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I concluded that he had at length "screwed his courage to the sticking place," and marched forth to take a view of the premises, or rather, perhaps, to hold council with the auctioneer, &c, who had let the house for him to these unseemly tenants, but to whom Nubley had, from a sort of indefinable delicacy, not yet spoken on the subject, because he happened also to be the undertaker employed to conduct the obsequies of poor Tom.
Time, and as it appears, no great length of it, brings many more things to light than philosophy dreams of, and we were destined just at this period of the day to be illuminated upon the subject of Lieutenant Merman's departure, in a manner, from a quarter, and to an extent which certainly none of us could possibly have anticipated. This circumstance was most fortunate for the peace and happiness of Fanny, who, without some almost miraculous interposition, could not have been expected, indignant as she naturally felt at his precipitate conduct, to banish upon the instant from her mind and memory—for I really believe her heart was even yet unscathed—an avowed suitor who had been so long and constantly her companion, whose passion for astronomy was quite as ardent as mine had been before my happy union with Harriet, and who, with infinitely less sentiment in his composition than I, in those days, possessed, used to stroll on the bright summer's evenings through those well-known walks where first I had unconsciously learned to hate him and love my wife.
The truth is, that the domestic history of the rectory had been for the last few months "progressing," as the Americans have it, much after the fashion of a Spanish comedy, in which the ladies have maid-servants and the gentlemen have men-servants, who invariably go and " come like shadows" of their masters and mistresses, and who, besides seconding the endeavours of their principals in bringing about a happy conclusion to their adventures, while away time by performing parts exactly similar, only in a lower degree.
The girls at the Rectory have amongst them a trusty soubrette, who, when Foxcroft followed her mistress, undertook the duty of attendance on both Fanny and Bessy; and a nice, modest, rosy-cheeked girl she is. Lieutenant Merman's servant—not a soldier—was naturally a good deal about the Rectory, and being what is called an uncommonly smart fellow, Sally Kerridge was not altogether insensible to the sly looks with which he accompanied the delivery of any billet sent " special" to Miss Fanny Wells, and delivered direct into the said Sally's hand. As time wore on, looks came to words, and it certainly had been remarked by the minor scandal-mongers of Blissfold that Sally Kerridge and the Captain's (Captain by Blissfold brevet) man were not unfrequently seen walking together in the evenings, when his master and her mistress were doing the same thing elsewhere. Whether the Captain's man sought brighter stars than Sally's eyes, or contented himself with reading his fate there, the records of Blissfold do not inform us; but certain it is, that when matters were drawing to a close, as we all supposed, and Miss Wells was about to become Mrs. Merman, Miss Kerridge did venture to inquire of her young mistress as to her intentions respecting the tenure of the appointment which she held about her person, and whether she was to accompany her in her then capacity or remain with Miss Bessy at the Rectory.
The answer which Fanny gave, without at all comprehending the extent of its import, was so favourable to the hopes of the applicant, that she and Mr. Thomas Lazenby speedily came to an understanding; in consequence whereof Mr. Thomas Lazenby was duly accepted by Miss Sally Kerridge; a developement of the tender engagement being only delayed until the marriage of the principals should be formally announced.
Now, under these circumstances, and considering that Thomas was the confidential minister of the Lieutenant, and so essential to his comfort that he could not even travel half a day's journey without him, it struck Tom as exceedingly odd, that when his master took his departure for his Aunt Pennefather's, he thought proper to dispense with his services. It was extremely agreeable to Tom that he did so, because it left him master of his time during his absence; but still he wondered, and was fidgetty, inasmuch as the moment a favourite servant finds out that his patron can do without him for a little, he generally begins to suspect that he will, not very long after, do without him entirely. So it was, however, and Tom's worst anticipations were realised by hearing from Sally that she verily believed it was all off between the Captain and her young lady.
The Lieutenant returned, and it was all "on again;" Tom banished his doubts; Sally dismissed her fears, and everything "progressed" as before. These halcyon days, however, were not to last for ever, and when the Lieutenant for a second time quitted Blissfold, a second time did he leave Tom behind him.
Matters, although the cases so far were parallel, nevertheless did not run so regularly upon this