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The Distracted Preacher
by [?]

‘We have a chicken in the house, Mr. Stockdale–I quite forgot to mention it just now. Perhaps you would like Marther Sarer to bring it up?’

Stockdale had advanced far enough in the art of being a young man to say that he did not want the chicken, unless she brought it up herself; but when it was uttered he blushed at the daring gallantry of the speech, perhaps a shade too strong for a serious man and a minister. In three minutes the chicken appeared, but, to his great surprise, only in the hands of Martha Sarah. Stockdale was disappointed, which perhaps it was intended that he should be.

He had finished supper, and was not in the least anticipating Mrs. Newberry again that night, when she tapped and entered as before. Stockdale’s gratified look told that she had lost nothing by not appearing when expected. It happened that the cold in the head from which the young man suffered had increased with the approach of night, and before she had spoken he was seized with a violent fit of sneezing which he could not anyhow repress.

Mrs. Newberry looked full of pity. ‘Your cold is very bad to-night, Mr. Stockdale.’

Stockdale replied that it was rather troublesome.

‘And I’ve a good mind’–she added archly, looking at the cheerless glass of water on the table, which the abstemious minister was going to drink.

‘Yes, Mrs. Newberry?’

‘I’ve a good mind that you should have something more likely to cure it than that cold stuff.’

‘Well,’ said Stockdale, looking down at the glass, ‘as there is no inn here, and nothing better to be got in the village, of course it will do.’

To this she replied, ‘There is something better, not far off, though not in the house. I really think you must try it, or you may be ill. Yes, Mr. Stockdale, you shall.’ She held up her finger, seeing that he was about to speak. ‘Don’t ask what it is; wait, and you shall see.’

Lizzy went away, and Stockdale waited in a pleasant mood. Presently she returned with her bonnet and cloak on, saying, ‘I am so sorry, but you must help me to get it. Mother has gone to bed. Will you wrap yourself up, and come this way, and please bring that cup with you?’

Stockdale, a lonely young fellow, who had for weeks felt a great craving for somebody on whom to throw away superfluous interest, and even tenderness, was not sorry to join her; and followed his guide through the back door, across the garden, to the bottom, where the boundary was a wall. This wall was low, and beyond it Stockdale discerned in the night shades several grey headstones, and the outlines of the church roof and tower.

‘It is easy to get up this way,’ she said, stepping upon a bank which abutted on the wall; then putting her foot on the top of the stonework, and descending a spring inside, where the ground was much higher, as is the manner of graveyards to be. Stockdale did the same, and followed her in the dusk across the irregular ground till they came to the tower door, which, when they had entered, she softly closed behind them.

‘You can keep a secret?’ she said, in a musical voice.

‘Like an iron chest!’ said he fervently.

Then from under her cloak she produced a small lighted lantern, which the minister had not noticed that she carried at all. The light showed them to be close to the singing-gallery stairs, under which lay a heap of lumber of all sorts, but consisting mostly of decayed framework, pews, panels, and pieces of flooring, that from time to time had been removed from their original fixings in the body of the edifice and replaced by new.

‘Perhaps you will drag some of those boards aside?’ she said, holding the lantern over her head to light him better. ‘Or will you take the lantern while I move them?’