THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
TEE DISRUPTION A TALE OF TRYING TIMES. CHAPTER XL. Last scene of all That ends this strange eventful history. Shakesi'Eare. It still remains a matter of doubt whether the fire at Whinnyside was wilful or accidental, for though Robin Afleck suspected his ruffian rival as the incendiary, he had no ground for his suspicion beyond a vague notion that Rumplebane’s revenge had prompted the crime. It will be seen anon that Dr. Snapperdudgeon accounted for it differently. Mrs, Renshaw’s house, though not completely consumed was reduced to ruins. However, the whole of her live stock, stored produce, and many articles of furniture were saved, and it will be remembered that her most valuable movables were out of danger. She was grieved to find herself burnt out of house and home, but not inconsolable; for. besides being insured for the full extent of her loss, she flattered herself that the disaster would tell in her favor otherwise ; and in this hope she was not disappointed. It was but a matter of course, as she had foreseen, for her to be invited to take up her abode at Stiffrigg Mains, for the Stimpertons were her nearest neighbors; and she did not require to be asked twice. Honest Ringan had a sort of dim anticipation of the natural consequence, but what could he do ? It was not to be thought he could allow a neighbor and intimate acquaintance—and that neighbor and acquaintance ‘a lone woman’ —to be at a loss for shelter, while he had a house to share with her. But what he only suspected might possibly be the result, soon became a certainty. Everybody, as well as Mrs. Renshaw herself, assumed, as a strong probability that her temporary residence at the Mains would lead—and that very speedily—to her permanent establishment as mistress there.
The day after the fire, Sir John Baldwin paid a visit to his burnt-out tenant, to condole with her on the calamity, and talk over the measures it would render necessary. She left Stiffriggs to speak for her, being really, or affecting to be, too much overcome to plead her own cause. Stiffriggs spoke warmly in her behalf, and urged on Sir John the necessity of having her house rebuilt in good style, and with all convenient expedition. ‘ Not at all Mr. Stimperton,’ replied the landlord, jocularly —‘ not at all, Mr. Stimperton, I’ll do nothing of the kind. It would neither be fair to Mrs. Renshaw nor you to rebuild the Whinnyside house. I shall put another storey on your own house rather, and make it large enough for you both, for it would be a shame for you to live any longer separate. Eh, Mrs. Renshaw, don’t you think that will be the best arrangement ?’ The lady only answered, ‘ Fye, fye, Laird ! it’s no fair o’ ye to make a joke o’ sic a serious business while Rigan, half out of humour, only said--‘There’s naething to that effeck either in her lease or mine.’
While the net of destiny was thus closing round honest Stiffriggs, and hauling him to the shore of married life, whether he would or no, he was kept busy with public as well as private affairs. The decided opinions he held on the Church question, and his manly independent character, caused him to be looked up to by his neighbors for guidance in the extraodinary emergency produced by the Disruption. His house, for several days after his return home, was the resort of many who were dissatisfied with the or rather with the incumbent of the parish, for many more objected to the man than the system. Stiffriggs, however, stood upon the general principles on which the Free Church had seceded, and expounded them, if not with great logical acumen, with such zeal and sincerity as made them spread rapidly among the simple, earnest people of the disrrict. Lucky was it for him that Mrs. Renshaw was on the spot to keep her vigilant, worldly eye on all the ongoings of his household, while he was forgetting everything but his sturdy Presbyterianism, and while his easytempered sister enjoyed an Arcadian exemption from every care in listening to the soft nonsense of her eccentric admirer. The lady of Whinnyside soon showed how useful she could make herself at Stiffrigg Mains, without for a moment losing view of her own exclusive concerns. . In all this she displayed the most consummate prudence, and well nigh extorted from Ringan himself the admission that she was ‘ a usefu’ body,’ while every one else said so, and declared that he just needed such a woman to look after his intrests.
This was the state of matters when, without any previous notice of the intended honor, Stiffriggs received a visit from Dr, Snapperdudgeon ! The Doctor wore a look of imperious insolence which he had not before ventured to assume in the presence of Stiffriggs since the latter discovered his connection with the nefarious transactions and machinations of Messrs. M'Corkle and Smuggerly. Stiffriggs was surprised at this change, and unable to guess the cause of it, or the object of a visit so unexpected; but he was not long in doubt on either point. The Doctor, after he had invited himself to a chair, entered on the purpose of his errand abruptly. ‘ I have called, Mr. Stimperton,’ said he c to talk over a few matters with you, in order that we may come to a complete understanding.’ ‘An understanding on what ?’ asked Stiffriggs gruffly, adding— ‘ I think, Doctor, we understand ane anhher pretty weel already.’ ‘ So we do, Ringan,’ was the Doctor’s rejoinder —‘ on the most of points so we do, indeed. But I have a few things to hint to you for your own sake more than for mine.’ ‘ Na, na, Doctor ! I want nane o’ your hints. If ye have ony thing to say, say’t plump oot. That’s the only honest way o’ speaking.’ 4 Very well; I’ll be plain enough on one point at leaft with you. I understand you are stirring up your neighbors to leave the Church, as you have done yourself. Now I give you fair warning, that if you persist in this course I’ll make you repent it.’ ‘Ye’ll mak’ me repent it, and be bang’d to you ! Hoo can ye mak’ me repent ?’
‘You will find that out soon enough, if you provoke me.’ ‘ As to provoking the like o’ you, it’s just aboot the last thing I’ll be at ony pains to avoid. If aught I can say can persuade every skin o’ your hearers to come oot of sic an Eraustian, antiChristian Kirk as the like o’ you can be a minister in, ye may be sure I’ll no leave it unsaid, though the saying o’t. should cost me my head. But boo ye can haud up your face to threaten me when ye ken what I ken aboot yc, is past my skill to comprehend.’ ‘ Oh ! you allude to the trifling affair with M'Corkle, I suppose. You will never make anything of that to my disadvantage, I assure you. I can explain it all in the most satisfactory manner.’ ‘ Weel, I can assure you ye’ll get the opportunity afore lang; for, as sure as my name is Stimperton, I’ll gar ye tell what way ye cam’ by the letters that you and M'Corkle and Smuggerly met to read and consult about.’
‘ Pooh, pooh ! nonsense ; a mere impropriety, even if you could prove it. But what do you say for being accessory, if not art and part, in fraud and wilful fire-raising ? Ay, you may stare ! but deny it if you can.’ ‘ Do yo mean to even ought o’ the kind to me ? ’
‘ Not if you explain some rather curious circumstances which have come to my knowledge. For instance —How you happened to have both Mrs. Renshaw- and her servant at your house when the fire broke out ? How so many valuable articles were removed from Whinnyside just before that event? Where these things were carried, and where they are now ? What took your friend Afleck there in such a hurry late on Saturday night ? And how the servant man, Rumplebane, was suddenly turned away the same night, and that, too, in the absence of his mistress ? All these circumstances, besides some very suspicious proceedings regarding a Mr. Bacon—a very simple person, possessed, I hear, of considerable property —all these rather curious circumstances I shall publicly call on you to explain, if you persist in sowing mischief among my parishioners.’ Stiffriggs took a hearty laugh when he heard the Doctor’s extraordinary insinuations, and shouted in a tone of irrepressible mirth, ‘ Wed dune, Doctor ! ye’ve fund oot a decent mcer’s nest at last.’ Then, assuming a look of indignation and contempt, he said—- ‘ If this is a’ ye had to hint and threaten, ye may gang your ways and do your warst, and see what ye’ll mak o’t. As for sawing mischief in your parish—let me tell you, in your lug, the thing is no left for me to do, for ye’ve been busy doing naething else since ever ye were placed in’t. But if ye coont it mischief to have the simple well-meaning folk o’ the parish steered up to get a Christian minister in place o’ you, and to come oot o’ the Establishment that by you and the like o’ you has been ruined and dishonored — ye may depend on’t I’ll no leave a stane unturned till I see the job finished.’ ‘ You defy me, then, do you ?’ *To be sure I do, and despise you to the bargain.’ ‘Well, take care you don’t repent your insolence and rashness. You shall soon see who has most to fear.’
Dr. Snapperdudgeon’s immediate object in this interview was, if possible, to prevent a public meeting of the parish on the Church question, which was intended to be held next dsy. He apprehended that the result of it would be the secession of most of his congregation, and to prevent this he strained his ingenuity and audacity to the utmost. No means he could adopt seemed to him so promising as the intimidation of Stiffriggs, for he knew him to be the ringleader of all who opposed himself or supported the principles of Non-intrusion in the locality. But in Stiffriggs, as has been seen, the Doctor had mistaken his man. His daring attempt to intimidate him by unfounded insinuations might have prevailed with a character weaker but as honest; for the fear of being suspected is almost as powerful in some minds as the shame of being found guilty. But the mind of Stiffriggs was cast in a different mould. He was not only thoroughly honest, but so fearless in his integrity that even a much more plausible tissue of suspicious circumstances than that which the Doctor had got up against him would have given him little uneasiness. The only effect which the attempt had on him was, if possible, to increase his parly zeal and detestation of the Doctor. Accordingly he redoubled his efforts to make the meeting effective, and succeeded in infusing his own spirit into its proceedings. He, however, could not prevail on his young friend, Mr. Duncanson, to take any part in it, or even to appear on the occasion. The student’s reasons for such backwardness will appear by-and-by, but Stiffriggs could not divine them, and while puzzled on the subject permitted unjust suspicions to enter his generous and truly liberal mind. (To be continued —commenced on July 2(1. )
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