking voice, nor a guttural voice, but
something compounded of all three.  Your sister, of course, could
not quite so describe it; but she imitated it; which was better."

"Her hath had great advantages.  Her can imitate a'most anything.
Her waited for months on a College-chap, the very same in whose
house we be sitting now."

"Cripps, that is strange.  But to come back again.  Your sister,
who is a very nice girl, indeed, and a good member of a good
family--"

"Ay, your Worship, that her be.  Wish a could come across the man
as would dare to say the contrairy!"

"Now, Cripps, we never shall get on, while you are so horribly
warlike.  Are you ready to listen to me, or not?"

"Every blessed word, your Worship, every blessed word goeth down;
unto such time as you begins to spake of things at home to me."

"Such dangerous topics I will avoid.  And now for the man with
this villainous voice.  You knew, or at any rate now you know,
that I never was satisfied with that wretched affair that was
called an 'Inquest.'  Inquest a non inquirendo--but I beg your
pardon, my good Cripps.  Enough that the whole was pompous child's
play, guided by crafty hands beneath; as happens with most
inquests.  I only doubted the more, friend Cripps; I only doubted
the more, from having a wrong way taken to extinguish doubts."

"To be sure, your Worship; a lie on the back of another lie makes
un go heavier."

"Well, never mind; only this I did.  For a few days perhaps I was
overcome; and the illness of my dear old friend, the Squire, and
the trouble of managing so that he should not hear anything to
kill him; and my own slowness at the back of it all; for I never,
as you know, am hasty--these things, one and another, kept me from
going on horseback anywhere."

"To be sure, your Worship, to be sure.  You ought to be always a-
horseback.  I've a-seed you many times on the Bench; but you looks
a very poor stick there compared to what 'ee be a-horseback."

"Now, Cripps, where is your reverence?  You call me 'your
Worship,' and in the same breath contemn my judicial functions.  I
must commit you for a week's hard labour at getting in and out of
your own cart, if you will not allow me to speak, Cripps.  At last
I have frightened you, have I?  Then let me secure the result in
silence.  Well, after the weather began to change from that
tremendous frost and snow, and the poor Squire fell into the quiet
state that he has been in ever since, I found that nothing would
do for me, my health not being quite as usual--"

"Oh, your Worship was wonderfully kind; they told me you was as
good as any old woman in the room almost!"

"Except to take long rides, Cripps, nothing at all would do for
me.  And, not to speak of myself too much, I believe that saved me
from falling into a weak, and spooney, and godless state.  I
assure you there were times--however, never mind that, I am all
right now, and--"

"Thank the Lord! you ought to say, sir; but you great Squires upon
the bench--"

"Thank the Lord!  I do say, Cripps; I thank Him every day for it.
But if I may edge in a word, in your unusually eloquent state, I
will tell you just what happened to me.  I never believed, and
never will, that poor Miss Oglander is dead.  The coroner and the
jury believed that they had her remains before them, although for
the Squire's sake they forbore to identify her in the verdict.
Your sister, no doubt, believed the same; and so did almost every
one.  I could not go, I could not go--no doubt I was a fool; but I
could not face the chance of what I might see, after what I had
heard of it.  Well, I began to ride about, saying nothing of
course to any one.  And the more I rode, the more my spirit and
faith in good things came back to me.  And I think I have been
rewarded, Cripps; at last I have been rewarded.  It is not very
much; but still it is like a flash of light to me.  I have found
out the man with the horrible voice."

"Lord have mercy upon me! your Worship--the man as laid hold of
the pick-axe!"

"I have found him, Cripps, I do believe.  But rather by pure luck
than skill."

"There be no such thing as luck, your Worship; if you will excoose
me.  The Lord in heaven is the master of us!"

"Upon my word, it looks almost like it, though I never took that
view of things.  However, this was the way of it.  To-day is
Saturday.  Well, it was last Wednesday night, I was coming home
from a long, and wet, and muddy ride to Maidenhead.  That little
town always pleases me; and I like the landlord and the hostler,
and I am sure that my horse is fed--"

"Your Worship must never think such a thing, without you see it
mixed, and feel it, and watch him a-munching, until he hath done."

"More than that, I have always fancied, ever since that story was
about the bag of potatoes you brought, without knowing any more of
it--ever since I heard of that, it has seemed to me that more
inquiries ought to be made at Maidenhead.  I need not say why; but
I know that the Squire's opinion had been the same, as long as--I
mean while--his health permitted.  On Wednesday I went to the
foreman of the nursery whence the potatoes came.  It was raining
hard, and he was in a shed, with a green baize apron on, seeing to
some potting work.  I got him away from the other men, and I found
him a very sharp fellow indeed.  He remembered all about those
potatoes, especially as Squire Oglander had ridden from Oxford, in
the snowy weather, to ask many questions about them.  But the
Squire could not put the questions I did.  The poor old gentleman
could not bear, of course, to expose his trouble.  But I threw
away all little scruples (as truly I should have done long ago),
and I told the good foreman every word, so far as we know it yet,
at least.  He was shocked beyond expression--people take things in
such different ways--not at the poor Squire's loss and anguish,
but that anybody should have dared to meddle with his own pet
'oakleafs,' and, above all, his new pet seal.

"'I sealed them myself,' he said, 'sealed them myself, sir, with
the new coat of arms that we paid for that month, because of the
tricks of the trade, sir!  Has anybody dared to imitate--'  'No,
Mr. Foreman,' I said, 'they simply cut away your seal altogether,
and tied it again, without any seal.'  'Oh, then,' he replied,
'that quite alters the case.  If they had only meddled with our
new arms, while the money was hot that we paid for them, what a
case we might have had!  But to knock them off--no action lies.'

"Cripps, it took me a very long time to warm him up to the matter
again, after that great disappointment.  He was burning for some
great suit at law against some rival nursery, which always pays
the upstart one; but I led him round, and by patient words and
simple truth brought him back to reason.  The packing of the bag
he remembered well, and the pouring of a lot of buck-wheat husks
around and among the potato sets, to keep them from bruising, and
to keep out frost, which seemed even then to be in the air.  And
he sent his best man to the Oxford coach, the first down coach
from London, which passed by their gate about ten o'clock, and
would be in Oxford about two, with the weather and the roads as
usual.  In that case, the bag could scarcely have been at the
Black Horse more than half an hour before you came and laid hold
of it; and being put into the bar, as the Squire's parcels always
are, it was very unlikely to be tampered with."

"Lord a' mercy! your Worship, it was witchcraft then!  The same as
I said all along; it were witches' craft, and nothing else."

"Stop, Cripps, don't you be in such a hurry.  But wait till you
hear what I have next to tell.  But oh, here comes my friend
Hardenow, as punctual as the clock strikes two!  Well, old fellow,
how are you getting on?"



CHAPTER XIX

A STORMY NIGHT


The Rev. Thomas Hardenow, fellow and tutor of Brasenose, strode
into his own room at full speed, and stopped abruptly at sight of
the Carrier.  "Of all men, most I have avoided thee," was in his
mind; but he spoke it not, though being a strongly outspoken man.
Not that he ever had done any wrong to make him be shy of the
Cripps race; but that he felt in his heart a desire for commune,
which must be dangerous.  He knew that in him lurked a foolish
tendency towards Esther; and (which was worse) he knew that she
had done her best to overcome a still more foolish turn towards
him.

Cripps, however (who would have fed the doves of Venus on black
peas), looked upon any little bygone "coorting" as a social and
congenial topic, enabling a quiet man to get on (if he only had a
good memory) with almost any woman.  Like a sensible man, he had
always acquitted Hardenow of any blame in the matter, knowing that
young girls' fancies may be caught without any angling.  "If her
chose to be a fool, how were he to blame for it?"  And the Carrier
never forgot the stages of social distinction.  "Servant, sir," he
therefore said, with his usual salaam; "hope I see you well, sir."

"Thank you, Zacchary," said Mr. Hardenow, taking the Carrier's
horny palm (which always smelled of straps and buckles), and
trying to squeeze it, with a passive result, "I am pretty well,
Zacchary, thank you."

"Then you don't look it, sir, that you doesn't.  We heerd you was
getting on wonderful well.  But the proof of the puddin' ain't in
you, sir."

"That's right, Cripps," cried Overshute; "give it to him, Cripps!
Why, he starves himself!  Ever since he took his first and second,
and got his fellowship and took orders, he hasn't known what a
good dinner is.  He keeps all the fasts in the calendar, and the
vigils of the festivals, and he ought to have an appetite for the
feasts; but he overstays his time, and can't keep anything on his
stomach!"

"Now, Russel, as usual!" Hardenow answered, with a true and
pleasant smile; "what a fine fellow you would be, if you only had
moderation!  But I see that you want to talk to Cripps; and I have
several men waiting in the quad.  Where is my beaver?  Oh! here,
to be sure!  Will you come with us?  No, of course you can't.
Will you dine in hall with me?"

"Of course, I won't.  But come you and dine with me on Sunday--the
only day you dare eat a bit--and my mother will do her best to
strengthen you, build you up, establish you, for a fortnight of
macaroni.  Will you come?"

"Yes, yes, to-morrow--to be sure--I have many things I want to say
to you.  Good-bye for the present; good-bye, Master Cripps."

"There goes one of the finest fellows, of all the fine fellows yet
ruined by rubbish!"  With these words Russel Overshute ran to the
window and looked out.  A dozen or more of young men were waiting,
the best undergraduates of the college, for Mr. Hardenow to lead
them for fifteen miles, without a word.

"Well, every man to his liking," said Russel; "but that would be
about the last of mine.  Now, Cripps, most patient of carriers,
are you ready for me to go on or not?"

"I hath a been thinking about my horse.  How greedy o' me to be
ating like this"--for the thought of so much fasting had made him
set to again, while he got the chance--"drinking likewise of
college ale--better I have tasted, but not often--and all this
time, as you might say, old Dobbin easing of his dainty foot, with
no more nor a wisp of hay to drag through his water--if he hath
any."

"An excruciating picture, Cripps, drawn by too vivid a conscience.
Dobbin is as happy as he can be, with twenty-five horses to talk
to him.  At this very moment I behold him munching choicest of
white oats and chaff."

"Your Worship can see through a stone-wall, they say; but they
only keeps black oats at the Cross just now, along of a contract
the landlord have made--and a blind sort of bargain, to my
thinking--"

"Never mind that--let him have black oats then, or Irish oats, or
no oats at all.  But do you wish to hear my story out, or will you
leave it till next Saturday?"

"Sir, you might a' seen as I was waiting, until such time as you
plaze to go on wi' un."

"Very well, Cripps, that satisfies the most exacting historian.  I
will go on where I left off, if that point can be established.
Well, I left the foreman of the nursery telling me about the man
he sent with the bag of potatoes to the Oxford coach.  He told me
he was one of his sharpest hands, who had been off work for a week
or two then, and had only returned that morning.  'Joe Smith' was
his name; and when they could get him to work, he would do as much
work as any two other men on the place.  He might be trusted with
anything, if he only undertook it; but the worst of him was that
he never could be got to stick long to anything.  Here to-day and
gone to-morrow had always been his character; and they thought
that he must be of gipsy race, and perhaps had a wandering family.

"This made me a little curious about the man; and I asked to see
him.  But the foreman said that for some days now he had not been
near the nursery, and they thought that he was on the Oxford road,
in the neighbourhood of Nettlebed; and another thing--if I did see
him, I could not make out more than half he said, for the man had
such a defect in his voice, that only those who were used to him
could be certain of his meaning.  Suddenly I thought of your
sister's tale, and I said to the foreman, 'Does he speak like
this?' imitating as well as I could your sister's imitation of
him.  'You know the man, sir,' the foreman answered; 'you have got
him so exactly, that you must have heard him many times.'  I told
him no more, but asked him to describe Joe Smith's appearance.  He
answered that he was a tall, dark man, loosely built, but
powerful, with a stoop in his neck, and a long sharp nose; and he
generally wore a brown pointed hat.

"Cripps, you may well suppose that my suspicions were strong by
this time.  Here was your sister's description--so far as the poor
girl could see in the dusk and the fright--confirmed to the very
letter; and here was the clear opportunity offered for slipping
the wreath of hair into the bag."

"Your Worship, now, your Worship! you be a bit too sharp!  If that
there man were at Headington quarry at nightfall of the Tuesday,
how could he possible a' been to Maidenhead next morning?  No, no,
your Worship are too sharp."

"Too thick, you mean, Cripps; and not sharp enough.  But listen to
me for a moment.  Those long-legged gipsies think very little of
going thirty miles in a night; though they never travel by day so.
And then there is the up mail-coach.  Of course he would not pay
his fare, but he might hang on beneath the guard's bugle, with or
without his knowledge, and slip away at the changing-houses.  Of
that objection I think nothing.  It serves to my mind as a
confirmation."

"Very well, sir," said Cripps discreetly; "who be I for to
argify?"

"No, Cripps, of course not.  But still I wish to allow you to
think of everything.  You may not be right; but still I like you
to speak when you think of anything.  That is what I have always
said, and contended for continually--let every man speak--when
sensible."

"Your Worship hath hit the mark again.  The old Squire saith, 'let
no man speak,' as St. Paul sayeth of the women.  But your Worship
saith 'let all men speak, all women likewise, as hath a tongue'--
and then you stoppeth us both the more, by restirrecting all on
us, women or men, whichever a may happen, till such time as all
turns up sensible.  Now, there never could ever be such a time!"

"Carrier, you are satirical.  Keep from the Dusty Anvil, Cripps.
Marry a wife, and you will have a surfeit of argument at home.
But still you have been very good on the whole, and you never will
get home to-night.  At any rate, I was so convinced, in spite of
all smaller difficulties, that I bound the foreman to let me know,
by a man on horseback, at any expense, the moment he saw Joe Smith
again.  And his parting words to me were these--'Well, sir, don't
you think harm of Joe without sure proof against him.  He is a
random chap, I know; but I never saw a better man to earn his
wages.'

"Well, I went back to the inn at once, and rode leisurely to
Henley.  It was raining hard, and the river in flood with all the
melted snow and so on, when I crossed that pretty bridge.  I had
been trying in vain to think what was the best thing I could do;
not liking to go home, and leave my new discovery so vague.  But
being soaked and chilly now, I resolved to have a glass of
something hot, for fear of taking a violent cold, and losing
perhaps a week by it.  So I went into the entrance of that good
inn by the waterside, and called for some brandy and water hot.
The landlord was good enough to come out; and knowing me from old
boating days, he got into a talk with me.  I had helped him at the
sessions about a house of his at Dorchester; and nothing could
exceed his good will.  Remembering how the gipsies hang about the
boats and the waterside, I asked him (quite as a random shot)
whether any of them happened to be in the neighbourhood just now.
He thought perhaps that I was timid about my dark ride homeward,
and he told me all he knew of them.  There was one lot, as usual,
in the open ground about Nuneham, and another large camp near
Chalgrove, and another, quite a small pitch that, on the edge of
the firs above Nettlebed.

"This last was the lot for me; and I pressed him so about them,
that he looked at me with a peculiar grin.  'What do you mean by
that?' I asked.  'Now, Squire Overshute, as if you did not know!'
he answered.  'Doth your Worship happen to remember Cinnaminta's
name?'

"Cripps, I assure you I was astonished.  Of course you knew
Cinnaminta--well, I don't want to be interrupted.  No one could
say any harm of her; and a lovelier girl was never seen.  The
landlord had heard some bygone gossip about Cinnaminta and myself.
I did admire her.  I am not ashamed to say that I greatly admired
her.  And so did every young fellow here, who had got a bit of
pluck in him.  I will not go into that question; but you know what
Cinnaminta was."

Cripps nodded, with a thick mixture of feelings.  His poetical
self had been smitten more with Cinnaminta than he cared to tell;
and his practical self was getting into a terrible hubbub about
his horse.  "To be sure, your Worship," was all he said.

"Very well, now you understand me.  To hear of Cinnaminta being in
that camp at Nettlebed made me so determined that I laid hold of
the landlord by the collar without thinking.  He begged me not to
ride off with him, or his business would be ruined; and feeling
that he weighed about eighteen stone, I left him on his threshold.

"I could not bear to ask him now another word of anything.
Knowing looks, and winks, and reeking jokes so irritate me, when I
know that a woman is pure and good.  You remember how we all lost
Cinnaminta.  Three or four score of undergraduates, reckless of
parental will, had offered her matrimony; and three or four newly-
elected fellows were asking whether they would vacate, if they
happened to jump the broomstick."

"All that were too fine to last," muttered Cripps, most sensibly.
"But her ought to a' had a sound man on the road--a man with a
horse well seasoned, and a substantial cart--her ought."

"Oh, then, Cripps, you were smitten too!  A nice connection for
light parcels!  Well, never mind.  The whole thing is over.  We
all are sadder and wiser men; but we like to know who the chief
sufferer is--what man has won the beauty.  And with this in my
mind, I rode up the hill, and resolved to go through with my
seeking.

"When I got to the end of 'the fair-mile,' the night came down in
earnest.  You know my young horse 'Cantelupe,' freckled like a
melon.  He knows me as well as my old dog; and a child can ride
him.  But in the dark he gets often nervous, and jumps across the
road, if he sees what he does not consider sociable.  So that one
must watch his ears, whatever the weather may be.  And now the
weather was as bad as man or horse could be out in.

"All day, there had been spits of rain, with sudden puffs of wind,
and streaks of green upon the sky, and racing clouds with ragged
edges.  You remember the weather of course; Wednesday is one of
your Oxford days.  Well, I hope you were home before it began to
pelt as it did that evening.  For myself I did not care one fig.
I would rather be drenched than slowly sodden.  But I did care for
my horse; because he had whistled a little in the afternoon, and
his throat is slightly delicate.  And the whirr of the wind in the
hedge, and the way it struck the naked branches back, like the
clashing of clubs against the sky, were enough to make even a
steady old horse uneasy at the things before him.  Moreover, the
road began to flash with that peculiar light which comes upward or
downward--who can tell?--in reckless tumults of the air and earth.
The road was running like a river; come here and go there, like
glass it shone with the furious blows of the wind striking a pale
gleam out of it.  I stooped upon Cantelupe's neck, or the wind
would have dashed me back over his crupper.

"Suddenly in this swirl and roar, my horse stood steadfast.  He
spread his fore legs and stooped his head to throw his balance
forward; and his mane (which had been lashing my beard) swished
down in a waterfall of hair.  I was startled as much as he was,
and in the strange light stared about.  'You have better eyes than
I have,' I said, 'or else you are a fool, Canty.'

"I thought that he was a fool, until I followed the turn of his
head, and there I saw a white thing in the ditch.  Something white
or rather of a whity-brown colour was in the trough, with
something dark leaning over it.  'Who are you there?' I shouted,
and the wind blew my voice back between my teeth.

"'Nort to you, master.  Nort to you.  Go on, and look to your own
consarns.'

"This rough reply was in a harsh high cackle, rather than a human
voice; but it came through the roar of the tempest clearly, as no
common voice could come.  For a moment, I had a great mind to do
exactly as I was ordered.  But curiosity, and perhaps some pity
for the fellow, stopped me.  'I will not leave you, my friend,' I
said, 'until I am sure that I can do no good.'  The man was in
such trouble, that he made no answer which I could hear, so I
jumped from my horse, who would come no nearer; and holding the
bridle, I went up to see.

"In as sheltered a spot as could be found, but still in a dripping
and weltering place, lay, or rather rolled and kicked, a poor
child in a most violent fit.  'Don't 'ee now, my little Tom; don't
'ee, that's a deary, don't!'  The man kept coaxing, and moaning,
and trying to smooth down little legs and arms.  'Let it have its
way,' I said; 'only keep the head well up; and try to put
something between the teeth.'  Without any answer, he did as I
bade; and what he put betwixt the teeth must have been his own
great thumb.  Of course he mistook me for a doctor.  None but a
doctor was likely to be out riding on so rough a night."

"Ah, how I do pity they poor chaps!" cried Carrier Cripps, who
really could not wait one minute longer.  "Many a naight I mates
'em a starting for ten or twenty maile of it, just when I be in
the smell o' my supper, and nort but nightcap arterward.
Leastways, I mean, arter pipe and hot summat.  Your Worship 'll
'scoose me a-breakin' in.  But there's half my arrands to do yet,
and the sun gone flat on the Radcliffe!  The Lord knows if I shall
get home tonight.  But if I doos--might I make so bold--your
Worship be coming to see poor Squire?  Your Worship is not like
some worships be--and I has got a rare drop of fine old stuff!
Your Worship is not the man to take me crooked.  I means no
liberty, mind you."

"Of that I am certain," Mr. Overshute answered.  "Cripps, your
suggestion just hits the mark.  I particularly want to see your
sister.  That was my object in seeking you.  And I did not like to
see her, until you should have had time to prepare her.  I have
several things to see to here, and then I will ride to Beckley.
Mrs. Hookham will give me a bit of dinner, when I have seen my
dear friend the Squire.  At night, I will come down, and smoke a
pipe, and finish my story with you, as soon as I am sure you have
had your supper."

"Never you pay no heed at all," said Master Cripps, with
solemnity, "to no thought of my zupper, sir.  That be entire what
you worships call a zecondary consideration.  However, I will have
un, if so be I can.  And you mustn't goo for to think, sir, that
goo I would now, if stay I could.  I goes with that there story,
the same as the jog of a cart to the trot of the nag.  My wits
kapes on agoin' up and down.  But business is a piece of the body,
sir.  But no slape for me; nor no church to-morrow; wi'out I hears
the last of that there tale!"



CHAPTER XX

CRIPPS DRAWS THE CORK


Any kind good-natured person, loving bright simplicity, would have
thought it a little treat to look round the Carrier's dwelling-
room, upon that Saturday evening, when he expected Mr. Overshute.
Not that Cripps himself was over-tidy, or too particular.  He was
so kindly familiar now with hay, and straw, and bits of string,
and chaff, and chips, and promiscuous parcels, that on the whole
he preferred a litter to any exertions of broom or brush.  But
Esther, who ruled the house at home, was the essence of quick
neatness, and scorned all comfort, unless it looked--as well as
was--right comfortable.  And now, expecting so grand a guest, she
had tucked up her sleeves, and stirred her pretty arms to no small
purpose.

The room was still a kitchen, and she had made no attempt to
disguise that much.  But what can look better than a kitchen,
clean, and bright, and well supplied with the cheery tools of
appetite.  It was a good-sized room, and very picturesque with
snugness.  Little corners, in and out, gave play for light and
shadow; the fireplace retired far enough to well express itself;
and the dresser had brass-handled drawers, that seemed quietly
nursing table-cloths.  Well, above these, upon lofty hooks, the
chronicles of the present generation might be read on cups.
Zacchary headed the line, of course; and then--as Genesis is
ignored by grander generations--Exodus, and Leviticus (the fount
of much fine movement), and Numbers, and a great many more, showed
that the Carrier's father and mother had gladly baptized every
one.

In front of the fire sat the Carrier, with nearly all of his best
clothes on, and gazing at a warming-pan.  He had been forbidden to
eat his supper, for fear of making a smell of it; and he had a
great mind to go to bed, and have some hot coals under him.  For
nearly five miles of uphill work and laying his shoulder against
the spokes, he had been promising himself a rare good supper, and
a pipe to follow; and now where were they?  In the far background.
He had no idea of rebellion; still that saucepan on the simmer
made the most provoking movements.  Therefore he put up his feet
upon a stump of oak (which had for generations cooled down pots),
and he turned with a shake of his head toward the fire, and
sniffed the sniff of Tantalus, and muttered--"Ah, well! the Lord
knoweth best!" and thought to himself that if ever again he
invited the quality to his house, he would wait till he had his
own quantity first.

Esther was quite in a flutter; although she was ready to deny it
stoutly, and to blush a bright red in doing so.  To her, of
course, Justice Overshute was simply a great man, who must have
the chair of state, and the talk of restraint, and a clean dry
hearth, and the curtsy, and the best white apron of deference.  To
her it could make not one jot of difference, that Mr. Overshute
happened to be the most intimate friend of some other gentleman,
who never came near her, except in dreams.  Tush, she had the very
greatest mind, when the house was clean and tidy, to go and spend
the evening with her dear friend Mealy at the Anvil.  But Zacchary
would not hear of this; and how could she go against Zacchary?

So she brought the grand chair, the arm-chair of yew-tree--the
tree that used to shade the graves of unrecorded Crippses--a chair
of deepest red complexion, countenanced with a cushion.  The
cushion was but a little pad in the dark capacious hollow;
suggesting to an innocent mind, that a lean man had left his hat
there, and a fat man had sat down on it.  But the mind of every
Cripps yet known was strictly reverential; and this was the curule
chair, and even the Olympian throne of Crippses.

Russel Overshute knocked at the door, in his usual quick and
impetuous way.  In the main he was a gentleman; and he would have
knocked at a nobleman's door exactly as he did at the Carrier's.
But all radical theories, fine as they are, detract from gentle
practice; and the too-large-minded man, while young, takes a
flying leap over small niceties.  He does not remember that poor
men need more deference than rich men, because they are not used
to it.  To put it more plainly--Overshute knocked hard, and meant
no harm by it.

"Come in, sir, and kindly welcome!" Cripps began, as he showed him
in; "plaize to take this chair, your Worship.  Never mind your
boots; Lor' bless us! the mud of three counties cometh here."

"Then it goes away again very quickly!  Miss Cripps, how are you?
May I shake hands?"

Esther, who had been shrinking into the shade of the clock and the
dresser, came forward with a brave bright blush, and offered her
hand, as a lady might.  Russel Overshute took it kindly, and bowed
to her curtsy, and smiled at her.  In an honest manly way, he
admired pretty Esther.

"Master Cripps, you are too bad; and your sister in the conspiracy
too!  I do believe that your mind is set to make me as tipsy as a
king to-night!"

"They little things!" said the Carrier, pointing to the old oak
table, where a bottle of grand old whiskey shone with the
reflected gleam of lemons, and glasses danced in the firelight--
"they little things, sir, was never set for so good a gentleman
afore, nor a one to do such honour to un.  But they might be
worse, sir, they might be worse, to spake their simple due of un.
And how is poor Squire to-night, your Worship?"

"Well, he is about as usual.  Nothing seems to move him much.  He
sits in his old chair, and listens for a step that never comes.
But his patience is wonderful.  It ought to be a lesson to us; and
I hope it has been one to me.  He trusts in the Lord, Cripps, as
strongly as ever.  I fear I should have given up that long ago, if
I were laid on my back as he is."

"Young folk," answered Cripps, as he drew the cork--"meaning no
disrespect to you, sir--when they encounters trouble, is like a
young horse a-coming to the foot of a hill for the fust time wi' a
heavy load.  He feeleth the collar beginning to press, and he
tosseth his head, and that maketh un worse.  He beginneth to get
into fret and fume, and he shaketh his legs with anger, and he
turneth his head and foameth a bit, and champeth, to ax the maning
o' it.  And then you can judge what the stuff of him is.  If he be
bad stuff, he throweth them back, and tilteth up his loins, and
spraddleth.  But if he hath good stuff, he throweth out his chest,
and putteth the fire into his eyes, and closeth his nostrils, and
gathereth his legs, and straineth his muscles like a bowstring.
But be he as good as a wool, he longeth to see over the top of
that there hill, afore he be half-way up it."

"Well, Cripps, I have done that, I confess.  I have longed to see
over the top of the hill; and Heaven only knows where that top is!
But as sure as we sit here and drink this glass of punch to your
sister's health, and to yours, good Carrier, so surely shall our
dear old friend receive the reward of his faith and courage;
whether in this world or the next!"

"Thank 'ee kindly, sir.  Etty, is that the best sort of curtsy
they teaches now?  Now, don't blush, child, but make a betterer.
But as to what your Worship was a-saying of, I virtually hopes a
may come to pass in this world we be living in.  Otherwise, maybe,
us never may know on it, the kingdom of Heaven being such a size."

"Cripps, I believe it will be in this world.  And I hope that I am
on the straight road now towards making out some part of it.  You
have told your sister all I told you at Brasenose this morning
according to my directions?  Very well, then; I may begin again at
the point where I left off with you.  Where did I break it?  I
almost forget."

"With the man's big thumb in the mouth of the cheeld, while you
was a-looking at him, sir; and the wind and the rain blowing
furious."

"Ah yes, I remember; and so they were.  I thought that the crest
of the hedge would fall over, and bury the whole of us out of the
way.  And when the poor boy had kicked out his convulsions, and
fallen into a senseless sleep, the rough man turned on me
savagely, as if I could have prevented it.  'A pretty doctor you
be!' he exclaimed.  But I took the upper hand of him.  'Stand back
there!' I said; and I lifted the child (expecting him to strike me
all the while), and placed the poor little fellow on my horse, and
managed to get up into my saddle before the wind blew him off
again.  'Now lead the way to your home,' I said.  And muttering
something, he set off.

"He strode along at such a pace that, having to manage both child
and horse, it was all I could do to keep up with him.  But I kept
him in sight till he came to a common, and there he struck sharply
away to the right.  By the light of the wind and the rain, and a
star that twinkled where the storm was lifting, I followed him,
perhaps for half a mile, through a narrow track, in and out furze
and bramble.  At last he turned suddenly round a corner, and a
shadow fell behind him--his own shadow thrown by a gusty gleam of
fire.  Cantelupe--that is my horse, Miss Esther--has not learned
to stand fire yet, and he shied at the light, and set off through
the furze, as if with the hounds in full cry before him.  We were
very lucky not to break our necks, going headlong in the dark
among rabbit-holes.  I thought that I must have dropped the child,
as the best thing to be done for him; but the shaking revived him,
and he clung to me.

"I got my horse under command at last; but we must have gone half
a mile anywhere, and to find the way back seemed a hopeless task.
But the quick-witted people (who knew what had happened, and what
was likely to come of it) saved me miles of roundabout by a very
simple expedient.  They hoisted from time to time a torch of dry
furze blazing upon a pole; and though the light flared and went
out on the wind, by the quick repetition they guided me.  In the
cold and the wet, it rejoiced my heart to think of a good fire
somewhere."

"Etty, stir the fire up," the hospitable Cripps interrupted.  "His
Worship hath shivers, to think of it.  When a man, or, beg pardon,
a gentleman, feeleth the small of his back go creeping, he needeth
good fire to come up his legs, and a hot summat to go down him.
Etty, be quick with the water now."

"Cripps, Cripps, Carrier Cripps! do you want to have me spilled on
the road to-night?  I am trying to tell things in proper order.
But how can I do it, if you go on so?  However, as I was beginning
to say, Cantelupe, and the child, and I, fetched back to the place
at last, where the flash of light had started us.  And we saw, not
a flash, but a glow this time, a steadfast body of cheerful fire,
with pots and cauldrons over it.  So well had the spot been
chosen, in the lee of ground and growth, that the ash of the fire
lay round the embers, as still as the beard of an oyster; while
thicket and tree but a few yards off were threshing in the wind
and wailing.  Behind this fire, and under a rick-cloth sloping
from a sandstone crest, women and children, and one or two men,
sat as happy and snug as could be: dry, and warm, and ready for
supper, and pleased with the wind and the rain outside, which
improved their comfort and appetite.  And now and then the
children seemed to be pulling at an important woman, to hurry her,
perhaps, in her cookery.

"But while I was watching them, keeping my horse on the verge of
light and shadow, a woman, quite different from the rest, came out
of the darkness after me.  Heedless of weather, and reckless of
self, she had been seeking for me, or rather for my little burden.
Her hair was steeped with the drenching rain, for she wore no hat
or bonnet; and her dark clothes hung on the lines of her figure,
as women hate to let them do.  Her eyes and face I could not see
because of the way the light fell; but I seemed to know her none
the less.

"While I gazed in doubt, my little fellow slipped like an eel from
my clasp and the saddle; and almost before I could tell where he
was--there he was in the arms of his mother!  Wonders of love now
began to go on; and it struck me that I was one too many in a
scene of that sort; and I turned my good horse, to be off and
away.  But the woman called out, and a man laid hold of my bridle,
and took his hat off, when, with the usual impulse of a stopped
Briton, I was going to strike at him.  I saw that it was my good
friend of the ditch, and I came to parley with him.

"What with his scarcity of manners, and of polished language, and
worst of all his want of palate, I found it hard, with so much
wind blowing out here all around us, to understand his meaning.
This was rude of me to the last degree, for the queerly-voiced man
was doing no less than inviting me, with all his heart, to an
uncommonly good dinner!"



CHAPTER XXI

CINNAMINTA


"Now that," said Cripps, "is what I call the proper way of doing
things.  Arter all, they hathens knows a dale more than we credit
'em."

"Well, Miss Esther," asked Russel, turning to his other listener,
"what do you think about it now?"

"Sir," she replied, with her round cheeks coloured by the
excitement of his tale, and shining in the firelight, "I do not
know what the manners may be among the gentry in such things.  But
if it had been one of us, we never could have supped with him."

"You are right," answered Overshute; "so I felt.  Starving as I
was, I could not break bread with a man like that, until he should
have cleared himself.  He did not seem to be conscious of any dark
mistrust on my part; and that was natural enough, as he did not
even know me.  But when I said that I must ride home as fast as I
could, he asked me first to come and have a look at the poor
little child.  This I could not well refuse; so I gave my horse to
a boy to hold, and followed him into the warm dry place, and into
his own corner.  As I passed, and the people made way for me, I
saw that they were genuine gipsies, not mere English vagabonds.
There was no mistaking the clearly-cut features, and the olive
complexions, and the dark eyes, lashed both above and below.  My
gruff companion raised a screen, and showed me into his snuggery.

"It was dimly lit by a queer old lamp of red earthenware, and of
Roman shape.  Couches of heather, and a few low stools, and some
vessels were the only furniture; but the place was beautifully
clean, and fragrant with dry fern and herbs.  In the furthest
corner lay little Tom, with a woman bending over him.  At the
sound of our entry she turned to meet us, and I saw Cinnaminta.
Her hair, and eyes, and graceful carriage were as grand as ever,
and her forehead as clear and noble; but her face had lost the
bright puzzle of youth, and the flush of damask beauty.  In a
word, that rich mysterious look, which used to thrill so many
hearts, was changed into the glance of fear, and the restless gaze
of anxiety.

"She knew me at once, and asked, with a very poor attempt at
gaiety--'Are you come to have your fortune told, sir?'

"Before I could answer, her husband spoke some words in her own
language, and the 'Princess,' as we used to call her, took my hand
in both of hers, and kissed it, and poured forth her thanks.  She
had been so engrossed with her poor sick child that she had not
known me on horseback.  Having done so little to deserve her
thanks, I was quite surprised at such gratitude; and it made me
fear that she must be now unaccustomed to kind treatment.  I asked
how her grandmother was, who used to sit up so proudly at Cowley,
as well as her sister, the little thing that used to run in and
out so.  As I spoke of them, she shook her head and gazed at some
long distance, to tell me that they were no more.  I could not
remember the rest of her people, except her Uncle Kershoe, as fine
a fellow as ever stole a horse.  When I spoke of him, she laughed
as if he were going on as well as ever; and I hoped that it might
be no son of his to whom I had trusted Cantelupe.  But of course I
knew that gipsy honour would hold him sacred for the time, even if
he were Bay Middleton.  Then I asked her about her own children,
and again she shook her head and said--'Three, all three in one
are now; and that is the one you saved.'  With that, while her
husband left the tent, Cinnaminta led me to look at the poor
little fellow in his deep warm sleep.  A beautiful little boy it
was; a real Princess might yearn in vain for such a lovely
offspring, if only the stamp of health had been on him.  But the
glow of airy health and breezy vigour was not on him; neither will
it ever be, so far as one may judge by skin.  Clear, transparent,
pearly skin, all whose colour seems to come from under, instead of
over it; the more the wind or the sun strikes on it, the more its
colour evaporates.  I fear that poor Cinnaminta's child will go
the way of the younger ones."

"Poor dear! poor dear!" exclaimed the Carrier, rubbing his nose in
a sad slow way.  "I can guess what her would be to them.  If her
loseth that little un, mind--well then, you will see if her
dothn't go arter un."

"I believe that she will," replied Overshute; "I never saw any one
so wrapped up in another being as she is.  As for Joe Smith, her
husband, and the way she treats him, I couldn't--no, I never could
put up with it, even if it were--But, Miss Esther, why do you look
with such a curious smile at me?  Of such matters what can you
know?  However, there goes your clock again!  Cripps, I shall
never get home to-night; and my mother will think I was poaching.
Because I will not send the poachers to prison, she believes that
I must be a poacher myself!"

"Now, verily, your Worship, that bates all I have ever heerd of!
How could a Justice go a-poaching, howsomever he tried his best?"

"Cripps, he might.  I believe he might, if he really did his best
for it.  However, let that question pass; although it is highly
interesting.  I will try, at my leisure, to solve it.  But how can
I think of such little things in the middle of great sad ones?  It
really made me feel as if I never should laugh again almost, when
I saw this fine unselfish woman controlling herself, and
commanding herself, in the depth of her misery about her child.
And when I thought how she might have got on, if she only had
liked education, and that; and to marry a fellow of Oriel; I
assure you, Miss Esther, I began to feel how women throw away
their chances.  Of course, I could not hint at things disloyal--or
what shall I call them?  Unconjugal, perhaps, is what I mean;
unuxorial, or what it may be.  But although I am slow at seeing
things; because I used to think myself too quick, and have made
false charges through it; I really could not help feeling sure
that poor Cinnaminta had made an awkward tally with her husband.
However, that was no concern of mine.  She had made her own
choice, and must stick to it.  But to think of it made me
uncomfortable, and I could not speak then of what I wished to
speak of, but took short leave and rode away.  First, however, I
got permission to come over again on the Friday--yesterday, I
mean; and now I will tell you exactly what happened then."

"Your Worship do tell a tale," said Cripps; "that wonderful, that
us be almost there!  They women takes a man, whether or no he
wool; and when they gets tired of un, they puts all the fault on
he, they do!  There was a woman as did the washing, over to Squire
Pemberton's; nothing to look at--unless you hadn't seen done-up
hair for a twelvemonth, the same as happens to the sailors; and in
her go-roundings of no account, for to catch the notice of a man
much.  But that very woman, I'm danged if her didn't--"

"Zacchary, hush!" said Esther; and the Carrier muttered, "Of
course, of course!  No chance of fair play wi' un!  Well, go on,
your Worship."

"I have very little more to tell you, as yet," Overshute answered,
with a smile at both.  "You have listened with wonderful patience
to me; and I am surprised at remembering half of what happened to
me in a hurry so.  I shall make more allowance for witnesses now,
when they get confused and hesitate.  But, as I was going to say,
I rode over to Nettlebed Common, or whatever it is called, in good
time yesterday, so as to have a long quiet talk with Cinnaminta;
knowing that if she would not tell me the truth, she would tell no
falsehood.  As I rode along in that fine spring sun, my mind was
unusually clear and bright.  I saw to a nicety what questions I
ought to put, and how to put them; and nothing of all the ins and
outs of this matter could escape me.  When the sun threw my
shadow, as sharp as a die, I could not help laughing to the open
road and the clear long breadth of prospect, at the narrow stupid
thoughts we had been thinking throughout the winter.  In a word, I
was sure, as I am of my life, of finding sweet Grace Oglander, and
restoring her father to his fine old health, and spreading great
happiness everywhere; and thus I rode up to the gipsy-camp--and
there was not a shadow or a trace of it!"



CHAPTER XXII

A DELICATE SUBJECT


The log had burned down, and the fire was low, when Russel thus
ended his story.  Cripps was indignant, because he had made up his
mind for "summat of a zettlement;" and Esther was full of young
womanly thoughts about Cinnaminta and her poor child.  But even
before they could consult one another, or cross-examine, a loud,
sharp knock at the door was heard, and in ran Mary Hookham.

"Oh, if you please, sir--oh, if you please, sir!" she exclaimed
with both hands up, and making the most of her shawl fringe, "such
a thing have turned up!--I never!  Them stockings!  Oh, them silk
stockings, sir!  Your Worship--oh, them silk stockings, sir!"

"My dear," said Cripps in a fatherly tone, and with less
contemporary feeling than Mary might wish to inspire him with--"my
dear good maid, you be that upset, that to spake, without sloping
the spout of the kettle, might lade to a'most anything.  Etty, you
ain't had a drap of nort--and all the better for 'ee.  Give over
your glass, girl.  Now, Miss Mary, the laste little drap, and then
you spakes; and then you has another drap.  'Scoose me, your
Worship, to make so bold; but a young man can't see them things in
the right light."

"Oh, Master Cripps, now!" cried Mary Hookham, "what but a young
man be you yourself?  And none of they young men can point their
tongues, to compare with you, to my mind.  But I beg your pardon,
sir, Mr. Russel--your name come so familiar to me, through our
dear young lady.  I forgot what I was a-doing, your Worship, to be
sitting down in your presence so!"

"Mary, if you get up I shall get up also, and go away.  We are
both enjoying the hospitality of our good friend, Master Cripps.
Now, Mary, by no means hurry yourself; but tell me at your leisure
why you came, and what your news is."

"Silk stockings, forsooth!" cried Master Cripps, being vexed at
this break of the evening.  "Why, my grandmother had a whole pair
of they!  I belave I could find 'em now, I do!  Silk stockings, to
break up one's comfort for!  Not but what I be glad to see you.
Mary, my dear, I drink your good health, touching spoons in lack
of lips."

"Oh, Mr. Cripps, you are so funny!  And you do make me fell things
in such a way!  Bless me, if I haven't dropped my comb!  Oh, I am
so shocked to trouble you!  Natteral hair are so provoking,
compared to what most people wears now-a-days.  But about what I
come for--oh, your Worship, stockings is not what I ought to speak
of, except in the ear of females."

"Stockings are a very good subject, Mary; particularly if they are
silk ones."

"Lor, sir!  Now, I never thought of that!  To be sure, that makes
all the difference!  Well then, your Worship must know all, and
Master Cripps, and Miss Esther, too.  It seemeth that Mrs.
Fermitage, master's own sister, you know, sir, have never been
comfortable in her mind about her behaviour when the 'quest was
held.  Things lay on her nerves at that time so, that off and on
she hardly seemed to know where she was, or how dooty lay to her.
Not that she is at all selfish, if you please to understand me--no
more selfish than I myself be, or any one of us here present.  But
ladies requires allowance; and it makes me have a pain to think of
it.  You could not expect her--could you now?--to go through it,
as if she was a man; or rather, I should say, a gentleman."

"Of course we could not," answered Overshute; and the Carrier
began to think, why not.

"However, she did go through it," said Mary, "as well as the very
best man could have done.  She covered her feelings, as you might
say, with a pint pot, or with less than that."

"With a wine-glass of brandy, I did hear tell," said Master Cripps
inquiringly.

"No, no; that was a shocking story.  It makes me ashamed of the
place as we live in whenever I heer such scandalies!"

"Miss Mary, my dear, I beg your pardon.  Lord knows I only say
what I heers!  Take a little drop, Miss, and go on."

"It makes one afeared to touch a drop of most hinnocent mixture as
ever was," continued poor Mary, after one good gulp; "and at the
same time most respectable waters--when people as never had
opportunity of forming no judgment about them--people as only can
spit out their tongues at them as have some good taste in theirn,
when such folk--for people they are not--dareth to go forth to say--
But I see you are laughing at me, your Worship; and perhaps I
well deserve it, sir.  It is no place of mine to convarse of such
subjects--me who never deals with 'em!  But, one way or other,
that good lady (as, barring her way with her servants, she is,
which our good master have many a time, up and given it to her
about), well, this very day, sir, in she come when I was a-doing
of my morning doos--every bit as partiklar, sir, as if I had a
mistress over me; and she say to me, 'Mary Hookham!' and I says,
'Yes, sna'am; at your service.'  And she ask me without any more
to do--the just words I cannot now call to mind--for to send at
once, without troubling poor master, to fetch they stockings as
was put by, to the period of the coroner's 'quest.  Poor master
have never been allowed to see them, no more has none of us, sir;
for fear of setting on foot some allowance of vulgar curiosity.
And all of us is not above it, I know; but that is a natteral
error in places where few has had much eddication."

"I don't hold much with that there eddication," cried the Carrier
rather gloomily.  "A may suit some people, but not many.  They
puts it on 'em all alike wi'out trial of constitootion.  Some goes
better for it; but most volk worse."

"Well, you know best, Mr. Cripps, of course.  Up and down the road
as you be, every door give you a hinstance.  His Worship is all
for eddication; and no one need swaller it, unless they likes.
But pretty well schooled as I have been, sir, I looks down on no
one.  And now, when master's sister made that sudden call upon me,
I assure you, sir, and Master Cripps, and Miss Esther in the
corner there, the very first thing as I longed for was more
knowledge of the ways of the kingdom.  More sense, I mean, of
where the powers puts the things that have been called up and laid
at the feet of the law-courts.  They stockings was more lost to
me, than gone to be washed by the gipsies.

"It never would have done for me to say that much to Mrs.
Fermitage.  She would have been out in a wrath at once, for she is
not sweet like master; so I gave her all 'yes' instead of 'why' or
'how,' as we do to quick-tempered gentlefolk.  And then I ran away
to ask my mother, and she no more than laughed at me.  'You silly
child,' says mother, quite as if there had never been a fool till
now; 'when the law getteth hold of a thing, there be only two
places for to find it in.'  'Two places, mother!  What two
places?' said I, without construction.  'Why, the right-hand or
the left-hand pocket of a lawyer's breeches,' mother answered,
just as if she had served all her time with a tailor.  Now, don't
laugh, Mr. Overshute; it is true, every word as I tell you."

"Ay, that her be," cried Cripps, with a smack of one hand on the
other.  "Your mother is a wonderful woman for truth and sense, my
deary."

"Well, well," replied Mary, with a broad knowing smile, as much as
to say, "You had better try her--" "at her time of life her ought
to be, if ever they seek to attain it.  So I acted according to
mother's directions, letting her always speak foremost.  And
between us we got Master Kale to go, on his legs, all the way to
Oxford with the hope of a lift back with you, Master Cripps; but,
late as you was, he were later.  He carried a letter from Mrs.
Fermitage, couched in the thirtieth person, to Mrs. Luke Sharp of
Cross-Duck House, the very one as sent that good book back.
Master's sister have felt below contempt towards her since that
time, and in dignity could do no otherwise.  And now she put it
short and sharp, as no less could be expected--and word for word
can I say of it--

"'Mrs. Fermitage has the honour of presenting her compliments to
Mrs. Sharp, and begs to express her surprise at the strange
retention by Mrs. S. of a pair of valuable silk stockings, which
are the property of Mrs. F.  If they are not in use, it is begged
that they may be returned by the bearer.--Postscript: Mrs. F.
takes this opportunity of acknowledging the return of a book,
which, being filled only with the word of God, was perhaps of less
practical value to Mrs. S. than silk stockings appear to be.'

"'That will fetch them,' said my mother; 'if they be in the house,
that will fetch them, ma'am.  No lady could stand against them
inawindows.'  And, sure enough, back they come by Mr. Kale, about
an hour after you left our house, sir.  It seems that Mr. Luke
Sharp was gone to dine with the Corporation, or likely they never
would have come at all.  And they never would have come at all,
because Mrs. Sharp could not have found them, if it hadn't been
that Master Sharp, the boy they think such wonders of, just
happened to come in from shooting, where the whole of his time he
spends.  He found his mother in the hystrikes of a heart too full
for tears, as she expressed it bootifully to both cook and
housemaid; and they pointed to the letter, and he read it; and he
were that put out, that Master Kale, seeing the two big barrels of
his gun, were touched in his conscience, and ran away and got
under the mangle.  What happened then, he were afeard to be sure
of; but the cook and the housemaid brought him out, and they
locked him in, to eat a bit, which he did with trembles of
thankfulness.  And, almost afore he had licked his knife as clean
as he like to leave it, that wicked young man he kicked open the
door, and flung a parcel at him.

"'Tell your d--d missus,' he says--your Worship, I hopes no
offence to the statues--'tell her,' he says, 'that her rubbish is
there!  And add, without no compliments, that a lady of her birth
should a' known better than to insult another lady so!'"

"Well done, Kit Sharp!" exclaimed Overshute.  "I rather admire him
for that.  Not that he ought to have sworn so, of course.  But I
like a young fellow to get in a rage when he thinks that his
mother is trampled on."

"Then you might a' been satisfied with him, sir.  In a rage he
were, and no mistake!  So much so that our Mr. Kale made off by
the quickest door out of the premises.  But the cook, she ran
after him out to the steps, when there was the corners between
them, and she begged him not to give a bad account, but to put a
Christian turn to it.  And she told poor Tummuss that she had a
manner of doing veal fit to surprise him; and if he could drop in
on Sunday week, he might go home the wiser.  The Lord knows how
she hit so quick upon his bad propensities; for he do pay
attention to his victuals, whatever his other feelings be.
However, away he come at last; and I doubt if he goeth in a hurry
again.

"Of course he knowed better than give the broken handles of his
message.  It is only the boys and the girls does that, for the
pleasure of vexing their betters.  Master Kale sent his parcel in
by me, together with Mrs. Sharp's compliments; leaving the truth
in the kitchen to strengthen, and follow to the parlour, as the
cat comes in.  And so master's sister, she put out her hand all
covered with rings, and no shaking; and I makes my best entry just
like this, excusing your presence, Mr. Russel, sir; and she nod to
me pleasantly, and take it 'Mary, you may go,' she said; and for
sure, I am not one of those who linger.

"There happened, however, to be a new candle full of thieves and
guttering; and being opposite a looking-glass made it more
reproachful.  So back I turned by the corner of a screen, for to
right it without disturbance.  I had no more idea, bless you,
Master Cripps, of cooriosity, than might have happened to
yourself, sir!  But I pulled a pair of scissors out of my pocket,
no snuffers being handy; and then I heer'd a most sad groan.

"To my heart it went, like a clap of thunder, having almost
expected it, which made it worse; and back I ran to do my dooty,
if afforded rightly.  And sure enough there was poor Mrs.
Fermitage afell back well into the long-backed chair, with her
legs out straight, and her hands to her forehead, and a pair of
grey stockings laid naked on her lap!  'Is it they things, ma'am?
Is it they?' I asked, and she put up her chin to acknowledge it.
By the way they were lying upon her lap, I was sure that she was
vexed with them.  'Oh, Mary,' she cried out; 'oh, Mary Hookham, I
am both as foolish and a wicked woman, if ever in the world there
was one!'

"So deeply was I shocked by this, master's own sister, and a mint
of money, going the wrong way to kingdom come--that I give her
both ends of the smelling-bottle, open, and running on her velvet
gown, as innocent as possible.  'Oh, you wicked, wicked girl!' she
says, coming round, before I could stop; 'do you know what it cost
a yard, you minx?'

"This gave me good hopes of her, being so natteral.  Twice the
price comes always into ladies' minds, when damage is; if anybody
can be made to pay.  But it did not become me to speak one word,
as you see, Mr. Russel, and Master Cripps.  And there was my
reward at once.

"'I must have a magistrate,' she cries; 'a independent justice of
the peace.  Not my poor brother--too much of him already.  Where
is that boy Overshute?' she says, saving, of course, your
Worship's presence.  'I heered he were gone to that low carrier's.
Mary, run and fetch him!'"

"My brother to be called a low carrier!" young Esther exclaimed,
with her hand on her heart.  "What carrier is to compare with
him?"

"Never you mind, cheel," answered Cripps, with a smile that shone
like a warming-pan; "the womens may say what they pleases on me,
so long as I does my dooty by 'em.  Squaze the lemon for his
Worship, afore un goeth."



CHAPTER XXIII

QUITE ANOTHER PAIR OF SOCKS!


Mr. Overshute had always been on good terms with Mrs. Fermitage,
his "advanced ideas" marching well with her political sentiments,
so far as she had any.  And upon a still more tender subject,
peace and good-will throve between them.  The lady desired no
better suitor for her niece than Russel Overshute, and had
laboured both by word and deed to afford him fair opportunity.
Moreover, it was one of her great delights, when time went heavily
with her, to foster a quiet little fight between young Russel and
his mother.  Those two, though filled with the deepest affection
and admiration for each other, could scarcely sit half an hour
together without a warm argument rising.  The late Mr. Overshute
had been for years a knight of the shire, and for some few months
a member of the Tory Government; and this conferred on his widow,
of course, authority paramount throughout the county upon every
political question.  How great, then, was her indignation, to find
subversive and radically erroneous principles coming up, where
none but the best seed had been sown.  Three generations ago,
there had been a very hasty Overshute; but he had been meted with
his own measure, and his balance struck upon the block.  This had
a wholesome influence on the family, while they remembered it; and
child after child had been brought up with the most correct
opinions.  But here was the young head of the house, with a stiff
neck, such as used to be adjusted in a nick upon Tower-hill.  Mrs.
Overshute therefore spent much of her time in lamenting, and the
rest in arguing.

For none of these things Mrs. Fermitage cared.  With her, the idea
of change was free.  She had long rebelled against her brother's
dictation of the Constitution, and believed they were rogues, all
the lot of them, as her dear good husband used to say.  "Port-wine
Fermitage" went too far when he laid down this law for the
females.  Without a particle of ill-meaning, he did a great deal
of mischief.

Now Mrs. Fermitage sat well up, in a chair that had been newly
stuffed.  She was very uncomfortable; and it made her cross,
because she was a good-sized woman.  She kept on turning, but all
for the worse; and her mind was uneasy at her brother's house.
The room was gone dark, and the lights going down, while Miss Mary
Hookham was revelling in the mansion of the Carrier.  Nobody cared
to hurry for the sake of anybody else, of course; and Mrs.
Fermitage could not see what the good of all her money was.

The lady was all the more vexed with others, because her own
conscience was vexed with her; and as Overshute came with his
quick, firm step, she spoke to him rather sharply.

"Well, Russel Overshute, there was a time when you would not have
left me to sit in this sad way by myself all the evening.  But
that was when I had pretty faces near me.  I must not expect such
attentions now!"

"My dear Mrs. Fermitage, I had no idea that you were even in the
house.  The good Squire sent me a very nice dinner; but you did
not grace it with your presence."

"And for a very good reason, Russel.  I have on my mind an anxiety
which precludes all idea of eating."

"Oh, Mrs. Fermitage, never say that!  You have been brought up too
delicately."

"Russel, I believe that is too true.  The world has conspired to
spoil me.  I seem to be quite in a sad position, entirely for the
sake of others.  Now, look at me, Russel; and just tell me what
you think."

Overshute always obeyed a lady in little things of this kind.  He
looked at Mrs. Fermitage, which really was a pleasant thing to do;
and he thought to himself that he never had seen a lady of her
time of life more comfortable, nicely fat, and thoroughly well
dressed and fed.

"My opinion is," he proceeded with a very pretty salaam and smile,
"that you never looked better in your life, ma'am!  And that is a
very great deal to say!"

"Well, Russel, well," she answered, rising in good old fashion,
and curtsying; "your opinions have not spoiled your manners,
whatever your dear mother may say.  You always were a very upright
boy; and you always say exactly what you think.  This makes your
opinion so valuable.  I shall shake off ten years of my life.  But
I really was quite low-spirited, and down at heart, when you came
in.  I fear that I have not quite acted for the best, entirely as
I meant to do so.  You remember that horrible state of things,
nearly two months ago, and my great distress?"

"At the time of that wretched inquest?  Yes; you were timid, as
well you might be."

"It was not only that.  But the weather was so cold that I
scarcely knew what I was doing at all.  Hard weather is to me as
it is to a plant, a delicate fern, or something.  My circulation
no longer is correct; even if it goes on at all.  I scarcely can
answer for what I am doing when they put me into cold rooms and
bitter draughts.  I feel that the organs of my face are red, and
that every one is looking at me.  And then such a tingle begins to
dawn through the whole of my constitution, that to judge me by
ordinary rules is barbarous and iniquitous."

"To be sure, to be sure!" answered Overshute, laying one finger on
his expressive nose, and wondering what was next to come.

"Yes, and that is the manner in which justice is now administered.
The canal was frozen, and the people of the inn grudged a quarter
of a hundredweight of coal.  The people at the yards had put it up
so, that it would have been wrong to encourage them.  I had
ordered my own stumps to be burned up, and the flower-baskets, and
so on.  Anything rather than order coals, till the swindling
dealers came down again.  And the Coroner sided with the price of
coals, because he had three top-coats on.  The jury, however, with
their teeth all chattering, wanted only to be done and go.  They
were only too glad, when any witness failed to answer when called
upon; and having all made up their minds outside, they were
shivering to declare them.  I speak now, from what I heard
afterwards."

"You speak the bare truth, Mrs. Fermitage.  You have the best
authority.  The foreman is your chimney-sweep."

"Yes; and that made him feel the cold the more.  But you should
see him on a Sunday, Russel.  He is so respectable, and his nails
so white.  I will not listen to a word against him; and he valued
my custom, on his oath he did.  'What verdict does Missus desire?'
he asked.  And he made all the rest go accordingly.  Nobody knows
what they might have sworn, without a clever man to guide them."

"Of course.  What can you expect?  But still, you have something
new to tell me?"

"Well, Russel, new or old, here it is.  And you must bear in mind
how I felt, and what everybody was saying.  In the first place,
then, you must remember that there was a great deal said about a
pair of my silk stockings.  Now, I shrank particularly from having
an intimate matter of that sort made the subject of public gossip.
It was neither becoming, nor ladylike, to drag little questions of
my wardrobe into the eye of the nation so.  Already it was too
much to know that a pair of such articles had been found bearing
my initials.  Most decidedly I refused, and I am sure any lady
would do the same, to go into a hard cold witness-box, and under
the eyes of some scores of males proclaim my complicity with such
things.  If I had seen it my duty, I would have endeavoured to
conquer my feelings; but of course I took it all for granted that
everything was too clear already.  And my dear brother!  I thought
of him; and thought of every one, except myself.  Could I do more,
Russel Overshute?"

"Indeed, my dear madam, I do not see how.  You would have come
forward, if necessary.  But you did not see any necessity."

"Much more than that.  There was much more than that.  There was
my duty to my brother, stronger than even to my niece.  He is
getting elderly; and for me to be printed as proving anything
against his daughter, would surely have been too much for him.  He
looked to me so for consolation, and some one to say kind words to
him, that to find me in evidence against him might have been his
death-blow.  No consideration for myself or my own feelings had
the weight of a rose-leaf with me.  In the breach I would have
stood, if I had followed my own wishes.  But my duty was to curb
myself.  You are following me, Russel, carefully?"

"Word for word, as you say it, madam; so far as my poor wits
allow."

"Very well, then.  I have made it quite clear.  That is the beauty
of having to explain to clever people."

"I thank you for the compliment," replied Overshute, with a
puzzled look; "but I have not earned it; for I cannot see that you
have told me anything that I did not know some weeks ago.  It may
be my stupidity, of course; but I thought that something had
occurred quite lately."

"Oh yes, to be sure!  It was only to-day!  I meant to have told
you that first of all.  I was grossly insulted.  But I am so
forgiving that I had forgotten it--quite forgotten it, until you
happened to speak of it.  A peculiarly insolent proceeding on the
part of poor Mrs. Sharp, it appears--or, perhaps, some one for
her; for everybody says that she really now has no mind of her
own.  She did not write me one single line, although I had written
politely to her; and she sent me a message--I am sure of it--too
bad to be repeated.  No one would tell me what it was; which
aggravates it to the last degree.  I assure you I have not been so
upset for years; or, at any rate, not since poor Grace was lost.
And about that, unless I am much mistaken, that very low, selfish,
and plotting person, knows a great deal more than we have ever
dreamed.  It would not surprise me in the least, especially after
what happened today, to find Mrs. Sharp at the bottom of all of
it.  At any rate, she has aroused my suspicion by her contemptible
insolence.  And I am not a person to drop a thing."

"Why, what has she done?" asked Overshute once more; while in
spite of impatience he could scarcely help smiling at poor Mrs.
Fermitage's petty wrath and frequent self-contradiction.

"What she did was this.  She sent me back, not even packed in nice
white paper, not even sprinkled with eau de Cologne, not even
washed--what do you think of that?--but rolled up anyhow in brown
paper, the same as a drayman would use for his taps--oh, Russel,
would you ever believe it!"

"Certainly it seems very unpolite.  But what was it she sent back
to you?"

"Not even the article I expected!  Not even that ingredient of
costume which I had lent poor Gracie, very nice and pretty ones--
but an old grey pair of silken-hose, disgraceful even to look at!
It is true that they bear my initials; but I had discarded them
long ago."

"What a strange thing!" cried Overshute, flushed with quick
excitement.  "How reckless we were at the inquest!  We had made up
our minds without evidence, on the mere faith of coincidence.  And
you--you have never taken the trouble to look into this point
until now--and now perhaps quite by accident!  We were told that
you had recognised the stockings; and it turns out that you never
even saw them.  It is strange and almost wicked negligence."

"I have told you my motives.  I can say no more," exclaimed Mrs.
Fermitage, with her fine fresh colour heightened by shame or
anger.  "Of course, I felt sure--who could fail to do so?--that
the stockings found with my name on them must be the pair I had
lent my niece.  It seemed most absurd that I should have to see
them.  It was more than my nerves could bear; and the Coroner was
not so unmanly as to force me.  Pray, did you go and see
everything, sir?"

"Mrs. Fermitage, I am the very last person who has any right to
reproach you.  I failed in my duty, far more than you in yours.
In a man, of course, it was a thousand times worse.  There is no
excuse for me.  I yielded to a poor unmanly weakness.  I wished to
keep my memory of the poor dear, as I had seen her last.  I should
have considered that the poor frail body is not our true identity--"

"Quite so, of course.  And therefore, what was the use of your
going to see it?  No, no, you behaved very well, Russel Overshute;
and so did I, if it comes to that.  Nobody can be quite blameless,
of course; and we are told in the Bible not to hope for it.  If we
all do our duty according to our inner lights, and so on, the
Apostle can say no great harm of us, in his rudest moment to the
ladies."

"Let us settle that we both have done our best," said Russel very
sadly; knowing how far from the truth it was, but seeing the folly
of arguing.

"And now will you tell me, what made you send for those silk
ingredients of costume so suddenly; and then show them to me?"

"With pleasure, dear Russel.  You understand me, when no one else
has any sympathy.  I sent for them, or at least for what I fully
expected to be the ones, because an impertinent young woman,
foolishly trusted with very good keys, gave me notice to go, last
evening.  Of course she will fly before I have a chance of finding
how much she has stolen--they all take very good care to do that;
and knowing what the spirit of the age is--dress, dress, fal-lals,
ribbons, heels in the air, and so on--I made up my mind to have a
turn out to-day, and see how much they had left me.  No man can
imagine, and scarcely any woman, all the vexations I had to go
through.  Five pair and a half of silk-hose were missing, as well
as a thousand more important things; and they all backed up one
another.  They stood me out to my face that I never had more than
eight pair of the Christchurch-Tom stockings--excuse me for being
so coarse, my dear; whereas I had got the receipt for twelve pair
from the man that sold them with the big Tom bells on immediately
above the instep.  I happened to remember that I had lent my
darling Gracie pair No. 12, numbered, as all of them were,
downright.  And so to confound those false-tongued hussies, I came
over here in search of them.  Finding that they were not here--for
the lawyers, of course, steal everything--I was not going to be
beaten so.  I sent as polite a letter as, after her shameful
rudeness, any lady could write, to Mrs. Luke Sharp--a poor woman
who expected every halfpenny of my dear husband's savings.  How
far she deserves them, you have seen to-day.  And sooner would I
burn myself, like a sooty widow, with all my goods evaporating,
than ever leave sixpence for her to clutch, after such behaviour.
Russel, you will remember this.  You are my executor."

"My dear Mrs. Fermitage, I pray you in no way to be excited.  We
have not heard all of the story, and we know that servants who are
of a faithful kind exaggerate slights to their masters.  It was
one of the Squire's old servants who went.  Your own would,
perhaps, have known better.  But now, may I see the things Mrs.
Sharp sent you?"

"You may.  And you may take them, if you like.  Or rather, I
should say that I beg you to take them.  They ought to be in your
custody.  Will you oblige me by taking them, Russel, and carefully
inspecting them?  For that, of course, you must have daylight.
Take them in the paper, just as they came, and keep them until I
ask for them.  They can be of no importance, because they are not
what I lent to Gracie.  Except for my name on them, I am sure that
I never could have remembered them.  They were darned in the days
when I was poor.  How often I wish that I still were poor!  Then
nobody wanted to plot against me, and even to steal my stockings!
Oh, Russel, do you think they have murdered my darling because she
was to have my money?"

"No, I think nothing of the kind!  I believe that our darling
Grace is alive; and I believe it tenfold since I saw these things!
I am not very old in the ways of the world; and my judgment has
always been wrong throughout.  But my faith is the same as the
grand old Squire's, though forty years of life behind him.  I
firmly believe that, blindly as we ourselves have managed
everything, all will be guided aright for us; and happiness, even
in this world, come.  Because, though we have done no great good,
we have done harm to no one; and the Lord in heaven knows it!
Also, He knows that we trust in Him, so far as the trouble allows
us.  Very well; I will take these stockings home.  You shall hear
from me on Monday.  I believe that our Grace is alive; and God
will enable me to deliver her!  Please Him, I will never leave off
till then!"

The young man looked so grand and strong in his faith, and truth,
and righteousness, that the elderly lady said no word, but let her
eyes flow, and kissed him.  He placed the stockings in an inner
pocket, carelessly wrapped in their paper; and he rode home apace
to please his mother; and having a cold on him from all his
wettings, he perspired freely; and at every stretch of his
galloping horse he was absorbing typhus fever.



CHAPTER XXIV

SUO SIBI BACULO


In April, when the sunny buds were showing forth their little
frills; and birds, that love to hop sideways and try the
toleration of the sprays that they are picking at, were almost too
busy to chirp, and hung as happily as possible upside down,
shaking the flutter of young green lace; while at the same time
(for it is a season of great coincidence) pigs reared aloft little
corkscrew tails, and scorning their nose-rings, employed them as
thimbles for making a punch in the broidery of turf; also when--if
the above is not enough--ducks and geese, and cocks and hens, and
even the dogs (who regard green grass as an emetic mainly) were
all, without knowing it, beginning to wag themselves as they
walked or waddled, and to shine in the sun, and to look very large
in their own eyes and those of their consorts; neither was there
any man who could ride a horse, without knowing how--unless he
first had starved him;--at this young jump of the year and of
life, Grace Oglander wanted to go for a walk.

She had not by any means been buried in the haunted quarry;
neither had she as yet required burial in any place.  On the
contrary, here she walked more blooming and lovely than even her
custom was; and the spring sun glistening upon the gold letters of
her tombstone at Beckley, ordered by her good Aunt Fermitage--the
same sun (without any strain of his eyes at all likely to turn him
to a Strabo) was pleasantly making and taking light in the
fluctuations of her growing hair.

Her bright hair (which had been so cruelly cropped) instead of
being the worse for the process, was waving and glowing again in
vast multiplicity of vigour; like a specimen golden geranium shorn
to double the number of its facets; and the blue in the spring of
her eyes was enough to dissatisfy the sun with his own sky.
However, he showed no discontent, but filled the young wood with
cheerful rays, and the open glades with merriment, and even the
sombre heart of labouring man with streaks of liveliness.  For
here were comforts that come in, without the eye considering them;
and pleasures, which when thought of fly; and delicate delights,
that have no idea of being delightful.

Hereupon the proper thing is for something very harsh to break in,
and discomfit all the wandering vision of earthly happiness.  But
the proper thing, in the present instance, showed its propriety by
absence.  Nothing broke the flow of sunshine and the eddy of soft
shade! unless it were a little ruffle of the south wind seeking
leaves before they were quite ready; or the rustle of a rabbit,
anxious about his family; or the flutter of a bird, uncertain
where to stand and sing his best.

Grace (without a thought of what her own thoughts were or whether
she had any mind for thinking) rambled on, as a school-girl does
when the hours of school are over.  Every single fall or rise of
nature's work was kind to her, and led her into various veins of
inductive unphilosophy.  The packing and storing of last year's
leaves, as if exceeding precious, gathered together by the wind
and land in some rich rustling corner; the fitting of these into
one another (for fear of losing one of them) wonderfully compact,
as if with the hammer of a gold-beater, or the unknown implement
wherewith a hen packs up her hatched egg-shells; the stiff
upstanding of fine young stuff, hazel, ash, and so on, tapering
straight as a fishing-rod, and knobbing out on either side with
scarcely controllable bulges; over, and above, and throughout all,
and sensible of their largeness, the spreading quietude of great
trees, just breathing their buds on the air again, but not in a
hurry (as in young days) to rush into perils of leanness--pleased
with all these proofs of soft revival and tender movement, the
fair maid almost forgot her own depression and perplexities.

When howling winter was put to the rout and banished underground;
and the weather, perhaps, might be hoped to behave as decently as
an English spring, most skittish of seasons, should order it; and
the blue ray of growth (which predominates then, according to the
spectroscopists) was pouring encouragement on things green; how
was a girl in her own spring yet, to strive against all such
influence?

At any rate Grace made no attempt to do anything of the kind; but
wandered at her own sweet will, within the limits of her own
parole.  She knew that she was in seclusion here, by her father's
command, for her own good; and much as she yearned, from time to
time, to be at home, with all the many things she was so fond of,
she was such a dutiful child, and so loving, that she put her own
wishes by, and smiled and sighed, instead of pouting.  It could
not be very long now, she was sure, until her father should come
home, and call for her, as he had promised, and take her once more
to beloved Beckley, after this mournful exile.

Full as she was of all these thoughts, and heeding her own ways
but little, so long as she kept within the outer ring of fence
allowed to her, she fell into a little stupid fright, as she
called it afterwards; for which there was no one but herself to
blame.  Only yesterday that good Miss Patch (her governess and
sweet guardian) had particularly begged her to be careful; because
the times were now so bad that lawless people went everywhere.
Miss Patch herself had heard several noises she could not at all
account for; and while she considered it quite a duty to trace up
everything to its proper source, and absolutely confide in
Providence, whose instrumentality is to be traced by all the poor
instruments seeking it, still there are times when it cannot be
done; and then the right thing is to keep within sight or call of
a highly respectable man.

This was exactly what Grace might have done, and would have done,
but for the tempting day; for a truly respectable man had been
near her, when first she began her little walk; a man whom she had
beheld more than once, but always at a little distance; a tall
stout man, according to her distant ideas of him, always busy in a
quiet way, and almost grudging the time to touch his broad-flapped
hat without lifting his head, when he saw her in the woodland.
Grace had never asked him who he was, nor been within talking
distance of him; at which she was almost surprised, when she
thought how glad, as a rule, are all Oxfordshire workmen to have a
good excuse for leaving off.  However, she was far beyond him now,
when she met another man who frightened her.

This was a fellow of dark complexion, dressed in a dirty fustian
suit, and bearing on his shoulder a thick hedge-stake, from which
hung a number of rabbit-skins.  His character might be excellent;
but his appearance did not recommend him to the confidence of the
public.  Grace shrank aside, but his quick eyes had spied her;
and, indeed, she almost feared from his manner, that he had been
on the watch for her.  So she put the best face on it, and tried
to pass him, without showing any misgivings.

But the rabbit-man was not to be thus defrauded of his right to
good society.  With a quick sharp turn he cast off the skins from
his staff, and stretched that slimy implement across the way with
one hand; while he held forth the other caressingly, and performed
a pretty little caper.

"Allow me to pass, if you please," said Grace, attempting to look
very resolute; "these are our grounds.  You are trespassing."

"Now, my purty young lady," said the rabbit-man, coming so close
that she could not fly, "you wouldn't be too hard, would you now?
I sees a great many young maids about--but Lor' there, what be
they to compare with you!"

"I am sure that you do not mean any harm," replied Grace, though
with much inward doubt: "nobody ever does any harm to me; but
every one is so kind to me.  My father is so good to all who get
into any trouble.  I am not worth robbing, Mr. Rabbit-man; honest
as you are, no doubt.  But I think that I can find a shilling, for
you to take home to your family."

"Now, Missy, sweet Missy, when once I seen you, how could I think
of a shilling--or two?  You was coming out herefor to kiss me, I
know; the same as I dreamed about last night.  Lor' bless them
bootiful eyes and lips, the most massionary man as ever was
a'most, would sooner have a kiss, than a crown, of 'em!"

"You insolent fellow! how dare you speak to me in this manner?  Do
you know who I am?  Do you know who my father is?"

"No, Missy; but I dessay a thunderin' beak, as have sent me to
prison; and now I have got you in prison too.  No comin' out,
wi'out paying of your fine, my dear."  The dirty scamp, with an
appreciative grin, laid hold of poor Grace's trembling hand, and
drew her towards him; while she tried vainly to shriek, for her
voice had forsaken her--when bodily down went the rabbit-man,
felled by a most inconsiderate blow.  He dropped so suddenly, that
he fetched poor Grace to her knees, by his violent grasp of her;
and when he let go, she could not get up for a moment, because her
head went round.  Then two strong hands were put into hers; and
she rose, and faced a young gentleman.

In her confusion, and sense of vile indignity, she did the natural
thing.  She staggered away to a tree, and spread both hands before
her eyes, and burst forth sobbing, as if her heart would break.
Instead of approaching to comfort her, the young man applied
himself first to revenge.  He espied on the path the stick of the
prostrate rabbit-man, and laid hold of it.  Then, striving to keep
his conscience clear, and by no means hit a man on the ground, he
seized the poor dealer in fur by the neck, and propped him well up
in a sapling fork.  Having him thus well situated for penal
operations, without any question of jurisdiction, or even of the
merits of the case, he proceeded to exhaust the utility of the
stick, by breaking it over its owner's back.  The calm wood echoed
with the sound of wooden thumps, and the young buds trembled at
the activity of a stick.

"Lor' a' mussy, a' mussy!" cried the rabbit-man.  "You be gooin'
outside of the bargain, sir!"

"Oh, don't!--oh, please don't!" Grace exclaimed, running forth
from her retirement.  "I dare say he did not know any better.  He
may have had a little too much beer.  Poor fellow, he has had
quite enough!  Oh, stop, do stop, for my sake!"

"For nothing else--in the world--would I stop," said the youth,
who was breathless with hitting so hard, and still looking
yearningly at the stick, now splintered by so much exercise; "but
if you beg him off, he gets off, of course--though he has not had
half enough of it.  You vile black rascal, will you ever look at a
young lady in your life again?"

"Oh, no, so--oh, no, sir--so help me--" cried the rabbit-man,
rubbing himself all over.  "Do 'ee let me whisper a word to you."

"If I see your filthy sneaking face two seconds more, I'll take a
new stick to you, and a much tougher one.  Out of my sight with
your carrion!"

Black George, with amazement and fury, gazed at the stern and
threatening countenance.  Then seeing the elbow beginning to lift,
he hobbled, as fast as his bruises allowed, to his bundle of skins
in the brushwood.  Then with a whimper and snivel he passed the
broken staff, now thrown at him, through his savoury burden, and
with exaggerated limps departed.

"See if I don't show this to your governor," he muttered, as he
turned back and scowled, when out of sight and hearing; "I never
were took in so over a job, in all my life afore, were I!  One
bull for a hiding like that!" he grumbled, as he pulled out a
sovereign, and looked at it.  "Five bull would hardly cover it.
Why, the young cove can't a' been told nort about it.  A scurvy
joke--a very scurvy joke.  I ain't got a bone in me as don't
ache!"

Leaving him thus to pursue his departure, young Christopher Sharp,
with great self-content at the good luck of this exploit, turned
towards Grace, who was trembling and blushing; and he trembled and
blushed in his turn at her.

"I am so sorry I have frightened you," he said in the most
submissive way; "I have done you more harm than good, I fear.  I
should have known better.  But for the moment, I really could not
command myself.  I hope you will not despise me for it."

"Despise you!  Can I ever thank you?  But I am not fit to do
anything now.  I think I had better go home if you please.  I am
not likely to be annoyed again.  And there is a good man in a
field half-way."

"To be sure, you know best," the young man answered, cooling into
disappointment.  "Still, I may follow at a distance, mayn't I?
The weather looks quite as if it would be dark.  And at this time
of year, scarcely anybody knows.  There seem to be tramps almost
everywhere.  But I am sure I do not wish to press myself.  I can
go on with the business that brought me here.  I am searching for
the true old wind-flower."

"Oh, are you?" said Grace; "how exceedingly lucky!  I can show
you exactly where to find it; if only you could manage to come to-
morrow."

"To-morrow?  Let me see--to-morrow!  Yes, I believe I have no
engagements.  But will you not be afraid--I mean--after that
blackguard's behaviour to-day?  Not, of course, that he should be
thought of twice--but still--oh, I never can express myself."

"I understand every word you would say," the young lady answered
decisively; "and I never mean to wander so far again.  Still, when
I know that you are botanising; or rather, I mean when a gentleman
is near--but I also can never express myself.  You never must come--
oh, I mean--good-bye!  But I feel that you ought to be careful,
because that bad man may lie in wait for you."



CHAPTER XXV

MISS PATCH


That evening Grace made one more trial to procure a little comfort
in her own affairs.  In the dark low parlour of the cottage, where
she had lived for the last three months, with only Miss Patch and
a deaf old woman for company and comfort, she sat by the fire and
stitched hard, to abide her opportunity.  At the corner of the
table sat the good Miss Patch, with her spectacles on, and
occasionally nodding over her favourite author, Ezekiel.

It was impossible for anybody to look at Miss Patch, and believe
in anything against her high integrity.  That lofty nose, and hard-
set mouth, and the fine abstracted yet benevolent gaze of those
hollow grey eyes, were enough to show that here was a lady of
strict moral principle and high sense of duty.  Incorruptible and
grandly honest, but prickly as a hedgehog with prejudice, she
could not be driven into any evil course, and required no leading
into what she thought the right one.  And the right course to her
was always the simplest of all things to discover.  Because it was
that which led most directly to the glory of God at the expense of
man.  Anything that would smite down pride, and overthrow earthly
schemes, and abase the creature before the Creator--that to her
mind was the thing commanded; and if it combined therewith a cut
at "papal arrogance," and priestly influence, then the command was
as delightful as it was imperative.

This tall and very clear-minded lady was, by an in and out sort of
way, related to Squire Oglander.  She called him her "brother;"
and the Squire once (to comfort her in a vile toothache) had gone
so far as to call her his "sister."  Still that, to his mind, was
a piece of flattery, not to be remembered when the tooth was
stopped;--from no pride on his part; but because of his ever-
abiding execration of her father--the well-known Captain Patch.

Captain Patch was the man who married the last Squire Oglander's
second wife, that is to say, our good Squire's stepmother, after
the lady had despatched her first husband, by uneasy stages, to a
better world.  Captain Patch took her for her life-interest under
the Oglander settlement; and sterling friends of his declared him
much too cheap at the money.  But the Oglanders took quite the
contrary view, and hated his name while he drew their cash.  Yet
the Captain proceeded to have a large family, of whom this Hannah
Patch was the eldest.

A godly father (as a general rule) has godless children; and
happily the converse of that rule holds true.  The children of a
godless father (scared by the misery they have seen), being
acquitted of the fifth commandment, frequently go back to the
first.  And so it befell with almost all of that impious fellow's
family.  Nevertheless the Squire, believing in the "commandment
with promise," as well as the denunciation at the end of the
second, kept himself clear of the Patches, so far as good manners
and kindness permitted him.  Miss Patch, knowing how good she was,
had keenly resented this prejudice after vainly endeavouring to
beat it down.  Also she felt--not ill-will--but still a melancholy
forgiveness, and uneasiness about the present position of Grace's
poor mother, who had died in her sins, without any apology to Miss
Patch.

However, put all these things as one may (according to
constitution), this lady was very good in her way, and desired to
make all others good.  There was not one faulty point about her,
so far as she could discover it; and her rule of conduct was to
judge her own doings by a higher standard than was to be hoped for
of any other person.  Therefore of course, for other persons she
could judge what was right and godly infinitely better than they
could.

"Oh, Aunty," said Grace, by way of coaxing, having found this of
good service ere now; "Aunty, don't you wish it was tea-time now?"

"All meals come in their proper season.  We should be grateful for
them; but not greedy."

"Oh, but, Aunty, you would not call it greedy to be hungry, I
should hope.  And you would be so hungry, if you only knew.  Ah,
but you won't get me to tell you though.  I have always been
celebrated for making them.  And this time I have quite surpassed
myself.  Now, how much will you offer me to tell you what it is?"

"Grace, you are frivolous!" Miss Patch answered, yet with a slight
inclination of her nose towards the brown kitchen where the wood-
fire burned.  "If our food is wholesome, and vouchsafed in
proportion to our daily wants, we should lift up our hearts and be
thankful.  To let our minds dwell upon that which is a bodily
question only, tends to degrade them, and leads us to confound the
true end--the glory of our Maker--with the means to that end,
which are vulgarly called victuals."

"Very well, Aunty, we will do with bread and butter.  I only made
my Sally Lunns for you; and if they degrade your mind, I will give
them to Margery Daw, or the cottage with ten children, down at the
bottom of the wood.  What a treat they will have, to be sure, with
them!"

"Not so, my dear!  If you made them for me, I should fail in my
duty if I refused them.  We are ordered to be kind and courteous
and long-suffering towards one another.  And I know that you make
them particularly well.  They are quite unfit for people in that
lower sphere of life.  It would be quite sinful to tempt them so!
They would puff them up with vanity, and worldliness, and pride.
But if you insist upon my tasting them, my dear, in justice to
your work I think that you should see to the toasting.  Poor Mrs.
Daw smokes everything."

"Of course she does.  But I never meant to let her do them, Aunty.
Only I wanted to be quite sure first that you would oblige me by
tasting them."

"My dear, I will do so, as soon as you please."  The good lady
shut up Ezekiel, and waited.  In a few minutes back came Grace,
with all things done to a nicety, each against each contending
hotly whether the first human duty were to drink choice tea or
to eat Sally Lunns.  Miss Patch always saw her course marked out
by special guidance, and devoutly thus was enabled to act
simultaneously.

Grace took a little bit now and again to criticise her own
handiwork, while with her bright eyes she watched the relaxing of
the rigid countenance.  "My dear," said Miss Patch, "they are
excellent! and they do the greatest credit to your gifts!  To let
any talent lie idle is sinful.  You might make a few every day, my
dear."

"To be sure I will, Aunty, with the greatest pleasure.  I do love
to do anything that reminds me of my dear father!  Oh, Aunty, will
you tell me something?"

"Yes, Grace, anything you ask aright.  Young girls, of course,
must submit to those whose duty it is to guide them.  Undue
curiosity must be checked, as leading to perverse naughtiness.
The principle, or want of principle, inculcated now by bad
education, can lead to nothing else but ruin and disgrace.  How
different all was when I was young!  My gallant and spirited
father, well known as a brave defender of his country, would never
have dreamed of allowing us to be inquisitive as to his
whereabouts.  But all things are subverted now; filial duty is a
thing unknown."

"Oh, but, Aunty, of course we never pretend to be half as good as
you were.  Still I don't think that you can conclude that I do not
love my dear father, because I am not one bit afraid of him."

"Don't cry, child.  It is foolish and weak, and rebellious against
Divine wisdom.  All things are ordered for our good."

"Then crying must be ordered for our good, or we should be able to
help it, ma'am.  But you can't call it 'crying,' when I do just
what I do.  It is such a long and lonely time; and I never have
been away more than a week at a time from my darling father, until
now; and now it is fifteen weeks and five days since I saw him!
Oh, it is dreadful to think of!"

"Very well, my dear, it may be fifty weeks, or fifty years, if the
Lord so wills.  Self-command is one of the very first lessons that
all human beings must learn."

"Yes, I know all that.  And I do command myself to the very
utmost.  You know that you praised me--quite praised me--
yesterday; which is a rare thing for you to do.  What did you say
then?  Please not to retract, and spoil the whole beauty of your
good word."

"No, my dear child, you need not be afraid.  Whenever you deserve
praise, you shall have it.  You saw an old sack with the name of
'Beckley' on it, and although you were silly enough to set to and
kiss it, as if it were your father, you positively did not shed
one tear!"

"For which I deserve a gold medal at least.  I should like to have
it for my counterpane; but you sent it away most ruthlessly.  Now,
I want to know, Aunty, how it came to be here--miles, leagues,
longitudes, away from darling Beckley?"

Miss Patch looked a little stern again at this.  She perceived
that her duty was to tell some stories, in a case of this kind,
wherein the end justified the means so paramountly.  Still every
new story which she had to tell seemed to make her more cross than
the one before; whether from accumulated adverse score, or from
the increased chances of detection.

"Sacks arrive and sacks depart," she answered, as if laying down a
dogma, "according to the decrees of Providence.  Ever since the
time of Joseph, sacks have had their special mission.  Our limited
intelligence cannot follow the mundane pilgrimage of sacks."

"No, Aunty, of course, they get stolen so!  But this particular
sack I saw had on it the name of a good honest man, one of the
very best men in Beckley, Zacchary Cripps, the Carrier.  His name
did bring things to my mind so--all the parcels and good nice
things that he carries as if they were made of glass; and the way
my father looks over the hedge to watch for his cart at the turn
of the lane; and his pretty sister Etty sitting up as if she
didn't want to be looked at; and old Dobbin splashing along, plod,
plod; and our Mary setting her cap at him vainly; and the way he
goes rubbing his boots, as if he would have every one of the nails
out; and then dearest father calling out, 'Have you brought us Her
Majesty's new crown, Cripps?' and Cripps, putting up his hand like
that, and grinning as if it was a grand idea, and then slyly
peeping round where the beer-jug hangs--oh, Aunty, shall I ever
see it all again?"

"Well, Grace, you will lose very little if you don't.  It is one
of my brother's worst failings that he gives away fermented liquor
to the lower orders inconsiderately.  It encourages them in
the bad habits to which they are only too prone, even when
discouraged."

"Oh no, Aunty!  Cripps is the soberest of men.  And he does take
his beer with such a relish, it is quite a treat to see him.  Oh,
if I could only see his old cart now, jogging along, like a man
with one prong!"

"Grace!  Miss Oglander!  Your metaphor is of an excessively vulgar
description!"

"Is it, Aunty?  Then I am very sorry.  I am sure I didn't mean any
harm at all.  Only I was thinking of the way a certain one-legged
fiddler walks--but, Aunty, all this is so frivolous.  With all the
solemn duties around us, Aunty--"

"Yes, my dear, I do wish you would think a little more of them.
Every day I do my best.  Your nature is not more corrupt than must
be, with all who have the sad phronema sarkos; but unhappily you
always exhibit, both in word and action, something so--I will not
use at all a harsh word for it--something so sadly unsolemn."

"What can I do, Aunt?  It really is not my fault.  I try for five
minutes together to be solemn.  And then there comes something or
other--how can I tell how?--that proves too much for me.  My
father used to love to see me laugh.  He said it was quite the
proper thing to do.  And he was so funny (when he had no trouble)
that without putting anything into anybody's head, he set them all
off laughing.  Aunty, you would have been amused to hear him.
Quite in the quiet time, almost in the evening, I have known my
father make such beautiful jokes, without thinking of them, that I
often longed for the old horn lanthorn, to see all the people
laughing.  Even you would laugh, dear Aunty, if you only heard
him."

"The laughter of fools is the crackling of thorns.  Grace, you are
nothing but a very green goose.  Even a stray lamb would afford me
better hopes.  But knock at the wall with the poker, my dear, that
Margery Daw may come in to prayers."



CHAPTER XXVI

RUTS


There are few things more interesting than ruts; regarded at the
proper time, and in the proper manner.  The artists, who show us
so many things unheeded by our duller selves, have dwelled on this
subject minutely, and shown their appreciation of a few good ruts.
But they are a little inclined sometimes to mark them too
distinctly, scarcely making due allowance for the vast diversity
of wheels, as well as their many caprices of wagging, according to
the state of their washers, the tug of the horse, and their own
wearing, and a host of other things.  Each rut moreover has a
voice of its own; not only in its first formation, but at every
period of depression in the muggy weather, or rough rebellion in a
fine black frost, and above all other times in the loose
insurrection of a thaw.  There always is a bit of something hard
and something soft in it; jags that contradict all things with a
jerk; and deep subsidence, soft as flattery.

There scarcely could be a finer sample of ruts than was afforded
by a narrow lane, or timber-track, at the extreme north-western
outskirt of Stow Forest.  Everything here was favourable to the
very finest growth of ruts.  The road had once been made, which is
a necessary foundation for any masterpiece of rut-work; it then
had been left to maintain itself, which encourages wholesome
development.  Another great advantage was that the hard uniformity
of straight lines had no chance here of prevailing.  For though
the course was not so crooked, as in some lanes it may have been,
neither was there hedge, or rail, or other mean constriction; yet
some fine old trees insisted now and then, from either side, upon
their own grand right of way, and stretched great arms that would
sweep any driver, or horseman, backward from his seat, unless he
steered so as to double them.

Now therefore to one of these corners came, from out the thicket
of underwood, a stout man with a crafty slouch, and a wary and
suspicious glance.  He had thrown a sack over his long white
smock, whether to save it from brambles, or to cover its glare in
the shady wood; for his general aspect was that of a man who likes
to see all things, but not to be seen.  And now as he stooped to
examine the ruts at a point where they clearly defined themselves,
either from habit, or for special reason, he kept as far back by
the briary ditch as he could without loss of near insight.

This man, being a member of the great Cripps race--whether worthy,
or not, of that staunch lineal excellence--had an hereditary
perception of the right way to examine a rut.  It would have been
easy enough, perhaps, in a lane of little traffic, to judge
whether anything lately had passed, with the weather and ground as
usual.  But to-day--the day after what has been told of--both
weather and ground had just taken a turn, as abrupt as if both
were feminine.  The smile of soft spring was changed into a frown,
and the glad young buoyancy of the earth into a stiff sort of
feeling, not frozen or crisp, but as happens to a man when a
shiver of ague vibrates through a genial perspiration.  To put it
more clearly, the wind had chopped round to the east, and was
blowing keenly--a masterful, strongly pronounced, and busily
energetic east wind, as superior to hypocrisy as it was to all
claims of mercy.  At the sound and the feel of its vehement sweep,
surprise and alarm ran through the wood; and the nestling-places
of the sun ruffled up like a hen that calls her chicks to her.
The foremost of the buds of the tall trees shook; not as they
shake to a west wind, but with a sense of standing naked; the
twigs that carried them flattened upwards, having lost all
pleasure; the branches, instead of bowing kindly (as they do to
any other wind), also went upward, with a stiff cold back, and a
hatred at being treated so.  Many and many a little leaf, still
snug in its own overcoat, shrunk back, and preferred to defer all
the joys of the sky, if this were a sample of them.  And many and
many a big leaf (thrust, without any voice of its own, on the
world) had no chance of sighing yet, but whistled on the wind, and
felt it piping through its fluted heart; and knowing what a liver-
coloured selvage must come round its green, bewailed the hour that
coaxed it forth from the notched, and tattered, and cast-off
frizzle, dancing by this time the wind knows where.

Because the east wind does what no other wind of the welkin ever
does.  It does not come from the good sky downward, bringing
higher breath to us; nor even on the level of the ancient things,
spreading average movement.  This alone of all winds strikes from
the face of the good earth upward, sweeping the blush from the
skin of the land, and wrinkling all who live thereon.  That is the
time when the very best man finds little to rejoice in; unless it
be a fire of seasoned logs, or his own contrariety; the fur of all
animals (being their temper) moves away and crawls on them; and
even bland dogs and sweet horses feel each several hair at issue
with their well-brushed conscience.

All of that may be true; and yet there may be so many exceptions.
At any rate, Master Leviticus Cripps looked none the worse for the
whole of it.  His cheeks were of richly varied fibre, like a new-
shelled kidney-bean; his mouth (of a very considerable size)
looked comfortable and not hungry; and all around him there was an
influence tending to intimate that he had dined.

For that he did not care as he should.  He was not a man who
allowed his dinner to modify his character.  The best streaky
bacon and three new-laid eggs had nurtured and manured his outer
man, but failed to improve him inwardly.  Even the expression of
his face was very slightly mollified by a first-rate meal; though
some of the corners looked lubricated.

"Hath a been by again, or hath a not?" whispered Tickuss to
himself, as he stared at a tangled web of ruts, and blessed the
east wind for confounding of them, so that a wheel could not swear
to its own.  The east wind answered with a scolding dash, that
cast his sack over his head, and shook out his white smock,
scattering over the view, like a jack-towel on the washing-line.
Acknowledging this salutation with a curse, Leviticus gathered his
sack more tightly, and bending one long leg before him, stealthily
peered awry at the wheel-tracks.  This was the way to discover
whatever had happened last among them, instead of looking across
or along them, where the nicer shades would fail.

At first he could make but little of it.  The east wind, whirling
last year's leaves from the couches where the west had piled them,
and parching the flakes of the mud (as if exposed upon a scraper),
had made it a hard thing to settle the date of the transit even of
a timber dray.  One of these had passed not long ago, with a great
trunk swinging and swagging on the road, and slurring the scollops
of the horse-track.

Therefore Tickuss, for some time, looked less wise than usual, and
scratched his head.  The brain replied, as it generally does, to
this soft local stimulant, so briskly in fact that the master soon
was able to clap both his hands into their natural home--the
pockets of his breeches--and thus to survey the scene, and grin.

"Did 'ee think to do me, then, old brother Zak?  Now did 'ee, did
'ee, did 'ee?  Ah, I were aborn afore you, Zak; or if I were not,
it were mother's mistake.  Go along wi 'ee, Zak, go along wi' 'ee!
Go home to thy cat, and thy little kitten, Etty."

He knew, by the track, that his brother had passed a good while
ago, or he would not have dared to speak in this rebellious vein.
And what he said next was even more disloyal.

"Danged if I ain't a gude mind to hornstring that old hosebird of
a Dobbin; ay, and I wull too, if Zak cometh prowling round my
place, like this.  If a didn't mane no trachery, why dothn't a
come in, and call for a horn of ale and a bite of cold bakkon.
Ho, ho, we've a pretty well stopped him of that, though.  No
Master Zak now; go thine own ways.  Keep thyzell to thyzell's the
law of the land, to my thinking."

Now a year, or even six months ago, Leviticus Cripps would sooner
have lost a score of pigs than make such a speech, inhospitable,
unnatural, unbrotherly, and violently un-Crippsian.  Nothing but
his own bad conscience (as he fell more and more away from honour
and due esteem for Beckley) could have suggested to him such a low
and crooked view of Zacchary.  The Carrier was not, in any
measure, spying or prowling, or even watching.  Such courses were
out of his track altogether.  Rather would he have come with a
fist, if the family honour demanded it; and therewith have
converted his brother's olfactory organ into something loftier, as
the medium of a sense of honesty.

In bare point of fact the family honour demanded this vindication.
But the need had not as yet been conveyed to the knowledge of the
executive power.  Zacchary had no suspicion at present of his
brother's fearful lapse.  And the only thing that brought him down
that lane, was another stroke of business in the washing line.
Squire Corser had married a new sort of wife with a tendency
towards the nobility; wherefore a monthly wash was out of keeping
with her loftier views, though she had a fine kitchen-garden; and
she cried, till the Squire put the whole of it out, and sent it
every week to Beckley.  Hence a new duty for Dobbin arose, which
he faced with his usual patience, simply reserving his right to
travel at the pace he considered expedient, and to have a stronger
and deeper bottom stitched to his old nose-bag.

The first time the Carrier traversed that road, fraternal duty
impelled him to make all proper inquiries concerning the health of
his brother, and the character of his tap.  But though the reply
upon both these points was favourable and pleasing, Zacchary met
with so queer a reception, that dignity and self-respect compelled
him to vow that for many a journey he would pass with a dry mouth,
rather than turn in.  Of all the nephews and nieces, who loved to
make him their own carrier, by sitting astride perhaps two on each
leg, and one on each oölitic vamp, and shouting "Gee, gee," till
he panted worse than Dobbin obese with young saintfoin--likewise
who always jumped up in his cart, and laid hold of the reins and
the whip even, and wore out the patience of any other horse except
the horse before them--of all these delightful young pests, not
one was now permitted to come near him.  And not only that, which
alone was very strange, but even Susannah, the wife of Leviticus,
and sister-in-law of Zacchary, evidently had upon her tongue laid
a dumb weight of responsibility.  Quite as if Zak were an
interloper, or an inquisitive stranger, thrusting a keen but
unjustified nose into things that were better without it.
Susannah was always a very good woman, and used to look up to
Zacchary, because her father was a basket-maker; and even now she
said no harm; but still there was something about her, when she
muttered that she must go and wash the potatoes, timid, and cold,
and unhearty-like.

The Carrier made up his mind that they all were in trouble about
their mortgage again; just as they were about six months back,
when the land was likely to be lost to them.  And finding it not a
desirable thing to be called upon to contribute, he jogged well
away from all such tactics, with his pockets buttoned.  Not that
he would have grudged any good turn to any one of his family; but
that his strong common sense allowed him no faith in a liar.  And
for many years he had known that Tickuss was the liar of the
family.

Leviticus took quite a different view of the whole of this
proceeding.  He was under no terror about his mortgage, for
reasons as yet quite private; and his thick shallow cunning, like
an underground gutter, was full of its own rats only.  He was
certain that Zak had suspected him, in spite of the care he had
taken to keep his wife and children away from him; and believing
this, he was certain also that Zak was playing the spy on him.

While he was meditating thus in his slow and turbid mind, and
turning away from the corner of the road towards his beloved pig-
lairs, the rattle of the sharp east wind was laden with a softer
and heavier sound--the hoofs of a horse upon sod and mud.
Tickuss, with two or three long strides, got behind a crooked
tree, so as to hide or exhibit himself, according to what should
come to pass.

What came to pass was a horse in the first place, of good family
and good feed; and on his back a man who shared in at least the
latter excellence.  These two were not coming by the forest lane,
but along a quiet narrow track, which cut off many of its corners.
To judge of the two which looked the more honest, would have
required another horse in council with another man.  At sight of
this arrival Tickuss came forth, and scraped humbly.

"Don't stand there, like a monkey at a fair!" cried Mr. Sharp--for
he it was, and no mistake about him.  "Am I to come through the
brambles to you?  Can't you come up, like a man with his wits,
where this beastly wind doesn't blow so hard?  Who can hear chaw-
bacon talk off there?"

Leviticus Cripps made a vast lot of gestures, commending the value
of caution, and pointing to the lane half a hundred yards off, as
if it contained a whole band of brigands.  Mr. Sharp was not a
patient man, and he knew that there was no danger.  Therefore he
swore pretty freely, until the abject lord of swine restored him
to a pleasant humour by a pitiful tale of Black George's trouble
on the previous afternoon.

"Catching it?  Ay, and no mistake!" Tickuss Cripps repeated; "the
dust from his jacket--oh Lor', oh Lor!  I had followed on softly
to see the fun, without Missy knowing I were near, of course; and
may I never--if I didn't think a would a'most have killed un!  Ho,
ho! it'll be a good round week, I reckon, afore Jarge stitcheth up
a ferret's mouth again.  He took me in terrible, that very
morning; he were worse took in hiszell afore the arternoon was
out.  Praise the Lard for all his goodness, sir."

"Well, well.  It shall be made up to him.  But of course you did
not let him, or any one else, get any idea who the lady is."

"Governor, no man hath any sense of that," Leviticus answered,
with one finger on his nose; "save and excep' the old lady to the
cottage, and you and I, and you knows whether there be any other."

"Leviticus Cripps, no lies to me!  Of course your own wife has got
the whole thing out of you."

"Her!" replied Tickuss, with a high contempt, for which he should
have had his ears boxed.  "No, no, master, a would have been all
over Hoxford months ago, if her had knowed ort of it.  Her knoweth
of course there be zumbody up to cottage with old lady; but her
hath zucked in the American story, the same as everybody else
have.  Who would ever drame of our old Squire's daughter, when the
whole world hath killed and buried her?  But none the less for
that I kep her, and the children, out of the way of our Zak, I
did.  Um might go talking on the volk up to cottage; and Zak would
be for goin' up with one of his cards parraventur.  Lor', how old
Zak's eyes would come out of his head!  The old bat-fowl!--a would
crack my zides to see un!"

"You had better keep your fat sides sound and quiet," Mr. Sharp
answered sternly; for the slow wits of Tickuss, being tickled by
that rare thing, an imagination, the result was of course a guffaw
whose breadth was exceeded only by its length.

"Oh Lor', oh Lor'--to see the old bat-fowl with the eyes comin'
out of the head of un!  I'll be danged if I shouldn't choke!--oh
Lor'!"

Mr. Sharp saw that Tickuss, being once set off, might be trusted
to go on for at least half an hour, with minute-guns of cackling,
loutish, self-glorifying cachinnation, as amenable to reason as a
hiccough is.  The lawyer's time was too precious to waste thus, so
having learned all that he cared to learn, and hearing wheels in
the forest lane, he turned back along the narrow covert-ride; and
he thought within himself, for he never mused aloud--"My bold
stroke bids fair to be a great success.  Nobody dreams that the
girl is here.  She herself believes every word that she is told.
Kit is over head and ears; and she will be the same with him,
after that fine rescue.  Our only marplot has been laid by the
heels at the very nick of time.  We have only to manage Kit
himself--who is a most confounded soft.  The luck is with me, the
luck is with me; and none shall be the wiser.  Only give me one
month more."



CHAPTER XXVII

RATS


Meanwhile at Shotover Grange, as well as at poor old Beckley
Barton, trouble was prevailing and the usual style of things
upset.  Russel Overshute, though not beloved by everybody (because
of his strong will and words), was at any rate thought much of,
and would be sadly missed by all.  All the women of the household
made an idol of him.  He spoke so kindly, and said "thank you,"
when many men would have grunted; and he did not seem to be aware
of any padlocked bar of humanity betwixt him and his "inferiors."
At the same time he took no liberty any more than he invited it;
and his fine appearance and strength of readiness made him look
the master.

The men, on the other hand, were not sure of their sorrow to see
less of him.  He had always kept a keen eye upon them, as the
master of a large house ought to do; and he always bore in mind
the great truth that men on the whole are much lazier than women.
Still even the worst man about the place, while he freely took
advantage of the present sweet immunity, would have been sorry to
hear of a thing which might drive him to seek for another place.

But what were all these, even all put together, in the weight of
their feelings, to compare with the mother of young Overshute?
Many might cry, but none would mourn; nobody could have any right
to mourn, except herself, his mother.  This was her son, and her
only hope.  If it pleased the Lord to rob her of him, He might as
well take her soon afterwards, without any more to do.

This middle-aged lady was not pious, and made no pretence to be
so.  Her opinion was that the Lord awarded things according to
what people do, and left them at liberty to carry on, without
any great interference.  She knew that she always had been
superfluously able to manage her own affairs; and to hear weak
ladies going on and on about the will of the Lord, and so forth,
sometimes was a trial to her manners and hospitality.  In this
terrible illness of her son, she had plenty of self-command, but
very little resignation.  With stern activity and self-devotion,
she watched him by day and by night so jealously, that the nurses
took offence and, fearing contagion, kept their distance, though
they drew their wages.

This was the time to show what stuff both men and women were made
of.  Fair-weather visitors, and delightful gossips, and the most
devoted friends, stood far aloof from the tainted gale, and
fumigated their letters.  The best of them sent their grooms to
the lodge, with orders to be very careful, and to be sure to use
tobacco during the moment of colloquy.  Others had so much faith
that everything would be ordered for the best, that they went to
the seaside at once, to be delivered from presumption.  Many saw a
visitation for some secret sin, that otherwise might have festered
inwardly and destroyed the immortal part.  Of course they would
not even hint that he could have murdered Grace Oglander; nothing
was further from their thoughts; the idea was much too terrible.
Still there were many things that long had called for explanation--
and none had been afforded.

Leaving these to go their way, a few kind souls came fluttering to
the house of pestilence and death.  Two housemaids, and the boy
who cleaned the servant's shoes, had been struck down, and never
rose again, except with very cautious liftings into their last
narrow cells.  The disease had spread from their master; and their
constitutions were not like his.  Also the senior footman and the
under-cook, were in their beds; but the people who had their work
to do believed them to be only shamming.

The master, however, still fought on, without any knowledge of the
conflict.  His mind was beyond all the guidance of will, and afar
from its wonted subjects.  It roved among clouds that had long
blown away; nebules of logic, dialectic fogs, and thunderstorms of
enthymem, the pelting of soritic hail, and all the other perturbed
condition of undergraduate weather.  In these things, unlike his
friend Hardenow, he had never taken delight, and now they rose up
to avenge themselves.  At other times the poor fellow lay in
depths of deepest lethargy, voiceless, motionless, and almost
breathless.  None but his mother would believe sometimes that he
was not downright dead and gone.

Of course Mrs. Overshute had called in the best advice to be had
from the whole of the great profession of medicine.  The roughness
of the Abernethy school was still in vogue with country doctors;
as even now some of it may be found in a craft which ought to be
gentle in proportion to its helplessness.  With timid people this
roughness goes a long way towards creating faith, and makes them
try to get better for fear of being insulted about it.  In London
however this Centauric school of medicine had not thriven, when
the rude Nessus could not heal himself.  A soft and soothing and
genial race of Æsculapians arose; the "vis medicatrix naturæ" was
exalted and fed with calves' feet; and the hand of velvet and the
tongue of silver commended and sweetened the pill of bread.

At the head of this pleasing and amiable band (who seldom either
killed or cured) was the famous Sir Anthony Thistledown.  This was
the great physician who had been invoked from London--to the
strong disgust of Splinters, then the foremost light at Oxford--
when Squire Oglander was seized with his very serious illness.
And now Sir Anthony did his best, with the aid of the reconciled
Splinters, to soothe away death from the weary couch of the last
of the race of Overshute.

"A pretty story I've aheerd in Oxford to-day; make me shamed, it
doth," said Zacchary Cripps to his sister Etty, while he smoked
his contemplative pipe by the fire of Stow logs, one cold and
windy April evening.  "What do you think they've abeen and doed?"

"Who, and where, Zak?  How can I tell?"  Esther was busy, trimming
three rashers, before she put them into the frying-pan.  "I really
do believe you expect me to know everybody that comes to your
thoughts, quite as if it was my own mind."

"Well, so you ought," said the Carrier.  "The women nowadays are
so sharp, no man can have his own mind to his self.  But anyhow
you ought to know that I mean up to poor Worship Overshute's.  Ah,
a fine young gentleman as ever lived.  Seemeth to be no more than
last night as he sat in that there chair and said the queerest
thing as ever were said by a Justice of the county bench."

"What do you mean, Zak?  I never heard him say anything but was
kind and proper, and a credit to him."

"Might be proper, or might not.  But anyhow 'twere impossible.
Did a tell me, or did a not, he would try to go a-poaching?  When
folk begins to talk like that, 'tis a sign of the ill come over
them.  Ah's me, 'tis little he'll ever do of poaching, or
shutting, or riding to hounds, or tasting again of my best bottle!
Bad enough job it be about old Squire, but he be an old man in a
way of speaking.  Well, the Lord He knoweth best, and us be all in
the hollow of His hand.  But he were a fine young fellow, as fine
a young fellow as ever I see; and not a bit of pride about un!"

Sadly reflecting, the Carrier stopped his pipe with a twig from
the fireplace, and gazed at the soot, because his eyes were
bright.

"But what were you going to tell me?" asked Etty, bringing her
brother back to his subject, as she often was obliged to do.

"Railly, I be almost ashamed to tell 'ee.  For such a thing to
come to pass in our own county, and a'most the same parish, and
only two turnpike gates atween.  What do 'ee think of every soul
in that there house running right away, wi'out no notice, nor so
much as 'good-bye!'  One and all on 'em, one and all; so I were
told by a truthful man.  And the poor old leddy with her dying
son, and not a single blessed woman for to make the pap!"

"I never can believe that they would be such cowards," Esther
answered as she left her work and came to look at Zacchary.  "Men
might, but women never, I should hope.  And such a kind good house
it is!  Oh, Zak, it must be a wicked story!"

"It is true enough, Etty, and too true.  As I was a-coming home I
seed five on 'em standing all together under the elms by Magdalen
College.  Their friends would not take them in, I was told, and
nobody wouldn't go nigh 'em.  Perhaps they were sorry they had
doed it then."

"The wretches!  They ought to sleep out in the rain, without even
a pigsty for shelter!  Now, Zak, I never do anything without you;
but to Shotover Grange I go to-night, unless you bar the door on
me; and if you do I will get out of window!"

"Esther, I never heerd tell of such a thing.  If you was under a
duty, well and good; but to fly into the face of the Lord like
that, without no call upon you--"

"There is a call upon me!" she answered, flushing with calm
resolution; "it is the Lord that calls me, Zak, and He will send
me back again.  Now you shall have your supper, while you think it
over quietly.  I will not go without your leave, brother; but I am
sure you will give it when you come to think."

The Carrier, while he munched his bacon, and drank his quart of
home-brewed ale, was, in his quiet mind, more troubled than he had
ever been before, or, at any rate, since he used to pass the tent
of young Cinnaminta.  That was the one great romance of his life,
and since he had quelled it with his sturdy strength, and looked
round the world as usual, scarcely any trouble worse than pence
and halfpence had been on him.  From week to week, and year to
year, he had worked a cheerful road of life, breathing the fine
air, looking at the sights, feeling as little as need be felt the
influence of nature, making new friends all along his beat, even
quicker than the old ones went their way, carrying on a very
decent trade, highly respecting the powers that be, and highly
respected by them.  But now he found suddenly brought before him a
matter for consideration, which, in his ordinary state of mind,
would have circulated for a fortnight.  Precipitance of mind to
him was worse than driving down a quarry; his practice had always
been, and now it was become his habit, to turn every question
inside out and upside down, and across and across, and finger
every seam of it (as if he were buying a secondhand sack) ere ever
he began to trust his weight to any side of it.  To do all this
required some hours with a mind so unelectric, and even after that
he liked to have a good night's sleep, and find the core of his
resolve set hard in the morning.

For this due process there was now no time.  He dared not even to
begin it, knowing that it could not be wrought out; therefore he
betook himself to a plan which once before had served him well.
After groping in the bottom of a sacred pocket (where sample-beans
and scarlet runners got into the loops of keys, and bits of
whipcord were wound tightly round old turnpike tickets, and a
little shoemaker's awl in a cork kept company with a shoe-pick),
Master Cripps with his blunt-headed fingers got hold of a crooked
sixpence.  The bend alone would have only conferred a simple charm
upon it, but when to the bend there was added a hole, that
sixpence became Delphic.  Cripps had consulted it once before when
a quick-tempered farmer hurried him concerning the purchase of a
rick of hay.  The Carrier had no superstition, but he greatly
abounded with gratitude; and, having made a great hit about that
rick, the least he could do to the sixpence was to consult it
again under similar hurry.

He said to himself, "Now the Lord send me right.  If you comes out
heads, little Etty shall go; if you comes out tails, I shall take
it for a sign that we ought to turn tails in this here job."

He said no more, but with great extrication worked his oracular
sixpence up through a rattle of obstructions.  Like the lots cast
in a steep-headed man's helmet, up came the sixpence reluctantly.

"I have a got 'ee.  Now, what dost thou say?" cried Cripps, with
the triumph of an obstinate man.  "Never a lie hast thou told me
yet.  Spake up, little fellow."  Being thus adjured, the crooked
sixpence, in gratitude for much friction, gleamed softly in the
firelight; but even the Carrier, keen as his eyes were, could not
make out head or tail.  "Vetch me a can'le and the looking-glass,"
he called out to Esther; the looking-glass being a large old lens,
which had been left behind by Hardenow.  Esther brought both in
about half a minute; and Cripps, with the little coin sternly
sitting as flatly in his palm as its form allowed, began to
examine it carefully.  With one eye shut, as if firing a gun, he
tried the lens at every distance from a foot to half an inch,
shifting the candle about until some of his frizzly hair took
fire, and with this assistance he exclaimed at last, "Heads,
child!--heads it is!  Thou shalt go; the will of the Lord
ordaineth it!  Plaize the Lord to send thee back safe and sound as
now thou goest!  None on us, to my knowledge, has done aught to
deserve to be punished for."



CHAPTER XXVIII

BOOTS ON


When a very active man is suddenly "laid by the heels;" sad as the
dispensation is, there are sure to be some who rejoice in it.
Even if it be only a zealous clerk, sausage-maker, or grave-
digger, thus upset in his activities; there are one or two
compeers who rejoice in the heart, while they deeply lament with
the lip.  Not that they have the very smallest atom of ill-will
about them.  They are thoroughly good-hearted fellows, as are nine
men out of every ten; and within, as well as without, they would
grieve to hear that their valued friend was dead.

Still, for the moment, and while we believe, as everybody does
about everybody else, that he is sure as a top to come round
again, it is a relief to have this busy fellow just out of the way
a bit; and there is an inward hugging of the lazier spirit at the
thought that the restless one will have received a lesson, and be
pulled back to a milder state.  Be this view of the matter either
true or false, in a general way, at least in this particular
instance (the illness of Russel Overshute), some of it seemed to
apply right well.

There was no one who wished him positive death, not even of those
whom he had most justly visited with the treadmill; but there were
several who were not sorry to hear of this check to his energies;
and foremost among them might be counted Mr. Luke Sharp and the
great John Smith.

Mr. John Smith had surprised his friends, and disappointed the
entire public, by finding out nothing at all about anything after
his one great discovery, made with the help of the British army.
For some cause or other, best known to himself, he had dropped his
indefatigability and taken to very grave shakes of his head
instead of nimble footings.  He feigned to be very busy still with
this leading case of the neighbourhood; but though his superiors
might believe it, his underlings were not to be misled.  All of
these knew whether Mr. John was launching thunderbolts or throwing
dust, and were well aware that he had quite taken up with the
latter process in the Beckley case.

Why, or even exactly when, this change had occurred, they did not
know, only they were sure that the reason lay deep in the pocket
of Mr. Smith; which conclusion, as we shall see, did no more
honour to their heads than to their hearts.

But still, whatever his feelings were, or his desires in the
matter, the resolute face and active step of this intelligent
officer were often to be seen and heard at Beckley; and to several
persons in the village they were becoming welcome.  Numbers
Cripps, the butcher, was moved with gentle goodwill towards him,
having heard what a fine knife and fork he played, and finding it
true in the Squire's bill.  Also Phil Hiss of the Dusty Anvil
found the fame of this gentleman telling on his average receipts;
and several old women, who had some time back made up their
accounts for a better world, and were taking the interest in
scandal, hailed with delight this unexpected bonus and true
premium.  To mention young spinsters would be immoral, for none of
them had any certainty whether there was, or was not, any Mrs.
John Smith.  Rustic modesty forbade that the Carrier should be
asked to settle this great point directly.  Still there were
methods of letting him know how desirable any information was.

At all these symptoms of renown, when brought to his knowledge,
Mr. Smith only smiled and shook his head.  He had several good
reasons of his own for haunting the village as he did; one of them
being that he thus obeyed the general orders he had received.
Also he really liked the Squire, his victuals, and his domestics.
Among these latter he had quite outlived any little prejudice
created by his early manner; and even Mary Hookham was now
inclined to use him as an irritant, or stimulant, for the lukewarm
Cripps.  But being a sharp and quick young woman, Mary took care
not to go too far.

"How is the fine old gentleman now?  Mary, my love, how is he?"
Mr. Smith asked, as he pulled off his cloak in the lobby, just
after church-time, and just before early dinner-time, on the
morrow of that Saturday night when Esther set off for Shotover.
Although it was spring, she had not gone alone, but had taken a
son of the butcher with her; the effect of that quarry-scene on
her nerves would last as long as she did.

Mary was bound not to answer Mr. Smith whenever he spoke in that
festive way.  That much had been settled betwixt her and her
mother, remembering what a place Beckley was.  But she did all her
duty, as a good maid should, in the way of receiving a visitor.
She took his cloak from him, and she hung it on a hook--most men
wore a cloak just then for walking, whether it were wet or dry,
and part of the coming "Tractarian movement" was to cast away that
cloak--and then Mary saw on the feathery collar a leaf-bud that
threatened to become a moth, according to her entomology.  This
she picked out, with a "shoo" and a "shish" as she trod it
underfoot; and Mr. John Smith, having terror of insects, and being
a very clean man, recoiled, just when he was thinking of stealing
a kiss.  This little piece of business placed them on their proper
terms again.

"How is your master, Miss Hookham?  I hope you find him getting
better.  Everything now is looking up again!"

"No, Mr. Smith; he is very sadly.  Thanking you, sir, for
inquiring of him.  He do seem a little better one day, and we all
begins to hope and hope, and then there come something all over
him again, the same as might be this here cloak, sir, thrown on
the head of that there stick.  But come in and see him, Mr. Smith,
if you please.  I thought it was the rector when you rang.  But
master will be glad to see you every bit the same as if you was,
no doubt."

John Smith, who was never to be put down by any small comparisons,
followed quick Mary with a stedfast march over the quiet matting.
Potters, with their broken shards, had not yet made it a trial to
walk, and a still greater trial to look downward, on the road to
dinner.  In the long, old-fashioned dining-room sat the Squire at
the head of his table.  For many years it had been his wont to
have an early dinner on Sunday, with a knife and fork always ready
for the clergyman, who was a bachelor of middle age.  The
clergyman came, or did not come, according to his own convenience,
without ceremony or apology.

"I beg you to excuse," said the Squire rising, as Smith was shown
into the room, "my absence from church this morning, Mr. Warbelow.
I had quite made up my mind to go, and everything was quite ready,
when I did not feel quite so well as usual, and was ordered to
stay at home."

Squire Oglander made his fine old-fashioned bow when he had
spoken, and held out his hand for the parson to take it, as the
parson always did, with eyes that gave a look of grief and then
fell, and kind lips that murmured that all things were ordered for
the best.  But instead of the parson's gentle clasp, the Squire,
whose sight was beginning to fail together with his other
faculties, was saluted with a strong rough grasp, and a gaze from
entirely unclerical eyes.

"How is your Worship?  Well, nicely, I hope.  Charming you look,
sir, as ever I see."

"Sir, I thank you.  I am in good health.  But I have not the
honour of remembering your name."

"Smith, your Worship--John Smith, at your service; as he was the
day before yesterday.  'Out of sight out of mind,' the old saying
is.  I suppose you find it so, sir!"

With this home-thrust, delivered quite unwittingly, Mr. Smith sat
down; his opinion was that Her Majesty's service levelled all
distinctions.  Mr. Oglander gave him one glance, like the keen
look of his better days, and then turned away and gazed round the
room for something out of sight, but never likely to be out of
mind.  The old man was weak, and knew his weakness.  In the
presence of a gentleman he might have broken down and wept, and
been much better for it; but before a man of this sort, not a sign
would he let out of the sorrow that was killing him.

It had been settled by all doctors, when the Squire was in his
first illness, that nothing should be said by Smith, or any one
else (without great cause), about the trouble which was ever in
the heart of all the house.  Nothing, at least to the Squire
himself, for fear of exciting him fatally.  Little rumours might
be filtered through the servants towards him; especially through
Mother Hookham, who put hopeful grains of Paradise into the heavy
beer of fact.  Such things did the old man good.  His faith in the
Lord, when beginning to flag, was renewed by fibs of this good old
woman; and each confirmed the other.

In former days he would have resented and nipped in the bud--kind-
hearted as he was--John Smith's familiarity.  But now he had no
heart to care about any of such trifles.  He begged Mr. Smith to
take a chair, quite as if he were waiting to be invited; then,
weak as he was, he tottered to the bell-pull, rather than ask his
guest to ring.  John Smith jumped up to help, but felt uncertain
what good manners were.

"Mary," said the Squire, when Mary came; "you always look out of
the window, I think, to see the people come out of church."

"Never, sir, never!  Except whenever I feels wicked not to a' been
there myself.  Such time it seemeth to do me good; like smelling
of the good words over there."

"Yes, that is very right.  All I want to know is whether Mr.
Warbelow is coming up here."

"No, sir; not this time, I believe.  He seemed to have got a young
lady with un, as wore a blue cloak with three slashes to the
sleeve, and a bonnet with yellow French rosea in it, and a striped
skirt, made of the very same stuff as I seed in to Cavell's--no,
not Cavell's--t'other shop over the way, round the corner;
likewise her had--"

"Then, Mary, bring in the dinner, if you please.  This gentleman
will dine with me, instead of Mr. Warbelow."

"Well now, if I ever did!" Miss Hookham exclaimed to herself in
the passage.  "Why, a must be a sort of a gentleman!  Master
wouldn't dine along of Master Cripps; but to my mind Zak be the
gentleman afore he!"

The Squire's oblique little sarcasm--if sarcasm at all it were--
failed to hit Mr. Smith altogether; he cordially accepted plate
and spoon, and fell to at the soup, which was excellent.  The soup
was followed by a fine sirloin; whereupon Mr. Oglander, through
some association of ideas, could not suppress a little sigh.

"Never sigh at your meat, sir," cried Mr. Smith; "give me the
carving-knife, sir, if you are unequal to the situation.  To sigh
at such a sirloin--oh fie, oh fie!"

"I was thinking of some one who always used to like the brown,"
the old man said, in the simplest manner, as if an apology were
needed.

"Well, sir, I like the brown very much!  I will put it by for
myself, sir, and help you to an inner slice.  Here, Mary, a plate
for your master!  Quick!  Everything will be cold, my goodness!
And who sliced this horse-radish, pray? for slicing it is, not
scraping."

Mary was obliged to bite her tongue to keep it in any way
mannersome; when the door was thrown open, and in came her mother,
with her face quite white, and both hands stretched on high.

"Oh my! oh my! a sin I call it--a wicked, cruel, sinful sin!"
Widow Hookham exclaimed as soon as she could speak.  "All over the
village, all over the parish, in two days' time at the latest it
will be.  Oh, how could your Worship allow of it?"

"Give your mamma a glass of wine, my dear," said Mr. John Smith,
as the widow fell back, with violent menace of fainting, or worse;
while the poor Squire, expecting some new blow, folded his
tremulous hands to receive it.  "Take a good drink, ma'am, and
then relieve your system."

"That Cripps! oh, that Cripps!" exclaimed Mrs. Hookham, as soon as
the wine, which first "went the wrong way," had taken the right
direction; "if ever a darter of mine hath Cripps, in spite of two
stockings of money, they say--"

"What is it about Cripps?" asked the Squire, in a voice that
required an immediate answer.  The first news of his trouble had
come through Cripps; and now, in his helpless condition, he always
connected the name of the Carrier with the solution, if one there
should be.

"He hath done a thing he ought to be ashamed on!" screamed Mrs.
Hookham, with such excitement, that they were forced to give her
another glass of wine; "he hath brought into this parish, and the
buzzum of his family, pestilence and death, he hath!  And who be
he to do such a thing, a road-faring, twopenny carrier?"

"Cripps charges a good deal more than twopence," said Mr. Oglander
quietly; for his hopes and fears were once more postponed.

"He hath brought the worst load ever were brought!" cried the
widow, growing eloquent.  "Black death, and the plague, and the
murrain of Egypt hath come in through Cripps the Carrier!  How
much will he charge Beckley, your Worship?  How much shall Beckley
pay him, when she mourneth for her children? when she spreadeth
forth her hands and seeketh north and south, and cannot find them,
because they are not?"

"What is it, good woman?" cried Smith, impatiently, "what is all
this uproar? do tell us, and have done with it?"

"Good man," replied Widow Hookham tartly, "my words are addressed
to your betters, sir.  Your Worship knoweth well that Master Kale
hath leave and license for his Sunday dinner; ever since his poor
wife died, he sitteth with a knife and fork to the right side of
our cook-maid.  He were that genteel, I do assure you, although
his appearance bespeaketh it not, and city gents may look down on
him; he had such a sense of propriety, not a word did he say all
the time of dinner to raise an objection to the weakest stomach.
But as soon as he see that all were done, and the parlour dinner
forward, he layeth his finger on his lips, and looketh to me as
the prime authority; and when I ask him to speak out, no secrets
being among good friends, what he said were a deal too much for
me, or any other Christian person."

"Well, well, ma'am, if your own dinner was respected, you might
have showed some respect for ours," Mr. Smith exclaimed very
sadly, beholding the gravy in the channelled dish margined with
grease, and the noble sirloin weeping with lost opportunity.  But
Mr. Oglander took no notice.  To such things he was indifferent
now.

"To keep the mind dwelling upon earthly victuals," the widow
replied severely, "on the Lord's Day, and with the Day of the Lord
a-hanging special over us--such things is beyond me to deal with,
and calls for Mr. Warbelow.  Carrier Cripps hath sent his sister
over to nurse Squire Overshute!"

John Smith pretended to be busy with his beef, but Mary, who made
a point of watching whatever he did (without well knowing why),
startled as she was by her mother's words, this girl had her quick
eyes upon his face, and was sure that it lost colour, as the
carved sirloin of beef had done from the trickling of the gravy.

"Overshute! nurse Mr. Overshute?" cried the Squire with great
astonishment.  "Why, what ails Mr. Overshute?  It is a long time
since I have seen him, and I thought that he had perhaps forgotten
me.  He used to come very often, when--but who am I to tempt him?
When my darling was here, in the time of my darling, everybody
came to visit me; now nobody comes, and of course it is right.
There is nobody for them to look at now, and no one to make them
laugh a little.  Ah, she used to make them laugh, till I was quite
jealous, I do believe; not of myself, bless your heart! but of
her, because I never liked her to have too much to say to anybody,
unless it was one who could understand her.  And nobody ever
turned up that was able, in any way, to understand her, except her
poor old father, sir."

The Squire, at the end of this long speech (which had been a great
deal too much for him) stood up, and flourished his fork, which
should have been better employed in feeding him, and looked from
face to face, in fear that he had made himself ridiculous.  Nobody
laughed at him, or even smiled; and he was pleased with this, and
resolved never to give such occasion again; because it would have
shamed him so.  And after all it was his own business.  None of
these people could have any idea, and he hoped they never might
have.  By this time his mind was dropping softly into some
confusion, and feeling it so, he sat down again, and drank the
glass of wine which Mary Hookham kindly held for him.

For a few minutes Mr. John Smith had his flourish (to let both the
women be sure who he was) all about the Queen, and the law of the
land, and the jurisdiction of the Bench, and he threatened the
absent Cripps with three months' imprisonment, and perhaps the
treadmill.  He knew that he was talking unswept rubbish, but his
audience was female.  They listened to him without leaving off
their work; and their courage increased as his did.

But presently Mr. Oglander, who had seemed to be taking a nap,
arose, and said, as clearly as ever he had said anything in his
clearest days--

"Mary, go and tell Charles to put the saddle on the mare at once."

"Oh Lor', sir! whatever are you thinking of?  Lor' a massy, sir, I
couldn't do it, I couldn't!  You ain't abeen a-horseback for nigh
four months, and your orders is to keep quiet in your chair, and
not even look out o' winder, sir.  Do 'ee plaize to go into your
slippers, sir?"

"I will not go into my slippers, Mary.  I will go into my boots.
I hear that Mr. Overshute is ill, and I gather from what you have
all been saying that his illness is of such a kind that nobody
will go near him.  I have wronged the young gentleman bitterly,
and I will do my best to right myself.  If I never do another
thing, I will ride to Shotover this day.  Order the mare, as I
tell you, and the air will do me good, please God!"



CHAPTER XXIX

A SPIDER'S DINNER-PARTY


Now was the happy time when Oxford, ever old, yet ever fresh with
the gay triennial crown of youth, was preparing itself for that
sweet leisure for which it is seldom ill prepared.  Being the
paramount castle and strongest feudal hold of stout "idlesse,"
this fair city has not much to do to get itself into prime
condition for the noblest efforts and most arduous feats of
invincible laziness.  The first and most essential step is to
summon all her students, and send them to chapel to pay their
vows.  After this there need be no misgiving or fear of industry.
With one accord they issue forth, all pledged to do nothing for
the day, week, or month; each intellectual brow is stamped with
the strongest resolve not to open a book; and


     "Games are the spur which the clear spirit doth raise,
      To scorn the Dons, and live luxurious days."


This being so, whether winter shatters the Isid wave against Folly
bridge, or spring's arrival rustles in the wavering leaves of
Magdalen, or autumn strews the chastened fragrance of many brewers
on ripe air--how much more when beauteous summer fosters the coy
down on the lip of the junior sophist like thistle-seed, and casts
the freshman's shadow hotly on the flags of High Street--now or
never is the proper period not to overwork one's self, and the
hour for taking it easy.

But against each sacred rite and hallowed custom of the place,
against each good old-fashioned smoothness, and fine-fed
sequacity, a rapid stir was now arising, and a strong desire to
give a shove.  There were some few people who really thought that
the little world in which they lay was one they ought to move in;
that perfect life was not to be had without some attempt at
breathing; and that a fire (though beautifully laid) gives little
warmth till kindled.

However, these were young fellows mostly, clever in their way, but
not quite sound; and the heads of houses, generally speaking,
abode on the house-top, and did not come down.  Still they kept
their sagacious eyes on the movement gathering down below, and
made up their minds to crush it as soon as they could be quite
certain of being too late.  But these things ride not upon the
cart of Cripps--though Cripps is a theologian, when you beat his
charges down.

After the Easter vacation was over, with too few fattening
festivals, the most popular tutor in Brasenose (being the only one
who ever tried to teach) came back to his rooms and his college
work with a very fine appetite for doing good;--according, at
least, to his own ideas of good, and duty, and usefulness; all of
which were fundamentally wrong in the opinion of the other tutors.
But Hardenow, while he avoided carefully all disputes with his
colleagues, strictly kept to his own course, and doing more work
than the other five (all put together) attempted, was permitted to
have his own way, because of the trouble there might be in
stopping him.

The college met for the idle term, on Saturday morning, as usual.
On Saturday afternoon Hardenow led off his old "squad" with two
new recruits, for their fifteen miles of hard walking.  Athletics
and training were as yet unknown (except with the "eight" for
Henley), and this Tractarian movement may have earned its name,
ere the birth of No. 90, from the tract of road traversed, in a
toe-and-heel track, by the fine young fellows who were up to it.
At any rate that was what the country people said, and these are
more often right than wrong, and the same opinion still abides
with them.

Hardenow only took this long tramp for the sake of collecting his
forces.  Saturday was not their proper day for this very admirable
coat-tail chase.  Neither did they swallow hill and plain in this
manner on a Sunday.  Lectures were needful to fetch them up to the
proper pitch for striding so.  Wherefore on the morrow Mr.
Hardenow was free for a cruise on his own account, after morning
sermon at St. Mary's; and not having heard of his old friend
Russel for several weeks, he resolved to go and hunt him up in his
own home.

It was not a possible thing for this very active and spare-bodied
man to lounge upon his road.  Whatever it was that he undertook,
he carried on the action with such a swing and emphasis, that he
seemed to be doing nothing else.  He wore a short spencer, and a
long-tailed coat, "typical"--to use the pet word of that age--both
of his curt brevity and his ankle-reaching gravity.  His jacket
stuck into him, and his coat struck away with the power of an
adverse wind, while the boys turned back and stared at him; but he
was so accustomed to that sort of thing that he never thought of
looking round.  He might have been tail-piped for seven leagues
without troubling his head about it.

This was a man of great power of mind, and led up to a lofty
standard; pure, unselfish, good, and grand (so far as any grandeur
can be in the human compound), watchful over himself at almost
every corner of his ways, kind of heart, and fond of children;
loving all simplicity, quick to catch and glance the meaning of
minds very different from his own; subtle also, and deep to
reason, but never much inclined to argue.  He had a shy and
very peculiar manner of turning his eyes away from even an
undergraduate, when his words did not command assent; as sometimes
happened with freshmen full of conceit from some great public
school.

The manner of his mind was never to assert itself, or enter into
controversy.  He felt that no arguments would stir himself when he
had solidly cast his thoughts; and he had of all courtesies the
rarest (at any rate with Englishmen), the courtesy of hoping that
another could reason as well as himself.

In this honest and strenuous nature there was one deficiency.  The
Rev. Thomas Hardenow, copious of mind and active, clear of memory,
and keen at every knot of scholarship, patient and candid too, and
not at all intolerant, yet never could reach the highest rank,
through want of native humour.  His view of things was nearly
always anxious and earnest.  His standing-point was so fixed and
stable, that every subject might be said to revolve on its own
axis during its revolution round him; and the side that never
presented itself was the ludicrous or lightsome one.

As he strode up the hill, with the back of his leg-line concave at
the calf, instead of convex (whenever his fluttering skirt allowed
a glimpse of what he never thought about), it was brought home
suddenly to his ranging mind that he might be within view of
Beckley.  At a bend of the rising road he turned, and endwise down
a plait of hills, and between soft pillowy folds of trees, the
simple old church of Beckley stood, for his thoughts to make the
most of it.  And, to guide them, the chime of the gentle bells,
foretelling of the service at three o'clock, came on the tremulous
conveyance of the wind, murmuring the burden he knew so well--"old
men and ancient dames, married folk and children, bachelors and
maidens, all come to church!"

Hardenow thought of the months he had spent, some few years back,
in that quiet place; of the long, laborious, lonesome days, the
solid hours divided well, the space allotted for each hard drill;
then (when the pages grew dim and dark, and the bat flitted over
the lattice, or the white owl sailed to the rickyard), the glory
of sallying into the air, inhaling grander volumes than ever from
mortal breath proceeded, and plunging into leaves that speak of
one great Author only.  And well he remembered in all that toil
the pure delight of the Sunday; the precious balm of kicking out
both legs, and turning on the pillow until eight o'clock; the
leisurely breakfast with the Saturday papers, instead of
Aristotle; the instructive and amusing walk to church, where
everybody admired him, and he set the fashion for at least ten
years; the dread of the parson that a man who was known as the
best of his year at Oxford should pick out the fallacies of his
old logic; and then the culminating triumph of Sabbatic jubilee--
the dinner, the dinner, wherewith the whole week had been privily
gestating; up to that crowning moment when Cripps, in a coat of no
mean broadcloth, entered with a dish of Crippsic size, with the
"trimmings" coming after him in a tray, and lifting the cover with
a pant and flourish, said, "Well, sir, now, what do 'ee plaize to
think of that?"

Nor in this pleasant retrospect of kindness and simplicity was the
element of rustic grace and beauty wholly absent--the slight young
figure that flitted in and out, with quick desire to please him;
the soft pretty smile with which his improvements of Beckley
dialect were received; and the sweet gray eyes that filled with
tears so, the day before his college met.  Hardenow had feared,
humble-minded as he was, that the young girl might be falling into
liking him too well; and he knew that there might be on his own
part too much reciprocity.  Therefore (much as he loved Cripps,
and fully as he allowed for all that was to be said upon every
side), he had felt himself bound to take no more than a distant
view of Beckley.

Even now, after three years and a half, there was some resolve in
him to that effect, or the residue of a resolution.  He turned
from the gentle invitation of the distant bells, and went on with
his face set towards the house of his old friend, Overshute.  When
he came to the lodge (which was like a great beehive stuck at the
end of a row of trees), it caused him a little surprise to find
the gate wide open, and nobody there.  But he thought that, as it
was Sunday, perhaps the lodge-people were gone for a holiday; and
so he trudged onward, and met no one to throw any light upon
anything.

In this way he came to the door at last, with the fine old porch
of Purbeck stone heavily overhanging it, and the long wings of the
house stretched out, with empty windows cither way.  Hardenow rang
and knocked, and then set to and knocked and rang again; and then
sat down on a stone balustrade; and then jumped up with just
vigour renewed, and pushed and pulled, and in every way worked to
the utmost degree of capacity everything that had ever been gifted
with any power of conducting sound.

Nobody answered.  The sound of his energy went into places far
away, and echoed there, and then from stony corners came back to
him.  He traced the whole range of the windows and caught no sign
of any life inside them.  At last, he pushed the great door, and
lo! there was nothing to resist his thrust, except its sullen
weight.

When Hardenow stood in the old-fashioned hall, which was not at
all "baronial," he found himself getting into such a fright that
he had a great mind to go away again.  If there had only been
anybody with him--however inferior in "mental power"--he might
have been able to refresh himself by demonstrating something, and
then have marched on to the practical proof.  But now he was all
by himself, in strange and unaccountable loneliness.  The sense of
his condition perhaps induced him to set to and shout.  The
silence was so oppressive, that the sound of his own voice almost
alarmed him by its audacity.  So, after shouting "Russel!" thrice,
he stopped, and listened, and heard nothing except that cold and
shuddering ring, as of hardware in frosty weather, which stone and
plaster and timber give when deserted by their lords--mankind.

Knowing pretty well all the chief rooms of the house, Hardenow
resolved to go and see if they were locked; and grasping his black
holly-stick for self-defence, he made for the dining-room.  The
door was wide open; the cloth on the table, with knives and forks
and glasses placed, as if for a small dinner-party; but the only
guest visible was a long-legged spider, with a sound and healthy
appetite, who had come down to dine from the oak beams overhead,
and was sitting in his web between a claret bottle and a cruet-
stand, ready to receive with a cordial clasp any eligible visitor.

Hardenow tasted the water in a jug, and found it quite stale and
nasty; then he opened a napkin, and the bread inside it was dry
and hard as biscuit.  Then he saw with still further surprise that
the windows were open to their utmost extent, and the basket of
plate was on the sideboard.

"My old friend Russel, my dear old fellow!" he cried with his hand
on his heart where lurked disease as yet unsuspected, "what
strange misfortune has befallen you?  No wonder my letter was left
unanswered.  Perhaps the dear fellow is now being buried, and
every one gone to his funeral.  But no; if it were so, these
things would not be thus.  The funeral feast is a grand
institution.  Everything would be fresh and lively, and five
leaves put into the dinner-table."  With this true reflection, he
left the room to seek the solution elsewhere.

He failed, however, to find it in any of the downstair fitting-
rooms.  Then he went even into the kitchen, thinking the liberty
allowable under such conditions.  The grate was cold and the table
bare; on the one lay a drift of soot, on the other a level deposit
of dust, with a few grimy implements to distribute it.

Hardenow made up his mind for the worst.  He was not addicted to
fiction (as haply was indicated by his good degree), but he could
not help recalling certain eastern and even classic tales; and if
he had come upon all the household sitting in native marble, or
from the waistband downward turned into fish, or logs, or dragons,
he might have been partly surprised, but must have been wholly
thankful for the explanation.  Failing however to discover this,
and being resolved to go through with the matter, the tutor of
Brasenose mounted the black oak staircase of this enchanted house.
At the head of the stairs was a wide, low passage, leading right
and left from a balustraded gallery.  The young man chose first
the passage to the right, and tightening his grip of the stick,
strode on.



CHAPTER XXX

THE FIRE-BELL


The doors of the rooms on either side were not only open but
fastened back; the sashes of the windows were all thrown up; and
the rain, which had followed when the east wind fell, had entered
and made puddles on the sills inside.  Such a draught of air
rushed down the passage that Hardenow's lengthy skirts flickered
out, in the orthodox fashion, behind him.

At the end of this passage he came to a small alcove, fenced off
with a loose white curtain, shaking and jerking itself in the
wind.  He put this aside with his stick; and two doorways, leading
into separate rooms, but with no doors in them, faced him.
Something told him that both these rooms held human life, or human
death.

First he looked in at the one on the left.  He expected to see
lonely death; perhaps corruption; or he knew not what.  His nerves
were strung or unstrung (whichever is the medical way of putting
it) to such a degree that he wholly forgot, or entirely put by,
everything, except his own absorbing sense of his duty, as a man
in holy orders.  This duty had never been practised yet in any
serious way, because he had never been able to afford it.  It
costs so much more money than it brings in.  However, in the midst
of more lucrative work, he had felt that he was sacred to it--rich
or poor--and he often had a special hankering after it.  This
leaning towards the cure of souls had a good chance now of being
gratified.

In the room on the left hand he saw a little bed, laid at the foot
of a fat four-poster, which with carved mouths grinned at it; and
on this little bed of white (without curtain, or trimming, or
tester), lay a lady, or a lady's body, cast down recklessly, in
sleep or death, with the face entirely covered by a silvery cloud
of hair.  From the manner in which one arm was bent, Hardenow
thought that the lady lived.  There was nothing else to show it.
Being a young man, a gentleman also, he hung back and trembled
back from entering that room.

Without any power to "revolve things well," as he always directed
his pupils to do, Hardenow stepped to the other doorway, and
silently settled his gaze inside.  His eyes were so worried that
he could not trust them, until he had time to consider what they
told.

They told him a tale even stranger than that which had grown upon
him for an hour now, and passed from a void alarm into a terror;
they showed him the loveliest girl--according to their rendering--
that ever they had rested on till now; a maiden sitting in a low
chair reading, silently sometimes, and sometimes in a whisper,
according to some signal, perhaps, of which he saw no sign.  There
was no other person in the room, so far as he could see; and he
strained his eyes with extreme anxiety to make out that.

The Rev. Thomas Hardenow knew (as clearly as his keen perception
ever had brought any knowledge home) that he was not discharging
the functions now--unless they were too catholic--of the
sacerdotal office, in watching a young woman through a doorway,
without either leave or notice.  But though he must have been
aware of this, it scarcely seemed now to occur to him; or whether
it did, or did not, he went on in the same manner gazing.

The girl could not see him; it was not fair play.  The width of
great windows, for instance, kept up such a rattling of blinds,
and such flapping of cords, and even the floor was so strewn with
herbs (for the sake of their aroma), that anybody might quite come
close to anybody who had cast away fear (in the vast despair of
prostration), without any sense of approach until perhaps hand was
laid upon shoulder.  Hardenow took no more advantage of these
things than about half a minute.  In that half-minute, however,
his outward faculties (being all alive with fear) rendered to his
inward and endiathetic organs a picture, a schema, or a plasm--the
proper word may be left to him--such as would remain inside, at
least while the mind abode there.

The sound of low, laborious breath pervaded the sick room now and
then, between the creaking noises and the sighing of the wind.  In
spite of all draughts, the air was heavy with the scent of herbs
strewn broadcast, to prevent infection--tansy, wormwood, rue, and
sage, burnt lavender and rosemary.  The use of acids in malignant
fevers was at that time much in vogue, and saucers of vinegar and
verjuice, steeped lemon-peel, and such like, as well as dozens of
medicine bottles, stood upon little tables.  Still Hardenow could
not see the patient; only by following the glance of the reader
could he discover the direction.  It was the girl herself,
however, on whom his wondering eyes were bent.  At first he seemed
to know her face, and then he was sure that he must have been
wrong.  The sense of doing good, and the wonderful influence of
pity, had changed the face of a pretty girl into that of a
beautiful woman.  Hardenow banished his first idea, and wondered
what strange young lady this could be.

Although she was reading aloud, and doing it not so very badly, it
was plain enough that she expected no one to listen to her.  The
sound of her voice, perhaps, was soothing to some one who
understood no words; as people (in some of the many unknown
conditions of brain) have been soothed and recovered by a thread
of waterfall broken with a walking-stick.  At any rate, she read
on, and her reading fell like decent poetry.

Hardenow scarcely knew what he ought to do.  He did not like to go
forward; and it was a mean thing to go backward, rendering no
help, when help seemed wanted so extremely.  He peeped back into
the other room; and there was the lady with the fine white hair,
sleeping as soundly as a weary top driven into dreaming by extreme
activity of blows.

Nothing less than a fine idea could have delivered Hardenow from
this bad situation.  It was suddenly borne in upon his mind that
the house had a rare old fire-bell, a relic of nobler ages,
hanging from a bar in a little open cot, scarcely big enough for a
hen-roost; and Russel had shown him one day, with a laugh, the
corner in which the rope hung.  There certainly could be but very
little chance of doing harm by ringing it; what could be worse
than the present state of things?  Some good Samaritan might come.
No Levite was left to be driven away.

For Hardenow understood the situation now.  The meaning of a very
short paragraph in the Oxford paper of Saturday, which he had
glanced at and cast by, came distinctly home to him.  The careful
editor had omitted name of person and of place, but had made his
report quite clear to those who held a key to the reference.  "How
very dull-witted now I must be!" cried the poor young fellow in
his lonely trouble.  "I ought to have known it.  But we never know
the clearest things until too late."  It was not only for the sake
of acquitting himself of an awkward matter, but also in the hope
of doing good to the few left desolate, that Hardenow moved forth
his legs, from the windy white curtain away again.

He went down the passage at a very great pace, as nearly akin to a
run as the practice of long steady walks permitted; and then at
the head of the staircase he turned, and remembered a quiet little
corner.  Here, in an out-of-the-way recess, the rope of the alarm-
bell hung; and he saw it, even in that niche, moving to and fro
with the universal draught.  Hardenow seized it, and rang such a
peal as the old bell had never given tongue to before.  The bell
was a large one, sound and clear; and the call must have startled
the neighbourhood for a mile, if it could be startled.

"Really, I do believe I have roused somebody at last!" exclaimed
the ringer, as he looked through a window commanding the road to
the house, and saw a man on horseback coming.  "But, surely,
unless he sprang out of the ground, he must have been coming
before I began."

In this strange loneliness, almost any visitor would be welcome;
and Hardenow ran towards the top of the stairs to see who it was,
and to meet him.  But here, as he turned the corner of the
balustraded gallery, a scared and hurrying young woman, almost ran
into his arms.

"Oh, what is it?" she cried, drawing back, and blushing to a
deeper colour than well-extracted blood can show; "there is no
funeral yet!  He is not dead!  Who is ringing the bell so?  It has
startled even him, and will either kill or save him!  Kill him, it
will kill him, I am almost sure!"

"Esther--Miss Cripps--what a fool I am!  I never thought of that--
I did not know--how could I tell?  I am all in the dark!  Is it
Russel Overshute?"

"Yes, Mr. Hardenow.  Everybody knows it.  Every one has taken good
care to run away.  Even the doctors will come no more!  They say
it is hopeless; and they might only infect their other patients.
I fear that his mother must die too!  She has taken the fever in a
milder form; but walk she will, while walk she can.  And at her
time of life it is such a chance.  But I cannot stop one moment!"

"And at your time of life is it nothing, Esther?  You seem to
think of everybody but yourself.  Is this fair to your own hearth
and home?"

While he was speaking he looked at her eyes; and her eyes were
filling with deep tears--a dangerous process to contemplate.

"Oh, no, there is no fear of that," she answered misunderstanding
him; "I shall take good care not to go home until I am quite sure
that there is no risk."

"That is not what I mean.  I mean supposing you yourself should
catch it."

"If I do, they will let me stay here, I am sure.  But I have no
fear of it.  The hand that led me here will lead me back again.
But you ought not to be here.  I am quite forgetting you."

Hardenow looked at her with admiration warmer than he could put
into words.  She had been thinking of him throughout.  She thought
of every one except herself.  Even in the moment of first surprise
she had drawn away so that she stood to leeward; and while they
were speaking she took good care that the current of wind passed
from him to her.  Also in one hand she carried a little chafing-
dish producing lively fumigation.

"Now, if you please, I must go back to him.  Nothing would move
him; he lay for hours, as a log lies on a stone.  I could not have
knowledge whether he was living, only for his breathing sometimes
like a moan.  The sound of the bell seemed to call him to life,
for he thought it was his own funeral.  His mother is with him;
worn out as she is, the lady awoke at his rambling.  She sent me
to find out the meaning.  Now, sir, please to go back round the
corner; the shivering wind comes down the passage."

Hardenow was not such a coward as to obey her orders.  He even
wanted to shake hands with her, as in her girlhood he used to do,
when he had frightened this little pupil with too much emendation.
But Esther curtsied at a distance, and started away--until her
retreat was cut off very suddenly.

"Why, ho girl!  Ho girl; and young man in the corner!  What is the
meaning of all this?  I have come to see things righted; my name
is Worth Oglander.  I find this here old house silent as a grave,
and you two looking like a brace of robbers!  Young woman!--young
woman!--why, bless me now, if it isn't our own Etty Cripps!  I did
believe, and I would believe, but for knowing of your family,
Etty, and your brother Cripps the Carrier, that here you are for
the purpose of setting this old mansion afire!"

Esther, having been hard set to sustain what had happened already
(as well as unblest with a wink of sleep since Friday night), was
now unable to assert her dignity.  She simply leaned against the
wall, and gently blew into the embers of her disinfecting stuff.
She knew that the Squire might kill himself, after all his weeks
of confinement, by coming over here, in this rash manner, and
working himself up so.  But it was not her place to say a word;
even if she could say it.

"Mr. Oglander," said Hardenow, coming forward and offering his
hand, while Esther looked at them from beneath a cloud of smoke,
"I know your name better than you know mine.  You happened to be
on the continent when I was staying in your village.  My name is
Thomas Hardenow.  I am a priest of the Anglican Church, and have
no intention of setting anything on fire."

"Lor' bless me!  Lord bless me!  Are you the young fellow that
turned half the heads of Beckley, and made the Oxford examiners
all tumble back, like dead herrings with their jaws down?  Cripps
was in the schools, and he told me all about it.  And you were a
friend of poor Overshute.  I am proud to make your acquaintance,
sir."

"Master Cripps has inverted the story, I fear," Hardenow answered,
with a glance at Esther; while he could not, without rudeness, get
his hand out of the ancient Squire's (which clung to another, in
this weak time, as heartily as it used to do); "the examiners made
a dry herring of me.  But I am very glad to see you, sir; I have
heard of--at least, I mean, I feared--that you were in weak health
almost."

"Not a bit of it!  I was fool enough--or rather I should say, my
sister--to have a lot of doctors down; fellows worth their weight
in gold, or at any rate in brass, every day of their own blessed
lives; and yet with that temptation even, they cannot lengthen
their own days.  Of that I will tell you some other time.  They
kept me indoors, and they drenched me with physic--this, that, and
the other.  God bless you, sir, this hour of the air, with my own
old good mare under me, has done me more good--but my head goes
round; just a little; not anything to notice.  Etty, my dear,
don't you be afraid."

With these words the Squire sank down on the floor, not through
any kind of fit, or even loss of consciousness; but merely because
his fine old legs (being quite out of practice for so many weeks)
had found it a little more than they could do to keep themselves
firm in the stirrups, and then carry their master up slippery
stairs, and after that have to support a good deal of excitement
among the trunk parts.



CHAPTER XXXI

THROW PHYSIC TO THE DOGS


"In all my life I never knew such a very extraordinary thing,"
said Squire Oglander on the following Tuesday, to his old friend
Dr. Splinters.  "Why, look you here, he was wholly given up by the
very first man in London--that the poor young fellow was--can you
deny that, Splinters?"

"Well, between you and me and the door-post, Squire," answered his
learned visitor, "I am not quite so sure that Sir Anthony is quite
the rose and crown of the profession.  He may be a great Court
card and all that, and the rage with all the nobility; but for all
that, Squire, there are good men in comparatively obscure
positions; men who have devoted their lives to science from the
purest motives; modest men, sir, who are thankful to pocket their
poor guinea; men who would scorn any handle to their name or any
shabby interloping; sir, I say there are d--d good men--"

"But even you, Splinters, come now--even you gave him up--unless
we are wholly misinformed."

"Not at all.  That was quite a mistake.  The fact was simply this.
When Sir Anthony pronounced his opinion at our last consultation,
it was not my place to contradict him--we never do that with a
London man--but I ventured in my own mind to differ even from our
brilliant light, sir.  For I said to myself, 'first see the effect
of the remedial agent which I myself, in the absence of this
Londoner, have exhibited.'  I was suddenly called away to retrieve
a case of shocking blundering by a quack at Iffley.  That was why
you did not see me, Squire."

"Oh, yes, to be sure!  I quite see now," answered Mr. Oglander,
with a quiet internal wink.  "And when you came you found the most
wonderful effect from your remedial agent."

"That I did.  Something I could scarcely have believed.  Soft
sweet sleep, a genial perspiration, an equable pulse, nice gentle
breathing--the very conditions of hygiene which Sir Anthony's
efforts could never produce.  Why, my good sir, in all the records
of the therapeutic art, there is no example of such rapid
efficacy.  I think it will henceforth be acknowledged that Dr.
Splinters knows what he is about.  My dear friend, you know that
there is nothing I dislike so much as the appearance of vaunting.
If I had only condescended to that, nobody could have stopped me,
sir.  But no, Squire, no; I have always been the same; and I have
not an enemy, except myself."

"You may say more than that, sir--a great deal more than that.
You may say that you have many friends, doctor, who admire your
great abilities.  But as to Russel Overshute, if the poor fellow
does come round the general belief will be that he must thank the
fire-bell."

"The fire-bell!  My dear sir, in this age of advanced therapeutics--
Oglander, you must know better than to listen to that low story!"

"Splinters, I know that foolish tales are told about almost
everything.  But being there myself, I thought there might be
something in it."

"Nothing whatever!  I never heard such nonsense!  I was quite
angry with Esther Cripps.  What can chits of girls know?  They
must have their chatter."

"I suppose they must," said the Squire sadly, thinking of his own
dear Grace; "still they may be right sometimes.  At any rate,
doctor, the fire-bell did as much good as your medicine did.  Take
another glass of wine.  I would not hurt your feelings for the
world, my dear old friend."

"Oglander," answered Dr. Splinters, putting up his great gold
spectacles, so that beneath them he might see--for he never could
see through them--how to pour out his fine glass of port,
"Oglander, you have something or other that you are keeping in the
background.  Squire, whatever it is, out with it.  Between you and
me, sir, there should be nothing but downright yes or no, Mr.
Oglander.  Downright yes or no, sir."

"Of course, of course," said the Squire, relapsing into some quiet
mood again; "that was how I always liked it.  Splinters, you must
know I did.  And I never meant anything against it, by bringing
this here little bottle back.  It may have saved the poor boy's
life; and of course it did, if you say so.  But the seal is still
on the cork, and the stuff all there; so it may do good again.  I
dare say the good came through the glass; you doctors have such
devices!"  Mr. Oglander took a small square bottle from his inner
peculiar pocket, and gave it to the doctor, so as not to disturb
his wine-glass.

"How the deuce did you get hold of this?" cried Splinters, being
an angry man when taken without notice; "this is some of that
girl's insolent tricks!--I call her an insolent and wicked girl!"

"I call her a good and a brave girl!--the very best girl in
Beckley, since--but, my dear Splinters, you must not be vexed.
She told me that you had the greatest faith in this last idea of
yours; and it struck me at once that you might wish to try it in
some other case; and so I brought it.  You see it has not been
opened."

"It doesn't matter whether it was used or not," cried Dr.
Splinters vehemently; "there is the stuff, sir; and here is the
result!  Am I to understand, sir, that you deny the existence of
Providence?"

"Far be such a thing from me!" the Squire replied, with a little
indignation at such an idea; and then, remembering that Splinters
was his guest, he changed the subject.  "How could I help having
faith in the Lord, when I see His care made manifest?  Why, look
at me, Splinters; I am twice the man I was last Sunday morning!
Why is it so?  Why, because it pleased a gracious Providence to
make it my duty, as a man, to ride!--to ride, sir, a very
considerable distance, on a mare who had been eating her head off.
Every one vowed that I never could do it; and my good housekeeper
locked me in; and when I unscrewed the lock, she sent two men
after me, to pick me up.  Very good, sir; here I am, enjoying my
glass of port, with the full intention of having another.
Yesterday I sent to our road-contractor for a three-headed and
double-handed hammer; and Kale smashed up, in about two minutes,
three hundred and twenty medicine bottles!  They will come in for
the top of the orchard wall."

"Squire," answered Splinters, with a twinkling eye, "it is not at
all improbable that you may be right.  There are some constitutions
so perverse that to exhibit the best remedial agent is just the
same thing as to reason with a pig.  But it is high time for me
to be jogging on my road.  If Beckley and Shotover discard my
extremely humble services, there are other places in the world,
sir, besides Beckley and Shotover."

"There is no other place in the world for you, except Beckley, for
some hours, my friend.  We have known one another long enough, to
allow for one another now.  I would have arranged a rubber for you--
but, but--well, you know what I mean--sadly selfish; but I cannot
help it."

The doctor, though vain and irritable, was easily touched with
softness.  He thought of all his many children, and of the long
pain he had felt at losing one out of a dozen; then without
process of thought he felt for the loss of one; where one was all.

"Oglander, you need not say another word," he answered, putting
forth his hand, to squeeze any trifle away between them.  "A
rubber in winter is all very well; and so it is in summer, at the
proper time, but on a magnificent spring evening, to watch the
sunset between one's cards is not--I mean that it is very nice
indeed, but still it ought scarcely to be done, when you can help
it.  Now, I will just take the leastest little drop of your grand
Curaçoa before I smoke; and then if you have one of those old
Manillas, I am your man for a stroll in the garden."

To go into a garden in good weather soothes the temper.  The
freedom of getting out of doors is a gracious joy to begin with;
and when the first blush of that is past, without any trouble
there come forward so many things to be looked at.  Even since
yesterday--if we had the good hap to see them yesterday--many
thousand of little things have spent the time in changing.  Even
with the weather scarcely different from yesterday's--though
differ it must in some small points, when in its most consistent
mood--even with no man to come and dig, and fork, and roll, and by
all human devices harass; and even without any children dancing,
plucking, pulling, trampling, and enjoying their blessed little
hearts, as freely as any flower does; yet in the absence of all
those local contributions towards variety, variety there will be
for all who have the time to look for it.

The most observant and delightful poets of the present age,
instead of being masters of nature, prefer to be nature's masters.
Having obtained this power they use it with such diligence and
spirit, that they make the peach and the apple bloom together, and
the plum keep the kalendar of the lilac.  Once in a way, such a
thing does almost happen (without the poet's aid)--that is to say,
when a long cold winter is broken by a genial outburst waking
every dormant life; and after that, a repressive chill returns,
and lasts to the May month.  At such a time, when hope deferred
springs anew as hope assured, and fear breaks into fluttering joy,
and faith moves steadily into growth, then a truly poetic
confusion arises in the works of earth.

In such a state of things the squire and the doctor walked to and
fro in the garden; the Squire still looking very pale and feeble,
but with the help of his favourite spud, managing to get along,
and to enjoy the evening.  The blush of the peach wall was not
over, and yet the trellised apple-tree was softly unsheathing
puckered buds, all in little clusters pointed like rosettes of
coral.  The petals of the plum-bloom still were hovering with
their edges brown, although in a corner near a chimney, positively
a lilac-bush was thrusting forth those livid jags which lift and
curve themselves so swiftly into plumes of beauty.  The two good
gentlemen were surprised; each wanted particularly to hear what
the other thought of it; but neither would deign to ask; and
either feared to speak his thoughts, for fear of giving the other
an advantage.  Because they were rival gardeners; and so they
avoided the subject.

"This is the very first cigar," said the Squire, as they turned at
the end of the peach wall, over against a young Grosse Mignonne,
beautifully trained on the Seymour system, and bright with the
central glow of pistil, although the petals were dropping--"my
very first cigar, since that--you know what I mean, of course--
since I have cared whether I were in my garden, or in my grave.
But the Lord supports me.  Providence is good; or how could I be
smoking this cigar?"

"You must not learn to look at things in that way," Dr. Splinters
answered; "Oglander, you must learn to know better.  You are in an
uncomfortable frame of mind, or you would not have flouted me with
that bottle, after all our friendship.  Why, bless me!  Only look
around you.  Badly pruned as your trees are, what a picture there
is of largeness!"

"Yes, Splinters, more than you could find in yours; which you
amputate into a doctor's bamboo.  But now, perhaps, you may doubt
it, Splinters, because your trees are so very poor--but I have not
felt any pride at all, any pride at all, in one of them.  What is
the good of lovely trees, with only one's self to enjoy them?"

"Now, Oglander, there you are again!  How often must I tell you?
Your poor little Gracie is gone, of course; and a nice little
thing she was, to be sure.  But here you are again as well as
ever, or at any rate as positive.  I judge a man's state of health
very much by his powers of contradiction.  And yours are first-
rate.  Go to, go to!  You are equal to another wife.  Take a young
one, and have more Gracies."

"Splinters, do you know what I should do," Mr. Oglander answered,
with his spud uplifted, "if my powers were such as you suppose--
because I smashed your bottles?"

"Yes, I dare say you would knock me down, and never beg my pardon
till the wedding breakfast."

"You are right in the first part; but wrong in the second.  Oh,
doctor, is there no one able to share the simplest thoughts we
have?"

"To minister to a mind diseased?  First, he must have his own mind
diseased; as all the blessed poets have.  But look!  The green fly--
who would ever believe it, after our Siberian winter?  The aphis
is hatched in your young peach-shoots before they have made even
half a joint.  That comes of your Seymour system."

"Ridiculous!" answered the Squire; "but never mind!  What matter
now?  Then you really do think, Splinters--now, as an old friend,
try to tell me--in pure sincerity, do you think that I have
altogether lost my Gracie?"

"Oglander, no!  I can truly say no.  We are all good Christians, I
should hope.  She is not lost, but gone before."

"But, my dear fellow, will you never understand that she ought to
have gone, long after?  It is all very well for you, who have got
some baker's dozen of little ones, and lost only one in the
measles--forgive me, I know it was hard upon you--I say things
that I should not say--but if you could only bring your mind--
however, I daresay you have tried to do it; and what right have I
to ask you?  Splinters, I know I am puzzle-headed; and many people
think me worse than that.  But you have the sense to understand
me, because for many years you have been acquainted with my
constitution.  Now, Splinters, tell me, in three words--shall I
live to see my Gracie?"

"That you will, Squire; and to see her married; and to dance on
your lap her children!"  So said Dr. Splinters, fearing what might
happen, if he did not say it.

"Only to see her.  That is all I want.  And to have her in my arms
once more.  And to hear her tell me, with her own true tongue,
that she never ran away from me.  After that I shall be ready for
my coffin, and know that the Lord has ordered it.  Here comes more
of your dust into my eyes!  Splinters, will you never learn how to
knock your ash off?"



CHAPTER XXXII

CRIPPS ON CELIBACY


Whatever might or may be said by any number of most able and
homicidal physicians, Russel Overshute will believe, as long as he
draws breath of life, that by the grace of the Lord he owes that
privilege to the fire-bell.  In this belief he has always been
most strongly supported by Esther Cripps, who perhaps was the
first to suggest the idea; for he at that time must have failed to
know a fire-bell from a water-bucket.  The doctors had left him,
through no fear for their own lives, but in despair of his.  There
was far less risk of infection now than in the earlier stages.  No
sooner, however, did the household find out that the medical men
had abandoned the case, than panic seized their gallant hearts,
and with one accord they ran away.  From Saturday morning till
Saturday night, when Esther came from Beckley, there was nobody
left to watch and soothe the poor despairing misery, except the
helpless and worn-out mother.

One thing is certain (and even the doctors, with their usual
sharpness, found it wise to acknowledge this)--both Mr. Overshute
and his mother must have been dead bodies with little hope of
Christian burial, if that brave girl had not set forth (without
any one even asking her) on the Saturday night to help them.  Mrs.
Overshute had quite thrown up all hope of everything--save the
mercy of God in a better world, and His justice upon her enemies--
when quite in the dark this young girl came, while she was lying
down on her back, and curtsied, and asked her pleasure.

If Esther had not curtsied, perhaps Mrs. Overshute in that state
of mind would have taken her for an angel; though Etty's bonnet,
made by herself, was not at all angelical.  But she knew her for
one of the lower orders (who bend knee instead of neck), and
belonging herself to a fine old race, she rallied her last
energies with a power of condescension.

However, these are medical, physical, social, economical, and
perhaps even psychological questions--wherein what remains except
perpetual inquiry?  Enough is to say that Russell Overshute,
having long had a ringing in his ears, was rung out of that, and
rung back to life, by the lively peal of the fire-bell.  And ever
since that, whenever he is ill--though it be only a little touch
of gout--he immediately sends a good corpulent man to lay hold of
the rope and swing to it.  These things are of later date.  For
the present, this young man (although he certainly had turned the
corner) lay still in a very precarious state, with a feeble mother
to pray for him.  Mrs. Overshute held that same vile fever, but in
a very different form, as at her time of life was natural.  With
her it was intermittent, low, stealthy, and undermining.  It never
affected her brain, or drove her into furious calenture, but
rooted slowly inward, preying on her life quite leisurely.  Their
cases differed, as a knockdown blow differs from a quiet grasp.

But though the house lay still in sadness, loneliness, and dull
suspense, and though the doctors, having abandoned the case, had
the manners not to come again, still from day to day there was
some little growth of liveliness.  Hardenow came almost daily,
having put his class of striders under a deputy six-leaguer; the
Squire also might be expected, whenever Mother Hookham let him
out; and even Zacchary Cripps renewed an old washing in that
direction.  He came, with the hoops of his cart taken out, because
of the beautiful weather, and four good baskets of clothes for to
wash (whose wearers were happy enough to have no idea where their
"things" were), and quite at the centre of his gravity--as felt by
himself, and endorsed by Dobbin--anybody getting up with a curious
eye might well have beheld a phenomenon.  For here stood a very
large pickling tub, with the cover taken off for the sake of air;
around the sides was salted pork--hands and springs, and belly
pieces--and in the middle was a good-sized barrel of the then
existent native.

"Veed 'un," cried Cripps, with his coat-tails up, while tugging at
his heavy tub; "veed 'un, Etty, whatsomever 'ee do.  Salt is the
main thing for 'un now.  I have heerd tell that they burns away
every bit of the salt inside 'em, in these here bouts of fever.
If 'ee can replace 'un, laife comes round; or else they goes off,
like the snuff of a candle.  Bless me, I must be getting fevery
myzell, or never should have a job to lift this here.  Now the
quality of this pickle you know well, for the most part fell on
your shoulders.  Home-bred, home-born, home-fed, home-slaughtered,
and home-salted--that's what I calls pork!"

"Yes, to be sure, Zak," Etty answered, laying her hand to the tub
upon the shaft-stock, while Dobbin wagged his tail at her; "but
what have you got in this very small cask, sitting in the middle
of all the brine?"

"Why, you know, Etty, you must have seed me bring 'em for all the
great folk about Christmas-tide.  Oysters, as lives in the sea,
and must be salt inside of their barryels.  So I clapped them in
here for a fresh smack of it, and uncommonly strengthening things
they be if you take them with enow of treble X.  Likely his
worship will be too weak to keep them down with the covers on yet,
as is the proper way, they tell me; so you best way take out the
hearts and give him."

"Oh, brother," cried Esther, remembering suddenly, "I ought not to
be talking to you like this.  Whatever could I be thinking of?
What would the people at Beckley say?  They would fear to come
nigh you for a month, Zak, and your business would be ruined.
Now, do jog on, you and dear old Dobbin.  How well I knew the
sound of his old feet.  I can't give you the fever, Dobbin, can
I?"

With this perhaps incorrect or, at any rate, unestablished
hypothesis, she gave the old horse a lingering kiss just below his
blinkers, in return for which he jerked off some froth on the
sleeve of her dress, and shook himself; while the Carrier, having
discharged his cargo, smote himself with both arms, from habit
rather than necessity, and approached his young sister for his
usual hearty smack.

"No, Zak, no," she cried, running up the steps, "I have no fear of
taking it myself whatever; but if I should happen to give it to
you, I never should get over it."

"Well, well, little un, the Lord knows best," Master Cripps
answered, without repining too bitterly at this arrangement; "but
ating of my victuals lonesome is worse than having no salt to
them; you better come home pretty soon, my dear, or somehow or
other there might happen to be some one over in the corner,
'longside of our best frying-pan."

Etty had heard this threat so often, that now she only laughed at
it.  But instead of laughing, she blushed most sadly at her
brother's parting words:

"God bless you, Etty, for a brave good girl; and speed you home to
Beckley.  You want more sleep of nights, my dear; your cheeks are
getting like a pillow-case.  But excoose my mentioning of one
thing, Etty; I be like a father to 'ee; don't 'ee have more than
you can help to say to the great scholard, Master Hardenow."

Cripps was a gentleman, in an inner kind of way, and he took good
care to be getting up his shaft (with his stiff knee stiffer than
ever, from the long frost of last winter) while he discharged his
duty, as he thought it, at, as well as to, his sister.  Then he
deposited the polished part of his breeches on the driving-board,
and brought his "game-leg" into the right stick-out, and with his
usual deliberation started--nay, that is too strong a word--
persuaded into progress his congenial and deliberate horse.
Neither of them hurried on a washing-day, any more than they
hurried upon any other day.

Zacchary knew that his sister was--as Master Phil Hiss had said of
her--"a most terrible hand at blushing;" and she could not bear to
be looked at in this electric aurora of maidenhood; and therefore
he managed to be a long way off, ere even he turned both head and
hand, to deliver last issue of "God bless you!"

Full of confusion about herself, and clearness of duty for other
people, Esther Cripps ran in, to see to the many things now
depending upon her.  There were now three servants in the house,
gathered from good stuff around, but wholly void of any wit, to
make up for want of experience.  Esther had no experience either,
but she possessed good store of sense, and quickness, and kind
energy.  Whatever she thought of her brother's warning, she would
think of afterwards.  For the present she must do her best
concerning other people; and Mrs. Overshute needed now more
nursing than her son did.

Zacchary Cripps, at the very first distance at which he was sure
of not being seen, began to shake his head, and shook it, in a
resolutely reflective way, for nearly three quarters of a mile.
The trees above him were alive with beauty, alike of sight, and
sound, and scent; and the Carrier made up his mind for a pipe, to
enable him to consider things.  His custom was not to smoke,
except when good occasion offered; and he tried to have no
contempt for carriers (of inferior family) who could not deliver a
side of bacon without smoking it over again almost.  Zacchary
Cripps, like all good men, stood up for the dignity of his work.
Strictly meditating thus, he saw a slight figure approaching with
a rapid swing, and presently met Mr. Hardenow.

The fellow and tutor of Brazenose, at the sight of Cripps and the
well-known cart, stopped short to ask how things were going on at
the house on the hill above them.  The Carrier answered that it
would be many a long day, he was afraid, ere his worship could get
about again, and that he ought to be kept very quiet, and those
would be his best friends now who had the least to say to him.
Also he was told that the poor old lady would find it as much as
her life was worth, if she was interrupted or terrified now.

"But, my good Cripps," answered Hardenow, "I am not going either
to interrupt or terrify them.  All I desire is to have a little
talk with your good and intelligent sister."

Poor Zacchary felt that his own tactics thus were turned against
him; and, after a little stammering and heightened glow of
countenance, he betook himself to his more usual course--that of
plain out-speaking.  But first he got down from his driving-board
that he might not fail in due respect to a gentleman and
clergyman.  Master Cripps had no liking at all for the duty which
he felt bound to take in hand.  He would rather have a row with
three turnpike-men than presume to speak to a gentleman; therefore
his bow-leg seemed to twitch him at the knee, as he led Hardenow
aside into a quiet gateway; but his eyes were firm and his manner
grave and steadfast as he began to speak.

"Mr. Hardenow, now I must ask your pardon, for a few words as I
want to say.  You are a gentleman, of course, and a very learned
scholar; and I be nothing but a common carrier--a 'carrier for
hire,' they calls me in the law, when they comes upon me for
damages.  Howsoever, I has to do my part off the road as well as
on it, sir; and my dooty to them of my own household comes next to
my dooty to God and myzell.  You are a good man, I know, and a
kind one, and would not, beknown to yourself, harm any one.  It
would go to your heart, I believe, Mr. Hardenow, from what I seed
of you, when you was quite a lad, if anyhow you was to be art or
part in bringing unhappiness of mind to any that had trusted you."

"I should hope so, Cripps.  I have some idea of what you mean, but
can hardly think--at any rate, speak more plainly."

"Well then, sir, I means all about your goings on with our little
Etty, or, at any rate, her goings on with you, which cometh to the
same thing in the end, so far as I be acquaint of it.  You might
think, if you was not told distinkly to the contrairy, that having
no business to lift up her eyes, she never would do so according.
But I do assure you, sir, when it cometh to such like manner of
taking on, the last thing as ever gets called into the account is
sensible reason.  They feels this, and they feels that; and then
they falls to a-dreaming; and the world goes into their tub, same
as butter, and they scoops it out, and pats, and stamps it to
their own size and liking, and then the whole melteth, and a sour
fool is left."

"Master Cripps, what you say is wise; and the like has often
happened.  But your sister is a most noble girl.  You do her gross
injustice by talking as if she were nothing but a common village
maid.  She is brave, she is pure, she is grandly unselfish.  Her
mind is well above feminine average; anything more so goes always
amiss.  You should not have such a low opinion as you seem to have
of your sister, Cripps."

"Sir, my opinion is high enough.  Now, to bring your own fine
words to the test, would you ever dream of marrying the maid, if I
and she both was agreeable?"

"It would be an honour to me to do so.  For the prejudices of the
world I care not one fig.  But surely you know that we contend for
the celibacy of the clergy."

"Maning as a parson maun't marry a wife?" asked Cripps, by the
light of nature.

"Yes, my friend, that is what we now maintain in the Anglican
communion, as the tradition of the Church."

"Well, may I be danged!" cried Cripps, who was an ardent
theologian.  "Then, if I may make so bold to ask, sir, how could
there a' been a tribe of Levi?  They must all a' died out in the
first generation; if 'em ever come to any generation at all."

"Your objection is ingenious, Cripps; but the analogy fails
entirely.  We are guided in such matters by unbroken and
unquestionable tradition of the early Church."

"Then, sir, if you goes outside of the Bible, you stand on your
own legs, and leave us no kind of leg to stand upon.  However, I
believe that you mean well, sir, and I am sure that you never do
no great harm.  And, as to our Etty, if you feel like that in an
honest, helpless sort of way, I beg the honour of shaking hands,
sir, for the spirit that is inside of you."

"Certainly, certainly, Cripps, with great pleasure!"

"And then of asking you to tramp another road, for your own sake,
as well as hers, sir.  And may the Lord teach you to know your own
mind."

"Cripps, I will follow your advice for the present; though you
have said some things that you scarcely ought to say."

"Then I humbly beg your pardon, sir.  Every one of us doeth that
same sometimes.  The bridle of the tongue falleth into the teeth,
when the lash is laid on us."

"Your metaphors are quite classical.  However, I respect you
greatly, Cripps, for your straightforward conduct.  I am not a
weak man, any more than you are; although you seem to think me
one.  I like and admire your sister Esther, for courage combined
with gentleness.  I always liked her, when she was a child; and I
understood her nature.  But as to her--liking me more than she
ought; Cripps, you are imaginative."

"Never heerd before," cried Cripps, "any accoosation of that there
kind."

"My friend, it is the rarest compliment.  However, your horse is
quite ready to walk off; and so am I, towards Cowley.  I will not
go to Shotover Grange to-day; and I will avoid your sister; though
I rarely do like talking to her."

"You are a man sir," cried Zacchary Cripps, as Hardenow set off
across the fields.  "God bless your reverence, though you never
get a waife!  A true man he is, and a maight a' been a faine one,
if he hadn't taken to them stiff coat tails."



CHAPTER XXXIII

KIT


In the meanwhile, Mrs. Luke Sharp was growing very anxious about
her son, and only child and idol, Christopher.  Not that there was
anything at all amiss with his bodily health, so far at least as
she could see; but that he seemed so unsettled in his mind, so
absent and preoccupied, and careless even of his out-door sports,
which at one time were his only care.  Of course, at this time of
year, there was very little employment for the gun, but there was
plenty of fishing to be got, such as it was, round Oxford, and it
must be a very bad time of year when there are no rats for little
terriers, and badgers for the larger tribe.  Yet none of these
things now possessed the proper charm for Christopher.  Wherever
he was, he always seemed to be wanting to be somewhere else; and,
like a hydrophobic dog, he hated to be looked at; while (after the
manner of a cat assisted lately by Lucina) he ran up into his own
loft, when he thought there was nobody watching.

Well arranged as all this might be, and keen, and self-
satisfactory, there was something keener, and not very easy to
satisfy, looking after it.  The love of a mother may fairly be
trusted to outwit any such calf-love as was making a fool of this
unfledged fellow, fresh from the feather-bed of a private school.

Considering whence he came, and how he had been brought up and
pampered, Kit Sharp was a very fine young fellow, and--thanks to
his liking for gun and rod--he could scarcely be called a milksop.
Still he was only a boy in mind, and in manner quite unformed and
shy; his father (for reasons of his own) having always refused to
enter him at any of the colleges.  He might perhaps have shaped
his raw material by the noblest models, if he had been admitted
into the society of undergraduates.  But the members of the
University entertained in those days, and probably still
entertain, a just and inevitable contempt for all the non-togati.
Kit Sharp had made some fluttering overtures of the flag of
friendship towards one or two random undergraduates who had a nice
taste for ratting; he had even dined and wined, once or twice, in
a not ignoble college; and had been acknowledged to know a
meerschaum as well as if he owned a statute-book.  But the boy
always fancied, perhaps through foolish and shy pride on his part,
that these most hospitable and kind young men had their jokes to
themselves about him.  Perhaps it was so; but in pure goodwill.
Take him for all in all, and allow for the needs of his situation--
which towards the third year grow imperative--and the Oxford
undergraduate is as good as any other young gentleman.

But Kit Sharp being exceedingly proud, and most secretive of his
pride, would not long receive, without return, good hospitality.
And this alone, without other suspicions, would have set bounds to
his dealing with a race profusely hospitable.  His dear and good
mother would gladly have invited a Cross Duck Houseful of
undergraduates, and left them to get on as they might, if only
thereby her pet son might have sense of salt for salt with them;
but Mr. Luke Sharp took a different view.  To his mind, the junior
members of the glorious University were a most disagreeable and
unprofitable lot to deal with.  He never, of course, condescended
to the Vice-Chancellor's court, and he despised all little
actions, in that large word's legal sense.  He liked a fine old
Don, or Head of a House, who had saved a sack of money, or well
earned it by vitality.  But for any such young fellows, with no
expectations, or paulo-post-futura such, Mr. Sharp was now too
long established to put a leaf into his dinner-table.  This being
so, and Christopher also of restricted pocket-money (so that no
dinners at the Star or Mitre could be contemplated), Master Kit
Sharp, in a "town and gown row," must have lent the weight of his
quiet, but very considerable, fist to the oppidan faction.

"Kit, now, my darling Kit, do tell me," said Mrs. Sharp for about
the fiftieth time, as she sat with her son in the sweet spring
twilight, at the large western window of Cross Duck House; "what
is it that makes you sigh so?  You almost break your poor mother's
heart.  I never did know you sigh, my own one.  Now, is it for
want of a rat, my darling?  If rats are a sovereign apiece, you
shall have one."

"Rats, mother!  Why, I can catch my own, without any appeal to
'the Filthy!'  Rats are never far away from legal premises, like
these."

"You should not speak so of your father's house, Kit.  And I am
sure that no rats ever come upstairs, or out of the window I must
jump.  But now you are only avoiding the subject.  What is it that
disturbs your mind, Kit?"

"Once more, mother, I have the greatest objection to being called
'Kit.'  It sounds so small, and--and so horribly prosaic.  All the
dictionaries say that it means, either the outfit of a common
soldier, or else a diminutive kind of fiddle."

"Christopher, I really beg your pardon.  I know how much loftier
you are, of course; but I cannot get over the habit, Kit.  Well,
well, then--My darling, I hope you are not at all above being 'my
darling,' Kit."

"Mother, you may call me what you like.  It can make no difference
in my destinies."

"Christopher, you make my blood run cold.  My darling, I implore
you not to sigh so.  Your dear father pays my allowance on Monday.
I know what has long been the aspiration of your heart.  Kit, you
shall have a live badger of your own."

"I hate the very name of rats and badgers.  Everything is so low
and nasty.  How can you look at that noble sunset, and be full of
badgers?  Mother, it grieves me to leave you alone; but how can I
help it, when you go on so?  I shall go for a walk on the Botley
Road."

"Take your pipe, Kit, take your pipe; whatever you do, Kit, take
your pipe," screamed poor Mrs. Sharp, as he stuck his hat on, as
if it were never to come off again.  "Oh, Kit, there are such deep
black holes; I will fill your pipe for you, if you will only
smoke."

"Mother, you never know how to do it.  And once more, my name is
'Christopher.'"

The young man threw a light cloak on his shoulder, and set his
eyebrows sternly; and his countenance looked very picturesque in
the glow of his death's-head meerschaum.  It occurred to his
mother that she had never seen anything more noble.  As soon as
she had heard him bang the door, Mrs. Sharp ran back to the
window, whence she could watch all Cross Duck Lane, and she saw
him striding along towards the quickest outlet to the country.

"How wonderful it is!" she said to herself, with tears all ready;
"only the other day he was quite a little boy, and whipped a top,
and cried if a pin ran into him.  And now he is, far beyond all
dispute, the finest young man in Oxford; he has the highest
contempt for all vulgar sports, and he bolts the door of his
bedroom.  His father calls him thick and soft!  Ah, he cannot
understand his qualities!  There is the deepest and purest well-
spring of unintelligible poetry in Kit.  His great mind is
perturbed, and has hurried him into commune with the evening star.
Thank goodness that he has got his pipe!"

Before Mrs. Sharp had turned one page of her truly voluminous
thoughts about her son, a sharp click awoke the front-door lock,
and a steady and well-jointed step made creaks on the old oak
staircase.  Mrs. Sharp drew back from her meditative vigil, and
trimmed her little curls aright.

"Miranda, I have some work to do to-night," said Mr. Sharp, in his
quiet even voice; "and I thought it better to come up and tell
you, so that you need not expect me again.  Just have the fire in
the office lighted.  I can work better there than I can upstairs;
and I find the evenings damp, although the long cold winter is
gone at last.  If I should ring about ten o'clock it will be for a
cup of coffee.  If I do not ring then, send everybody to bed.  And
do not expect me until you see me."

"Certainly, Luke, I quite understand," answered Mrs. Sharp, having
been for years accustomed to such arrangements; "but, my dear,
before you begin, can you spare me five minutes, for a little
conversation?"

"Of course I can, Miranda!  I am always at your service."

Mrs. Sharp thought to herself that this was a slight exaggeration.
Still on the whole she had little to complain of.  Mr. Sharp
always remembered the time when he cast sad distant eyes at her,
Miranda Piper,--more enchanting than a will-case, more highly
cherished than the deed-box of an Earl.  Nothing but impudence had
enabled him to marry her; thereby his impudence was exhausted in
that one direction, and he ever remained polite to her.

"Then, Luke, will you just take your favourite chair, and answer
me only one question?"  As she said these words, Mrs. Sharp took
care to set the chair so that she could get the last gleam of
sunset on her dear lord's face.  Her husband thoroughly understood
all this, and accepted the situation.

"Now, do tell me, Luke--you notice everything, though you do not
always speak of it--have you observed how very strangely Kit has
been going on for some time now?  And have you any idea of the
reason?  And do you think that we ought to allow it, my dear?"

"Yes, Mrs. Sharp, I have observed it.  You need not be at all
uneasy about it.  I am observing him very closely.  When I
disapprove, I shall stop it at once."

"But surely, my dear, surely I, his mother, am not to be kept in
the dark about it?  I know that you always take your own course,
and your course is quite sure to be the right one; but surely, my
dear, when something important is evidently going on about my own
child, you would never have the heart to keep it from me.  I could
not endure it; indeed, I could not.  I should fret myself away to
skin and bone."

"It would take a long time to do that, my dear," replied Mr.
Sharp, as he looked with satisfaction at her fine plump figure.
It pleased him to hear, as he often did, that there was not in
Oxford a finer couple of middle-aged people than Mr. and Mrs.
Sharp.  "However, I should be exceedingly grieved ever to initiate
such a process.  But first, before I tell you anything at all, I
will ask you to promise two things most clearly."

"My dear, I would promise fifty things rather than put up with
this cruel anxiety."

"Yes, I dare say.  But I do not want rash promises, Miranda.  You
must pledge yourself to two things, and keep your pledges."

"I will do so in a moment, with the greatest pleasure.  You would
never ask anything wrong, I am sure.  Only do not keep me waiting
so."

"In the first place, then, you must promise me, whether my plan
turns out well or ill, on no account to blame me for it, but to
give me the credit of having acted for the best throughout."

"Nothing can be easier than to promise that.  My dear, you always
do act for the best; and what is more, the best always comes of
it."

"Very well, you promise that; also, you must pledge yourself to
conceal from every one, and most of all from Christopher, everything
I am about to tell you, and to act under my directions."

"To be sure, my dear; to be sure, I will.  Nothing is more
reasonable than that I should keep your secrets."

"I know that you will try, Miranda; and I know that you have much
self-command.  Also, you will see the importance of acting as I
direct you.  All I fear is that when you see poor Kit moping, or
sighing, and groaning, it may be almost beyond your power to
refrain your motherly heart."

"Have no fear, Luke; have no fear whatever.  When I know that it
is for his true interest, as of course it will be, I shall be
exceedingly sorry for him; but still he may go on as much as he
pleases; and of course, he has not behaved well at all, in being
so mysterious to his own mother."

Luke Sharp looked at his wife, to ask whether any offshoot of this
reproach was intended at all to come home to him.  If he had
discovered any sign of that, the wife of his bosom would have
waited long without getting another word from him.  For seldom as
Mr. Sharp showed temper, he held back, with the chain-curb of
expedience, as quick a temper as ever threatened to bolt with any
man's fair repute.  But now he received no irritation.  His wife
looked back at him kindly and sweetly, with moist expressive eyes;
and he saw that she still was in her duty.

"Miranda," he said, being touched by this, for he had a great deal
of conscience, "my darling, I will tell you something such as you
never heard before.  I have made a bold stroke, a very bold one;
but I think it must succeed.  And justice is with me, as you will
own, after all the attempts to rob us.  Perhaps you never heard a
stranger story; but still I am sure you will agree with me, that
in every step I have taken I am most completely and perfectly
justified."



CHAPTER XXXIV

A WOOLHOPIAN


It is only fair towards Mr. Sharp to acquit him of all intention
to trust his wife with a very important secret, as long as he
could help it.  He was well aware of the risk he ran in taking
such a desperate step; but the risk was forced upon him now by
several circumstances.  Also, he wanted her aid just now, in a
matter in which he could not possibly have it without trusting
her.  Hence he resolved to make a virtue of necessity, as the
saying is, and at the same time get the great relief which even a
strong mind, in long scheming, obtains, by having its burden
shared.

This resolve of his was no sudden one.  For several days he had
made up his mind, that when he should be questioned upon the
subject--which he foresaw must happen--he would earn the credit of
candour, and the grace of womanly gratitude, by making a clean
breast of it.  There could be no better season than this.  The
house was quiet; his son was away; the shadows of the coming
evening softly fell before her step; Cross Duck Lane looked very
touching in the calm of twilight; and Mrs. Sharp was in the
melting mood.  Therefore the learned and conscientious lawyer
perceived that the client's affairs, about which he was going to
busy himself, might safely wait for another day, while he was
sweeping his own hearth clean.  So he locked the door, and looked
out of the window, where sparrows were swarming to their ivy
roost; and then he drew in the old lattice, and turned the iron
tongue that fastened it.  Mrs. Sharp looked on, while some little
suggestion of fear came to qualify eagerness.

"Luke, I declare you quite make me nervous.  I shall be afraid to
go to bed to-night.  Really, a stranger, or a timid person, would
think you were going to confess a murder!"

"My dear, if you feel at all inclined to give way," Mr. Sharp
answered, as if glad to escape, "we will have out our talk to-
morrow--or, no--to-morrow I have an appointment at Woodstock.  The
day after that we will recur to it.  I see that it will be better
so."

"Luke, is your mind astray?  I quite fear so.  Can you imagine
that I could wait for two days, after what you have told me?"

"My dear, I was only considering yourself.  If you wish it, I will
begin at once.  Only for your own sake, I must insist on your
sitting calmly down.  There, my dear!  Now, do not agitate
yourself.  There is nothing to frighten anybody.  It is the most
simple thing; and you will laugh, when you have heard it."

"Then I wish I had heard it, Luke.  For I feel more inclined to
cry than laugh."

"Miranda, you must not be foolish.  Such a thing is not at all
like you.  Very well, now you are quite sedate.  Now please not to
interrupt me once; but ask your questions afterwards.  If you ask
me a question I shall stop, and go to the office with my papers."
Mr. Sharp looked at his wife; and she bowed her head in obedience.
"To begin at the very beginning," he said, with a smile to re-
assure her, "you will do me the justice to remember that I have
worked very hard for my living.  And I have prospered well,
Miranda, having you as both the foundation and the crown of my
prosperity.  I was perfectly satisfied, as you know, living quite
up to my wishes, and putting a little cash by every year of our
lives, and paying on a heavy life-insurance, in case of my own
life dropping--for the sake of you and Christopher.  You know all
that?"

"Darling Luke, I do.  But you make me cry, when you talk like
that."

"Very well.  That is as it should be.  We were as happy as need be
expected, until the great wrong befell us--the fierce injustice of
losing every farthing to which we were clearly entitled.  You were
the proper successor to all the property of old Fermitage.  That
old curmudgeon, and wholesale poisoner of the University, made a
fool of himself, towards his latter end, by marrying Miss
Oglander.  Old Black-Strap, as of course we know, had no other
motive for doing such a thing, except his low ambition to be
connected with a good old family.  Ever since he began life as a
bottleboy, in the cellars of old Jerry Pigaud--"

"He never did that, Luke.  How can you speak so of my father's own
first cousin?  He was an extremely respectable young man; my
father always said so."

"While he was making his money, Miranda, of course he was
respectable.  And everybody respected him, as soon as he had made
it.  However, I have not the smallest intention of reproaching the
poor old villain.  He acted according to his lights, and they led
him very badly.  A foolish ambition induced him to marry that
pompous old maid, Joan Oglander, who had been jilted by Commodore
Patch, the son of the famous captain.  We all know what followed;
the old man was but a doll in the hands of his lady-wife.  He left
all the scrapings and screwings of his life, for her to do what
she pleased with--at least, everybody supposes so."

"What do you mean, Luke?" asked Mrs. Sharp, having inkling of
legal surprises.  "Do you mean that there is a later will?  Has he
done justice to me, after all?"

"No, my dear.  He never saved his soul by attending to his own
kindred.  But he just had the sense to make a little change at
last, when his wife would not come near him.  You know what he
died of.  It was coming on for weeks; though at last it struck him
suddenly.  The port-wine fungus of his old vaults grew into his
lungs, and stopped them.  It had shown for some time in his face
and throat; and his wife was afraid of catching it.  She took it
to be some infectious fever, of which she is always so terribly
afraid.  The old man knew that his time was short; but take to his
bed he would not.  Of all born men the most stubborn he was; as
any man must be, to get on well.  'If I am to die of the fungus,'
he said, 'I will have a little more of it.'  And he went, and with
his own hands hunted up a magnum of port, which had been laid by,
from the vintage of 1745, in the first days of Jerry Pigaud.  But
before that, he had sent for me; and I was there when he opened
it."

"Luke, you take my breath away.  Such wonderful things I have
never heard.  At least, not in our own family."

"Of course, my dear.  We all accept wonders with quietude, till
they come home to us.  Well, when he fetched out this old bottle,
it was fungus inside from heel to neck.  He held it up against the
light, and the glass being whiter than now they make, and the wine
gone almost white with age, there you could see this extraordinary
growth, like cords in the bottle, and valves across it, and a long
yellow sheath like a crocus-flower.  I had never seen anything
like it before; but he knew all about it.  'Ah, I know a
genleman,' he grunted in his throat--he never could say
'gentleman,' as you remember--'a genleman as would give a hundred
guineas for this here bottle!  Quibbles, he shouldn't have it for
a thousand!  My boy, you and I will drink it.  Say no, and I'll
cut off your wife with a halfpenny!'  Miranda, what could I do but
try to humour him to the utmost?  If I had had the smallest
inkling of the iniquitous will he had made, of course, I never
would have sat on the head of the cask, down in his dingy and
reeking vaults, by the hour together, to please him.  But never
mind that--in a moment he took a long-handled knife, or chopper,
and holding the bottle upright, struck off the neck and a part of
the shoulder, as straight as a line, at the level of the wine.
'Not many men could do that,' he said; 'none of your clumsy cork-
screwers for me!  Now, Quibbles, here's a real treat for you!
Talk of beeswing, my boy, here's a beehive!'  And really it was
more like eating than drinking wine; for all the body was gone
into the fungus.  Nastier stuff I never tasted; but, luckily, he
took the lion's share.  'Now, Quibbles, I'll tell you a secret,'
he said, after swallowing at least a quart; 'a very pretty girl
came and kissed me t'other day, in among these very bottles.  Such
a little duck--not a bit ashamed or afeared of my fungus, as my
missus is.  And her breath was as sweet as the violets of '20!'
"Well now, my little dear," thinks I, as I stood back and looked
at her, "that was kind of you to kiss an old man a-dying of port
wine fungus!  And if he only lives another day, you shall have the
right to kiss the Royal family, if you cares to do it."  Quibbles,
I wouldn't call in you, nor any other thief of a lawyer.  Lawyers
are very well over a glass; but keep 'em outside of the cellar,
say I.  Very good company, in their way; but the only company I
put trust in is the one I have dealt with all my life,--and many a
thousand pounds I have paid them--The Royal Wine Company of
Oporto.  So now, if anything happens to me--though I am not in
such a hurry to be binned away, and walled up for the resurrection--
Quibbles, wait six months; and then you go to the Royal Oporto
Company, and ask for a genleman of the name of Jolly Fellows.'"

"Now, Luke, I am all anxiety to hear," exclaimed Mrs. Sharp, with
a sudden interruption, "what was the end of this very strange
affair.  I perceive now that I have foreseen the whole of it.  But
it is not right that you should speak so long, without one morsel
of refreshment.  It is many hours since you dined, my dear, and a
very poor dinner you had of it.  You shall have a glass of white
wine, and a slice of tongue, between a little cold roll and
butter.  It will not in any way interrupt you.  I can get it all
for you, without ringing the bell.  Only let me ask you one thing
first--why have you never told me this till now?"

"Because, Miranda, it would disturb your mind.  And I know that
you cannot endure suspense.  Moreover, I scarcely knew what to
think of it.  Poor old Fermitage (what with the fungus already in
his tubes, and what he was taking down) might be talking sheer
nonsense for all that I knew.  And indeed, for a long time I
treated it so; and I had no stomach for a voyage to Oporto, upon
mere speculation, and for the benefit only of some pretty girl.
Then I found out, by the purest chance, that no voyage to Oporto
was needful, that old 'Port-wine' (who departed on his cask to a
better world, the day after his magnum) meant nothing more than
the London stores and agency of the Oporto Company.  And even
after that I made one expedition to the Minories, all for nothing.
Two or three very polite young dons stared at me, and thought I
was come to chaff them, or perhaps had turned up from their vaults
top-heavy, when I asked for 'Senhor Jolly Fellows.'  And so I came
away, and lost some months, and might never have thought it worth
while to go again, except for another mere accident."

"My dear, what a chapter of accidents!" cried Mrs. Sharp, while
feeding him.  "I thought that you were a great deal too clever to
allow any room for accidents."

"Women think so.  Men know better," the lawyer replied
sententiously; his ability was too well-known to need his
vindication.  "And, Miranda, you forget that I had as yet no
personal interest in the question.  But when I happened to have a
Portuguese gentleman as a client--a man who had spent many years
in England--and happened to be talking of our language to him, I
told him one part of the story, and asked if he could throw any
light on it.  He told me at once that the name which had so
puzzled me must be Gelofilos--a Portuguese surname, by no means
common.  And the next time I was in town, I had occasion to call
in St. John's Street, and found myself, almost by accident again,
not far from the Company's offices."

"Mr. Sharp, you left such a thing to chance, when you knew that it
might pull down that dreadful woman's insolence!"

"My dear, it is not the duty of my life to mitigate feminine
arrogance.  And to undertake such a crusade, gratis!  I am equal
to a bold stroke, as you will see, if your patience lasts--but
never to such a vast undertaking.  When it comes before me, in the
way of business, naturally I take it up.  But this was no business
of my own; and the will was proved, and assets called in; for the
old rogue did not owe one penny.  Well, I went again, and this
time I got hold of the right man--  Miranda, I hear the bell!"

The new office-bell, the successor to the one that succumbed to
Russel Overshute, rang as hard as ring it could.  A special
messenger was come from London, and in half an hour Mr. Luke Sharp
was sitting on the box of the night up mail.



CHAPTER XXXV

NIGHTINGALES


This sudden departure of Mr. Luke Sharp, in the very marrow of his
story, left his good wife in a trying and altogether discontented
state of mind.  She knew that she could have no more particulars
until he came back again; for Sharp had even less faith in the
post than the post of that period deserved.  She might have to
wait for days and days, with a double anxiety urging her.

In the first place, although she felt nothing but pity for poor
old Mrs. Fermitage, and would have been really sorry to hear of
anything likely to vex her, she could not help being desirous to
know if there were any danger of a thing so sad.  But her second
anxiety was a great deal keener, being sharpened by the ever
moving grit of love; in the dreadful state of mind her son was in,
how would all this act upon him?  His father had been forced, by
some urgency of things, to put on his box-coat, and make off,
without even time for a hurried whisper as to the residue of his
tale.  Mrs. Sharp felt that there might be something which her
husband feared to spread before her, without plenty of time to
lead up to it; and having for many years been visited (whenever
she was not quite herself) with poignant doubts whether Mr. Sharp
was anchored upon Scriptural principles, she almost persuaded
herself for the moment that he meant to put up with the loss of
the money.

However, a little reflection sufficed to clear away this sadly
awful cloud of scepticism, and to assure her that Mr. Sharp,
however he might swerve in theory, would be orthodox enough in
practice to follow the straight path towards the money.  And then
she began to think of nothing except her own beloved Kit.

The last hurried words of her husband had been--"Not one word to
Kit, or you ruin all; let him groan as he likes; only watch him
closely.  I shall be back by Saturday night.  God bless you, my
dear!  Keep up your spirits.  I have the whip-hand of the lot of
them."

Herein lay her faith and hope.  She never had known her husband
fail, when he really made up his mind to succeed; and therefore in
the bottom of her heart she doubted the genuine loss of Grace
Oglander.  Sharp had discovered, and traced to their end, clues of
the finest gossamer, when his interest led him to do so.  That he
should be baffled, and own himself to be so, was beyond her
experience.  Therefore, although as yet she had no more than a
guess at her husband's schemes, she could not help fancying, after
his words, that they might have to do with Grace Oglander.

Before she had time to think out her thoughts, Christopher, their
main subject, returned from Wytham Wood, after holding long
rivalry of woe with nightingales.  He still carried on, and well-
carried off, the style of the love-lorn Romeo.  He swung his cloak
quite as well as could be expected of an Englishman--who is born
to hate fly-away apparel, all of which is womanish; but the
necessities of his position had driven him now to a very short
pipe.  His favourite meerschaum had fallen into sorrow as terrible
as his own.  In a highly poetical moment he had sucked it so hard
that the oil arose, and took him with a hot spot upon a white
tongue, impregnated then with a sonnet.  All sonnets are of the
tongue and ear; but Kit misliked having his split up, just when it
was coming to the final kick.  Therefore he gave his pipe a thump,
beyond such a pipe's endurance; and being as sensitive as himself,
and of equally fine material, it simply refused to draw any more,
as long as he breathed poetry.  Still breathing poetry, he marched
home, with the stump of a farthing clay, newly baked in the
Summertown Road, to console him.

Now, if this young man had failed of one of the triple human
combination--weed, and clay, and fire--where and how might he have
ended not only that one evening, but all the rest of the evenings
of his young life?  His appearance and manner had at first
imported to any one whom he came across--and he truly did come
across them in his wide and loose march out of Oxford city--that
he might be sought for in a few hours' time, and only the inferior
portion found.  His mother worried him, so did his father, so did
all humanity, save one--who worried him more than any, or all of
it put together.  The trees and the road, and the singing of the
birds, and the gladness of the green world worried him.  Luckily
for himself he had bought a good box of German tinder, and from
ash to ash his spirit glowed slowly into a more philosophic state.
Gradually the beauty of the trees and hedges and the sloping
fields began to steal around him; the warbled pleasure of the
little birds made overture to his sympathy, and the lustrous calm
of shadowed waters spread its picture through his mind.

His body also responded to the influences of the time of day, and
the love of nature freshened into the natural love of cupboard.
Hunger awoke in his system somewhere, and spread sweet pictures in
a tasteful part.  For a "moment of supreme agony" he wrestled with
the coarse material instinct, then turned on his heel, as our
novelists say, and made off for his father's kitchen.

His poor mother caught him the moment he came in, and pulled off
his hat and his opera-cloak, and frizzled up his curls for him.
She seemed to think that he must have been for a journey of at
least a hundred leagues; that the fault of his going was hers, and
the virtue of his ever coming back was all his own.  Then she
looked at him slyly, and with some sadness, and yet a considerable
touch of pride, by the light of a three-wicked cocoa-candle; and
feeling quite sure that she had him to herself, trembled at the
boldness of the shot she made:

"Oh, Kit, why have you never told me?  I have found it all out.
You have fallen in love!"

Christopher Fermitage Sharp, Esquire--as he always entitled
himself, upon the collar of spaniel or terrier--had nothing to say
for a moment, but softly withdrew, to have his blush in shadow.
Of all the world, best he loved his mother--before, or after,
somebody else--and his simple, unpractised, and uncored heart, was
shy of the job it was carrying on.  Therefore he turned from his
mother's face, and her eager eyes, and expectant arms.

"Come and tell me, my darling," she whispered, trying to get a
good look at his reluctant eyes, and wholly oblivious of her
promise to his father.  "I will not be angry at all, Kit, although
you never should have left me to find it out in this way."

"There is nothing to find out," he answered, making a turn towards
the kitchen stairs.  "I just want my supper, if there is anything
to eat."

"To eat, Kit!  And I thought so much better of you.  After all, I
must have been quite wrong.  What a shame to invent such stories!"

"You must have invented them, yourself, dear mother," said Kit
with recovered bravery.  "Let me hear it all out when I have had
my supper."

"I will go down this moment, and see what there is," replied his
good mother eagerly.  "Is there anything, now, that can coax your
appetite?"

"Yes, mother, oysters will be over to-morrow.  I should like two
dozen fried with butter, and a pound and a quarter of rump-steak,
cut thick, and not overdone."

"You shall have them, my darling, in twenty minutes.  Now, be sure
that you put your fur slippers on; I saw quite a fog coming over
Port Meadow, as much as half an hour ago.  This is the worst time
of year to take cold.  'A May cold is a thirty-day cold.'  What a
stupe I must be," she continued to herself, "to imagine that the
boy could be in love!  I will take care to say not another word,
or I might break my promise to his father.  What a pity!  He has a
noble moustache coming, and only his mother to admire it!"

In spite of all disappointment, this good mother paid the warmest
heed to the ordering, ay, and the cooking, of the supper of her
only child.  A juicier steak never sat on a gridiron; fatter
oysters never frizzled with the pure bubble of goodness.  Kit sat
up, and made short work of all that came before him.

"Now, mother, what is it you want to say?"  His tone was not
defiant, but nicely self-possessed, and softly rich with triumph
of digestion.  And a silver tankard of Morel's ale helped him to
express himself.

"My dear boy, I have nothing to say, except that you have lifted a
great weight off my mind, a very great weight beyond description,
by leaving behind you not even a trace of the existence of that
fine rump-steak."



CHAPTER XXXVI

MAY MORN


It was the morn when the tall and shapely tower of Magdalen is
crowned with a fillet of shining white, awaiting the first step of
sunrise.  Once a year, for generations, this has been the sign of
it--eager eyes, and gaping mouths, little knuckles blue with cold,
and clumsy little feet inclined to slide upon the slippery lead.
All are bound to keep together for the radiant moment; all are a
little elated at their height above all other boys; all have a
strong idea that the sun, when he comes, will be full of them; and
every one of them longs to be back beneath his mother's blankets.

It is a tradition with this choir (handed, or chanted, down from
very ancient choral ancestry) that the sun never rises on May-day
without iced dew to glance upon.  Scientific record here comes in
to prop tradition.  The icy saints may be going by, but they leave
their breath behind them.  And the poets, who have sent forth
their maids to "gather the dews of May," knew, and meant, that dew
must freeze to stand that operation.

But though the sky was bright, and the dew lay sparkling for the
maidens, the frost on this particular morning was not so keen as
usual.  The trees that took the early light (more chaste without
the yellow ray) glistened rather with soft moisture than with
stiff encrustment; and sprays, that kept their sally into fickle
air half latent, showing only little scolloped crinkles with a
knob in them, held in every downy quillet liquid, rather than
solid, gem.

Christopher Sharp, looking none the worse for his excellent supper
of last night, laid his fattish elbow on the parapet of the
bridge, and mused.  Poetical feeling had fetched him out, thus
early in the morning, to hear the choir salute the sun, and to be
moved with sympathy.  The moon is the proper deity of all true
lovers, and has them under good command when she pleases.  But for
half the weeks of a month, she declines to sit in the court of
lunacy; at least, as regards this earth, having her own men and
women to attend to.  This young man knew that she could not be
found, with a view to meditation, now; and his mind relapsed to
the sun--a coarse power, poetical only when he sets and rises.

With strength and command of the work of men, and leaving their
dreams to his sister, the sun leaped up, with a shake of his brow
and a scattering of the dew-clouds.  The gates of the east swung
right and left; so that tall trees on a hill seemed less than
reeds in the rush of glory; and lines (like the spread of a
crystal fan) trembled along the lowland.  Inlets now, and lanes of
vision (scarcely opened yesterday, and closed perhaps to-morrow)
guided shafts of light along the level widening ways they love.
Tree and tower, hill and wall, and water and broad meadow, stood,
or lay, or leaned (according to the stamp set on them), one and
all receiving, sharing, and rejoicing in the day.

Between the battlements, and above them, burst and rose the choral
hymn; and as the laws of sound compelled it to go upward mainly,
the part that came down was pleasing.  Christopher, seeing but
little of the boys, and not hearing very much, was almost enabled
to regard the whole as a vocal effort of the angels: and thus in
solemn thought he wandered as far as the high-tolled turnpike
gate.

"I will hie me to Cowley," said he to himself, instead of turning
back again; "there will I probe the hidden import of impending
destiny.  This long and dark suspense is more than can be brooked
by human power.  I know a jolly gipsy-woman; and if I went home I
should have to wait three hours for my breakfast."

With these words he felt in the pockets of his coat, to be sure
that oracular cash was there, and found a silk purse with more
money than usual, stored for the purchase of a dog called "Pablo,"
a hero among badgers.

"What is Pablo to me, or I to Pablo?" he muttered with a smothered
sigh.  "She told me she thought it a cruel and cowardly thing to
kill fifty rats in five minutes.  Never more--alas, never more!"
With a resolute step, but a clouded brow, he buttoned his coat,
and strode onward.

Now, if he had been in a fit state of mind for looking about him,
he might have found a thousand things worth looking at.  But none
of them, in his present hurry, won from him either glimpse or
thought.  He trudged along the broad London road at a good brisk
rate, while the sun glanced over the highlands, and the dewy
ridges, away on the left towards Shotover.  The noble city behind
him, stretched its rising sweep of tower, and spire, and dome, and
serried battlement, stately among ancient trees, and rich with
more than mere external glory to an Englishman.  And away to the
right hand sloped broad meadows, green with spring, and fluttered
with the pearly hyaline of dew, lifting pillars of dark willow in
the distance, where the Isis ran.

But what are these things to a lover, unless they hit the moment's
mood?  The fair, unfenced, free-landscaped road for him might just
as well have been wattled, like a skittle-alley, and roofed with
Croggon's patent felt.  At certain--or rather uncertain--moments,
he might have rejoiced in the wide glad heart of nature spread to
welcome him; and must have felt, as lovers feel, the ravishment of
beauty.  It happened, however, that his eyes were open to nothing
above, or around, or before him, unless it should present itself
in the image of a gipsy's tent.

He turned to the left, before the road entered the new enclosures
towards Iffley, and trod his own track towards Cowley Marsh.  The
crisp dew, brushed by his hasty feet, ran into large globes behind
him; and jerks of dust, brought up by pressure, fell and curdled
on them.  In the haze of the morning, he looked much larger than
he had any right to seem, and the shadow of his arms and hat
stretched into hollow places.  There was no other moving figure to
be seen, except from time to time, of a creature, the colonist of
commons, whose mental frame was not so unlike his own just now, as
bodily form and style of walking might in misty grandeur seem.
Though Kit was not such a stupid fellow, when free from his
present bewitchment.

Scant of patience he came to a place where the elbow of a hedge
jutted forth upon the common.  A mighty hedge of beetling brows,
and over-hanging shagginess, and shelfy curves, and brambly
depths, and true Devonian amplitude.  High farming would have
swept it down, and out of its long course ploughed an acre.  Young
Sharp had not traced its windings far, before he came upon a tidy-
looking tent, pitched, with the judgment of experience, in a snug
and sheltered spot.  The rest of the camp might be seen in the
distance, glistening in the sunrise.  This tent seemed to have
crept away, for the sake of peace and privacy.

Christopher quickened his steps, expecting to be met by a host of
children, rushing forth with outstretched hands, and shaggy hair,
and wild black eyes.  But there was not so much as a child to be
seen, nor the curling smoke of a hedge-trough fire, nor even the
scattered ash betokening cookery of the night before.  The canvas
of the tent was down; no head peeped forth, no naked leg or grimy
foot protruded, to show that the inner world was sleeping; even
the dog, so rarely absent, seemed to be really absent now.

The young man knew that the tent was not very likely to be
unoccupied; but naturally he did not like to peep into it
uninvited; and he turned away to visit the chief community of
rovers, when the sound of a low soft moan recalled him.  Still for
a moment he hesitated, until he heard the like sound again, low,
and clear, and musical from the deepest chords of sorrow.  Kit
felt sure that it must be a woman, in storms of trouble helpless;
and full as he was of his own affairs he was impelled to
interfere.  So he lifted back the canvas drawn across the opening,
and looked in.

There lay a woman on the sandy ground, with her back turned
towards the light, her neck and shoulders a little raised by the
short support of one elbow, and her head, and all that therein
was, fixed in a rigour of gazing.  Although her face was not to be
seen, and the hopeless moan of her wail had ceased, Kit Sharp knew
that he was in the presence of a grand and long-abiding woe.

He drew back, and he tried to make out what it was, and he sighed
for concert--even as a young dog whimpers to a mother who has lost
her pups--and, little as he knew of women, from his own mother, or
whether or no, he judged that this woman had lost a child.  That
it was her only one, was more than he could tell or guess.  The
woman, disturbed by the change of light, turned round and steadily
gazed at him, or rather at the opening which he filled; for her
eyes had no perception of him.  Kit was so scared that he jerked
his head back, and nearly knocked his hat off.  He never had seen
such a thing before; and, if he had his choice he never would see
such a thing again.  The great dark, hollow eyes had lost
similitude of human eyes: hope and fear and thought were gone;
nothing remained but desolation and bare, reckless misery.

Christopher's gaze fell under hers.  It would be a sheer
impertinence to lay his small troubles before such woe.

"What is it?  Oh! what is it?" asked the woman, at last having
some idea that somebody was near her.

"I am very sorry; I assure you, ma'am, that I never felt sorry in
all my life," said Kit, who was a very kind-hearted fellow, and
had now espied a small boy lying dead.  "I give you my word of
honour, ma'am, that if I could have guessed it, I would never have
looked in."

Without any answer, the gipsy-woman turned again to her dead
child, and took two little hands in hers, and rubbed them, and sat
up, imagining that she felt some sign of life.  She drew the
little body to her breast, and laid the face to hers, and breathed
into pale open lips (scarcely fallen into death), and lifted
little eyelids with her tongue, and would not be convinced that no
light came from under them; and then she rubbed again at every
place where any warmth or polish of the skin yet lingered.  She
fancied that she felt the little fellow coming back to her, and
she kept the whole of her own body moving to encourage him.

There was nothing to encourage.  He had breathed his latest
breath.  His mother might go on with kisses, friction, and
caresses, with every power she possessed of muscle, and lungs, and
brain, and heart.  There he lay, as dead as a stone--one stone
more on the earth; and the whole earth could not bring him back
again.

Cinnaminta bowed her head.  She laid the little bit of all she
ever loved upon her lap, and fetched the small arms so that she
could hold them both together, and spread the careless face upon
the breast where once it had felt its way; and then she looked up
in search of Kit, or any one to say something to.

"It is a just thing.  I have earned it.  I have robbed an old man
of his only child; and I am robbed of mine."

These words she spoke not in her own language, but in plain good
English; and then she lay down in her quiet scoop of sand, and
folded her little boy in with her.  Christopher saw that there was
nothing to be done.  He cared to go no further in search of
fortune-tellers; and, being too young to dare to offer worthless
consolation, he wisely resolved to go home and have fried bacon;
wherein he succeeded.



CHAPTER XXXVII

MAY-DAY


Ere yet it was noon of that same day, to the great delight of Mrs.
Sharp, a strong desire to fish arose in the candid bosom of
Christopher.

"Mother," he said, "I shall have a bit of early grub, and take my
rod, and try whether I can't manage to bring you a few perch home
for supper.  Or, if the perch are not taking yet, I may have a
chance of a trout or two."

"Oh, that will be delightful, Kit!  We can dine whenever we
please, you know, as your dear father is from home.  We will have
the cold lamb at one o'clock.  I can easily make my dinner then;
and then, Kit, if you are very good, what do you think I will try
to do?  Such a treat as you hardly ever had!"

"What, mother?--what?  I must be off to get my tackle ready."

"My dear, I will send to Mr. Squeaker Smith, and order a nice
light vehicle, with a very steady pony.  And, Kit, I will put on
my very worst cloak, and a bonnet not worth sixpence, and stout
india-rubber overshoes.  And so you shall drive me wherever you
please; and I will see you catch all the fish.  And you will enjoy
every fish twice as much, because your dear mother is looking at
you.  I will bring some sandwiches, my pet, and your father's
flask of sherry; and we can stay out till it is quite dark.  Why,
Kit, you don't look pleased about it!"

"Mother, how can I be pleased to hear you speak of such things, at
this time of year?  The spring is scarcely beginning yet, and the
edges of the water are all swampy.  You would be up to your knees,
in no time, in the most horrible yellow slime.  I should be most
delighted to have your company, my dearest mother; but it will not
do."

"Very well, Kit; you know best.  But, at least, I can have the
ride with you, and wait somewhere while you go fishing?"

"If I were going anywhere else, perhaps we might have contrived it
so.  But while the wind stays in its present quarter, it is worse
than useless to think of fishing, except in the most outlandish
places.  There would not be even a public-house, if you could stop
at such a place, within miles of the water I am going to.  And the
roads are beyond conception.  No wheels can get along them, except
in the very height of summer, or a dry black-frost.  My dear
mother, I am truly grieved to lose your company; but I must ride
the old cob Sam, and tie him to a tree or gate; and over and over
again you have told me how long you have been waiting for the
chance of a good long afternoon to do a little shopping.  And the
London fashions, for the summer season, arrived by the coach only
yesterday."

"Did they, indeed?  Are you sure of that?  Well, Kit, I would
rather have come with you than seen the whole world of fashions,
although you can judge, and a lady cannot.  But I do not care
about that, my dear, if only you enjoy yourself.  Ring the bell,
my darling, and I will see about your dinner."

Kit's heart burned within him sadly, and his cheeks kept it well
in countenance, as the shocking fraud thus practised by him upon
his good, unselfish mother.  However, there was no help for it;
and, after all, mothers must be made to be cheated; or why do they
love it so?

Thus well-balanced with his conscience, Kit put all his smartest
clothes on, as soon as the early dinner was done, and he felt
quite sure in his own mind that his mother was safely embarked
upon her grand expedition of shopping.  He saw her as clean as
possible off the premises and round the utmost corner of the lane;
and then he waited for a minute and a half, to be sure that she
had not forgotten her purse, or something else most essential.  At
last, he became sure as sure could be, that his admirable mother
must now be sitting on a high chair in a fashionable shop; and
with that he ran up to his own room, and kicked off his every-day
breeches, and with great caution and vast study drew a brand-new
pair of noble pantaloons, with a military stripe, up his well-
nourished and established legs.  He gazed at the result, and found
that on the whole it was not bad; and then he put on his best
velvet waistcoat, of a chaste sprig-pattern, not too gaudy.  A
waterfall tie with a turquoise pin, and a cutaway coat of a soft
bottle-green, completed him for the eyes of the public, and--for
which he cared far more--certain especially private eyes.

Christopher, feeling himself thus attired, and receiving the
silent approval of his glass, stole downstairs in a very clever
way, and took from his own private cupboard a whip of white
pellucid whalebone, silver-mounted, and set with a large and
radiant Cairngorm pebble.  His mother had given him this on his
very last birth-day, and he had never used it, wisely fearing to
be laughed at.  But now he tucked it under his arm, and swaggering
as he had seen hussars do, turned into a passage leading to his
private outlet.

Hugging himself upon all his skill, and feeling assured of grand
success, Kit allowed his heels to clank, and carried his head with
an arrogant twist.  And so, near a window, where good light came
in large quantity from the garden, he marched into his mother's
arms.

"Kit!" cried his mother; and he said, "Yes," being unable to deny
that truth.  His mother looked at him, and his jaunty whip, and
particularly lively suit of clothes; and she knew that he had been
telling lies to her by the hundred or the bushel; and she would
have been very glad to scorn him, if she could have helped being
proud of him.  Kit was unable to carry on any more in the way of
falsehood.  He tried to look fierce, but his mother laughed; and
he saw that he must knock under.

"My dear boy," she said, for the moment daring to follow up her
triumph, "is this the costume in which you go forth to fish in the
most outlandish places, with the yellow ooze above your knees?
And is that your fishing-rod?  Oh, Kit!--come, Kit, now you are
caught at last!"

"My dear mother, I have told you stories; but I will leave off at
last.  Now there is not one instant to explain.  I have not so
much as a moment to spare.  If you only could guess how important
it is, you would draw in your cloak in a moment.  You never shall
know another single word, unless you have the manners, mother, to
pull in your cloak and let me go by."

"Kit, you may go.  When you look at me like that, you may as well
do anything.  You have gone by your mother for ever so long; or at
any rate gone away from her."

With these words, Mrs. Sharp made way for her son to pass her; and
Kit, in a reckless manner, was going to take advantage of it; then
he turned back his face, to say goodbye, and his mother's eyes
were away from him.  She could not look at him, because she knew
that her look would pain him; but she held out her hand; and he
took it and kissed it; and then he made off as hard as he could
go.

Mrs. Sharp turned back, and showed some hankering to run after
him; and then she remembered what a laugh would arise in Cross
Duck Lane to see such sport; and so she sighed a heavy sigh--
knowing how long she must have to wait--and retired to her own
thoughtful corner, with no heart left for shopping.

But Kit saw that now it was "neck or nothing;" with best foot
foremost he made his way through back lanes leading towards the
conscientious obscurity of Worcester College--for Beaumont Street
still abode in the future--and skirting the coasts of Jericho,
dangerously hospitable, he emerged at last in broad St. Giles',
without a stone to prate of his whereabouts.  Here he went into
livery stables, where he was well known, and found the cob Sam at
his service; for no university man would ride him (even upon
Hobson's choice) because of his ignominious aspect.  But Kit knew
his value, and his lasting powers, and sagacious gratitude; and
whenever he wanted a horse trustworthy in patience, obedience, and
wit, he always took brown Sam.  To Sam it was a treat to carry
Kit, because of the victuals ordered at almost every lenient
stage; and the grand largesse of oats and beans was more than he
could get for a week in stable.  And so he set forth, with a
spirited neigh, on the Kidlington road, to cross the Cherwell, and
make his way towards Weston.  The heart of Christopher burned
within him whenever he thought of his mother; but a man is a man
for all that, and cannot be tied to apron-strings.  So Kit shook
his whip, and the Cairngorm flashed in the sun, and the spirit of
youth did the same.  He was certain to see the sweet maid to-day,
knowing her manners and customs, and when she was ordered forth
for her mossy walk upon the margin of the wood.

The soft sun hung in the light of the wood, as if he were guided
by the breeze and air; and gentle warmth flowed through the
alleys, where the nesting pheasant ran.  Little fluttering, timid
things, that meant to be leaves, please God, some day, but had
been baffled and beaten about so, that their faith was shrunk to
hope; little rifts of cover also keeping beauty coiled inside, and
ready to open, like a bivalve shell, to the pulse of the summer-
tide, and then to be sweet blossom; and the ground below them
pressing upward with ambition of young green; and the sky above
them spread with liquid blue behind white pillows.

But these things are not well to be seen without just entering
into the wood; and in doing so there can be no harm, with the
light so inviting, and the way so clear.  Grace had a little idea
that perhaps she had better stop outside the wood, but still that
walk was within her bounds, and her orders were to take exercise;
and she saw some very pretty flowers there; and if they would not
come to her, she had nothing to do but to go to them.  Still she
ought to have known that now things had changed from what they
were as little as a week ago; that a dotted veil of innumerable
buds would hang between her and the good Miss Patch, while
many forward trees were casting quite a shade of mystery.
Nevertheless, she had no fear.  If anybody did come near her, it
would only be somebody thoroughly afraid of her.  For now she
knew, and was proud to know, that Kit was the prey of her bow and
spear.

Whether she cared for him, or not, was a wholly different
question.  But in her dismal dullness and long, wearisome
seclusion, the finest possible chance was offered for any young
gentleman to meet her, and make acquaintance of nature's doing.
At first she had kept this to herself, in dread of conceit and
vanity; but when it outgrew accident, she told "Aunt Patch" the
whole affair, and asked what she was to do about it.  Thereupon
she was told to avoid the snares of childish vanity, to look at
the back of her looking-glass, and never dare to dream again that
any one could be drawn by her.

Her young mind had been eased by this, although with a good deal
of pain about it; and it made her more venturesome to discover
whether the whole of that superior estimate of herself was true.
Whether she was so entirely vain or stupid, whenever she looked at
herself; and whether it was so utterly and bitterly impossible
that anybody should come--as he said--miles and miles for the
simple pleasure of looking, for one or two minutes, at herself.

Grace was quite certain that she had no desire to meet anybody,
when she went into the wood.  She hoped to be spared any trial of
that sort.  She had been told on the highest authority, that
nobody could come looking after her--the assertion was less
flattering perhaps than reassuring; and, to test its truth, she
went a little further than she meant to go.

Suddenly at a corner, where the whole of the ground fell downward,
and grass was overhanging grass so early in the season, and
sapling shoots from the self-same stool stood a yard above each
other, and down in the hollow a little brook sang of its stony
troubles to the whispering reeds--here Grace Oglander happened to
meet a very fine young man indeed.  The astonishment of these two
might be seen, at a moment's glance, to be mutual.  The maiden, by
gift of nature, was the first to express it, with dress, and hand,
and eye.  She showed a warm eagerness to retire; yet waited half a
moment for the sake of proper dignity.

Kit looked at her with a clear intuition that now was his chance
of chances to make certain-sure of her.  If he could only now be
strong, and take her consent for granted, and so induce her to set
seal to it, she never would withdraw; and the two might settle the
rest at their leisure.

He loved the young lady with all his heart; and beyond that he
knew nothing of her, except that she was worthy.  But she had not
given her heart as yet; and, with natural female common sense, she
would like to know a great deal more about him before she said too
much to him.  Also in her mind--if not in her heart--there was a
clearer likeness of a very different man--a man who was a man in
earnest, and walked with a stronger and firmer step, and lurked
behind no corners.

"This path is so extremely narrow," Miss Oglander said, with a
very pretty blush, "and the ground is so steep, that I fear I must
put you to some little inconvenience.  But if I hold carefully by
this branch, perhaps there will be room for you to pass."

"You are most kind and considerate," he answered, as if he were in
peril of a precipice; "but I would not for the world give you such
trouble.  And I don't want to go any further now.  It cannot
matter in the least, I do assure you."

"But surely you must have been going somewhere.  You are most
polite.  But I cannot think for one moment of turning you back
like this."

"Then, may I sit down?  I feel a little tired; and the weather has
suddenly become so warm.  Don't you think it is very trying?"

"To people who are not very strong perhaps it is.  But surely it
ought not to be so to you."

"Well, I must not put all the blame upon the weather.  There are
so many other things much worse.  If I could only tell you."

"Oh, I am so very sorry, Mr. Sharp.  I had no idea you had such
troubles.  It must be so sad for you, while you are so young."

"Yes, I suppose many people call me young.  And perhaps to the
outward eye I am so.  But no one except myself can dream of the
anxieties that prey upon me."

Christopher, by this time, was growing very crafty, as the above
speech of his will show.  The paternal gift was awaking within
him, but softened by maternal goodness; so that it was not likely
to be used with much severity.  And now, at the end of his speech,
he sighed, and without any thought laid his right hand on the rich
heart of his velvet waistcoat, where beautiful forget-me-nots were
blooming out of willow leaves.  Then Grace could not help thinking
how that trouble-worn right hand had been uplifted in her cause,
and had descended on the rabbit-man.  And although she was most
anxious to discourage the present vein of thought, she could not
suppress one little sigh--sweeter music to the ear of Kit than
ever had been played or dreamed.

"Now, would you really like to know?--you are so wonderfully
good," he continued, with his eyes cast down, and every possible
appearance of excessive misery; "would you, I mean, do your best,
not only not to be offended, but to pity and forgive me, if, or
rather supposing that, I were to endeavour to explain, what--what
it is, who--who she is--no, no, I do not quite mean that.  I
scarcely know how to express myself.  Things are too many for me."

"Oh, but you must not allow them to be so, Mr. Sharp; indeed, you
mustn't.  I am sure that you must have a very good mother, from
what you told me the other day; and if you have done any harm,
though I scarcely can think such a thing of you, the best and most
straightforward course is to go and tell your mother everything;
and then it is so nice afterwards."

"Yes, to be sure.  How wise you are!  You seem to know almost
everything.  I never saw any one like you at all.  But the fact is
that I am a little too old; I am obliged now to steer my own
course in life.  My mother is as good as gold, and much better;
but she never could understand my feelings."

"Then come in, and tell my dear old Aunt Patch.  She is so
virtuous, and she always never doubts about anything; she sees the
right thing to be done in a moment, and she never listens to
arguments.  If you will only come in and see her, it might be such
a relief to you."

"You seem to mistake me altogether," cried the young man, with his
patience gone.  "What good could any old aunts do to me?  Surely
you know who it is that I want!"

"How can I imagine that?"

"Why, you, only you, only you, sweet Grace!  I should like to see
the whole earth swallowed up, if only you and I were left
together!"

Grace Oglander blushed at the power of his words, and the pressure
of his hand on hers.  Then, having plenty of her father's spirit,
she fixed her bright sensible eyes on his face, so that he saw
that he had better stop.  "I am afraid that it is no good," he
said.

"I am very much obliged to you," answered Grace, with her fair
cheeks full of colour, and her hands drawn carefully back to her
sides; "but will you be kind enough to stand up, and let me speak
for a moment.  I believe that you are very good, and I may say
very harmless, and you have helped me in the very kindest way, and
I never shall forget your goodness.  Ever since you came, I am
sure, I have been glad to think of you; and your dogs, and your
gun, and your fishing-rod reminded me of my father; and I am very,
very sorry, that what you have just said will prevent me from
thinking any more about you, or coming anywhere, into any kind of
places, where there are trees like this, again.  I ought to have
done it--at least, I mean, I never ought to have done it at all;
but I did think that you were so nice; and now you have undeceived
me.  I know who your father is very well, although I have seldom
seen him; and though I dislike the law, I declare that would not
have mattered very much to me.  But you do not even know my name,
as several times you have proved to me; and how you can ride
thirty miles from Oxford, in all sorts of weather, without being
tired, and your dogs so fresh, has always been a puzzle to me."

"Thirty miles from Oxford!" Christopher Sharp cried, in great
amazement; for in the very lowest condition of the heart figures
will maintain themselves.

"Yes; thirty miles, or thirty leagues.  Sometimes I hear one
thing, and sometimes the other."

"Where you are standing now is about seven miles and three-
quarters from Summer-town gate!"

"Surely, Mr. Sharp, you are laughing at me!  How far am I from
Beckley, then, according to your calculation?"

"How did you ever hear of Beckley?  It is quite a little village.
A miserable little place!"

"Indeed, then, it is not.  It is the very finest place in all the
world; or at any rate the nicest, and the dearest, and the
prettiest!"

"But how can you, just come from America, have such an opinion of
such a little hole?"

"A little hole!  Why, it stands on a hill!  You never can have
been near it, if you think of calling it a 'hole!'  And as for my
coming from America, you seem to have no geography.  I have never
been further away from darling Beckley, to my knowledge, than I am
now."

Kit Sharp looked at her with greater amazement than that with
which she looked at him.  And then with one accord they spied a
fat man coming along the hollow, and trying not to glance at them.
With keen young instinct they knew that this villain was purely
intent upon watching them.

"Come again, if you please, to-morrow," said Grace, while
pretending to gaze at the cloud; "you have told me such things
that I never shall sleep.  Come earlier, and wait for me.  Not
that you must think anything; only that now you are bound, as a
gentleman, to go on with what you were telling me."



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE DIGNITY OF THE FAMILY


If Grace had only stayed five minutes longer in the place where
she was when the fat man came in sight, her eyes and heart would
have been delighted by the appearance of a true old friend.  But
she felt so much terror of that stout person, who always seemed to
be watching her afar, that in spite of the extraordinary interest
aroused by some of her companion's words, as well as by his
manner, she could not help running away abruptly, and taking
shelter in the little bowered cottage.

Meanwhile, the stout man in the white frock coat slouched along
the furzy valley, with a clownish step.  He carried a long pig-
whip, and now and then indulged in a crack or flick at some
imaginary pig, while a crafty grin, or a wink of one little eye,
enlivened his heavy countenance.  He was clearly aware of all that
had been happening in the wood above him, for the buds as yet
rather served to guide the lines of sight than to baffle them; but
he showed no desire to interfere, for instead of taking the cross-
path, which would have brought him face to face with Kit, he kept
down the glade towards the timber-track, which led in another
direction.  By the side of the little brook he turned the corner
of a thick holly-bush, and suddenly met his brother, Master
Zacchary Cripps, the Carrier.

The Carrier was in no pleasant mood; his eyes were stern and
steadfast, and the colour of his healthy cheeks was deepened into
crimson.  He bore with a bent arm and set muscle the sceptral whip
of the family, bound with spiral brass, and newly fitted with a
heavy lash.  Moreover, he had come with his Sunday hat on, and his
air and walk were menacing.  Leviticus started and turned pale,
and his cunning eyes glanced for a chance of escape.

"Thou goest not hence, Brother Tickuss," said Cripps, "until thou
hast answered what I shall ax, and answered with thine eyes on
mine."

"Ax away," said the pigman, sprawling out his fat legs, as if he
did not care; "ax away, so long as it be of thy own consarns."

"It is of my own consarns to keep my father's sons from being
rogues and liars, and getting into Oxford jail, and into the hands
of the hangman."

Leviticus trembled, with fear more than anger.  "Thou always was
foul-mouthed," he muttered.

"It is a lie!" shouted Zacchary; "as big a lie as ever thou
spak'st!  I always were that clean of tongue--no odds for that
now.  Wilt answer me, or will not?  Thou liedst to me in Oxford
streets the last time as I spake to thee."

"Well, well, maybe a small piece I did; but nothing to lay hold on
much.  Brother Zak, thou must not be so hard.  What man can be
always arkerate?"

"A man can spake the truth if he gooeth to try, or else a must be
a fule.  And, Tickuss, thou wast always more rogue than fule.  And
now here am I, to ax thee spashal what roguery thou beest up to
now?  Whom hast thou got at the cottage in the wood?"

"Thou'd best way go up there, and see for thyzell.  A old lady
from Amerikay as wanteth to retaire frout the world.  Won't her
zend thee a-running down the hill?  Ah, and I'd like to see thee,
Zak.  Her'd lay thy own whip about thee; and her tongue be worse
nor a dozen whips!"

Really, while Tickuss was telling this lie, he managed to look at
his brother so firmly, in the rally of impudence brought to bay,
that Zak for the moment (in spite of all experience) believed him.
And the Carrier dreaded--as the lord of swine knew well--nothing
so much as a fierce woman's tongue.

"What be the reason, then," he went on, still keeping his eyes on
the face of Tickuss, "that thou hast been keeping thyself and thy
pigs out o' market, and even thy waife and children to home, same
as if 'em had gotten the plague?  And what be the reason,
Leviticus Cripps, that thou fearest to go to a wholesome public-
house, and have thy pint of ale, and see thy neighbours, as
behooveth a God-fearing man?  To my mind, either thou art gone
daft, and the woman should take the lead o' thee, or else thou art
screwed out of honest ways."

The Carrier now looked at his brother, with more of pity than
suspicion.  Tickuss had always been regarded as the weak member of
the family, because he laid on more fat than muscle, even in the
time of most active growth.  And to keep him regularly straight
was more than all the set efforts of the brotherhood could, even
when he was young, effect.  Therefore Zak stood back some little,
and the butt of his whip fell down to earth.  Leviticus saw his
chance, and seized it.

"Consarning of goin' to public-house, I would never be too
particular.  A man may do it, or a man may not, according to
manner of his things at home, or his own little brew, or the
temper of his wife.  I would not blame him, nor yet praise him,
for things as he knoweth best about.  To make light of a man for
not going to public, is the same as to blame him for stopping from
church.  A man as careth for good opinion goeth to both, but a
cannot always do it.  And I ain't a been in church now for more
nor a week of Sundays."

The force of this reasoning came home to Cripps.  If a man was
unable to go to church, there was good room for arguing that his
duty towards the public-house must not be too rigidly exacted.
Zacchary therefore fetched a sigh.  None of the race had broken up
at so early an age as that of Tickuss.  But still, from his own
sad experience, the Carrier knew what pigs were; and he thought
that his brother, though younger than himself, might be called
away before him.

"Tickuss," he said, "I may a' been too hard.  Nobody knows but
them that has to do it what the worrit of the roads is.  I may a'
said a word here and there too much, and a bit outside the Gospel.
According to they a man must believe a liar, and forgive un, and
forgive un over and over again, the same as I tries to forgive
you, Tickuss."

Zacchary offered his hand to his brother, but Leviticus was
ashamed to take it.  With the load now weighing upon his mind, and
the sense in his heart of what Zacchary was, Tickuss--whatever his
roguery was--could not make believe to have none of it.  So he
turned away, with his feelings hurt too much for the clasp
fraternal.

"When a man hath no more respect for hiszell," he muttered over
his puckered shoulder, "and no more respect for his father and
mother avore un, than to call his very next brother but one a
rogue and a liar, and a schemer against publics, to my mind he
have gone too far, and not shown the manners relied upon."

"Very well," replied Cripps; "just as you like, Tickuss; though I
never did hear as I were short of manners; and there's twelve
mailes of road as knows better than that.  Now, since you go on
like that, and there seemeth no chance of supper 'long of 'ee, I
shall just walk up to cottage, and ax any orders for the Carrier.
Good evening, brother Tickuss."

With these words Zak set off, and Tickuss repented sadly of the
evil temper which had forbidden him to shake hands.  But now to
oppose the Carrier's purpose would be a little too suspicious.  He
must go his way and take his chance; he was worse than a pig when
his mind was made up.

"Go thy way, and be danged to thee!" thought Leviticus, looking
after him.  "Little thou wilt take, however, but to knock thy
thick head again' a wall.  Old lady looketh out too sharp for any
of they danged old Beckley carcases.  Come thee down to our ouze,"
he shouted in irony after his brother, "and tell us the noos thou
hast picked up, and what 'em be doing in Amerikay!  A vine time o'
life for thee to turn spy!"

It was lucky for him that he made off briskly among thick
brushwood and tangled swamps, for Zacchary Cripps at the last word
turned round, with his face of a fine plum-colour, and a stamp of
rage which made his stiff knees tingle worse than a dozen
turnpikes.

"Spy, didst thou say?" he shouted, staring, with his honest,
wrathful eyes, through every glimpse of thicket near the spot
where his brother had disappeared--"Spy! if thou beest a man come
out, and say it again to the face of me!  I'll show thee how to
spell 'spy' pretty quick.  Leviticus Cripps, thou art a coward, to
the back of a thief and a sneaking skulk, unless thou comest out
of they thick places, to stand to the word thou hast spoken."

Zacchary stood in a wide bay of copse, and he knew that his voice
went through the wood; for he spoke with the whole power of his
lungs; and the tender leaves above him quivered like a little
breath of fringe, and the birds flew out of their ivy castles, and
a piece of bare-faced rock in the distance answered him--but
nothing else.

"Thou art a bigger man than I be," shouted the Carrier, being
carried beyond himself by the state of things; "come out if thou
art a man, and hast any blood of Cripps in thee!"  But this appeal
received no answer, except from the quiet rock again, and a
peaceful thrush sitting over his nest, and well accustomed to the
woodman's call.

Zacchary had always felt scorn of Tickuss, but now he almost
disdained himself for springing of one wedlock with him.  He stood
in the place where he must be seen if Tickuss wished to see him,
until he was quite sure that no such longing existed on his
brother's part.  Then the family seemed to be lowered so by this
behaviour of a leading member, that when the Carrier moved his
legs, he had not the spirit to crack his whip.

"What shall us do?  Whatever shall us do?" he said to himself more
reasonably, with the anger dying out of his kind blue eyes.  "A
hath insulted of me, but a hath a big family of little uns to kape
up.  I harn't had no knowledge how that zort o' thing may drive a
man out of his proper ways.  Like enough it maketh them careful to
tell lies, and shun the thrashing."

Taking this view of the case, Master Cripps turned away from the
path towards his brother's house, to which, in the flush of first
anger, he meant to go, and there to wait for him; and being rather
slow of resolution, he naturally set forth again on the track of
the one last interrupted.  He would go to this cottage in the wood
of which he had heard through one of his washerwomen--though none
of them had any washing thence--and then he would satisfy his own
mind concerning an ugly rumour, which had unsettled that mind
since Tuesday.  For in his own hearing it had been said--by a
woman, it is true, but still a woman who came of a truthful
family, and was married now into the like--that Master Leviticus
Cripps was harbouring pirates and conspirators, believed to have
come from America, in a little place out of the way of all honest
people, where the deaf old woman was.  Nobody ever had leave to
the house; never a butcher, nor baker, nor tea-grocer, nor a
milkman, nor even a respectable washerwoman--there was nothing
except a great dog to rush out and bite without even barking.

Zacchary had no easy task to find the little cottage of which he
had heard, for it lay well back from all thoroughfares, and so
embedded among ivied trees, that he passed and re-passed several
times before he descried it; and even then he would not have done
so if it had not chanced that Miss Patch, who loved good things
when she could get them, was about to dine on a juicy roaster,
supplied by the wary Leviticus.  Grace herself had prepared the
currant sauce, before she went forth for her daily walk, and deaf
old Margery Daw was stooping over the fierce wood fire on the
ground, and basting with a short iron spoon.  The double result
was a wreath of blue smoke rising from the crooked chimney, and a
very rich odour streaming forth from door and window on the vernal
air.  The eyes and the nose of the Carrier at once presented him
with clear impressions.

"Amerikayans understands good living."  Giving utterance to this
profound and incontrovertible reflection, Cripps came to a halt
and sagely considered the situation.  The first thing he asked, as
usual, was--"How would the law of the land lie?"  Here was a
lonely, unprotected cottage, inhabited by an elderly foreign lady,
who especially sought retirement.  Had he any legal right to
insist on knowing who she was, and all about her?  Would he not
rather be a trespasser, and liable to a fine, and perhaps the
jail, if he forced himself in, without invitation and wilfully,
against the inhabitants' wish?  And even if that came to nothing--
as it might--could he say that it was a manly and straightforward
action on his part?  He had no enemy that he knew of, unless it
was Black George, the poacher; but there were always plenty of
people ready to say ill-natured things about a prosperous
neighbour; and like enough they would set it afoot that he had
gone spying on a helpless lady, because she had never employed
him.  And then his brother's reproach, which had so fiercely
aroused him, came back to his mind.

Neither was it wholly absent from his thoughts, that a great dog
was said to reside on these premises, whose manner was the
peculiarly unattractive one of rushing out to bite without a bark.
The Carrier had suffered in his time from dogs, as was natural to
his calling; and although his flesh was so wholesome that the
result had never been serious, he was conscious of a definite
desire to defer all increase of experience in that line.

"Spy!" he exclaimed, as he sat down rather to rest his stiff knee
than to watch the hut.  "That never hath been said of me, and
never shall without a lie.  But one on 'em might come out, mayhap,
and give me some zatisfaction."

Before his words were cool, Miss Patch herself appeared in the
doorway.  She saw not Cripps, who had happened to put himself in a
knowing corner; and being in a quietly savage mood (from desire of
pig, and dread that stupid old Margery was murdering pig, by
revolving him too near the fire), she cast such a glance at the
young leaves around her, as seemed enough to nip them in the bud.
Then she threw away something with a scornful sweep, and Cripps
believed almost every word his brother had been saying.

"I'll be blessed if I don't scuttle off," he said to himself and
the moss he was sitting on.  "In my time I have a seen all zorts
of womans, but none to come nigh this sample as be come over from
Amerikay!  Sarveth me right for coorosity.  Amend me if ever I
come anigh of any Amerikayans again!"



CHAPTER XXXIX

A TOMBSTONE


Are there any who do not quicken to the impulse of young life,
lifted free of long repression and the dread of dull relapse?  Can
we find a man or woman (holding almost any age) able to come out
and meet the challenge of the sun, conveyed in cartel of white
clouds of May, and yet to stick to private sense of sulky wrongs
and brooding hate?

If we could find such a man or woman (by great waste of labour, in
a search ungracious), and if it should seem worth while to attempt
to cure the case, scarcely anything could be thought of, leading
more directly towards the end in view, than to fetch that person,
and plant him or her, without a word of explanation, among the
flower-beds on the little lawn of Beckley Barton.

The flowers themselves, and their open eyes, and the sparkling
smile of the grass, and the untold commerce of the freighted bees,
and rich voluntaries of thrush and blackbird (ruffled to the
throat with song); and over the whole the soft flow of sunshine,
like a vast pervasive river of gold, with silver wave of clouds--
who could dwell on petty acher and pains among such grandeur?

The old Squire sat in his bower-chair with a warm cloak over his
shoulders.  His age was threescore and ten this day; and he looked
back through the length of years, and marvelled at their fleeting.
The stirring times of his youth, and the daily perils of his prime
of life, the long hard battle, and the slow promotion--because he
had given offence by some projection of honest opinion--the heavy
disappointment, and the forced retirement from the army when the
wars were over, with only the rank of Major, which he preferred to
sink in Squire--because he ought to have been, according to his
own view of the matter, a good Lieutenant-general--and then a very
short golden age of five years and a quarter, from his wedding-day
to the death of his wife, a single and sweet-hearted wife--and
after that (as sorrow sank into the soothing breast of time) the
soft, and gentle, and undreamed-of step of comfort, coming almost
faster than was welcome, while his little daughter grew.

After that the old man tried to think no more, but be content.  To
let the little scenes of dancing, and of asking, and of listening,
and of looking puzzled, and of waiting to know truly whether all
was earnest--because already childhood had suspicion that there
might be things intended to delude it--and of raising from the
level of papa's well-buttoned pocket, clear bright eyes that did
not know a guinea from a halfpenny; and then, with the very
extraordinary spring from the elasticity of red calves (which
happily departs right early), the jumping into opened arms, and
the laying on of little lips, and the murmurs of delighted love--
to let his recollections of all these die out, and to do without
them, was this old man's business now.

For he had been convinced at last--strange as it may seem, until
we call to mind how the strongest convictions are produced by the
weakest logic--at last he could no longer hope to see his Grace
again; because he had beheld her tombstone.  Having made up his
mind to go to church that very Sunday morning, in spite of all
Widow Hookham could do to stop him, he had spied a new stone in
the graveyard corner sacred to the family of Oglander.  The old
man went up to see what it was, and nobody liked to follow him.
And nobody was surprised that he did not show his white head at
the chancel-door; though the parson waited five minutes for him,
being exceeding loth to waste ten lines, which he had interlarded
into a sermon of thirty years back, for the present sad occasion.

For the old Squire sat on his grandfather's tombstone (a tabular
piece of memorial, suited to an hospitable man; where all his
descendants might sit around, and have their dinners served to
them), and he leaned his shaven chin on the head of his stout oak
staff, and he took off his hat, and let his white hair fall about.
He fixed his still bright eyes on the tombstone of his daughter,
and tried to fasten his mind there also, and to make out how old
she was.  He was angry with himself for not being able to tell to
a day without thinking; but days, and years, and thoughts, and
doings of quiet love quite slipping by, and spreading without
ruffle, had left him little to lay hold of as a knotted record.
Therefore he sat with his chin on his stick, and had no sense of
church-time, until the choir (which comprised seven Crippses)
bellowed out an anthem, which must have shaken their grandfathers
in their graves; unless in their time they had done the same.

In this great uproar and applause, which always travelled for half
a mile, the Squire had made his escape from the graveyard; and
then he had gone home without a word and eaten his dinner, because
he must when the due time came for it.  And now, being filled with
substantial faith that his household was nicely enjoying itself,
he was come to his bower to think and wonder, and perhaps by-and-
by to fall fast asleep, but never awake to bright hope again.

To this relief and mild incline of gentle age, his head was bowing
and his white hair settling down, according as the sun, or wind,
or clouds, or time of day desired, when some one darkened half his
light, and there stood Mary Hookham.

Mary had the newest of all new spring fashions on her head, and
breast, and waist, and everywhere.  A truly spirited girl was she,
as well as a very handy one; and she never thought twice of a
sixpence or shilling, if a soiled paper-pattern could be had for
it.  And now she was busy with half a guinea, kindly beginning to
form its impress on her moist hard-working palm.

"He have had a time of it!" she exclaimed, as her master began to
gaze around.  "Oh my, what a time of it he have had!"

"Mary, I suppose you are talking of me.  Yes, I have had a bad
time on the whole.  But many people have had far worse."

"Yes, sir.  And will you see one who hath?  As fine a young
gentleman as ever lived; so ready to speak up for everybody, and
walking like a statute.  It give me such a turn!  I do believe you
never would know him, sir; without his name come in with him.
Squire Overshute, sir, if you please, requesteth the honour of
seeing of you."

"Mary, I am hardly fit for it.  I was doing my best to sit quite
quiet, and to try to think of things.  I am not as I was
yesterday, or even as I was this morning.  But if I ought to see
him--why, I will.  And perhaps I ought, no doubt, when I come to
think of things.  The poor young man has been very ill.  To be
sure, I remember all about it.  Show him where I am at once.  What
a sad thing for his mother!  His mother is a wonderful clever
woman, of the soundest views in politics."

"His mother be dead, sir; I had better tell you for fear of
begetting any trifles with him; although we was told to keep such
things from you.  Howsomever, I do think he be coming to himself,
or he would not have fallen out of patience as a hath done; and
now here he be, sir!"

Russel Overshute, narrowed and flattened into half of his proper
size, and heightened thereby to unnatural stature--for stoop he
would not, although so weak--here he was walking along the damp
walk, when a bed, or a sofa, or a drawn-out chair at Shotover
Grange, was his proper place.  He walked with the help of a crutch-
handled stick, and his deep mourning dress made him look almost
ghastly.  His eyes, however, were bright and steady, and he made
an attempt at a cheerful smile, as he congratulated the Squire on
the great improvement of his health.

"For that I have to thank you, my dear friend," answered Mr.
Oglander; "for weeks I had been helpless, till I helped myself; I
mean, of course, by the great blessing of the Lord.  But of your
sad troubles, whatever shall I say--"

"My dear sir, say nothing, if you please--I cannot bear as yet to
speak of them.  I ought to be thankful that life is spared to me--
doubtless for some good purpose.  And I think I know what that
purpose is; though now I am confident of nothing."

"Neither am I, Russel, neither am I," said the old man, observing
how low his voice was, and speaking in a low sad voice himself.
"I used to have confidence in the good will and watchful care of
the Almighty over all who trust in Him.  But now there is
something over there"--he pointed towards the churchyard--"which
shows that we may carry such ideas to a foolish point.  But I
cannot speak of it; say no more."

"I will own," replied Overshute, studying the Squire's downcast
face, to see how far he might venture, "at one time I thought that
you yourself carried such notions to a foolish length.  That was
before my illness.  Now, I most fully believe that you were quite
right."

"Yes, I suppose that I was--so far as duty goes, and the parson's
advice.  But as for the result--where is it?"

"As yet we see none.  But we very soon shall.  Can you bear to
hear something I want to say, and to listen to it attentively?"

"I believe that I can, Russel.  There is nothing now that can
disturb me very much."

"This will disturb you, my dear sir, but in a very pleasant way, I
hope.  As sure as I stand and look at you here, and as sure as the
Almighty looks down at us both, that grave in Beckley churchyard
holds a gipsy-woman, and no child of yours!  Ah! I put it too
abruptly, as I always do.  But give me your arm, sir, and walk a
few steps.  I am not very strong, any more than you are.  But,
please God, we will both get stronger, as soon as our troubles
begin to lift."

Each of them took the right course to get stronger, by putting
forth his little strength, to help and guide the other's steps.

"Russel, what did you say just now?" Mr. Oglander asked, when the
pair had managed to get as far as another little bower, Grace's
own, and there sat down.  "I must have taken your meaning wrong.
I am not so clear as I was, and often there is a noise inside my
head."

"I told you, sir, that I had proved for certain that your dear
daughter has not been buried here--nor anywhere else, to my firm
belief.  Also I have found out and established (to my own most
bitter cost) who it was that lies buried here, and of what
terrible disease she died.  As regards my own illness, I would go
through it again--come what might come of it--for the sake of your
darling Grace; but, alas!  I have lost my own dear mother through
this utterly fiendish plot--for such it is, I do believe!  This
poor girl buried here was the younger sister of Cinnaminta!"

"Cinnaminta!" said the Squire, trying to arouse old memory.
"Surely I have heard that name.  But tell me all, Russel; for
God's sake, tell me all, and how you came to find it out, and what
it has to do with my lost pet."

"My dear sir, if you tremble so I shall fear to tell you another
word.  Remember, it is all good, so far as it goes; instead of
trembling you should smile and rejoice."

"So I will--so I will; or at least I will try.  There, now, look--
I have taken a pinch of snuff, you need have no fear for me after
that."

"All I know beyond what I have told you is that your Gracie--and
my Grace too--was driven off in a chaise and pair, through the
narrow lanes towards Wheatley.  I have not been able to follow the
track in my present helpless condition; and, indeed, what I know I
only learned this morning; and I thought it my duty to come and
tell you at once.  I had it from poor Cinnaminta's own lips, who
for a week or more had been lurking near the house to see me.
This morning I could not resist a little walk--lonely and
miserable as it was--and the poor thing told me all she knew.  She
was in the deepest affliction herself at the loss of her only
surviving child, and she fancied that I had saved his life before,
and she had deep pangs of ingratitude, and of Nemesis, etc.; and
hence she was driven to confess all her share; which was but a
little one.  She was tempted by the chance of getting money enough
to place her child in the care of a first-rate doctor."

"But Grace--my poor Grace!--how was she tempted--or was she forced
away from me?"

"That I cannot say as yet; Cinnaminta had no idea.  She did not
even see the carriage; for she herself was borne off by her tribe,
who were quite in a panic at the fever.  But she heard that no
violence was used, and there was a lady in the chaise; and poor
Grace went quite readily, though she certainly did seem to sob a
little.  It was no elopement, Mr. Oglander, nor anything at all of
that kind.  The poor girl believed that she was acting under your
orders in all she did; just as she had believed that same when she
left her aunt's house to meet you on the homeward road, through
that forged letter, which, most unluckily, she put into her
pocket.  There, I believe I have told you all I can think of for
the moment.  Of course, you will keep the whole to yourself, for
we have to deal with subtle brutes.  Is there anything you would
like to ask?"

"Russel Overshute," said the Squire, "I am not fit to go into
things now; I mean all the little ins and outs.  And you look so
very ill, my dear fellow, I am quite ashamed of allowing you to
talk.  Come into the house and have some nourishment.  If any man
ever wanted it, you do now.  How did you come over?"

"Well, I broke a very ancient vow.  If there is anything I detest
it is to see a young man sitting alone inside of a close carriage.
But we never know what we may come to.  I tried to get upon my
horse, but could not.  By the bye, do you know Hardenow?"

"Not much," said the Squire; "I have seen him once or twice, and I
know that he is a great friend of yours.  He is one of the new
lights, is not he?"

"I am sure I don't know, or care.  He is a wonderfully clever
fellow, and as true as steel, and a gentleman.  He has heard of
course of your sad trouble, but only the popular account of it.
He does not even know of my feelings--but I will not speak now of
them--"

"You may, my dear fellow, with all my heart.  You have behaved
like a true son to me; and if ever a gracious Providence--"

Overshute took Mr. Oglander's hand, and held it in silence for a
moment; he could not bear the idea of even the faintest appearance
of a bargain now.  The Squire understood, and liked him all the
better, and waved his left hand towards the dining-room.

"One thing more, while we are alone," resumed the young man, much
as he longed for, and absolutely needed, good warm victuals;
"Hardenow is a tremendous walker; six miles an hour are nothing to
him; the 'Flying Dutchman' he is called, although he hasn't got a
bit of calf.  Of course, I would not introduce him into this
matter without your leave.  But may I tell him all, and send him
scouting, while you and I are so laid upon the shelf?  He can go
where you and I could not, and nobody will suspect him.  And, of
course, as regards intelligence alone, he is worth a dozen of that
ass John Smith; at any rate, he would find no mare's nests.  May I
try it?  If so, I will take on the carriage to Oxford, as soon as
I have had a bit to eat."

"With all my heart," cried the Squire, whose eyes were full again
of life and hope.  "Hardenow owes a debt to Beckley.  It was
Cripps who got him his honours and fellowship--or at least the
Carrier says so; and we all believe our Carrier.  And after all,
whatever there is to do, nobody does it like a gentleman, and
especially a good scholar.  I remember a striking passage in the
syntax of the Eton Latin grammar.  I make no pretension to
learning when I quote it, for it hath been quoted in the House of
Lords.  Perhaps you remember it, my dear Russel."

"My Latin has turned quite rusty, Squire," answered Overshute,
knowing, as well as Proteus, what was coming.

"The passage is this,"--Mr. Oglander always smote his frilled
shirt, in this erudition, and delivered, ore rotundo--


     "Scilicet ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes,
      Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros."



CHAPTER XL

LET ME OUT


At about the same hour of that Sunday afternoon, Miss Patch sat
alone in her little cottage, stubbornly reasoning with herself.
She was growing rather weary of her task, which had been a long
and heavy one; a great deal longer, and a great deal heavier, than
she ever could have dreamed at the outset.  It was for the sake of
the kingdom of heaven that she had laid her hand to this plough;
and now it seemed likely to be a "plough," in the sense in which
that word is lightly used by undergraduates.

For public opinion Miss Patch cared nothing.  Her view of the
world was purely and precisely "Scriptural," according to her own
interpretation.  Any line of action was especially recommended to
her by the certainty that "the world" would condemn it.  She had
led a life of misery with her father, the gambling captain, the
man of fashion, who made slaves of his children; and being already
of a narrow gauge of mind, she laid herself out for theology; not
true religion, but enough to please her, and make her sure that
she was always right.

Grace, being truly of a docile nature, and most unsuspicious (as
her father was before her), had implicit faith in the truth and
honour of her good Aunt Patch.  She looked upon her as so devoutly
pious and grandly upright, that any idea of fraud on her part
seemed almost profanity.  She believed the good lady to be acting
wholly under the guidance of her own father, and as his
representative; in which there seemed nothing either strained or
strange, especially as the Squire had once placed his daughter in
the charge of Miss Patch, for a course of Scriptural and
historical reading.  And the first misgiving in the poor girl's
mind arose from what Christopher Sharp had told her.  Of pining
and lonely weariness, weeks and weeks she had endured, under the
firm belief that her father was compelled to have it so, and in
the hope of the glorious time when he should come to take her
home.  For all that she could see good reason--according to what
she had been told--but she could see no reason whatever why Miss
Patch should have told her falsehoods as to the place in which
they lived.  Having been challenged upon this subject by her
indignant niece, the elderly lady now sat thinking.  She was as
firmly convinced as ever, that in all she had done, she had acted
strictly and purely for the glory of the Lord.  Grace, a great
heiress, and a silly girl, was at the point of being snapped up by
the papists, and made one of them; whereupon both an immortal soul
and £150,000 would be devoted to perdition.  Of this Miss Patch
had been thoroughly assured before she would give her help at all.
It was well known that Russel Overshute loved and would win Grace
Oglander, and that Russel's dearest friend was Hardenow of
Brasenose, and that Hardenow was the deepest Jesuit ever admitted
to holy orders in the Church of England; therefore, at heart,
Russel Overshute must be a papist of the deepest dye; and anybody
with half an eye could see through that conspiracy.  To defeat
such a scheme, Miss Patch would have promised to spend six months
in a hollow tree; but promise and performance are a "very
different pair of shoes;" and the lady (though fed, like a
woodpecker, on the choicest of all sylvan food) even now, in four
months' time, was tiring of her martyrdom.

Her cottage in a wood had long been growing loathsome to her.  The
deeds of the Lord she admired greatly, when they were homicidal;
but of His large and kindly works she had no congenial liking.
The fluttering spread of leaves, that hang like tips of empty
gloves one day, and after one kind night lift forth (like the hand
of a baby with his mind made up), and the change of colour all
under the trees, whether the ground be grassed or naked; also the
delicate sliding of the light in and out the peeling wands of
brushwood, and flat upon the lichened stones, and even in the
coarsest hour of the day--which generally is from 1 to 2 p.m.,
when all mankind are dining--the quiet spread and receptive width
of growth that has to catch its light--for none of these pretty
little scenes did Miss Patch care so much as half a patch.  And
she was sure that they gave her the rheumatism.

She was longing to be in London now, to sit beneath the noble
eloquence of preachers and orators most divine, who spend the
prime of the year in reviling their friends and extolling the
negro.  Whereas for weeks and weeks, in this ungodly forest, she
had no chance of receiving any spiritual ministration; save once,
when Tickuss, on a Sunday morning, had driven her in his pig-cart
to a little Wesleyan chapel some three miles off at the end of a
hamlet.  Here people stared at her so, and asked such questions,
that she durst not go again; and, indeed, the pleasure was not
worth the risk, for the shoemaker who preached was a thoroughly
quiet, ungifted man, without an evil word for anybody.

Not only these large regrets and yearnings were thronging upon
this lady now, but also a small although feminine feeling of
desire for support and guidance.  Strong-minded as she was, and
conscious of her lofty mission, from time to time she grew faint-
hearted in that dreary solitude, without the encouragement of the
cool male will.  This for some days she had not received, and she
knew not why it had failed her.

Though the afternoon was so bright with temptation, the wood so
rich with wonders, Miss Patch preferred to nurse her knee by the
little fire in her parlour.  She had always hated to be out of
doors, and to see too much of things which did not bear out her
opinions, and to lose that clear knowledge of the will of the Lord
which is lost by those who study Him.  She loved to discern in
everything that happened to her liking "the grand and infinite
potentiality of an all-wise Providence;" and, if a little thing
went amiss, she laid all the blame to the badly principled
interference of the devil.

While she was deeply pondering thus, and warming her little
teapot, in ran the beautiful and lively girl, who had long been
growing too much for her.  It was not only the brighter spring of
young life in this Gracie, and her pretty ways, and nice
surprises, and pleasure in pleasing others, and graceful turns of
cookery, but also her pure fount of loving-kindness which (having
no other way out) was obliged to steal around Miss Patch herself.
Although she had been ill-content with the only explanation she
could get about her dwelling-place--to wit, that in these roadless
parts distance was very much a matter of conjecture--Grace had no
suspicion yet of any plot or conspiracy.  All things had been
planned so deeply, and carried out so cleverly, that any such
suspicion would have been contrary to her nature.  She had lost,
by some unaccountable carelessness, both the note from her father,
which she had received at her Aunt Joan's, and also his more
important letter delivered to her, when she met the chaise, by her
kind and pious "Aunty Patch."  In the first note (delivered by a
little boy) she had simply been called forth to meet her father in
the lane, and to walk home with him, as he wished to speak with
her by herself.  She was not to wait to pack any of her clothes,
as they would be sent for afterwards; and he hoped her Aunt Joan
would excuse his deferring their little dinner for the present.

But when, instead of meeting him, she found the chaise with Miss
Patch inside it, and was invited to step in, a real letter was
handed to her, the whole of which in the waning light--the day
being very brown and gloomy--she could not easily make out.  But
she learned enough to see that she was to place herself under the
care of Miss Patch, and not expect to see her dear father for at
least some weeks to come.  Her hair, for the reason therein given,
was to be cut off at once, and not even kept in the carriage; and
the poor girl submitted, with a few low sobs, to the loss of her
beautiful bright tresses.  But what were they?  How small and
selfish of her to think twice of them in the presence of the heavy
trouble threatening her dear father, and the anguish of losing him
for so long, without even so much as a kiss of farewell!  For,
after his first brief scrawl, he had found that, by starting at
once, he could catch at Falmouth the packet for Demerara, and thus
save a fortnight in getting to his estates, which were threatened
with ruin.  If these should be lost to him, Gracie knew (as he had
no secrets from her) that half his income would go at one sweep--
which, for his own sake, would matter little; but, for the sake of
his darling, must, if possible, be prevented.

He had no time now for another word, except that he had left his
house at Beckley, just as it stood, to be let by his agent, to
cover the expenses of this long voyage, and to get him out of two
difficulties.  He could not have left his dear child there alone;
and, if he could, he would not have done so, for a most virulent
fever had long been hanging about, and had now broken out hard by;
and Dr. Splinters had strictly ordered, the moment he heard of it,
that the dear child's hair should be cropped to her head, and
burned or cast away, for nothing harboured infection as hair did.
With a few words of blessing, and comfort, and love, and a promise
to write from Demerara, and a fatherly hope that for his sake she
would submit to Miss Patch in all things, and make the most of
this opportunity for completing her course of Scriptural and
historical reading, the dear old father had signed himself her
"loving papa, W. O."

Grace would have been a very different girl from her own frank
self, if she had even dreamed of suspecting the genuineness of
this letter.  It was in her father's crabbed, and upright, and
queerly-jointed hand, from the first line to the last.  For a
moment, indeed, she had been surprised that he called himself her
"papa," because he did not like the word, and thought it a piece
of the foreign stuff which had better continue to be foreign.  But
there stood the word; and in his hurry how could he stop to such
trifles?  This letter had been lost; poor Grace could not imagine
how, because she had taken such great care of it, and had
slept with it under her pillow always.  Nevertheless, it had
disappeared, leaving tears of self-reproach in her downcast eyes,
as she searched the wood for it.  And this made her careful
tenfold of the two letters she had received from George-town.

But now, as she came with her Sunday hat on, and her pretty
Woodstock gloves, and her neat brown skirt looped up (for
challenge of briers, and furze, and dog-rose), and, best of all,
with the bloom on her cheeks, and the sparkle in her clear soft
eyes, and the May sun making glory in her rolling clouds of new-
grown hair--and, better than best, that smile of the heart filling
the whole young face with light--she really looked as if it would
be impossible to say "no" to her.

"Aunty," she began, "it is quite an age since you have let me have
a walk at all.  One would think that I wanted to run away with
that very smart young gentleman, who possesses and exhibits that
extremely lustrous riding-whip.  If he has only got a horse to
match it--what is the name, dear Aunty, of that inestimable
historical jewel that somebody stole out of somebody's eye?"

"Grace, will you never remember anything?  It is now called the
Orloff, or Schaffras gem, and is set in the Russian sceptre."

"Then that must be the name of this gentleman's horse, to enable
it to go with such a whip.  Dear Aunty now, even that whip will
not tempt me or move me to run away from you.  Only do please to
allow me forth.  This horrid little garden is so shaded and sour,
that even a daisy cannot live.  But in the wood I find all things
lovely.  May I have a run for only half an hour?"

"Upon one condition," replied Miss Patch; "that if you see any
one, you shall come back at once, and let me know."

"What, even the fat man with the flapped hat and the smock on?  I
never go out without seeing him, though he never seems to see me
at all.  He must be very shortsighted."

"Oh no, my dear; never mind that poor man; he looks after the
cattle or something.  What I mean is, any young gentleman, who
ought to be at home on the Sabbath day.  And wrestle with your
natural frivolity, my dear, that no worldly thoughts may assault
and hurt the soul upon this holy day."

"I will do my best, Aunty.  But how can I help thinking of the
things I see?"

Miss Patch having less than any faith in unregenerate human
nature, feared that she might have been wrong in allowing even
this limited freedom to Grace.  The truth of it was that, without
fresh guidance from a mind far deeper than her own, she could not
see the right thing to do in the new complication arising.  The
interviews between Kit Sharp and Grace were the very thing
desired, and surely must have led to something good, which ought
to be carefully followed up.  And yet, if she met him again, she
would be quite sure to go on with her questions; and Kit, being
purely outside of the plot, would reply with the most inconvenient
truth.  Miss Patch had written, as promptly as could be, to ask
what she ought to do in this crisis.  But no answer had come
through the trusty Tickuss, nor any well-provided visit.  The
Christian-minded lady could not tell at all what to make of it.
Then, calling to mind the sacredness of the day, she dismissed the
subject; and sternly rebuked deaf Margery Daw for not keeping the
kettle boiling.



CHAPTER XLI

REASON AND UNREASON


When things were in this very ticklish condition almost
everywhere, and even Cripps himself could scarcely sleep because
of rumours, and Dobbin in his own clean stable found the flies too
many for him, an exceedingly active man set out to scour the whole
of the neighbourhood.  To the large and vigorous mind of the Rev.
Thomas Hardenow, the worst of all sins (because the most tempting
and universal) was indolence.

Hardenow never condemned a poor man for having his pint or his
quart of ale (with his better half to help him), when he had
earned it by a hard day's work, and had fed his children likewise.
Hardenow thought it not easy to find any hypocrisy more bald or
any morality more cheap than that or those which strut about,
reviling the poor man for taking, in the cheaper liquid form, the
nourishment which "his betters" can afford to have in the shape of
meat; and then are not content with it, unless it is curdled with
some duly sour vintage.  And passing such crucial points of
debate, Hardenow always could make allowance for any sins rather
than those which spring from a treacherous, sneaking, and lying
essence.

Now, a council was held at the Grange of Shotover on the Monday.
A sad and melancholy house it was, with its fine old mistress
lately buried, and its poor young master only half recovered.  The
young tutor had been especially invited, and having heard
everything from the Squire (who was proud of having ridden so far,
yet broke down ridiculously among his boasts), and from Russel
Overshute (who had thrown himself back for at least three days by
excitement and exertion yesterday), and also from Mrs. Fermitage
(who had lately been feeling herself overlooked), Hardenow thought
for some little time before he would give his opinion.  Not that
he was, by any manner of means, possessed with the greatness of
his own ideas; but that Mrs. Fermitage, from a low velvet chair,
looked up at him with such emphatic inquiry and implicit faith,
that he was quite in a difficulty how to speak, or what to say.

And so he said a very few short words of sympathy and of kindness,
and gladly offered to do his best, and obey the orders given him;
so far, at least, as his duty to his college and pupils permitted.
He confessed that he had thought of this matter many times before
he was invited to do so, and without the knowledge which he now
possessed, or the special interest in the subject which he now
must feel for the sake of Russel.  But Mrs. Fermitage, filled with
respect for the wisdom of a fellow and tutor of a college, would
not let Hardenow thus escape; and being compelled to give his
opinion, he did so with his usual clearness.

"I am not at all a man of the world," he said; "and of the law I
know nothing.  My friend Russel is a man of the world, and knows a
good deal of the law as well.  A word from him is worth many of
mine.  But if Mrs. Fermitage insists upon having my crude ideas,
they are these.  First of the first, and by far the most important--
I believe that Miss Oglander is alive, and that her father will
receive her safe and sound, though not perhaps still Miss
Oglander."

"God bless you, my dear sir!" the Squire broke in, getting up to
lay hold of the young man's hand.  "I don't care a straw what her
name may be--Snooks, or Snobbs, or Higginbotham--if I only get
sight of my darling child again!"

Russel Overshute looked rather queer at this, and so did Mrs.
Fermitage; but the Squire continued in the same sort of way--"What
odds about her name, if it only is my Grace?"

"Exactly so," replied Hardenow; "that natural feeling of yours
perhaps has been foreseen and counted on; and that may be why such
trouble was taken to terrify you with the idea of her death.
Also, of course, that would paralyze your search, while the
villains are at leisure to complete their work."

"I declare, I never thought of that," cried Russel.  "How
extremely thick-headed of me!  That theory accounts for a number
of things that cannot be otherwise explained.  What a head you
have got, my dear Tom, to be sure!"

"I wish I could believe it!" Mr. Oglander exclaimed, whilst his
sister clasped her fair fat hands, and looked with amazement at
every one.  "But I see no motive, no motive whatever.  My Grace
was a dear good girl, as everybody knows, and a fortune in
herself; but of worldly goods she had very little, anymore than I
have; and her prospects were naturally contingent--contingent upon
many things, which may not come to pass, I hope, for many years--
if they ever do."  Here he looked at his sister, and she said, "I
hope so."  "Therefore," continued Mr. Oglander, "while there are
so many fine girls in the county, very much better worth carrying
off--so far as mere worthless pelf is concerned--why should
anybody steal my Grace unless they stole her for her own sake?"

Here the Squire sat down, and took to drumming with his stick.
His feelings were hurt at the idea--though it was so entirely of
his own origination--that his daughter had been carried off for
the sake of her money, not of her own dear self.  Hardenow looked
at him and made no answer.  He felt that it did not behove a mere
stranger to ask about the young lady's expectations; while
Overshute was more imperatively silenced by his relations towards
the family.  But Mrs. Fermitage came to the rescue.  Great was her
faith in the value of money, and she liked to have it known that
she had plenty.

"Tut, tut," she cried, shaking out her new brocaded silk--a
mourning dress certainly, but softly trimmed with purple--"why
should we make any mystery of things, when the truth is most
important?  And the truth is, Mr. Hardenow, that my dear niece had
very good expectations.  My deeply lamented husband, respected,
and I may say reverenced, for upwards of half a century, in every
college of Oxford, and even more so by the corporation, for the
pure integrity of his character, the loftiness of his principles,
and--and the substance of his--what they make the wine of--he was
not the man, Mr. Hardenow, to leave a devoted wife behind him, who
had stepped perhaps out of her rank a little, not being of
commercial birth, you know, but never found cause to regret it,
without some provision for the earthly time which she, being many
years his junior--"

"Come, come, Joan, not so very many," exclaimed the truthful
Squire; "about five, or say six, at the utmost.  You were born on
the 25th of June, A.D.--"

"Worth, I was not asking you for statistics.  Mr. Hardenow, you
will excuse my brother.  He has always had a rude style of
interruption; he learned it, I believe, in the army, and we always
make allowance for it.  But to go back to what I was saying--my
good and ever to be lamented husband, being, let us say, ten years
my senior--Worth, will that content you?--left every farthing of
his property to me; and a good husband always does the same thing,
I am told, and I believe they are ordered in the Bible; and, of
course, I have no one to leave it to but Grace; and being so
extraordinarily advanced in years, as my dear brother has
impressed upon you, they could not have any very long time to
wait; and my desire is to do my duty; and perhaps that lies at the
bottom of it all."

After relieving her mind in this succinct yet copious manner, the
good lady went into her chair again, carefully directing, in
whatever state of mind, the gathering and the falling of her dress
aright.  And though it might be fancied that her colour had been
high, anybody now could see that her dignity had conquered it.

"Now, the whole of this goes for next to nothing," said the
Squire, while the young men looked at one another, and longed to
be out of the way of it.  "As we have got into the subject, let us
go right down to the bottom of it.  What are filthy pence and
halfpence, or a cellar, like Balak's, of silver and gold, when
compared with the life of one pure dear soul?  I may not express
myself theologically, but you can see what I mean exactly.  I mean
that I would kick old Port-wine's dross to the bottom of the Red
Sea, where Pharaoh lies, if it turns out that that has killed my
child, or made her this long time dead to me."

Having justified his feelings thus, the old man stood up, and went
to the window, to look for his horse.  The very last thing he
desired always was to let out what he felt too much.  But to hear
that old thief of a "Port-wine Fermitage" praised, and his lucre
put forward, quite as if it were an equivalent for Grace, and to
think that he owed to that filthy cause the loss of the liveliest,
loveliest darling, without whom he had neither life nor love--such
things were enough to break the balance of his patience; and the
rest might think them out amongst them.

Now, this might have made a very serious to-do between Mr.
Oglander and his sister Joan, both of them being of the stiff-
necked order, if he had been allowed to ride away like this.  Mrs.
Fermitage had her great carriage in the yard, and two black horses
with wide valleys down their backs, rattling rings of the
brightest brass, while they stood in the stable with a bail
between them, and gently deigned to blew the chaff off from the
oats of Shotover.  This goodly pair made a great rush now into the
mind of their mistress--the only sort of rush they ever made--and
seeing her brother in that state of mind to get away from her, she
became inspired with an equal desire to get away from him.

"Will you kindly ring the bell," she said, "and order my horses to
be put to?  I think I have quite said every word I had to say.
And being the only lady present, of course I labour under some--
well, some little disadvantages.  Not, of course, that I mean for
a moment--"

"To be sure not, Joan!  You never do know what you mean.  You
would be a very nasty woman if you did.  Now, do let us turn our
minds the pleasant way to everything.  If any word has come from
me to lead to strong kind of argument, I beg pardon of everybody;
and then there ought to be an end of it."

Mrs. Fermitage scarcely knew what to say, but in a relenting way
looked round for some one to take it up for her.  And she was not
long without somebody.

"Mr. Oglander," said Russel Overshute, "you really ought to give
us time to think.  You are growing so hasty, sir, since you came
back to your seat in the saddle, and your cross-country ways, that
you want to ride over every one of us--ladies and gentlemen, all
alike."

The old Squire laughed, he could not help it, at the thought of
his own effrontery.  He felt that there might be some truth about
it, ever since it had come into his mind that he might not after
all be childless.  He would not have any one know, for a thousands
pounds, why he was laughing; or that half another word might turn
it into weeping.  He had seen it proved in learned books that no
man knew the way to weep at his time of life; and if his own case
went against it, he had the manners to be ashamed of it.  So he
waited till he felt that his face was right, and then he went up
to his sister Joan, who was growing uneasy about her own words;
and he took her two plump hands in his, and gave a glance, for all
there present to be welcome witnesses.  And then, having knowledge
for the last ten years how much too fat she was to lift, he
managed to kiss her in the two right places, disarranging nothing.

His sister looked up at him, as soon as he had done it, with a
sense of his propriety and study of her harmonies; and she
whispered to him quietly, "I beg you pardon, brother."  And he
spoke up for all to hear him, "Joan, my dear, I beg your pardon."

"Now, the first thing to be done," said Hardenow, "is to find
Cinnaminta and her husband Smith.  But allow me to make one
important request, that even your adviser, Mr. Luke Sharp, shall
not be informed of what has passed to-day, or what Overshute found
out yesterday."

With some little surprise they agreed to this.



CHAPTER XLII

MEETING THE COACH


There happened, however, to be some one else, whose opinion
differed very widely from that of Mr. Hardenow, as to the
necessity for any prompt appearance of either Mr. or Mrs. Joseph
Smith.

The old red house in Cross Duck Lane was ready to jump out of its
windows--if such a feat be possible--with eagerness and anxiety at
the long absence of its master.  Mr. Luke Sharp had not crossed
his own threshold for ten whole days, including two Sundays, when
even an attorney may give leg-bail to the Power under whose "Ca.
ad sa." he lives.  The business of the noble firm of Piper,
Pepper, Sharp, & Co. was falling sadly into arrears, at the very
busiest time of year; for Mr. Sharp had always kept his very best
clerks in leading strings; and Kit thus far, with his mother's
aid, had battled against all articles.  Christopher Fermitage
Sharp, Esq., was resolved to be a country gentleman and a
sportsman, and no quill-driver; he felt that his arms, and legs as
well, were a great deal too good for going on and under desk.

With fine resignation Kit accepted the absence of his father.
With his father away, he was a very great man; with his father at
home, he was quite a small boy.  He liked to play master of a
house, and frighten his mother and the maids; and vow to dine at
the Mitre all the rest of the week--if that was their style of
cookery!

But poor Mrs. Sharp could not treat the matter thus.  Truly
delighted as she was to see her dear boy take his father's place,
and conduct himself with dignity as the head of the household, and
find fault with things of which he knew nothing, and order this,
that, and the other away--still she could not help remembering
that all this was not as it ought to be.  Christopher ought to
have been in tortures of intense anxiety; and, so far as that
went, so ought she; and she really tried very hard not to sleep,
and to sit up listening for the night-bell.  But a man who thinks
everything of his own will, and nothing of any other person's
wish, may be pretty sure that none will miss his presence so much
as himself does.

In spite of all that, Mrs. Sharp was anxious, and so were the rest
of the household--though rather perhaps with care than love--at
the long, unaccountable absence of the head and the brain of
everything.  Even the boys in Cross Duck Lane, who had a strong
idea that Lawyer Sharp would defend them against the magistrates,
were beginning to feel that they must look out before throwing
stones at any other boys.

"You are not at all the thing, my darling boy," said Mrs. Sharp to
Christopher, on the evening of that same Monday on which the
Council had been held at Shotover; "your want of appetite makes me
wretched.  Now, put on your cloak, my pet, and go as far as
Carfax, or Magdalen Bridge.  The two evening coaches will soon be
in--the 'Defiance' and the 'Regulator.'  I have a strong idea that
your father will come by one or other of them."

"I may just as well go there as anywhere else," the young man
answered gloomily.  For some days now he had striven in vain for
an interview with his charmer; and, most unkindest cut of all, he
had spied her once, and she had run away.  "It does not matter
where I go."

"When you talk like that, dear child, you have no idea what you
do.  You simply break the heart of your poor mother--and much you
care for that!  Now, if you should see any very fresh calves'
sweet-breads, or even a pig's fry, or anything you fancy, order it
in, dear, at once; and be sure that you are at home by nine
o'clock; and bring your dear papa with you, if you can."

Kit, with a sigh and a roll of his eyes, flung his cloak around
him; and with long, slow, melancholy strides clomb the arduous
steep of Carfax.  Here at that time--if any faith there be to
bruit of veterans--eighty well-equipped quadrigæ daily passed with
prance of steeds and sound of classic trump, and often youthful
charioteer, more apt to handle than win ribbons.  Forty chariots
came from smoke, and wealth, and din of blessed Rome; and other
forty sped them back, with the glory and mud of the country
divine.

The moody Kit ensconced himself, away from the tramp of the vulgar
crowd, in the beetling doorway of a tailor who had put his
shutters up; and thrice being challenged by proctors velvet-
sleeved, and velvet-selvaged Pro--"Sir, are you a member of this
university?"--thrice had the pleasure of answering "No!"  Once and
again he wiped his hectic cheek and fevered brow with a yellow
bandana, from which the winner of last year's Derby was washing
out; and he saw the "Defiance" and the "Regulator" pass, newly
horsed from rival inns, exalting their horns against one another,
with splinter-bars swinging behind cocked tails, all eager for
their race upon the Cheltenham road.  But he saw not the author of
his existence; yet no tear bedewed his unfilial eye, though these
were the likeliest coaches.

"All right," he said, putting his pipe in its case; "governor
won't come home to-night.  I'm in no hurry, if he isn't.  I think
I'll have sheep's trotters.  It's a beastly time of the year for
anything."  Twitching his cloak, which had two long tassels, he
strode, from his post of observation and morbid meditation,
towards a tidy and clean little tripe-shop.  He knew the old woman
who kept it, in George Street; and she always put him into good
condition by generous admiration.

Alas! he had stridden but a very few strides, when he met the up-
coach from Woodstock, wearily with spent horses making rally for
the Star.  The driver (a man of fine family at Christchurch, now
in his seventh term, and fighting off his "smalls"), with a turn
of his strong arm, pulled the team together, while with the other
hand he launched a scouring flourish of the shrill scourge over
every blessed horse's ears.

"Well done, my lord!" said the gentleman on the box, as the four
horses pulled up foot for foot, and stood with their ears and
their noses one for one; "you have brought them up in noble style,
my lord.  I never saw it done more perfectly."

My lord touched his white hat, and said nothing.  He had crowned
his day, as he always loved to crown it; and now, if he could get
into a back room of the Star, pull off his top-boots and cape, and
don cap and gown, and fetch back to college clear of £5 fine--as
happy as any lord would he be, till nature sent him forth to drive
again tomorrow.

But Kit, having very keen ears, had recognised, even from the
other side of the street, the sound of his dear father's voice.
Mr. Luke Sharp never missed a chance of commending a nobleman's
exploits; but he would not have spoken in so loud a tone, perhaps,
if he had known that his son was near at hand.  For he hated with
a consistent hatred--whether he were doing well or ill--all
observation of his movements by any member of his household.
Christopher, being well aware of this, pursued his own course in
the shadow, but resolved, with filial piety, to keep his good
father in sight for fear of his falling into any mischief.

First of all, Mr. Sharp--as observed at a respectful distance by
his son--went into the coach office, and there left his hand-bag
and his travelling coat; then, carrying something rolled under his
arm, he betook himself to a little quiet tap-room, and called for
something that loomed and steamed afar, very much after the manner
of hot brown grog.

"Ho, ho!" muttered Kit; "then he isn't going home.  My duty to the
household commands me to learn why."

With a smack of his lips, Mr. Sharp the elder came out into Corn-
Market Street again, and turning his back on his home, set forth
at a rapid pace for the broad desert of St. Giles.  Here he passed
into an unlit alley, in the lonely parts beyond St. John's; and
Kit, full of wonder, was about to follow, but hung back as the
receding figure suddenly stopped and began to shift about.  In a
nice dark place, the learned gentleman unrolled the travelling rug
he had been carrying, undoubled it, after that, from some selvage--
and, lo, there was a city watchman's large loose overall!  Then
he pressed down the crown of his black spring-hat, till it lay on
his head like a pancake, pulled the pouch of his long cloak over
that, and emerged from his alley with a vigilant slouch, whistling
"Moll Maloney."  Considerable surprise found its way into the
candid mind of Christopher.

"Well now!" thought the ungrateful youth, as he shrank behind a
tree to peep; "I always knew that the governor was a notch or two
too deep for us; but what he is up to now surpasses all experience
of him.  What shall I do?  It seems so nasty to go spying after
him.  And yet things are taking such a very strange turn, that,
for the sake of my mother, who is worth a thousand of him, I do
believe I am bound to see what this strange go may lead to."

Young curiosity sprang forth, and strongly backed up his sense of
duty; insomuch that Kit, after hesitating and listening for any
other step, stealthily followed the "author of his existence"
across the dark and dusty road.  "He is going to Squeaker
Smith's," thought the lad; "he will get a horse, and ride away, no
end; and of course I can never go after him.  I am sure it has
something to do with me.  Such troubles are enough to drive one
mad."

But Mr. Sharp did not turn in at the lamp-lit entrance to those
mews.  He shunned the beaming oil, which threw barred shadows upon
sawdust of a fine device, and, keeping all his merits in the dark,
strode on, like a watchman newly ordered to his post.  Then
suddenly he turned down a narrow unmade lane, hillocked with clay,
and leading (as Christopher knew quite well) to the wildest part
of "Jericho."

"I will follow him no further," said Kit Sharp, with a pang of
astonishment and doubt; "he is my father; what right have I to pry
into his secrets?  How I wish that I had not followed him at all!
It serves me right for meanness.  I will go home now; what care I
for anything--trotters, cow-heel, or sweet-bread?"

As he turned, to carry out this good resolve, with a heart that
would have ailed him more for leaving fears unfinished, the sound
of a clouting, loutish footstep came along the broken mud-banks of
the narrow lane.  The place was lonely, dark, and villainous: foot-
pads still abounded.  Kit knew that his father often carried large
sums of money, and always the great gold watch; he might have been
decoyed here for robbery and murder, upon pretence of secret
business; clearly it was the young man's duty not to be too far
away.  Therefore he drew back, and stood in the jaws of the dark
entrance.

But while he was ready to leap forth if wanted, the sound of quiet
voices told him that there was no danger.  Kit could not hear the
first few words; but his father came back towards the mouth of the
lane, as if he would much rather not go into the dark too deeply.
Christopher therefore was obliged either to draw back into the
hedge, and there lie hid without moving, or else to come forward
and declare himself.  He knew that the latter was his proper
course, or he might have known it, if he had taken time to think;
but the dread of his father and the hurry of the moment drove him,
without thought, into the lurking-place.  It was quite dark now,
and there was not a lamp within a furlong of them.

"You quite understand me, then;" Mr. Sharp was speaking in a low
clear voice; "you are not to say a word to Cripps about it.  He is
true enough to me, because he dare not be otherwise; but he is an
arrant coward.  I want a man who has the spirit to defy the law,
when he knows that he is well backed up."

"Governor, I am your man for that.  I have defied the law, since I
were that high, with only my mother, in the wukuss, to back me."

"What I mean is, to defy the wrong fashions of the law; the petty
rules that go against all common sense and equity."

"All the fashions of the law be wrong.  I might a' got on in the
world like a house afire, if it hadn't been for the devil's own
law.  To tell me a thing is agin the law is as good as an eyster
to my teeth.  Go on, governor, no fear of that, I say."

"And you know where to find, at any moment, a man as resolute as
yourself--Joe Smith.  Well, you know what you have to do, in case
of any sudden stir arising.  At present all goes well; but all, at
any moment, may go wrong.  Squire Overshute is about again at
last--"

"Ah, if I could only come across of he of a dark night, such as
this be--"

"And that fool Cinnaminta has told him all she knows--which,
luckily, is not very much.  I took good care to keep women out of
it.  And the Carrier too has been smelling about--but he hasn't
the sense of his own horse.  Night and day, George, night and day,
keep a look-out, and have the horses ready.  You know what I have
done for you, my man."

"Governor, if it hadn't been for you, I might a' seed the clouds
through a halter loop."

"You speak the truth, and express it well.  And you may still
enjoy that fair opportunity, unless you attend to every word I
say."

"No fear, governor; I know you too well.  A good friend and a bad
enemy you be.  Thick and thin, sir--thick and thin.  Agin all the
world, sir, I sticks by you."

"Enough for to-night, my man.  Get ready and be off.  I shall know
where to find you, as before.  I shall ride over to-morrow, if I
find it needful."

With these words, Mr. Luke Sharp set off at a good round pace for
Oxford, while the other man shambled and whistled his way
homewards up the black-mouthed lane.  Perceiving these things,
Christopher Sharp, with young bones, leaped from his hiding-place.
Astonishment might have been read upon his ingenuous and fat
countenance, if the lighting committee of the corporation had
carried out their duty.  But (having no house of their own out
here) they had, far back, put colophon upon the nascent gas-pipe.
The ambition of the city, at that time, was to fill all the houses
of the citizens, and extend in no direction.  But though his
countenance, for want of light, only wasted its amazement, Kit--
like Hector with his windpipe damaged, but not by any means
perforated--gave issue to his sentiments.  Unlike Hector--so far
as we know--Kit had been forming a habit of using language too
strong for ladies.

"Blow me!" was his unheroic exclamation--"blow me, if ever yet I
knew so queer a start as this!  Sure as eggs is eggs, that is the
very blackguard I drubbed for his insolence!  His voice is enough,
and his snuffle; and I believe he was rubbing his nose in the
dark.  I am sure he's the man; I could swear it's the man, though
I could not see his filthy face at all.  My father to be in a
conspiracy with him!  And poor Cinnaminta, and Mr. Overshute!
What the dickens is the meaning of it all?  The governor has a
thousand times my brains, as everybody says, and I am the last to
grudge it to him: and he thinks he can do what he likes with me.
I am not quite sure of that, if he puts my pecker up too heavily."

To throw his favourite light on his own reflections, Kit Sharp lit
his pipe, and followed slowly in his fathers wake.  Wiser, and
wider, and brighter men might be found betwixt every two lamp-
posts, but few more simple, soft, and gentle than this honest
lawyer's son.



CHAPTER XLIII

THE MOTIVE


Perfectly free from all suspicions, and as happy as he deserved to
be, Mr. Sharp leaned back in his easy chair, after making an
excellent supper, and gazed with complacency at his good wife.  He
was really glad to be at home again, and to find his admiring
household safe, and to rest for a while with a quiet brain, as the
lord and master of everything.  Christopher had been sent to bed,
as if he were only ten years old; for instead of exhibiting the
proper joy, he had behaved in a very strange and absent manner;
and his father, who delighted much in snubbing him sometimes, had
requested him to seek his pillow.  Kit had accepted this proposal
very gladly, longing as he did to think over by himself that
strange adventure of the evening.

"Now, darling Luke," began Mrs. Sharp, as soon as she had made her
husband quite snug, and provided him with a glass of negus, "you
really must be amazed at my unparalleled patience and self-
control.  You ran away suddenly at the very crisis of a most
interesting and momentous tale.  And from that day to this I have
not had one word; and how to behave to Kit has been a riddle
beyond riddles.  How I have seen to the dinner--I am sure--and of
sleep I have scarcely had fifty winks, between my anxiety about
you, and misery at not knowing how the story ended."

"Very well, Miranda, I will tell you all the rest; together with
the postscript added since I went to London.  Only you must stay
up very late, I fear, to get to the proper end of it."

"I will stay till the cocks crow.  At least, I mean, dear, if,
after your long journey, you are really fit for it.  If not, I
will wait till to-morrow, dear."

Mr. Sharp was touched by his wife's consideration for him.  He
loved her more than he loved any one else in the world, except
himself; and though (like many other clearheaded men) he had small
faith in brains feminine, he was not quite certain that he might
not get some useful idea out of them when the matter at issue was
feminine.

"I am ready, if you are, my dear," he said, for he hated to beat
about the bush.  "Only I must know where I left off.  With all I
have done since, I quite forget."

"You left off just when you had discovered the real man who was
called 'Jolly Fellows;' the man Cousin Fermitage left his will
with."

"To be sure!  Or at least, it was a codicil.  Very well, I found
him in the wine-vaults of the company, where they have been for
generations.  He was going round with some large and good
customer, such as old Fermitage himself had been.  Senhor
Gelofilos had a link in one hand, and in the other a deep dock-
glass, while a man in his shadow bore a flashing gimlet and a long-
armed siphon-tap.  From cell to cell, and pipe to pipe, they were
going in regular order, showing brands, ex this, and ex that, and
making little taps and trying them.

"I was admitted, without a word, as one of this solemn procession,
being taken for a member of the sacred trade; and the number of
sips of wine I got, and the importance attached to my opinion,
would have made you laugh, Miranda.  At length I got a chance of
speaking alone to Senhor Gelofilos, a tall, dark, gentlemanly man,
of grave and dignified manner.  He at once remembered that he had
received a paper from Mr. Fermitage; of its nature however he knew
nothing, not being acquainted with our legal forms.  He had kept
it ever since in a box at his house, and if I could call upon him
after office hours, he would show it to me with pleasure.
Accordingly, I took a hackney-coach to his house near Hampstead in
the evening, and found that old 'Port-wine' had not deceived me
during our last interview.

"I held in my hand a most important codicil to the old man's will,
duly executed and attested, so far at least as could be decided
without inquiry.  By this codicil he revoked his will thus far,
that, instead of leaving the residue, after payment of legacies,
to his widow absolutely, he left her a life-interest in that
residue, after bequeathing the sum of £20,000, duty free, to his
niece, Grace Oglander."

"Out of my money, Luke!" cried Mrs. Sharp indignantly.  "Twenty
thousand pounds out of my money!  And what niece of his was she, I
should like to know?  Was there nothing whatever for his own flesh
and blood?"

"Nothing whatever," answered Mr. Sharp calmly.  "But wait a bit,
Miranda, wait.  Well, all the residue of his estate, after the
decease of his said wife, Joan, was by this codicil absolutely
given to his said niece Grace.  He said that they both would know
why he had made the change.  And then the rest of his will was
confirmed, as usual."

"I never heard such a thing!  I never heard such robbery!"
exclaimed Mrs. Sharp, with a panting breast.  "I hope you will
contest it all, my dear.  If there is law in the land, you cannot
fail to upset such a vile, vile will!  You can show that the
fungus got into his brain."

"My dear, it is my object to establish that will, or the codicil
rather, which I thus discovered.  I am obliged to proceed very
carefully, of course; a rash step would ruin everything.
Unluckily the executors remain as before, though he would not
trust them with the codicil.  Well, one of them, as you know,
bought such a lot of port, half-price, at his testator's sale,
that in three months he required an executor for himself.  The
other took warning by his fate, and is going in for claret and the
sour Rhenish wines.  This has made him as surly as a bear, and he
is a most difficult man to manage.  But if any one can handle him,
I can; and he has a deadly quarrel with that haughty Joan.  I had
first ascertained, without any stir, that the attestation is quite
correct--two stupid bottle-men, who gave no thought to what they
were doing, but can swear to the signing; and the codicil itself,
though 'Port-wine' drew it without any lawyer, is quite clear and
good.  At the proper moment I produce the codicil, account for my
possession of it, go to Mr. Wigginton, and make him prove it; and
then, I think, we turn the tables on the proud old widow."

"Oh, Luke, what a blessed day that would be for me!  The things I
have endured from that odious woman!  Of course, it will mortify
her not to have disposal, and to have to give up £20,000--the
miser, the screw, the Expositor hypocrite!  The filthy silk
stockings I should be ashamed to own!  But, darling Luke, I do not
see how we ourselves are a bit the better off for it.  Poor Grace
being dead, of course her father takes the money."

"Suppose, for a moment that, instead of being dead, Grace Oglander
is the wedded wife, by that time, of a certain Christopher
Fermitage Sharp, and without any settlement!"

"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Sharp, jumping with astonishment.  "Is it
possible?  Is it possible?"

"It is more than possible, it is probable; and without some very
bad luck, it is certain!"

"Oh, you darling love!" she very nearly shouted, giving him a hug
with her plump white arms.  "Oh, Luke, Luke, it is the noblest
thing I ever heard!  And she is such a nice girl, too, so sweet,
and clever, and superior!  The very daughter I would have chosen
out of fifty thousand!  And with all that money at her back!  Why,
we can retire, and set up a green barouche!  I shall have it lined
with the new agate colour, trimmed with deep puce, like the
Marchioness of Marston's--that is, if you approve, of course, my
dear.  And a pair of iron-greys always go the best with that.
But, Luke, you will laugh at me for being in a hurry.  There is
plenty of time, dear, is there not?--though they do say that
carriage-builders are so slow.  But they think so much of their
old family, my dear.  I know how very wonderfully managing you
are, and as clever as can be consistent with the highest
principle.  But do tell me, how you have contrived all this so
well, and never even let me guess a single whisper of it."

"It has required some tact and skill," Mr. Sharp replied, with a
twinkle in his eyes, and taking a good pull at his port-wine
negus; "and even more than that, Miranda, without a bold stroke it
could never have been done.  I staked almost everything upon the
die; not quite everything, for I made all arrangements if we
should have to fly."

"Fly, my dear!" cried Mrs. Sharp, looking up with a very different
face.  "What do you mean, Luke?  To have to run away!"

"Quite so.  There is no great stroke without great miss.  And if I
had missed, we must all have bolted suddenly."

"The Lord forbid!  Run away in disgrace from my father's own
house, and the whole world that knows us!  I never could have
tried to go through such a trial."

"Yes, my dear Miranda, it might have come to that.  And you would
have gone through the whole of it, without a single murmur."

"Luke, I positively tremble at you!" the good woman answered, as
her eyes fell under his.  "How stern you can look when you want to
scare me!"

"Miranda, I tell you the simple truth.  We must all have been in
France within twelve hours if, if--well, never mind.  Nothing
venture nothing win.  But happily we have won, I believe; though
we must not be too sure as yet.  We have justice on our side; but
justice does not always prevail against petty facts.  And public
opinion would set against us with great ferocity, if we failed.
If we succeed, all men will praise us as soon as we begin to spend
our money, and exert it near home at the outset.  Everything
depends upon success; of course, it always does in everything."

"My dear, it is not fair of you to talk like that," Mrs. Sharp
answered, with tears in her eyes; for, in all her kind and ungirt
nature, there was no entry for cynicism; "you must feel that I
would hold by you always, whatever all the world might have the
impudence to say, dear."

"Beyond a doubt you would.  You could do no otherwise.  But that
might be of very little use.  I mean, that it would be the very
greatest prop, and comfort, and blessing, and support in every
way, and would keep up one's faith, to some extent, in human
nature, and divine assistance--but still, if we had to live on
three pound ten a week!  However, we will not anticipate the
worst.  You would like to know how the whole thing stands now?"

Mrs. Luke Sharp, although not very clever, and wholly incapable of
any plot herself (beyond such little stratagems as ladies do
concoct, for fetching down the price of rep, or getting gloves at
a quarter of their cost), nevertheless had her share of common
sense, and that which generally goes therewith--respect for the
opinion of good people.  She knew that her husband was a very bold
man, as well as a very strong-willed one; he had often done things
which she had thought too daring; and yet they had always turned
out well.  But what he had now in hand was, even according to his
own account, the most risky and perilous venture yet; and though
(like the partner of a gambler) she warmed up to back his hand,
and cheer him, and let her heart go with him, in her wiser mind
she had shivers, and shudders, and a chill shadow of the end of
it.

Mr. Sharp saw that his wife was timid; which of all things would
be fatal now; for her aid was indispensable.  Otherwise, perhaps,
he would not have been quite so ready to tell her everything.  He
had put things so that her dislikes and envies, as well as her
likings, and loves, and ambitions would compel her to work with
him.  If she were lukewarm his whole scheme must fail.  At the
mere idea his temper stirred.  "Will you hear the rest?  Or is
your mind upset?" he asked a little roughly.  His wife looked up
brightly from some little blink of thought.  "Every word of it
now, I must hear every word, if you will be so kind, my dear.  I
will go and see that all the doors are shut."



CHAPTER XLIV

THE MANNER


"You see now, Miranda," continued Mr. Sharp, as his wife came and
sat quite close to him, "that it was my duty to make the most of
the knowledge thus providentially obtained.  We had met with a
bitter disappointment through the most gross injustice, brought
about, no doubt, by craft, and wheedling, and black falsehood.
When old Fermitage stood godfather to our only child, and showed a
sense of duty towards him by bottling and walling up a pipe of
wine, everybody looked upon Kit as certain to stand in his shoes
in the course of time.  You know how we always looked forward to
it, not covetously or improperly, but simply as a matter of
justice.  And you remember what he said to me, before he went to
church with Joan Oglander: 'Quibbles, my boy, this shall make no
difference between you and me, mind!'

"I am sure that he meant it when he said it; but that artful woman
so led him astray, and laid down the law about wives and husbands,
and 'county families,' and all that, and pouring contempt upon our
profession, that all his better feelings left him, and he made the
will he did.  And but for her low, unwomanly cowardice during his
last illness, so it would have stood--as she believes it even now
to stand."

"Oh, what a pure delight it will be," cried the lady, unable to
help herself, "such a triumph of right over might and falsehood!
Do let me be there to see it."

"There is time enough to think of that, Miranda.  Well, as soon as
ever I felt quite sure of my ground about the codicil (which
Senhor Gelofilos placed in my hands after making inquiry about me
here, and being satisfied of my relationship and respectability),
I began to cast about for the most effectual mode of working it.
It was clear in a moment that the right course was to make a match
between Grace, now the legal heiress, and Kit, the legitimate
heir.  But here I was met by difficulties which appeared at first
sight insuperable.  The pride of the old Squire, and his family
nonsense, the suit of Russel Overshute, and the girl's own liking
for that young fellow (which I had some reason to suspect), the
impossibility of getting at the girl, and last not least the
stupid shyness of our Christopher himself; these and other
obstacles compelled me to knock them all out of the way, by some
decisive action.  The girl must be taken out of stupid people's
power, and brought to know what was good for her.

"Of course, I might have cut the matter short by walking the girl
off, and allowing her no food until she consented to marry Kit;
and probably if I could only have foreseen my sad anxieties and
heavy outlay, I should have acted in that way.  But I have a
natural dislike to measures that wear an appearance of harshness;
and I could not tell how Kit might take it, or even you, Miranda
dear.  In this sad puzzle, some good inspiration brought to my
mind Hannah Patch, then living by herself in London.  In a sort of
a manner she is my sister (as I have told you long ago), although
she is so many years my elder."

Mrs. Sharp nodded; she knew all about it and admired her husband
none the less for being the illegitimate son of the fashionable
Captain Patch.

"Very well," this admirable man resumed, "you are aware that
Hannah looked very coldly upon me, and spoke of me always as 'that
child of sin,' until I was enabled to marry you, my dear, through
your disinterested affection, which is my choicest treasure.
Having won that, and another more lucrative (but less delightful)
partnership, I became to sweet Hannah the child of love, and was
immediately allowed the privilege of doing all her legal business
gratis.  You have often grumbled at that, but I had some knowledge
of what I was about, my dear, and I soon obtained that due
influence over her which all women ought to have some man to
wield.  Setting aside her present use, Hannah Patch has £200 a
year of her own, which might be much better invested, and shall
be, as soon as it comes to us; but it would not do to have her too
set up herself."

"Oh Luke, what a large-minded dear you are!" whispered Mrs. Sharp,
with much enthusiasm; "I do believe nothing escapes you, and
nothing that gets into your hand ever does get out again!"

"Well, I am pretty well for that," he answered, looking at his
large, strong palm; "I began with my hands pretty empty, God
knows, and only my own brain to fill them.  But perseverance,
integrity, and readiness to oblige, have brought me on; and above
all things, Miranda, the grace that I found in your kind eyes."

The kind and still pretty eyes looked prettier, and almost young,
with the gleam of tears; while the owner of all this integrity
proved that it had stood him in good stead, by drawing from his
pocket, and spreading on his head, a handkerchief which had cost
him yesterday fourteen and sixpence, in Holborn, ready hemmed.

"Yes," he continued with a very honest smile; "you see me as I am,
my dear; and there are many poor people in the world worse off.
Still it would never do for me to stop.  One must be either
backward or forward, always; and I prefer to be forward.  And I
hope to make a great step now.  But there must be no hesitation.
Well, to go on with my story, I saw how useful Miss Patch might be
to us.  She has strong religious views, which always make it so
easy to guide any one aright, by giving the proper turn to things.
Pugnacious dread of Popery, and valiant terror of the Jesuits, are
the leading-strings of her poor old mind.  I got firm hold of both
of these, and being trustee of her money also, I found her quite
ready to do good deeds.

"I allowed her to perceive that if things went on, without our
interference, Grace Oglander would be married, and her enormous
fortune sacrificed, to a man whose bosom friend is a Jesuit, a
fierce wolf in sheep's clothing--an uncommonly clever fellow by
the bye--a very young tutor of Brasenose.  She had heard of him;
for his name is well known among the leaders of this new sect, who
call themselves Anglo-Catholics, and will end by being Roman
Catholics.  Of these good men (according to their lights) Hannah
Patch has even deeper terror than of downright Jesuits.  Naturally
such stuff matters not to me; except when I can work it."

"Hannah Patch also had a special grudge against old Squire
Oglander, a man very well in his way, and very honest, who thinks
a great deal of his own opinions, and is fit to be his own
grandfather.  He had no love at all for the Patch connection--the
patch on the family, as he called it--and the marriage of his
stepmother with Captain Patch, and the Captain's patronising air
towards him--in a word, Miranda, he hated them all.

"However, when Hannah was in trouble once or twice, and without a
roof to shelter her--before she got her present bit of cash--old
Oglander had her down, and was very good, and tried to like her.
He put his child under her care to learn 'theology,' as she called
it, and he paid her well for teaching her the Psalms, and the
other denunciations.  They went away together to some very lonely
place; while the Squire was a week or two away from home.  And now
it occurred to me that this experience might be repeated, and
prolonged if needful.  Oglander had been nervous, as I knew, and
as his daughter also knew, about some form of black fever or
something, which had been killing some gipsy people, and was
likely to come into the villages.  I made use of this fact, with
Hannah Patch to help me, and quietly took my young heiress off to
a snug little home in the thick of the woods, where I should be
sorry to reside myself.  She was under the holy wing of Miss
Patch; and there she abides to this present day; and I feed them
very well, I assure you.  They cost me four pound ten a week; for
the evangelical Hannah believes it to be the clearest 'mark of the
beast' to eat meat less than twice a day; and Leviticus Cripps,
who supplies all the victuals, is making a fortune out of me.  No
bigger rogue ever lived than that fellow.  He is under my thumb so
entirely that if I told him to roll in the mud he would roll.  And
yet with all his awe of me, he cannot forbear from cheating me.
He has found out a manner of dipping his pork so that he turns it
into beef or mutton, according to the orders from the cottage; and
he charges me butcher's price for it, and cartage for six miles
and a half, and a penny a pound for trimming off the flanks!"

"My dear!" said Mrs. Sharp, "it is impossible!  He never could
deceive a woman so, however devoted her mind might be.  The grain
of the meat is quite different, and the formation of the bones not
at all alike; and directly it began to roast--"

"Well, never mind, Miranda, there they are quite reconciled to the
situation; except that Hannah Patch is always hankering after 'the
means of grace,' and the young girl mooning about her sweet old
parent and beloved Beckley.  Sometimes there are very fine scenes
between them; but upon the whole they get on well together, and
appreciate one another's virtues.  And I heartily trust that the
merits of our Kit have made their impression on a sensitive young
heart.  They took to one another quite kindly in the romance of
the situation, when I brought their sweet innocence into contact
by a very simple stratagem.  The dear young creatures have
believed themselves to be outwitting everybody; the very thing I
laboured for them both to do.  All's well that ends well--don't
you think, Miranda?"

"I am so entirely lost--I mean I am so unable to think it all out,
without more time being given me," Mrs. Sharp answered, while she
passed her hand across her unwrinkled forehead, and into her
generally consulted curl, "that really, Luke, for the moment I can
only admire your audacity.  But I think, dear, that in a matter of
this kind--an especially feminine province, I may say--you might
have done me the honour of consulting me."

"Miranda, it was not to be thought of.  Your health and well-being
are the dearest objects of my life.  I will only ask, could you
have borne the suspense, and the worry, and anxiety of the last
four months; above all, the necessity for silence?"

"Yes, Luke, I could have been very silent; but I cannot abide
anxiety.  You call me a dear fat soul sometimes, and your judgment
is always correct, my dear.  At the same time, I have little views
of my own, and sensible ways of regarding things.  You would like
to hear my opinion, Luke, and to answer me one or two questions?"

"Certainly, Miranda; beyond all doubt.  For what other purpose do
I tell you all?  Now, let me have a nap for five minutes, my dear,
while you ponder this subject and arrange your questions."

He threw his smart handkerchief over his head, stretched out his
feet, and took a nice little doze.



CHAPTER XLV

THE POSITION


"Among my relations," said Mrs. Sharp, reclining, for fear of
asserting herself, as soon as her lord looked up again.  "I have
always been thought to possess a certain amount of stupid common
sense.  Nothing of depth, or grand stratagems, I mean, but a way
of being right nearly nine times out of ten.  And I think that
this feeling is coming over me, just now."

"My dear, if it is so, do relieve yourself.  Do not consider my
ideas for a moment, but let me know what your own are."

"Luke, how you love to ridicule me!  Well, if my opinion is of no
account, I can only ask questions, as you tell me.  In the first
place, how did you get the girl away?"

"Most easily; under her father's orders.  Hannah can write the old
gentleman's hand to any extent, and his style as well.  For the
glory of the Lord she did so."

"And how did you bring her to do such shocking things?  She must
have had a strong idea that they were not honest."

"Far otherwise.  She took an enthusiastic view of the matter from
the very first I made it quite clear to her how much there was at
stake; and the hardest job for a long time was to prevent her from
being too zealous.  She scorns to take anything for herself,
unless it can be put religiously.  And for a long time I was quite
afraid that I could not get a metal band on her.  But she found
out, before it was quite too late, that the mission of the
"Brotherly-love-abounders," upon the west coast of Africa, had had
all their missionaries eaten up, and required a round sum to
replace them.  I promised her £5000 for that, when her own mission
ends in glory."

"Then you are quite certain to have her tight.  I might trust you
for every precaution, Luke.  But how have you managed to keep them
so quiet, while the neighbourhood was alive with it?  And in what
corner of the world have you got them?  And who was the poor girl
that really did die?"

"One question at a time, if you please, Miranda, though they all
hang pretty much upon one hook.  I have kept them so quiet,
because they are in a corner of a world where no one goes; in a
lonely cottage at the furthest extremity of the old Stow Wood,
where their nearest road is a timber-track three-quarters of a
mile away.  They are waited on by a deaf old woman, who believes
them to be Americans, which accounts to her mind for any oddness.
Their washing is done at home, and all their food is procured
through Cripps the swine-herd, whose forest farm lies well away,
so that none of his children go to them.  Cripps is indebted to
me, and I hold a mortgage of every rod of his land, and a bill of
sale of his furniture and stock.  He dare not play traitor and
claim the reward, or I should throw him into prison for forgery,
upon a little transaction of some time back.  Moreover, he has no
motive; for I have promised him the same sum, and his bill of sale
cancelled, when the wedding is happily celebrated.  Meanwhile he
is making fine pickings out of me, and he caters at a profit of
cent. per cent.  There is nobody else who knows anything about it,
except a pair of gipsy fellows, too wide awake to come near the
law for any amount of guineas.  One of them is old Kershoe, the
celebrated horse-stealer, whom I employed to drive and horse the
needful vehicle from London.  He knew where to get his horses
without any postmaster being the wiser, and his vehicle was a very
tidy carriage, bought by the gipsies for a dwelling-place, and
furbished up so that the chaises of the age are not to be compared
with it.  The inquiries made at all livery-stables, and posting-
houses, and so on, by order of Overshute and the good Squire, and
some of them through my own agency, have afforded me genial
pleasure and some little share of profit."

"Really, my dear," said Mrs. Sharp; "you were scarcely right in
charging for them.  You should have remembered that you knew all
about it."

"That was exactly what I did, my dear; and I felt how expensive
that knowledge was.  As a little set-off against the pig-master's
bills, I made heavy entries against the good Squire.  The fault is
his own.  He should not have driven me into costly proceedings by
that lowest of all things the arrogance of birth.  Well, the other
gipsy man is no other than Joe Smith, who jumped the broomstick
with the lovely Princess Cinnaminta.  You must have heard of her,
Miranda.  Half the ladies in Oxford were most bitterly jealous of
her, some years back."

"I am sure then that I never was, Mr. Sharp!--a poor creature
sitting under sacks, and doing juggling!"

"Nothing of the kind.  You never saw her.  She is a woman of
superior mind and most refined appearance.  Indeed, her eyes are
such as never--"

"Oh, that is where you have been, Luke, is it, while we have been
here for a fortnight, trembling--"

"Nonsense, Miranda; don't be so absurd.  The poor thing has just
lost her only child, and I believe she will go mad with it.  It
was her pretty sister, young Khebyra, who died of collapse, and
was buried the same night.  This case was most extraordinary.  The
fever struck her, without any illness, just as the plague and the
cholera have done, with a headlong, concentrated leap; as a
thunderstorm gathers itself sometimes into one blue ball of
lightning.  She was laughing at ten o'clock, and her poor young
jaw tied up at noon; and a great panic burst among them."

"Luke!" exclaimed Mrs. Sharp, strongly shuddering; "you never mean
to say that you came home to me, from being among such people,
without a change of clothes, or anything!"

"How could I come home without anything, my dear?  But I was not
'among' them at all that day, nor at any other period.  I never go
to work in that coarse sort of way.  Familiarity begets contempt.
However, I was soon informed of this most sad occurrence; and for
a while it quite upset me, coming as it did at such a very busy
time.  However, when I had time to dwell more calmly on the
subject, I began to see a chance of turning this keen blow to my
benefit.

"The gipsy camp was broken up with fatalistic terror--the most
abject of all terrors; as the courage of the fatalist is the
fiercest of all courage.  They carried off their Royal stock, the
heiress of the gipsy throne--as soon as some fine thief is hanged--
quite as the bees are said to carry off their queen, when a
hornet comes.  Poor Cinnaminta was caught away just when I might
have made her useful; and only two men were left to attend to the
burial of her sister.  Of these, my friend Joseph Smith was one,
as he ought to be, being Cinnaminta's spouse.

"It was a very active time for me, I assure you, Miranda dear.
The complication was almost too much to be settled in so short a
time.  And some of my hair, which had been quite strong, was lying
quite flat in the morning.  Perhaps you remember telling me."

"Yes, that I do, Luke!  I could not make it out.  Your hair had
always stood so well; and a far better colour than the young men
have got!  And you told me that it was gone like that from taking
Cockle's antibilious pills!"

"Miranda, I have never deceived you.  I did take a couple, and
they helped me on.  But, without attributing too much to them, I
did make a lucky turn of it.  Their manner of sepulture is brief
and wise; or, at any rate, that of this tribe is; though they
differ, I believe, very widely.  These wait till they are sure
that the sun has set, and then they begin to excavate.  I was able
to suggest that, in this great hurry and scattering of the tribes
of Israel, the wisest plan would be to adopt and adapt a very
quiet corner already hollowed, and indicated by name (which is so
much more abiding than substance) as a legendary gipsy Aceldama.
The idea was caught at, as it well deserved to be, in the panic,
and lack of time, and terror of the poor dead body.  The poor
thing was buried there with very hasty movements, her sister and
the rest being hurried away; and it is quite remarkable how this
(the merest episode) has, by the turn of events, assumed a primary
importance.

"Foresight, and insight, and second-sight almost, would be
attributed to me by any one who did not know the facts.  Scarcely
anybody would believe, as this thing worked in my favour so much,
that I can scarcely claim the invention, any more than I can take
any credit for the weather.  Indeed, I may say, without the
smallest presumption or profanity, that something higher than mere
fortune has favoured my plans from the very first.  I had provided
for at least one whole day's start, before any alarm should be
given; but the weather secured me, I may say, six weeks, before
anything could be done in earnest.  And then the discovery of that
body, by a girl who was frightened into fits almost, and its tardy
disinterment, and the universal conclusion about it, which I
perhaps helped in some measure to shape, also the illness with
which it pleased Providence to visit Messrs. Oglander and
Overshute--I really feel that I have the deepest cause to be
grateful, and I trust that I am so."

"Certainly, my dear, your cause is just," said Mrs. Sharp, as her
husband showed some symptoms of dropping off to sleep again; "but
in carrying it out you have inflicted pain and sad, sad anxiety on
a poor old man.  Can he ever forgive you, or make it up?"

"I should hope for his own sake," replied the lawyer, "that he
will cast away narrow-mindedness; otherwise we shall not permit
him to rush into the embraces of his daughter.  But if he proves
relentless, it matters little, except for the opinion of the
world.  He cannot touch 'Port-wine's' property at all; and he may
do what he likes with his own little wealth.  His outside value is
some £40,000.  However, if I understand him aright, we shall
manage to secure his money too, tied up, I dare say--but what
matters that?  He is a most fond papa, and his joy will soon wash
away all evil thoughts."

"How delightful it will be!" cried the lady, with a sigh, "to
restore his long-lost child to him.  Still it will be a most
delicate task.  You must leave all that to me, Luke."

"With pleasure, my dear Miranda; your kind heart quite adapts you
for such a melting scene.  And, indeed, I would rather be out of
the way.  But I want your help for more than that."

"You shall have it, Luke, with all my heart and soul!  It is too
late now to draw back; though, if you had asked my advice, I would
have tried to stop you.  But just one question more--how did you
get rid of John Smith and his inquiries?  They say that he is such
a very shrewd man."

"Do you not know, will nobody ever know, the difference between
small, uneducated cunning and the clear intelligence of a
practised mind?  To suppose that John Smith would ever give me any
trouble!  He has been most useful.  I directed his inquiries; and
exhausted the inquisitive spirit through him."

"But you did not let him know--"

"Miranda, now, I shall go to bed, if I am so very fast asleep.
Can no woman ever dream of large utility?  I have had no better
friend, throughout this long anxiety, than John Smith.  And
without the expenditure of one farthing, I have guided him into
the course that he should take.  When he hears of anything, the
first thing he asks is--'Now, what would Lawyer Sharp be inclined
to think of this?'  Perhaps I have taken more trouble than was
needful.  But, at any rate, it would be disgraceful indeed if John
Smith could cause me uneasiness.  The only man I have ever had the
smallest fear of has been Russel Overshute.  Not that the young
fellow is at all acute; but that he cannot be by any means imbued
with the proper respect for my character."

"How very shocking of him, my dear Luke, when your character has
been so many years established!"

"Miranda, it is indeed shocking!--but what can be expected of a
Radical?  Ever since that villainous Reform Bill passed, the
spirit of true reverence is destroyed.  But he must have some
respect for me, as soon as he knows all.  Although, to confess the
pure truth, my dear, things have worked in my favour so, that I
scarcely deserve any credit at all, except for the original
conception.  That, however, was a brave one."

"It was, indeed; and I am scarcely brave enough to be comfortable.
There is never any knowing how the world may take things.  It is
true that old Fermitage was not your client, and you had been very
badly treated, and had a right to make the most of any knowledge
obtained by accident.  But old Mr. Oglander is your client, and
has trusted you even in the present matter.  I do not think that
my father would have considered it quite professional to behave
so."

Mrs. Luke Sharp was alarmed at her own boldness in making such a
speech as this.  She dropped her eyes under her husband's gaze;
but he took her remarks quite calmly.

"My dear, we will talk of that another time.  The fact that I do a
thing--after all my experience--should prove it to be not
unprofessional.  At the present moment, I want to go to bed; and
if you are anxious to begin hair-splitting, bed is my immediate
refuge.  But if you wish to know about the future of your son, you
must listen, and not try to reason."

"I did not mean to vex you, Luke.  I might have been certain that
you knew best.  And you always have so many things behind, that
Solomon himself could never judge you.  Tell me all about my
darling Kit, and I will not even dare to cough or breathe."

"My dear, it would grieve me to hear you cough, and break my heart
if you did not breathe.  But I fear that your Kit is unworthy of
your sighs.  He has lost his young heart beyond redemption,
without having the manners to tell his mother!"

"They all do it, Luke; of course they do.  It is no good to find
fault with them.  I have been expecting that sort of thing so
long.  And when he went to Spiers for the melanochaitotrophe, with
the yellow stopper to it, I knew as well as possible what he was
about.  I knew that his precious young heart must be gone; for it
cost him seven and sixpence!"

"Yes, my dear; and it went the right way, in the very line I had
laid for it.  I will tell you another time how I managed that,
with Hannah Patch, of course, to help me.  The poor boy was
conquered at first sight; for the weather was cold, with snow
still in the ditches, and I gave him sixpenny-worth of brandy-
balls.  So Kit went shooting, and got shot, according to my
arrangement.  Ever since that, the great job has been to temper
and guide his rampant energies."

"And of course he knows nothing--oh no, he would be so very
unworthy, if he did!  Oh, do say that he knows nothing, Luke!"

"My dear, I can give you that pleasing assurance; although it is a
puzzling one to me.  Christopher Fermitage Sharp knows not Grace
Oglander from the young woman in the moon.  He believes her to
have sailed from a new and better world.  Undoubtedly he is my
son, Miranda; yet where did he get his thick-headedness?"

"Mr. Sharp!"

"Miranda, make allowance for me.  Such things are truly puzzling.
However, you perceive the situation.  Here is a very fine young
fellow--in his mother's opinion and his own--desperately smitten
with a girl unknown, and romantically situated in a wood.  There
is reason to believe that this young lady is not insensible to his
merits; he looks very nice in his sporting costume, he has no one
to compete with him, he is her only bit of life for the day, he
leaves her now and then a romantic rabbit, and he rescues her from
a ruffian.  But here the true difficulty begins.  We cannot well
unite them in the holy bonds, without a clear knowledge on the
part of either of the true patronymic of the other.  The heroine
knows that the hero rejoices in the good and useful name of
'Sharp'; but he knows not that his lady-love is one Grace Oglander
of Beckley Barton.

"Here, again, you perceive a fine stroke of justice.  If Squire
Oglander had only extended his hospitalities to us, Christopher
must have known Grace quite well, and I could not have brought
them together so.  At present he believes her to be a Miss
Holland, from the United States of America; and as she has
promised Miss Patch not to speak of her own affairs to anybody
(according to her father's wish, in one of the Demerara letters),
that idea of his might still continue; although she has begun to
ask him questions, which are not at all convenient.  But things
must be brought to a point as soon as possible.  Having the
advantage of directing the inquiries, or at any rate being
consulted about them, I see no great element of danger yet; and of
course I launched all the first expeditions in every direction but
the right one.  That setting up of the tombstone by poor old Joan
was a very heavy blow to the inquisitive."

"But, my dear, that did not make the poor girl dead a bit more
than she was dead before."

"Miranda, you do not understand the world.  The evidence of a
tombstone is the strongest there can be, and beats that of fifty
living witnesses.  I won a most difficult case for our firm when I
was an ardent youth, and the victory enabled me to aspire to your
hand, by taking a mallet and a chisel, and a little nitric acid,
and converting a 'Francis,' by moonlight, into a 'Frances.'  I
kept the matter to myself, of course; for your good father was a
squeamish hand.  But you have heard me speak of it."

"Yes, but I thought it so wrong, my dear, even though, as you
said, truth required it."

"Truth did require it.  The old stonemason had not known how to
spell the word.  I corrected his heterography; and we confounded
the tricks of the evil ones.  All is fair in love and law,
so long as violence is done to neither.  And now I wish Kit's
unsophisticated mind to be led to the perception of that great
truth.  It is needful for him to be delicately admitted to a
knowledge of my intentions.  There is nobody who can do this as
you can.  He takes rather clumsy and obstinate views of things he
is too young to understand.  The main point of all, with a mind
like his, is to dwell upon the justice of our case and the depth
of our affection, which has led to such a sacrifice of the common
conventional view of things."

"My dear, but I have had nothing to do with it.  Conception, plan,
and execution are all your own, and no other person's.  Why, I had
not even dreamed--"

"Still, you must put it to him, Miranda, as if it was your doing
more than mine.  He has more faith in your--well, what shall I
call it?  I would not for a moment wrong him by supposing that he
doubts his own father's integrity--in your practical judgment, let
us say, and perception of the nicest principles.  It is absolutely
necessary that you should appear to have acted throughout in close
unison with me.  In fact, it would be better to let the boy
perceive that the whole idea from the very first was yours; as in
simple fact it must have been, if circumstances had permitted me
to tell you all that I desired.  To any idea of yours he takes
more kindly perhaps than to those which are mine.  This is not
quite correct, some would say; but I am above jealousy.  I always
desire that he should love his mother, and make a pattern of her.
His poor father gets knocked about here and there, and cannot halt
to keep himself rigidly upright, though it always is his ambition.
But women are so different, and so much better.  Even Kit
perceives that truth.  Let him know, my darling, that your peace
of mind is entirely staked upon his following out the plan which
you mean to propose to him."

"But, my dear Luke, I have not the least notion of any plan of any
sort."

"Never mind, Miranda; make him promise.  I will tell you all about
it afterwards.  It is better not to let him know too much.
Knowledge should come in small doses always, otherwise it puffs up
young people.  Alas! now I feel that I am not as I was!  Twenty
years ago I could have sat up all night talking, and not shown a
sign of it next day.  I have not had any sleep for the last twelve
nights.  Do you see any rays in my eyes, dear wife?  They are sure
indications of heart disease.  When I am tired they always come."

"Oh, Luke, Luke, you will break my heart!  You shall not say
another word.  Have some more negus--I insist upon it!  It is no
good to put your hand over the glass--and then come to bed
immediately.  You are working too hard for your family, my pet."



CHAPTER XLVI

IN THE MESHES


Now being newly inspired by that warm theologian--as Miss Patch
really believed him to be--Luke Sharp, the lady felt capable of a
bold stroke, which her conscience had seemed to cry out against,
till loftier thoughts enlarged it.  She delivered to her dear
niece a letter, written in pale ink and upon strange paper, which
she drew from a thicker one addressed to herself, and received
"through their butcher" from a post-office.  Wondering who their
butcher was, but delighted to get her dear father's letter, Grace
ran away to devour it.

It was dated from George-town, English Guayana, and though full of
affection, showed touching traces of delicate health and
despondency.  The poor girl wiped her eyes at her father's tender
longing to see her once more, and his earnest prayers for every
blessing upon their invaluable friend, Miss Patch.  Then he spoke
of himself in a manner which made it impossible for her to keep
her eyes wiped, so deep was his sadness, and yet so heroically did
he attempt to conceal it from her; and then came a few lines,
which surprised her greatly.  He said that a little bird had told
him that during her strict retirement from the world in accordance
with his wishes, she had learned to esteem a most worthy young
man, for whom he had always felt warm regard, and, he might even
say, affection.  He doubted whether, at his own time of life, and
with this strange languor creeping over him, he could ever bear
the voyage to England, unless his little darling would come over
to fetch him, or at least to behold him once more alive; and if
she would do so, she must indeed be quick.  He need not say that
to dream of her travelling so far all alone was impossible; but
if, for the sake of her father, she could dispense with some old
formalities, and speedily carry out their mutual choice, he might
with his whole heart appeal to her husband to bring her out by the
next packet.

He said little more, except that he had learned by the bitter
teaching of adversity who were his true friends, and who were
false.  No one had shown any truth and reality except Mr. Sharp of
Oxford; but he never could have dreamed, till it came to the test,
that even the lowest of the low would treat him as young Mr.
Overshute had done.  That subject was too painful, so he ended
with another adjuration to his daughter.

"Aunty, I have had the most extraordinary letter," cried Grace,
coming in with her eyes quite dreadful; "it astonishes me beyond
everything.  May I see the postmark of yours which it came in?  I
shall think I am dreaming till I see the postmark."

"The stamp of the office, do you mean, my dear?  Oh yes, you are
welcome to see, Grace.  Here it is, 'Georgetown, Demerara.'  The
date is not quite clear without my spectacles.  Those foreign dies
are always cut so badly."

"Never mind the date, aunt.  I have the date inside, in my dear
father's writing.  But I am quite astonished how my father can
have heard--"

"Something about you, sly little puss!  You need not blush so, for
I long have guessed it."

"But indeed it is not true--indeed it is not.  I may have been
amused, but I never, never--and oh, what he says then of somebody
else--such a thing I should have thought impossible!  How can one
have any faith in any one?"

"My dear child, what you mean is this:  How can one have any faith
in worldly and ungodly people?  With their mouths they speak
deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips--"

"Oh no, he never was ungodly; to see him walk would show you that;
and if being good to the poor sick people, and dashing into the
middle of the whooping-cough--"

"How am I to know of whom you speak?  You appear to have acted in
a very forward way with some one your father disapproves of."

"I assure you, I never did anything of the kind.  It is not at all
my manner.  I thought you considered it wrong to make unfounded
accusations."

"Grace, what a most un-Christian temper you still continue to
display at times!  Your cheeks are quite red, and your eyes
excited, in a way very sad to witness.  The trouble I have taken
is beyond all knowledge.  If you do not value it, your father
does."

"Aunty Patch, may I see exactly what my daddy says to you?  I will
show you mine if you will show me yours."

"My dear, you seem to forget continually.  You treat me as if I
were of your own age, and had never been through the very first
alarm which comes for our salvation.  It has not come to you, or
you could not be so frivolous and worldly as you are.  When first
it rang, even for myself--"

"How many times does it ring, Aunt?  I mean for every individual
sinner, as you always call us."

"My dear, it rings three times, as has been proved by the most
inspired of all modern preachers, the Rev. Wm. Romaine, while
amplifying the blessed words of the pious Joseph Alleine.  He
begins his discourse upon it thus--"

"Aunty, you have told me that so many times that I could go up
into his desk and do it.  It is all so very good and superior; but
there are times when it will not come.  You, or at any rate I, for
certain, may go down on our knees and pray, and nothing ever comes
of it.  I have been at it every night and morning, really quite
letting go whatever I was thinking of--and what is there to come
of it, except this letter?  And it doesn't sound as if my father
ever wrote a word of it."

"Grace, what do you mean, if you please?"

"I mean what I do not please.  I mean that I have been here at
least five months, as long as any fifty, and have put up with the
miserablest things--now, never mind about my English, if you
please, it is quite good enough for such a place as this--and have
done my very best to put up with you, who are enough to take fifty
people's lives away, with perpetual propriety--and have hoped and
hoped, and prayed and prayed, till my knees are not fit to be
looked at--and now, after all, what has come of it?  That I am to
marry a boy with a red cord down his legs, and a crystal in his
whip, and a pretty face that seems to come from his mamma's watch-
pocket, and a very nice and gentle way of looking at a lady, as if
he were quite capable, if he had the opportunity, of saying 'bo'
to any goose on the other side of the river!"

"My dear, do you prefer bold ruffians, then, like the vagabond you
were rescued from?"

"I don't know at all what I do prefer, Aunt Patch, unless it is
just to be left to myself, and have nothing to say to any one."

"Why, Grace, that is the very thing you complained of in your
sinful and ungrateful speech, just now!  But do not disturb me
with any more temper.  I must take the opportunity, before the
mail goes out, to tell your poor sick father how you have received
his letter."

"Oh no, if you please not.  You are quite mistaken, if you think
that I thought of myself first.  My dear father knows that I never
would do that; and it would be quite vain to tell him so.  Oh, my
darling, darling father!--where are you now, and whatever are you
doing?"

"Grace, you are becoming outrageous quite.  You know quite well
where your father is; and as to what he is doing, you know from
his own letter that he is lying ill, and longing for you to attend
upon him.  And this is the way that you qualify yourself!"

"Somehow or other now--I do not mean to be wicked, aunt--but I
don't think my father ever wrote that letter--I mean, at any rate,
of his own free will.  Somebody must have stood over him--I feel
as if I really saw them--and made him say this, and that, and
things that he never used to think of saying.  Why, he never would
have dreamed, when he was well, of telling me I was to marry
anybody.  He was so jealous of me, he could hardly bear any
gentleman to dare to smile; and he used to make me promise to
begin to let him know, five years before I thought of any one.
And now for him to tell me to marry in a week--just as if he was
putting down a silver-side to salt--and to marry a boy that he
scarcely ever heard of, and never even introduced to me--he must
have been, he cannot but have been, either wonderfully affected by
the climate, or shackled down in a slave-driver's dungeon, until
he had no idea what he was about."

"Have you finished, Grace, now?  Is your violence over?"

"No; I have no violence; and it is not half over.  But still, if
you wish to say anything, I will do all I can to listen to it."

"You are most obliging.  One would really think that I were
seventeen, and you nearly seventy."

"Aunt Patch, you know that I am as good as nineteen; and instead
of being seventy you are scarcely fifty-five."

"Grace, your memory is better about ages than about what you do
not wish to hear of.  And you do not wish to hear, with the common
selfishness of the period, of the duty which is the most sacred of
all, and at the same time the noblest privilege--the duty of self-
sacrifice.  What are your own little inclinations, petty conceits,
and miserable jokes--jokes that are ever at deadly enmity with all
deep religion--ah, what are they--you selfish and frivolous girl!--
when set in the balance with a parent's life--and a parent whose
life would have been in no danger but for his perfect devotion to
you?"

"Aunt Patch, I never heard you speak of my father at all in that
sort of way before.  You generally talk of him as it he were
careless, and worldly, and heterodox, most frivolous, and quite
unregenerate.  And now quite suddenly you find out all his value.
What do you want me to do so much, Aunt Patch?"

"Don't look at me like that, child; you quite insult me.  As if it
could matter to me what you do--except for your own eternal
welfare.  If you think it the right thing to let your father die
in a savage land, calling vainly for you, and buried among land-
crabs without a drop of water--that is a matter for you hereafter
to render your own account of.  You have tired me, Grace.  I am
not so young as you are; and I have more feeling.  I must lie down
a little; you have so upset me.  When you have recovered your
proper frame of mind, perhaps you will kindly see that Margery has
washed out the little brown teapot."

"To be sure, aunty, I am up to all her tricks.  And I will just
toast you a water-biscuit, and put a morsel of salt butter on it,
scarcely so large as a little French bean.  Go to sleep, aunty,
for about an hour.  I am getting into a very proper frame of mind;
I can never stay very long out of it.  May I go into the wood,
just to think a little of my darling father's letter?"

"Yes, Grace; but not for more than half an hour, on condition that
you speak to no one.  You have made my head ache sadly.  Leave
your father's letter here."

"Oh no, if you please, let me take it with me.  How can I think
without it?"

Miss Patch was so sleepy that she said, "Very well; let me see it
again when you have made the tea."  Whereupon Grace, having beaten
up the cushion of the good lady's only luxury, and laid her down
softly, and kissed her forehead (for fear of having made it ache),
stole her own chance for a little quiet thought, in a shelter of
the woods more soft than thought.  For the summer was coming with
a stride of light; and bashful corners, full of lateness, tried to
ease it off with moss.

In a nook of this kind, far from any path, and tenderly withdrawn
into its own green rest, the lonely and bewildered girl stopped
suddenly, and began to think.  She drew forth the letter which had
grieved her so; and she wondered that it had not grieved her more.
It was not yet clear to her young frank mind that suspicion, like
a mole, was at work in it.  To get her thoughts better, and to
feel some goodness, she sat upon a peaceful turret of new spear-
grass, and spread her letter open, and began to cry.  She knew
that this was not at all the proper way to take things; and yet if
any one had come, and preached to her, and proved it all, she
could have made no other answer than to cry the more for it.

The beautiful light of the glancing day turned corners, and came
round to her; the lovable joy of the many, many things which there
is no time to notice, spread itself silently upon the air, or told
itself only in fragrance; and the glossy young blades of grass
stood up, and complacently measured their shadows.

Here lay Grace for a long sad hour, taking no heed of the things
around her, however much they heeded her.  The white windflower
with its drooping bells, and the bluebell, and the harebell, and
the pasque-flower--softest of all soft tints--likewise the
delicate stitchwort, and the breath of the lingering primrose, and
the white violet that outvies its sister (that sweet usurper of
the coloured name) in fragrance and in purity; and hiding for its
life, without any one to seek, the sensitive wood-sorrel; and, in
and out, and behind them all, the cups, and the sceptres, and the
balls of moss, and the shells and the combs of lichen--in the
middle of  the whole, this foolish maid had not one thought to
throw to them.  She ought to have sighed at their power of coming
one after another for ever, whereas her own life was but a morning
dew; but she failed to make any such reflection.

What she was thinking of she never could have told; except that
she had a long letter on her lap, and could not bring her mind to
it.  And here in the hollow, when the warmth came round, of the
evening fringed with cloudlets, she was fairer than any of the
buds or flowers, and ever so much larger.  But she could not be
allowed to bloom like them.

"Oh, I beg pardon," cried an unseen stranger in a very clear, keen
voice; "I fear I am intruding in some private grounds.  I was
making a short cut, which generally is a long one.  If you will
just show me how to get out again, I will get out with all speed,
and thank you."

Grace looked around with surprise but no fear.  She knew that the
voice was a gentleman's; but until she got up, and looked up the
little hollow, she could not see any one.  "Please not to be
frightened," said the gentleman again; "I deserve to be punished,
perhaps, but not to that extent.  I fancied that I knew every
copse in the county.  I have proved, and must suffer for, my
ignorance."

As he spoke he came forward on a little turfy ledge, about thirty
feet above her; and she saw that he looked at her with great
surprise.  She felt that she had been crying very sadly, and this
might have made her eyes look strange.  Quite as if by accident,
she let her hair drop forward, for she could not bear to be so
observed; and at that very moment there flowed a gleam of sunshine
through it.  She was the very painting of the picture in her
father's room.

"Saints in heaven!" cried Hardenow, who never went further than
this in amazement, "I have found Grace Oglander!  Stop, if you
please--I beseech you, stop!"

But Grace was so frightened, and so pledge-bound, that no
adjuration stopped her.  If Hardenow had only been less eager,
there and then he might have made his bow, and introduced himself.
But Gracie thought of the rabbit-man, and her promise, and her
loneliness, and without looking back, she was round the corner,
and not a ribbon left to trace her by.  And now again if Hardenow
had only been less eager, he might have caught the fair fugitive
by following in her footsteps.  But for such a simple course as
that he was much too clever.  Instead of running down at once to
the spot where she had vanished, and thence giving chase, he must
needs try a cross cut to intercept her.  There were trees and
bushes in the way, it was true, but he would very soon get through
them; and to meet her face to face would be more dignified than to
run after her.

So he made a beautifully correct cast as to the line she must have
taken, and aiming well ahead of her, leaped the crest of the
hollow and set off down the hill apace.  But here he was suddenly
checked by meeting a dense row of hollies, which he had not seen
by reason of the brushwood.  In a dauntless manner he dashed in
among them, scratching his face and hands, and losing a fine large
piece of black kerseymere from the skirt of his coat, and
suffering many other lesser damages.  But what was far worse, he
lost Grace also; for out of that holly grove he could not get for
a long, long time; and even then he found himself on the wrong
side--the one where he had entered.

If good Anglo-Catholics ever did swear, the Rev. Thomas Hardenow
must now have sworn, for his plight was of that kind which
engenders wrath in the patient, and pleasantry on the part of the
spectator.  His face suggested recent duello with a cat, his white
tie was tattered and hanging down his back, his typical coat was a
mere postilion's jacket, and the condition of his gaiters afforded
to the sceptic the clearest proof of the sad effects of perpetual
self-denial.  His hat, with the instinct of self-preservation, had
rolled out from the thicket when he first rushed in; and now he
picked up this wiser portion of his head, and was thankful to have
something left.

Chances were against him; but what is chance?  He had an
exceedingly strong will of his own, and having had the worst of
this matter so far, he was doubly resolved to go through with it.
Without a second thought about his present guise or aspect, he ran
back to the spot which he had left so unadvisedly.  There he did
what he ought to have done ten minutes or a quarter of an hour
ago, he ran down the slope to the nest in the nook which had been
occupied by Grace.  Then he took to the track which she had taken;
but she had been much too quick for him; she had even snatched up
her letter, so that he was none the wiser.  He came to a spot
where the narrow and thickly woven trackway broke into two; and
whether of the two to choose was more than a moment's doubt to
him.  Then he seemed to see some glint of footsteps, and sweep of
soft sprays by a dress towards the right; and making a dash
through a dark hole towards it, was straightway enveloped in a
doubled rabbit-net, cast over his surviving hat.

"Hold un tight, Jarge, now thou'st got un!" cried out somebody
whom he could not see, "poachin' son of a gun, us'll poach un!"

"Poaching--my good friends," cried Hardenow, trying to lift his
arms and turn his head round, all vainly; "you can scarcely know
the meaning of that word, or you never would think of applying it
to me.  Let me see you, that I may explain.  I have been
trespassing, I am afraid; but by the purest accident--allow me to
turn round, and reason quietly; I have the greatest objection to
violence; I never use, nor allow it to be used.  If you are honest
gamekeepers, exceeding your duty through earnest zeal, I would be
the last to find fault with you; want of earnestness is the great
fault of this age.  But you must not allow yourselves to be misled
by some little recent mischances to my clothes.  Such things
befall almost everybody exploring unknown places.  You are pulling
me! you are exceeding your duty!  Is the bucolic mind so dense?
Here I am at your mercy--just show yourselves.  You may choke me
if you like, but the result will be--oh!--that you will also be
choked yourselves!"

"A rare fine-plucked one as ever I see," said rabbiting George to
Leviticus Cripps, when Hardenow lay between them, senseless from
the pressure upon his throat; "ease him off a bit, my lad, he
never done no harm to me.  They long-coated parsons is good old
women, and he be cut up into a young gal now.  Lay hold on the
poor devil, right end foremost, zoon as I have stopped uns
praching.  Did ever you see such a guy out of a barrow?"

Heavy-witted Tickuss made no answer, but laid hold of the captive
by his shoulders, so that himself might be still unseen, if
consciousness should return too soon.  Black George tucked the
feet under his arm, after winding the tail of the net round the
shanks, and expressing surprise at their slimness; and in no
better way than this these two ignorant bumpkins swung the body of
one of the leading spirits of the rising age to the hog-pound.

Thomas Hardenow was not the man to be long insensible.  Every
fibre of his frame was a wire of electric life.  He was "all
there"--to use a slang expression, which, by some wondrous
accident, has a little pith in it--in about two minutes; not a bit
of him was absent; and he showed it by hanging like a lump upon
his bearers as they fetched him to an empty hog-house, dropped him
anyhow, and locked him in; then one of them jumped on a little
horse and galloped off to Oxford.



CHAPTER XLVII

COMBINED WISDOM


"I really cannot go on like this," said Mr. Sharp to Mrs. Sharp,
quite early on the following morning.  "Thank God, I am not of a
nervous nature, and patience is one of my largest virtues.  But
acting, as I have done, for the best, I cannot be expected to put
up with perpetual suspense.  This very day I will settle this
matter, one way or the other."  The lawyer for the first time now
was flurried; he had heard of the capture of a spy last night--for
so poor Hardenow had been described--and though he had kept that
new matter to himself, he was puzzled to see his way through with
it.

"Luke, my dear," replied Mrs. Sharp, with some of her tightenings
not done up, "surely there need not be such hurry.  You make me
quite shiver, when you speak like that.  I shall come down to
breakfast without any power; and the Port-meadow eel will go out
for the maids.  Should we ever behold it again, Luke?"

"Of course not; how could you expect it?  Slippery, slippery--hard
it is to lay fast hold of anything; and the worst of all to bind
is woman.  I do not mean you, my dear; you need not look like
that; you are as firm as this tag of your stays--corset, corset--I
beg pardon; how can a man tell the fashionable words?"

"But, Luke, you surely would not think of proceeding to
extremities?"

"Any extremity; if it only were the last.  For the good of my
family, I have worked hard; and there never should have been all
this worry with it.  Miranda, I may have strayed outside the
truth, and outside the law--which is so much larger--but one thing
I beg you to bear in mind.  Not a thing have I done, except for
you and Kit.  Money to me is the last thing I think of; pure
affection is the very first.  And no one can meddle with your
settlement."

"Oh, my darling," Mrs. Sharp exclaimed, as she fell back from
looking at the looking-glass, "you are almost too good for this
world, Luke!  You think of everybody in the world except yourself.
It is not the right way to get on, dear.  We must try to be a
little harder."

"I have thought so, Miranda; I must try to do it.  Petty little
sentiments must be dropped.  We must rise and face the state of
things which it has pleased Providence to bring about.  I am
responsible for a great deal of it; and with your assistance, I
will see it through.  We must take Kit in hand at once.  My dear
wife, can I rely upon you?"

"Luke, you may rely upon me for anything short of perjury; and if
it comes to that, I must think first."

"No man ever had a better any more than he could have a truer
wife, or one so perpetually young."  With these words Mr. Sharp
performed some little operations, which, even in the "highest
circles," are sometimes allowed to be brought about by masculine
hands, when clever enough; and before very long this affectionate
pair went down to breakfast and enjoyed fried eel.

Kit, who had caught this fine eel, was not there; perhaps he was
gone forth to catch another; so they left him the tail to be
warmed up.  In the present condition of his active mind, and the
mournful absence of his beloved, Christopher found a dark and
moody pleasure in laying night-lines.  If his snare were
successful, he hauled out his victim, and, with a scornful smile,
despatched him; if the line held nothing, he cast it in again,
with a sigh of habitual frustration.  This morning, however, he
was not gone forth on his usual round of inspection, but had only
walked up to the livery-stables, to make sure of his favourite
hack for the day.  He had made up his mind that he must see Grace
that very same day, come what would of it; he would go much
earlier, and watch the door; and if this bad fortune still
continued, he would rush up at last and declare himself.

But this bold resolve had a different issue; for no sooner had the
young man, with some reluctance and self-reproach, dealt bravely
with a solid breakfast, than he was requested by his dear mother
to come into his father's little study.

Now, this invitation was not in accordance with the present mood
of Christopher.  He had made up his mind to be off right soon for
the bowers of his beloved, with a roll and some tongue in his
little fishing-creel, and a bottle of beer in each holster.  In
the depth of the wood he might thus get on, and enjoy to the
utmost fruition of his heart all the beauty of nature around him.
It was a cruel blow to march just then to a lecture from the
governor, whose little private study he particularly loathed, and
regarded as the den of the evil one.  However, he set up his pluck
and went.

Mr. Sharp, looking (if possible) more upright and bright than
usual, sat in front of the large and strong-legged desk, where he
kept his more private records, such as never went into the office.
Mrs. Sharp also took a legal chair, and contemplated Kit with a
softer gaze.  He with a beating heart stood up, like a youth under
orders to construe.

"My son," began the father and the master, in a manner large and
affable, "prepare yourself for a little surprise on the part of
those whose principal object is your truest welfare.  For some
weeks now you have made your dear mother anxious and unhappy, by
certain proceedings which you thought it wise and manly to conceal
from her."

"Yes, you know you did, Kit!" Mrs. Sharp interposed, shaking her
short curls, and trying to look fierce.  The boy, with a deep
blush, looked at her, as if everybody now was against him.

"Christopher, we will not blame you," resumed Mr. Sharp, rather
hastily, for fear that his wife should jump up and spoil all.
"Our object in calling you is not that.  You have acted according
to our wishes mainly, though you need not have done it so
furtively.  You have formed an attachment to a certain young lady,
who leads for the present a retired life, in a quiet part of the
old Stow Wood.  And she returns your affection.  Is it so, or is
it not?"

"I--I--I," stammered Kit, seeking for his mother's eyes, which had
buried themselves in her handkerchief.  "I can't say a word about
what she thinks.  She--she--she has got such a fashion of running
away so.  But I--I--I--well, then, it's no good telling a lie
about it; I am deucedly fond of her!"

"That is exactly what I wished to know; though not expressed very
tastefully.  Well, and do you know who she is, my son?"

"Yes, I know all that quite well; as much as any fellow wants to
know.  She is a young lady, and she knows all the flowers, and the
birds, and the names of the trees almost.  She can put me right
about the kings of England; and she knows my dogs as well as I
do."

"A highly accomplished young lady, in short?"

"Yes, I should say a great deal more than that.  I care very
little for accomplishments.  But--but if I must come to the point--
I do like her, and no mistake!"

"Then you would not like some other man to come, and run away with
her, quite against her will?"

"That man must run over my body first," cried Kit, with so much
spirit that his father looked proud, and his poor mother trembled.

"Well, well, my boy," continued the good lawyer, "it will be your
own fault if the villain gets the chance.  I am doing all I can to
provide against it; and am even obliged to employ some means of a
nature not at all congenial to me, for--for that very reason.  You
are sure that you love this young lady, Kit?"

"Father, I would not say anything strong; but I would go on my
knees, all the way from here to there, for the smallest chance of
getting her!"

"Very good.  That is as it should be.  I would have done the very
same for your dear mother.  Mamma, you have often reminded me of
it, when anything--well, those are reminiscences; but they lie at
the bottom of everything.  A mercenary marriage is an outrage to
all good feeling."

"She has not got a sixpence, father; she told me so.  She makes
all the bread, and she puts by all the dripping."

"My dear boy, you know then what a good wife is.  Mamma, we shall
have to clear out the room where the rocking-horse is, and the old
magic-lantern, and let this young couple go into it."

"My dear, it would be a long job; and there are a great many
cracks in the paper; but still we could have in old Josephine."

"Those are mere details, mamma.  But this is a serious question;
and the boy must not be hurried.  He may not have made up his
mind; or he may desire to change it to-morrow.  He is too young to
have any settled will; and there is no reason why he should not
wait--"

"Not a day will I wait--not an hour would I wait; in ten minutes I
could pack everything!"

"He might wait for a twelvemonth, my dear Miranda, and sound his
own feelings, and the young girl's too, if we could only be
certain that the young man of rank, with the four bay horses, was
not in earnest when he swore to carry her off to-morrow."

"My dear husband," Mrs. Sharp said, softly; "let us hope that he
meant nothing by it.  Such things are frequently said, and come to
nothing."

"I tell you what it is," Kit almost shouted, with his fist upon
the sacred desk; "you cannot in any way enter into my feelings
upon such matters!  I beg your pardon, that is not what I mean,
and I ought never to have said it.  But still, comparatively
speaking, you can take these things easily, and go on, and think
people foolish--but I cannot.  I know when my mind is made up, and
I do it.  And to stop me with all sorts of nonsense--at least, to
find fifty reasons why I should do nothing--is the surest of all
ways to make me do it.  I have many people who will follow me
through thick and thin; though you may not believe it, because you
cannot understand me, and your views are confined to propriety.
Mine are not.  And you may find that out in a very short time.  At
any rate, if I do a thing that brings you, father and mother, into
any evil words, all I can say is, you never should have stopped
me."

With this very lucid expression of ideas, Christopher strode away,
and left his parents petrified--as he thought.  Mrs. Sharp was
inclined to be a dripping well; but Mr. Sharp was dry enough.
"Exactly, exactly," he said, as he always said when a thing had
come up to his reckoning; "nothing could have been done much
better.  Put the money in his best breeches' pocket, my dear,
without my knowledge; and at the back-door kiss him.  Adjure him
to do nothing rash; and lend him your own wedding-ring, and weep.
For a runaway match the most lucky of all things is the boy's
mother's wedding-ring.  And above all things, not a word about his
rival, until he asks--and then all mystery; only you know a great
deal more than you dare tell."

"Oh, Luke, are you sure that it will all go aright?"

"Miranda, tell me anything we can be sure of, and you will have
given me a new idea.  And I want ideas; I want them sadly.  My
power of invention is failing me, or at any rate that of combining
my inventions.  You did not observe that I was nervous, did you?"

"Nervous!  Luke--you nervous!  I should think that the end of the
world was coming if I saw any nervousness in you!  And in the
presence of a boy, indeed--"

"My dear wife, I will give you my word that I felt--well, I will
not say 'nervous,' if you dislike it--but a little uncomfortable,
and not quite clear, when I saw how Kit was taking things.  Real
affection is a dreadful thing.  I did not want so much of it.  I
meant to have told him who she is, till the turn of things made me
doubt about it.  But he is quite up for anything now, I believe,
though he must be told before he goes.  He is such a calf that he
must not imagine that she has a sixpence to bless herself.  He
would fly off in a moment if he guessed the truth.  He must know
her name; and that you must tell him; and you know how to explain
it all a thousand-fold better than I do."

"Possibly I do," replied Mrs. Sharp; "I may have some very few
ideas of my own; although according to you, Mr. Sharp, I am only
the mother of a calf!"

"Very well said, my dear.  And I have the honour of being his
father."  They smiled at one another, for they both knew how to
give and take.



CHAPTER XLVIII

MASCULINE ERROR


Christopher Fermitage Sharp, Esquire, strode forth, to have room
as well as time for thought.  His comely young face was unusually
red, and he stroked his almost visible moustache, as a stimulant
to manhood.  So deep and stern were his meditations, that he never
even thought of his pipe until he came to a bridge on the Botley
road, whereon he was accustomed to lean, and smoke, and gaze at
the little fish quietly.  From the force of habit he pulled out
his meerschaum, flint and steel, and German tinder, and through
blue rings of his own creation, watched and envied the little
fish.  For though it was not yet the manner of his mind to examine
itself very deeply, he had a strong conviction that the fish were
happy, and that he was miserable.  Upon the former point there
could not be two opinions--unless the fish themselves held one--
when any man observed how the little fellows jumped at the spicy-
flavoured flies (that fluttered on fluid gold to them), or flashed
in and out among one another, with a frolicsome spread of silver,
or, best of all, in calm contemplation, softly moved pellucid
fins, and gently opened fans of gills, with magnifying eyes intent
upon the glory of the lustrous world.  Kit considered them with an
envious gaze.  Were they harassed, were they tortured, were they
racked with agonised despair, by the proceedings of the female
fish?

Compelled to turn his grim thoughts inward, he knew not that he
was jealous.  He only knew that if he were to meet the young
nobleman with the four bay horses, it would be an evil day for one
of them.  Tush, why should he not go and forestall that bloated,
unprincipled aristocrat--whose intentions might even be
dishonourable--by having four horses himself, and persuading that
queen of beauty to elope with him?  He had given his parents due
notice; and if he had done what they wished by thus falling in
love, it could not be very much against their wishes if he made a
hasty match of it.  But could this lovely young American be
persuaded to come with him.  He had far too much respect for her
to dream of using violence.  But surely if he could convince her
of the peril she was in, and could promise her safe refuge with a
grave old lady, a valued relative of his own, while she should
have time to consider his suit, his devotion, his eternal
constancy, his everlasting absorption into her higher and purer
identity--

He pulled out his purse; it contained four and sixpence--a
shilling and three halfpence for each horse, and nothing for the
postilions.  "We must do it less grandly," he said to himself; "and
after all it will be better so.  How could four horses ever get
through that wood?  I must have been a fool to think of it.  A
very light chaise and pair will do ten times better, at a quarter
of the money.  I can get tick for that from old Squeaker himself;
and the governor will have to pay; it need not cost me more than
half a crown, and about three bob for turnpikes.  Fifteen miles to
old Aunt Peggy's on the Wycombe road.  Once there, I defy them to
do what they like.  I am always the master of that house, and I
know where they keep the blunderbuss.  I have the greatest mind
not to go home at all, but complete my arrangements immediately.
Squeaker would lend me a guinea with pleasure; he is a large-
minded man, I am sure.  What a fool I was to give poor Cinnaminta
such a quantity of tin that day!--and yet how could I help it?  I
might have gone on like a lord but for that."

Kit turned round and shook his head in several directions, trying
to bring to his mind the places where money might be hoped for.
Than this there is no mental effort more difficult and absorbing.
No wonder therefore that, in this contemplation, he did not hear
the up-mail full-gallop, springing the arch from the Cheltenham
side, to make a fine run into Oxford.  "Hoi there, stoopid!" the
coachman shouted, for the bridge was narrow, and the coach danced
across it, with the vigour of the well-corded team.  "Oh, Kit, is
it?  Climb for your hat, Kit."

Kit's best friend--so far as he had any friends in the University--
by a stroke of fine art, sent the lash of his whip round the hat
of the hero, and deposited it, ere one might cry, "Where art thou
gone?" on the oil-cloth, which sat on the top of the luggage,
which sat on the top of the coach which he drove, like the heir of
all the race of Nimshi.  The hireling Jehu sat beside him, and
having been at it since nine o'clock last night, snored with a
flourish not inferior to that which the mail-guard began upon his
horn.

Kit was familiar with a coach at speed, as every young Englishman
at that time was.  In a twinkle he dashed at the hind-boot, laid
hold of the handle, and was up at once; the guard, with an eye to
an honest half-crown, moving sideways, but offering no help,
because it would have been an insult.  Then over the hump of the
luggage crawled Kit, and clapped his own hat on his head, and
between the shoulders of two fat passengers, threw forth his
strong arm, and "bonneted" the spanking son of Nimshi.  The
leaders ran askew, till they were caught up; and the smart young
driver would have thrown down the reins, and committed a personal
assault on Kit, who was perfectly ready to reply to it--being
skilled in the art of self-defence--if the two fat passengers,
having seen the whole, had not joined hands, and stopped it.

"Tit for tat; tit for tat!" they cried; "Squire, you began it, and
you have your due."  And so, with a hearty laugh, on they
galloped.

"If you should have anything to say to me," cried Kit, as he swung
himself off the early mail, at the corner of his native Cross Duck
Lane, "you will know where to find me.  But you must wait a day or
two, for I have a particular engagement."

"All rubbish, Kit!  Come and wine with me at seven.  I shall have
tooled home the 'Nonpareil' by then."

Christopher, though stern, was placable.  He kissed his hand to
his reconciled friend, while he shook his head, to decline the
invitation, and strode off vigorously to consult his mother.  To
consult his dear mother meant to get money out of her, which was a
very easy thing to do; and having a good deal of conscience, Kit
seldom abused that opportunity, unless he was really driven to it.
Metallic necessity was on him now; his courage had been rising for
the last half-hour.  "Faint heart never won fair lady," rang to
the tune of many horses' feet.  His dash through the air had set
his spirits flying; his exploit, and the applause thereof, had
taught him his own value.  From this day forth he was a man of the
world; and a man of the world was entitled to a wife.

It is the last infirmity of noble and too active minds, to feel
that nothing is done well unless their presence guides it; to
doubt the possibility of sage prevision and nice conduct, through
the ins and outs of things, if ever the master-spirit trusts the
master-body to be away, and the countless eyes of the brain to
give twinkle, instead of the two solid lights of the head.  Hence
it was that Mr. Sharp, at sight of Kit, came forth to meet him,
although he had arranged to send the mother.  And this--as Mrs.
Sharp declared to her dying day--was the greatest mistake ever
made by a man of most wonderful mind; while she was putting away
the linen.

"Come in here, my boy," he said to his son, who was strictly vexed
to see him, and yearning to be round the corner; "there are one or
two things that have never been made quite clear to your
understanding.  We do not expect you to be too clear-sighted at
your time of life, and so on.  Come in that I may have a word with
you."

Christopher, with a little thrill of fear, once more entered the
sacred den, and there stood as usual; while his father sat and
regarded him with a lightsome smile.  One of the many causes which
had long been at work to impair the young man's filial affection
was, that his father behaved as if it were not worth while to be
in earnest with him; as if Kit Sharp had a mind no riper than just
to afford amusement to mature and busy intellects.  Christopher
knew his own depth, and was trying to be strong too, whenever he
could think of it.  And if he did spend most of his time in sport
and congenial pastime, of one thing he was certain--that he never
did harm to any one.  Could his father say that much for himself?

"Aha, my boy, aha," said the elder Sharp in that very same vein
which always so annoyed and vexed his son; "what will you give me
for a little secret, a sweet little secret about a young lady in
whom you take the deepest interest?"

The ingenuous youth, in spite of all efforts, could not help
blushing deeply; for he had a purely candid skin, reproduced from
Piper ancestry.  And the sense of hot cheeks made him glow to the
vital centres of the nobler stuff.  Therefore he scraped with his
toes--which was a trick of his--and kept silence.

"Pocket money gone again?" continued his father pleasantly;
"nothing to offer his kind papa for most valuable information?
Courting is an expensive business--I ought to have remembered
that.  And the younger the parties the more it costs; hot-house
flowers, and a smelling-bottle, a trifle of a ring, just to learn
the size; that being accepted, the bolder brooch, charmed
bracelet, and locket for the virgin heart--no wonder you are short
of cash, my Kit."

"You don't know one atom about it," cried Christopher, boiling
with meritorious wrath.  "I never gave her nothing--and she
wouldn't have it!"

"The double negative, to be sure.  How forcible and how natural it
is!  Well, well, my boy, let us try to believe you.  Scatter all
doubts by exhibiting your wealth.  You had five pounds and ten
shillings lately; and you pay nothing for anything that can be
placed to your father's credit.  Let me see your cash-box, Kit."

"This is all that I have at present," said Christopher, pulling
out his three-and-sixpence--for he had given the guard a shilling;
"but you must not suppose that this is all to which I am entitled.
I have I. O. U's from junior members of the University for really
more than I can reckon up; and every one of them will get the
money from his sisters, in the long vacation."

"Oh, Kit, Kit!  The firm ends with me.  I must sell the good-will
for the very worst old song, if it once leaks out what a fool you
are.  By what strange cross of reckless blood can such a boy be
the future head of Piper, Pepper, Sharp, & Co.?"  Mr. Sharp
covered up his long clear head, and hid--for this once--true
emotion.  Kit looked at the kerchief with a very queer glance.  He
was not at all affected by this lamentation, however just, because
he had heard it so often before; and he never could make out
exactly how much of him his father could manage to descry through
that veil Palladian.

"Well, sir," he said, "you have always told me, as long as I can
remember, that I was to be a gentleman; and gentlemen trust one
another."

"Very well said!" Mr. Sharp replied, with a deeply irritating
smile; "and now I will trust you, young sir, in a matter of
importance.  Remember that I trust you as a gentleman--for I need
not tell you one word, unless I choose--and if I depart from my
usual practice, it is partly because you are beginning to claim a
sort of maturity.  Very well, let us see if it can be relied upon.
You pledge your word to keep silence, and I tell you what you
never could find out."

Kit was divided with his mind in twain; whether he should draw the
sharp falchion of his wit, or whether he should rather speak
honeysome words; and, as nearly always happens when Minerva is
admitted, he betook himself to the gentler process.

"Very well, sir," he said, pulling up his collar, as if he had
whiskers to push it down, "whatever I am told in confidence is
allowed to go no further.  It is scarcely necessary for me to say
that I reserve, of course, the final right of reference to my
honour."

"To be sure, and to your ripe judgment and almost patriarchal
experience, Kit.  Then be it known to you, aged youth, that you
have not shown hoar sagacity.  You do not even know who the lady
is whom you have honoured with your wise addresses."

"And I don't care a d--n who she is," cried Kit, "so long as I
love her, and she loves me!"

"My son, you are turbulent and hasty.  Your wisdom has left you
suddenly.  Your manners also; or you would not swear in the
presence of your father."

"Sir, I was wrong; and I beg your pardon.  But I think that I
learned the first way of it from you."

"Kit, Kit, recall that speech!  You must have gone altogether
dreaming lately.  My discourse is always moderate, and to the last
degree professional.  However, in spite of the generous impulse,
which scarcely seems natural at your threescore years and ten, it
does seem a needful precaution to learn the name, style, and title
of the lady whom you will vow to love, honour, and--obey."

"Her name," cried Kit, without any sense of legal phrase and
jingle, "is Grace Holland.  Her style is a great deal better than
anybody else's.  And as for title, such rubbish is unknown in the
gigantic young nation to which she belongs."

"Her name," said Mr. Sharp, setting his face for the conquest of
this boy, and fixing keen hard eyes upon him, "is Grace Oglander,
the daughter of the old Squire of Beckley.  Her style--in your
sense of the word--is that of a rustic young lady; and her title,
by courtesy, is Miss--a barbarous modern abbreviation."

The youth was at first too much amazed to say a word; for he was
not quick-witted, as his father was.  He gave a little gasp, and
his fine brown eyes, which he could not remove from his father's,
changed their expression from defiance to doubt, and from doubt to
fear, and from fear to sorrow, with a little dawning of contempt.
"Why, my man, is this beyond your experience of life?" asked Luke
Sharp, trying to look his son down, but failing, and beginning to
grow uneasy.  Kit's face was aflame with excitement, and his lips
were trembling; but his eyes grew stern.

"Father, I hope you do not mean what you have said--that you are
only joking with me--at any rate, that you have not known it--that
you have not done it--that you have not even left poor old Mr.
Oglander one hour--"

"Wait, boy, wait!  You know nothing about it.  Who are you to
judge of such matters, indeed?  Remember to whom you are speaking,
if you please.  I have done what was right; and for your sake I
have done it."

"For my sake!  Why, I never had seen the young lady before I was
told that she was dead and buried--murdered, as everybody said--
and the tracing of the criminals was mainly left to you!  I longed
to help, but I knew that you despised me; and now do you mean to
say that you did it?"

Luke Sharp was a quick-tempered man.  He had borne a great deal
more than usual.  And now he spoke with vast disdain.

"To be sure, Kit, I murdered her; as is proved to such a mind as
yours by the fact of her being now alive!  What can I have done to
have a fool for my son?"

"And what have I done to have a rogue for a father?  You may knock
me down, sir, if you please!"--for Mr. Sharp arose, as if that
would be his next proceeding;--"you have always used your
authority very much in that manner with me.  I don't want to be
knocked down; but if it will do you any good, pray proceed to it;
and down I go."

"I declare, after all, you have got some little wit," cried the
lawyer, with a smile withdrawing, and recovering self-command.  "I
cannot be angry with a boy like you, because you know no better.
Oh, here comes your mother!  Your excitement has aroused her.
Mamma, you have not the least idea what a lion you have to answer
for.  I leave him to you, my dear.  Soothe him, feed him, and try
to find his humming-top."



CHAPTER XLIX

PROMETHEUS VINCTUS


"I will not die like this!  It is unseemly to die like this!" the
Rev. Thomas Hardenow was exclaiming at this very time, but a few
miles off.  "I hope I am not a coward altogether; but the ignominy
is unbearable.  In this den of Eumæus, this sty of Sycorax,
entangled in the meshes of a foul hog-net, and with hogs' grunt,
grunt, for the chorus of my woes!  My Prometheus class is just
waiting for me at the present moment, so far as I can reckon here
the climbing of the day; and I had rendered into English verses
that delicious bit of chorus--'With thy woes of mighty groaning,
mortals feel a fellow-moaning, And of Colchic land in-dwellers,
maids who never quail in fight;' and so on--how small-minded of me
to forget it now!--down to, 'And springs of holy-watered rivers
wail thy pitiable woe.'  But instead of nymphs of ocean, here
comes that old pig again!  If he could only grout up that board--
which he must do sooner or later--what part of me will he begin
upon?  Probably this little finger--it is so white and helpless!
If I could only, only move!--to be eaten alive by pigs!  Well,
well--there is not so very much left for them.  Infinitely better
men have had a lower end than that.  Only I would bend my knees--
if bend them I could--to the Giver of all good, that I may be
insensible before the pigs begin."

His plight was a very unfortunate one; but still in the blackest
veil of woe there is sure to be some little threadbare place--from
so many people having worn that veil--and even poor Hardenow had
one good "look-out."  To wit, although he had been without food
for six-and-twenty hours now (having been caught in the
treacherous toils soon after he set his toes towards his dinner),
he was not by any means in the same state in which a Low-Church
clergyman must have been.  His system was so attuned to fasting,
and all his parts so disciplined, that "cupboard" was only
whispered among them in a submissive manner; and even his stomach
concluded sorrowfully that it must be Friday.

Beyond this considerable advantage--which could not last much
longer--there was really little to console him.  His cowardly
captors, not content with the rabbit-net twined round him, had
swathed him also in the stronger meshes of a corded gig-net.  And
even after that, Black George, having had the handling of his
legs, and discovered the vigour of their boniness, was so
impressed that he called out--"I never did heckle such a wiry
chap.  Fetch a pair of they tough thongs, Tickuss, same as thou
makest use of for ringing of the pigs, my lad."

"Whish!--can't 'ee whish, with my name so pat?" Leviticus
whispered sulkily; but he brought the unyielding thongs, wherewith
the fellow and tutor of Brasenose very soon had his wrists and
ankles strapped.  And in spite of all struggles through the
livelong night, as firmly as a trussed hare was he fixed.

Nevertheless, he could roll a little, though not very fast,
because his elbows stopped him; for being of the sharpest they
stuck into the ground, which was of a loamy nature.  He fought
with this difficulty, as with every other; for a braver heart
never dwelled in any body, whether fat or lean; and he plucked up
his angles from their bed of earth, whenever the limits of cord
would yield.  He knew all about the manufacture of twine--so far
as one not in the trade could know it--because he had got up the
subject for the sake of a whipcord of a puzzle in Theocritus; but
this only served to make his case the worse; for at that time
honest string was made.  The dressing, and the facing, and the
thousand other rogueries, make it quite impossible to tie a good
knot now; and even if a strap has any leather in it, its first
operation is a compromise.

But at that stouter period, bind made bound.  Mr. Hardenow could
roll a little; but that was as much as he could do.  And rolling
did him very little good, except by way of exercise; because he
was pulled up short so suddenly by feather-edged boarding, with a
coat of tar.  The place in which he was penned was most unworthy
of such an occupant.  It was not even the principal meal-house, or
the best treasury of "wash."  It was not the kitchen of the
tasteful pigs, or even their back-kitchen, but something combining
the qualities of their scullery and dust-bin.  But the floor was
clean, and a man lying lowly, so far as smell was concerned, had
certainly the best of the situation; inasmuch as all odours must
ascend to the pure ether of the exalted.  Hardenow knew that it
was vain to roll, because the door was padlocked, and the lower
end, to which he chiefly tended, had a loose board, lifted every
now and then by the unringed snout of a very good old sow.  Pure
curiosity was her motive, and no evil appetite, as her eyes might
tell.  She had never seen a fellow and a tutor of a college
rolling, as she herself loved to do; and yet in a comparatively
clumsy way.  She grunted deep disapproval of his movements, and
was vexed that her instructions were entirely thrown away.

"Ah, Linus, Linus be the cry; and let the good be conqueror!" Mr.
Hardenow quoted, as his legs began to ache; "henceforth, if I have
any henceforth, how palpably shall I realise the difference
between the alindethra and the circular conistra!  In this limited
place I combine the two; but without the advantages of either.  I
take it that, whether of horse, or hen, or human being, the
essential condition of revolutionary enjoyment is--that the limbs
be free.  In my case, they are not free.  The exhilaration which
would ensue, and of which, if I remember rightly, Pliny speaks--or
is it Ælian?--my memory seems to be rolling too; but be the
authority what it will, in my case that exhilaration is (at least
for the moment) not forthcoming.  But I ought to condemn myself
far rather than writers who treat of a subject with the gravity of
authority; that is to say, if they ever tried it.  'Experimentum
in corpore vili,' is what all writers have preferred.  If their
own bodies were not too noble, what powerful impress they might
have left!"

After such a cynical delivery as this, it served him particularly
right to hit, in the course of revolution, upon a bit of bone even
harder than his own; a staunch piece of noble old ossification
(whether of herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous dragon), such
as would have brought Professor Buckland from Christ Church
headlong, or even Professor Owen, from the British Museum, the
Melampus of all good dragons.  Hardenow knew nothing about it;
except that it ran into him, and jerked him in such a way over the
ground, that he got into the highest corner, and gladly would have
rubbed himself, if good hemp had yielded room for it.

But this sad blow, which seemed at first the buffet of the third
and crowning billow of his woe, proved to be a blessing in
disguise; inasmuch as the reaction impelled him to a spot where he
descried some encouragement to work.  And a little encouragement
was enough for him.  By virtue of inborn calmness, long classical
training and memories, and pure Anglo-Catholic discipline, the
young man was still "as fresh as paint," in a trouble which would
have exhausted the vigour of a far more powerful and fiery man.
Russel Overshute, for instance, even in his best health would have
worn his wits out long ago, by futile wrath, and raving hunger.

Mr. Hardenow could not even guess how there came to be quite a
thick cluster of pretty little holes, of about the size of a
swan's quill, drilled completely through the board against which
his mishap had driven him.  The board was a stoutish slab of
larch, cut "feather-edged;" and the saw having struck upon most of
these holes obliquely, their form was elliptic instead of round,
and their axes not being at right angles to the board, they
attracted no attention by admitting light, since the light of
course entered obliquely.  In some parts as close as the holes of
a colander, in other places scattered more widely, they jotted the
plank for nearly a yard of its length, and afforded a fine
specimen of the penetrative powers of a colony of Sirex gigas, so
often mistaken for the hornet.

But though as to their efficient cause he could form no opinion,
Hardenow hoped that their final cause might be to save his life;
which he quietly believed to be in great peril.  For he knew that
he lay in the remote obscurity of a sad and savage wood, unvisited
by justice, trade, or benefit of clergy.  Here, if no good spirit
came, or unseen genius, to release him, die he must at his own
leisure, which would be a long one.  And he could discover no
moral to be read from his pre-historic skeleton; unless it were
that very low one--"stick to thy own business."

A man of ordinary mind would not have troubled his head about
this.  "Post me, diluvium" is the strengthening sentiment of this
age; no fulcrum whatever for any good work; and the death of all
immortality.  Hardenow would have none of that; he had no idea of
leaving ashes fit to nourish nothing.  Collecting his energies for
a noble protest against having lived altogether in vain, he
brought his fettered heels, like a double-headed hammer, as hard
as his probolistic swing could whirl, against the very thickest-
crowded cells of bygone domicile.  The wooden shed rang, and the
uprights shook, and the nose of the sow at the lower end was
jarred, and her feelings hurt; for, truly speaking, her motives
had been misunderstood.  And if Hardenow had but kept pigs of his
own, he would have gone to work down there, to help her, and so
perhaps have got her to release him from his toils.  Everybody,
however, must be allowed to go to work in his own way: and to find
fault with him, when he tries to do his best, is (as all kind
critics own) alike ungraceful and ungracious.  Mr. Hardenow worked
right hard, as he always did at everything, and his heels had
their sparables as good as new, and capable of calcitration,
though he wore nothing stronger than Oxford shoes with a bow of
silk ribbon on the instep.  The ribbon held fast, and he kicked or
rather swung his feet by a process of revolution, as bravely as if
he had Hessian boots on.  At the very first stroke he had fetched
out a splinter as big as the scoop of a marrow-spoon; and
delivering his coupled heels precisely where little tunnels
afforded target, in a quarter of an hour he had worked a good
hole, and was able to refresh himself with the largeness of the
outer world.

Not that he could, however skilled now in rolling, roll himself
out of his black jail yet--for the piece punched out was only four
inches wide--but that he got a very decent width (in proportion at
least to man's average view) for clear consideration of the world
outside.  And what he saw now was a pretty little sight, or peep
at country scenery.  For the wood, just here, was not so thick
that a man could not see it by reason of the trees--as the
Irishman forcibly observed--but a dotted slope of bush and timber
widening and opening sunny reaches out of the narrow forest track.
There was no house to be seen, nor cottage, nor even barn or
stable, nor any moving creature, except a pig or two grouting in
the tufted grass, and gray-headed daws at leisure perking and
prying, for the good of their home-circle.

But presently the prisoner espied a wicket-gate, nearly at the
bottom of the sylvan slope, with a little space roughly stoned
before it--almost a sure sign, in a neighbourhood like that, of a
human dwelling-place inside.  And when Hardenow's eyes, recovering
tone, assured him of the existence of some moss-grown steps, for
the climbing of a horse upon either side, he felt a sudden (though
it may not have been a strictly logical) happiness, from the warm
idea that there must be some of the human race not far from him.
He placed his lips close to the hole which he had made, and
shouted his very loudest, and then stopped a little while, to
watch what might come of it, and then sent forth another shout.
But nothing came of it, except that the pigs pricked up their ears
and looked around and grunted; and the jackdaws gave a little jerk
or two, and flapped their wings, but did not fly; and a soft woody
echo, of a fibrous texture, answered as weakly as a boy who does
not know.

This was pretty much what Hardenow expected.  He saw that the
wicket-gate was a long way off, three or four hundred yards
perhaps; but he did not know that his jailer, Tickuss Cripps, was
the man who lived inside of it.  Otherwise his sagacious mind
would have yielded quiet mercy to his lungs.  For Leviticus was
such a cruel and cowardly blunderer, that, in mere terror, he
probably would have dashed grand brains out.  But luckily he was
far away now, and so were all other spies and villains; and only a
little child--boy or girl, at that distance nobody could say which--
toddled out to the wicket-gate, and laid fat arms against it, and
laboured, with impatient grunts, to push it open.  Having seen no
one for a long time now, Hardenow took an extraordinary interest
in the efforts of this child.  The success or the failure of this
little atom could not in any way matter to him; yet he threw his
whole power of sight into the strain of the distant conflict.  He
made up his mind that if the child got out, he should be able to
do the like.

Then having most accurate "introspection" (so far as humanity has
such gift) he feared that his mind must be a little on the wane,
ere ever such weakness entered it.  To any other mind the wonder
would have been that his should continue to be so tough; but he
hated shortcomings, and began to feel them.  Laying this nice
question by, until there should be no child left to look at, he
gazed with his whole might at this little peg of a body, in the
distance, toppling forward, and throwing out behind the weight of
its great efforts.  He wondered at his own interest--as we all
ought to wonder, if we took the trouble.  This little peg, now in
battle with the gate, was a solid Peg in earnest; a fine little
Cripps, about five years old, as firm as if just turned out of a
churn.  She was backward in speech, as all the Crippses are; and
she rather stared forth her ideas than spoke them.  But still, let
her once get a settlement concerning a thing that must be done to
carry out her own ideas; and in her face might be seen, once for
all, that stop she never would till her own self had done it.
Hardenow could not see any face, but he felt quite a surety of
sturdiness, from the solid mould of attitude.

That heavy gate, standing stiffly on its heels, groaned
obstreperously, and gibed at the unripe passion of this little
maid.  It banged her chubby knees, and it bruised her warted hand,
and it even bestowed a low cowardly buffet upon her expressive and
determined cheek.  And while she lamented this wrong, and allowed
want of judgment to kick out at it, unjust it may have been, but
true it is, that she received a still worse visitation.  The
forefoot of the gate, which was quite shaky and rattlesome in its
joints, came down like a skittle-pin upon her little toes, which
were only protected on a Sunday.  "Ototoi, Ototoi!" cried Mr.
Hardenow, with a thrilling gush of woe, as if his own toes were
undergoing it.  Bitter, yet truly just, lamentation awoke all the
echoes of the woods and hills, and Hardenow thought that it was
all up now--that this small atom of the wooded world would accept
her sad fate, and run in to tell her mother.

But no; this child was the Carrier's niece; and a man's niece--
under some law of the Lord, untraced by acephalous progeny--takes
after him oftentimes a great deal closer than his own beloved
daughter does.  Whether or no, here was this little animal, as
obstinate as the very Carrier.  Taught by adversity she did
thus:--Against the gate-post she settled her most substantial
availability, and exerted it, and spared it not.  Therewith she
raised one solid leg, and spread the naked foot thereof, while her
lips were as firm as any toe of all the lot, against the vile
thing that had knocked her about, and the power that was
contradicting her.  Nothing could withstand this fixed resolution
of one of the far more resolute moiety of humanity.  With a creak
of surrender, the gate gave back; and out came little Peggy
Cripps, with a broad face glowing with triumph, which suddenly
fell into a length of terror, as the vindictive gate closed behind
her.  To get out had been a great labour, but to get back was an
impossibility; and Hardenow, even so far away, could interpret the
gesture of despair and horror.  "Poor little thing!  How I wish
that I could help her!" he said to himself, and very soon began to
think that mutual aid might with proper skill be compassed.

With this good idea, he renewed his shouts, but offered them in a
more insinuating form; and being now assured that the child was
female, his capacious mind framed a brief appeal to the very first
instinct of all female life.  Possibly therefore the fairer half
of pig and daw creation appropriated with pleasure his address.
At any rate, although the child began to look around, she had no
idea whence came the words, "Pretty little dear! little beauty!"
etc., with which the learned prisoner was endeavouring to allure
her.

But at last, by a very great effort and with pain, Hardenow
managed to extract from the nets his white cravat, or rather his
cravat which had been white, when it first hung down his back from
the taloned clasp of the hollies.  By much contrivance and
ingenious rollings, he brought out a pretty good wisp of white,
and hoisted it bravely betwixt gyved feet, and at the little
breach displayed it.  And the soft breath of May, which was
wandering about, came and uncrinkled, and in little tatters waved
the universal symbol of Succession Apostolical, as well as dinner-
parties.

Little Peggy happened at this moment to be staring, with a loose
uncertain glimpse of thought that somebody somewhere was calling
her.  By the flutter of the white cravat, her wandering eyes were
caught at last, and fixed for a minute of deliberate growth of
wonder.  Not a step towards that dreadful white ghost would she
budge; but a steadfast idea was implanted in her mind, and was
likely to come up very slowly.

"It is waste of time; I have lost half an hour.  The poor little
thing--I have only scared her.  Now let me think what I ought to
do next."

But even while he addressed himself to that very difficult
problem, Hardenow began to feel that he could not grapple with it.
His mind was as clear as ever, but his bodily strength was
failing.  He had often fasted for a longer time, but never with
his body invested thus, and all his members straitened.  The
little girl sank from his weary eyes, though he longed to know
what would become of her; and he scarcely had any perception at
all of pigs that were going on after their manner, and rabbits
quite ready for their early dinner, the moment the sun began to
slope, and a fine cock partridge, who in his way was proud because
his wife had now laid a baker's dozen of eggs, and but for his
dissuasion would begin to sit to-morrow; and after that a round-
nosed hare, with a philoprogenitive forehead, but no clear idea
yet of leverets; and after that, as the shadows grew long, a cart,
drawn by a horse, as carts seem always to demand that they shall
be--the horse of a strong and incisive stamp (to use the two pet
words of the day), the cart not so very far behind him there, as
they gave word to stop at the gate to one another--and in the
cart, and above the cart, and driving both it and the horse
thereof, as Abraham drove on the plain of Mamre, Zacchary Cripps;
and sitting at his side, the far-travelled and accomplished
Esther.



CHAPTER L

FEMININE ERROR


Meanwhile, at Cross Duck House, ever since that interview of the
morning, things were becoming, from hour to hour, more critical
and threatening.  If Mr. Sharp could only have believed that his
son was now a man, or at least should be treated as though he
were; and if after that the too active lawyer could only have
conceived it possible that some things might go on all the better
without him; it is likely enough that his righteous and gallant
devices would have sped more easily.

But Luke Sharp had governed his own little world so long that he
scarcely could imagine serious rebellion.  And he cared not to
hide his large contempt for the intellect of Christopher, or the
grievance which he had always felt--at being the father of a
donkey.  And so, without further probation or pledge, he went
forth to make his own arrangements, leaving young Kit to his
mother's charge, like a dummy, to be stroked down and dressed.

If he had left Kit but an hour before for his mother to tell him
everything, and round the corners, and smooth the levels, and wrap
it all up in delicious romance, as women do so easily, with their
power of believing whatever they wish, the boy might have jumped
at the soft sweet bait; for he verily loved his sylvan maid.  But
now all his virtue and courage, and even temper, were on the
outlook; and only one thing more was needed to drive him to a
desperate resolve.

And that one thing was supplied, in the purest innocence, by Mrs.
Sharp; though the question would never have arisen if her son had
been left to her sole handling.

"Then, mother, I suppose," said Kit as simply as if he smelled no
rat whatever, thoroughly as he understood that race, "if I should
be fortunate enough to marry beautiful Miss Oglander, we shall
have to live on bread and cheese, until it shall please the senior
people to be reconciled, and help us?"

"No, Kit!  What are you talking of, child?  The lady has £20,000
of her own!  And £150,000 to follow, which nobody can take from
her!"

With a very heavy heart he turned away.  Nothing more was required
to settle him.  He saw the whole business of the plotting now; and
the young romance was out of it.  He went to the bow-window
looking on the lane, and felt himself akin to a little ragamuffin,
who was cheating all the other boys at marbles.  Hard bitterness
and keen misery were battling in his mind which should be the
first to have its way and speak.

"This comes of being a lawyer's son!" he cried, turning round for
one bad glance at his mother.  "She said that she disliked the
law.  I don't dislike, I abhor it."

"So you may, my dear boy, and welcome now.  This will lift you
altogether beyond it.  Your dear father may consider it his duty
to continue the office, and so on; but you will be a country
gentleman, Kit, with horses, and dogs, and Manton guns, and a pack
of hounds, and a long barouche, and hot-house grapes.  And I will
come and live with you, my darling; or at least make our country
house of it, and show you how to manage things.  For the whole
world will be trying to cheat you, Kit; you are too good-natured,
and grand in your ways!  You must try to be a little sharper,
darling, with that mint of money."

"Must I?  But suppose that I won't have it."

"Sometimes I believe that you think it manly to provoke your
mother.  The money ought to have been ours, Kit; mine by heritage
and justice; at least a year and a half ago.  A moderate provision
should have been made for a woman, who may have her good points--
though everybody has failed to discover them--and who married with
a view to jointure.  Ten thousand pounds would have been very
handsome--far handsomer than she ever was, poor thing!--and then
by every law, human and divine, all the rest must have come to you
and me, my dear.  Now, I hope that you see things in their proper
light."

"Well, I dare say I do," he answered, with a little turn of
sulkiness, such as he often got when people could not understand
him.  "Mother, you will allow me to have my own opinion; as you
have yours."

"Certainly, Kit!  Of course, my dear.  You know that you always
have been allowed extraordinary liberty in that way.  No boy in
any school could have more; even where all the noblemen's sons are
allowed to make apple-pie beds for the masters.  Every night, my
dear boy, when your father was away, it has rested with you, and
you cannot deny it, to settle to a nicety what there must be for
supper."

"Such trumpery stuff is not worth a thought.  I am now like a
fellow divided in two.  You might guess what I am about, a little.
It is high time for me to come forward.  You cannot see things,
perhaps, as I do.  How often must I tell you?  I give you my word
as a gentleman--all this is exceedingly trying."

"Of course it is, Kit; of course it is.  What else could be
expected of it?  But still, we must all of us go through trials;
and then we come out purified."

"Not if we made them for ourselves, mother; and made them
particularly dirty ones.  But I cannot talk of it; what do I know?
A lot of things come tempting me.  Everybody laughs at me for
wondering what my mind is.  And everybody cheats me, as you said.
Let the governor carry on his own devices.  I have made up my
mind to consider a good deal, and behave then according to
circumstances."

"You will behave, I trust, exactly as your parents wish.  They
have seen so much more of the world than you have; they are far
better judges of right and wrong; and their only desire is your
highest interest.  You will break your poor mother's heart, dear
Kit, if you do anything foolish now."

The latter argument had much more weight with young Sharp than the
former; but pledging himself as yet to nothing, he ran away to his
own room to think; while his mother, with serious misgivings, went
down to see about the soup, and hurry on the dinner.  She knew
that in vaunting Miss Oglander's wealth she had done the very
thing she was ordered not to do, and she was frightened at the way
in which her son had taken it.

Mr. Sharp did not come home to their early dinner at half-past one
o'clock; indeed, his wife did not expect him much; and his son was
delighted not to see him.  Kit sat heavily, but took his food as
usual.  The condition of his mind might be very sad indeed, but
his body was not to be driven thereby to neglect the duties of its
own department.  He helped his dear mother to some loin of mutton;
and when she only played with it, and her knife and fork were
trembling, he was angered, and his eyes sought hers; and she tried
to look at him and smile, but made a wretched job of it.
Christopher reserved his opinion about this; but it did not help
in any way to impair his resolution.

For dessert they had a little dish of strawberries from pot-plants
in the greenhouse; and as they were the first of the season, the
young fellow took to them rather greedily.  His mother was charmed
with this condescension, and urged him so well that in about three
minutes the shining red globes ticked with gold were represented
by a small, ignoble pile of frilled stalks blurred with pink.  At
this moment in walked the master of the house.

He had been as fully occupied as a certain unobtrusive, but never
inactive, gentleman, proverbially must be in a gale of wind.  The
day was unusually warm for the May month, and the streets of
Oxford dusty.  Mr. Sharp had been working a roundabout course, and
working it very rapidly; he had managed to snatch at a sandwich or
two--for he could not go long without nourishment--but throughout
all his haste he had given himself, with the brightest vision of
refreshing joy, just time to catch these strawberries.  At least
he was sure of it.  But now, where were they?

"Ah, I see you know how to snap up a good thing!" cried the
lawyer, with a glance of contempt and wrath; "show the same
promptitude in what has been arranged for your benefit this
afternoon, my boy; and then you will be, in earnest, what you put
on your dogs' collars."

This was not the way to treat Kit Sharp; but the lawyer never
could resist a sneer, even when his temper was at its best, which
it certainly was not just now.

Kit looked a little ashamed for a moment, but made no excuse for
his greediness; he was sure that his mother would do that best.
By this time he had resolved to avoid, for the present, all
further dispute with his father.  Whatever was arranged for him he
would do his best to accept, with one condition--that he should be
allowed to see the young lady first, and test her good-will
towards him, before her "removal" (as Mr. Sharp mildly called it)
was attempted.  His sanguine young heart had long been doing its
utmost to convince him that this sweet-tempered and simple maid
could never bring herself to the terrible cruelty of rejecting
him.  He felt how unworthy he was; but still so was everybody
else--especially the villain with the four bay horses: from that
scoundrel he would save her, even if he had to dissemble more than
he ever had done before.

Luke Sharp, with his eyes fixed on his son in lofty contemplation,
beheld (as through a grand microscope) these despicable little
reasonings.  To argue with Kit was more foolish than filing a
declaration against a man of straw.  To suppose that Kit would
ever really rebel was more absurd than to imagine that a case
would be decided upon its merits.  "So be it," he said; "but of
course, even you would never be quite such a fool as to tell her
what your father and mother have done for her good."

There still was a little to be done, and some nicety of
combination to see to; and after a short consultation with his
wife, and particular instructions as to management of Kit, Mr.
Sharp rode off on his own stout horse, with a heavily loaded whip
and a brace of pistols, because there were some rogues about.



CHAPTER LI

UNFILIAL


"At seven o'clock all must be ready," said Mr. Sharp, towards the
close of a hurried conversation with Miss Patch, Grace Oglander
being sent out of the way, according to established signal; "there
is no time to lose, and no ladies' tricks of unpunctuality, if you
please.  We must have daylight for these horrid forest-roads, and
time it so as to get into the London road about half-past eight.
We must be in London by two in the morning; the horses, and all
that will be forthcoming.  Kit rides outside, and I follow on
horseback.  Hannah, why do you hesitate?"

"Because I cannot--I cannot go away, without having seen that
Jesuit priest in the pig-net wallowing.  It is such a grand
providential work--the arm of the Lord has descended from heaven,
and bound him in his own meshes.  Luke, I beg you, I implore you--
I can pack up everything in an hour--do not rob me of a sight like
that."

"Hannah, are you mad?  You have never been allowed to go near that
place, and you never shall!"

"Well, you know best; but it does seem very cruel, after all the
lack of grace I have borne with here, to miss the great Protestant
work thus accomplished.  But suppose that the child should
refuse to come with us--we have no letters now, nor any other
ministration."

"We have no time now for such trumpery; we must carry things now
with a much higher hand.  Everything hangs upon the next few
hours; and by this time to-morrow night all shall be safe: Kit and
the girl gone for their honeymoon, and you sitting under the most
furious dustman that ever thumped a cushion."

"Oh, Luke, how can you speak as if you really had no reverence?"

"Because there is no time for such stuff now.  We have the
strength, and we must use it.  Just go and get ready.  I must ride
to meet my people.  The girl, I suppose, is with Kit by this time.
What a pair of nincompoops they will be!"

"I am sure they will be a very pretty pair--so far as poor sinful
exterior goes--and, what is of a thousand-fold more importance,
their worldly means will be the means of grace to hundreds of our
poor fellow-creatures, who, because their skin is of a different
tint, and in their own opinion a finer one, are debarred--"

"Now, Hannah, no time for that.  Get ready.  And mind that there
must be no feminine weakness if circumstances should compel us to
employ a little compulsion.  Call to your mind that the Lord is
with us; the sword of the Lord and of Gideon."

Pleased with his knowledge of Holy Writ, he went to the place
where his horse was tied, and there he found a man with a message
for him, which he just stopped to hearken.

"As loovin' as a pair o' toortle doves; he hath a-got her by the
middle; as sweet as my missus were to me, afore us went to church
togither!"  Black George had been set to watch Kit and Gracie,
during their private interview, lest any precaution should be
overlooked.

"Right!  Here's a guinea for you, my man.  Now, you know what to
do till I come back--to stay where you are, and keep a sharp look-
out.  Can the fool in the net do without any water?  Very well,
after dark, give him some food, bandage his eyes, and walk him to
and fro, and let him go in Banbury.

"All right, governor.  A rare bait he shall have of it, with a
little swim in the canal, to clane un."

"No hardship, no cruelty!" cried Mr. Sharp, with his finger to his
forehead, as he rode away; "only a little wise discipline to lead
him into closer attention to his own affairs."

Black George looked after his master with a grin of admiration.
"He sticketh at nort," said George to himself, as he began to fill
a grimy pipe; "he sticketh at nort no more than I would.  And with
all that house and lands to back un!  Most folk with money got no
pluck left, for thinking of others as owneth the same.  I'll be
danged if he dothn't carry on as bold as if he slep' in a rabbit-
hole."  With these words he sat down to watch the house, according
to his orders.

But this man's description of what he had seen in the wood was not
a correct one--much as he meant to speak the truth--for many
reasons, and most of all this: that he ran away before the end of
it.  It was a pretty and a moving scene; but the rabbit-man cared
a great deal more for the pipe, which he could not smoke in this
duty, and the guinea which he hoped to get out of it.  And it
happened, as near as one can tell, on this wise:

Grace Oglander, came down the winding wooded path, with her heart
pit-a-patting at every step, because she was ordered to meet
somebody.  An idea of that kind did not please her.  A prude, or a
prim, she would never wish to be; and a little bit of flirting had
been a great relief, and a pleasant change in her loneliness.  But
to bring matters to so stern a point, and have to say what she
meant to say, in as few words as possible, and then walk off--
these strong measures were not to her liking, because she was a
most kind-hearted girl, and had much good-will towards Christopher.

Kit on the other hand, came along fast, with a resolute brow and
firm heavy stride.  He had made up his mind to be wretched for
life, if the heart upon which he had set his own should refuse to
throb responsively.  But whatever his fate might be, he would
tread the highest path of generosity, chivalry, and honour; and
this resolution was well set forth in the following nervous and
pathetic lines, found in his blotting-paper after his untimely--
but stay, let us not anticipate.  These words had been watered
with a flood of tears.


         "C. F. S. to Miss G. O.
     
     Say that happier mortal woos thee,
     Say that nobler knight pursues thee,
     While this blighted being teareth
     All the festive robes it weareth,
     While this dead heart splits to lose thee--
     Ah, could I so misuse thee?
     Though this bosom, rent by thunder,
     Crash its last hope anchor'd in thee;
     Liefer would I groan thereunder,
     Than by falsehood win thee!"


And now they met in a gentle place, roofed with leaves, and
floored with moss, and decorated with bluebells.  The chill of the
earth was gone by and forgotten, and the power of the sky come
back again; stately tree, and graceful bush, and brown depths of
tangled prickliness--everything having green life in it--was
spreading its green, and proud of it.  Under this roof, and in
these halls of bright young verdure, the youth and the maid came
face to face befittingly.  Grace, as bright as a rose, and
flushing with true tint of wild rose, drew back and bowed, and
then, perceiving serious hurt of Christopher, kindly offered a
warm white hand--a delicious touch for any one.  Kit laid hold of
this and kept it, though with constant fear of doing more than was
established, and, trying to look firm and overpowering, led the
fair young woman to a trunk of fallen oak.

Here they both sat down; and Grace was not so far as she could
wish from yielding to a little kind of trembling which arose in
her.  She glanced at Kit sideways whenever she felt that he could
not be looking at her; and she kept her wise eyes mainly downward
whenever they seemed to be wanted--not that she could not look up
and speak, only that she would rather wait until there was no
other help for it; and as for that, she felt no fear, being sure
that he was afraid of her.  Kit, on the other hand, was full of
fear, and did all he could in the craftiest manner to make his
love look up at him.  He could not tell how she might take his
tale; but he knew by instinct that his eyes would help him where
his tongue might fail.  At last he said--

"Now, will you promise faithfully not to be angry with me?"

"Oh yes, oh yes--to be sure," said Grace; "why should I be angry?"

"Because I can't help it--I give you my honour.  I have tried very
hard, but I cannot help it."

"Then who could be angry with you, unless it was something very
wicked?"

"It is not very wicked, it is very good--too good for me, a great
deal, I am afraid."

"There cannot be many things too good for you; you are simple, and
brave, and gentle."

"But this is too good for me, ever so much, because it is your own
dear self."

Grace was afraid that this was coming; and now she lifted her
soft blue eyes and looked at him quite tenderly, and yet so
directly and clearly that he knew in a moment what she had for
him--pity, and trust, and liking; but of heart's love not one atom.

"I know what you mean," he whispered sadly, with his bright young
face cast down.  "I cannot think what can have made me such a
fool.  Only please to tell me one thing.  Has there been any chap
in front of me?"

"How can I tell what you mean?" asked Grace; but her colour showed
that she could guess.

"I must not ask who it is, of course.  Only say it's not the swell
that drives the four bay horses."

"I do not know any one that drives four bay horses.  And now I
think that I had better go.  Only, as I cannot ever meet you any
more, I must try to tell you that I like you very much, and never
shall forget what I owe to you; and I hope you will very soon
recover from this--this little disappointment; and my dear father,
as soon as we return to England--for I must go to fetch him--"

"Grace--oh, let me call you 'Grace' once or twice, it can't matter
here in the middle of the wood--Grace, I was so taken up with
myself, and full of my miserable folly, which of course I ought to
have known better--"

"I must not stop to hear any more.  There is my hand--yes, of
course you may kiss it, after all that you have done for me."

"I am going to do a great deal more for you," cried Kit, quite
carried away with the yielding kindness of lovely fingers.  "For
your sake I am going to injure and disgrace my own father--though
the Lord knows the shame is of his own making.  It is my father
who has kept you here; and to-night he is going to carry you off.
Miss Patch is only a tool of his.  Your own father knows not a
word about it.  He believes you to be dead and buried.  Your
tombstone is set up at Beckley, and your father goes and cries
over it."

"But his letters--his letters from Demerara?  Oh! my head swims
round!  Let me hold by this tree for a moment!"

Kit threw his arm round her delicate waist to save her from
falling; and away crept George, who had lurked behind a young
birch-tree too far off to hear their words.

"You must rouse up your courage," said Kit, with a yearning gaze
at his sweet burden, yet taking no advantage of her.  "Rouse up
your courage, and I will do my best to save you from myself.  It
is very hard--it is cruelly cruel, and nobody will thank me!"

"His letters from Demerara!" cried Grace, having scarcely heard a
word he said.  "How could he have written them?  You must be
wrong."

"Of such letters I have never heard.  I suppose they must have
been forgeries.  I give you my word that your father has been the
whole of the time at Beckley, and a great deal too ill to go from
home."

"Too ill!--my father?  Yes, of course--of course!  How could he
help being ill without me?  And he thinks I am dead?  Oh! he
thinks that I am dead!  I wonder that he could dare to be alive.
But let me try to think a little."

She tottered back to the old stump of the tree, and sat down
there, and burst forth into an extraordinary gush of weeping: more
sad and pitiful tears had never watered an innocent face before.
"Let me cry!--let me cry!" was her only answer when the young man
clumsily tried to comfort.

Kit got up and strode about; his indignation at her deep low sobs,
and her brilliant cheeks like a river's bed, and her rich hair
dabbled like drifted corn, and above all the violent pain which
made her lay both hands to her heart and squeeze--his wrath made
him long to knock down people entitled to his love and reverence.
He knew that her heart was quite full of her father in all his
long desolation, and was making a row of pictures of him in
deepening tribulation; but a girl might go on like that for ever;
a man must take the lead of her.

"If you please, Miss Oglander," he said, going up and lifting both
her hands, and making her look up at him, "you have scarcely five
minutes to make up your mind whether you wish to save your father,
or to be carried away from him."

Grace in confusion and fear looked up.  All about herself she had
forgotten; she had even forgotten that Kit was near; she was only
pondering slowly now--as the mind at most critical moments does--
some straw of a trifle that blew across.

"Do you care to save your father's life?" asked Kit, rather
sternly, not seeing in the least the condition of her mind, but
wondering at it.  "If you do, you must come with me, this moment,
down the hill, down the hill, as fast as ever you can.  I know a
place where they can never find us.  We must hide there till dark,
and then I will take you to Beckley."

But the young lady's nerves would not act at command.  The shock
and surprise had been too severe.  All she could do was to gaze at
Kit, with soft imploring eyes, that tried to beg pardon for her
helplessness.

"If we stay here another minute, you are lost!" cried Kit, as he
heard the sound of the carriage-wheels near the cottage, on the
rise above them.  "One question only--will you trust me?"

She moved her pale lips to say "yes," and faintly lifted one hand
to him.  Kit waited for no other sign, but caught her in his
sturdy arms, and bore her down the hill as fast as he could go,
without scratching her snow-white face, or tearing the arm which
hung on his shoulder.



CHAPTER LII

UNPATERNAL


Meanwhile, Mr. Sharp had his forces ready, and was waiting for
Grace and Christopher.  Cinnaminta's good Uncle Kershoe (who spent
half of his useful time in stealing horses, and the other half in
disguising and disposing of them), although he might not have
desired to show himself so long before the moonlight, yet, true to
honour, here he was, blinking beneath a three-cornered hat, like a
grandly respectable coachman.  The carriage was drawn up in a
shady place, quite out of sight from the windows; and the horses,
having very rare experience of oats, were embracing a fine
opportunity.  In picturesque attitudes of tobacconizing--if the
depth of the wood covers barbarism--three fine fellows might now
be seen; to wit, Black George, Joe Smith, and that substantial
householder, Tickuss Cripps.  In the chaise sat a lady of
comfortable aspect, though fidgeting now with fat, well-gloved
hands.  Mrs. Sharp had begged not to have to stop at home and
wonder what might be doing with her own Kit: and the case being
now one of "neck or nothing," her husband had let her come,
foreseeing that she might be of use with Grace Oglander.  For the
moment, however, she looked more likely to need attendance for
herself; for she kept glancing round towards the cottage-door,
while her plump and still comely cheeks were twitching, and tears
of deep thought about the merits of her son held her heart in
quick readiness to be up and help them.  Once Mr. Sharp, whose
main good point, among several others, was affection for his wife,
rode up, and in a playful manner tickled her nose with the
buckskin loop of his loaded whip, and laughed at her.  She felt
how kind it was of him, but her smile was only feeble.

"Now mind, dear," said Mr. Sharp, reining his horse (as strong as
an oak and as bright as a daisy), "feel no anxiety about me.  You
have plenty of nourishment in your three bags; keep them all alive
with it.  Everything is mapped out perfectly.  Near Wycombe,
without rousing any landlord, you have a fresh pair of horses.  In
a desert place called the 'New Road,' in London, I meet you and
take charge of you."

"May Kit have his pipe on the box?  I am sure it will make him go
so much sweeter."

"Fifty, if he likes.  You put his sealskin pouch in.  You think of
every one before yourself."

"But can I get on with that dreadful woman?  Don't you think she
will preach me to death, Luke?"

"Miranda, my dear, you are talking loosely.  You forget the great
gift that you possess--the noblest endowment of the nobler sex.
You can sleep whenever you like, and do it without even a
suspicion of a snore.  It is the very finest form of listening.
Good-bye!  You will be a most happy party.  When once I see you
packed, I shall spur on in front."

Mr. Sharp kissed his hand, and rode back to the cottage.  Right
well he knew what a time ladies take to put their clothes upon
them; and the more grow the years of their practice in the art,
the longer grow the hours needful.  Still he thought Miss Patch
had been quite long enough.  But what could he say, when he saw
her at her window, with the looking-glass sternly set back upon
the drawers, lifting her hands in short prayer to the Lord: as
genuine a prayer as was ever tried.  She was praying for a
blessing on this new adventure, and that all might lead up to the
glory of the Kingdom; she besought to be relieved at last from her
wearying instrumentality.  Mr. Sharp still had some little faith
left--for he was a man of much good feeling--and he did not scoff
at his sister's prayer, as a man of low nature might have done.

Nevertheless he struck up with his whip at the ivy round her
bedroom window, to impress the need of brevity; and the lady,
though shocked at the suggestion of curtailment, did curtail
immediately.  In less than five minutes, she was busy at the
doorway, seeing to the exit of everything; and presently, with
very pious precision, she gave Mrs. Margery Daw half a crown, and
a tract which some friend should read to her, after rubbing her
glands with a rind of bacon, and a worn-out pocket-handkerchief,
which had belonged to the mighty Rowland Hill, whose voice went
three miles and a half.

Then Miss Patch (with her dress tucked up, and her spectacles at
their brightest) marched, with a copy of the Scriptures borne
prominently forward, and the tags of her cloak doubled up on her
arm, towards the carriage, where Grace must be waiting for her.
The sloping of the sunset threw her shadow, and the ring-doves in
the wood were cooing.  The peace and the beauty touched even her
heart; and the hushing of the winds of evening in the nestling of
the wood appeased the ruffled mind to that simplicity of
childhood, where God and good are one.

But just as she was shaking hands benevolently with Mrs. Sharp,
before getting into the carriage, back rode Mr. Sharp at full
gallop, and without any ceremony shouted, "Where's the girl?"

"Miss Oglander!  Why, I thought she was here!" Hannah Patch
answered, with a little gasp.

"And I thought she was coming with you," cried Mrs. Sharp; "as
well as my dear boy, Christopher."

"I let her go to meet him as you arranged," Miss Patch exclaimed
decisively; "I had nothing to do with her after that."

"Is it possible that the boy has rogued me?"  As Mr. Sharp said
these few words, his face took a colour never seen before, even by
his loving wife.  The colour was a livid purple, and it made his
sparkling eyes look pale.

"They must be at the cottage," Mrs. Sharp suggested; "let me go to
look for the naughty young couple."

The lawyer had his reasons for preventing this, as well as for
keeping himself where he was; and therefore at a sign from him,
Miss Patch turned back, and set off with all haste for the
cottage.  No sooner had she turned the corner, than Joe Smith, the
tall gipsy, emerged from the wood with long strides into the road,
and beckoned to Mr. Sharp urgently.  The lawyer was with him in a
moment, and almost struck him in his fury at what he heard.

"How could you allow it?  You great tinkering fool!  Run to the
corner where the two lanes meet.  Take George with you.  I will
ride straight down the road.  No, stop, cut the traces of those
two horses!  You jump on one, and Black George on the other, and
off for the Corner full gallop!  You ought to be there before the
cart.  I will ride straight for that rotten old jolter!  Zounds,
is one man to beat five of us?"  Waiting for no answer, he struck
spurs into his horse, and, stooping over the withers, dashed into
a tangled alley, which seemed to lead towards the timber-track.

No wonder Mr. Sharp was in such a rage, for what had happened was
exactly this--only much of it happened with more speed than
words:--

Cripps, the Carrier, had been put up by several friends and
relations (especially Numbers, the butcher, who missed the pork
trade of Leviticus) to bring things directly to a point, instead
of letting them go on, in a way which was neither one thing nor
the other.  Confessing all the claims of duty, poor Zacchary only
asked how he could discharge them.  He had done his very best, and
he had found out nothing.  If any one could tell him what more to
do, he would wear out his Sunday shoes to thank them.

"Brother Zak," said Mrs. Numbers, with a feeling which in a less
loyal family would have been contempt, "have you set a woman to
work; now, have you?"

Every Cripps present was struck with this, and most of all the
Carrier.  Mrs. Numbers herself was quite ready to go, but a feud
had arisen betwixt her and Susannah, as to whether three-holed or
four-holed buttons cut the cotton faster; and therefore the
Carrier resolved to take his own sister Etty, who never
quarrelled.  It was found out that she required change of air,
and, indeed, she had been rather delicate ever since her long sad
task at Shotover.  Now, Leviticus durst not refuse to receive her,
much as he disliked the plan.  The girl went without any idea of
playing spy; all she knew was that her brother was suspected of
falling into low company, and she was to put him on his mettle, if
she could.

Hence it was that Hardenow, gazing betwixt the two feather-edged
boards, beheld--just before he lost his wits--the honoured vehicle
of Cripps, with empty washing baskets standing, on its welcome
homeward road, to discharge the fair Etty at her brother's gate.
Tickuss was away upon Mr. Sharp's business, and Zacchary, through
a grand sense of honour, would not take advantage of the chance by
going in.  Craft and wickedness might be in full play with them,
but a wife should on no account be taken unawares, and tempted to
speak outside her duty.

Therefore the Carrier kissed his sister in the soft gleam of the
sunset-clouds, and refusing so much as a glass of ale, touched up
Dobbin with a tickle of the whip; and that excellent nag (after
looking round for oats in a dream, which his common sense premised
to be too sanguine) brushed all his latter elegances with his
tail, and fetching round his blinkers a most sad adieu to Esther,
gave a little grunt at fortune and resignedly set off.  Alas, when
he grunted at a light day's work, how little did he guess what
unparalleled exertions parted him yet from his stable for the
night!

For while Master Cripps, with an equable mind, was jogging it
gently on the silent way, and (thinking how lonely his cottage
would be without Esther) was balancing in his mind the respective
charms of his three admirers, Mary Hookham, Mealy Hiss, and Sally
Brown of the Golden Cross, and sadly concluding that he must make
up his mind to one of the three ere long--suddenly he beheld a
thing which frightened him more than a dozen wives.

Cripps was come to a turn of the track--for it scarcely could be
called a road--and was sadly singing to Dobbin and himself that
exquisite elegiac--


     "Needles and pins, needles and pins,
      When a man marries, his trouble begins!"


Dobbin also, though he never had been married, was trying to keep
time to this tune, as he always did to sound sentiments; when the
two of them saw a sight that came, like a stroke for profanity,
over them.

Directly in front of them, from a thick bush, sprang a beautiful
girl into the middle of the lane, and spread out her hand to stop
them.  If the evening light had been a little paler, or even the
moon had been behind her, a ghost she must have been then, and for
ever.  Cripps stared as if he would have no eyes any more; but
Dobbin had received a great many comforts from the little hands
spread out to him; and he stopped and sniffed, and lifted up his
nose (now growing more decidedly aquiline) that it might be
stroked, and even possibly regaled with a bunch of white-blossomed
clover.

"Oh, Cripps, good Cripps, you dear old Cripps!" Grace Oglander
cried with great tears in her eyes, "you never have forgotten me,
Zacchary Cripps?  They say that I am dead and buried.  It isn't
true, not a word of it!  Dear Cripps, I am as sound alive as you
are.  Only I have been shamefully treated!  Do let me get up in
your cart, good Cripps, and my father will thank you for ever!"

"But, Missy, poor Missy," Cripps stammered out, drawing on his
heart for every word, "you was buried on the seventh day of
January, in the year of our Lord, 1838; three pickaxes was broken
over digging of your grave, by reason of the frosty weather; and
all of us come to your funeral!  Do 'ee go back, miss, that's a
dear!  The churchyard to Beckley is a comfortable place, and this
here wood no place for a Christian."

"But, Cripps, dear Cripps, do try to let me speak!  They might
have broken thirty pickaxes, but I had nothing at all to do with
it.  May I get up?  Oh, may I get up?  It is the only chance of
saving me.  I hear a horse tearing through the wood!  Oh, dear,
clever Cripps, you will repent it for the rest of all your life.
Even Dobbin is sharper than you are."

"You blessed old ass!" cried a stern young voice, as Kit Sharp
(who had meant not to show) rushed forward, "there is no time for
your heavy brain to work.  You shall have the young lady, dead or
alive!  Pardon me, Grace--no help for it.  Now, thick-headed
bumpkin, put one arm round her, and off at full gallop with your
old screw!  If you give her up I will hang you by the neck to the
tail of your broken rattletrap!"

"Oh, Cripps, dear Cripps, I assure you on my honour," said Grace,
as tossed up by her lover, she sat in the seat of Esther, "I have
never been dead any more than you have.  I can't tell you now; oh,
drive on, drive, if you have a spark of manhood in you!"

A horse and horseman came out of the wood, about fifty yards
behind them, and Grace would have fallen headlong, but for the
half-reluctant arm of Cripps, as Dobbin with a jump (quite unknown
in his very first assay of harness) set off full gallop over rut
and rock, with a blow on his back, from the fist of Kit, like the
tumble of a chimney-pot.

Then Christopher Sharp, after one sad look at Grace Oglander's
flying figure, turned round to confront his father.

"What means all this?" cried the lawyer fiercely, being obliged to
rein up his horse, unless he would trample Kit underfoot.

"It means this," answered his son, with firm gaze, and strong
grasp of his bridle, "that you have made a great mistake, sir--
that you must give up your plan altogether--that the poor young
lady who has been so deceived--"

"Let go my bridle, will you?  Am I to stop here--to be baffled by
you?  Idiot, let go my bridle!"

"Father, you shall not--for your own sake, you shall not!  I may
be an idiot, but I will not be a blackguard--"

"If by the time I have counted three, your hand is on my bridle, I
will knock you down, and ride over you!"

Their eyes met in furious conflict of will, the elder man's
glaring with the blaze of an opal, the younger one's steady with a
deep brown glow.

"Strike me dead, if you choose!" said Kit, as his father raised
his arm, with the loaded whip swinging, and counted, "One, two,
three!"--then the crashing blow fell on the naked temple; and it
was not needed twice.

Dashing the rowels into his horse (whose knees struck the boy in
the chest as he fell, and hurled him among the bushes), the
lawyer, without even looking round, rode madly after Zacchary.
Dobbin had won a good start by this time, and was round the
corner, doing great wonders for his time of life--tossing the
tubs, and the baskets, and Grace, and even the sturdy Carrier,
like fritters in a pan, while the cart leaped and plunged, and the
spokes of the wheels went round too fast to be counted.  Cripps
tugged at Dobbin with all his might; but for the first time in his
life, the old horse rebelled, and flung on at full speed.

"He knoweth best, miss; he knoweth best," cried Zacchary, while
Grace clung to him; "he hath a divination of his own, if he
dothn't kick the cart to tatters.  But never would I turn tail on
a single man--who is yon chap riding after us?"

"Oh, Cripps, it is that dreadful man," whispered Grace, with her
teeth jerking into her tongue; "who has kept me in prison, and
perhaps killed my father!  Oh, Dobbin, sweet Dobbin, try one more
gallop, and you shall have clover for ever!"

Poor Dobbin responded with his best endeavour; but, alas! his old
feet, and his legs, and his breath were not as in the palmy days;
and a long shambling trot, with a canter for a change, were the
utmost he could compass.  He wagged his grey tail, in brief
expostulation, conveying that he could go no faster.

"Now for it," said Cripps, as the foe overhauled them.  "I never
was afeard of one man yet! and I don't mane to begin at this time
of life.  Missy, go down into the body of the cart.  Her rideth
aisily enough by now; and cover thee up with the bucking-baskets.
Cripps will take thee to thy father, little un.  Never fear, my
deary!"

She obeyed him by jumping back into the cart--but as for hiding in
a basket, Grace had a little too much of her father's spirit.  The
weather was so fine that no tilt was on; she sat on the rail
there, and faced her bitter foe.

"That child is my ward!" shouted Mr. Sharp, riding up to the side
of Cripps; while his eyes passed on from Grace's; "give her up to
me this moment, fellow!  I can lake her by law of the land; and I
will!"

"Liar Sharp," answered Master Cripps, desiring to address him
professionally, "this here young lady belongeth to her father; and
no man else shall have her.  Any reasoning thou hast to come down
with, us will hearken, as we goes along; if so be that thou
keepest to a civil tongue.  But high words never bate me down one
penny; and never shall do so, while the Lord is with me."

"Hark you, Cripps," replied Mr. Sharp, putting his lips to the
Carrier's ear; and whispering so that Grace could only guess at
enormous sums of money (which sums began doubling at every
breath)--"down on the nail, and no man the wiser!"

"But the devil a great deal the wiser," said the Carrier,
grinning gently, as if he saw the power of evil fleeing away in
discomfiture.  "Now Liar Sharp hath outwitted hisself.  What Liar
would offer such a sight of money for what were his own by the lai
of the land?"

"You cursed fool, will you die?" cried Sharp, drawing and cocking
a great horse-pistol; "your blood be on your head--then yield!"

Cripps, with great presence of mind, made believe for a moment to
surrender, till Mr. Sharp lowered his weapon, and came up to stop
the cart, and to take out Grace.  In a moment, the Carrier, with a
wonderful stroke, learned from long whip-wielding, fetched down
his new lash on the eyeball of the young and ticklish horse of the
lawyer.  Mad with pain and rage, the horse stood up as straight as
a soldier drilling, and balanced on the turn to fall back, break
his spine, and crush his rider.  Luke Sharp in his peril slipped
off, and the cart-wheel comfortably crunched over his left foot.
His pistol-bullet whizzed through a tall old tree.  He stood on
one foot, and swore horribly.

"Gee wugg, Dobbin," said Cripps, in a cheerful, but not by any
means excited, vein; "us needn't gallop anymore now, I reckon.
The Liar hath put his foot in it.  Plaize now, Miss Grace, come
and sit to front again."

"We shall have you yet, you d--d old clod!" Mr. Sharp in his rage
yelled after him; "oh, I'll pay you out for this devil's own
trick!  You aren't come to the Corner yet."

"Ho, ho!" shouted Cripps; "Liar Sharp, my duty to you!  You don't
catch me goin' to the Corner, sir, if some of the firm be awaitin'
for me there."

With these words he gaily struck off to the right, through a by-
lane, unknown, but just passable, where the sound of his wheels
was no longer heard, and the mossy boughs closed over him.  Grace
clung to his arm; and glory and gladness filled the simple heart
of Cripps.

Meanwhile Mr. Sharp, who had stuck to his bridle, limped to his
horse, but could not mount.  Then he drew forth the other pistol
from the near holster, and cocked it and levelled it at Cripps;
but thanks to brave Dobbin, now the distance was too great; and he
kept the charge for nobler use.



CHAPTER LIII

"THIS WILL DO."


Mr. Sharp's young horse, being highly fed and victualled for the
long ride to London, and having been struck in the eye unjustly,
and jarred in the brain by the roar of a pistol and whizz of a
bullet between his pricked ears, was now in a state of mind which
offered no fair field for pure reasoning process.  A better-
disposed horse was never foaled; and possibly none--setting Dobbin
aside, as the premier and quite unapproachable type--who took a
clearer view of his duties to the provider of corn, hay, and
straw, and was more ready to face and undergo all proper
responsibilities.

Therefore he cannot be fairly blamed, and not a pound should be
deducted from his warrantable value, simply because he now did
what any other young horse in the world would have felt to be
right.  He stared all around to ask what was coming next, and he
tugged on the bridle, with his fore-feet out, as a leverage
against injustice, and his hind-legs spread wide apart, like a
merry-thought, ready to hop anywhere.  At the same time he stared
with great terrified eyes, now at the man who had involved him in
these perils, and now at the darkening forest which might hold
even worse in the background.

Mr. Sharp was not in the mood for coaxing, or any conciliation.
His left foot was crushed so that he could only hop, and to put it
to the ground was agony; his own son had turned against him; and a
contemptible clod had outwitted him; disgrace, and ruin, and death
stared at him; and here was his favourite horse a rebel!  He fixed
his fierce eyes on the eyes of the horse, and fairly quelled him
with fury.  The eyes of the horse shrank back, and turned, and
trembled, and blinked, and pleaded softly, and then absolutely
fawned.  Being a very intelligent nag, he was as sure as any sound
Christian of the personality of the devil--and, far worse than
that, of his presence now before him.

He came round whinnying to his master's side, as gentle as a lamb,
and as abject as a hang-dog; he allowed the lame lawyer to pick up
his whip, and to lash him on his poor back, without a wince, and
to lead him (when weary of that) to a stump, from which he was
able to mount again.

"Thank you, you devil," cried Mr. Sharp, giving his good horse
another swinging lash; "it is hopeless altogether to ride after
the cart.  That part of the play is played out and done with.  The
pious papa and the milk-and-water missy rush into each other's
arms.  And as for me--well, well, I have learned to make a horse
obey me.  Now, sir, if you please, we will join the ladies--
gently, because of your master's foot."

He rode back quietly along the track over which he had chased the
Carrier's cart; and his foot was now in such anguish that the
whole of his wonderful self-command was needed to keep him silent.
He set his hard lips, and his rigid nose was drawn as pale as
parchment, and the fire of his eyes died into the dulness of
universal rancour.  No hard-hearted man can find his joy in the
sweet soft works of nature, any more than the naked flint nurses
flowers.  The beauty of the young May twilight flowing through the
woven wood, and harbouring, like a blue bloom, here and there, in
bays of verdure; while upward all the great trees reared their
domes once more in summer roofage, and stopped out the heavens;
while in among them, finding refuge, birds (before the dark fell
on them) filled the world with melody; and all the hushing rustle
of the well-earned night was settling down--through all of these
rode Mr. Sharp, and hated every one of them.

Presently his horse gave a little turn of head, but was too cowed
down to shy again; and a tall woman, darkly clad, was standing by
the timber track, with one hand up to catch his eyes.

"You here, Cinnaminta!" cried the lawyer with surprise.  "I have
no time now.  What do you want with me?"

"I want you to see the work of your hand--your only child, dead by
your own blow!"

Struck with cold horror, he could not speak.  But he reeled in the
saddle, with his hand on his heart, and stared at Cinnaminta.

"It is true," she said softly; "come here and see it.  Even for
you, Luke Sharp, I never could have wished a sight like this.  You
have ruined my life; you have made my people thieves; the loss of
my children lies on you.  But to see your only son murdered by
yourself is too bad even for such as you."

"I never meant it--I never dreamed it--God is my witness that I
never did.  I thought his head was a great deal thicker."

Sneerer as he was, he meant no jest now.  He simply spoke the
earnest truth.  In his passion he had struck men before, and
knocked them down, with no great harm; he forgot his own fury in
this one blow, and the weight of his heavily-loaded whip.

"If you cannot believe," she answered sternly, supposing him to be
jeering still, "you had better come here.  He was a kind, good
lad, good to me, and to my last child.  I have made him look very
nice.  Will you come?  Or will you go and tell his mother?"

Luke Sharp looked at her in the same sort of way in which many of
his victims had looked at him.  Then he touched his horse gently,
having had too much of rage, and allowed him to take his own
choice of way.

The poor horse, having had a very bad time of it, made the most of
this privilege.  Setting an example to mankind (whose first
thought is not sure to be of home) the poor fellow pointed the
white star on his forehead towards his distant stable.  Oxford was
many a bad mile away, but his heart was set upon being there.
Sleepily therefore he jogged along, having never known such a day
of it.

While he thought of his oat-sieve sweetly, and nice little nibbles
at his clover hay, and the comfortable soothing of his creased
places by a man who would sing a tune to him, his rider was in a
very different case, without one hope to turn to.

The rising of the moon to assuage the earth of all the long sun
fever, the spread of dewy light, and quivering of the nerves of
shadow, and then the soft, unfeatured beauty of the dim
tranquillity, coming over Luke Sharp's road, or flitting on his
face, what difference could they make to its white despair?  He
hated light, he loathed the shade, he scorned the meekness of the
dapple, and he cursed the darkness.

Out of sight of the road, and yet within a level course of it,
there lay, to his knowledge, a deep, and quiet, and seldom-
troubled forest-pool.  This had long been in his mind, and coming
to the footpath now, he drew his bridle towards it.

The moon was here fenced out by trees, and thickets of blackthorn,
and ivy hanging like a funeral pall.  Except that here at the lip
of darkness, one broad beam of light stole in, and shivered on
gray boles of willow, and quivered on black lustrous smoothness of
contemptuous water.

To the verge of this water Luke Sharp rode, with his horse
prepared for anything.  He swept with his keen eyes all the length
of liquid darkness, ebbing into blackness in the distance.  And he
spoke his last words--"This will do."

Then he drove his horse into the margin of the pool, till the
water was up to the girths, and the broad beams of the moon shone
over them.  Here he drew both feet from the stirrup-irons, and sat
on his saddle sideways, sluicing his crushed and burning foot, and
watching the water drip from it.  And then he carefully pulled
from the holster the pistol that still was loaded, took care that
the flint and the priming were right, and turning his horse that
he might escape, while the man fell into deep water, steadfastly
gazed at the moon, and laid the muzzle to his temple, justly
careful that it should be the temple, and the vein which tallied
with that upon which he had struck his son.

A blaze lit up the forest-pool, and a roar shook the pall of ivy;
a heavy plash added to the treasures of the deep, and a little
flotilla of white stuff began to sail about on the black water, in
the commotion made by man and horse.  When Mr. Sharp was an office-
boy, his name had been "Little Big-brains."



CHAPTER LIV

CRIPPS BRINGS HOME THE CROWN


Although the solid Cripps might now be supposed by other people to
have baffled all his enemies, in his own mind there was no sense
of triumph, but much of wonder.  The first thing he did when all
danger was past, and Dobbin was pedalling his old tune--"three-
happence and tuppence; three-happence and tuppence; a good horse
knows what his shoes are worth"--was to tie up Gracie in a pair of
sacks.  He thumped them well on the foot-board first, to shake all
the mealiness out of them; and then, with permission, he spread
one over the delicate shoulders, and the other in front, across
the trembling heart and throat.  Then, by some hereditary art, he
fastened them together, so that the night air could not creep
between.

"Cripps, you are too good," said Grace; "if I could only tell you
half the times that I have thought of you; and once when I saw a
sack of yours--"

"Lor', miss, the very one as I have missed!  Had un got a red
cross, thick to one side--the Lord only knows what a fool I be, to
carry on with such rum-tums now; however I'll have hold of he--and
zummat more, ere I be done with it."  Here the Carrier rubbed his
mouth on his sleeve, as he always did to stop himself.  He was not
going to publish the family disgrace till he had avenged it.  "But
now, miss, not another word you say.  Inside of them sacks you go
to sleep; the Lord knows you want it dearly; and fall away you
can't nohow.  Scratched you be to that extreme in getting out of
Satan's den, that tallow candles dropped in water is what I must
see to.  None on 'em knows it, no, not one on 'em.  Man or horse,
it cometh all the same.  It taketh a man to do it, though."

"I should like to see a horse do it," said Grace; and her sleepy
smile passed into sleep.  Eager as she was to be in her father's
arms, the excitement, and the exertion, and the unwonted shaking,
and passage through the air, began to tell their usual tale.

This was the very thing the crafty Carrier longed to bring about.
It left him time to consider how to meet two difficulties.  The
first was to get her through Beckley without any uproar of the
natives; the second, to place her in her father's arms without
dangerous emotion.  The former point he compassed well, by taking
advantage of the many ins and outs of the leisurely lanes of
Beckley, so that he drew up at the back door of the Barton,
without a single sapient villager being one bit the wiser.

Now, if he only had his sister with him, the second point might
have been better managed; because he would have sent her on in
front, to treat with Mrs. Hookham, and employ all the feminine
skill supplied by quickness, sympathy, and invention.  As it was,
he must do the best he could; and his greatest difficulty was with
Grace herself.

The young lady by this time was wide awake, and stirred with such
violent throbbings of heart, at the view of divine and desirable
Beckley sleeping in the moonlight, and at the breath of her own
home-door, and haunt of her darling father's steps, that Cripps
had to hold her down by her sacks, and wished that he could strap
her so.  "Do 'ee zit still, miss; do 'ee zit still," he kept on
saying, till he was afraid of being rude.

"You are a tyrant, Cripps; a perfect tyrant!  Because you have
picked me up, and been so good, have you any right to keep me from
my father?"

"Them rasonings," said Cripps in a decided tone, "is good; but
comes to nothing.  Either you do as I begs of you, missy, or I
turns Dobbin's head, and back you go.  It is for the Squire's sake
I spake so harsh to 'ee.  Supposin' you was to kill him, missy,
what would you say arterwards?"

"Oh, is he so dreadfully ill as that?  I will do everything
exactly as you tell me."

"Then get down very softly, miss, and run and hide in that old
doorway, quite out of the moonshine, and stay there till I come to
fetch 'ee."

Still covered with the sacks, the maiden did as she was told;
while the Carrier, with ungainly skill, and needless cautions to
his horse (who stood like a rock), descended.  Then he walked into
the Squire's kitchen, with whip in hand, as usual, as if he were
come to deliver goods.

The fat cook now was sitting calmly by the fire meditating.  To
her the time of year made no difference, except for the time that
meat must hang, and the recollection of what was in its prime, and
the consideration of the draught required, and the shutting of the
sun out when he spoiled the fire.  In the fire of young days, when
herself quite raw, this admirable cook had been "done brown" by a
handsome young Methodist preacher.  Before she understood what a
basting-ladle is, her head was set spinning by his tongue and
eyes; he had three wives already, but he put her on the list, took
all her money out of her, and went another circuit.  The poor girl
spent about a year in crying, and then she returned to the Church
of England, buried her baby, and became a cook.  Without being
soured by any evil, she now had long experience, and a ripe style
of twirling her thumbs upon her apron.

"Plaize, Mrs. Cook," began Zacchary, entering under official
privilege, and trying to look full of business, "do 'ee know where
to lay hand on Mother Hookham?  A vallyble piece of goods I has to
deliver, and must have good recate for un."

"But lor', Master Cripps, now, whatever be about?  It ain't one of
your Hoxford days; and us never sends out no washing!"

"You've a-knowed me a long time now, ain't you, Mrs. Cook?  Did
you ever know me for to play trickum-trully?"

"Never have you done that to my knowledge," the good woman
answered steadfastly, though pained in her heart by the thought of
one who had; "Master Cripps is known to be the breadth of his own
word."

"Then, my good soul, will 'ee fetch down Mother Hookham?  It
bain't for the flourishes, the Lord A'mighty knows.  I haven't got
the governing of them little scrawls myself nor the seasoning
amongst them as appertains to you.  Bootifully you could a' done
it, Mrs. Cook; but the directions here is so particular!  For a
job of this sort, you are twenty years too young."

"Oh, Master Cripps," cried the cook, who made a star, like that
upon a pie, for her manual sign; "well you know that the ruin of
my days has been trust in eddication.  Standing outside of it, I
was a-took in, and afore there come any pen or pencil, £320 was
gone.  Not for a moment do I blame the Word of God, only them as
blasphemeth it.  But the whole of my innard parts is turned
against a papper, even on a pie-crust."

"Don't 'ee give way now, dear heart alive!  Many a time have you
told me, and every time I feels the more for 'ee.  Quite a young
'ooman you be still in a way, and a treasure for a young man with
a whame in his throat and half-a-guinea every week you might airn
for roasting dinner-parties.  But do 'ee now go, and fetch Mother
Hookham down."

"The old 'ooman isn't in the house, Master Cripps.  She hath so
many things to mind that the wonder is how she can ever go through
of them.  A heavy weight she hath taken off my shoulders, ever
since here she come, in virtue of her tongue.  But her darter can
be had to put a flour to a'most anything if my signs isn't grand
enough to go into your hat, Master Cripps."

"Now, my dear good soul," replied the Carrier, standing back and
looking at her, "you be taking of everything in a crooked way, you
be.  I have a little thing to see to--nort to say of kitchen in
it, and some sort of style pecooliar.  Requaireth pecooliar
management, I do assure you, and no harm.  Will 'ee plaize to
hearken to me now?  Such as I have to say--not much."

The brave cook answered this appeal by running to fetch Mary
Hookham; in everything that now she did, even with such a man as
Cripps, the remembrance of vile deceit made her look out for a
witness.  Mary came down with a bounce as if she had never been
near her looking-glass, but was born with her ribbons and colour
to match.  And her eyes shone fresh at the sight of Master Cripps.

"How well you be looking, my dear, for sure!" said the Carrier,
having (as a soldier has) his admiration of a pretty girl
quickened by the sound of firearms.  "And I be come to make 'ee
look still better."

Mary cast a glance at the cook, as if she thought her one too
many.  Cripps must be going to declare his mind at last; and Mary
had such faith in him, that she required no witness.

"Who do 'ee think I have brought 'ee back?" asked Zacchary,
meaning to be very quiet, but speaking so loud in his pride, that
Mary, with a pale face, ran and shut the door upon the steps
leading to her master's quarters.  Then she came back more at
leisure, and put her elbows to her sides, and looked at Master
Cripps, as if she had never meant to think of him for herself.
And this made Cripps, who had been exulting at her first
proceedings, put down his whip and wonder.

"Not Miss Grace!" cried Mary; "surely never our Miss Grace!"

"What a intellect that young woman hath!" said Cripps aloud,
reflecting; "a'most too much, I be verily afeared."

"Oh no, Master Cripps, not at all too much for any one as entereth
into it, with a household feeling.  But were I right?  Oh, Master
Cripps, were I right?"

"Mary Hookham," said Cripps, coming over, and laying his hand on
her shoulder (as he used to do when she was a little wench, and
made him a curtsy with a glass of ale, even then admiring him),
"Mary, you were right, as I never could believe any would have the
quickness.  Cripps hath a-brought home to this old ancient mansion
the very most vallyble case of goods as ever were inside it.
Better than the crown as the young Queen hath, for ten months now,
preparing."

"Alive?" asked Mary, shrinking back towards the fire, for his
metaphor might mean coffins.

"Now, there you go down again--there you go down," answered
Cripps, who enjoyed the situation, and desired to make the most of
it.  "I thought you was all intellect--but better perhaps without
too much.  Put it to yourself now, Mary, whether I should look
like this, if I had only brought the remainses."

"Oh, where is her?  Where is her?  Wherever can her be?" cried
Mary, forgetting all her fine education, in strong vernacular
excitement.

"Her be where I knows to find her again," answered Zacchary, with
a steadfast face.  It was not for any one to run in and strike a
light betwixt him and his own work.  "Her might be to Abingdon, or
to Banbury.  Proper time come, I can vetch her forrard."

"Oh, I thought you had got her in the house, Master Cripps.  How
disappointing you do grow, to be sure!  I suppose it is the way of
all men."

Mary shed a tear, and Master Cripps (having been tried by sundry
women) went closer, to be sure of it.  He was pleased at the sign,
but he went on with his business.

"You desarve to know everything.  Now, can 'ee shut the doors,
without a chance of anybody breaking in?"

Mary and the cook, with a glance at one another, fastened all the
doors of the large low kitchen, except the one leading to the lane
itself.

"You bide just as you be," said Cripps, "and I'll show 'ee
something worth looking at."

He ran to the place where Grace was hiding, in the chill and the
heat of impatience, and he took the coarse sacks from her
shoulders, as if her sackcloth time was done at last.  Then he led
her to the warmth and light, and she hung behind afraid of them.
That strange, but not uncommon shyness of one's own familiar home--
when long unseen--came over her; and she felt, for the moment,
almost afraid of her own beloved father.  But Cripps made her
come, and both Mary Hookham and the fat cook cried, "Oh my!  My
good!" and ran up and kissed her, and held her hands; while she
stood pale and mute, with large blue eyes brimful of tears, and
lips that wavered between smile and sob.

"Does he--does he know about me?" she managed to say to Cripps,
while she glanced at the door leading up to her father's room.

"Not he!  Lord bless you, my dear," said Cripps, "it taketh 'em
all half an hour apiece to believe as you ever be alive, miss."

"It would never take my father two minutes," answered Grace; "he
will be a great deal too glad of it to doubt."

"You promised to bide by my diraxions," the Carrier cried
reproachfully; "if 'ee don't, I 'on't answer for nort of it.  Now
sit you down, miss, by back-kitchen door, to come or go either
way, according as is ordered.  Now, Mary, plaize to go, and say,
that Cripps hath come to see his Worship about a little mistake he
hath made."

Mr. Oglander never refused to see any who came to visit him.  His
simple, straightforward mind compelled him to go through with
everything as it turned up, whether it were of his own business,
or any other person's.  Therefore he said, "Show Cripps in here."

Cripps was in no hurry to be shown in.  He felt that he had a
ticklish job to carry through, and he might drop the handles if
himself were touched amiss.  And he thought that he could get on
much better with a clever woman there to help him.

"Plaize, your Worship," he began, coming in, with his finger to
his forelock, and his stiff knee sticking out.  "Don't 'ee run
away now, Mary, that's a dear; you knows all the way-bills; and
his Worship will allow of you."

"Why, Cripps," Mr. Oglander exclaimed, "you are making a very
great fuss to-night; and you look as if you had been run over.
Even if it is half-a-crown, Cripps, you are come to prove against
me--put it down.  I will not dispute it.  I know that you would
rather wrong yourself than me."  The old gentleman was tired, and
he did not want to talk.

"In coorse, in coorse," said Zacchary (as if every man preferred
to wrong himself), "but the point is a different thing; and, Mary,
speak up, and say you know it is."

"Yes, sir, I do assure you now," said Mary, "the point is
altogether quite a different sort of thing."

"Then why can't you come to it?" cried the Squire; "is it that you
want to marry one another?"

Mary's face blushed to a fine young colour; and Cripps made a nod
at her, as if he meant to think of it, but must leave that for
another evening.

"I never could abide such stuff," muttered Mary, "as if all the
world was a-made of wives and husbands!"

The Squire sat calmly with his head upon his hand, and his white
hair glistening in the lamplight, as he gazed from one to the
other, with a smile of melancholy amusement.  It would be a great
discomfort to him to lose Mary Hookham's services; and he thought
it a little unkind of her to leave him in this sad loneliness; but
he had not lived threescore years and ten without knowing what the
way of the world is.  Therefore, if Cripps had made up his mind--
as the women had long been declaring that he as a man was bound to
do--Mr. Oglander would be the last to complain, or say a word to
damp them.  The Carrier himself had some idea that such was the
working of the Squire's mind.

"Now, your Worship," he said, putting Mary away to a place where
she could use her handkerchief, "will 'ee plaize to hearken,
without your own opinion before hast heard what there be to say?
Nayther of us drameth of doing you the wrong to take away Mary,
while you be wanting of her.  You ought to have knowed us better,
Squire.  And as for poor Mary, I ain't said a word to back up her
hopes of a-having me yet.  Now, Miss Mary, have I?"

"No, that you never haven't, Master Cripps!  And it may come too
late; if it ever do come."

"Well, well," continued Mr. Cripps, without much terror at the way
she turned her back; "railly, your Worship, it was you who throwed
us out.  Reckoning of my times is a hard thing for me; and a
hundred and four times a year is too much for the discretion of a
horse a'most."

"Very well, Cripps," said the Squire in despair; "every one knows
that you must have your time.  Not a word will I speak again,
until I have your leave."

"I calls it onhandsome of your Worship to say that; being so
contrary of my best karaksteristicks.  Your Worship maneth all
things for the best, I am persuaded; but speaking thus you drives
me into such a prespiration, the same as used to be a sweat when I
was young and forced to it.  Now, doth your Worship know that all
things cometh in a round, like a sound cart-wheel, to all such
folks as trusts the Lord?"

"I know that you have such a theory, Cripps.  You beat the whole
village in theology."

"And the learned scholar in Oxford, your Worship; he were quite
doubled up about the tribe of Levi.  But for all of their stuff,
the Lord still goeth on, making His rounds to His own right time;
and now his time hath come for you, Squire."

"Do try to speak out, Cripps; and tell me what excites you so."

"Mary, his Worship is beginning to look white.  Fetch in the
pepper-castor, and the gallon of vinegar as I delivered last
Wednesday."

"No, Mary, no.  I want nothing of the kind.  Tell him--beg him--
just to speak out what he means."

"Cripps--Master Cripps, now," cried Mary in a tremble; "you be
going too far, and then stopping of a heap like.  His Worship
ought to be let into the whole of it gradooal--gradooal--
gradooal."

"Can 'ee trust in the word of the Lord, your Worship?" asked
Cripps, advancing bravely.  "Can 'ee do that now, without no
disrespect to 'ee?"

"In two minutes more you'll drive me mad, between you!" the old
Squire shouted, as he rose and spread his arms.  "In the name of
God, what is it?  Is it of my daughter?"

"Yes, yes, father dearest! who else could it be in the whole of
the world?" a clear voice cried, as a timid form grew clear.
"They would go on all the night; but I could not wait a moment.
Daddy, I am sure that you won't be frightened.  You can't have too
much of your own Grace, can you?  Don't let it go to your heart,
my darling.  Grace will rub it for you.  There, let me put my head
just as I used, and then you will be certain, won't you?"

She laid her head upon her father's breast, while Mary caught hold
of the Carrier's sleeve, and led him away to the passage.  Then
the old man's weak and trembling fingers strayed among his
daughter's hair, and he could not speak, or smile, or weep.

"There, you will be better directly, darling," she whispered,
looking up with streaming eyes, as she felt him tremble
exceedingly, and her quick hands eased him of the little brooch
(containing her mother's hair and her own), which fastened his
quivering shirt-frill; "you wanted me to come back, didn't you?
But not in such a hurry, darling--not in such a hurry.  Father
dear, why ever don't you kiss me?"

"If you did not run away, dear--say you did not run away."

"Daddy, you cannot be so ill-minded; so very wicked to your only
child."

The old man took his child's hand in his own, and soothed her
down, and drew her down, until they were kneeling at the table
side by side; then they put up their hands to thank God for one
another, and did it not with lips, but with heart and soul.



CHAPTER LV

SMITH TO THE RESCUE


Now, in the whole of Beckley village, scarcely a soul under eighty
years of age (unless it were of some child under eight, tucked up
in rosy slumber) failed to discuss within half an hour the
"miracle" about Grace Oglander.  That word was first set afoot in
the parish by a man of settled habits, and therefore of sure
authority.  For Thomas Kale had been put upon a horse, when the
Carrier's leg would not go up, and ordered to ride for his life to
tell Squire Overshute all that was come to pass.

This Kale was a man of large wondering power, gifted moreover with
a faith in ghosts, which often detracted from his comfort.  He had
seen his young mistress in a half-light only, when the household
was called to look at her; and now he was ordered to a house where
a lady had died not more than a few weeks back.  Between Beckley
Barton and Shotover Grange, there are two places known to be
haunted.  The necessity for priming Thomas, before he started, had
occurred unluckily to himself alone.  Already, as he rode out of
the yard, a gatepost and a tree shone spectrally.  He felt the
necessity for priming himself; and, prudent man as he was, he saw
no mischief in affording it.  Squire Overshute could not give him
less than a guinea for his tidings.  Therefore (though pledged to
the utmost not to speak) he took the very turn which the prudent
Cripps had shunned; and pulling up at the window of the Busty
Anvil, gave a shout for hot gin-and-water.

The Anvil was ringing with hilarity that night, and its dust, if
heavy sprinkling could ally it, was subsiding.  For Beckley having
played a cricket-match with Islip, and beaten the dalesmen by ten
wickets--as needs must be with five Crippses holding willow--an
equally invincible resolve arose to out-eat the losers at the
supper.  Islip, defeated but not disgraced, was well represented
both in flesh and cash; and as Mr. Kale called for his modest
glass, a generous feeling awoke in the breasts of several young
men to pay for it.  For the wickets had been pitched in a meadow
of the Squire's, where Kale had plied scythe and roller.

Thomas Kale saw that it would be a most uncandid and illiberal act
to open his mouth for a negative only.  He firmly restricted good
feeling, however, to three good bumpers, and a bottomer; pledging
himself, on compulsion, to call on his way back and manage the
duplicate.  But his heart was so good, that before he rode off,
with a flout at all ghosts and goblins, he took an old crony by
the name upon his smock, and told him where to go for a "miracle."

Now, who should this be but old Daddy Wakeling, that ancient and
valued friend of Cripps, and one of the best men in Elsfield
parish?  Daddy was forced to spend much of his time outside his
own parish, for the best of reasons--and a melancholy one--there
was no public-house inside of it.  Here he was now, with his fine
white locks and patriarchal countenance, propounding a test to our
finest qualities, a touchstone of one's lofty confidence or low
cynicism--whether the subject should now be pronounced more
venerable, or more tipsy.

But old Daddy Wakeling would be the very last (when getting near
the middle of his third gallon) to conceal from his friends any
gratifying news; and ere ever Kale's horse's heels turned the
corner, Daddy's wise old lips were wagging into the ear of a
crony.  In less than two minutes, Phil Hiss had got the news; a
council was held in the long-room of the inn; and a march upon the
Squire's house, and a serenade by every one who could scrape,
blow, twang, or halloa, was the resolution of a moment.

In the thick of the rout, as with good intent they approached the
old-fashioned coach-doors (which led to the front where they meant
to be musical), a short square fellow slipped out of the crowd,
and without observation went his way.  His way was to a little hut
of a stable, fastened only with a prong outside, but holding a
nice young horse, who had finished his supper, but was not sleepy.
He neighed as John Smith came in, for he felt quite inclined for a
little exercise, and he knew the value of the saying he had heard--
"After supper, trot a mile."  Numbers Cripps was his owner, in
that shameful age of ownership--which soon will be abolished, now
that its prime key is gone, the key of holy wedlock--and the
butcher had offered Mr. Smith a ride, whenever he should happen to
want one.

The night was well up in the sky, and the track of summer daylight
star-swept; the dim remembrance of a brighter hour (that hangs
round a tree, like a halo) was gone; and only little twinkles
shone through bays of leafage against the tidal power of the moon;
and the long immeasurable stretch of silence spread faint avenues
of fear.

Mr. John Smith was a very brave man.  Imagination never stirred
the corpulence of his comfort.  What he either saw or sifted out
by his own process, that he believed; and very little else.  And
so he rode, through light and shade, and the grain of the air
which is neither; while the forest grew deeper with phantasm, and
the depth of night made way for him.

Suddenly even he was startled.  In a dark narrow place, where he
kept the track, and stuck his heels under his horse's belly (for
fear of being taken sideways), something dashed by him, with a
pant and roar, and fire flying out of it.  Mr. Smith blessed his
stars that he was not rolled ever, as he very well might have
been; for that which flew by him, like a streak of meteor, was a
strong horse frantic.

Smith turned round in his saddle, and stared; but the runaway sped
the faster, as if he were rushing away from the forest, with a
pack of wolves behind him.  The stirrups of his empty saddle
struck fire, clashing under him, and his swift flight scarcely
left a sound of breath or hoof to follow him.

"The devil is after him!" said John Smith; "I never saw a horse in
such a state of mind.  I may as well mark the spot where he came
out.  He has left, as sure as I sit here, a tale to be told, in
the background."

Without dismounting, he broke off a branch of young white poplar,
and cast it so that by daylight he could find it; and then, with a
very uneasy mind, he rode on, to trace the rest of it.  He was not
by any means in Luke Sharp's pay (as one or two persons had
suspected), neither was he even of his privy council; and yet he
was bound hand and foot to him; partly by fealty of a conquered
mind, and partly by sense of his brother Joe's complicity and
subservience.  John Smith, in his own way, was an honourable man;
and money was no bribe to him.

With quickened alarm, he rode on at all speed towards the cottage
of the swineherd.  Never in any way had he dealt with the sylvan
schemes of Mr. Sharp, or even from a distance watched them.  It
was long ere he had any clear suspicions--for his tall brother
kept miles away from him--and in seeking the remains of Grace
under the snowdrift, he wrought out his duty with blind honesty.

John Smith's nerves were of iron, and even the riderless horse had
not scattered them; but though he rode on bravely still, a cloud
of gloom fell over him.  It would make a sad difference to his
life if anything had happened to Mr. Sharp (for Smith had invested
a little money under the lawyer's guidance), and knowing Luke
Sharp as he did, he feared that evil had befallen him.

Hence, with dark misgiving, and the set resolve to face it, he
lashed his horse on at a perilous rate, through the wattled ways
of moonlight.  The glance and the glimpse of light and shade flew
past him, like a cataract, till suddenly even he was scared by the
sound of his name in a sad clear voice.  He pulled up his horse,
and laid his hand on the butt of a pistol beneath his cape, till a
woman came forth into the light, and said--

"I was sure you would come; but too late--it is too late!"

"Cinnaminta, show me," he answered very softly, knowing by her
gesture that the mischief was at hand.  As soon as he was off his
horse, and had made him fast by the bridle, she led him round some
shadowy corners into a little dingle.  This had no great trees to
crowd it; and though it lay below the level of the wood around,
the moon was high enough now to throw a broad gangway of light
along it.  The sides were fringed or jagged with darkness,
cumbrous tree or mantled ivy jutting forth black elbows; but in
the middle lay and spread fair sward of dewy emblements, swept
with brightness, and garnished for a Whitsun dance of fairies.

But now, instead of skip and music, sigh and sob and wailing
noises of the human heart were heard.  A fine young form, of the
Oxford build, lay heavily girt with molehills, enfolded vainly in
a velvet cloak, and vainly on every side adjured to open its eyes
and come back again.  Kit was not at all the fellow thus to be
addressed in vain--if he only could have heard the living voices
challenge him.  His love of sport had been love of pluck, as it
generally is with Englishmen; and all his dogs, of different
sizes, must have taught him something.  His mother now was pulling
at him, in a storm of fear and hope.  She felt that he could not
be dead, because it would be so outrageous; and yet her feeble
heart was fearful that such things had been before.  Happily for
herself, she knew not what had happened to him; but took it for an
accident of the woods; for the gipsy-woman, who alone had seen it,
had been too kind to tell the truth.

"Oh, Kit, Kit! now only look!" the poor fond mother was going on;
"only lift one eyelid, darling; only move one little hand"--his
hands were of very considerable size--"or do anything, anything
you like, dear, just to show that you are coming back, back to
your own mother!  Kit--oh, my Kit, my own and ever only Kit--or
Christopher, if you like it better, darling--here have I been for
whole hours and hours, and not one word will you say to me!  If
ever I laughed at you, Kit, in my life, you must have felt how
proud I was.  There is not anything in all the world, or anybody
to come near you, Kit.  Only come--only be near me, instead of
breaking all my heart like this!"

Worn out with misery, she fell back; and Cinnaminta, with a short
quick sigh, knelt down on the turf, and supported her.

"Four times have I had to bear it, and every time worse than the
time before," she said in her soft clear tone to herself; but only
to remind herself of the tenderness she was sure to show.  "And
this was her only one, and grown up!"

Her face (still beautiful and lovely with the sad love in her
eyes, the memory of the time when still there was somebody to live
for) shone in the gentle light, now poured abundantly on all of
them.  Of all who had lived, and loved, and suffered, and now made
shadows in the moonshine, not one had been down to the holy depths
of sorrow as this woman had.

"Catch un up now," cried John Smith, who never knew how his ideas
were timed; "catch un up by the heels, one of 'ee, while I take un
by the head.  This here baistly hole be enow to fetch the ghost of
his life out.  He hath got life in him.  Don't tell me!  His ears
be like a shell; and no dead man's is.  Rap on the nob!  Lor'
bless my heart, I'd sooner have fifty, than one on the basket.
What, all on you afeard to heckle him?"

"Oh no, sir, oh no, sir," cried poor Mrs. Sharp, as Tickuss, and
another man, fell away; "I am not very strong, but I can help my
child."

"Ma'am, you are a lady!" said John Smith, that being his very
highest crown of praise; "but as for you--a d--d set of cowards--
go to the devil, all of you!  Now, ma'am, I will not trouble you,
except to follow after us.  Cinny will clear the way in front; it
cometh more natural to her.  And you, ma'am, shall follow me as
you please; and sorry I am not to help you.  A little shaking will
do him a world of good."

He was taking up Kit, with a well-adjusted balance, while he spoke
to her; and he wasted his breath in nothing, except in telling her
to follow him.  As the hind comes after the poor slain fawn, or
the cow runs after the netted cart, where the white face of her
calf weeps out, even so Mrs. Sharp of her dress thought nothing--
though cut up, like a carrot, in the latest London style, and
trimmed with almost every flower nature never saw--anyhow, after
Kit she went, and knew not light from darkness.

Mr. Smith sturdily managed to get on; he was thickly built, and
had well-set reins; and though poor Kit was no feather-weight, his
bearer did not flag with him.  Then setting the body of the lad on
a mound, where the moon shone clearly upon his face, and the night
air fanned him quietly, John Smith very calmly pulled out a bright
weapon, and flourished it, and felt the edge.

"Oh no, sir!  Oh pray, sir!" cried Mrs. Sharp, falling on her
knees, and enclasping her poor boy.

"Cinny, just lead her behind that bush.  'Tis either death, or
blood, with him."

"Oh no, I never could bear to be out of sight.  If it really must
be done, I will not shriek.  I will not even sigh.  Only let me
stay by his side!"

John Smith signed to his sister-in-law, who took the mother's
trembling hands, and turned her away for a moment.

"Now fetch cold water.  That vein must not be allowed to bleed too
long, ma'am.  'Tis a ticklish one to manage for a surgeon even;
and at present it is sulky.  But it only wants a little air, and
just the least little touch again.  If you could just manage to go
and say your prayers, ma'am, we could get on a long sight better."

"Oh, I never thought of that.  How sinful of me!  Oh, kind good
man, I implore of you--"

"Not of me, ma'am.  Pray to God in heaven, unless you wish to see
me run away.  And if I do, he slips right off the hooks."

She turned away, with her weak hands clasped; but whether she
prayed or not, never could she tell.  But one thing she bore in
mind, as long as soul abode with it, and that was the leap of her
heart when Smith shouted in a good loud voice, "All right!"



CHAPTER LVI

FATAL ACCIDENT TO THE CARRIER


Now, that little maid who with such strength, alike of mind and
body, had opened the paternal gate, and then bewailed her prowess,
happened to be the especial favourite of her good Aunt Esther.
Therefore no sooner had the Carrier begun his eventful homeward
course, as heretofore related, than Etty, who loved a forest walk
and felt rather dull without Zacchary, took Peggy's fat red hand,
and, after a good tea with Susannah, set forth for an evening
stroll, to gather flowers and hear the birds sing.

Almost before they had got well into the wooded places, Peggy
shrank away from a black timber shed, partly overhung by trees.

"Peggy not go there, Aunt Etty," she said; "goose in there, a
great white goose!"

"A ghost, you little goose?" answered Esther, laughing, for still
there was good sunset.  "Come and show me; I want to see a ghost."

"No, no, no!" cried the child, pulling backward, and struggling as
hard as she had struggled with the gate; "Peggy see a white goose
in a black hole there, all day."

"Then, Peggy, stop here while I go and look.  You won't be afraid
to do that, will you?"

Running bravely up to the hole in the boards, Esther saw, to her
great amazement, the form, perhaps the corpse, of a man, stretched
at length on the ground inside.  It lay too much in the dark for
the face to be seen, and the dress was so swaddled with netting,
and earthy, that little could be made of it.  A torn strip of
cambric, that once had been white, lay partly on the body and
partly on the board.  Esther caught it up; she remembered having
ironed something of this shape for somebody once, who was going to
be examined.  She knew where to look for the mark, and there she
saw in small letters--"T. Hardenow."

Surprised as she was, she did not lose her wits or courage, as she
used to do.  She ran to the door of the shed, tried the padlock,
and finding it fastened (as she had feared), made haste to the
grain-house, and seized a bunch of keys.  Not one of them truly
was born with the lock, but one was soon found to serve the turn;
then Esther pushed back the creaking door, and timidly gazed round
the shadowy shed.  She was quite alone now, for her little niece,
with short sobs of terror, had set off for home.

In the light admitted by the open door, young Esther descried a
poor miserable thing, helpless, still as a log, and senseless, yet
to her faithful heart the idol of all adoration.  Gently, step by
step, she stole to the prostrate form, and knelt down softly, and
reverently touched it.  She feared to seem to take advantage of a
helpless moment; and yet a keen joy, mixed with terror, shone in
the eagerness of her eyes.  "He is alive, I am sure of that," she
said to herself, as she pulled forth a pair of strong scissors
which she always carried; "he is alive, but very, very nearly
dead.  What wretches can have treated him like this?"

In two minutes, Hardenow was free from every cord and throng of
bondage; his lax arms fell at his sides; his legs (that had saved
his life by kicking) slowly sank back to their native angles, like
a lobster's claw untied, and his small and dismally empty stomach
quivered almost invisibly.

"Oh, he is starving, or downright starved!" cried Esther, watching
his white lips, which trembled with some glad memory of suction,
and then stiffened again to some Anglican dream.  "After all, I
have blamed other folk quite amiss.  He hath corded himself away
from his victuals to give way to his noble principles.  But how
could he lock himself in?  The Lord must have sent a bad angel to
tempt him, and then to turn the key on him."

Before she had finished this reasoning process, the girl was half-
way towards the cot of Tickuss, her heart outweighing her mind,
according to all true feminine proportions.  She ran in swiftly
upon Susannah, sitting in the dusky kitchen and pondering over a
very slow fire the cookery of the children's supper.  These good
young children never failed to go to see the pigs fed, and down at
the styes they all were at this moment, with no victuals come, and
the pigs all squeaking, because the pig-master was not at home.

This was most sad, and the children felt it; nevertheless they
bore it, knowing that their own pot was warming.  But they too
might have squeaked, if they had known that out of their own pot
Aunt Etty was stealing half the meat and all the little cobs of
jelly.  It was as fine a pot of stuff as ever Susannah Cripps had
made, for she did not hold at all with fattening the pigs, and
starving her own children; and she argued most justly, while
Esther all the while was ladling all the virtue out.

Etty had never been known to do anything violent or high-handed;
yet now, without entering into even the very shortest train of
reasoning, away she went swifter than any train, bearing in her
right hand the best dresser-jug (filled with the children's
titbits of nurture), and in her left hand flourishing Susannah's
own darling silver wedding-spoon.  Mrs. Leviticus longed to rush
in chase of her; but ere her slowly startled nerves could send the
necessary tingle to her ruminating knees, the girl was out of
sight, and for her vestige lingered naught but a very provoking
smell of soup.

Now, in so advanced a stage of the world's existence (and of this
narrative) is it needful, judicious, or even becoming to describe,
spoonful by spoonful, however grateful, delicious, and absorbing,
the process of administering and receiving soup?  To "give and
take" is said, by people of large experience in life, to be about
the latest and most consummate lesson of humanity; coming even
after that extreme of wisdom which teaches us to "grin and bear
it."  But in the present trifling instance, two young people very
soon began to be comparatively at home with the subject.  The
opening of the eyes, in all countries and creatures, is done a
good deal later than the opening of the mouth; the latter being
the essential, the former quite a fortuitous proceeding.

After six spoonfuls, as counted by Esther, Hardenow opened both
his eyes; after two or three more, he knew where he was; and when
he had swallowed a dozen and a bonus, scarcely any of his wits
were wanting.  Still Esther, for fear of a relapse, went on;
though her hand trembled dreadfully when he sat up, with his poor
bones creaking sadly, and tried to be steady upon her arm, but was
overbalanced by his weight of brain.  Instead of shrieking, or
screaming, she took advantage of this opportunity, and his bony
chin dropping afforded the finest opening towards his interior.

To put it briefly, he quite came round, and after twenty spoonfuls
vowed--with the conscience rushing for the moment into the arms of
common sense--that never would he fast again.  And after thirty
were absorbed and beginning to assimilate, he gazed at Esther's
smiling eyes, and saw the clearest and truest solution of his
"postulates on celibacy."  Esther dropped her eyes in terror, and
made him drink the dregs and bottom, with a convert's zealous
gulp.  And as it happened, this was wise.

If any malignant persons charge him with having sold, for a mess
of pottage, man's noblest birthright, celibacy, let every such
person be corded up, at the longest possible date after breakfast,
and the shortest before dinner--or rather, alas! before dinner-
time--let him stay corded, and rolling about in a hog-house (as
long as roll he can, which never would approach Mr. Hardenow's
cycle); let him throughout this whole period, instead of eating,
expect to be eaten; then with a wolf in his stomach (if he has
one) let him lose his wits (if he has any), and then let a lovely
girl come and free him, and feed him, and cry over him, and regard
him--with his clothes at their very worst, and cakes of dirt in
his eyes and mouth--as the imperial Jove in some Dictæan cavern
dormant; and then, as the light and the life flow back, and the
power of his heart awakes, let there manifestly accrue thereto a
better, gentler, and sweeter heart, timid even of its own pulse,
and ashamed of its own veracity--and then if he takes all this
unmoved, why, let him be corded up again, and nobody come to
deliver him.

Esther only smiled and wept at her patient's ardent words and
impassioned gratitude.  She knew that between them was a great
gulf fixed, and that the leap across it seldom has a happy
landing; and when poor Hardenow fell back, in the weak reaction of
a heart more fit for pain than passion, she knelt at his side, and
nursed and cheered him, less with the air of a courted maiden than
of a careful handmaid.  In the end, however, this feeling (like
most of those which are adverse to our wishes) was prevailed upon
to subside, and Esther, although of the least revolutionary and
longest-established stock in England--that of the genuine
Crippses, whose name, originally no doubt "Chrysippus," indicates
the possession of a golden horse--Etty Cripps, finding that the
heart of her adored one had, in Splinters' opinion, a perilous
fissure, requiring change of climate, consented at last (having no
house of her own) to come down from the tilt, and go to Africa.

For Hardenow, as he grew older and able to regard mankind more
largely, came out from many of the narrow ways, which (like the
lanes of Beckley) satisfy their final cause by leading into one
another.  With the growth of his learning, his candour grew; and
he strove to bind others by his own strap and buckle, as little as
he offered to be bound by theirs.  Therefore when two of his very
best friends made a bona fide job of it, and being unable to think
their thoughts out got it done by deputy, and sank to infallible
happiness, Thomas Hardenow pulled up, and set his heels into the
ground of common sense, like a horse at the brink of a quarry-pit;
and the field of reason, rich and gracious, opened its gates again
to him.

Herein he cut no capers, as so many of the wilder spirits did, but
made himself ready for some true work and solid advantage to his
race.  And so, before any University Mission, or plough-and-Bible
enterprise, Hardenow set forth to open a track for commerce and
civilization, and to fight the devil and slavery in the rich rude
heart of Africa.  Besides his extraordinary gift of tongues, he
had many other qualifications--the wiriness of his legs and
stomach, his quiet style of listening (so that even a "nigger"
need not be snubbed), his magnificent freedom from humour (an
element fatal to stern convictions), and last not least, as he
said to Etty, for a clinching argument, his wife's acquaintance
with the carrying trade.

Happy exile, how much better than home misery it is!  But the
House of Cripps sent forth another member into banishment, with
little choice or chance of much felicity on his part.  As there
are woes more strong than tears, so are there crimes beyond the
lash.  When the doings of Leviticus were brought to light, and
shown to be unsuccessful, a council of Crippses was held in his
hog-house, and a stern decree passed to expatriate him.  Tickuss
was offered his fair say, and did his very best to defend himself;
but the case from the first was hopeless.  If he had wronged any
other parish than Beckley, or even any other as well, there might
have been some escape for him.  Cruelty, cowardice, treason high
and low, perjury to his own elder brother, and eternal disgrace to
his birthplace--there was not a word in the mouth of any one half
bad enough to use to him.  The Carrier rose, and said all he could
say, for the sake of the many children; but weighty with piety as
he was, he could not stem the many-fountained torrent of the
Crippsic wrath.  The pigs of Leviticus were divided among all the
nephews and nieces, and cousins (ere ever a creditor got a hock-
rope or a flick-whip ready), and Tickuss himself, unhoused,
unstyed, unlarded, and unsmocked, wandered forth with his business
gone, like a Gadarene swine-herd void of swine.

For years and years that fine old hog-farm was the haunt of rats
and rabbits; never a grunt or squeak of porker (ringing or rung
eloquently) shook the fringe of ivied shade, or jarred the acorn
in its cup, until a third son arose and grew up to Zacchary Cripps
hereafter.  All the neighbourhood lay under a cloud of fear and
sadness, because of what Luke Sharp had done, not to others, but
himself.  Luke Sharp, the greatest of all lawyers--so the
affrighted woodman says--may and must, alas, be seen (at certain
moments of the forest moon) rising on horseback from the black
pool where his black life ended, gaining the shore with a silent
bound, and galloping, with his arm held forth as straight as any
sign-post, to the nook of dark lane where he smote his son; and
then to the ruined hut, wherein he imprisoned the fair lady; and
then to the rotting shed, in which he corded and starved the great
Oxford scholar.

Whether, for the assertion of the law, Luke Sharp is allowed by
some evil power thus to revisit the glimpses of the moon, or
whether he lies in silent blackness, ignorant of evil--sure it is
that no one cares to stay beyond the fall of dusk in that part of
the forest.

But as soon as the lawyer's wife and son, by virtue of the poplar
mark, had found and quietly buried his disappointed corpse, they
made the very best of a broken business, as cheerfully as could be
hoped for.  Each of them sighed very heavily at times, especially
when they were almost certain of hearing again, round the corner
or downstairs, a masterful and very memorable tread.  Therefore,
with what speed they might, they let their fine old Cross Duck
House, and fleeing all low curiosity, unpleasant remark, and
significant glance, took refuge under the quiet roof of Kit's aunt
Peggy, near High Wycombe, where he had hoped to lodge, and woo his
timid forest angel.  Here Kit found tardy comfort, and recovered
health quite rapidly, by writing his own dirge in many admirable
metres, till, being at length made laureate of a strictly local
paper--at a salary of nil per annum, and some quarts of ale to
stand--he swung his cloak and lit his pipe in the style of better
days.

From those whom his father had wronged so deeply he would accept
no help whatever, much as they desired to show their sense of his
good behaviour.  And when the second-best ambition of his life
arrived by coach--that notable dog, "Pablo"--if Christopher could
have sniffed lightest scent of Beckley, or Shotover, in the black
dog-winkles of his nostrils, the odds are ten to one that Oxford
never would have sighed (as all through the October term he did)
at the loss of her finest badgerer.

In spite of all this obstinacy, three people were resolved to make
him come round and be comfortable, settled, and respectable.  To
this they brought him in the end, and made him give up fugitive
pieces, sonnets, stanzas to a left-hand glove, and epitaphs on a
cenotaph.  The Squire, and Russel, and Grace could not compose
their own snug happiness without providing that Kit should be less
miserable than his poetry.  So they married him to a banker's
daughter, and--better still--put him in the bank itself.

The loyalty of Mrs. Fermitage to her distinguished husband's
memory was never disturbed by any knowledge of that fatal codicil.
Poor Mrs. Sharp, as she slowly recovered from the sad grief
wrought by greed, more and more reverently cherished her great
husband's high repute.  She rejoined him in a better world--or at
least she set forth to do so--without any knowledge of the blow he
had given to her son's head, and her own heart.  Kit, like a man,
concealed that outrage, and, like a good son, listened to his
departed father's praises.  But in her heart the widow felt that
some of these might be imperilled, if that codicil turned up.
Long time she kept it in reserve, as a thunderbolt for Joan
Fermitage; but Pablo's arrival improved her feelings, and so did
the banker's daughter; and finally, on Kit's wedding-day, with a
sigh and a prayer, she took advantage of a clear fire and a rapid
draught--and the codicil flew through the chimney-pot.

As a lawyer's daughter, she revered such things.  In the same
capacity, she knew that now it could make no great practical
difference; for Grace was quite sure of her good aunt's money.
And again, as a widow and mother, she felt what a stain must be
cast on the name she loved best, if this little document ever came
to light--other than good firelight.

But why should Esther have had no house of her own, as darkly
hinted above, so as to almost compel her to descend from tilt to
tent?  The reason is not far to seek, and he who runs may read it,
without running out of Beckley.

Cripps, the Carrier, now being past the middle milestone of man's
life, and seeing every day, more and more, the grey hairs in his
horse's tail, lowered his whip in a shady place, and let his reins
go slackly, and pulled his crooked sixpence out, and could not see
to read it.  And yet the summer sun was bright in the top of the
bushes over him!

"I vear a must; I zee no way out of un," Zacchary said to his
lonely self.  "Etty is as good as gone a'ready; her cannot stan'
out agin that there celibacy; and none else understandeth the
frying-pan.  The Lord knows how I have fought agin the womminses,
seeing all as I has seen.  And better I might a' done, if I must
come to it, many a time in the last ten year.  Better at laste for
the brown, white, and yellow; though the woman as brought might a'
shattered 'em again.  After all, Mary might be a deal worse;
though I have a-felt some doubt consarning of her tongue; but her
hath a proper respect for me, and forty puns to Oxford bank--if
her moother spaiketh raight of her; and the Squaire hath given me
a new horse, to come on whenso Dobbin beginneth to wear out.
Therefore his domestics hath first claim; though I'd soonder
draive Dobbin than ten of un.  What shall us do now?  Whatever
shall us do?"

Zacchary Cripps pulled off his hat in a slow perspiration of
suspense; for if he once made up his mind, there would be no way
out of it.  He looked at his horse with a sad misgiving, both on
his own account and Dobbin's.  The marriage of the master might
wrong the horse, and the horse might no more be the master's.
Suddenly a bright idea struck him--a bar of sunshine through the
shade.

"Thou shalt zettle it, Dobbin," he cried, leaning over and
stroking his gingery loins.  "It consarneth thee most, or,
leastways, quite as much.  Never hath any man had a better horse.
The will of the Lord takes the strength out of all of us; but He
leaveth, and addeth to the wisdom therein.  Dobbin, thou seest
things as never men can tell of.  Now, if thou waggest thy tail to
the right--I will; and so be to the left--I wun't.  Mind what thou
doest now.  Call upon thy wisdom, nag, and give thy master
honestly the sense of thy discretion."

With a settled mind, and no disturbance, he awaited the delivery
of Dobbin's tail.  A fly settled on the white foam of the harness
on the off side of this ancient horse.  Away went his tail with a
sprightly flick at it; and Cripps accepted the result.  The result
was the satisfaction of Mary's long and faithful love for him, and
the happy continuance, in woodland roads, of the loyal race and
unpretentious course of Cripps, the Carrier.



THE END



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