The Curate Of Churnside

Walter Dene, deacon, in his faultless Oxford clerical coat and broad

felt hat, strolled along slowly, sunning himself as he went, after his

wont, down the pretty central lane of West Churnside. It was just the

idyllic village best suited to the taste of such an idyllic young curate

as Walter Dene. There were cottages with low-thatched roofs, thickly

overgrown with yellow stonecrop and pink house-leek; there were

-work porches up which the scented dog-rose and the fainter

honeysuckle clambered together in sisterly rivalry; there were pargeted

gable-ends of Elizabethan farmhouses, quaintly varied with black oak

joists and moulded plaster panels. At the end of all, between an avenue

of ancient elm trees, the heavy square tower of the old church closed in

the little vista--a church with a round Norman doorway and dog-tooth

arches, melting into Early English lancets in the aisle, and finishing

up with a great Decorated east window by the broken cross and yew tree.

Not a trace of Perpendicularity about it anywhere, thank goodness: "for

if it were Perpendicular," said Walter Dene to himself often, "I really

think, in spite of my uncle, I should have to look out for another


Yes, it was a charming village, and a charming country; but, above all,

it was rendered habitable and pleasurable for a man of taste by the

informing presence of Christina Eliot. "I don't think I shall propose

to Christina this week after all," thought Walter Dene as he strolled

along lazily. "The most delightful part of love-making is certainly its

first beginning. The little tremor of hope and expectation; the

half-needless doubt you feel as to whether she really loves you; the

pains you take to pierce the thin veil of maidenly reserve; the triumph

of detecting her at a blush or a flutter when she sees you coming--all

these are delicate little morsels to be rolled daintily on the critical

palate, and not to be swallowed down coarsely at one vulgar gulp. Poor

child, she is on tenter-hooks of hesitation and expectancy all the time,

I know; for I'm sure she loves me now, I'm sure she loves me; but I must

wait a week yet: she will be grateful to me for it hereafter. We mustn't

kill the goose that lays the golden eggs; we mustn't eat up all our

capital at one extravagant feast, and then lament the want of our

interest ever afterward. Let us live another week in our first fool's

paradise before we enter on the safer but less tremulous pleasures of

sure possession. We can enjoy first love but once in a lifetime; let us

enjoy it now while we can, and not fling away the chance prematurely by

mere childish haste and girlish precipitancy." Thinking which thing,

Walter Dene halted a moment by the churchyard wall, picked a long spray

of scented wild thyme from a mossy cranny, and gazed into the blue sky

above at the graceful swifts who nested in the old tower, as they curved

and circled through the yielding air on their evenly poised and powerful


Just at that moment old Mary Long came out of her cottage to speak with

the young parson. "If ye plaze, Maister Dene," she said in her native

west-country dialect, "our Nully would like to zee 'ee. She's main ill

to-day, zur, and she be like to die a'most, I'm thinking."

"Poor child, poor child," said Walter Dene tenderly. "She's a dear

little thing, Mrs. Long, is your Nellie, and I hope she may yet be

spared to you. I'll come and see her at once, and try if I can do

anything to ease her."

He crossed the road compassionately with the tottering old grandmother,

giving her his helping hand over the kerbstone, and following her with

bated breath into the close little sick-room. Then he flung open the

tiny casement with its diamond-leaded panes, so as to let in the fresh

summer air, and picked a few sprigs of sweet-briar from the porch, which

he joined with the geranium from his own button-hole to make a tiny

nosegay for the bare bedside. After that, he sat and talked awhile

gently in an undertone to pale, pretty little Nellie herself, and went

away at last promising to send her some jelly and some soup immediately

from the vicarage kitchen.

"She's a sweet little child," he said to himself musingly, "though I'm

afraid she's not long for this world now; and the poor like these small

attentions dearly. They get them seldom, and value them for the sake of

the thoughtfulness they imply, rather than for the sake of the mere

things themselves. I can order a bottle of calf's-foot at the grocer's,

and Carter can set it in a mould without any trouble; while as for the

soup, some tinned mock-turtle and a little fresh stock makes a really

capital mixture for this sort of thing. It costs so little to give these

poor souls pleasure, and it is a great luxury to oneself undeniably.

But, after all, what a funny trade it is to set an educated man to do!

They send us up to Oxford or Cambridge, give us a distinct taste for

AEschylus and Catullus, Dante and Milton, Mendelssohn and Chopin, good

claret and olives farcies, and then bring us down to a country

village, to look after the bodily and spiritual ailments of rheumatic

old washerwomen! If it were not for poetry, flowers, and Christina, I

really think I should succumb entirely under the infliction."

"He's a dear, good man, that he is, is young passon," murmured old Miry

Long as Walter disappeared between the elm trees; "and he do love the

poor and the zick, the same as if he was their own brother. God bless

his zoul, the dear, good vulla, vor all his kindness to our Nully."

Halfway down the main lane Walter came across Christina Eliot. As she

saw him she smiled and coloured a little, and held out her small gloved

hand prettily. Walter took it with a certain courtly and graceful

chivalry. "An exquisite day, Miss Eliot," he said; "such a depth of

sapphire in the sky, such a faint undertone of green on the clouds by

the horizon, such a lovely humming of bees over the flickering hot

meadows! On days like this, one feels that Schopenhauer is wrong after

all, and that life is sometimes really worth living."

"It seems to me often worth living," Christina answered; "if not for

oneself, at least for others. But you pretend to be more of a pessimist

than you really are, I fancy, Mr. Dene. Any one who finds so much beauty

in the world as you do can hardly think life poor or meagre. You seem to

catch the loveliest points in everything you look at, and to throw a

little literary or artistic reflection over them which makes them even

lovelier than they are in themselves."

"Well, no doubt one can increase one's possibilities of enjoyment by

carefully cultivating one's own faculties of admiration and

appreciation," said the curate thoughtfully; "but, after all, life has

only a few chapters that are thoroughly interesting and enthralling in

all its history. We oughtn't to hurry over them too lightly, Miss Eliot;

we ought to linger on them lovingly, and make the most of their

potentialities; we ought to dwell upon them like "linked sweetness long

drawn out." It is the mistake of the world at large to hurry too rapidly

over the pleasantest episodes, just as children pick all the plums at

once out of the pudding. I often think that, from the purely selfish and

temporal point of view, the real value of a life to its subject may be

measured by the space of time over which he has managed to spread the

enjoyment of its greatest pleasures. Look, for example, at poetry, now."

A faint shade of disappointment passed across Christina's face as he

turned from what seemed another groove into that indifferent subject;

but she answered at once, "Yes, of course one feels that with the higher

pleasures at least; but there are others in which the interest of plot

is greater, and then one looks naturally rather to the end. When you

begin a good novel, you can't help hurrying through it in order to find

out what becomes of everybody at last."

"Ah, but the highest artistic interest goes beyond mere plot interest. I

like rather to read for the pleasure of reading, and to loiter over the

passages that please me, quite irrespective of what goes before or what

comes after; just as you, for your part, like to sketch a beautiful

scene for its own worth to you, irrespective of what may happen to the

leaves in autumn, or to the cottage roof in twenty years from this. By

the way, have you finished that little water-colour of the mill yet?

It's the prettiest thing of yours I've ever seen, and I want to look how

you've managed the light on your foreground."

"Come in and see it," said Christina. "It's finished now, and, to tell

you the truth, I'm very well pleased with it myself."

"Then I know it must be good," the curate answered; "for you are always

your own harshest critic." And he turned in at the little gate with her,

and entered the village doctor's tiny drawing-room.

Christina placed the sketch on an easel near the window--a low window

opening to the ground, with long lithe festoons of faint-scented jasmine

encroaching on it from outside--and let the light fall on it aslant in

the right direction. It was a pretty and a clever sketch certainly, with

more than a mere amateur's sense of form and colour; and Walter Dene,

who had a true eye for pictures, could conscientiously praise it for its

artistic depth and fulness. Indeed, on that head at least, Walter Dene's

veracity was unimpeachable, however lax in other matters; nothing on

earth would have induced him to praise as good a picture or a sculpture

in which he saw no real merit. He sat a little while criticizing and

discussing it, suggesting an improvement here or an alteration there,

and then he rose hurriedly, remembering all at once his forgotten

promise to little Nellie. "Dear me," he said, "your daughter's picture

has almost made me overlook my proper duties, Mrs. Eliot. I promised to

send some jelly and things at once to poor little Nellie Long at her

grandmother's. How very wrong of me to let my natural inclinations keep

me loitering here, when I ought to have been thinking of the poor of my

parish!" And he went out with just a gentle pressure on Christina's

hand, and a look from his eyes that her heart knew how to read aright at

the first glance of it.

"Do you know, Christie," said her father, "I sometimes fancy when I hear

that new parson fellow talk about his artistic feelings, and so on, that

he's just a trifle selfish, or at least self-centred. He always dwells

so much on his own enjoyment of things, you know."

"Oh no, papa," cried Christina warmly. "He's anything but selfish, I'm

sure. Look how kind he is to all the poor in the village, and how much

he thinks about their comfort and welfare. And whenever he's talking

with one, he seems so anxious to make you feel happy and contented with

yourself. He has a sort of little subtle flattery of manner about him

that's all pure kindliness; and he's always thinking what he can say or

do to please you, and to help you onward. What you say about his

dwelling on enjoyment so much is really only his artistic sensibility.

He feels things so keenly, and enjoys beauty so deeply, that he can't

help talking enthusiastically about it even a little out of season. He

has more feelings to display than most men, and I'm sure that's the

reason why he displays them so much. A ploughboy could only talk

enthusiastically about roast beef and dumplings; Mr. Dene can talk about

everything that's beautiful and sublime on earth or in heaven."

Meanwhile, Walter Dene was walking quickly with his measured tread--the

even, regular tread of a cultivated gentleman--down the lane toward the

village grocer's, saying to himself as he went, "There was never such a

girl in all the world as my Christina. She may be only a country

surgeon's daughter--a rosebud on a hedgerow bush--but she has the soul

and the eye of a queen among women for all that. Every lover has

deceived himself with the same sweet dream, to be sure--how

over-analytic we have become nowadays, when I must needs half argue

myself out of the sweets of first love!--but then they hadn't so much to

go upon as I have. She has a wonderful touch in music, she has an

exquisite eye in painting, she has an Italian charm in manner and

conversation. I'm something of a connoisseur, after all, and no more

likely to be deceived in a woman than I am in a wine or a picture. And

next week I shall really propose formally to Christina, though I know by

this time it will be nothing more than the merest formality. Her eyes

are too eloquent not to have told me that long ago. It will be a

delightful pleasure to live for her, and in order to make her happy. I

frankly recognize that I am naturally a little selfish--not coarsely and

vulgarly selfish; from that disgusting and piggish vice I may

conscientiously congratulate myself that I'm fairly free; but still

selfish in a refined and cultivated manner. Now, living with Christina

and for Christina will correct this defect in my nature, will tend to

bring me nearer to a true standard of perfection. When I am by her side,

and then only, I feel that I am thinking entirely of her, and not at all

of myself. To her I show my best side; with her, that best side would

be always uppermost. The companionship of such a woman makes life

something purer, and higher, and better worth having. The one thing that

stands in our way is this horrid practical question of what to live

upon. I don't suppose Uncle Arthur will be inclined to allow me

anything, and I can't marry on my own paltry income and my curacy only.

Yet I can't bear to keep Christina waiting indefinitely till some

thick-headed squire or other chooses to take it into his opaque brain to

give me a decent living."

From the grocer's the curate walked on, carrying the two tins in his

hand, as far as the vicarage. He went into the library, sat down by his

own desk, and rang the bell. "Will you be kind enough to give those

things to Carter, John?" he said in his bland voice; "and tell her to

put the jelly in a mould, and let it set. The soup must be warmed with a

little fresh stock, and seasoned. Then take them both, with my

compliments, to old Mary Long the washerwoman, for her grandchild. Is my

uncle in?"

"No, Master Walter," answered the man--he was always "Master Walter" to

the old servants at his uncle's--"the vicar have gone over by train to

Churminster. He told me to tell you he wouldn't be back till evening,

after dinner."

"Did you see him off, John?"

"Yes, Master Walter. I took his portmantew to the station."

"This will be a good chance, then," thought Walter Dene to himself.

"Very well, John," he went on aloud: "I shall write my sermon now. Don't

let anybody come to disturb me."

John nodded and withdrew. Walter Dene locked the door after him

carefully, as he often did when writing sermons, and then lit a cigar,

which was also a not infrequent concomitant of his exegetical labours.

After that he walked once or twice up and down the room, paused a

moment to look at his parchment-covered Rabelais and Villon on the

bookshelf, peered out of the dulled glass windows with the crest in

their centre, and finally drew a curious bent iron instrument out of his

waistcoat pocket. With it in his hands, he went up quietly to his

uncle's desk, and began fumbling at the lock in an experienced manner.

As a matter of fact, it was not his first trial of skill in

lock-picking; for Walter Dene was a painstaking and methodical man, and

having made up his mind that he would get at and read his uncle's will,

he took good care to begin by fastening all the drawers in his own

bedroom, and trying his prentice hand at unfastening them again in the

solitude of his chamber.

After half a minute's twisting and turning, the wards gave way gently to

his dexterous pressure, and the lid of the desk lay open before him.

Walter Dene took out the different papers one by one--there was no need

for hurry, and he was not a nervous person--till he came to a roll of

parchment, which he recognized at once as the expected will. He unrolled

it carefully and quietly, without any womanish trembling or

excitement--"thank Heaven," he said to himself, "I'm above such nonsense

as that"--and sat down leisurely to read it in the big, low,

velvet-covered study chair. As he did so, he did not forget to lay a

notched foot-rest for his feet, and to put the little Japanese dish on

the tiny table by his side to hold his cigar ash. "And now," he said,

"for the important question whether Uncle Arthur has left his money to

me, or to Arthur, or to both of us equally. He ought, of course, to

leave at least half to me, seeing I have become a curate on purpose to

please him, instead of following my natural vocation to the Bar; but I

shouldn't be a bit surprised if he had left it all to Arthur. He's a

pig-headed and illogical old man, the vicar; and he can never forgive

me, I believe, because, being the eldest son, I wasn't called after him

by my father and mother. As if that was my fault! Some people's ideas

of personal responsibility are so ridiculously muddled."

He composed himself quietly in the arm-chair, and glanced rapidly at the

will through the meaningless preliminaries till he came to the

significant clauses. These he read more carefully. "All my estate in the

county of Dorset, and the messuage or tenement known as Redlands, in the

parish of Lode, in the county of Devon, to my dear nephew, Arthur Dene,"

he said to himself slowly: "Oh, this will never do." "And I give and

bequeath to my said nephew, Arthur Dene, the sum of ten thousand pounds,

three per cent. consolidated annuities, now standing in my name."--"Oh

this is atrocious, quite atrocious! What's this?" "And I give and

bequeath to my dear nephew, Walter Dene, the residue of my personal

estate"--"and so forth. Oh no. That's quite sufficient. This must be

rectified. The residuary legatee would only come in for a few hundreds

or so. It's quite preposterous. The vicar was always an ill-tempered,

cantankerous, unaccountable person, but I wonder he has the face to sit

opposite me at dinner after that."

He hummed an air from Schubert, and sat a moment looking thoughtfully at

the will. Then he said to himself quietly, "The simplest thing to do

would be merely to scrape out or take out with chemicals the name

Arthur, substituting the name Walter, and vice versa. That's a very

small matter; a man who draws as well as I do ought to be able easily to

imitate a copying clerk's engrossing hand. But it would be madness to

attempt it now and here; I want a little practice first. At the same

time, I mustn't keep the will out a moment longer than is necessary; my

uncle may return by some accident before I expect him; and the true

philosophy of life consists in invariably minimizing the adverse

chances. This will was evidently drawn up by Watson and Blenkiron, of

Chancery Lane. I'll write to-morrow and get them to draw up a will for

me, leaving all I possess to Arthur. The same clerk is pretty sure to

engross it, and that'll give me a model for the two names on which I can

do a little preliminary practice. Besides, I can try the stuff Wharton

told me about, for making ink fade on the same parchment. That will be

killing two birds with one stone, certainly. And now if I don't make

haste I shan't have time to write my sermon."

He replaced the will calmly in the desk, fastened the lock again with a

delicate twirl of the pick, and sat down in his arm-chair to compose his

discourse for to-morrow's evensong. "It's not a bad bit of rhetoric," he

said to himself as he read it over for correction, "but I'm not sure

that I haven't plagiarized a little too freely from Montaigne and dear

old Burton. What a pity it must be thrown away upon a Churnside

congregation! Not a soul in the whole place will appreciate a word of

it, except Christina. Well, well, that alone is enough reward for any

man." And he knocked off his ash pensively into the Japanese ash-pan.

During the course of the next week Walter practised diligently the art

of imitating handwriting. He got his will drawn up and engrossed at

Watson and Blenkiron's (without signing it, bien entendu); and he

spent many solitary hours in writing the two names "Walter" and "Arthur"

on the spare end of parchment, after the manner of the engrossing clerk.

He also tested the stuff for making the ink fade to his own perfect

satisfaction. And on the next occasion when his uncle was safely off the

premises for three hours, he took the will once more deliberately from

the desk, removed the obnoxious letters with scrupulous care, and wrote

in his own name in place of Arthur's, so that even the engrossing clerk

himself would hardly have known the difference. "There," he said to

himself approvingly, as he took down quiet old George Herbert from the

shelf and sat down to enjoy an hour's smoke after the business was over,

"that's one good deed well done, anyhow. I have the calm satisfaction of

a clear conscience. The vicar's proposed arrangement was really most

unfair; I have substituted for it what Aristotle would have rightly

called true distributive justice. For though I've left all the property

to myself, by the unfortunate necessity of the case, of course I won't

take it all. I'll be juster than the vicar. Arthur shall have his fair

share, which is more, I believe, than he'd have done for me; but I hate

squalid money-grubbing. If brothers can't be generous and brotherly to

one another, what a wretched, sordid little life this of ours would

really be!"

Next Sunday morning the vicar preached, and Walter sat looking up at him

reflectively from his place in the chancel. A beautiful clear-cut face,

the curate's, and seen to great advantage from the doctor's pew, set off

by the white surplice, and upturned in quiet meditation towards the

elder priest in the pulpit. Walter was revolving many things in his

mind, and most of all one adverse chance which he could not just then

see his way to minimize. Any day his uncle might take it into his head

to read over the will and discover the--ah, well, the rectification.

Walter was a man of too much delicacy of feeling even to think of it to

himself as a fraud or a forgery. Then, again, the vicar was not a very

old man after all; he might live for an indefinite period, and Christina

and himself might lose all the best years of their life waiting for a

useless person's natural removal. What a pity that threescore was not

the utmost limit of human life! For his own part, like the Psalmist,

Walter had no desire to outlive his own highest tastes and powers of

enjoyment. Ah, well, well, man's prerogative is to better and improve

upon nature. If people do not die when they ought, then it becomes

clearly necessary for philosophically minded juniors to help them on

their way artificially.

It was an ugly necessity, certainly; Walter frankly recognized that fact

from the very beginning, and he shrank even from contemplating it; but

there was no other way out of the difficulty. The old man had always

been a selfish bachelor, with no love for anybody or anything on earth

except his books, his coins, his garden, and his dinner; he was growing

tired of all except the last; would it not be better for the world at

large, on strict utilitarian principles, that he should go at once?

True, such steps are usually to be deprecated; but the wise man is a law

unto himself, and instead of laying down the wooden, hard-and-fast lines

that make conventional morality so much a rule of thumb, he judges every

individual case on its own particular merits. Here was Christina's

happiness and his own on the one hand, with many collateral advantages

to other people, set in the scale against the feeble remnant of a

selfish old man's days on the other. Walter Dene had a constitutional

horror of taking life in any form, and especially of shedding blood; but

he flattered himself that if anything of the sort became clearly

necessary, he was not the man to shrink from taking the needful measures

to ensure it, at any sacrifice of personal comfort.

All through the next week Walter turned over the subject in his own

mind; and the more he thought about it, the more the plan gained in

definiteness and consistency as detail after detail suggested itself to

him. First he thought of poison. That was the cleanest and neatest way

of managing the thing, he considered; and it involved the least

unpleasant consequences. To stick a knife or shoot a bullet into any

sentient creature was a horrid and revolting act; to put a little

tasteless powder into a cup of coffee and let a man sleep off his life

quietly was really nothing more than helping him involuntarily to a

delightful euthanasia. "I wish any one would do as much for me at his

age, without telling me about it," Walter said to himself seriously. But

then the chances of detection would be much increased by using poison,

and Walter felt it an imperative duty to do nothing which would expose

Christina to the shock of a discovery. She would not see the matter in

the same practical light as he did; women never do; their morality is

purely conventional and a wise man will do nothing on earth to shake it.

You cannot buy poison without the risk of exciting question. There

remained, then, only shooting or stabbing. But shooting makes an awkward

noise, and attracts attention at the moment; so the one thing possible

was a knife, unpleasant as that conclusion seemed to all his more

delicate feelings.

Having thus decided, Walter Dene proceeded to lay his plans with

deliberate caution. He had no intention whatsoever of being detected,

though his method of action was simplicity itself. It was only bunglers

and clumsy fools who got caught; he knew that a man of his intelligence

and ability would not make such an idiot of himself as--well, as common

ruffians always do. He took his old American bowie-knife, bought years

ago as a curiosity, out of the drawer where it had lain so long. It was

very rusty, but it would be safer to sharpen it privately on his own

hone and strop than to go asking for a new knife at a shop for the

express purpose of enabling the shopman afterwards to identify him. He

sharpened it for safety's sake during sermon-hour in the library, with

the door locked as usual. It took a long time to get off all the rust,

and his arm got quickly tired. One morning as he was polishing away at

it, he was stopped for a moment by a butterfly which flapped and

fluttered against the dulled window-panes. "Poor thing," he said to

himself, "it will beat its feathery wings to pieces in its struggles;"

and he put a vase of Venetian glass on top of it, lifted the sash

carefully, and let the creature fly away outside in the broad sunshine.

At the same moment the vicar, who was strolling with his King Charlie on

the lawn, came up and looked in at the window. He could not have seen in

before, because of the dulled and painted diamonds.

"That's a murderous-looking weapon, Wally," he said, with a smile, as

his glance fell upon the bowie and hone. "What do you use it for?"

"Oh, it's an American bowie," Walter answered carelessly. "I bought it

long ago for a curiosity, and now I'm sharpening it up to help me in

carving that block of walnut wood." And he ran his finger lightly along

the edge of the blade to test its keenness. What a lucky thing that it

was the vicar himself, and not the gardener! If he had been caught by

anybody else the fact would have been fatal evidence after all was over.

"Mefiez-vous des papillons," he hummed to himself, after Beranger, as he

shut down the window. "One more butterfly, and I must give up the game

as useless."

Meanwhile, as Walter meant to make a clean job of it--hacking and hewing

clumsily was repulsive to all his finer feelings--he began also to study

carefully the anatomy of the human back. He took down all the books on

the subject in the library, and by their aid discovered exactly under

which ribs the heart lay. A little observation of the vicar, compared

with the plates in Quain's "Anatomy," showed him precisely at what point

in his clerical coat the most vulnerable interstice was situated. "It's

a horrid thing to have to do," he thought over and over again as he

planned it, "but it's the only way to secure Christina's happiness." And

so, by a certain bright Friday evening in August, Walter Dene had fully

completed all his preparations.

That afternoon, as on all bright afternoons in summer, the vicar went

for a walk in the grounds, attended only by little King Charlie. He was

squire and parson at once in Churnside, and he loved to make the round

of his own estate. At a certain gate by Selbury Copse the vicar always

halted to rest awhile, leaning on the bar and looking at the view across

the valley. It was a safe and lonely spot. Walter remained at home (he

was to take the regular Friday evensong) and went into the study by

himself. After a while he took his hat, not without trembling, strolled

across the garden, and then made the short cut through the copse, so as

to meet the vicar by the gate. On his way he heard the noise of the

Dennings in the farm opposite, out rabbit-shooting with their guns and

ferrets in the warren. His very soul shrank within him at the sound of

that brutal sport. "Great heavens!" he said to himself, with a shudder;

"to think how I loathe and shrink from the necessity of almost

painlessly killing this one selfish old man for an obviously good

reason, and those creatures there will go out massacring innocent

animals with the aid of a hideous beast of prey, not only without

remorse, but actually by way of amusement! I thank Heaven I am not even

as they are." Near the gate he came upon his uncle quietly and

naturally, though it would be absurd to deny that at that supreme moment

even Walter Dene's equable heart throbbed hard, and his breath went and

came tremulously. "Alone," he thought to himself, "and nobody near; this

is quite providential," using even then, in thought, the familiar

phraseology of his profession.

"A lovely afternoon, Uncle Arthur," he said as composedly as he could,

accurately measuring the spot on the vicar's coat with his eye

meanwhile. "The valley looks beautiful in this light."

"Yes, a lovely afternoon, Wally, my boy, and an exquisite glimpse down

yonder into the churchyard."

As he spoke, Walter half leaned upon the gate beside him, and adjusted

the knife behind the vicar's back scientifically. Then, without a word

more, in spite of a natural shrinking, he drove it home up to the haft,

with a terrible effort of will, at the exact spot on the back that the

books had pointed out to him. It was a painful thing to do, but he did

it carefully and well. The effect of Walter Dene's scientific prevision

was even more instantaneous than he had anticipated. Without a single

cry, without a sob or a contortion, the vicar's lifeless body fell over

heavily by the side of the gate. It rolled down like a log into the dry

ditch beneath. Walter knelt trembling on the ground close by, felt the

pulse for a moment to assure himself that his uncle was really dead, and

having fully satisfied himself on this all-important point, proceeded to

draw the knife neatly out of the wound. He had let it fall in the body,

in order to extricate it more easily afterward, and not risk pulling it

out carelessly so as to get himself covered needlessly by tell-tale

drops of blood, like ordinary clumsy assassins. But he had forgotten to

reckon with little King Charlie. The dog jumped piteously upon the body

of his master, licked the wound with his tongue, and refused to allow

Walter to withdraw the knife. It would be unsafe to leave it there, for

it might be recognized. "Minimize the adverse chances," he muttered

still; but there was no inducing King Charlie to move. A struggle might

result in getting drops of blood upon his coat, and then, great heavens,

what a terrible awakening for Christina! "Oh, Christina, Christina,

Christina," he said to himself piteously, "it is for you only that I

could ever have ventured to do this hideous thing." The blood was still

oozing out of the narrow slit, and saturating the black coat, and Walter

Dene with his delicate nerves could hardly bear to look upon it.

At last he summoned up resolution to draw out the knife from the ugly

wound, in spite of King Charlie, and as he did so, oh, horror! the

little dog jumped at it, and cut his left fore-leg against the sharp

edge deep to the bone. Here was a pretty accident indeed! If Walter Dene

had been a common heartless murderer he would have snatched up the

knife immediately, left the poor lame dog to watch and bleed beside his

dead master, and skulked off hurriedly from the mute witness to his

accomplished crime. But Walter was made of very different mould from

that; he could not find it in his heart to leave a poor dumb animal

wounded and bleeding for hours together, alone and untended. Just at

first, indeed, he tried sophistically to persuade himself his duty to

Christina demanded that he should go away at once, and never mind the

sufferings of a mere spaniel; but his better nature told him the next

moment that such sophisms were indefensible, and his humane instincts

overcame even the profound instinct of self-preservation. He sat down

quietly beside the warm corpse. "Thank goodness," he said, with a slight

shiver of disgust, "I'm not one of those weak-minded people who are

troubled by remorse. They would be so overcome by terror at what they

had done that they would want to run away from the body immediately, at

any price. But I don't think I could feel remorse. It is an incident

of lower natures--natures that are capable of doing actions under one

set of impulses, which they regret when another set comes uppermost in

turn. That implies a want of balance, an imperfect co-ordination of

parts and passions. The perfect character is consistent with itself;

shame and repentance are confessions of weakness. For my part, I never

do anything without having first deliberately decided that it is the

best or the only thing to do; and having so done it, I do not draw back

like a girl from the necessary consequences of my own act. No fluttering

or running away for me. Still, I must admit that all that blood does

look very ghastly. Poor old gentleman! I believe he really died almost

without knowing it, and that is certainly a great comfort to one under

the circumstances."

He took King Charlie tenderly in his hands, without touching the wounded

leg, and drew his pocket handkerchief softly from his pocket. "Poor

beastie," he said aloud, holding out the cut limb before him, "you are

badly hurt, I'm afraid; but it wasn't my fault. We must see what we can

do for you." Then he wrapped the handkerchief deftly around it, without

letting any blood show through, pressed the dog close against his

breast, and picked up the knife gingerly by the reeking handle. "A fool

of a fellow would throw it into the river," he thought, with a curl of

his graceful lip. "They always dredge the river after these incidents. I

shall just stick it down a hole in the hedge a hundred yards off. The

police have no invention, dull donkeys; they never dredge the hedges."

And he thrust it well down a disused rabbit burrow, filling in the top

neatly with loose mould.

Walter Dene meant to have gone home quietly and said evensong, leaving

the discovery of the body to be made at haphazard by others, but this

unfortunate accident to King Charlie compelled him against his will to

give the first alarm. It was absolutely necessary to take the dog to the

veterinary at once, or the poor little fellow might bleed to death

incontinently. "One's best efforts," he thought, "are always liable to

these unfortunate contretemps. I meant merely to remove a superfluous

person from an uncongenial environment; yet I can't manage it without at

the same time seriously injuring a harmless little creature that I

really love." And with one last glance at the lifeless thing behind him,

he took his way regretfully along the ordinary path back towards the

peaceful village of Churnside.

Halfway down the lane, at the entrance to the village, he met one of his

parishioners. "Tom," he said boldly, "have you seen anything of the

vicar? I'm afraid he's got hurt somehow. Here's poor little King Charlie

come limping back with his leg cut."

"He went down the road, zur, 'arf an hour zince, and I arn't zeen him


"Tell the servants at the vicarage to look around the grounds, then; I'm

afraid he has fallen and hurt himself. I must take the dog at once to

Perkins's, or else I shall be late for evensong."

The man went off straight toward the vicarage, and Walter Dene turned

immediately with the dog in his arms into the village veterinary's.


The servants from the vicarage were not the first persons to hit upon

the dead body of the vicar. Joe Harley, the poacher, was out

reconnoitring that afternoon in the vicar's preserves; and five minutes

after Walter Dene had passed down the far side of the hedge, Joe Harley

skulked noiselessly from the orchard up to the cover of the gate by

Selbury Copse. He crept through the open end by the post (for it was

against Joe's principles under any circumstances to climb over an

obstacle of any sort, and so needlessly expose himself), and he was just

going to slink off along the other hedge, having wires and traps in his

pocket, when his boot struck violently against a soft object in the

ditch underfoot. It struck so violently that it crushed in the object

with the force of the impact; and when Joe came to look at what the

object might be, he found to his horror that it was the bruised and

livid face of the old parson. Joe had had a brush with keepers more than

once, and had spent several months of seclusion in Dorchester Gaol; but,

in spite of his familiarity with minor forms of lawlessness, he was

moved enough in all conscience by this awful and unexpected discovery.

He turned the body over clumsily with his hands, and saw that it had

been stabbed in the back once only. In doing so he trod in a little

blood, and got a drop or two on his sleeve and trousers; for the pool

was bigger now, and Joe was not so handy or dainty with his fingers as

the idyllic curate.

It was an awful dilemma, indeed, for a confirmed and convicted poacher.

Should he give the alarm then and there, boldly, trusting to his

innocence for vindication, and helping the police to discover the

murderer? Why, that would be sheer suicide, no doubt; "for who but would

believe," he thought, "'twas me as done it?" Or should he slink away

quietly and say nothing, leaving others to find the body as best they

might? That was dangerous enough in its way if anybody saw him, but not

so dangerous as the other course. In an evil hour for his own chances

Joe Harley chose that worse counsel, and slank off in his familiar

crouching fashion towards the opposite corner of the copse.

On the way he heard John's voice holloaing for his master, and kept

close to the hedge till he had quite turned the corner. But John had

caught a glimpse of him too, and John did not forget it when, a few

minutes later, he came upon the horrid sight beside the gate of Selbury


Meanwhile Walter had taken King Charlie to the veterinary's, and had his

leg bound and bandaged securely. He had also gone down to the church,

got out his surplice, and begun to put it on in the vestry for evensong,

when a messenger came at hot haste from the vicarage, with news that

Master Walter must come up at once, for the vicar was murdered.

"Murdered!" Walter Dene said to himself slowly half aloud; "murdered!

how horrible! Murdered!" It was an ugly word, and he turned it over with

a genuine thrill of horror. That was what they would say of him if ever

the thing came to be discovered! What an inappropriate classification!

He threw aside the surplice, and rushed up hurriedly to the vicarage.

Already the servants had brought in the body, and laid it out in the

clothes it wore, on the vicar's own bed. Waltor Dene went in,

shuddering, to look at it. To his utter amazement, the face was battered

in horribly and almost unrecognizably by a blow or kick! What could that

hideous mutilation mean? He could not imagine. It was an awful mystery.

Great heavens! just fancy if any one were to take it into his head that

he, Walter Dene, had done that--had kicked a defenceless old gentleman

brutally about the face like a common London ruffian! The idea was too

horrible to be borne for a moment. It unmanned him utterly, and he hid

his face between his two hands and sobbed aloud like one broken-hearted.

"This day's work has been too much for my nerves," he thought to himself

between the sobs; "but perhaps it is just as well I should give way now


That night was mainly taken up with the formalities of all such cases;

and when at last Walter Dene went off, tired and nerve-worn, to bed,

about midnight, he could not sleep much for thinking of the mystery. The

murder itself didn't trouble him greatly; that was over and past now,

and he felt sure his precautions had been amply sufficient to protect

him even from the barest suspicion; but he couldn't fathom the mystery

of that battered and mutilated face! Somebody must have seen the corpse

between the time of the murder and the discovery! Who could that

somebody have been? and what possible motive could he have had for such

a horrible piece of purposeless brutality?

As for the servants, in solemn conclave in the hall, they had

unanimously but one theory to account for all the facts: some poacher or

other, for choice Joe Harley, had come across the vicar in the copse,

with gun and traps in hand. The wretch had seen he was discovered, had

felled the poor old vicar by a blow in the face with the butt-end of

his rifle, and after he fell, fainting, had stabbed him for greater

security in the back. That was such an obvious solution of the

difficulty, that nobody in the servants' hall had a moment's hesitation

in accepting it.

When Walter heard next morning early that Joe Harley had been arrested

overnight, on John's information, his horror and surprise at the news

were wholly unaffected. Here was another new difficulty, indeed. "When I

did the thing," he said to himself, "I never thought of that

possibility. I took it for granted it would be a mystery, a problem for

the local police (who, of course, could no more solve it than they could

solve the pons-asinorum), but it never struck me they would arrest an

innocent person on the charge instead of me. This is horrible. It's so

easy to make out a case against a poacher, and hang him for it, on

suspicion. One's whole sense of justice revolts against the thing. After

all, there's a great deal to be said in favour of the ordinary

commonplace morality: it prevents complications. A man of delicate

sensibilities oughtn't to kill anybody; he lets himself in for all kinds

of unexpected contingencies, without knowing it."

At the coroner's inquest things looked very black indeed for Joe Harley.

Walter gave his evidence first, showing how he had found King Charlie

wounded in the lane; and then the others gave theirs, as to the search

for and finding of the body. John in particular swore to having seen a

man's back and head slinking away by the hedge while they were looking

for the vicar; and that back and head he felt sure were Joe Harley's. To

Walter's infinite horror and disgust, the coroner's jury returned a

verdict of wilful murder against the poor poacher. What other verdict

could they possibly have given in accordance with such evidence?

The trial of Joe Harley for the wilful murder of the Reverend Arthur

Dene was fixed for the next Dorchester Assizes. In the interval, Walter

Dene, for the first time in his placid life, knew what it was to undergo

a mental struggle. Whatever happened, he could not let Joe Harley be

hanged for this murder. His whole soul rose up within him in loathing

for such an act of hideous injustice. For though Walter Dene's code of

morality was certainly not the conventional one, as he so often boasted

to himself, he was not by any means without any code of morals of any

sort. He could commit a murder where he thought it necessary, but he

could not let an innocent man suffer in his stead. His ethical judgment

on that point was just as clear and categorical as the judgment which

told him he was in duty bound to murder his uncle. For Walter did not

argue with himself on moral questions: he perceived the right and

necessary thing intuitively; he was a law to himself, and he obeyed his

own law implicitly, for good or for evil. Such men are capable of

horrible and diabolically deliberate crimes; but they are capable of

great and genuine self-sacrifices also.

Walter made no secret in the village of his disinclination to believe in

Joe Harley's guilt. Joe was a rough fellow, he said, certainly, and he

had no objection to taking a pheasant or two, and even to having a free

fight with the keepers; but, after all, our game laws were an outrageous

piece of class legislation, and he could easily understand how the poor,

whose sense of justice they outraged, should be so set against them. He

could not think Joe Harley was capable of a detestable crime. Besides,

he had seen him himself within a few minutes before and after the

murder. Everybody thought it such a proof of the young parson's generous

and kindly disposition; he had certainly the charity which thinketh no

evil. Even though his own uncle had been brutally murdered on his own

estate, he checked his natural feelings of resentment, and refused to

believe that one of his own parishioners could have been guilty of the

crime. Nay, more, so anxious was he that substantial justice should be

done the accused, and so confident was he of his innocence, that he

promised to provide counsel for him at his own expense; and he provided

two of the ablest barristers on the Western circuit.

Before the trial, Walter Dene had come, after a terrible internal

struggle, to an awful resolution. He would do everything he could for

Joe Harley; but if the verdict went against him, he was resolved, then

and there, in open court, to confess, before judge and jury, the whole

truth. It would be a horrible thing for Christina; he knew that; but he

could not love Christina so much, "loved he not honour more;" and

honour, after his own fashion, he certainly loved dearly. Though he

might be false to all that all the world thought right, it was ingrained

in the very fibre of his soul to be true to his own inner nature at

least. Night after night he lay awake, tossing on his bed, and picturing

to his mind's eye every detail of that terrible disclosure. The jury

would bring in a verdict of guilty: then, before the judge put on his

black cap, he, Walter, would stand up, and tell them that he could not

let another man hang for his crime; he would have the whole truth out

before them; and then he would die, for he would have taken a little

bottle of poison at the first sound of the verdict. As for

Christina--oh, Christina!--Walter Dene could not dare to let himself

think upon that. It was horrible; it was unendurable; it was torture a

thousand times worse than dying: but still, he must and would face it.

For in certain phases, Walter Dene, forger and murderer as he was, could

be positively heroic.

The day of the trial came, and Walter Dene, pale and haggard with much

vigil, walked in a dream and faintly from his hotel to the court-house.

Everybody present noticed what a deep effect the shock of his uncle's

death had had upon him. He was thinner and more bloodless than usual,

and his dulled eyes looked black and sunken in their sockets. Indeed, he

seemed to have suffered far more intensely than the prisoner himself,

who walked in firmer and more erect, and took his seat doggedly in the

familiar dock. He had been there more than once before, to say the

truth, though never before on such an errand. Yet mere habit, when he

got there, made him at once assume the hang-dog look of the consciously


Walter sat and watched and listened, still in a dream, but without once

betraying in his face the real depth of his innermost feelings. In the

body of the court he saw Joe's wife, weeping profusely and

ostentatiously, after the fashion considered to be correct by her class;

and though he pitied her from the bottom of his heart, he could only

think by contrast of Christina. What were that good woman's fears and

sorrows by the side of the grief and shame and unspeakable horror he

might have to bring upon his Christina? Pray Heaven the shock, if it

came, might kill her outright; that would at least be better than that

she should live long years to remember. More than judge, or jury, or

prisoner, Walter Dene saw everywhere, behind the visible shadows that

thronged the court, that one persistent prospective picture of

heart-broken Christina.

The evidence for the prosecution told with damning force against the

prisoner. He was a notorious poacher; the vicar was a game-preserver. He

had poached more than once on the ground of the vicarage. He was shown

by numerous witnesses to have had an animus against the vicar. He had

been seen, not in the face, to be sure, but still seen and recognized,

slinking away, immediately after the fact, from the scene of the murder.

And the prosecution had found stains of blood, believed by scientific

experts to be human, on the clothing he had worn when he was arrested.

Walter Dene listened now with terrible, unabated earnestness, for he

knew that in reality it was he himself who was upon his trial. He

himself, and Christina's happiness; for if the poacher were found

guilty, he was firmly resolved, beyond hope of respite, to tell all, and

face the unspeakable.

The defence seemed indeed a weak and feeble theory. Somebody unknown had

committed the murder, and this somebody, seen from behind, had been

mistaken by John for Joe Harley. The blood-stains need not be human, as

the cross-examination went to show, but were only known by

counter-experts to be mammalian--perhaps a rabbit's. Every poacher--and

it was admitted that Joe was a poacher--was liable to get his clothes

blood-stained. Grant they were human, Joe, it appeared, had himself once

shot off his little finger. All these points came out from the

examination of the earlier witnesses. At last, counsel put the curate

himself into the box, and proceeded to examine him briefly as a witness

for the defence.

Walter Dene stepped, pale and haggard still, into the witness-box. He

had made up his mind to make one final effort "for Christina's

happiness." He fumbled nervously all the time at a small glass phial in

his pocket, but he answered all questions without a moment's hesitation,

and he kept down his emotions with a wonderful composure which excited

the admiration of everybody present. There was a general hush to hear

him. Did he see the prisoner, Joseph Harley, on the day of the murder?

Yes, three times. When was the first occasion? From the library window,

just before the vicar left the house. What was Joseph Harley then doing?

Walking in the opposite direction from the copse. Did Joseph Harley

recognize him? Yes, he touched his hat to him. When was the second

occasion? About ten minutes later, when he, Walter, was leaving the

vicarage for a stroll. Did Joseph Harley then recognize him? Yes, he

touched his hat again, and the curate said, "Good morning, Joe; a fine

day for walking." When was the third time? Ten minutes later again, when

he was returning from the lane, carrying wounded little King Charlie.

Would it have been physically possible for the prisoner to go from the

vicarage to the spot where the murder was committed, and back again, in

the interval between the first two occasions? It would not. Would it

have been physically possible for the prisoner to do so in the interval

between the second and third occasions? It would not.

"Then in your opinion, Mr. Dene, it is physically impossible that Joseph

Harley can have committed this murder?"

"In my opinion, it is physically impossible."

While Walter Dene solemnly swore amid dead silence to this treble lie,

he did not dare to look Joe Harley once in the face; and while Joe

Harley listened in amazement to this unexpected assistance to his

case--for counsel, suspecting a mistaken identity, had not questioned

him too closely on the subject--he had presence of mind enough not to

let his astonishment show upon his stolid features. But when Walter had

finished his evidence in chief, he stole a glance at Joe; and for a

moment their eyes met. Then Walter's fell in utter self-humiliation; and

he said to himself fiercely, "I would not so have debased and degraded

myself before any man to save my own life--what is my life worth me,

after all?--but to save Christina, to save Christina, to save Christina!

I have brought all this upon myself for Christina's sake."

Meanwhile, Joe Harley was asking himself curiously what could be the

meaning of this new move on parson's part. It was deliberate perjury,

Joe felt sure, for parson could not have mistaken another person for him

three times over; but what good end for himself could parson hope to

gain by it? If it was he who had murdered the vicar (as Joe strongly

suspected), why did he not try to press the charge home against the

first person who happened to be accused, instead of committing a

distinct perjury on purpose to compass his acquittal? Joe Harley, with

his simple everyday criminal mind, could not be expected to unravel the

intricacies of so complex a personality as Walter Dene's. But even

there, on trial for his life, he could not help wondering what on earth

young parson could he driving at in this business.

The judge summed up with the usual luminously obvious alternate

platitudes. If the jury thought that John had really seen Joe Harley,

and that the curate was mistaken in the person whom he thrice saw, or

was mistaken once only out of the thrice, or had miscalculated the time

between each occurrence, or the time necessary to cover the ground to

the gate, then they would find the prisoner guilty of wilful murder. If,

on the other hand, they believed John had judged hastily, and that the

curate had really seen the prisoner three separate times, and that he

had rightly calculated all the intervals, then they would find the

prisoner not guilty. The prisoner's case rested entirely upon the

alibi. Supposing they thought there was a doubt in the matter, they

should give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt. Walter noticed that

the judge said in every other case, "If you believe the witness

So-and-so," but that in his case he made no such discourteous

reservation. As a matter of fact, the one person whose conduct nobody

for a moment dreamt of calling in question was the real murderer.

The jury retired for more than an hour. During all that time two men

stood there in mortal suspense, intent and haggard, both upon their

trial, but not both equally. The prisoner in the dock fixed his arms in

a dogged and sullen attitude, the colour half gone from his brown cheek,

and his eyes straining with excitement, but showing no outward sign of

any emotion except the craven fear of death. Walter Dene stood almost

fainting in the body of the court, his bloodless fingers still fumbling

nervously at the little phial, and his face deadly pale with the awful

pallor of a devouring horror. His heart scarcely beat at all, but at

each long slow pulsation he could feel it throb distinctly within his

bosom. He saw or heard nothing before him, but kept his aching eyes

fixed steadily on the door by which the jury were to enter. Junior

counsel nudged one another to notice his agitation, and whispered that

that poor young curate had evidently never seen a man tried for his life


At last the jury entered. Joe and Walter waited, each in his own manner,

breathless for the verdict. "Do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty

or not guilty of wilful murder?" Walter took the little phial from his

pocket, and held it carefully between his finger and thumb. The awful

moment had come; the next word would decide the fate of himself and

Christina. The foreman of the jury looked up solemnly, and answered with

slow distinctness, "Not guilty." The prisoner leaned back vacantly, and

wiped his forehead; but there was an awful cry of relief from one mouth

in the body of the court, and Walter Dene sank back into the arms of the

bystanders, exhausted with suspense and overcome by the reaction. The

crowd remarked among themselves that young Parson Dene was too

tender-hearted a man to come into court at a criminal trial. He would

break his heart to see even a dog hanged, let alone his

fellow-Christians. As for Joe Harley, it was universally admitted that

he had had a narrow squeak of it, and that he had got off better than he

deserved. The jury gave him the benefit of the doubt.

As soon as all the persons concerned had returned to Churnside, Walter

sent at once for Joe Harley. The poacher came to see him in the vicarage

library. He was elated and coarsely exultant with his victory, as a

relief from the strain he had suffered, after the manner of all vulgar


"Joe," said the clergyman slowly, motioning him into a chair at the

other side of the desk, "I know that after this trial Churnside will not

be a pleasant place to hold you. All your neighbours believe, in spite

of the verdict, that you killed the vicar. I feel sure, however, that

you did not commit this murder. Therefore, as some compensation for the

suffering of mind to which you have been put, I think it well to send

you and your wife and family to Australia or Canada, whichever you like

best. I propose also to make you a present of a hundred pounds, to set

you up in your new home."

"Make it five hundred, passon," Joe said, looking at him significantly.

Walter smiled quietly, and did not flinch in any way. "I said a

hundred," he continued calmly, "and I will make it only a hundred. I

should have had no objection to making it five, except for the manner in

which you ask it. But you evidently mistake the motive of my gift. I

give it out of pure compassion for you, and not out of any other feeling


"Very well, passon," said Joe sullenly, "I accept it."

"You mistake again," Walter went on blandly, for he was himself again

now. "You are not to accept it as terms; you are to thank me for it as a

pure present. I see we two partially understand each other; but it is

important you should understand me exactly as I mean it. Joe Harley,

listen to me seriously. I have saved your life. If I had been a man of a

coarse and vulgar nature, if I had been like you in a similar

predicament, I would have pressed the case against you for obvious

personal reasons, and you would have been hanged for it. But I did not

press it, because I felt convinced of your innocence, and my sense of

justice rose irresistibly against it. I did the best I could to save

you; I risked my own reputation to save you; and I have no hesitation

now in telling you that to the best of my belief, if the verdict had

gone against you, the person who really killed the vicar, accidentally

or intentionally, meant to have given himself up to the police, rather

than let an innocent man suffer."

"Passon," said Joe Harley, looking at him intently, "I believe as

you're tellin' me the truth. I zeen as much in that person's face afore

the verdict."

There was a solemn pause for a moment; and then Walter Dene said slowly,

"Now that you have withdrawn your claim as a claim, I will stretch a

point and make it five hundred. It is little enough for what you have

suffered. But I, too, have suffered terribly, terribly."

"Thank you, passon," Joe answered. "I zeen as you were turble anxious."

There was again a moment's pause. Then Walter Done asked quietly, "How

did the vicar's face come to be so bruised and battered?"

"I stumbled up agin 'im accidental like, and didn't know I'd kicked 'un

till I'd done it. Must 'a been just a few minutes after you'd 'a left


"Joe," said the curate in his calmest tone, "you had better go; the

money will be sent to you shortly. But if you ever see my face again, or

speak or write a word of this to me, you shall not have a penny of it,

but shall be prosecuted for intimidation. A hundred before you leave,

four hundred in Australia. Now go."

"Very well, passon," Joe answered; and he went.

"Pah!" said the curate with a face of disgust, shutting the door after

him, and lighting a perfumed pastille in his little Chinese porcelain

incense-burner, as if to fumigate the room from the poacher's offensive

presence. "Pah! to think that these affairs should compel one to

humiliate and abase one's self before a vulgar clod like that! To think

that all his life long that fellow will virtually know--and

misinterpret--my secret. He is incapable of understanding that I did it

as a duty to Christina. Well, he will never dare to tell it, that's

certain, for nobody would believe him if he did; and he may congratulate

himself heartily that he's got well out of this difficulty. It will be

the luckiest thing in the end that ever happened to him. And now I hope

this little episode is finally over."

When the Churnside public learned that Walter Dene meant to carry his

belief in Joe Harley's innocence so far as to send him and his family at

his own expense out to Australia, they held that the young parson's

charity and guilelessness was really, as the doctor said, almost

Quixotic. And when, in his anxiety to detect and punish the real

murderer, he offered a reward of five hundred pounds from his own pocket

for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the

criminal, the Churnside people laughed quietly at his extraordinary

childlike simplicity of heart. The real murderer had been caught and

tried at Dorchester Assizes, they said, and had only got off by the skin

of his teeth because Walter himself had come forward and sworn to a

quite improbable and inconclusive alibi. There was plenty of time for

Joe to have got to the gate by the short cut, and that he did so

everybody at Churnside felt morally certain. Indeed, a few years later a

blood-stained bowie-knife was found in the hedge not far from the scene

of the murder, and the gamekeeper "could almost 'a took his Bible oath

he'd zeen just such a knife along o' Joe Harley."

That was not the end of Walter Dene's Quixotisms, however. When the will

was read, it turned out that almost everything was left to the young

parson; and who could deserve it better, or spend it more charitably?

But Walter, though he would not for the world seem to cast any slight or

disrespect upon his dear uncle's memory, did not approve of customs of

primogeniture, and felt bound to share the estate equally with his

brother Arthur. "Strange," said the head of the firm of Watson and

Blenkiron to himself, when he read the little paragraph about this

generous conduct in the paper; "I thought the instructions were to leave

it to his nephew Arthur, not to his nephew Walter; but there, one

forgets and confuses names of people that one does not know so easily."

"Gracious goodness!" thought the engrossing clerk; "surely it was the

other way on. I wonder if I can have gone and copied the wrong names in

the wrong places?" But in a big London business, nobody notes these

things as they would have been noted in Churnside; the vicar was always

a changeable, pernickety, huffy old fellow, and very likely he had had a

reverse will drawn up afterwards by his country lawyer. All the world

only thought that Walter Dene's generosity was really almost ridiculous,

even in a parson. When he was married to Christina, six months

afterwards, everybody said so charming a girl was well mated with so

excellent and admirable a husband.

And he really did make a very tender and loving husband and father.

Christina believed in him always, for he did his best to foster and keep

alive her faith. He would have given up active clerical duty if he

could, never having liked it (for he was above hypocrisy), but Christina

was against the project, and his bishop would not hear of it. The Church

could ill afford to lose such a man as Mr. Dene, the bishop said, in

these troubled times; and he begged him as a personal favour to accept

the living of Churnside, which was in his gift. But