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IN THE OLD CHURCH TOWER.

STRANGE CLAIMANT; OR, TWICE…

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STRANGE CLAIMANT; OR, TWICE WED. CHAPTER XXVIII. it A STRANGE CLAIMANT. M face. Oh! do you think I would v repr,» Nelly said, faintly, one evening as she *aa H,lng ^rom a awooc. 1,1 V (3iatp^'urn °* Agnes to aid her unhappy friena «oj( *1 Was ^im," 8^e faltered. My husband at sea, he was murdered—murdered, > g& by a horrible man he could not hare t^kn 88 ^0U you ^on t ^now> Agnes, you SeeOh!" she moaned, I shall never cease thn6VerJ" y°un^er woman full well knew the im- F^tom °p at once dispersing, if possible, this tairo^0 brain, as she believed it, ere it j ^00 firm a hold upon the mind. She 11 Jv 'P«ak d ^e face seem to look at you ?" asked she do tell me all; it will ease you, I am V oye e*ery thing seems so much worse with brood- Was what you saw like a living, everyday did he look it youT ^•Per fearfully, her voice sinking to a "p to n.' eyes were looking far above my head, *0ula n I *ace was towards me, but it k6 prav°» look at me' 0h'lefc me ASne8»let J• and she slid trembling down upon her ^«Uv bedside. teffj/j^'ose more calm, but her nerves had received 10 8°ock. Brooding as Bhe did over the past fr* k 8^e bad brought herself to look upen trouble or hardship as but a new addition Pea^ e8ei'*ed punishment, and in this sudden ap- *°&ld 06 ber lost husband her distorted imagination nothing but a warning to recall her to a to the self-humiliation, a more absolute resignation "j of her fault. Wl tefUgbt not to spare myself," she said, when they Ml." little time together; I did not tell you fljfr1 related the whole of her history—from ^ittin error of her maiden days to its fatal result — aoWd Dg only the finding of that ghastly witness; she 4 "feari bring herself to speak of what seemed ever T4 lØcret confided only to herself. work-a day mind of Agnes Ohaunce re- Si jS the notion of a gbost, close at the Of the a theatre, too, but the superstitious conviction th srff remained, and even deepened with her too -Y self-columunings and the nursing of her morbid We^ for the little Ida that Tom ona that night henceforth transferring his b0llj ^be altitude of two flights of stairs, be- ^k Purees the constant visitor of the third floor »* *hich Nelly and her child inhabited. an.^ ber father had come to live at a poor but todging in an obscure street in the Goswell-ro&d, hwhen a vacancy occurred, at her request, vi bad also removed. Of L 6 bave learned that Nelly had adopted the nama e fiwt husband, on her arriving in London, no t>f ^eeapful of discovery, than loathing the very sound name and even Agnes WAS unaware of her &oth° f obtained work at the same establishment that la-n firat met. Poor enough indeed was ^nd ?ot to pay; but, in addition, she als* in «. ^asional employment from a waistcoat-maker WHO ne,gbbourhood, for whom the landlady of the £ h mother spared not herself, but toiled, he* oVM^^bt, hard, and fared harder; fasted when to dined, and, when she slept, rose many a time Vr kain, with a restless, eager longinsr, that 110 ton* ™U8t. even though, when that were finished, a fev niight be at hand. She had a certain aim— *astftP desire, that spurred her on. It ha/eti rinS ^ad pledged—that ring fecoyT" P^ace(i on his finger, that she had so strangely •ac^^j and even to starvation point had held to ao jj y# had r woman almost it might seem that her mind »UCh shaken by what she had passed through, Uo ^nge fancies beset her; for, though she made ^DBI^V3-011 of i<: to any one' wa8 not without a feeiin&» that to her having parted with tiaj. token, she owed the fearful visitation of g|/e*d husband's appearance. becBme even more abstracted, more zealously Mbl to her toilsome work, at which, indeed, she me an adept; and even poor little Ida would ftjpQ £ ared badly for companionship and proper exer- wl^ad not the new Acquaintance fortunatelyap- Tb #afc ^b*8 junctur?. 'act is, in spite of Tom's devotion to his first had been so constantly met by objections on the part of Agnes, her independence Ijjg 'fequently galled him, even in the accepting of by the transfer of his friendship was the difficult matter it might otherwise 0Q6 ^th little Ida it was the reverse. Here was ^te fmucb bis junior as to look up to him, so desti- amusement or companionship of any kind, lne very sound of his footstep waa welcomed, l^^bose active little mind—free from gloomy recol- to or anticipations of the future—was ever ready ■^en^1/6 ideas or plans and make them her own. aftj; had not been the gentle, half-crippled, j^yttonate creature she was, little Ida would have herself a place in the heart of the rough but ilM lad. As it was, she grew upon his thoughts *ed berself up with his plans to an extent that lb*.?* ve an»a2ed himself, if he could have known it from himself. 'n&nv WBS brigbter that night than she had been for a day. She had achieved the purpose so long *1d f iforward to, had emancipated the pledged ring, betto °n5!e more ftB had some hold upon the She ^ort'on °f ber life by this frail link. °pinion&n8Were^ Ida's pretty chatter, and gave her 3}0tn a variety of subjects, chiefly relating: to satisfy books, and book-making, in a manner very off r ^be little one, till she prattled herself thou~vf8 P' and the mother was left to her own ^tin «. ber prayers, and to the sad luxury of re- °f ^bose vigilantly-hoarded relics of mystery, and A knew what crime and horror. ton L 8 laid the old-fashioned ring beside the skele- 8be vo .wbich it seemed almost to form a part, thft,« Wi *ithin herself that nothing should ever Dart while she lived. *ith some ten days after this, when, sitting >as g(.er °bild beside her in the waning twilight, she **6 ali by a knocking at the door, and, almost ma 6 C0U^ answer, by bidding the visitor come in," that ° enoer^d> apparently aged and slightly bent; by d^^tain light he seemed cleanly but very poorly altnr^f' his white hair somewhat profusely hung *hicV)\uP°n bis shoulders from beneath the hat, he removed, as he advanced into the room with "P j BOmewhat uncertain steps. •'f0 ardon me, dear Mrs. Franklen," he begun, ^nku,6 y>e seem agitated; you are Mrs. »in surprise, assented. b*3 R] rd it, I was told so. Oh, dear, the surprise to *aken away the little strength I have; oh, 'notKa ^88t» m7 long-lost treasure, my poor, poor J. r» shipwrecked father!" man put his ragged cuff to his eyes, and *bW to stick, for a few moments seemed un- an^' ^ndeed» alm03t alarmed by his manner till h- u j' Nelly begged him to sit down, and waited Pear«ii which in a few minuteB he ap- Cc a to do, then he went on- —yet 8 ran|ely it came to me, I hurried here at once ^ou hav*' 1 *-fc 8b°u'd not be true now, after all. tiogy 6 a ring, ma'am, an ancient, massive gold able tnM b^rt sank, and for the moment she was un- repiy. 4| CHAPTER XXIX. «, wA8 but E. B E 8 T roucr. "hen j J'' the venerable stranger continued, 3 aewr father left my poor mother sod my- self, to go on that last voyage, which was, alas! de- stined to be fatal to both himself and her." Here the old mar, deeply affected, leaned forward, bowing his grey head till it rested upon his hands, which were clasped upon his stick. Yes, he went on, with a trembling voice, "a little child, as this might be, sweet innocent!" He laid his hand on the curly head of the little Ida, but she slipped from beneath it, and, drawing to her mother's side, stood viewing the stranger with infan- tine curiosity from afar off. Little discomposed by the movement, the stranger went on- "Young as I was, I remember well the tears which my dear mother shed, as she drew that ring from off her finger, and placed it on that of my father. You will keep it,' she said, under Heaven's blessing, till you return it to me in the happy moment of our re-nnion. It will serve to re- mind you of me, and to recall "those happy hours we have spent together.' He, lifting his hat from his noble brows-gallant seaman and pious Christian as he was—said, solemnly, I Under God's mercy, Jessie, I will place it on your own precious finger this day twelvemonth.' Alas! madam, alas! for the instability of all human hopes." Here the stranger raised his eyes to the low ceilling of the attic, and slowly shook his head. till the grey hair was shaken out like a fringe upon it. That day twelvemonth passed, and another, and yet another, and my beloved mother, though racked with the agony of suspense and fear, refused to put on mourning for her brave sailor, till the news, the fatal news, was brought, that beyond a doubt the vessel had been wrecked off our southern coasts, and that, so complete had been tha wreck, so doubtful the portions, from time to time, deposited on shore, the certainty of the ship's identity with the missing one had but now been made clear. Vainly, then, even, did my dear mother struggle against convic- tion as vainly did she strive to obtain even the slightest token to assure her of the gloomy fact that she was a widow and myself a wretched orphan. But she died, ma'am, she died." The old man seemed suddenly to become aware of the fact that he was growing prolix, and hurried to a conclusion. Yes, ma'm, she died within a month; and her last words were of that ring. Ah! many and many a time through this weary life have I thought upon my noble father and the pledge of her love; both lying cold, cold at the bottom of the deep but little did I imagine that ever these old eyes would behold it more." And you heard how I came to have it ?" said Nelly, all amazed, and scarce knowing what she uttered. Hurriedly the old man resumed: When I heard ( that upon that same coast, in that very year, among I other relics whose description I remembered long ago, there had been found a ring%so answering in ] particulars to the very one imprinted on my youth- ] ful mind, no less by my mother's frequent repetition than by that solemn occasion I have related, when I learned that it was in the possesion of one who had herself been the wife of a seaman, who had dared the I perils ana known the hardships of that life, I said to myself, she will feel for the poor old man and his sorrows she will let him look upon the old ring once J more—once more His voice had become quite plaintive, his hands ( shook as he extended them towards the woman, who was already wiping her eyes in sympathy, and had, j in fact, begun, with a sigh, to extract the ring from its hiding-place. t j The old man's eyes watched her with the fixed in- tentness of extreme old age, which takes, at times, almost the fixedness of insanity, and, in a rapid utter- ance, he went on— I So well I remember—the great heavy plait of gold that I used to think was the cable of my father's ship, and the greit bloodstone, heart-shaped, with the small green anchor that seemed growing in the very midst, and Oh! I see VOfI know it," she cried, with a sudden anguish in her tone, as it was borne in upon her soul that she must part with this long treasure j heirloom that linked her to the lost one—so recently, too, re- covered. She held it to him, and, in the faint even- ing light, the wonderful stones glowed with what seemed to be at that moment even an added brilliancy, and that, unseen to her, was reflected, even intensified, by those sharp eyes under the venerable locks that fringed the bare head of her visitant, as it stooped over the palsied hand which now hefc. the ring. Once more once more I" he cried. It is, in- deed, the very same! Oh! my dear mother I my brave and unfortunate father And thus, in a stranger's hand—thus, after so many years of trial and of tribu- lation, do I behold your treasured ring!" He stopped, and Nelly, standing beside him, saw something that glittered suddenly upon the ring, which the poor old man made as though he would wipo hastily away. Forgive me, ma'am; I'm old and weak—very weak. I haven't many years to live, and I bless Heaven that I have been permitted this sight before I die. I bless you, and thank you that have been the instru- ment." He returned the ring into her hand as he spoke, with a sigh, and, could Nelly but have seen the furtive glance of those sharp eyes as he did BO But she, poor woman, had but one thought: the ring had been hers so long as no more rightful owner claimed it; but here was one whose parents had possessed it at first, without whose loss it had never been hers. No variety of courses opened to her. Nay," she said, sorrowfully, it is yours. God knows I never thought to part with it, for it's been in our family so long that it seemed it must belong to me, and it's like next to losing my child there's such a deal of my life that it calls to mind, though it's been trouble, too, for the most part, and it seems not me only, for you say it like brought yours no good. But any way it belongs to you of right, and you must please take it, and, if it's any comfort to you, why I'm glad you found me." The ring was in the hand of the venerable stranger by this time, and the grey hairs quivering with emo- tion stronger than ever. Bless you! blesa you, dear lady, for this I" he said, in a voice that quivered with'emphasised grati- tude. But Heaven will bless you; the voice of your own conscience will bless you, when I am gone, when I am gone! I would not have taken the poor bauble from you, though my old heart yearned to it, I would net; but my days are numbered, and I have no friend, no child, no relative! When I am gone, this ring shall be yours once more—yours and to this sweet innocent," He stretched out his hand, but the little golden head eluded him this time, and the old gentleman, put- ting his hand in his pocket, added the inducement of a piece of money. Take this, dear child; it is little I have to give, but you have made my heart very glad this night." As Ida made no approach, despite the bribe, it was deposited on the table, for the stranger was now in no mood to stay, and was making his way towards the door as fast as the infirmities of age would allow. You will see me again," he said to Nelly; "you will let me come and see you, I know you will. Heaven bless you, dear lady, Heaven bless you!" The door closed; the poor old man was heard making hia way with difficulty down the stairs, and Nelly, for the moment, reproached herself with hav- ing suffered the loss of the ring to overcome her so far as not to have offered to assist the stranger in his descent. She would have been possessed by a different im- pulse, perhaps, if she could have seen what were the movements of that aged person, when he had passed out of earshot of the attic occupants. CHAPTER XXX. OONSBQUBXCES. TIME passed on, without much to mark one day from another, as they went by. Nelly still continued to earn a scanty living for her- self and child, at the ill-paid but not over-laborious work she had engaged in, aad to whichJehe was more reconciled, from the fact that it left her at liberty to be the companion and instructress of her child, so far as her own capacity went. Little Ida was, if not a remarkably apt, at least a persevering scholar, and the more determinedly gave her mind to the learning to read, that she knew Tom had a hand in the making of the books; indeed, she ascribed to him a share in every printed page which met her eye. Their friendship had increased with time; and with new inducements Tom became more inventive in ex- cuses for being so constant a visitor. Now it was a curtain he Could put up better than Nelly could, he was sure; now he had discovered a lock to be re- paired now he had a patent method for curing the chimney of smoking, or he had found a bit of board that would make a first-rate shelf but the happiest hit of all was the canary. He had brought the most choice songster of the little colony to Goswell-street, in a cage of his own construction; it was indeed a I happy moment for Ida when she saw the pretty creature domiciled over her own little corner by the window, and learnt that it was to be her property henceforth. Net a day could go by but Tom must inform him- self on the state of the canary's health there was seed to bring, too, and the cage to clean out, which Tom, artful lad, had stipulated he should be permitted to do. Nelly was nothing loth, when she had once in- formed herself of the boy's disposition, for she felt herself to be but a poor companion for the little one, whose infirmity would tend to isolate her evermore from those of her own age. Since the visit of the claimant to her ring-who had never, of course, made his appearanoa again—her spirits had sunk lower, and her health grew more enfeebled. At times, she would brighten up, and beguile her weariness with visions of a future made brighter by some turn of for- tune or unexpected chance; but soon the recollection of her forlorn state, the uncertainty of her husband's fate, the helplessness of her deformed child, and, more than all, remorse for her own fatal error in the past, would again cast a gloomy shade upon the path that lay before her. For the sake of her girl only she cared to live, and, even now, it needed all the kind and considerate per- suasion of her friend, Agnes Ohaunce, to prevent her falling into a fatal despondency. But poor Agnes herself needed consolation. Her father Ind been gradually sinking into utter imbe- cility it was not possible to quit him for a minute, and his claims upon her time did not permit her to ) devote herself to her work, as it was necessary she should do, for them to live by it. There was another source of trouble, too; the same ill disposed person who had prejudiced her old land- lady against her found an opportunity to spread whispers to her disadvantage, which reached the place where she found employment, and Agnes soon felt the consequence in the whispered sneers and half-uttered taunts of her fellow-workers girls who, perhaps, had all been known, could have less borne scrutiny than the much enduring and remorseful Agnes. But she bore all bravely, taking it as part of the punishment due to her error, and tried the more to occupy herself with her father, and, if possible, to satisfy his fretful requests and unconscionable re- quirements for the man who, in health, had been always selfish, was, in derangement and suffering, almost unendurable. Still, as I have said, the girl bore up, worked when he slept, and denied herself almost necessaries to give the invalid the luxuries he craved she had ever a word of comfort for her desponding neighbour, when she could creep up, now and then, for a minute or two; or Nelly would step, on her way in or out, to ask could she do an errand, or perform some domestic duty for her friend. But for some days past Agnes had been even the saddest of the two. Some terrible grief seemed struggling within, her eyes were heavy with weeping, her check flushed as with feverish thought, and, at times, wild ejaculations oroke from her that showed ■ a mind strangely disturbed and ill at ease. < Noticing these symptoms, and attributing them to Eomesuch distracting memories as were too apt to dis- I tress herself, Nelly had forborne to acquaint her friend with the circumstance of the old man calling I upon her to claim the ring, and for some time after that event they saw little of each other. Mrs. Grejjous had, by some means, discovered the object of Tom's frequent absences, and protested against it with her usual show of vehemence. I Tom was returning from one of his journeys with j proofs of which he had spoken to his little com- t panion. ( He was contemplating a slight increase of the very I limited pay he received at the printing office, and ( which he hoped to persuade his mother te relinquish E ill claim upon, as a fund for his own private use; and just at that moment whom should he see but Ida, ] iteing dragged along in the custody of a policeman ? I He ran forward at ones and asked: What's the— 1 where—what's it for ? c The policeman made no reply, save by flinging off ] ronile arm and again urging his small prisoner f forward. But the boy still kept hold of Ida's hand, ] ind continued to move with them, followed by a ] pooup of juvenile spectators, who cheered Tom, and ya-ahed!" at the bobby from a respectful dis- ( tance. 1 It's a case of smashing, Master Grejous," said an I attendant baker, and as barefaced a one as ever I ] see, and I've trounced a pretty many, and trounce 1 em I will, so long as I've breath to say the j words — ( You'd best keep what you've got to say for his wor- t ship," said the policeman; then, with a significant ( Look at Tom, he added, There'll be more to say than 1 some bargained for." I It't a pack of lies," shouted Tom. Why I know them well, her and her mother; she'd no more go to I smashing than me." r "That's very likely," growled the policeman. i Are you a-going to clear off, now, before I make you ? A short walk brought them to the police-court, where the magistrate was at the time sitting. There was the usual motley crowd about the entrances of the court, through which the policeman, however, made way without difficulty. Meanwhile, Tom had found the opportunity to slip between the crowd until he stood ciose behind her, ( and, amid the hubbub of the court, he could speak to her freely. Ida," he asked, where is your mother ? how was you out by yourself ? -'Ob, Tom,' said the child, tearfully, mother has been so ill for three days, and this morning she could J not get up out of bed, and there was no breakfast; 1 so she let me go to the baker-and, oh, what will they do, Tom ? mother will be so bad, and me not there; and she won't know what has become of me!" The tears swelled to her eyes again, but she was too much awed to let them fall. Instinctively, amid the rude crowd, she turned to Tom as her only stay and guardian, and, unable to give him her hand, she leaned back her head till her poor feverish cheek touched the coarse apron and corduroys behind her, as if they had constituted a pillar of support. Tom quite understood the action, but his male intelligence grasped at something more important than the temporary consolation his presence could yield. Look here, Ida," he said I must go and tell mother—they'll ask for her I must fetch her, if she can come, and if she can't, I must bring Mrs. Smith" (the landlady of the house where Nelly lodged). It was a matter of necessity, and, as he sped on his errand, it only once crossed his mind that he was in a fair way not only to forfeit all chance of promotion, but to lose his employment altogether, and embroil himself with his mother past all chance of reconcilia- tion. As the possibility crossed his mind of her de- manding his immolation at the shrine of Thatcher as the only possible expiation, he exclaimed emphatically and aloud— "I'll go to sea first!" This was the sole allusion Tom permitted himself to his own affairs; his mind reverted to the unac- countable event of the morning; and still revolving all its possible results, he found himself at the court out of the Goswell-road, and before the house he sought. j Tom was far from a good one to break unpleasant news, or acquit himself of a delicate mission satisfac- torily. He felt his own deficiencies, and paused in his ( rapid career as he ascended the stairs, to consider how he could best begin. A thought struck him; he stopped on the landing, and was about to knock at tlw door of Agnes Ohaunce, to solicit her intervention, when he heard a confcsed sound within, the door suddenly opened, and Agnes ( herself appeared, with tear-stained face, and distrac- tion in her features. ( He is dying!—my father is dying!" she cried. Oh, Tom, for the love of Heaven, run for the doctor i -he was here last night-be said there was nothing to be feared just now; but my father is worøe-I 1 know, I feel he is dying." 1 I |Poor Tom's difficulties seemed thickening around him. | In a few hurried words ha told his errand. The ( girl, staring wildly at him, scarcely seemed to take in the sense of what he said. ( At that moment the door above opened. "Bring her up, bring her up,1' cried a frantic voice, which he hardly recognised as Nelly's. She is 1 dead! she is killed! my child is killed, and you have brought her home-let me see her, let me see my child!" Go to her," said Agnes, mournfully. My God! there seems nothing but misery in this world." Tom ran up the stairs, and at the top met Nelly, half dressed, in the wildest distraction. "Where is she?" she cried. "She is dead! she is hurt! What have you done with her ?" Ida it safe, Mrs. Franklen," said Tom; she isn't hurt—nothing's the matter—only there's a mistake, a id I want to take you to her." The poor mother threw her arms around his neck, and blessed and kissed him, crying the while, very much to the discomfiture of the printer boy, to whom the experience was totally new. In a few moments Mrs. Franklen had on her bonnet and shawl, and, by the aid of Tom's arm, descended the stairs. They were not long reaching the court. Tom had done his best to prepare Mrs. Franklen for what awaited her, but when she entered on the scene, and beheld her child, who had just been placed in the dock -a policeman on one side, her little hand held on the other by a strange woman, with a swollen eye and face disfigured, surrounded by officers and the unsavoury, ill-looking crowd which pressed upon her darling, as if her mere position there made her one of themselves -the woman's heart seemed to die within her. She struck her clenched hands upon her breast, and, groaning, tottered to a bench behind her, where she dropped like one who has received a sudden blow. (To be continued)

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.":VOTOTI.I