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Before they got half way to the church, they were hailed from behind: and turning round, saw the burly figure of Dr. Amboyne coming after them.
They waited for him, and he came up with them. He had heard the whole business from Little, and was warm in the praises of his patient.
To a dry inquiry from Raby, whether he approved of his patient desecrating a church, he said, with delicious coolness, he thought there was not much harm in that, the church not being used for divine service.
At this, Raby uttered an inarticulate but savage growl; and Grace, to avert a hot discussion, begged the doctor not to go into that question, but to tell her how Mr. Little was.
"Oh, he has received some severe contusions, but there is nothing serious. He is in good hands, I a.s.sure you. I met him out walking with his nurse; and I must say I never saw a handsomer couple. He is dark; she is fair. She is like the ancient statues of Venus, ma.s.sive and grand, but not clumsy; he is lean and sinewy, as a man ought to be."
"Oh, doctor, this from you?" said Grace, with undisguised spite.
"Well, it WAS a concession. He was leaning on her shoulder, and her face and downcast eyes were turned toward him so sweetly--said I to myself--Hum!"
"What!" said Raby. "Would you marry him to a farmer's daughter?"
"No; I'd let him marry whom he likes; only, having seen him and his nurse together, it struck me that, between two such fine creatures of the same age, the tender relation of patient and nurse, sanctioned, as I hear it is, by a benevolent uncle--"
"Confound your impudence!"
"--Would hardly stop there. What do you think, Miss Carden?"
"I'll tell you, if you will promise, on your honor, never to repeat what I say." And she slackened her pace, and lingered behind Mr. Raby.
He promised her.
"Then," she whispered in his ear, "I HATE YOU!"
And her eyes flashed blue fire at him, and startled him.
Then she darted forward, and took Mr. Raby's arm, with a scarlet face, and a piteous deprecating glance shot back at the sagacious personage she had defied.
Dr. Amboyne proceeded instantly to put himself in this young lady's place, and so divine what was the matter. The familiar process soon brought a knowing smile to his sly lip.
They entered the church, and went straight to the forge.
Raby stood with folded arms, and contemplated the various acts of sacrilege with a silent distress that was really touching.
Amboyne took more interest in the traces of the combat. "Ah!" said he, "this is where he threw the hot coals in their faces--he has told me all about it. And look at this pool of blood on the floor! Here he felled one of them with his shovel. What is this? traces of blood leading up to this chest!"
He opened the chest, and found plain proofs inside that the wounded man had hid himself in it for some time. He pointed this out to Raby; and gave it as his opinion that the man's confederates had come back for him, and carried him away. "These fellows are very true to one another.
I have often admired them for that."
Raby examined the blood-stained interior of the chest, and could not help agreeing with the sagacious doctor.
"Yes," said he, sadly; "if we had been sharp, we might have caught the blackguard. But I was in a hurry to leave the scene of sacrilege. Look here; the tomb of a good knight defiled into an oven, and the pews mutilated--and all for the base uses of trade." And in this strain he continued for a long time so eloquently that, at last, he roused Grace Carden's ire.
"Mr. Raby," said she, firmly, "please add to those base uses one more.
One dismal night, two poor creatures, a man and a woman, lost their way in the snow; and, after many a hard struggle, the cold and the snow overpowered them, and death was upon them. But, just at her last gasp, the girl saw a light, and heard the tinkling of a hammer. She tottered toward it; and it was a church. She just managed to strike the door with her benumbed hands, and then fell insensible. When she came to herself, gentle hands had laid her before two glorious fires in that cold tomb there. Then the same gentle hands gave her food and wine, and words of comfort, and did everything for her that brave men do for poor weak suffering women. Yes, sir, it was my life he saved, and Mr. Coventry's too; and I can't bear to hear a word against him, especially while I stand looking at his poor forge, and his grates, that you abuse; but I adore them, and bless them; and so would you, if they had saved your life, as they did mine. You don't love me one bit; and it is very cruel."
Raby stood astonished and silent. At last he said, in a very altered tone, quite mild and deprecating, "Why did you not tell me this before?"
"Because he made us promise not. Would you have had me betray my benefactor?"
"No. You are a brave girl, an honest girl. I love you more than a bit, and, for your sake, I forgive him the whole thing. I will never call it sacrilege again, since its effect was to save an angel's life. Come, now, you have shown a proper spirit, and stood up for the absent, and brought me to submission by your impetuosity, so don't spoil it all by crying."
"No, I won't," said Grace, with a gulp. But her tears would not cease all in a moment. She had evoked that tender scene, in which words and tears of true and pa.s.sionate love had rained upon her. They were an era in her life; had swept forever out of her heart all the puny voices that had prattled what they called love to her; and that divine music, should she ever hear it again? She had resigned it, had bidden it shine upon another. For this, in reality, her tears were trickling.
Mr. Raby took a much lighter view of it, and, to divert attention from her, he said, "Hallo! why this inscription has become legible. It used to be only legible in parts. Is that his doing?"
"Not a doubt of it," said Amboyne.
"Set that against his sacrilege."
"Miss Carden and I are both agreed it was not sacrilege. What is here in this pew? A bra.s.s! Why this is the bra.s.s we could none of us decipher.
Hang me, if he has not read it, and restored it!"
"So he has. And where's the wonder? We live in a glorious age" (Raby smiled) "that has read the written mountains of the East, and the Abyssinian monuments: and he is a man of the age, and your mediaeval bra.s.ses are no more to him than cuneiform letters to Rawlinson. Let me read this resuscitated record. 'Edith Little, daughter of Robert Raby, by Leah Dence his wife:' why here's a hodge-podge! What! have the n.o.ble Rabys intermarried with the humble Dences?"
"So it seems. A younger son."
"And a Raby, daughter of Dence, married a Little three hundred years ago?"
"So it seems."
"Then what a pity this bra.s.s was not deciphered thirty years ago! But never mind that. All I demand is tardy justice to my protege. Is not this a remarkable man? By day he carves wood, and carries out a philanthropic scheme (which I mean to communicate to you this very day, together with this young man's report); at night he forges tools that all Hillsborough can't rival; in an interval of his work he saves a valuable life or two; in another odd moment he fights like a lion, one to four; even in his moments of downright leisure, when he is neither saving life nor taking it, he practices honorable arts, restores the fading letters of a charitable bequest, and deciphers bra.s.ses, and vastly improves his uncle's genealogical knowledge, who, nevertheless, pa.s.sed for an authority, till my Crichton stepped upon the scene."
Raby bore all this admirably. "You may add," said he, "that he nevertheless finds time to correspond with his friends. Here is a letter, addressed to Miss Carden, I declare!"
"A letter to me!" said Grace, faintly.
Raby handed it over the pew to her, and turned the address, so that she could judge for herself.
She took it very slowly and feebly, and her color came and went.
"You seemed surprised; and so am I. It must have been written two days ago."
"Why, what on earth could he have to say to you?"
"I suppose it is the reply to mine," stammered Grace.
Mr. Raby looked amazement, and something more.
Grace faltered out an explanation. "When he had saved my life, I was so grateful I wanted to make him a return. I believed Jael Dence and he--I have so high an opinion of her--I ventured to give him a hint that he might find happiness there."
Raby bit his lip. "A most singular interference on the part of a young lady," said he, stiffly. "You are right, doctor; this age resembles no other. I suppose you meant it kindly; but I am very sorry you felt called upon, at your age, to put any such idea into the young man's head."