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- Scenes and Characters - 8/54 -

wanted some more cotton for her sampler.

'Yes,' said Emily, 'but I am not going to walk all the way to Mrs. Appleton's this afternoon.'

'Shall I go?' said Jane. 'Ada, run and fetch your pattern.' Emily and Ada were much obliged by Jane's disinterested offer, and in a quarter of an hour Ada's thoughts and hands were busy in Mrs. Appleton's drawer of many-coloured cotton.

'What a pity this is about Mrs. Naylor's baby,' began Jane.

'It is a sad story indeed, Miss Jane, I am sure it must be grievous to Mr. Devereux,' said Mrs. Appleton. 'Betsy Wall said he had been there three times about it.'

'Ah! we all know that Walls have ears,' said Jane; 'how that Betsy does run about gossiping!'

'Yes, Miss Jane, there she bides all day long at the stile gaping; not a stitch does she do for her mother; I cannot tell what is to be the end of it.'

'And do you know what the child's name is to be, Mrs. Appleton?'

'No, Miss Jane,' answered Mrs. Appleton. 'Betsy did say they talked of naming him after his uncle, Edward Gage, only Mr. Devereux would not let him stand.'

'No,' said Jane. 'Since he married that dissenting wife he never comes near the church; he is too much like the sour Gage, as we call his mother, to be good for much. But, after all, he is not so bad as Dick Rodd, who has never been confirmed, and has never shown any sense of religion in his life.'

'Yes, Miss, Dick Rodd is a sad fellow: did you hear what a row there was at the Mohun Arms last week, Miss Jane?'

'Aye,' said Jane, 'and papa says he shall certainly turn Dick Rodd out of the house as soon as the lease is out, and it is only till next Michaelmas twelve-months.'

'Yes, Miss, as I said to Betsy Wall, it would be more for their interest to behave well.'

'Indeed it would,' said Jane. 'Robert and papa were talking of having their horses shod at Stoney Bridge, if Tom Naylor will be so obstinate, only papa does not like to give Tom up if he can help it, because his father was so good, and Tom would not be half so bad if he had not married one of the Gages.'

'Here is Cousin Robert coming down the lane,' said Ada, who had chosen her cotton, and was gazing from the door. Jane gave a violent start, took a hurried leave of Mrs. Appleton, and set out towards home; she could not avoid meeting her cousin.

'Oh, Jenny! have you been enjoying a gossip with your great ally?' said he.

'We have only been buying pink cotton,' said Ada, whose conscience was clear.

'Ah!' said Mr. Devereux, 'Beechcroft affairs would soon stand still, without those useful people, Mrs. Appleton, Miss Wall, and Miss Jane Mohun,' and he passed on. Jane felt her face colouring, his freedom from suspicion made her feel very guilty, but the matter soon passed out of her mind.

Blithe Whit-Sunday came, the five Miss Mohuns appeared in white frocks, new bonnets were plenty, the white tippets of the children, and the bright shawls of the mothers, made the village look gay; Wat Greenwood stuck a pink between his lips, and the green boughs of hazel and birch decked the dark oak carvings in the church.

And Whit-Monday came. At half-past ten the rude music of the band of the Friendly Society came pealing from the top of the hill, then appeared two tall flags, crowned with guelder roses and peonies, then the great blue drum, the clarionet blown by red-waist-coated and red- faced Mr. Appleton, the three flutes and the triangle, all at their loudest, causing some of the spectators to start, and others to dance. Then behold the whole procession of labourers, in white round frocks, blue ribbons in their hats, and tall blue staves in their hands. In the rear, the confused mob, women and children, cheerful faces and mirthful sounds everywhere. These were hushed as the flags were lowered to pass under the low-roofed gateway of the churchyard, and all was still, except the trampling of feet on the stone floor. Then the service began, the responses were made in full and hearty tones, almost running into a chant, the old 133rd Psalm was sung as loudly and as badly as usual, a very short but very earnest sermon was preached, and forth came the troop again.

Mr. Devereux always dined with the club in a tent, at the top of the hill, but his uncle made him promise to come to a second dinner at the New Court in the evening.

'Robert looks anxious,' said Lily, as she parted with him after the evening service; 'I am afraid something is going wrong.'

'Trust me for finding out what it is,' said Jane.

'No, no, Jenny, do not ask him,' said Lily; 'if he tells us to relieve his mind, I am very glad he should make friends of us, but do not ask. Let us talk of other things to put it out of his head, whatever it may be.'

Jane soon heard more of the cause of the depression of her cousin's spirits than even she had any desire to do. After dinner, the girls were walking in the garden, enjoying the warmth of the evening, when Mr. Devereux came up to her and drew her aside from the rest, telling her that he wished to speak to her.

'Oh!' said Jane, 'when am I to meet you at school again? You never told me which chapter I was to prepare; I cannot think what would become of your examinations if it was not for me, you could not get an answer to one question in three.'

'That was not what I wished to speak to you about,' said Mr. Devereux. 'What had you been saying to Mrs. Appleton when I met you at her door on Saturday?'

The colour rushed into Jane's cheeks, but she replied without hesitation, 'Oh! different things, La pluie et le beau temps, just as usual.'

'Cannot you remember anything more distinctly?'

'I always make a point of forgetting what I talk about,' said Jane, trying to laugh.

'Now, Jane, let me tell you what has happened in the village--as I came down the hill from the club-dinner--'

'Oh,' said Jane, hoping to make a diversion, 'Wat Greenwood came back about a quarter of an hour ago, and he--'

Mr. Devereux proceeded without attending to her, 'As I came down the hill from the club-dinner, old Mrs. Gage came out of Naylor's house, and her daughter with her, in great anger, calling me to account for having spoken of her in a most unbecoming way, calling her the sour Gage, and trying to set the Squire against them.'

'Oh, that abominable chattering woman!' Jane exclaimed; 'and Betsy Wall too, I saw her all alive about something. What a nuisance such people are!'

'In short,' said Mr. Devereux, 'I heard an exaggerated account of all that passed here on the subject the other day. Now, Jane, am I doing you any injustice in thinking that it must have been through you that this history went abroad into the village?'

'Well,' said Jane, 'I am sure you never told us that it was any secret. When a story is openly told to half a dozen people they cannot be expected to keep it to themselves.'

'I spoke uncharitably and incautiously,' said he, 'I am willing to confess, but it is nevertheless my duty to set before you the great matter that this little fire has kindled.'

'Why, it cannot have done any great harm, can it?' asked Jane, the agitation of her voice and laugh betraying that she was not quite so careless as she wished to appear. 'Only the sour Gage will ferment a little.'

'Oh, Jane! I did not expect that you would treat this matter so lightly.'

'But tell me, what harm has it done?' asked she.

'Do you consider it nothing that the poor child should remain unbaptized, that discord should be brought into the parish, that anger should be on the conscience of your neighbour, that he should be driven from the church?'

'Is it as bad as that?' said Jane.

'We do not yet see the full extent of the mischief our idle words may have done,' said Mr. Devereux.

'But it is their own fault, if they will do wrong,' said Jane; 'they ought not to be in a rage, we said nothing but the truth.'

'I wish I was clear of the sin,' said her cousin.

'And after all,' said Jane, 'I cannot see that I was much to blame; I only talked to Mrs. Appleton, as I have done scores of times, and no one minded it. You only laughed at me on Saturday, and papa and Eleanor never scolded me.'

'You cannot say that no one has ever tried to check you,' said the Rector.

'And how was I to know that that mischief-maker would repeat it?' said Jane.

'I do not mean to say,' said Mr. Devereux, 'that you actually committed a greater sin than you may often have done, by talking in a way which you knew would displease your father. I know we are too apt to treat lightly the beginnings of evil, until some sudden sting makes us feel what a serpent we have been fostering. Think this a warning, pray that the evil we dread may be averted; but should it

Scenes and Characters - 8/54

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