Chapter 161823069

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Chapter NumberXXXI
Chapter TitleAN EVENING AT THE VICARAGE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161823069
Full Date1895-06-22
Page Number37
Corrections0
Word Count2148
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleThe Third Volume
article text

CHAPTER XXXI.

AN KVBNINQ AT THE VICARAGE.

The Vicar of Ihoraton was a aovero man, a trifle narrow in bis viewa, and imperious of tem >er; but he was also fond of Rood cheer and hospitality—virtues which oover a multi tude of sins. Those who sab at bis table were aura of a capital dinner and an excellent glass of wine, for his oook end cellar were both un deniable. Report said that Mr. Linton was afraid of his oook, for that good lady had a' hot temper and feared no man. Many were the battles between her and tho Vicar, but being a perfeot mistresB of the culinary art she in variably came off victor. 9he had her faults, but sh« was a jewel of a cook, and was valued accordingly.

On this speoial evening tho Vicar had assembled ten people, inoluding himself, round his hospitable board. Mr. and Mrs. Hillistou were the prinoipal guests, and Claude was also honoured with spoeial atten tion. An old couple named Densham, gar rullons and pleasant, had likewise been invited ; and they, Avith their daughter and Jenny Paynton, completed the party. To Claude was assigned Mies Paynton j while to Frank Linton was given the Densham damsel —an arrangement whioh wbb anything bub pleasing to that jealous young man. or indeed to Mios Densham, who thought the famous author a grumpy creature. lie was too pre occupied to please her taste.

Olaude thought ho bad never seen Mrs. Hilliston toeuoh advantage. She appeared ill at ease, and whs haggard and pale of faoe, looking every year of her age. Even the rioh dress and splendid jewels she wore failed to conceal the ravages of time; and in the neighbourhood of the freBh beauty of the two girls she seemed an old woman. She felt this herself, for Olaude noted that slie

throw an envious elonce at the blooming faces I of her rivals, and surveyed her wan looks in the nearest glass with a sigh. To lier the party was purgatory.

Nor did the lawyer appear to enjoy himself. He was moody and fretful, though every now and then he foroed himself to be merry, but hie laugh was hollow, and the careworn ex prseBion of his faoe belied hie untimely mirth.

Sometimes tie stole afurtivblook at Claude, ] hndeeemed to brood over the young man's : changed manner;?: (or do -what he. oould, Laroher,' deeming hit old friend ah enemy, oould nobbehave"with his former cordiality. He was ill-suitad.fpra diplomat.

' The dinner paBsed'bfi frith moderate suc cess, Frank was complimented on his book, and tbe prosy oouple bad to be told the main points of the story. Thia brief reoital made at least three people unoomfortable, for Olaude raised his eyee to encounter an angry glanoe from Hilliston and a depreoating one from Jenny. They were relieved when the Vioar, who by no means approved of anuh attention being- bestowed on a trashy novel, even though his son was the author, turned the conversation into another channel.. . Mr. Linton liked to lead the conversation at his own table.

"I wish to' speak to you particularly, Olaude," whispered Mrs. Hilliston, as he held the door open for the ladies to retire; " do not be long over your wine."

"I will come as soon aa I can," he replied, and returned .to his seat, wondering what she oould have to say to him. Ho was not left long in doubt, for Mr. Hilliston entered into conversation as soon as the glasses were filled and the cigars lighted. This was the moment for which he had longed for the whole

evening.

" Why isn't your friend Tait here to-night 1" he asked in a casual tone, feigning a lightness

he did not feel.

" Did not Mr. Linton tell .you," replied Claude, prepared for this query, "he had to go to town on business?"

"On business," murmured Hilliston un easily ; "anything to do with this oase you have taken up?"

I can't say. Taib did not particularly state his errand."

The lawyer sipped his wine, looked thought- ' fully at the end of his oigar, and pondered for ft few minutes. He wished to apeak of Claude's changed behaviour towards himself,

yet did not know how to begin. At length be ; bluntly blurttd oub a question, straightfor ward, and to the point. This was undiplo matic, but at times human nature is too strong for training.

"We are not suoh good friends as of yore, Claude. How is that?"

"I think you can guess the reason," replied Larcher, not ill-ploased to fight out the point, for he hated being forced into doubtful oivility, "It is this oase whioh has come between us. I do aot think you are giving me what help you ought to, Mr. Hilliston."

" I can give you no help,"said the lawyer, drawiug his heavy brows together. "You know as much as I do. No doubt your meddlesome friend knowe more."

"It is not improbable. Cut you can prove your honesty in the matter by doing me a

favour."

"My honesty, sir, has never been oalled into questionyeb,"said Hilliston, injudiciously losing his temper, always a prelude to defeat. " And I have no oall to defend myself to one to whom I have been a father. Still, I am willing to grant you what you wiBb, in reason."

"Very good! Then introduce me to Mr, Paynton."

"I'm afraid that is out of my power," replied Hilliston, shaking his head. " You know the man's waye, I think. He is a hermit, a misanthrope, and does not oare for company. Why do you wish to know him ?"

"For various reasons," answered Larcher, oolouring with some embarrassment. He was bvno means willing to take Mr. Hilliston into his confidence.

His old guardian looked at him shrewdly,

aud remembering oertain small circumstances j eonneooed with Jenny guessed with the skill of an experienced oharaotor-reader, how the land lay. At once he formed a resolution to further Olaude'a interests in the matter,

hoping, and aot unjustly, that should the lad : be taken in the toils of love, he might stop further investigation of thooase, an end which Hilliston much desired to gain.

"Oh !" said he, nob unkindly, "site the wind in that quarter? Well, I will aid you. In a few days I will try and induce Mr. Payn ton to see you, aud then perhaps you may succeed."

"Succeed in what?" demanded Claude, sharply, hardly relishing this perspicuity.

"Why, in this love suit of yours. Aye, aye, Claude, I can boo what you aim at, old as I am. Well, she is a pretty girl, clever and worthy. I know of no woman who would uaake you a better wife. You have my best wishes for your success."

" And you will introduce me to her father?" " I'll try to, but! won't promise confidently. Paynton is a strange creature, aud may refuse to see you. Hy-the-way," udried Hilliston, as though struck with a sudden thought, " what was my wife saying to you at the door?"

"She was requesting mq to speak to her

in the drawing-room. There is nothing wrong, I hope. She does not look well."

"Oh, nothing wrong, nothing wrong," re plied Hilliston, easily, rising to bis feet as the Vioar moved towards the door. "She is fond of you, my dear boy, and is anxious about the case."

"Anxious about thecaso," thought Lsrcher, as he follower) his host into the drawing-room, " that is strange, She can have no interest in it. H'm! 111 try the effeotof Tait'e destina tion on her. Ho said I would be astouished at the result. lam beginning to bo so already."

Perhaps Jenny bad overheard the whisper in the dining-room, and was sufficiently taken with Hardier to be jealous of his attentions to Mrs. UillistoD, old though she deemed her; for before lie oould oross over to where the lawyer's wife was seated Jenny beckoned to him with her imperious finger. He could do nothing but obey, despite the frown which darkened Mrs. Hilliston face aB she saw and with womanly instinct guessed the manoeuvre.

" Come and sis down hero," whispered Jenny under cover of the n.iisio, for Miss Densham was at the piano. "I have not seen you for several days."

" That is not my fault," said Claude, de lighted at the interosb thus displayed ; "you stay so muoh indoors. 1 have been looking for you everywhere."

"Have you, indeed, Mr. Laroher?" Baid Jenny with feigned surprise. "And why, may I ask?"

"Oh, for no particular purpose, unless, iu deed, it was go ask you for.further informa tion oonoerning the novel,"

"Hush. Not a word of that. 1 can't apoak of it to you. I know who you are, Mr. Laroher, but I am ignorant of the tragedy save what I told to Frank, ana later on to Mr. Tait."

" But you can guess "

"I can guess nothing," interrupted the girl, imperiously. " If you and I are to remain friends you must cease talking on that subject,"

"I'll do anything to remain friends with you, Miss Paynton," was the significant reply.

"Then talk of anything save that terrible case. Ob, how I wish I had left it alone 1"

"I'm glad you did not," said Claude, bluntly. " If it had not been for that hook "

Before he oould finish the sentenoe Jenny shot an indignant look at him, and deliberately

vising! romherseat crossed theroomto where Frank Jjinton'f was frowningaadtuggingat, his moustache. OlaUdewas vexed at bis folly' in thus drawing down her anger on him, but aaoepted his beating_like..a man, and passed over towhere Mrs. HiUiston waited with aa expeotant faoe.' She remarked on bis tardy ooming with some bitterbeu. ..

"I'see you prefer a younger face to mine," she said, drawing herself up. "Time was when I had no rival to fear."

" Dear Mrs. HiUiston, X oonld not. disobey a lady. Bseides—besides"

"Besides you are .-in love with her, Ob, I oan see that, Wei), she is a pretty girl. So you intend to marry her."

"It is early yet to talk of marriage. X don'teven know if she likes me."

Mrs. HiUiston laughed, and looked at him smilingly. " Then you must be very ignorant of the ways of women, my dear,'.' she said, meaningly. "A.word in your ear, Olaude. That girl loves you."

" la two weeks! . Impossible !"

" I've known love to grow in two days," re plied Mrs. Hillistoo, drily. "Oh, yes, she loves you, and you love her, so you oan merry as Boon as you choose."

"First I must get Mr. Paynton's oonsent."

"I should not think that would be diffi cult," said the lady, looking at hie eager faoe. " You are young, not ill looking, not badly off, and so I should not think Mr. Pay nton would desire anything better for bisdaughter. So much for the first obstaoie and the second."

"I must solve the mystery of my father's!

death."

Mrs. Hillisbon's manner changed on the instant, and from being gay she became severe and anxious looking. Indeed, Claudethought that she paled under her rouge; but this might have beon fauoy.

*' It is about that 1 wish to apeak to you," she said hurriedly. " I want you to atop in vestigating this oase. You will learn nothing; it would be no use any one if you did eolve the mystery. Stop troubling yourself with elauder, Claude.1'

" Why ?'* he asked, astonished at her

earnest tone.

4< Because your conduct vexoB my husband. He has been a father to you iu the place of the one you lost, so you ought to oonsider him a little. Pray leave that mystery unsolved."

"If I would, Taib would not. He is now even more eager than I to find out the

truth."

"Horrid little man!" said the lady, vioi ouely. " Where is he now J"

The time had now oorae to try the effect of Tait'a destination, and fixing his eyes on Mrs. Uilliston as she slowly fanned herself, Claude uttered the fatal words " He is at HorriBton."

"The fan stopped, Mrs. Hilliston paled, but preserving her self-control with a strong effort replied, quietly—

"At Horriston. And why?"

"To find out a person not mentioned in the oase."

" Man or woman ?" asked Mrs. Hilliston in a low voice.

" Woman."

She said no more, but turned away her head to reply to her husband, who came up oppor tunely. He also had heard the last few words of the oonversation, and ignoring the presenoe of Claude, husband and wife looked at one another with pale faces.

The shot had etruak home, and Laroher saw

that it bad.