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hope, his dearest wish, to render her lot a bright one, and was not this an implied admission that he had succeeded ?
“And you cannot think of any alteration, any improvement ?” he asked, looking across the luxuriant garden, with its masses of colour, its wealth of green, its 'undulating, close-shaven sward, to the creeperclad porch, the oriel windows, the gables, abutments, and picturesque ins and outs of the pretty parsonage.
" You don't want a patent mowing-machine, a wider coach-house, a larger drawing-room? Laura, it makes me so happy to think you are satisfied with your life !"
“Am I the only contented woman you ever heard of since Eve grew so tired of her garden ?" said she, with a bright smile. "Listen, and I'll tell you the truth. I should like every day-every day-to pass just as it does now. It need not always be summer ; but I don't think winter could be bleak or dismal here. I should never want the slightest change nor interruption in our life, our habits, our pursuits. I should wish us to glide on together just like this, till we reached the bottom of the hill and tottered into the grave arm in arm.”
Glancing in her face, he thought he had never seen it so solemn, nor heard her voice so earnest and impressive.
“Are you serious, my darling ?” he asked, in a low tender whisper.
But Laura's melting moods were never of long duration. “Serious ?" she repeated, with a light laugh. “It would make anybody serious to see that boy bowling with such perseverance at his cricketstump on this broiling day. Tell me, dear, used you to practise so unremittingly before you attained that proficiency in the noble game for which our parson' is as celebrated as for his sermons, and—and his attention to his poor? What babies men are! But that reminds me we ought to be starting for Oakley. I'm coming part of the way with you. Yes, I am. Don't you see, sir, I've got on my thick walking-boots, and have looped my skirt up to keep it out of the dust? I shall turn back at the end of Oakley Lane."
He cast a glance of lover-like admiration at the shapely foot in its neat and dainty chaussure, at the flowing white draperies so tastefully arranged round the stately figure—at the proud, beautiful face, looking so pure and delicate in the sunlight that trembled through the summer leaves, and felt, as many a man has felt before, a thrill of rapture, dashed with an awful sense of insecurity, while he marvelled how this angel could have come down from heaven to be his own! For him the gilt was yet on the gingerbread, the paint on the toy, the dew on the flower, fresh, and fragrant as when it first bloomed in Paradise.
He never forgot that walk through the meadows to Oakley Lane. The may on the hedges, the deep blue sky, the dazzling green and gold of fertile fields knee-deep in grass and buttercups, the altered note of the cuckoo, the chatter of jays and murmur of wood-pigeons in the adjoining woods, the drone and buzz of insect life, tbe swallows darting down the stream; the very butterflies, primrose and red-andblack, that flitted across their path. Above all, the queenly figure in white moving smoothly by his side, whose voice was sweeter in his ears than the wild-birds' carol, whose smile was brighter to his eyes than the summer sunshine.
Strange, that its memory should afterwards have absorbed even that of the other walk through the laurels at Plumpton, when he asked her to be his wife! though we may be sure this episode had not been forgotten, and was alluded to more than once between the gate of the parsonage and Oakley Lane.
They talked like lovers still, though they had been married for months. They went for the hundredth time into those endless details of hope and fear, uncertainty and self-depreciation, which are so absurd, so touching, and so uninteresting to all but the two people concerned. Once, leaning against a stile, he sitting on the step at her knees, she laid her hand caressingly on his shoulder while she volunteered more of her sentiments and private opinions than she had ever revealed before. They were shaded by a huge old oak in the shining brightness of its first full leaf. Before them rose a range of wooded hills, from which peeped the hamlet of Oakley, with its tapering spire. At their feet a trout-stream murmured and gurgled under its alder-fringed banks. From an adjoining copse blackbird and thrush were straining their throats in rivalry of woodland music. Two or three sheep, with quiet stupid faces, cropped the herbage undisturbed ; and the cattle at the end of the field were rising slowly and laboriously for their afternoon feed. There was hardly a breath of air stirring, nor a streak of white in the blue cloudless sky. Everything denoted peace, prosperity, and repose ; the rich pasture, the luxuriant foliage, the golden haze that mellowed all the wooded distance, the flocks and herds, the thin smoke curling upward from a hidden cottage, the very tug and nibble of those confiding sheep—all were in keeping with the calm, quiet, matchless beauty of an English summer's day.
“There is nothing like this in the world,” said Laura, furling her parasol, while she turned to meet the breeze. “Nothing! Everywhere abroad it's the same-a scorching sun that one can only escape by remaining indoors, or a piercing cold that freezes the very marrow in one's bones. There's no medium. To be tolerably comfortable, you must either sit in a stove or an ice-house. I've been all over the world, dear. Take my word for it, there's no place like England, and in England there's no place like Oakley Lane."
"I think so, now,” he answered, looking fondly up in her face. “But before I knew you, I had a great inclination to travel.”
“And before I knew you,” she replied, “I did travel without the slightest inclination to do so. I can scarcely believe I am the same woman when I look back on my past life.”
She shuddered while she spoke, and pressed her hand heavier on his shoulder as if to assure herself the present was a reality.
“You must have had a hard time of it, my darling,” said he. Perhaps had it not been so, I might never have prevailed on one so beautiful and so gifted, to become a quiet parson's wife. Never mind. So much the more reason for making the most of her now I have got her!"
An unaccustomed tear trembled on her eyelid, but she dashed it away with a gesture of impatience bordering on contempt.
“How good to me you are!” she exclaimed; "and how different from men in general ! You never seem to be thinking of yourself. You've no vices, no crotchets, and no bad habits. You're six feet high, and you don't smoke. It's nice of you to be six feet high and not to smoke! Do you know, the first thing I liked about you was your utter want of self-consciousness? You came to the pianoforte when I was playing, and never even looked in the glass. I don't believe there was another man in the room, except Mr. Dennison, who could have passed it without a squint.”
“Not even Maxwell ?” observed Lexley, who, with the keensightedness of love, had experienced certain little twinges of jealousy regarding his friend Horace.
"Not even Mr. Maxwell,” she repeated. “He's just as conceited as the rest of his sex, and I am convinced no consideration on earth could make him forget Mr. Maxwell. And yet, if you had not been there, I dare say I should have thought him very nice."
“How you could like me best is more than I can understand," said the clergyman, in perfect sincerity, and with a gravity befitting the occasion.
"Don't you think I know diamonds from paste ?" she replied laughing. “Recollect, I have worn both in my time. Ah! if you could realise what it is to find out the jewels are only imitation after all! It is just as if I were to discover you had got another wife and had been playing false with me ever since we met. These are the things that drive the poor women we read of to jump from Waterloo Bridge. What happens to a man in such a case? Does he break his heart, or does he order more diamonds and take his chance ?"
“I don't know about breaking his heart," answered her husband in a low thick voice; “but I believe if such a judgment overtook me, I could never lift my head amongst my fellow-creatures again. Fancy the sin—the shame—the scorn of one's parish—the diegrace to one's calling! Laura, it would drive me mad. I cannot bear even to think of it."
“Then don't think of it,” she replied cheerfully. "You are bound on a melancholy errand as it is. Now, dearest, attend to me. Have you a pencil ? Of course not. Here, take mine, and the back of this letter. What is the use of your pockets ? Make a little list of that poor lad's wants, and I can drive over with the things to-morrow. You won't have time to see Martha, but though she grumbles a good deal, she is really better. I shall go straight home. I wonder if that undefeated boy has bowled his stump down yet. God bless you, Algy dear! It's a painful business, but it will comfort the poor old people very much. Don't hurry back. In this beautiful weather we can't dine too late. NoI won't stay another moment. Good-bye.”
But she turned before she had gone ten paces, to observe, “there was a quarter of lamb for dinner, and wouldn't he like best to have it cold ?”
As the parson climbed the hill, he looked back more than once, till the graceful figure in its white dress bad undulated out of sight, then, while his accustomed limbs swung into their regular stride, a still small voice seemed to whisper that he, a servant of the Church, had committed too much of his happiness to the keeping of a mortal like himself; nor was it without a sense of self-reproach that he repeated aloud, “Where the treasure is, there will the heart be also.”
In less than half an hour he crossed the green of Oakley village. The first person he met was old Loder turning out of the public-house with a short pipe in his mouth.
Scanning the keeper, he was aware that, contrary to his usual habits, the man had been drinking, and seemed in the half torpid morose condition of those who in their trouble turn for consolation to beer.
“ Fine arternoon, sir,” observed Loder, avoiding the parson's eye, as he made a snatch at his hat, and tried to shuffle past the tall form that stood directly in his path. “Fine enough," was the curt answer. “But no matter for that
How's Jim ?” "Don't yo get talking to me about Jim,” replied the old man fiercely. "It's Jim here and Jim there, again and again and again—doctors and parsons, parsons and doctors. What's the good on 'em? They can't none on ’em keep the life in the lad. Oh! I don't know nothin' about Jim. But it's a rare time this is for the young pheasants."
Lexley put his hand on the others shoulder. “I'm going on to see Jim," said he sternly. “It's when folks are in trouble their friends should stick by them. If I was lying sick down yonder across the brook, wouldn't you find time to come and learn what kind of a fight I could make of it? I'd be sorry if you wouldn't—and am I not to do the same by you and
?” “God bless ye, Mr. Lexley !” muttered the keeper in thick hoarse accents. “ You're a man, you are, an' I've said so scores an' scores o'times. Don't ye take no notice of me; I'm 'most off my head, I am, with this here trouble up at home. The missis, she'll thank yo kindly; and—and the lad, he wor a-sayin', not half an hour ago,
• Father,' says he, what's gone with the parson ? He'll be up to-day, for sure.' So I went an' had a pint-an' I ought to be in Marbury Dales now-an' I thank ye kindly. You're a man, you are. An' doan't
think no more o' what I said.” With which incoherent remarks, and an application of the ends of his limp red neckcloth, ostensibly rather to wipe the sweat from his face than the tears from his eyes, the old man's gaiters carried him sturdily past the public-house, to return to his sylvan duties in Marbury Dales.
Lexley strode up the village street with a saddened face. Two or three idlers were, as usual, in the blacksmith's shop; he detected in their looks a consciousness of his errand and a sympathy for the hopeless state of the lad he had come to visit. Even the schoolmistress, though with new ribbons in her cap, made him a respectful courtesy without the bright smile that usually accompanied her greeting
Poor Dame Loder, looking ten years older than when he saw her last, wiped a chair with her apron and set it ready for the parson, as with eyes full of tears she welcomed him on the door-sill.
Any better ?” asked her visitor, removing his hat courteously. “I met your husband as I came up street just now, Mrs. Loder, and was sorry to see him so downhearted. While there's life there's hope, you know; and even when that hope fails it is only exchanged for another-brighter, holier, and never to be taken away.”
Though the tears were coursing down the mother's cheeks, she made shift to answer:
“Indeed, sir, an' that's God's truth; but it's hard to bear_hard to bear. An' my master, he takes on worser than the poor lad, as is patient like a lamb to the slaughter. An' there's wine an' doctor's stuff, and grave-clothes to make ready; an', oh dear! oh dear! my head's that bad I could set down in that theer arm-cheer and wish as I'd never been born."
“Sit down in it, then," said Lexley, "and have your cry out; it will do you good. Afterwards you shall take me to poor Jim, and we'll see if we can't make it a little easier for him between us, even if we do no good. Don't be in a hurry, Mrs. Loder ; my time is yours, and it would worry the boy to see his mother with such a tearful face."
This last consideration served probably to rouse that courage of endurance which is seldom dormant for long in a woman's breast. Mrs. Loder, remembering with satisfaction that she had “ tidied up her son's room, recovered herself bravely and recalled her company manners for the occasion.
“I ask your pardon, I'm sure, sir,” said she, with another courtesy, “but this here trouble puts all beside out of my poor head. I hope as your good lady is well, sir; and will you please to make my duty