Charles Welsh Mason.

The rape of the gamp; or, Won at last! : a novel (Volume 3) online

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C. ^YELSH-MASO^^ B.A., Cam.






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^^ 3.



I. Care kills a Cat ... ... ... 1

II. A Tragedy \\^

IIT. Something Wrong ... ... ... "i^

IV. Him! why, Him! Ill

V. The Last Feather ... 12G

YI. ]\[an Overboard lo9

YII. Tobias Dig? his Last Grave ... 199




Befoee the boys dispersed for their
Christmas holidays the head-master of
the school at Pedlington again talked
with his colleague on the painful subject
of the distance which had been allowed
to separate them. Being thrown so much
together, as they had been now every day
during terms for two years and a half,
and closely allied in the common interest
which existed between them and their



pnpils, being also on terms of old in-
timacy and proved friendsliip, it seemed
always increasingly strange to Dr. Phelps
that Mr. Lane should show such a per-
sistent resolution to Kve alone, and to
retire to his solitude whenever acknow-
ledged duty did not summon him from
it. Phelps, although a childless widower
bordering on middle-age, who in more
than one sense of the expression might
seem ''to have done with the world," and
so much occupied with a literary under-
taking, in addition to his scholastic cares,
as to have little time for general society
(though general society in Pedhngton
was willing enough to incorporate the
Doctor into its community), was yet of
that social and genial temperament that
he would have liked to sit with his old
friend over their private studies and
pursuits, and to have shared the hours
of recreation with Mr. Lane instead of


sitting and working alone, as he now too
often for a widower did, in the long winter
nights after the boys had gone to bed,
and instead of depending for daily inter-
course on his relations with the boys, and
with his third master, who was only
a gentlemanly Senior boy. Still these
scholastic relations were so pleasant and
intimate — and especially in summer Mr.
Phelps partook so frequently of the
games and sports which rivalled intel-
lectual attainments in the youthful aspi-
rations — that he felt himseK to be less
lonely and less in danger of giving way
to melancholy than he had reason to
believe was the case with his friend.

Was rehgion, or were the differences
arising out of rehgious convictions, the
cause of the partial estrangement be-
tween them? Dr. Phelps feared that it
was so. Each year, as he grew older, and
found himself less and less in accord with


religious people of any school or sect, lie
took refuge in a callous indifference to
any prevailing set of opinions, outwardly,
and more tlian outwardly in some philo-
sophical and subjective sense, conforming
to the creed of the universal Church, as
a body of doctrine generally beneficial to
society, if people would only observe the
law of charity, and not attempt to en-
force any limited interpretation of this
code upon their neighbours.

With those who did so Phelps had
little patience. And although moderate
persons esteemed him a fit and proper
guardian of youth in a school where all
shades of rehgious opinion were repre-
sented, yet the more zealous pietists of
Pedhngton, whether High- Church, Low-
Church, or of any Non-conforming sect,
considered him a dangerous guide to the
young in a perverse and stiff-necked
generation, and prayed over him (some-


what despondently, it must be owned) in
their secret council- chambers. He was,
they said, upright and highly intellectual :
his character was truly amiable. But
these quahties of Dr. Phelps only made it
(probably meaning "his case") all the
more sad, and liivi all the more dan-
gerous. BQls good works would recom-
mend his unbehef, so they said. The
new rector of the mother parish had been
urged to express an opinion reprobating
the Doctor's equivocal orthodoxy. But
privately that divine would have been
far more distressed at the presence of a
Calvinist in that influential position, and
wisely threw oil upon the agitated waters.
He professed to beheve that the school-
master's theology was only defective in
positive or dogmatic vigom*, and declared,
as he verily beheved, that Phelps's sym-
pathies were all in the right direction.
Whatever the real cause, if, indeed,


any one operated alone as the source of
Mr. Lane's tenacious exclusiveness, Mr.
Phelps was still unable to overcome it.
His friend even dechned now to entertain
him for a fortnight at the Abbey, as he
had done during several previous vaca-
tions, pleading a particular wish to go
into strict retirement for a while in a
clergy-house at the east end of London,
after what he was pleased to call the
^^dissipations of the haK year," and the
necessity of preparing immediately after-
ward for his own impending move. This
was none the less sad to Mr. Phelps from
the intimacy which he had seen rapidly
growing up between his friend and their
new rector, and an evident inclination on
the part of Mr. Lane to take the eccle-
siastic into his closer confidence.

So the Doctor wended his sohtary way
to town, where he had to meet Mr.
Lane's contemplated successor. He also


had work to do among Ms authorities at
the British Museum, and intended to
make a flying visit to a German univer-
sity to procure assistance from one of its
professors. On the evening of his thii'd
day in London, Phelps, returning by vray
of Chancery Lane fi'om Bloomsbiuy to
the Inner Temple, vhere he was quar-
tered on a friend, encountered Mr. Lane,
who in the wintry twilight passed him
without recognition. The Doctor did
not fail to notice the gloom of his
friend's aspect, and tm^ning to look
after him, saw Mr. Lane striding along
grimly, apparently perceiving no one,
but wi'apt in his own soHtary mood.
The spot where they met was not fai'
from the door of Messrs. Baily, Blythe,
and Baily's offices. Not many minutes
had elapsed since Mr. Lane had been
made acquainted with the loss of his
reversionary interest, and had bm-ned


his grandfather's last will and testament,
as we have already learned through the
humble instrumentality of Joseph Foot.

Only a few days after this encounter a
telegraphic message followed Mr. Phelps
from the Temple to the British Museum,
which caused him promptly to desert
some interesting black-letter folios, and
take the train to Pedlington. The sum-
mons was from the Kev. Cyprian Key,
imploring Phelps to return without an
hour's delay. It stated that his friend
was gravely ill, in mind or body, or both ;
that Key was alarmed, and anxious for
the presence of the only person whom
he thought capable of supporting their
afflicted friend.

What new affliction could have befallen
Mr. Lane ? Mr. Phelps knew of none,
nor of those which had overtaken the
Brownes. A fine moral could be drawn
from the situation. But it would be flat


and stale, if not unprofitable. Do not
afflictions happen to all men ? Do our
absent friends foresee them ? Is not the
prodigal son waltzing with a scheming
coquette while a fond mother is calling
upon him with her dying breath ? Will
the drowning moan of a sailor husband
interrupt the warbling of Mademoiselle
Patti to which the fond wife listens with
a rapturous smile ?

'' Is he in bed? " asked Phelps of Mr.
Key, whom he found in possession of
Mr. Lane's sitting-room.

" Hush ! " Key whispered. " He is in
there," and pointed to the secret door of
the apartment which the birds inhabited.
^'I slept here last night," he continued;
"but he would not speak. He has not
even a chair in the room, and must have
been standing at the window or sitting
on the floor for three days and nights,
without eating or drinking."


'^ What has happened ? " Phelps asked.

'' I think he had hatter tell you, for
his own sake," replied Key. '' The only
word he would speak is your name. He
shouted to me last night to go away ;
but I stayed ; and every hour or two I
heard him groaning out for you, as if he
was in agony."

" Thank you for sending to me," said
the layman, wringing the parson's hand.
Then without more parley he knocked at
the secret door, and called aloud, '^ Bed-
ford ! Let me come in. You know my

** Who else is there ? " asked a hoUow
voice within.


From within : "Beg him to go away."

"I thought so," said the parson, sadly.
" I must go my rounds now, Phelps ; but
I shaU be at home in the evening if you
want me. I shall not come unless you
send for me."


Turning on the tlireshold, lie added,
*' It is too severe, mucli too severe. He
is too hard on himself. I did not pre-
scribe it.''

And so the confessor departed. And
in this brief stoiy, which is but a chapter
in the hves of a few humble and every-
day persons, we shaU see him no more.

Before the sound of the door closing
upon him had ceased to echo through the
long chambers and empty corridors of the
abbey, the secret door opened to admit
Phelps ; and the latter could see that the
occupant of the chamber had been lean-
ing with his elbows on the window-ledge,
looking out across the garden and river
and the overhanging mist, through which
the shouts of bargemen at the lock came
with a strange, weird sound.

It has been formerly said that this
approach to the to^TL had the air of a
decayed city. This was especially the


case on the river- side. The mouldering
abbey with its long range of ruinous walls
and offices, the antiquated Gothic church,
the quaintly terraced clifP with its gable
ends of the old episcopal palace and its
pollarded willow fringe, the very canalized
river, itself a reHc of the old water
highways of England, formed a group of
objects which belonged less to the present
than the past. And while the town not
half a mile distant was singularly busy
for an English country town, this suburb
was almost always silent and solitary.

The chamber in which Mr. Phelps
now found himself for a second time was
part of an ancient passage, opened by
Mr. Lane himself with the assistance of
Tobias Graves, in the ponderous outer
wall of the ancient refectory, a part of
which formed the sitting and sleeping
apartments of the present occupier.
From the lattice window you saw merely


the rain of an outhouse at hand, a broken
parapet along the lower edge of a terrace
walk, and the misty sheet of water with
a small lock-honse dimly looming on the
farther bank. The narrow space was
littered with books and papers. On the
deep window-ledge lay a number of time-
worn, crumpled letters and a faded old
copy of a German newspaper. Among
these the end of a pistol-barrel caught
Phelps's observant eye. The favourite
tomtit stood disconsolately among this
litter, despising the social charms of the
fishing-rods and ramrods upon which the
other birds clustered, doubtless comparing
notes on their master's behaviour. A
strong aroma of some obnoxious drug
loaded the scanty supply of air in the
room. But the long arm which opened
the door closed it at once. Not a word
was spoken while the two men studied
each other's faces, one eager and anxious.


but resolute; the other gaunt and ter-
rible, glaring at the intruder. His eyes
gleamed with a strange lustre in great
hollows under his rugged brows. He
wore no coat. His arms, brown and
sinewy, were bared to the elbow, and
his open shirt, from which the studs
had fallen, exposed his broad massive
breast. If it had come to a life and
death struggle between those two, Mr.
Phelps knew that his moments were
numbered. But he discerned no symp-
toms of madness in those ^' sad eyes " ;
and as soon as this became clear to his
perception a great load seemed to be
Hfted from his own mind and body. He
must have expected to make that ter-
rible discovery, or the rehef could not
have been so great. No ; that was not
a madman's gaze. It was a strong man,
racked and torn with grief and goaded
with remorse, brooding amidst the ruins


of a life. Key had called Mm Pontius
Pilate ; Phelps now silently compared
him to Sanl; and perhaps the layman's
simile was not less apt than the priest's.

A cuiioiis characteristic of this meet-
ing between two tried and approved
friends was that the usual forms of greet-
ing did not even seem to occui' to either
of their minds. ^'How d'ye do?" or
" How are you, old fellow? " would have
been a contemptible mockery. The Doc-
tor's keen, eager glance searched Mr.
Lane's agonized eyes, which in theii'
turn sought the meaning of his almost
nervously. The httle bird, with its head
on one side, also watched Mr. Phelps
with narrow scrutiny. When he appeared
to be relieved of his first terrible appre-
hension, and looked towards the htter of
papers, the bird gave a sympathetic
chirrup, jumped a few Httle paces, and
alighted on the muzzle of the pistol.


^^What is this?" said Phelps, dis-
placing the bird and taking up the

The bird at once fluttered on to its
master's shoulder, and eyed the intruder

^^ A pistol," said Mr. Lane.

''Yes, I see," Mr. Phelps rejoined;
''but what for?"

" Why are you come here ? " Mr. Lane

Phelps hesitated for a moment. He
doubted whether he should seem to have
come by chance, but had never deceived
his friend, and would not do so now.

"I am come," he said, "to save you
from yourself — to save my friend of old
days from this hard fellow, Mr. Lane."

"Hard, yes, hard," said the other,
slowly, and speaking to himself. Then
again, " Hard, yes, hard indeed ! Poor
child ! "


Phelps was not slow to catch the last
words. He knew nothing of what had
happened between his friend and Janet
Browne, but had seen that some Kttle
tenderness or friendship was springing
up between them, and had fi'om the first
ardently hoped that it might be so, and
that (though he had signally failed in his
own attempt on Mr. Bro^Tie) Janet and
his friend might ultimately become man
and wife, so that half the fortune which
was to have been Bedford Lyte's might
still become his, and with it something
worth the other half twice told; for Mr.
Phelps was not one of your philosophers
who make hght of the treasm'e of a
woman's heart. For Bedford's secret,
as a moral obstacle, he cared httle and
feared less, though it might present
material difficulties. His confidence in
one whom he had never proved to be
imworthy of it was unbounded. For the



change of name lie did feel sorry, and had
strongly dissuaded his friend from per-
severing in it on his return to England.
But Bedford had made it the condition
of his alliance, and Phelps had yielded
the point.

To the new head-master of the Ped-
lington School it had seemed almost
unendurable that an honest man, his
friend and colleague, should take shelter
in an alias from some old opprobrium.
But to Bedford Lyte, the naturally proud
and sensitive man, the reputation of Bed-
ford Lyte, the reputed libertine, would
have been quite unendurable. Besides
which, though Phelps in his generous
confidence and in his consummate reli-
ance upon his own approval of his own
acts, would have ventured upon opening
the school with a coadjutor whose former
ill-repute might soon get noised abroad,
yet his friend had felt sure that such a


step would be a false one, and that the
moral timidity of the Pedlingtonians
would have ill requited Phelps's moral
courage. Beyond these two abundant
reasons why need we seek ? Yet there
was another reason, which of itseK would
have been sufficient to make 'Mt. Lane
adhere to the alias which it had caused
him to adopt in Germany.

*' Hard indeed ! Poor child ! " he now
repeated to himself, speaking slowly and
abstractedly, as though he had been
alone ; Phelps watching him meanwhile
with eager eyes and ears, desiring greatly
to know and share the whole bmxlen of
his friend's experience, that he might, as
he said, in the face of his present danger,
"save him fi-om himself." This w^as
doubly urgent now. Mr. Phelps liked
not the look of that pistol; and if this
moment of anguish were tided over, was
not Mr. Lane leading Pedhngton, and


again about to cast his lot among
strangers ?

Could our eyes penetrate those thick
walls, it would be strange to see these
two men standing together in that
narrow dark space, one so intent on the
other, that other so careless of his pre-
sence. As Frank had ingenuously inti-
mated in their last interview, it was not
easy to see the charm about Mr. Lane
which attracted people so strongly to him.
But the attraction, whatever it was,
acted quite as powerfully on the rude as
on the gentle sex. Dr. Phelps thought it
no more hardship that he should have left
his black-letter fohos and be here exert-
ing his thankless efforts of friendship in
behalf of this man than the Kev. Cyprian
Key had grudged his last night's rest in
keeping a weary vigil outside Mr. Lane's
chamber door. But perhaps the latter
may have had some little misgiving of


undue severity in the counsel which he
had tendered to Mr. Lane. Seeing how
fast a hold this love for Janet had gained
upon her reluctant admirer, and feeling
in his conscience that to indulge it ever
so Httle would be a sin, and wishing for
his friend above all things a triumph over
the enemy of his soul, he had reminded
his penitent that it was better to enter
into life maimed than ha^ a sound
body to be cast into hell fire. '' Tear it
out by the roots," he had urged. '' Count
not the cost. Spare not yourseK; rather
inflict wounds the rankling of which shall
destroy this vice of your blood." And
then when old Ada had informed him
of the severities which Mr. Lane was
practising upon himself, and when he
reflected how terrible might be this fight
between a master-passion which had
intrenched itseK in the citadel and a
stern, loyal man resolved to oust and

22 WON AT last!

vanquish it, he hecame alarmed. He
thought this man quite capable of de-
stroying himself if the enemy would not
yield. He would expect to carry the
fortress by a cou]) de main, and would
chafe at the slightest repulse. So Mr.
Key had watched and prayed throughout
the night, and in the early morning had
telegraphed for Phelps.

^' Hard, hard ; yes, indeed, hard ! " Mr.
Lane continued to mutter. ^^ Poor child ! "

Phelps was quite at a loss. Did Bed-
ford mean Eleanor Baily ? or had some-
thing happened in Pedlington during his
absence, and was Janet Browne the
subject of this lament ? Mr. Lane's
presence in the neighbourhood of Baily's
office in Chancery Lane, which Phelps
had so recently witnessed, inclined him
to think that some circumstance had
lately revived the misery concerning Miss
Baily, whatever that misery might be.


The old, frayed, soiled letters and news-
paper in the window indicated the same
source of grief and remorse. But some
secret power of divination suggested
another name, and Mr. Phelps went at
once to the point. "Do you mean pretty
Janet Browne ? " he asked.

Mr. Lane nodded, still gazing intently
at his friend, who saw a faint clearing of
the brow, as if the confidence were a
rehef to the sufferer.

"You have formed an attachment for
her ? " Phelps continued.

Again he nodded. An unbidden tear
suffused each of those dark, deep-sunken

' ' And she has returned it ? " resumed
Mr. Phelps.

But now Mr. Lane's glance faltered
and failed. His whole figure relaxed its
bold postui'e, trembled, cowered, and
finally fell upon its knees at the window-


ledge, planting its elbows thereon, lower-
ing the face into the upturned palms, and
shaking with convulsive sobs.

Then Mr. Phelps knew that his friend's
love had been returned, and that this
mutual attachment was not to enjoy a
blissful sequel, but that, for some reason
as yet unknown to him, it was an un-
fortunate passion, and Mr. Lane thought
he had done wrong in allowing it to take

Phelps had never seen his friend over-
come by such violent grief before. Yet
he esteemed it to be a breaking-up of the
ice, and a blessed tenderness succeeding
the sterner sorrow of the last few days.

It was about four o'clock in the winter
afternoon, and the room was almost dark ;
but still the figure of the strong man
knelt in its weakness, and from time to
time a shudder passed over it, and at
each of these spasms the little bird on his


shoulder partly opened its wings and
closed them again with a gentle chiiTup,
as though it approved of nature's sweet
and spontaneous relief. On a sudden a
faint glimmer of hght, soft and radiant,
lit up the howed head and kneeling form,
and threw into hold rehef that of the
small hii'd, which uttered a melodious
thrill, half sad, haK joyous, in its minor
key. Mr. Lane lifted his head, upon
which a golden radiance fell ; and pre-
sently without, in the space where
previously the gray mist had hlurred
the landscape, a glorious rainbow now
appeared. The canaries came fluttering
to a perch in the embrasure of the win-
dow, and all this Httle company gazed
with rapture at the changing splendours
of the bow, which seemed placed there
by the beneficent Father in token of His
abiding goodness and watchful care over
His erring children.

26 WON AT last!

Doubtless this thought crossed the
minds of these two men at the same
time ; for as the bow faded out of the
heavens, two gently spoken words were
littered by the kneeling man, and Mr.
Phelps (having quickly stooped to catch)
now fervently repeated them :


Mr. Phelps was sincerely rejoiced that
anything should have evoked on the part
of his friend the feehng which must have
prompted these words. For they were
the first he had spoken since his mono-
tonous reiteration of the words, " Hard^
hard! " and ^' Poor child ! "

^^ May I open the window?" asked
Phelps. And Mr. Lane, rising, opened
it himself. It opened inwards, and on
the outer side was secured by a wire-
worked frame, which prevented the birds
from going out or their enemies fi'om
coming in when the lattice was opeu.


As the fi'esh air gi'eeted their nostrils,
Mr. Phelps, wishing to speak on in-
different subjects, said, '^ ^liat diiig is
it the smell of which filled this quaint
little room ? "

'' Hyoscyamus.''

" Do yoii take much of it ? " he

*^ Very seldom."

Suddenly the place was shaken with
a great shock, accompanied by a loud
report. A great smell of gunpowder
and a cloud of smoke succeeded to the
fumes of hyoscyamus, and as these cleared
away before the draught of air coming
up from the river, Mr. Lane appealed
with an aii' of exultation in face and
mien, pointing with a pistol through
the shattered wire-work. Mr. Phelps
first looked at the weapon in his own
hand, to make sure that he had not
rehnquished it, then following with his


eye the line of Mr. Lane's, discovered
with some difficulty in the fading day-
light the body of a large white cat,
lying motionless at the foot of a broken

'^ At last ! " cried the marksman.

^'Was. it an old offender, then?"
Phelps inquired.

Mr. Lane reminded him of his old
superstition about his guardian angel or
good genius inhabiting the humble form
of the tomtit, and told him that a
feud existed between the cat and the
bird, which puzzled him much, and had
made him resolve to take the cat's life.
It^eems the offending animal would sit
in a point of vantage and watch the
window for hours, to the great ten*or
of the other birds, his little favourite
manifesting no fear at all, which he
attributed to the superior nature with
which it was marvellously endowed. But

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Online LibraryCharles Welsh MasonThe rape of the gamp; or, Won at last! : a novel (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 12)