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CHAPTER V.

ANY

with this childish acknowledgment of

looking for mushrooms on a frosty day MUSHROOMS?

in December. THE December sun sbone out feebly, "Perhaps they don't grow on your only, as it seemed, to show the frosty land, Mr. Frankton?” nakedness of the land.

“Not at this time of the year," replied But a bright idea had struck Mrs. Mr. Frankton, with perfect gravity and Rashleigh, and she was walking briskly courtesy: “ It is not the season for through the fields with a basket in her them. I can show you a shorter way hand. She was looking for mushrooms. home than the one you came by, Mrs. Of course she had not told any one what Rashleigh. Will you allow me to carry the basket was for — indeed, who was your basket ? " there to tell ? — or she might have been And then she found herself walking laughed at for her pains. She never towards home side by side with Mr. stopped to consider times and seasons. Frankton, and confessing to herself that It had suddenly occurred to her that he was far more agreeable and polite mushrooms grew in the fields; so into than the ladies of the parish had been, the fields she went to look for them. with the exception, perhaps, of his wife,

And she had walked a long way, and who could not be uncourteous, though was tired when she stopped appalled her distance was freezing. before a gate which was padlocked. “This is your way,” said Mr. Frank

What could she do now? She had ton, relinquishing the basket. “Through taken this way, thinking it would be the gate by that large holly-bush. It shorter, and to go all round those fields is scarcely more than a field's breadth back again would be terrible. While from there." she deliberated a voice startled her, and It was not to be expected that Mr. turning round she saw Mr. Frankton in Frankton could resist telling the episode the act of raising his hat to her. of the mushrooms; but when he found

“I am sorry it is locked, Mrs. Rash- that it was snapped up and twisted into leigh. But it is a gate we very seldom affectation of pretty ignorance, superuse, and the village boys had a bad ciliousness, conceit, he stopped, and said, habit of leaving it open. I will go laughing: “When Mrs. Frankton first home for the key if you don't mind came home she called the guinea fowls waiting: or”

jackdaws. Don't be hard upon RashMr. Frankton looked at the slight leigh's pretty little wife.” figure of the lady speculatively. It is The walk, however, which Gertrude possible that he was thinking how easy had to take in consequence of her exà solution of the difficulty it would be pedition was of far more importance to lift her, basket and all, over the gate, than Mr. Frankton had imagined it but of course he did not dare to suggest would be when he pointed out to her it. As for Gertrude, the possibility of that shorter route. climbing a gate was not likely to occur The gate by the holly-bush! When to her.

she reached that bush she stopped in “Not on any account, thank you,” she impulsive admiration for the brilliant said, to his offer of fetching the key. “I berries with which it was covered ; and can go round. I thought this way was as she stopped the thought which it

I have been looking for mush- suggested was so enormous, so beautirooms,” she added glancing at her bas- ful, so full of capabilities and possible ket; “ but I have not found any." delight, that she forgot all about her Mr. Frankton did not smile.

fatigue, and started off with a fresh imIt was a very winning face that was petus towards home that she might turned towards him; nervously sensi- think it out. tive-somewhat childish. He began to This casual suggestion had fired a think vaguely of all the stories of Mrs. long train of ideas-lighted up a hunRashleigh's designing nature, her pride, dred designs and devices, all bearing arrogance, and conceit. He had paid upon it or growing out of it, but before but little attention to them himself, but | lying torpid amongst the records of they occurred to him now, incidentally things seen once but now forgotten.

nearer.

Here was work for idle hands; beau- there was a great calm, like the calm tiful work, too good for her. Too good before a thunderstorm. almost in the first flush of anticipation And the curate found his sister one to be possible. What if some one else, day out on the lawn in a white frost, finding out the notion, should take it and caught her putting her hands befrom her! As yet the very idea of hind her when saw him, like a was hidden in her own mind, and so it naughty child, looking, at the same time, should be kept. No one must hear of so wickedly happy and silently busy that it. By a subtle process of analogy, she even to his slow apprehension the idea thought she comprehended now a speech of danger presented itself

. her husband had once made to the curate “Now, Gerty," said George, “don't in her hearing about the necessity which you do too much, just at first. impels men, having conceived the hope “ Too much!” repeated Mrs. Rashor prospect of a new invention, to keep leigh, indignantly. “George, how is that it to themselves.

possible ? And then she knew so well how to Mr. Chester hesitated. He had an do this work, the idea of which had indistinct consciousness that his sister occurred to her. Symbolical devices was not in favor; and he thought that sprang up ready made before her eyes perhaps he really was disposed to let that to dazzle them; beautiful wreaths and consideration bias him, and to be over chaplets. Was there time for her, sin- cautious. He fancied uneasily that it gle-handed, to do all that she would would have been better not to keep the wish to do? She counted up. It wanted thing so secret, for all that, but he scarceDearly three weeks to Christmas. In that ly liked to say so. time surely she might do all; but she “Well," he said, “I only koow if I must have a room set apart to work in, hadn't gone about things too hotly at and Joseph must be pressed into the first I might have done more. People service to get evergreens; and that dread- have prejudices, you know, and even if ful housemaid must, if possible, be won things are right and fit in themselves” over to keep the secret.

“Right should give way to prejudice. Before all, however, she must have I wonder at you, George." the vicar's permission, and this was to George would perhaps have argued be quietly obtained, so that not even further, but his sister took his arm and Noel should know what was going on. led him into her workroom, where the It should be a surprise to him and to housemaid, won over, was busy over every one, even the vicar himself, who some tiny wreaths. was not to know beforehand the extent “Look there," said Gertrude. “ You of the proposed decorations.

ought to be flattered, for even Noel That evening her head was too busy doesn't so much as know what I am to listen for the opening door; too busy about. This scroll is for over the altar, to care that Noel remained in his seclu- and the font is to be managed with real sion later than usual ; too busy to be flowers and moss. How gloomy you miserable. She had found work enough. look, George. Indeed I don't think you

deserve to see these things.” CHAPTER VI.

People never like to be taken by

storm,” responded George. QUID NUNC?

It was true that he looked gloomy. What was it? Who said it? Could He did not know what to say. That it possibly be true ?

Gertrude had the vicar's permission was There was a ghastly whisper afloat a very strong point; but George was far that Mrs. Rashleigh had told the old from understanding how very little the clerk she would take out of his hands vicar knew what his permission meant; the Christmas decorations, which had the latter having thought, in his simhitherto consisted of a bush'of holly and plicity, that the rather odd little lady, ivy with the berries flowered in the Mrs. Rashleigh, had a fancy for taking corner of each pew, and a besom in the the clerk's work from him, and sticking east window.

the holly branches into the gimlet holes And the parish held its breath, and prepared for them.

“Nevertheless," muttered the curate of many commentators; a soulless disas he went away, “I am afraid, I am quisition which seemed to crumble bevery much afraid there'll be a row." fore the spirit that overshadowed the

But the dreadful thundery calm con- silent church in the fresh dawn of that tinued, and on Christmas Eve the old Christmas morning. vicar, seeing ladders in the churchyard, Three hours were before him yet; and having a dim vision of workmen in and as he wrote, the solemn exaltation the porch, and a dainty figure passing and tenderness were like a halo round in and out amongst them, wondered his pen, and words flowed from it swiftwhat was the matter, and thought he ly, as though they had come from somewould go and see by-and-by,

thing within himself which even he As it happened, however, he had bis could scarcely comprehend. sermon to finish, and by-and by did not A brief sermon, lasting in its delivery come until Christmas morning was be- but a few minutes ; but so new, so difginning to dawn, and, as was his cus- ferent from the dreary dissertations tom, he went across the churchyard to which usually came from the vicar, that the vestry door, and thence into the Gertrude Rashleigh, listening from her church.

corner, forgot for a moment the sudden At the door the vicar halted in amaze- blow that had fallen upon her, in the ment. A long while he stood there, wonderful power of this eloquence comwith his hand on the back of a pew, and ing straight from one man's heart to go then there stole a strange expression straight to the hearts of others. over his face, and he moved on, but very How good of him; how very good, slowly and silently, towards the altar. and strange too, it was to preach as

From under the dreamy torpor of though he had known all about the decmany years something came struggling orations beforehand ! up into the old man's heart which touch For Gertrude was suffering from a ed him strangely; his drooping shoul- disappointment whose keenness she ders seemed to lose their droop, and his scarcely realized yet. - lips were moving softly. He was read-1. Early in her place that morning, the ing the golden “Gloria in Excelsis Deo, uneasy movement that ran round the et in terra Pax !"

church as the congregation came in fell And suddenly there was a mist before upon her heart as though a sheet of ice his eyes, and a star shone down over were being slowly drawn across it. She the distant birthplace earth once offered had gone full of the hopeful excitement to her Lord, and the Light of the world of this surprise which was to please

everybody. And the church was, as it were, full

Noel himself had looked round from of the waving of angels' wings, and of the decorations to his wife with an unthe music of the song which fell upon easy suspicion, and with that look came the shepherds' ears. And still the old her first misgiving. man stood there motionless.

There was

Then followed those movements in something so inexpressibly solemn and the congregation ; those glances of sultender in the thoughts this unexpected len disapproval and open indignation sight had roused within him ; something which she could not mistake. Poor so strangely beautiful and touching Gertrude shrank back further than usual about these silent witnesses that bade into her corner; but the worst was to earth's children bear in mind the light come. Mrs. Haye had not yet arrived. and life which broke upon their dark Never, so long as she lives, will Gerness as to-day, that when the vicar left trude Rashleigh forget the first tap of the church his lips were muttering, half those high heeled boots in the aisle, nor unconsciously, "Put off thy shoes from the painful beating of her own heart as thy feet, for the place whereon thou they came nearer. Now that the thing standest is holy ground."

was unalterable, she began to perceive He went back into his study and took faintly something of her own rashness up the sermon prepared for the morn- and imprudence. What a time those ing's service; dry with arguments from boots were coming up with the strongdusty volumes; sleepy with the wisdom minded, determined tap, tap on the pave

was come.

THE

SPEECH.

ment! Never will she forget the rigid , decorations should be quietly taken defiance expressed in the poker-stiffened down; and his sister, stung into callousback, the raised nose, the supercilious ness, said it was no matter whether they altogether that went on beyond her seat came down or not; wished she had never in the direction of its own; that paused seen them; wished she had never gone all at once; that took a calmly deliber- after those horrible mushrooms, or met ate survey of the church; that turned Mr. Frankton, who directed her to the round on those awful heels, and com- holly-bush. For, to her utter dismay posedly walked out again.

and wretchedness, Gertrude conceived

the idea that Noel was hopelessly angry CHAPTER VII.

with her. There was a change in his

manner which she did not understand. VIOAR's

He seemed to be so gravely solicitous “I WILL do anything you wish, Noel. and tender over her, at a distance, as Indeed, I am only too glad to think though she were under a ban, and he there is anything I can do."

pitied her. That he who did so shrink The speech sent an additional sting from observation of any kind, who was after the many which had been worry- so singularly reticent and nervous, should ing Mr. Noel Rashleigh's conscience ever be brought into such public bad odor, since that unhappy Christmas Day, but and through her means! This was the he replied composedly :

way she performed her wifely duties! “Then be a brave little woman, and This was being a good wife to him ! prepare to show yourself a wonderful “ It is all so very small and trivial,” hostess. You see we must give this said George, “that I really think there party, and, as the vicar says, it should must be something else, Gertrude, somebe before Lent. We ought to have done thing besides these decorations. The it before."

only objection I have heard came from “But, Noel, there will be so many. Mrs. Haye, and it is that the flowers I hardly think our dining-table will ac- distract her attention from her prayers." commodate them all."

“ Distract!” broke out Gertrude. “ Then we must have a leaf put in. 'If any one is distracted I should be. But I believe it will do."

Tell her to take those red grapes out of “And, indeed, I don't think it likely her bonnet then. Why does she bring they will come.

those to church to distract people. Who Noel smiled. “ They will come. The ever heard of red grapes ?” vicar has made it known that he is to be But upon the proposal to remove the here, and everybody likes to meet him. decorations the vicar quietly put his Besides—don't look so disconsolate, lit- veto. No! they should remain up untle woman—they will be curious to know til the proper time for removing them. what whim has struck the Rashleighs Let Mrs. Rashleigh be patient; he now."

thought he saw a way out of the diffiGertrude did look disconsolate ; there culty. And so after the decorations had was no denying the fact. Again she been down almost long enough to be heard the tapping of the high-heeled forgotten, and the ferment had subsided boots, and saw those hard, pale eyes a little, the vicar opened his project to meeting her own in their survey of her Noel Rashleigh, whose coöperation he work; and she shuddered. No one had desired and obtained. ever told her why Mrs. Haye went out “I would willingly do this myself,” of church that morning. Gertrude her- concluded the vicar;"" but it will come self suggested illness, but she knew, better from you, and be more likely to and George Chester knew, that among effect the desired end. You despise the many thoughts and ideas contained these trivialities, and dislike them; I in Mrs. Haye's strong-minded bonnet, cannot think it admirable that you should illness did not figure. The storm had do so. Depend upon it, nothing tends broken out, and the curate knew that so much to foster real kind feeling and the parish was like a beehive when a good-will as the interchange of these wasp has got into it. But what was to small civilities and courtesies of ordinary be done? George suggested that the life.”

New SERIES_VOL. I, No. 3.

22

And the project was successful. That | his ministrations had been happily unis to say, Mr. Rashleigh was right as to fettered by those sad parish discords the acceptance of the invitations. Many which are so disheartening a stumblingreasons combined to render it improb- block in the way of many a hard-worked able that any of those invited guests clergyman. He did not attempt to conwould be defaulters; neither were they. ceal that these heartfelt acknowledgThe Lisles and the Franktons, the ments were but the prelude to a further Smiths, the Richardsons, and the Jones- favor which he was about to ask from es, the village doctor and his little sister, his friends. (Sensation.) and last, but not least, Mrs. Rodington It would be out of place here, he Haye. When that strange assembly thought, to eulogize or expatiate upon sat down to his table, Noel, acting host the revival of a more tasteful, thoughtby his own will and deed, knew that if ful, and reverent style of church decorathe thoughts of all could be collected tion for the festivals. His poor old clerk and brought to light, the wonderful was, like himself, almost worn out and medley would be strongly tinctured with wholly helpless in such matters. The enmity towards himself and his wife., gimlet hole and the bush would be the “My fault," thought Noel.

utmost effect producible by their joint And as he glanced towards Gertrude, genius. and saw the painful efforts she was mak He had already thanked their hostess, ing to keep down the nervous tremors Mrs. Noel Rashleigh, for her exertions that would rise up to threaten her, down this Christmas; he could not, of course, went that sting again straight into his ask her to repeat those exertions at the heart to worry him.

coming Easter-tide; but he hoped that There was about the whole scene an these, his older and more tried friends, element of anticipation, of which every would not think him over-confident if one in his or her secret heart was con- he confessed that he had been depending scious, without understanding it; and upon them for help in this extremity. to no one present was it more perceptible He was aware that the work was in rethan to Gertrude, whose seat was any- ality hard work, but yet he was bold, as thing but a seat of roses, in spite of the they saw, in asking favors-possibly bereässuring presence of the kindly vicar cause he had never yet met with disapat her right hand.

pointment from thein. If these, his All at once — Gertrude could never friends, would take the responsibility of tell how it came about—the guests, the the Easter decorations from his shoulders table, the room itself, had become one to their own he would take it as a great giddy mass before her, and the vicar favor. He himself could not promise to was making a speech. A portion of that help, for he had no taste; but he could speech will be sufficient to quote.

look on and admire. It was not the first time, he said, that A few words as to their host and it had been his pleasant duty to express hostess. He felt a sure hope that he something of a feeling, the source of was simply expressing a general sentiwhich must naturally be to him one of ment in offering to both the sincere and perpetual and grateful satisfaction. He hearty congratulations of all present meant, his deep sense of the unvarying upon their marriage, a cordial welcome kindness and good-will which, from the to Mrs. Noel Rashleigh, though they first day of his coming amongst them had made her, like a junior boy at his until now, he had experienced from the school, a fag on her first arrival; an whole body of his parishioners. His earnest wish that, as a stranger coming friends whom he saw around him would amongst them, she would not find them readily understand that this kind feeling wanting in that genial sympathy and and sympathy had smoothed many a dif- kindly feeling which should draw all ficulty in his path, and added its charm Christians, and especially fellow-parishto many a duty which would have been ioners, closely together. He begged to but bare duty without it.

propose

the health of Mrs. Noel RashHe wished them all to know his grate- leigh, his new parishioner. ful appreciation of their kindness, and In the confusion of all that followed his satisfaction in the consciousness that I Gertrude had a dim, amazed conscious

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