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with the young lady, and meant to marry her if she would wait for him.
His impudence struck Lawyer Freer speechless. “Sir," he stuttered to the parson, when his tongue came to him, “I insist upon it that you find means to stop this presumption of your son's. You are a clergyman, sir, and must feel that it is a disgrace to him, to my family, and to the
age we live in." “I'll talk to him,” responded the parson, meekly. “I am sure he will hear reason.”
So he took his graceless heir all alone into the bedroom of the hotel where he had put up, and did “talk” to him. But Tom remained as hard as flint, protesting that no father had a right to control his son in the choice of a wife.
“You will find they have,” angrily replied Mr. Elliot, provoked to warmth. “I forbid you-do you hear me-I forbid you to think any more of this.”
“ I shall be sure to marry her in the end, if it's twenty years to come,” persisted Tom.
“ I have told her so." “At your peril,” uttered Mr. Elliot—" at the peril of disobedience. And deliberate disobedience to a father never goes unpunished, remember.”
“I'll risk the punishment if ever I get the luck,” dutifully concluded Mr. Tom, to himself.
The Reverend Mr. Elliot returned to his home, and matters went on quietly for a week or two. Tom finding no opportunity of seeing Louisa, except on Sundays; when he went to St. Luke's, which was Mr. Freer's parish church, and enshrined himself in a pew within view of the lawyer's, always telling Mrs. Agatha, who expected him to go to church with her, that there was an unusual press of in-door patients at the infirmary. Meanwhile the affair was talked of abroad, and a country squire, who was intimate with the attorney's family, and very much admired Louisa, came forward when he heard of it, and made her an offer, fearing he might lose her. All the blame, be it observed, was laid by everybody upon Tom Elliot; Louisa got none. The proposal was complacently received by Lawyer Freer, for it was a first-rate match for his daughter. He, like others, had not cast much reproach to Louisa, his indignation being concentred on the audacious infirmary pupil : and now that the intimacy between the two was broken off, the lawyer concluded the affair was at an end, and so dismissed it from his mind.
“ If I could have chosen from all the county for you, Louisa, I should have fixed on Turnbull," observed the lawyer to his daughters. “What
you say, Clara ?”
Člara said nothing: she was sulky and cross. She considered herself much handsomer than that chit Louisa, yet all the offers were going to her.
“ His rent-roll is two thousand a year, all clear and unencumbered. I had the settlement of affairs last year, at his father's death. You are a lucky child.”
“I should not like to live in the country,” timidly remarked Louisa, not daring to make any more formidable obstacle.
“ Not like—what, raise an objection to Turnbull Park! There's not
a prettier spot--for its size-in all the county!" cried the attorney. wish I had the chance of living there."
“ If Mr. Thomas Elliot were its owner, we might hear less of objection to living in the country,' very spitefully exclaimed Miss Freer.
“ Thomas Elliot!" repeated the lawyer, “hang Thomas Elliot." He looked inquiringly from one to the other: Clara's face was pale and severe, Louisa's burning. “Harkee, young ladies,” he said, “we will dispense with the naming of that person in future. Had Louisa not given him up, I would have discarded her in disgrace. I would, on my solemn word. Squire Turnbull dines here to-morrow, Clara. Let the dinner be handsome.”
Once more were the pupils assembled in a private sanctum of the infirmary. Their pots of porter were absent, but their careless jokes were not.
“He is late this morning," observed Jones. 6 Won't we have a shy at him when he comes."
“ I wonder if he knows it?"
“ Not yet,” answered little Dobbs ; “ I'll bet two bobs to one he doesn't. It was only through my aunt Blake drinking tea there last night that it came out.”
At this moment, Tom Elliot entered, with a cigar in his mouth. “Well, Elliot,” little Dobbs cried, “have you heard the news ?" “I've heard no news.” “ About a friend of yours,” Davis interposed, "going to be married ?" Mr. Elliot puffed on apathetically, and made no reply.
say, Elliot,” began Jones, again, “ do you know Turnbull ?” “ I don't know any Turnbull,” responded Tom, who, as little Dobbs phrased it, seemed cranky" that morning.
“ Turnbull of Turnbull Park. Drives iron-grey horses in his drag ?
“Oh, that lot! A short, stout cove, looks a candidate for apoplexy. Splendid cattle they are."
" He's going into the matrimonial noose, Elliot.” “He may go into another noose if he likes. Who called him a friend of mine ?” “No, the lady's your friend. A clipper she is, too."
Only Elliot does not think so. Oh, no, not at all,” cried Mr. Dobbs. “Come, Elliot,” Davis said, “guess who Turnbull's going to splice with ?”
“ You, perhaps," was the sulky answer.
“I'll bet he has heard it,” grinned Davis, “ he is so savage. It's your prize, little Loo Freer.”
What ?”' shrieked Elliot.
Squire 'Turnbull marries Louisa Freer. Settlements are being drawn up, and wedding-dresses made.”
“ A lie!" shouted Elliot.
" It's not,” interrupted Jones; “it's true. Dobbs's family have had the official announcement, and
They were interrupted by a low whistle from Davis. "Silence, boys. I hear Dicks coming down stairs.”
Now I am not going to defend either Mr. Tom Elliot or Miss Louisa Freer. On the contrary, they deserve all the reproach that can be cast at them. They took alarm at the advances of Squire Turnbull, and
planned a runaway marriage: though how they contrived to meet and consult, was a matter of wonder, afterwards, to Nearford. It probably appeared to both as the only certain way of extricating Louisa, but a more lamentably imprudent step was never taken.
Prudence, however, was no concern of Tom Elliot's : all he cared for was to get it accomplished, and he went to work in a daring and unusual way. He determined to marry her in her own parish church, and he ran up to London by the night mail, procured a license, and brought a confidential friend down with him, who entered with gusto into the secret, and enjoyed the fun. The incumbent of St. Luke's, a bachelor, and still a young man, was as much fitted for a parson as I am. He was given to following the hounds more than to following his parishioners, was fond of gentlemen's after-dinner society, but painfully awkward and nervous in the presence of ladies; good-nature, unsuspicious, the very man to be imposed upon by Tom Elliot.
III. NEARFORD assizes came on. And late on the evening of the first day, Monday, a confidential note from Lawyer Freer was delivered to the Reverend Simon Whistler, calling upon him to perform the marriage ceremony between his youngest daughter and Mr. Thomas Elliot the following morning at ten. Mr. Freer added a request that the matter might be kept strictly secret, for reasons of which he would himself inform him when they met the following day. Now, if the Reverend Simon had an objection to perform one part of his clerical duties, it was that of tying the nuptial knot. Baptisms he did not mind, burials he was quite at home in, but a gay wedding was his aversion, for the ladies and their fine clothes scared all his nerves and set them shaking. So he groaned aloud when he read the lawyer's letter, but was forced to resign himself to what there was no help for.
On Tuesday morning, at twenty-five minutes past nine precisely, Lawyer Freer bustled into the town-hall
, in the wake of two counsellors, specially retained for Mrs. Agatha Needham. That lady herself, escorted by her nephew, and accompanied by several maiden friends, also arrived, just as the learned baron, who presided at Nisi Prius, took his seat. With difficulty places were found for Mrs. Needham's party, for the court was crammed, all the town being anxious to hear the great cause tried.
“And now, aunt, as you are comfortably fixed, I'll be off to the infirmary for an hour. It's my day to go round the wards with the surgeons."
" Why, Thomas!” uttered the startled Mrs. Agatha, “ you'll never think of leaving us unprotected! Mr. Dicks will excuse you on so important an occasion as this. Those gentlemen in wigs are staring here very unpleasantly already. How extremely ugly they are !"
"Staring are they !” cried Tom. “I'll go and stop that. Just one moment, aunt; you'll take no harm. Back in a brace of shakes."
At ten o'clock the Reverend Mr. Whistler was in St. Luke's vestry, putting on his surplice. He had not to wait long for the wedding party.. It consisted only of Mr. Elliot, Louisa Freer (in her every-day clothes, and a thick black veil), and a strange gentleman as groomsman.
“ This is sadly unfortunate, Mr. Whistler," began Tom, in his off-hand
manner ; “my aunt's cause is on, and everybody's at it. Mrs. Agatha is
“ Newcome v. Needham.” He had anticipated a string of ladies as long as the aisle, with a proportionate show of veils and feathers. He never performed the marriage service so glibly in his life and he thought he had never seen a bride tremble more violently.
The fees were paid, the register signed, and the parties left the church. At the entrance, which was situated, like the church, in an obscure neighbourhood, stood a post-chaise and four. Mr. Tom Elliot, clearing a way through the collection of young nurses and infants there assembled, placed his bride in it, followed her in, banged-to the door, and off dashed the postboys at a gallop.
“Never accomplished a feat more cleverly in my life,” chuckled Tom. “Loo, my darling, all the fathers in Christendom shan't separate us
The stranger, meanwhile, after watching the chaise fairly away, returned to the vestry, and addressed the clergyman.
“Mr. Freer's compliments, sir, and he begs you will be at his house at seven to-night, to celebrate the wedding."
Mr. Whistler replied in the affirmative, though not without hesitation. He had a horror of evening parties, and concluded this was nothing less than a dance. But he did not like to refuse on such an occasion.
It was seven that evening when Mr. Freer returned home, having snatched a hasty dinner off a pocket sandwich in the guildhall. Clara had got tea ready on the table, with a nice ham, for she knew what her father's dinners on assize days were.
“Well, papa,” she said, " is it over ? How's the verdict ?”
“For Miss Needham, of course," replied Lawyer Freer, throwing aside his wig and bag, for he was addicted, when fatigued, to sitting in private life in his bald head. “I knew we should have it. There was a clapping of hands in court when it was delivered. Just get me my slippers, Clara. Where's
sister ?” “She went out after breakfast. Telling Nancy she was going to court with Mrs. Stevens, and might not be at home till late."
"Told Nancy she was going into court !" repeated the amazed lawyer, pausing in the act of pulling off his boots. “My daughter to appear in a public assize court! İf Squire Turnbull should hear Good Heavens, Louisa must be out of her mind. And where were my eyes that I did not see her? Ring the bell, Clara."
“I thought it very extraordinary, papa,” rejoined Clara, not sorry to get her sister into a row.
“ Nancy,” cried the lawyer, in a fume, when the housemaid appeared,
go instantly to Mrs. Stevens! Ask to speak to Miss Louisa, and tell her it is my desire that she return home with you immediately. Staycall at Ford's and take a fly; go in it and return in it. A pretty night assize night is, for women to be in the streets," muttered the discomfited lawyer.
No sooner had Nancy departed than there came a rat-tat-tat to the
street-door, and in walked the Rev. Mr. Whistler, ushered in by the cook, who, to her own mortification, happened that day, of all days in the year, not to have “cleaned” herself. The lawyer stared, and Clara stared, for the parson had arrayed himself in evening attire, white kid gloves, silk stockings, tights, and pumps. He went all over as red as his hunting-coat, and sat down dreadfully embarrassed, feeling convinced he had mistaken the night, and ready to swear—if he had not been a parson—at his own stupidity. Clara asked if he would take a cup of tea, and he stammered that he would, though he hated tea like poison.
“ You must allow me to congratulate you, sir," he began, believing he was expected to say something about the wedding, and clearing his throat to help overcome his diffidence. “ I was sorry not to have had that pleasure this morning."
Lawyer Freer knew of no cause for congratulation save the verdict in favour of Mrs. Agatha Needham. “Thank you,” he said, “it is not a pleasant thing to lose a cause."
The parson expected his host to say daughter, and if the word sounded to his ear like cause, he attributed it to his own bewilderment.
“Indeed it is not,” answered the parson. “I remember when my sister was married, my mother and the bridesmaids cried all day.”
The attorney looked up with undisguised astonishment, and Miss Freer was certainly laughing. He felt sure it was at those wretched tights, and pushed his legs back under his chair, as far as he could, without overbalancing himself.
“ Were you amused in court to-day?” was his next question, addressing Miss Freer.
" In court! I!" cried Clara.
“It was her sister who went," broke in the lawyer—"my youngest daughter. Clara would not have acted so indiscreetly. Louisa's not come home yet.”
“Your youngest daughter went to the hall to-day!" echoed the clergyman, staring in his turn. “That is rather-rather uncommonis it not?”
“Uncommon? It's unpardonable.”
“Mr. Elliot!" roared the attorney, firing at the name, "I don't know anything about Mr. Elliot. What's Mr. Elliot to me?"
"A-a-a-no quarrel, or misunderstanding, I hope, since the morning?” cried the parson, hopelessly mystified.
“Not that I am aware of, sir,” coldly answered the offended attorney. “I supposed they were leaving the town to-day,” returned Mr. Whistler. “Indeed, I believed they had left it.”
Mr. Freer considered, and concluding the “they” must have reference to the learned judges, he made no remark.
At that moment the cook put her head into the room. Agatha Needham's compliments-she was sorry to trouble Mr. Freer on the subject, but did he know anything of her nephew? He had left her in a mysterious way in the morning, as soon as she got into court, and nothing had been heard or seen of him since.
“I know nothing of him,” growled the lawyer—"nothing. My respects to Mrs. Needham herself."
Before the cook could turn away with the message, a fly was heard