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roses in that out-of-the-way country “ Aunt Jean, you don't understand. village.”
Noel is an amateur." That out-of-the-way country village ! Well, if that means a lover, I supA smile stole over the niece's face as pose he is, at present,” responded Miss she watched the knitting-needles which Chester, dryly. “ But take care he seemed to say the words over and over doesn't tire of his new plaything and go again in Miss Chester's rapid fingers. back to the sublimate." Why, the most attractive feature in all Miss Chester having said this, put that unknown expanse that stretched down her knitting, took off her specout before her-Noel, of course, except. tacles, went up to her niece with great ed — was this delightful country village deliberation, and kissed her. of which her aunt spoke so slightingly. But Gertrude was unresponsive. The
“ It isn't out of the way, Aunt Jean, sharp sentence seemed to her as unjust for a country village; it isn't many as it was unkind; it had hurt her so miles from the county town. And just much that she was afraid of turning her imagine the fun of going amongst those face to those eyes which had in reality queer farming people, seeing their ways, little need of spectacles. actually living amongst them, and mak “Gertrude," said Miss Chester,“ that ing hay!"
speech was about as unkind and cruel a Haymaking will be over,” said Miss one as I could have made to a poor Chester, grimly.
little girl under your circumstances. “Well, but it will come again next Don't resent it, however. I am out of
sorts. I was a lonely old maid before “ And if you think you are going to your brother brought you to me; do find anything to make fun of in those you think I shall be less lonely now
queer farmers,' as you call them, I can when you are gone ?"
the lips. She shook her head gravely,
to such a thing. You two are going to Miss Chester laughed.
enter the lists for happiness, and must “On the strength of having spoiled have no spy to see how you begin your his land and impoverished himself with battle with the world.” a sublimate, or a phosphate, or some Gertrude Chester made no answer to other uncomfortable cranky chemical of this. There was in her own mind a which I know nothing. Fortunate for little shadowy consciousness that she him that he was an only son, and for. had not wished her random request to tunate for his farmn that he had sense be granted, and therefore there was a enough to let it."
tiny atom of insincerity about it. “George says Noel is the cleverest " At least, you will come and see man he ever met."
“ Clever, is he? Well, for my part I " To be sure I will.” can't see what people want to play at “And you will find that in the being tradesmen for. If he must be country I shall do as the country does.” always at those chemical tricks, why " What's that, Gertrude ? Scamper didn't he serve his apprenticeship and over the fields after wild flowers and get a shop, and then he might have watercress? Well, I love the country stood a chance of knowing something, too; who doesn't ? Remember this, instead of doing mischief."
however. I come to see you, but not
us ? »
MR. NOEL RASHLEIGH.
uninvited. I can't have my unimpor- at one time she used to look with longtant person made into a tiresome ogre ing envy on such sights as that. How who may pounce down upon you at different it was
How much all seasons, unexpected and unwelcome. nobler an ambition had replaced that Those surprises have strange elements dream of foolish vanity! How useful of discord in them."
and good and quiet her life was going The piece would have uttered a dis- to be in the peaceful country, remote claimer, but Miss Chester put a finger from this noise and riot of dissipation on her lips and bade her go away to which had no longer any charm for her ! bed and sleep, for it was getting late, | All round the rosy horizon there was and there was work in store for to- nothing but unflecked brightness; no morrow.
cloud, no sign of so much as a shower; But as to whether Gertrude was in nothing but peace. any great hurry to follow this advice, those on the eve of so great and solemn
CHAPTER II. an event as she was, an event which is to change the whole character of life, may judge.
MEANWHILE Mr. Noel Rashleigh was There was so much to think of, so cutting across the country at a speed of much to resolve upon. There were so some thirty miles an hour back to his many loyal vows of self-devotion to home in the out-of-the-way village. His Noel's happiness to be registered. Aunt thoughts should, as a matter of course, Jean may be right as to his having have been pleasant; and if the question chosen a childish wife; unlearned, and had been put to him as he first took his poor, and childish; she was all these; seat in the railway carriage, he would but yet, as she decided, with a little have answered unhesitatingly that they flush of enthusiasm, not quite ignorant, were pleasant. In Gertrude's society, not altogether a plaything, or useless. or just fresh from it, he would have She could do a great deal, she thought, confessed with a comical helplessness in that primitive village wherein her that she had bewitched him; and even brother was curate. Not that she look- the occasional dry humor exhibited by ed forward to his help, much. She had the aunt failed in its confusing effect grand ideas of her own as to the won when Gertrude was by. derful things to be accomplished. There If, however, he had also been asked would be a Sunday-school to teach at, how so unlikely a circumstance as his or she might get up a school of her engagement to Gertrude had ever taken own; and then there were the poor place, his answer might not have come people to be visited. To be sure Noel so readily. In effect, it often puzzled did not seein to know or be interested himself. It seemed to him a sort of unmuch about them, but he was so much looked - for event, chargeable upon looccupied. And she could soon find out cality and accident, since he felt sure for herself all she wanted to know. And that in his own residence, or amongst then she must make friends with those the surroundings that were connected in farmers about whom Aunt Jean had his mind with far different pursuits from been so cross. And farmers were usu- that of love-making, such a thing would ally, she thought — though, of course, never have entered his head. He was, rustic and delightful—rather a stupid as might be inferred from Aunt Jean's set of people ; behind the age, probably; strictures, devoted to chemistry - an taking no interest in schools and chari- alluring pursuit, doubtless, especially if ties, and a hundred other matters into there be grafted upon it the least suswhich she meant to put her inexperi- picion of alchemical utopianism, and a enced little fingers.
floating dream or two concerning the And at this juncture a carriage rolled philosopher's stone. Mr. Rashleigh by in which she, leaning out of the open might not have acknowledged that any window, saw a cloud of muslin and lace; such dreams troubled him, or that he and had a vision of bouquets, opera did at enthusiastic moments discern cloaks, and wreaths. And she remem- somewhere, in the vast region of possibered with a feeling of superiority that bilities, the inviting glimmer of an au
rum philosophicum. He rnight never had given her, and positively passing her have left the Elysian fields of philo- lips backwards and forwards over them sophical bachelordom, but for a chance as she arranged them on the breakfastby which he and the curate a new table, arrival in the parish—became intimate ; They are so sweet,” said Gertrude, and this chance was the discovery that apologetically, “and I have so few flowthe curate had in his possession certain ers. I dare say you in the country have rare folios, possibly handed down to so many that they are scarcely precious him from a bibliomane ancestor. These at all." books he, the Rev. George Chester, was Noel was not thinking of the flowers, ready enough to lend, confessing, how- or the childish action of fondling them. ever, that they were unintelligible to It is to be supposed that the quick, himself. The admission fell upon dull universal impulse had overcome this
The prizes treated upon the strong - minded philosopher; for what transmutation of metals ; and Noel followed was to him a very vagne re. talked to the curate as though the latter membrance. When he came to himself had been as widely acquainted with he knew that he had laid all the beauties analytical and experimental chemistry he could claim or procure of country as he fancied he was himself. Out of life at her feet, if she would only accept these books, then, and a vivid admira- them. How he had done it was another tion which the somewhat slow intellect thing; awkwardly, of course, but that of Mr. Chester conceived for the philo- mattered little: it was done. And then sophical genius, a friendship sprang up, the marvellous novelty of his sensations which resulted in a proposal from the at finding that Gertrude was actually curate that Noel should accompany him happy in his confession! It was true on a visit he was about to pay to his that her happiness seemed to be mixed aunt and sister in London.
with an awful reverence for him ; still Mr. Rashleigh at first declined; then that it was happiness he could not doubt; suddenly some thought of the British and for the time he flung chemistry to Museum crossed his mind, and he with the winds, and was bappy too. He drew his refusal. George Chester neither was not, however, learned enough in knew nor cared for the motive which woman's nature to understand the sudled to this vacillation of purpose. He den gravity that came over Gertrude was proud of his friend, and glad of an and seemed to sober her all at once from opportunity to introduce him to Ger- the madcap Miss Chester, and called her trude and his aunt. George himself into the thoughtful woman. was not brilliant, and for this reason, “ Aunt Jean will tell you dreadful perhaps, he liked to seek and to be tales about me," said Gertrude, not sought by those whom he considered without a hesitating fear for the result. above the average. It soothed his con- “ And indeed I am afraid I have desciousness of personal mediocrity and served all that she will say. But I am gratified him.
not going to be wilful any more; every. The result of the visit has been seen. thing is so Mr. Rashleigh went but little to the " So what? British Museum. The thing was very "So very different now. wonderful, but not less true for that. know, Mr. Řashleigh, I had nothing to He was taken captive by this child-like give up being wilful for." sister of the curate, whose very
child She said it as if entreating him to be ishness came to him like fresh flowers lenient in his judgment of those dreadto an invalid, or sunlight to a man long ful things which Aunt Jean would say ; blinded. It dazzled him. She sang like and Noel laughed, for Miss Chester and the happiest bulbul that ever charmed her opinions were of very secondary ima moonlight listener; she was full of portance to him, just then. He got over wilful tricks, which she did with all the his interview with that formidable lady grace of monk propriety. How the end as soon as possible, and emerged from came about, Noel could not tell. He it with an oppressive iilea of spectacles only knew that he found her one morn- that had seemed to be looking through ing cooing over some flowers that George to his backbone, and knitting-needles
which had bobbed out sharp speeches the railway carriage on his return home
, and went to take his leave which his father had grown wealthy, of Gertrude for that time, and to stipu- A packet that met his eye was inimical late that he should be allowed to come to the alterations; they could be made again soon, and that the wedding should at any time; and he was eager to dip not be long delayed.
into this new treatise on an old subject. This stipulation had to be made to The voice of his future brother-in-law Aunt Jean; and, in obedience to some roused him from a long fit of absorption, masonic signal which Noel did not un- and he started up only half awakened derstand, Gertrude left the room as he from his reverie-one of those reveries made it, and he was again alone with concerning which Gertrude already knew Miss Chester. The wedding! As he something-very little yet, and which spoke of it he actually felt the red in his she afterwards took to call “sublimates," dark cheek, and turned stammering from with that rueful sort of jesting which the keen eyes watching him.
smothers a sigh. Aunt Jean, however, had something “Oh, I was coming to you, George," to say which she conceived it her duty said Mr. Rashleigh, bringing himself to say; and under such circumstances it back with a jerk. “It's to be next week was not her habit to relent.
Wednesday — you can come,
sup“Mr. Rashleigh," said the old lady, pose?” "you are going
to take away a spoiled “Yes; I shall run up the day before. child who is very dear to me. You will How did you leave them ? not be offended if I speak to you plainly?” “Very well."
“ Offended ? No, certainly not.” “ And from London you go where?”
“When a man gives himself up to one “Go!” repeated Mr. Rashleigh, puz pursuit, to which he gives up the whole zled ; " oh, I see. Yes. Upon my word of his time and energy, it is apt to be- I am not sure that we fixed decidedly. come a second nature grafted upon the To the north, I think it will be.” first; so that he is unlikely to consider “ The lakes ? Very nice to be you,” those trifles which make the sum of hu- said the curate, with a half sigh. "I man things, and go to the fulfilment of must go. I only looked in upon you in domestic happiness. Mr. Rashleigh, passing." Gertrude is very young; in reality, And Mr. Rashleigh, left alone, fingered though not in years, she is a mere child. the leaves of that treatise a little longer, I beseech you to take thought for her.” and then closed it, and went to walk
“Madam,” replied Noel, looking at her up and down on his lawn, that he might with hazy, uncomprehending eyes,“ her think. happiness shall be my dearest care." Yes, it would be very nice; George
And Miss Chester, reading perfectly was right about that. Very nice to have the expression of his face, knew that it a bright little fairy singing about the would be hopeless to say any more. lonely house, and making it merry with
We left Mr. Rashleigh, however, in her own light-heartedness. Very nice
WIIAT THE PARISH SAID,
when he left his study to find her waiting from the commoner Hays to be found for him, ready to talk or to be silent; to in the provincial town-indulged in a sit as she had sat for a little while the speculative grimace. Of course Mr. evening before, with her head resting on Rashleigh had a right to be married if his shoulder and her hand in his; or to be liked, and without consulting his walk with him about those fields on neighbors : nevertheless there was some which he had tried his unsuccessful ex- slight feeling of aggrievement astir periments, and which were now let to amongst them. They had a sort of his neighbor, Mr. Frankton.
vested interest in him as a bachelor. Noel Rashleigh spent the next balf- More than once he had lent the lawn hour as a lover should spend it, and then before his house as a croquet-ground; with a sudden practical thought he and although Mrs. Haye herself cared turned back into the house, and wrote nothing about croquet, yet she did like to the county town for the very best the liberty and license with which on piano which could be furnished at a such occasions she went through Noel's short notice from a provincial warehouse. rooms, examined his furniture, and, in
common with others, made herself perfectly at home in them. It was very useful to have such a house in the par
ish ; and of course, if a mistress came “I'll never believe it. As for the first to it, all that would be altered. But report of the marriage, Mr. Rashleigh as to the second bit of gossip—whisper is much too sensible a man to do such a it gently—how it could possibly have thing; and for the second”.
arisen, who first made it up, or heard it, The speaker stopped. It was or dreamt it, no one could fiud out. If though the very enormity of that second it were not for the exertions of Captains report took her breath away. She, Mrs. Speke and Grant, I might perhaps say, Rodington Haye, was calling upon her as well try to discover the source of the neighbor, Mrs. Frankton, and the two Nile; but that platitude bas been robbed ladies, having strolled into the garden, of its point. were supposed to be admiring the The report was, then, that the new flowers.
Mrs. Rashleigh intended to take the lead " As for the second instalment of the in the parish. report,” proceeded Mrs. Haye, deliber “It has been traced to the Lisles," said ately, “it is simply laughable.
Mrs. Haye, somewhat inconsequently as “Like most reports, to be accepted, if to the foregoing conversation, but aproaccepted at all, with a reservation,” re-pos of the report; " and Mrs. Lisle cansponded her companion.
not tell exactly where she heard it first. Mrs. Rodington Haye glanced from Take the lead, indeed! Upon my word, the scarlet geranium, whose faded blos- it is too absurd for comment. Young soms her friend was cutting off, towards ladies in these days do certainly not the spot where the chimneys of Mr. know their place. I suppose she is going Rashleigh's house seemed to blend with to reform us all. Take the lead!" the church-tower.
Mrs. Haye, being the widow of a pro“ Then the marriage also must be fessional man, and possessing an indenonsense. A girl of eighteen! Why, pendent fortune, arrogated to herself a it is absolutely ridiculous.”
certain importance in the parish, which “That I had from Mr. Chester him- was conceded, partly perhaps to a selfself,” replied Mrs. Frankton, “so of assertive power, and partly to a very uncourse it is true. And I don't see ex- certain temper. actly why it is ridiculous. I am not sure “The marriage itself is, no doubt, an about her age being eighteen; I only intrigue between the curate and his know that she is very young."
sister," she proceeded. "Everybody “ You had it from Mr. Chester ?” knows how poorly the clergy provide
“ Yes. The wedding takes place this for their children — and just think of week, I believe."
the seams of Mr. Chester's coats! Of Mrs. Haye—she was very particular course this is altogether admirable for about that final e: it distinguished her them both.”