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lady is prudent or imprudent? I can gain no advantage by maligning her, or any one like her; but I like truth, Doctor Ryder."
"So do I," said the physician, drily, as he quitted Bagly's presence in disgust. As a piece of consummate impudence on Luke's part, Dr. Ryder told his wife of what he had said respecting Miss Stutzer, which she did not regard in the same light as her husband. At all events, she would now defer her invitation to her till the will was read-when it would be proved if his words were correct. Somehow or other, it forth with got rumoured about Yaxley and its neighbourhood, that Miss Stutzer had been acting a deceitful part for some years; that she was carrying on a flirtation greatly to poor Mrs. Meiklam's annoyance in short, that she broke her heart. The Miss Hilberts and Miss Ryders were much shocked; but Doctor Ryder vowed openly it was all a confounded lie of Luke Bagly, whom he declared to be a perfect scoundrel. However, people only smiled incredulously when they heard him so vehemently taking the girl's part. It was natural that men should look leniently on faults which women were called upon to censure in one of their own sex. Poor Lizette, meanwhile, wept and mourned, and awaited the coming of Mr. Pilmer. Owing to his having been late for the train the first morning of setting out from London, this worthy, but indolent, individual was longer in arriving at Meiklam's Rest than had been expected; yet he came at last, looking pretty brisk, for there are some things that can even rouse an habitually lazy being from stupor. Very dull, indeed, must be the spirit that is not animated by the thoughts of rich relatives being dead, and of large sums of money, and unopened wills. Immediately on his arrival, search was made for the wondrous document, so long a mystery and a matter of conjecture. Very mysterious it was still-for it was nowhere to be found. High and low-in drawer and desk, in trunk and wardrobe, in the large book-cases, between the leaves of the books, in all places, possible and impossible-search was made, in vain. Mr. Hill, the lawyer, remembered drawing up a new will for Mrs. Meiklam some months previously, and John Bingham and a workman
swore they had witnessed it; but what became of it nobody knew.
'Then, Mr. Pilmer, as it is most likely our friend burnt or otherwise destroyed her will, and therefore died intestate, you, as nearest relative and next of kin, must be her heir-at-law," said Mr. Hill.
"Indeed-yes-so I believe: but I'm certain there's a will, if it could only be found."
"Mrs. Meiklam sometimes used to carry letters and papers in her pocket, going about the place," suggested Bagly, mildly, and maybe she lost it accidentally.
"Pooh!" exclaimed Hill, contemptuously. "Very likely, indeed, that she would carry her will in her pocket! No; depend upon it the woman put it in the fire. I knew when I made it there was where it would go. Didn't I say so, Luke?"
'Well, you did, sir, it's a fact; and I know it's a great loss to me.”
"A loss to more than you," said the lawyer, significantly. What in the world, Ryder, will become of that pretty little girl now?"
It's a horrid business altogether!" said the doctor, angrily.
"The will must be somewhere," said Mr. Pilmer in a drowsy tone; "couldn't there be some secret drawers or recesses in the house that nobody knows of?"
"The best plan," observed Doctor Ryder, "would be to act, Mr. Pilmer, as you think Mrs. Meiklam ought, and naturally wished to have acted."
"Very likely; but how in the world could any one possibly find out what she wished?"
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Mr. Hill, rubbing his hands.
"We all know what humanity is, Mr. Pilmer; and how wretched it will be for Miss Stutzer, brought up as she has been, to be left friendless and penniless all at once, at her age."
"Let her get a husband," suggested Hill, chuckling; "she's pretty enough to make a good match.'
Bagly laughed, too, for he was getting tired of feigning a grief he did not feel, except for selfish motives; and seeing that nothing was to be gained by deceit, his true nature was gradually revealing itself; so he began to enter into jokes about Miss Stutzer and the capricious old lady, speaking grossly and irreverently of both, even
in presence of Doctor Ryder; for what was the physician to him? Luke always felt ready to snap his fingers at anybody who could be of no advantage to him-he was very independent when it suited him. And
did not Mrs. Copley and all the house servants wonder what had come over him-he was grown so unmannerly, and insolent, and scoffing; blaspheming now and again, too, in a way never known before.
MR. HILBERT HAS SOMETHING TO SAY TO MRS. COPLEY.
MR. PILMER found it necessary to remain at Meiklam's Rest longer than he expected; but he bore it very well; in fact, he liked staying there, all was so quiet and dreamy. He was pleased at being put in possession of all Mrs. Meiklam's large property, though of what great use any further addition to his income would be to himself cannot be determined; for he could not eat more, or sleep more, or get more copies of the Times, than he did before, and he took very little pleasure indeed in the gaieties that his wife and daughter enjoyed so much. But still, it was gratifying to get a large and unexpected sum of ready money, and to be master of Meiklam's Rest, and other estates. So he attended his old friend's funeral, with grave feelings of satisfaction, mingled with some sincere regrets for the deceased lady, and a few sombre thoughts upon the gloominess of being buried and leaving all the good things of this life; and he put crape on his hat, and ordered mourning, and paid the undertaker, and remained on at the Rest for many days, arranging matters. In the evenings, after dinner, he sat in the red room, sleeping very comfortably in the old-fashioned arm-chair, placed near the fire; for, though it was summer, he liked a fire; and poor Lizette Stutzer sat in the red room, too, not knowing whether she had any right to be there at all; yet unable, from habit, to stay anywhere else. Some dreary thoughts crossed her mind that perhaps she should go down to Mrs. Copley's room below, and take her humble place there; but she could not do it-it was, yet, too hard to sink down into a low station. Occasionally, Mr. Pilmer tried to form some project respecting her future lot, for Doctor Ryder was unceasingly dinging it into his ears that she should be provided for. One day the physician had plainly asked him what the young
But you know she is quite friendless; the sudden death of her friend places her in a most embarrassing and painful position.
"Yes, Mrs. Meiklam did wrong to bring her up as she did; but that is not the poor girl's fault."
"No, certainly not, though it may prove her misfortune; yet, it would not take much to keep her from being thrown completely on the world. Five or six hundred pounds sunk upon her life, would insure her some independence."
"Yes, so it would; and I ought to do something for Mrs. Meiklam's sake-for the credit of her name, you may say-I am glad you suggested that. I'll mention it to Mrs. Pilmer.”
"Oh, Lord! if you mention it to your wife it will fall to the ground," shouted the doctor, bluntly.
"No, it will not; I will certainly remember Miss Stutzer; she is a pretty, quiet girl; she never disturbs me more than if she were a mouse.'
Doctor Ryder talked to his wife also, and besought her to ask the poor girl to Yaxley; but Mrs. Ryder knew better than that; she knew her son was the person suspected-indeed openly named as the person with whom Lizette was accused of flirting, contrary to Mrs. Meiklam's wishes; and though she might have been regarded as a good match for a young man formerly, she certainly was not so now; therefore she had no idea of paying her attention: it would be lowering herself and her daughters. Nobody knew whether Miss Stutzer would not have to turn a governess, if any one would take a giddy girl like her for one; and then how shocking it would be to have had her on a visit on terms of equality! And yet Mrs.
Ryder was not a demoniac woman, with a sinister eye, or a dreadful expression of cunning, mingled with one of cruelty. No, she was a hearty, comely lady, very like a great many "excellent" wives and mothers, doing all she could for her own children; and very good-natured when it suited her to be so. She was unfailingly kind to the members of families who employed and fee'd her husband largely she was, indeed; to do her every justice.
Mr. Hilbert was much grieved to hear the reports rife touching his quondam favourite, Lizette Stutzer; but not being in the least simpleminded, like the favourite ideal of a country parson, he feared, nay, he believed the tales to be founded on something akin to fact. It is true that his own square-shouldered, redfaced daughters had never acted imprudently in their whole lives; they had sewed, and read, and painted on canvas, and sung pretty airs, rather out of tune; but then they were girls beyond comparison with any others. And so, he would either lecture the naughty young woman himself, or tell somebody else to do so. The deputy fixed upon, after due reflection, was Mrs. Copley, that highly respect able woman, who always wore such a proper, large black bonnet and sombre cloak on Sundays in church. Mr. Hilbert thought it his duty to visit Meiklam's Rest often at this gloomy time of death and burial (and he was curious, too, as to how temporal affairs were going on); so when he asked one day to see the housekeeper, she was not surprised.
"How are you, Mrs. Copley?" he said, extending his hand with a bland smile to her. "I hope you are well."
Oh, as well as I can expect to be, considering my great trouble, sir, replied the woman sorrowfully.
"We should not let our grief extend too far, Mrs. Copley," returned the worthy pastor, shaking his head. "We must bear up cheerfully against every stroke of Providence. I wish to say a few words to you here, in private, about Miss Stutzer."
"The poor lamb!" said Mrs. Copley, sadly.
"I am much pained to hear some reports about her which are spread at Yaxley-recollect I speak in confidence-respecting an imprudence of
behaviour very sad in a young woman of her age. It seems that she was in the habit of distressing Mrs. Meiklam, by carrying on a courtship in a clandestine and reprehensible manner, meeting in evenings in the woods, and all that.'
"Lawks, sir! people were making fun of you, if they said that," exclaimed Mrs. Copley.
"It was not told merely to me; it is spread abroad everywhere," continued Mr. Hilbert, seriously, and looking rather annoyed. "It is well known that she and young Mr. Ryder have been flirting, as it is called, for many months." The Vicar found it. hard to mention that undignified word "flirting."
"Well, and my goodness, sir, there's no harm in that!" said the housekeeper. "If young people are in love, nobody can help it.'
"But they should not meet without the consent of their guardians in a clandestine manner," returned Mr. Hilbert, growing rather stern. "Miss Stutzer lays herself open to very unpleasant remarks; in fact she has laid herself open to them; and so I wish you, as a respectable and responsible matron, to warn of the importance it is to her to preserve an unblemished reputation.'
Certainly I will tell her of what you say, sir," said the surprised Mrs. Copley, "for, though I may run the risk of offending her, it's better to let her know what sort of a world it is.”
And with this view Mrs. Copley actually did mention to poor Lizette all that Mr. Hilbert had said, and she was much surprised and grieved at the manner in which the young lady received the information. Instead of laughing at it as something absurd, as the housekeeper had hoped, Miss Stutzer trembled and grew pale. Humbled as she felt, she had no power to utter a word. Could Mrs. Meiklam have really believed her to have been guilty of light conduct or deceit? Why would the clergyman have spoken so of her, if he had not good reason and authority for his assertions Reports about her spread all through Yaxley! Very sorry, indeed, would Tom Ryder have been if he had known how much grief he had unwittingly caused the poor girl; but he heard nothing of her from home except vague accounts. His mother
knew well that if he heard a whisper of such rumours as were afloat about her he would leave London and dash down to Yaxley, and, perhaps, propose for her at once; so it was well to tell him nothing of them; and, as it happened, she was perfectly right. Luke Bagly's wicked tongue was busy insinuating many false things, but somehow there were not many that put faith in his sayings; and at all events the young lady at the Rest had staunch adherents in Peggy Wolfe, Bingham, and Mrs. Copley. Also, poor crazy Jenny Black was full of bright prophecies that everything would yet turn out fortunate for her.
"Depend upon it, my jewel," said the demented creature, as Lizette was walking with her in the woods, "you'll be rewarded for all your good deeds and though you may be poor, as they say, and desolate, there's a blessing for you fathoms deep that 'ill be dug up one of these days.'
"Not in this life, Jenny," said Lizette, sorrowfully. I cannot look for any good-fortune on earth."
"You mustn't doubt me, Miss Lizette," continued Jenny. "I won't bear that even from you-not from you. Tell me, Miss Stutzer," asked Jenny, lowering her voice and laying her hand softly on her arm"tell me what's become of Miss Pilmer, the pretty young lady that used to be often here long ago?"
"She is going out in great company in London, Jenny," replied Lizette a beautiful young lady now-very rich and grand."
"I dreamed of her some nights
ago," said the woman, still speaking scarcely above a whisper, " and I saw her as clear as I see you now. She was here at the Rest; but-oh, Miss Lizette, I daren't tell you any more. I wouldn't scare you for the world. Do you think she'll ever come back here?"
'No, I do not think it likely." "She'll come here yet-she must, murmured Jenny. "I never dreamed that dream for nothing. Look, Miss Lizette, I haven't sense like other people, and I am thought little more of than the wild beasts of the forest ; not half as much of as the horses and oxen in the fields. If I'm ill-used, who cares for it? If I'm starving, who frets? It's God's will. But I have an insight into things that no one else sees through. I know what's coming."
"Poor creature !" thought Lizette, looking compassionately at her.
"You have a loving, pitiful eye, child, but you needn't turn it on me now. I don't deceive myself. I'm not raving at all. But mark my words, Miss Pilmer must come back here sooner or later, and Heaven pity her when the time comes! The old and hardened can bear trouble, Miss Lizette, for they're used to it their hearts get horny-like; but God pity the young and tender-above all, the rich, that have to suffer what money nor rank can't cure, nor pride keep off. Money may be a fine thing sometimes, Miss Lizette; but it's only a mock and a sneer when you have got it and find that it can't save you from one mortal pain of mind or body."
MR. PILMER had come to a bold conclusion at last. He saw that nobody came forward to offer to take Miss Stutzer under their protection in all Yaxley and its neighbourhood; and therefore he must make some arrangement about her himself. The Ryders, the Hilberts, all the aristocracy of the good little country town, looked coldly on the poor girl, so young and friendless, and, unless Mr. Pilmer exerts himself, she must launch out at once on the wide world. He did
exert himself, and had actually the temerity to determine he would bring her to London with him when he was returning there. Business at the Rest was nearly over; the servants were to be discharged, and the house left, in silence and gloom, to the care of the gate-keeper. Luke Bagly had taken all that he could lawfully and unlawfully take from the farms. He had declared various horses and oxen belonged to himself, pretending they had been given him as presents by
his mistress in her lifetime. He had whined and threatened Mr. Pilmer, till the latter granted him the hundred pounds which Mrs. Meiklam had really designed for him. He had sold unknown quantities of corn and wood from the estate, all in the space of a marvellously short time; and then he departed on his way satisfied. Mr. Pilmer's communications to his wife, all through this exciting period, were of the most unsatisfactory description. He never answered any of the innumerable questions poured in upon him through her most voluminous epistles, and his letters rarely contained more than one or two lines. His first letter after his arrival at Meiklam's Rest ran thus :
"MY DEAR MARY,-No will, and I am to have everything. Searched everywhere. No use.
Mrs. Pilmer scarcely expected any better from her spouse than this sort of correspondence. It was enough for her to hear that there was no will; yet her good-humour was considerably damped by hearing that Miss Stutzer was about to be intruded on the goodly company at Markham House. Lizette had, certainly, lost her importance as an enemy, but still she was a "plague" in the lady's estimation. What could be done with her? Girls were so hard to get employment for-and then they were a horrible charge! Ah, if Mrs. Pilmer had known what the Yaxley people were saying, would she not have rejoiced?
When Mr. Pilmer mentioned to Lizette that he wished her to leave the Rest and accompany him to London,
a vague horror stole over her. She had seen all her old friends depart from her. Mrs. Copley went to her relations in Staffordshire, Bingham got a situation in Gloucestershire, and Peggy Wolfe went near Westmoreland. The rest of the servants were scattered likewise, most probably never to meet upon earth again. All had parted from Lizette with tears of real grief
all except Luke Bagly, who never bade her adieu at all. And now she was alone, with more than mere sorrow for her dear friend to make her weep bitter tears. But she must be brave, and bear her lot, whatever it is to be. There were some friends in the neighbourhood of the Rest who were still sorry to think of her leaving them; these were the halt, the feeble, the old, and the invalid, whom she
had been wont to comfort and console. Many parting blessings were poured upon her; many a whitehaired man and woman wept when she came to say good-bye; many a gay young peasant girl looked sorrowful, too; and the girls of her Sundayschool class brought her offerings of their own needlework as gifts of remembrance, shedding tears as she shook each one by the hand for the last time. Doctor Ryder bade her adieu with much emotion. He had long looked upon her as one of those nately rarely, to be met with in the bright beings sometimes, but unfortuworld, in whom good-nature and kindness, mingled with good sense and purity of thought, seemed thoroughly to exist at all times.
"God bless you, Miss Stutzer," he said, wringing her small hand in his own of giant size, on the last evening of her stay at the Rest; "and if ever
you are in any distress or difficulty, or want of assistance, just write to me and tell me all about it. I am a father and getting an old man, and you need never feel awkward in confiding in me."
Thanks-many thanks, my dear sir," said Lizette, gratefully; "this is, indeed, kind of you.'
The physician shed some tears as he went home after that parting; and then Lizette ran out to look once more, in the shadowy light of the summer evening, at the haunts familiar since early childhood-through the bushy gardens, where the young fruit hung green on the trees, and