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All the Treeby's went to morning service at the little parish church that Christmas-day, and Austin was able to accompany them; for Dr. Mortemn having looked in upon Tom at an early hour declared that he saw little the matter with him, and told his brother that he might be left alone for a few hours with the utmost safety. It was a goodly Christmas-day, for it was seasonable in every way. From "Treeby Cottage" to the church door there lay a carpet of untrodden snow, which had descended from heaven during the night, and there had not been time for foot human or bestial to soil its purity. It lay stainlessly white on the green of the hollies and against the coral of the scarlet berries, and there was not the lightest wind moving to ruffle it, for the air lay perfectly quiet, as if the day itself, conscious of the great nativity which was being celebrated, had put on a garment clean and white, and was keeping holy rest.

"And so you are going to migrate for a short time," said Austin, in allusion to the Ashleigh invitation, as he walked along by Kate's side. "Do you like the idea of it?"

"I liked it immensely at first, Mr. Reefer, but I don't feel the same about it now," she replied, in a melancholy tone.

"How is that?"

"Ned, you know, is coming home on Saturday, and of course Lady Boulder's invitation does not include him, so that he must be left here, and I know papa won't hear of me staying with him. Isn't it wretched? The dear old fellow will be miserable, you know, at being left by himself, and so shall I thinking about him, if papa insists upon me going to this place. It seems so cruel, just when he is coming home after that horrid stiff examination-I wish I could throttle those examiners-and wants lots of amusement and cheerful company. I wish now Lady Boulder's letter had been lost. I quite forgot about Ned, when papa first read it. What do you think I should do about it, Mr. Reefer?"

I fear the advice Mr. Reefer gave was not quite disinterested. He, too, had been pleased with Lady Boulder's letter. A month at a place like Ashleigh was the very thing for Kate; it would introduce her into the best society, and give just that culture to her character and polish to her manners which both required, and it would probably gain her a number of valuable and useful friends. A good many men would have preferred that she should remain in her present seclusion, knowing that along with the advantages which society might bring to her, it might bring corresponding disadvantages to them in the shape of a few dangerous rivals; but this thought never occurred to Austin, or if it did he dismissed it as foolish and unworthy, for was he not going to propose to Kate before ever she went near Ashleigh, and was he not sure of a favourable reception, and this being the case what

would all the rivals in the world matter to him? And then, as he sometimes went to Ashleigh himself about Christmas time, he thought it not unlikely, if his brother was sufficiently recruited, that he might join the Treeby's there before their visit had expired. Kate's feeling about Master Ned he treated as a very small matter. It was natural enough she should be so wrapped

in her brother, and pity his enforced solitude; but what could a fellow of his age be good for if he could not bear to be parted from his sisters for a few weeks? And what was a little temporary disappointment to him compared with the immense advantages to Kate in visiting a place like Ashleigh? Ah me! how selfish love can make even a philosopher!

"It is certainly unfortunate your brother coming home and this invitation arriving at the same moment, but, depend upon it, he will not feel so desolate as you think. He will be a good deal disappointed at first, of course, but a young fellow like him will be sure to find himself amusement. I dare say he will make acquaintance with the people you went to see yesterday. Didn't you say there were two boys in the family? I don't think you need make yourself anxious about his health; if he has been working hard he will naturally look a little thin and knocked down, but he will soon pick up again, you may be sure. I should advise you to go to Ashleigh in as good spirits as possible, and to snatch all the enjoyment you can while you are there. I am sure you will be delighted with Lady Boulder. Your brother will still be here when you return, will he not?"

"Oh-yes; but a whole month to be left by himself, poor boy! And then the news of his having passed will be sure to come in a week or two, and we shall not be with him to congratulate him; it will seem so cruel," replied Kate, in an unsatisfied tone. ❝ You give me cold comfort, Mr. Reefer."

They walked a few steps in silence, Austin looking very grave and meditative, Kate's countenance clouded with unwonted despondency.

"If the Jenkinson boys are like their sisters, I don't think Ned would have much to do with them, and I should be very sorry if he had," said Kate, at length. "The Jenkinson girls seem dreadfully underbred; they drop their h's, and talk a great deal of slang."

"Do you think the last a very uncommon failing?" asked Austin, looking in her face with a significant smile.

"What a shame, Mr. Reefer!" cried Kate, turning a face to him over which a colour had rushed more beautiful than the bunch of holly-berries which Austin plucked at this moment from a cluster of evergreens near the churchyard gate. "What a shame, Mr. Reefer, to insinuate in that way. I was afraid you would

have noticed it in me, but you should have shut your eyes. I didn't know how horridly vulgar it was till I heard the Jenkinsons yesterday. I have made a vow to cure myself, and you mustn't taunt me with it again, Mr. Reefer."

"You aren't ready to echo the Scotch poet's prayer,

Oh that some power the gift wad gie us

To see oursels as others see us!"

"Yes I am, Mr. Reefer; I want to see all my faults; but then, you know, it is rather hard to be reminded of one when you have seen it, and are doing all you can to cure yourself of it."

"A happy thought has just struck me," said Austin. "It has nothing to do with your faults, however, which, if they exist at all, are not very patent to me, whatever they may be to other people. Why shouldn't your brother spend his month with Tom and myself? We shall be going to the sea-side, and if your brother is at all pulled down, the sea air will be the very thing to set him up again, and I dare say we shall manage to get some yachting.'


Oh, Mr. Reefer, could you really take him? How very, very kind it is of you to think of it! It will be just what he will delight in, for he has a passion for the sea, and anything in the shape of boating, and he won't feel our being away from him nearly so much. Mr. Reefer, I feel so grateful to you, and so will mamma when I tell her about it."

"Then I have made some amends for the insinuation," he rcplied, mischievously.

"You're not to mention that again, Mr. Reefer."

"Very well. Isn't that our friend the vicar? What is it he is doing?"

But the record of the Rev. Mr. Hawkes's actions at this particular time must form the opening of another chapter.





Book the first.




ONE evening, at the latter end of April, a few years ago, just as it was becoming dusk, a young man, extremely well favoured and well proportioned, took his way on foot across an extensive heath in one of our southern counties.

Hilary St. Ives-for so was he named-might be about one or two and twenty. Rather dark, perhaps, but strikingly handsome. Features regular and well cut; complexion olive; locks jet black; eyes dark and shaded by long eyelashes that tempered their fire; beard black and of a silken texture. Altogether, as fine a young man as you could desire to see. A Tweed walking suit and round felt hat constituted his costume. Across his broad shoulders were strapped a knapsack and a waterproof coat, and he carried a stout stick in his hand.

Our young traveller was bound for the village of Wootton, which was situated at the further side of the heath, where he had learnt there was a good inn, at which he proposed to rest for the night. He had walked far that day, and having dined early and somewhat sparingly, was quite ready for supper. In fact, the keen air and exercise made him feel ravenously hungry.

As far as he could judge-for he was a stranger to the country -three miles still lay between him and the desired haven. Nothing to so stout a pedestrian as he. But if the distance could be shortened so much the better. He would be sooner at the inn, and supper would be sooner set before him.

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After looking in the direction where he supposed Wootton lay, and studying, as far as he was able, the intervening ground, he came to the conclusion that a considerable angle might be cut off by quitting the high road, and crossing the heath as a crow would wing its flight over it. All very well in the day-time, but the shades of night were gathering rapidly, and the gloom was increased by a mist that arose from an adjacent marsh.

Hilary, however, had no misgivings-no idea of the risk he might run. He was not aware that between him and Wootton lay a deep and dangerous morass, which could only be safely traversed by one familiar with the locality.

Wootton Heath, though partially reclaimed, still comprehended many miles of wholly uncultivated land. Being undrained, some portions of the waste were marshy, and about half a mile to the left of the road, along which our young traveller was wending his way, lay the extensive morass to which we have just adverted. On the other side the heath was less swampy, and being covered by a short thymy turf, was well adapted to sheep pasture. When enlivened by sunshine, the wide expanse, purpled by heather, embellished by fern and clusters of tall gorse, with here and there a grey old thorn or a holly, presented a charming picture. The limits of the heath were marked on the right by a broad belt of firs overtopped by the white spire of a newly built church. On the left the boundary was undefined, the village of Wootton being invisible. Three or four little knolls or hillocks rising in the midst of the waste were crowned with clumps of pines, and contributed to the beauty of the landscape.

Before quitting the high road Hilary looked around in quest of some one to direct him to Wootton. Not a human being was in sight. Not a sound was heard, except the bleating of sheep and the distant barking of a watch-dog. The heath was perfectly solitary. However, our young traveller did not hesitate; but striking off on the left, where, as we have explained, the danger lay, he speeded over the elastic turf.

In this manner he had soon accomplished nearly half a mile, without encountering any obstacle, except such as was presented by clumps of gorse, intermingled with briers, and was congratulating himself on his cleverness, when the swampy nature of the ground brought him to a sudden stand-still.

Not a minute too soon. Had he taken many steps farther, he would have been engulphed in the treacherous morass. He understood his danger, and perceiving that the quagmire must be impassable, and not liking to skirt it, he turned back, as much provoked with himself as he had previously been well satisfied.

He endeavoured to regain the high road, which he had so imprudently quitted, but bewildered by the gloom-for it was now

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