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And Roger was not far wrong. Lady Wimborne, her face flushed with happiness, and her eyes swimming in happy proud tears, looked young and lovely enough to pass for a sister rather than a mother to her children.
What a wonderful day that was! How much there was to say and do! How many to shake hands with, and hear kindly words of welcome from! The rector had heard the news when his servant brought his shaving water, and in consequence cut and hacked his broad chin most unmercifully.
Before the breakfast table was cleared at the Priory, there was a tap at the door, and their good friend came in, to take Harry in his arms, and bid “God bless him !"
Harry says he kissed my lady too, but of that I am not quite sure ; nor do I think is Lady Wimborne herself, for the state of excitement and flurry into which she was relapsing was something beyond description, nor was she alone in this.
Mr. Morgan had been well-nigh beside himself; he had attended Harry when he went to bed, and again when he got up, being found by that gentleman sleeping in a chair directly opposite his bed-room door, where it is presumed the honest man had placed himself to prevent his young master giving them the slip again, or to keep watch and ward after his own peculiar interpretation of ancient customs. At any rate, there he sat, a placid smile upon his fat red face, with his limp shirt collars betraying his late agitation, to say nothing of a large red and yellow pocket-handkerchief still grasped in one hand.
When Harry went out, Morgan kept an eye on him, and told Roger where to find his brother; and when breakfast began, he had stationed himself at the sideboard, with his eyes planted on Harry's face, a tendency to weep and laugh at the same time demonstrating itself, and which he only checked by making frantic rushes at the various cold meats, and transferring portions to Harry's plate in spite of all remonstrance. When the rector came, Morgan's composure took flight altogether; he disappeared from the scene, and, about an hour after. wards, was discovered in his bedroom in a state of violent hysteria, and ministered to by the housekeeper, who had long been of the same opinion as “Mrs. Margery," and thought "she ought to be settled in
Had Mr. Morgan been of the same way of thinking, there is very little doubt but that the settlement would speedily have taken place; but, unluckily, there are two voices to be raised in the matter, and Morgan was a confirmed old bachelor.
“We are going to Wellingford after breakfast,” said Lady Wimborne to the rector; “but shall be home to dinner. Will you come ?"
Of course he would. And then Lady Wimborne went to put on her bonnet, taking Silvia with her; and the brothers, left alone with their
old friend, told him of the morning walk, and the curious fact connected with the cross.
The parson looked annoyed, and grave, too.
“I heard something of this a couple of days ago," he said ; " something of the thing' they say comes there. I have been busy, or would have seen into it; now we can do so together. I'll go with you tonight, and we'll be at the bottom of it. It may be only some of the people getting up a story, though I hardly think the Thornhill servants would dare to make that spot a rendezvous ; but don't speak of it now. I am sorry it's happened to-day, Harry; we should have bargained for nothing to cloud to-day-nothing, at least, that could be avoided. God's clouds were enough for you to bear, poor boy; the way He has taken through the last few years has seemed a very dark and difficult one; but it's all for a good end; we'll know better some day, and wonder why we grudged your poor father his release and rest. your mother I've been thinking most about ; I was nearly at my wit's end once or twice during the first few months, but she bore up marvellously. I think that voyage to bring you home, Roger, saved her ; I saw a wonderful change when she came home again. Are you going?”
“No; only Harry and my mother."
“ Then we can walk down to the copse, and I'll just make use of my eyes. There's the carriage ; how well the chestnuts are looking-twice the horses the bays are. You see, Harry, that Thornhill stable has not lost caste. I'd like a closer look at the new horse before my lady comes down. Upon my word, he does Mr. Roger's judgment credit, Pastern ;” this to the head groom, who was standing by the horses, patting the shoulders of the new purchase, who was just a little fresh, and strange to double harness.
“That he does, sir. Just run your hand down his legs ; clean as a whistle, sir. Aye, that they are, and will be these any number of years; they're made of lasting stuff. I'd like to see you drivin' of them in the park, Sir Harry ; you'll have to get a pheaton—they're a little too gay for my lady. I'm going on the box to-day, just to be at hand. Her ladyship aint timid; but, you see, when a lady's in the carriage, there ought to be trusty horses before her. Gently, my pet! Gently, then !" and he passed his hand over the shining neck, along which the veins were rising, listening all the while to the rector's remarks, and not at all sorry to see Lady Wimborne coming through the hall, just in time to prevent the necessity of putting into execution the advice he was about giving “to take them down the back drive and round by the farm, just to steady them."
"Anything the matter with them, William ?" asked Lady Wimborne, as she got in.
“No, my lady;" and accordingly, thinking that Pastern was going in
compliment to Harry, she said no more, and was much too busy talking to her boy, or, if not talking herself, listening, to take any heed of the horses, or see how long it was before they settled down to the orthodox trot, or that Pastern had hold of a spare pair of reins; one thing she did remark, and that was the short time they had taken to accomplish their drive, but this, too, was attributed to Harry's presence. Besides, little time was given her to think about the matter at all. Colonel Babbington was standing at the entrance door, evidently upon the lookout. He had sent the men off to the covers, and seen the ladies secure in the morning-room, all except Lilly and Char Boyle, the first of whom was in her own room, the last closeted in the library with Mr. Kilkee, who had ridden over while breakfast was going on, apologising so satisfactorily to the colonel, that he actually conducted Char to the library himself, and issued orders that no one was to interrupt the tête-à-tête ; and all this, of course, had been done in consequence of the note brought from Thornhill by Mr. Pastern the preceding night, the contents of which the colonel had, in part, communicated to the party assembled in the drawing-room, causing thereby much astonishment and conversation.
Clara Dinsdale had been sitting at the piano when Colonel Babbington commenced reading, but, after listening to the first two sentences, and catching a glimpse of Lilly's face, she jumped up and took a seat in one of the windows; where, hid by heavy velvet curtains, the bay formed a little snug room ; here Reggy Belmont, following, found her
1 smothering down a burst of tears, and, under cover of his surprise at such an unusual display, and the seclusion afforded by the curtains, the major put his arm round Clara, and began comforting her after the most approved fashion. Clara was not at all taken aback; she seemed to understand exactly what Reggy meant, and, though he said very little, he managed to express a great deal, and evidently avoided the formal proposal, the prospect of which had mulcted him of many an hour's sleep; as, when Clara, thinking it was time to show herself, told Reggy that she did, he, having tight hold of her hand, whispered
“ Then it's all square, Clarry-I may write to my people ?" and Clara called him an old but never mind what she called him ; young ladies are happily not obliged to be sensible on such occasions, and Clara was only a girl after all, and very much in love, too. Whatever she said, she received instantaneous punishment, which obliged her to stay several minutes longer in the window; and then Lilly came, and there was a kissing scene, which, you may be sure, was a very charming thing for a looker-on, so you will not wonder when I tell you that Reggy took the opportunity to escape ; "I couldn't stand it any longer,” he confided to Clara afterwards, “I knew how nice it was to be kissed, you know, and, by Jove, Lilly was going it like one o'clock. Come, Clara, you owe me amends for giving away my property." I don't know whether he got amends, but I do know that he was very reluctant to go shooting, and very nearly quarrelled with the colonel, who would not take any excuse, but bundled them off, and took his stand at the hall door all alone, from which point of observation he could command the approach from the smaller lodge, and thus was ready to welcome "my lady," and his future son-in-law; and such a welcome as it was, too, given with the tears trickling down the old soldier's face, one hand clasping the mother's, one the son's hand.
“Into my wife's room, Harry; she will come to us there, and somebody else, too. So you were not shocked at my perverse little daughter, Lady Wimborne? I was, I can tell you, more than once, but it was no use; she would have her own way. By George, Harry, you'll have to keep your wits about you, or she'll give you plenty of work ?”
“I am not afraid, colonel,” laughed Harry; “I think I understand her."
“Do you k—then you are the first person I ever heard say so. But here she comes. No, it's my wife ; and Harry, when you've done kissing, just find your way up to Lilly's room, and bring her down; or stay, I forgot-I'll show you the way."
“ WHAT IS IT?"
“What did you make out of the tracks in the copse?" asked Harry of the rector, after his mother and Silvia had left the dining-room.
“Nothing much; it seems to me that some one has been searching among the leaves and grass; just what you thought." But you said that
you had heard of this thing.'' Mr. Topley frowned, as he had a trick of doing when he was anxious or perplexed.
“Yes, Harry, I heard some idle talk ; you know we parsons do pick up a good deal of gossip. You cannot begin work at once with every old woman, and with some your only plan is to get a word in now and, then while they are talking ; they are fond of the marvellous, too, you see, and prone to exaggeration; what I heard was this, that several persons, within the last six months, had been nearly frightened out of their senses by meeting a nondescript being, half-man, half-beast, on all fours, about the copse ; none had done more than glance at it, making off terror-stricken. Villages are always either finding out, or making, a nine days' wonder, so I took very little heed until I heard the thing was seen always in the direction of the cross, when I resolved to speak to Roger about it. You've kept the button safely, I suppose ?"
“Yes; what do you infer from that ?"
But the rector shook his head ; “We'll talk of that after our watch to-night. Who is living in old Wilson's cottage, Roger? I saw smoke there to-day.”
“Then it must have been some tramps; no one has been in it since Wilson left; there's a room with a couple of old wooden chests left by Wilson, nailed up, too, and nobody would go into the house, he wasn't popular.”
Roger's face had flushed painfully while he was speaking.
“ Popular ?" cried the rector ;“no, I should say not! He was one of the greatest rascals unhung; and that pretty granddaughter of his-I suppose you know you got the credit of taking her with you, Harry ?”
“Yes, I know that," and Harry glanced uneasily at his brother ; then, rising, he went over and laid his hand upon his shoulder, saying, earnestly_“You didn't believe it, Ro?"
For an instant a sort of spasm passed over Roger's face, and the down-looking eyes grew lurid with passion.
“You didn't believe it, Ro dear ?” whispered Harry, again ; and Roger lifted up his face-there was nothing but love and trust there now.
The rector had walked over to the fireplace, and turned his back upon the young men, but he heard every word, and knew better than either of them gave him credit for the struggle that had been going on in Roger's heart, and the worth of the victory he had won.
"Now then, boys,” he said, presently, "let us join your mother, she must begin to grudge me your society already."
Lady Wimborne was reading a letter from Gerald Guest. A letter which announced that gentleman's intention, or rather determination, to take an often longed-for journey to the East. He wrote
“I have this instant received your letter telling me of your great happiness. I shall hope to see Harry when I come back again."
“A letter from Gerald, mother ?” asked Roger, sitting down at her feet. “When is he coming down ?"
“He is going to India."
“To India ? What the deuce is the matter? I must go up to-morrow and stop him. I say, Sil,” and as Silvia came up he went on,“ do you know why Gerald's going to India ?”
Silvia's face told very plainly how matters stood, and Roger was half sorry he had spoken.
" It's all right, Sil dear,” he said, following her out of the room, and kissing away the half-indignant, wholly sorrowful tears that had rushed up to her eyes and caused her to beat a retreat. “ It's all right, I'll go up to-morrow; and I think he'll give up this absurd plan of his-do you know why he went away? No? Then can you guess ?”