Page images

pensation for the unequal portions assigned to man upon the earth; but a proud extolling of virtue for its own sake; an exhortation to cherish it for the reward it brought,—honour in the sight of man, favour with the Deity, length of days, and worldly prosperity. Unluckily, the sorrowful experience of those hardworking, illpaid, but, often, honest and pious labourers, went against his pleasant theory.

They could have told him, that duty, however earnestly pursued, did not, infallibly, lift them above want; and, in a better mirror than he held up to them, those simple souls would, if they dared, have shown him that there was more in the counsels of Heaven, and in the darkened ways in which his fellowcreatures walked upon earth, than was dreamed of in his philosophy. Meanwhile, they treated him, out of regard for Sir Frederick rather than himself, respectfully; but the old people read their Bibles, and the young left them unopened, and pursued their wild courses, without

consulting or troubling their pastor, either about their spiritual deficiencies or their domestic trials. Mr. Holcombe led an easy life, on the whole; though he sometimes complained, and his wife said he was sadly overworked. He diligently prepared his one sermon on the Saturday; and condescended to christen, marry, and bury those of his parishioners who required these offices to be performed. The liberal housekeeping at the Place superseded much exertion in the smaller establishment of the Rectory; and, of the peculiar dispositions of the members of his congregation, Mr. Holcombe was entirely ignorant.


The bell of the small chapel on the hill, at Languard, was ringing, as Laura and Clarice sat in the summer-house in the grounds, while Sir Frederick drove over to Fordington for the letters. The two girls wished that his animosity against the Pembertons did not render it unbecoming for them to walk across the fields to the afternoon service.

They talked of the young clergyman's earnest manner, and evident knowledge of his flock; and imagined how he would preach to his own people, the poor among whom he had been brought up; and with whose wants and ways he had been from childhood familiar. In his voice and mode of address, there was an expression of deep feeling for others, such as can be gained only by those who know what it is to suffer; and, at the same time, his countenance wore a serenity which suited his high and holy calling. Laura and Clarice wished that, instead of sitting idly by the well, they might have gone to hear him. There was no musical peal; only a single bell, which sounded for a few minutes, probably during the space it took for the young minister to pass from the old manor-house to the chapel. They could see a few small groups of peasantry dotting the face of the hill, an hour afterwards, as they walked back to the house; and imagined them to be the country-people going home, after the

conclusion of the service, to the scattered cottages among the downs.

Perhaps Laura recollected Mr. Pemberton's wish that she should become acquainted with the state of her uncle's tenantry; for she asked Clarice what she thought it was in their power to do, for the benefit of their rural neighbours. Sir Frederick had said that it would take a life-time to understand the wants of the peasantry; and that, in fact, his tenants were a lazy, discontented race, whom it was impossible to satisfy. She certainly had not liked their looks, as they drove through the village; and should be afraid to enter the doors, at which the men were lounging so idly. It could hardly do any good, she considered, to intrude upon them, and perhaps be received ungraciously.

"Your English home in your childhood, Laura, may have taught you something of the habits of the poor; since, even in a foreign land, your mother did not give up the practice


of visiting them :" answered Clarice. I, brought up in a Sclavonian wilderness, among those who thought the peculiarities of the wolves and wild boars, a more interesting study than the idiosyncrasy of their serfs, am the worst person in the world to whom you could apply for instruction. Why do you not tell Sir Frederick of your wish to go into some of the cottages, and ask him for a carte du pays?” Laura shrank from this straightforward proposition.

"I cannot consult Uncle Frederick. He would only laugh at me and call me a Methodist, or refer me to Mr. and Mrs. Holcombe. I dare say we should do more harm than good by interference. At all events, I have not the courage to propose it."


She seemed, indeed, incapable of the effort; and remained silent, with her colour rising in her cheeks and then receding, and her tearful eyes fixed on the little wooden belfry of the chapel on the hill, just visible above the trees.

« PreviousContinue »