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A SHORT STORY., Issue 10432, 29 September 1897
A SHORT STORY.
GOT A TANDEM. Of course, Mr Stone never for one moment imagined that any of the parishioners would object to his riding a bicycle. St. Juba’s, Kunniford, was a large, straggling parish, and as he made a practice of calling once a fortnight upon every member of the congregation he rightly judged that it would save him a great deal of walking. Pleasure had nothing to do with the purchase. As ill-luck had it, however, he encountered Miss Meddlebury the first lime he rode out. Although no tyro, he was out of practice, and he dared not let go a handle to lift bis hat, so he went by with a nod and a smile. Miss Meddlebury stopped short. Turning about, she glared after the curate’s flying coat tails until they disappeared in the distance, then marched straight to the vicarage, whither she had been several times before on Mr Stone’s account—visits concerning which he was blissfully ignorant. It is necessary to explain that Mias Prude nee Meddlebury was a very important personage in the parish of St. John. For the sake of his poor the vicar could not ignore her opinions. She had an income of 15,000d0l a year, and one-tenth of that sura —not a penny more and not a penny less she gave to him to bestow as he thought proper.
By reason of her confidence Mr Armitage shut his eyes to her austerity and narrow mindedness, but the truth must be told here. Miss Meddlebury was stern and forbidding in appearance and disposition. Every form of enjoyment she considered baneful, if not a deadly sin. From the first she objected to Mr Stone. After his opening service, which had greatly pleased the vicar, she complained that he was too young, too tall, and too plain looking.
“ All the girls will be setting their caps at him,” she said at one of those complaining visits previously mentioned. “ They will think a great deal more of the preacher than of the sermon. It was very unwise of you to engage him.”
The good old vicar said he hoped not, and thought no more about it unless to laugh quietly to himself.
In some unaccountable manner she discovered that Mr Stone had fallen in love with Nelly Armitage. It was true enough, but at the time the vicar’s daughter was by no means sure of the fact herself.
Mias Meddlebury was not aware that the handsome, well-set-up young clergyman possessed a private income large enough to marry upon whenever he thought proper, but she would probably have acted just the same in any case. “You know I warned you that Mr Stone would not do,” she told that young lady’s papa. “Unless you wish to be entangled in a very undesirable love affair you will eel rid of him.”
The Rev. Mr Armitage looked rather bewildered, but not at all displeased. “ L ° ve affair? Nelly?” he exclaimed, ohe hasn t said anything to me, nor has Mr Stone.”
“No,” said Miss Meddlebury, with her vinegary smile, “I don’t suppose it has gone so far as that. I thought it my duty to put you on your guard in time.” “ I am very much obliged, I am sure,” rejoined the vicar.
And there is no doubt he was very thankful for the information, St, John’s was rather a poor living, and he had given too much away to be able to save anything. His daughter being unprovided for, the prospects of her union with an independent gentleman of the highest character would not be likely to interfere with his sleep of nights.
“And you will act without delay?” continued Miss Meddlebury. “ When the time comes. I must not be precipitate, you know.” The vicar changed the subject, plunged into parish affairs, and so escaped further awkward questions upon that occasion. But it was only a respite. The meeting with the curate on his bicycle took place two days later. Mr Armitage chanced to be standing at his study window and saw Miss Meddlebury coming up the garden. “I have been shocked,” she said, “positively shocked. And lam sure you will be when I tell you that I have just met Mr Stone on a bicycle.”
.“I don’t se e any harm in it,” rejoined the vicar, who did not look in the least perturbed. r
I am surprised. The clergyman that would ride a bicycle can have no respect for his cloth, no desire to gain the goodwill of ms congregation. I will not countenance it. Mr Stone must give it up, or I shall be compelled to take a pew in St. Mark’s. 1 should feel quite uncomfortable. I really could not sit under him.” J
St. Mark’s was the wealthiest parish in Runniford. If she left St. John’s, she would be sure to take her 1,500d0l with her, and this was a contingency to be avoided at almost any cost.
“ I trust you have acted upon the hint I gave you concerning Nelly ?” “ Well, no,” he answered. “ I don’t see how I can interfere at present.” Miss Meddlebury took herself off with the air of a victor. The vicar watched her down the garden, and then went to his daughter’s room to unburden his mind. “Of all the unreasonable mischief-makers I ever met that woman is the worst!” he pried. “ She is indeed well named Meddlebury.”
. * a P a •” exclaimed the girl, looking up in surprise, r
“Miss Meddlebury has just called,” he went on. “She wants me to put my foot down on Stone’s bicycle.” . . I know that he had one,” she rejoined, with a blush which did not escape the vicars notice. ~ * ‘ Neitlißr did I. How can I tell him that he mustn t ride a bicycle here ? I don’t know how he will take it. He might r6Bi^n«
qniokly° Pe WiU not d ° thafc ’” said the S irl “He is net likely to do so, Mr Stone is not a man to allow anyone to dictate to him. But she has threatened to leave St, John’s, xou know what that would mean to the pocr next winter. I wish you would speak to him.”
The mere suggestion dyed Nelly’s cheeks a still more vivid re 1.
“ Oh, no, no !” she cried. “ I could not. Whatever made you think of that?” “ Miss Meddlebury says he is in love with you,” he answered, slyly. “If that is so he wouldn’t be likely to take offence.” “If he is, it has nothing to do with Miss Meddlebury,” she rejoined, with asperity. “ How did she learn it ? Why did she tell you ?” “ I cannot answer the first question. Miss Meddlebury has the eyes of a lynx. She told me as an inducement to send Mr Stone away. She thought I ought to be warned. You know she considers that every curate should be middle-aged and as plain as a pikestaff.” “ Papa, let Miss Meddlebury leave St. John’s. We should all be happier. And perhaps the poor people wouldn’t suffer much for the want of her 1,500d01. I could go around and collect for the fun.” “ No, my dear, we must bear with her for the sake of the widows and fatherless. I will send a note to Mr Stone asking him to call this evening. When he comes we will talk it over.” Mr Stone never had a prior engagement when asked to spend an evening at the vicarage—at least he never pleaded one. It was rather late when he arrived, however, for he had been sitting with a sick woman and did not receive the vicar’s note until seven o’clock. He came on the offending bicycle, which he left in the garden. The vicar introduced the bicycle almost at once, stating exactly what had passed between himself and Miss Meddlebury. “lam rather surprised,” said the curate, smiling. “ But you did quite right to say that 1 would give it up, sir. I would give up almost anything rather than that a member of the church should be offended. Miss Meddlebury’s 1,500d0l does not influence me. I should act just the same if she hadn’t a penny to bestow in charity.” Nelly gave him a quick glance of admiration. The vicar rose from his chair and grasped him by the hand.
“That’s the true Christian spirit,” he cried. “I am glad.” “I am sorry that Miss Meddlebury does not like me,” Mr Stone went on, after a pause. “ I must try to win her over. As for the bicycle, as I came here cn it I had better ride it home, but I shall probably get rid of it to-morrow.” The clock was striking eleven when the vicar suddenly pushed the board away, exclaiming: “ Dear me! I had no idea it was so late.” Mr Stone rose at once and took his leave. To reach his lodgings it was necessary to pass Miss Meddlebury’s fine house, which lay back a considerable distance from the road. As he went by he fancied he heard a shout. Applying the brake he dismounted and listened. He had not been mistaken. Someone at Limes was calling for the police. The gate of the carriage drive was wide open. Pushing his machine before him, he ran it up to the house at his best speed. “ What’s the matter ? ” he cried. “ Burglars,” answered a voice at an open window. “ They hsve taken my jewels and all my securities. lam ruined ! ”
He recognised Miss Meddlebury notwithstanding her deshabille. She came down in a dressing-gown, greatly distressed. “I heard a noise in my boudoir,” she explained, “ and getting out of bed I went to see what was the matter. There were two men. The window was open, and they had a ladder. I could not stop them, and they have taken my jewel box and all my securities, which 1 fetched from the bank this morning to check, as I do twice a year. They drove away in a trap. I saw them go.” “ Which way ? ” cried the curate excitedly.
“ To the right,” was the reply. “ I’ll follow them. My bicycle’s outside. Send someone to the police station to give the alarm. The thieves are from Bedlington, no doubt.”
A minute afterward the curate of St. John’s was pedalling along the Bedlington road as fast as ho could go. It was his first attempt at “scorching,” and he made fair to shine at that dangerous pastime. Swiftly, noiselessly, the pneumatic sped on, until the quick beats of the hoofs ahead became more audible to the cyclist as he rode. Nearer and nearer he drew, until at last the trap was in sight. The moon Was shining brightly, and he could see that it contained two men and a boy. It was a desolate part of the road, with not a house in sight, but the village of Cranworth lay only a mile ahead, and the burglars must pass through it. Gradually drawing up as the flickering lights came in view, he presently spurted past the trap without turning his head end dismounted as nearly in the centre of the village as he could judge. At that hour the streets were deserted, and most of the houses were in darkness. But Mr Stone was an old “ blue,” and .he felt himself more than a match for a couple of Bedlington thieves. The boy he did not count. Mr_ Stone had scarcely had time to get his wind before the trap was close upon him. Picking up a pebble, he shied it through the nearest lighted window to rouse the inmates, and, springing at the horse’s head, caught hold of the reins.
Imprecations assailed his ears, blows were showered upon him with the whip, but he did not let go. The driver sprang to the ground and rushed at him. Still holding the horse with his left hand he knocked the fellow down, never ceasing to shout “ Thieves ! Thieves ! ”
The second man leaped from the trap to assist his companion, but he also received a knockdown blow. It all passed in a few seconds, but the villagers were aroused. Men came running from their cottages without coats or waistcoats, women with shawls thrown over their nightdresses. The boy escaped in the confusion, but both men were secured and handed over to the constable, who arrived in his stockings and trousers, and thus clad marched them to the lock-up. In the trap Mr Stone found Mias Meddlebury’s jewel case and the br-x in which she had placed the securities, both unopened. Having given the constable his name and address, and promising to return early in the morning, that officer, a very young man, allowed him to depart with the plunder tied to the.handle bar of his bicycle. A mile from Cranworth he met a mounted policeman, followed by two more in a dog cart. Stopping them, he informed them of the capture of the burglars and rode on. The Limes was a blaze of light when he arrived. Dr Gray’s carriage stood at the door, and a fussy police inspector stood on the doorstep. “ You can’t go in, sir!” cried the functionary as the curate approached with the recovered valuables.
“ That is immaterial,” was the answer. “Perhaps you will give these boxes to Miss Meddlebury and assure her that the thieves are in custody at Cranworth.”
“ Why—why ?” cried the inspector, who had recognised the new curate of St. John’s, “ J ou don’t mean to say, sir, that you’ve sot the swag ?” 6 “ Yes, I do,” said Mr Stone; “all of it, I think* The locks do not appear to have been.tampered with. Perhaps you will also be good enough to inform Miss Meddlebury that I overtook the burglars on my bicycle ” he added, with a quiet laugh. ’ Soon after ten o’clock the next morning Miss Meddlebury called at the vicarage. She had not quite got over the excitement of the previous evening, and a great deal.of what she said was so incoherent that the vicar, who knew nothing of the burglary previous to her visit, could not make head or tail of. But he had a very clear recollection of the most important of her rambling remarks. s
‘‘l d° hope you haven’t said anything to Mr Stone about his bicycle. It would be sinful of me to object to his riding it after this. I am convinced that the purpose was good, and I am sorry that I said a word about it. And if Nellie likes him and they think of marrying, she shall not be a portionless bride. I shall make her a wedding present of a substantial character.” 6 Miss Meddlebury was as good as her word —rather better, in fact. When, a few months later, Miss Nellie Armitage’s engagement to her father’s curate was announced and the wedding day fixed, that young lady received a very substantial gift; in the shape of a cheque for SOOdol. Mr Stone seldom rides his bicycle now. He is much more frequently to be seen on a tandem.— ‘ Answers.*
A SHORT STORY., Issue 10432, 29 September 1897
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