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68 THE THREE CHANCES.

that pocket, broad and long, which formed so important
an addition to her personal proportions, and lugs forth a
pocket-bookj whose case of dingy leather seems bursting
with the mass of heterogeneous memoranda with which
it is stuffed ; and here, between a butcher's bill and a
receipt for curing bunions, she inserts the billet of poor
Barbara.

Whether that forlorn little scrap of paper shall ever
come forth again in the broad sunshine, and, like the
solitary spark we have been describing, assert its claim
to notice when least expected ; or whether it shall have
the fate of myriads of other sparks less celebrated in
story, and expire in silent blank oblivion, are questions
not yet to be decided; but, judging by the present
position of affairs, the chances seem to be chiefly on the
adverse side.



WELCOME TIDIXGS. 69



CHAPTER YII.

WELCOME TIDINGS.

Never had the duties appertaining to the living of
Sheen been performed with such absence of mind, and a
spirit so rehictant to its work, as just about this time.
That christenings and burials, marryings and church-
ings, did come off according to custom, are facts estab-
lished on the sure evidence of the parish register ; but
that the reverend incumbent of that living had always
a distinct idea of what he was about while engaged in
the ceremonies of his calling, is greatly to be doubted.
Thus the old were visited and comforted as heretofore —
the young helped and admonished. As usual, the seem-
ingly assiduous rector looked in at the schools, examined
the boys on their arithmetic, and cast a grave if not a
sagacious eye on the hemming and stitching of the girls ;
reproved Peter Barnes for sucking lollipops at church,
and extolled the psalmody of the demoiselles, his sisters ;
was earnest — to all appearance — in furthering the sol-
diering mania of the junior Higgins, (that pest of the
parisli I) and insinuated a word of warning into the ear



70 THE THREE CHANCES.

of Peggy Thomson, on her addiction to dress and co-
quetry. It is marvellous, when once a man has thoroughly
entered upon the routine of a profession, with what me- ,
chanical facility he may proceed in it, while his brain is
labouring amongst matters a hundred miles off.

It was not until he had read Frere's own announce-
ment of his offer to Divet's daughter, that Cranston be-
came thoroughly awake to the impression which the
representations of Miss Palliser had actually made upon
him. A very little while ago, and he would joyfully
have arrogated to himself the entire merit of every
part of the transaction ; but now, that paragraph in his
friend's letter which imputed such weight to Richard's
interference and persuasion, fell heavily upon his con-
science.

"In strictest obedience to your injunctions, my dear
Cranston — (for I really believe you are now a better
judge of what is best for me than I am myself) — I
wrote off to my good little shepherdess shortly after my
arrival at home : and, knowins: all we do know, I need
hardly waste the ink in telling you that my wooing has
met with a prosperous issue, and that I am an accepted
suitor — engaged once more ! "

As Richard Cranston read these lines, the dark eyes
of Colonel Hussey's stately mistress seemed to penetrate
his very soul ; and wheresoever he might be, in church
or school-house, locked into his solitary study or suffer-
ing with filial peevishness the querulous complainings



WELCOME TIDINGS. 71

of his motherj Maria's warning voice was still sounding
in his ears.

]\Ir. Frere having engaged himself to Divet's daughter,
it would seem as if he considered his fate so fully settled,
that even Cranston's interest in his concerns must have
suffered some diminution ; for, about this time, there
occurred an unwonted gap in their correspondence. A
few hasty lines, indeed, informed his friend, when pressing
for a more certain knowledge of his movements, that
he had returned to London ; but no time was as yet fixed
for proceeding to Etheridge.

" He can care but little for her," thought Cranston,
now as anxious to convince himself of his friend's
indifference to the shepherdess, as he had previously
been eager to prove the warmth of his regard. " At
least, there can be nothing of that domineering,
unreasoning sentiment in his feelings toward this little
girl, which renders a man heedless not only of trifling
errors in the behaviour of his mistress, but even of her
very principles." The conviction of this encouraged
Kichard to hope that his friendly influence might yet
predominate with Frere ; and solemnly, and with a most
contrite recollection of the past, did he propose to con-
duct himself, in all his future dealings with the Divets,
with a judgment totally unprejudiced — calm, w^akeful,
and deliberate.

In order to be in a capacity to start for the manor-
house on the earliest notice of Frere's return thitlier,



72 THE THREE CHANCES.

Kicliard engaged the professional services of an old
college acquaintance who happened fortunately to be
disengaged, and staying in the neighbourhood of Sheen ;
and, having thus far settled his arrangements, he was
waiting the disposal of events with a mind somewhat
more composed, when one morning there came a letter,
in weight aud dimensions so much more resembling the
confidential journalizing of old times than any thing
lately received from Frere, that Cranston felt certain of
its containing something of peculiar interest to the
writer : and, perhaps, nothing could mark more strongly
the alteration of his sentiments towards David's daughter,
than the fact that, amongst all the circumstances which
a lively fancy might have conjured up as likely to have
given occasion to this monster despatch, the first which
suggested itself to Eichard Cranston was, a rupture
with the charmins^ Miss Divet.

" Could Frere have heard any thing, or made any
discoveries, which might authorize or even oblige him to
recede from his engagement to her, without injuring his
own character as a man of honour ? " Unsolicited was
the thought, involuntary the joy attending it — sending
the blood to flow so cheerilv throuo^h the veins of the
young rector. " What a load of doubt and disappoint-
ment might they all be spared by such a catastrophe !
Andfrom himself personally, what bootless repentance and
self-upbraiding might it not be the means of averting ! "

With eager curiosity the seal was broken ; but finding



WELCOME TIDINGS. 73

within the folds of a much larger manuscript a short
note, finished, and even addressed to himself, but marked
No. 1, as if demanding to be first attended to, Eichard
tore it open in breathless expectation. It referred
neither to the shepherdess nor her family, nor indeed
to any one of the topics whereon he had been so busily
speculating ; and yet the contents of that enclosure far
exceeded the most improbable and far-fetched of all Mr.
Cranston's wild conjectures. Thus ran the note, the
nervous characters of which shewed plainly the distur-
bance of the writer : —

" I cannot suffer the day to pass without making you
a sharer in my joy and thankfulness. Cranston — my
dear Dick — I verily believe I have regained my hearing ;
but the confusion of my brain, and the unaccustomed
noises that resound in all quarters, magnified to a pitch
that nearly maddens me, and then the anxiety, the in-
cessant dread lest I should be flattering myself with false
l^opes — for, as you may well believe, the greatness of the
blessing makes me tremble for its continuance — in short,
my state is such that it is impossible for me to enter
into particulars. But that I do hear distinctly, perfectly,
at the moment I write these words, is a fact most
certain. God bless you, my dear fellow ! I will not
add, rejoice with me, for that would be to insult our
sworn friendship. In what vicissitude of this strange
life has the sympathy of Dick Cranston ever been with-
held from j\Ianley Frere ? " ' .



T4 THE THREE CHANCES.

- A few hurried lines, in addition to the above, promised
a fuller communication when the writer's brain would
bear the effort ; and requested that a strict silence might
be kejot on the subject, till Frere himself knew whether
the restoration of his faculties was more than tem-
porary.

" Besides," he concluded, " I have another reason for
delaying any mention of my recovery — just such a
frivolous, romantic reason as will, or I am much mis-
taken, suit exactly the taste of my reverend friend at
Sheen Kectory."

Touching this request, it was fortunate that Mr.
Cranston chanced to be alone when he received Frere's
letter, or the exclamations which burst from him, in his
joy and surprise, would infallibly have betrayed the
nature of its contents.

And yet, till he had read further, something of the
writer's mistrust must be felt ; the news seeming indeed,
as the phrase is, too good to be true ; and Cranston's
satisfaction was incomplete till he had run his eje over
the longer letter, and ascertained enough to be assured
that there existed no drawback, no disappointing para-
graph in the last page, revoking and annulling all the
good news that had gone before.

The other enclosure was dated before sunrise the
following morning, and was written in Frere's usual even
hand : —

" Upon second thoughts, I resolve on keeping back the



WELCOME TIDINGS. 75

hiiriied scrawl which was written under the intoxicating
influence of an event as unexpected as it was joyful.
In the extremes of either pleasure or pain, we are apt to
be wholly egotistical; and, when I wrote that short
account of my recovery, it seemed to me as if it would
be an unpardonable breach of confidence to keep such
wonderful, world-astounding news entirely to myself.
Whereas, coming back to my sober senses in an hour or
two, I am able to fancy even my dear Dick Cranston
existing very comfortably a day or two longer under the
firm persuasion that his old companion is just as deaf as
ever. You will, however, be glad enough to know that
the first was no vain announcement. I am passing a
happy, though, as you may well believe, a sleepless night ;
the slightest sound still audible, yet growing less pain-
fully obtrusive — an evidence that the nerves of the ear
are resuming their old and healthy tone. Nevertheless
you may surmise how jealously I keep testing the povrer
so wonderfully restored to me ; and, when the night seems
too silent to be natural, how my gratified ear catches
each casual noise, delighted to follow the light scratching
of my pen upon the paper : for in my anxious condition
the most minute test is of course the most valuable.

" The more I consider the nature of the malady, and its

stealthy and gradual progress, the more I am encouraged

' to believe that it w^ill not return without some warning

sufficient to prepare me for another, and it may be

then a final, attack. But when so much is at stake, I



76 THE THREE CHANCES.

may be excused a little faint-hear tedness. Except for
mj own cliildish amusement, however, I am seldom
called on to try the reality of my recovery by any
voluntary movement. Even through these hours of
repose, which I should once have thought so silent, there
is usually enough stirring — a gust of wind, the hum-
ming of a gnat, a rat behind the arras — something dis-
tinct enough to thrill the nerves and comfort the inmost
soul of him who has, day after day, been vainly striving to
distinguish some definite sound.

^' Had the sense been restored to me under such circum-
stances of moderate excitement as surround me while I
write, my satisfaction at the moment of receiving it
would have been more complete ; for, considering the
sort of Babel where I happened to be when my ears were
opened, I could almost imagine that the gift of healing
was in my case deputed to some sprite of the Eobin
Goodfellow tribe, who could not exercise his kindness
towards ^ child of clay without shewing his freakish
disposition, his innate love of mischief and confusion.

" It is now nearly a week since I came to town, and yes-
terday, having business in the city, I went with old Mil-
lington, my stockbroker, to the bank. I had just taken
leave of him, and was returning through that part of the
building they call the Eotunda, without the remotest
suspicion of what was going to happen to me, when a noise
resembling a violent crash or explosion sounded ap-
parently close to me. I must tell you that I had been



WELCOME TIDINGS. 77

for some time past trying a simple remedy, recommended,
if I rightly remember, by your good old housekeeper ; per-
severing in it according to her directions, though I had
but little faith in its efficacy. How far the softening
lotion might really have taken effect when more strin-
gent remedies proved unavailing, or whether my relief
arose simply from the voluntary bursting of the swelling
or obstacle which had caused my previous misery, it is
impossible for me to say ; but neither of these explana-
tions occurring at the moment of my deliverance, my
senses were confounded by the shock. My only im-
pulse was to look about me in dismay, expecting to see
the building rent asunder, and the doomed crowd that
were hurrying along the hall, overwhelmed with myself,
in one common ruin ; but when I beheld every thing in
its ordinary state, and not a single countenance shewdng
signs of unusual emotion ; and, more than all, when I had
sense to remark that the sounds following this seeming
explosion were not the dull muffled murmurs incident
to deafness, but real and living noises proceeding from
human lips, and the stamp of human feet upon the
pavement — (you may have observed the peculiar and
ceaseless echoes of that place when it is thronged with
passengers.) — no lapse of time, my dear Cranston, can
ever weaken the impression of what I felt at that mo-
ment! I was literally overborne as with a flood of
happiness, and, reeling with the intensity of my sensa-
tions, caught for temporary support on the nearest object



78 THE THREE CHANCES.

which presented itself. It ^happened to be the arm of
one of the ugliest and most forbidding of all the
worshippers in that temple of Mammon. I have his face
of surly suspicion before me now. I had grasped him
too tightly — or had trod upon his corns (he was a fellow
to have every toe studded with them) — or he probably
gave me credit for being an accomplished member of the
swell-mob, having my gang at hand ready to hustle and
relieve him of the dividends he had just been receiving.
At all events he shook me off with a curse ; and though,
at such an instant, I had not a thought to bestow on the
bear, yet a mournful moral, Dick, might surely be drawn
from the fact, that the first use I was to make of my
recovered hearing — the first proof of my being able to
distinguish the voice of a fellow-creature — was to be
conveyed in the sound of a brutal oath : my welcome,
forsooth, to the outer world from which I had been so
long excluded ! Of course, this was but an after- thought.
Had the most tremendous malediction contained in all the
Eomish ritual been launched against me then, I should
have hailed every word with delight — any thing that was
intelligible — any thing that I could hear, and understand
without the aid of mechanical means, or even the pretty
little fingers of my sweet shepherdess. While the
general tumult might have passed for a mere aggrava-
tion of the malady, this one coarse anathema, in English
unmistakeable, sealed my joy.

And yet what an almost intolerable confusion seemed



WELCOME TIDINGS. 79

to surround me ! It is a common case with those who
regain their hearing after any long suspension of the sense,
that every noise seems painfully increased in power and
acuteness. But this simple explanation of what I ex-
perienced, failed at first to occur to me. I feared that my
brain was affected, or on the point of being so, and I flew
from the place as fast as the crowd would let me. Perhaps
the uproar which appeared to salute me, as I went forth
into the streets, might not be less in volume than the
awful din from which I had just escaped ; but these noises
were more familiar in their character: most welcome to
my ear — even while they seemed to be striking u^Don its
naked nerve — the rumbling and crushing of wheels, horses'
hoofs, clattering in every direction, and all the bustle and
clamour of a great city !

" It was well for my reputation, as a sane and sober man,
that I was walking in a district where the population is
far too busy and self-engrossed, to attend to the deport-
ment of a fellow-passenger, provided his eccentricities are
not such as to occasion a stoppage on the Queen's highway;
for, certain now of my happiness, it is no exaggeration to
say that I hardly felt the ground beneath my feet : moving
as if I had been in a trance, and making my way more by
instinct than volition. And yet I would rather believe

- it something beyond a blind impulse that directed my
steps towards that great and glorious Cathedral which
shortly rose upon my sight. I could not have passed

- any church standing open by the wayside to receive me ;



80 THE THREE CHANCES.

but where could I have found one more according with
the vastness and exuberance of my emotion than this
grand St. Paul's ! It seemed, as I came in sight of it, to
be looking down upon me with a grave though mild
reproof, that my deliverance should have been accom-
plished so many minutes, and yet that I should be still
dreaming only of the earth, and losing myself in the
vague ecstasies of an unbridled exultation.

" But it was not till I entered the walls of the Cathedral,
and felt the influence of its high and solemn architecture,
its grand proportions, and its cool, calm atmosphere, that
my sensual raptures subsided into the tranquillity meet
for such a place — the humility of praise and prayer. Sub-
dued yet strengthened as I was by this awful magnificence
brooding over me, something was yet reserved to elevate
the character of my joy, and give it the impress of another
and a better world. I should have been contented,
doubtless, to feed my ear with the resounding footsteps
and distant echoes ever floating about the building, and
have departed humbled in my gratitude, and desiring
nothing more ; but then there came chanting in the
/choir, and presently the organ ! — Oh, Cranston, think
what it must have been to one who had mourned so
hopelessly ; who had looked forward to nothing but years
of soulless monotony, without one note of music to
gladden his spirit or soften his heart ! I know not if
the service they performed that day was any thing more
than ordinary; but it seemed to me that angels



WELCOME TIDINGS. 81

from heaven could Dot have given forth melody more
unearthly — more touchingly divine. My soul wellnigli
fainted under the excess of its rapture and adoration ;
and, from what I felt at that moment, I can well com-
prehend the state in which those of old time dreamed
dreams and beheld visions. It might have been good
for me if I had died then ; for, as long as I inhabit this
world, I can never again expect to be so purified from
human desires, and willing to bid it an eternal farewell.
" What a pity it is that impressions like these should
wear away so quickly ! Before I had reached home I was
feeling myself so thoroughly the Manley Frere I used to
be, that I could hardly bring myself to believe that the
twelvemonth I had existed under the curse of this malady,
was any thing but one long sleep, varied by strange and
fantastic dreams. I had been wandering in the wood
near Athens, that was all ! You will say, perhaps, that
the idea was a foolish one, but that there was no great
harm in it ; but, Dick, in my inmost heart I have reason
to fear that a wicked wish was father to that thought.
Such a tide of old feelings came rushing in upon me —
such weak regrets — such vain longings for what, I solemnly
declare to you, that if, by any possibility it could be offered
to me now, I would resolutely reject. I could not pre-
vent the entrance of these silly notions, but exerted my-
self so fiercely to expel the intruders, that I have tolerably
succeeded. Though even still there is an impression I
cannot get over, as if I had suddenly emerged from

TOI* III. G



82 THE THREE CHAXCES.

Fairyland ; and as the place and people most connected
witli the season of my deafness, bear not the slightest
reference to any other state of things, it seems only natu-
ral that, the disease having vanished, these accompani-
ments to it ought also to die away, and become as a
tale that is told.

" I beg you to understand, however, that I am far
from acting on the principle of this fantastic impres-
sion. I am as much alive as ever to the responsibili-
ties incurred during the period of my transformation
— for in that light I shall always regard it ; and in my
sane moods am perfectly content to abide the issue of
the singular adventure that has ensued thereof. Some-
thing tangible I have, at least, remaining in the
letter I am daily receiving from my good little shep-
herdess : and very nice productions they are, doing no
discredit to the head or the heart which dictates
them, or to the pretty hand that guides the pen ; with
just such a flavour of mannerism and individuality about
them as one values in the letter of a friend. Thinsrs so
pretty and quaint do not deserve that their author should
be held only as a will-o'-the-wisp ; and, while owning the
foolish fancies in which I sometimes lose mvself, I can
truly add that, supposing I were to be deprived of this
interesting young creature, I should experience a void in
my heart and existence not easily to be filled. I please
myself continually with anticipating \h<i sudden lighting
up of her animated countenance when the strange truth



WELCOME TIDINGS. 83

first dawns upon her : for you may suppose how carefully
I mean to conceal my recovery till I can reveal it in
person ; so I shall hurry post-haste to Etheridge, lest by
any chance my secret should escape. This, of course,
was my motive for asking you, in note No. 1, to keep
the matter even from your own family — even from old
Martha herself, as I then intended remaining longer in
town. Now, however, having changed my intention, the
request becomes superfluous : I shall merely wait over
the morning, which is breaking while I write the words,

to get the opinion of Dr. , as to whether I may

place a comfortable reliance on the permanence of my
cure, and, in case of being threatened again with the dis-
order, what had best be done to check its progress.

" About seven o'clock, then, and just as the twilight
is beginning to steal over Sheen rectory, its grave and
reverend incumbent may fancy — if he will condescend to
do so — the sort of interlude, with its ^startling effects'
and ' unbounded applause,' that will be playing off at the
good old manor-house. It would really annoy me, if by
any mischance Phebe should come to the knowledge
of my recovery, and I be not by to witness her natural
and warm delight. For I venture to presume that, al-
though Miss Divet did me the honour of choosing me in
spite of all deficiencies and drawbacks, she will not per-
sist in preferring a lover nearly stone-deaf to one who
can hear whatever she pleases to say to him. A few
years ago, it would hardly have been necessary to keep



84 THE THREE CHANCES.

the secret till I had actually left London, mine not being
quite a world-wide reputation ; but with the fear of
railway expresses and electric telegraphs before my eyes,
I do not even for the few remaining hours dare to give
up what I may now call my incognito. It is less diffi-
cult to preserve this than might be supposed ; for as I
am still wholly unsuspected, and consequently approached
as heretofore with signs and gestures, it requires but
little care still to preserve habits which have become a
second nature to me, and to answer in the usual way.

*' One material bar to the preservation of my secret
is removed in the person of that rogue, Druce, whose
observation it would have been harder to elude than
that of all the house besides. I lately detected him in
certain irregularities so little in accordance with his
puritanical pretensions, that I got rid of him imme-
diately, and have not yet found any one to supply his
place. If I were to mention as one reason for his dis-
missal, a manifest disposition on the part of Mr. Druce
for tampering with my private correspondence, you might


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Online LibrarySallie Bingham Center for Women's History and CultThe three chances (Volume 3) → online text (page 5 of 17)