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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Chapter XXXIV

Chapter XXXIV.

greek or latin text

Has any person, of any nation or language, found out and given to the world any occupation, work, diversion, or pursuit, more subtlely dangerous to the susceptible youth of both sexes than that of nutting in pairs? If so, who, where, what? A few years later in life, perhaps district visiting, and attending schools together, may in certain instances be more fatal; but, in the first bright days of youth, a day's nutting against the world! A day in autumn, warm enough to make sitting in sheltered nooks in the woods, where the sunshine can get, very pleasant, and yet not too warm to make exercise uncomfortable; two young people who have been thrown much together, one of whom is conscious of the state of his feelings towards the other, and is, moreover, aware that his hours are numbered, that in a few days at furthest they will be separated for many months, that persons in authority on both sides are beginning to suspect something (as is apparent from the difficulty they have had in getting away together at all on this same afternoon)—here is a conjunction of persons and circumstances, if ever there was one in the world, which is surely likely to end in a catastrophe. Indeed, so obvious to the meanest capacity is the danger of the situation that, as Tom had, in his own mind, staked his character for Resolution with his private self on the keeping of his secret till after he was of age, it is hard to conceive how he can have been foolish enough to get himself into a hazel copse alone with Miss Mary on the earliest day he could manage it after the arrival of the Porters, on their visit to Mr. and Mrs. Brown. That is to say, it would be hard to conceive, if it didn't just happen to be the most natural thing in the world.

For the first twenty-four hours after their meeting in the home of his fathers, the two young people, and Tom in particular, felt very uncomfortable. Mary, being a young lady of very high spirits, and, as readers may probably have discovered, much given to that kind of conversation which borders as nearly upon what men commonly call chaff as a well-bred girl can venture on, was annoyed to find herself quite at fault in all her attempts to get her old antagonist of Commemoration to show fight. She felt in a moment how changed his manner was, and thought it by no means page 105 changed for the better. As for Tom, he felt foolish and shy at first to an extent which drove him half wild; his words stuck in his throat, and he took to blushing again like a boy of fourteen. In fact, he got so angry with himself that he rather avoided her actual presence, though she was scarcely a moment out of his sight. Mr. Brown made the most of his son's retreat, devoted himself most gallantly to Alary, and was completely captivated by the first night of their arrival, and triumphed over his wife when they were alone at the groundlessness of her suspicions. But she was by no means so satisfied on the subject as her husband.

In a day or two, however, Tom began to take heart of grace, and to find himself oftener at Mary's side, with something to say, and more to look. But now she, in her turn, began to be embarrassed, for all attempts to re-establish their old footing failed; and the difficulty of finding a satisfactory new one remained to be solved. So for the present, though neither of them found it quite satisfactory, they took refuge in the presence of a third party, and attached themselves to Katie, talking at one another through her. Nothing could exceed Katie's judiciousness as a medium of communication; and through her a better understanding began to establish itself, and the visit which both of them had been looking forward to so eagerly seemed likely, after all, to be as pleasant in fact as it had been in anticipation. As they became more at case, the vigilance of Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Porter seemed likely to revive. But in a country house there must be plenty of chances for young folk who mean it to be together; and so they found and made use of their opportunities, giving at the same time as little cause to their natural guardians as possible for any serious interference. The families got on, on the whole, so well together that the. visit was prolonged from the original four or five days to a fortnight; and this time of grace was drawing to a close when the event happened which made the visit memorable to our hero.

On the morning in question, Mr. Brown arranged at breakfast that he and his wife should drive Mr. and Mrs. Porter to make calls on several of the neighbours. Tom declared his intention of taking a long day after the partridges, and the young ladies were to go and make a sketch of the house from a point which Katie had chosen. Accordingly, directly after luncheon the carriage came round, and the elders departed, and the young ladies started together, carrying their sketching apparatus with them.

It was probably a bad day for scent, for they had not been gone a quarter of an hour when Tom came home, deposited his gun, and followed on their steps. He found them sitting under the lee of a high bank, sufficiently intent on their drawings, but neither surprised nor sorry to find that he had altered his mind and come back to interrupt them. So he lay down near them, and talked of Oxford, and Englebourn, and so from one thing to another, till he got upon the subject of nutting, and the sylvan beauties of a neighbouring wood. Mary was getting on badly with her drawing, and jumped at the idea of a ramble in the wood; but Katie was obdurate, and resisted all their solicitations to move. She suggested, however, that they might go; and, as Tom declared that they should not be out of call, and would be back in half an hour at furthest, Mary consented, and they left the sketcher, and strolled together out of the fields, and into the road, and so through a gate into the wood. It was a pleasant oak wood. The wild flowers were over, but the great masses of ferns, four or five feet high, made a grand carpet round the stems of the forest monarchs, and a fitting couch for here and there one of them, which had been lately felled, and lay in fallen majesty, with bare shrouded trunk awaiting the sawyers. Further on the hazel underwood stood thickly on each side of the green rides, down which they sauntered side by side. Tom talked of the beauty of the wood in Spring-time, and the glorious succession of colouring—pale yellow and deep blue and white and purple—which page 106 the primroses and hyacinths and starwort and fox-gloves gave, each in their turn, in the early year, and mourned over their absence. But Mary preferred Autumn, and would not agree with him. She was enthusiastic for ferns and heather. He gathered some sprigs of the latter for her, from a little sandy patch which they passed, and some more for his own button-hole; and then they engaged in the absorbing pursuit of nutting, and the talk almost ceased. He caught the higher branches, and bent them down to her, and watched her as she gathered them, and wondered at the ease and grace of all her movements, and the unconscious beauty of her attitudes. Soon she became more enterprising herself, and made little excursions into the copse, surmounting briars, and passing through tangled places like a Naiad, before he could be there to help her. And so they went on, along the rides and through the copse, forgetting Katie and time, till they were brought up by the fence on the further side of the wood. The ditch was on the outside, and on the inside a bank with a hedge on the top, full of tempting hazel bushes. She clapped her hands at the sight, and, declining his help, stepped lightly up the bank, and began gathering. He turned away for a moment, jumped up the bank himself, and followed her example.

He was standing up in the hedge, and reaching after a tempting cluster of nuts, when he heard a short sharp cry of pain behind him, which made him spring backwards, and nearly miss his footing as he came to the ground. Recovering himself, and turning round, he saw Mary lying at the foot of the bank, writhing in pain.

He was at her side in an instant, and dreadfully alarmed.

"Good heavens! what has happened?" he said.

"My ancle!" she cried; and the effort of speaking brought the sudden flush of pain to her brow.

"Oh! what can I do?"

"The boot! the boot!" she said, leaning forward to unlace it, and then sinking back against the bank. "It is so painful. I hope I sha'n't faint."

Poor Tom could only clasp his hands as he knelt by her, and repeat: "Oh, what can I do—what can I do?"

His utter bewilderment presently roused Mary, and her natural high courage was beginning to master the pain.

"Have you a knife?"

"Yes—here," he said, pulling one out of his pocket, and opening it; "here it is."

"Please cut the lace."

Tom, with beating heart and trembling hand, cut the lace, and then looked up at her.

"Oh, be quick—cut it again; don't be afraid."

He cut it again; and, without taking hold of the foot, gently pulled out the ends of the lace.

She again leaned forward, and tried to take off the boot. But the pain was too great; and she sank back, and put her hand up to her flushed face.

"May I try?—perhaps I could do it."

"Yes, pray do. Oh, I can't bear the pain!" she added, next moment; and Tom felt ready to hang himself for having been the cause of it.

"You must cut the boot off, please."

"But perhaps I may cut you. Do you really mean it?"

"Yes, really. There, take care. How your hand shakes. You will never do for a doctor."

His hand did shake certainly. he had cut a little hole in the stocking; but, under the circumstances, we need not wonder—the situation was new and trying. Urged on by her, he cut and cut away, and, at last, off came the boot, and her beautiful little foot lay on the green turf. She was much relieved at once, but still in great pain; and now he began to recover his head.

"The ancle should be bound up; may I try?"

"Oh, yes; but what with?"

Tom dived into his shooting-coat pocket, and produced one of the. large, many-coloured neck-wrappers which were fashionable at Oxford in those days.

"How lucky," he said, as. he tore it page 107 into strips. "I think this will do. Now, you'll stop me, won't you, if I hurt, or don't do it right?"

"Don't he afraid; I'm much better. Bind it tight—tighter than that."

He wound the strips as tenderly as he could round her foot and ancle, with hands all alive with nerves, and wondering more and more at her courage as she kept urging him to draw the bandage tighter yet. Then, still under her direction, he fastened and pinned down the ends; and, as he was rather neat with his fingers, from the practice of tying flies and splicing rods and bats, produced, on the whole, a creditable sort of bandage. Then he looked up at her, the perspiration standing on his forehead, as if he had been pulling a race, and said:

"Will that do? I'm afraid it's very awkward."

"Oh, no; thank you so much! But I'm so sorry you have torn your handkerchief."

Tom made no answer to this remark, except by a look. What could he say, but that he would gladly have torn his skin off for the same purpose, if it would have been of any use; but this speech did not seem quite the thing for the moment.

"But how do you feel? Is it very painful?" he asked.

"Bather. But don't look so anxious. Indeed, it is very bearable. But what are we to do now?"

He thought for a moment, and said, with something like a sigh,—

"Shall I run home, and bring the servants and a sofa, or something to carry you on?"

"No, I shouldn't like to be left here alone."

His face brightened again.

"How near is the nearest cottage?" she asked.

"There's none nearer than the one which we passed on the road—on the other side of the wood, you know."

"Then I must try to get there. You must help me up."

He sprang to his feet, and stooped over her, doubting how to begin helping her. He had never felt so shy in his life. He held out his hands.

"I think you must put your arm round me," she said, after looking at him for a moment. Her woman's instinct was satisfied with the look. He lifted her on to her feet.

"Now, let me lean on your arm. There, I daresay I shall manage to hobble along well enough;" and she made a brave attempt to walk. But the moment the injured foot touched the ground, she stopped with a catch of her breath, and a shiver, which went through Tom like a knife; and the flush came back into her face, and she would have fallen had he not again put his arm round her waist, and held her up. "I am better again now," she said, after a second or two.

"But Mary, dear Mary, don't try to walk again, for my sake. I can't bear it."

"But what am I to do?" she said. "I must get back somehow."

"Will you let me carry you?"

She looked in his face again, and then dropped her eyes, and hesitated.

"I wouldn't offer, dear, if there were any other way. But you mustn't walk. Indeed, you must not; you may lame yourself for life."

He spoke very quietly, with his eyes fixed on the ground, though his heart was beating so that he feared she would hear it.

"Very well," she said; "but I'm very heavy."

So he lifted her gently, and stepped off down the ride, carrying his whole world in his arms, in an indescribable flutter of joy, and triumph, and fear. He had gone some forty yards or so, when he staggered, and stopped for a moment.

"Oh, pray put me down—pray do! You'll hurt yourself. I'm too heavy."

For the credit of muscular Christianity, one must say that it was not her weight, but the tumult in his own inner man, which made her bearer totter. Nevertheless, if one is wholly unused to the exercise, the carrying a healthy young English girl weighing hard on page 108 eight stone, is as much as most men can conveniently manage.

"I'll just put you down for a moment," he said. "Now take care of the foot;" and he stooped, and placed her tenderly against one of the oaks which bordered the ride, standing by her side without looking at her. Neither of them spoke for a minute. Then he asked, still looking away down the ride, "How is the foot?"

"Oh, pretty well," she answered, cheerfully. "Now, leave me here, and go for help. It is absurd of me to mind being left, and you mustn't carry me any more."

He turned, and their eyes met for a moment, but that was enough.

"Are you ready?" he said.

"Yes, but take care. Don't go far. Stop directly you feel tired."

Then he lifted her again, and this time carried her without faltering, till they came to a hillock covered with soft grass. Here they rested again, and so by easy stages he carried her through the wood, and out into the road, to the nearest cottage, neither of them speaking.

An old woman came to the door in answer to his kick, and went off into ejaculations of pity and wonder in the broadest Berkshire, at seeing Master Tom and his burthen. But he pushed into the house and cut her short with—

"Now, Mrs. Pike, don't talk, that's a dear good woman, but bustle about, and bring that arm-chair here, and the other low one, with a pillow on it, for the young lady's foot to rest on."

The old woman obeyed his injunctions, except as to talking; and, while she placed the chairs and shook up the pillow, descanted on the sovereign virtues of some green oil and opodeldoc, which was as good as a charm for sprains and bruises.

Mary gave him one grateful look as he lowered her tenderly and reluctantly into the chair, and then spoke cheerfully to Mrs. Pike, who was foraging in a cupboard, to find if there was any of her famous specific in the bottom of the bottle. As he stood up, and thought what to do next, he heard the sound of distant wheels, and looking through the window saw the carriage coming homewards. It was a sorrowful sight to him.

"Now, Mrs. Pike," he said, "never mind the oil. Here's the carriage coming; just step out and stop it."

The old dame scuttled out into the road. The carriage was within one hundred yards. He leant over the rough arm-chair in which she was leaning back, looked once more into her eyes; and then, stooping forwards, kissed her lips, and the next moment was by the side of Mrs. Pike, signalling the coachman to stop.

In the bustle which followed he stood aside, and watched Mary with his heart in his mouth. She never looked at him, but there was no anger, but only a dreamy look in her sweet face, which seemed to him a thousand times more beautiful than ever before. Then, to avoid inquiries, and to realize all that had passed in the last wonderful three hours, he slipped away while they were getting her into the carriage, and wandered back into the wood, pausing at each of their halting places. At last he reached the scene of the accident, and here his cup of happiness was likely to brim over, for he found the mangled little boot and the cut lace, and securing the precious prize, hurried back home, to be in time for dinner.

Mary did not come down, but Katie, the only person of whom he dared to inquire, assured him that she was doing famously. The dinner was very embarrassing, and he had the greatest difficulty in answering the searching inquiries of his mother and Mrs. Porter, as to how, when, where, and in whose presence the accident had happened. As soon as the ladies rose, he left his father and Mr. Porter over their old port and politics, and went out in the twilight into the garden, burthened with the weight of sweet thought. He felt that he had something to do—to set himself quite right with Mary; he must speak somehow, that night, if possible, or he should not be comfortable or at peace with his conscience. There page 109 were lights in her room. He guessed by the shadows that she was lying on a couch by the open window, round which the other ladies were flitting. Presently lights appeared in the drawing-room; and, as the shutters were being closed, he saw his mother and Mrs. Porter come in, and sit down near the fire. Listening intently, he heard Katie talking in a low voice in the room above, and saw her head against the light as she sat down close to the window, probably at the head of the couch where Alary was lying. Should he call to her? If he did how could he say what he wanted to say through her?

A happy thought struck him. He turned to the flower-beds, hunted about and gathered a bunch of heliotrope, hurried up to his room, took the sprig of heather out of his shooting coat, tied them together, caught up a reel and line from his table, and went into the room over Mary's. He threw the window open, and, leaning out, said gently, "Katie." No answer. He repeated the name louder. No answer still, and, leaning out yet further, he saw that the window had been shut. He lowered the bunch of flowers, and, swinging it backwards and forwards, made it strike the window below—once, twice; at the third stroke he heard the window open.

"Katie," he whispered again, "is that you?"

"Yes, where are you? What is this?"

"For her," he said in the same whisper. Katie untied the flowers, and he waited a few moments, and then again called her name, and she answered.

"Has she the flowers?"

"Yes, and she sends you her love, and says you are to go down to the drawing-room;" and with that the window closed, and he went down with a lightened conscience into the drawing-room, and after joining in the talk by the fire for a few minutes, took a book, and sat down at the further side of the table. Whether he ever knew what the book was may be fairly questioned, but to all appearances he was deep in the perusal of it till the tea and Katie arrived, and the gentlemen from the dining-room. Then he tried to join in the conversation again; but, on the whole, life was a burthen to him that night till he could get fairly away to his own room, and commune with himself, gazing at the yellow harvest moon with his elbows on the window-sill.

The ancle got well very quickly, and Mary was soon going about with a gold-headed stick which had belonged to Mr. Brown's father, and a limp which Tom thought the most beautiful movement he had ever seen. But, though she was about again, by no amount of patient vigilance could he now get the chance of speaking to her alone. But he consoled himself with the thought that she must understand him; if he had spoken he couldn't have made himself clearer.

And now the Porters' visit was all but over, and Katie and her father left for Englebourn. The Porters were to follow the next day, and promised to drive round and stop at the rectory for lunch. Tom petitioned for a seat in their carriage to Englebourn. He had been devoting himself to Mrs. Porter ever since the accident, and had told her a good deal about his own early life. His account of his early friendship for Betty and her son, and the renewal of it on the day he left Barton Manor, had interested her, and she was moreover not insensible to his assiduous and respectful attentions to herself, which had of late been quite marked: she was touched too at his anxiety to hear all about her boys, and how they were going on at school. So on the whole Tom was in high favour with her, and she most graciously assented to his occupying the fourth seat in their barouche. She was not without her suspicions of the real state of the case with him; but his behaviour had been so discreet that she had no immediate fears; and, after all, if anything should come of it some years hence, her daughter might do worse. In the meantime she would see plenty page 110 of society in London; where Mr. Porter's vocations kept him during the greater part of the year.

They reached Englebourn after a pleasant long morning's drive; and Tom stole a glance at Mary, and felt that she understood him, as he pointed out the Hawk's Lynch and the clump of Scotch firs to her mother; and told how you might see Barton from the top of it, and how he loved the place, and the old trees, and the view.

Katie was at the door ready to receive them, and carried off Mary and Mrs. Porter to her own room. Tom walked round the garden with Mr. Porter, and then sat in the drawing-room, and felt melancholy. he roused himself however when the ladies came down and luncheon was announced. Mary was full of her reminiscences of the Englebourn people, and especially of poor Mrs. Winburn and her son, in whom she had begun to take a deep interest, perhaps from overhearing some of Tom's talk to her mother. So Harry's story was canvassed again, and Katie told them how he had been turned out of his cottage, and how anxious she was as to what would come of it.

"And is he going to marry your gardener's daughter after all?" asked Mrs. Porter.

"I am afraid there is not much chance of it," said Katie; "I cannot make Martha out."

"Is she at home, Katie?" asked Mary; "I should like to see her again. I took a great fancy to her when I was here."

"Yes, she is at the lodge. We will walk there after luncheon."

So it was settled that the carriage should pick them up at the lodge; and soon after luncheon, while the horses were being put to, the whole party started for the lodge after saying goodbye to Mr. Winter, who retired to his room much fatigued by his unwonted hospitality.

Old Simon's wife answered their knock at the lodge door, and they all entered, and Mrs. Porter paid her compliments on the cleanliness of the room.

Then Mary said, "Is your daughter at home, Mrs. Gibbons?"

"Ees, miss, someweres handy," replied Mrs. Gibbons; "her hav'n't been gone out not dree minutes."

"I should like so much to say goodbye to her," said Mary. "We shall be leaving Barton soon, and I shall not see her again till next summer."

"Lor bless'ee, miss, 'tis werry good ov ee," said the old dame, very proud; "do'ee set down then while I gives her a call." And with that she hurried out of the door which led through the back kitchèn into the little yard behind the lodge, and the next moment they heard her calling out—

"Patty, Patty, whar bist got to? Come in and see the gentle-folk."

The name which the old woman was calling out made Tom start.

"I thought you said her name was Martha," said Mrs. Porter.

"Patty is short for Martha in Berkshire," said Katie, laughing.

"And Patty is such a pretty name, I wonder you don't call her Patty," said Mary.

"We had a housemaid of the same name a year or two ago, and it made such a confusion—and when one once gets used to a name it is so hard to change—so she has always been called Martha"

"Well, I'm all for Patty; don't you think so?" said Mary, turning to Tom.

The sudden introduction of a name which he had such reasons for remembering, the memories and fears which it called up—above all, the bewilderment which he felt at hearing it tossed about and canvassed by Mary in his presence, as if there were nothing more in it than in any other name—confused him so that he floundered and blundered in his attempt to answer, and at last gave it up altogether. She was surprised, and looked at him inquiringly. His eyes fell before hers, and he turned away to the window, and looked at the carriage, which had just drawn up at the lodge door. he had scarcely time to think how foolish he was to be so moved, when he heard the back kitchen door open again, and the old woman and her page 111 daughter come in. he turned round sharply, and there on the floor of the room, curtseying to the ladies, stood the ex-barmaid of the Choughs. His first impulse was to hurry away—she was looking down, and he might not be recognised; his next, to stand his ground, and take whatever might come. Mary went up to her and took her hand, saying that she could not go away without coming to see her. Patty looked up to answer, and, glancing round the room, caught sight of him.

He stepped forward, and then stopped and tried to speak, but no words would come. Patty looked at him, dropped Mary's hand, blushed up to the roots of her hair as she looked timidly round at the wondering spectators, and, putting her hands to her face, ran out of the back door again.

"Lawk a massy! what ever can ha' cum to our Patty?" said Mrs. Gibbons, following her out.

"I think we had better go," said Mr. Porter, giving his arm to his daughter, and leading her to the door. "Good bye, Katie; shall we see you again at Barton?"

"I don't know, uncle," Katie answered, following with Mrs. Porter in a state of sad bewilderment.

Tom, with his brain swimming, got out a few stammering farewell words, which Mr. and Airs. Porter received with marked coldness as they stepped into their carriage. Mary's face was flushed and uneasy, but at her he scarcely dared to steal a look, and to her was quite unable to speak a word.

Then the carriage drove off, and he turned, and found Katie standing at his side, her eyes full of serious wonder. His fell before them.

"My dear Tom," she said, "What is all this? I thought you had never seen Martha?"

"So I thought—I didn't know—I can't talk now—I'll explain all to you—don't think very badly of me, Katie—God bless you!" with which words he strode away, while she looked after him with increasing wonder and then turned and went into the lodge.

He hastened away from the Rectory and down the village street, taking the road home mechanically, but otherwise wholly unconscious of roads and men. David, who was very anxious to speak to him about Harry, stood at his door making signs to him to stop in vain, and then gave chase, calling out after him, till he saw that all attempts to attract his notice were useless, and so ambled back to his shop-board much troubled in mind.

The first object which recalled Tom at all to himself was the little white cottage looking out of Englebourn copse towards the village, in which he had sat by poor Betty's death-bed. The garden was already getting wild and tangled, and the house seemed to be uninhabited. He stopped for a moment and looked at it with bitter searchings of heart. Here was the place where he had taken such a good turn, as he had fondly hoped—in connexion with the then inmates of which he had made the strongest good resolutions he had ever made in his life perhaps. What was the good of his trying to befriend anybody? His friendship turned to a blight; whatever he had as yet tried to do for Harry had only injured him, and now how did they stand? Could they ever be friends again after that day's discovery? To do him justice, the probable ruin of all his own prospects, the sudden coldness of Mr. and Mrs. Porter's looks, and Mary's averted face, were not the things he thought on first, and did not trouble him most. He thought of Harry, and shuddered at the wrong he had done him as he looked at his deserted home. The door opened and a figure appeared. It was Mr. Wurley's agent, the lawyer who had been employed by farmer Tester in his contest with Harry and his mates about the pound. The man of law saluted him with a smirk of scarcely concealed triumph, and then turned into the house again and shut the door, as if he did not consider further communication necessary or safe. Tom turned with a muttered imprecation on him and his master, and hurried away along the lane which led to the heath. The Hawk's page 112 Lynch lay above him, and he climbed the side mechanically and sat himself again on the old spot.

He sat for some time looking over the landscape, graven on his mind as it was by his former visit, and bitterly, oh, how bitterly! did the remembrance of that visit, and of the exultation and triumph which then filled him, and carried him away over the heath with a shout towards his home, come back on him. He could look out from his watch-tower no longer, and lay down with his face between his hands on the turf, and groaned as he lay.

But his good angel seemed to haunt the place, and soon the cold fit began to pass away, and better and more hopeful thoughts to return. After all, what had he done since his last visit to that place to be ashamed of? Nothing. His attempts to do Harry service, unlucky as they had proved, had been honest. Had he become less worthy of the love which had first consciously mastered him there some four weeks ago? No; he felt, on the contrary, that it had already raised him, and purified him, and made a man of him. But this last discovery, how could he ever get over that? Well, after all, the facts were just the same before; only now they had come out. It was right that they should have come out; better for him and for every one that they should be known and faced. He was ready to face them, to abide any consequences that they might now bring in their train. His heart was right towards Mary, towards Patty, towards Harry—that he felt sure of. And, if so, why should he despair of either his love or his friendship coming to a bad end?

And so he sat up again, and looked out bravely towards Barton, and began to consider what was to be done. His eyes rested on the rectory. That was the first place to begin with. he must set himself right with Katie—let her know the whole story. Through her he could reach all the rest, and do whatever must be done to clear the ground and start fresh again.

At first he thought of returning to her at once, and rose to go down to Englebourn. But anything like retracing his steps was utterly distasteful to him just then. Before him he saw light, dim enough as yet, but still a dawning; towards that he would press, leaving everything behind him to take care of itself. So he turned northwards, and struck across the heath at his best pace. The violent exercise almost finished his cure, and his thoughts became clearer and more hopeful as he neared home. He arrived there as the household were going to bed, and found a letter waiting for him. It was from Hardy, saying that Blake had left him, and he was now thinking of returning to Oxford, and would come for his long-talked-of visit to Berkshire, if Tom was still at home and in the mind to receive him.

Never was a letter more opportune. Here was the tried friend on whom he could rely for help and advice and sympathy—who knew all the facts too from beginning to end! His father and mother were delighted to hear that they should now see the friend of whom he had spoken so much; so he went up stairs, and wrote an answer, which set Hardy to work packing his portmanteau in the far west, and brought him speedily to the side of his friend under the lee of the Berkshire hills.

To be continued.