That evening he dined alone with his aunt, and the conversation during dinner and as they sat for a few minutes after dinner had reference solely to his uncle's health. But, though they were alone on this evening, he was surprised to find that Sophie Mellerby was again at Scroope. Lady Sophia and Mr. Mellerby were up in London, but Sophie was not to join them till May. As it happened, however, she was dining at the parsonage this evening. She must have been in the house when Neville arrived, but he had not seen her. "Is she going to live here?" he asked, almost irreverently, when he was first told that she was in the house. "I wish she were," said Lady Scroope. "I am childless, and she is as dear to me as a daughter." Then Fred apologized, and expressed himself as quite willing that Sophie Mellerby should live and die at Scroope.

The evening was dreadfully dull. It had seemed to him that the house was darker, and gloomier, and more comfortless than ever. He had hurried over to see a dying man, and now there was nothing for him to do but to kick his heels. But before he went to bed his ennui was dissipated by a full explanation of all his aunt's terrors. She crept down to him at about nine, and having commenced her story by saying that she had a matter of most vital importance on which to speak to him, she told him in fact all that she had heard from Lady Mary.

"She is a mischief-making gossiping old maid," said Neville angrily.

"Will you tell me that there is no truth in what she writes?" asked Lady Scroope. But this was a question which Fred Neville was not prepared to answer, and he sat silent. "Fred, tell me the truth. Are you married?"

"No;--I am not married."

"I know that you will not condescend to an untruth."

"If so, my word must be sufficient."

But it was not sufficient. She longed to extract from him some repeated and prolonged assurance which might bring satisfaction to her own mind. "I am glad, at any rate, to hear that there is no truth in that suspicion." To this he would not condescend to reply, but sat glowering at her as though in wrath that any question should be asked him about his private concerns. "You must feel, Fred, for your uncle in such a matter. You must know how important this is to him. You have heard what he has already suffered; and you must know too that he has endeavoured to be very good to you."

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