L I E> RAHY
U N IVLRSITY
THE THREE CURATES.
THE THREE CURATES
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.
F. V. WHITE & CO.,
31, SOUTHAMPTON STREET, STRAND.
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010 with funding from
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
THE THREE CURATES
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
2 THE THREE CURATES.
butter, eggs and other produce. This
place was clean, cool and draughty and
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
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
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
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
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
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-
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.
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
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
" Quite right, too. Those women are
" 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
" 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
" 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
" 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-
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-
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
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
" After tea, you fellows, if you will, can
do me a service ! "
" With pleasure, Lanyon. What is
"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
" But suppose they are business ones ? "
said Percy, to whom it seemed almost a
" 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-
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-
" 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-
" 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
" 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-
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-
" 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
" Combe Towers,
" 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
" 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-
" 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
" Here's another parcel ! A very hand-
some birthday book, with some lovely
"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
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-
"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
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
" 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
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.
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
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-
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
" 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
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
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
" Thank you ; I heard from Lady Louisa
40 THE THREE CURATES.
" Indeed! The Rector could hardly have
She made no reply, so he began again :
" But he does want you to become one
of the lady patronesses at the cottage
" 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-
" 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-
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
;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
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
" Then why does he not ? You love him,
" 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
" 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
" 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
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
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
" 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
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.
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
" 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
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-
" Don't joke about it, Lina dear, it is too
" 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
" 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.
" 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
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
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
A quick, hot blush spread over his face,
he understood her meaning.
" I will try ! " he answered presently.
THE THREE CURATES. 67
Pauline came in looking brighter, and
her dark eyes smiling with expectant plea-
" 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
" 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
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 ! "
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
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-
" 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
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
" 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
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
" 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
"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
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
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
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
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
" 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
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
" 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
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
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
" 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
" 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
" 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.
" 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."
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
" 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
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
" 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
" 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-
" 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
" 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-
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
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.
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
" 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
" 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
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
" 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
" Do please come, Miss Higgins ! I want
you to see Hawkins' contribution, on } T our
" 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
" 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
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
" 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 ?
" 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
" My dear Louie, you are getting poeti-
cal? I am practical! Introduce me to
"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
" Did you not think my niece very pretty,
" 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
"Oh, Hester! I wish we were going
THE THREE CUEATES. Ill
"Why, dear? Haven't you enjoyed
yourself ? "
"Don't ask me I" she answered tremu-
" 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
" 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
" 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
" 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
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
Once out of the turmoil, and on the road
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 ? "
" 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
" 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.
" 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
" 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
" 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
of her meaning.
" 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.
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
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
" 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-
" 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
" Xutbing will give me greater pleasure.
I am anxious to inspect all your valuable
curiosities, I have heard so much of
" They are all at your service, Lady
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-
" 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
" 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
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
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
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
"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
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)
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-
" 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
" 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
" 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
" I was going to wear pale blue and
" 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
" Indeed, Madame, it is so ; but never
mind about it. Madame has the necklace,
and the money ! That must always console
" 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
" 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,
" 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
" What is this wonderful ' stroke,' Mada-
" 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,
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
" 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
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
There lay the heavy, unconscious form
of Mr. Cohen.
" What is it ? Is it very serious ? " she
whispered, with white face, to the phy-
"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
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
" Don't ask me anything ; I feel stupid
and bewildered. Do as you like."
" Well, then, I have telegraphed for
" For mamma ! Whatever for ? She
cannot do any good, and, besides, lie
"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
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.
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-
" 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,
"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
" Cerise, tell him to go to bed."
" Certainly ! When Madame is in bed."
" How you bother, Cerise," said Pauline,
" Mais oui ! It is time for Madame to be
in bed, and Miladi also."
" Go ! Mamma, dear. You look fagged
" 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.
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
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-
" 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
" 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
" 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
VOL. I. 11
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
" 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
" 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,
1C4 THE THEEE CUBATES.
which is entirely for their own gratifica-
" 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
" 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
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
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
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
" 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
" 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
" 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
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
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
" 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
" Well, Mrs. Hughes, I am real busy to-
day. We are just cleaning up for Christ-
"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
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,
" 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
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
" 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
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.
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
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
" 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
" Nay ! you have only to command ; you
"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
"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,
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
And as she spoke, Dr. Lewis was
" 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,
" 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.
" 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
" 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
" 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.
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
"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,
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
' ; 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
" Your arrangement will do admi-
rably, Gerald. I quite begin to see my
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-
" 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
" What is that about Laura ? " said the
Eector, coming in.
" Nothing ; only she wants a house here
until Christopher Eidden's affairs are
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
" 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-
" I am sure of it."
" Very well, _love. When does Lanyon
wish to go ? "
" 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
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
" 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
" 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
" Yes ! He is engaged to a very charming
" 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
"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.
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
" No, indeed," replied Mr. Blytlie, " only
one misses her bright presence and pretty
" She is a dear little woman," said the
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
" 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
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
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
" 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
As they were yet speaking of him, he
" We were just talking about you, Ernest,"
" Indeed, Miss Higgins ! It is pleasant
" 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
" 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
" 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 ? "
" 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
" 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
" 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
''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
" 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,
''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
* * * * *
" 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
"And yet, I think he did love me
once ! "
" Doubtless, you think so, but the
person he loved, was the Eeverend Cyril
" 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
"That is exactly what I expected."
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,
" Chesnut ! and it has a white star on
" 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-
"You, for one! "
" Oh, Sir Ernest ! how can you say
" 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
" 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
' ; Yes, that American house let him in
for a lot."
" I suppose Mrs. Cohen is very badly
" Oh no ! " continued Sir Ernest, " by no
means ; she has a very comfortable little
" 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 !
THE THREE CURATES. 235
" 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
" 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
" 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
Very soon afterwards the friends sepa-
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,
" Yes, Ma'm. He is "
" Here I am, Miss Higgins ! only a
minute behind time ! "
"We are punctual to a minute, you
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-
" Let me speak to you, Ernest, before
you go to-night, after our return from the
•- "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
" You will cherish my dear child ? "
"That I will," he replied, with affec-
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
" Eemember, sweetheart, ' The Duke' will
be round at twelve for your inspection, to-
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
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
" 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
" 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
" 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
" 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
THE THEEE CURATES. 249
" If my lady has not made any other
engagement, 1 shall be very pleased to
" 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
" 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
" 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
" Then don't quote me, my dear, let it
be all original matter, when you do hold
" 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
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
" 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
" Thanks, Hortense. By-the-bye, when
you write to Phil, give him this tip from
uncle Ernest," and he put a sovereign into
" 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
"Ha! ha!" laughed Sir Percy. " Our
boy is rascal enough, I can answer for that.
He certainly is not proper."
END OF VOLUME I.
EELLY AND CO., GATE STREET, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS .
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