Page images
PDF
EPUB

belonging to the Establishment, reflected that she should put on her best large embroidered collar, and that she should ask Mrs Tiliot where it was in Duffield that she once got her bed-hangings dyed so beautifully. When Mrs Tiliot was Mary Salt, the two ladies had been bosom friends ; but Mr Tiliot had looked higher and higher since his gin had become so famous; and in the year '29 he had, in Mr Muscat's hearing, spoken of Dissenters as sneaks -a personality which could not be overlooked.

The debate was to begin at eleven, for the Rector would not allow the evening to be chosen, when low men and boys might want to be admitted out of mere mischief.

This was

one reason why the female part of the audience outnumbered the males. But some chief Trebians were there, even men whose means made them as independent of theory as Mr Pendrell and Mr Wace; encouraged by reflecting that they were not in a place of worship, and would not be obliged to stay longer than they chose. There was a muster of all Dissenters who could spare the morning time, and on the back benches were all the aged Churchwomen who shared the remnants of the sacrament wine, and who were humbly anxious to neglect nothing ecclesiastical or connected with “ going to a better place.”

At eleven the arrival of listeners seemed to have ceased. Mr Lyon was seated on the school tribune or daïs at his particular round table; another round table, with a chair, awaited the Curate, with whose superior position it was quite in keeping that he should not be first on the ground. A couple of

a

extra chairs were placed farther back, and more than one important personage had been requested to act as chairman; but no Churchman would place himself in a position so equivocal as to dignity of aspect, and so unequivocal as to the obligation of sitting out the discussion; and the Rector had beforehand put a veto on any Dissenting chairman.

Mr Lyon sat patiently absorbed in his thoughts, with his notes in minute handwriting lying before him, seeming to look at the audience, but not seeing them. Everyone else was contented that there should be an interval in which there could be a little neighbourly talk.

Esther was particularly happy, seated on a sidebench near her father's side of the tribune, with Felix close behind her, so that she could turn her head and talk to him. He had been

kind ever since that morning when she had called at his home, more disposed to listen indulgently to what she had to say, and less blind to her looks and movements. If he had never railed at her or ignored her, she would have been less sensitive to the attention he gave her; but as it was, the prospect of seeing him seemed to light up her life, and to disperse the old dulness. She looked unusually charming to-day, from the very fact that she was not vividly conscious of anything but of having a mind near her that asked her to be something better than she actually was. The consciousness of her own superiority amongst the people around her was superseded, and even a few brief weeks had given a softened expression to her eyes, a more feminine beseechingness and selfdoubt to her manners. Perhaps, however, a little new defiance was rising in place of the old contemptdefiance of the Trebian views concerning Felix Holt.

very

“What a very nice-looking young woman your minister's daughter is !” said Mrs Tiliot in an undertone to Mrs Muscat, who, as she had hoped, had found a seat next to her quondam friend—“quite the lady."

“Rather too much so, considering,” said Mrs Muscat. “She's thought proud, and that's not pretty in a girl, even if there was anything to back it up. But now she seems to be encouraging that young Holt, who scoffs at everything, as you may judge by his appearance. She has despised his betters before now;

but I leave you to judge whether a young man who has taken to low ways of getting his living can pay for fine cambric handkerchiefs and light kid gloves."

Mrs Muscat lowered her blond eyelashes and swayed her neat head just perceptibly from side to side, with a sincere desire to be moderate in her expressions, notwithstanding any shock that facts might have given her.

“Dear, dear," said Mrs Tiliot. 4 What! that is young Holt leaning forward now without a cravat ? I've never seen him before to notice him, but I've heard Tiliot talking about him. They say he's a dangerous character, and goes stirring up the work. ing men at Sproxton. And—well, to be sure, such great eyes and such a great head of hair - it is enough to frighten one, What can she see in him ? Quite below her.”

“Yes, and brought up a governess," said Mrs

[ocr errors]

Muscat ; "you'd have thought she'd know better how to choose. But the minister has let her get the

upper hand sadly too much. It's a pity in a man of God. I don't deny he's that."

“Well, I am sorry,” said Mrs Tiliot, “for I meant her to give my girls lessons when they came from school.”

Mr Wace and Mr Pendrell meanwhile were standing up and looking round at the audience, nodding to their fellow-townspeople with the affability due from men in their position.

“It's time he came now," said Mr Wace, looking at his watch and comparing it with the schoolroom clock. “This debating is a newfangled sort of thing; but the Rector would never have given in to it if there hadn't been good reasons. Nolan said he wouldn't come. He says this debating is an atheistical sort of thing; the Atheists are very fond of it. Theirs is a bad book to take a leaf out of. However, we shall hear nothing but what's good from Mr Sherlock. He preaches a capital sermon -for such a young man.'

“Well, it was our duty to support him-not to leave him alone among the Dissenters," said Mr Pendrell "You see, everybody hasn't felt that. Labron might have shown himself, if not Lukyn. I could have alleged business myself if I had thought proper.”

“Here he comes, I think," said Mr Wace, turning round on hearing a movement near the small door on a level with the platform. “By George ! it's Mr Debarry. Come now, this is handsome."

66

[ocr errors]

Mr Wace and Mr Pendrell clapped their hands, and the example was followed even by most of the Dissenters. Philip was aware that he was doing a popular thing, of a kind that Treby was not used to from the elder Debarrys; but his appearance had not been long premeditated. He was driving through the town towards an engagement at some distance, but on calling at Labron's office he had found that the affair which demanded his presence had been deferred, and so had driven round to the Free School. Christian came in behind him.

Mr Lyon was now roused from his abstraction, and, stepping from his slight elevation, begged Mr Debarry to act as moderator or president on the occasion.

“With all my heart," said Philip. “But Mr Sherlock has not arrived, apparently ?”

“He tarries somewhat unduly," said Mr Lyon. “Nevertheless there may be a reason of which we know not. Shall I collect the thoughts of the assembly by a brief introductory address in the interval ?

“No, no, no,” said Mr Wace, who saw a limit to his powers

of endurance. “Mr Sherlock is sure to be here in a minute or two."

“Christian," said Philip Debarry, wno felt a slight misgiving, “just be so good—but stay, I'll go myself. Excuse me, gentlemen : I'll drive round to Mr Sherlock's lodgings. He may be under a little mistake as to the time. Studious men are sometimes rather absent. You needn't come with me, Christian.”

66

« PreviousContinue »