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Full text of "The three curates : a novel"



The 

Three 



Curates 



Author o 



u 



Broken Sunshine. 



9? 







L I E> RAHY 

OF THL 

U N IVLRSITY 

Of ILLINOIS 

823 

W77t 
v.l 






t. 



THE THREE CURATES. 



THE THREE CURATES 



a Nobel 



Mrs. G. BIGG-WITHEE, 

Author of "Broken Sunshine." 



" Nothing is new ; we walk where others went ; 
There's no vice now but has its precedent." 

— Her rick. 



IN THREE VOLUMES. 
VOL. I. 



LONDON 

F. V. WHITE & CO., 
31, SOUTHAMPTON STREET, STRAND. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 



http://www.archive.org/details/threecuratesnove01bigg 



8£3 
Wilt 



THE THREE CURATES 



CHAPTER I. 

Tex years ago, Langton was a fair-sized 
market town, many miles from the metro- 
polis. It was irregular, as old towns 
generally are, and its architecture common- 
place and old-fashioned. 

There were only one or two fairly wide 
thoroughfares, and these were paved with 
-3 clean, wholesome red brick. But generally 
the streets were narrow, so that on market 
days some skill was required to engioeer the 
various vehicles, so as to avoid collisions. 

There was a large, square market-place, 
and behind this the Market Hall, where 
the healthy, rosy country-women sold their 
vol. i. 1 



3 

t 



* 



> 



2 THE THREE CURATES. 

butter, eggs and other produce. This 
place was clean, cool and draughty and 
much frequented. 

The town possessed a mayor and town 
council, and all the other paraphernalia of 
small and important dignity. 

It was a loyal town, ^though at times 
party feeling ran high, and this was 
especially so between Church and Dissent. 
The elite of the town and neighbourhood 
were " Church " of rather advanced type, 
and generally Tories, while the rank and file 
were unmistakable Dissenters and Badicals. 

But there were times when the various 
factions fused , and this was when they were 
threatened with any outside interference or 
suggestions from metropolitan authorities 
or neighbouring boroughs. Then they 
turned with one face to meet the foe. 
They neither wanted innovations, improve- 
ments or advice. They were perfectly 



THE THREE CURATES. 3 

satisfied with their own easy-£oin£. sub- 
stantial, respectable commonplace. 

They arranged their affairs with very 
little regard to outside opinion. Martinmas, 
Candlemas, statute fairs with an assemblage 
in the market-place of quack doctors, 
cheap-jacks, gingerbread stalls, learned 
pigs, fat ladies, travelling circuses, afforded 
them interesting landmarks of the various 
seasons. 

There was a beautiful and stately old 
church, which all took pride in, as being 
the Town's ! And the Hector, a Canon of 
Oswald Minster, was looked up to as a 
gentleman and a dignitary, and to be 
treated accordingly by his opponents in 
faith. 

To this Church of St. Just were attached 
three curates, of whom more anon. 

The houses of Langton were a source of 
perpetual surprise to strangers. In the 

1* 



4 THE THKEE CURATES. 

narrow streets these dwellings were sheer 
on to the pathway. There was hardly a 
front door worth speaking of; but these 
small portals were models of cleanliness. 
Their bright brass knockers and door 
handles Hashed in the sunlight, while the 
one or two small steps vied with each other 
in whiteness. It was only when the doors 
were opened you saw what possibilities and 
capabilities the houses were equal to. 
Such lovely vistas of green trees and 
exquisite colours greeted the eye. Xearly 
all the best rooms in the house opened, 
or looked on to charming old gardens, 
full of old-fashioned flowers — primroses 
and lilac, roses and lilies, sweet peas climb- 
ing in wanton luxury, London pride, and 
all the homely old flowers of childhood, 
while the mossy turf, and the shady old 
trees gave a delicious sense of peace and 
repose ; and then you understood why 



THE THREE CURATES. 5 

these houses showed their severely respect- 
able fronts to the street. 

In one of these dwellings, extra neat, 
extra polished, lived Mrs. Frostick — the 
" Mrs. Candour " of Langton. She was a 
very well known, if not entirely beloved, 
person. She was of uncertain age ; but 
anyway, she wore a brown front, severe 
and straight, without any illusion, and this 
gave to her small, sharp black eyes, her 
long, pointed nose and wrinkled face, an 
expression of keenness which often merged 
into malice. She was rather given to fine 
colours in dress, and altogether was a most 
inconvenient old woman. She knew every- 
body's age — which she was very fond of 
proclaiming — likewise their public and 
private affairs, and she possessed that very 
unpleasant, if honest, habit of calling a 
spade a spade. Few people liked her ; no 
one thought it advisable to offend her. She 



6 THE THEEE CURATES. 

was often, indeed, propitiated with season- 
able gifts. For the rest, her husband had 
long since migrated to a better world, and 
had left her master of the situation — in 
which he had only played a most insignifi- 
cant (and, people do say, a not very 
comfortable) part. Her house was a model 
of exquisite cleanliness, and her old servant, 
Betty, a second edition of herself — only 
under authority, which her mistress was 
not. 

A few doors off, lived the Browns, and 
of this Mrs. Frostick the Brown girls stood 
in perpetual uneasiness. Whenever she 
came in contact with them, she always 
availed herself of the privilege of an old 
friend of showing up their little weaknesses, 
— and certainly there was much that was 
weak in them. There was Matilda, other- 
wise Tilly, who posed for five-and-twenty, 
and was in point of fact four-and-thirty — 



THE THREE CURATES. 7 

tall, thin, towzley about the head, with a 
faded face, pale blue eyes, large hands of 
the bony type, and with no particular 
vices — Harriet, the second Miss Brown, a 
year or two younger, a little brighter, a 
little fatter, with her hair worn down to 
her eyes (which were not bad), and cut 
short behind like a boy's. She went in for 
the " Bebe " style generally. But each of 
these young ladies were agreed in one 
thing, which was their business in life — a 
husband at any cost. 

Old David Brown, their father, was a kind- 
hearted, humble-minded old man, whose 
father had been a foreman, whose grand- 
father had been a labourer, and he himself 
was a retired farmer, with a modest little 
competence. These family details he was 
never tired of airing ! It was a source of 
pride to him, that he could look back with 
honest self-respect to the labouring grand- 



8 THE THREE CURATES. 

father and the steadily accumulating 
capital, which had centred in him, " all 
got, sir, by honest toil and shrewd good 
sense." But his daughters by no means 
shared this family pride — to them, it was 
a source of perpetual mortification. They 
only desired to bury their ancestors well 
out of sight. But Mrs. Frostick would 
never allow this ! On the contrary she 
was very fond of pointing a moral with the 
aid of the Messrs. Brown deceased. 

Mr. Brown was, like Sancho Panza, fond 
of good eating aud drinking, and his taste 
in this respect was always gratified, for the 
virtues of his two daughters in this line 
were prominent. They were good house- 
keepers. His wife had been dead many 
years. 

He liked also to smoke his nightly pipe at 
the " Queen's Head," and on market days 
generally dined at " The Ordinary," where 



THE THEEE CURATES. 9 

he weekly met his old friends. Time marched 
kindly with him ; he had earned his rest, 
and he desired nothing more in life, than to 
be " comfortable," and that he most cer- 
tainly was. 

The Miss Browns were ever struggling 
to get into the clique just above them- 
selves, and cliques in country towns are a 
very expressive if unwritten code. Of 
course these young ladies figured largely at 
tea meetings, bazaars, Sunday school treats, 
&c, offered unlimited incense to the 
younger clergy, for generally speaking, 
there is not much other amusement 
provided in country towns, but that well 
leavened with the clerical element. And as 
long as curates lasted, there was always 
hope for Tilly and Harriet Brown. 



CHAPTER II. 

The beautiful old church was snugly 
situated in the heart of the town. Its 
bells were sending forth the hour of six ! 
Evensong was just over. The small con- 
gregation, mostly feminine, were filing 
out, and two of the curates, who were 
waiting to see the last petticoat lingeringly 
disappear, came out of the vestry. 

" I wonder why Lanyon didn't turn up 
this afternoon ? I quite expected him," said 
Percy Blythe the senior. " He is out 
of quarantine now. I hope, though, he 
isn't in for small-pox ! it would be small 
wonder, considering how he has been asso- 
ciating day after day with those wretched 
gipsies. He said he felt seedy this morning." 

"It's just as likely he has had another 



THE THREE CURATES. 11 

influx of slippers, or letters. That's enough to 
put him out of gear for the rest of the clay," 
replied Mr. Dash wood with a cold smile. 

" I say Cyril ! suppose we go and hunt 
him up, we can let the tennis slide ! or 
go on afterwards. It is hot enough to 
roast an ox. What say you ? " 

" Agreed ! " 

The young men linked their arms, went 
a little way out of the town, and then 
turned down a shady lane. Two gentle- 
manly young fellows, the senior in rank, 
though almost the younger in years, was 
the Rev. Percy Blythe. He had been four 
years in Langton, was a High Churchman 
of rather advanced form, and somewhat 
resented the curb the rector put upon too 
much zeal in the matter of ritual — the rector 
being more famed for his common sense 
than enthusiasm, as regards any extreme 
views of his curates. Mr. Blythe was a 



12 THE THREE CURATES. 

pleasant, hard-working, genial fellow, much 
given to ladies' society, and much made of 
generally. 

Cyril Dashwood, the second, was a man of 
good parts as regards his intellect, no great 
qualities of heart, but intensely ambitious. 
The son of a man, who had by sheer, hard 
struggling, made his way from the ranks 
to a fairly good position in life. This, he 
thoroughly intended his son should carry 
on, by means of a wealthy marriage, or 
fortunate church preferment. 

The Eev. Cyril Dashwood was by no 
means as popular as Percy Blythe, although 
in appearance, he far surpassed his confrere, 
for while Blythe was fair, slight, tall, with 
the kindest of blue eyes, that were always 
running over with boyish insouciance, Cyril 
Dashwood was well formed, and his clean, 
finely cut, if rather severe face, gave the 
impression that he was descended from, 



THE THEEE CURATES. 13 

at least, a dozen belted earls, instead of 
being the son of a Birmingham manu- 
facturer who had staked much upon this 
aristocratic-looking first born. 

" What a strange fellow Lanyon is ! What 
do you think he said this morning ? " 

" Something oracular, no doubt," said 
Mr. Dashwood somewhat coldly. He very 
often envied the junior curate. 

" He said ' If those Brown sdrls sent him 
any more of their stupid letters, he would 
put every one in the fire without 
opening.' " 

" Quite right, too. Those women are 
perfect nuisances." 

" Old Brown isn't a bad sort." 

" On the contrary, he is a very good 
sort, especially without his daughters." 

"I believe Lanyon hates all sorts of 
women. Do }^ou know, Cyril, I fancy he 
has had some disappointment in that line. 



14 THE THREE CURATES. 

A man does not deliberately dislike women, 
unless he has suffered some wrong at their 
hands." 

" He is not likely to enlighten us on the 
subject, you may be sure." 

" No, indeed," replied Percy with a laugh. 
" I could not stretch my imagination so as 
to imagine him discussing such a tender 
theme ! " 

By this time they had reached the junior 
curate's abode. A pretty, rustic, thatched 
cottage, with a gay little garden surround- 
ing it. The door stood wide open. A 
beautiful collie, with soft brown eyes, lay 
stretched across the threshold, and an old 
English mastiff watched them coming 
through the gate with grave friendliness. 

" Halloa, Prince ! Well, Eupert, old 
fellow ! " said Percy, as the dogs came for- 
ward to greet him affectionately. " Is your 
master at home ? " And, escorted by the 



THE THREE CURATES. 15 

two dogs, the young men proceeded to find 
oat this fact for themselves, and knocked 
at a side room door. 

" Come in ! " a voice called out. 

As they entered, there lay the extended 
form of the junior curate. Eound his head 
was coiled a wet towel. 

" Why, Lanyon, what's the matter ? " 
said Percy, with kindly interest in his 
tone. 

" Xo thing, only a vile headache. I was 
out in the sun without my hat — in fact, it 
fell in the water — and the vaccination 
combined has touched me up a little. I 
knew you could get on without me, so 
made myself comfortable here ! " 

" The Brown girls, I can assure you, 
looked quite disappointed. It was bruited 
about you would put in an appearance this 
evening." 

" If you have nothing better to discuss 



16 THE THREE CUEATES. 

than these two young women, please to ring 
the bell, and let us have some tea or some- 
thing." 

As the door opened to admit the portly 
form of Mr. Lanyon's housekeeper, he 
called out : 

"Here, Mrs. Bayliss, bring us in some 
sherry and soda water ; tea, or anything 
eatable — stay ! Mr. Blythe and Mr. Dash- 
wood will remain to dinner — no, no, tea ! " 
he corrected, seeing poor Mrs. Bayliss' ex- 
pression of blank dismay. 

"I told Mrs. Bayliss," he continued, 
turning to his friends with a smile, " not 
to even suggest dinner, unless she wished to 
make me ill — so, tea, and anything else you 
like to give us." 

"Yes, sir," said the woman, greatly re- 
lieved. 

The room was low-pitched, but roomy, 
and very comfortable, with old latticed 



THE THREE CURATES. 17 

windows, set wide open ; and the jessamine 
and honeysuckle came daintily peeping in, 
accompanied by a lovely breeze, laden with 
the perfume of many sweet scented flowers. 
Valuable books were scattered about, 
while the handsome cabinets and chairs 
hardly tallied with a poor junior curate's 
salary. But though their junior in rank, he 
was their senior in age. A man with eight 
hundred a year, and heir to a baronetcy ! 
He was a mixture of hauteur and humility, 
somewhat cold in manner, and, as we have 
heard, not given to women's influence. A 
face more conspicuous for power than 
beauty; in fact, it was ugly, and only re- 
deemed by kind, soft, hazel eyes, and crisp, 
curling hair, too grey to distinguish what 
its original colour had been. Just now his 
eyes had a tired, weary look ; indeed, the 
whole man showed a weariness of body and 
mind. 

vol. i. 2 



18 THE THREE CURATES. 

His confreres watched him with interest, 
and if they both held him slightly in awe, 
and one felt sometimes jealous at what he 
considered the unfairness of fickle fortune, 
they liked him much. To them he was as 
an elder brother. His purse of plenty was 
for them as for him, and they would 
have pained him by any refusal or false 
delicacy. And there existed, as there often 
does between men, a sincere and unanimous 
friendship. 

" After tea, you fellows, if you will, can 
do me a service ! " 

" With pleasure, Lanyon. What is 
it?" 

"Well," he said, pointing with contempt 
to a basket, " there are a lot of letters, 
feminine ones, I conclude. I want you to 
sort them. You know their various hand- 
writings better than I do Any one that 
you think looks fresh, or rather, I should 



THE THREE CURATES. 19 

sa) r , which is not familiar to you, hand 
over to me. The others please burn." 

"Do you mean to say, Lanyon, you 
would have us read and destroy your letters 
without even having seen their contents ? " 

" That is exactly my meaning. Women's 
letters do not interest me ; indeed I think 
there is often a good deal of mischief in 
them." 

" But suppose they are business ones ? " 
said Percy, to whom it seemed almost a 
sacrilege. 

" They are not business ones," said the 
owner of them coldly. "Anyone who 
wishes to see me on business can always do 
so, except, of course, during these last few 
weeks. Blythe, my dear fellow, there 
would not be half so much foolishness 
going on in parishes if the women were 
not encouraged to make fools of them- 
selves." 

9* 



20 THE THEEE CURATES. 

" Come, Lanyon, that's rather strong, 
to say the least of it," said Mr. Dashwood, 
with judicial fairness. 

" I think women quite the nicest half of 
creation," said Percy, with a laugh. 

"Well, I don't," said Mr. Lanyon in- 
cisively. 

" I think they have their uses," vouch- 
safed again Cyril. 

Mrs. Bayliss here entering with a sub- 
stantial tea, certainly justified Mr. Dash- 
wood's kind extenuation in their favour. 
Her bright, good-humoured, motherly face 
beamed all round. 

" I hope your head feels better, sir ? I 
have made you some real strong tea." 

" Thank you, Mrs. Bayliss. I am better, 
and shall enjoy your tea right well." 

" That's right, sir. Shall I pour it out, 
or will one of the young ' gents ' here ? " 

"I'll do it, Mrs. Bayliss," said Percy, 



THE THREE CURATES. 21 

which he did, with deft, practised hands ; and 
after it was all over Gerald Lanyon lighted 
a pipe, pushed the obnoxious basket over 
to his friends, resumed his recumbent 
position on the couch, and presently 
seemed absorbed in thought. The rustling 
and crackling of the letters did not appear 
to disturb him in the least. 

" I say, old fellow, how long, may I ask, 
have you had these ? There's a precious 
lot of them ! " 

" I should say, a fortnight's collection." 
" But suppose they do want answers ? " 
*' Look at the handwriting — settle for 
yourselves, and go on." 

" This one— from ' Jessie Craik'? " 
" Tear it up, and either put it in the 
fire-grate or waste-paper basket ; it is im- 
material." 

" And one from Harriet Brown, and 
Tilly Brown ? " 



22 THE THEEE CUKATES. 

"Ditto — ditto, my dear friends." 

" Oh, by Jove ! here's a pair of slippers, 
from — from — I can't make out ; do you 
try, Cyril." 

" From Matilda Alice Brown." 

" So it is." 

" Cyril, you can give them away in your 
district, it's poor enough." 

The two young men laughed. 

" Suppose Miss Brown comes across 
them," said Blythe, " what then? " 

" If I give her credit for any feelings at 
all, she ought to be glad ; they are useful 
to an individual who really requires them, 
and not to one who does not." 

" Here is a letter with a crest. The crest 
looks like that of Lady Wareham." 

" I will take that. Lady Wareham is a 
dear old lady. I am sorry her epistle has 
been among such . . . frivolous com- 
pany." 



THE THEEE CUKATES. 23 

" Here's a new ' fist.' I don't recognise it, 
and yet I fancy I have seen it before. It 
looks like a man's." 

"Kead it over," said Mr. Lanyon in- 
dolently. 

" Miss Higgins presents her compliments 
to the Eev. Gerald Lanyon, and having 
been informed he requires larger funds for 
the Temporary Small-Pox Hospital, on the 
Combe Warren land, encloses a cheque 
for £200. Mr. Lanyon need not acknow- 
ledge the cheque either in writing or in 
person. 

" Combe Towers, 

"July 7th." 

" As I do require the funds I shall keep 
it, otherwise Miss Higgins might have had 
her cheque returned, without thanks." 

" All the same, Lanyon, it is a good 



2i THE THEEE CURATES. 

thing she doesn't require an acknowledg- 
ment — it's ten days old, man ! " 

" Is this the Miss Higgins I hear Lady 
Louisa so full of ? " 

" Yes ; but you surely know her ? " 

" I have not that honour." 

" By-the-by, of course you don't. She 
has been in Dresden these last eight months, 
and you have been here about seven, and 
nearly a month in quarantine from the 
civilised world as represented by Langton." 

" I am still in ignorance as to particulars 
beyond the fact that she is ' Miss Higgins,' 
of Combe Towers." 

" Miss Higgins is the only daughter and 
heiress of a deceased ' quack pill ' doctor ; 
she is disgustingly rich, very plain, and 
hates curates." 

" So that's it," said Mr, Lanyon, with a 
laugh. " She hates curates." 

" She is not quite so bad as Blythe makes 



THE THREE CURATES. 25 

out," said Cyril Dashwood, who had his 
own views respecting the heiress. " She 
has a good figure and is considered clever." 

" Is she old or young ? " 

" About thirty, I believe." 

" Now little Esme Curtis is a darling, if 
you like ! " 

" Is it a child ? The sex seems doubtful." 

"A child ! good gracious ! No ! Miss 
Higgins has adopted her, and she is about 
nineteen, eh, Cyril ! " 

" Is she disgustingly rich likewise ? " 

" No," said Cyril, with a slight blush. 

" Poor girl ! " 

" Why ' poor girl ' ? " said Cyril with un- 
reasonable irritability. 

" To have the ' disgusting riches ' for 
ever thrust down her throat." 

"No, no! Lanyon," said Blythe warmly, 
" Miss Higgins is the kindest person to 
those she likes, and is the most charitable 



26 THE THEEE CURATES. 

imaginable. It is the curates and those 
she thinks run after her money that she's 
so down upon." 

" Well, let her rest ! Finish the basket 
off." So they steadily ran through the 
remainder. 

" Here's another parcel ! A very hand- 
some birthday book, with some lovely 
illustrations." 

"Percy, old fellow, give that to little 
Clara Smith, it will amuse her while her 
poor little leg is 'setting.' I wonder if she 
would like a doll ; or, perhaps, poor little 
mite, she has had too many babies to drag 
about to care for anything so childish !" 

" She will think a lot of it if she 
knows it comes from you," said Percy 
kindly. " But do you know who it comes 
from ? " 

" Not in the least," answered the other 
equably. 



THE THREE CUEATES. 27 

" It is from Adelaide Craster." 

" Well, then, Miss Craster will do a kind 
action to a poor little waif without know- 
ing it." 

"Miss Craster is a nice, lady-like girl. 
Lanyon, are you not a bit down on these 
girls ? " said Percy. 

" Blythe, believe me, I am not ! I do not 
ask all these young women to write to me 
or make me useless presents. On the con- 
trary, I think the whole thing derogatory 
both to them and to myself." 

" Then I suppose you object to tennis 
because you meet all these girls ? " 

" By no means ; tennis is a game all can 
join in. Personally, I prefer cricket; but, 
Percy, I think we — nay, I will say you 
fellows, are as much to blame as these girls. 
How often do you flirt, first with one then 
another, often looking, if not actually 
saying, more than you ever intend." 



28 THE THREE CUEATES. 

" Oh ! they like it, bless you," said Blythe, 
laughing heartily at the moralising tone of 
Mr. Lanyon, " attention sans intention, you 
know." 

Mr. Lanyon shrugged his shoulders and 
said no more. He knew his friends thought 
him straight-laced about many things, but 
there was so much genuine kindness and 
goodness about him that they forgave him 
his little crotchets and heartily respected 
him. 

" Well, Lanyon, old man, we're off now 
to the Cr asters'. We may be in time for a 
game yet. Can we do airything for you ? " 

" No, thanks, Cyril," said he as he 
grasped their hands with warm goodwill. 

After the young men had left, he smoked 
another pipe, and a dreamy, far-away look 
took possession of his face. He was 
reviewing a portion of his life, not so very 
long past, thinking of the young girl he 



THE THREE CURATES. 29 

had so idolised almost since childhood. 
How he had longed and looked forward to 
the time when he might claim her for his 
wife! How he toiled and worked and 
studied ! She was the loadstar that drew 
all his energies to their highest point. How 
supreme was to be the reward ! 

And then came the bitter awakening — 
the soul dragged down from Elysium to an 
abyss of despair. When Lady Laura 
Bidden forbade him to think of her 
daughter, save as the friend of his youth. 
She had other views for her child. Very 
soon her mother removed her out of his 
reach entirely, by marrying the young 
Pauline to a bilious, elderly millionaire, 
whose moral character left much to be 
desired, but the girl made a beautiful 
sacrifice and centrepiece for his wealth. 

Gerald Lanyon never saw his love again. 
The blow was terrible, crushing in its in- 



30 THE THREE CURATES. 

tensit} r . The best and purest motives of 
his life had failed ; his trust was shaken ; 
what was there to strive for ? Nothing ! 
The lamp had gone out, and nothing but 
darkness everywhere. There was no one in 
life to comfort him ; he was alone with the 
apathy of despair. 

Then his kind old tutor, who himself had 
passed through the furnace, at last gave him 
a talisman — to try, in self-sacrifice and de- 
votion to others, to bring back some peace 
to himself, so, at length, mounting higher 
and higher, gradually the great burden 
rolled down. If he had lost the buoyancy 
of youth, with all its beautiful illusions, the 
endurance of manhood had taken its place, 
and now, from the height of his own climb- 
ing, he could look down with kind indul- 
gence on the shortcomings of those who 
were as yet untried in the warfare of life. 
And since he had taken "orders " his time and 



THE THREE CURATES. 31 

thoughts found peace in working for others. 
And then, too late for his happiness, came 
wealth, and the foretaste of possession. By 
the death of a young cousin, he found him- 
self heir to an aged uncle, and a rent-roll 
of ten thousand a year. So he devoted 
himself, and the very liberal allowance he 
received from Sir Horace Lanyon, to the 
service of others. And now, here he was, 
this gracious summer evening, curate of 
Langton, not unhappy, somewhat self-con- 
tained, but avoiding society as much as 
possible. 

He rose, shook himself, as if to throw off 
this useless retrospection, went into his 
room, plunged his head into cold water, 
then, calling his dogs, set out with them 
for a long tramp through the new-mown 
field, scented with fragrant odours, and 
delightful with balmy air. 



CHAPTEB-HI. 

About a mile out of Langton was the 
residence of Miss Higgins, " Miss Higgins 
of Combe Towers," as she was generally 
called. It was an old-fashioned place, 
white, low-storeyed, and somewhat strag- 
gling, but capacious and comfortable 
inside. Outside, Banksias, magnolias, 
honeysuckle, all in their season, making its 
old age beautiful, while a few grand old 
cedars and copper beeches gave it an 
air of stately dignity. The gardens were 
perfect, both as to arrangement and in 
the admirable way they were kept up ; and 
beyond the gardens were cool green 
shrubberies planted a century back, afford- 
ing sheltered walks and pleasant vistas. 
The house door stood wide open, and .the 



THE THREE CURATES. 33 

evening light was soft and tender, for it 
had been a golden August day ; and now, 
the air was full of sweet odours, and 
delicate shadows, cast by the cedars, fell 
athwart the lawn. 

Miss Higgins stood gazing out, and the 
setting sun glinted her dark hair with 
warm touches of colour. Her eyes were 
of deep grey, and the lashes dark : if her 
cheeks had been tinted with the warm 
light the sun now gave them, instead of 
their ordinary sallow tinge, she might have 
been called a good-looking woman, but 
there seemed a coldness about her — her 
mouth, which, but for its sarcastic ex- 
pression, would have been pretty ; the 
chin was beautifully moulded, soft, round, 
firm, and yet cleft by a lovely little dimple. 
Her figure was tall and fine, with a quiet 
dignity ; but with it all, there was a certain 
something about her which seemed to 
vol. i. 3 



34 THE THREE CURATES. 

warn off outsiders, and yet there was often 
a pathetic look in the grey eyes, a sort of 
yearning after some unknown possibilities 
which, as yet, she had not grasped. She 
was thirty, and she was still Miss Higgins, 
but it was not for want of offers. Once, 
indeed, she had nearly loved, but over- 
hearing some very uncomplimentary 
remarks apropos of her father, her own 
name, with its want of euphony, and the 
candid announcement that it was her 
money that was so beautiful in the eye of 
her would-be suitor, caused a revulsion of 
feeling which had never as yet been re- 
versed, and all subsequent offers had 
seemed to her pained heart but a repetition 
of the first ; she had ceased to believe, but 
she had courage, and a ilarge-hearted 
benevolence. Surely there must be some- 
thing to live for in this great world ! So 
she accepted her life, only, just this quiet 



THE THREE CURATES. 35 

tender evening, with no sound to be heard 
but the lowing cattle, or the drowsy hum 
of insects, there did seem an emptiness, a 
void, in her heart as she stood with her 
hands idly clasped before her. Then she 
seemed to throw off these oppressions ; for 
coming down the two or three steps, she 
called out in clear, rich tones : 

" Esme ! Esme ! Where are you, child ? 
Ah," as a smile passed over her face, "in 
her hammock, of course, wise little 
maiden/' 

So gathering her long black lace train 

CD O D 

over her arm, with light, firm steps, she 
threaded her way in and out the shady 
plantation, stopping here and there to 
gather a flower or a dainty fern, till at last 
she came to a group of trees, and there 
under their shade, with little flecks of pink 
tinted sunshine dancing about her, was 
Esme, comfortably reclining in her swing- 

3* 



36 THE THREE CURATES. 

ing nest, but not alone, for beside her 
stood Cyril Daslrwood. She made a most 
dainty and lovely picture. Her sunny hair 
plaited round a shapely little head, with eyes 
like turquoise, the eyebrows slightly arched, 
gave an air of sweet surprise to a baby 
mignon face, with its peach-like fairness. 

"What a picture you are, Esme," said 
the young man, with passionate, eager ej'es, 
and holding her hand in a tight grasp. 

" Do you think so ? " she answered, with 
a happy little laugh. " So do other 
people, mon bean monsieur! There was a 
German student at Dresden used to follow 
me like a shadow, till Hester packed him 
off." 

" But you must have encouraged him ! " 
said Cyril, with some heat. 

"What is the good of being pretty if 
you don't make other people feel it? 
Besides, you forget," she continued, drop- 



THE TBEEE CURATES. 37 

ping her light tone, " I owe allegiance to 
no one but dear Hester, and she lets me 

do whatever I please," but there was an 
undercurrent of meaning in her voice 
which was not lost upon Mr. Dashwood. 

For months — nay, for over a year — had 
he been paying her the most devoted 
attention — in private. He did love her 
deeply, as far as his selfish, calculating 
nature would allow, and yet it was not her 
he intended to marry, for he could not 
make up his mind to sacrifice all his 
ambitious future ; but so contradictory was 
his temperament that he was wildly jealous 
of any other man near her. 

" And then, Cyril! Why do you love me 
so much when we are alone, and behave so 
coldly and ceremoniously when you meet 
me in society ? It does pain me so. I can't 
understand it ; it seems as — as if you were 
ashamed of loving me ! " 



33 THE THREE CURATES. 

" You fancy this, Esme ! " he answered, 
with some confusion. 

She shook her head — for this pro- 
blem poor little Esme was always trying 
to solve. 

When Miss Higgins saw the two her face 
hardened with contempt, and she quickly 
turned and made her way back to the 
house and threw herself wearily down on 
one of the many low easy chairs by the 
open French window. 

'•What a wretched set those curates are! 
Always dilly-dallying after some woman or 
another ! I believe that's all they are fit 
for." 

And her lips curled scornfully as these 
thoughts flew through her mind. 
" My poor little Esme ! " 

Presently the sounds of footsteps on the 
gravel outside caused her to look up, and 
there was Esme, with a delicious little flush 



THE THREE CURATES. 39 

like a rose-leaf on her cheek, while Cyril 
Dashwood had a satisfied smile on his 
handsome face that made Hester feel she 
almost hated him. 

" Hester, I have brought Mr. Dashwood 
in. He saw me under the elm-trees and he 
wishes to see you." 

For a moment her heart stood still. 
Was this man, then, going to ask for her 
" ewe lamb " ? Then she rose coldly and 
shook hands, but Mr. Dashwood was not to 
be daunted by her hauteur. The prize he 
had in view was too valuable not to require 
a good deal of patience, besides, he was a 
man whom to overcome obstacles was a 
pleasure. So, in softly modulated accents, 
he told her he came with a message from 
the Eector, as Lady Louisa could not come 
over herself. 

" Thank you ; I heard from Lady Louisa 
this moraine." 



40 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Indeed! The Rector could hardly have 
known that." 

She made no reply, so he began again : 

" But he does want you to become one 
of the lady patronesses at the cottage 
flower show." 

" Is it money you require, Mr. Dash- 
wood ? " she asked coldly. 

" Well, not exactly that, though I dare- 
say we could do with some more, but it 
is your presence we want, and Miss Curtis. 
And there is to be a gigantic tea ; will you 
undertake something in that way ? " 

" No, I dislike ' teas,' " she replied in- 
cisively. 

" I think they are rather fun, Hester." 

" Well, dear, you can join the tea affair 
if you like." 

" I know the Eector would be so pleased if 
you would alter your mind and come to the 
tea. He is anxious all the ladies of influence 



THE THREE CUEATES. 41 

should be there — Mrs. Grantley will be, and 

Lady Louisa will preside ! " 

" Lady Louisa is the Hector's wife, and it 
is quite suitable she should be en evidence, 
and Mrs. Grantley is the Mayor's sister. I 
do not intend coming to the tea." 

She rose and went to her davenport, and 
presently returned. " Here is a cheque, 
Mr. Dashwood, for £25 for prizes; and 
Hawkins shall send what flowers and 
fruits you require from the green- 
houses." 

He thanked her effusively. " You are 
generosity itself ! But you will come, won't 
you, Miss Higgins ? " and he leaned over 
towards her chair, with a persuasive 
smile. 

;t I shall come to the Flower Show. Yes." 

And as that was all he could cret out of 
her, he had to remain satisfied. And as she 
gave him no encouragement to prolong his 



42 THE THREE CURATES. 

visit, lie reluctantly rose to leave. " Ah ! I 
see fresh fruits of your travels ! " and he 
pointed to some exquisite paintings on por- 
celain, large in size, and framed in ebony. 

"It is the story of 'Undine.' We 
brought them from Dresden. They excel 
in those arts." 

" And in music ? " 

" Yes ; the music is divine. I think we 
shall return there soon." 

" But surely not this year ? You have 
hardly returned, as it were." 

" Probably in the autumn," she answered, 
in a cold, level voice. 

And it was now August. He said " Good- 
bye " at last, and, as warmly as he dared, 
pressed her hand, gave a friendly adieu to 
Esme, and left them. 

" Why can't you like him, Hester ? " said 
Esme, impulsively. u It is so evident you 
don't." 



THE THREE CUEATES. 43 

11 1 do not like him." 

"But lie is so handsome, dear." 

" Undeniably so ; but that is no recom- 
mendation in my eyes. Esme, has he asked 
you to be his wife ? " 

" Xo " came hesitatingly from the 

young lips. 

" Then why does he not ? You love him, 
darling." 

" Ah, yes, Hester ; indeed, I do ! Perhaps 
he will." And yet there was a sad depres- 
sion at the loving heart. 

" If he does not, he is using you very 
badly." 

" Oh, Hester ; I can't help thinking " 

"Thinking what, dearest child?" And 
Miss Higgins drew the young girl to- 
wards her, and with loving, protecting 
touch, placed her arms round the slender, 
supple waist. "Thinking what, my little 
woman ? " 



44 THE THREE CURATES. 



" That — that he loves you better than 
me ! " 

" Loves me ! Then, indeed, if he does, 
it's my money bags and my balance at the 
bank. My dear Esme, do yon think my 
wits are wool-gathering ? Can you suppose 
any man would seek me for myself? Come 
now, look in that mirror ! At my ugly 
yellow face ! and yours, like a newly-opened 
rose ! Esme, God is more just than men. 
To you He has given the Divine power of 
beauty ; to me, in compensation, He has 
given wealth. I may buy homage ; but 
you, darling, can command it. Beauty is 
an exquisite gift ! " 

"Hester!" said Esme, with a loving 
smile, " You are not ugly. Sometimes, 
when you are moved, your true self shines 
out. Then you are beautiful ! Your colour 
comes and goes, and then sometimes 
remains. Your eves look dark — as dark as 



THE THREE CURATES. 45 

the pool where the water-lilies grow! I 

remember once observing you at the 
theatre at Vienna. Something in the play 

deeply interested you ; and I thought, ' if 

others could only see you as I do, they 

would no longer say my Hester was plain ! ' 

" You are a most poetical, loving, little 
flatterer, and therefore your evidence 
can't be taken." 

" Ah, Hester, if you only had someone 
to love you, you would be like the statue 
Pygmalion called to life! " 

"That is not very likely to happen. 
Xow Esme, listen to me. It is my intention 
if any man honestly woos you to settle 
three hundred a year on you ; but I make 
this proviso, you are not to tell the in- 
dividual, without my permission ; let him 
love you, dear, for your sweet self. You 
will promise me this, dear ? " 

" Oh, Hester ! what a noble, loving 



46 THE THREE CURATES. 

heart you have ! I don't deserve so much 
care." 

" My dear one, but for you I should 
become as hard as my own gold. You are 
the soft spot of my heart. I have neither 
father, mother, kith, nor kin. You know, 
dear, how often I have been deceived, in 
the men who professed so much for me. 
And it is this, perhaps, which makes 
your love for me so precious. If your 
Cyril is worthy of } t ou, he won't lose by 
it ; but do not set too much store by his 
handsome face, it is not always the index 
of a noble mind." 

" Hester," said Esme after a pause, when 
each was thinking out her own thoughts, 
" there is such an iiGflv curate at St. Just. 
A woman hater ! " 

" Probably I should prefer him to the 
others ; but do not let us discuss such an 
unprofitable and uninteresting topic. Let 



THE TI1EE.E CURATES. 47 

us rather fly to our music. Play me that 
sunny Italian Symphony of Mendelssohn's, 
or something of Chopin's. These friends 
never disappoint us, Esme." 
■" So Esme sat down, and under her skilful 
fingers Mendelssohn's delicious, sparkling 
music brought the bright Italian sky and 
the lovely Campagna to their thoughts. 
Esme's one talent was music, and this had 
been carefully cultivated at Dresden. She 
played with no ordinary skill, and Hester 
felt its softening influence. It was like 
David's harp, exorcising all the hard 
feelings tugging at her heart, and filling it 

C C CD CD ' O 

with tender emotions. 

Years ago — when Esme was a lonely little 
orphan, at the same school as the opulent 
heiress — had Miss Hisrgins constituted 

CO 

herself friend, elder sister, guardian to the 
sweet little thing. And as time grew on, 
the child's natural guardians were perfectly 



48 THE THREE CURATES. 

willing to resign her to the care of the 
wealthy young person who seemed to have 
set her heart on this motherless lamb. So 
the love had grown between these two, 
Esme slightly selfish, but so bewitching 
in her selfishness that one forgave her, 
while Hester was touching in her abnega- 
tion to the sometimes capricious little 
beauty. But the love between them was 
deep. Both were orphans, and so clung 
together. They had lived mostly abroad, 
at Rome, Dresden, Paris, and it was not 
often they came to Combe Towers. This 
place had been purchased by the Doctor 
from an impoverished family, whose dower 
house it had been. He had given a 
handsome price for it, and spent a good 
deal more on what he called improvement, 
such as drainage, hot-houses, and other 
matters. Part of the old furniture had 
been bong 1 t. But all the beautiful 



THE THREE CURATES. 49 

additions had been made by the cultivated 
taste of Hester — of contributions from many 
lands, objects of art and value, some almost 
priceless. 

The old doctor, who had amassed this 
large fortune by trading on the good- 
natured credulity of the British public — at 
least, that part of it who liked senstaional 
medicine — considerately departed this life, 
leaving all his wealth to his clever daughter, 
of whom he stood in awe. But being per- 
fectly certain she would be a safe custodian 
of all the good things he had gathered 
together, and of which he was as proud as 
old David Brown, he had much wished 
his daughter to carry on his business, but 
this she declined to do. 

" Xo, father ! Let it be ended. I shall 
have more than enough for myself and 
others." 

" But why, Hester ? Why should you 
vol. i. 4 



50 THE THREE CURATES. 

not carry it on ? There's nothing I know 
pays like it." 

" Oh, father ! I think we have made 
enough out of the nublic," and a warm 
colour came over her face. 

" Do you think I've cheated them, eh ? 
Did you ever know any one who died of 
my pills ? My dear, they were as harmless 
as a piece of paste ! It was the faith in 
them ! did all the cure. And do you know 
any reason why people shouldn't get well 
through faith ? And the lovely advertise- 
ments ! they were the study of my life ! 
All true and original ! And look at the 
enormous good I've done to the artist trade 
by giving 'em orders for illustrations ! My 
dear, I've been a public benefactor ? " And 
he slapped himself in weak approval, over 
the region of his heart, for at this time he 
was near the end of his pilgrimage. " Oh, 
Hester, if you'd only been a boy ! You 



THE THREE CURATES. 51 

wouldn't have been so keen about getting 
rid of a fortune. Perhaps you might marry 
and have a son ? think of that, my lass — look 
to the future." 

" No, father dear ! Let us be satisfied 
that we are rich, and, as far as you know, 
nobody has died." And so it ended, and he 
likewise — for, leaving everything he pos- 
sessed to his daughter, he changed his com- 
pilable house for a very grand tomb he had 
built for himself during his life- time, and on 
which he carried out his ruling passion, 
for he drew up his own epitaph ; and it was 
one of the small consolations of his later 
life to see this grand panegyric of himself 
as a public benefactor in letters of (highly 
paid for) gold ! 

To his daughter this vain egotism was 
inexpressibly painful, and yet she loved 
the fond, foolish old man, and tended him 
with childlike devotion. She felt glad her 



! 



52 THE THREE CUEATES. 

young mother, who had died so many years 
ago, long before the pills meant money, 
and was buried in a humble grave in some 
Kentish churchyard, did not share this 
gorgeous mausoleum. 

And now Miss Higgins was " a personage," 
rich, eccentric, not always over agreeable. 
But she gave liberally whenever money 
was wanted and therefore merited much 
consideration at the hands of the town and 
neighbourhood of Langton. 



eg 



CHAPTEE IV. 

In a very charming boudoir in a well 
appointed house near Eaton Square, sat 
a very pretty young woman. At least 
she would have been, but for an ex- 
pression of utter weariness, discontent 
and unhappiness. She impatiently tapped 
her pretty slippered foot, as she listened,, 
or rather did her best not to listen, to the 
somewhat vehement outpourings of wrath 
and expostulation, that fell from the lips 
of a well-preserved woman of fifty, but 
with this wrath was mingled much 
anxiety. 

" It's no use, mamma ! you can't make 
things any better. I am sick of it all — 
sick of nearly everything! — of Mr. Cohen 
and his odious City friends, who I have 



54 THE THEEE CURATES. 

to dress up for ! and, if it were not for 
Charlie Vere, I should go mad, or do 
something dreadful. I disliked Mr. Cohen 
when I married him, now I almost hate 
him ! with his cold pompous ways ! As if 
his money was everything ! I think I am 
told every week I am a pauper — it is too 
much ! " 

" Pauline ! The money is a great deal ! 
What can we do without it ? You know 
what our life was before your marriage, the 
misery of it all — the scraping, the effort to 
keep up appearances, and I did try to save 
you from it all. I must say you are un- 
grateful, and a most unloving wife ! " 

"Mother! If you wished me to be 
loving and grateful, vou should have let me 
marry Gerald Lanyon. I did love him ! " 

" Gerald Lanyon was too poor to keep a 
wife. And he had no position." 

" Well, he's rich now — directly old Sir 



THE THREE CURATES. 55 

Horace dies, lie will be Sir Gerald, with 
ten thousand a year I 

" How could I tell poor young Lanyon 
would die ? " said her mother irritably. 

" Of course you could not, but the fact 
remains." 

Lady Laura answered nothing to this, it 
was too true, and — it vexed her, to think — 
too late. And her one anxiety now was 
to try and induce her daughter to make the 
best of an uncongenial marriage. She had 
to admit that Mr. Cohen, as a husband, 
left much to be desired. While his house 
overflowed with lavish wealth, his wife 
never possessed one penny she could call 
her own. She might order what she pleased 
and run up what bills she pleased — and 
she did please herself in this last item. 

Mr. Cohen had seen perfectly through 
Lady Laura's tactics. He knew she had 
sold her daughter. But he was determined 



66 THE THREE CURATES. 

his mother-in-law should not benefit by the 
transaction. He had bought Pauline, like 
everything else he coveted. 

She looked thoroughbred, she was ex- 
ceedingly pretty, and dainty in her ways. 
He also found his wife's heart was a com- 
modity that declined to be thrown into the 
bargain. After his marriage, of course, 
there were plenty of people to acquaint him 
with his wife's first love affair. But he 
consoled himself with the fact that she 
never saw her old love again. 

In point of fact, Pauline was never worth 
the deep true love of such a nature as Gerald 
Lany on's. He had idealised her. She was 
vain, coquettish, and capricious, perfectly 
incapable of any depth of feeling ; but when 
happy, she was a charming little personage. 
But, as she was anything but happy, her 
charms were absent. 

Youno- Yere had been Mr. Cohen's ward 



THE THREE CUEATES. 57 

during his minority, and still made his 
home, almost entirely, at Eaton Place. 
Wealthy, kind-hearted, not troubled with 
too many brains, and, considering all things, 
not many vices, he was the ami intime 
of the house. Mr. Cohen had a real affec- 
tion for the lad he had had the charge of 
for so many years. In fact, he looked upon 
him as a sort of " watch-dog," never dream- 
ing that Charlie's heart could, by any 
chance, become influenced by his capricious, 
discontented wife. And this was exactly what 
Lady Laura's sharp eyes had discovered. 
These two young people, thrown every day 
in each other's society, were drifting fast 
on a perilous rock. Young Vere was the 
daily recipient of Pauline's worries and 
vexations— some of them deeply irritating 
to a proud, passionate, nature. And pity 
was fast merging into love. 

" Pauline, dear ! " said her mother, affec- 



58 THE THREE CURATES. 

tionately, "don't have Charlie Ye re too 
much about you ! People will begin to 
notice it, and talk ! " 

" But, mother ! He is his master's watch- 
dog ! and, having an affectionate nature, he 
naturally loves his mistress ! " And the 
idea pleased Pauline, for she laughed plea- 
santly. 

" Don't joke about it, Lina dear, it is too 



serious. " 



" Mamma, pray let me get some amuse- 
ment out of my life. It is like a prison 
house with a hateful jailor." 

" Pauline ! for God's sake do try and 
bear it ; it wilt become less hard, if 
you only would. Oh ! if your baby had 
lived ! " 

" I am thankful it did not — now. It 
would only have been a source of unhap- 
piness for me. It is better as it is." And 
for a moment the vouncf face softened. 



THE THREE CURATES. 59 

The dark eyes were humid with unshed 
tears, that could at times be so soft and 
joyous. 

" Oh, mother ! I found out something 
dreadful about Mr. Cohen. See ! here it 
is!" And she pulled out from her pocket 
a much crumpled letter. And her face 
hardened, as she handed it to her mother. 
"Oh, it is hateful! But let me tell you 
how it came into my possession. I am 
ordered by my husband to get all my 
dresses made at Madame Stephanie's, and 
when I was there arranging about one, 
a fortnight ago, the young person who 
attended on me (a very handsome girl, 
mother) had occasion to go to her pocket 
for a measure, and out fell this letter, and 
dropped close to me. I picked it up to 
give it her, when I caught sight of my 
husband's handwriting. Fancy that ! So 
instead of returning it to her, I put it in 



60 THE THREE CURATES. 

my pocket. Not very honourable, was it ? " 
she said, grimly ; " but all is fair in love 
and war. And this is war ! And there is 
nothing like being au courant with your 
husband's affairs. What do you think of 
your son-in-law ? " as she saw a trace of 
colour pass over her mother's face as 
she read the letter. 

" Pauline, it is all dreadful. And yet, 
dear, hard as my advice must seem to you, 
I say bear it. In all these dubious battles 
with the world, the woman is always 
worsted ; for even if she is innocent, 
' Society ' does not stop to judicially ex- 
amine. It simply hears of a divorce, or a 
separation. ' No doubt the woman was in 
fault.' You know in France they always 
say, ' cherchez la femme! " 

" Mother, I don't care what the world 
says. I shall go my own way now." 

Just then the door opened, and Cerise, 



THE THREE CURATES. 61 

Pauline's French maid, announced " Mr. 
Vere." 

" Ah, Charlie, there you are ! welcome 
as the sunshine." And Mrs. Cohen im- 
pulsively rose, and held out two little white 
hands, which were eagerly grasped by the 
young fellow. 

The bright dancing eyes, the crisp, curly 
hair, almost yellow, the pleasant, cheery, 
sunshiny face, looked the embodiment of 
animal health and spirits. Small wonder 
Mrs. Cohen called him her " sunshine." 

c Mamma and I are in the dismals ; do 
take us somewhere, Charlie ! " 

" But where do you want to go, 
Madamina ? " 

" Oh, anywhere, as long as it is some- 
where," said the young lady inconsequently. 
" Where do you say, mother ? " 

" Let us have some tea first, Pauline. But 
is it quite convenient to Mr. Vere ? " 



62 THE THREE CURATES. 

Pauline was highly amused at this idea. 
" Of course it is ! As if anything I 

wanted could be inconvenient ! What do 
you say, Charlie ? " 

" Your wishes are my law," answered the 
young man, with \*hat Lady Laura con- 
sidered unnecessary warmth. 

"Charlie, just tell Cerise we will have 
tea at once." Then Pauline went over to 
her mother, took the letter, and transferred 
it to her own pocket again, and put her 
finger on her lips. 

" Pauline, I beseech you, be careful," whis- 
pered her mother, in deep, anxious tones. 
" It ought to be sent back." 

As young Yere entered, Mrs. Cohen asked 
him if there would be time to drive to Rich- 
mond, and yet be back for the theatre. 
"We might dine there, you know." 

" But, Pauline, consider your husband ! " 
exclaimed Lady Laura. 



THE THREE CURATES. 63 

"I don't think lie is the least likely to be 
at home ; it is the last week of the session, 
and he will be at the House, doing his duty 
to his constituents, who I hope like him 
better than his wife does." 

" Oh ! Pauline. Pray remember what 
you are saying. It is most painful." 

" Well, mother, don't let's discuss him, 
then ! " 

Then the tea, with its etc.'s, came in, and 
the carriage was ordered for half -past four. 

Lady Laura felt it was useless making any 
further protest. She could only trust that 
her presence with her daughter and young 
Vere might lend some degree of respect- 
ability to the proceedings. But, nevertheless, 
she felt sure that they would, had they 
been so minded, have Gfone all the same. 
She saw furthermore that Pauline was 
getting day by day more intolerant of her 
husband. Lady Laura sighed sadly ; for 



CI THE THREE CURATES. 

she had laid the train herself, and who 
could sa}^ how and when the match 
would be applied ? They seemed living over 
a mine, which might explode any day. 
Should she surest a word to Mr Cohen as 

CO 

to the extreme danger of always having 
young Vere, like a tame cat, hanging about 
the place? It would bring matters to a 
crisis ! And Pauline would suffer in some 
way. No ; she felt helpless and hopeless ; 
affairs must arrange themselves. 

Lady Laura had a hard, worldly heart — 
which a long life of fighting with adverse 
circumstances had not made any the 
sweeter, or the advice and snubbings of 
high-born relations any the more agreeable. 
But to-day, there was an unwonted tender- 
ness in her manner to Pauline. She seemed 
now to realize to what a servitude she had 
condemned her daughter ! She had taken 
all her joy from her, robbed her, as it were, 



THE THREE CERATES. 65 

of the love of her girlhood, and given her in 
exchange chains which she loathed. And 
this came home to her now with exceeding 
bitterness. She had intended so much for 
her child — to place her out of the weary 
turmoil that springs from lack of means ; 
forgetting that the young wife's heart 
required a tenderer nourishment than only 
gold could give. She was but three-and- 
twenty now ; and she had been married four 
years ! Oh, the dreary time ! Lady Laura 
had made every inquiry as to Mr. Cohen's 
wealth, but very little as to his private 
character ; and now the discovery of this 
damaging letter had added to the complica- 
tions. All these sombre thoughts chased 
each other through Lady Laura's anxious 
brain. As she watched, almost uncon- 
sciously, Mrs. Cohen and young Yere 
amusing themselves in a distant -conserva- 
tory, like two idle children, she could hear 
vol. i. 5 



66 THE THREE CUEATES. 

Pauline's light laughter, as she threw a 
handful of rose-leaves at the head of 
young Vere, which stuck among the wavy 
curls of his light hair. 

Her daughter came in again. " Mother, 
dear, I am going to put on my things, it's 
just time." And as she passed out of the 
room for this purpose, Lady Laura rose 
from her chair, and quickly went over to 
where Charlie was standing. 

" Mr. Vere," she said, laying her hand on 
his arm, " Take care of my child." 

" Take care of her, Lady Laura ! I 
should think so, indeed !"' 

"Not only from bodily danger. She is 
young, thoughtless, and unhappy. Act the 
part of a brother." And she emphasised 
the word. 

A quick, hot blush spread over his face, 
he understood her meaning. 

" I will try ! " he answered presently. 



THE THREE CURATES. 67 

"Thank you." 

Pauline came in looking brighter, and 
her dark eyes smiling with expectant plea- 
sure. 

" Ready, mother ? " 

" Put in plenty of wraps, Cerise, and tell 
your master Mrs. Cohen, Lady Laura and 
myself have driven down to Eichmond." 

"Yes, sir. Will Madame be back to 
dinner?" 

" Oh, dear no, Cerise ! We are going to 
dine there," said her mistress. 

Oh, the utter blindness — or was it in- 
difference? of the husband, to throw such 
temptation in the way of these two young 
people ! Lady Laura knew her son-in-law 
disliked her, and she had seen little of her 
daughter lately. But events were marching 
very quickly now. Here was this young 
man arranging her daughter's movements, 
taking upon himself the regulation of her 

5* 



68 THE THREE CURATES. 

domestic affairs. What would be the end 
of it all ? 

"Charlie," whispered Pauline, "I don't 
think mamma can be well. I believe Mr. 
Cohen acts as a nightmare, and weighs 
heavily upon her soul. She certainly 
seems quite distraite and out of sorts, or 
perhaps, poor dear, she is bothered about 
money affairs. We always were, you know. 
And to think I haven't a penny. Isn't it 
too bad ? " 

"It is," he answered indignantly, "every- 
thing is so unfairly divided. Here am I 
with several thousands lying idle. I wish 
they were yours, Pauline." 

" Never mind, Charlie, the wish is some- 
thing. Heigh ho ! " 

" The carriage is at the door, Madame ! " 



CHAPTER V. 

The Mayor of Langton at this time was a 
gentleman — a Doctor Lewis — as may be 
imagined, lie was a retired one — with 
ample means, and a widower, a man about 
fifty, genial and kind-hearted. What little 
practice he had now was almost entirely 
among the poorer townspeople. During 
this year of his mayoralty his sister, Mrs. 
Grantley, had come to stay with him. To 
speak correctly, she was his step-sister — a 
widow of about four and thirty, tall, 
striking, not so much on account of her 
beauty — and she had a fair share of it — as 
for the bright intelligence displayed in her 
face. She had very clear, luminous, grey 
eyes, that expressed every thought and feel- 
ing. She was naturally gay and vivacious, 



70 THE THREE CURATES. 

independent in thought, word, and deed. 
As may be supposed, her admirers were 
many. But between her brother and her- 
self there was a warm attachment. She 
generally lived in London, but had given 
herself up this year to Dr. Lewis. 

The Bed House, the residence of Dr. 
Lewis, was a handsome, substantial red 
brick building, lying back from the road, 
with a charming old garden in the rear. 
Dinner was over, and they were sitting out 
on the lawn enjoying the delicious summer 
evening. 

There was the Doctor, Mrs. Grantley, 
Percy Blythe, Miss Higgins, Esme Curtis, 
and Cyril Dash wood. 

Dr. Lewis was blowing little graceful 
clouds from his cigarette, but he was not 
taking much part in the conversation. 

Mrs. Grantley was, and somewhat ener- 
getically fanning herself meanwhile. " In- 



THE THREE CURATES. 71 

deed I much prefer men to women," she 
was saying, " not on account of their being 
especially of the masculine gender, but for 
their larger and more onerous mind ; for 
their greater capacity for fairness. "Women 
generally are small minded. They move 
in a groove, in a flock, like the ' Brebis de 
Panurge.' ' In Society ' with them is an 
unwritten code, stronger than that of the 
Medes and Persians. I am speaking gene- 
rally, of course, not individually, for I have 
known some lovely characters of my own 
sex ! They stand out from the common 
herd like stars on a summer night. But 
take your every-day woman ! She belongs 
to a certain set. People who live in large 
houses, bien entendu. It is the house she 
visits, not so much its inmates, because you 
hear her so freely pull them to pieces ! Now 
would a man care one whit whether his 
friend lived in a mansion or in a small den 



72 THE THREE CUKATES. 

in a back street ? Or would lie all but cut 
him, or give him a cool nod, because lie was 
not exactly moving in the same sphere ? 
Not he ! but a woman would ! " 

" Mrs. Grantley ! Are you not hard 
upon your sex? " said Percy Blythe depre- 
catingly. 

" No, Mr. Blythe, I am not. I will just 
give you a case in point. Some years 
back — you will remember Edward? " she 
said, turning to her brother, " my father 
was able to be of great service in an elec- 
tion — never mind where. The successful 
candidate owed a good deal to him, which 
he loyally felt. After the election was 
over and my father's friend could add the 
magic M.P. to his name, he was very 
anxious to show some little attention to 
my sister and myself, so he desired his wife 
to call. She did call, and afterwards we 
were invited to a great omnium gatherum 



THE THREE CURATES. 73 

at their house, and then — and there it all 
ended. The member's wife £rew to be so 
short-sighted that we girls often wondered 
she did not take to spectacles. We were 
only lawyer's daughters ! you know. Her 
husband was always the same. He would 
send us game in the season, or any little 
delicate compliment he thought would 
please us and our dear old father. After 
some year or two I married a gentleman 
well known in the London world ; a great 
scholar — a person^ gratia everywhere. I 
happened to meet the wife of the member 

for at a lar^e 'at home.' She came 

forward with some empressement, ' I think 
I have met you before, Mrs. Grant-ley ? ' " 

" ' I have not the honour of your acquaint- 
ance, madam,' I replied, and continued my 
conversation with a dear gentle old lady 
who had known me in my insignificant 
girlish days." 



74 THE THREE CURATES. 

" All ! I do remember that I " said her 
brother with a laugh. 

" So now you see why I generally prefer 
men to women ! " 

" Perhaps this was an unfortunate selec- 
tion ? " said Mr. Blythe, differing as much 
as he dared from his goddess. 

"It was no selection, it was simply an 
incident," she answered calmly. 

" I think there are a great many sweet 
women in the world," said Miss Higgins. 
" I fancy, perhaps, I have found more than 
men." 

" I can agree with you in this, without 
contradicting my experience. These are 
the ' exceptions,' — which you may meet in 
all grades of life, from Lady Louisa, who 
is the truest gentlewoman I know, to the 
wife of an artisan, who dusts the chair for you 
to sit upon, as she thanks you for your visit." 

"But it is not every woman who can 



THE THREE CURATES. 75 

afford to have the courage of her opinion," 
said Mr. Dashwood, who had his own ideas 
of the duties of society. 

" I quite agree with you, and that is 
why I prefer your sex. Xot perhaps so 
much individually, as collectively," she 
replied, demurely. " Did not dear old 
Sir Peter Teazle thoroughly understand 
the act of malice, when he declined to 
have his character dissected by the 
clique at Lady Sneerwell's ? " 

" Yes, but there were at least three men 
in that coterie'' said Miss Higgins. 

" Oh, my dear Miss Higgins, do you call 
those creatures men ? To my idea, they are 
sexless. As a woman, I repudiate their mean, 
contemptible truckling to our worst faults. 

' " Xor do ihey trust their tongues alone, 
But speak a language of their own ; 

Can read a nod, a shrug, a look, 
Far better than a printed book ! 

Convey a libel in a frown, 

And wink a reputation down ! ' " 



76 THE THREE CERATES. 

" There's no arguing with you, Mrs. 
Grantley," said Percy Blythe laughingly. 

" No ; a woman convinced, you know — " 

" What is the point of conviction ? " said 
the Eector, who had just entered. 

" Only the superiority of your sex," 
answered Mrs Grantley, with mischief in 
her bright defiant eves. 

" That is a gracious admission from the 

o 

lips of Mrs Grantley," said the Eector, 
making a courtly, old-fashioned bow. 

" Why, dear Eector ! Did you ever hear 
me abuse them ? " 

" No ! But I did not know you admired 
them." 

" I do, very sincerely." 

" Then in the name of all my sex, let 
me humbly thank you, and say — 

" ' woman ! lovely woman ! Nature made thee to 
temper man : we had been brutes without you.' " 

" Well, upon my word, Harry, I could 



THE THREE CURATES. 77 

not believe my ears. You quoting poetry, 
and what not! What is it all about?" 
said Lady Louisa, joining the group. 

"The Eector is saying something nice 
about our sex, Lady Louisa," said Miss 
Higirins, making room for the Hector's wife 

DO ' O 

beside her. 

"I am sure I am glad to hear it, because 
he has often said to me : 

'" AEen have many faults ; poor women have but two — 
There's nothing good they say, and nothing right 
they do.' " 

" Oh, my dear Louisa! that must have 
been years ago ! " 

"Well, it was," said his wife, with a 
good-tempered smile. " And I am so 
pleased to think our sex has improved 
since then." 

During this discussion Cyril Dashwood 
had paired off with Esme under the shady 
trees, which prevented them being much 



78 THE THREE CURATES. 

noticed from the drawing-room where the 
party had returned. But Hester saw it, 
and a vexed look crossed her face and the 
resentful feeling against Cyril filled her 
heart, and she was not sorry where an hour 
later the Rector and Lady Louisa rose to 
leave, having to attend a meeting elsewhere, 
and asked the Eector to order her carriage 
under the plea of a headache ; but she felt 
a pang of remorse when she saw the tender 
light fade out of Esme's blue eyes and one 
of regret take its place. 

" I shall take her away to Paris," she 
thought — " there will be no rest for us 
here." 



CHAPTER VI. 

The day of the fete had arrived. It was 
one of those lovely golden days of clear, 
bright, sunny August. All the Langton 
world was expected. The Eector, his 
curates and his wife, were early on the 
ground to see that every arrangement was 
as perfect as could be — and it might be as 
well to say a few words about Lady Louisa, 
who was a most kind-hearted, good-natured, 
though important personage, giving her- 
self no airs on the strength of being an 
earl's daughter, and rather in opposition to 
her sister, Lady Laura Eidden, who gave 
herself a great many and not always agree- 
able ones — for Lady Laura was a disap- 
pointed woman, while Lady Louisa, being 
plain and good-tempered, had received a 



80 THE THREE CURATES. 

great deal more than she ever expected. Her 
husband was kind, considerate, and fond of 
her. And if he had no particular opinion 
of her mental capabilities, he had great 
ones of her heart, for she was one of the 
kindest and simplest of her sex, and as 
much liked by the world outside her hus- 
band's parish as she was beloved by those 
in the fold. She was greatly attached to 
Gerald Lanyon, and equally loved by 
Hester Higgins. Lady Louisa was one of 
those rather rare women whose happiness 
in life consists of little kindly actions to their 
fellow creatures. She was the very beau 
ideal of a rector's wife. Without fussiness, 
devoid of pride, with a heart full of sym- 
pathy — both for sorrow and joy — a true 
friend, a thorough woman. 

" Louisa, my dear," said the Eector, who 
had been fussing about for some time. 
tc Have you been into the tea tent ? I have 



THE THREE CURATES. 81 

been thinking —suppose it rains ! Dear 
me ! Is it water-tight, think you ? " 

" It is not going to rain, Harry, I feel 
sure. I have not a trace of neuralgia, and 
you know I always have it before rain !" 

" I am glad to hear it, my dear ! Let us 
trust your neuralgia will ' bide a wee.' What 
a splendid show of fruit and flowers have 
come from Combe Towers ! Miss Higgins 
is a Lady Bountiful ! " 

" Dear Hester is sure to do her best." 

" Miss Higgins gave me carte blanche to 
select what I thought fit from the hothouses, 
and I am glad you approve of them. Lady 
Louisa," said Mr. Dash wood with some 
importance. 

The Eector and his wife smiled, and then 
continued their tour of inspection, and found 
everything in order. 

Nearly everyone had contributed some- 
thing. The poor, with honest pride, had sent 
vol. i. G 



82 THE THREE CURATES. 

their very best. There were to be prizes 
in money, and articles of vertu for the 
more opulent. The ground was gay with 
bunting. Under the trees, the gingerbeer 
and gingerbread stalls would do a lively 
trade. And the band of the local volunteers 
would discourse such music as they were 
capable of. 

Now the company began to arrive. The 
Mayor and Mrs. Grantley, who was looking 
bright and charming, and the only person 
who dared to brave Mrs. Frostick. Mrs. 
Grantley was at once the centre of an 
admiring throng, the most loyal of her 
following being the Eev. Percy Blythe, who 
was generally called her shadow. 

" I'm afraid we are dreadfully early ; but 
the doctor said if he didn't come now, he 
couldn't come at all, as he has a meeting 
at the Town Hall at four o'clock. Who is 
here, Mr. Blythe ? " 



THE THREE CURATES. 83 

" The Rector, Lady Louisa, the Crasters. 
There are the Brown girls and their father 
coming in at the gate, and there is Mrs. 
Frostick in the rear. Lady Laura Hidden 
is expected, also Sir John Carruthers, from 
Leigh Marsh." 

" Will Miss HWins be here ? " 

" Yes, I think so. Is not that her car- 
riage coming over the hill ? " 

" So it is ! Come and let us see some of 
the flowers and things before the crush. 
Where is the Doctor ? Oh, there he is, 
with Lady Louisa, in safe company. Where 
is your woman-hater ? " 

" Oh, he's somewhere about," said Percy, 
laughing. " Look ! here come some of his 
foes ! " and Matilda Brown, in a pale green 
dress with a long train, a yellow silk hand- 
kerchief loosely knotted round her thin 
throat, a sort of green-hued ' beefeater ' hat 
with yellow roses, followed by Harriet, in a 

G* 



84 THE THREE CURATES. 

white dress, gathered and drawn, and 
puckered, like a child's, with a pale yellow 
sash and quilted bonnet with a baby's cap 
inside, came up with effusion to shake 
hands with Mrs. Grantley and Mr. Blythe. 

" So glad to see you, Mrs. Grantley. Isn't 
it an awfully fine day, Mr. Blythe ? I hope 
Mr. Lanyon is going to favour us with his 
company ? " asked Miss Brown with some 
anxiety. 

" I believe so, Miss Brown. Here is a 
friend of yours coming up in full sail," he 
answered, with laughing malice, as Mrs. 
Frostick was seen slowly making her way 
to where they all stood. It was enough for 
the Brown girls. They firmly believed in 
discretion being the better part of valour. 
So Tillie Brown, passing her arm through 
her sister's, said : " I think, Mrs. Grantley, 
we will go and see the show. We can do it 
without crushing now." 



THE THREE CURATES. 85 

" We shall see you again, Mrs. Grantley," 
said Harriet. " Good-bye for the present." 

Mrs. Grantley nodded and laughed, her 
grey eyes, and saucy little nose, looked the 
embodiment of mischief. 

" I am afraid there won't be a battle after 
all ! " 

"For shame ! Mrs. Grantley," said Percy 
■with a laugh. ''Attention! Here is our 
friend, the enemy." 

"Did you ever see such fools as yon 
lasses ! Look at them ! " said Mrs. Frostick, 
as she recovered her breath, and found 
herself beside the two. " Look at that long 
rag Tillie's got on ! And Harriet, with a 
gown that would do for a four-year old 
bairn ! " 

" But they are happy, Mrs. Frostick, and 
it's a free country," said Mrs. Grantley with 
a twinkle in her eye. " I daresay you liked 
to look pretty in your young days." 



86 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Pretty ! And you call } T on pretty ? " 

" It's their idea of prettiness ! Be- 
sides, aesthetic dress is really worn in 
town." 

Mrs. Frostick snorted derisively. " It 
beats all to see what a soft old fool is 
David Brown. Why, Tillie's thirty-five, 
come Michaelmas ! " 

" Mrs. Frostick ! do let me put your 
' front ' straight ; it's all awry, and spoils 
the effect of your toilet," said Mrs. Grant-ley 
sweetly. 

Mrs. Frostick darted a look of deadly 
anger at the Mayoress, and with a snort, 
and a severe clutch at the offending wig, 
turned abruptly away. 

" How could you, Mrs. Grantley? '' said 
Mr. Blythe, convulsed with laughter. 

"My dear young friend, you should 
always hit your enemy in his or her 
weakest spot. Mrs. Frostick's weakest spot 



THE THREE CUKATES. 87 

is her false brown front. Here comes Lady 
Louisa." 

" How are you, Mrs. Grantley ? But I 
need not ask ! Haven't we a lovely day ? 
Nothing could be better. I do hope every- 
body will enjoy themselves, especially the 
children ! Their little shining faces are a 
sight to see. Mr. Lanyon is my especial 
aide-de-camp for the day, so, Mrs. Grantley 
I give you due warning — you are not to 
requisition him." 

" Xow Lady Louisa ! That is not fair ! 
Did you ever know Mr. Lanyon desert your 
colours for mine ? " 

" Well, no ! I will say he is generally 
faithful. But you are radiant to-day, and 
armed for conquest ; so I tremble for my 
squire." 

" Lady Louisa ! Mrs. Grantley has had 
her first round with Mrs. Frostick, and I am 
bound to say came off conqueror." 



88 THE THREE CURATES. 

The Rector's wife laughed and shook her 
head. " Ah ! here comes Hester Higgins ; 
I must go and welcome her," but the Eev. 
Cyril Dashwood was much before her lady- 
ship, for he was ready at the gate to receive 
the heiress and Esme as they alighted. 
Mrs. Grantley's eyes followed them, and 
an amused smile flitted over her face. 

" Which is he after, Percy Blythe ?— the 
substance or the shadow ? " 

But Percy only shook his head. " I 
don't tell tales out of school, Mrs. 
Grantley." 

" Then you do know ! " said she looking 
at him keenly. 

" Have ycu been to call on Mrs. Xed 
Carter, as I asked you ? " he asked, instead 
of answering her question. 

" I have, Mr. Blythe ! And a very funny 
person I found her ; she asked me to come 
and ' set ' with her as if we were two old 



THE THEEE CURATES. 89 

hens who wanted to clack ! Besides, her 
whole conversation was on vermin ! " 

" On vermin ? What can you mean, 
Mrs. Grantley ? '' 

"Exactly what I say! Mrs. Carter 
complained that her house was overrun 
with mice, and other odious black creatures. 
So I faithfully promised — in your name — a 
cat and a hedgehog ! " 

" How could you ? Where am I to get a 
hedgehog ? " 

" I have not the faintest idea. But I 
wil suggest this much, if you want me to 
look her up you really must provide her, 
every now and then, with some fresh 
topic of conversation, for I came away 
creepy to a degree. Xow let us go and 
see those orchids of Sir John Carrutliers' ; I 
hear they are wonderful." 



CHAPTEK YII. 

In Llie meantime Miss Higgins and Esme 
■were walking about with Lady Louisa, 
Cyril Dashwood firmly . attaching himself to 
Hester, and hardly noticing the young girl 
so much as by a look ; indeed, he seemed 
almost studiously to avoid her. And yet 
Esme had hardly looked fairer — so dainty 
and fresh was she — in her soft pale dress of 
blue and her damask roses. She tried to 
put a bold face on this cold desertion, but 
her heart was wounded to a degree. So 
she turned her pretty face to Sir Ernest 
Belclon, who had just joined the group. A 
weU-to do young country squire, whom they 
had known abroad. And was only too 
happy for Esme's attention at any price, as 
he was wildly in love with her. 

" Miss Curtis ! do let me escort you 



THE THREE CURATES. 91 

through some of the tents. They are quite 
worth a visit." 

" I shall be very pleased to go I Where 
shall we find you, Hester ? " 

" Never mind, dear, just for an hour. I 
shall be sure and see your blue frock and 
your red roses," said Hester, only too glad 
to have her dear child away from the 
torment she knew she was suffering. So 
Esme, without one glance at Cyril Dash- 
wood, passed out of sight with her handsome 
young squire. 

" Come with me first into the tea tent, 
Hester, dear. I think Mr. Lanyon is there. 
You will not mind if he is not particularly 
polite or attentive. In fact he dislikes 
ladies' society. But he is such a kind, good 
fellow. If you only could know what he 
has been to those poor wretched gipsies ! 
They are down with small -pox, and have 
given no end of trouble. He has managed 



92 THE THREE CURATES. 

to get a temporary hospital for the poor 
creatures — it is only a rough wooden affair, 
but contains a good many comforts for 
them. And really until he took up the 
thing it was most serious. The Town 
Council feared they would bring infection 
into the town. But, however, he, and 
Dr. Macartney from London, between them, 
have done wonders. Absolutely got them 
to have their children vaccinated. He has 
arranged for provisions being conveyed to 
them. So they, on the whole, are really 
getting better now, thanks to his noble self- 
denial. His own vaccination has made him 
wretchedly ill. You haven't met him at all, 
my dear? Gerald Lanyon is not the least 
good-looking, though I hear the young ladies 
would make a lot of him if he would only 
let them. The fact is, dear, he is very well 
off," said her Ladyship, slyly, "for a 
curate," 



THE THREE CURATES. 93 

Mr. Cyril Dashwood, rinding His company 
almost ignored by the two ladies, took 
himself off, and rather regretted he had not 
paid more attention to Esme. However, 
there she was, walking about, apparently 
enjoying herself, with Sir Ernest Beldon. 
While he was wandering aimlessly about, 
with something like a scowl on his hand- 
some face, he was waylaid by Miss Matilda 
Brown ! It was all in vain he pleaded 
anxiety to find the Eector. She knew " the 
exact spot where the Eector was located." 
Inwardly he anathematised her ; but it was 
all no good. Miss Brown was not to be 
parted with. She was impervious to his 
cold, abrupt answers. She had found an 
escort, and did not mean to let him <?o. 

In the meantime Lady Louisa and her 
companion had reached the largest tent on 
the ground, gaily decorated with flags. 
Several children were running in and out. 



94 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Oh, children ! children ! You oudit 
not to be here till tea time, and it's not 
near that ! " 

" If you please, my lady, we ain't 
touched nothing. Mr. Lanyon said we 
might, if we didn't meddle with anything, 
and we haven't, my lady." 

" Very well," said my lady, good- 
naturedly. They were the children of her 
own Sunday school class, and somewhat 
spoilt. 

" Lady Louisa ! you must scold me," 
said Mr. Lanyon, coming through the open- 
ing and answering for himself. " I told 
them they might stay, and they have 
been helping me to put some flowers 
about that Mrs. Bayliss has just sent in ! 
And now you can run away, youngsters," 
he said, turning to the children. 

" Lear Hester ! will you let me introduce 
Mr. Lanyon to yon, and make acquainted 



THE THREE CUEATE8. 95 

two dear and valued friends ? " Nothing 
could be happier than Lady Louisa's 
manner, to make it, as it were, a 
personal favour to herself, that they 
should be good friends. She knew the 
bristling crotchets on both sides. 

Mr. Lanyon came forth and shook hands. 

" Miss Higgins, I have to thank you very 
deeply for your kindness to some rather 
unhappy friends of mine at Combe 
Warren." 

" Pray do not thank me, I am only too 
glad to be of any service. And they are 
on my land ! Besides, I consider it part 
of a debt I owe." 

He looked enquiringly at her. 

" I mean," she answered with almost a 
defiant blush, " that as most of my money 
comes from the public, it is but fair they 
should have some of it back again." 

" Any way, it has been most useful," 



96 THE THREE CURATES. 

he replied simply ; " it enabled me to 
engage another nurse, and other require- 
ments." 

" I am so glad of that, do please draw on 
me for anything you want ; food, comforts 
of any kind. You will, will you not ? " 
she asked eagerly, her face lighting up with 
earnestness. 

" Indeed I will, and at once claim your 
kind help. First, will you let your house- 
keeper make a good quantity of strong 
beef-tea, and any other kitchen physic you 
will suggest. And if one of your men will 
leave it twice a week at Combe Hill, by 
the sign post, some one from our border 
land shall come and fetch it ; and if you 
would send it in some old jars which need 
not be returned, your servants will stand 
in no fear of infection. It will be a great 
help to us." 

" It shall be done, and at once, and 



THK THREE CURATES. 97 

I will send word directly the first consign- 
ment is ready." 

" I thank you much, and I trust it will 
not be for long, so many are convalescent ; 
but it is just they who require the more 
help, to get quite well." 

" Do you not run some risk yourself ? " 

" Just a little perhaps, but I have been 
vaccinated and gone through the process 
of quarantine, and now, with the extra 
nurse and Dr. Macartney, I am going to 
give to myself a holiday and look after 
them at a distance ; and independently of 
all this, I have neither father, mother or 
wife, so you see my health is of no serious 
importance to anyone." 

" Gerald, you are ungrateful to say so," 
said Lady Louisa, reproachfully. 

« Forgive me ! dear friend," he said 
quickly, turning towards her. " I am un- 
grateful." 

vol. i. 7 



9S THE THREE CURATES. 

Miss Higgins looked at him with some 
interest — at the square, rugged face, over 
which flitted the softening shadows of 
kindly feeling. No, he was not like the 
curates it had been her luck to come across. 
There was no effeminacy about him — he 
seemed always to have mixed with the 
strong, and to have retained their strength. 

On his part, he was surprised; he was 
not prepared for this earnest, refined woman. 
This was no purse-proud heiress, but a 
human being full of kindly sympathies. 
And most certainly she was not plain ! 
Plain ! What a strange delusion ! With 
those beautiful deep grey eyes, and that 
changing expression. 

Just then, Cyril Dash wood entered, none 
too pleased to observe the friendly in- 
timacy that seemed to have sprung up 
between Miss Higgins and Lanyon ; he 
likewise noted the eager animated face of 



THE THREE CURATES. 99 

Hester, it had never beamed upon him 
like that, it positively made her decent- 
looking ! And then — when she turned and 
saw who was the intruder, her face re- 
sumed its usual cold sarcastic hauteur. 

" Lady Louisa ! they are seeking you 
everywhere. Lady Laura has arrived ! " 

" Lady Laura ! " mechanically ex- 
claimed Gerald L any on. 

" Oh, Gerald, dear ! I forget to tell you 
she was coming, but you need not see her." 

He made no remark, but his face was 
pale and stern. 

Lady Louisa turned to the others. 

" Well, I suppose I must go, but it is 
very pleasant here. Will you come, Hester, 
or remain here till I come again ? " 

" I will remain — it is quiet and cool." 

" I will rejoin you, Miss Higgins, in a 
few moments," said Mr. Dashwood, reluc- 
tantly leaving them. 

7* 



100 THE THREE CURATES. 

Miss Higgins vouchsafed no reply. But 
she had marked the quick look of pain on 
Mr. Lanyon's face, and turned to address 
some observation to the children, who 
were again at the tent door, and so left 
him to recover himself. 

Then Mrs. Grantley put her bright 
face in. 

" Ah, there you are, Miss Higgins ! 
Miss Curtis was looking for you. But, 
I may add, she is well cared for, Sir 
Ernest Beldon is showing her all the lions 
of the show/' 

" I am so pleased to hear that," said 
Hester. 

" I hope I have not scared Mr. Lanyon 
away, but, even while I was speaking to 
you, he glided past me, like a substantial 
ghost," said Mrs. Grantley. 

" I expect he is required in a good many 
places." 



THE THREE CURATES. 101 

" What a pity he is so churlish ! " 

" Now, Miss Higgins, will you make the 
tour of the grounds under my guidance? " 
said Mr. Dashwood, who had just returned, 
breathlessly anxious to give no quarter to 
Gerald Lanyon. " I consider myself the 
master of the ceremonies, to a certain 
extent." 

" Thanks. — Xo ! Mr. Dashwood. I have 
seen a good deal already, and am comfort- 
able here," and she spoke with such pro- 
voking coldness, that he almost hated her, 
while Mrs. Grantley's demure face was a 
study. 

" Do please come, Miss Higgins ! I want 
you to see Hawkins' contribution, on } T our 
behalf." 

" Very well. Come, Mrs. Grantley, shall 
we start then." 

" With pleasure," answered that lady, 
with a little twinkle of her eve. She knew 



102 THE THREE CURATES. 

this was the last thing Cyril wanted ; so she 
just whispered in his ear : " Two's company, 
three's none, eh, Mr. Dash wood ? " 

He frowned angrily, but said nothing. 

So presently his tormentor said : " Find me 
Percy Blythe — I'll be bound he is not very 
far off — or the Doctor. Xo ! not the Doctor ! 
he will want to be going, and I mean to 

stay and see all the fun ! It's no good, 

believe me, dear Mr. Dashwood ! " 

Cyril reddened angrily, but he knew it 
was useless fWhtino; with Mrs. Grantlev. 
In the first place she would not care, and 
would rather enjoy it, and on the whole she 
was too nice to quarrel with. Presently, 
to his great relief, he saw Percy Blythe 
ahead of them. 

" Here, Blythe ! Mrs. Grantlev has been 
wanting; you these last ten minutes. Do 
come and make yourself useful ! " 

Mrs. Grantlev only shook her head, 



THE THREE CURATES. 103 

while Cyril profited by the diversion to walk 
on in front with Miss Higgins. 

"My dear Percy, Cyril Dash wood has 
been in agonies. He wanted to get rid of 
me a quarter of an hour ago. It was a bad 
quarter, you may guess. And to think he 
is throwing all the pearls of his eloquence 
away on the lady ! See ! she doesn't even 
listen to him. Why don't you tell him he 
is playing a losing game ? He is sacrificing 
Esme, who is soft enough to care for him, 
for Hester Higgins, who despises him down 
to the ground. Why don't you say some- 
thing ? " she asked impatiently. " Are you 
dumb ? " 

" Dear Mrs. Grantley, please don't be 
hard on me. A man should be loyal to his 
friend. And would my interference be 
judicious? On the contrary, it would be 
almost impertinence." 

" You are right, Percy, forgive me !" and 



104 THE THREE CTEATES. 

she put out a dainty little gloved hand, 
which he warmly grasped. 

Under his pleasant, debonair exterior, he 
had a loyal, upright heart. Mrs Grantley 
was to him a woman among women. No 
girl would ever appear so charming, and 
yet he knew she would never love him. 
No ! as far as he was concerned, she was 
unattainable. She might tease, command, 
vex him — all which she did within the 
twelve hours of the day — but still, he would 
rather have her friendship than another 
woman's love. 

Mr. Lanyon had disappeared. Lady 
Laura Bidden and her sister were walking 
about absorbed in earnest conversation. 

" Laura ! if you ask Gerald Lanyon to 
undertake such a task, it would be ri^ht 
down cruelty ; nay, it would be bad taste. 
You have embitttered his life almost past 



THE THREE CURATES. 105 

recovery. Can't you leave him alone 
now ? " 

"Louie! drowning men catcli at straws. 
So that I could save Pauline, I would not 
care who was sacrificed. What is Gerald 
Lanyon to me, that I should consider him, 
if he can serve my turn? It is useless now 
to say : ' Why did I not let her marry 
him years ago ? ' How was I to tell young 
Horace Lanyon would be killed on a 
Swiss mountain ? I wish now, with 
all my heart, she had married him, but 
wishes will do no good," and Lady 
Laura sighed deeply. " Pauline told 
me plainly yesterday, if Charlie Vere 
would take her away, she would elope 
with him. I have absolutely nothing but 
young Yere's honour to cling to, for she has 
found out some things about Mr. Cohen's 
private life, and now she is reckless!" 

"It is terrible, Laura dear," said her 



106 THE THREE CURATES. 

sister, with a world of sympathy in her 
tones. 

" Well, don't let us talk any more now," 
said Lady Laura abruptly. " People will 
think we are plotting. Who is that rather 
distingue looking woman walking across 
there, with one of your curates — in black 
and amber ? " 



" Miss Hif'gins." 



" What ! that old quack's daughter ? 

"Yes." 

" Good gracious ! What a pity I have 
no son, or that yours is a boy at Eton. She 
is so rich ! " 

" My dear Laura, Hester Higgins is much 
too good to be sacrificed to anybody. I 
have both great love and great respect for 
her. She is not a woman to be easily won. 
I am much attached to her." 

" My dear Louisa ! You always have 
been attaching yourself to somebody or 



THE THREE CURATES. 107 

something all your life ! I believe a harm- 
less snake would not come amiss ! " 

Lady Louisa was not in the least dis- 
turbed by these sarcasms. Had she not 
endured them for many years. of her life ? 

" I daresay you are right, Laura ; I don't 
profess to be as clever as you, dear. But 
with regard to Hester I know and feel there 
is something good and great in her, and if 
she does marry I hope it will be to some 
good man, who will love and value her for 
herself, not her money — she is far above 
rubies." 

" My dear Louie, you are getting poeti- 
cal? I am practical! Introduce me to 
your paragon." 

"As soon as they come this way I will." 

" Are those some of your local ' celebri- 
ties ? ' " asked Lady Laura, putting on her 
eyeglass and carefully examining Tilly and 
Harriet Brown, who happened to cross her 



108 THE THREE CURATE 3. 

ladyship's point of sight, in eager chase of 
Mr. Blythe, whom they eventually caught 
up. And he, far too gentlemanly and kind- 
hearted to cause them mortification, stayed 
and chatted with them ; and this too in the 
sight of Mrs. Frostick ! 

" They are two Miss Browns, and they 
have a nice old father." 

" I see ! He balances the daughters ! " 

By this time Hester, attended by the 
faithful Cyril, approached the two ladies. 

" Hester, dear ! My sister would much 

like to make your acquaintance." 

" I shall be very happy, Lady Laura ! I 
met your daughter, Mrs. Cohen, last year 

at Homburg — " 

" Did you, really ? " 

She was with the Mount cliesneys. 
They were all staying at the same hotel." 

Lady Laura frowned. These same Mount- 
chesnevs were as much her bete noir as 



THE THREE CURATES. 109 

Charlie Vere. Lady Louisa came to the 
rescue. 

" Did you not think my niece very pretty, 
Hester?" 

" Indeed we did ! She was so much 
admired at Homburg — " 

Then, to his srreat chagrin, Mr. Dash wood 
was called away. He liked being associated 
with the Eectory party. Nevertheless he 
felt he was making but little headway with 
the heiress. All he could get out of her 
were monosyllables, and she seemed bored 
to death. And all this time a hot unrea- 
sonable anger against Esme possessed him, 
who appeared to be entirely engrossed by 
the 3 r oung baronet and forgetful of his 
presence. He could not understand that the 
young girl, bringing pride to the rescue 
of her wounded feelings seemed far more 
interested in young Beldon than she really 
was, for her heart was very sore. The 



110 THE THREE C URATES. 

whole time she had been there her Cyril had 
devoted himself, pointedly and absolutely, 
to Miss Higffins. What right had he to 
love her (Esme) and then to devote himself 
to another woman ? — it was too cruel ! And 
it was only with great difficulty she could 
restrain the tears from overflowing the 
tender blue eyes — they were in her heart. 
The afternoon to her had been a miser- 
able failure. What matter that she looked 
lovely, that her dress was beautiful ? Cyril 
did not notice it ! Why should she suffer 
so ? Ernest Beldon had left her for a 
moment to go and procure some ices, when 
Hester came and sat beside her. 

"Esme, love! Lady Louisa wishes us 
to go to the Rectory and spend the even- 
ing there, instead of going back to 
dinner." 

"Oh, Hester! I wish we were going 
home." 



THE THREE CUEATES. Ill 

"Why, dear? Haven't you enjoyed 
yourself ? " 

"Don't ask me I" she answered tremu- 
lously. 

" Would you like to go home now, 
darling ? " said Hester tenderly. 

" Oh, Hester ! Would you ? You are 
not vexed ? " 

" Vexed, love ! How could I be ? Shall 
we have the carriage ? I do not care to 
stay." 

" Are you quite, quite sure, Hester ? " 

" Quite, quite sure ! " 

Sir Ernest Beldon came up to them with 
two plates of ices. " I have one for you 
Miss Higgins ! I saw you sit down." 

" Thank you, Sir Ernest ! And after we 
have consumed them, will you kindly order 
my carriage ? " 

" Order your carriage ! Oh, surely you 
are not going yet ? " he exclaimed in tones 



112 THE THEEE CUEATES. 

of sucli evident disappointment that Hester 
felt quite sorry for him. 

" I think we are both tired, and Esme 
has a headache." 

" I am so sorry ! I fear it is all 
my fault" — and he looked anxiously at 
Esme, who looked pale and weary — 
" dragging her about all this broiling- 
afternoon ! " 

" Please don't say so ! " said Esme feeling 
some reproach, as she saw the kind honest 
face of the young man clouded over with 
disappointment. " You have been so kind 
to me." 

" Sir Ernest ! I hope you will find your 
way over to the ' Towers,' said Miss Higgins 
heartily. "Indeed, I shall be glad of 
your advice about some land I think of 
buying ! " 

" I shall only be too glad ! " said he, 
visibly brightening, and he registered a 



THE THREE CURATES. 113 

vow of mental gratitude to the kind owner 
of Combe Towers. 

So with these thoughts to cheer him he 
went in search of the carriage. 

Miss Hi^grins went to make her excuses 
to Lady Louisa, and Cyril Dashwood came 
up hastily to Esme. 

" What is this I hear about your going ? " 
said he roughly. 

" Simply that we are going," she replied 
coldly. 

" What ever for ? I have not spoken to 
you all the afternoon ! You have been so 
taken up with that idiotic young prig, 
Beldon ! " She made no answer. 

He felt irritated that Esme, usually so 
docile, so submissive to all his selfish 
whims, should even by silence resent any 
mood he chose to indulge in. 

" Come Esme ! I suppose you are 
offended ? " 

VOL. I. 8 



114 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Pray, do not think so, Mr. Dashwood ! " 

" Mr. Dashwood ! So that's it ! " 

Then the Eector, Lady Louisa, and Sir 
Ernest Beldon came up. 

" I think you are both most cruel ! " said 
her Ladyship to Esme — who looked so sad 
and penitent that Lady Louisa stooped 
down and kissed her. "However I shall 
come over and see you to-morrow." 

" I see the carriage at the gate ; come 
Esme ! " and Hester, with the Eector and his 
wife, walked on, while Ernest Beldon kept 
close to Esme, notwithstanding that Cyril 
Dashwood, with scowling brow, was on the 
other side of her ; and as the young baronet 
handed her into the carriage he leaned over 
and softly whispered (but not so softly 
that Cyril's jealous ears caught it) — 

" I will send for that book as soon as 
ossible, and bring it over." 

Cyril looked enquiringly at Esme, but 



THE THREE CURATES. 115 

she made no sign, and the carriage drove 
off. 

The Rev. Cyril Dashwood walked apart 
by himself, with anger and jealousy tugging 
at what did duty for a heart. Esme went 
up considerably in his estimation. The 
very fact that someone else admired her 

sought her " Good heavens ! I have 

been a fool this afternoon ! Wasting my 
• time on that mass of iron and ice! While 

Esme But still ! What is the use of 

her, poor little darling ! Sunbeam as she 
is ! Without a sou ! No ! I must still 
work at that odious fortress of a woman — 
how I shall hate her when I do succeed ! " 

You see the Rev. Cyril Dashwood had a 
profound belief in himself ; he only imagined 
it was a work of time with the obdurate, 
hard-hearted heiress. Failure, he could not 
understand. 

Once out of the turmoil, and on the road 

8* 



116 THE THREE CUEATES. 

home, Esme's self-possession gave way, and 
the pent-up tears coursed each other down 
her pale cheeks. " What is it, darling ? " 
said Hester. 

" Oh, Hester ! Hester ! I am so unhappy ; 
it has been such a wretched afternoon, and 
I had so looked forward to it ! " 

"Poor child! I think I can guess," said 
the elder woman, with infinite tenderness. 
Oh, Esme ! what things we women are ! 
We lavish the precious gold of our affection 
on such worthless creatures. There is good, 
honest, Ernest Beldon, who worships you, 
and yet your eyes are so blinded by that 
insufferable, self-seeking, selfish young man, 
Cyril Dashwood, that you can't see it ! I 
have the most supreme contempt for him." 

" Hester, I see all his faults, and I see 
Ernest Beldon's goodness. And yet I can't 
help it. Do we not almost love their faults 
when they are part and parcel of the beloved 



THE THREE CURATES. 117 

object ? I love Cyril. Don't despise me, 
Hester," said Esme, humbly. 

" Despise you, my darling ! Not that, 
indeed ! How can you help your tender 

heart of nineteen P And yet ! The pity 

of it " 

" Have you ever seen Ernest Beldon's 
home at Heminglee ? " presently asked Miss 
Higgins. 

" No." 

" It is such a sweet place ! It is part and 
parcel of an old Priory. I remember going 
there some years ago when Lady Beldon 
was alive. It must be dull for him, poor 
fellow, now that his sister has married." 

" Who did she marry ? " asked Esme 
with languid interest. 

" Sir Percy Willis." 

" Oh, then we met them last year at Mrs. 
]\Iunroe's." 

" Yes. Do you not remember saying she 



118 THE THREE CURATES. 

was the prettiest and best-dressed woman 
there ? " 

" Yes ! She wore white velvet and 
pearls." 

" And I think she is so like her brother, 
with just the same winning expression," said 
Hester, with sly unconsciousness of tone. 

" Hester, did you see Mr. Lanyon ? " 

" Yes. He was in the lar<?e tea tent." 

" Well ? " 

" Well, little curious, for a curate he is 
very sensible." 

" Do you think him so ugly ? " 

"I can't say — Xo! — I think he seems 
much in earnest." 

" Was he so very disagreeable ? " 

" Not in the least." 

" Oh Hester ! " said Esme, returning to 
her own troubles again, " Why did you 
keep Cyril all the afternoon ? " 

" Keep him ! Surely, you cannot imagine 



THE THREE CUEATES. 11& 

I wanted such an insincere, conceited person 
attached to me ! His presence was a per- 
petual blister. Any other man but him- 
self would have had too much tact, too 
much dignity, to have persisted in such 
attentions. I can only conclude he con- 
siders himself some sort of an official at the 
show, and as I was rather a large con- 
tributor, merited large attention ; and if I 
ever waste one thought upon him, it is with 
regret for you, dear. For myself, I despise 
him," and Miss Hio^ins's face left no doubt 

' no 

of her meaning. 

o 

" My dear, it strikes me, he will soon find 
out he can't run with the hare and hunt 
with the hounds. Now, here we are ! and 
there is old Major barking a welcome. 
There's no place like home, is there, Esme ?" 

" Xo, darling ! And no one like Hester," 
said the girl, giving her a fond hug. 



CHAPTEE Vin. 

The next day, Lady Louisa and her sister, 
Lady Laura, drove over to Combe Towers to 
lunch. Lady Laura had no objection what- 
ever to cultivate the friendship of a rich, 
independent young woman ; poor people, in 
her eyes, were the greatest of mistakes. She 
was charmed and impressed by everything. 
The complete, though subdued effect of 
wealth, rather felt than seen, the perfectly 
appointed household, the gracious, calm, 
dignified hostess, clever if sarcastic, but 
always well-bred. She remarked almost 
with envy, the affection that seemed to 
subsist between her homely sister and the 
heiress. While to Esme, Lady Laura con- 
sidered Miss Higgins's affection absurd. 
A companion ! and to be treated more like 



THE THREE CURATES. 121 

a spoilt child ; petted and humoured, and 
consulted as if she were a person of con- 
sequence. Even her sister was almost as 
bad ; but then, no one ever expected any 
sense from Louisa ! 

What a thing it would be if she could 
induce Miss Higgins and her wayward 
Pauline to become friends. How might 
not that clever, cold, clear-headed woman, 
influence the excitable, frivolous, and cer- 
tainly unhappy wife of Mr. Cohen ! It was 
well worth working out^ — so she formed 
a resolve, but said nothing to her sister 
about it. 

After luncheon, Lady Louisa asked Hester 
if she would drive back to Lan^ton with 
her, for about an hour or two. 

" The fact is, Gerald Lanyon, not satisfied 
with his hospital at Combe Warren, is 
anxious to try and get up a permanent one 
at Langton. A sort of cottage hospital. 



122 THE THREE CURATES. 

You know we have nothing of the kind, 
and have to send all our cases to Barrington, 
twenty miles off ; but it will be rather up- 
hill work, and I must say the Eector is not 
over keen about it. He says he can't see 
where the money is to come from. The 
townspeople may take it up, but they are 
just as likely to say they have done without 
it all these years, and their fathers before 
them, and why should they have one 
now ? They are most kind and good, but 
they are not progressive." 

" Dear Lady Louisa, I need scarcely sa}^ 
it will have my warmest sympathies. In- 
deed, I think it is one of the privileges 
of wealth, to help and succour those who 
lack it." 

" Gerald Lanyon seems to have a craze 
on hospitals," said Lady Laura, coldly. 
From the time I arrived yesterday, I have 
heard of nothing else, except indeed small- 



THE THEEE CURATES. 123 

pox, by way of a cheerful variety, I sup- 
pose." 

" Yes, but dear, Gerald thinks so much 
suffering might be prevented by timely 
attention and care." 

Lady Laura shrugged her shoulders ; she 
was utterly bored by it all. 

" Suppose we begin at once," said Miss 
Higgins, with some eagerness. "If Lady 
Laura will do me the pleasure of remaining 
as my guest, during my absence for two or 
three hours, Esme will be my representa- 
tive. I think the conservatories will repay 
a visit." 

" Xutbing will give me greater pleasure. 
I am anxious to inspect all your valuable 
curiosities, I have heard so much of 
them." 

" They are all at your service, Lady 
Laura." 

The two friends then drove off. 



124 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Hester, I don't think I ever told you 
why Gerald Lanyon is so dear to me, almost 
as my own son. In the first place, his dead 
mother was my earliest and dearest friend, 
and, my dear, he has been the victim of my 
sister's worldliness. He had grown up 
with Pauline, my sister allowed them to 
be thrown together with the most perfect 
indifference, and, of course, they loved 
each other. He passed with high honours 
at Cambridge, and was reading for the 
Bar, but he was poor, nothing much but 
his own brains to rely upon. So things 
drifted on, he always loving pretty, foolish 
Pauline, until one day, he asked Laura 
for her daughter's hand, so soon as he 
should have made a start in life. My sister 
was amazed, and suddenly making up her 
mind, distinctly forbade any such idea — 
separated them, by carrying Pauline to 
London, and within a vear married her to 



THE THREE CURATES. 125 

Mr. Cohen. Anything more unhappy than 
that marriage, can hardly be imagined." 

" Have they never met since ? " 

" Never ! It went badly with poor 
Gerald, he had brain fever. After many 
months, our dear old friend Dr. Berners, 
advised him to take orders, with a convic- 
tion, that, in interesting himself in others, 
he would forget his own griefs." 

" And has he done so ? " 

" I think he has to some extent, but 
he is very reserved. I wish he could meet 
with some woman who could, and would, 
undo the mischief my sister and Pauline 
occasioned. He has a noble heart, but I 
feel convinced that Pauline would never 
have made him happy, she is so trivial, 
nay, almost childish, to say nothing of her 
caprice. She certainly is a dainty, fascinat- 
ing little thing, but a man with a disposi- 
tion like Gerald's, with so much craving 



126 THE THREE CURATES. 

after a nobler and higher life, requires 
something better than mere prettiness. 

Now, it must be confessed that Lady 
Louisa, in that commonplace head of hers, 
was hatching a scheme, which she, in her 
turn, intended to keep to herself, and this 
was to raise a feeling of warm friendship 
between Hester Higgins and Gerald Lanyon. 
She knew they were both people with 
' corners,' but still, " On gnerit comme on 
se console ; on na pas dans le cosur de quoi 
toujours pleuier, et toujours aimer." 

So she trusted in her own diplomacy, 
that what began in mutual interest and 
friendship, their own hearts would one day 
finish. Lady Louisa was aware that 
Hester disliked clerics, therefore she merely, 
interested her sympathies in " the man " — 
not the curate. 

"I do not wonder he dislikes women- 
kind after that," said Hester after a pause. 



THE THREE CURATES. 127 

" My clear, we will drive on to Mr. Lan- 
yon's cottage, because lie lias all the plans 
there." As they drove down the pretty 
lane they saw the gentleman in question 
about to enter his gate, but hearing the 
sound of wheels he turned as the carriage 
pulled up. He seemed surprised — Miss 
Higgins thought, to see her with Lady 
Louisa — and not over pleased. 

"We are coming in, Gerald. Miss 
Higgins will lend a gracious ear to your 
cottage hospital plan — if you take her 
while she is in the humour." Hester 
smiled, and Gerald held out his hand to 
assist the ladies to alight. 

" Go in, please, Lady Louisa, while I get 
my man to put up the ponies," for Lady 
Louisa and her friend had dispensed with 
that sometimes inconvenient third — a man- 
servant. 

" What a cosy room, Mr. Lanyon ! " 



123 THE 1HREE CURATES. 

" I am glad you think so, Miss Higgins, 
as much of its cosiness comes from my dear 
friend here." 

" I do ' mother ' him occasionally, Hester." 
" Occasionally ! Always ! dear friend." 
Hester thought his face so pleasant as he 
turned in animation to the Eector's wife. 

Then he and Hester fell to discuss the 
plans, and anon a bright eager light came 
into the grey eyes, so full of intelligence 
and kind womanly feeling, that Gerald 
threw off his reserve and plunged into 
details con amove. Lady Louisa, placidly 
seating herself in a comfortable armchair 
near the open window, produced from a 
reticule a quantit}^ of homely knitting, and 
with a very satisfied expression set to at 
her work. The bees came droning in. The 
odours from the flowers sent in a fragrant 
breeze, the tall sunflowers threw long 
shadows, the holyoaks bent gently to the 



THE THREE CURATES. 129 

whisper of the wind ; Prince, and Eupert, 
lay stretched in the sunshine, and gradually 
Lady Louisa's fingers relaxed ; there came 
a gentle murmur of voices from the far end 
of the room, and with a pleasant little sigh 
the Eector's wife closed her eyes — and then 
she slept. 

The two talked on. The shadows grew 
longer. Mrs. Bayliss brought in some tea. 
Lady Louisa opened her eyes ; surely she 
must have had a few minutes' doze ? Then 
Hester poured out the tea, and Gerald 
handed it to her. " I think we see our 
way, dear friend," said he. " I cannot 
thank Miss Higgins enough." 

" I am so glad it is in train," said her 
Ladyship, with demure quietness, " I 
thought your two wise heads would 
manage it." 

The old housekeeper came in again to 
know if the ladies would like any fruit, 
vol. i. ( J 



130 THE THREE CURATES. 

and was supremely happy when Lady 
Louisa expressed a wish to go and see 
her chickens. 

Then Gerald produced all his treasures 
for Hester's inspection, and she in return 
bested him to come over to Combe 
Towers and see hers — brought from many 
countries. He willingly acquiesced ; indeed 
he felt refreshed when he looked into those 
clear honest eyes. " I shall come," he 
said, and clasped her hand warmly, " and 
thank you deeply for your interest in my 
work ! " 

" Shall we say our work, Mr. Lanyon ? 
Poor humanity is not exclusive." 

" Be it so," he answered with a smile. 

Lady Louisa entered. " Hester ! Your 
ponies are anxious to be off, and the Rector 
will be scolding me — he does sometimes, 
you know, dear man ! " 

Hester felt a strange new feeling of plea. 



THE THREE C URATES. 131 

sure, which she could hardly analyse. It 
seemed like some wave of gladness that 
hitherto had never before visited her. True, 
it was only one of her many acts of charity ! 
And yet, was it a ray of this pleasant even- 
ing sun that was shining in her heart ? She 
knew not — but there was a brightness in 
everything. 

"Well, my dear, will you send Laura 
back ? You must let one of your men bring 
her home," said Lady Laura, as they drew 
up at the Eectory. 

Hester started ! " Of course, dear friend, 
I will see to Lady Laura's comfort and 
convenience. Oh, dear Lady Louisa ! I 
have spent such a pleasant afternoon," said 
she kissing her friend with all Esme's im- 
pulsiveness. And the Sector's wife said 
nothing, but kissed her affectionately in 
return. And then her ladyship got down 
and watched the carriage drive off with its 

0* 



122 THE THREE CURATES. 

solitary but happy occupant. Then she 
nodded her head, and a comfortable smile 
spread over her face : " Bless the dear 
creatures ! They are made for each other ! 
But I wouldn't have Laura know it for the 
world ! " 



«* 






S ViiTv' is) 



CHAPTER IX. 

Mrs. Cohen and her maid Cerise were in 
deep consultation, and the young lady was 
pacing restlessly up and down, her pretty 
pale blue robe-de-chambre flowing in long 
graceful folds round her. 

" Isn't it time he was here, Cerise ? " 

" Mais non! Madame ! it wants half-an- 
hour yet." 

" Oh dear ! I wish he would hurry ! Mr. 
Cohen may come home any moment, and 
the man not clear off." And she stopped 

her restless walk to listen eagerly. Then 

presently a knock was heard, and Cerise 
went out. 

" It is the young man from ' Storr and 
Lazenby,' " whispered Cerise, entering with 



131 THE THREE CURATES. 

a young man, who held a small parcel in 
his hand. 

" We have executed your order, Madam, 
and you would hardly know the paste from 
the original. Messrs. Storr and Lazenby 
have given seven hundred for the necklace, 
and the cost of the paste imitation is fifty 
pounds. I have the seven hundred with 
me and shall require your receipt." 

" Only seven hundred ! Why it cost a 
thousand ! " 

" Doubtless, Madam ! but buying and 
selling are not exactly the same." 

" So I perceive ; however, I will take that." 

" Here is the receipt, Madam, if you will 
be so good as to sign it — just there. And 
here are the notes " (and he took from an 
inner pocket a pocket-book and counted 
out the fresh crisp notes, and a smaller bag 
with sovereigns) " and the gold as you 
directed. Will you be pleased to inspect 



THE THREE CURATES. 1^5 

the paste necklet and see if it meets with 
your approbation." And then from the 
parcel he produced the sparkling necklace. 

" Oh that is exact ! isn't it, Cerise ? " 

"It is Madam ; it is perfect ! Tiens ! " 
she whispered hurriedly — " I hear monsieur 
arrive in his dressing-room, he has just 
rung his bell ! " 

" That will do, thank you,'' said Pauline, 
as she hastily signed the receipt and dis- 
missed the man. Then she swiftly swept 
off the gold and notes into an escritoire, 
locked it, and put the necklace into 
her jewel box. She had only just accom- 
plished this, when a knock was heard at her 
dressing-room door beyond the boudoir ; 
the rooms led out, one into the other. 
She rapidly crossed the two rooms and 
opened the door — it was her husband ! 

" What ! not dressed yet ! it is nearly 
eight o'clock ! " 



136 THE THEEE CURATES. 

" I shall not be long," said Mrs. Cohen, 
with unwonted amiability. " I will ring 
for Cerise now." 

" Pauline ! you will wear your diamonds 
to-night," 

" I was going to wear pale blue and 
pearls." 

" Weil then, wear something else and 
diamonds," with that, he closed the door. 

" Can he have heard ? " she asked eagerly 
of Cerise, who was in the farther room, as 
she listened nervously to the departing foot- 
steps of her husband. 

" No, no, madame, it is what you call a 
coincidence. I saw the young man safely 
off, and he came up the other staircase. 
Madame can wear her white silk and 
lace, the diamonds will do with that — and 
look, the lovely roses Monsieur Yere send !" 
and she took from a side table a basket of 
sweet-scented tea roses, of rich warm colour. 



THE THEEE CURATES. 137 

" They are nice ; but, Cerise, isn't it a 
mercy the paste necklace came home 
in time," said Pauline, with nervous 
anxiety. 

" Indeed, Madame, it is so ; but never 
mind about it. Madame has the necklace, 
and the money ! That must always console 
Madame." 

" Well, it does Cerise, certainly, but make 
haste and dress me. What a good thing I 
do not require any making up ! " 

" No ! ' cried Cerise, affectionately. 
" Madame is jeune et belle, and if Madame 
would only not vex herself about so many 
small things, she will never be old ; her face 
is so mignon." 

Cerise really loved her young mistress, 
indeed, she was as much a companion as 
attendant ; she was likewise perfectly aware 
of all the shortcomings of the master of the 
household ; but these she did not condemn. 



138 THE THEEE CURATES. 

All men were the same, voila ! only it was 
lache of Monsieur to let her charming young 
mistress be ever without money. Of course, 
Madame resented that naturally. 

Pauline looked very charming "as she 
passed down the softly-carpeted stairs, her 
white neck and arms glistening with 
diamonds. Her soft trailing dress of shim- 
mering silk, with its lace draperies, her 
brown hair piled up in dainty confusion 
where the lovely tea roses nestled, as also 
in her dress. Her cheeks were tinned with 
the recent excitement. Even her plethoric 
husband, who had long since ceased to love 
her, looked up with some show of awakened 
interest, as she stepped daintily down the 
broad stairs. 

" I think those diamonds suit you, Mrs. 
Cohen," said he. "That thousand wasn't 
thrown away ; that necklace is worth every 
penny of it ; it always represents money. 



THE THREE CURATES. 139 

Mind you are careful of them ; and you too, 
Cerise." 

" Certainly, Monsieur ! " 

Charlie Yere stood silently waiting, 
holding Pauline's bouquet. He took the 
wrap from Cerise, and carefully put it round 
her. Then Mr. Cohen said : " Start on first 
with Mrs. Cohen, I will join you in a very 
few moments. I just want to call at the 
club for something. I have a cab here, so 
take the carriage. Pauline ! what time is 
Lady Carew's reception ? " 

" Ten. Are you going to that, as well as 
the dinner at Lansdown Place ? " asked his 
wife, opening her black eyes in amazement. 

" Yes. I have a particular reason for 
going there. But don't delay ; it is time 
you were off." 

Mrs. Cohen showed no particular curiosity 
or interest in her husband's " reason. '' 
" Shall we send the carriage to the club ? " 



140 THE THEEE CURATES. 

Yes. He then put on his overcoat and 
passed out to his cab. 

" Oh, Charlie, I have done such a stroke 
of business, but I have done it in fear and 
trembling." 

" What is this wonderful ' stroke,' Mada- 
nnna ? 

" I have sold the diamond necklace and 
have got this paste one in its place. It 
looks exactly like the original," she added, 
with a nervous laugh. 

"How could you be so imprudent?" he 
answered, his tone full of grave anxiety. 

"It is all very well to say imprudent" 
she answered irritably. " But I simply 
can't and won't go on any longer without 
some proper supply of money that I can 
call my own. There is not a woman in 
London so abominably treated. Just as 
if I were a baby — and a married woman, 
too!" 



THE THKEE CURATES. 141 

" But, Pauline, it is your husband's 
property, I fear, you have been selling. 
Why did you not ask me ? All I have is 
at your command. Nay, my life, if it 
would do you any good." 

" Charlie, kind and good as you are, I 
could not take your money." 

After a painful silence, he asked her to 
whom had she sold the jewels. 

" To Storr and Lazenby's." 

" How long ago ? " 

" About a week." 

" Promise me that you will never do such 
a serious thing again without consulting 
me. I am sure it will lead to some terrible 
esclandre." 

" Well, Charlie, I will promise, but I 
really can't see what there is to make all 
this terrible fuss about. They are my own, 
you know. Mr. Cohen gave them to me as 
a birthday present the first year of my 



142 THE THEEE CUEATE3. 

marriage. I wanted some money. I sold 
them. Voila tout!" 

" I hope it's not too late, that's all." 
" Hope what is not ' too late ' ? You are 
getting enigmatical, Charlie." 

" When did you send the necklace ? " 
" I left it, I told you, a week ago. I got 
the money for it to-night. There, that will 
do. You are nearly as disagreeable as Mr. 
Cohen/' and she drew her wrap round her, 
and almost hid her face in its fleecy 
fur. 

Charlie hardly heeded her petulance. 
He knew, which Mrs. Cohen did not, that 
her husband had been speculating heavily 
on the Stock Exchange, and, rumour had it, 
losing heavily. Hence he traced an under- 
current of purpose, in the choice by Mr. 
Cohen of his wife's jewels that night. And 
Charlie intended the first thing the next 
morning to go and get back the necklace at 



THE THREE CURATES. 143 

any cost, before the dangerous transaction 
came to the knowledge of Mr. Cohen. 

Mr. Cohen did not arrive in time for the 
dinner at Lansdown Place, though Pauline 
wondered, and young Yere felt a secret 
anxiety ; but Mrs. Cohen would not allow 
her hostess to delay her dinner, which 
progressed gaily. Pauline was a great 
favourite, and radiant! — her skeleton for 
the nonce buried out of sight. She gave 
out her brightness, as her bright eves and 
her jewels did their lustre. 

The dinner was just over. The ladies 
were about to withdraw from the men, 
when a servant glided round to Mr. Yere, 
and whispered in his ear. Pauline hap- 
pened to catch the action, and saw a look 
of anxiety pass over the young man's face. 

" What is it ? " she asked, authorita- 
tively, of the man. " Is it from Mr. 
Cohen ? " 



Ui THE THREE CURATES. 

Mr. Cohen's coachman had brought word 
that his master had been taken ill with a 
fit at the club, and had been driven home 
at once. The news caused much sensation. 
Pauline, and Mr. Vere, left immediately, to 
find their home in a turmoil of excitement 
and anxiety, a doctor's carriage at the 
door. The servants thought it was an 
apoplectic fit or paralysis — they were not 
sure which — only he was insensible. 
Pauline hastily threw off her costly dress 
and her glittering gems, and, putting on a 
soft robe-de-chambre, hurried into her 
husband's chamber. 

There lay the heavy, unconscious form 
of Mr. Cohen. 

" What is it ? Is it very serious ? " she 
whispered, with white face, to the phy- 
sician. 

"I will tell you later on," he replied, 
with professional vagueness. " I am ex- 



THE THREE CURATES. 145 

pecting Sir William Kowe. We will then 
give you our opinion, Mrs. Cohen." 

" Is there nothing I can do ? " 

"Nothing. Eeserve yourself," he said 
kindly, "in case you are wanted later 
on." 

She passed out of the room. Mr. Yere 
was anxiously waiting on the landing. 

"Oh, Charlie, he looks as white as death, 
and his face is drawn ! " 

" Come into your room ; I want to ask 
you something." 

" Don't ask me anything ; I feel stupid 
and bewildered. Do as you like." 

" Well, then, I have telegraphed for 
Lady Laura." 

" For mamma ! Whatever for ? She 
cannot do any good, and, besides, lie 
detests her." 

"He need not see her. It is better for 
you, dear. Dear Pauline, do go and lie 
vol. i. 10 



146 THE THREE CURATES. 

down for a little while. Your hands are 
burning, and you are feverish." 

" How can you ask me to lie down ? I 
have the doctors to see presently.' ' 

" Let me see them for you ?" 

" No, I will see them myself." 

In truth Pauline was thoroughly fright- 
ened. It was her first experience of a 
great trouble, and, although there had been 
times when she had almost hated her hus- 
band, now that he was stricken down the 
better part of her nature asserted itself. 

" I shall sit up all night with him ; it is 
the least thing I can do." 

He said no more. They both sat 
anxiously awaiting the doctor's verdict. 

It seemed as if hours passed. Each 
silent — -he, full of anxious forebodings ; 
she, of nervous agitation. With him there 
was no thought of self, and for the young 
wavward wife of his guardian, such chival- 



THE THREE C URATES. 117 

rous love, and regard, as a brother might 
render in such an hour of need. Pauline 
was not given to much analysis of thought 
and feeling. There was a dumb conscious- 
ness of some impending catastrophe, an 
overshadowing of some unknown trial, and 
as she sat there, a face white and scared, he 
thought of the contrast of a few hours 
before. 

By and-by Cerise came to tell them the 
doctors were in the dining-room, and would 
see Mrs. Cohen." 

" Come, Charlie ! " 

They went down. Dr. Lechmere and 
Sir William Eowe came forward. 

" Kindly tell me the exact truth.*" 

" We fear there is no hope, Mrs. Cohen. 
There are complications beside the seizure. 
He may last till the morning," said Sir 
William kindly, seeing the white face of 
the youno- wife. 

10* 



H8 THE THEEE CUEATES. 

Dr. Leclimere drew young Vere aside. 

" Can you not send for any female rela- 
tion of Mrs. Cohen?" 

" I have telegraphed for her mother, 
Lady Laura Eidden. I know she will 
make every effort to be here to-night." 

" That is well. Mrs. Cohen is far too 
young to be left alone with such an 
anxious responsibility. I will come in 
again presently. I have procured a nurse 
who I know is already at her post, b ut 
nothing can be done, he will not rally." 

" He was very good to me," said the 
young man, simply, and somehow the 
doctor liked him better for that little un- 
conscious loyalty to the dying man. 

Sir William Eowe left, and Pauline 
returned to her husband's room. She saw 
the nurse at one side of the bed, but she 
hardly noticed her presence. 

Her (raze was fixed on the large white 



THE THREE CUEATES. 14 J 

face, drawn to one side ; the strongly 
marked eyebrows, the closely-cut grey hair, 
all stood out with solemn distinctness, while 
the heavy breathing was all that spoke of 
life in the heavy, inert body. Then their 
brief, but ill-starred married life, the in- 
fidelity of her husband, her ow r n short- 
comings, her wayward coldness and ill- 
concealed dislike. She judged herself 
very severely during this solemn vigil ; face 
to face with herself, she seemed to see a 
light, frivolous, empty creature. The night 
passed into the still grey morning. Lady 
Laura had arrived, but her daughter did 
not 20 to Greet her. She knew kind faith- 
ful Charlie w T ould do that. Cerise brought 
her in a cup of coffee, which she insisted 
upon her mistress drinking. As the day 
dawmed she fancied he moved. She leant 
over him, and took the nerveless hand. 
Oh, Louis ! if you could only make one 



150 THE THREE CURATES. 

sign. She stooped over and kissed the 
pale, calm forehead, it seemed cold and 
severe. Ah, it was many a long day since 
she had kissed him. The fact came home 
with some remorse. The doctor had been 
in and out noiselessly, several times during 
the night, but this time he gently raised 
the blind, and the cold grey of the new- 
born day lighted the room with sad quiet 
light. He looked at the bed, and the 
light settled on a grey reflection. 

"Let me lead you to your room, Mrs. 
Cohen," said the doctor, with firm kind- 
ness. 

" Certainly not ! As long as my husband 
lives, my place is here." 

" He is not here," he said gently. 

" Oh ! Doctor Lechmere, are you quite, 
quite sure ? " 

Presently young Vere came in, and 
gently moved the quiet cold hand. 



THE THREE CUKATE3. 151 

After a while, she consented to leave the 
room, and Charlie led her to her own 
sitting-room, where her mother anxiously 
awaited her. She folded her in her arms 
with affectionate love, and all she said was 
" Eest yourself, dear, your work is over." 

Cerise then brought her mistress a glass 
of wine, for she was chilled by her long 
watch, and her nerves were over-wrought. 

"Go to rest, madame." 

" What o'clock is it, mother ? " 

" Six, dearest ! " 

" Will Madame please go to bed ? " said 
Cerise, with quiet presistency. 

"Yes, I suppose so," answered Pauline, 
wearily. 

"Have you attended to my mother?" 

" Indeed, she has, and so has Mr. Yere." 

Yes, Lady Louisa had to admit Charlie 
Yere was a most useful person. He it was, 
in all the confusion thought of her, the 



152 THE THEEE CURATES. 

tired, weary, anxious traveller, told Cerise 
to bring up a dainty little supper, and saw 

to her every comfort. 
" Where is poor Charlie, mother ? " 
" In the dining-room, in case you require 

him." 

" Cerise, tell him to go to bed." 

" Certainly ! When Madame is in bed." 

" How you bother, Cerise," said Pauline, 

irritably. 

" Mais oui ! It is time for Madame to be 

in bed, and Miladi also." 

" Go ! Mamma, dear. You look fagged 

out." 

" Very well ; we will both go." 

Cerise would not leave Mrs. Cohen until 

she was safely in bed, where very soon a 

heavy sleep overtook her — and at last, all 

the household were at rest. 



CHAPTEE X. 

When Lady Laura Ridden lay down to 
rest, that daybreak so full of solemn events, 
her first feeling was one of thankfulness ! 
Thankfulness that the death of her son-in- 
law had removed the greatest of anxieties, 
and dissolved in a dignified manner a union 

c 

that promised to become a punishment to 
both parties. Mr. Cohen, in Lady Laura's 
opinion, had atoned for much, nay, for 
everything, by dying just when he did. It 
was the one clear way out of many bristling 
difficulties. Yes ; she was thankful ; for 
in her way, she did love her child dearly, 
and that child had been on the brink of 
an abyss, and by this unlooked-for release 
she had been saved. In the privacy of her 
own chamber Lady Laura planned many 



154 THE THREE CURATES. 

things for the future, but unfortunately for 
her calculation her daughter was an " un- 
known quantity." The mother might build 
and scheme, but Mrs. Cohen had a way of 
doing exactly the opposite of what was 
expected of her, and Lady Laura could not 
let events settle themselves — which they 
often do ; much better, in the long run, 
than anything she might have arranged. 

After the funeral, when the will was 
read, instead of Mr. Cohen being the 
wealthy millionaire, it was generally sup- 
posed, it was discovered, that, owing to 
unlucky speculations, and the unexpected 
failure of a great American firm, in which 
he was greatly involved, the once princely 
fortune was reduced to a few thousands. 
However, with the sale of the lavishly fur- 
nished house and her marriage settlement, 
Pauline would find herself the possessor of 
no mean income ; and, so far as she was 



THE THREE CURATES. 155 

concerned, there was no acute sorrow. 
She had never professed to love her hus- 
band ; nay, it must be confessed there was 
a sense of liberty at the bottom of every- 
thing. She would be mistress of an income 
which seemed, in her inexperienced eyes, a 
small fortune. She would have no trouble 
whatever. Charlie was one of the trustees ; 
he would take care she was not bothered. 

So she settled to go on the Continent. 

It was a dull November evening when 
Charlie saw the two ladies off — gloomy and 
foggy, but it did not seem to affect 
Pauline ; on the contrary, her pretty piquant 
face looked charming under her widow's 
weeds. It was in vain Lady Laura behaved 
herself with extra regard to the most 
thorough conventional proprieties ; there 
was a mutinous wilfulness about her 
daughter that was not to be suppressed, 
and she only looked what she felt. No 



156 THE THREE CURATES. 

prisoner could be expected to envelope 
himself in sackcloth and ashes if the 
governor of his prison happened to expire. 
All the more if the prisoner's time of ser- 
vice was up, and he started again with the 
blessed privileges of freedom. And for 
the first time in her life Pauline felt free, 
and she meant to realise this freedom. She 
was amply supplied with money. This 
pleasant change of their lives, was to be no 
expense to her mother, and this thought 
alone was pleasant. The poor dear mother 
who had been stru^ling and striving 
bravely for years, should now have a fine 
time, without having to suffer for it after- 
wards. 

" Don't be long before you join us, 
Charlie,' ' said Pauline just as the train was 
steaming out of the station. "We shall 
want you in Paris ; I mean to see a lot ! " 

"I will, Mrs. Cohen! But vou see the 



THE THREE CURATES. 157 

other trustee can't get along without me just 
at present ; I shall be over soon, though, as 
I shall want your signature to some papers." 
"The sooner the better, Charlie." 
Lady Laura could not help giving expres- 
sion to her vexation, at always having young 
Vere tacked on to them. Was this young 
man for ever to be an appanage of her 
daughter's establishment." 

c 

" Cannot you really do without Mr. Vere 
for even two or three months ? " said Lady 
Laura when they were once on their way. 

;i Xo, I really cannot, mamma !" said 
Pauline with pleasant alacrity. " I have 
been so used to him nearly every day for 
five years, so of course I can't do without 
him. He is mixed up with everything. I 
could as socn do without Cerise — by-the- 
bye, I wonder if she is quite handy in the 
next carriage ? It is a second class, isn't it 
mother ? " And Mrs. Cohen, without wait- 



158 THE THREE CURATES. 

ing for her mother's answer, put her head 
out of her own window. " Well, I really 
can't see at the rate we are going at, so it is 
no good speculating ! " 

" Pauline ! " said her mother, bringing 
back the conversation, she had interrupted 
in her own irrelevant fashion, to the point. 
"You must remember you are a young 
widow, good-looking,' passably rich. It 
really does not look commeilfaut to see that 
young fellow always dangling about you." 

"For the matter of that he won't be 
always dangling after me, because I shall 
probably marry him, he suits me so well," 
said Mrs. Cohen composedly. 

" Perhaps he may not wish to marry 
you," said her mother drily. 

" Oh, there is no fear of that ! " said 
Pauline with airy confidence. 

"Pouline, do you remember Gerald 
Lanvon ? " 



THE THREE CURATES. 159 

" Perfectly ! " 

" Would you like to see him again ? " 
"I don't mind one way or the other," 
said the younger woman with honest indif- 
ference. " He is;a parson now — I don't like 
parsons." 

" I hear nothing but o-ood of him." 
" That is just it ! He would be much too 
good, and bore me frightfully. Charlie 
never bores me. On the contrary, when I 
feel a fit of what our ancestors called ' the 
vapours,' he always acts as a stimulant and 
does me good." 

Pauline saw through her mother's lightly 
veiled diplomacy, but she meant to enjoy 
her future life in her own way, and that 
way included Air. Yere's companionship. 
As far as her^volatile nature allowed, she 
had loved Gerald Lanyon, but that was so 
long ago ; it was all dead and buried, and 
the grass growing greenly over that grave. 



160 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Mother ! do you know Charlie and I 
have settled and rearranged your money 
affairs ! When you have your bank book 
made up next time you will find a snug 
little balance to the good, and you can snap 
your fingers at that disagreeable old aunt 
Caroline and the Framptons generally." 

" Pauline ! " 

" It is a fact, dear ! It was no use saying 
one word until it was done. Do you think 
I am going to enjoy all sorts of luxuries 
while you are striving and pinching, and 
accepting doles from those nasty stuck-up 
Framptons ! Stingy old things ! My lord 
can keep his money." 

61 Oh, Pauline, how can I accept such a 
thing — your money, too ! " 

"That's just it, Mamsy. It is because 
it is mine ! Wouldn't you ? Nay ! you did 
your very best for me years ago, trying to 
turn me out well, and often ooing without 



THE THREE CURATES. 161 

things essential to your position ; and now 
— we need not say a word about it again — 
it's a, fait accompli." 

The tears stood in Lady Laura's e} r es. 
She had not given her daughter credit for 
so much affection or thought, and she felt 
deeply touched. Pauline kissed her mother, 
and it was the dawn of happier times to 
them both. 






VOL. I. 11 



CHAPTEE XL 

Lady Louisa and Gerald Lanyon paid their 

promised visit to the Towers, and if Gerald 

had been so agreeably disappointed at 

finding an intelligent, cultivated woman, in 

the person of Miss Higgins, he was still 

more surprised when he saw her in her own 

home — the house with its many charming 

details, its grounds, its refined interior. No 

wonder time flew ! And so it came to pass, 

that instead of the junior curate foreswearing 

the company of all feminines, as was his 

wont, he was loth to leave when the time 

came to say good-bye, but Lady Louisa 

was peremptory, and dragged him away. 

" My dear Gerald, you can come again 
you know. The Hector will rebel if I am 
too long away." 



THE THREE CURATES. 133 

" To be sure. How selfish. I am." 

" Not a bit ! it is enchanted ground. I 
always find great difficulty in getting away. 
It is such a restful place, Gerald ; there is 
such a quiet, calm dignity about it all. I 
think Hester is such a very charming 
woman, and really not at all plain, as some 
people say.'' 

" Plain ! " said Gerald, warmly. ' ; Far 
from that. There is something so womanly 
and o'ood about her, and so generous. There 
are some natures so meanly dowered, that if 
they were asked for five pounds out of their 
store of plenty, they would deny the gift 
or loan." 

" I think that is by no means an un- 
common phase of character, especially 
in people blessed with wealth. They 
are so afraid of reducing their store 
by driblets, often forgetting the large 
sums they will spend upon some hobby, 

11* 



1C4 THE THEEE CUBATES. 

which is entirely for their own gratifica- 
tion." 

" Miss Higgins is a wise steward, and 
deserves happiness," said Mr. Lanyon. 

" I hope, with all my heart," said her 
ladyship, affectionately, "she will marry 
some day, and find a husband worthy of 
her. Gerald ! did you hear of the sad death 
of Mr. Cohen ? " 

" Yes ; Lady Laura wrote and told me." 

" Lady Laura ! and when ? " 

" About three weeks ago." 

Lady Louisa was silent a few moments. 
She was mentally reviewing the situation ; 
but she thought she had checkmated her 
sister, none too soon though. 

" It was a sad termination to such an 
ambitious marriage," said Gerald Lanyon 
presently, but Lady Louisa observed he 
said it with quiet indifference ; and he 
almost felt surprised himself, at the absence 



THE THREE CURATES. 165 

of all disturbance, which, a few months 
back, would have certainly followed the 
details of this strange and sudden collapse 
of Lady Laura Eidden's plans. He felt 
interested in another woman. Yes, he 
admitted so much ; but most certainly he 
was not in love with her. Oh, no ! he felt 
convinced, although he no longer felt the 
very faintest trace of love for his once 
idolised Pauline, he certainly had no idea 
of loving anyone else. But it was a very 
pleasant thing in life to meet with a good 
woman, and one who was his equal 
mentally, perhaps his superior. He did 
feel grateful to his old friend, Lady Louisa, 
for after all, he argued, a man does require, 
as a stimulant, the society of an intelligent 
agreeable woman. 

" II est doax de voir ses amis par gout et 
par estime ; il est penible de les cultiver par 
interet, cest solliciter." 



166 THE THREE CUEATES. 

Yes, it was from taste and esteem, that 
her society gave him pleasure, and from no 
other motive. 

Two or three months had passed, the 
quaint old gardens in the town had donned 
their autumn garb, the holyoaks had given 
place to the chrysanthemums, the leaves 
from the old trees were softly falling in 
golden showers, but life went quietly on 
with each change. Miss Higgins and Esme 
were still at the Towers. She had dis- 
covered a fresh interest in life. And 
Gerald Lanyon was now a constant visitor. 
He was no longer a curate, to be kept at a 
distance, but a true and valued friend — a 
man who found life a very earnest thing, 
who, after a sharp struggle with sorrow, 
found his eyes cleared, and was able to 
measure the distance he hoped to travel 
without any deceitful mirage to distract 
him, whose self-reliant strength, was a 



THE THEEE CURATES. 1G7 

source of comfort to those who relied upon 
him. 

His patients and friends at Combe 
Warren had left their encampment, taking 
with them many substantial tokens of his 
kindness. A large fire of gorse and under- 
wood signalised their departure. The 
temporary hospital had been cleared away, 
and nothing but the blackened space 
showed where the wandering people had 
lived^and suffered. Even their old cara- 
vans had been burned, and new ones built 
at their generous friend's expense. 

Mr. Dashwood was still the model curate 
at St. Just, leaving nothing undone that 
could be done effectively and well. Never 
were the services so well appointed as when 
Mr. Dashwood was in command. He was 
still as indefatigable as ever in his sie^e to 
Combe Towers, but the chariot -wheels of 
this portion of his work dragged heavily, 



168 THE THEEE CURATES. 

and lie fancied Esme's e} T es were not as 
friendly as of yore. But lie persevered ; 
the end would crown the work ! 

Whatever Percy Blythe did had a very 
honest ring about it ; but he was apt to be 
forgetful — Cyril Dashwood never forgot ! 
But if the Eector had been asked in confi- 
dence which of his curates he preferred, 
he would undoubtedly have answered, 
" Blythe." "When the little vexations, and 
sometimes the big ones, bothered him more 
than usual, it was to Percy he would come 
for help or sympathy. Blythe was the 
one to smooth over the little difficulties, or 
to suggest a pleasant Dens ex Machind out 
of the big ones. There was something so 
human in him and so indulgent towards all 
creation generally. But there was one thing 
few knew about, or how much self-denial it 
involved, how often it compelled him to 
wear his clothes till they almost remon- 



THE THREE CUEATES. 169 

strated with their owner by their shining 
seams, but little extra comforts found their 
way to the beloved and widowed mother, 
and the little delicate sister. These little 
transactions were in strict confidence with 
himself. 

Mrs. Frostick was as busy as ever with 
her own and other people's affairs, the Miss 
Brown's especially ; also Mrs. Grantley 
came in for her share of notice from the 
town gossip, but in this case she counted 
without her host. 

At one of the tea-drinking afternoons, so 
dear to the elderly female heart, Mrs. 
Frostick, with many mysterious winks and 
nods, had given out in solemn tones the 
lorthcoming marriage of Mrs. Grantley and 
Mr. Blythe ! Dearie me ! Laws now ! You 
don't say so ! and such like, fell from many 
lips — all eager to be the first to impart the 
wonderful news elsewhere ; it rolled like a 



170 THE THREE CURATES. 

snowball, gathering force and volume as it 
flew onwards, till at last it reached the 
Sector's ears. 

" I say, Lewis, is it true your sister, 
Mrs. Grantley, is about to marry my 
curate, Blythe ? Everyone has it so ! " 

" My sister Edith marry young Blythe ! 
Preposterous ! My dear Eector, where did 
you get that from ? Ha ! ha ! it is really too 
absurd." 

" Well, I was rather surprised myself ! " 

"Oh, I must tell Edith that! What a strange 
place a country town is for ' canards.' " 

But Edith took the matter very calmly. 
" I know where that comes from ! from Mrs. 
Bostick ! I don't mind betting five pounds ! 
The old cat ! Can't you go and frighten her 
Edward ? It would be a charity all round, 
and pay off lots of old scores for other 
people." 

" But are we quite sure dear, it is her ? " 



THE THREE CURATES. 171 

" My dear Edward, I am positive ! Ah, 
it's the ' Wig ' asserting itself! " 

" The what ? My dear Edith ! " 

" Oh, never mind, Edward, get yourself 
up, and take the carriage and pair, the two 
men servants, and just drive down in style 
to the old witch's house ! Ask to see her 
in the most amiable manner, and then let 
fly the vials of your wrath. Excuse the 
expression, it is not elegant, but it conveys 
my feelings." 

Dr. Lewis shook his head. " I don't care 
for the errand, Edie." 

" My dear Edward, it is so simple ! Ex- 
press your severe disapprobation at her 
presuming, &c., &c, to discuss my affairs." 

The Mayor set out on his mission, and 
when the well-appointed carriage drew up 
abruptly at Mrs. Frostick's door, that lady 
was in a flutter of excitement. " Betty, 
surely they are going to invite me to some 



172 THE THEEE CUEATES. 

grand gala ! Ask the Mayor into the best 
front parlour." The Mayor did not sit 
down as requested, but began at once. 

" Mrs. Frostick ! by what authority did 
you spread the report of Mrs. Grantley's 
en^a^ement to one of the youn^ curates ? '! 

" I heard it reported." 

" By whom ? I shall be obliged by the 
author's name." Mrs. Frostick shuffled her 
feet, and twisted her thumbs, but no help 
came ; there stood the Mayor, glaring at 
her through his spectacles. 

" If you cannot produce your authority, 
there is only one conclusion to come to, that 
you and you alone spread these reports con- 
cerning my sister. And, therefore, you will 
be so good as to contradict them at once, 
and by the same means that you spread 
them. Good morning ! " and he marched 
off to his carriage, without another word. 
" Lack-a-day ! Well, to be sure ! " 



THE THREE CURATES. 173 

" Well, mistress, and what did his wor- 
ship say? Is it a dinner, or a party? " cried 
Betty, rushing in. 

" Hold your tongue, and wait till you're 
spoken to," replied her mistress angrily. 

" Lord save us ! " and then Betty wisely 
concluded the Mayor's visit could not have 
been so very pleasant, for her mistress's 
' front ' was viciously pulled over her fore- 
head, and her cap pushed back. To say 
that she was angry and mortified, was only 
a portion of the truth. She felt sure she 
would not be asked to the first winter re- 
ception, which would be coming off within 
three weeks, and it meant a public humilia- 
tion to her, not to be seen with all the 
others. Her prestige as an important 
person would be gone. She had been 
weighed in the balance against Mrs. 
Grantley, and found herself considerably 
wanting. 



174: THE THREE CURATES. 

While she was in this unenviable frame 
of mind, one of her principal cronies, seeing 
the Mayor's carriage had just started on its 
return journey, rushed in to hear the 
wonderful news. 

" What did the Mayor want of you, Mrs. 
Frostick? It must have been something 
particular. He never brings yon carriage 
unless it's something important. What is it, 
neighbour ? " 

" Only some private affair the Mayor had 
to tell me. Oh, I find Mrs. Grantley isn't 
to marry yon curate after all ? " 

" Isn't to marry him ! Why they say the 
wedding was to be next month, and I do 
hear the presents are something wonderful ! 
It's too bad folks changing their minds like 
that ! Who's to know what's what ? " 

To all this Mrs. Frostick said nothing. 
She knew the ' town ' would consider itself 
defrauded, and she had been responsible. 



THE THREE CURATES. 175 

However, she meant to show a bold 
front. 

" Well, Mrs. Hughes, I am real busy to- 
day. We are just cleaning up for Christ- 
mas." 

"Aye, to be sure ! ours is just over." And 
Mrs. Hughes, seeing a fellow housekeeper 
with all the severe solemnity of May-Day 
and Martinmas heavy on her conscience, 
appreciated the gravity of the situation, and 
considerately departed. 

In a fortnight's time came Mrs. Frostick's 
punishment. The Brown girls had got cards 
for the Mayor and Mayoress's reception, 
November the ninth. This was the first 
and most exclusive of these receptions. 
There was nothing for it. She must be ill! 
She chose to have an attack of ' Tic,' it 
was safe, and she need not have a doctor ! 
Betty could not understand it at all, and 
her brains not being of the first order 



176 THE THEEE CURATES. 

quietly gave it up, only giving her version 
of the affair. "The Mayor had indeed, 
called to see her mistress, to invite her to a 
grand dinner ; but the mistress was a bit 
ailing, and so couldn't go." Mrs. Frostick 
certainly owed a debt of gratitude to her 
faithful Betty, for there was no doubt now, 
she had quarrelled with the powers that be, 
and had got the worst of it. 

" And so you have been asked to dinner 
with the Mayor, Mrs. Frostick ? " said old 
David Brown to his old neighbour. 

" How folks do talk ! " answered she, 
evasively. 

" Aye ! they do. They've nought else to 
do. It's surprising what time idle folks has 
for mischief. How is your ' Tic ' to-day, 
ma am ? 

" Better, thank you, Mr Brown!" 

The town has been real busy to-day. Dr. 
Lewis again Mayor — Aye, he's a good 



THE THREE CURATES. 177 

one. You see, neighbour, when they 
choose a tradesman, it takes a lot of their 
time up, whereas Dr. Lewis, being a 
gentleman with money, as you may say, 
and having nothing else to do but catch 
beetles, flies, and other vermin, and go 
about with them archaeologists, and " 

" Eh ! David Brown, what are they 
folk ? " 

" Well," said he, scratching his head, 
not too sure of his own knowledge. " I 
think they be people who go hunting up 
old tombs, and burial grounds, and 
churches, and old buildings — people with 
naught else but ' fads ' — I take it." 

<; Aye," and she sniffed contemptuously, 
" likely enough." 

" They do say," continued old Brown, 

" he's mighty clever, and for certain, he's 

real good and kind. Bless you ! you 

should see how good he's been to that 

vol. i. 12 



178 THE THKEE CURATES. 

family down by the river, them that had 
the ague. He's doctored them, fed them, 
and sent them down to the sea ! And Mrs. 
Grantley too — she is a real lady to be 
sure ! she's mighty kind to my lassies. Says 
she, * Tell them to come up and have tea 
with me, Mr. Brown.' She's smart, and 
clever, no mistake, and as bonnie as she's 
high. I can't say I'm a bit sorry she isn't 
going to marry Parson Blythe ; not that 
I've a word to. say agin him, he's as nice 
and kind a young fellow as ever walked, 
but he ain't to my mind, good enough for 
her. Now, Mr. Lanyon is more proud like, 
and he will be a great man, I'm told. Now, 
if it was lie ! He's older and richer, and, 
they do say, knows a thing or two." 

" She'll have none of him, you may be 
sure," snapped Mrs. Frostick. " He isn't 
too keen on any woman, he can't abide 
'em." 



THE THREE CURATES. 179 

"Well, neighbour Frostick, they all 
know their own affairs best — what they 
like, and what they don't — and I must say 
you might have a worse lot. From the 
Eector, and Lady Louisa, bless her ! down- 
wards, they are as nice and kind a set as I 
have ever come across — all real good 
gentlefolks." 

" I don't complain of them, do I ? " 
" Nay, nay, to be sure not ! Good-day, 
neighbour, good-day ! " And old Brown 
went out, with the conviction that 
his old neighbour was, " uncommon snap- 
pish ; but folks is most cross when they 
are ill, and, perhaps, she's lonesome like, 
and she's no bairns." Kind old man, who 
saw so few faults in his own children ; to 
him they were always the " Bairns," and 
any little kindness shown to them always 
won his heart. That there was anything 
foolish or ridiculous about them, never 

12* 



180 THE THBEE CUBATES. 

entered his simple old head, and even Mrs. 
Frostick was forbearing with him on this 
point. They administered to all his wants, 
kept his house spotlessly clean — what 
more could a man expect from any woman ? 
His little amusements could be so cheaply 
and happily had at the " Queen's Head " ; 
and his daughters could take theirs in 
their own way. 



CHAPTER XII. 

One fine afternoon, towards the end of 
November, one of those exhilarating days 
that do sometimes shine out as golden in 
that usually dreary month, when the sense 
of living is a pleasure — the crisp frosty air 
tinctured with the aroma from the trees. 
The sun brilliant and clear, the sky an 
exquisite blue, with just a few fleecy 
clouds flitting along in airy pursuit of 
each other. The few yet unf alien leaves, 
still golden, still red, clinging to their bare 
branches, as if loth to leave, and sigh 
out their own knell as they flutter to earth, 
to be absorbed like the thousands before 
them. 

On such a day Gerald Lanyon walked 
over to Combe Towers. He could not 



182 THE THREE CUEATES. 

have told you why he felt such an elasti- 
city, such a gaiety of heart, such a sense of 
brightness within and without. He walked 
with light, brisk step till he came near to 
the house, and then he felt a sudden access 
of shyness. He had come on an errand on 
which hung his whole life. At last he 
realised that he was no longer heart free. 
The love of his youth had faded away like 
a beautiful dreamy mist that eludes the 
touch and the thoughts. But this love of 
his manhood was grand, real — a power to 
his whole being. How would it be with 
him this day ? He reached the gate, and 
Hester was just coming through with her 
dog. 

" Whither away ? " 

" Only for a walk through the planta- 
tion. The scent of the trees is so delicious. 
It reminds me of the pine forests abroad." 

" May I come with you ? I have some- 



THE THBEE CURATES. 183 

tiling to ask you, some great favour at your 
hands." 

" Nay ! you have only to command ; you 
know that.'' 

"Is it so, I wonder?" he answered, 
looking at her keenly. " Come, let us go 
on, then ! 

" Miss Higgins, some years ago there 
was a young fellow without fame, without 
fortune. Perhaps I may say his birth was 
good, but that was an accident. He had 
been associated day by day, year by year 
(for they both lived in the same village), in 
intimate friendship with a family that 
was very dear to him. A fair young girl 
grew up with him, and became as the 
apple of his eye. All his future was 
bounded by her, all his present tinged by 
her. She was fresh and dainty as a young 
rose. At length he ventured to lay his 
hopes before her mother. I will briefly 



184 THE THEEE CURATES. 

add his dreams were brutally crushed. 
The mother coldly told him she had other 
views for her daughter. They henceforth 
passed out of his life, leaving him ship- 
wrecked, starving for one drop of consola- 
tion. The mvl afterwards married a rich 
man twice her age/ They can be dis- 
missed. An illness to the man followed. 
He became hard, cynical, almost unendur- 
able. A friend, who had been his tutor, at 
last roused him to nobler things than the 
miserable study of his disappointments. 
He became a worker for a Master who 
deals more mercifully than man, and at 
last he found peace. After some few years 
another woman came across his path, a 
woman nobly planned, born to comfort 
and command. Once more his heart has 
gone forth with a stronger grasp. For on 
this woman depends his happiness; in her 
hand lies his fate ! " 



THE THREE CURATES. 185 

He turned abruptly round, his face work- 
ing with strong emotion. " Hester, what 
is to be your answer ? " 

Her eyes were full of tender tears. She 
placed both her hands in his. 

" If I am worthy of this honour, then 
indeed I am yours." 

He needed no more, but clasped her in 
his arms. And then, as he looked into her 
face, there came into it a new and beautiful 
light, such as Esme had partially seen. As 
if Hester's world had suddenly become 
radiant, the possibilities so longed after had 
become absolute realities ! Heart to heart, 
soul to soul — both had been tried in the 
fire. Hester's inner beauty had been hidden 
from the world. To them her face had 
been dull and cold and severe. Now — now 
the grey eyes had a depth, and the cheeks 
a lovely flush — love had beautified it, and 
henceforth took possession ! 



186 THE THREE C CRATES. 

" Hester ! what a beautiful face is yours ! " 

"Ah, no ! Your love makes you blind." 

" On the contrary, it has opened my 
eyes ! It is a good thing to have that love 
that casteth out fear and is clothed with 
mutual trust. Ah, love ! love, I have been 
so fearful ! " 

" Of what ? " said she with beaming eyes. 

" Can you not guess ? Suppose you had 
said ' No ' ! " 

" Did it dawn upon you that I might 
love, too ? — though there is so little about 
me to attract," she said with great humility. 

" Hester, I will not allow you to depre- 
ciate yourself," said he with loving au- 
thority, taking her hand and putting it 
through his arm. "You cannot know what 
I think of you, my queen ; but, please God, 
my life shall show." 

They wandered on, they hardly realized 
the afternoon had deepened into twilight, 



THE THEEE CURATES. 187 

tliat evening was just upon them, that the 
stars were coming out one by one. Old 
Major, soberly walking beside Hester, every 
now and again, rubbed his cold soft nose 
against her hand. No, she never heeded 
him, though she realized he was there. It 
seemed as if this hour of glorious happiness 
atoned for her long life of heart hunger. 
It required the deep clang of the dressing 
bell from Combe Towers, which pealed 
forth protestingly to its absent mistress, to 
bring them back to earth. 

" Oh, how late it is ! It is the first bell. 
Gerald, you will come in and dine with us ? 
Ah, do ! " And she laid her hand entreat- 
ingly on his arm as he shook his head. 

" No ! sweetheart ! I must be back — and 
in haste too ; but I shall go on wings. I 
have so much to make up — I mean such 
arrears of happiness. I shall see you safely 
to your door. Kiss me once more, love J 



188 THE THKEE CURATES. 

We shall speedily meet again." And so 
they parted at the outer gate. 

" Hester ! Hester ! We were getting 
quite anxious about you," cried Esme, as 
she flew down the broad stairs, her soft 
white draperies floating behind her. 

" Where have you been, dear ? The first 
bell was rung some time ago ! Why, what a 
lovely colour you have ! but your eyelashes 
are wet, dear! " 

For the lamp, so daintily held, on the first 
landing, by a graceful bronze figure of an 
Egyptian maiden, threw its full, soft light 
on the tear-stained but happy face of Hester. 

"It is the dew, love ! or perhaps a 
soupcon of frost ! " she answered with a gay 
smile. 

"Mrs. Grantley, Mr. Blythe, and Sir 
Ernest Beldon have just come, but the 
D octor hasn't turned up yet." 



THE THREE CURATES. 189 

" I won't be five minutes, Esme, send 
Justine to my room at once. And then 
go into the drawing-room, and entertain 
our guests, until I come." 

"Justine is already in your room, 
dear!" 

And there Hester found her, amazed, 
but too discreet to make any observation 
at the unusual absence of her mistress. " I 
have put out Mademoiselle's black lace 
with crimson ! " 

" That will do, Justine, only be as quick 
as you can, I am late." 

Justine's busy fingers rapidly completed 
the change in her mistress's toilet. 

A very short time elapsed, and Hester 
joined her guests ; she looked stately and 
handsome, as she made her apologies. 

Mrs. Grantley instantly noticed the soft 
colour still visible, and the unwonted light 
in the grey eyes. 



190 THE THUEE CURATES. 

"There's a man in the case ! I am 
sure ! Now who can it be ? " thought 
the little lady sagaciously. 

Lady Louisa, witli all discreetness, had 
held her peace. No one in fact knew any- 
thing of the intimacy between Gerald 
Lanyon and the inmates of " Combe Towers." 
He would be the last person suspected of 
even the faintest tendresse for any woman. 

" I don't see the Doctor ! " said Hester. 

" I expect him every moment ! some of 
his especial patients," said his step-sister 
with a laugh, " sent for him just as we 
were about to start, so Mr. Biythe escorted 
me instead, and my brother will ride." 

" The dinner bell has not rung yet, so 
he will be in good time after all," said 
Miss Hio-o-ins. 

DO 

And as she spoke, Dr. Lewis was 
announced. 

" How bright and cheery the room 



THE THREE CURATES. 191 

looks, Miss Higgins ! One may say, with 
fair Portia : 



' The light we see, is burning in my Hall, 
How far that little candle throws his beams/ 



I quite pitied the man whom I met 
coming from, instead of coming to it ! " 

" Who was he ? " asked Mrs. Grantley, 
promptly. 

" Gerald Lanyon ! " 

" So ! thafs it," thought she, and a 
little amused smile flitted over her face. 

" Why, Lanyon has a meeting on at 
his house to-night ! about his hospital ; a 
lot of big-wigs are to be there," said Mr. 
Blythe. 

" Well ! I suppose he was hurrying to 
it, for he seemed to be walking with seven- 
leagued boots ! He hardly spoke to me, 
he was in such haste " 

To Hester's great thankfulness, the 



192 THE THREE CURATES. 

butler announced the dinner, and so saved 
her further embarrassment. 

* « * ^ # 

Never, in all the years of her life, had 
Hester tasted such exquisite happiness as 
she felt this night. She longed for the 
solitude of her own chamber, that she 
might at length realise it. As it was, 
there was an infectious brightness about 
her. She seemed to convey some of the 
gladsomeness of her own heart to her 
guests. There was some subtle influence 
about her, that they could not analyze, 
only it affected them. 

She felt greatly pleased to see the 
little merry interchange of badinage be- 
tween Sir Ernest and Esme. Esme had by 
no means given up her love for handsome 
Cyril Dashwood, but it was gradually, and 
surely wearing itself out. And Hester left 
affairs to arrange themselves ; but she saw 



THE THREE CERATES. 193 

with thankfulness that the cloud on the 
soft young face was gently dispersing, and 
sunshine taking its place. 

Just as the guests were departing, Sir 
Ernest came up -quietly to Hester, and 
whispered — " Do you think I ever shall 
succeed with her ? " 

And with a smile, Hester answered 
him : 

" Hope is a lover's staff, walk hence with that, 
And manage it against despairing thoughts." 

" Good-night, dear friend, and take that 
for your comfort. It is good advice." 

" I will," said he, hopeful at once. 

When Hester retired to her own cham- 
ber that night, she seemed to feel, nay, to 
look younger ! Happiness, and love, are 
the most perfect cosmetics that have ever 
been fashioned in this world — nothing less 
than a divine spark from above. And it 
was herself ! not her wealth ! that was the 
vol. i. 13 



194 THE THREE CURATES. 

joy with her. She felt thankful that the 

man she loved had, and would have, 

ample means. In this alone, Fortune had 

been good to her, for if her lover had been 

poor, then her own wealth would have 

been a frightful barrier, for Mr. Lanyon 

would have been far too proud to have 

married any woman dowered^ with such 

wealth as hers. But he was her equal, 

nay, in her humbleness, she said her 

superior. 

" And to think what we shall have — 

and to spare — for those that need ! If I 

have waited long for it, Happiness has 

come at last ! Ah, if he had not loved me ! 

what should I have become ; because I 

love him so well! Now there are two of 

us, but united — 

" 'All who joy would win 

Must share it — happiness was born a twin.' " 

As yet, Hester did not tell Esme, her 



THE THREE CURATES. 19 5 

dear old friend the Rector's wife must be 
the first to hear this great news ; but it 
was too new as yet — too sacred— it was her 
own to think over, and to cherish ; and 
with this last feeling of thankfulness, she 
closed her eves. 






l: 



o* 



CHAPTER XIII. 

After his meeting was over, Gerald 
Lanyon walked over to the Eectory. He 
felt, in spite of the general reserve of his 
nature, that he must have the sympathy of 
Lady Louisa and the joy of telling her his 
beautiful news. He found his old friend 
somewhat excited ; an open letter lay 
before her. 

"Oh, Gerald! there you are, just as I 
wanted you. My sister Laura and her 
daughter are anxious to come down here 
for a month, before they settle in town for 
the winter, for it appears Lady Laura's 
brother-in-law has died rather suddenly, 
but I am thankful to say has left her a nice 
little fortune, which, later on, will come to 
Pauline. I am so thankful — about the 



THE THREE C CRATES. 197 

money I mean! it lias been such a sad 
thing for Laura to be always cramped for 
means — it will so soften her, poor dear ! " 

"I am very glad for her sake," said he, 
kindly. 

i; But now, Gerald, where can I find 
rooms for them, with the servants they will 
bring ? " 

" Wait a little ! I think I can manage 
it. First, I have two distinct items of 
news to tell you. My dearest friend ! 
Hester has promised to be my wife." 

" Gerald ! I am thankful. She is the best 
and truest woman I know. You are made 
for each other ! God bless you both, my 
dears." And she drew down his face to her 
own level and affectionately kissed him. 
c; I will go over to-morrow and see 
her." 

' ; Ah, do ! dear godmother ! Now for my 
second item. I heard this evening, from my 



198 THE THREE CUEATES. 

uncle's confidential servant, that Sir Horace 
has had a fresh attack of illness, which has 
weakened him very seriously, and he is very 
anxious I should go and see him, and stay 
some little time. So, if the Eector will 
kindly spare me, I shall set off to-morrow, 
and Lady Laura can have the entire use of 
my cottage, with Mrs. Bayliss in command. 
You know, Lady Louisa, it is the first time 
since my poor cousin's death, that my uncle 
has even expressed a wish to see me. I 
expect he feels lonely, poor old man. I 
wall send most of my especial treasures 
over to you, or to Hester, and then the 
cottage can soon be made shipshape for 
your sister and niece, and should I require 
a shakedown here, I shall come to you, of 
course." 

" Your arrangement will do admi- 
rably, Gerald. I quite begin to see my 
way." 



THE THREE CURATES. 199 

" Very well. Till to-morrow, then, good 
night. I am going home to smoke the 
pipe of peace, and think over my new- 
found happiness." 

" My dear Laura," thought Lady Louisa, 
as the door closed on Gerald, " you are too 
late. The bird is flown, and the nest 
empty. Fancy my outwitting Laura ! " said 
she, aloud. 

" What is that about Laura ? " said the 
Eector, coming in. 

" Nothing ; only she wants a house here 
until Christopher Eidden's affairs are 
settled." 

Then she told him about Gerald, of his 
uncle's illness, and of his offer of the 
cottage, but nothing as yet of Hester. 

" I expect Sir Horace Lanyon will wish 
his nephew to stay with him for good. It 
is only natural. He is an old man, and 
not likely to live long." 



2C0 THE THREE CURATES. 

" But we shall miss Gerald, and, to put 
it mildly, my dear, his money. He has 
been most generous with it, and saved the 
funds a great deal. And about the Cottage 
Hospital ? It is a great responsibility. He 
has undertaken so much — he and Miss 
Higgins together, I mean — as regards the 
money." 

" Harry, they will be sure and see it 
well through. I know them both too well 
for that doubt ever to trouble me." 

" Well, my dear, you always were 
romantic, but I trust in this case your 
clear common sense will rule this prognos- 
tication." 

" I am sure of it." 

" Very well, _love. When does Lanyon 
wish to go ? " 

" To-morrow." 

" Of course he must," said the Sector, 
with a regretful sigh. "But just think, 



THE THREE CURATES. 20 L 

Louisa, of losing a curate with ei^lit 
hundred a year, who draws no salary, and 
works as hard as if he were paid for it/' 

" But you could not expect to keep him 
for ever, Harry. Why, he may be a 
bishop some day. It is quite on the cards. 
They always do, you know, choose men of 
position and means." 

There was no gainsaying anything Lady 
Louisa had put forth. So the Eector 
resigned himself to what he could not 
possibly alter. 

The next morning, Lady Louisa and 
Gerald drove over to the Towers. It was 
early morning, and the crisp frosty air 
was as yet untouched by the sun. Hester 
was surprised, but full of interest about 
Gerald's intended visit to Luscombe 
Manor. It was a fresh page in her new 
life. Then he told her about the ex- 
pected inmates of his cottage. 



202 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Oil, Gerald, it is your old love !" and a 
quick blush swept over her face. 

" Yes, but not my new love, or my true 
love. Will you not trust me, Hester ? " 

' Oh, yes ! pray forgive me." 

Lady Louisa stood by, but they took 
little heed of her, beyond including her in 
everything that concerned themselves. 

" My dear, I can answer for his love for 
you. Did I not hear his confession last 
night ? Pauline Cohen is an unknown 
personage, added to which that young 
lady has bestowed herself on young Yere, 
and is only waiting just a year of decency 
to marry him, much to my sister's vexa- 
tion, I must say, 5 ' said her ladyship, with 
a little laugh. 

" Dearest Hester," whispered he, " our 
time is brief, come into the conservatory, 
for a few last words." Esme discreetly 
carried off Lady Louisa to show her a new 



THE THREE CURATES. 203 

list of promised subscribers to the forth- 
coming cottage hospital. 

" Hester thinks of taking a house for 
six weeks or two months in London, Lady 
Louisa." 

" Well, dear, and a very nice plan too." 

" Rubinstein and some other great people 
are going to have some chamber concerts. 
You know we are both rather crazed on 
music, and do mean to enjoy it. I am long- 
ing for it." 

This plan had been mooted, and 
suggested, before Gerald Lanyon and 
Hester Higgins had made the great plan 
of their lives ; also Hester was actuated by 
another motive. She fancied if she with- 
drew Esme from the somewhat dangerous 
proximity of Mr. Dashwood's neighbour- 
hood, and gave Sir Ernest Beldon a 
standing invite to their house in town, it 
might bring matters to a climax. 



201 THE THREE C CRATES. 

Little Esme's eyes were sharp, if soft 
and pretty. She had her own ideas as 
to Hester's secret regard for the ugly 
curate, and she watched it maturing with 
affectionate interest, but like the wise little 
woman she was, like the discreet statue, 
she saw everything and said nothing, but 
she did not know as yet that her friend's 
affairs were settled. 

The conference over in the conservatory, 
Mr. Lanyon and Miss Higgins returned, 
both looking so beaming and radiant, that 
they could each say : — 

" My love doth so approve him, 
That even his stubbornness, his checks and frowns, 
Have grace and favour in them." 

And certainly Mr. Lanyon left with his 
heart, and face too, full of grace and favour. 

That evening, when the household had 
retired, Hester softlv entered Esme's room. 



THE THREE CURATES. 205 

The young girl was lying in her cosy nest, 
but wide awake, cogitating over her own 
affairs. The elder woman came, and sat 
at the foot of the bsd. 

' ; Esma, my Pygmalion has arrived at 
last ! and your Hester has entered her new 
life. Does it surprise you, love ? " 

" Xo, darling Hester, it does not surprise 
me ! but it pleases me greatly. I knew," 
she said, clapping her hands with triumph, 
' ; what it was coming to. My dear ! you 
and Mr. Lanyon look a great deal too 
happy to deceive anybody ! your humble 
servant included. Well, dear old Hester, 
you will have your staff to lean on " 

" Yes, but to make my happiness per- 
fect, some other dear little personage must 
have a staff as well. Think over it, 
darling, and God bless you." 

Lady Louisa was very happy ; she was 



206 THE THREE CURATES. 

charmed with her own skilful generalship, 
that had brought about such a desirable 
climax ! And the delightful part of it 
was, that no one knew anything about it 
(except perhaps little Esme Curtis). She 
quite enjoyed this little mystery. When it 
was common property, the edge would be 
taken off, but as yet it was all her own. 

But sooner than she imagined, she was 
to have a diplomatic victory. 

About a week after Gerald Lanyon's 
departure, Lady Laura came down as a 
sort of avant courier, for the joint com- 
pany of herself, daughter, and as many 
servants as the cottage would hold. 

The two sisters were comfortably sitting 
oyer their afternoon tea, in the pretty 
Rectory drawing-room. A log of wood was 
hissing and crackling with pleasant vehe- 
mence in the old-fashioned grate, in spite of 
the winter sun, shining with feeble, though 



THE THREE CURATES. 207 

genial effulgence into the room, lighting it 
up with gentle rays. Lady Louisa was 
occupied, as usual, with her knitting, her 
pretty white plump hands moving as 
swiftly as her thoughts. 

Lady Laura altogether looked more 
prosperous, and happier, than she had 
done for many a long day — she looked 
hopeful ! Her sister's cheerful and homely 
countenance, bore a look of subdued ex- 
citement, which rather puzzled the elder 
lady. 

" How very nice of Gerald Lanyon to 
lend us his cottage ! I hope we shall not 
put him about much ! " 

" Oh no ! I am sure you will not. In fact, 
I hardly expect he will want it again ! " 

" Xot want it again ? " 

" Xo ! Now Sir Horace has sent for him, 
I feel persuaded he will stay there ; the 
Hector quite thinks so." 



208 THE THREE CURATES. 

Lady Laura could hardly hide her 
chagrin. " I wanted him so to see Pauline, 
she is looking so pretty, all her good looks 
have come back, and who can say if they 
met ! He is in such a different position 
now! Sir Horace may die any day, and 
then ? " 

"Laura, I think you must put Gerald 
Lanyon out of all your calculations, matri- 
monial ones, certainly." 

" And why ! may I ask ? replied her 
sister coldly " 

" Because he is already engaged to be 
married." 

" What?" 

" Yes ! He is engaged to a very charming 
woman." 

" There, that will do ! Who is it ? " asked 
Lady Laura abruptly. 

" Miss Higgins ! " 

"Miss HiL r £fins! Then you knew it all 



THE THREE CURATES. 209 

along. I must say, Louisa, it was hardly 
sisterly, you allowed me to come clown 
under false pretences !" So then in her 
vexation Lady Laura divulged all her 
schemes, which the Eector's wife had per- 
fectly seen through, long ago. 

"Dear Laura! It was your wish, not 
mine, that you should come down to 
Langton, though I am always pleased to 
have you, and Pauline as well. But with 
regard to the cottage, it was quite optional 
your taking it." 

" Well, we certainly shall not require it 
for more than three weeks," said her lady- 
ship, ungraciously. '■ I expect Pauline 
will be bored to death as it is, as she cou'd 
not understand why I wanted to bury us 
both down here." 

" Laura dear," said her sister affection- 
ately, laying her kind gentle hand on her 
sister's shoulder. " Let Pauline be happy 

VOL. I. 14 



210 THE THREE CURATES. 

in her own way, don't scheme any more for 
her ; you know she really loves young 
Vere. He is well off, true he is not titled, 
but what does that signify ? I feel sure 
they will be happy. I think so much of 
Pauline's future character will depend upon 
her happiness. Nay, love," she added, with 
a smile, " I fancy she will settle the matter 
for herself, just as my pair of lovers have 
done." 

"It does not seem right, or just," said 
Lady Laura, after she had digested the very 
unpleasant pill her sister had prepared for 
her, " that so much wealth should go to- 
gether, it ought to be divided." 

"I am sure, Laura, both Miss Higgins 
and Ml\ Lanyon are the best people in 
the world to have wealth. They have such 
high and noble thoughts. It is quite 
delightful to hear them talk." 

" So, you have been helping on these 



THE THREE CURATES. 211 

affairs," said Lady Laura, sharply. "I 
daresay you think you are very clever." 

" Oh, no, Laura," said her sister, colour- 
ing under the unpleasant scrutiny. " I am 
only so glad to think they are happy." 

" I should have thought at your age you 
would have left off romance." 

"Yes, dear! But not the pleasure of 
seeing others- happy." 

Then the Eector came in, accompanied 
by Mr. Blythe, and nobody could be sulky 
in their presence. The Eector with his 
cheery, straight-to-the-point pleasant ways, 
and Percy Blythe, with his gay, good 
humour. So she gradually recovered her 
serenity, and began to reconcile herself to 
the inevitable marriage, which she knew 
would take place with (or without) her 
consent. And thus Gerald Lanyon was 
relegated to the limbo of forgotten things. 
He interested her no more. 

14* 



212 THE THREE CURATES. 

"Lady Louisa, when docs Mrs. Grantley 
return ? " 

"Oh, not just yet, I believe. We ought 
not to complain, considering how much 
of her time and company she gives to us 
country people." 

" No, indeed," replied Mr. Blytlie, " only 
one misses her bright presence and pretty 
ways." 

" She is a dear little woman," said the 
Eector. 

I can't think whatever her brother 
does without her," said his wife. 

"I hear he spends most of his time 
catching insects or beetles, or something 
unpleasant," said Lady Laura. 

" My dear sister, allow me to tell you 
he has a very valuable collection of 
moths," corrected the Eector. 

" Well, I hope he will keep them. I 
do not wonder his sister occasionally re_ 



THE THREE CURATES. 213 

quiring to get out of such a stuffy atmos- 
phere — camphor, and laudanum, and other 
poisons, isn't it ? " 

"I really can't say," said the Eector, 
laughing. " I do not collect or preserve 
such things myself, but I daresay it is a 
very interesting study." 

" Very," said her ladyship, sarcastically, 
" going out at night, treacling the trees, 
and armed with a lantern and a net." 

" I think, my dear, the treacling is done 
in the day, ready for the moths at night. 
But, as I observed before, I am not sure of 
anything." 

" Mr. Blythe, I hope you will come and 
see us when we get settled at the cottage." 

" I shall be only too pleased, Lady Laura. 
Can I help in any way ? " 

" Well, I should not be surprised ! 
When you are off duty, you might come 
and see." 



2H THE THEEE CURATES. 

" Most certainly I will ! But as I am on 
duty now (there is the even-song bell), I 
will say good-bye." 

And very soon the Eector went out for 
his last round, previous to dinner, but the 
' Topic ' was no more resumed between 
the sisters. 






CHAPTER XIV. 

Miss Higgixs did take a house in town, and 
she with Esme and the household trans- 
ferred themselves to Connaught Terrace, 
Hyde Park, and the two ladies thoroughly 
enjoyed it. Sir Ernest Beldon was their 
willing escort to all places of amusement. 
They even tempted the Piector and Lady 
Louisa to come up to them for a few days, 
and enjoy the pomps and vanities of this 
pleasant, if sinful, world. Of Gerald Lanyon, 
Hester had almost daily accounts, so that 
there was no drawback to her happiness. 
All her thoughts were concentrated upon 
the question of Esme's. She saw day by 
day that Ernest Beldon was gaining ground 
but she used no persuasion to her child — 
she let things take their course. 



216 THE THREE CUEATES. 

" Esme ! would you not like to ride in 
the Fark every now and then ? " 

" I should, Hester, but I don't think old 
Brownie would cut much of a figure in the 
Bow." 

" Xo, indeed ! " said Hester, laughing 
heartily, as the fat, plethoric Brownie, com- 
fortably turned out to grass at home, pre- 
sented himself to her mind. " Xo ! we must 
have a nice horse for you, dear. I will 
speak to Ernest Beldon about it. Men 
know all about these things so much better 
than women. He will be sure to look in 
this morning." 

As they were yet speaking of him, he 
was announced. 

" We were just talking about you, Ernest," 
said Hester. 

" Indeed, Miss Higgins ! It is pleasant 
hearing." 

" Yes. I want Esme to ride, as well as 



THE THREE CURATES. 217 

drive, in the Park. But she must have a 
horse. Something very nice, for my little 
woman.''' And she looked affectionately at 
Esme, as she stood gazing out of the 
window, and Ernest looked too, with eyes 
as much full of love as Hester's — too full, 
for Esme turned her head, but not before 
Sir Ernest had seen a little tell-tale blush. 

"I will look in at Tattersall's, they 
are sure to have something suitable 
there ; you may depend upon it I will 
do my best.'"' 

" Don't stand out for price, Ernest, let it 
be as perfect as can be. I am going this 
morning to have her measured for her new 
habit." 

" Well then, by the time the habit is 
ready, the steed will be likewise. By the 
bye, the Willises are in town, and are 
coming to call upon you. Shall you be a 
home this afternoon ? " 



218 THE THREE CURATES. 

" I will be, certainly ! How is your 
sister, Ernest? " 

" Much better for her German course of 
waters. It seems quite a fashionable com- 
plaint, this youthful rheumatism ! Hortense 
is not eight-and-twenty. What business has 
she, and other young women of her age, 
with such an ancient complaint ? I believe 
it is nothing in the world but that they want 
to have a nice little course of gambling at 
the tables, and a slight attack of these ail- 
ments is a convenient peg to hang a journey 
upon." 

" Well, but, Sir Ernest, we have been 
there at different times without the 
rheumatism, and without the gambling," 
said Esme from her place at the window. 

" I only said, fair lady, that many young 
women do make it a pretence." 

" Ah ! they have husbands, no doubt," 
said she saucily, " and perhaps they 



THE THREE CUKATES. 219 

would not take them otherwise. Some men 
like to go alone." 

" They must be Goths then ! I hate 
it ! What commands for to-night, Miss 
Higofins ? " 

CO 

" Dinner at seven, ' Ours ' at the Hay- 
market at eight-thirty. 

" Do let us see it all, Hester ! I am 
so anxious to see the Bancrofts in it! I 
would not miss a scrap ! " 

"That is why I have ordered dinner 
earlier, dear." 

" Well, ladies, adieu ! no, au revoir until 
seven o'clock. I shall go to Tattersall's 
now and let you know the result to-night. 
Get your habit all ready, Miss Esme, or / 
should say under way/' 

She nodded her head, and he departed. 

" Put your things on, dear," said Miss 
Higgins, " I have ordered the carriage for 
twelve, it is ten minutes to now." 



220 THE THREE CURATES. 

Esme left with her little pug " Prince," a 
gift of Sir Ernest, hugged in her arms. The 
door had hardly closed upon her, and 
Hester, for the second time that morning, 
was absorbed in a long letter from Gerald 
Lanyon. It was a letter that made her 
feel the years roll by, and that she was a 
young girl again, looking forward with the 
perfect conviction that life was a beautiful 
reality. 

" Mr. Dashwood ! " announced the foot- 
man. With a sigh Hester came back to 
earth. But being so very happy herself, 
she received him with more graciousness 
than was her wont. 

" I did not know you were in -town, Mr. 
Dashwood ? " 

" I had some business on hand, and that 
brought me up." 

There was none of the usual stiff hauteur 
about Miss Higgins, on the contrary, 



THE TflKEE CURATES. 221 

there was a brightness, a graciousness 
which he thought (and hoped) must be in 
some way occasioned by himself. So he 
felt a fresh wave of confidence. He had 
been considered so irresistible, he was so 
undeniably handsome ; his clothes the very 
perfection of perfect tailoring, and his 
figure faultless ! And it would be almost 
impossible that he should not succeed with 
this cold and haughty personage, though 
to-dav she looked almost good-looking ! 
and certainly more amiable than he had 
ever seen her. 

" Miss Higgins ! I have come on an 
errand of deep interest" ("Esme," thought 
Hester). " Can you not guess it ? " 

" I conclude I can, Mr. Dash wood. 
But I fancy, you will find — you are — too 
late ! " 

" Too, late ! Dearest Miss Higgins ! 
nay, let me say at once, dear Hester ! 



222 THE THREE CURATES. 

do not use these wretched words" (and 
he seized her hand tightly) " You have 
been my load-star my — " 

" Are you referring to me, sir ! by using 
this extraordinary language ! " she cried, 
struggling angrily to release her hand. 

" You, and you alone, Hester ! " 

" Then pray understand, most distinctly, 
that I consider your pretensions to my 
hand a positive insult ! " 

" An insult ! Miss Higgins ! " he ex- 
claimed with rising colour. " If a man 
makes an honourable proposal to a woman, 
you must excuse me, if I fail to see the 
insult." 

''Nevertheless, I maintain it is an in- 
sult ! and a degrading one. For nearly 
two years have you, in season and out of 
season, been assiduously courting, Miss 
Curtis, working on the tender innocent 
heart of my young ward, until she loved 



THE THBEE CURATES. 223 

you. And now you dare come to me, 
with your stereotyped arguments of love, 
forsooth. But let me just say, before the 
subject of Miss Curtis is dismissed, that I 
have every hope that she has, at last, 
found an object worthy of her generous 
heart." 

" You are very much mistaken ! " he 
answered, perfectly unaware that Esme, 
who had just crossed the threshold, stood, 
holding back the heavy portiere, in blank 
amazement, and at a sign from Hester, 
remained there. 

''Xo, sir! I am not mistaken! And I 
must frankly add, I despise you thoroughly! 
And even had my hand been at my own 
disposal, which it is not, you can hardly 
imagine I should bestow it on one who, to 
my own knowledge, has long since given 
his heart to another woman ! " 

"But, believe me Miss Higgins, it was 



224 THE THREE CURATES. 

only a man's passing fancy, a liking for a 
pretty child, for she is but a child still." 

" Child or no child ! The good, honour- 
able man who seeks her 'for herself (and 
one has I believe already won her heart), 
will not receive her empty-handed, for on 
the day she marries with my consent, she 
receives, as her marriage dot, eight 
thousand pounds ! And now, I must 
request you to retire. I have an imme- 
diate enlargement." Then she rose to her 
full height, and pointed to the door. 

Finding her face set against him, im- 
movable, and severe as a sphinx, there was 
nothing left for him, but to pick up his 
soft felt hat, and turn to go — worsted in 
every way ! — when to his horrified discom- 
fiture, he saw Esme standing in the 
doorway ! pale, and scornful. The soft 
face that had always turned with such 
looks of love to him, was now stiffened 



THK THREE CURATES. 225 

into disdain. He rushed past her, his 
handsome face distorted with rage ; he tore 
down the staircase, snatched his umbrella 
from the hall-porter, and hardly waited for 
that functionary to open the door. He 
flew into the street ! " Fool ! fool ! that I 
have been ! Pursuing the shadow, and 
losing the substance. And Esme has eisht 
thousand pounds ! " Yes ! there was the 
sting ! The girl he had loved in his selfish 
way, was not after all, a penniless orphan ! 
"It is that fiend of a woman! — that 
Quack's daughter, who is at the bottom 
of all this ! And Esme ! Esme ! I have 
lost you, for you must have heard all ! " 
And as the Be v. Cyril Dash wood flew 
along the road, his face* was not pleasant 
to behold. 

* * * * * 

" Esme ! Do you see that man in his 
true colours, at last? His mean sordid 
vol. I. lo 



226 THE THREE CURATES. 

soul ! Oh my dear ! I do feel thankful 
that you had not bestowed yourself upon 
him. He would always have been hanker- 
ing after my riches, if even he had 
married you." 

"And yet, I think he did love me 
once ! " 

" Doubtless, you think so, but the 
person he loved, was the Eeverend Cyril 
Dashwood." 

" Yes, I fear so. Well ! " said the girl 
with some sadness, " this interview which 
I unwillingly assisted at, has opened my 
eyes as to his character, and for the future 
I shall dismiss him from my thoughts. I 
feel sorry Hester ! It is always hard to 
take down your gods from the pedestal, 
perhaps we put them up too high. Who 
knows ? " 

" Good gracious ! Esme, those poor 
horses have been standing twenty minutes ! 



THE THREE CURATES. 227 

Old Charles will look untold reproaches ! 
I must fly, and put my bonnet on." 

Miss Higgins' toilets were always rapid, 
and in a very few moments the two ladies 
were out, on business intent ; and when they 
returned, an hour-and-a-half later, Esme 
looked as bright and as bonnie as if no 
such things as lovers ever troubled her. 

After lunch, Hester put her arm round 
Esme. " Dearest, put on the pale blue 
velvet dress, with the chinchilla trimming, 
it suits you so well. I want you to look 
very nice this afternoon." 

" Hester, you are always thinking how 1 
look. I shall take you in hand, and see 
how you look." 

" So you shall, dear." 

" Well, what are you going to wear ? " 

" Oh, I don't know ! Whatever Justine 
puts out." 

"That is exactly what I expected." 

15* 



228 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Well, dear, ugly people should always 
dress quietly, and Justine generally puts me 
into black, you know, it is so safe." 

" Safe, indeed ! But you cant blame 
Justine. When she does try ' an elegant 
confection,' as she calls it, you hardly ob- 
serve it ; and put it on with the same 
indifference you do those ugly, black 
gowns you live in ! Certainly ! I must 
take you in hand, dear old Hester ! 
You do want brightening up. Not 
your face, dear, that is sweet, but you 
must have some new gowns, which / 
shall see about." 

" So you shall, dear ! whenever you like." 
She would have promised anything, seeing 
the bright gay face, and manner of the 
young girl. She had been fearful, that 
that horrid interview in the morning, 
might have left lingering pain. But the 
fact was, Esme's love for Cyril Dashwood 



THE THREE CURATES. 229 

had died a natural death ; it had died hard 
for want of nourishment, but it had died ; 
and his barefaced repudiation of her love 
that morning, had given it the coup de 
grace. And some one else, she would 
hardly confess it, even to herself, had already 
filled the vacant niche, and another god 
reigned in his stead. She was going to 
the theatre that night. She was to have a 
new habit, and last, but not least, a 
beautiful horse. Under all these circum- 
stances, could any girl be sad ? Certainly 
not! and she — she felt happy. So she 
tripped up to her room to don the blue 
velvet ; and by-and-by came down, look- 
ing so piquant, and so lovely, that Hester 
was fain to take the little mignon face 
between her hands, and kiss it fondly. 

" I suppose now I must repair the 
ravages of the day, and make myself pre- 
sentable ? " 



230 THE THREE CURATES. 

" That you must, dear ! " 

" Sir Ernest Beldon ! " 

" Miss Higgins, you must think I am a 
regular Jack-in-the-box, I am for ever 
turning up unexpectedly. But I have seen 
such a charming horse — suit you down to 
the ground, Miss Esme." 

"What colour is it?" said Esme, 
eagerly. 

" Chesnut ! and it has a white star on 
its forehead." 

" Has it a name ? " 

" It has. The ' Duke/ at your service ! 
It will come round to-morrow, for you 
to see ; it has been ridden by a lady, and is 
very gentle, but I shall ride it myself first, 
and try it well." 

" Thanks, dear Ernest, for your trouble," 
said llester, well pleased. " Excuse me for a 
few moments, Esme will take care of you ! '' 



THE THREE CURATES. 231 

" I wish you only would, Miss Esme," 
said he, turning round as Miss Higgins 
closed the door behind her, and looking 
eagerly at the lovely face. 

" Would what ? " 

" Take care of me ! " 

" If there is anyone able to take care of 
themselves, it is Sir Ernest Beldon." 

" Indeed not ! I have very serious 
thoughts of going out to the Zulu war." 

" To the wars ? " said she, a trifle pale. 

" Yes ! You see if I am not wanted in 
England, I may be useful out there." 

" But, who does not want you in Eng- 
land?" 

"You, for one! " 

" Oh, Sir Ernest ! how can you say 
so?" 

" Well, shall I stay ? or go ? " 

" But it is not for me to decide." 

" But it is ! It is c ves ' or ' no '— onlv if I 



232 THE THREE CURATES. 

stay you will have to take charge of me, or 
I shall be off, most certainly." 

"But I can't decide all in a hurry like 
this ! " 

"•Well! which side will the voting he? 
To go or to stay ? " 

" I suppose — you — must stay ; but I 
shall not decide to-day ! " she cried, and 
jumping away out of his reach, her face 
wreathed in saucy smiles. She knew her 
power only too well. 

" You might put a fellow out of his 
misery ! " 

" No ! I do not at all see the necessity 
for that ; it is so good for you morally 
not to have everything your own way. I 
know when I was a small chit at school, 
this admirable precept was well drummed 
into my head." 

" Well I do not mean to have it drummed 
into my heart, anyway ! I have been wait- 



THE THEEE CURATES. 233 

ing over a year ! — two years, I know ! — that 
is long enough in all conscience." 

" Sir Ernest, excuse me, that is a 
fiction ! " 

" It is a fact, Miss Esme. Will you pro- 
mise without fail to make up your mind to- 
night ? " 

" I will try, but really " 

" Sir Percy and Lady Willis ! " 

" Ernest ! " 

" Hortense ! " 

" Why, Ernest ! we thought you were at 
Heminglee." 

" I was there, my dear sister, but a man 
is not a fixture, like a tree ! " 

" Evidently ! But where is Miss Higgins ? 
Oh, here she is ! " as the door opened to 
admit Hester. " How well you are look- 
ing ! and Miss Curtis, too ; a vast improve- 
ment on what you were w r hen I saw you at 
Homberg last year ! Do you remember ? 



234 THE THREE CURATES. 

Mr. and Mrs. Cohen and the Mountchesnys 
were there? " 

" Yes, indeed ! There have been changes 
since that. I hear the poor man is dead 
now, and died quite poor, comparatively 
speaking." 

' ; Yes, that American house let him in 
for a lot." 

" I suppose Mrs. Cohen is very badly 
off?" 

" Oh no ! " continued Sir Ernest, " by no 
means ; she has a very comfortable little 
settlement." 

" Ernest ! " whispered his sister, " how 
did you know we should be calling here 
to-day ? " 

" Because, my dear ! your letter an- 
nounced that fact. It was forwarded to 
the club, and reached me this morning." 

" Isn't there some attraction ? Eh ! 
Ernie?" 



THE THREE CURATES. 235 

"Peut-etre" 

" She will make a lovely Lady Beldon. 
I will say that." 

Her brother gave her an affectionate 
little glance. She was his elder by three 
years, and deeply attached to him. 

" Is it quite settled ? " 

" No ; but I hope soon to tell you that 
it is." 

" I expect you are glad to be home 
again ? " said Hester to Sir Percy, who was 
a great, hearty, good-natured man, who 
infinitely preferred his turnips and his 
stock to all the attractions of foreign travel. 

" That I am ! It's my lady here who 
likes all this racketing, not me. But I am 
in time for the hunting — that's one com- 
fort ! " 

" I tell Percy he is getting too heavy, look 
at the weight he will be ! I don't believe 
he will have a horse fit to carry him." 



236 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Oh yes, my lady ! I have taken care 
of that, never fear ! " 

" You know, Percy ! I did my best 
to help you, if you only would have 
gone in for a good course of the waters ! " 

" Beastly mess I was ! well ! why should 
I make myself ill ? I'm right enough," 
said he heartily. " And you know, Miss 
Higgins, my lady, in spite of the waters, 
and looking like a wax doll, can go across 
country like a bird." 

" That she can" said her brother. I 
remember where she caught you up ! Eh, 
Willis? and half pulled you out of the 
brook." 

" That's true ! " said Sir Percy, laughing 
heartily at the recollection. " That beast 
of mine pitched me clean overhead, into 
the dirtiest quagmire you ever saw, while 
my lady took it as neat as a new pin. By- 
the-by, I want a fresh mount for your 



THE THREE CUKATES. 237 

sister. Have you seen anything likely to 
suit Hortense ? " 

" I saw several this morning at Tatter- 
sail's. I am looking out for Miss Higgins, 
who is wanting one for Miss Curtis. Come 
round there by eleven to-morrow morning, 
there's a sale on, and we can look them 
over — earlier if you can, I am due here 
at twelve." 

Very soon afterwards the friends sepa- 
rated. 

And when Esme was dressing for dinner, 
a bouquet arrived for her, composed of 
delicate roses, but in the centre was a sprig 
of white heather, the emblem of good luck. 
She knew then her fate was decided, so 
with a smile she put the heather in her 
dress ! Hester saw it, but made no com- 
ment. She thought things had nearly 
reached their happy climax, so she would 
wait, it could not be for long. 



238 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Dinner is served ! " 

"Has Sir Ernest Beldon arrived, 
Lloyd?" 

" Yes, Ma'm. He is " 

" Here I am, Miss Higgins ! only a 
minute behind time ! " 

"We are punctual to a minute, you 
see." 

He eagerly looked at Esme, who rose 
from her seat by the fire. Was it the fire- 
light, or something else, that sent such a 
lovely colour over her face ? He saw the 
white heather. " Thank you my darling ! " 
he stooped and whispered low, and then 
gave his arm to Miss Higgins. 

Lloyd was stolidly holding the door, 
apparently gazing into vacancy, waiting 
with decorous patience for his mistress' 
pleasure. Did he guess ? — they always 
do find out everything. I think so. 

The charming little dinner was over, 



THE THREE CURATES. 239 

and the carriage at the door ! Hester 
fancied she had forgotten something ! so 
left Ernest and Esme in the drawing-room, 
he held the soft white wrap, and as he put 
it round her, he kissed the soft face. " Ah, 
Esme, you are a little tyrant, you have 
kept me waiting long enough, but you are 
worth the waiting for." 

" The fact is, I thought on the whole it 
would not do to let you go off to the 
wars. So if you still think of going, I had 
better accompany you ! " 

" Then I must stay at home, if only to 
look after you. Do give me one kiss, 
Esme, before we start ! " 

" Just one, then ! " and she stood on tip- 
toe, and daintily raised herself to his 
height. He held her prisoner. 

" Do you really love me, Esme ? " 

"Beally! Ernest. Yes ! But you are 
annihilating my dress ! I shall look like 



240 THE THREE CURATES. 

an old rag bag. Now, sir ! If you will let 
me go, I will give you one of my lovely 
roses ! " 

" I would quite as soon have these close 
at hand," said he, touching her cheek, and 
giving her one more embrace, let her 
go. " Now for the white rose, and then 
put it in my coat, Esme. Here is Miss 
Hiorgins ! " 

" Here is one for you Hester ! darling," 
and she pinned one in her friend's dress, 
and kissed her with unwonted affection. 
And then Hester knew it was accom- 
plished. 

" Let me speak to you, Ernest, before 
you go to-night, after our return from the 
play." 

•- "I intended to ask your ' Highness ' for 
an audience ! " said he to Hester as they 
descended the stairs. " I have much to 
tell you ! " 



THE THREE CURATES. 241 

" I am so glad, dear friend ! for you and 
for her ! " 

" You are the truest friend a man could 
ever have," he answered, much moved. 

It was late when they came from the 
play. They went into the dining-room, 
where a cheerful fire awaited them, as 
well as some substantial refreshment. 

" Now, Miss Esme, you will be pleased 
to remember your gay wings will very 
shortly be clipped. My home wants a 
mistress. I will give you two months, not 
a moment more." 

"But really, dear Ernest, I could not 
leave my dear Hester in that hurry ! 
Indeed, I could not." 

"What is that about, Hester ? " said that 
lady returning to the room. 

"Why it is just this, Miss Iliggins. 
This small personage, after promising to 
vol. i. 16 



242 THE THREE CURATES. 

be my wife, declines to be married, and 
does not in the least care how badly I 
fare at home." 

" Oh ! How can you say such things ? " 
said Esme, colouring up prettily. " He 
insisted upon my having him, Hester — 
indeed he did, and yet, how can I 
leave you, darling ? " 

" Esme, dearest, } r ou have made me 

perfectly happy. I do think we women 

want a staff to lean on. (I believe I 

have made that observation before," 

she said, with a merry little aside 

to Esme), "and I like your staff 

dear." She held out her hand to Ernest, 

who warmly grasped it with both his, 

and with her other arm she encircled 

Esme. 

" You will cherish my dear child ? " 

"That I will," he replied, with affec- 
tionate earnestness. 



THE THREE CURATES. 243 

And who could doubt it ? as they looked 
on the kind, honest face, so frank and open, 
so true and kind. 

" And now, if you please, Miss Esme, you 
will be so good as to take your supper, and 
then retire to bed, not because you have 
been naughty, but because you have been 
good. I want to talk over a little business 
with Ernest. You won't be jealous, eh, 
darling ? " said Miss Higgins, laughingly. 

" Oh, Hester ! you are a teaze ! " So 
after the supper things had been removed, 
and the dignified Lloyd had placed the 
candles outside the dining-room door, in 
readiness for their respective owners, and 
finally disappeared for the night, Ernest 
lighted Esme's candle, and gave her a very 
hearty kiss. 

" Eemember, sweetheart, ' The Duke' will 
be round at twelve for your inspection, to- 
morrow." 

16* 



214 THE THREE CURATES. 

The bright young face nodded gaily, 
and when she reached the first landing, 
she detached the flowers from her bodice, 
and pelted him gaily. lie carefully col- 
lected all the scattered blossoms, and 
placed them reverently in the breast pocket 
of his coat. 

" Oh, love ! young love ! bound in thy rosy band, 
Let sage or cynic prattle as he will, 
These hours, and only these, redeem life's years 
of ill ! " 

" The Duke " made his appearance at 
twelve, accompanied by his attendant, Sir 
Ernest Beldon, and Sir Percy Willis. He 
was trotted up and down for the inspec- 
tion of his future mistress, and both ladies 
pronounced him simply charming, which, 
indeed, was only his fair due. His glossy 
skin shone like satin, his dainty limbs, 
nervous, yet strong, while his beautiful 
head and soft dark eyes completed his 
victory. 



THE THREE CURATES. 245 

" That's about as pretty a bit of horse- 
flesh as I've seen this many a long day," 
said Sir Percy, who had come up -stairs 
to the ladies. " I have found something , 
for Hortense, but my lady's won't come up 
to that, it isn't the same long price, though, 
for one thing, not that it's a bad mount — 
but Beldon wants to know what you 
think of ' The Duke ' ladies." 

" Oh, he is lovely ! Sir Perc} T ," said Esme, 
almost trembling with eagerness. "Do 
ask Sir Ernest when I can ride him." 

" To-morrow, young lady " said the 
young man, in person, running up the 
stairs, to hear what his betrothed had to 
say. " How do you like my taste, or 
rather choice ? " 

" Oh, Ernest ! he is simply a darling ! I 
long to kiss him." 

" Kiss me instead ! I can kiss him, after- 
wards, it will be all ihe same ! " 



246 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Pardon me ! It will be quite differ- 
ent. I want to make love to him on 
my own account, so that he will love me, 
do you see ? " 

" Well you might just make acquaint- 
ance on the doorstep. They tell me, he 
loves little golden pippins, but is particular 
about the right sort ! " 

" I believe we have some left from 
dessert ! " And down she ran to find out. 

" Excuse me, Miss Higgins ! " said Sir 
Ernest, as he too disappeared. 

Both Sir Percy and Miss Higgins 
laughed. 

" Ernest informs me he is coming round 
to our hotel, this afternoon, to tell us some 
news ! It strikes me, I can guess it ! " 
And Sir Percy chuckled at his own 
discernment. 

" I expect you can. As we are on the 
subject, I wish you to be one of Esme's 



THE THREE CUEATES. 247 

trustees. I told Ernest I should settle 
eight thousand pounds as her marriage 
portion." 

" You are most generous, Miss 
Higgins ! " 

" Her love, has been beyond price. You 
cannot understand how lonely a woman 
may be, even with wealth." 

" Well, no. Wealth always seems to me 
one of the nicest acquaintances you can 
well have. Perhaps, because I have not 
seen too much of him." 

" Here come our ' children,' " said he as 
the two young people — breathless, but 
happy — came into the room." 

"Oh, Hester! He did enjoy the apples. 
And I did kiss his soft nose ! Charles quite 
appreciates him. He says, he won't be 
ashamed to take me out in the park now." 

" He will not very often have that privi- 
lege ! " said Sir Ernest, stiffly. 



248 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Charles is a clear old thing ! only 
grumpy," said Esme. 

" Well, Ernest ! are you going back to 
lunch with your sister ? or what are your 
arrangements ?" 

" I will go with you. I have told the 
man to take ' The Duke ' round to your 
stables, Miss Higgins. Old Charles, your 
amiable functionary, has condescended to 
see to his comfort." 

" Thank you, Ernest," said Miss Higgins, 
with a smile. " We will go round this 
afternoon, and hurry the tailor about 
Esme's habit. And, Sir Percy ! will you 
bring your wife round to lunch with me 
to-morrow ? but I want you very early, 
because the two impatient young people 
will wish to be off for their ride ! And I — 
well I want to see them set off, and we 
might drive for an hour, if that will be 
agreeable." 



THE THEEE CURATES. 249 

" If my lady has not made any other 
engagement, 1 shall be very pleased to 
bring her." 

" 1 shall make her break them, if she 
has," said the young baronet gaily. 

He spoke with the airy confidence of 
one who generally has his own way with 
women folk, especially his own. 

" We shall be round, never fear, at 
twelve o'clock. A bientot cherie" 

" Good-bye, Ernest, dear." 

" I can't think which of my pets I 
shall love the best, the ' Prince,' or the 
'Duke'! " said she. mischievously ignoring 
his farewell. 

" As long as you keep a large supply 
for me, you can do as you like about 
them. I shall not be jealous." 

" Oh, Hester! what a dear darling you are. 
I am so happy ! My very own mother could 
not have been more tender or generous. 



250 THE THEEE CURATES. 

" Then, I am repaid. Nay, love ! we 
have both cause for deep gratitude. Our 
lines have been cast in pleasant places." 

" Now dear, we must really ' to busi- 
ness/ there will be all your trousseau to 
see about ; we must have Justine into the 
conclave, she knows so much. And after 
we have been about your habit, we might 
begin this afternoon ! " 

And, there we will leave them for the 
present, deeply intent on the business in 
hand. 

" I cannot help feeling, Ernest, the more 
one sees of Miss Higgins the more one 
realises her heart is of gold. She is a 
noble woman," said his sister, as they sat 
chatting after lunch. " I am so glad, 
dear boy ! you will be happy. Your Esme 
is the sweetest, prettiest little creature I 



THE TIIKEE CUKATES. 251 

have ever seen ! and having lived in the 
atmosphere of goodness and honour nearly 
all her life, she will be free from the hateful 
blemishes of the ' society girls,' with their 
slang, their forwardness, their 'awfully nice, 
don't you know.' They are all made on one 
pattern, if there is anything to say in their 
favour. They are just a peg higher than 
the ' Mashers,' for they do say what they 
think, and those inane youths of the period 
generally cant think, and consequently 
have nothing to say." 

" Upon my word, Hortense , 3 t ou seem 
to be qualifying yourself to sit in the seat 
of the scornful, and no mistake ! What say 
you, Percy? Laying down the law, eh? " 

" Oh," said Sir Percy, puffing out little 
wreaths of smoke from his cigar, " I 
always give my lady her head. There's 
nothing like it ; after she has let off the 
steam, she is as mild as a moonbeam ! " 



252 THE THREE CURATES. 

" Don't talk such nonsense, Percy ! I 
have heard you say the same thing 
yourself! " 

" Then don't quote me, my dear, let it 
be all original matter, when you do hold 
forth." 

" I think it is this," said Sir Ernest, 
thoughtfully, " These young fellows are 
nearly all young — not cut their wisdom 
teeth ! But, I feel sure, if these same boys 
were left to rough it, say out in the wilds, 
or in the thick of war, all these borrowed 
airs and graces would drop off them like a 
rasrged raiment ! and we should have the 

DO 

genuine article — the pluck, the endurance, 
the making-the-best-of all difficulties, such 
as English fellows always show — the 
pride and glory of their country! She 
has turned them out by hundreds ! thou- 
sands ! " 

" Hear, hear ! " said Sir Percv, " that's 



THE THREE CURATES. 253 

it ! that's what we expect of our boy, eh, 
Hortense ? when he grows up ; poor little 
chap, he is learning it by doses at the 
county Grammar School." 

" Dear child ! he is just ten now, and so 
sweet ! " said his mother. 

"Mind he gets out for my wedding, 
Hortense ! I should not think it a fait 
accompli without Phil." 

"He shall come, dear!" said Lady 
Willis brightly. " When is the wedding 
to be?" 

" Oh, about February." 
" Losing no time, youn^f man ! " 
" Certainly not ! Xow you and Hor- 
tense have forsaken Heminglee — it is 
horrible ! and I am not so fond of my own 
company as some people. Hortense, do be 
in time to-morrow at Connaught Terrace, 
I know Miss Higgins wants to show off 
Esme on 'The Duke.'" 



254 THE THREE CUEATES. 

" How much did you give for him ? " 
asked Sir Percy. 

" Oh, never mind ! it is a present I mean 
to make her." 

" We will come, dear ! " said his sister 
affectionately. 

" Thanks, Hortense. By-the-bye, when 
you write to Phil, give him this tip from 
uncle Ernest," and he put a sovereign into 
her hand. 

" Thanh you, Ernest, for thinking of 
Phil. He will be pleased ! " 

" I should rather think so ! When I was 
a boy half-a- crown was considered a very 
handsome douceur. Boys and girls are all 
spoilt now-a-days," said Sir Percy. 

" Never mind ! they will take it out in 
the next generation ! and if we only live 
we shall see our grandchildren marvels of 
propriety ! " 

" I think very proper children are 



THE THEEE CURATES. 255 

deceitful," said Lady Willis, in answer to 
her brother. 

"Ha! ha!" laughed Sir Percy. " Our 
boy is rascal enough, I can answer for that. 
He certainly is not proper." 



END OF VOLUME I. 



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