Puslapio vaizdai
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Richard had induced him to believe that the happiness of his, Richard Merryweather's, life depended on him, and responsibility for the young man's future weighed upon him like a nightmare. He fell asleep just as the gray dawn came creeping in, and when he woke again, rose quite unrefreshed, with a very poor appetite for breakfast.

When he started to accomplish his mission, the clear morning air freshened him up and partly dispelled the terrors of the night. He stepped out briskly enough until he came within sight of Miss Brown's house, when he was assailed by a treacherous hope that she might not be at home, and paused to exorcise it and induce a better frame of mind.

The first person he saw as he drew near was Bella Croft, who was standing by the door of the house tending a rosetree that grew up one side of the porch. Hearing the click of the garden gate, she turned; as she did so, the vicar, even in his agitated condition, thought Richard might, as he himself had said, have gone farther and fared worse. Indeed, however far one traveled, it would have been difficult to find a more attractive specimen of a young English country

woman.

"Good morning," the vicar said, almost cheerfully. "Is your aunt within?" "Yes, sir; she is," answered Bella. "Will you please to step this way?"

The vicar stepped that way, and followed her into the parlor. Left alone, he listened nervously for Miss Brown's footsteps, which were soon heard. The door opened, and she appeared.

"Good morning, good morning, Miss Brown," he cried, with the effusiveness of extreme agitation. "What delightful weather we are having! We are really looking I mean the country is looking -quite charming."

Miss Brown saw he was excited and by no means master of himself. As she returned his greeting she awaited developments.

"You will hardly guess, Miss Brown," said Mr. Doubleday, "now I am sure you will hardly guess why I have called on you this morning."

"Perhaps, sir," replied Miss Brown, with civil austerity, "it would be better

to explain without waiting for me to guess."

This was not a snub; it was only manner: but Miss Brown's manner often made timid people feel that a snub was intended.

The vicar fidgeted for a moment, then rallied, and came to the point.

"I am here, Miss Brown," he began"eh, eh, eh you will think it very oddit is very odd-for really, you know, I am the last person in the world any one would suspect of such an errand-but I am here as a messenger of love."

"As a what!" exclaimed Miss Brown. "As a messenger of love," repeated the vicar, meekly. "Though," he added with another feeble giggle, I do not look much like Cupid."

·

"No, you do not," said Miss Brown, curtly.

It was evident that Miss Brown construed his remark as meaning he was not lightly attired in a pair of wings and a quiver, and that she considered such a jest unbecoming between a clergyman. and a single spinster.

"I mean," he endeavored to explain, "that as a man in the decline of life, and being unfortunately a bachelor-"

"Why unfortunately" interposed Miss Brown.

"Well, really, Miss Brown," said the vicar, who might or might not have had his own little romance in his own little springtide, "that is, if you will allow me to say so, neither here nor there."

"Oh, very good," she answered, as if, in that case, he need not have said anything about it.

"I mean," he resumed, "that the heart-the heart, my dear Miss Brownneed not grow old. No, no; it can still sympathize and feel."

Here the vicar paused, thinking he had made a good point; though what he had really done was to create an impression that he had suddenly become insane, and that his madness was taking the form of making proposals. His next words, however, dispelled this idea.

"My nephew, Richard Merryweather, is, I assure you, a most excellent young man."

"I know very little about him," Miss Brown said shortly.

"I am aware of that, Miss Brown,

though he has met you more than once. But, upon better acquaintance, you will find what I have said of him fully justified. I know of no young man better qualified to make a most suitable husband."

At this Miss Brown looked slightly bewildered. "Your niece is a most charming girl, Miss Brown. I know of no young woman better qualified for making the most admirable of wives."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" said Miss Brown, grimly.

"That is it, Miss Brown. To put the matter quite plainly, he has-ahem!-he has fallen in love with her."

"Nonsense!" cried Miss Brown.

The vicar winced like a little boy who has had his ears boxed for saying something he ought not to have said on a forbidden subject. Still, he could not allow this contemptuous exclamation to pass altogether unchallenged. "For shame, Miss Brown! Love all nonsense? Oh, fie! fie!"

"I mean when men talk of marrying women because they love them that is nonsense. When they are young and foolish, they may think they do, and when girls are young and foolish, they may believe them. For my part, Mr. Doubleday, I am an elderly woman

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"No, no!" protested the vicar. “Oh, dear, no!"

"I am a woman advanced in life"she was forty-three, and looked remarkably well for her age, as slim, wellfeatured women are apt to do,-"and," continued Miss Brown, who had passed the whole of her womanhood in the management of her little farm, "I know the world."

"And I, Miss Brown," replied Mr. Doubleday, who for over thirty years had never been more than a few miles outside his own parish, "I also know the world. In fact," he added pleasantly, "I am an old stager-quite an old stager." That kind of love is

"I love my niece. not all nonsense."

"I am sure it is not," responded the vicar, heartily. "I am indeed sure of that."

"I have striven to do my duty by her." "And you have done it, Miss Brown, you have done it."

"I have always regarded it as a most

important part of my duty to warn her against the evils of married life."

"The evils of married life!" exclaimed the vicar. "Come, come, Miss Brown, you don't mean that. You can't mean it." Miss Brown waved the protest aside. "The single woman is the mistress of her own fate. The married woman is the mere plaything of a man."

"Nay! nay! Really, such a view of married life is a sadly perverted one. It really is, you know. And, after all," the vicar continued, warming to the discussion in spite of himself, "the single woman's existence is a poor, incomplete affair. She herself is an isolated, melancholy object; a-" Remembering where he was, Mr. Doubleday stopped in confusion. Miss Brown, standing in front of him, suddenly appeared to be growing remarkably tall, while her eyes flashed down upon him with a dangerous light. "I-I beg your pardon!" he stammered. "Of course, in exceptional casesahem! when we find a woman endowed with great force of character, of an unusually self-reliant nature-but in most instances, I think, Miss Brown-I really think," after his crude blunder, he made this statement apologetically,"the married woman's lot is the happier one."

Miss Brown shook her head, with a contemptuous smile.

"And then, from a worldly point of view," said the most unworldly vicar, "my nephew would be an excellent match. He would be able to maintain a wife in every comfort."

"My niece will be provided with every comfort suitable to her station without being beholden to any man."

"Still, within reasonable limits, and if well employed, my dear Miss Brown, the good things of this world are not to be despised. No, no; they are not to be despised."

"What do you mean by the good things of this world?" demanded Miss Brown. "The flesh-pots of Egypt?"

The vicar turned red and felt quite angry. He was not one to hanker after flesh-pots of any nationality whatsoever, and a woman who had been a parishioner of his for many years ought to know better than to address such a remark to him. "Besides," Miss Brown resumed, after

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"Mr. Richard Merryweather?" faltered Bella.

"Of course I mean Mr. Richard Merryweather. Whom else could I mean? Have you ever suspected anything of this kind? Speak, child!" She referred to it as to a foul plot come to light.

"Yes, Aunt dear," said Bella, meekly; "he he

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"Don't say he has dared to tell you!" "Yes, Aunt; he has told me."

Miss Brown glanced at the vicar in bitter triumph, as if to say, "You see the kind of person you have been commending the viper you have cherished at your hearth! What is your opinion of him now?" Then she turned to her niece again.

"And you have been accused, wrongfully, I trust, of being in love with him."

"I think I am, Aunt."

"You think you are! Good heavens, girl, don't you know your own mind?" "Yes, Aunt; I am. We are in love with each other."

Mr. Doubleday was a true Christian, but, nevertheless, he said:

"I told you so, Miss Brown."

Miss Brown turned upon him. A terrible outburst seemed imminent, and he began to wish himself at the farther end of his parish or even in the next one. However, after a strong effort of selfcontrol, she spoke with calmness, with a fearful calmness.

"Mr. Doubleday," she said, "your nephew is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and would be a disgrace to any sex but his own; but all men are wolves in sheep's clothing and a disgrace to their sex."

"My dear madam," interposed the vicar, "think better of us. Let me entreat you to think better of us."

"I make no exceptions," she proceeded, giving the Reverend Theophilus one for himself. "As vicar of this parish you have sought to sow discord where it has never existed since men ceased to live beneath this roof. I compliment you on your morning's work."

The vicar took this remark as meaning that, having perpetrated the villainy referred to, he might withdraw to gloat over it.

"My child," he said, not without a touch of dignity, as he took Bella's hand, "I am glad to hear you avow your senti

ments without shame or disguise. You owe all duty to her who has been as a mother to you, but you have done nothing to be ashamed of or to regret. I know Richard well, and you may take my word for that. Miss Brown, I wish you a good morning and a grain or two more of charity. I have no doubt my nephew will call on you himself."

"Mr. Doubleday, I forbid your nephew this house. If he attempts to force his way in, I will not be answerable for the consequences."

Miss Brown looked very terrible at the thought of her premises being invaded. "You will not insult him, I trust," remonstrated the vicar.

"I will protect my niece," she retorted, and with this assurance the vicar departed.

The very next day it happened that Miss Brown and Richard Merryweather met on the road just outside the village.

"Miss Brown," began Richard, with his usual directness, "I understand you are strongly opposed to me as a suitor to your niece. May I ask what is your objection to me?"

"I have no personal objection to you, simply because I know nothing much about you."

"Then," said Richard, "may I beg you will do me the honor to know more of me in the hope that I shall improve upon better acquaintance? May I ask this as a great favor, Miss Brown?"

"I don't wish to know more of you," replied that plain-spoken lady. "You would probably not improve on acquaintance. Men don't."

"Will you give me a chance of doing so? Really, I am not a bad sort of fellow, though I say it who should not. And as for yourself, I assure you, you would find me a most affectionate nephew."

Richard must have lost his head when he made this remark. It filled Miss Brown's cup of bitterness to overflowing.

"Mr. Merryweather," she flashed out, "I forbid you to speak to my niece. I shall forbid my niece to speak to you; and-and-good morning."

Having thrown this valediction at him like a stone from a sling, she strode past him, completely disregarding a final effort he made to detain her.

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