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"A month! But there was a time when he made some pretext for being here every other day."

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Yes, when mamma was ill.”

Ay, and since mamma was well, too. But I suppose I must not break the promise you made me give you. He's not to be talked about, even yet, is he?"

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"I didn't say he was not to be talked about. You know what I meant, Lily; and what I meant then, I mean now.' And now long will it be before you mean something else? I do hope it will come some day,-I do indeed."

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It never will, Lily. I once fancied that I cared for Dr. Crofts, but it was only fancy. I know it, because- She was going to explain that her knowledge on that point was assured to her, because since that day she had felt that she might have learned to love another man. But that other man

had been Mr. Crosbie, and so she stopped herself.

I wish he would come and ask you himself."

He will never do so. He would never ask such a question without encouragement, and I shall give him none. Nor will he ever think of marrying till he can do so without,-without what he thinks to be imprudence as regards money. He has courage enough to be poor himself without unhappiness, but he has not courage to endure poverty with a wife. I know well what his feelings are.'

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Well, we shall see," said Lily. “I shouldn't wonder if you were married first now, Bell. For my part I'm quite prepared to wait for three years.'

Late on that evening the squire returned to Allington, Bernard having driven over to meet him at the station. He had telegraphed to his nephew that he would be back by a late train, and no more than this had been heard from him since he went. On that day Bernard had seen none of the ladies at the Small House. With Bell at the present moment it was impossible that he should be on easy terms. He could not meet her alone without recurring to the one special subject of interest between them, and as to that he did not choose to speak without much forethought. He had not known himself, when he had gone about his wooing so lightly, thinking it a slight thing, whether or no he might be accepted. Now it was no longer a slight thing to him. I do not know that it was love that made him so eager; not good, honest, downright love. But he had set his heart upon the object, and with the wilfulness of a Dale was determined that it should be his. He had no remotest idea

of giving up his cousin, but he had at last persuaded himself that she was not to be won without some toil, and perhaps also some delay.

Nor had he been in a humour to talk either to Mrs. Dale or to Lily. He feared that Lady Julia's news was true,—that at any rate there might be in it something of truth; and while thus in doubt he could not go down to the Small House. So he hung about the place by himself, with a cigar in his mouth, fearing that something evil was going to happen, and when the message came for him, almost shuddered as he seated himself in the gig. What would it become him to do in this emergency if Crosbie had truly been guilty of the villany with which Lady Julia had charged him? Thirty years ago he would have called the man out, and shot at him till one of them was hit. Nowadays it was hardly possible for a man to do that; and yet what would the world say of him if he allowed such an injury as this to pass without vengeance?

His uncle, as he came forth from the station with his travelling-bag in his hand, was stern, gloomy, and silent. He came out and took his place in the gig almost without speaking. There were strangers about, and therefore his nephew at first could ask no question, but as the gig turned the corner out of the station-house yard he demanded the news.

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What have you heard?" he said.

But even then the squire did not answer at once. He shook his head, and turned away his face, as though he did not choose to be interrogated.

"Have you seen him, sir?" asked Bernard.

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"True?—yes, it is all true. Why did you bring the scoundrel here? It has been your fault."

"No, sir; I must contradict that. I did not know him for a scoundrel."

"But it was your duty to have known him before you brought him here among them. Poor girl! how is she to be told?" "Then she does not know it?'

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I fear not. Have you seen them?"

"I saw them yesterday, and she did not know it then; she may have heard it to-day.'

"" I don't think so. I believe he has been too great a coward to write to her. A coward indeed! How can any man find the courage to write such a letter as that?"

By degrees the squire told his tale. How he had gone to Lady Julia, had made his way to London, had tracked Crosbie to his club, and had there learned the whole truth from Crosbie's friend, Fowler Pratt, we already know. "The coward escaped me while I was talking to the man he sent down," said the squire. It was a concerted plan, and I think he was right. I should have brained him in the hall of the club." On the following morning Pratt had called upon him at his inn with Crosbie's apology. His apology!" said the squire. "I have it in my pocket. Poor reptile; wretched worm of a man! I cannot understand it. On my honour, Bernard, I do not understand it. I think men are changed since I knew much of them. It would have been impossible for me to write such a letter as that." He went on telling how Pratt had brought him this letter, and had stated that Crosbie declined an interview. "The gentleman had the goodness to assure me that no good could come from such a meeting. You mean,' I answered,' that I cannot touch pitch and not be defiled!' He acknowedged that the man was pitch. Indeed, he could not say a word for his friend.” "I know Pratt. He is a gentleman. I am sure he would ✓ not excuse him."

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Excuse him! How could any one excuse him? Words could not be found to excuse him." And then he sat silent for

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some half mile. On my honour, Bernard, I can hardly yet bring myself to believe it. It is so new to me. It makes me feel that the world is changed, and that it is no longer worth a man's while to live in it.'

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And he is engaged to this other girl?"

"Oh, yes; with the full consent of the family. It is all arranged, and the settlements, no doubt, in the lawyer's hands by this time. He must have gone away from here determined to throw her over. Indeed, I don't suppose he ever meant to marry her. He was just passing away his time here in the country."

"He meant it up to the time of his leaving."

"I don't think it. Had he found me able and willing to give her a fortune he might, perhaps, have married her. But I don't think he meant it for a moment after I told him that she would have nothing. Well, here we are. I may truly say that I never before came back to my own house with so sore a heart."

They sat silently over their supper, the squire showing more open sorrow than might have been expected from his character. "What am I to say to them in the morning?" he repeated over

and over again. "How am I to do it? And if I tell the mother, how is she to tell her child?"

Do you think that he has given no intimation of his purpose?"

"As far as I can tell, none. That man Pratt knew that he had not done so yesterday afternoon. I asked him what were the intentions of his blackguard friend, and he said that he did not know that Crosbie would probably have written to me. Then he brought me this letter. There it is," and the squire threw the letter over the table; "read it and let me have it back. He thinks probably that the trouble is now over as far as he is concerned."

It was a vile letter to have written-not because the language was bad, or the mode of expression unfeeling, or the facts falsely stated--but because the thing to be told was in itself so vile. There are deeds which will not bear a gloss-sins as to which the perpetrator cannot speak otherwise than as a reptile; circumstances which change a man and put upon him the worthlessness of vermin. Crosbie had struggled hard to write it, going home to do it after his last interview on that night with Pratt. But he had sat moodily in his chair at his lodgings, unable to take the pen in his hand. Pratt was to come to him at his office on the following morning, and he went to bed resolving that he would write it at his desk. On the next day Pratt was there before a word of it had been written.

"I can't stand this kind of thing," said Pratt. "If you mean me to take it, you must write it at once." Then, with inward groaning, Crosbie sat himself at his table, and the words at last were forthcoming. Such words as they were! "I know that I can have no excuse to make to you-or to her. But, circumstanced as I now am, the truth is the best. I feel that I should not make Miss Dale happy; and, therefore, as an honest man, I think I best do my duty by relinquishing the honour which she and you had proposed for me.' There was more of it, but we all know of what words such letters are composed, and how men write when they feel themselves constrained to write as reptiles.

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As an honest man!" repeated the squire. On my honour, Bernard, as a gentleman, I do not understand it. I cannot believe it possible that the man who wrote that letter was sitting the other day as a guest at my table."

"What are we to do to him?" said Bernard, after a while. "Treat him as you would a rat. Throw your stick at him,

if he comes under your feet; but beware, above all things, that he does not get into your house. That is too late for us now." There must be more than that, uncle."

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66 I don't know what more. There are deeds for committing which a man is doubly damned, because he has screened himself from overt punishment by the nature of his own villany. We have to remember Lily's name, and do what may best tend to her comfort. Poor girl! poor girl!

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Then they were silent, till the squire rose and took his bed candle. Bernard," he said, "let my sister-in-law know early to-morrow that I will see her here, if she will be good enough to come to me after breakfast. Do not have anything else said at the Small House. It may be that he has written to-day."

Then the squire went to bed, and Bernard sat over the diningroom fire, meditating on it all. How would the world expect that he should behave to Crosbie? and what should he do when he met Crosbie at the club?

CHAPTER XXVIII

THE BOARD

CROSBIE, as we already know, went to his office in Whitehall on the morning after his escape from Sebright's, at which establishment he left the Squire of Allington in conference with Fowler Pratt. He had seen Fowler Pratt again that same night, and the course of the story will have shown what took place at that interview.

He went early to his office, knowing that he had before him the work of writing two letters, neither of which would run very glibly from his pen. One was to be his missive to the squire, to be delivered by his friend; the other, that fatal epistle to poor Lily, which, as the day passed away, he found himself utterly unable to accomplish. The letter to the squire he did write, under certain threats; and, as we have seen, was considered to have degraded himself to the vermin rank of humanity by the meanness of his production.

But on reaching his office he found that other cares awaited him,-cares which he would have taken much delight in bearing, had the state of his mind enabled him to take delight in anything. On entering the lobby of his office, at ten o'clock, he became aware that he was received by the messengers assembled

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