Infomotions, Inc.God's Good Man / Corelli, Marie, 1855-1924



Author: Corelli, Marie, 1855-1924
Title: God's Good Man
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): maryllia; walden; bainton; cicely; passon; morton pippitt; josey; spruce; morton; manor; john walden; badsworth hall; abbot's manor; oliver leach; passon walden; julian adderley; miss maryllia
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Title: God's Good Man

Author: Marie Corelli

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GOD'S GOOD MAN

A Simple Love Story

By MARIE CORELLI

AUTHOR OF "THE TREASURE OF HEAVEN," "THELMA," "A ROMANCE OF TWO
WORLDS," "THE MASTER CHRISTIAN," ETC.





                         TO

                 THE LIVING ORIGINAL

                         OF

             "THE REVEREND JOHN WALDEN"

                   AND HIS WIFE

              THIS SIMPLE LOVE STORY

                        IS

             AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED

"THERE WAS A MAN SENT FROM GOD WHOSE NAME WAS JOHN."
                                   NEW TESTAMENT






GOD'S GOOD MAN




I


It was May-time in England.

The last breath of a long winter had blown its final farewell across
the hills,--the last frost had melted from the broad, low-lying
fields, relaxing its iron grip from the clods of rich, red-brown
earth which, now, soft and broken, were sprouting thick with the
young corn's tender green. It had been a hard, inclement season.
Many a time, since February onward, had the too-eagerly pushing buds
of trees and shrubs been nipped by cruel cold,--many a biting east
wind had withered the first pale green leaves of the lilac and the
hawthorn,--and the stormy caprices of a chill northern. Spring had
played havoc with all the dainty woodland blossoms that should,
according to the ancient 'Shepherd's Calendar' have been flowering
fully with the daffodils and primroses. But during the closing days
of April a sudden grateful warmth had set in,--Nature, the divine
goddess, seemed to awaken from long slumber and stretch out her arms
with a happy smile,--and when May morning dawned on the world, it
came as a vision of glory, robed in clear sunshine and girdled with
bluest skies. Birds broke into enraptured song,--young almond and
apple boughs quivered almost visibly every moment into pink and
white bloom,--cowslips and bluebells raised their heads from mossy
corners in the grass, and expressed their innocent thoughts in
sweetest odour--and in and through all things the glorious thrill,
the mysterious joy of renewed life, hope and love pulsated from the
Creator to His responsive creation.

It was May-time;--a real 'old-fashioned' English May, such as
Spenser and Herrick sang of:

                           "When all is yclad
     With blossoms; the ground with grass, the woodes
     With greene leaves; the bushes with blossoming buddes,"

and when whatever promise our existence yet holds for us, seems far
enough away to inspire ambition, yet close enough to encourage fair
dreams of fulfilment. To experience this glamour and witchery of the
flowering-time of the year, one must, perforce, be in the country.
For in the towns, the breath of Spring is foetid and feverish,--it
arouses sick longings and weary regrets, but scarcely any positive
ecstasy. The close, stuffy streets, the swarming people, the high
buildings and stacks of chimneys which only permit the narrowest
patches of sky to be visible, the incessant noise and movement, the
self-absorbed crowding and crushing,--all these things are so many
offences to Nature, and are as dead walls of obstacle set against
the revivifying and strengthening forces with which she endows her
freer children of the forest, field and mountain. Out on the wild
heathery moorland, in the heart of the woods, in the deep bosky
dells, where the pungent scent of moss and pine-boughs fills the air
with invigorating influences, or by the quiet rivers, flowing
peacefully under bending willows and past wide osier-beds, where the
kingfisher swoops down with the sun-ray and the timid moor-hen
paddles to and from her nest among the reeds,--in such haunts as
these, the advent of a warm and brilliant May is fraught with that
tremor of delight which gives birth to beauty, and concerning which
that ancient and picturesque chronicler, Sir Thomas Malory, writes
exultantly: "Like as May moneth flourisheth and flowerth in many
gardens, so in likewise let every man of worship flourish his heart
in this world!"

There was a certain 'man of worship' in the world at the particular
time when this present record of life and love begins, who found
himself very well-disposed to 'flourish his heart' in the Maloryan
manner prescribed, when after many dark days of unseasonable cold
and general atmospheric depression, May at last came in rejoicing.
Seated under broad apple-boughs, which spread around him like a
canopy studded with rosy bud-jewels that shone glossy bright against
the rough dark-brown stems, he surveyed the smiling scenery of his
own garden with an air of satisfaction that was almost boyish,
though his years had run well past forty, and he was a parson to
boot. A gravely sedate demeanour would have seemed the more fitting
facial expression for his age and the generally accepted nature of
his calling,--a kind of deprecatory toleration of the sunshine as
part of the universal 'vanity' of mundane things,--or a
condescending consciousness of the bursting apple-blossoms within
his reach as a kind of inferior earthy circumstance which could
neither be altered nor avoided.

The Reverend John Walden, however, was one of those rarely gifted
individuals who cannot assume an aspect which is foreign to
temperament. He was of a cheerful, even sanguine disposition, and
his countenance faithfully reflected the ordinary bent of his
humour. Seeing him at a distance, the casual observer would at once
have judged him to be either an athlete or an ascetic. There was no
superfluous flesh about him; he was tall and muscular, with well-
knit limbs, broad shoulders, and a head altogether lacking in the
humble or conciliatory 'droop' which all worldly-wise parsons
cultivate for the benefit of their rich patrons. It was a
distinctively proud head,--almost aggressive,--indicative of strong
character and self-reliance, well-poised on a full throat, and set
off by a considerable quantity of dark brown hair which was
refractory in brushing, inclined to uncanonical curls, and
plentifully dashed with grey. A broad forehead, deeply-set, dark-
blue eyes, a straight and very prominent nose, a strong jaw and
obstinate chin,--a firmly moulded mouth, round which many a sweet
and tender thought had drawn kindly little lines of gentle smiling
that were scarcely hidden by the silver-brown moustache,--such,
briefly, was the appearance of one, who though only a country
clergyman, of whom the great world knew nothing, was the living
representative of more powerful authority to his little 'cure of
souls' than either the bishop of the diocese, or the King in all his
majesty.

He was the sole owner of one of the smallest 'livings' in England,--
an obscure, deeply-hidden, but perfectly unspoilt and beautiful
relic of mediaeval days, situated in one of the loveliest of
woodland counties, and known as the village of St. Rest, sometimes
called 'St. Est.' Until quite lately there had been considerable
doubt as to the origin of this name, and the correct manner of its
pronouncement. Some said it should be, 'St. East,' because, right
across the purple moorland and beyond the line of blue hills where
the sun rose, there stretched the sea, miles away and invisible, it
is true, but nevertheless asserting its salty savour in every breath
of wind that blew across the tufted pines. 'St. East,' therefore,
said certain rural sages, was the real name of the village, because
it faced the sea towards the east. Others, however, declared that
the name was derived from the memory of some early Norman church on
the banks of the peaceful river that wound its slow clear length in
pellucid silver ribbons of light round and about the clover fields
and high banks fringed with wild rose and snowy thorn, and that it
should, therefore, be 'St. Rest,' or better still, 'The Saint's
Rest.' This latter theory had recently received strong confirmation
by an unexpected witness to the past,--as will presently be duly
seen and attested.

But St. Rest, or St. Est, whichever name rightly belonged to it, was
in itself so insignificant as a 'benefice,' that its present rector,
vicar, priest and patron had bought it for himself, through the good
offices of a friend, in the days when such purchases were possible,
and for some ten years had been supreme Dictator of his tiny kingdom
and limited people. The church was his,--especially his, since he
had restored it entirely at his own expense,--the rectory, a lop-
sided, half-timbered house, built in the fifteenth century, was
his,--the garden, full of flowering shrubs, carelessly planted and
allowed to flourish at their own wild will, was his,--the ten acres
of pasture-land that spread in green luxuriance round and about his
dwelling were his,--and, best of all, the orchard, containing some
five acres planted with the choicest apples, cherries, plums and
pears, and bearing against its long, high southern wall the finest
peaches and nectarines in the county, was his also. He had, in fact,
everything that the heart of a man, especially the heart of a
clergyman, could desire, except a wife,--and that commodity had been
offered to him from many quarters in various delicate and diplomatic
ways,--only to be as delicately and diplomatically rejected.

And truly there seemed no need for any change in his condition. He
had gone on so far in life,--'so far!' he would occasionally remind
himself, with a little smile and sigh,--that a more or less solitary
habit had, by long familiarity, become pleasant. Actual loneliness
he had never experienced, because it was not in his nature to feel
lonely. His well-balanced intellect had the brilliant quality of a
finely-cut diamond, bearing many facets, and reflecting all the hues
of life in light and colour; thus it quite naturally happened that
most things, even ordinary and common things, interested him. He was
a great lover of books, and, to a moderate extent, a collector of
rare editions; he also had a passion for archaeology, wherein he was
sustained by a certain poetic insight of which he was himself
unconscious. The ordinary archaeologist is generally a mere Dry-as-
Dust, who plays with the bones of the past as Shakespeare's Juliet
fancied she might play with her forefathers' joints, and who eschews
all use of the imaginative instinct as though it were some deadly
evil. Whereas, it truly needs a very powerful imaginative lens to
peer down into the recesses of bygone civilisations, and re-people
the ruined haunts of dead men with their shadowy ghosts of learning,
art, enterprise, or ambition.

To use the innermost eyes of his soul in such looking backward down
the stream of Time, as well as in looking forward to that 'crystal
sea' of the unknown Future, flowing round the Great White Throne
whence the river of life proceeds, was a favourite mental occupation
with John Walden. He loved antiquarian research, and all such
scientific problems as involve abstruse study and complex
calculation,--but equally he loved the simplest flower and the most
ordinary village tale of sorrow or mirth recounted to him by any one
of his unlessoned parishioners. He gave himself such change of air
and scene as he thought he required, by taking long swinging walks
about the country, and found sufficient relaxation in gardening, a
science in which he displayed considerable skill. No one in all the
neighbourhood could match his roses, or offer anything to compare
with the purple and white masses of violets which, quite early in
January came out under his glass frames not only perfect in shape
and colour, but full of the real 'English' violet fragrance, a
benediction of sweetness which somehow seems to be entirely withheld
from the French and Russian blooms. For the rest, he was physically
sound and morally healthy, and lived, as it were, on the straight
line from earth to heaven, beginning each day as if it were his
first life-opportunity, and ending it soberly and with prayer, as
though it were his last.

To such a mind and temperament as his, the influences of Nature, the
sublime laws of the Universe, and the environment of existence, must
needs move in circles of harmonious unity, making loveliness out of
commonness, and poetry out of prose. The devotee of what is
mistakenly called 'pleasure,'--enervated or satiated with the sickly
moral exhalations of a corrupt society,--would be quite at a loss to
understand what possible enjoyment could be obtained by sitting
placidly under an apple-tree with a well-thumbed volume of the
wisdom of the inspired pagan Slave, Epictetus, in the hand, and the
eyes fixed, not on any printed page, but on a spray of warmly-
blushing almond blossom, where a well-fed thrush, ruffling its
softly speckled breast, was singing a wild strophe concerning its
mate, which, could human skill have languaged its meaning, might
have given ideas to a nation's laureate. Yet John Walden found
unalloyed happiness in this apparently vague and vacant way. There
was an acute sense of joy for him in the repeated sweetness of the
thrush's warbling,--the light breeze, stirring through a great bush
of early flowering lilac near the edge of the lawn, sent out a wave
of odour which tingled through his sensitive blood like wine,--the
sunlight was warm and comforting, and altogether there seemed
nothing wrong with the world, particularly as the morning's
newspapers had not yet come in. With them would probably arrive the
sad savour of human mischief and muddle, but till these daily morbid
records made their appearance, May-day might be accepted as God made
it and gave it,--a gift unalloyed, pure, bright and calm, with not a
shadow on its lovely face of Spring. The Stoic spirit of Epictetus
himself had even seemed to join in the general delight of nature,
for Walden held the book half open at a page whereon these words
were written:

"Had we understanding thereof, would any other thing better beseem
us than to hymn the Divine Being and laud Him and rehearse His
gracious deeds? These things it were fitting every man should sing,
and to chant the greatest and divinest hymns for this, that He has
given us the power to observe and consider His works, and a Way
wherein to walk. If I were a nightingale, I would do after the
manner of a nightingale; if a swan, after that of a swan. But now I
am a reasoning creature, and it behooves me to sing the praise of
God; this is my task, and this I do, nor as long as it is granted
me, will I ever abandon this post. And you, too, I summon to join me
in the same song."

"A wonderfully 'advanced' Christian way of looking at life, for a
pagan slave of the time of Nero!" thought Walden, as his eyes
wandered from the thrush on the almond tree, back to the volume in
his hand,--"With all our teaching and preaching, we can hardly do
better. I wonder---"

Here his mind became altogether distracted from classic lore, by the
appearance of a very unclassic boy, clad in a suit of brown
corduroys and wearing hob-nailed boots a couple of sizes too large
for him, who, coming suddenly out from a box-tree alley behind the
gabled corner of the rectory, shuffled to the extreme verge of the
lawn and stopped there, pulling his cap off, and treading on his own
toes from left to right, and from right to left in a state of
sheepish hesitancy.

"Come along,--come along! Don't stand there, Bob Keeley!" And Walden
rose, placing Epictetus on the seat he vacated--"What is it?"

Bob Keeley set his hob-nailed feet on the velvety lawn with gingerly
precaution, and advancing cap in hand, produced a letter, slightly
grimed by his thumb and finger.

"From Sir Morton, please sir! Hurgent, 'e sez."

Walden took the missive, small and neatly folded, and bearing the
words 'Badsworth Hall' stamped in gold at the back of the envelope.
Opening it, he read:

"Sir Morton Pippitt presents his compliments to the Reverend John
Walden, and having a party of distinguished guests staying with him
at the Hall, will be glad to know at what day and hour this week he
can make a visit of inspection to the church with his friends."

A slight tinge of colour overspread Walden's face. Presently he
smiled, and tearing up the note leisurely, put the fragments into
one of his large loose coat pockets, for to scatter a shred of paper
on his lawn or garden paths was an offence which neither he nor any
of those he employed ever committed.

"How is your mother, Bob?" he then said, approaching the stumpy
urchin, who stood respectfully watching him and awaiting his
pleasure.

"Please sir, she's all right, but she coughs 'orful!"

"Coughs 'orful, does she?" repeated the Reverend John, musingly;
"Ah, that is bad!--I am sorry! We must--let me think!--yes, Bob, we
must see what we can do for her--eh?"

"Yes, sir," replied Bob meekly, turning his cap round and round and
wondering what 'Passon' was thinking about to have such a 'funny
look' in his eyes.

"Yes!" repeated Walden, cheerfully, "We must see what we can do for
her! My compliments to Sir Morton Pippitt, Bob, and say I will
write."

"Nothink else, sir?"

"Nothing--or as you put it, Bob, 'nothink else'! I wish you would
remember, my dear boy,"--and here he laid his firm, well-shaped hand
protectingly on the small brown corduroy shoulder,--"that the word
'nothing' does not terminate in a 'k.' If you refer to your
spelling-book, I am sure you will see that I am right. The
Educational authorities would not approve of your pronunciation,
Bob, and I am endeavouring to save you future trouble with the
Government. By the way, did Sir Morton Pippitt give you anything for
bringing his note to me?"

"Sed he would when I got back, sir."

"Said he would when you got back? Well,--I have my doubts, Bob,--I
do not think he will. And the labourer being worthy of his hire,
here is sixpence, which, if you like to do a sum on your slate, you
will find is at the rate of one penny per mile. When you are a
working man, you will understand the strict justice of my payment.
It is three miles from Badsworth Hall and three back again,--and now
I come to think of it, what were you doing up at Badsworth?"

Bob Keeley grinned from ear to ear.

"Me an' Kitty Spruce went up on spec with a Maypole early, sir!"

John Walden smiled. It was May morning,--of course it was!--and in
the village of St. Rest the old traditional customs of May Day were
still kept up, though in the county town of Riversford, only seven
miles away, they were forgotten, or if remembered at all, were only
used as an excuse for drinking and vulgar horse-play.

"You and Kitty Spruce went up on spec? Very enterprising of you
both, I am sure! And did you make anything out of it?"

"No, sir,--there ain't no ladies there, 'cept Miss Tabitha,--onny
some London gents,--and Sir Morton, 'e flew into an orful passion--
like 'e do, sir,--an' told us to leave off singin' and git out,--
'Git off my ground,' he 'ollers--'Git off!'--then jest as we was a
gittin' off, he cools down suddint like, an' 'e sez, sez 'e: 'Take a
note to the dam passon for me, an' bring a harnser, an' I'll give
yer somethink when yer gits back.' An' all the gents was a-sittin'
at breakfast, with the winders wide open an' the smell of 'am an'
eggs comin' through strong, an' they larfed fit to split
theirselves, an' one on 'em tried to kiss Kitty Spruce, an' she
spanked his face for 'im!"

The narration of this remarkable incident, spoken with breathless
rapidity in a burst of confidence, seemed to cause the relief
supposed to be obtained by a penitent in the confessional, and to
lift a weight off Bob Keeley's mind. The smile deepened on the
'Passon's' face, and for a moment he had some difficulty to control
an outbreak of laughter, but recollecting the possibly demoralising
effect it might have on the more youthful members of the community,
if he, the spiritual director of the parish, were reported to have
laughed at the pugnacious conduct of the valiant Kitty Spruce, he
controlled himself, and assumed a tolerantly serious air.

"That will do, Bob!--that will do! You must learn not to repeat all
you hear, especially such objectionable words as may occasionally be
used by a--a--a gentleman of Sir Morton Pippitt's high standing."

And here he squared his shoulders and looked severely down an the
abashed Keeley. Anon he unbent himself somewhat and his eyes
twinkled with kindly humour: "Why didn't you bring the Maypole
here?" he enquired; "I suppose you thought it would not be as good a
'spec as Badsworth Hall and the London gents--eh?"

Bob Keeley opened his round eyes very wide.

"We be all comin' 'ere, sir!" he burst out: "All on us--ever so many
on us! But we reckoned to make a round of the village first and see
how we took on, and finish up wi' you, sir! Kitty Spruce she be a-
keepin' her best ribbin for comin' 'ere--we be all a-comin' 'fore
twelve!"

Walden smiled.

"Good! I shall expect you! And mind you don't all sing out of tune
when you do come. If you commit such an offence, I shall--let me
see!--I shall make mincemeat of you!--I shall indeed! Positive
mincemeat!--and bottle you up in jars for Christmas!" And he nodded
with the ferociously bland air of the giant in a fairy tale, whose
particular humour is the devouring of small children. "Now you had
better get back to Badsworth Hall with my message. Do you remember
it? My compliments to Sir Morton Pippitt, and I will write."

He turned away, and Bob Keeley made as rapid a departure as was
consistent with the deep respect he felt for the 'Passon,' having
extracted a promise from the butcher boy of the village, who was a
friend of his, that if he were 'quick about it,' he would get a
drive up to Badsworth and back again in the butcher's cart going
there for orders, instead of tramping it.

The Reverend John, meanwhile, strolled down one of the many winding
garden paths, past clusters of daffodils, narcissi and primroses,
into a favourite corner which he called the 'Wilderness,' because it
was left by his orders in a more or less untrimmed, untrained
condition of luxuriantly natural growth. Here the syringa, a name
sometimes given by horticultural pedants to the lilac, for no reason
at all except to create confusion in the innocent minds of amateur
growers, was opening its white 'mock orange' blossoms, and a mass of
flowering aconites spread out before him like a carpet of woven
gold. Here, too, tufts of bluebells peeked forth from behind the
moss-grown stems of several ancient oaks and elms, and purple
pansies bordered the edge of the grass. A fine old wistaria grown in
tree-form, formed a natural arch of entry to this shady retreat, and
its flowers were just now in their full beauty, hanging in a
magnificent profusion of pale mauve, grapelike bunches from the
leafless stems. Many roses, of the climbing or 'rambling' kind, were
planted here, and John Walden's quick eye soon perceived where a
long green shoot of one of those was loose and waving in the wind to
its own possible detriment. He felt in his pockets for a bit of
roffia or twine to tie up the straying stem,--he was very seldom
without something of the kind for such emergencies, but this time he
only groped among the fragments of Sir Morton Pippitt's note and
found nothing useful. Stepping out on the path again, he looked
about him and caught a glimpse of a stooping, bulky form in weather-
beaten garments, planting something in one of the borders at a
little distance.

"Bainton!" he called.

The figure slowly raised itself, and as slowly turned its head.

"Sir!"

"Just come here and tie this rose up, will you?"

The individual addressed approached at a very deliberate pace,
dragging out some entangled roffia from his pocket as he came and
severing it into lengths with his teeth. Walden partly prepared his
task for him by holding up the rose branch in the way it should go,
and on his arrival assisted him in the business of securing it to
the knotty bough from which it had fallen.

"That looks better!" he remarked approvingly, as he stepped back and
surveyed it. "You might do this one at the same time while you are
about it, Bainton."

And he pointed to a network of 'Crimson rambler' rose-stems which
had blown loose from their moorings and were lying across the grass.

"This place wants a reg'ler clean out," remarked Bainton then, in
accents of deep disdain, as he stooped to gather up the refractory
branches: "It beats me altogether, Passon, to know what you wants
wi' a forcin' bed for weeds an' stuff in the middle of a decent
garden. That old Wistaria Sinyens (Sinensis) is the only thing here
that is worth keeping. Ah! Y'are a precious sight, y'are!" he
continued, apostrophising the 'rambler' branches--"For all yer green
buds ye ain't a-goin' to do much this year! All sham an' 'umbug,
y'are!--all leaf an' shoot an' no flower,--like a great many people
I knows on--ah!--an' not so far from this village neither! I'd clear
it all out if I was you, Passon,--I would reely now!"

Walden laughed.

"Don't open the old argument, Bainton!" he said good-humouredly; "We
have talked of this before. I like a bit of wild Nature sometimes."

"Wild natur!" echoed Bainton. "Seems to me natur allus wants a bit
of a wash an' brush up 'fore she sits down to her master's table;--
an' who's 'er master? Man! She's jest like a child comin' out of a
play in the woods, an' 'er 'air's all blown, an' 'er nails is all
dirty. That's natur! Trim 'er up an' curl 'er 'air an' she's worth
looking at. Natur! Lor', Passon, if ye likes wild natur ye ain't got
no call to keep a gard'ner. But if ye pays me an' keeps me, ye must
'spect me to do my duty. Wherefore I sez: why not 'ave this 'ere
musty-fusty place, a reg'ler breedin' 'ole for hinsects, wopses,
'ornits, snails an' green caterpillars--ah! an' I shouldn't wonder
if potato-fly got amongst 'em, too!--why not, I say, have it cleaned
out?"

"I like it as it is," responded Walden with cheerful
imperturbability, and a smile at the thick-set obstinate-looking
figure of his 'head man about the place' as Bainton loved to be
called. "Have you planted out my phloxes?"

"Planted 'em out every one," was the reply; "Likewhich the Delphy
Inums. An' I've put enough sweet peas in to supply Covint Garden
market, bearin' in mind as 'ow you sed you couldn't have enough on
'em. Sir Morton Pippitt's Lunnon valet came along while I was a-
doin' of it, an' 'e peers over the 'edge an' 'e sez, sez 'e:
'Weedin' corn, are yer?' 'No, ye gowk,' sez I! 'Ever seen corn at
all 'cept in a bin? Mixed wi' thistles, mebbe?' An' then he used a
bit of 'is master's or'nary language, which as ye knows, Passon, is
chice--partic'ler chice. 'Evil communications c'rupts good manners'
even in a valet wot 'as no more to do than wash an' comb a man like
a 'oss, an' pocket fifty pun a year for keepin' of 'is haristocratic
master clean. Lor'!--what a wurrld it is!--what a wurrld!"

He had by this time tied up the 'Crimson rambler' in orderly
fashion, and the Reverend John, stroking his moustache to hide a
smile, proceeded to issue various orders according to his usual
daily custom.

"Don't forget to plant some mignonette in the west border, Bainton.
Not the giant kind,--the odour of the large blooms is rough and
coarse compared with that of the smaller variety. Put plenty of the
'common stuff' in,--such mignonette as our grandmothers grew in
their gardens, before you Latin-loving horticultural wise-acres
began to try for size rather than sweetness."

Bainton drew himself up with a quaint assumption of dignity, and by
lifting his head a little more, showed his countenance fully,--a
countenance which, though weather-worn and deeply furrowed, was a
distinctly intelligent one, shrewd and thoughtful, with sundry
little curves of humour lighting up its native expression of
saturnine sedateness.

"I suppose y'are alludin' to the F.R.H.'s, Passon," he said; "They
all loves Latin, as cats loves milk; howsomever, they never knows
'ow to pronounce it. Likewhich myself not bein' a F.R.H. nor likely
to be, I'm bound to confess I dabbles in it a bit,--though there's a
chap wot I gets cheap shrubs of, his Latin's worse nor mine, an'
'e's got all the three letters after 'is name. 'Ow did 'e get 'em?
By reason of competition in the Chrysanthum Show. Lor'! Henny fool
can grow ye a chrysanthum as big as a cabbage, if that's yer fancy,-
-that ain't scientific gard'nin'! An' as for the mignonette, I
reckon to agree wi' ye, Passon--the size ain't the sweetness,
likewhich when I married, I married a small lass, for sez I: 'Little
to carry, less to keep!' An' that's true enough, though she's gained
in breadth, Lor' love 'er!--wot she never 'ad in heighth. As I was
a-sayin', the chap wot I gets shrubs of, reels off 'is Latin like
chollops of mud off a garden scraper; but 'e don't understand it
while 'e sez it. Jes' for show, bless ye! It all goes down wi' Sir
Morton Pippitt, though, for 'e sez, sez 'e: 'MY cabbages are the
prize vegetable, grown by Mr. Smogorton of Worcester, F.R.H.' 'E's
got it in 'is Catlog! Hor!--hor!--hor! Passon, a bit o' Latin do go
down wi' some folks in the gard'nin' line--it do reely now!"

"Talking of Sir Morton Pippitt," said Walden, disregarding his
gardener's garrulity, "It seems he has visitors up at the Hall."

"'E 'as so," returned Bainton; "Reg'ler weedy waifs an' strays o'
'umanity, if one may go by out'ard appearance; not a single firm,
well-put-down leg among 'em. Mos'ly 'lords' and 'sirs.' Bein' so
jes' lately knighted for buildin' a 'ospital at Riversford, out of
the proceeds o' bone meltin' into buttons, Sir Morton couldn't a'
course, be expected to put up wi' a plain 'mister' takin' food wi'
'im."

"Well, well,--whoever they are, they want to see the church."

"Seems to me a sight o' folks wants to see the church since ye spent
so much money on it, Passon," said Bainton somewhat resentfully;
"There oughter be a charge made for entry."

Walden smiled thoughtfully; but there was a small line of vexation
on his brow.

"They want to see the church," he repeated, "Or rather Sir Morton
wants them to 'inspect' the church;"--and then his smile expanded
and became a soft mellow laugh; "What a pompous old fellow it is!
One would almost think he had restored the church himself, and not
only restored it, but built it altogether and endowed it!" He turned
to go, then suddenly bethought himself of other gardening matters,--
"Bainton, that bare corner near the house must be filled with
clematis. The plants are just ready to bed out. And look to the
geraniums in the front border. By the way, do you see that straight
line along the wall there,--where I am pointing?"

"Yes, sir!" dutifully rejoined Bainton, shading his eyes from the
strong sun with one grimy hand.

"Well, plant nothing but hollyhocks there,--as many as you can cram
in. We must have a blaze of colour to contrast with those dark yews.
See to the jessamine and passion-flowers by the porch; and there is
a 'Gloire' rose near the drawing-room window that wants cutting back
a bit." He moved a step or two, then again turned: "I shall want you
later on in the orchard,--the grass there needs attending to."

A slow grin pervaded Bainton's countenance.

"Ye minds me of the 'Oly Scripter, Passon, ye does reely now!" he
said--"Wi' all yer different orders an' idees, y'are behavin' to me
like the very moral o' the livin' Wurrd!"

Walden looked amused.

"How do you make that out?"

"Easy enough, sir,--'The Scripter moveth us in sun'ry places'! Hor!-
hor!-hor!--"and Bainton burst into a hoarse chuckle of mirth,
entirely delighted with his own witticism, and walked off, not
waiting to see whether its effect on his master was one of offence
or appreciation. He was pretty sure of his ground, however, for he
left John Walden laughing, a laugh that irradiated his face with
some of the sunshine stored up in his mind. And the sparkle of mirth
still lingered in his eyes as, crossing the lawn and passing the
seat where the volume of Epictetus lay, now gratuitously decorated
by a couple of pale pink shell-like petals dropped from the apple-
blossoms above it, he entered his house, and proceeding to his study
sat down and wrote the following brief epistle:

"The Reverend John Walden presents his compliments to Sir Morton
Pippitt, and in reply to his note begs to say that, as the church is
always open and free, Sir Morton and his friends can 'inspect' it at
any time provided no service is in progress."

Putting this in an envelope, he sealed and stamped it. It should go
by post, and Sir Morton would receive it next morning. There was no
need for a 'special messenger,' either in the person of Bob Keeley,
or in the authorised Puck of the Post Office Messenger-service.

"For there is not the slightest hurry," he said to himself: "It will
not hurt Sir Morton to be kept waiting. On the contrary, it will do
him good. He had it all his own way in this parish before I came,--
but now for the past ten years he has known what it is to 'kick
against the pricks' of legitimate Church authority. Legitimate
Church authority is a fine thing! Half the Churchmen in the world
don't use it, and a goodly portion of the other half misuse it. But
when you've got a bumptious, purse-proud, self-satisfied old county
snob like Sir Morton Pippitt to deal with, the pressure of the iron
hand should be distinctly exercised under the velvet glove!"

He laughed heartily, throwing back his head with a sense of
enjoyment in his laughter. Then, rising from his desk, he turned
towards the wide latticed doors of his study, which opened into the
garden, and looked out dreamily, as though looking across the world
and far beyond it. The sweet mixed warbling of birds, the thousand
indistinguishable odours of flowers, made the air both fragrant and
musical. The glorious sunshine, the clear blue sky, the rustling of
the young leaves, the whispering swish of the warm wind through the
shrubberies,--all these influences entered the mind and soul of the
man and aroused a keen joy which almost touched the verge of
sadness. Life pulsated about him in such waves of creative passion,
that his own heart throbbed uneasily with Nature's warm
restlessness; and the unanswerable query which, in spite of his high
and spiritual faith had often troubled him, came back again
hauntingly to his mind,--"Why should Life be made so beautiful only
to end in Death?"

This was the Shadow that hung over all things; this was the one
darkness he and others of his calling were commissioned to transfuse
into light,--this was the one dismal end for all poor human
creatures which he, as a minister of the Gospel was bound to try and
represent as not an End but a Beginning,--and his soul was moved to
profound love and pity as he raised his eyes to the serene heavens
and asked himself: "What compensation can all the most eloquent
teaching and preaching make to men for the loss of the mere
sunshine? Can the vision of a world beyond the grave satisfy the
heart so much as this one perfect morning of May!"

An involuntary sigh escaped him. The beating wings of a swallow
flying from its nest under the old gabled eaves above him flashed a
reflex of quivering light against his eyes; and away in the wide
meadow beyond, where the happy cattle wandered up to their fetlocks
in cowslips and lush grass, the cuckoo called with cheerful
persistence. One of old Chaucer's quaintly worded legends came to
his mind,--telling how the courtly knight Arcite,

    "Is risen, and looketh on the merrie daye
     All for to do his observance to Maye,--
     And to the grove of which that I you told,
     By aventure his way he gan to hold
     To maken him a garland of the greves,
     Were it of woodbind or of hawthorn leaves,
     And loud he sung against the sunny sheen,--
     'O Maye with all thy flowers and thy green,
     Right welcome be thou, faire, freshe, Maye!
     I hope that I some green here getten may!"

Smiling at the antique simplicity and freshness of the lines as they
rang across his brain like the musical jingle of an old-world
spinet, his ears suddenly caught the sound of young voices singing
at a distance.

"Here come the children!" he said; and stepping out from his open
window into the garden, he again bent his ear to listen. The
tremulous voices came nearer and nearer, and words could now be
distinguished, breaking through the primitive quavering melody of
'The Mayers' Song' known to all the country side since the
thirteenth century:

    "Remember us poor Mayers all.--
     And thus do we begin,
     To lead our lives in righteousness,
     Or else we die in sin.

    We have been rambling all this night,
     And almost all this day,
     And now returning back again,
     We bring you in the May.

    The hedges and trees they are so green,
     In the sunne's goodly heat,
     Our Heavenly Father He watered them
     With His Heavenly dew so sweet.

     A branch of May we have brought you---"

Here came a pause and the chorus dropped into an uncertain murmur.
John Walden heard his garden gates swing back on their hinges, and a
shuffling crunch of numerous small feet on the gravel path.

"G'arn, Susie!" cried a shrill boy's voice--"If y'are leadin' us,
lead! G'arn!"

A sweet flute-like treble responded to this emphatic adjuration,
singing alone, clear and high,

    "A branch of May---"  and then all the other voices chimed in:

    "A branch of May we have brought you
     And at your door it stands,
     'Tis but a sprout,
     But 'tis budded out
     By the work of our Lord's hands!"

And with this, a great crown of crimson and white blossoms, set on a
tall, gaily-painted pole and adorned with bright coloured ribbons,
came nid-nodding down the box-tree alley to the middle of the lawn
opposite Walden's study window, where it was quickly straightened up
and held in position by the eager hands of some twenty or thirty
children, of all sizes and ages, who, surrounding it at its base,
turned their faces, full of shy exultation towards their pastor,
still singing, but in more careful time and tune:

    "The Heavenly gates are open wide,
     Our paths are beaten plain,
     And if a man be not too far gone,
     He may return again.

    The moon shines bright and the stars give light
     A little before it is day,
     So God bless you all, both great and small,
     And send you a merrie May!"




II


For a moment or two Walden found himself smitten by so strong a
sense of the mere simple sensuous joy of living, that he could do no
more than stand looking in silent admiration at the pretty group of
expectant young creatures gathered round the Maypole, and huddled,
as it were, under its cumbrous crown of dewy blossoms, which showed
vividly against the clear sky, while the long streamers of red,
white and blue depending from its summit, trailed on the daisy-
sprinkled grass at their feet.

Every little face was familiar and dear to him. That awkward lad,
grinning from ear to ear, with a particularly fine sprig of
flowering hawthorn in his cap, was Dick Styles;--certainly a very
different individual to Chaucer's knight, Arcite, but resembling him
in so far that he had evidently gone into the woods early, moved by
the same desire: "I hope that I some green here getten may!" That
tiny girl, well to the front, with a clean white frock on and no hat
to cover her tangle of golden curls, was Baby Hippolyta,--the last,
the very last, of the seemingly endless sprouting olive branches of
the sexton, Adam Frost. Why the poor child had been doomed to carry
the name of Hippolyta, no one ever knew. When he, Walden, had
christened her, he almost doubted whether he had heard the lengthy
appellation aright, and ventured to ask the godmother of the
occasion to repeat it in a louder voice. Whereupon 'Hip-po-ly-ta'
was uttered in such strong tones, so thoroughly well enunciated,
that he could no longer mistake it, and the helpless infant,
screaming lustily, left the simple English baptismal font burdened
with a purely Greek designation. She was, however, always called
'Ipsie' by her playmates, and even her mother and father, who were
entirely responsible for her name in the first instance, found it
somewhat weighty for daily utterance and gladly adopted the simpler
sobriquet, though the elders of the village generally were rather
fond of calling her with much solemn unction: 'Baby Hippolyta,' as
though it were an elaborate joke. Ipsie was one of the loveliest
children in the village, and though she was only two-and-a-half
years old, she was fully aware of her own charms. She was pushed to
the front of the Maypole this morning, merely because she was
pretty,--and she knew it. That was why she lifted the extreme edge
of her short skirt and put it in her mouth, thereby displaying her
fat innocent bare legs extensively, and smiled at the Reverend John
Walden out of the uplifted corners of her forget-me-not blue eyes.
Then there was Bob Keeley, more or less breathless with excitement,
having just got back again from Badsworth Hall, his friend the
butcher boy having driven him to and from that place 'in a jiffy' as
he afterwards described it,--and there was a very sparkling,
smiling, vivacious little person of about fifteen, in a lilac cotton
frock, who wore a wreath of laburnum on her black curls, no other
than Kitty Spruce, generally alluded to in the village as 'Bob
Keeley's gel';--and standing near Baby Hippolyta, or 'Ipsie,' was
the acknowledged young beauty of the place, Susie Prescott, a slip
of a lass with a fair Madonna-like face, long chestnut curls and
great, dark, soft eyes like pansies filled with dew. Susie had a
decided talent for music,--she sang very prettily, and led the
village choir, under the guidance of Miss Janet Eden, the
schoolmistress. This morning, however, she was risking the duties of
conductorship on her own account, and very sweet she looked in her
cheap white nuns-veiling gown, wearing a bunch of narcissi
carelessly set in her hair and carrying a flowering hazel-wand in
her hand, with which she beat time for her companions as they
followed her bird-like carolling in the 'Mayers' Song.' But just now
all singing had ceased,--and every one of the children had their
round eyes fixed on John Walden with a mingling of timidity,
affection and awe that was very winning and pretty to behold.

Taking in the whole picture of nature, youth and beauty, as it was
set against the pure background of the sky, Walden realised that he
was expected to say something,--in fact, he had been called upon to
say something every year at this time, but he had never been able to
conquer the singular nervousness which always overcame him on such
occasions. It is one thing to preach from a pulpit to an assembled
congregation who are prepared for orthodoxy and who are ready to
listen with more or less patience to the expounding of the same,--
but it is quite another to speak to a number of girls and boys all
full of mirth and mischief, and as ready for a frolic as a herd of
young colts in a meadow. Especially when it happens that most of the
girls are pretty, and when, as a clergyman and director of souls,
one is conscious that the boys are more or less all in love with the
girls,--that one is a bachelor,--getting on in years too;--and that-
-chiefest of all--it is May-morning! One may perhaps be conscious of
a contraction at the heart,--a tightening of the throat,--even a
slight mist before the eyes may tease and perplex such an one--who
knows? A flash of lost youth may sting the memory,--a boyish craving
for love and sympathy may stir the blood, and may make the gravest
parson's speech incoherent,--for after all, even a minister of the
Divine is but a man.

At any rate the Reverend John found it difficult to begin. The round
forget-me-not eyes of Baby Hippolyta stared into his face with
relentless persistency,--the velvet pansy-coloured ones of Susie
Prescott smiled confidingly up at him with a bewildering
youthfulness and unconsciousness of charm; and the mischief-loving
small boys and village yokels who stood grouped against the Maypole
like rough fairy foresters guarding magic timber, were, with all the
rest of the children, hushed into a breathless expectancy, waiting
eagerly for 'Passon' to speak. And 'Passon' thereupon began,--in the
lamest, feeblest, most paternally orthodox manner:

"My dear children--"

"Hooray! Hooray! Three cheers for 'Passon'! Hooray!"

Wild whooping followed, and the Maypole rocked uneasily, and began
to slant downward in a drunken fashion, like a convivial giant whom
strong wine has made doubtful of his footing.

"Take care, you young rascals!" cried Walden, letting sentiment,
orthodoxy and eloquence go to the winds,--"You will have the whole
thing down!"

Peals of gay laughter responded, and the nodding mass of bloom was
swiftly pulled up and assisted to support its necessary horizontal
dignity. But here Baby Hippolyta suddenly created a diversion. Moved
perhaps by the consciousness of her own beauty, or by the general
excitement around her, she suddenly waved a miniature branch of
hawthorn and emitted a piercing yell.

"Passon! Tum 'ere! Passon! Tum 'ere!"

There was no possibility of 'holding forth' after this. A. short
address on the brevity of life, as being co-equal with the
evanescent joys of a Maypole, would hardly serve,--and a fatherly
ambition as to the unbecoming attitude of mendi-cancy assumed by
independent young villagers carrying a great crown of flowers round
to every house in the neighbourhood, and demanding pence for the
show, would scarcely be popular. Because what did the 'Mayers' Song
say:

"The Heavenly gates are opened wide, Our paths are beaten plain; And
if a man be not too far gone, He may return again."

And the 'Heavenly gates' of Spring being wide open, the Reverend
John, thought his special path was 'beaten plain' for the occasion;
and not being 'too far gone' either in bigotry or lack of heart,
John did what he reverently imagined the Divine Master might have
done when He 'took a little child and set it in the midst." He
obeyed Baby Hippolyta's imperious command, and to her again loudly
reiterated "Passon! Tum 'ere!" he sprang forward and caught her up
in his arms, kissing her rosy cheeks heartily as he did so. Seated
in 'high exalted state' upon his shoulder. 'Ipsie' became Hippolyta
in good earnest, so thoroughly aware was she of her dignity, while,
holding her as lightly and buoyantly as he would have held a bird,
the Reverend John turned his smiling face on his young parishioners.

"Come along, boys and girls!" he exclaimed,--"Come and plant the
Maypole in the big meadow yonder, as you did last year! It is a
holiday for us all to-day,--for me as well as for you! It has always
been a holiday even before the days when great Elizabeth was Queen
of England, and though many dear old customs have fallen into disuse
with the changing world, St. Rest has never yet been robbed of its
May-day festival! Be thankful for that, children!--and come along;--
but move carefully!--keep order,--and sing as you come!"

Whereupon Susie Prescott lifted up her pretty voice again and her
hazel wand baton at the same moment, and started the chorus with the
verse:

"We have been rambling all this night, And almost all this day; And
now returning back again, We bring you in the May!"

And thus carolling, they passed through the garden moving meadow-
wards, Walden at the head of the procession,--and Baby Hippolyta
seated on his shoulder, was so elated with the gladsome sights and
sounds, that she clasped her chubby arms round 'Passon's' neck and
kissed him with a fervour that was as fresh and delightful as it was
irresistibly comic.

Bainton, making his way along the southern wall of the orchard, to
take a 'glance round' as he termed it, at the condition of the wall
fruit-trees before his master joined him on the usual morning tour
of inspection, stopped and drew aside to watch the merry procession
winding along under the brown stems dotted with thousands of red
buds splitting into pink-and-white bloom; and a slow smile moved the
furrows of his face upward in various pleasant lines as he saw the
'Passon' leading it with a light step, carrying the laughing 'Ipsie'
on his shoulder, and now and again joining in the 'Mayers' Song'
with a mellow baritone voice that warmed and sustained the whole
chorus.

"There 'e goes!" he said half aloud--"Jes' like a boy!--for all the
wurrld like a boy! I reckon 'e's got the secret o' never growin'
old, for all that 'is 'air's turnin' a bit grey. 'Ow many passons in
this 'ere neighbrood would carry the children like that, I wonder?
Not one on 'em!--though there's a many to pick an' choose from--a
darned sight too many if you axes my opinion! Old Putty Leveson,
wi's bobbin' an' 'is bowin's to the east--hor!--hor!--hor!--a fine
east 'e's got in 'is mouldy preachin' barn, wi' a whitewashed wall
an' a dirty bit o' tinsel fixed up agin it--he wouldn't touch a
child o' ourn, to save 'is life--though 'e's got three or four mean,
lyin' pryin' brats of 'is own runnin' wild about the place as might
jest as well 'ave never been born. And as for Francis Anthony, the
'igh pontiff o' Riversford, wi's big altar-cloak embrided for 'im by
all the poor skinny spinsters wot ain't never 'ad no chance to
marry--'e'd see all the children blowed to bits under the walls of
Jericho to the sound o' the trumpets afore 'e'd touch 'em! Talk o'
saints!--I'm not very good at unnerstannin' that kind o' folk, not
seein' myself 'owever a saint could manage to get on in this mortal
wurrld; but I reckon to think there's a tollable imitation o' the
real article in Passon Walden--the jolly sort o' saint, o' coorse,--
not the prayin', whinin', snuffin' kind. 'E's been doin' nothin' but
good ever since 'e came 'ere, which m'appen partly from 'is not
bein' married. If 'e'd gotten a wife, the place would a' been awsome
different. Not but wot 'e ain't a bit cranky over 'is, flowers
'isself. But I'd rather 'ave 'im fussin' round than a petticut arter
me. A petticut at 'ome's enough, an' I ain't complainin' on it,
though it's a bit breezy sometimes,--but a petticut in the gard'nin'
line would drive me main wild--it would reely now!"

And still smiling with perfect complacency, he watched the Maypole
being carried carefully along the space of grass left open between
the fruit trees on either side of the orchard, and followed its
bright patch of colour and the children's faces and forms around it,
till it entirely disappeared among the thicker green of a clump of
elms that bordered the 'big meadow,' which Walden generally kept
clear of both crops and cattle for the benefit of the village sports
and pastimes.

He was indeed the only land-owner in the district who gave any
consideration of this kind to the needs of the people. St. Rest was
surrounded on all sides by several large private properties, richly
wooded, and possessing many acres of ploughed and pasture land, but
there was no public right-of-way across any single one of them, and
every field, every woodland path, every tempting dell was rigidly
fenced and guarded from 'vulgar' intrusion. None of the proprietors
of these estates, however, appeared to take the least personal joy
or pride in their possessions. They were for the most part away in
London for 'the season' or abroad 'out' of the season,--and their
extensive woods appeared to exist chiefly for the preservation of
game, reared solely to be shot by a few idle louts of fashion during
September and October, and also for the convenience and support of a
certain land agent, one Oliver Leach, who cut down fine old timber
whenever he needed money, and thought it advisable to pocket the
proceeds of such devastation.

Scarcely in one instance out of a hundred did the actual owners of
property miss the trees sufficiently to ask what had become of them.
So long as the game was all right, they paid little heed to the
rest. The partridges and the pheasants thrived, and so did Mr.
Oliver Leach. He enjoyed, however, the greatest unpopularity of any
man in the neighbourhood, which was some small comfort to those who
believed in the laws of compensation and justice. Bainton was his
particular enemy for one, and Bainton's master, John Walden, for
another. His long-practised 'knavish tricks' and the malicious
delight he took in trying to destroy or disfigure the sylvan beauty
of the landscape by his brutish ignorance of the art of forestry,
combined with his own personal greed, were beginning to be well-
known in St. Rest, and it is very certain that on May-morning when
the youngsters of the village were abroad and, to a great extent,
had it all their own way, (aided and abetted in that way by the
recognised authority of the place, the minister himself,) he would
never have dared to show his hard face and stiffly upright figure
anywhere, lest he should be unmercifully 'guyed' without a chance of
rescue or appeal.

With the disappearance of the Maypole into the further meadow,
Bainton likewise disappeared on his round of duty, which, as he had
declared, moved him 'in sundry places,' and for a little while the
dove-like spirit of Spring brooded in restful silence over the quiet
orchard and garden.

The singing of the May-day children had now grown so faint and far
as to be scarcely audible,--and the call of the cuckoo shrilling
above the plaintive murmur of the wood pigeons, soon absorbed even
the echo of the young human voices passing away. A light breeze
stirred the tender green grass, shaking down a shower of pink almond
bloom as it swept fan-like through the luminous air,--a skylark half
lost in the brilliant blue, began to descend earthwards, flinging
out a sparkling fountain of music with every quiver of his jewel-
like wings, and away in the sheltered shade of a small hazel copse,
the faint fluty notes of a nightingale trembled with a mysterious
sweetness suggestive of evening, when the song should be full.

More than an hour elapsed, and no living being entered the seclusion
of the parson's garden save Nebbie, the parson's rough Aberdeen
terrier, who, appearing suddenly at the open study-window, sniffed
at the fair prospect for a moment, and then, stepping out with a
leisurely air of proprietorship lay down on the grass in the full
sunshine. A wise-looking dog was Nebbie,--though few would have
thought that his full name was Nebuchadnezzar. Only the Reverend
John knew that. Nebbie was perfectly aware that the children had
come with the Maypole, and that his master had accompanied them to
the big meadow. Nebbie also knew that presently that same master of
his would return again to make the circuit of the garden in the
company of Bainton, according to custom,--and as he stretched his
four hairy paws out comfortably, and blinked his brown eyes at a
portly blackbird prodding in the turf for a worm within a stone's
throw of him, he was evidently considering whether it would be worth
his while, as an  epicurean animal, to escort these two men on their
usual round on such a warm pleasant morning. For it was a dog's real
lazy day,--a day when merely to lie on the grass was sufficient
satisfaction for the canine mind. And Nebbie, yawning extensively,
and stretching himself a little more, closed his eyes in a rapture
of peace, and stirred his tail slightly with one, two, three mild
taps on the soft grass, when a sudden clear whistle caused him to
spring up with every hair bristling on end, fore-paws well forward
and eyes wide open.

"Nebbie! Nebbie!"

Nebbie was nothing if not thoroughbred, and the voice of his master
was, despite all considerations of sleep and sunshine, to him as the
voice of the commanding officer to a subaltern. He was off like a
shot at a tearing pace, nose down and tail erect, and in less than a
minute had scented Walden in the shrubbery, which led by devious
windings down from the orchard to the banks of the river Rest, and
there finding him, started frantically gambolling round and round
him, as though years had parted man and dog from one another,
instead of the brief space of an hour. Walden was smiling to
himself, and his countenance was extremely pleasant. Nebbie, with
the quaint conceit common to pet animals, imagined that the smile
was produced specially for him, and continued his wild jumps and
barks till his red tongue hung a couple of inches out of his mouth
with excess of heat and enthusiasm.

"Nebbie! Nebbie!" said the Reverend John, mildly; "Don't make such a
noise! Down, lad, down!"

Nebbie subsided, and on reaching the river bank, squatted on his
haunches, with his tongue still lolling out, while he watched his
master step on a small floating pier attached by iron chains and
posts to the land, and bend therefrom over into the clear water,
looking anxiously downward to a spot he well knew, where hundreds of
rare water-lilies were planted deep in the bed of the stream.

"Nymphea Odorata,"--he murmured, in the yearning tone of a lover
addressing his beloved;--"Nymphea Chromatella--now I wonder if I
shall see anything of them this year! The Aurora Caroliniana must
have been eaten up by water-rats!"

Nebbie uttered a short bark. The faintest whisper of 'rats'
seriously affected his nerves. He could have told his master many a
harrowing story of those mischievous creatures swimming to and fro
in the peaceful flood, tearing with their sharp teeth at the lily
roots, and making a horrible havoc of all the most perfect buds of
promise. The river Rest itself was so clear and bright that it was
difficult to associate rats with its silver flowing,--yet rats there
were, hiding among the osiers and sedges, frightening the moorhens
and reed-warblers out of their little innocent lives. Nebbie caught
and killed them whenever he could,--but he had no particular taste
for swimming, and he was on rather 'strained relations' with a pair
of swans who, with a brood of cygnets kept fierce guard on the
opposite bank against all unwelcome intrusion.

His careful examination of the lily beds done, John Walden sprang
back again from the pier to the land, and there hesitated a moment.
His eyes rested longingly on a light punt, which, running half out
of a rustic boathouse, swayed suggestively on the gleaming water.

"I wish I had time,--" he said, half aloud, while Nebbie wagging his
tail violently, sat waiting and expectant. The river looked
deliciously tempting. The young green of the silver birches drooping
above its shining surface, the lights and shadows rippling across it
with every breath of air,--the skimming of swallows to and fro,--the
hum of bees among the cowslips, thyme and violets that were pushing
fragrantly through the clipped turf,--were all so many wordless
invitations to him to go forth into the fair freedom of Nature.

"The green trees whispered low and mild, It was a sound of joy! They
were my playmates when a child, And rocked me in their arms so wild!
Still they looked on me and smiled As if I were a boy!"

Such simple lines,--by Longfellow too, the despised of all the Sir
Oracles of criticism,--yet coming to Walden's memory suddenly, they
touched a chord of vivid emotion.

"And still they whispered soft and low! Oh, I could not choose but
go!"

he hummed half under his breath, and then with a decided movement
turned from the winding river towards the house.

"No, Nebbie, it's no use," he said aloud, addressing his four-footed
comrade, who thereupon got up reluctantly and began to trot
pensively beside him--"We mustn't be selfish. There are a thousand
and one things to do. There is dinner to be served to the children
at two o'clock--there is Mrs. Keeley to call upon--there are the
school accounts to be looked into,--" here he glanced at his watch--
" Good Heavens!--how time flies! It is half-past eleven! I shall
have to see Bainton later on."

He hurried his steps and was just in sight of his study window, when
he was met by his parlourmaid, a neat, trim young woman who rejoiced
in the euphonious name of Hester Rockett, and who said as she
approached him:

"If you please, sir, Mrs. Spruce."

His genial face fell a little, and he heaved a short sigh.

"Mrs. Spruce? Oh, Lord!--I mean, very well! Show her in, Hester. You
are sure she wants to see me? Or is it her girl Kitty she is after?"

"She didn't mention Kitty, sir," replied Hester demurely; "She said
she wished to see you very particular."

"All right! Show her into my study, and afterwards just go round to
the orchard and tell Bainton I will see him when he's had his
dinner. I know I sha'n't get off under an hour at least!"

He sighed again, then smiled, and entered the house, Nebbie sedately
following. Arrived in his own quiet sanctum, he took off his soft
slouched hat and seated himself at his desk with a composed air of
patient attention, as the door was opened to admit a matronly-
looking lady with a round and florid countenance, clad in a
voluminous black gown, and wearing a somewhat aggressive black
bonnet, 'tipped' well forward, under which her grey hair was
plastered so far back as to be scarcely visible. There was a certain
aggrieved dignity about her, and a generally superior tone of self-
consciousness even in the curtsey which she dropped respectfully, as
she returned Walden's kindly nod and glance.

"Good morning, Mrs. Spruce!"

"Good morning, sir! I trust I see you well, sir?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Spruce, I am very well."

"Which is a mercy indeed!" said Mrs. Spruce fervently; "For we never
knows from one day to another whether we may be sound or crippled,
considering the diseases which now flies in the air with the dust in
the common road, as the papers tell us,--and dust is a thing we
cannot prevent, do what we may, for the dust is there by the will of
the Almighty, Who made us all out of it."

She paused. John Walden smiled and pointed to a chair,

"Won't you sit down, Mrs. Spruce?"

"Thank you kindly, sir!" and Mrs. Spruce accordingly plumped into
the seat indicated with evident relief and satisfaction. "I will
confess that it is a goodish step to walk on such a warm morning."

"You have come straight from the Manor?" enquired Walden, turning
over a few papers on his desk, and wondering within himself when the
good woman was going to unburden herself of her business.

"Straight from the Manor, sir, yes,--and such a heat and moil I
never felt on any May morning, which is most onwholesome, I am sure.
A cold May and a warm June is what I prefers myself,--but when you
get the cuckoo and the nightingale clicketin' together in the woods
on the First of May, you can look out for quarrelsome weather at
Midsummer, leastways so I have heard my mother often say, and she
was considered a wise woman in her time, I do assure you!"

Here Mrs. Spruce untied her bonnet-strings and flung them apart,--
she likewise loosened the top button of her collar and heaved a deep
sigh. Again the Reverend John smiled, and vaguely balanced a
penholder on his fore-finger.

"I daresay your mother was quite right, Mrs. Spruce! Indeed, I
believe all our mothers were quite right in their day. All the same,
I'm glad it's a fine May morning', for the children's sakes. They
are all down in the big meadow having a romp together. Your little
Kitty is with them, looking as bright as a May blossom herself."

Mrs. Spruce straightened herself up, patted her ample bosom, with
one hand, and threw her bonnet-strings still further back.

"Kitty's a good lass," she said, "though a bit mettlesome and wild;
but I'm not saying anything again her. The Lord forbid that I should
run down my own flesh and blood! An' she's better than most gels of
her age. I wouldn't grudge her a bit of fun while she's got it in
her,--Heaven knows it'll be soon gone out of her when she marries,
which nat'rally she will do, sooner or later. Anyhow, she's all I've
got,--which is a marvel how the Lord deals with some of us, when you
see a little chidester of a woman like Adam Frost's wife with
fifteen, boys and girls, and me with only one nesh maid."

Walden was silent. He was not disposed to argue on such marvels of
the Lord's way, as resulted in endowing one family with fifteen
children, and the other with only a single sprout, such as was
accorded to the righteous Jephthah, judge of Israel.

"Howsomever," continued Mrs. Spruce, "Kitty's welcome to jump round
the Maypole till she's wore her last pair of boots out, if so be
it's your wish, Mr. Walden,--and many thanks to you, sir, for all
your kindness to her!"

"Don't mention it, Mrs. Spruce!" said Walden amicably, and then,
determining to bring the worthy woman sharply round to the real
object of her visit, he gave a side-glance at the clock. "Is there
anything you want me to do for you this morning? I'm rather busy--"

"Beggin' your pardon, I'm sure, sir, for troubling you at all!--
knowin' as I do that what with the moithering old folks and the
maupsing young ones, your 'ands is always full. But when I got the
letter this morning, I says to my husband, William--'William,' says
I, very loud, for the poor creature's growing so deaf that by and by
I shall be usin' a p'lice whistle to make him 'ear me--'William,'
says I, 'there is only one man in this village who's got the right
to give advice when advice is asked for. Of course there's no call
for us to follow advice, even when we gets it,--howsomever, it's
only respectable for decent church-going folks to see the minister
of the parish whenever there's any fear of our makin' a slip of our
souls and goin' wrong. Therefore, William,' says I, shaking him By
the arm to make the poor silly fool understand me, 'it's to Passon
Walden I'm goin' this mornin' with this letter,--to Passon Walden,
d'ye 'ear?' And he nodded his head wise-like, for all the world as
though there were a bit of sense in it, (which there ain't), and
agrees with me;--for the Lord, knows, if William doesn't, that it
may make an awsome change for him as well as for me. And I do
confess I've been took back."

Following as best he could the entangled thread of the estimable
lady's discourse, Walden grasped the fact, albeit vaguely, that some
unexpected letter with unexpected news in it had arrived to trouble
the Spruces' domestic peace. Suppressing a slight yawn, he
endeavoured to assume the proper show of interest which every
village parson is expected to display on the shortest notice
concerning any subject, from the birth of the latest baby
parishioner, to the death of the earliest sucking pig.

"I'm sorry you're in trouble, Mrs. Spruce," he said kindly; "What
letter are you speaking of? You see I don't quite understand--"

"Which it's not to be expected you should, sir!" replied Mrs. Spruce
with an air of triumph,--"Considerin' as you wer'n't here when she
left, and the Manor has been what you may call a stately 'ome of
England deserted as most stately 'omes are, for more'n ten years,
you couldn't be expected to understand!"

The Reverend John looked as he felt, completely mystified. He
'wasn't here when she left.' Who was 'she'? With all his naturally
sweet temper he began to feel slightly irritated.

"Really, Mrs. Spruce," he said, endeavouring to throw an inflection
of sternness into his mellow voice, "I must ask you to explain
matters a little more clearly. I know that the Manor has been
practically shut up ever since I've been here,--that you are the
housekeeper in charge, and that your husband is woodman or forester
there,--but beyond this I know nothing. So you must not talk in
riddles, Mrs. Spruce,"--here his kind smile shone out again--"Even
as a boy I was never good at guessing them! And I am getting old
now."

"So you are, sir--so you are!" agreed Mrs. Spruce sympathetically;
"And 'tis a shame for me to come worryin' of you,--for no one more
truly than myself can feel pity for the weariness of the flesh, when
'tis just a burden to the bones and no pleasure in the carryin' of
it, though you don't put much of it on, Passon Walden, you don't, I
do assure you! But it's Gospel truth that some folks wears thin like
a knife, while others wears thick like a pig, and there is no
stopping them,--either way bein' the Lord's will,--but I'm feelin'
real okkard myself to have put you about, Passon, only as I said,
I've been took back,--and here's the letter, sir, which if you will
kindly glance your hi over, you will tell me whether I've done the
right thing to call on my way down here and get in a couple of
scrubbers at eighteen-pence a day, which is dear, but they won't
come for less, jest to get some of the rough dirt off the floors
afore polishin', which polishin' will have to be done whether we
will or no, for the boards are solid oak, and bein' ancient take the
shine quickly, which is a mercy, for this day week is none too far
off, seein' all that's put upon me suddint."

Here, being short of breath, she paused, and fumbling in a large
black calico pocket which hung loosely at her side, attached to her
ample waist by a string, she drew out with great care a rather
large, square-looking missive, and then rising from her chair with
much fluttering of her black gown and mysterious creaking sound, as
of tight under-wear strained to breaking point, she held it out
toward Walden, who had durng her last oratorical outburst
unconsciously put his hand to his head in a daze of bewilderment.

"There is the letter sir," she continued, in the tone of one who
should say: 'There is the warrant for execution'--"'Short and
sweet,' as the farmer's wife said when she ate the pig's tail what
dropped off while the animal was a-roastin'."

Allowing this brilliant simile to pass without comment, Walden took
the thick, creamy-white object she offered and found himself
considering it with a curious disfavour. It was a strictly
'fashionable' make of envelope, and was addressed in a particularly
bold and assertive hand-writing to

MRS. SPRUCE, Housekeeper, Abbot's Manor, St. Rest.

Opening it, the Reverend John read as follows:

"Miss Vancourt begs to inform Mrs. Spruce that she will arrive at
Abbot's Manor on the 7th inst., to remain there in residence. Mrs.
Spruce is requested to engage the necessary household servants, as
Miss Vancourt will bring none except the groom in charge of her two
hunters."

Over and over again Walden read this curt and commonplace note, with
a sense of irritation which he knew was perfectly absurd, but which,
nevertheless, defied all reason. The paper on which it was written
was thick and satiny,--and there was a faint artificial odour of
violets about it which annoyed him. He hated scented notepaper.
Deliberately he replaced it in its envelope, and holding it for a
moment as he again studied the superscription, he addressed the
expectant Mrs. Spruce, who had re-seated herself and was waiting for
him to speak.

"Well, Mrs. Spruce, I don't think you need any advice from me on
such a simple matter as this," he said slowly. "Your duty is quite
plain. You must obey orders. Miss Vancourt is, I suppose, the
mistress of Abbot's Manor?"

"She is, sir,--of course it all belongs to Miss Maryllia--"

"Miss--what?" interrupted Walden, with a sudden lightening of his
dark blue eyes.

"Maryllia, sir. It is a kind of family name, pronounced 'Ma-rill-
yer,'" explained Mrs. Spruce with considerable pomposity; "Many
folks never gets it right--it wants knowledge and practice. But if
you remember the pictures in the gallery at the Manor, sir, you may
call to mind one of the ancestresses of the Vancourts, painted in a
vi'let velvet; ridin' dress and holdin' a huntin' crop, and the name
underneath is 'Mary Ella Adelgisa de Vaignecourt' and it was after
her that the old Squire called his daughter Maryllia, rollin' the
two fust names, Mary Elia, into one, as it were, just to make a name
what none of his forebears had ever had. He was a queer man, the old
Squire--he wouldn't a-cared whether the name was Christian or
heathen."

"I suppose not." said the Reverend John carelessly, rising and
pushing back his chair with a slightly impatient gesture; whereupon
Mrs. Spruce rose too, and stood 'at attention,' her loosened bonnet-
strings flying and her large black calico pocket well in evidence to
the front of her skirt.

"Here's your letter, Mrs. Spruce;" and as she took it from his hand
with a curtsey he continued: "There is evidently nothing for it but
to get the house in order by the day appointed and do your best to
please the lady. I can quite understand that you feel a little
worried at having to prepare everything so quickly and
unexpectedly,--but after all, you must have often thought that Miss
Vancourt's return to her old home was likely to happen at any time."

"Which I never did, sir!" declared Mrs. Spruce emphatically, "No,
sir, never! For when the old Squire died, she was jest a slip of
fifteen and her uncle, the Squire's own twin brother, what had
married an American heiress with somethin' like a hundred million of
money, so I'm told, took her straight away and adopted her like, and
the reg'ler pay for keepin' up the Manor and grounds has been sent
to us through a Bank, and so far we've got nothin' to complain of
bein' all strictly honourable both ways, but of Miss Vancourt we
never heard a thing. And Mr. Oliver Leach he is the agent of the
property, and he ain't never said a word,--and we think, me and my
husband, that he don't know nothin' of her comin' back, and should
we tell him, sir? Or would you reckon that we'd better keep a still
tongue in our heads till she do come? For there's no knowin' why or
wherefore she's comin',--though we did hear her poor uncle died two
years ago, and we wondered where she and her aunt with the hundred
million was got to--but mebbe she'll change her mind and not come,
after all?"

"I should certainly not count upon that, if I were you, Mrs.
Spruce," said Walden decisively; "Your business is to keep
everything in order for the lady's arrival; but I don't think,--I
really don't think, you are at all bound to inform Mr. Oliver Leach
of the matter. He will no doubt find out for himself. or receive his
orders direct from Miss Vancourt." Here he paused. "How old did you
say she was when, she went away from home?"

"Fifteen, sir. That was nigh eleven years ago,--just one week after
the Squire's funeral, and a year afore you came here, sir. She's
gettin' on for seven-and-twenty now."

"Quite a woman, then," said Walden lightly; "Old enough to know her
own mind at any rate. Do you remember her?"

"Perfectly well, sir,--a little flitterin' creature all eyes and
hair, with a saucy way of tossin' her curls about, and a trick of
singin' and shoutin' all over the place. She used to climb the pine
trees and sit in them and pelt her father with the cones. Oh, yes,
sir, she was a terrible child to rule, and it's Gospel truth there
was no ruling her, for the governesses came and went like the
seasons, one in, t'other out. Ay, but the Lord knows I'll never
forget the scream she gave when the Squire was brought home from the
hunting field stone dead!"

Here John Walden turned his head towards her with an air of more
interest than he had yet shown.

"Ah!--How was that?" he enquired.

"He was killed jumpin' a fence;" went on Mrs. Spruce; "A fine,
handsome gentleman,--they say he'd been wild in his youth; anyhow he
got married in London to a great Court beauty, so I've been told.
And after the wedding, they went travelling allover the world for a
year and a half, and just when they was expected 'ome Mrs. Vancourt
died with the birth of the child, and he and the baby and the nurses
all came back here and he never stirred away again himself till
death took him at full gallop,--which is 'ow he always wished to
die. But poor Miss Maryllia--" And Mrs. Spruce sighed dolefully--
"'Twas hard on her, seein' him ride off so gay and well and cheery
in the early mornin' to be brought home afore noon a corpse! Ay, it
was an awsome visitation of the Lord! Often when the wind goes
wimblin' through the pines near the house I think I 'ear her shriek
now,--ay, sir!--it was like the cry of somethin' as was havin' its
heart tore out!"

Walden stood very silent, listening. This narrative was new to him,
and even Mrs. Spruce's manner of relating it was not without a
certain rough eloquence. The ancient history of the Vancourts he
knew as well as he knew the priceless archaeological value of their
old Manor-house as a perfect gem of unspoilt Tudor architecture,--
but though he had traced the descent of the family from Robert
Priaulx de Vaignecourt of the twelfth century and his brother
Osmonde Priaulx de Vaignecourt who had, it was rumoured, founded a
monastery in the neighbourhood, and had died during a pilgrimage to
the Holy Land, he had ceased to follow the genealogical tree with
much attention or interest when the old Norman name of De
Vaignecourt had degenerated into De Vincourt and finally in the
times of James I. had settled down into Vancourt. Yet there was a
touch of old-world tragedy in Mrs. Spruce's modern history of the
young girl's shriek when she found herself suddenly fatherless on
that fatal hunting morning.

"And now," continued Mrs. Spruce, coaxing one bonnet-string at a
time off each portly shoulder with considerable difficulty; "I
s'pose I must be goin', Passon Walden, and thank you kindly for all!
It's a great weight off my mind to have told you just what's
'appened, an' the changes likely to come off, and I do assure you
I'm of your opinion, Passon, in letting Oliver Leach shift for
himself, for if so be Miss Vancourt has the will of her own she had
when she was a gel, I shouldn't wonder if there was rough times in
store for him! But the Lord only knows what may chance to all of
us!" and here she heaved another dismal sigh as she tied the
refractory bonnet-strings into a bow under her fat chin. "It's
right-down sinful of me to be wishin' rough times to any man, seein'
I'm likely in for them myself, for a person's bound to be different
at nigh seven-and-twenty to what she was at fifteen, and the modern
ways of leddies ain't old ways, the Lord be merciful to us all! And
I do confess, Passon, it's a bit upsettin' at my time of life to
think as how I've lived in Abbot's Manor all these years, and now
for all I can tell, me and William may have to shift. And where
we'll go, the Lord only knows!"

"Now don't anticipate misfortune, Mrs. Spruce!" said Walden,
beginning to shake off the indescribable feeling of annoyance
against which he had been fighting for the past few minutes and
resuming his usual quiet air of cheerfulness; "Miss Vancourt is not
likely to dismiss you unless you offend her. The great thing is to
avoid offence,--and to do even more than your strict duty in making
her old home look its best and brightest for her return and--" Here
he hesitated for a moment, then went on--"Of course if I can do
anything to help you, I will."

"Thank you, sir, I'm sure most kindly," said Mrs. Spruce curtseying
two or three times in a voluminous overflow of gratitude. "I shall
take the liberty of asking you to step up during the week, to see
how things appears to you yourself. And as for servants, there's no
gels old enough at the school for servants, so I'll be goin' to
Riversford with the carrier's cart to-morrow to see what I can do.
Ah, It's an awsome mission I'm goin' on; there ain't no gels to be
got of the old kind, as far as I can make out. They all wants to be
fine leddies nowadays and marry 'Merican millionaires."

"Not quite so bad as that, I think, Mrs. Spruce!" laughed Walden,
holding open the door of the study for her to pass out, as a broad
hint that the interview must be considered at an end.--"There are
plenty of good, industrious, intelligent girls in England ready and
willing to enter domestic service, if we make it worth their while,-
-and I'm sure no one can teach YOU anything in that line! Good-
morning, Mrs. Spruce!"

"Good-morning, sir,--and you'll step up to the Manor when convenient
some afternoon?"

"Certainly, if you wish it. Whenever convenient to yourself, Mrs.
Spruce."

Mrs. Spruce curtseyed again at the respect for her own importance
which was implied in Walden's last sentence, and slowly sidled out,
the 'Passon' watching her with a smile as she trotted down the
passage from his study to a door which led to the kitchen and
basement.

"Now she'll go and tell all her story again to Hester and the cook,"
he said to himself; "And how she will enjoy herself to be sure!
Bless the woman, what a tongue she has! No wonder her husband is
deaf!"

He re-seated himself at his desk, and taking up a bundle of accounts
connected with the church and the school, tried to fix his attention
on them, but in vain. His mind wandered. He was obliged to own to
himself that he was unreasonably irritated at the news that Abbot's
Manor, which had been so long a sort of unoccupied 'show' house, was
again to be inhabited,--and by one who was its rightful owner too.
Ever since he had bought the living of St. Rest he had been
accustomed to take many solitary walks through the lovely woods
surrounding the Vancourts' residence, without any fear of being
considered a trespasser,--and he had even strolled through the wide,
old-fashioned gardens with as little restraint as though they had
belonged to himself, Mrs. Spruce, the housekeeper, being the last
person in the world to forbid her minister to enter wherever he
would. He had passed long hours of delightful research in the old
library, and many afternoons of meditation in the picture gallery,
where the portrait of the lady in the 'vi'let velvet,' Mary Elia
Adelgisa de Vaignecourt, had often caught his eye and charmed his
fancy when the setting sun had illumined its rich colouring and had
given life to the face, half-petulant, half-sweet, which pouted
forth from the old canvas like a rose with light on its petals. Now
all these pleasant rambles were finished. The mistress of Abbot's
Manor would certainly object to a wandering parson in her house and
grounds. Probably she was a very imperious, disagreeable young
woman,--full of the light scorn, lack of sentiment and cheap atheism
common to the 'smart' lady of a decadent period, and if it were true
that she had been for so many years in the charge of an American
aunt with a 'hundred millions,' the chances were ten to one that she
would be an exceedingly unpleasant neighbour.

He gave a short impatient sigh.

"Ah, well! I only hope she will put a stop to the felling of the
fine old trees in her domain," he said half aloud,--"If no one else
in the village has the pluck to draw her attention to the
depredations of Oliver Leach, I will. But, so far as other matters
go,--my walks in the Manor woods are ended! Yes, Nebbie!" and he
gently patted the head of the faithful animal, who, with inborn
sagacity instinctively guessing that his master was somewhat
annoyed, was clambering with caressing forepaws against his knee.
"Our rambles by the big elms and silvery birches and under the
beautiful tall pines are over, Nebbie! and we shouldn't be human if
we weren't just a trifle sorry! Sir Morton Pippitt is bad enough as
a neighbour, but he's a good three miles off at Badsworth Hall,
thank Heaven!--whereas Abbot's Manor is but a quarter of an hour's
walk from this gate. We've had pleasant times in the dear old-
fashioned gardens, Nebbie, you and I, but it's all over! The
mistress of the Manor is coming home,--and I'm positively certain,
Nebbie,--yes, old boy!--positively certain that we shall both detest
her!"




III


When England's great Queen, Victoria the Good; was still enjoying
her first happy years of wedded life, and society, under her gentle
sway, was less ostentatious and much more sincere in its code of
ethics than it is nowadays, the village of St. Rest, together with
the adjacent post-town of Riversford, enjoyed considerable
importance in county chronicles. Very great 'county personages' were
daily to be seen comporting themselves quite simply among their own
tenantry, and the Riversford Hunt Ball annually gathered together a
veritable galaxy of 'fair women and brave men' who loved their
ancestral homes better than all the dazzle and movement of town, and
who possessed for the most part that 'sweet content' which gives
strength to the body and elasticity to the mind. There was then a
natural gaiety and spontaneous cheerfulness in English country life
that made such a life good for human happiness; and the jolly
Squires who with their 'dames' kept open house and celebrated
Harvest Home and Christmas Festival with all the buoyancy and vigour
of a sane and healthful manhood undeteriorated by any sickly taint
of morbid pessimism and indifferent inertia, were the beneficent
rulers of a merrier rural population than has ever been seen since
their day. Squire Vancourt the elder, grandfather of the present
heiress of Abbot's Manor, had been a splendid specimen of 'the fine
old English gentleman, all of the olden time,' and his wife, one of
the handsomest, as well as one of the kindest-hearted women that
ever lived, had been justly proud of her husband, devoted to her
children, and a true friend and benefactress to the neighbourhood.
Her four sons, two of whom were twins, all great strapping lads,
built on their vigorous father's model, were considered the best-
looking young men in the county, and by their fond mother were
judged as the best-hearted; but, as it often happens, Nature was
freakish in their regard, and turned them all out wild colts of a
baser breed than might have been expected from their unsullied
parentage. The eldest took to hard drinking and was killed at
steeple-chasing; the second was drowned while bathing; one of the
twins, named Frederick, the younger by a few minutes, after nearly
falling into unnameable depths of degradation by gambling with
certain 'noble and exalted' personages of renown, saved himself, as
it were, by the skin of his teeth, through marriage with a rich
American girl whose father was blessed with unlimited, oil-mines. He
was thereby enabled to wallow in wealth with an impaired digestion
and shattered nervous power, while capricious Fate played him her
usual trick in her usual way by denying him any heirs to his married
millions. His first-born brother, Robert, wedded for love, and chose
as his mate a beautiful girl without a penny, whose grace and charm
had dazzled the London world of fashion for about two seasons, and
she had died at the age of twenty in giving birth to her first
child, the girl whom her father had named Maryllia.

All these chances and changes of life, however, occurring to the
leading family of the neighbourhood had left very little mark on St.
Rest, which drowsed under the light shadow of the eastern hills by
its clear flowing river, very much as it had always drowsed in the
old days, and very much as it would always do even if London and
Paris were consumed by unsuspected volcanoes. The memory of the
first 'old Squire,'--who died peacefully in his bed all alone, his
wife having passed away two years before him, and his two living
twin sons being absent,--was frequently mixed with stories of the
other 'old Squire' Robert, the elder twin, who was killed in the
hunting field,--and indeed it often happened that some of the more
ancient and garrulous villagers were not at all sure as to which was
which. The Manor had been shut up for ten years,--the Manor 'family'
had not been heard of during all that period, and the tenantry's
recollection of their late landlord, as well as of his one daughter,
was more vague and confused than authentic. The place had been
'managed' and the cottage rents collected by the detested agent
Oliver Leach, a fact which did not sweeten such remembrance of the
Vancourts as still existed in the minds of the people.

However, nothing in the general aspect and mental attitude of the
village had altered very much since the early thirties, except the
church. That from a mere ruin, had under John Walden's incumbency
become a gem of architecture, so unique and perfect as to be the
wonder and admiration of all who beheld it, and whereas in the early
Victorian reign a few people stopped at Riversford because it was a
county town and because there was an inn there where they could put
up their horses, so a few people now went to St. Rest, because there
was a church there worth looking at. They came by train to
Riversford, where the railway line stopped, and then took carriage
or cycled the seven miles between that town and St. Rest to see the
church; and having seen it, promptly went back again. For one of the
great charms of the little village hidden under the hills was that
no tourist could stay a night in it, unless he or she took one spare
room--there was only one--at the small public-house which sneaked
away up round a corner of the street under an archway of ivy, and
pushed its old gables through the dark enshrouding leaves with a
half-surprised, half-propitiatory air, as though somewhat ashamed of
its own existence. With the exception of this one room in this one
public-house, there was no accommodation for visitors. Never will
the rash cyclist who ventured once to appeal to the sexton's wife
for rooms in her cottage, forget the brusqueness of his reception:

"Rooms!" And Mrs. Frost, setting her arms well akimbo, surveyed the
enquirer scornfully through an open doorway, rendered doubly
inviting by the wealth of roses clambering round it. "Be off, young
man! Where was you a-comin' to? D'ye think a woman wi' fifteen great
boys and girls in an' out of the 'ouse all day, 'as rooms for payin'
guests!" And here Mrs. Frost, snorting at the air in irrepressible
disdain, actually snapped her fingers in her would-be lodger's face.
"Rooms indeed! Go to Brighting!"

Whereupon the abashed wheelman went,--whether to Brighton, as the
irate lady suggested, or to a warmer place unmentionable history
sayeth not. But St. Rest remained, as its name implied, restful,--
and the barbaric yell of the cheap tripper, together with the
equally barbaric scream of the cheap tripper's 'young lady' echoed
chiefly through modernised and vulgarised Riversford, where there
were tea-rooms and stuffy eating-houses and bad open-air concerts,
such as trippers and their 'ladies' delight in,--and seldom
disturbed the tranquil charm of the tiny mediaeval village dear to a
certain few scholars, poets and antiquarians who, through John
Walden, had gradually become acquainted with this 'priceless bit' as
they termed it, of real 'old' England and who almost feared to
mention its existence even in a whisper, lest it should be 'swarmed
over' by enquiring Yankees, searching for those everlasting
ancestors who all managed so cleverly to cross the sea together in
one boat, the Mayflower.

There is something truly pathetic as well as droll in the anxiety of
every true American to prove himself or herself an offshoot from
some old British root of honour or nobility. It would be cruel to
laugh at this instinct, for after all it is only the passionate
longing of the Prodigal Son who, having eaten of the husks that the
swine did eat, experienced such an indigestion at last, that he said
'I will arise and go to my father.' And it is quite possible that an
aspiring Trans-Atlantic millionaire yearning for descent more than
dollars, would have managed to find tracks of a Mayflower pedigree
in St. Rest, a place of such antiquity as to be able to boast a
chivalric 'roll of honour' once kept in the private museum at
Badsworth Hall before the Badsworth family became extinct, but now,
thanks to Walden, rescued from the modern clutch of the Hall's
present proprietor, Sir Morton Pippitt, and carefully preserved in
an iron box locked up in the church, along with other documents of
value belonging to the neighbourhood. On this were inscribed the
names of such English gentlemen once resident in the district, who
had held certain possessions in France at the accession of Henry II.
in 1154. Besides the 'roll of honour' there were other valuable
records having to do with the Anglo-French campaigns in the time of
King John, and much concerning those persons of St. Rest and
Riversford who took part in the Wars of the Barons.

Whatever there was of curious or interesting matter respecting the
village and its surroundings had been patiently ferreted out by John
Walden, who had purchased the living partly because he knew it to be
a veritable mine for antiquarian research, and one likely to afford
him inexhaustible occupation and delight. But there were, of course,
other reasons for his settling down in so remote a spot far from the
busy haunts of men,--reasons which, to his own mind, were perfectly
natural and simple, though on account of his innate habit of
reticence, and disinclination to explain his motives to others, they
were by some supposed to be mysterious. In his youth he had been one
of the most brilliant and promising of University scholars, and all
those who had assisted to fit him for his career in the Church, had
expected great things of him. Some said he would be a Bishop before
he was thirty; others considered that he would probably content
himself with being the most intellectual and incisive preacher of
his time. But he turned out to be neither one nor the other. A
certain Henry Arthur Brent, his fellow student at College and five
years his senior, had, with apparent ease, outstripped him in the
race for honour, though lacking in all such exceptional slowly off
towards the vegetable garden where his 'under gardeners' as he
called three or four sturdy village lads employed to dig and hoe,
constantly required his supervision.

Meanwhile Walden, leaving his own grounds, entered the churchyard,
walking with softly reverent step among the little green mounds of
earth, under which kind eyes were closed, and warm hearts lay cold,
till, reaching the porched entrance of the church itself, he paused,
brought to a halt by the sound of voices which were pitched rather
too loud for propriety, considering the sacredness of the
surroundings.

"That eastern window is crude--very crude!" said a growlingly robust
baritone; "I suppose the reverend gentleman could not secure
sufficient subscriptions to meet the expense of suitable stained
glass?"

"Unfortunately Mr. Walden is a very self-opinionated man," replied a
smooth and oily tenor, whose particular tone of speech Walden
recognised as that of the Reverend 'Putty' Leveson, the minister of
Badsworth, a small scattered village some five or six miles 'on the
wrong side of Badsworth Hall,' as the locality was called, owing to
its removed position from the county town of Riversford. "He would
not accept outside advice. Of course these columns and capitals are
all wrong,--they are quite incongruous with early Norman walls,--but
when ignorance is allowed to have its own way, the effect is always
disastrous."

"Always--always,--my dear sir--always!" And the voice or Sir Morton
Pippitt, high pitched and resonant, trolled out on the peaceful air;
"The fact is, the church could have been much better done, had I
been consulted! The whole thing was carried out in the most brazen
manner, under my very nose, sir, under my very nose!--without so
much as a 'by your leave'! Shocking, shocking! I complained to the
Bishop, but it was no use, for it seems that he has a perfect
infatuation for this man Walden--they were college friends or
something of that kind. As for the sarcophagus here, of course it
ought in the merest common decency to have been transferred to the
Cathedral of the diocese. But you see the present incumbent bought
the place;--the purchase of advowsons is a scandal, in my opinion--
however this man got it all his own way, more's the pity!--he bought
it through some friend or other--and so--"

"So he could do as he liked with it!" said a mild, piping falsetto;
"And so far, he has made it beau-ti-ful!--beau-ti-ful!" carved with
traceries of natural fruit and foliage, which were scarcely injured
by the devastating mark of time. But rough and sacrilegious hands
had been at work to spoil and deface the classic remains of the
time-worn edifice, and some of the lancet windows had been actually
hewn out and widened to admit of the insertion of modern timber
props which awkwardly supported a hideous galvanised iron roof, on
the top of which was erected a kind of tin hen-coop in which a sharp
bell clanged with irritating rapidity for Sunday service. Outside,
the building was thus rendered grotesquely incongruous,--inside it
was almost blasphemous in its rank ugliness. There were several rows
of narrow pews made of common painted deal,--there was a brown stone
font and a light pine-wood pulpit--a small harmonium stood in one
corner, festooned by a faded red woollen curtain, and a general air
of the cheap upholsterer and jerry-builder hovered over the whole
concern. And the new incumbent, gazing aghast at the scene, was
triumphantly informed that "Sir Morton Pippitt had been generous
enough to roof and 'restore' the church in this artistic manner out
of his own pocket, for the comfort of the villagers," and moreover
that he actually condescended to attend Divine service under the
galvanised iron roof which he had so liberally erected. Nay, it had
been even known that Sir Morton had on one or two occasions himself
read the Lessons in the absence of the late rector, who was subject
to sore throats and was constantly compelled to call in outside
assistance.

To all this information John Walden said nothing. He was not
concerned with Sir Morton Pippitt or any other county magnate in the
management of his own affairs. A fortnight after his arrival he
quietly announced to his congregation that the church was about to
be entirely restored according to its original lines of
architecture, and that a temporary building would be erected on his,
Walden's, own land for the accommodation of the people during such
time as the restoration should be in progress. This announcement
brought about Walden's first acquaintance with his richest
neighbour, Sir Morton Pippitt. That gentleman having been accustomed
to have his own way in everything concerning St. Rest, for a
considerable time, straightway wrote, expressing his 'surprise and
indignation' at the mere assumption that any restoration was
required for the church beyond what he, Sir Morton, had effected at
his own expense. The number of parishioners was exceedingly small,--
too small to warrant any further expenditure for enlarging a place
of worship which mental ability as he possessed, and was now Bishop
of the very diocese in which he had his little living. University
men said he had 'stood aside' in order to allow Brent to press more
swiftly forward, but though this was a perfectly natural supposition
on the part of those who knew something of Walden's character, it
was not correct. Walden at that time had only one object in life,--
and this was to secure such name and fame, together with such
worldly success as might delight and satisfy the only relative he
had in the world, his sister, a beautiful and intelligent woman,
full of an almost maternal tenderness for him, and a sweet
resignation to her own sad lot, which made her the victim of a slow
and incurable disease. So long as she lived, her brother threw
himself into his work with intensity and ardour; but when she died
that impulse withered, as it were, at its very root. The world
became empty for him, and he felt that from henceforth he would be
utterly companionless. For what he had seen of modern women, modern
marriage and modern ways of life, did not tempt him to rashly seek
refuge for his heart's solitude in matrimony. Almost immediately
following the loss of his sister, an uncle of whom he had known very
little, died suddenly, leaving him a considerably large fortune. As
soon as he came into possession of this unexpected wealth, he
disappeared at once from the scene of his former labours,--the
pretty old house in the University town, with its great cedars
sloping to the river and its hallowed memories of the sister he had
so dearly loved, was sold by private treaty,--his voice was heard no
more in London pulpits, where it had begun to carry weight and
influence,--and he managed to obtain the then vacant and obscure
living of St. Rest, the purchase of the advowson being effected, so
it was said, privately through the good offices of his quondam
college friend, Bishop Brent. And at St. Rest he had remained,
apparently well contented with the very simple and monotonous round
of duty it offered.

When he had first arrived there, he found that the church consisted
of some thick stone walls of the early Norman, period, built on a
cruciform plan, the stones being all uniformly wrought and close-
jointed,--together with a beautiful ruined chancel divided from the
main body of the building by massive columns, which supported on
their capitals the fragments of lofty arches indicative of an
architectural transition from the Norman to the Early Pointed
English style. There were also the hollow slits of several lancet
windows, and one almost perfect pierced circular window to the east,
elaborately And here he whirled round on his only daughter, an
angular and severely-visaged spinster; "Look at this fool!--this
staring ape! All the sauce on the carpet! Wish he had to pay for it!
He'll take an hour to get a cloth and wipe it up! Why did you engage
such a damned ass, eh?"

Miss Tabitha preserved a prudent silence, seeing that the butler, a
serious-looking personage with a resigned-to-ill-usage demeanour,
was already engaged in assisting the hapless footman to remove the
remains of the spilt condiment, from the offended gaze of his irate
master.

"Like his damned impudence!" broke out Sir Morton again, resuming
with some reluctance his seat at the breakfast table, and chopping
at the fried bacon on his plate till the harder bits flew far and
wide,--"'Happy to reimburse me!'--the snivelling puppy! Why the
devil he was allowed to sneak into this living, I don't know! The
private purchase of advowsons is a scandal--a disgraceful scandal!
Any Tom, Dick or Harry can get a friend to buy him a benefice in
which to make himself a nuisance! Done under the rose,--and called a
'presentation'! All humbug and hypocrisy! That's why we get impudent
dogs like this beast Walden settling down in a neighbourhood whether
we like it or not!"

Miss Tabitha munched some toast slowly with a delicate regard for
her front teeth, which had cost money. There was no one in the room
to suggest to Sir Morton that it is a pity some law is not in
progress to prevent the purchase of historic houses by vulgar and
illiterate persons of no family;--which would be far more a benefit
to the land at large than the suppression of privately purchased
benefices. For the chances are ten to one that the ordained
minister, who, by his own choice secures a Church living for
himself, is likely at least to be a well-educated gentleman,
interested in the work he has himself elected to do,--whereas the
illiterate individual who buys an historic house simply for self-
glorification, will probably be no more than a mere petty and
pompous tyrant over the district which that particular house
dominates.

Badsworth Hall, a fine sixteenth-century pile, had, through the
reckless racing and gambling propensities of the last heir, fallen
into the hands of the Jews. On the fortunate demise of the young
gentleman who had brought it to this untimely end, it was put up for
sale with all its contents. And Sir Morton Pippitt,--a rich
colonial, whose forebears were entirely undistinguished, but who had
made a large fortune by a bone-melting business, which converted the
hoofs, horns and (considering that some years ago it had been a mere
roofless ruin, and that the people had been compelled to walk or
drive to Riversford in order to attend church at all on Sundays) Sir
Morton thought was now very comfortable and satisfactory. In fact,
Sir Morton concluded, "Mr. Walden would be very ill-advised if he
made any attempt to raise money for such a useless purpose as the
'entire restoration' of the church of St. Rest, and Mr. Walden might
as well be at once made aware that Sir Morton himself would not give
a penny towards it." To which somewhat rambling and heated epistle
John Walden replied with civil stiffness as follows:

"The Rev. John Walden presents his compliments to Sir Morton
Pippitt, and in answer to his letter begs to say that he has no
intention of raising any subscription to defray the cost of
restoring the church, which in its present condition is totally
unfit for Divine service. Having secured the living, Mr. Walden will
make the restoration the object of his own personal care, and will
also be pleased to reimburse Sir Morton Pippitt for any outlay to
which he may have been put in erecting the galvanised roof and other
accessories for the immediate convenience of the parishioners who
have, he understands, already expressed their sense of obligation to
Sir Morton for kindly providing them with such temporary shelter
from the changes of the weather as seemed to be humanely necessary."

This calm epistle when received at Badsworth Hall, had the effect of
a sudden stiff breeze on the surface of hitherto quiet waters. Sir
Morton Pippitt in a brand-new tweed suit surmounted by a very high,
clean, stiff shirt-collar, was sitting at breakfast in what was
formerly known as the 'great Refectory,' a memory of the days when
Badsworth had been a large and important monastery, but which was
now turned into a modern-antique dining-room,--and as he read, with
the aid of his gold-rimmed spectacles, the curt, chill, severely
polite letter of the 'new parson' he flew into a sudden violent
passion.

"Damn the fellow!" he spluttered, jumping up in haste and striking
out an arm towards the very direction in which a mild young footman
was just approaching him with a bottle of Worcester sauce on a
tray,--"Damn him!"

The footman staggered back in terror, and the Worcester sauce reeled
over drunkenly on to the carpet.

"There you go, you clumsy, gaping idiot!" roared Sir Morton, growing
purple with increasing fury. "Tabitha!" called 'The Riversford
Gazette.' If Sir Morton had a pig killed, the fact was duly notified
to an admiring populace in the 'Riversford Gazette.' If he took a
prize in cabbages at the local vegetable and flower show, the
'Riversford Gazette' had a column about it. If he gave a tennis-
party, there were two columns, describing all the dresses of the
ladies, the prowess of the 'champions' and the 'striking and jovial
personality' of Sir Morton Pippitt. And if the fact of that
'striking and jovial personality' were not properly insisted upon,
Sir Morton went himself to see the editor of the 'Riversford
Gazette,' an illiterate tuft-hunting little man,--and nearly
frightened him into fits. He had asserted himself in this kind of
autocratic fashion ever since he had purchased  Badsworth, when he
was still in his forties,--and it may be well imagined that at the
age of sixty he was not prepared to be thwarted, even in a matter
wherein he had no real concern. The former rector of St. Rest, an
ailing, nervous and exceedingly poor creature, with a large family
to keep, had been only too glad and ready to do anything Sir Morton
Pippitt wished, for the sake of being invited to dine at the Hall
once a week,--it was therefore a very unexpected and disagreeable
experience for the imperious Bone-melter to learn that the new
incumbent was not at all disposed to follow in the steps of his
predecessor, but, on the contrary, was apparently going to insist on
having his own way with as much emphasis as Sir Morton Pippitt
himself.

"I shall soon bring that fellow to his senses," declared Sir Morton,
on the eventful morning which first saw the gage of battle thrown
down; "I shall teach him that, parson or no parson, he will have to
respect my authority! God bless my seoul! Does he think I'm going to
be dictated to at my time of life?"

He addressed these observations to his daughter, Miss Tabitha
Pippitt, but whether she heard them or not was scarcely apparent. At
any rate, she did not answer. Having finished her breakfast, she
pulled out some knitting from an embroidered bag hanging at her side
and set her needles clicketing, while her father, redder in the face
and more implacable of mood than ever, went out to see what he could
do to save his galvanised iron roof from the hand of the spoiler.

But, as he might have known, if his irascibility had allowed him to
weigh the pros and cons of the situation, his 'authority' was of no
avail. An angry letter to the Bishop of the diocese only drew forth
a curt reply from the Bishop's secrebones of defunct animals into a
convenient mixture wherewith to make buttons and other useful
articles of hardware, bought it, as the saying goes, 'for a mere
song.' Through his easy purchase he became possessed of the
Badsworth ancestry, as shown in their pictures hanging on the
dining-room walls and in the long oak-panelled picture gallery. Lady
Madeline Badsworth, famous for her beauty in some remote and
chivalrous past, gazed down at Sir Morton while he sat at meals,
suggesting to the imaginative beholder a world of scorn in her
lovely painted eyes,--and a heroic young Badsworth who had perished
at the battle of Marston Moor, stood proudly out of one of the dark
canvases, his gauntleted hand on the hilt of his sword and a smile
of pained wrath on his lips, as one who should say, beholding the
new possessor of his ancient home 'To such base uses must we come at
last!'

Surrounded by gold-framed Badsworths, young and old, Sir Morton ate
his fried bacon and 'swilled' his tea, with a considerable noise in
swallowing, getting gradually redder in the face as he proceeded
with his meal. He was by no means a bad-looking old gentleman,--his
sixty years sat lightly upon his broad shoulders, and he was tall
and well set up, though somewhat too stout in what may be politely
called the 'lower chest' direction. His face was plump, florid and
clean-shaven, and what hair he still possessed was of a pleasantly-
bright silver hue. The first impression he created was always one of
kindness and benevolence,--the hearts of women especially invariably
went out to him, and murmurs of 'What a dear old man!' and 'What a
darling old man!' frequently escaped lips feminine in softest
accents. He was very courtly to women,--when he was not rude; and
very kind to the poor,--when he was not mean. His moods were
fluctuating; his rages violent; his temper obstinate. When he did
not succeed in getting his own way, his petulant sulks resembled
those of a spoilt child put in a corner, only they lasted longer.
There was one shop in Riversford which he had not entered for ten
years, because its owner had ventured, with trembling respect, to
contradict him on a small matter. Occasionally he could be quite the
'dear darling old man' his lady admirers judged him to be,--but
after all, his servants knew him best. To them, 'Sir Morton was a
caution.' And that is precisely what he was; the definition entirely
summed up his character. He had one great passion,--the desire to
make himself 'the' most important person in the county, and to be
written about in the local paper, a hazy and often ungrammatical
organ For the chancel appeared to demand special reverence, from the
nature of a wonderful discovery made in it during the work of
restoration,--a discovery which greatly helped to sustain and
confirm the name of both church and village as 'St. Rest,' and to
entirely disprove the frequently-offered suggestion that it could
ever have been meant for 'St. East.' And this is how the discovery
happened.

One never-to-be-forgotten morning when the workmen were hewing away
at the floor of the chancel, one of their pickaxes came suddenly in
contact with a hard substance which gave back a metallic echo when
the blow of the implement came down upon it. Working with caution,
and gradually clearing away a large quantity of loose stones, broken
pieces of mosaic and earth, a curious iron handle was discovered
attached to a large screw which was apparently embedded deep in the
ground. Walden was at once informed of this strange 'find' and
hastened to the spot to examine the mysterious object. He was not
very long in determining its nature.

"This is some very ancient method of leverage," he said, turning
round to the workmen with an excitement he could barely conceal;
"There is something precious underneath in the ground,--something
which can probably be raised by means of this handle and screw. Dig
round it about a yard away from the centre,--loosen the earth
gently--be very careful!"

They obeyed; and all that day Walden stood watching them at work,
his mind divided between hope and fear, and his spirit moved by the
passionate exultation of the antiquary whose studies and researches
are about to be rewarded with unexpected treasure. Towards sunset
the men came upon a large oblong piece of what appeared to be
alabaster, closely inlaid with patterns of worn gold and bearing on
its surface the sculptured emblems of a cross, a drawn sword and a
crown of laurel leaves intertwisted with thorns, the whole most
elaborately wrought, and very little injured. As this slowly came to
light, Walden summoned all hands to assist him in turning the great
iron screw which now stood out upright, some three or four feet from
the aperture they had been digging. Wondering at his 'fancy' as they
termed it, they however had full reliance on his proved knowledge of
what he was about, and under his guidance they all applied
themselves to the quaint and cumbrous iron handle which had been the
first thing discovered, and with considerable difficulty began to
day to the effect that as the Reverend John Walden was now the
possessor of the living of St. Rest and had furthermore obtained a
'faculty' for the proper restoration of the church, which was to be
carried out at the said John Walden's own risk and personal
expenditure, the matter was not open to any outside discussion.
Whereat, Sir Morton's fury became so excessive that he actually shut
up Badsworth Hall and went away for a whole year, greatly to the
relief of the editor of the 'Riversford Gazette,' who was able to
dismiss him with a comfortable paragraph, thus:

"Sir Morton Pippitt has left Badsworth Hall for a tour round the
world. Miss Pippitt accompanies her distinguished father."

Then followed a spell of peace;--and the restoration of the church
at St. Rest was quietly proceeded with. Lovingly, and with tenderest
care for every stone, every broken fragment, John Walden pieced
together the ruined shrine of ancient days, and managed at last to
trace and recover the whole of the original plan. It had never been
a large building, its proportions being about the same as those of
Roslin Chapel, near Edinburgh. The task of restoration was costly,
especially when carried out with such perfection and regard to
detail,--but Walden grudged nothing to make it complete, and
superintended the whole thing himself, rejecting all the semi-
educated suggestions of the modern architect, and faithfully
following out the ideas of the particular period in which the church
was originally designed by those to whom the building of a 'God's
House' was a work of solemn prayer and praise. The ancient stones
were preserved, and wherever modern masonry was used, it was
cunningly worked in to look as time-worn as the Norman walls, while
the lancet windows were filled with genuine old stained glass
purchased by degrees from different parts of England, each fragment
being properly authenticated. A groined roof, simple yet noble in
outline, covered in the building; ornamented with delicately rounded
mouldings alternated with hollows so planned as to give the most
forcible effects of light and shade according to the style of
English Early Pointed work, and the only thing that was left
incomplete was the pierced circular window above the chancel, which
Walden sought to fill with stained glass of such indubitable
antiquity and beauty of design that he was only able to secure it
bit by bit at long intervals. While engaged in collecting this, he
judged it best to fill the window with ordinary clear glass rather
than put in inferior stuff. age system exactly in the middle of the
chancel, fronting the altar, we will let it remain there and occupy
its own original place. The chancel could not have a grander
ornament!

And so, in the middle of the chancel, between the altar and the
steps which separated that part of the church from the main body of
the building, the mysterious undated relic lay under the warm light
of the eastern window, and people who were interested in antiquities
came from far and near to see it, though they could make no more of
it than Walden himself had done. The cross and sword might possibly
indicate martyrdom; the laurels and thorn fame. Certainly there were
no signs that the dumb occupant of that sealed coffer was a monarch
of merely earthly power and state. When the alabaster came to be
thoroughly cleansed and polished, part of the inscription could be
deciphered in the following letters of worn gold:

Sancta. vixit. Sancta obit.. In. coelum.. sanctorum.,
transmigravit... In Resurrectione Sanctorum resurget M.. Beatse.
ma.. R.

But to what perished identity these significant words applied
remained an impenetrable mystery. Every old record was carefully
searched,--every scrap of ancient history wherein the neighbourhood
of St. Rest had ever been concerned was turned over and over by the
patient and indefatigable John Walden, who followed up many
suggestive tracks eagerly and lost them again when apparently just
on the point of finding some sure clue,--till at last he gave up the
problem in despair and contented himself and his parishioners by
accepting the evident fact that in the old church at one time or
another some saint or holy abbot had been buried,--hence the name of
St. Rest or 'The Saint's Rest,' which had become attached to the
village. But at what exact period such saint or abbot had lived and
died, was undiscoverable.

When the restoration of the sacred shrine was completed, and an
expectant congregation filled it to overflowing to assist at the
solemn service of its re-dedication to the worship of God, not one
among them all but was deeply impressed by the appearance of the
restored chancel, with its beautiful columns and delicate capitals,
arching like a bower of protection over the altar, and over that
wonderful white sarcophagus lying turn it round and round. As they
proceeded laboriously in this task, while the screw creaked and
groaned under the process with a noise as of splitting timber, all
at once the oblong slab of alabaster moved, and rose upward about an
inch.

"To it, boys!" cried Walden, his eyes sparkling; "To it again, and
harder! We shall have it with us in an hour!"

And truly, in somewhat less than an hour the strange old-world lever
had lifted what it must often have lifted in a similar way in bygone
years,--a magnificent and perfectly preserved sarcophagus, measuring
some six or seven feet long by three feet wide, covered with
exquisite carving at the sides, representing roses among thorns, the
flowers having evidently at one time been centred with gems and
which even now bore traces of gold. Round the lid there was some dim
lettering which was scarcely discernible,--the lid itself was firmly
closed and strongly cemented.

Exclamations of wonder, admiration, and excitement broke from all
who had been engaged in the work of excavation, and presently the
whole village ran out to see the wonderful relic of a forgotten
past, all chattering, all speculating, all staring, Walden alone
stood silent; his head bared,--his hands clasped. He knew that only
some great saint or holy recluse could have ever been so royally
enshrined in ancient days, and the elaborate system of leverage used
seemed to prove that the body laid within that wrought alabaster and
gold must have been considered to be of that peculiar nature termed
'miraculous,' and worthy to be lifted from its resting-place into
the chancel on certain particular occasions for the homage and
reverence of the people. The sun poured down upon the beautiful
object lying there,--on the groups of workmen who, instinctively
imitating Walden's example, had bared their heads,--on the wrinkled
worn faces of old village men and women,--on the bright waving locks
of young girls, and the clear enquiring eyes of children, all gazing
at the strange treasure-trove their ruined church had given up to
the light of a modern day. Presently the chief workman, asked Walden
in a hushed voice:

"Shall we break it open, sir?"

"No,--never!" replied Walden gently but firmly; "That would be
sacrilege. We may not lightly disturb the dead! The ashes enshrined
in this wonderful casket must be those of one who was dear to the
old-time church. They shall rest in peace. And as this sarcophagus
is evidently fixed by its leversouls, and awakening them to hopeful
considerations of a happier end than the mere grave."

Ten years, however, had now passed since John Walden had bought the
living, and of these ten years three had been occupied in the
restoration of the church, so that seven had elapsed since it had
been consecrated. And during those seven years not once had Bishop
Brent been seen again in St. Rest. He remained in the thoughts of
the people as an indefinable association with whom they would fain
have had more to do. Sir Morton Pippitt had passed from the sixties
into the seventies, very little altered;--still upright, still
inflexible and obstinate of temperament, he ruled the neighbourhood,
Riversford especially, as much as was possible to him now that much
of the management of St. Rest had passed under the quieter, but no
less firm authority of John Walden, whose will was nearly always
found in intellectually balanced opposition to his. The two seldom
met. Sir Morton was fond of 'county' society; Walden loathed it.
Moreover, Miss Tabitha, wearing steadily on towards fifty, had, as
the saying is, secretly 'set her cap' at the Reverend John; and the
mere sight of the sedately-amorous spinster set his nerves on edge.
Devoting himself strictly to his duties, to the care of the church,
to the interests of his parishioners, young and old, to the
cultivation of his garden, and to the careful preservation of all
the natural beauties of the landscape around him,--John lived very
much the life of a 'holy man' of mediaeval days; while Sir Horton
built and 'patronised' a hospital at Riversford, gave several prizes
for cabbages and shooting competitions, occasionally patted the
heads of a few straggling school-children, fussed round among his
scattered tenantry, and wrote paragraphs about his own 'fine
presence and open-hearted hospitality' for publication in the
'Riversford Gazette' whenever he entertained a house party at
Badsworth Hall, which he very frequently did. He kept well in touch
with London folk, and to London folk he was fond of speaking of St.
Rest as 'my' little village. But when London folk came to enquire
for themselves as to the nature of his possession, they invariably
discovered that it was not Sir Morton's little village at all but
the Reverend John's little village. Hence arose certain
discrepancies and cross-currents of feeling, leading to occasional
mild friction and 'local' excitement. Up to the present time,
however, Walden had on the whole lived a tranquil life, such as best
suited his tranquil and philosophic temperament, and his occasional
'brushes' with. snow-like in the rays of the sun, which flashed
clear on its stray bits of gold and broken incrustation of gems,
sending a straight beam through the eastern window on the one word
'Resurget' like a torch of hope from beyond the grave.

Bishop Brent, Walden's old college friend, came to perform the
ceremony of consecration, and this was the first time the
inhabitants of St. Rest had seen a real Bishop for many years. Much
excitement did his presence create in that quiet woodland dell, the
more especially as he proved to be a Bishop somewhat out of the
common. Tall and attenuated in form, he had a face which might
almost be called magnetic, so alive was its expression,--so intense
and passionate was the light of the deep dark melancholy eyes that
burned from under their shelving brows like lamps set in a high
watch-tower of intellect. When he preached, his voice, with its deep
mellow cadence, thrilled very strangely to the heart,--and every
gesture, every turn of his head, expressed the activity of the keen
soul pent up within his apparently frail body. The sermon he gave on
the occasion of the re-dedication of the Church of St. Rest was
powerful and emotional, but scarcely orthodox--and therefore was not
altogether pleasing to Sir Morton Pippitt. He chose as his text:
"Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not sleep, but we shall all
be changed;" and on this he expatiated, setting forth the joys of
the spiritual life as opposed to the physical,--insisting on the
positive certainty of individual existence after death, and weaving
into his discourse some remarks on the encoffined saint whose
sarcophagus had been unearthed from its long-hidden burial-place and
set again where it had originally stood, in the middle of the
chancel. He spoke in hushed and solemn tones of the possibility of
the holy spirit of that unknown one being present among them that
day, helping them in their work, joining in their prayers of
consecration and perhaps bestowing upon them additional blessing. At
which statement, given with poetic earnestness and fervour, Sir
Morton stared, breathed hard and murmured in his daughter's ear "A
Roman! The man is a Roman!"

But notwithstanding Sir Morton Pippitt's distaste for the manner in
which the Bishop dealt with his subject, and his numerous allusions
to saints in heaven and their probable guardianship of their friends
on earth, the sermon was a deeply impressive one and lingered long
in the memories of those who had heard it, softening their hearts,
inspiring their for the news of her coming. It is the one cloud in
an otherwise clear sky!

The young moon swinging lazily downward to the west, looked upon him
as though she smiled. A little bat scurried past in fear and hurled
itself into the dewy masses of foliage bordering the edge of the
lawn. And from the reeds and sedges fringing the river beyond, there
came floating a long whispering murmur that swept past his ears and
died softly into space, as of a voice that had something strange and
new to say, which might not yet be said. Sir Morton only served to
give piquancy and savour to the quiet round of his daily habits.
Now, all unexpectedly, there was to be a break,--a new source of
unavoidable annoyance in the intrusion of a feminine authority,--a
modern Squire-ess, who no doubt would probably bring modern ways
with her into the little old-world place,--who would hunt and shoot
and smoke,--perhaps even swear at her grooms,--who could tell? She
would not, she could not interfere with, the church, or its
minister, were she ever so much Miss Vancourt of Abbot's Manor,--but
she could if she liked 'muddle about' with many other matters, and
there could be no doubt that as the visible and resident mistress of
the most historic house in the neighbourhood, she would be what is
called 'a social influence.'

"And not for good!" mused John Walden, during a meditative stroll in
his garden on the even of the May-day on. which he had heard the
disturbing news; "Certainly not for good!"

He raised his eyes to the sky where the curved bow of a new moon
hung clear and bright as a polished sickle. All was intensely still.
The day had been a very busy one for him;--the children's dinner and
their May-games had kept his hands full, and not till sunset, when
the chimes of the church began to ring for evening service, had he
been able to snatch a moment to himself for quiet contemplation. The
dewy freshness of the garden, perfumed by the opening blossoms of
the syringa, imparted its own sense of calm and grave repose to his
mind,--and as he paced slowly up and down the gravel walk in front
of his study window watching the placid beauty of the deepening
night, a slight sigh escaped him.

"It cannot be for good!" he repeated, regretfully; "A woman trained
as she must have been trained since girlhood, with all her finer
perceptions blunted by perpetual contact with the assertive and
ostentatious evidences of an excess of wealth,--probably surrounded
too by the pitiful vulgarisms of a half-bred American society, too
ignorant to admit or recognise its own limitations,--she must have
almost forgotten the stately traditions of the fine old family she
springs from. One must not expect the motto of 'noblesse oblige' to
weigh with modern young women--more's the pity! I'm afraid the
mistress of Abbot's Manor will be a disturbing element in the
village, breeding discontent and trouble where there has been till
now comparative peace, and a fortunate simplicity of life. I'm
sorry! This would have been a perfect First of May but Ha-ha-ha-ha!"
And he broke into a laugh so joyous and mellow that Bainton found it
quite irresistible and joined in it with a deep "Hor-hor-hor!"
evoked from the hollow of his throat, and beginning loudly, but
dying away into a hoarse intermittent chuckle.

"Ha-ha-ha!" laughed the Reverend John again, throwing back his head
with a real enjoyment in his capability for laughter; "You did quite
right to disturb me, Bainton,--quite right! Where are Sir Morton and
his party? What are they doing?"

"They was jes' crossin' the churchyard when I spied 'em," answered
Bainton; "An' Sir Morton was makin' some very speshul observations
of his own on the 'herly Norman period.' Hor-hor-hor! An' they've
got ole Putty Leveson with 'em--"

"Bainton!" interrupted Walden severely; "How often must I tell you
that you should not speak of the rector of Badsworth in that
disrespectful manner?"

"Very sorry, sir!" said Bainton complacently; "But if one of the
names of a man 'appens to be Putwood an' the man 'imself is as fat
as a pig scored for roastin' 'ole, what more natrul than the pet
name of 'Putty' for 'im? No 'arm meant, I'm sure, Passon!--Putty's
as good as Pippitt any day!"

Walden suppressed his laughter with an effort. He was very much of a
boy at heart, despite his forty odd years, and the quaint
obstinacies of his gardener amused him too much to call for any
serious remonstrance. Turning back to his study he took his hat and
cane from their own particular corner of the room and started for
the little clap gate which Bainton had been, as he said, 'keeping
his eye on.'

"No more work to-day," he said, with an air of whimsical
resignation; "But I may possibly get one or two hints for my
sermon!"

He strode off, and Bainton watched him go. As the clap gate opened
and swung to again, and his straight athletic figure disappeared,
the old gardener still stood for a moment or two ruminating.

"What a blessin' he ain't married!" he said thoughtfully; "A
blessin' to the village, an' a blessin' to 'imself! He'd a bin a
fine man spoilt, if a woman 'ad ever got 'old on 'im,--a fine man
spoilt, jes' like me!"

An appreciative grin at his own expense spread among the furrows of
his face at this consideration;--then he trotted




IV


Two days later on, when Walden was at work in his own room seriously
considering the points of his sermon for the coming Sunday, his
'head man about the place,' Bainton, made a sudden appearance on the
lawn and abruptly halted there, looking intently up at the sky, as
though taking observations of a comet at noon. This was a customary
trick of his resorted to whenever he wished to intrude his presence
during forbidden hours. John saw him plainly enough from where he
sat busily writing, though for a few minutes he pretended not to
see. But as Bainton remained immovable and apparently rooted to the
ground, and as it was likely that there he would remain till
positively told to go, his master made a virtue of necessity, and
throwing down his pen, went to the window. Bainton thereupon
advanced a little, but stopped again as though irresolute. Walden
likewise paused a moment, then at last driven to bay by the old
gardener's pertinacity, stepped out.

"Now what is it, Bainton?" he said, endeavouring to throw a shade of
sternness into his voice; "You know very well I hate being disturbed
while I'm writing."

Bainton touched his cap respectfully.

"Now don't go for to say as I'm disturbing on ye, Passon," he
remonstrated, mildly; "I ain't said a mortal wurrd! I was onny jes'
keepin' my eye on the clap gate yonder, in case the party in the
churchyard might walk through, thinkin' it a right-o'-way. Them
swagger folk ain't got no sort of idee as to respectin' private
grounds."

Walden's eyes flashed.

"A party in the churchyard?" he repeated. "Who are they?"

"Who should they be?" And Bainton's rugged features expressed a
sedate mingling of the shrewd and the contemptnous that was quite
amazing. "Worn't you expectin' distinguished visitors some day this
week, sir?"

"I know!" exclaimed Walden quickly; "Sir Morton Pippitt and his
guests have come to 'inspect' the church!"

There was a pause, during which Walden, baring his head as he passed
in, entered the sacred edifice. He became aware of Sir Morton
Pippitt standing in the attitude of a University Extension lecturer
near the sarcophagus in the middle of the chancel, with the Reverend
Mr. Leveson and a couple of other men near him, while two more
strangers were studying the groined roof with critical curiosity. As
he approached, Sir Morton made a rapid sign to his companions and
stepped down from the chancel.

"Glad to see you, Mr. Walden," he said in a loud whisper, and with
an elaborate affectation of great heartiness; "I have brought His
Grace the Duke of Lumpton to see the church."

Walden allowed his calm blue eyes to rest quietly on His Grace the
Duke of Lumpton without much interest. His Grace was an undersized
fat man, with a bald head and a red face, and on Walden's being
presented to him, merely nodded with a patronisingly casual air.

"Lord Mawdenham,"--continued Sir Morton, swelling visibly with just
pride at his own good fortune in being able to introduce a Lord
immediately after a Duke, and offering Walden, as it were, with an
expressive wave of his hand, to a pale young gentleman, who seemed
seriously troubled by an excess of pimples on his chin, and who
plucked nervously at one of these undesirable facial addenda as his
name was uttered. Walden acknowledged his presence with silent
composure, as he did the wide smile and familiar nod of his brother
minister, the Reverend 'Putty,' whose truly elephantine proportions
were encased in a somewhat too closely fitting bicycle suit, and
whose grand-pianoforte shaped legs and red perspiring face together,
presented a most unclerical spectacle of the 'Church at large.'

The two gentlemen who had been studying the groined roof, now
brought their glances to bear on Walden, and one of them, a youngish
man with a crop of thick red hair and a curiously thin, hungry face,
spoke without waiting for Sir Morton's cue.

"Mr. Walden? Ye-es!--I felt sure it must be Mr. Walden! Let me
congratulate you, sir, on your exquisite devotional work here! The
church is beau-ti-ful--beau-ti-ful! A sonnet in stone! A sculptured
prayer! Ye-es! It is so! Permit me to press your hand!"

John smiled involuntarily. There was a quaint affectation about the
speaker that was quite irresistibly entertaining.

"Mr. Julian Adderley is a poet," said Sir Morton, whispering this in
a jocose stage aside; "Everything is 'beautiful' to him!"

Mr. Julian Adderley smiled faintly, and fixed a pair of rather fine
grey eyes on Walden with a mute appeal, as one who should say with
Hamlet 'These tedious old fools!' Meanwhile Sir Morton Pippitt had
secured the last member of his party affectionately by the arm, and
continuing his stage whisper said:

"Permit me, Mr. Walden! This is one of our greatest London literary
lights! He will particularly appreciate anything you may he good
enough to tell him respecting your work of restoration here--Mr.
Marius Longford, of the Savile and Savage clubs!"

Mr. Marius Longford, of the Savile and Savage clubs, bent his head
with an air of dignified tolerance. He was an angular personage,
with a narrow head, and a face cleanly shaven, except at the sides
where two small pussy-cat whiskers fringed his sharply defined jaws.
He had a long thin mouth, and long thin slits for his eyes to peep
through,--they would have been eyelids with other people, but with
him they were merely slits. He was a particularly neat man in
appearance--his clothes were well brushed, his linen spotless, his
iron-grey hair sleek, and his whole appearance that of a man well
satisfied with his own exterior personality. Walden glanced at this
great London literary light as indifferently as he would have
glanced at an incandescent lamp in the street, or other mechanical
luminary. He had not as yet spoken a word. Sir Morton had done all
the talking; but the power of silence always overcomes in the end,
and John's absolute  non-committal of himself to any speech, had at
last the effect he desired--namely that of making Sir Morton appear
a mere garrulous old interloper, and his 'distinguished' friends
somewhat of the cheap tripper persuasion. The warm May sun poured
through the little shrine of prayer, casting flickers of gold and
silver on the 'Saint at Rest' before the altar, and showering azure
and rose patterns through the ancient stained glass which filled the
side lancet windows. The stillness became for the moment intense and
almost oppressive,--Sir Morton Pippitt fidgeted uneasily, pulled at
his high starched collar and became red in the face,--the Reverend
'Putty' forgot himself so far as to pinch one of his own legs and
hum a little tune, while the rest of the party waited for the
individual whom their host had so frequently called 'the damned
parson' to speak. The tension was relieved by the sudden quiet
entrance of a young woman carrying a roll of music. Seeing the group
of persons in the chancel, she paused in evident uncertainty. Walden
glanced at her, and his composed face all at once lighted up with
that kindly smile which in such moments made him more than
ordinarily handsome.

"Come along, Miss Eden," he said in a low clear tone; "You are quite
at liberty to practise as usual. Sir Morton Pippitt and his friends
will not disturb you."

Miss Eden smiled sedately and bent her head, passing by the visitors
with an easy demeanour and assured step, and made her way to where
the organ, small, but sweet and  powerful, occupied a corner near
the chancel. While she busied herself in opening the instrument and
arranging her musics Walden took advantage of the diversion created
by her entrance to address himself to the knight Pippitt.

"If I can be of service to your friends in explaining anything about
the church they may wish, to know, pray command me, Sir Morton," he
said. "But I presume that you and Mr, Leveson"--here he glanced at
the portly 'Putty' with a slight smile--"have pointed out all that
is necessary."

"On the contrary!" said Mr. Marius Longford 'of the Savile and
Savage,' with a smoothly tolerant air; "We are really quite in the
dark! Do we understand, for example, that the restoration of this
church is entirely due to your  generosity, or to assistance from
public funds and  subscriptions?"

"The restoration is due, not to my 'generosity,'" replied Walden,
"but merely to my sense of what is fitting for Divine service. I
have had no assistance from any fund or from any individual, because
I have not sought it."

There was a pause, during which Mr. Longford fixed a pair of gold-
rimmed glasses on his nose and gazed quizzically through them at Sir
Morton Pippitt, whose countenance had grown uncomfortably purple in
hue either with exterior heat or inward vexation.

"I thought. Sir Morton," he began slowly, when Mr. Leveson adroitly
interrupted him by the query:

"Now what period would you fix, Mr. Longford, for this sarcophagus?
I am myself inclined to think it of the fourteenth century."

A soft low strain of music here crept through, the church,--the
village schoolmistress was beginning her practice. She had a
delicate touch, and the sounds her fingers pressed from the organ-
keys were full, and solemn and sweet. His Grace the Duke of Lumpton
coughed loudly; he hated music, and always made some animal noise of
his own to drown it.

"What matters the period!" murmured Julian Adderley, running his
thin hand through his thick hair. "Is it not sufficient to see it
here among us, with us, OF us?"

"God bless my soul! I hope it is not OF us!" spluttered Sir Morton
with a kind of fat chuckle which seemed to emanate from his stiff
collar rather than from his throat; "'Ashes to ashes' of course; we
are all aware of that--but not just yet!--not just yet!"

"I am unable to fix the period satisfactorily to my own mind," said
Walden, quietly ignoring both Sir Morton and his observations on the
Beyond; "though I have gone through considerable research with
respect to the matter. So I do not volunteer any opinion. There is,
however, no doubt that at one time the body contained in that coffer
must have been of the nature termed by the old Church 'miraculous.'
That is to say, it must have been supposed to be efficacious in
times of plague or famine, for there are several portions of the
alabaster which have evidently been worn away by the frequent
pressure or touch of hands on the surface. Probably in days when
this neighbourhood was visited by infection, drought, floods or
other troubles, the priests raised the coffin by the system of
leverage which we discovered when excavating (and which is still in
working order) and allowed the people to pass by and lay their hands
upon it with a special prayer to be relieved of their immediate
sickness or sorrow. There were many such 'miraculous' shrines in the
early part of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries."

"Exactly," said Mr. Longford; "I imagine you may be right, Mr.
Walden; it is evidently a relic of the very earliest phases of the
Christian myth."

As he spoke the last words Walden looked straightly at him. A fine
smile hovered on his lips.

"It is as you say," he rejoined calmly--"It is a visible token of
the time when men believed in an Unseen Force more potent than
themselves."

The Duke of Lumpton coughed noisily again, and his friend, Lord
Mawdenham, who up to the present had occupied the time in staring
vaguely about him and anxiously feeling his pimples, said hurriedly:

"Oh, look here, Sir Morton--er--I say,--er--hadn't we better be
going? There's Lady Elizabeth Messing coming to lunch and you know
she can't bear to be kept waiting-never do, you know, not to be
there to see her when she arrives--he-he-he! We should never get
over it in London or out of London--'pon my life!--I do assure you!"

Sir Morton's chest swelled;--his starched collar crackled round his
expanding throat, and his voice became richly resonant as under the
influential suggestion of another 'titled' personage, he replied:

"Indeed, you are right, my dear Lord Mawdenham! To keep Lady
Elizabeth waiting would be an unpardonable offence against all the
proprieties! Hum--ha--er--yes!--against all the proprieties! Mr.
Walden, we must go! Lady Elizabeth Messing is coming to lunch with
us at Badsworth. You have no doubt heard of her--eldest daughter of
the Earl of Charrington!--yes, we must really be going! I think I
may say, may I not, your Grace?"--here he bent towards the ducal
Lumpton--"that we are all highly pleased with the way in which Mr.
Waldon has effected the restoration of the church?"

"Oh, I don't know anything at all about it!" replied His Grace, with
the air of a sporting groom; "I've no taste at all in churches, and
I'm not taking any on old coffins! It's a nice little chapel--just
enough for a small village I should say. After all, don't-cher-know,
you only want very little accommodation for a couple of hundred
yokels; and whether it's old or new architecture doesn't matter to
'em a brass farthing!"

These observations were made with a rambling air of vague self-
assertiveness which the speaker evidently fancied would pass for wit
and wisdom. Walden said nothing. His brow was placid, and his
countenance altogether peaceful. He was listening to the solemnly
sweet flow of a Bach prelude which Miss Eden was skilfully
unravelling on the organ, the notes rising and falling, and anon
soaring up again like prayerful words striving to carry themselves
to heaven.

"I think," said Mr. Marius Longford weightily, "that whatever fault
the building may have from a strictly accurate point of view,--which
is a matter I am not prepared to go into without considerable time
given for due study and consideration,--it is certainly the most
attractive edifice of its kind that I have seen for some time. It
reflects great credit on you, Mr. Walden;--no doubt the work gave
you much personal pleasure!"

"It certainly did so," replied John,--"and I'm afraid I am arrogant
enough to be satisfied with the general result so far as it goes,--
with the exception of the eastern window, of course!"

"Ah, that eastern window!" sighed the Reverend 'Putty' with an air
of aesthetic languor which was in comical contrast with his coarse
and commonplace appearance; "That is a sad, sad flaw! A terrible
incongruity!"

"I made up my mind from the first," pursued Walden, his equable
voice seeming to float pleasantly on the tide of music with which
the little sanctuary was just then filled; "that nothing but the
most genuine and authentic old stained glass should fill that fine
circular rose carving, and those lance apertures; so I am collecting
it slowly, bit by bit, for this purpose. It will take time and
patience, no doubt,--but I think and hope that success will be the
end of the task I have set myself. In the meantime, of course, the
effect of plain glass where there should be only the richest
colouring is decidedly 'crude'!"

He smiled slightly, and there was an uncomfortable pause. Sir Morton
Pippitt took out a voluminous red handkerchief covered with yellow
spots and blew his nose violently therein while the Reverend Mr.
Leveson nodded his large head blandly, as one who receives doubtful
information with kindly tolerance. Mr. Marius Longford looked
faintly amused.

"I understand!" said the light of the 'Savile and Savage,' slowly;
"You seek perfection!"

He smiled a pallid smile; but on the whole surveyed Walden with more
interest than he had hitherto done. Julian Adderley, who had during
the last couple of minutes stepped up to the chancel, now stood
gazing at the sarcophagus of the supposed Saint with a kind of
melancholy interest. Reading the only legible words of the
inscription in sotto voce, he sighed drearily.

"' In--Resurrectione--Sanctorum--Resurget!' How simple!--how new!--
how fresh! To think that anyone ever held such a child's faith!"

"The Church is still supposed to hold it," said Walden steadily,
"And her ministers also. Otherwise, religion is a farce, and its
professors much less honest than the trusted servant who steals his
master's money!"

Marius Longford smiled, and stroked one feline whisker thoughtfully.

"So you actually believe what you preach!" he murmured--"Strange!
You are more of an antiquity than the consecrated dust enclosed in
that alabaster! Believe me!"

"Much more,--much, more!" exclaimed the fantastic Adderley; "To
believe in anything at all is so remote!--so very remote!--and yet
so new--so fresh!"

Walden made no reply. He never argued on religious matters;
moreover, with persons minded in the manner of those before him, it
seemed useless to even offer an opinion. They exchanged meaning
glances with each other, and followed Sir Morton, who was now moving
down the central aisle of the church towards the door of exit,
holding the Duke of Lumpton familiarly by the arm, and accompanied
by Lord Mawdenham. Walden walked silently with them, till, passing
out of the church, they all stood in a group on the broad gravelled
pathway which led to the open road, where the Pippitt equipage, a
large waggonette and pair, stood waiting, together with a bicycle,
the property of the Reverend Mr. Leveson.

"Thank you, Mr. Walden!" then said Sir Morton Pippitt with a
grandiose air, as of one who graciously confers a benefit on the
silence by breaking it; "Thank you for--er--for--er--the pleasure of
your company this--er--this morning! My friend, the Duke,--and Lord
Mawdenham--and--er--our rising poet, Mr. Adderley--and--er--Mr.
Longford, have been delighted. Yes--er--delighted! Of course you
know MY opinion! Ha-ha-ha! You know MY opinion! It is the same as it
ever was--I never change! When _I_ have once made up my mind, it is
a fixture! I have said already and I say it again, that the church
was quite good enough for such people as live here, in its original
condition, and that you have really spent a great deal of cash on a
very needless work! I mustn't be rude, no, no, no!--but you know the
old adage: 'Fools and their money!' Ha-ha-ha! But we shan't quarrel.
Oh, dear no! It has cost ME nothing, I am glad to say! Ha-ha! Nor
anybody else! Now, if Miss Vancourt of Abbot's Manor had been here
when you began this restoration business of yours, SHE might have
had something to say--ha-ha-ha! She always has something to say!"

"You think she would have objected?" queried Walden, coldly.

"Oh, I won't go so far as that--no!--eh, your Grace--we won't go so
far as that!"

The Duke of Lumpton, thus suddenly adjured, looked round, and smiled
vacantly.

"Won't go so far as what?" he asked; "Didn't catch it!"

"I was talking of Maryllia Vancourt," said Sir Morton with a kind of
fatuous leer; "YOU know her, of course!--everyone knows her more or
less. Charming girl!--charming! Maryllia Van!--ha-ha!"

And Sir Morton laughed and leered again till certain veins, moved by
cerebral emotion, protruded largely on his forehead. His Grace
laughed also, but shortly and indifferently.

"Oh, ya-as--ya-as! She's the one who's just had a rumpus with her
rich American aunt. I believe they don't speak, After years of
devotion, eh? So like women, ain't it!"

The Reverend 'Putty' Leveson, who had been stooping over his bicycle
to set something right that was invariably going wrong with that
particular machine, and who was redder than ever in the face with
his efforts, now looked up.

"Miss Vancourt is coming back to the Manor to reside there, so I
hear," he said. "Very dull for a woman accustomed to London and
Paris. I expect she'll stay about ten days."

"One never knows--one cannot tell!" sighed Julian Adderley.
"Sometimes to the satiated female mind, overwrought with social
dissipation, there comes a strange longing for peace!--for the scent
of roses!--for the yellow shine of cowslips!--for the song of the
mating birds!--for the breath of cows!"

Mr. Marius Longford smiled, and picked a tall buttercup nodding in
the grass at his feet.

"Such aspirations in the fair sex are absolutely harmless," he said;
"Let us hope the lady's wishes may find their limit in a soothing
pastoral!"  "Ha-ha-ha!" laughed Sir Morton. "You are deep, my dear
sir, you are very deep! God bless my soul! Deep as a well! No wonder
people are afraid of you! Clever, clever! I'm afraid of you myself!
Come along, come along! Can I assist your Grace?" Here he pushed
aside with a smothered 'Damn!' the footman, who stood holding open
the door of the waggonette, and officiously gave the Duke of Lumpton
a hand to help him into the carriage. "Now, Lord Mawdenham, please!
You next, Mr. Longford! Come, come, Mr. Adderley! Think of Lady
Elizabeth! She will be arriving at the Hall before we are there to
receive her! Terrible, terrible! Come along! We're all ready!"

Julian Adderley had turned to Walden.

"Permit me to call and see you alone!" he said. "I cannot just now
appreciate the poetry of your work in the church as I should do--as
I ought to do--as I must do! The present company is discordant!--one
requires the music of Nature,-the thoughts,--the dreams! But no more
at present! I should like to talk with you on many matters some wild
sweet morning,--if you have no objection?"

Walden was amused. At the same time he was not very eager to respond
to this overture of closer acquaintanceship with one who, by his
dress, manner and method of speech, proclaimed himself a 'decadent'
of the modern school of ethics; but he was nothing if not courteous.
So he replied briefly:

"I shall be pleased to see you, of course, Mr. Adderley, but I must
warn you that I am a very busy man--I should not be able to give you
much time--"

"No explanations--I understand!" And Adderley pressed his hand with
enthusiasm. "The very fact that you are busy in a village like this
adds to the peculiar charm of your personality! It is so strange!--
so new--so fresh!"

He smiled, and again pressed hands.

"Good-bye! The mood will send me to you at the fitting moment!"

He clapped his hat more firmly on his redundant red locks and
clambered into the waiting waggonette. Sir Morton followed him, and
the footman shut to the door of the vehicle with a bang as
unnecessary as his master's previous 'Damn!'

"Good-morning, Mr. Walden!" then shouted the knight of bone-melting
prowess; "Much obliged to you, I'm sure!"

Walden raised his hat with brief ceremoniousness, and then as the
carriage rolled away addressed the Reverend Mr. Leveson, who was
throwing himself with hippopotamus-like agility across his bicycle.

"You follow, I suppose?"

"Yes. I'm lunching at Badsworth Hall. The Duke wants to consult me
about his family records. You know I'm a bit of an authority on such
points!"

Walden smiled.

"I believe you are! But mind you calendar the ducal deeds
carefully," he said. "A slip in the lineal descent of the Lumptons
might affect the whole prestige of the British Empire!"

A light shone in his clear blue eyes,--a flashing spark of battle.
Leveson stayed his bicycle a moment, wobbling on it uneasily.

"Lumpton goes back a good way," he said airily; "I shall take him up
when I have gone through the history of the Vancourts. I'm on that
scent now. I shall make a good bit of business directly Miss
Vancourt returns; she'll pay for anything that will help her to
stiffen her back and put more side on."

"Really!" ejaculated Walden, coldly. "I should have thought her
forebears would have saved her from snobbery."

"Not a bit of it!" declared Leveson, beginning to start the muscles
of his grand-pianoforte legs with energy; "Rapid as a firework, and
vain as a peacock! Ta!"

And fixing a small cap firmly on the back of his very large head, he
worked his wheel with treadmill regularity and was soon out of
sight.

Walden stood alone in the churchyard, lost for a brief space in
meditation. The solemn strains of the organ which the schoolmistress
was still playing, floated softly out from the church to the
perfumed air, and the grave melodious murmur made an undercurrent of
harmony to the clear bright warbling of a skylark, which, beating
its wings against the sunbeams, rose ever higher and higher above
him.

"What petty souls we are!" he murmured; "Here am I feeling actually
indignant because this fellow Leveson, who has less education and
knowledge than my dog Nebbie, assumes to have some acquaintance with
Miss Vancourt! What does it matter? What business is it of mine? If
she cares to accept information from an ignoramus, what is it to do
with me? Nothing! Yet,--what a blatant ass the fellow is! Upon my
word, it does me good to say it--a blatant ass! And Sir Morton
Pippitt is another!"

He laughed, and lifting his hat from his forehead, let the soft wind
breathe refreshing coolness on his uncovered hair.

"There are decided limits to Christian love!" he said, the laughter
still dancing in his eyes. "I defy--I positively defy anyone to love
Leveson! 'The columns and capitals are all wrong' are they?" And he
gave a glance back at the beautiful little church in its exquisite
design and completed perfection."'Out of keeping with early Norman
walls!' Wise Leveson! He ignores all periods of transition as if
they had never existed--as if they had no meaning for the thinker as
well as the architect--as if the movement upward from the Norman, to
the Early Pointed style showed no indication of progress! And
whereas a church should always be a veritable 'sermon in stone'
expressive of the various generations that have wrought their best
on it, he limits himself to the beginning of things! I wonder what
Leveson was in the beginning of things? Possibly an embryo
Megatherium!"

Broadly smiling, he walked to the gate communicating with his own
garden, opened it, and passed through. Nebbie was waiting for him on
the lawn, and greeted him with the usual effusiveness. He returned
to his desk, and to the composition of his sermon, but his thoughts
were inclined to wander. Sir Morton Pippitt, the Duke of Lumpton,
and Lord Mawdenham hovered before him like three dull puppets in a
cheap show; and he was inclined to look up the name of Marius
Longford in one of the handy guides to contemporary biography, in
order to see if that flaccid and fish-like personage had really done
anything In the world to merit his position as a shining luminary of
the 'Savage and Savile.' Accustomed as he was to watch the ebb and
flow of modern literature, he had not yet sighted either the
Longford straw or the Adderley cork, among the flotsam and jetsam of
that murky tide. And ever and again Sir Morton Pippitt's coarse
chuckle, combined with the covert smiles of Sir Morton's
'distinguished' friends, echoed through his mind in connection with
the approaching dreaded invasion of Miss Vancourt into the happy
quietude of the village of St. Rest, till he experienced a sense of
pain and aversion almost amounting to anger. Why, he asked himself,
seeing she had stayed so long away from her  childhood's home, could
she not have stayed away altogether? The swift and brilliant life of
London was surely far more suited to one who, according to 'Putty'
Leveson, was 'rapid as a firework, and vain as a peacock.' But was
'Putty' Leveson always celebrated for accuracy in his statements?
No! Certainly not--yet--"

Then something seemed to fire him with a sudden resolution, for he
erased the first lines of the sermon he had begun, and altered his
text, which had been: "Glory, honour and peace to every man that
worketh good." And in its place he chose, as a more enticing subject
of discourse:

"The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of
God, of great price."




V


The warm bright weather continued. Morning after morning dawned in
unclouded sunshine, and when Saturday concluded the first five days
of the 'May-moneth,' the inhabitants of St. Rest were disposed to
concede that it was just possible they might have what they called
'a spell of fair weather.' Saturday was the general 'cleaning-up
day' in the village--the day when pails of water were set out in
unexpected places for the unwary to trip over; when the old
flagstones poured with soapsuds that trickled over the toes of too-
hasty passers-by; when cottage windows were violently squirted at
with the aid of garden-syringes and hose,--and when Adam Frost, the
sexton, was always to be found meditating, and even surreptitiously
drinking beer, in a quiet corner of the churchyard, because he was
afraid to go home, owing to the persistent housewifely energy of his
better half, who 'washed down' everything, 'cleaned out' everything,
and had, as she forcibly expressed it, 'the Sunday meals on her
mind.' It was a day, too, when Bainton, released from his gardening
duties at the rectory at noon, took a thoughtful stroll by himself,
aware that his 'Missis' was scrubbing the kitchen, and 'wouldn't
have him muckin' about,'--and when John Walden, having finished his
notes for the Sunday's sermon, felt a sense of ease and relief, and
considered himself at liberty to study purely Pagan literature, such
as The Cratylus of Plato. But on this special Saturday he was not
destined to enjoy complete relaxation. Mrs. Spruce had sent an
urgent appeal to him to 'kindly step up to the Manor in the
afternoon.' And Mrs. Spruce's husband, a large, lumbering, simple-
faced old fellow, in a brown jacket and corduroys, had himself come
with the message, and having delivered it, stood on Walden's
threshold, cap in hand, waiting for a reply. John surveyed his
awkward, peasant-like figure with a sense of helplessness,--excuses
and explanations he knew would be utterly lost on an almost deaf
man. Submitting to fate, he nodded his head vigorously, and spoke as
loudly as he judged needful.

"All right, Spruce! Say I'll come!"

"Jes' what I told her, sir," answered Spruce, in a remarkably gentle
tone; "It's a bit okkard, but if she doos her dooty, no 'arm can
'appen, no matter if it's all the riches of the yearth."

John felt more helpless than ever. What was the man talking about?
He drew closer and spoke in a more emphatic key.

"Look here, Spruce! Tell your wife I'll come after luncheon. Do you
hear? Af-ter lun-cheon!"

Spruce put one hand to his ear and smiled blandly.

"Ezackly, sir! I quite agrees with ye; but women are allus a bit
worrity-like, and of course there's a deal to do, and she got
frightened with the keys, and when she saw them fine clothes, and
what not,--so I drawed her a glass of cherry-cordial, an' sez I,
'Now, old 'ooman,' sez I, 'don't skeer yerself into fits. I'll fetch
the passon to ye.' And with that, she seemed easier in her mind.
Lord love ye!--it's a great thing to fetch the passon at once when
there's anything a bit wrong. So, if you'd step up, sir?--"

Driven almost to despair, Walden put his lips close to the old man's
obstinate ear.

"Yes," he bellowed--"af-ter lun-cheon! Yes! Ye-es!"

His reply at last penetrated the closed auricular doors of Spruce's
brain.

"Thank you, kindly, sir, I'm sure," he said, still in the same meek
and quiet tone. "And if I might make so bold, sir, seein' there's
likely to be changes up at the Manor, if it should be needful to
speak for me and my old 'ooman, p'raps you'd be so good, sir? We
wouldn't like to leave the old place now, sir---"

His soft, hesitating voice faltered, and he suddenly brushed his
hand across his poor dim eyes. The pathos of this hint was not lost
on Walden, who, forgetting all his own momentary irritation, rose
manfully to the occasion and roared down the old man's ears like one
of the far-famed 'Bulls of Bashan.'

"Don't worry!" he yelled, his face becoming rapidly crimson with his
efforts; "I'll see you all right! You sha'n't leave the Manor if I
can prevent it! I'll speak for you! Cheer up! Do you hear! Che-er
up!"

Spruce heard very clearly this time, and smiled. "Thank you, Passon!
God bless you! I'm sure you'll help us, if so be the lady is a hard
one--"

He trusted himself to say no more, but with a brief respectful
salutation, put on his cap and turned away.

Left alone, Walden drew a long breath, and wiped his brow. To make
poor old Spruce hear was a powerful muscular exertion. Nebbie had
been so much astonished at the loud pitch of his master's voice,
that he had retired under a sofa in alarm, and only crawled out now
as Spruce departed, with small anxious waggings of his tail. Walden
patted the animal's head and laughed.

"Mind you don't get deaf in your old age, Nebbie!" he said. "Phew! A
little more shouting like that and I should be unable to preach to-
morrow!"

Still patting the dog's head, his eyes gradually darkened and his
brow became clouded.

"Poor Spruce!" he murmured. "'Help him, if so be the lady is a hard
one!' Already in fear of her! I expect they have heard something--
some ill-report--probably only too correctly founded. Yet, how it
goes against the grain of manhood to realise that any 'lady' may be
'a hard one!' But, alas!--what a multitude of 'hard ones' there are!
Harder than men, perhaps, if all the truth were known!"

And there was a certain sternness and rooted aversion in him to that
dim approaching presence of the unknown heiress of Abbot's Manor. He
experienced an instinctive dislike of her, and was positively
certain that the vague repugnance would deepen into actual
antipathy.

"One cannot possibly like everybody," he argued within himself, in
extenuation of what he felt was an unreasonable mental attitude;
"'And modern fashionable women are among the most unlikeable of all
human creatures. Any one of them in such a village as this would be
absurdly out of place."

Thus self-persuaded, his mood was a singular mixture of pity and
resentment when, in fulfilment of his promise, he walked that
afternoon up the winding road which led to the Manor, and avoiding
the lodge gates, passed through a rustic turnstile he knew well and
so along a path across meadows and through shrubberies to the house.
The path was guarded by a sentinel board marked 'Private.
Trespassers will be prosecuted.' But in all the years he had lived
at St. Rest, he cared nothing for that. As rector of the parish he
had his little privileges. Nebbie trotted at his heels with the air
of a dog accustomed to very familiar surroundings. The grass on
either side was springing up long and green,--delicate little field
flowers were peeping through it here and there, and every now and
then there floated upwards the strong sweet incense of the young
wild thyme. The way he had chosen to walk was known as a 'short cut'
to Abbot's Manor, and ten minutes of easy striding brought him into
the dewy coolness of a thicket of dark firs, at the end of which,
round a sharp turn, the fine old red brick and timbered gables of
the house came into full view. He paused a moment, looking somewhat
regretfully at the picture, warmly lit up by the glow of the bright
sun,--a picture which through long habitude of observation had grown
very sweet to him. It was not every day that such a house as Abbot's
Manor came within reach of the archaeologist and antiquarian. The
beautiful tiled-roof--the picturesque roughness and crookedness of
the architectural lines of the whole building, so different to the
smooth, hard, angular imitations of half-timbered work common in
these degenerate days, were a delight to the eyes to rest upon,--a
wealth of ivy clung thickly to the walls and clambered round the
quaint old chimneys;--some white doves clustered in a group on the
summit of one broad oak gable, were spreading their snowy wings to
the warm sun and discussing their domestic concerns in melodious
cooings;--the latticed windows, some of which in their unspoilt
antiquity of 'horn' panes were a particular feature of the house,
were all thrown open,--but to Walden's sensitive observation there
seemed a different atmosphere about the place,--a suggestion of
change and occupation which was almost startling.

He paced slowly on, and arrived at the outside gate, which led into
a square old-fashioned court, such as was common to Tudor times,
paved on three sides and planted with formal beds of flowers, the
whole surrounded by an ancient wall. The gate was ajar, and pushing
it open he passed in, glancing for a moment at the grey weather-
beaten sun-dial in the middle of the court which told him it was
three-o'clock. For four centuries, at least, that self-same dial had
marked the hour in that self-same spot, a silent commentary on the
briefness of human existence, as compared with its own strange non-
sentient lastingness. The sound of Walden's footsteps on the old
paving-stones awoke faint echoes, and startled away a robin from a
spray of blossoming briar-rose, and as he walked up to the great
oaken porch of entrance,--a porch heavily carved with the
Vaignecourt or Vancourt emblems, and as deep and wide in its
interior as a small room, an odd sense came over him that he was no
longer an accustomed visitor to a beautiful 'show house,' so much as
a kind of trespasser on forbidden ground. The thick nail-studded
doors, clamped with huge bolts and bars, stood wide open; no servant
was on the threshold to bid him enter, and for a moment he
hesitated, uncertain whether to ring the bell, or to turn back and
go away, when suddenly Mrs. Spruce emerged from a shadowy corner
leading to the basement, and hailed his appearance with an
exclamation of evident relief.

"Thank the Lord and His goodness, Passon Walden, here you are at
last! I'd made up my mind the silly fool of a Spruce had brought me
the wrong message;--a good meanin' man, but weak in the upper
storey, 'cept where trees is concerned and clearing away brushwood,
when I'd be bold to say he's as handy as they make 'em--but do, for
mercy's sake, Passon, step inside and see how we've got on, for it's
not so bad as it might have been, an' I've seen worse done at a few
days' notice than even myself with hired hands on a suddint could
ever do. Step in, sir, step in!--we're leavin' the door open to let
the sun in a bit to warm the hall, for the old stained glass do but
filter it through at its best; not but that we ain't had a fire in
it night and mornin' ever since we had Miss Vancourt's letter."

Walden made no attempt to stem the flow of the worthy woman's
discourse. From old experience, he knew that to be an impossible
task. So he stepped in as he was bidden, and looked round the grand
old hall, decorated with ancient armour, frayed banners and worn
scutcheons, feeling regretfully that perhaps he was looking at it so
for the last time. No one more than he had appreciated the simple
dignity of its old-world style, or had more correctly estimated the
priceless value of the antique oak panelling that covered its walls.
He loved the great ingle-nook, set deep back as it were, in the very
bosom of the house, with its high and elaborately carved benches on
each side, and its massive armorial emblems wrought in black oak,
picked out with tarnished gold, crimson and azure,--he appreciated
every small gleam and narrow shaft of colour reflected by the strong
sun through the deeply-tinted lozenge panes of glass that filled the
lofty oriel windows on either side;--and the stuffed knight-in-
armour, a model figure 'clad in complete steel,' of the fourteenth
century, which stood, holding a spear in its gauntleted hand near
the doorway leading to the various reception rooms, was almost a
personal friend. Mrs. Spruce, happily unconscious of the deepening
melancholy which had begun to tinge his thoughts, led the way
through the hall, still garrulously chirping.

"We've cleaned up wonderfully, considerin'--and it was just the
Lord's providence that at Riversford I found a decent butler and
footman what had jes' got the sack from Sir Morton Pippitt's and
were lookin' for a place temp'ry, preferring London later, so I
persuaded both of 'em to come and try service with a lady for once,
instead of with a fussy old ancient, who turns red and blue in the
face if he's kept waitin' 'arf a second--and I picked up with a gel
what the footman was engaged to, and that'll keep HIM a fixture,--
and I found the butler had a hi on a young woman at the public-house
'ere,--so that's what you may call an 'hattraction,' and then I got
two more 'andy gels which was jes' goin' off to see about Mrs.
Leveson's place, and when I told 'em that there the sugar was
weighed out, and the tea dispensed by the ounce, as if it was
chemicals, and that please the Lord and anybody else that likes,
they'd have better feedin' if they came along with me, they struck a
bargain there and then. And then as if there was a special powerful
blessin' on it all, who should come down Riversford High Street but
one of the best cooks as ever took a job, a Scotch body worth her
weight in gold, and she'd be a pretty big parcel to weigh, too, but
she can send up a dinner for one as easy as for thirty, which is as
good a test as boilin' a tater---and 'as got all her wits about her.
She was just goin' to advertise for a house party or shootin' job,
so we went into the Crown Inn at Riversford and had tea together and
settled it. And they all come up in a wagginette together as merry
as larks;--so the place is quite lively, Passon, I do assure you,
'specially for a woman like me which have had it all to myself and
lonesome like for many years. I've made Kitty useful, too, dustin'
and polishin'--gels can't begin their trainin' too early, and all
has been going on fine;--not but what there's a mighty sight of
eatin' and drinkin' now, but it's the Lord's will that human bein's
should feed even as the pigs do, 'specially domestic servants, and
there's no helpin' of it nor hinderin'--but this mornin's business
did put me out a bit, and I do assure you I haven't got over it yet,
but howsomever, Spruce says 'Do yer dooty!'--and I'm a-doin' it to
the best of my belief and, 'ope--still it do make my mind a bit
ricketty--"

Silently Walden followed her through the rooms, saying little in
response to her remarks, 'ricketty' or otherwise, and noting all the
various changes as he went.

In the dining-room there was a great transformation. The fine old
Cordova leather chairs were all released from their brown holland
coverings,--the long-concealed Flemish tapestries were again
unrolled and disclosed to the light of day--valuable canvases that
had been turned to the wall to save their colour from the too
absorbing sunshine, were now restored to their proper positions, and
portraits by Vandyke, and landscapes by Corot gave quite a stately
air of occupation to a room, which being large and lofty, had always
seemed to Walden the loneliest in the house for lack of a living
presence. He trod in the restless wake of Mrs. Spruce, however,
without comment other than a word of praise such as she expected,
for the general result of her labours in getting the long-disused
residence into habitable condition, and was only moved to something
like enthusiasm when he reached what was called 'the morning room,'
an apartment originally intended to serve as a boudoir for that
beautiful Mrs. Vancourt, the bride who never came home. Here all the
furniture was of the daintiest design,--here rich cushions of silk
and satin were lavishly piled on the luxurious sofas and in the deep
easy-chairs,--curtains of cream brocade embroidered by hand with
garlands of roses, draped the sides of the deep embrasured window-
nook whence two wide latticed doors opened outwards to a smooth
terrace bordered with flowers, where two gardeners were busy rolling
the rich velvety turf,--and beyond it stretched a great lawn shaded
with ancient oaks and elms that must have seen the days of Henry
VII. The prospect was fair and soothing to the eyes, and Walden.
gazing at it, gave a little involuntary sigh of pleasure.

"This is beautiful!" he said, speaking more to himself than to
anyone--"Perfectly beautiful!"

"It is so, sir," agreed Mrs. Spruce, with an air of comfortably
placid conviction; "There's no doubt about it--it's as beautiful a
room as could be made for a queen, though I say it--but whether our
new lady will like it, is quite another question. You see, sir, this
room was always kept locked in the Squire's time, and so was all the
other rooms as was got ready for the wife as never lived to use
them. The Squire wouldn't let a soul inside the doors, not even his
daughter. And now, sir, will you please read the letter I got this
morning, which as you will notice, is quite nice-like and kindly,
more than the other--onny when the boxes came I was a bit upset. You
see the letter was registered and had the keys inside it all right."

Walden took the missive in reluctant silence. The same thick
notepaper, odorous with crushed violets--the same bold, dashing
handwriting he had seen before, but the matter  expressed in it was
worded somehow in a totally different tone to that of the previous
letter from the same hand.

"DEAR MRS. SPRUCE," it ran: "I enclose the keys of my boxes which I
am sending in advance, as I never travel with luggage. Kindly unpack
all the contents and arrange them in the wardrobes and presses of my
mother's rooms. If I  remember rightly, these rooms have never been
used, hut I intend to take them for myself now, so please have
everything prepared. I have received your letter in which you say
there is some difficulty in getting good servants at so short a
notice. I quite understand this, and am sure you. will arrange for
the best. Should everything not be quite satisfactory, we can make
alterations when I come. I expect to arrive home in time for
afternoon tea. MARYLLIA VANCOURT."

Walden folded up the letter and gave it back to its owner.

"Well, so far, you have nothing to complain of, Mrs. Spruce," he
said, with a little smile; "The lady is evidently prepared to excuse
any deficiencies arising from the hurry of your preparations."

"Yes, sir, that may be," answered Mrs. Spruce; "but if so be you saw
what I've seen you mightn't take it so easily. Now, sir, if you'll
follow me, you'll be able to judge of the quandary we was in till we
got our senses back."

Beginning to be vaguely amused and declining to speculate as to the
'quandary' which according to the good woman had resulted in a
species of lunacy, Walden followed as he was told, and slowly
ascended the broad staircase, one of the finest specimens of Tudor
work in all England, with its richly turned balustrades and
grotesquely carved headpieces, but as he reached the upper landing,
he halted abruptly, seeing through an open door mysterious
glimmerings of satins and laces, to which he was entirely
unaccustomed.

"What room is that?" he enquired.

"That's what we used to call 'the bride's room,' sir," replied Mrs.
Spruce, smoothing down her black skirts with an air of fussy
importance, and heaving a sigh; "Miss Maryllia's mother was to have
had it. Don't be afraid to step inside, Passon; everythink's been
turned out and aired, and there's not a speck of damp or dismals
anywhere, and you'll see for yourself what a time we're 'avin'
though we're gettin' jes' a bit straight now, and I've 'ad Nancy
Pyrle as is 'andy with her pencil to mark things down as they come
to 'and. Step inside, Passon Walden,--do step inside!"

But Walden, held back by some instinctive fastidiousness, declined
to move further than the threshold of this hitherto closed and
sacredly guarded chamber. Leaning against the doorway he looked in
wonderingly, with a vague feeling of bewilderment, while Mrs.
Spruce, trotting busily ahead, gave instructions to a fresh-faced
country lass, who, breathing very hard, as though she were running,
was carefully shaking out what seemed to be a fairy's robe of filmy
white lace, glistening with pearls.

"Ye see, Passon, this is what all my trouble's about;"--she said--
"Fancy 'avin' to unpack all these grand clothes, and sort 'em as
they comes, not knowin' whether they mayn't fall to bits in our
'ands, some of 'em bein' fine as cobwebs, an' such body linen as was
never made for any mortal woman in St. Rest, all lace an' silk an'
little ribbins! When the trunks arrived an' we got 'em into the
'all, I felt THAT faint, I do assure ye! For me to 'ave to unpack
an' open 'em, and take out all the things inside,--ah, Passon, it's
an orful 'sponsibility, seein' there's jewels packed among the
dresses quite reckless-like, rubies an' sapphires an' diamants,
somethin' amazin', and we've taken a reg'lar invent'ry of them all
lest somethin' might be missin', for the Lord He only knows whether
there might not be fifty thousand pounds of proputty in one of them
little kicketty boxes, all velvet and satin, made just as if they
was sweetmeats, only when ye looks inside ye sees a sparklin' stone
glisterin' at ye, and ye know it's wuth a fortune! I do assure ye,
Passon, I've never seen such things in all my life! Miss Maryllia
must be mortal extravagant, for there's enough in one o' them boxes
to feed the whole village of St. Best for several years. Ah! Passon,
I do assure ye, I've thought of Scripter many a time this mornin';
'Whose adornin' let it be the adornin' of a meek and quiet spirit,'
which is a hornament and no mistake!"

Walden made no remark. It never even occurred to him just then that
Mrs. Spruce was unconsciously rendering in her own particular
fashion the text he had chosen for the next day's sermon. Never in
all his life before had he experienced such strongly mingled
sensations of repulsion and interest as at that moment. With a kind
of inward indignation, he asked himself what business he had to be
there looking curiously into a woman's room, littered with all the
fripperies and expensive absurdities of a woman's apparel? Above
all, why should he be so utterly ridiculous and inconsequential in
his own mind as to find himself deeply fascinated by such a
spectacle? In all the years he had passed with his sister, so long
as she had lived, he had never seen such a bewildering disorder of
feminine clothes. He had never had the opportunity of noting the
pathetic difference existing between the toilette surroundings of a
woman who is strong and well, and of one who is deprived of all
natural coquetry by the cruel ravages of long sickness and disease.
His sister, beautiful even in her incurable physical affliction, had
always borne that affliction more or less in mind, and had attired
herself with a severely simple taste,--her bedroom, where she had
had to pass so many weary hours of suffering, had been a model of
almost Spartan-like simplicity, and her dressing-table was wont to
be far more conspicuous for melancholy little medicine-phials than
for flashing, silver-stoppered cut-glass bottles, exhaling the
rarest perfumes. Then, since her death, Walden had lived so entirely
alone, that the pretty vanities of bright and healthy women were
quite unfamiliar to him.

The present glittering display of openly expressed frivolity seemed
curiously new, and vaguely alarming. He was angry with it, yet in a
manner attracted. He found himself considering, with a curious
uneasiness, two small nondescript pink objects that were lying on
the floor at some distance from each other. At a first glance they
appeared to be very choice examples of that charming orchid known as
the 'Cypripedium,'--but on closer examination it was evident they
were merely fashionable evening shoes. Again and again he turned his
eyes away from them,--and again and again his glance  involuntarily
wandered back and rested on their helpless-looking little pointed
toes and ridiculously high heels. Considered from a purely
'sanitary' point of view, they were the most wicked, the most
criminal, the most absolutely unheard-of shoes ever seen. Why, no
human feet of the proper size could possibly get into them, unless
they were squeezed---

"Yes, squeezed!"--repeated Walden inwardly, with a sense of
unreasonable irritation; "All the toes cramped and the heels
pinched--everything out of joint and distorted--false feet, in fact,
like everything else false that has to do with the modern
fashionable woman!"

There they lay,-apparently innocent;--but surely detestable, nay
even Satanic objects. He determined he would have them removed--
picked up--cast out--thrust into the nearest drawer, anywhere, in
fact, provided they were out of his stern, clerical sight. Mrs.
Spruce was continuing conversation in brisk tones, but whether she
was addressing him, or the buxom young woman, who, under her
directions was shaking out or folding up the various garments taken
out of the various boxes, he did not know, and, as a matter of fact,
he did not care. She sounded like Tennyson's 'Brook,' with a 'Men
may come and men may go, but I go on for ever' monotonousness that
was as depressing as it was incessant.

He determined to interrupt the purling stream.

"Mrs. Spruce," he began,--then hesitated, as she turned briskly
towards him, looking like a human clothes-prop, with both fat arms
extended in order to keep well away from contact with the floor a
gauzy robe sparkling all over with tiny crystalline drops, which,
catching the sunbeams, flashed like little points of flame.

"Beggin' your pardon, Passon, did you speak?"

"Yes. I think you should not let anything lie about, as, for
example,--those--" and he pointed to the objectionable shoes with an
odd sense of discomfiture; "They appear to be of a delicate colour
and might easily get soiled."

Mrs. Spruce peered round over the sparkling substance she held,
looking like a very ancient and red-faced cherub peeping over the
rim of a moonlit cloud.

"Well, I never!" she exclaimed; "What a hi you have, Passon! What a
hi! Now them shoes missed me altogether! They must have dropped out
of some of the dresses we've been unfoldin', for the packin's quite
reckless-like, and ain't never been done by no trained maid. All
hustled-bustled like into the boxes anyhow, as if the person what
had done it was in a mortal temper or hurry. Lord! Don't I know how
people crams things in when they's in a rage! Ah! Wait till I get
rid of all these diamants," and she waddled to the deep oak
wardrobe, which stood open, and carefully hung the glittering
garment up by its two sleeveholes on two pegs,--then turned round
with a sigh. "It's orful what the world's coming to, Passon Walden,-
-orful! Fancy diamants all sewed on to a gown! I wouldn't let my
Kitty in 'ere for any amount of money! She'd be that restless and
worritin' and wantin' the like things for 'erself, and the mortal
mischief it would be, there's no knowin'! Why, the first
'commercial' as come round 'ere with 'is pack and 'is lies, would
get her runnin' off with 'im! Ah! That's jes' where leddies makes
such work for Satan's hands to do; they never thinks of the envy and
jealousy and spite as eats away the 'arts of poor gels what sees all
these fine things, and ain't got no chance for to have them for
theirselves!" Here, sidling along the floor, she picked up the pink
shoes to which Walden had called her attention, first one and then
the other. "Well! Call them shoes! My Kitty couldn't get her 'and
into 'em! And as for a foot fittin' in! What a foot! It can't be
much bigger'n a baby's. Well, well, what a pair o' shoes!"

She stood looking at them, a fat smile on her face, and Walden moved
uneasily from the threshold.

"I'll leave you now, Mrs. Spruce," he said; "You have plenty to do,
and I'm in the way here."

"Well, now, Passon, that do beat me!" said Mrs. Spruce plaintively;
"I thought you was a-goin' to help us!"

"Help you? I?" and Walden laughed aloud; "My dear woman, do you
think I can unpack and unfold ladies' dresses? Of all the many
incongruous uses a clergyman was ever put to, wouldn't that be the
most impossible?"

"Lord love ye, Passon Walden, I ain't askin' ye no such thing;"
retorted Mrs. Spruce; "Don't ye think it! For there's nothin' like a
man, passon or no passon, for makin' rumples of every bit of clothes
he touches, even his own coats and weskits, and I wouldn't let ye
lay hands on any o' these things to save my life. Why, they'd go to
pieces at the mere sight of yer fingers, they're so flimsy! What I
thought ye might do, was to be a witness to us while we sorted them
all. It's a great thing to have a man o' God as a witness to the
likes o' this work!"

Again Walden laughed, this time with very genuine heartiness, though
he did wish Mrs. Spruce would put away the troublesome pink shoes
which she still held, and to which he found his eyes still
wandering.

"Nonsense! You don't want any witness!" he said gaily; "What are you
thinking about, Mrs. Spruce? When Miss Vancourt is here, all you
have to do is to go over every item of her property with her, and
see that she finds it all right. If anything is missing, it's not
your fault."

"If anythink's missing," echoed Mrs. Spruce in sepulchral tones,
"then the Lord knows what we'll do, for it'll be all over, so far as
we're consarned! Beggars in the street'll be kings to us. Passon, I
reckon ye doesn't read the newspapers much, does ye?"

"Pretty fairly," responded Walden still smiling; "I keep myself as
well acquainted as I can with what is going on in the world."

"Does ye now?" And Mrs. Spruce surveyed him admiringly. "Well, now,
I shouldn't have thought it, for ye seems as inn'cent as a babby I
do assure ye; ye seems jes' that. But mebbe ye doesn't get the same
kind o' newspapers which we poor folks gets--reg'ler weekly penny
lists o' murders, soocides, railway haccidents, burgul'ries, fires,
droppin's down dead suddint, struck by lightnin' and collapsis, with
remedies pervided for all in the advertisements invigoratin' to both
old and young, bone and sinew, brain and body, whether it be pills,
potions, tonics, lotions, ointment or min'ral waters. Them's the
sort o' papers we gets, or rather the 'Mother Huff' takes 'em all in
for us, an' the 'ole village drinks the 'orrors an' the medicines in
with the ale. Ah! It's mighty edifyin', Passon, I do assure ye--and
many of us goes to church on Sundays and reads the 'orrors an'
medicines in the arternoon, and whether we remembers your sermon or
the 'orrors an' medicines most, the Lord only knows! But it's in
them papers I sees how fine leddies goes on nowadays, and if they
misses so much as a two-and-sixpenny 'airpin, some of 'em out of
sheer spite, will 'aul a gel up 'fore the p'lice and 'ave 'er in
condemned cells in no time, so that ye see, Passon, if so be Miss
Maryllia counts over the sparkling diamants and one's lost, we'll
all be brought 'fore Sir Morton Pippitt as county mag'strate afore
we've 'ad time to look at our breakfasts. Wherefore, I sez, why not
'ave a man o' God as witness?"

"Why not, indeed!" returned Walden, playfully; "but your 'man of
God' won't be me, Mrs. Spruce! I'm off! I congratulate you on your
preparations, and I think you are doing everything splendidly! If
Miss Vancourt does not look upon you as a positive treasure, I shall
be very much mistaken! Good afternoon!"

"Passon, Passon!" urged Mrs. Spruce; "Ye baint goin' already?"

"I must! To-morrow's Sunday, remember!"

"Ah!--that it is!" she sighed, "And my mind sorely misgives me that
I never asked the new servants whether they was 'Igh, Low or Roman.
It fairly slipped my memory, and they seemed never to think of it
themselves. Why didn't they remind me, Passon?--can you answer me
that? Which it proves the despisableness of our naturs that we never
thinks of the religious sides of ourselves, but only our wages and
stummicks. Wages and stummicks comes fust, and the care of the Lord
Almighty arterwards. But, there, there!--we're jest a perverse and
stiffnecked generation!"

Walden turned away. Mrs. Spruce, at last deciding to resign her hold
of the pink shoes, over whose pointed toes she had been moralising,
gave them into the care of the rosy-cheeked Phyllis, who was
assisting her in her labours, and followed her 'man of God' out to
the landing.

"Do ye reely think we're doin' quite right, and that we're quite
safe, Passon?" she queried, anxiously.

"You're doing quite right, and you're quite safe," replied Walden,
laughing. "Go on in your present path of virtue, Mrs. Spruce, and
all will be well! I really cannot wait a moment longer. Don't
trouble to come and show me out,--I know my way!"

He sprang down the broad stairs as lightly as a boy, leaving Mrs.
Spruce at the summit, looking wistfully after him.

"It's a pity he couldn't stay!" she murmured, dolefully; "There's a
lace petticut which must be worth a fortune!--I'd have liked 'im to
see it!"

But Walden was beyond recall. On reaching the bottom of the
staircase he had turned into the picture gallery, a long, lofty room
panelled with Jacobean oak on both sides and hung with choice
canvases, the work of the best masters, three or four fine
Gainsboroughs, Peter Lelys and Romneys being among the most notable
examples. At one end of the gallery a close curtain of dark green
baize covered a picture which was understood to be the portrait of
the Mrs. Vancourt who had never lived to see her intended home. The
late Squire had himself put up that curtain, and no one had ever
dared to lift it. Mrs. Spruce had often been asked to do so, but she
invariably refused, 'not wishin' to be troubled with ghosteses of
the old Squire,' as she frankly explained. Facing this, at the
opposite end, hung another picture, disclosed in all its warm and
brilliant colouring to the light of day,--the picture of Mary Elia
Adelgisa de Vaignecourt, who, in the time of Charles the Second had
been a noted beauty of the 'merry monarch's' reign, and whose
counterfeit presentment Mrs. Spruce had styled 'the lady in the
vi'let velvet.' John Walden had suddenly taken a fancy to look at
this portrait though for ten years he had known it well.

He walked up to it now slowly, studying it critically as the light
fell on its rich colouring. The painted lady had a wonderfully
attractive face,--the face of a child, piquante, smiling and
provocative,--her eyes were witching blue, with a moonlight halo of
grey between the black pupil and the azure iris,--her mouth, a
trifle large, but pouting in the centre and curved in the 'Cupid's
bow' line, suggested sweetness and passion, and her hair,--but
surely her hair was indescribable! The painter of Charles the
Second's time had apparently found it difficult to deal with,--for
there was a warm brown wave there, a tiny reddish ripple behind the
small ear, and a flash of golden curls over the white brow,
suggestive of all the tints of spring and autumn sunshine. Habited
in a riding dress of velvet the colour of a purple pansy, Mary Elia
Adelgisa held her skirt, white gauntleted gloves, and riding whip
daintily in one hand,--her hat, a three-cornered piece of coquetry,
lay ready for wear, on a garden-seat hard by,--a blush rosebud was
fastened carelessly in her close-fitting bodice, which was turned
back with embroidered gold revers, and over her head, great forest
trees, heavy with foliage, met in an arch of green. John Walden
stood for a quiet three minutes, studying the picture intently and
also the superscription: "Mary Elia Adelgisa de Vaignecourt, Born
May 1st, 1651: Wedded her cousin, Geoffrey de Vaignecourt, June 5th,
1671: Died May 30th, 1681."

"Not a very long life!" he mused: "All the Vaignecourts, or
Vancourts, have died somewhat early."

He let his eyes rest again on the portrait lingeringly.

"Mary Elia! I wonder if her descendant, 'Maryllia,' is anything
like her?"

Slowly turning, he went out of the picture gallery, across the hall
and into the garden, where the faithful Nebbie was waiting for him,
amid a company of pigeons who were busy picking up what they fancied
from the gravelled path, and who were utterly unembarrassed by the
constant waggings of the terrier's rough tail. And he walked
somewhat abstractedly through the old paved court, past the
unsympathetic sun-dial, and out through the great gates, which were
guarded on either side by stone griffins, gripping in their paws
worn shields decorated with defaced tracings of the old Vaignecourt
emblems. Clematis clasped these fabulous beasts in a dainty embrace,
winding little tendrils of delicate green over their curved claws,
and festooning their savage-looking heads with large star-like
flowers of white and pale mauve, and against one of the weather-
beaten shields an early flowering red rose leaned its perfumed head
in blushing crimson confidence. Halting a moment in his onward pace,
Walden paused, and looked back at the scene regretfully.

"Dear old place!" he said half aloud; "Many and many a happy hour
have I passed in it, loving it, reverencing it, honouring its every
stone,--as all such relics of a chivalrous and gracious past deserve
to be loved, reverenced and honoured. But I fear,--yes!--I fear I
shall never again see it quite as I have seen it for the past ten
years,--or as I see it now! New days, new ways! And I am not
progressive. To me the old days and old ways are best!"




VI


"And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy
Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always!"

So prayed John Walden, truly and tenderly, stretching out his hands
in benediction over the bent heads of his little congregation, which
responded with a fervent 'Amen.'

Service was over, and the good folks of St. Rest wended their
gradual way out of church to the full sweet sound of an organ
voluntary, played by Miss Janet Eden, who, as all the village said
of her, 'was a rare 'and at doin' the music proper.' Each man and
woman wore their Sunday best,--each girl had some extra bit of
finery on, and each lad sported either a smart necktie or wore a
flower in his buttonhole, as a testimony to the general festal
feeling inspired by a day when ordinary work is set aside for the
mingled pleasures of prayer, meditation and promiscuous love-making.
The iconoclasts who would do away with the appointed seventh day of
respite from the hard labours of every-day life, deserve hanging
without the mercy of trial. A due observance of Sunday, and
especially the English country observance of Sunday, is one of the
saving graces of our national constitution. In the large towns, a
growing laxity concerning the 'keeping of the seventh day holy,' is
plainly noticeable, the pernicious example of London 'smart' society
doing much to lessen the old feeling of respect for the day and its
sacredness; but in small greenwood places, where it is still judged
decent and obedient to the laws of God, to attend Divine worship at
least once a day,--when rough manual toil is set aside, and the
weary and soiled  labourer takes a pleasure in being clean, orderly
and cheerfully respectful to his superiors, Sunday is a blessing and
an educational force that can hardly be over-estimated.

In such a peaceful corner as St. Rest it was a very day of days.
Tourists seldom disturbed its tranquillity, the 'Mother Huff'
public-house affording but sorry entertainment to such parties; the
motor-bicycle, with its detestable noise, insufferable odour and
dirty, oil-stained rider in goggled spectacles, was scarcely ever
seen,--and motor-cars always turned another way on leaving the
county town of Riversford, in order to avoid the sharp ascent from
the town, as well as the still sharper and highly dangerous descent
into the valley again, where the little mediaeval village lay
nestled. Thus it was enabled to gather to itself a strangely
beautiful halcyon calm on the Lord's Day,--and in fair Spring
weather like the present, dozed complacently under the quiet smile
of serene blue skies, soothed to sleep by the rippling flow of its
ribbon-like river, and receiving from hour to hour a fluttering halo
of doves' wings, as these traditional messengers of peace flew over
the quaint old houses, or rested on the gabled roofs, spreading out
their snowy tails like fans to the warmth of the sun. The churchyard
was the recognised meeting-place for all the gossips of the village
after the sermon was over and the blessing pronounced,--and the
brighter and warmer the weather, the longer and more desultory the
conversation.

On this special Sunday, the worthy farmers and their wives, with
their various cronies and confidants, gathered together in larger
groups than usual, and lingered about more than was even their
ordinary habit. Their curiosity was excited,--so were their
faculties of criticism. The new servants from the Manor had attended
church, sitting all together in a smart orderly row, and suggesting
in their neat spick-and-span attire an unwonted note of novelty, of
fashion, of change, nay, even of secret and suppressed society
wickedness. Their looks, their attitudes, their whisperings, their
movements, furnished plenty of matter to talk about,--particularly
as Mrs. Spruce had apparently 'given herself airs' and marshalled
them in and marshalled them out again, without stopping to talk to
her village friends as usual,--which was indeed a veritable marvel,-
-or to vouchsafe any information respecting the expected return of
her new mistress, an impending event which was now well known
throughout the whole neighbourhood. Oliver Leach, the land agent,
had arrived at the church-door in an open dog-cart, and had sat
through the service looking as black as thunder, or as Bainton
elegantly expressed it: 'as cheerful as a green apple with a worm in
it.' Afterwards, he had driven off at a rattling pace, exchanging no
word with anyone. Such conduct, so the village worthies opined, was
bound to be included among the various signs and tokens which were
ominous of a coming revolution in the moral and domestic atmosphere
of St. Rest.

Then again, the 'Passon's' sermon that morning had been something of
a failure. Walden himself, all the time he was engaged in preaching
it, had known that it was a lame, halting and perfunctory discourse,
and he had felt fully conscious that a patient tolerance of him on
the part of his parishioners had taken the place of the respectful
interest and attention they usually displayed. He was indeed sadly
at a loss concerning 'the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.' He
had desired to recommend the cultivation of such a grace in the most
forcible manner, yet he found himself wondering why  fashionable
women wore pink shoes much smaller than the natural size of the
human foot? To be 'meek and quiet' was surely an excellent thing,
but then it was impossible for any man with blood in his veins to
feel otherwise than honestly indignant at the extravagance displayed
by certain modern ladies in the selection of their gowns! Flashing
sparks of pearl and crystal sewn on cloud-like tissues and chiffons,
danced before his eyes, as he ponderously weighed out the spiritual
advantages of being meek and quiet; and his metaphors became as hazy
as the deductions he drew from his text were vague and difficult to
follow. He was uncomfortably conscious of a slight flush rising to
his face, as he met the bland enquiring stare of Sir Morton
Pippitt's former butler--now on 'temp'ry' service at the Manor,--he
became aware that there was also a new and rather pretty housemaid
beside the said butler, who whispered when she ought to have been
silent,--and he saw blankness on the fat face of Mrs. Spruce, a face
which was tied up like a round red damaged sort of fruit in a black
basket-like bonnet, fastened with very broad violet strings. Now
Mrs. Spruce always paid the most pious attention to his sermons, and
jogged her husband at regular intervals to prevent that worthy man
from dozing, though she knew he could not hear a word of anything
that was said, and that, therefore, he might as well have been
allowed to sleep,--but on this occasion John was sure that even he
failed to be interested in his observations on that 'ornament,'
which she called 'hornament,' of the meek and quiet spirit,
pronounced to be of such 'great price.' He realised that if any
'great price' was at all in question with her that morning, it was
the possible monetary value of her new lady's wardrobe. So that on
the whole he was very glad when he came to the end of his ramble
among strained similes, and was able to retire altogether from the
gaze of the different pairs of eyes, cow-like, sheep-like, bird-
like, dog-like, and human, which in their faithful watching of his
face as he preached, often moved him to a certain embarrassment,
though seldom as much as on this occasion. With his disappearance
from the pulpit, and his subsequent retreat round by the back of the
churchyard into the privacy of his own garden, the tongues of the
gossips, restrained as long as their minister was likely to be
within earshot, broke loose and began to wag with glib rapidity.

"Look 'ee 'ere, Tummas," said one short, thick-set man, addressing
Bainton; "Look 'ee 'ere--thy measter baint oop to mark this marnin'!
Seemed as if he couldn't find the ways nor the meanin's o' the Lord
nohow!"

Bainton slowly removed his cap from his head and looked thoughtfully
into the lining, as though seeking for inspiration there, before
replying. The short, thick-set man was an important personage,--no
less than the proprietor of the 'Mother Huff' public-house; and not
only was he proprietor of the said public-house, but brewer of all
the ale he sold there. Roger Buggins was a man to be reckoned with,
and he expected to be treated with almost as much consideration as
the 'Passon' himself. Buggins wore a very ill-fitting black suit on
Sundays, which made him look like a cross between a waiter and an
undertaker; and he also supported on his cranium a very tall top-hat
with an extra wide brim, suggesting in its antediluvian shape a
former close acquaintance with cast-off clothing stores.

"He baint himself,"--reiterated Buggins emphatically; "He was fair
mazed and dazed with his argifyin'. 'Meek and quiet sperrit'! Who
wants the like o' that in this 'ere mortal wurrld, where we all
commences to fight from the moment we lays in our cradles till the
last kick we gives 'fore we goes to our graves? Meek and quiet goes
to prison more often than rough and ready!"

"Mebbe Passon Walden was thinkin' of Oliver Leach," suggested
Bainton with a slight twinkle in his eye; "And 'ow m'appen we'd best
be all of us meek and quiet when he's by. It might be so, Mr.
Buggins,--Passon's a rare one to guess as 'ow the wind blows nor'-
nor'-east sometimes in the village, for all that it's a warm day and
the peas comin' on beautiful. Eh, now, Mr. Buggins?" This with a
conciliatory air, for Bainton had a little reckoning at the 'Mother
Huff' and desired to be all that was agreeable to its proprietor.

Buggins snorted a defiant snort.

"Oliver Leach indeed!" he ejaculated. "Meek an' quiet suits him down
to the ground, it do! There's a man wot's likely to have a kindly
note of warnin' from my best fist, if he comes larrupin' round my
place too often. 'Ave ye 'eard as 'ow he's chalked the Five
Sisters?"

"Now don't go for to say that!" expostulated Bainton gently. "'E
runs as near the wind as he can, but 'e'd never be stark starin' mad
enough to chalk the Five Sisters!"

"Chalk 'em 'e HAS!" returned Buggins, putting quite a strong
aspirate where he generally left it out,--"And down they're comin'
on Wednesday marnin'. Which I sez yeste'day to Adam Frost 'ere: if
the Five Sisters is to lay low, what next?"

"Ay! ay!" chorussed several other villagers who had been, listening
eagerly to the conversation; "You say true, Mr. Buggins--you say
gospel true. If the Five Sisters lay low, what next!"

And dismal shakings of the head and rollings of the eyes from all
parties followed this proposition.

"What next," echoed the sexton, Adam Frost, who on hearing his name
brought into the argument, showed himself at once ready to respond
to it. "Why next we'll not have a tree of any size anywhere near the
village, for if timber's to be sold, sold it will be, and the only
person we'll be able to rely on for a bit of green shade or shelter
will be Passon Walden, who wouldn't have a tree cut down anywhere on
his land, no, not if he was starving. Ah! If the old Squire were
alive he'd sooner have had his own 'ead chopped off than the Five
Sisters laid low!"

By this time a considerable number of the villagers had gathered
round Roger Buggins as the centre of the discussion,--some out of
curiosity, and others out of a vague and entirely erroneous idea
that perhaps if they took the proper side of the argument
'refreshers' in the way of draughts of home-brewed ale at the
'Mother Huff' between church hours might be offered as an amicable
end to the conversation.

"Someone should tell Miss Vancourt about it; she's coming home to
the Manor on Tuesday," suggested the barmaid of the 'Mother Huff,' a
smart-looking young woman, who was however looked upon with grave
suspicion by her feminine neighbours, because she dressed 'beyond
her station'; "P'raps she'd do something?"

"Not she!" said Frost, cynically; "She's a fine lady,--been livin'
with 'Mericans what will eat banknotes for breakfast in order to
write about it to the papers arterwards. Them sort of women takes no
'count o' trees, except to make money out of 'em."

Here there was a slight stir among the group, as they saw a familiar
figure slowly approaching them,--that of a very old man, wearing a
particularly clean smock-frock and a large straw hat, who came out
from under the church porch like a quaint, moving, mediaeval Dutch
picture. Shuffling along, one halting step at a time, and supporting
himself on a stout ash stick, this venerable personage made his way,
with a singular doggedness and determination of movement, up to the
group of gossips. Arriving among them he took off his straw hat, and
producing a blue spotted handkerchief from its interior wiped the
top of his bald head vigorously.

"Now, what are ye at?" he said slowly; "What are ye at? All
clickettin' together like grasshoppers in a load of hay! What's the
mischief? Whose character are ye bitin' bits out of, like mice in an
old cheese? Eh? Lord! Lord! Eighty-nine years o' livin' wi' ye,
summer in and summer out, don't improve ye,--talk to ye as I will
and as I may, ye're all as mis'able sinners as ever ye was, and
never a saint among ye 'cept the one in the Sarky Fagus."

Here, pausing for breath, the ancient speaker wiped his head again,
carefully flattening down with the action a few stray wisps of thin
white hair, while a smile of tranquil and superior wisdom spread
itself among the countless wrinkles of his sun-browned face, like a
ray of winter sunshine awakening rippling reflections on a half-
frozen pool.

"We ain't doin' nothin', Josey!" said Buggins, almost timidly.

"Nor we ain't sayin' nothin'," added Bainton.

"We be as harmless as doves," put in Adam Frost with a sly chuckle;
"and we ain't no match for sarpints!"

"Ain't you looking well, Mr. Letherbarrow!" ejaculated the smartly
dressed barmaid; "Just wonderful for your time of life!"

"My time o' life?" And Josey Letherbarrow surveyed the young woman
with an inimitable expression of disdain; "Well, it's a time o' life
YOU'LL never reach, sane or sound, my gel, take my word for't! Fine
feathers makes fine birds, but the life is more'n the meat and the
body more'n raiment. And as for 'armless as doves and no match for
sarpints, ye may be all that and more, which is no sort of argyment
and when I sez 'what mischief are ye all up to' I sez it, and
expecks a harnser, and a harnser I'll 'ave, or I'll reckon to know
the reason why!"

The men and women glanced at each other. It was unnecessary, and it
would certainly be inhuman, to irritate old Josey Letherbarrow,
considering Ms great age and various infirmities.

"We was jest a-sayin' a word or two about the Five Sisters--" began
Adam Frost.

"Ay! ay!" said Josey; "That ye may do and no 'arm come of it; I
knows 'em well! Five of the finest beech-trees in all England! Ay!
ay! th' owld Squire was main proud of 'em---"

"They be comin' down," said Buggins; "Oliver Leach's chalk mark's on
'em for Wednesday marnin'."

"Comin' down!" echoed Josey--"Comin' down? Gar'n with ye all for a
parcel o' silly idgits wi' neither rhyme nor reason nor backbone!
Comin' down! Why ye might as well tell me the Manor House was bein'
turned into a cow-shed! Comin' down! Gar'n!"

"It's true, Josey," said Adam Frost, beginning to make his way
towards the gate of the churchyard, for he had just spied one of his
numerous 'olive-branches,' frantically beckoning him home to dinner,
and he knew by stern experience what it meant if Mrs. Frost and the
family were kept waiting for the Sunday's meal. "It's true, and
you'll find it so. And whether it'll be any good speakin' to the new
lady who's comin' home on Tuesday, or whether the Five Sisters won't
be all corpses afore she comes, there's no knowin'. The Lord He gave
the trees, but whether the Lord He gave Oliver Leach to take 'em
away again after a matter of three or four hundred year is mighty
doubtful!"

Old Josey looked stupefied.

"The Five Sisters comin' down!" he repeated dully; "May you never
live to do my buryin', Adam Frost, if it's true!--and that's the
worst wish I can give ye!"

But Adam Frost here obeyed the call of his domestic belongings, and
hurried away without response.

Josey leaned on his stick thoughtfully for a minute, and then
resumed his slow shuffling way. Any one of the men or women near him
would have willingly given him a hand to assist his steps, but they
all knew that he would be highly incensed if they dared to show that
they considered him in any way feeble or in need of support. So they
contented themselves with accompanying him at his own snail's pace,
and at such a distance as to be within hearing of any remarks he
might let fall, without intruding too closely on the special area in
which he chose to stump along homewards.

"The Five Sisters comin' down, and the old Squire's daughter comin'
'ome!" he muttered; "They two things is like ile and water,--nothin'
'ull make 'em mix. The Squire's daughter--ay--ay! It seems but only
yeste'day the Squire died! And she was a fine mare that threw him,
too,--Firefly was her name. Ay--ay! It seems but yeste'day--but
yeste'day!"

"D'ye mind the Squire's daughter, Josey?" asked one of the village
women sauntering a little nearer to him.

"Mind her?" And Josey Letherbarrow halted abruptly. "Do I mind my
own childer? It seems but yeste'day, I tell ye, that the Squire
died, but mebbe it's a matter of six-an'-twenty 'ear agone since 'e
came to me where I was a-workin' in 'is fields, and he pinted out to
me the nurse wot was walkin' up and down near the edge of the
pasture carryin' his baby all in long clothes. 'See that, Josey!' he
sez, an' 'is eyes were all wild-like an' 'is lips was a' tremblin';
'That little white thing is all I've got left of the wife I was
bringin' 'ome to be the sunshine of the old Manor. I felt like
killin' that child, Josey, when it was born, because its comin' into
this wurrld killed its mother. That was an unnat'ral thing, Josey,'
sez he--'There was no God in it, only a devil!' and 'is lips
trembled more'n ever--'no woman ought to die in givin' birth to a
child--it's jes' wicked an' cruel! I would say that to God Himself,
if I knew Him!' An' he clenched 'is fist 'ard, an' then 'e went on--
'But though I wanted to kill the little creature, I couldn't do it,
Josey, I couldn't! It's eyes were like those of my Dearest. So I let
it live; an' I'll do my best by it, Josey,'--yes, them's the words
'e said--'I'll do my best by it!'"

Here Josey broke off in his narrative, and resumed his crawling
pace.

"You ain't finished, 'ave ye, Josey?" said Roger Buggins
propitiatingly, drawing closer to the old man. "It's powerful
interestin', all this 'ere!"

Josey halted again.

"Powerful interestin'? O' course it is! There ain't nobody's story
wot ain't interestin', if ye onny knows it. An' it's all six-an'-
twenty year agone now; but I can see th' owld Squire still, an' the
nurse walkin' slow up an' down by the border of the field, hushin'
the baby to sleep. And 'twas a good sound baby, too, an' thrived
fine; an' 'fore we knew where we was, instid of a baby there was a
little gel runnin' wild all over the place, climbin' trees, swannin'
up hay-stacks an' up to all sorts of mischief--Lord, Lord!" And
Josey began to chuckle with a kind of inward merriment; "I'll never
forget the day that child sat down on a wopses' nest an' got all 'er
little legs stung;--she was about five 'ear old then, an' she never
cried--not she!--the little proud spitfire that she was, she jes'
stamped 'er mite of a foot an' she sez, sez she: 'Did God make the
wopses?' An' 'er nurse sez to 'er: 'Yes, o' course, lovey, God made
'em.' 'Then I don't think much of Him!' sez she. Lord, Lord! We
larfed nigh to split ourselves that arternoon;--we was all makin'
'ay an' th' owld Squire was workin' wi' us for fun-like. 'I don't
think much o' God, father!'--sez Miss Maryllia, runnin' up to 'im,
an' liftin' up all 'er petticuts an' shewin' the purtiest little
legs ye ever seed; 'Nurse sez He made the wopses!' He-ee-ee-hor-hor-
hor!"

A slow smile was reflected on the faces of the persons who heard
this story,--a smile that implied lurking doubt as to whether it was
quite the correct or respectful thing to find entertainment in an
anecdote which included a description of 'the purtiest little legs'
of the lady of the Manor whose return to her native home was so soon
expected,--but Josey Letherbarrow was a privileged personage, and he
might say what others dared not. As philosopher, general moralist
and purveyor of copy-book maxims, he was looked upon in the village
as the Nestor of the community, and in all discussions or
disputations was referred to as final arbitrator and judge. Born in
St. Rest, he had never been out of it, except on an occasional jaunt
to Riversford in the carrier's cart. He had married a lass of the
village, who had been his playmate in childhood, and who, after
giving him four children, had died when she was forty,--the four
children had grown up and in their turn had married and died; but
he, like a hardy old tree, had still lived on, with firm roots well
fixed in the soil that had bred him. Life had now become a series of
dream pictures with him, representing every episode of his
experience. His mind was clear, and his perception keen; he seldom
failed to recollect every detail of a circumstance when once the
clue was given, and the right little cell in his brain was stirred.
To these qualities he added a stock of good sound common sense, with
a great equableness of temperament, though he could be cynical, and
even severe, when occasion demanded. Just now, however, his
venerable countenance was radiant,--his few remaining tufts of white
hair glistened in the sun like spun silver,--his figure in its
homely smock, leaning on the rough ash stick, expressed in its very
attitude benevolence and good-humour, and 'the purtiest little legs'
had evidently conjured up a vision of childish grace and innocence
before his eyes, which he was loth to let go.

"She was took away arter the old Squire was killed, worn't she?"
asked Bainton, who was drinking in all the information he could, in
order to have something to talk about to his master, when the
opportunity offered itself.

"Ay! ay! She was took away," replied Josey, his smile darkening into
a shadow of weariness; "The Squire's neck was broke with Firefly--
every man, woman and child knows that about here--an' then 'is
brother came along, 'im wot 'ad married a 'Merican wife wi'
millions, an' 'adn't got no children of their own. An' they took the
gel away with 'em--a purty little slip of about fifteen then, with
great big eyes and a lot of bright 'air;--don't none of ye remember
'er?"

Mr. Buggins shook his head.

"'Twas afore my time," he said. "I ain't had the 'Mother Huff'
more'n eight years."

"I seed 'er once," said Bainton--"but onny once--that was when I was
workin' for the Squire as extra 'and. But I disremember 'er face.''

"Then ye never looked at it," said Josey, with a chuckle; "or bein'
made man ye wouldn't 'ave forgot it. Howsomever, it's 'ears ago an'
she's a woman growed--she ain't been near the place all this time,
which shows as 'ow she don't care about it, bein' took up with 'er
'Merican aunt and the millions. An' she'd got a nice little penny of
'er own, too, for the old Squire left 'er all he 'ad, an' she was to
come into it all when she was of age. An' now she's past bein' of
age, a woman of six-an'-twenty,--an' 'er rich uncle's dead, they
say, so I suppose she an' the 'Merican aunt can't work it out
together. Eh, dear! Well, well! Changes there must be, and changes
there will be, and if the Five Sisters is a-comin' down, then
there's ill-luck brewin' for the village, an' for every man, woman
and child in it! Mark my wurrd!"

And he resumed his hobbling trudge, shaking his head dolefully.

"Don't say that, Josey!" murmured one of the women with a little
shudder; "You didn't ought to talk about ill-luck. Don't ye know
it's onlucky to talk about ill-luck?"

"No, I don't know nothin' o' the sort," replied Josey, "Luck there
is, and ill-luck,--an' ye can talk as ye like about one or t'other,
it don't make no difference. An' there's some things as comes
straight from the Lord, and there's others what comes straight from
the devil, an' ye've got to take them as they comes. 'Tain't no use
floppin' on yer knees an' cryin' on either the Lord or the devil,--
they's outside of ye an' jest amusin' theirselves as they likes.
Mussy on me! D'ye think I don't know when the Lord 'ides 'is face
behind the clouds playin' peep-bo for a bit, and lets the devil 'ave
it all 'is own way? An' don't I know 'ow, when old Nick is jes' in
the thick o' the fun 'avin' a fine time with the poor silly souls o'
men, the Lord suddenly comes out o' the cloud and sez, sez He: 'Now
'nuff o' this 'ere; get thee behind me!' An' then--an' then--," here
Josey paused and struck his staff violently into the earth,--"an'
then there's a noise as of a mighty wind rushin', an' the angels all
falls to trumpetin' an' cries; 'Alleluia! Lift up your 'eads ye
everlasting gates that the King of Glory may come in'!"

The various village loafers sauntering beside their venerable
prophet, listened to this outburst with respectful awe.

"He's meanderin'," said Bainton in a low tone to the portly
proprietor of the 'Mother Huff'; "It's wonderful wot poltry there is
in 'im, when 'e gives way to it!"

'Poltry' was the general term among the frequenters of the 'Mother
Huff' for 'poetry.'

"Ay, ay!" replied Buggins, somewhat condescendingly, as one who bore
in mind that he was addressing a creditor; "I don't understan'
poltry myself, but Josey speaks fine when he has a mind to--there's
no doubt of that. Look 'ee 'ere, now; there's Ipsie Frost runnin' to
'im!"

And they all turned their eyes on a flying bundle of curls, rosy
cheeks, fat legs and clean pinafore, that came speeding towards old
Josey, with another young feminine creature scampering after it
crying:

"Ipsie! Hip-po-ly-ta! Baby! Come back to your dinner!"

But Hippolyta was a person evidently accustomed to have her own way,
and she ran straight up to Josey Letherbarrow as though he were the
one choice hero picked out of a world.

"Zozey!" she screamed, stretching out a pair of short, mottled arms;
"My own bootiful Zozey-posey! Tum and pick fowers!"

With an ecstatic shriek at nothing in particular, she caught the
edge of the old man's smock.

"My Zozey," she said purringly, "'Oo vezy old, but I loves 'oo!"

A smile and then a laugh went the round of the group. They were all
accustomed to Ipsie's enthusiasms. Josey Letherbarrow paused a
minute to allow his small admirer to take firm hold of his garments,
and patted her little head with his brown wrinkled hand.

"We'se goin' sweetheartin', ain't we, Ipsie," he said gently, the
beautiful smile that made his venerable face so fine and lovable,
again lighting up his sunken eyes. "Come along, little lass! Come
along!"

"She ain't finished her dinner!" breathlessly proclaimed a long-
legged girl of about ten, who had run after the child, being one of
her numerous sisters; "Mother said she was to come back straight."

"I s'ant go back!" declared Ipsie defiantly; "Zozey and me's
sweetheartin'!"

Old Josey chuckled.

"That's so! So we be!" he said tranquilly; "Come along little lass!
Come along!" And to the panting sister of the tiny autocrat, he
said: "You go on, my gel! I'll bring the baby, 'oldin' on jest as
she is now to my smock. She won't stir more'n a fond bird wot's
stickin' its little claws into ye for shelter. I'll bring 'er along
'ome, an' she'll finish 'er dinner fine, like a real good baby! Come
along, little lass! Come along!"

So murmuring, the old man and young child went on together, and the
group of villagers dispersed. Roger Buggins, however, paused a
moment before turning up the lane which led to the 'Mother Huff.'

"You tell Passon," he said addressing Bainton, "You tell him as 'ow
the Five Sisters be chalked for layin' low on Wednesday marnin'!"

"Never fear!" responded Bainton; "I'll tell 'im. If 'tworn't Sunday,
I'd tell 'im now, but it's onny fair he should 'ave a bit o' peace
on the seventh day like the rest of us. He'll be fair mazed like
when he knows it,--ay! and I shouldn't wonder if he gave Oliver
Leach a bit of 'is mind. For all that he's so quiet, there's a real
devil in 'im wot the sperrit o' God keeps down,--but it's there,
lurkin' low in 'is mind, an' when 'is eyes flashes blue like
lightnin' afore a storm, the devil looks straight out of 'im, it do
reely now!"

"Well, well!" said Buggins, tolerantly, with the dignified air of
one closing the discussion; "Devil or no devil, you tell 'im as 'ow
the Five Sisters be chalked for layin' low on Wednesday marnin'.
Good day t'ye!"

"Good day!" responded Bainton, and the two worthies panted, each to
go on their several ways, Buggins to the 'Mother Huff' from whose
opened latticed windows the smell of roast beef and onions, which
generally composed the Buggins' Sunday meal, came in odorous whiffs
down the little lane, almost smothering the delicate perfume of the
sprouting sweet-briar hedges on either side, and the nodding
cowslips in the grass below; Bainton to his own cottage on the
border of his master's grounds, a pretty little dwelling with a
thatched roof almost overgrown with wistaria just breaking into
flower.

Far away from St. Rest, the greater world swung on its way; the
whirl of society, politics, fashion and frivolity revolved like the
wheel in a squirrel's cage, round which the poor little imprisoned
animal leaps and turns incessantly in a miserable make-believe of
forest freedom,--but to the old gardener who lifted the latch of his
gate and went in to the Sunday dinner prepared for him by his stout
and energetic helpmate, who was one of the best dairy-women in the
whole countryside, there was only one grave piece of news in the
universe worth considering or discussing, and that was the 'layin'
low of the Five Sisters.'

"Never!" said Mrs. Bainton, as she set a steaming beef-steak pudding
in its basin on the table and briskly untied the ends of the cloth
in which it had been boiling. "Never, Tom! You don't tell me! The
Five Sisters comin' down! Why, what is Oliver Leach thinking about?"

"Himself, I reckon!" responded her husband, "and his own partikler
an' malicious art o' forestry. Which consists in barin' the land as
if it was a judge's chin, to be clean-shaved every marnin'. My
wurrd! Won't Passon Walden be just wild! M'appen he's heard of it
already, for he seems main worrited about somethin' or other. I've
allus thought 'im wise-like an' sensible for a man in the Church wot
ain't got much chance of knowin' the wurrld, but he was jes'
meanderin' along to-day--meanderin' an' jabberin' about a meek an'
quiet sperrit, as if any of us wanted that kind o' thing 'ere! Why
it's fightin' all the time! If 'tain't Sir Morton Pippitt, it's
Leach, an' if 'tain't Leach it's Putty Leveson--an' if 'tain't
Leveson, why it's Adam Frost an' his wife, an' if 'tain't Frost an'
his wife, why it's you an' me, old gel! We can get up a breeze as
well as any couple wot was ever jined in the bonds of 'oly
matterimony! Hor-hor-hor! 'Meek an' quiet sperrit,' sez he--'have
all of ye meek an' quiet sperrits'! Why he ain't got one of 'is own!
Wait till he 'ears of the Five Sisters comin' down! See 'im then! Or
wait till Miss Vancourt arrives an' begins to muddle round with the
church!"

"Nonsense! She won't muddle round with the church," said Mrs.
Bainton cheerfully, sitting down to dinner opposite her husband,
'What nesh fools men are, to be sure! Every-one says she's a fine
lady 'customed to all sorts of show and gaiety and the like--what
will she want to do with the church? Ten to one she never goes
inside it!"

"You shouldn't bet, old woman, 'tain't moral," said Bainton, with a
chuckle; "You ain't got ten to bet agin one--we couldn't spare so
much. If she doos nothing else, she'll dekrate the church at 'Arvest
'Ome an' Christmas--that's wot leddies allus fusses about--
dekratin'. Lord, Lord! The mess they makes when they starts on it,
an' the mischief they works! Tearin' down the ivy, scrattin' up the
moss, pullin' an' grabbin' at the flowers wot's taken months to
grow,--for all the wurrld as if they was cats out for a 'oliday. I
tell ye it's been a speshel providence for us 'ere, that Passon
Walden ain't got no wife,--if he 'ad, she'd a been at the dekratin'
game long afore now. Our church would be jes' spoilt with a lot o'
trails o' weed round it--but you mark my wurrd!--Miss Vancourt will
be dekratin' the Saint in the coffin at 'Arvest 'Ome wi' corn and
pertaters an' vegetable marrers, all a-growin' and a-blowin' afore
we knows it. There ain't no sense o' fitness in the feminine natur!"

Mrs. Bainton laughed good-naturedly.

"That's quite true!" she agreed; "If there were, I shouldn't have
made Sunday pudding for a man who talks too much to eat it while
it's hot. Keep your tongue in your mouth, Tom!--use it for tastin'
jes' now an' agin!"

Bainton took the hint and subsided into silent enjoyment of his
food. Only once again he spoke in the course of the meal, and that
was during the impressive pause between pudding and cheese.

"When he knows as 'ow the Five Sisters be chalked, Passon Walden's
sure to do somethin'," he said.

"Ay!" responded his wife thoughtfully; "he's sure to do something."

"What d'ye think he'll do?" queried Bainton, somewhat anxiously.

"Oh, you know best, Tom," replied his buxom partner, setting a
flat Dutch cheese before him and a jug of foaming beer; "There ain't
no sense o' fitness in ME, bein' a woman! You know best!"

Bainton lowered his eyes sheepishly. As usual his better half had
closed the argument unanswerably.




VII


Seldom in the placid course of years had St. Rest ever belied its
name, or permitted itself to suffer loss of dignity by any undue
display of excitement. The arrival of John Walden as minister of the
parish,--the re-building of the church, and the discovery of the
medieval sarcophagus, which old Josey Letherbarrow always called the
Sarky Fagus, together with the consecration ceremony by Bishop
Brent,--were the only episodes in ten years that had moved it
slightly from its normal calm. For though rumours of wars and
various other mishaps and tribulations, reached it through the
medium of the newspapers in the ordinary course, it concerned itself
not at all with these, such matters being removed and apart from its
own way of life and conduct. It was a little world in itself, and
had only the vaguest interest in any other world, save perhaps the
world to come, which was indeed a very real prospect to most of the
villagers, their inherited tendency being towards a quaint and
simple piety that was as childlike as it was sincere. The small
congregation to which John Walden preached twice every Sunday was
composed of as honest men and clean-minded women as could be found
in all England,--men and women with straight notions of honour and
duty, and warm, if plain, conceptions of love, truth and family
tenderness. They had their little human failings and weaknesses,
thanks to Mother Nature, whose children we all are, and who sets her
various limitations for the best of us,--but, taken on the whole,
they were peculiarly unspoilt by the iconoclastic march of progress;
and 'advanced' notions of doubt as to a God, and scepticism as to a
future state, had never clouded their quiet minds. Walden had taken
them well in hand from the beginning of his ministry,--and being
much of a poet and dreamer at heart, he had fostered noble ideals
among them, which he taught in simple yet attractive language, with
the happiest results. The moral and mental attitude of the villagers
generally was a philosophic cheerfulness and obedience to the will
of God,--but this did not include a tame submission to tyranny, or a
passive acceptance of injury inflicted upon them by merely human
oppressors.

Hence,--though any disturbance of the daily equanimity of their
agricultural life and pursuits was quite an exceptional
circumstance, the news of the 'layin' low of the Five Sisters' was
sufficient cause, when once it became generally known, for visible
signs of trouble. In its gravity and importance it almost overtopped
the advent of the new mistress of the Manor; and when on Tuesday it
was whispered that 'Passon Walden' had himself been to expostulate
with Oliver Leach concerning the meditated murder of the famous
trees, and that his expostulations had been all in vain, clouded
brows and ominous looks were to be seen at every corner where the
men halted on their way to the fields, or where the women gathered
to gossip in the pauses of their domestic labour. Walden himself,
pacing impatiently to and fro in his garden, was for once more
disturbed in his mind than he cared to admit. When he had been told
early on Monday morning of the imminent destruction awaiting the
five noble beeches which, in their venerable and broadly-branching
beauty, were one of the many glories of the woods surrounding
Abbot's Manor, he was inclined to set it down to some capricious
command issued by the home-coming mistress of the estate; and, in
order to satisfy himself whether this was, or was not the case, he
had done what was sorely against his own sense of dignity to do,--he
had gone at once to interview Oliver Leach personally on the
subject. But he had found that individual in the worst of all
possible moods for argument, having been, as he stated, passed over'
by Miss Vancourt. That lady had not, he said, written to inform him
of her intended return, therefore,--so he argued,--it was not his
business to be aware of it.

"Miss Vancourt hasn't told me anything, and of course I don't know
anything," he said carelessly, standing in his doorway and keeping
his hat on in the minister's presence; "My work is on the land, and
when timber has to be felled it's my affair and nobody else's. I've
been agent on these estates since the Squire's death, and I don't
want to be taught my duty by any man."

"But surely your duty does not compel you to cut down five of the
finest old trees in England," said Walden, hotly,--"They have been
famous for centuries in this neighbourhood. Have you any right to
fell them without special orders?"

"Special orders?" echoed Leach with a sneer; "I've had no 'special
order' for ten years at least! My employers trust me to do what I
think best, and I've every right to act accordingly. The trees will
begin to rot in another eighteen months or so,--just now they're in
good condition and will fetch a fair price. You stick to your
church, Parson Walden,--you know all about that, no doubt!--but
don't come preaching to me about the felling of timber. That's my
business,--not yours!"

Walden flushed, and bit his lip. His blood grew warm with
indignation, and he involuntarily clenched his fist. But he
suppressed his rising wrath with an effort.

"You may as well keep a civil tongue in your head, Mr. Leach--it
will do you no harm!" he said quietly; "I have no wish to interfere
with what you conceive to be your particular mode of duty, but I
think that before you destroy what can never be replaced, you should
consult the owner of the trees, Miss Vancourt, especially as her
return is fixed for to-morrow."

"As I told you before, I know nothing about her return," replied
Leach, obstinately; "I am not supposed to know. And whether she's
here or away, makes no difference to me. I know what's to be done,
and I shall do it."

Walden's eyes flashed. Strive as he would, he could not disguise his
inward contempt for this petty jack-in-office,--and his keen glance
was, to the perverse nature of the ill-conditioned boor he
addressed, like the lash of a whip on the back of a snarling cur.

"I know what's to be done, and I shall do it," Leach repeated in a
louder tone; "And all the sentimental rot ever talked in the village
about the Five Sisters won't make me change my mind,--no, nor all
the sermons on meek and quiet spirits neither! That's my last word,
Mr. Walden, and you may take it for what it is worth!"

Walden swung round on his heel and went his way without replying.
Outwardly, he was calm enough, but inwardly he was in a white heat
of anger. His thoughts dwelt with a passionate insistence on the
grand old trees with their great canopies of foliage, where hundreds
of happy birds annually made their homes,--where, with every
recurring Spring, the tender young leaves sprouted forth from the
aged gnarled boughs, expressing the joy of a life that had outlived
whole generations of men--where, in the long heats of summer broad
stretches of shade lay dense on the soft grass, offering grateful
shelter from the noon-day sun to the browsing cattle,--and where
with the autumn's breath, the slow and glorious transformation of
green leaves to gold, with flecks of scarlet between, made a
splendour of colour against the pale grey-blue sky, such as artists
dream of and with difficulty realise. All this wealth of God-granted
natural beauty,--the growth of centuries,--was to perish in a single
morning! Surely it was a crime!--surely it was a wicked and wanton
deed, for which, there could be no sane excuse offered! Sorrowfully,
and with bitterness, did Walden relate to his gardener, Bainton, the
failure of his attempt to bring Oliver Leach to reason,--solemnly,
and in subdued silence did Bainton hear the tale.

"Well, well, Passon," he said, when his master had finished; "You
doos your best for us, and no man can't say but what you've done it
true ever since you took up with this 'ere village,--and you've
tried to save the Five Sisters, and if 'tain't no use, why there's
no more to be said. Josey Letherbarrow was for walkin' up to the
Manor an' seein' Miss Vancourt herself, as soon as iver she gets
within her own door,--but Lord love ye, he'd take 'arf a day to jog
up there on such feet as he's got left after long wear and tear, an'
there ain't no liftin' 'im into a cart nohow. Sez he to me: 'I'll
see the little gel wot I used to know, and I'll tell 'er as 'ow the
Five Sisters be chalked, an' she'll listen to me--you see if she
don't!' I was rather took with the idee myself, but I sez, sez I: 'Let
alone, Josey,--you be old as Methusaleh, and you can't get up to
the Manor nohow; let Passon try what he can do wi' Leach,'--and now
you've been and done your best, and can't do nothin', why we must
give it up altogether."

Walden walked up and down, Ms hands loosely clasped behind his back,
lost in thought.

"We won't give it up altogether, Bainton," he said; "We'll try and
find some other way--"

"There's goin' to be another way," declared Bainton, significantly;
"There's trouble brewin' in the village, an' m'appen when Oliver
Leach gets up to the woods to-morrow mornin' he'll find a few ready
to meet 'im!"

Walden stopped abruptly.

"What do you mean?"

"'Tain't for me to say;" and Bainton pretended to be very busy in
pulling up one or two plantains from the lawn; "But I tells ye true,
Passon, the Five Sisters ain't goin' to be laid low without a
shindy!"

John's eyes sparkled. He scented battle, and was not by any means
displeased.

"This is Tuesday, isn't it?" he asked abruptly; "This is the day
Miss Vancourt has arranged to return?"

"It is so, sir," replied Bainton; "and it's believed the
arrangements 'olds good--for change'er mind as a woman will, 'er
'osses an' groom's arrived--and a dog as large as they make 'em,
which 'is name is Plato."

Walden gave a slight gesture of annoyance. Here was a fresh cause of
antipathy to the approaching Miss Vancourt. No one but a careless
woman, devoid of all taste and good feeling, would name a dog after
the greatest of Greek philosophers!

"Plato's a good name," went on Bainton meditatively, unconscious of
the view his master was taking of that name in his own mind; "I've
'eard it somewheres before, though I couldn't tell just where. And
it's a fine dog. I was up at the Manor this mornin' lookin' round
the grounds, just to see 'ow they'd been a-gettin' on--and really it
isn't so bad considerin', and I was askin' a question or two of
Spruce, and he showed me the dog lyin' on the steps of the Manor,
lookin' like a lion's baby snoozin' in the sun, and waitin' as wise
as ye like for his mistress. He don't appear at all put out by new
faces or new grounds--he's took to the place quite nat'ral."

"You saw Spruce early, then?"

"Yes, sir, I see Spruce, and arter 'ollerin' 'ard at 'im for 'bout
ten minutes, he sez, sez he, as gentle as a child sez he: 'Yes, the
Five Sisters is a-comin' down to-morrow mornin', and we's all to be
there a quarter afore six with ropes and axes.'"

John started walking up and down again.

"When is Miss Vancourt expected?" he enquired.

"At tea-time this arternoon," replied Bainton. "The train arrives at
Riversford at three o'clock, if so be it isn't behind its time,--and
if the lady gets a fly from the station, which if she ain't ordered
it afore, m'appen she won't get it, she'll be 'ere 'bout four."

Instinctively Walden glanced at his watch. It was just two o'clock.
Another hour and the antipathetic 'Squire-ess' would be actually on
her way to the village! He heaved a short sigh. Forebodings of evil
infected the air,--impending change, disturbing and even disastrous
to St. Rest suggested itself troublously to his mind. Arguing
inwardly with himself, he presently began to think that
notwithstanding all his attempts to live a Christian life, after the
manner Christianly, he was surely becoming a very selfish and
extremely narrow-minded man! He was unreasonably, illogically vexed
at the return of the heiress of Abbot's Manor; and why? Why, chiefly
because he would no longer be able to walk at liberty in Abbot's
Manor gardens and woods,--because there would be another personality
perhaps more dominant than his own in the little village, and
because--yes!--because he had a particular aversion to women of
fashion, such as Miss Vancourt undoubtedly must be, to judge from
the brief exhibition of her wardrobe which, through the
guilelessness of Mrs. Spruce, had been displayed before his
reluctant eyes.

These objections were after all, so he told himself, really rooted
in masculine selfishness,--the absorbing selfishness of old
bachelorhood, which had grown round him like a shell, shutting him
out altogether from the soft influences of feminine attraction,--so
much so indeed that he had even come to look upon his domestic
indoor servants as obliging machines rather than women,--machines
which it was necessary to keep well oiled with food and wages, but
which could scarcely be considered as entering into his actual life
more than the lawn-mower or the roasting-jack. Yet he was invariably
kind to all his dependants,--invariably thoughtful of all their
needs,--nevertheless he maintained a certain aloofness from them,
not only because he was by nature reserved, but because he judged
reserve necessary in order to uphold respect. In sickness or
trouble, no one could be more quietly helpful or consolatory than
he; and in the company of children he threw off all restraint and
was as a child himself in the heartiness and spontaneity of his
mirth and good humour,--but with all women, save the very aged and
matronly, he generally found himself at a loss, uncertain what to
say to them, and equally uncertain as to how far he might accept or
believe what they said to him. The dark eyes of a sparkling brunette
embarrassed him as much as the dreamy blue orbs of a lily-like
blonde,--they were curious dazzlements that got into his way at
times, and made him doubtful as to whether any positive sincerity
ever could or ever would lurk behind such bewildering brief flashes
of light which appeared to shine forth without meaning, and vanish
again without result. And in various ways,--he now began to think,--
he must certainly have grown inordinately, outrageously selfish!--
his irritation at the prospective return of Miss Vancourt proved it.
He determined to brace himself together and put the lurking devil of
egotism down.

"Put it down!" he said inwardly and with sternness,--"put it down--
trample it under foot, John, my boy! The lady of the Manor is
perhaps sent here to try your patience and prove the stuff that is
in you! She is no child,--she is twenty-seven years of age--a full
grown woman,--she will have her ways, just as you have yours,--she
will probably rub every mental and moral hair on the skin of your
soul awry,--but that is really just what you want, John,--you do
indeed! You want something more irritating than Sir Morton Pippitt's
senile snobberies to keep you clean of an overgrowth or an
undergrowth of fads! Your powers of endurance are about to be put to
the test, and you must come out strong, John! You must not allow
yourself to become a querulous old fellow because you cannot always
do exactly as you like!"

He smiled genially at his own mental scolding of himself, and
addressing Bainton once more, said:

"I shall probably write a note to Miss Vancourt this afternoon, and
send you up with it. I shall tell her all about the Five Sisters,
and ask her to give orders that the cutting down of the trees may be
delayed till she has seen them for herself. But don't say anything
about this in the village," here he paused a moment, and then spoke
with greater emphasis--"I don't want to interfere with anything
anybody else may have on hand. Do you understand? We must save the
old beeches somehow. I will do my best, but I may fail; Miss
Vancourt may not read my letter, or if she does, she may not be
disposed to attend to it; it is best that all ways and means should
be, tried,--"

He broke off,--but his eyes met Bainton's in a mutual flash of
understanding.

"You're a straight man, Passon, and no mistake," observed Bainton
with a slow smile; "No beatin' about the bush in the likes o' you!
Lord, Lord! What a mussy we ain't saddled with a poor snuffling,
addle-pated, whimperin' man o' God like we 'ad afore you come 'ere--
what found all 'is dooty an' pleasure in dinin' with Sir Morton
Pippitt up at the 'All! And when there was a man died, or a baby
born, or some other sich like calamity in the village, he worn't
never to 'and to 'elp,-but he would give a look in when it was all
over, and then he sez, sez he: 'I'm sorry, my man, I wasn't 'ere to
comfort ye, but I was up at the 'All.' And he did roll it round and
round in his mouth like as 'twas a lump o' butter and 'oney--'up at
the 'All'! Hor-hor-hor! It must a' tasted sweet to 'im as we used to
say,--and takin' into consideration that Sir Morton was a bone-
melter by profession, we used to throw up the proverb 'the nearer
the bone, the sweeter the meat'--not that it had any bearin' on the
matter, but a good sayin's a good thing, and a proverb fits into a
fancy sometimes better'n a foot into a shoe. But you ain't a
snuffler, Passon!--and you ain't never been up at the 'All, nor
wouldn't go if you was axed to, and that's one of the many things
what makes you a gineral favourite,--it do reely now!"

Walden smiled, but forbore to continue conversation on this somewhat
personal theme. He retired into his own study, there to concoct the
stiffest, most clerical, and most formal note to Miss Vancourt that
he could possibly devise. He had the very greatest reluctance to
attempt such a task, and sat with a sheet of notepaper before him
for some time, staring at it without formulating any commencement.
Then he began: "The Rev. John Walden presents his compliments to
Miss Vancourt, and begs to inform her--"

No, that would never do! 'Begs to inform her' sounded almost
threatening. The Rev. John Walden might 'beg to inform her' that she
had no business to wear pink shoes with high heels, for example. He
destroyed one half sheet of paper, put the other half economically
aside to serve as a stray leaflet for 'church memoranda,' and
commenced in a different strain.

"Dear Madam,"

"Dear Madam!" He looked at the two words in some annoyance. They
were very ugly. Addressed to a person who wore pink shoes, they
seemed singularly abrupt. And if Miss Vancourt should chance to
resemble in the least her ancestress, Mary Elia Adelgisa de
Vaignecourt, they were wholly unsuitable. A creditor might write
'Dear Madam' to a customer in application for an outstanding bill,--
but to Mary Elia Adelgisa one would surely begin,--Ah!--now how
would one begin? He paused, biting the end of his penholder. Another
half sheet of notepaper was wasted, and equally another half sheet
devoted to 'church memoranda.' Then he began:

"Dear Miss Vancourt,"

At this, he threw down his pen altogether. Too familiar! By all the
gods of Greece, whom he had almost believed in even while studying
Divinity at Oxford, a great deal too familiar!

"It is just as if I knew her!" he said to himself in vexation. "And
I don't know her! And what's more, I don't want to know her! If it
were not for this business of the Five Sisters, I wouldn't go near
her. Positively I wouldn't!"

A mellow chime from the old eight-day clock in the outer hall struck
on the silence. Three o'clock! The train by which Miss Vancourt
would arrive, was timed to reach Riversford station at three,--if it
was not late, which it generally was. Nebbie, who had been snoozing
peacefully near the study window in a patch of sunlight, suddenly
rose, shook himself, and trotted out on to the lawn, sniffing the
air with ears and tail erect. Walden watched him abstractedly.

"Perhaps he scents a future enemy in Miss Vancourt's dog, Plato!"
And this whimsical idea made him smile. "He is quite intelligent
enough. He is certainly more intelligent than I am this afternoon,
for I cannot write even a commonplace ordinary note to a commonplace
ordinary woman!" Here a sly brain-devil whispered that Miss Vancourt
might possibly be neither commonplace nor ordinary,--but he put the
suggestion aside with a 'Get thee behind me, Satan' inflexibility.
"The fact is, I had better not write to her at all. I'll send
Bainton with a verbal message; he is sure to give a quaint and
pleasant turn to it,--he knew her father, and I didn't;--it will be
much better to send Bainton."

Having made this resolve, his brow cleared, and he was more
satisfied. Tearing up the last half sheet of wasted note-paper he
had spoilt in futile attempts to address the lady of the Manor, he
laughed at his failures.

"Even if it were etiquette to use the old Roman form of
correspondence, which some people think ought to be revived, it
wouldn't do in this case," he said. "Imagine it! 'John Walden to
Maryllia Vancourt,--Greeting!' How unutterably, how stupendously
ridiculous it would look!"

He shut all his writing materials in his desk, and following Nebbie
out to the lawn, seated himself with a volume of Owen Meredith in
his hand. He was soon absorbed. Yet every now and again his thoughts
strayed to the Five Sisters, and with persistent fidelity of detail
his mind's eye showed him the grassy knoll so soft to the tread,
where the doomed trees stood proudly and gracefully, clad just at
this season all in a glorious panoply of young green,--where, as the
poet whose tender word melodies he was reading might have said of
the surroundings:

"For moisture of sweet showers, All the grass is thick with
flowers."

"Yes, I shall send Bainton up to the Manor with a civil message," he
mused--"and he can--and certainly will--add anything else to it he
likes. Of course the lady may be offended,--some women take offence
at anything--but I don't much care if she is. My conscience will not
reproach me for having warned her of the impending destruction of
one of the most picturesque portions of her property. But
personally, I shall not write to her, nor will I go to see her. I
shall have to pay a formal call, of course, in a week or two,--but I
need not go inside the Manor for that. To leave my card, as minister
of the parish, will be quite sufficient."

He turned again to the volume in his hand. His eyes fell casually on
a verse in the poem of 'Resurrection':

"The world is filled with folly and sin; And Love must cling where
it can, I say,--For Beauty is easy enough to win, But one isn't
loved every day."

He sighed involuntarily. Then to banish an unacknowledged regret, he
began to criticise his author.

"If the world and the ambitions of diplomatic service had not
stepped in between Lord Lytton and his muse, he would have been a
fine poet," he said half aloud;--"A pity he was not born obscurely
and in poverty--he would have been wholly great, instead of as now,
merely greatly gifted. He missed his true vocation. So many of us do
likewise. I often wonder whether I have missed mine?"

But this idea brooked no consideration. He knew he had not mistaken
his calling. He was the very man for it. Many of his 'cloth' might
have taken a lesson from him in the whole art of unselfish
ministration to the needs of others. But with all his high spiritual
aim, he was essentially human, and pleasantly conscious of his own
failings and obstinacies. He did not hold himself as above the
weaker brethren, but as one with them, and of them. And through the
steady maintenance of this mental attitude, he found himself able to
participate in ordinary emotions, ordinary interests and ordinary
lives with small and outlying parishes in the concerns of the people
committed to their charge. It is not too much to say that though he
was in himself distinctly reserved and apart from the average
majority of men, the quiet exercise of his influence over the
village of St. Rest had resulted in so attracting and fastening the
fibres of love and confidence in all the hearts about him to his
own, that anything of serious harm occurring to himself, would have
been considered in the light of real fatality and ruin to the whole
community. When a clergyman can succeed in establishing such
complete trust and sympathy between himself and his parishioners,
there can be no question of his fitness for the high vocation to
which he has been ordained. When, on the contrary, one finds a
village or town where the inhabitants are split up into small and
quarrelsome sects, and are more or less in a state of objective
ferment against the minister who should be their ruling head, the
blame is presumably more with the minister than with those who
dispute his teaching, inasmuch as he must have fallen far below the
expected standard in some way or other, to have thus incurred
general animosity.

"If all fails," mused Walden presently, his thoughts again reverting
to the Five Sisters' question,--"If Bainton does his errand
awkwardly,--if the lady will not see him,--if any one of the
thousand things do happen that are quite likely to happen, and so
spoil all chance of interceding with Miss Vancourt to spare the
trees,--why then I will go myself to-morrow morning to the scene of
intended massacre before six o'clock. I will be there before an axe
is lifted! And if Bainton meant anything at all by his hint, others
will be there too! Yes!--I shall go,--in fact it will be my duty to
go in case of a row."

A smile showed itself under his silver-brown moustache. The idea of
a row seemed not altogether unpleasant to him. He stooped and patted
his dog playfully.

"Nebuchadnezzar!" he said, with mock solemnity; whereat Nebbie,
lying at his feet, opened one eye, blinked it lazily and wagged his
tail--"Nebuchadnezzar, I think our presence will be needed to-morrow
morning at an early hour, in attendance on the Five Sisters! Do you
hear me, Nebuchadnezzar?" Again Nebbie blinked. "Good! That wink
expresses understanding. We shall have to be there, in case of a
row."

Nebbie yawned, stretched out his paws, and closed both eyes in
peaceful slumber. It was a beautiful afternoon;--'sufficient for the
day was the evil thereof' according to Nebbie. The Reverend John
turned over a few more pages of Owen Meredith, and presently came to
the conclusion that he would go punting. The decision was no sooner
arrived at than he prepared to carry it out. Nebbie awoke with a
start from his doze to see his master on the move, and quickly
trotted after him across the lawn to the river. Here, the sole
occupant of the shining stream was a maternal swan, white as a cloud
on the summit of Mont Blanc, floating in stately ease up and down
the water, carrying her young brood of cygnets on her back, under
the snowy curve of her arching wings. Walden unchained the punt and
sprang into it,--Nebbie dutifully following,--and then divested
himself of his coat. He was just about to take the punting pole in
hand, when Bainton's figure suddenly emerged from the shrubbery.

"Off on the wild wave, Passon, are ye?" he observed,--"Well, it's a
fine day for it! M'appen you ain't seen the corpses of four rats
anywhere around? No? Then I 'spect their lovin' relations must ha'
been an' ate 'em up, which may be their pertikler way of doin'
funerals. I nabbed 'em all last night in the new traps of my own
invention. mebbe the lilies will be all the better for their loss.
I'll be catchin' some more this evenin'. Lord; Passon, if you was to
'old out offers of a shillin' a head, the rats 'ud be gone in no
time,--an' the lilies too!"

Walden absorbed in getting his punt out, only smiled and nodded
acquiescingly.

"The train must ha' been poonctual," went on Bainton, staring
stolidly at the shining water. "Amazin' poonctual for once in its
life. For a one 'oss fly, goin' at a one 'oss fly pace, 'as jes'
passed through the village, and is jiggitin' up to the Manor this
very minute. I s'pose Miss Vancourt's inside it."

Walden paused,--punt-pole in hand.

"Yes, I suppose she is," he rejoined. "Come to me at six o'clock,
Bainton. I shall want you."

"Very good, sir!"

The pole splashed in the water,--the punt shot out into the clear
stream,--Nebbie gave two short barks, as was his custom when he
found himself being helplessly borne away from dry land,--and in a
few seconds Walden had disappeared round one of the bends of the
river. Bainton stood ruminating for a minute.

"Jest a one 'oss fly, goin' at a one 'oss fly pace!" he repeated,
slowly;--"It's a cheap way of comin' 'ome to one's father's 'Alls--
jest in a one 'oss fly! She might ha' ordered a kerridge an' pair by
telegram, an' dashed it up in fine style, but a one 'oss fly! It do
take the edge off a 'ome-comin'!--it do reely now."

And with a kind of short grunt at the vanity and disappointment of
human expectations, he went his way to the kitchen garden, there to
'chew the cud of sweet and bitter memory' over the asparagus beds,
which were in a highly promising condition.




VIII


The one-horse fly, going at a one-horse fly pace, had made its way
with comfortable jaunting slowness from Riversford to St. Rest, its
stout, heavy-faced driver being altogether unconscious that his fare
was no less a personage than Miss Vancourt, the lady of the Manor.
When a small, girlish person, clad in a plain, close-fitting garb of
navy-blue serge, and wearing a simple yet coquettish dark straw hat
to match, accosted him at the Riversford railway station with a
brief, 'Cab, please,' and sprang into his vehicle, he was a trifle
sulky at being engaged in such a haphazard fashion by an apparently
insignificant young female who had no luggage, not so much as a
handbag.

"Wheer be you a-goin'?" he demanded, turning his bull neck slowly
round--"I baint pertikler for a far journey."

"Aren't you?" and the young lady smiled. "You must drive me to St.
Rest,--Abbot's Manor, please!"

The heavy-faced driver paused, considering. Should he perform the
journey, or should he not? Perhaps it would be wisest to undertake
the job,--there was the 'Mother Huff' at the end of the journey, and
Roger Buggins was a friend of his. Yes,--he would take the risk of
conveying the humbly-clad female up to the Manor; he had heard
rumours that the old place was once again to be inhabited, and that
the mistress of it was daily expected;--this person in the blue
serge was probably one of her messengers or retainers.

"My fare's ten shillings," he observed, still peering round
distrustfully; "It's a good seven mile up hill and down dale."

"All right!" responded the young woman, cheerfully; "You shall have
ten shillings. Only please begin to go, won't you?"

This request was accompanied by an arch smile, and a flash of blue
eyes from under the dark straw hat brim. Whereat the cumbrous Jehu
was faintly moved to a responsive grin.

"She ain't bad-looking, neither!" he muttered to himself,--and he
was in a somewhat better humour when at last he ondescended to
start. His vehicle was a closed one, and though be fully expected
his passenger would put her head out of the window, when the horse
was labouring up-hill, and entreat him to go faster,--which habit he
had found by experience was  customary to woman in a one-horse fly,-
-nothing of the kind happened on this occasion. The person in the
blue serge was evidently both patient and undemonstrative. Whether
the horse crawled or slouched, or trotted,--whether the fly dragged,
or bumped, or jolted, she made no sign. When St. Rest was reached at
last, and the driver whipped his steed into a semblance of spirit,
and drove through the little village with a clatter, two or three
people came to the doors of their cottages and looked at the vehicle
scrutinisingly, wondering whether its occupant was, or was not Miss
Vancourt. But a meaning wink from the sage on the box intimated that
they need not trouble themselves,--the 'fare' was no one of the
least importance.

Presently, the fine old armorial gates of the drive which led up to
Abbot's Manor were reached,--they were set wide open, this having
been done according to Mrs. Spruce's orders. A woman at the lodge
came hastily out, but the cab had passed her before she had time to
see who was in it. Up through the grand avenue of stately oaks and
broad-branching elms, whose boughs, rich with the budding green,
swayed in the light wind with a soft rustling sound as of sweeping
silks on velvet, the unostentatious vehicle jogged slowly,--it was a
steady ascent all the way, and the driver was duly considerate of
his animal's capabilities. At last came the turn in the long
approach, which showed the whole width of the Manor, with its
ancient rose-brick frontage and glorious oaken gables shining in the
warm afternoon sunlight,--the old Tudor courtyard spreading before
it, its grey walls and paving stones half hidden in a wilderness of
spring blossom. Here, too, the gates were open, and the one-horse
fly made its lumbering and awkward entrance within, drawing up with
a jerk at the carved portico. The young person in blue serge jumped
out, purse in hand.

"Ten shillings, I think?" she said; but before the driver could
answer her, the great iron-clamped door of the Manor swung open, and
a respectable retainer in black stood on the threshold.

"Oh, will you pay the driver, please?" said the young lady,
addressing this functionary; "He says his fare is ten shillings. I
daresay he would like an extra five shillings for himself as well,"
and she smiled--"Here it is!"

She handed the money to the personage in black, who was no other
than the former butler to Sir Morton Pippitt, now at the Manor on
temp'ry service,' and who in turn presented it with an official
stateliness to the startled fly-man, who was just waking up to the
fact that his fare, whom he had considered as a person of no account
whatever, was the actual mistress of the Manor.

"Drive out to the left of the court," said the butler imperatively;
"Reverse way to which you entered."

The submissive Jehu prepared to obey. The young person in blue serge
smiled up at him.

"Good afternoon!" said she.

"Same to you, mum!" he replied, touching his cap; "And thank ye
kindly!"

Whereat, his stock of eloquence being exhausted, he whipped up his
steed to a gallop and departed in haste for the 'Mother Huff,' full
of eagerness to relate the news of Miss Vancourt's arrival, further
embellished by the fact that he had himself driven her up from the
station, 'all unbeknown like.'

Miss Vancourt herself, meanwhile, stepped into her ancestral halls,
and stood for a moment, silent, looking round her with a wistful,
almost pathetic earnestness.

"Tea is served in the morning-room, Madam," said the butler
respectfully, all the time wondering whether this slight, childlike-
looking creature was really Miss Vancourt, or some young friend of
hers sent as an advance herald of her arrival. "Mrs. Spruce thought
you would find it comfortable there."

"Mrs. Spruce!" exclaimed the girl, eagerly; "Where is she?"

"Here, ma'am-here, my lady," said a quavering voice-and Mrs. Spruce,
presenting quite a comely and maternal aspect in her best black silk
gown, and old-fashioned cap, with lace lappets, such as the late
Squire had always insisted on her wearing, came forward curtseying
nervously.

"I hope, ma'am, you've had a pleasant journey--"

But her carefully prepared sentence was cut short by a pair of arms
being flung suddenly round her, and a fresh face pressed against her
own.

"Dear Mrs. Spruce! I am so glad to see you! You knew me when I was
quite a little thing, didn't you? And you knew my father, too! You
were very fond of my father, weren't you? I am sure you were! You
must try to be fond of me now!"

Never, as Mrs. Spruce was afterwards wont to declare, had she been
so 'took back,' as by the unaffected spontaneity and sweetness of
this greeting on the part of the new mistress, whose advent she had
so greatly feared. She went, to quote her own words, 'all of a
fluster like, and near busted out cryin'. It was like a dear lovin'
little child comin' 'ome, and made me feel that queer you might have
knocked me down with a soap-bubble!'

Whatever the worthy woman's feelings were, and however much the
respectable butler, whose name was Primmins, might have been
astonished in his own stately mind at Miss Vancourt's greeting of
her father's old servant, Miss Vancourt herself was quite
unconscious of any loss of dignity on her own part.

"I am so glad!" she repeated; "It's like finding a friend at home to
find you, Spruce! I had quite forgotten what you looked like, but I
begin to remember now--you were always nice and kind, and you always
managed so well, didn't you? Yes, I'm sure you did! The man said tea
was in the morning-room. You come and pour it out for me, like a
dear old thing! I'm going to live alone in my own home now for
always,--for always!" she repeated, emphatically; "Nobody shall ever
take me away from it again!"

She linked her arm confidingly in that of Mrs. Spruce, who for once
was too much astonished to speak,--Miss Vancourt was so entirely
different to the chill and reserved personage her imagination had
depicted, that she was quite at a loss how to look or what to say.

"Is this the way?" asked Maryllia, stepping lightly past the stuffed
knight in armour; "Yes? I thought it was! I begin to remember
everything now! Oh, how I wish I had never gone away from this dear
old home!"

She entered the morning-room, guiding Mrs. Spruce, rather than being
guided by her,--for as that worthy woman averred to Primmins at
supper that self-same night: "I was so all in a tremble and
puspration with 'er 'oldin' on to my arm and takin' me round, that I
was like the man in the Testymen what had dumb devils,--and scarcely
knew what ground my feet was a-fallin' on!" The cheerful air of
welcome which pervaded this charming, sunny apartment, with its
lattice windows fronting the wide stretch of velvety lawn, terrace
and park-land, delighted Maryllia, and she loosened her hold on Mrs.
Spruce's arm with a little cry of pleasure, as a huge magnificently
coated Newfoundland dog rose from his recumbent position near the
window, and came to greet her with slow and expansive waggings of
his great plumy tail.

"Plato, my beauty!" she exclaimed; "How do you like Abbot's Manor,
boy? Eh? Quite at home, aren't you! Good dog! Isn't he a king of
dogs?" And she turned her smiling face on Mrs. Spruce. "A real king!
I bought him because he was so big! Weren't you frightened when you
saw such a monster?--and didn't you think he would bite everybody on
the least provocation? But he wouldn't, you know! He's a perfect
darling--as gentle as a lamb! He would kill anyone that wanted to
hurt me--oh, yes of course!--that's why I love him!"

And she patted the enormous creature's broad head tenderly.

"He's my only true friend!" she continued; "Money wouldn't buy HIS
fidelity!" Here, glancing at Mrs. Spruce, she laughed merrily. "Dear
Mrs. Spruce! You DO look so uncomfortable!--so--so warm! It IS warm,
isn't it? Make me some tea!--tea cools one, they say, though it's
hot to drink at first. We'll talk afterwards!"

Mrs. Spruce, with inaudible murmurings, hastened to the tea-tray,
and tried to compose her agitated nerves by bringing her attention
to bear on the silver tea-kettle which Primmins had just brought in,
and in which the water was beginning to bubble, in obedience to the
newly-kindled flame of the spirit-lamp beneath.

Maryllia, meanwhile, stepped out on the grass terrace in front of
the window, with the dog Plato at her side, and looked long and
earnestly at the fair stretch of woodland scenery before her. While
she thus stood absorbed, Mrs. Spruce stole covert glances at her
with increased wonder and bewilderment. She looked much younger than
her twenty-seven years,--her childlike figure and face portrayed her
as about eighteen, not more. She stood rather under than over the
medium height of woman,--yet she gave the impression of being taller
than she actually was, owing to the graceful curve of her arched
neck, which rose from her shoulders with a daintily-proud poise,
marking her demeanour as exceptional and altogether different to
that of ordinary women. Her back being turned to Mrs. Spruce for the
moment, that sagacious dame decided that she was 'real stately, for
all that she was small,' and also noted that her hair, coiled
loosely in a thick knot, which pushed itself with rebellious fulness
beyond the close-fitting edge of the dark straw hat she wore, was of
a warm auburn gold, rippling here and there into shades of darker
brown. Suddenly, with a decided movement, she turned from the
terrace and re-entered the morning-room.

"Tea ready?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am!--yes, miss--my lady--it's just made--perhaps it's best
to let it draw a bit--"

"I don't like it strong!" said Maryllia, sitting down, and leisurely
taking off her hat; "And you mustn't call me 'my lady.' I'm not the
daughter of an earl, or the wife of a knight. If I were Scotch, I
might say 'I'm Mclntosh of Mclntosh'; or some other Mac of Mac,--but
being English, I'm Vancourt of Vancourt! And you must call me
'Miss,' till I become 'Ma'am.' I don't want to bear any unnecessary
dignities before my time! In fact, I think you'd better call me Miss
Maryllia, as you used to do when my father was alive."

"Very well, ma'am--miss--Miss Maryllia," faltered Mrs. Spruce,
fumbling distractedly with the tea-things, and putting cream and
sugar recklessly into three or four cups without thinking; "There!
Really, I don't know what I am a-doin' of--do you like cream and
sugar, my dear?--beggin' your parding--Miss Maryllia?"

"Yes, I like cream and sugar both," replied the young lady with a
mirthful gleam in her eyes, as she noted the old housekeeper's
confusion; "But don't spoil the tea with either! If you put too much
cream, you will make the tea cold,--if you put too much sugar, you
will make it syrupy,--you must arrive at the juste milieu in a cup
of tea! I am VERY particular!"

Poor Mrs. Spruce grew warmer and redder in the face than ever. What
was the 'juste milieu'? Often and often afterwards did she puzzle
over that remarkable phrase.

"I think," continued Maryllia, with a dimpling smile, "if you put
one lump of sugar in the cup and two brimming tea-spoonfuls of
cream, it will be exactly right!"

Gladly, and with relief, Mrs. Spruce obeyed these explicit
instructions, and handed her new mistress the desired refreshment
with assiduous and respectful care.

"You are a dear!" said Maryllia, lazily taking the cup from her
hand; "Just the kindest and nicest of persons! And good-tempered? I
am sure you are good-tempered, aren't you?"

"Pretty well so, Miss," responded Mrs. Spruce, now gaining courage
to look at the fair smiling face opposite her own, more squarely and
openly; "Leastways, I've been told I keeps my 'ead under any amount
of kitchen jawin'. For, as you may believe me, in a kitchen where
there's men as well as women, an' a servants' 'All leadin' straight
through from the kitchen, jawin' there is and jawin' there must be,
and such bein' the Lord's will, we must put up with it. But it wants
a 'ead to keep things straight, and I generally arranges pretty
well, though I'll not deny but I'm a bit flustered to-day,--
howsomever, it will soon be all right, and any think that's wrong,
Miss, if you will be so good as to tell me--"

"I will!" said Maryllia, sweetly; and she leaned back in her chair,
whimsically surveying the garrulous old dame with eyes which Mrs.
Spruce then and there discovered to be 'the most beautiful blue eyes
ever seen,'--"I will tell you all I do like, and all I don't like.
I'm sure we shall get on well together. The tea is perfect,--and
this room is exquisite. In fact, everything is delightful, and I'm
so happy to be in my own home once more! I wish I had never left
it!"

Her eyes darkened suddenly, and she sighed. Mrs. Spruce watched her
in submissive silence, realising as she gazed that Miss Maryllia was
'a real beauty and no mistake.' Why and how she came to that
conclusion, she could not very well have explained. Her ideas of
feminine loveliness were somewhat hazy and restricted. She privately
considered her own girl, Kitty, 'the handsomest lass in all the
country-side' and she had been known to bitterly depreciate what she
called 'the pink and white dolly-face' of Susie Prescott, the
acknowledged young belle of the village. But there was an
indefinable air of charm about her new lady which was quite foreign
to all her experience,--a bewildering grace and ease of manner
arising from high education and social cultivation, that confused
her and robbed her of all her usual self-sufficiency; and for once
in her life she checked her customary volubility and decided that it
was perhaps best to say as little as possible till she saw exactly
how things were going to turn out. Miss Maryllia was very kind,--but
who could tell whether she was not also capricious? There was
something slightly quizzical as well as sweet in her smile,--
something subtle--something almost mysterious. She had greeted her
father's old servant as affectionately as a child,--but her
enthusiasm might be only temporary. So Mrs. Spruce vaguely reflected
as she stood with her hands folded on her apron, waiting for the
next word. That next word came with a startling suddenness.

"Oh, you wicked Spruce! How could you!"

And Maryllia, springing up from her chair, made a bound to the
opposite corner of the room, where there was a tall vase filled with
peacocks' feathers. Gathering all these in her hand, she flourished
them dramatically in the old housekeeper's face.

"The most unlucky things in the world!" she exclaimed; "Peacocks'
feathers! How could you allow them to be in this room on the very
day of my return! It's dreadful!--quite dreadful!--you know it is!
Nothing is quite so awful as a peacock's feather!"

Mrs. Spruce stared, gasped and blinked,--her hand involuntarily
wandered to her side in search for convenient 'spasms.'

"They've always been 'ere, Miss," she stammered; "I 'adn't no idee
as 'ow you wouldn't like them, though to tell the truth, I 'ave
'eard somethin' about their bein' onlucky---"

"Unlucky! I should think so!" replied Maryllia, holding the
objectionable plumes as far away from herself as possible,--"No
wonder we've been unfortunate, if these feathers were always in the
old house! No wonder everything went wrong! I must break the spell
at once and for ever. Are there more of these horrible 'witch-eyes'
in any of the rooms?"

Poor Mrs. Spruce made a great effort to cudgel her memory. She was
affected by 'a palpitation,' as she expressed it. There was her
newly-arrived mistress confronting her with the authoritative air of
a young empress, holding the bunch of glittering peacocks' plumes
aloft, like a rod uplifted for summary chastisement, and asking her
to instantly remember whether there were any more 'horrible witch-
eyes' about. Mrs. Spruce had never before heard such a term applied
to the tail-sheddings of the imperial fowl,--but she never forgot
it, and never afterwards saw a peacock's feather without a qualm.

"I couldn't say, Miss; I'm not sure--" she answered flutteringly;
"But I'll have every 'ole and corner searched to-morrow---"

"No, to-night!" said Maryllia, with determination; "I will not sleep
in the house if ONE peacock's feather remains in it! There!" Her
brows were bent tragically;--in another moment she laughed; "Take
them away!" she continued, picking up Mrs. Spruce's apron at the
corners and huddling all the glittering plumage into its capacious
folds; "Take them all away! And go right through the house, and
collect every remaining feather you can find--and then--and then---"

Here she paused dubiously. "You mustn't burn them, you know! That
would be unluckier still!"

"Lor! Would it now, Miss? I never should 'ave thought it!" murmured
Mrs. Spruce plaintively, grasping her apronful of 'horrible witch-
eyes'; "What on earth shall I do with them?"

Maryllia considered. Very pretty she looked at that moment, with one
small finger placed meditatively on her lips, which were curved
close like a folded rosebud. "You must either bury them, or drown
them!" she said at last, with the gravest decision; "If you drown
them, you must tie them to a stone, so that they will not float. If
you bury them, you must dig ten feet deep! You must really! If you
don't, they will all come up again, and the eyes will be all over
the place, haunting you!" Here she broke into the merriest little
laugh possible. "Poor Spruce! You do look so miserable! See here--
I'll tell you what to do! Pack them ail in a box, and I will send
them to my aunt Emily! She loves them! She likes to see them stuck
all over the drawing-room. They're never unlucky to her. She has a
fellow-feeling for peacocks; there is a sort of affinity between
herself and them! Pack up every feather you can find, Spruce! The
box must go to-night by parcel's post Address to Mrs. Fred Vancourt,
at the Langham Hotel. She's staying there just now. Will you be sure
to send them off to-night?"

She held up her little white hand entreatingly, and her blue eyes
wonderfully sweet and childlike, yet grave and passionate, looked
straight into the elder woman's wrinkled apple face.

"When she looked at me like that, I'd a gone barefoot to kingdom-
come for her!" Mrs. Spruce afterwards declared to some of her
village intimates--"And as for the peacocks' feathers, I'd a
scrubbed though the 'ole 'ouse from top to bottom afore I'd a let
one be in it!"

To Maryllia she said:

"You may take my word for it, Miss! They'll all go out of the 'ouse
'fore seven o'clock. I'll send them myself to the post."

"Thank you, so much!" said Maryllia, with a comical little sigh of
relief. "And now, Spruce, I will go to my bedroom and lie down for
an hour. I'm just a little tired. Have you managed to get a maid for
me?"

"Well, Miss, there's jest a gel-she don't know anythink much, but
she's 'andy and willin' and 'umble, and quick with her needle, and
tidy at foldin', and got a good character. She's the best I could
do, Miss. Her name is Nancy Pyrle--I'll send her to you directly."

"Yes, do!" answered Miss Vancourt, with a little yawn; "And show me
to my rooms;--you prepared the ones I told you--my mother's rooms?"

"Yes, Miss," answered Mrs. Spruce in subdued accents; "I've made
them all fresh and sweet and clean; but of course the furniture is
left jest as it was when the Squire locked 'em all up after he lost
his lady--"

Maryllia said nothing, but followed the housekeeper upstairs, the
great dog Plato in attendance on her steps. On reaching the bedroom,
hung with faded rose silk hangings, and furnished with sixteenth
century oak, she looked at everything: with a curious wistfulness
and reverence. Approaching the dressing-table, she glanced at her
own reflection in the mirror; but fair as the reflection was that
glanced back at her, she gave it no smile. She was serious and
absorbed, and her eyes were clouded with a sudden mist of tears.
Mrs. Spruce took the opportunity to slip away with her collection of
peacocks' feathers, and descended in haste to the kitchen, where for
some time the various orders she issued caused much domestic
perturbation, and fully expressed the chaotic condition of her own
mind. The maid, Nancy Pyrle, was hustled off to 'wait on Miss
Vancourt upstairs, and don't be clumsy with your 'ands, whatever you
do!'--Primmins, the butler, was sent to remove the tea-things from
the morning-room,--at which command he turned round somewhat
indignantly, asking 'who are you a-orderin' of; don't you think I
know my business?'--Spruce himself, unhappily coming by chance to
the kitchen door to ask if it was really true that Miss Vancourt had
arrived, was shrilly told to 'go along and mind his own business,'--
and so it happened that when Bainton appeared, charged with the
Reverend John Walden's message concerning the Five Sisters, he might
as well have tried to obtain an unprepared audience with the King,
as to see or speak with the lady of the Manor. Miss Vancourt had
arrived--oh yes, she had certainly arrived, Mrs. Spruce told him,
with much heat and energy; but she was tired and was lying down, and
certainly could not be asked to see anyone, no matter what the
business was. And to make things more emphatic, at the very time
that Bainton was urging his cause, and Mrs. Spruce was firmly
rejecting it, Nancy Pyrle came down from attendance on her mistress
and said that Miss Vancourt was going to sleep a little, and she did
not wish to be disturbed till she rang her bell.

"Oh, and she's beautiful!" said Nancy, drawing a long breath,--"and
so very kind! She showed me how to do all she wanted--and was that
patient and gentle! She says I'll make quite a good maid after a
bit!"

"Well, I hope to the Lord you will!" said Mrs. Spruce with a sniffy
"For it's a chance in a 'undred, comin' straight out of the village
to a first situation with, a lady like Miss Vancourt. And I 'ope
you'll profit by it! And if you 'adn't taken the prize for
needlework in the school, you wouldn't 'ave 'ad it, so now you sees
what good it does to serve your elders when you're young." Here she
turned to Bainton, who was standing disconsolately half in and half
out of the kitchen doorway. "I'm real sorry, Mr. Bainton, that you
can't see our lady, more 'specially as you wishes to give a message
from Passon Walden himself--but you jest go back and tell 'im 'ow it
is;--Miss Vancourt is restin' and can't be disturbed nohow."

Bainton twirled his cap nervously in his hand.

"I s'pose no one couldn't say to her quiet-like as 'ow the Five
Sisters be chalked?--"

Mrs. Spruce raised her fat hands with a gesture of dismay.

"Lor' bless the man!" she exclaimed; "D'ye think we're goin' to
worrit Miss Vancourt with the likes o' that the very first evenin'
she's set foot in 'er own 'ouse? Why, we dussn't! An' that there
great dog Plato lyin' on guard outside 'er door! I've 'ad enough to-
day with peacocks' feathers, let alone the Five Sisters! Besides,
Oliver Leach is agent 'ere, and what he says is sure to be done. She
won't worry 'erself about it,--and you may be pretty certain he
won't be interfered with. You tell Passon Walden I'm real sorry, but
it can't be 'elped."

Reluctantly, Bainton turned away. He was never much disposed for a
discussion with Mrs. Spruce,--her mind was too illogical, and her
tongue too persistent. Her allusion to peacocks' feathers was
unintelligible to him, and he wondered whether 'anythink she's been
an' took' had gone to her head. Anyway, his errand was foiled for
the moment. But he was not altogether disheartened. He determined
not to go back to Walden with his message quite undelivered.

"Where there's a will, there's a way!" he said to himself. "I'll go
and do a bit of shoutin' to Spruce,--deaf as he is, he's more
reasonable-like than his old 'ooman!"

With this resolve, he went his way by a short-cut through Abbot's
Manor gardens to a small thatched shelter in the woods, known as
'the foresters' hut,' where Spruce was generally to be found at
about sunset, smoking a peaceful pipe, alone and well out of his
wife's way.

Meanwhile, Maryllia Vancourt, lying wide awake on her bed in the
long unused room that was to have been her mother's, experienced
various chaotic sensations of mingled pleasure and pain. For the
first time in her life of full womanhood she was alone,--
independent,--free to come or go as she listed, with no one to
gainsay her wishes, or place a check on her caprices. She had
deliberately thrown off her aunt's protection; and with that action,
had given up the wealth and luxury with which she had been lavishly
surrounded ever since her father's death. For reasons of her own,
which she considered sufficiently cogent, she had also resigned all
expectations of being her aunt's heiress. She had taken her liberty,
and was prepared to enjoy it. She had professed herself perfectly
contented to live on the comparatively small patrimony secured to
her by her father's will. It was quite enough, she said, for a
single woman,--at any rate, she would make it enough.

And here she was, in her own old home,--the home of her childhood,
which she was ashamed to think she had well-nigh forgotten. Since
her fifteenth year she had travelled nearly all over the world;
London, Paris, Vienna, New York, had each in turn been her 'home'
under the guidance of her wealthy perambulating American relative;
and in the brilliant vortex of an over-moneyed society, she had been
caught and whirled like a helpless floating straw. Mrs. 'Fred'
Vancourt, as her aunt was familiarly known to the press
paragraphist, had spared no pains to secure for her a grand
marriage,--and every possible advantage that could lead to that one
culminating point, had been offered to her. She had been taught
everything; that could possibly add to her natural gifts of
intelligence; she had been dressed exquisitely, taken about
everywhere, and 'shown off' to all the impecunious noblemen of
Europe;--she had been flattered, praised, admired, petted and
generally spoilt, and had been proposed to by 'eligible' gentlemen
with every recurring season,--but all in vain. She had taken a
singular notion into her head--an idea which her matter-of-fact aunt
told her was supremely ridiculous. She wanted to be loved.

"Any man can ask a girl to marry him, if he has pluck and
impudence!" she said; "Especially if the girl has money, or
expectations of money, and is not downright deformed, repulsive and
ill-bred. But proposals of marriage don't always mean love. I don't
care a bit about being married,--but I do want to be loved--really
loved!--I want to be 'dear to someone else' as Tennyson sings it,--
not for what I HAVE, but for what I AM."

It was this curious, old-fashioned notion of wanting to be loved,
that had estranged Maryllia from her wealthy American protectress.
It had developed from mere fireside argument and occasional
dissension, into downright feud, and its present result was self-
evident. Maryllia had broken her social fetters, and had returned to
her own rightful home in a state which, for her, considered by her
past experience, was one of genteel poverty, but which was also one
of glorious independence. And as she restfully reclined under the
old rose silk hangings which were to have encanopied that perished
beauty from which she derived her own fairness, she was conscious of
a novel and soothing sense of calm. The rush and hurry and frivolity
of society seemed put away and done with; through her open window
she could hear the rustling of leaves and the singing of birds;--the
room in which she found herself pleased her taste as well as her
sentiment,--and though the faintest shadow of vague wonder crossed
her mind as to what she would do with her time, now that she had
gained her own way and was actually all alone in the heart of the
country, she did not permit such a thought to trouble her peace. The
grave tranquillity of the old house was already beginning to exert
its influence on her always quick and perceptive mind,--the dear
remembrance of her father whom she had idolised, and whose sudden
death had been the one awful shock of her life, came back to her now
with a fresh and tender pathos. Little incidents of her childhood
and of its affection, such as she thought she had forgotten,
presented themselves one by one in the faithful recording cells of
her brain,--and the more or less feverish and hurried life she had
been compelled to lead under her aunt's command and chaperonage,
began to efface itself slowly, like a receding coast-line from a
departing vessel.

"It is home!" she said; "And I have not been in a home for years!
Aunt Emily's houses were never 'home.' And this is MY home--my very
own; the home of our family for generations. I ought to be proud of
it, and I WILL be proud of it! Even Aunt Emily used to say that
Abbot's Manor was a standing proof of the stuck-up pride of the
Vancourts! I'm sure I shall find plenty to do here. I can farm my
own lands and live on the profits--if there are any!"

She laughed a little, and rising from the bed went to the window and
leaned out. A large white clematis pushed its moonlike blossom up to
her face, as though asking to be kissed, and a bright red butterfly
danced dreamily up and down in the late sunbeams, now poising on the
ivy and anon darting off again into the mild still air.

"It's perfectly lovely!" said Maryllia, with a little sigh of
content; "And it is all my own!"

She drew her head in from the window and turned to her mirror.

"I'm getting old," she said, surveying herself critically, and with
considerable disfavour;--"It's all the result of society 'pressure,'
as they call it. There's a line here--and another there"--indicating
the imaginary facial defects with a small tapering forefinger--"And
I daresay I have some grey hairs, if I could only find them." Here
she untwisted the coil at the back of her head and let it fall in a
soft curling shower round her shoulders--"Oh, yes!--I daresay!" she
went on, addressing her image in the glass; "You think it looks very
pretty--but that is only an 'effect,' you know! It's like the
advertisements the photographers do for the hairdressers; 'Hair-
positively-forced-to-grow-in-six-weeks' sort of thing. Oh, what a
dear old chime!" This, as she heard the ancient clock in the square
turret which overlooked the Tudor courtyard give forth a mellow
tintinnabulation. "What time is it, I wonder?" She glanced at the
tiny trifle of a watch she had taken off and placed on her dressing-
table. "Quarter past seven! I must have had a doze, after all. I
think I will ring for Nancy Pyrle"--and she suited the action to the
word; "I have not the least idea where my clothes are."

Nancy obeyed the summons with alacrity. She could not help a slight
start as she saw her mistress, looking like 'the picture of an
angel' as she afterwards described it, in her loose white dressing-
gown, with all her hair untwisted and floating over her shoulders.
She had never seen any human creature quite so lovely.

"Do you know where my dresses are, Nancy?" enquired Maryllia.

"Yes, Miss. Mrs. Spruce unpacked everything herself, and the dresses
are all hanging in this wardrobe." Here Nancy went to the piece of
furniture in question. "Which one shall I give you, Miss?"

Maryllia came to her side, and looked scrutinisingly at all the
graceful Parisian and Viennese flimsies that hung in an. orderly row
within the wardrobe, uncertain which to take. At last she settled on
an exceedingly simple white tea-gown, shaped after a Greek model,
and wholly untrimmed, save for a small square gold band at the
throat.

"This will do!" she decided; "Nobody's coming to dine; I shall be
all alone--"

The thought struck her as quaint and strange. Nobody coming to
dinner! How very odd! At Aunt Emily's there was always someone, or
several someones, to dinner. To-night she would dine all alone.
Well! It would be a novel experience!

"Are there any nice people living about here?" she asked Nancy, as
that anxious young woman carefully divested her of her elegant
dressing-gown; "People I should like to know?"

"Oh, I don't think so, Miss," replied Nancy, quite frankly, watching
in wonder the dexterity and grace with which her mistress swept up
all her hair into one rich twist and knotted it with two big
tortoiseshell hairpins at the back of her head. "There's Sir Morton
Pippitt at Badsworth Hall, three miles from here--"

Maryllia laughed gaily.

"Sir Morton Pippitt! What a funny name! Who is he?"

"Well, Miss, they do say he makes his money at bone-melting; but
he's awful proud for all that--awful proud he is--"

"Well, I should think so!" said Maryllia, with much solemnity;
"Bone-melting is a great business! Does he melt human bones, Nancy?"

"Oh, lor', Miss, no!" And Nancy laughed, despite herself; "Not that
I've ever heard on--it's bones of animals he melts and turns into
buttons and such-like."

"Man is an animal, Nancy," said Maryllia, sententiously, giving one
or two little artistic touches to the loose waves of hair on her
forehead; "Why should not HIS bones be turned into buttons? Why
should HE not be made useful? You may depend upon it, Nancy, human
bones go into Sir Morton What's-his-name's stock-pot. I shouldn't
wonder if he had left his own bones to his business in his will!

     "'Imperial Caesar dead and turned to clay, May stop a hole to
      keep the wind away!'

That's so, Nancy! And is the gentleman who boils bones the only man
about here one could ask to dinner?"

Nancy reflected.

"There's the Passon--" she began.

"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Maryllia, with a little shrug of
impatience; "Worse than the bone-boiler!--a thousand times worse!
There! That will do, Nancy! I'll stroll about till dinner's ready."

She left the room and descended the stairs, followed by the faithful
Plato, and was soon to be seen by various retainers of the curious
and excited household, walking slowly up and down on the grass
terrace in her flowing white draperies, the afterglow of the sinking
sun shining on her gold-brown hair, and touching up little reddish
ripples in it,--such ripples as were painted by the artist of
Charles the Second's day when he brushed into colour and canvas the
portrait of Mary Elia Adelgisa de Vaignecourt. Primmins, late butler
to the irascible Sir Morton Pippitt, was so taken with the sight of
her that he then and there resolved his 'temp'ry service' should be
life-long, if he could manage to please her; and little Kitty Spruce
being permitted by her mother to peep at the 'new lady' through the
staircase window, could only draw a long breath and ejaculate: "Oh!
Ain't she lovely!" while she followed with eagerly admiring eyes the
gossamer trail of Maryllia's white gown on the soft turf, and
strained her ears to catch the sound of the sweet voice which
suddenly broke out in a careless chansonette:

     "Tu m'aimes, cherie?
      Dites-moi!
      Seulement un petit 'oui,'
      Je demande a toi!
      Le bonheur supreme
      Vient quand on aime,
      N'est-ce-pas cherie?
      'Oui'!"

"She's singin' to herself!" said the breathless Kitty, whispering to
her mother; "Ain't she jest smilin' and beautiful?"

"Well, I will own," replied Mrs. Spruce, "she's as different to the
lady _I_ expected as cheese from chalk, which they generally says
chalk from cheese, howsomever, that don't matter. But if I don't
mistake, she's got a will of 'er own, for all that she's so smilin'
and beautiful as you says, Kitty; and now don't YOU go runnin' away
with notions that you can dress like 'er or look like 'er,--for when
once a gel of YOUR make thinks she can imitate the fashions and the
ways of a great lady, she's done for, body and soul! YOU ain't goin'
to wear white gowns and trail 'em up an' down on the grass, nor 'ave
big dogs a-follerin' up an' down while you sings in a furrin
langwidge to yerself; no, not if you was to read all the trashy
story-books in the world--so you needn't think it. For there ain't
no millionaires comin' arter you, as they doos in penny novels,--nor
nothink else what's dished up in newspapers; so jes' wear your
cotton frocks in peace, an' don't worry me with wantin' to look like
Miss Maryllia, for you never won't look like 'er if ye tried till ye
was dead! Remember that, now! The Lord makes a many women,--but now
and again He turns out a few chice samples which won't bear
copyin.'. Miss Maryllia's one of them samples, and we must take 'er
with prayer and thanksgivin' as sich!"




IX


Maryllia's first solitary dinner in the home of her ancestors passed
off with tolerable success. She found something not altogether
unpleasant in being alone after all. Plato was always an
intelligent, well-behaved and dignified companion in his canine way,
and the meal was elegantly served by Primmins, who waited on his new
mistress with as much respect and zeal as if she had been a queen. A
sense of authority and importance began to impress itself upon her
as she sat at the head of her own table in her own dining-hall, with
all the Vandykes and Holbeins and Gainsboroughs gazing placidly down
upon her from their gilded frames, and the flicker of many wax
candles in old silver sconces glancing upon the shields, helmets,
rusty pikes and crossed swords that decorated the panelling of the
walls between and above the pictures.

"Fancy! No gas and no electric light! It is simply charming!" she
thought, "And so becoming to one's dress and complexion! Only
there's nobody to see the becomingness. But I can soon remedy that.
Lots of people will come down and stay here if I only ask them.
There's one thing quite certain about society folk--they will always
come where they can be lodged and boarded free! They call it country
visiting, but it really means shutting up their houses, dismissing
their servants, and generally economising on their housekeeping
bills. I've seen SUCH a lot of it!"

She heaved a little sigh over these social reminiscences, and
finished her repast in meditative silence. She had not been
accustomed to much thinking, and to indulge in it at all for any
length of time was actually a novelty. Her aunt had told her never
to think, as it made the face serious, and developed lines on the
forehead. And she had, under this kind of tutelage, became one of a
brilliant, fashionable, dress-loving crowd of women, who spend most
of their lives in caring for their complexions and counting their
lovers. Yet every now and again, a wave of repugnance to such a
useless sort of existence arose in her and made a stormy rebellion.
Surely there was something nobler in life--something higher--
something more useful and intelligent than the ways and manners of a
physically and morally degenerate society?

It was a still, calm evening, and the warmth of the sun all day had
drawn such odours from the hearts of the flowers that the air was
weighted with perfume when she wandered out again into her garden
after dinner, and looked up wistfully at the gables of the Manor set
clear against a background of dark blue sky patterned with stars. A
certain gravity oppressed her. There was, after all, something just
a little eerie in the on-coming of night in this secluded woodland
place where she had voluntarily chosen to dwell all alone and
unprotected, rather than lend herself to her aunt's match-making
schemes.

"Of course," she argued with herself, "I need not stay here if I
don't like it. I can get a paid companion and go travelling,--but,
oh dear, I've had so much travelling!--or I can own myself in the
wrong to Aunt Emily, and marry that wretch Roxmouth,--Oh, no! I
COULD not! I WILL not!"

She gave an impatient little stamp with her foot, and anon surveyed
the old house with affectionate eyes.

"You shall be my rescue!" she said, kissing her hand playfully to
the latticed windows,--"You shall turn me into an old-fashioned
lady, fond of making jams and pickles, and preserves and herbal
waters! I'll put away all the idiotic intrigues and silly fooling of
modern society in one of your quaint oaken cupboards, and lock them
all up with little bags of lavender to disinfect them! And I will
wait for someone to come and find me out and love me; and if no one
ever comes--" Here she paused, then went on,--"If no one ever comes,
why then--" and she laughed--"some man will have lost a good chance
of marrying as true a girl as ever lived!--a girl who could love--
ah!" And she stretched out her pretty rounded arms to the scented
air. "HOW she could love if she were loved!"

The young moon here put in a shy appearance by showing a fleck of
silver above the highest gable of the Manor.

     "A little diamond peak,
      No bigger than an unobserved star,
      Or tiny point of fairy scimitar;
      Bright signal that she only stooped to tie
      Her silver sandals ere deliciously
      She bowed unto the heavens her timid head,
      Slowly she rose as though she would have fled."

"There's no doubt," said Maryllia, "that this place is romantic! And
romance is what I've been searching for all my life, and have never
found except in books. Not so much in modern books as in the books
that were written by really poetical and imaginative people sixty or
seventy years ago. Nowadays, the authors that are most praised go in
for what they call 'realism'--and their realism is very UNreal, and
very nasty. For instance, this garden,--these lovely trees,--this
dear old house--all these are real--but much too romantic for a
modern writer. He would rather describe a dusthole and enumerate
every potato paring in it! And here am I--I'm real enough--but I'm
not a bad woman--I haven't got what is euphoniously called 'a past,'
and I don't belong to the right-down vicious company of 'Souls.' So
I should never do for a heroine of latter-day fiction. I'm afraid
I'm abnormal. It's dreadful to be abnormal! One becomes a
'neurotic,' like Lombroso, and all the geniuses. But suppose the
world were full of merely normal people,--people who did nothing but
eat and sleep in the most perfectly healthy and regular manner,--oh,
what a bore it would be! There would be no pictures, no sculpture,
no poetry, no music, no anything worth living for. One MUST have a
few ideas beyond food and clothing!"

The moon, rose higher and shed a shower of silver over the grass,
lighting up in strong relief the fair face upturned to it.

"Now the 'Souls' pretend to have ideas," continued Maryllia, still
apostrophising the bland stillness; "But their ideas are low,--
decidedly low,--and decidedly queer. And that Cabinet Ministers are
in their set doesn't make them any the better. I could have been a
'Soul' if I had liked. I could have learnt a lot of wicked secrets
from the married peer who wanted to be my 'affinity,'--only I
wouldn't. I could have got all the Government 'tips,' gambled with
them on the Stock Exchange, and made quite a fortune as a 'Soul.'
Yet here I am,--no 'Soul,'--but only a poor little body, with
something in me that asks for a higher flight than mere social
intrigue. Just a bit of a higher flight, eh, Plato? What do you
think about it?"

Plato the leonine, waved his plumy tail responsively and gently
rubbed his great head against her arm. Resting one hand lightly on
his neck, she moved towards the house and slowly ascended the
graduating slopes of the grass terrace. Here she was suddenly met by
Primmins.

"Beg your pardon, Miss," he said, with an apologetic air, "but
there's an old man from the village come up to see you--a very old
man,--he's had to be carried in a chair, and it's took a couple of
men nigh an hour and a half to bring him along. He says he knew you
years ago--I hardly like to send him away--"

"Certainly not!--of course you mustn't send him away," said
Maryllia, quickening her steps; "Poor old dear! Where is he?"

"In the great, hall, Miss. They brought him through the courtyard
and got him in there, before I had time to send them round to the
back entrance."

Maryllia entered the house. There she was met by Mrs. Spruce, with
uplifted hands.

"Well, it do beat me altogether, Miss," she exclaimed, "as to how
these silly men, my 'usband, too, one of the silliest, beggin' your
parding, could bring that poor old Josey Letherbarrow up here all
this way! And he not toddled beyond the church this seven or eight
years! And it's all about those blessed Five Sisters they've come,
though I told 'em you can't nohow be worrited and can't see no one--
"

"But I can!" said Maryllia decisively; "I can see anyone who wishes
to see me, and I will. Let me pass, Mrs. Spruce, please!"

Mrs. Spruce, thus abruptly checked, stood meekly aside, controlling
her desire to pour forth fresh remonstrances at the unseemliness of
any person or persons intruding upon the lady of the Manor at so
late an hour in the evening as half-past nine o'clock. Maryllia
hastened into the hall and there found an odd group awaiting her,
composed of three very odd-looking personages,--much more novel and
striking in their oddity than anything that could have been
presented to her view in the social whirl of Paris and London. Josey
Letherbarrow was the central figure, seated bolt upright in a cane
arm-chair, through the lower part of which a strong pole had been
thrust, securely nailed and clamped, as well as tied in a somewhat
impromptu fashion with clothes-line. This pole projected about two
feet on either side of the chair to accommodate the bearers, namely
Spruce and Bainton, who, having set their burden down, were now
wiping their hot faces and perspiring brows with flagrantly coloured
handkerchiefs of an extra large size. As Maryllia appeared, they
abruptly desisted from this occupation and remained motionless,
stricken with sudden confusion and embarrassment. Not so old Josey,
for with unexpected alacrity he got out of his chair and stood
upright, supporting himself on his stick, and doffing his old straw
hat to the light girlish figure that approached him with the grace
of kindliness and sympathy expressed in its every movement.

"There she be!" he exclaimed; "There be the little gel wot I used to
know when she was a babby, God bless 'er! Jes' the same eyes and
'air and purty face of 'er! Welcome 'ome to th' owld Squire's
daughter, mates! D'ye 'ear me!" And he turned a dim rolling eye of
command on Spruce and Bainton--"I sez welcome 'ome! And when I sez
it I'spect it to be said arter me by the both of ye,--welcome 'ome!"

Spruce, unable to hear a word of this exordium, smiled sheepishly,--
and twirling the cap he held, put his coloured handkerchief into it
and squeezed it tightly within the lining. Bainton, with the
impending fate of the Five Sisters in view, judged it advisable not
to irritate or disobey the old gentleman whom he had brought forward
as special pleader in the case, and gathering his wits together he
spoke out bravely.

"Welcome 'ome, it is, Josey!" he said; "We both sez it, and we both
means it! And we 'opes the young lady will not take it amiss as 'ow
we've come to see 'er on the first night of 'er return, and wish 'er
'appy in the old 'ouse and long may she remain in it!"

Here he broke off, his eloquence being greatly disturbed by the
gracious smile Maryllia gave him.

"Thank you so much!" she murmured sweetly; and then going up to
Josey Letherbarrow, she patted the brown wrinkled hand that grasped
the stick. "How kind and good of you to come and see me! And so you
knew me when I was a little girl? I hope I was nice to you! Was I?"

Josey waved his straw hat speechlessly. His first burst of
enthusiasm over, he was somewhat dazed, and a little uncertain as to
how he should next proceed with his mission,

"Tell 'er as 'ow the Five Sisters be chalked;" growled Bainton in an
undertone.

But Josey's mind had gone wandering far afield, groping amid
memories of the past, and his aged eyes were fixed on Maryllia with
a strange look of wonder and remembrance commingled.

"Th' owld Squire! Th' owld Squire!" he muttered; "I see 'im now--as
broad an' tall and well-set up a gentleman as ever lived--and sez
he: 'Josey, that little white thing is all I've got left of the wife
I was bringin' 'ome to be the sunshine of the old Manor.' Ay, he
said that! 'Its eyes are like those of my Dearest!' Ay, he said
that, too! The little white thing! She's 'ere,--and th' owld
Squire's gone!"

The pathos of his voice struck Maryllia to the heart,--and for the
moment she could not keep back a few tears that gathered, despite
herself, and glistened on her long lashes. Furtively she dashed them
away, but not before Bainton had seen them.

"Well, arter all, Josey's nothin' but a meanderin' old idgit!" he
thought angrily: "'Ere 'ave I been an' took 'im for a wise man wot
would know exackly 'ow to begin and ask for the sparin' of the old
trees, and if he ain't gone on the wrong tack altogether and made
the poor little lady cry! I think I'll do a bit of this business
myself while I've got the chance--for if I don't, ten to one he'll
be tellin' the story of the wopses' nest next, and a fine oncommon
show we'll make of ourselves 'ere with our manners." And he coughed
loudly--"Ahem! Josey, will you tell Miss Vancourt about the Five
Sisters, or shall I?"

Maryllia glanced from one to the other in bewilderment.

"The Five Sisters!" she echoed; "Who are they?"

Here Spruce imagined, as he often did, that he had been asked a
question.

"Such were our orders from Mr. Leach," he said, in his quiet equable
voice; "We's to be there to-morrow marnin' quarter afore six with
ropes and axes."

"Ropes and axes shall not avail against the finger of the Lord, or
the wrath of the Almighty!" said Josey Letherbarrow, suddenly coming
out of his abstraction; "And if th' owld Squire were alive he
wouldn't have had 'em touched--no, not he! He'd ha' starved sooner!
And if the Five Sisters are laid low, the luck of the Manor will lay
low with 'em! But it's not too late--not too late!"--and he turned
his face, now alive in its every feature with strong emotion, to
Maryllia--"Not too late if the Squire's little gel is still her
father's pride and glory! And that's what I've come for to the Manor
this night,--I ain't been inside the old 'ouse for this ten 'ear or
more, but they's brought me,--me--old Josey,--stiff as I am, and
failin' as I am, to see ye, my dear little gel, and ask ye for God's
love to save the old trees wot 'as waved in the woodland free and
wild for 'undreds o' years, and wot deserves more gratitude from
Abbot's Manor than killin' for long service!"

He began to tremble with nervous excitement, and Maryllia put her
hand soothingly on his arm.

"You must sit down, Josey," she said; "You will be so tired
standing! Sit down and tell me all about it! What trees are you
speaking of? And who is going to cut them down! You see I don't know
anything about the place yet,--I've only just arrived--but if they
are my trees, and you say my father would not have wished them to be
cut down, they shan't be cut down!--be sure of that!"

Josey's eyes sparkled, and he waved his battered hat triumphantly.

"Didn't I tell ye?" he exclaimed, turning round upon Bainton;
"Didn't I say as 'ow this was the way to do it?--and as 'ow the
little gel wot I knew as a baby would listen to me when she wouldn't
listen to no one else? An' as 'ow the Five Sisters would be spared?
An' worn't I right! Worn't I true?"

Maryllia smiled.

"You really must sit down!" she said again, gently persuading him
into his chair, wherein he sank heavily, like a stone, though his
face shone with alertness and vigour. "Primmins!" and she addressed
that functionary who had been standing in the background watching
the little scene; "Bring some glasses of port wine." Primmins
vanished to execute this order. "Now, you dear old man," continued
Maryllia, drawing up an oaken settle close to Josey's knee and
seating herself with a confidential air; "you must tell me just what
you want me to do, and I will do it!"

She looked a mere child, with her fair face upturned and her
rippling hair falling loosely away from her brows. A great
tenderness softened Josey's eyes as he fixed them upon her.

"God Almighty bless ye!" he said, raising his trembling hand above
her head; "God bless ye in your uprisin' and downlyin',--and make
the old 'ouse and the old ways sweet to ye! For there's naught like
'ome in a wild wandering world--and naught like love to make
'appiness out of sorrow! God bless ye, dear little gel!--and give ye
all your 'art's desire, if so be it's for your good and guidin'!"

Instinctively, Maryllia bent her head with a pretty reverence under
the benediction of so venerable a personage, and gently pressed the
wrinkled hand as it slowly dropped again. Then glancing at Bainton,
she said softly:

"He's very tired, I'm afraid!--perhaps too tired to tell me all he
wishes to say. Will you explain what it is he wants?"

Bainton, thus adjured, took courage.

"Thank ye kindly, Miss; and if I may make so bold, it's not what he
wants more'n wot all the village wants and wot we've been 'opin'
against 'ope for, trustin' to the chance of your comin' 'ome to do
it for us. Passon Walden he's a rare good man, and he's done all he
can, and he's been and seen Oliver Leach, but it ain't all no use,--
-"

He paused, as Maryllia interrupted him by a gesture.

"Oliver Leach?" she queried; "He's my agent here, I believe?"

"Jes' so, Miss--he was put in as agent arter the Squire's death, and
he's been 'ere ever since, bad luck to 'im! And he's been a-cuttin'
down timber on the place whenever he's took a mind to, askin' no by-
your-leaves, and none of us 'adn't no right to say a wurrd, he bein'
master-like--but when it comes to the Five Sisters--why then we sez,
if the Five Sisters lay low there's an end of the pride and
prosperity of the village, an' Passon Walden he be main worrited
about it, for he do love trees like as they were his own brothers,
m'appen more'n brothers, for sometimes there's no love lost twixt
the likes o' they, and beggin' your pardon, Miss, he sent me to ye
with a message from hisself 'fore dinner, but you was a-lyin' down
and couldn't be disturbed nohow, so I goes down to Spruce"--here
Bainton indicated the silent Spruce with a jerk of his thumb--"he be
the forester 'ere, under Mr. Leach's orders, as deaf as a post
unless you 'ollers at him, but a good-meanin' man for all that--and
I sez, 'Spruce, you and me 'ull go an' fetch old Josey Letherbarrow,
and see if bein' the oldest 'n'abitant, as they sez in books, he
can't get a wurrd with Miss Vancourt, and so 'ere we be, Miss, for
the trees be chalked"--and he turned abruptly to Spruce and
bellowed--"Baint the trees chalked for comin' down to-morrow
marnin'? Speak fair!"

Spruce heard, and at once gave a lucid statement.

"By Mr. Leach's orders, Miss," he said, addressing Maryllia; "The
five old beech-trees on the knoll, which the village folk call the
'Five Sisters,' are to be felled to-morrow marnin'. They've stood,
so I'm told, an' so I b'lieve, two or three hundred years--"

"And they're going to be cut down!" exclaimed Maryllia. "I never
heard of such wickedness! How disgraceful!"

Spruce saw by the movement of her lips that she was speaking, and
therefore at once himself subsided into silence. Bainton again took
up the parable.

"He's nigh stone-deaf, Miss, so you'll 'scuse him if he don't open
his mouth no more till we shouts at him--but what he sez is true
enough. At six o'clock to-morrow marnin'--"

Here Primmins entered with the port wine.

"Primmins, where does the agent, Leach, live?" enquired Maryllia.

"I really couldn't say, Miss. I'll ask--"

"'Tain't no use askin'," said Bainton; "He lives a mile out of the
village; but he ain't at 'ome nohow this evenin' bein' gone to
Riversford town for a bit o' gamblin' at cards. Lor', Miss, beggin'
yer pardon, gamblin' with the cards do get rid o' timber--it do
reely now!"

Maryllia took a glass of port wine from the tray which Primmins
handed to her, and gave it herself to old Josey. Her mind had
entirely grasped the situation, despite the prolix nature of
Bainton's discourse. A group of historic old trees were to be felled
by the agent's orders at six o'clock the next morning unless she
prevented it. That was the sum total of the argument. And here was
something for her to do, and she resolved to do it.

"Now, Josey," she said with a smile, "you must drink a glass of wine
to my health. And you also--and you!" and she nodded encouragingly
to Spruce and Bainton; "And be quite satisfied about the trees--they
shall not be touched."

"God bless ye!" said Josey, drinking off his wine at a gulp; "And
long life t'ye and 'appiness to enjoy it!"

Bainton, with a connoisseur's due appreciation of a good old brand,
sipped at his glass slowly, while Spruce, hastily swallowing his
measure of the cordial, wiped his mouth furtively with the back of
his hand, murmuring: "Your good 'elth, an' many of 'em!"

"Wishin' ye long days o' peace an' plenty," said Bainton, between
his appreciative sips; "But as fur as the trees is consarned,
you'll'scuse me, Miss, for sayin' it, but the time bein' short, I
don't see 'ow it's goin' to be 'elped, Oliver Leach bein' away, and
no post delivered at his 'ouse till eight o'clock--"

"I will settle all that," said Maryllia--"You must leave everything
to me. In the meantime,"--and she glanced at Spruce,--then
appealingly turned to Bainton,--"Will you try and make your friend
understand an order I want to give him? Or shall I ask Mrs. Spruce
to come and speak to him?"

"Lord love ye, he'll be sharper to hear me than his wife, Miss,
beggin' yer pardon," said Bainton, with entire frankness. "He's too
accustomed to her jawin' an' wouldn't get a cleat impression like.
Spruce!" And he uplifted his voice in a roar that made the old
rafters of the hall ring. "Get ready to take Miss Vancourt's orders,
will ye?"

Spruce was instantly on the alert, and put his hand to his ear.

"Tell him, please," said Maryllia, still addressing Bainton, "that
he is to meet the agent as arranged at the appointed place to-morrow
morning; but that he is not to take any ropes or axes or any men
with him. He is simply to say that by Miss Vancourt's orders the
trees are not to be touched."

These words Bainton dutifully bellowed into Spruce's semi-closed
organs of hearing. A look first of astonishment and then of fear
came over the simple fellow's face.

"I'm afraid," he at last faltered, "that the lady does not know what
a hard man Mr. Leach is; he'll as good as kill me if I go there
alone to him!"

"Lord love ye, man, you won't be alone!" roared Bainton,--"There's
plenty in the village 'ull take care o' that!"

"Say to him," continued Maryllia steadily, noting the forester's
troubled countenance, "he must now remember that I am mistress here,
and that my orders, even if given at the last moment, are to be
obeyed."

"That's it!" chuckled Josey Letherbarrow, knocking his stick on the
ground in a kind of ecstasy,--"That's it! Things ain't goin' to be
as they 'as been now the Squire's little gel is 'ome! That's it!"
And he nodded emphatically. "Give a reskil rope enough an' he'll
'ang hisself by the neck till he be dead, and the Lord ha' mercy on
his soul!"

Maryllia smiled, watching all her three quaint visitors with a
sensation of mingled interest and whimsical amusement.

"D'ye hear? You're to tell Leach," shouted Bainton, "that Miss
Vancourt is mistress 'ere, and her orders is to be obeyed at the
last moment! Which you might ha' understood without splittin' my
throat to tell ye, if ye had a little more sense, which, lackin',
'owever, can't be 'elped. What are ye afeard of, eh?"

"Mr. Leach is a hard man," continued Spruce, anxiously glancing at
Maryllia; "He would lose me my place if he could--:"

Maryllia heard, and privately decided that the person to lose his
place would be Leach himself. "It is quite exciting!" she thought;
"I was wondering a while ago what I should do to amuse myself in the
country, and here I am called upon at once to remedy wrongs and
settle village feuds! Nothing could be more novel and delightful!"
Aloud, she said,--

"None of the people who were in my father's service will lose their
places with me, unless for some very serious fault. Please"--and she
raised her eyes in pretty appeal to Bainton, "Please make everybody
understand that! Are you one of the foresters here?"

Bainton shook his head.

"No, Miss,--I'm the Passon's head man. I does all his gardening and
keeps a few flowers growin' in the churchyard. There's a rose
climbin' over the cross on the old Squire's grave what will do ye
good to see, come another fortnight of this warm weather. But
Passon, he be main worrited about the Five Sisters, and knowin' as
'ow I'd worked for the old Squire at 'arvest an,' sich-like, he
thought I might be able to 'splain to ye--"

"I see!" said Maryllia, thoughtfully, surveying with renewed
interest the old-world figure of Josey Letherbarrow in his clean
smock-frock. "Now, how are you going to get Josey home again?" And a
smile irradiated her face. "Will you carry him along just as you
brought him?"

"Why, yes, Miss--it'll be all goin' downhill now, and there's a moon,
and it'll be easy work. And if so be we're sure the Five Sisters
'ull be saved--"

"You may be perfectly certain of it," said Maryllia interrupting him
with a little gesture of decision--"Only you must impress well on
Mr. Spruce here, that my orders are to be obeyed."

"Beggin' yer pardon, Miss--what Spruce is afeard of is that Leach
may tell him he's a liar, and may jest refuse to obey. That's quite
on the cards, Miss--it is reely now!"

"Oh, is it, indeed!" and Maryllia's eyes flashed with a sudden fire
that made them look brighter and deeper than ever and revealed a
depth of hidden character not lacking in self-will,--"Well, we shall
see! At any rate, I have given my orders, and I expect them to be
carried out! You understand!"

"I do, Miss;" and Bainton touched his forelock respectfully; "An'
while we're joggin' easy downhill with Josey, I'll get it well
rubbed into Spruce. And, by yer leave, if you hain't no objection,
I'll tell Passon Walden that sich is your orders, and m'appen he'll
find a way of impressin' Leach straighter than we can."  Maryllia
was not particularly disposed to have the parson brought into her
affairs, but she waived the query lightly aside.

"You can do as you like about that," she said carelessly; "As the
parson is your master, you can of course tell him if you think he
will be interested. But I really don't see why he should be asked to
interfere. My orders are sufficient."

A very decided ring of authority in the clear voice warned Bainton
that here was a lady who was not to be trifled with, or to be told
this or that, or to be put off from her intentions by any influence
whatsoever. He could not very well offer a reply, so he merely
touched his forelock again and was discreetly silent. Maryllia then
turned playfully to Josey Letherbarrow.

"Now are you quite happy?" she asked. "Quite easy in your mind about
the trees?"

"Thanks be to the Lord and you, God bless ye!" said Josey, piously;
"I'm sartin sure the Five Sisters 'ull wave their leaves in the
blessed wind long arter I'm laid under the turf and the daisies!
I'll sleep easy this night for knowin' it, and thank ye kindly and
all blessin' be with ye! And if I never sees ye no more--"

"Now, Josey, don't talk nonsense!" said Maryllia, with a pretty
little air of protective remonstrance; "Such a clever old person as
you are ought to know better than to be morbid! 'Never see me no
more' indeed! Why I'm coming to see you soon,--very soon! I shall
find out where you live, and I shall pay you a visit! I'm a dreadful
talker! You shall tell me all about the village and the people in
it, and I'm sure I shall learn more from you in an hour than if I
studied the place by myself for a week! Shan't I?"

Josey was decidedly flattered. The port wine had reddened his nose
and had given an extra twinkle to his eyes.

"Well, I ain't goin' to deny but what I knows a thing or two--" he
began, with a sly glance at her.

"Of course you do! Heaps of things! I shall coax them all out of
you! And now, good-night!--No!--don't get up!" for Josey was making
herculean efforts to rise from his chair again. "Just stay where you
are, and let them carry you carefully home. Good-night!"

She gave a little salute which included all three of her rustic
visitors, and moved away. Passing under the heavily-carved arched
beams of oak which divided the hall from the rest of the house, she
turned her head backward over her shoulder with a smile.

"Good-night, Ambassador Josey!"

Josey waved his old hat energetically.

"Good-night, my beauty! Good-night to Squire's gel! Good-night--"

But before he could pile on any more epithets, she was gone, and the
butler Primmins stood in her place.

"I'll help give you a lift down to the gates," he said, surveying
Josey with considerable interest; "You're a game old chap for your
age!"

Josey was still waving his hat to the dark embrasure through which
Maryllia's white figure had vanished.

"Ain't she a beauty? Ain't she jest a real Vancourt pride?" he
demanded excitedly; "Lord! We won't know ourselves in a month or
two! You marrk my wurrds, boys! See if what I say don't come true!
Leach may cheat the gallus, but he won't cheat them blue eyes, let
him try ever so! They'll be the Lord's arrows in his skin! You see
if they ain't!"

Bainton here gave a signal to Spruce, and they hoisted up the
improvised carrying-chair between them, Primmins steadying it
behind.

"There ain't goin' to be no layin' low of the Five Sisters!" Josey
continued with increasing shrillness and excitement as he was borne
out into the moonlit courtyard; "And there ain't goin' to be no
devil's work round the old Manor no more! Welcome 'ome to Squire's
gel! Welcome 'ome!"

"Shut up, Josey!" said Bainton, though kindly enough--"You'll soon
part with all the breath you've got in yer body if ye makes a
screech owl of yerself like that in the night air! You's done enough
for once in a way,--keep easy an' quiet while we carries ye back to
the village--ye weighs a hundred pound 'eavier if ye're noisy,--ye
do reely now!"

Thus adjured, Josey subsided into silence, and what with the joy he
felt at the success of his embassy, the warm still air, and the
soothing influence of the moonlight, he soon fell fast asleep, and
did not wake till he arrived at his own home in safety. Having
deposited him there, and seen to his comfort, Spruce and Bainton
left him to his night's rest, and held a brief colloquy outside his
cottage door.

"I'm awful 'feard goin' to-morrow marnin' up to the Five Sisters
with ne'er a tool and ne'er a man,--Leach 'ull be that wild!" said
Spruce, his rubicund face paling at the very thought--"If I could
but 'ave 'ad written instructions, like!"

"Why didn't you ask for 'em while you 'ad the chance?" demanded
Bainton testily; "It's too late now to bother your mind with what ye
might ha' done if ye'd had a bit of gumption. And it's too late for
me to be goin' and speakin' to Passon Walden. There's nothin' to be
done now till the marnin'!"

"Nothin' to be done till the marnin'," echoed Spruce with a sigh,
catching these words by happy chance; "All the same, she's a fine
young lady, and 'er orders is to be obeyed. She ain't a bit like
what I expected her to be."

"Nor she ain't what I bet she would be," said Bainton, heedless as
to whether his companion heard him or not; "I've lost 'arf a crown
to my old 'ooman, for I sez, sez I, 'She's bound to be a 'igh an'
mighty stuck-up sort o' miss wot won't never 'ave a wurrd for the
likes of we,' an' my old 'ooman she sez to me: 'Go 'long with ye for
a great silly gawk as ye are; I'll bet ye 'arf a crown she won't
be!' So I sez 'Done,'--an' done it is. For she's just as sweet as
clover in the spring, an' seems as gentle as a lamb,--though I
reckon she's got a will of 'er own and a mind to do what she likes,
when and 'ow she likes. I'll 'ave a fine bit o' talk with Passon
'bout her as soon as iver he gives me the chance."

"Ay, good-night it is," observed Spruce, placidly taking all these
remarks as evening adieux,--"Yon moon's got 'igh, and it's time for
bed if so be we rises early. Easy rest ye!"

Bainton nodded. It was all the response necessary. The two then
separated, going their different ways to their different homes,
Spruce having to get back to the Manor and a possible curtain-
lecture from his wife. All the village was soon asleep,--and eleven
o'clock rang from the church-tower over closed cottages in which not
a nicker of lamp or candle was to be seen. The moonbeams shed a
silver rain upon the outlines of the neatly thatched roofs and
barns--illumining with touches of radiance as from heaven, the
beautiful 'God's House' which dominated the whole cluster of humble
habitations. Everything was very quiet,--the little hive of humanity
had ceased buzzing; and the intense stillness was only broken by the
occasional murmur of a ripple breaking from the river against the
pebbly shore.

Up at the Manor, however, the lights were not yet extinguished.
Maryllia, on the departure of 'Ambassador Josey' as she had called
him, and his two convoys, had sent for Mrs. Spruce and had gone very
closely with her into certain matters connected with Mr. Oliver
Leach. It had been difficult work,--for Mrs. Spruce's garrulity,
combined with her habit of wandering from the immediate point of
discussion, and her anxiety to avoid involving herself or her
husband in trouble, had created a chaotic confusion in her mind,
which somewhat interfered with the lucidity of her statements.
Little by little, however, Maryllia extracted a sufficient number of
facts from her hesitating and reluctant evidence to gain
considerable information on many points respecting the management of
her estate, and she began to feel that her return home was
providential and had been in a manner pre-ordained. She learned all
that Mrs. Spruce could tell her respecting the famous 'Five
Sisters'; how they were the grandest and most venerable trees in all
the country round--and how they stood all together on a grassy
eminence about a mile and a half from the Manor house and on the
Manor lands just beyond the more low-lying woods that spread
between. Whereupon Maryllia decided that she would take an early
ride over her property the next day,--and gave orders that her
favourite mare, 'Cleopatra,' ready saddled and bridled, should be
brought round to the door at five o'clock the next morning. This
being settled, and Mrs. Spruce having also humbly stated that all
the peacock's feathers she could find had been summarily cast forth
from the Manor through the medium of the parcels' post, Maryllia
bade her a kindly good-night.

"To-morrow," she said, "we will go all over the house together, and
you will explain everything to me. But the first thing to be done is
to save those old trees."

"Well, no one wouldn't 'ave saved 'em if so be as you 'adn't come
'ome, Miss," declared Mrs. Spruce. "For Mr. Leach he be a man of his
word, and as obs'nate as they makes 'em, which the Lord Almighty
knows men is all made as obs'nate as pigs--and he's been master over
the place like--"

"More's the pity!" said Maryllia; "But he is master here no longer,
Spruce; I am now both mistress and master. Remember that, please!"

Mrs. Spruce curtseyed dutifully and withdrew. The close cross-
examination she had undergone respecting Leach had convinced her of
two things,--firstly, that her new mistress, though such a
childlike-looking creature, was no fool,--and secondly, that though
she was perfectly gentle, kind, and even affectionate in her manner,
she evidently had a will of her own, which it seemed likely she
would enforce, if necessary, with considerable vigour and
imperativeness. And so the worthy old housekeeper decided that on
the whole it would be well to be careful--to mind one's P's and Q's
as it were,--to pause before rushing pell-mell into a flood of
unpremeditated speech, and to pay the strictest possible attention
to her regular duties.

"Then m'appen we'll stay on in the old place," she considered; "But
if we doos those things which we ought not to have done, as they sez
in the prayer-book, we'll get the sack in no time, for all that she
looks so smilin' and girlie-like."

And so profound were her cogitations on this point that she actually
forgot to give her husband the sound rating she had prepared for him
concerning the part he had taken in bringing Josey Letherbarrow up
to the Manor. Returning from the village in some trepidation, that
harmless man was allowed to go to bed and sleep in peace, with no
more than a reminder shrilled into his ears to be 'up with the dawn,
as Miss Maryllia would be about early.'

Maryllia herself, meanwhile, quite unconscious that her small
personality had made any marked or tremendous effect upon her
domestics, retired to rest in happy mood. She was glad to be in her
own home, and still more glad to find herself needed there.

"I've been an absolutely useless creature up till now," she said,
shaking down her hair, after the maid Nancy had disrobed her and
left her for the night. "The fact is, there never was a more utterly
idle and nonsensical creature in the world than I am! I've done
nothing but dress and curl my hair, and polish my face, and dance,
and flirt and frivol the time away. Now, if I only am able to save
five historical old trees, I shall have done something useful;--
something more than half the women I know would ever take the
trouble to do. For, of course, I suppose I shall have a row,--or as
Aunt Emily would say 'words,'--with the agent. All the better! I
love a fight,--especially with a man who thinks himself wiser than I
am! That is where men are so ridiculous,--they always think
themselves wiser than women, even though some of them can't earn
their own living except through a woman's means. Lots of men will
take a woman's money, and sneer at her while spending it! I know
them!" And she nestled into her bed, with a little cosy cuddling
movement of her soft white shoulders; "'Take all and give nothing!'
is the motto of modern manhood;--I don't admire it,--I don't endorse
it; I never shall! The true motto of love and chivalry should be
'Give all--take nothing'!"

Midnight chimed from the courtyard turret. She listened to the
mellow clang with a sense of pleased comfort and security.

"Many people would think of ghosts and all sorts of uncanny things
in an old, old house like this at midnight;" she thought; "But
somehow I don't believe there are any ghosts here. At any rate, not
unpleasant ones;--only dear and loving 'home' ghosts, who will do me
no harm!"

She soon sank into a restful slumber, and the moonlight poured in
through the old latticed windows, forming a delicate tracery of
silver across the faded rose silken coverlet of the bed, and showing
the fair face, half in light, half in shade, that rested against the
pillow, with the unbound hair scattered loosely on either side of
it, like a white lily between two leaves of gold. And as the hours
wore on, and the silence grew more intense, the slow and somewhat
rusty pendulum of the clock in the tower could just be heard faintly
ticking its way on towards the figures of the dawn. "Give all--take
nothing--Give--all--take--no--thing!" it seemed to say;--the motto
of love and the code of chivalry, according to Maryllia.




X


A thin silver-grey mist floating delicately above the river Rest and
dispersing itself in light wreaths across the flowering banks and
fields, announced the breaking of the dawn,--and John Walden, who
had passed a restless night, threw open his bedroom window widely,
with a sense of relief that at last the time had come again for
movement and action. His blood was warm and tingling with suppressed
excitement,--he was ready for a fight, and felt disposed to enjoy
it. His message to Miss Vancourt had apparently failed,--for on the
previous evening Bainton had sent round word to say that he had been
unable to see the lady before dinner, but that he was going to try
again later on. No result of this second attempt had been
forthcoming, so Walden concluded that his gardener had received a
possibly curt and complete rebuff from the new 'Squire-ess,' and had
been too much disheartened by his failure to come and report it.

"Never mind!--we'll have a tussle for the trees!" said John to
himself, as after his cold tubbing he swung his dumb-bells to and
fro with the athletic lightness and grace of long practice; "If the
villagers are prepared to contest Leach's right to destroy the Five
Sisters, I'll back them up in it! I will! And I'll speak my mind to
Miss Vancourt too! She is no doubt as apathetic and indifferent to
sentiment as all her 'set,' but if I can prick her through her
pachydermatous society skin, I'll do it!"

Having got himself into a great heat and glow with this mental
resolve and his physical exertions combined, he hastily donned his
clothes, took his stoutest walking-stick, and sallied forth into the
cool dim air of the as yet undeclared morning, the faithful Nebbie
accompanying him. Scarcely, however, had he shut his garden gate
behind him when Bainton confronted him.

"Marnin', Passon!"

"Oh, there you are!" said Walden--"Well, now what's going to be
done?"

"Nothin's goin' to be done;" rejoined Bainton stolidly, with his
usual inscrutable smile; "Unless m'appen Spruce is 'avin' every bone
broke in his body 'fore we gets there. Ye see, he ain't got no
written orders like,--and mebbe Leach 'ull tell him he's a liar and
that Miss Vancourt's instructions is all my eye!"

"Miss Vancourt's instructions?" echoed Walden; "Has she given any?"

"Of coorse she has!" replied Bainton, triumphantly; "Which is that
the trees is not to be touched on no account. And she's told Spruce,
through me,--which I bellowed it all into his ear,--to go and meet
Leach this marnin' up by the Five Sisters and give him 'er message
straight from the shoulder!"

Walden's face cleared and brightened visibly.

"I'm glad--I'm very glad!" he said; "I hardly thought she could
sanction such an outrage--but, tell me, how did you manage to give
her my message?"

"'Tworn't your message at all, Passon, don't you think it!" said
Bainton; "You ain't got so fur as that. She's not the sort o' lady
to take a message from no one, whether passon, pope or emp'rur. Not
she! It was old Josey Letherbarrow as done it." And he related the
incidents of the past evening in a style peculiar to himself, laying
considerable weight on his own remarkable intelligence and foresight
in having secured the 'oldest 'n'abitant' of the village to act as
representative and ambassador for the majority.

Walden listened with keen interest.

"Yes,--Leach is likely to be quarrelsome," he said, at its
conclusion; "There's no doubt about that. We mustn't leave Spruce to
bear the brunt of his black rage all alone. Come along, Bainton!--I
will enforce Miss Vancourt's orders myself if necessary."

This was just what Bainton wanted,--and master and man started off
at a swinging pace for the scene of action, Bainton pouring forth as
he went a glowing description of the wonderful and unexpected charm
of the new mistress of the Manor.

"There ain't been nothin' like her in our neighbourhood iver at all,
so fur as I can remember," he declared. "A' coorse I must ha' seed
her when I worked for th' owld Squire at whiles, but she was a child
then, an' I ain't a good hand at rememberin' like Josey be, besides
I never takes much 'count of childern runnin' round. But 'ere was we
all a-thinkin' she'd be a 'igh an' mighty fashion-plate, and she
ain't nothin' of the sort, onny jest like a little sugar figure on,
a weddin'-cake wot looks sweet at ye and smiles pleasant,--though
she's got a flash in them eyes of her which minds me of a pony wot
ain't altogether broke in. Josey, he sez them eyes is a-goin' to
finish up Leach,--which mebbe they will and mebbe they won't;--all
the same they's eyes you won't see twice in a lifetime! Lord love
ye, Passon, ain't it strange 'ow the Almighty puts eyes in the 'eads
of women wot ain't a bit like wot he puts in the 'eads of men! We
gets the sight all right, but somehow we misses the beauty. An'
there's plenty of women wot has eyes correct in stock and colour, as
we sez of the flowers,--but they're like p'ison berries, shinin' an'
black an' false-like,--an' if ye touch 'em ye're a dead man.
Howsomever when ye sees eyes like them that was smilin' at old Josey
last night, why it's jest a wonderful thing; and it don't make me
s'prised no more at the Penny Poltry-books wot's got such a lot
about blue eyes in 'em. Blue's the colour--there's no doubt about
it;--there ain't no eye to beat a blue one!"

Walden heard all this disjointed talk with a certain impatience.
Swinging along at a rapid stride, and glad in a sense that the old
trees were to be saved, he was nevertheless conscious of annoyance,-
-though by whom, or at what he was annoyed, he could not have told.
Plunging into the dewy woods, with all the pungent odours of moss
and violets about his feet, he walked swiftly on, Bainton having
some difficulty to keep up with him. The wakening birds were
beginning to pipe their earliest carols; gorgeously-winged insects,
shaken by the passing of human footsteps from their slumbers in the
cups of flowers, soared into the air like jewels suddenly loosened
from the floating robes of Aurora,--and the gentle stir of rousing
life sent a pulsing wave through the long grass. Every now and again
Bainton glanced up at the 'Passon's' face and murmured under his
breath,--'Blue's the colour--there ain't nowt to beat it!' possibly
inspired thereto by the very decided blue sparkle in the eyes of the
'man of God' who was marching steadily along in the 'Onward
Christian Soldiers' style, with his shoulders well back, his head
well poised, and his whole bearing expressive of both decision and
command.

Out of the woods they passed into an open clearing, where the
meadows, tenderly green and wet with dew, sloped upwards into small
hillocks, sinking again into deep dingles, adorned with may-trees
that were showing their white buds like little pellets of snow among
the green, and where numerous clusters of blackthorn spread out
lovely lavish tangles of blossom as fine as shreds of bleached wool
or thread-lace upon its jet-like stems. Across these fields dotted
with opening buttercups and daisies, Walden and his 'head man about
the place' made quick way, and climbing the highest portion of the
rising ground just in front of them, arrived at a wide stretch of
peaceful pastoral landscape comprising a fine view of the river in
all its devious windings through fields and pastures, overhung at
many corners with ancient willows, and clasping the village of St.
Rest round about as with a girdle of silver and blue. Here on a
slight eminence stood the venerable sentinels of the fair scene,--
the glorious old 'Five Sisters' beeches which on this very morning
had been doomed to bid farewell for ever to the kind sky. Noble
creatures were they in their splendid girth and broadly-stretching
branches, which were now all alive with the palest and prettiest
young green,--and as Walden sprang up the thyme-scented turfy ascent
which lifted them proudly above all their compeers, his heart beat
with mingled indignation and gladness,--indignation that such grand
creations of a bountiful Providence should ever have been so much as
threatened with annihilation by a destructive, ill-conditioned human
pigmy like Oliver Leach,--and gladness, that at the last moment
their safety was assured through the intervention of old Josey
Letherbarrow. For, of course Miss Vancourt herself would never have
troubled about them. Walden made himself inwardly positive on that
score. She could have no particular care or taste for trees, John
thought. It was the pathetic pleading of Josey,--his quaint
appearance, his extreme age--and his touching feebleness, which
taken all together had softened the callous heart of the mistress of
the Manor, and had persuaded her to stay the intended outrage.

"If Josey had asked her to spare a gooseberry bush, she would
probably have consented," said Walden to himself; "He is so old and
frail,--she could hardly have refused his appeal without seeming to
be almost inhuman."

Here his reflections were abruptly terminated by a clamour of angry
voices, and hastening his steps up the knoll, he there confronted a
group of rough rustic lads gathered in a defensive half-circle round
Spruce who, white and breathless, was bleeding profusely from a deep
cut across his forehead. Opposite him stood Oliver Leach, livid with
rage, grasping a heavy dog-whip.

"You damned, deaf liar!" he shouted; "Do you think I'm going to take
YOUR word? How dare you disobey my orders! I'll have you kicked off
the place, you and your loud-tongued wife and the whole kit of you!
What d'ye mean by bringing these louts up from the village to bull-
bait me, eh? What d'ye mean by it? I'll have you all locked up in
Riversford jail before the day's much older! You whining cur!" And
he raised his whip threateningly. "I've given you one, and I'll give
you another--"

"Noa, ye woan't!" said a huge, raw-boned lad, standing out from the
rest. "You woan't strike 'im no more, if ye wants a hull skin! Me
an' my mates 'ull take care o' that! You go whoam, Mister Leach!--
you go whoam!--you've 'eerd plain as the trees is to be left
stannin'--them's the orders of the new Missis,--and you ain't no
call to be swearin' yerself black in the face, 'cos you can't get
yer own way for once. You're none so prutty lookin' that we woan't
know 'ow to make ye a bit pruttier if ye stays 'ere enny longer!"

And he grinned suggestively, doubling a portentous fist, and
beginning to roll up his shirt sleeves slowly with an ominous air of
business.

Leach looked at the group of threatening faces, and pulled from his
pocket a notebook and pencil.

"I know you all, and I shall take down your names," he said, with
vindictive sharpness, though his lips trembled--"You, Spruce, are
under my authority, and you have deliberately disobeyed my orders--"

"And you, Leach, are under Miss Vancourt's authority and you are
deliberately refusing to obey your employer's orders!" said Walden,
suddenly emerging from the shadow east by one of the great trees,
"And you have assaulted and wounded Spruce who brought you those
orders. Shame on you, man! Riversford jail is more likely to receive
YOU as a tenant than any of these lads!" Here he turned to the young
men who on seeing their minister had somewhat sheepishly retreated,
lifting their caps and trampling backward on each other's toes; "Go
home, boys," he said peremptorily, yet kindly; "There's nothing for
you to do here. Go home to your breakfasts and your work. The trees
won't be touched--"

"Oh, won't they!" sneered Leach, now perfectly white with passion;
"Who's going to pay me for the breaking of my contract, I should
like to know? The trees are sold--they were sold as they stand a
fortnight ago,--and down they come to-day, orders or no orders; I'll
have my own men up here at work in less than an hour!"

Walden turned upon him.

"Very well then, I shall ask Miss Vancourt to set the police to
watch her trees and take you into custody;" he said, coolly; "If you
have sold the trees standing, to cover your gambling debts, you will
have to UNsell them, that's all! They never were yours to dispose
of;--you can no more sell them than you can sell the Manor. You have
no permission to make money for yourself out of other people's
property. That kind of thing is common thieving, though it MAY
sometimes pass for Estate Agency business!"

Leach sprang forward, his whip uplifted,--but before it could fall,
with one unanimous yell, the young rustics rushed upon him and
wrested it from his hand. At this moment Bainton, who had been
silently binding Spruce's cut forehead with a red cotton
handkerchief, so that the poor man presented the appearance of a
melodramatic 'stage' warrior, suddenly looked up, uttered an
exclamation, and gave a warning signal.

"Better not go on wi' the hargyment jes' now, Passon!" he said,--
"'Ere comes the humpire!"

Even as he spoke, the quick gallop of hoofs echoed thuddingly on the
velvety turf, and the group of disputants hastily scattered to right
and left, as a magnificent mare, wild-eyed and glossy-coated, dashed
into their centre and came to a swift halt, drawn up in an instant
by the touch of her rider on the rein. All eyes were turned to the
slight woman's figure in the saddle, that sat so easily, that swayed
the reins so lightly, and that seemed as it were, throned high above
them in queenly superiority--a figure wholly unconventional, clad in
a riding-skirt and jacket of a deep soft violet hue, and wearing no
hat to shield the bright hair from the fresh wind that waved its
fair ripples to and fro caressingly and tossed a shining curl loose
from the carelessly twisted braid. Murmurs of 'The new Missis!' 'Th'
owld Squire's darter!'--ran from mouth to mouth, and John Walden,
seized by a sudden embarrassment, withdrew as far as possible into
the shadow of the trees in a kind of nervous hope to escape from the
young lady's decidedly haughty glance, which swept like a flash of
light, round the assembled group and settled at last with chill
scrutiny on the livid and breathless Oliver Leach.

"You are the agent here, I presume?"

Maryllia's voice rang cold and clear,--there was not a trace of the
sweet and coaxing tone in it that had warmed the heart of old Josey
Letherbarrow.

Leach looked up, lifting his cap half reluctantly.

"I am!"

"You have had my orders?"

Leach was silent. The young rustics hustled one another forward,
moved by strong excitement, all eager to see the feminine 'Humpire'
who had descended upon them as suddenly as a vision falling from the
skies, and all wondering what would happen next.

"You have had my orders?" repeated Maryllia;--then, as no answer was
vouchsafed to her, she looked round and perceived Bainton. To him
she at once addressed herself.

"Who has struck Spruce?"

Bainton hesitated. It was an exceedingly awkward position. He looked
appealingly, as was his wont, up into the air and among the highest
branches of the 'Five Sisters' for 'Passon Walden,' but naturally
could not discover him at that elevation.

"Come, come!" said Maryllia, imperatively--"You are not all deaf, I
hope! Give me a straight answer, one of you! Who struck Spruce?"

"Mister Leach did!" said the big-boned lad who had constituted
himself Spruce's defender. "We 'eerd down in the village as 'ow
you'd come 'ome, Miss, and as 'ow you'd give your orders that the
Five Sisters was to be left stannin', and we coomed up wi' Spruce to
see 'ow Leach 'ud take it, an' 'fore we could say a wurrd Leach he
up wi' his whip and cut Spruce across the for'ead as ye see--"

Maryllia raised her hand and silenced him with a gesture. "Thank
you! That will do. I understand!" She turned towards Leach; "What
have you to say for yourself?" "I take no orders from a servant,"
replied Leach, insolently; "I have managed this estate for ten
years, and I give in my statements and receive my instructions from
the firm of solicitors who have it in charge. I am not called upon
to accept any different arrangement without proper notice."

Maryllia heard him out with coldly attentive patience.

"You will accept a different arrangement without any further notice
at all," she said; "You will leave the premises and resign all
management of my property from this day henceforward. I dismiss you,
for disobedience and insolence, and for assaulting my servant,
Spruce, in the execution of his duty. And as for these trees, if any
man touches a bough of one of them without my permission, I will
have him prosecuted! Now you know my mind!".

She sat proudly erect in her saddle, while the village hobbledehoys
who had instinctively gathered round her, like steel shavings round
a magnet, fairly gasped for breath. Oliver Leach dismissed! Oliver
Leach, the petty tyrant, the carping, snarling jack-in-office, cast
out like a handful of bad rubbish! It was like a thunderbolt fallen
from heaven and riving the earth on which they stood! Bainton heard,
and could scarcely keep back a chuckle of satisfaction. He longed to
make Spruce understand what was going on, but that unfortunate
individual was slightly stunned by Leach's heavy blow, and sitting
on the grass with his head between his two hands, was gazing, in a
kind of stupefaction at the 'new Missis'; so that any 'bellowing'
into his ear was scarcely possible.

Leach himself stared blankly and incredulously,--his face crimsoned
with a sudden rush of enraged blood and then paled again, and
changing his former insolent tone for one both fawning and
propitiatory, he stammered out:

"I am very sorry--I--I beg your pardon, Madam!--if you will give
yourself a little time to consider, you will see I have done my duty
on this property all the time I have been connected with it. I hope
you will not dismiss me for the first fault!--I--I--admit I should
not have struck Spruce,--but--I--I was taken by surprise--I--I know
my business,--and I am not accustomed to be interfered with--" Here
his pent-up anger got the better of him and he again began to
bluster. "I have done my duty--no man better!" he said in fierce
accents. "There's not an acre of woodland here that isn't in a
better condition than it was ten years ago--Ah!--and bringing in
more money too!--and now I am to be turned off for a parcel of
village idiots who hardly know a beech from an elm! I'll make a case
of it! Sir Morton Pippitt knows me--I'll speak to Sir Morton
Pippitt--"

"Sir Morton Pippitt!" echoed Maryllia disdainfully; "What has he to
do with me or my property?" Here she suddenly spied Walden, who, in
his eagerness to hear every word that passed had, unconsciously to
himself, moved well out of the sheltering shadow of the trees--"Are
YOU Sir Morton Pippitt?"

A broad grin, deepening into a scarcely suppressed titter, Went the
round of the gaping young rustics. Walden himself smiled,--and
recognising that the time had now come to declare himself, he
advanced a step or two and lifted his hat.

"I have not that pleasure! I am the minister of this parish, and my
name is John Walden. I'm afraid I am rather a trespasser here!--but
I have loved these old trees for many years, and I came up this
morning,--having heard what your orders were from my gardener
Bainton,--to see that those orders were properly carried out,--and
also to save possible disturbance--"

He broke off. Maryllia, while he spoke, had eyed him somewhat
critically, and now favoured him with a charming smile.

"Thank you very much!" she said sweetly; "It was most kind of you! I
wonder--" And she paused, knitting her pretty brows in perplexity;
"I wonder if you could get rid of everybody for me?"

He glanced up at her in a little wonderment.

"Could you?" she repeated.

He drew nearer.

"Get rid of everybody?--you mean?--"

She leaned confidentially from her saddle.

"Yes--YOU know! Send them all about their business! Clergymen can
always do that, can't they? There's really nothing more to be said
or done--the trees shall not be touched,--the matter is finished.
Tell all these big boys to go away--and--oh, YOU know!"

A twinkle of merriment danced in Walden's eyes. But he turned quite
a set and serious face round on the magnetised lads of the village,
who hung about, loth to lose a single glance or a single word of the
wonderful 'Missis' who had the audacious courage to dismiss Leach.

"Now, boys!" he said peremptorily; "Clear away home and begin your
day's work! You're not wanted here any longer. The trees are safe,--
and you can tell everyone what Miss Vancourt says about them.
Bainton! You take these fellows home,--Spruce had better go with
you. Just call at the doctor's on the way and get his wound attended
to. Come now, boys!--sharp's the word!"

A general scrambling movement followed this brief exordium. With shy
awkwardness each young fellow lifted his cap as he shambled
sheepishly past Maryllia, who acknowledged these salutes smilingly,-
-Bainton assisted Spruce to rise to his feet, and then took him off
under his personal escort,--and only Leach remained, convulsively
gripping his dog-whip which he had picked up from the ground where
the lads had thrown it,--and anon striking it against his boot with
a movement of impatience and irritation.

"GOOD-morning, Mr. Leach!" said Walden pointedly. But Leach stood
still, looking askance at Maryllia.

"Miss Vancourt," he said, hoarsely; "Am I to understand that you
meant what you said just now?"

She glanced at him coldly.

"That I dismiss you from my service? Of course I meant it! Of course
I mean it!"

"I am bound to have fair notice," he muttered. "I cannot collect all
my accounts in a moment--"

"Whatever else you may do, you will leave this place at, once;" said
Maryllia, firmly,--"I will communicate my decision to the solicitors
and they will settle with you. No more words, please!"

She turned her mare slowly round on the grassy knoll, looking up
meanwhile at the lovely canopy of tremulous young green above her
head. John Walden watched her. So did Oliver Leach,--and with a
sudden oath, rapped out like a discordant bomb bursting in the still
air, he exclaimed savagely:

"You shall repent this, my fine lady! By God, you shall! You shall
rue the day you ever saw Abbot's Manor again! You had far better
have stayed with your rich Yankee relations than have made such a
home-coming as this for yourself, and such an outgoing for me! My
curse on you!"

Shaking his fist threateningly at her, he sprang down the knoll, and
plunging through the grass and fern was soon lost to sight.

The soft colour in Maryllia's cheeks paled a little and a slight
tremor ran through her frame. She looked at Walden,--then laughed
carelessly.

"Guess I've given him fits!" she said, relapsing into one of her
Aunt Emily's American colloquialisms, with happy unconsciousness
that this particular phrase coming from her pretty lips sent a kind
of shock through John's sensitive nerves. "He's not a very pleasant
man to meet anyway! And it isn't altogether agreeable to be cursed
on the first morning of my return home. But, after all, it doesn't
matter much, as there's a clergyman present!" And her blue eyes.
danced mischievously; "Isn't it lucky you came? You can stop that
curse on its way and send it back like a homing pigeon, can't you?
What do you say when you do it? 'Retro me Sathanas,' or something of
that kind, isn't it? Whatever it is, say it now, won't you?"

Walden laughed,--he could not help laughing. She spoke, with such a
whimsical flippancy, and she looked so bewitchingly pretty.

"Really, Miss Vancourt, I don't think I need utter any special
formula on this occasion," he said, gaily. "You have done a good
action to the whole community by dismissing Leach. Good actions
bring their own reward, while curses, like chickens, come home to
roost. Pray forgive me for quoting copybook maxims! But, for the
curse of one ill-conditioned boor, you will have the thanks and
blessings of all your tenantry. That will take the edge of the
malediction; don't you think so?"

She turned her mare in the homeward direction, and began to guide it
gently down the slope. Walking by her side, John held back one of
the vast leafy boughs of the great trees to allow her to pass more
easily, and glanced up at her smilingly as he put his question.

She met his eyes with an open frankness that somewhat disconcerted
him.

"Well, I don't know about that!" she replied. "You see, in these
days of telepathy and hypnotic suggestion, there may be something
very catching about a curse. It's just like a little seed of
disease;--if it falls on the right soil it germinates and spreads,
and then all manner of wicked souls get the infection. I believe
that in the old days everybody guessed this instinctively, without
being able to express it scientifically,--and that's why they ran to
the Church for protection agaiast curses, and the evil eye, and
things of that sort. See how some of the old Scottish curses cling
even to this day! The only way to take the sting out of a curse is
to get it transposed"--and she smiled, glancing meditatively up into
the brightening blue of the sky. "Like a song, you know! If it's too
low for the voice you transpose it to a higher key. I daresay the
Church was able to do that in the days when it had REAL faith--oh!--
I beg your pardon!--I ought not to say that to a man of your
calling."

"Why not?" said Walden; "Pray say anything you like to me, Miss
Vancourt;--I should be a very poor and unsatisfactory sort of
creature if I could not bear any criticism on my vocation. Besides,
I quite agree with you. The early Church had certainly more faith
than it has now."

"You're not a bit like a parson," said Maryllia gravely, studying
his face with embarrassing candour and closeness; "You look quite a
nice pleasant sort of man."

John Walden laughed again,--this time with sincere heartiness.
Maryllia's eyes twinkled, and little dimples came and went round her
mouth and chin.

"You seem amused at that," she said; "But I've seen a great deal of
life--and I have met heaps and heaps of parsons--parsons young and
parsons old--and they were all horrid, simply horrid! Some talked
Bible--and others talked the Sporting Times--any amount of them
talked the drama, and played villains in private theatricals. I
never met but one real minister,--that is a man who ministers to the
poor,--and he died in a London slum before he was thirty. I believe
he was a saint; and if he had lived in the days of the early Church,
he would certainly have been canonised. He would have been Saint
William--his name was William. But he was only one William,--I've
seen hundreds of them."

"Hundreds of Williams?" queried Walden suggestively.

This time it was Maryllia who laughed,--a gay little laugh like that
of a child.

"No, I guess not!" she answered; "Some of them are real Johnnies! Oh
dear me!"--and again her laughter broke forth; "I quite forgot! You
said YOUR name was John!"

"So it is." And he smiled; "I'm sorry you don't like it!"

She checked her merriment abruptly, and became suddenly serious.

"But I do like it! You mustn't think I don't. Oh, how rude I must
seem to you! Please forgive me! I really do like the name of John!"

He glanced up at her, still smiling.

"Thank you! It's very kind of you to say so!"

"You believe me, don't you?" she said persistently.

"Of course I do! Of course I must! Though unhappily a Churchman, I
am not altogether a heretic.'"

The smile deepened in his eyes,--and as she met his somewhat
quizzical glance a slight wave of colour rose to her cheeks and
brow. She drew herself up in her saddle with a sudden, proud
movement and carried her little head a trifle higher. Walden looked
at her now as he would have looked at a charming picture, without
the least embarrassment. She appeared so extremely young to him. She
awakened in his mind a feeling of kindly paternal interest, such as
he might have felt for Susie Prescott or Ipsie Frost. He was not
even quite sure that he considered her in any way out of the common,
so far as her beauty was concerned,--though he recognised that she
was almost the living image of 'the lady in the vi'let velvet' whose
portrait adorned the gallery in Abbot's Manor. The resemblance was
heightened by the violet colour of the riding dress she wore and the
absence of any head-covering save her own pretty brown-gold hair.

"I'm glad I've saved the old trees," she said presently, checking
her mare's pace, and looking back at the Five Sisters standing in
unmolested grandeur on their grassy throne. "I feel a pleasant
consciousness of having done something useful. They are beautiful! I
haven't looked at them half enough. I shall come here all by myself
this afternoon and bring a book and read under their lovely boughs.
Just now I've only had time to cry 'rescue.'" She hesitated a
moment, then added:" I'm very much obliged to you for your
assistance, Mr. Walden!--and I'm glad you also like the trees. They
shall never be touched in my lifetime, I assure you I--and I
believe--yes, I believe I'll put something in my last will and
testament about them--something binding, you know! Something that
will set up a block in the way of land agents. Such trees as these
ought to stand as long as Nature will allow them."

Walden was silent. Somehow her tone had changed from kind
playfulness to ordinary formality, and her eyes rested upon him with
a cool, slightly depreciatory expression. The mare was restless, and
pawed the green turf impatiently.

"She longs for a gallop;" said Maryllia, patting the fine creature's
glossy neck; "Don't you, Cleo? Her name is Cleopatra, Queen of
Egypt. Isn't she a beauty?"

"She is indeed!" murmured Walden, with conventional politeness,
though he scarcely glanced at the eulogised animal.

"She isn't a bit safe, you know," continued Maryllia; "Nobody can
hold her but me! She's a perfectly magnificent hunter. I have
another one who is gentleness itself, called Daffodil. My groom
rides her. He could never ride Cleo." She paused, patting the mare's
neck again,--then gathering up the reins in her small, loosely-
gloved hand, she said: "Well, good-morning, Mr. Walden! It was most
kind of you to get up so early and come to help defend my trees! I
am ever so grateful to you! Pray call and see me at the Manor when
you have nothing better to do. You will be very welcome!"

She nodded gracefully to him, and a few loose curls of lovely hair
fell with the action like a web of sunbeams over her brow. Smiling,
she tossed them back.

"Good-bye!" she called.

He raised his hat,--and in another moment the gallop of Cleopatra's
swift hoofs thudded across the grass and echoed over the fields,
gradually diminishing and dying away, as mare and rider disappeared
within the enfolding green of the Manor woods. He stood for a while
looking after the vanishing flash of violet, brown and gold,
scudding over the turf and disappearing under the closely twisted
boughs of budding oak and elm,--and then started to walk home
himself. His face was a study of curiously mingled expressions.
Surprise, amusement, and a touch of admiration struggled for the
mastery in his mind, and he was compelled to admit to himself,
albeit reluctantly, that the doubtfully-anticipated 'Squire-ess' was
by no means the sort of person he had expected to see. Herein he was
at one with Bainton.

"'Like a little sugar figure on a wedding-cake, looking sweet, and
smiling pleasant!'" thought Walden, humorously recalling his
gardener's description; "Scarcely that! She has a will of her own,
and--possibly--a temper! A kind of spoilt child-woman, I should
imagine; just the person to wear all the fripperies Mrs. Spruce was
so anxious about the other day, and quite frivolous enough to
squeeze her feet into shoes a couple of sizes too small for her.
Beautiful? No,--her features are not regular enough for actual
beauty. Pretty? Well,--perhaps she is!--in a certain sense,--but I'm
no judge. Fascinating? Possibly she might be--to some men. She
certainly has a sweet voice, and a very charming manner. And I don't
think she is likely to be disagreeable or discourteous. But there is
nothing remarkable about her--she's just a woman--with a bright
smile,--and a touch of American vivacity running through her English
insularity. Just a woman--with a way!"

And he strode on, his terrier trotting soberly at his heels. But he
was on the whole glad he had met the lady of the Manor, because now
he no longer felt any uneasiness concerning her. His curiosity was
satisfied,--his instinctive dislike of her had changed to a kindly
toleration, and his somewhat morbid interest in her arrival had
quite abated. The 'Five Sisters' were saved--that was a good thing;
and as for Miss Vancourt herself,--well!--she was evidently a
harmless creature who would most likely play tennis and croquet all
day and take very little interest in anything except herself.

"She will not interfere with me, nor I with her," said Walden with a
sigh of satisfaction and relief; "And though we live in the same
village, we shall be as far apart as the poles,--which is a great
comfort'"




XI


Meanwhile, Maryllia cantered home through the woods in complacent
and lively humour. The first few hours of her return to the home of
her forefathers had certainly not been lacking in interest and
excitement. She had heard and granted a village appeal,--she had
stopped an act of vandalism,--she had saved five of the noblest
trees in England,--she had conquered the hearts of several village
yokels,--she had thrust a tyrant out of office,--she had been cursed
by the said tyrant, a circumstance which was, to say the very least
of it, quite new to her experience and almost dramatic,--and,--she
had 'made eyes' at a parson! Surely this was enough adventure for
one morning, especially as it was not yet eight o'clock. The whole
day had yet to come; possibly she might be involved later on in
still more thrilling and sensational episodes,--who could tell! She
carolled a song for pure gaiety of heart, and told the rustling
leaves and opening flowers in very charmingly pronounced French that

"Votre coeur a beau se defendre De s'enflammer,--Le moment vient, il
faut se rendre, Il faut aimer!"

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, curveted and pranced daintily at every
check imposed on her rein, as became an equine royalty,--she was
conscious of the elastic turf under her hoofs, and glad of the fresh
pure air in her nostrils,--and her mistress shared with her the
sense of freedom and buoyancy which an open country and fair
landscape must naturally inspire in those to whom life is a daily
and abounding vigorous delight, not a mere sickly brooding over the
past, or a morbid anticipation of the future. The woods surrounding
Abbot's Manor were by no means depressing,--they were not dark
silent vistas of solemn pine, leading into deeper and deeper gloom,
but cheery and picturesque clumps of elm and beech and oak, at
constant intervals with hazel-copse, hawthorn and eglantine,--true
English woods, suggestive of delicate romance and poesy, and made
magical by the songs of birds, whose silver-throated melodies are
never heard to sweeter advantage than under the leafy boughs of such
unspoilt green lanes and dells as yet remain to make the charm and
glamour of rural England. Primroses peeped out in smiling clusters
from every mossy nook, and the pale purple of a myriad violets
spread a wave of soft colour among the last year's fallen leaves,
which had served good purpose in keeping the tender buds warm till
Spring should lift them from their earth-cradles into full-grown
blossom. Maryllia's bright eyes, glancing here and there, saw and
noted a thousand beauties at every turn,--the chains of social
convention and ordinance had fallen from her soul, and a joyous
pulse of freedom quickened her blood and sent it dancing through her
veins in currents of new exhilaration and vitality. With her multi-
millionaire aunt, she had lived a life of artificial constraint,
against which, despite its worldly brilliancy, her inmost and best
instincts had always more or less rebelled;--now,--finding herself
alone, as it were, with Mother Nature, she sprang like a child to
that great maternal bosom, and nestled there with a sense of glad
refreshment and peace.

"What dear wildflowers!" she murmured now, as restraining
Cleopatra's coquettish gambols, she rode more slowly along, and
spied the bluebells standing up among tangles of green, making
exquisite contrast with the golden glow of aconites and the fragile
white of wood-anemones,--"They are ever so much prettier than the
hot-house things one gets any day in Paris and London! Big forced
roses,--great lolling, sickly-scented lilies, and orchids--oh dear!
how tired I am of orchids! Every evening a bouquet of orchids for
five weeks--Sundays NOT excepted,--shall I ever forget the
detestable 'rare specimens'!"

A little frown puckered her brow, and for a moment the lines of her
pretty mouth drooped and pouted with a quaintly petulant expression,
like that of a child going to cry.

"It was complete persecution!" she went on, crooning her complaints
to herself and patting Cleopatra's arched neck by way of
accompaniment to her thoughts--"Absolute dodging and spying round
corners after the style of a police detective. I just hate a lover
who makes his love, if it is love, into a kind of whip to flog your
poor soul with! Roxmouth here, Roxmouth there, Roxmouth everywhere!-
-he was just like the water in the Ancient Mariner 'and not a drop
to drink.' At the play, at the Opera, in the picture-galleries, at
the races, at the flower-shows, at all the 'crushes' and big
functions,--in London, in Paris, in New York, in St. Petersburg, in
Vienna,--always 'ce cher Roxmouth'--as Aunt Emily said;--money no
consideration, distance no object,--always 'ce cher Roxmouth,' stiff
as a poker, clean as fresh paint, and apparently as virtuous as an
old maid,--with all his aristocratic family looming behind him, and
a long ancestry of ghosts in the shadow of time, extending away back
to some Saxon 'nobles,' who no doubt were coarse barbarians that ate
more raw meat than was good for them, and had to be carried to bed
dead drunk on mead! It IS so absurd to boast of one's ancestry! If
we could only just see the dreadful men who began all the great
families, we should be perfectly ashamed of them! Most of them tore
up their food with their fingers. Now we Vancourts are supposed to
be descended from a warrior bold, named Robert Priaulx de
Vaignecourt, who fought in the Crusades. Poor Uncle Fred used to be
so proud of that! He was always talking about it, especially when we
were in America. He liked to try and make the Pilgrim-Father-
families jealous. Just as he used to boast that if he had only been
born three minutes before my father, instead of three minutes after,
he would have been the owner of Abbot's Manor. That three minutes'
delay and consideration he took about coming into the world made him
the youngest twin, and cut off his chances. And he told me that
Robert the Crusader had a brother named Osmond, who was believed to
have founded a monastery somewhere in this neighbourhood, and who
died, so the story goes, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
though there's no authentic trace left of either Osmond or Robert
anywhere. They might, of course, have been very decent and agreeable
men,--but it's rather doubtful. If Osmond went on a pilgrimage he
would never have washed himself, to begin with,--it would have
destroyed his sanctity. And as for Robert the warrior bold, he would
have been dreadfully fierce and hairy,--and I'm quite sure I could
not possibly have asked him to dinner!"

She laughed at her own fancies, and guided her mare under a drooping
canopy of early-flowering wild acacia, just for the sheer pleasure
of springing lightly up in her saddle to pull off a tuft of scented
white blossom.

"The fact is," she continued half aloud, "there's nobody I can ask
to dinner even now as it is. Not down here. The local descriptions
of Sir Morton Pippitt do not tempt me to make his acquaintance, and
as for the parson I met just now,-why he would be impossible!--
simply impossible!" she repeated with emphasis--" I can see exactly
what he's like at a glance. One of those cold, quiet, clever men who
'quiz' women and never admire them,--I know the kind of horrid
University creature! A sort of superior, touch-me-not-person who can
barely tolerate a woman's presence in the room, and in his heart of
hearts relegates the female sex generally to the lowest class of the
animal creation. I can read it all in his face. He's rather good-
looking--not very,--his hair curls quite nicely, but it's getting
grey, and so is his moustache,--he must be at least fifty, I should
think. He has a good figure--for a clergyman;--and his eyes--no, I'm
not sure that I like his eyes--I believe they're deceitful. I must
look at them again before I make up my mind. But I know he's just as
conceited and disagreeable as most parsons--he probably thinks that
he helps to turn this world and the next round on his little
finger,--and I daresay he tells the poor village folk here that if
they don't obey him, they'll go to hell, and if they do, they'll fly
straight to heaven and put on golden crowns at once. Dear me! What a
ridiculous state of things! Fancy the dear old man in the smock who
came to see me last night, with a pair of wings and a crown!"

Laughing again, she flicked Cleopatra's neck with the reins, and
started off at an easy swinging gallop, turning out of the woods
into the carriage drive, and never checking her pace till she
reached the house.

All that day she gave marked evidence that her reign as mistress of
Abbot's Manor had begun in earnest. Changing her riding dress for a
sober little tailor-made frock of home-spun, she flitted busily over
the old house of her ancestors, visiting it in every part, peering
into shadowy corners, opening antique presses and cupboards, finding
out the secret of sliding panels in the Jacobean oak that covered
the walls, and leaving no room unsearched. The apartment in which
her father's body had lain in its coffin was solemnly unlocked and
disclosed to her view under the title of 'the Ghost Room,'--whereat
she was sorrowfully indignant,--so much so indeed that Mrs. Spruce
shivered in her shoes, pricked by the sting of a guilty conscience,
for, if the truth be told, it was to Mrs. Spruce's own too-talkative
tongue that this offending name owed its origin. Quietly entering
the peaceful chamber with its harmless and almost holy air of
beautiful, darkened calm, Maryllia drew up the blinds, threw back
the curtains, and opened the latticed windows wide, admitting a
flood of sunshine and sweet air.

"It must never be called 'the Ghost Room' again,"--she said, with a
reproachful gravity, which greatly disconcerted and overawed Mrs.
Spruce--"otherwise it will have an evil reputation which it does not
deserve. There is nothing ghostly or terrifying about it. It is a
sacred room,--sacred to the memory of one of the dearest and best of
men! It is wrong to let such a room be considered as haunted,--I
shall sleep in it myself sometimes,--and I shall make it bright and
pretty for visitors when they come. I would put a little child to
sleep in it,--for my father was a good man, and nothing evil can
ever be associated with him. Death is only dreadful to the ignorant
and the wicked."

Mrs. Spruce wisely held her peace, and dutifully followed her new
mistress to the morning-room, where she had to undergo what might be
called quite a stiff examination regarding all the household and
housekeeping matters. Armed with a fascinating little velvet-bound
notebook and pencil, Maryllia put down all the names of the
different servants, both indoor and outdoor (making a small private
mark of her own against those who had served her father in any
capacity, and those who were just new to the place), together with
the amount of wages due every month to each,--she counted over all
the fine house linen, much of which had been purchased for her
mother's home-coming and had never been used;--she examined with all
a connoisseur's admiration the almost priceless old china with which
the Manor shelves, dressers and cupboards were crowded,--and finally
after luncheon and an hour's deep cogitation by herself in the
library, she wrote out in a round clerkly hand certain 'rules and
regulations,' for the daily routine of her household, and handed the
document to Mrs. Spruce,--much to that estimable dame's perturbation
and astonishment.

"These are my hours, Spruce," she said--"And it will of course be
your business to see that the work is done punctually and with
proper method. There must be no waste or extravagance,--and you will
bring me all the accounts every week, as I won't have bills running
up longer than that period. I shall leave all the ordering in of
provisions to you,--if it ever happens that you send something to
table which I don't like, I will tell you, and the mistake need not
occur again. Now is there anything else?"--and she paused
meditatively, finger on lip, knitting her brows--"You see I've never
done any housekeeping, but I've always had notions as to how I
should do it if I ever got the chance to try, and I'm just
beginning. I believe in method,--and I like everything that HAS a
place to be in IN its place, and everything that HAS a time, to come
up to its time. It saves ever so much worry and trouble! Now let me
think!--oh yes!--I knew there was another matter. Please let the
gardeners and outdoor men generally know that if they want to speak
to me, they can always see me from ten to half-past every morning.
And, by the way, Spruce, tell the maids to go about their work
quietly,--there is nothing more objectionable than a noise and fuss
in the house just because a room is being swept and turned out. I
simply hate it! In the event of any quarrels or complaints, please
refer them to me--and--and--" Here she paused again with a smile--
"Yes! I think that's all--for the present! I haven't yet gone
through the library or the picture-gallery;--however those rooms
have nothing to do with the ordinary daily housekeeping,--if I find
anything wanting to be done there, I'll send for you again. But
that's about all now!"

Poor Mrs. Spruce curtseyed deferentially and tremulously. She was
not going to have it all her own way as she had fondly imagined when
she first saw the apparently child-like personality of her new lady.
The child-like personality was merely the rose-flesh covering of a
somewhat determined character.

"And anything I can do for you, Spruce, or for your husband,"
continued Maryllia, dropping her business-like tone for one of as
coaxing a sweetness as ever Shakespeare's Juliet practised for the
persuasion of her too tardy Nurse--"will be done with ever so much
pleasure! You know that, don't you?" And she laid her pretty little
hands on the worthy woman's portly shoulders--"You shall go out
whenever you like--after work, of course!--duty first, pleasure
second!--and you shall even grumble, if you feel like it,--and have
your little naps when the midday meal is done with,--Aunt Emily's
housekeeper in London used to have them, and she snored dreadfully!
the second footman--QUITE a nice lad--used to tickle her nose with a
straw! But I can't afford to keep a second footman--one is quite
enough,--or a coachman, or a carriage;--besides, I would always
rather ride than drive,--and my groom, Bennett, will only want a
stable-boy to help him with Cleo and Daffodil. So I hope there'll be
no one downstairs to tease you, Spruce dear, by tickling YOUR nose
with a straw! Primmins looks much too staid and respectable to think
of such a thing."

She laughed merrily,--and Mrs. Spruce for the life of her could not
help laughing too. The picture of Primmins condescending to indulge
in a game of 'nose and straw' was too grotesque to be considered
with gravity.

"Well I never, Miss!" she ejaculated--"You do put things that
funny!"

"Do I? I'm so glad!" said Maryllia demurely--"it's nice to be funny
to other people, even if you're not funny to yourself! But I want
you to understand from the first, Spruce, that everyone must feel
happy and contented in my household. So if anything goes wrong, you
must tell me, and I will try and set it right. Now I'm going for an
hour's walk with Plato, and when I come in, and have had my tea,
I'll visit the picture-gallery. I know all about it,--Uncle Fred
told me,"--she paused, and her eyes darkened with a wistful and
deepening gravity,--then she added gently--"I shall not want you
there, Spruce,--I must be quite alone."

Mrs. Spruce again curtseyed humbly, and was about to withdraw, when
Maryllia called her back.

"What about the clergyman here, Mr. Walden?"--she asked--"Is he a
nice man?--kind to the village people, I mean, and good to the
poor?"

Mrs. Spruce gave a kind of ecstatic gasp, folded her fat hands
tightly together in front of her voluminous apron, and launched
forth straightway on her favourite theme.

"Mr. Walden is jest one of the finest men God ever made, Miss," she
said, with solemnity and unction--"You may take my word for it! He's
that good, that as we often sez, if m'appen there ain't no saint in
the Sarky an' nowt but dust, we've got a real live saint walkin'
free among us as is far more 'spectable to look at in his plain coat
an' trousers than they monks an' friars in the picter-books wi'
ropes around their waistses an' bald crowns, which ain't no sign to
me o' bein' full o' grace, but rather loss of 'air,--an' which you
will presently see yourself, Miss, as 'ow Mr. Walden's done the
church beautiful, like a dream, as all the visitors sez, which there
isn't its like in all England--an' he's jest a father to the village
an' friends with every man, woman, an' child in it, an' grudges
nothink to 'elp in cases deservin', an' works like a nigger, he do,
for the school, which if he'd 'ad a wife it might a' been better an'
it might a' been worse, the Lord only knows, for no woman would a'
come up 'ere an' stood that patient watchin' me an' my work, an' I
tell you truly, Miss Maryllia, that when your boxes came an' I had
to unpack 'em an' sort the clothes in 'em, I sent for Passon Walden
jest to show 'im that I felt my 'sponsibility, an' he sez, sez he:
'You go on doin' your duty, Missis Spruce, an' your lady will be all
right'--an' though I begged 'im to stop, he wouldn't while I was a-
shakin' out your dresses with Nancy--"

Here she was interrupted by a ringing peal of laughter from
Maryllia, who, running up to her, put a little hand on her mouth.

"Stop, stop, Spruce!" she exclaimed--"Oh dear, oh dear I Do you
think I can understand all this? Did you show the parson my clothes-
-actually? You did!" For Mrs. Spruce nodded violently in the
affirmative. "Good gracious! What a perfectly dreadful thing to do!"
And she laughed again. "And what is the saint in the Sarky?" Here
she removed her hand from the mouth she was guarding. "Say it in one
word, if you can,--what is the Sarky?"

"It's in the church,"--said Mrs. Spruce, dauntlessly proceeding with
her flow of narrative, and encouraged thereto by the sparkling mirth
in her mistress's face--"We calls it Sarky for short. Josey
Letherbarrow, what reads, an' 'as larnin', calls it the Sarky Fagus,
an' my Kitty, she's studied at the school, an' SHE sez 'it's Sar-KO-
fagus, mother,' which it may be or it mayn't, for the schools don't
know more than the public-'ouses in my opinion,--leastways it's a
great long white coffin what's supposed to 'ave the body of a saint
inside it, an' Mr. Walden he discovered it when he was rebuildin'
the church, an' when the Bishop come to conskrate it, he sez 'twas a
saint in there an' that's why the village is called St. Rest--but
you'll find it all out yourself. Miss, an' as I sez an' I don't care
who 'ears me, the real saint ain't in the Sarky at all,--it's just
Mr. Walden himself,--"

Again Maryllia's hand closed her mouth.

"You really must stop, Spruce! You are the dearest old gabbler
possible--but you must stop! You'll have no breath left--and I shall
have no patience! I've heard quite enough. I met Mr. Walden this
morning, and I'm sure he isn't a saint at all! He's a very ordinary
person indeed,--most ordinary--not in the very least remarkable.
I'm. glad he's good to the people, and that they like him--that's
really all that's necessary, and it's all I want to know. Go along,
Spruce!--don't talk to me any more about saints in the Sarky or out
of the Sarky! There never was a real saint in the world--never!--not
in the shape of a man!"

With laughter still dancing in her eyes, she turned away, and Mrs.
Spruce, in full possession of restored nerve and vivacity, bustled
off on her round of household duty, the temporary awe she had felt
concerning the new written code of domestic 'Rules and Regulations'
having somewhat subsided under the influence of her mistress's gay
good-humour. And Maryllia herself, putting on her hat, called Plato
to her side, and started off for the village, resolved to make the
church her first object of interest, in order to see the wondrous
'Sarky.'

"I never was so much entertained in my life!" she declared to
herself, as she walked lightly along,--her huge dog bounding in
front of her and anon returning to kiss her hand and announce by
deep joyous barks his delight at finding himself at liberty in the
open country--"Spruce is a perfect comedy in herself,--ever so much
better than a stage play! And then the quaint funny men who came to
see me last night,--and those village boys this morning! And the
'saintly' parson! I'm sure he'll turn out to be comic too,--in a
way--he'll be the 'heavy father' of the piece! Really I never
imagined I should have so much fun!"

Here, spying a delicate pinnacle gleaming through the trees, she
rightly concluded that it belonged to the church she intended to
visit, and finding a footpath leading across the fields, she
followed it. It was the same path which Walden had for so many years
been accustomed to take in his constant walks to and from the Manor.
It soon brought her to the highroad which ran through the village,
and across this it was but a few steps to the gate of the
churchyard. Laying one hand on her dog's neck, she checked the great
creature's gambols and compelled him to walk sedately by her side,
as with hushed footsteps she entered the 'Sleepy Hollow' of death's
long repose, and went straight up to the church door which, as
usual, stood open.

"Stay here, Plato!" she whispered to her four-footed comrade, who,
understanding the mandate, lay down at once submissively in the
porch to wait her pleasure.

Entering the sacred shrine she stood still,--awed by its exquisite
beauty and impressive simplicity. The deep silence, the glamour of
the soft vari-coloured light that flowed through the lancet windows
on either side,--the open purity of the nave, without any
disfiguring pews or fixed seats to mar its clear space,--(for the
chairs which were used at service were all packed away in a remote
corner out of sight)--the fair, slender columns, springing up into
flowering capitals, like the stems of palms breaking into leaf-
coronals,--the dignified plainness of the altar, with that strange
white sarcophagus set in front of it,--all these taken together,
composed a picture of sweet sanctity and calm unlike anything she
had ever seen before. Her emotional nature responded to the
beautiful in all things, and this small perfectly designed House of
Prayer, with its unknown saintly occupant at rest within its walls,
touched her almost to tears. Stepping on tip-toe up to the altar-
rails, she instinctively dropped on her knees, while she read all
that could be seen of the worn inscription on the sarcophagus from
that side-'In Resurrectione--Sanctorum--Resurget.' The atmosphere
around her seemed surcharged with mystical suggestions,--a vague
poetic sense of the super-human and divine moved her to a faint
touch of fear, and made her heart beat more quickly than its wont.

"It is lovely--lovely!" she murmured under her breath, as she rose
from her kneeling attitude--"The whole church is a perfect gem of
architecture! I have never seen anything more beautiful in its way,-
-not even the Chapel of the Thorn at Pisa. And according to Mrs.
Spruce's account, the man I met this morning--the quizzical parson
with the grey-brown curly-locks, did it all at his own expense--he
must really be quite clever,--such an unusual thing for a country
clergyman!"

She took another observant survey of the whole building, and then
went out again into the churchyard. There she paused, her dog beside
her, shading her eyes from the sun as she looked wistfully from
right to left across the sadly suggestive little hillocks of mossy
turf besprinkled with daisies, in search of an object which was as a
landmark of disaster in her life.

She saw it at last, and moved slowly towards it,--a plain white
marble cross, rising from a smooth grassy eminence, where a rambling
rose, carefully and even artistically trained, was just beginning to
show pale creamy buds among its glossy dark green leaves. Great
tears rose to her eyes and fell unheeded, as she read the brief
inscription--'Sacred to the Memory of Robert Vancourt of Abbot's
Manor,' this being followed by the usual dates of birth and death,
and the one word 'Resting.' With tender touch Maryllia gathered one
leaf from the climbing rose foliage, and kissing it amid her tears,
turned away, unable to bear the thoughts and memories which began to
crowd thickly upon her. Almost she seemed to hear her father's deep
mellow voice which had been the music of her childhood, playfully
saying as was so often his wont:--"Well, my little girl! How goes
the world with you?" Alas, the world had gone very ill with her for
a long, long time after his death! Hers was too loving and
passionately clinging a nature to find easy consolation for such a
loss. Her uncle Frederick, though indulgent to her and always kind,
had never filled her father's place,--her uncle Frederick's American
wife, had, in spite of much conscientious tutelage and chaperonage,
altogether failed to win her affection or sympathy. The sorrowful
sense that she was an orphan, all alone as it were with herself to
face the mystery of life, never deserted her,--and it was perhaps in
the most brilliant centres of society that this consciousness of
isolation chiefly weighed upon her. She saw other girls around her
with their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters,--but she--she,
by the very act of being born had caused her mother's death,--and
she well knew that her father's heart, quietly as he had endured his
grief to all outward appearances, had never healed of that agonising
wound.

"I think I should never have come into the world at all,"--she said
to herself with a sigh, as she returned over the fields to the
Manor--"I am no use to anybody,--I never have been of any use! Aunt
Emily says all I have to do to show my sense of proper feeling and
gratitude to her for her care of me is to marry--and marry well--
marry Lord Roxmouth, in short--he will be a duke when his father
dies, and Aunt Emily would like to have the satisfaction of leaving
her millions to enrich an English dukedom. Nothing could commend
itself more favourably to her ideas--only it just happens my ideas
won't fit in the same groove. Oh dear! Why can't I be 'amenable' and
become a future duchess, and 'build up' the fortunes of a great
family? I don't know I'm sure,--except that I don't feel like it!
Great families don't appeal to me. I shouldn't care if there were
none left. They are never interesting at the best of times,--perhaps
out of several of them may come one clever man or woman,--and all
the rest will be utter noodles. It isn't worth while to marry
Roxmouth on such dubious grounds of possibility!"

Entering the Manor, she was conscious of some fatigue and
listlessness,--a touch of depression weighed down her naturally
bright spirits. She exchanged her home-spun walking dress for a tea-
gown, and descended somewhat languidly to the morning-room where tea
was served with more ceremoniousness than on the previous day,
Primmins having taken command, with the assistance of the footman.
Both men-servants stole respectful glances at their mistress, as she
sat pensively alone at the open window, looking out on the verdant
landscape that spread away from the terrace, in undulations of lawn,
foliage and field to the last border of trees that closed in Abbot's
Manor grounds from the public highway. Both would have said had they
been asked, that she was much too pretty and delicate to be all
alone in the great old house, with no companion of her own age to
exchange ideas with by speech or glance,--and, with that masculine
self-assurance which is common to all the lords of creation, whether
they be emperors or household domestics, they would have opined that
'she ought to be married.' In which they would have entirely agreed
with Maryllia's 'dragon' Aunt Emily. But Maryllia's own mind was far
from being set on such themes as love and marriage. Her meditations
were melancholy, and not unmixed with self-reproach. She blamed
herself for having stayed away so long from her childhood's home,
and her father's grave.

"I might have visited it at least once a year!" she thought with
sharp compunction--"I never really forgot,--why did I seem to
forget?"

The sun was sinking slowly in a glory of crimson and amber cloud,
when, having resolved upon what she was going to do, she entered the
picture-gallery. Softly she trod the polished floor,--with keen
quick instinct and appreciative eyes, she noted the fine Vandyke
portraits,--the exquisite Greuze that shone out, star-like, from a
dark corner of the panelled walls,--and walking with measured pace
she went straight up to the picture of 'Mary Elia Adelgisa de
Vaignecourt'--and gazed at it with friendly and familiar eyes.

"I know YOU quite well!"--she said, addressing the painted beauty--
"I have often dreamed about you since I left home! I always admired
you and wanted to be like you. I remember when I must have been
about seven or eight years old, I ran in from a game in the garden
one summer's afternoon, and I knelt down in front of you and I said:
'Pray God make little Maryllia as pretty as big Mary Elia!' And I
think,--I really do think--though of course I'm not half or quarter
as pretty, I'm just a little like you! Just a very, very little! For
instance my hair is the same colour--almost--and my eyes--no! I'm
sure I haven't such beautiful eyes as yours--I wish I had!"

Her lovely ancestress appeared to smile,--if she could have spoken
from the canvas that held her painted image she might have said:--
"You have eyes that mirror the sunshine,--you have life, and I am
dead,--your day is still with you--mine is done! For me love and the
world's delight are ended,--and whither my phantom fairness has
fled, who knows! But you are a vital breathing essence of beauty--be
glad and rejoice in it while you may!"

Some thought of this kind would have suggested itself to an
imaginative beholder had such an one stood by to compare the picture
with its almost twin living copy. Maryllia however had a very small
stock of vanity,--she was only pleasantly aware that she possessed a
certain grace and fascination not common to the ordinary of her sex,
but beyond that, she rated her personal charms at very slight value.
The portrait of Mary Elia Adelgisa made her more seriously
discontented with herself than ever,--and after closely studying the
picturesque make of the violet velvet riding-dress which the fair
one of Charles the Second's day had worn, and deciding that she
would have one 'created' for her own adornment exactly like it, she
turned towards the other end of the gallery. There hung that
preciously guarded mysterious portrait of her dead mother, which she
herself had never gazed upon, covered close with its dark green
baize curtain,--a curtain no hand save her father's had ever dared
to raise. She remembered how often he had used to enter here all
alone and lock the doors, remaining thus in sorrow and solitude many
hours. She recalled her own childish fears when, by chance running
in to look at the pictures for her own entertainment, or to play
with her ball on a rainy day for the convenience of space and a
lofty ceiling, she was suddenly checked and held in awe by the sight
of that great gilded frame enshrining the, to her, unknown
presentment of a veiled Personality. Her father alone was familiar
with the face hidden behind that covering which he had put up with
his own hands,--fastening it by means of a spring pulley, which in
its turn was secured to the wall by lock and key. Ever since his
death Maryllia had worn that key on a gold chain hidden in her
bosom, and she drew it out now with a beating heart and many
tremours of hesitation. The trailing folds of her pretty tea-gown,
all of the filmiest old lace and ivory-hued cashmere, seemed to make
an obtrusive noise as they softly swept the floor,--she felt almost
as though she were about to commit a sacrilege and break open a
shrine,--yet--

"I must see her!" she said, whisperingly--"I shall not offend her
memory. I have never done anything very wrong in my life,--if I had,
I should have reason to be afraid--or ashamed,--and then of course
wouldn't dare to look at her. I have often been silly and frivolous
and thoughtless,--but never spiteful or malicious, or really wicked.
I could meet my father if he were here, just as frankly as if I were
still a little girl,--and I think he would wish me to see his
Dearest now! His Dearest! He always called her that!"

With the breath coming and going quickly through her parted lips,
she stepped slowly and timidly up to that corner in the wall behind
the picture, where the fastenings of the spring pulley were
concealed, and fitted the key into the padlock which guarded it. The
light of the setting sun threw a flame of glory aslant through the
windows, and filled the gallery with a warm rush of living colour
and radiance; and as she removed the padlock, and came to the front
of the picture to pull the curtain-cord, she stood, unconsciously to
herself, in a pure halo of gold, which intensified the brown and
amber shades of her hair and the creamy folds of her gown, so that
she resembled 'an angel newly drest, save wings, for heaven,' such
as one may see delineated on the illuminated page of some antique
missal. Her hand trembled, as at the first touch on the pulley the
curtain began to move,--inch by inch it ascended, showing pale
glimmerings of white and rose,--still higher it moved, giving to the
light a woman's beautiful hand, so delicately painted as to seem
almost living. The hand held a letter, and plainly on the half
unfolded scroll could be read the words:

"Thine till death, ROBERT VANCOURT."

Another touch, and the whole covering rolled up swiftly to its full
height,--while Maryllia breathless with excitement and interest
gazed with all her soul in her eyes at the exquisite, dreamy, poetic
loveliness of the face disclosed. All the beauty of girlhood with
the tenderness of womanhood,--all the visions of young romance,
united to the fulfilled passion of the heart,--all the budding
happiness of a radiant life,-all the promise of a perfect love;--
these were faithfully reflected in the purely moulded features, the
dark blue caressing eyes, and the sweet mouth, which to Maryllia's
fervid imagination appeared to tremble plaintively with a sigh of
longing for the joy of life that had been snatched away so soon.
Arrayed in simplest white, with a rose at her breast, and her
husband's letter clasped in her hand, the fair form of the young
bride that never came home gathered from the sunset-radiance an
aspect of life, and seemed to float forth from the dark canvas like
a holy spirit of beauty and blessing. Shadow and Substance--dead
mother and living child--these twain gazed on each other through
cloud-veils of impenetrable mystery,--nor is it impossible to
conceive that some intangible contact between them might, through
the transference of a thought, a longing, a prayer, have been
realised at that mystic moment. With a sudden cry of irresistible
emotion Maryllia stretched out her arms, and dropping on her knees,
broke out into a passion of tears.

"Oh mother, mother!" she sobbed--"Oh darling mother! I would have
loved you!"




XII


In such wise, under the silent benediction of the lost loving dead,
the long-deserted old Manor received back the sole daughter of its
ancestry to that protection which we understand, or did understand
at one time in our history, as 'Home.' Home was once a safe and
sacred institution in England. There seemed no likelihood of its
ever being supplanted by the public restaurant. That it has, in a
great measure, been so supplanted, is no advantage to the country,
and that many women, young and old, prefer to be seen in gregarious
over-dressed hordes, taking their meals in Piccadilly eating-houses,
rather than essay the becoming grace of a simple and sincere
hospitality to their friends in their own homes, is no evidence of
their improved taste or good breeding. Abbot's Manor was in every
sense 'Home' in the old English sense of the word. Its ancient
walls, hallowed by long tradition, formed a peaceful and sweet
harbour of rest for a woman's life,--and the tranquil dignity of her
old-world surroundings with all the legends and memories they
awakened, soon had a beneficial effect on Maryllia's impressionable
temperament, which, under her aunt's 'social' influence, had been
more or less chafed and uneasy. She began to feel at peace with
herself and all the world,--while the relief she experienced at
having deliberately severed herself by both word and act from the
undesired attentions of a too-persistent and detested lover in the
person of Lord Roxmouth, future Duke of Ormistonne, was as keen and
pleasurable as that of a child who has run away from school. She was
almost confident that the fact of her having thrown off her aunt's
protection together with all hope of inheriting her aunt's wealth,
would be sufficient to keep him away from her for the future. "For
it is Aunt Emily's money he wants--not me;" she said to herself--"He
doesn't care a jot about me personally--any woman will do, provided
she has the millions. And when he knows I've given up the millions,
and don't intend ever to have the millions, he'll leave me alone.
And he'll go over to America in search of somebody else--some proud
daughter of oil or pork or steel!--and what a blessing that will
be!"

Meanwhile, such brief excitement as had been caused in St. Rest by
the return of 'th' owld Squire's gel' and by the almost simultaneous
dismissal of Oliver Leach, had well-nigh abated. A new agent had
been appointed, and though Leach had left the immediate vicinity,
having employment on Sir Morton Pippitt's lands, he had secured a
cottage for himself in the small outlying hamlet of Badsworth. He
also undertook some work for the Reverend 'Putty' Leveson in
assisting him to form an entomological collection for the private
museum at Badsworth Hall. Mr. Leveson had a singular fellow-feeling
for insects,--he studied their habits, and collected specimens of
various kinds in bottles, or 'pinned' them on cardboard trays,--he
was an interested observer of the sprightly manners practised by the
harvest-bug, and the sagacious customs of the ruminating spider,--as
well as the many surprising and agreeable talents developed by the
common flea. Leach's virulent hatred of Maryllia Vancourt was not
lessened by the apparently useful and scientific nature of the
employment he had newly taken up under the guidance of his reverend
instructor,--and whenever he caught a butterfly and ran his
murderous pin through its quivering body at Leveson's bland command,
he thought of her, and wished vindictively that she might perish as
swiftly and utterly as the winged lover of the flowers. Every small
bright thing in Nature's garden that he slew and brought home as
trophy, inspired him with the same secret fierce desire. The act of
killing a beautiful or harmless creature gave him pleasure, and he
did not disguise it from himself. The Reverend 'Putty' was delighted
with his aptitude, and with the many valuable additions he made to
the 'specimen' cards and bottles, and the two became constant
companions in their search for fresh victims among the blossoming
hedgerows and fields. St. Rest, as a village, was only too glad to
be rid of Leach's long detested presence to care anything at all as
to his further occupations or future career,--and only Bainton kept
as he said 'an eye on him.'

Bainton was a somewhat curious personage,--talkative as he showed
himself on most occasions, he was both shrewd and circumspect; no
stone was more uncommunicative than he when he chose. In his heart
he had set Maryllia Vancourt as second to none save his own master,
John Walden,--her beauty and grace, her firm action with regard to
the rescue of the 'Five Sisters,' and her quick dismissal of Oliver
Leach, had all inspired him with the most unbounded admiration and
respect, and he felt that he now had a double interest in life,--the
'Passon'--and the 'lady of the Manor.' But he found very little
opportunity to talk about his new and cherished theme of Miss
Vancourt and Miss Vancourt's many attractions to Walden,--for John
always 'shut him up' on the subject with quite a curt and peremptory
decision whenever be so much as mentioned her name. Which conduct on
the part of one who was generally so willing to hear and patient to
listen, somewhat surprised Bainton.

"For," he argued--"there ain't much doin' in the village,--we ain't
always 'on the go'--an' when a pretty face comes among us, surely
it's worth looking at an' pickin' to pieces as 'twere. But Passon's
that sharp on me when I sez any little thing wot might be
interestin' about the lady, that I'm thinkin' he's got out o' the
habit o' knowin' when a face is a male or a female one, which is wot
often happens to bacheldors when they gits fixed like old shrubs in
one pertikler spot o' ground. Now I should a' said he'd a' bin glad
to 'ear of somethin' new an' oncommon as 'twere,--he likes it in the
way o' flowers, an' why not in the way o' wimmin? But Passon ain't
like other folk--he don't git on with wimmin nohow--an' the prettier
they are the more he seems skeered off them."

But such opinions as Bainton entertained concerning his master, he
kept to himself, and having once grasped the fact that any mention
of Miss Vancourt's ways or Miss Vancourt's looks appeared to
displease rather than to entertain the Reverend John, he avoided the
subject altogether. This course of action on his part, if the truth
must be told, was equally annoying to Walden, who was in the curious
mental condition of wishing to know what he declined to hear.

For the rest, the village generally grew speedily accustomed to the
presence of the mistress of the Manor. She had fulfilled her promise
of paying a visit to Josey Letherbarrow, and had sat with the old
man in his cottage, talking to him for the better part of two hours.
Rumour asserted that she had even put the kettle on the fire for
him, and had made his tea. Josey himself was reticent,--and beyond
the fact that he held up his head with more dignity, and showed a
touch of more conscious superiority in his demeanour, he did not
give himself away by condescending to narrate any word of the
lengthy interview that had taken place between himself and 'th' owld
Squire's little gel.' One remarkable thing was noticed by the
villagers and commented upon,--Miss Vancourt had now passed two
Sundays in their midst, and had never once attended church. Her
servants were always there at morning service, but she herself was
absent. This occasioned much whispering and head-shaking in the
little community, and one evening the subject was openly discussed
in the bar-room of the 'Mother Huff' by a group of rustic worthies
whose knowledge of matters theological and political was, by
themselves, considered profound. Mrs. Buggins had started the
conversation, and Mrs. Buggins was well known to be a lady both
pious and depressing. She presided over her husband's 'public' with
an air of meek resignation, not unmixed with sorrowful protest,--she
occasionally tasted the finer cordials in the bar-room, and was
often moved to gentle tears at the excellence of their flavour,--she
had a chronic 'stitch in the side,' and a long smooth pale yellow
countenance from which the thin grey hair was combed well back from
the temples in the frankly unbecoming fashion affected by the
provincial British matron. She begun her remarks by plaintively
opining that "it was a very strange thing not to see Miss Vancourt
at church, on either of the Sundays that had passed since her
return--very strange! Perhaps she was 'High'? Perhaps she had driven
into Riversford to attend the 'processional' service of the Reverend
Francis Anthony?"

"Perhaps she ain't done nothing of the sort!"--growled a thick-set
burly farmer, who with a capacious mug of ale before him was sucking
at his pipe with as much zeal as a baby at its bottle--"Ef you cares
for my 'pinion, which, m'appen you doan't, she's neither Low nor
'Igh. She's no Seck. If she h'longed to a Seck, she wouldn't be
readin' on a book under the Five Sisters last Sunday marnin' when
the bells was a-ringin' for church time. I goes past 'er, an' I sez
'Marnin,' mum!' an' she looks up smilin'-like, an' sez she: 'Good-
marnin!' Nice day, isn't it?' 'Splendid day, mum,' sez I, an' she
went on readin', an' I went on a walkin'. I sez then, and I sez now,
she ain't no Seck!"

"Example," sighed Mrs. Buggins, "is better than precept. It would be
more decent if the lady showed herself in church as a lesson to
others,--if she did so more lost sheep might follow!"

"Hor-hor-hor!" chuckled Bainton, from a corner of the room--"Don't
you worrit yourself, Missis Buggins, 'bout no lost sheep! Sheep
allus goes where there's somethin' to graze upon,--leastways that's
my 'speriemce, an' if there ain't no grazin' there ain't no sheep!
An' them as grazes on Passon Walden, gittin' out of 'im all they can
to 'elp 'em along, wouldn't go to church, no more than Miss Vancourt
do, if they didn't know wot a man 'e is to be relied on in times o'
trouble, an' a reg'lar 'usband to the parish in sickness an' in
'elth, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, till death do
'im part. Miss Vancourt don't want nothin' out of 'im as all we
doos, an' she kin show 'er independence ef she likes to by stayin'
away from church when she fancies, an' readin' books instead of
'earin' sermons,--there ain't no harm in that."

"I'm not so sure that I agree with you, Mr. Bainton,"--said a stout,
oily-looking personage, named Netlips, the grocer and 'general
store' dealer of the village, a man who was renowned in the district
for the profundity and point of his observations at electoral
meetings, and for the entirely original manner in which he 'used'
the English language; "Public worship is a necessary evil. It is a
factor in vulgar civilisations. Without it, the system of religious
politics would fall into cohesion,--absolute cohesion!" And he
rapped his fist on the table with a smartness that made his hearers
jump. "At the last meeting I addressed in this division, I said we
must support the props. The aristocracy must bear them on their
shoulders. If your Squire stays away from church, he may be called a
heathen with propriety, though a Liberal. And why? Because he makes
public exposure of himself as a heathen negative! He is bound to
keep up the church factor in the community. Otherwise he runs
straight aground on Cohesion."

This oratorical outburst on the part of Mr. Netlips was listened to
with respectful awe and admiration.

"Ay, ay!" said Roger Buggins, who as 'mine host' stood in his shirt
sleeves at the entrance of his bar, surveying his customers and
mentally counting up their reckonings--"Cohesion would never do--
cohesion government would send the country to pieces. You're right,
Mr. Netlips,--you're right! Props must be kep' up!"

"I don't see no props in goin' to church,"--said Dan Ridley, the
little working tailor of the village--"I goes because I likes Mr.
Walden, but if there was a man in the pulpit I didn't like, I'd stop
away. There's a deal too many wolves in sheep's clothing getting
ordained in the service o' the Lord, an' I don't blame Miss Vancourt
if so be she takes time to find out the sort o' man Mr. Walden is
before settin' under him as 'twere. She can say prayers an' read 'em
too in her own room, an' study the Bible all right without goin' to
church. Many folks as goes to church reg'lar are downright mean
lyin' raskills--and don't never read their Bibles at all. Mebbe they
does as much harm as what Mr. Netlips calls Cohesion, though I don't
myself purfess to understand Government language, it bein' too deep
for me."

Mr. Netlips smiled condescendingly, and nodded as one who should
say--'You do well, my poor fellow, to be humble in my presence!'--
and buried his nose in his tankard of ale.

"Mebbe Cohesion's got hold o' my red cow"--said the burly farmer who
had spoken before--"For she's as ailin' as ever she was, an' if I
lose her, I loses a bit o' my livin.' An' that's what I sez an'
'olds by, no church-goin' seems to 'elp us in a bit o' trouble, an'
it ain't decent or Christian like, so it 'pears, to pray to the
Almighty for the savin' of a cow. I asked Passon Walden if 'twould
be right, for the cow's as valuable to me as ever my wife was when
she was alive, if not more, an' he sez quite pleasant-like--'Well
no, Mister Thorpe, I think it best not to make any sort of special
prayer for the poor beast, but just do all you can for it, and leave
the rest to Providence. A cow is worldly goods, you see--and we're
not quite justified in praying to be allowed to keep our worldly
goods.' 'Ain't we!' I sez--'Is that a fact? He smiled and said it
was. So I thanked him and comed away. But I've been thinkin' it over
since, an' I sez to myself--ef we ain't to pray for keepin' an'
'avin' our worldly goods, wot 'ave we got to pray for?"

"Oh Mr. Thorpe!" ejaculated Mrs. Buggins, almost tearfully--"It is
not this world but the next, that we must think of! We must pray for
our souls!"

"Well, marm, I ain't got a 'soul' wot I knows on--an' as for the
next world, if there ain't no cattle farmin' there, I reckon I'll be
out o' work. Do you count on keepin' a bar in the 'eavenly country?"

A loud guffaw went the round of the room, and Mrs. Buggins gasped
with horror.

"Oh, Roger!" she murmured, addressing her portly spouse, who at once
took up the argument.

"You goes too fur--you goes too fur, Mister Thorpe!" he said
severely--"There ain't no keepin' bars nor farmin' carried on in the
next world, nor marrying nor givin' in marriage. We be all as the
angels there."

"A nice angel you'll make too, Mr. Buggins!" said Farmer Thorpe, as
he sent his tankard to be refilled,--"Lord! We won't know you!"

Again the laugh went round, and Mrs. Buggins precipitately retired
to her 'inner parlour' there to recover from the shock occasioned to
her religious feelings by the irreverent remarks of her too matter-
of-fact customer. Meanwhile Dan Ridley, the tailor, had again
reverted to the subject of Miss Vancourt.

"There's one thing about her comin' to church,"--he said; "If so be
as she did come it 'ud do us all good, for she's real pleasant to
look at. I've seen her a many times in the village."

"Ah, so have I!" chorussed two or three more men.

"She's been in to see Adam Frost's children an' she gave Baby
Hippolyta a bag o' sweeties,"--said Bainton. "An' she's called at
the schoolhouse, but Miss Eden, she worn't in an' Susie Prescott saw
her, an' Susie was that struck that she 'adn't a wurrd to say, so
she tells us, an' Miss Vancourt she went to old Josey Letherbarrow's
straight away an' there she stayed iver so long. She ain't called at
our house yet."

"Which 'ouse might you be a-meanin', Tummas?" queried Farmer Thorpe,
with a slow grin--"Your own or your measter's?"

"When we speaks in the plural we means not one, but two,"--rejoined
Bainton with dignity. "An' when I sez 'our' I means myself an'
Passon, which Miss Vancourt ain't as yet left her card on Passon. He
went up in a great 'urry one afternoon when he knowed she was out,--
he knowed it, 'cos I told 'im as 'ow I'd seen her gallopin' by on
that mare of hers which, they calls Cleopatra-an' away 'e run like a
March 'are, an' he ups to the Manor and down again, an' sez he,
laughin' like: 'I've done my dooty by the lady' sez he--'I've left
my card!' That was three days ago, an' there ain't been no return o'
the perliteness up to the present--"

Here he broke off and began to drink his ale, as a small dapper man
entered the bar-room with a brisk step and called for 'a glass of
home-brewed,' looking round on those assembled with a condescending
smile. All of them knew him as Jim Bennett, Miss Vancourt's groom.

"Well, mates!" he said with a sprightly air of familiarity--"All
well and hearty?"

"As yourself, Mr. Bennett,"--replied Roger Buggins, acting as
spokesman for the rest, and personally serving him with the foaming
draught he had ordered. "Which, we likewise trusts your lady is
well?"

"My lady enjoys the hest of health, thank you!" said Bennett, with
polite gravity. And tossing off the contents of his glass, he
signified by an eloquent gesture and accompanying wink, that he was
'good for another.'

"We was just a-sayin' as you come in, Mr. Bennett," observed Dan
Ridley, "that we'd none of us seen your lady at church yet on
Sundays, Mebbe she ain't of our 'persuasion' as they sez, or mehbe
she goes into Riversford, preferrin' 'Igh services---"

Bennett smiled a superior smile, and leaning easily against the bar,
crossed his legs and surveyed the company generally with a
compassionate air.

"I suppose it's quite a business down here,--goin' to church, eh?"
he queried--"Sort of excitement like--only bit of fun you've got--
helps to keep you all alive! That's the country way, but Lord bless
you!--in town we're not taking any!"

Bainton looked up,--and Mr. Netlips loosened his collar and lifted
his head, as though preparing himself for another flow of 'cohesion'
eloquence. Farmer Thorpe turned his bull-neck slowly round, and
brought his eyes to bear on the speaker.

"How d'ye make that out, Mr. Bennett?" he demanded. "Doan't ye sarve
the A'mighty same in town as in country?"

"Not a bit of it!" replied Bennett airily--"You're a long way behind
the times, Mr. Thorpe!--you are indeed, beggin' your pardon for
sayin' so! The 'best' people have given up the Almighty altogether,
owing to recent scientific discoveries. They've taken to the
Almighty Dollar instead which no science can do away with. And
Sundays aren't used any more for church-going, except among the
middle-class population,--they're just Bridge days with OUR set--
Bridge lunches, Bridge suppers,--every Sunday's chock full of
engagements to 'Bridge,' right through the 'season.'"

"That's cards, ain't it?" enquired Dan Ridley.

"Just so! Harmless cards!" rejoined Bennett--"Only you can chuck
away a few thousands or so on 'em if you like!"

Mr. Netlips here pushed aside his emptied ale-glass and raised his
fat head unctuously out of his stiff shirt-collar.

"Are we to understand," he began ponderously, "that Miss Vancourt is
addicted to this fashion of procrastinating the Lord's Day?"

Bennett straightened his dapper figure suddenly.

"Now don't you put yourself out, Mr. Netlips, don't, that's a good
feller!" he said in sarcastically soothing tones--"There's no
elections going on just at present--when there is you can bring your
best leg foremost, and rant away for all you're worth! My lady don't
gamble, if that's what you mean,--though she's always with the
swagger set, and likely so to remain. But you keep up your spirits!-
-your groceries 'ull be paid for all right!--she don't run up no
bills--so don't you fear, cards or no cards! And as for
procrastinating the Lord's Day, whatever that may be, I could name
to you the folks what does worse than play Bridge on Sundays. And
who are they? Why the clergymen theirselves! And how does they do
worse? Why by tellin' lies as fast as they can stick! They says
we're all going to heaven if we're good,--and they don't know
nothing about it,--and we're all going to hell if we're bad, and
they don't know nothing about that neither! I tell you, as I told
you at first, in town we've got beyond all that stuff--we're just
not taking any!"

He paused, and there was a deep silence, while he drank off his
second glass of ale. The thoughts of every man present were
apparently too deep for words.

"You're a smart chap!" said Bainton at last, breaking the mystic
spell and rising to take his leave--"An' I don't want to argify with
ye, for I'spect you're about right in what you sez about Sunday ways
in town--but I tell ye what, young feller!--you've got to 'ave a
deal o' patience an' a deal o' pity for they poor starveling sinners
wot gits boxed up in cities an' never ain't got no room to look at
the sky, or see the wide fields with all the daisies blowin' open to
the sun. No wonder they're so took up wi' their scinetific muddlins
over worms an' microbes an' sich-like, as to 'ave forgot what the
Almighty is doin' in the workin' o' the Universe,--but it's onny
jest like poor prisiners in a cell wot walks up an' down, up an'
down, countin' the stones in the wall with scinetific
multiplication-like, an' 'splainin' to their poor lonely selves as
how many stones makes a square foot, an' so many square feet makes a
square yard, an' on they goes a-walkin' their mis'able little round
an' countin' their mis'able little sums, an' all the time just
outside the prison the flowers is all bloomin' wild an' the birds
singin', an' the blue sky over it all with God smilin' behind it.
That's 'ow 'tis, Mr. Bennett!" and Bainton looked into the lining of
his cap as was his wont before he put it on his head--"I believe all
you say right enough, an' it don't put me out nohow--I've seen too
much o' natur to be shook off my 'old on the Almighty--for there's
no worm wot ain't sure of a rose or some kind o' flower an' fruit
somewhere, though m'appen the poor blind thing don't know where to
find it. It's case o' leadin' on, an' guidin' beyond our knowledge,
Mr. Bennett,--an' that's wot Passon Walden tells us. HE don't bother
us wi' no 'hows' nor 'whys' nor 'wherefores'--he says we can FEEL
God with us in our daily work, an' so we can, if we've a mind to!
Daily work and common things shows Him to us,--why look there!"--
here he pulled from his pocket a small paper-bag, and opening it,
showed some dry loose seed--"There ain't nothin' commoner than that!
That's pansy seed--a special stock too,--well now, if you didn't
know how common it is, wouldn't it seem a miracle as wonderful as
any in the Testymen, that out o' that handful o' dust like, the
finest flowers of purple an' yellow will come?--ay! some o' them two
to three inches across, an' every petal like velvet an' silk! If so
be you don't b'lieve in a God, Mr. Bennett, owin' to town opinions,
you try the gardenin' business! That'll make a man of ye! I allus
sez if Adam had stuck to the gardenin' business an' left the
tailorin' trade alone we'd have all been in Eden now!"

His eyes twinkled, as glancing round the company, he saw that his
words had made an impression and awakened a responsive smile--"Good-
night t'ye!" And touching Bennett on the shoulder in passing, he
added: "You come an' see me, my lad, when you feels like goin' a bit
in the scinetific line! Mebbe I can tell ye a few pints wot the
learned gentlemen in London don't know. Anyway, a little church-
goin' under Passon Walden won't do you no 'arm, nor your lady
neither, if she's what I takes her for, which is believin' her to be
all good as wimmin goes. An' when Passon warms to his work an' tells
ye plain as 'ow everything's ordained for the best, an' as 'ow every
flower's a miracle of the Lord, an' every bird's song a bit o' the
Lord's own special music, it 'eartens ye up an' makes ye more
'opeful o' your own poor mis'able self--it do reely now!"

With another friendly pat on the groom's shoulder, and a cheery
smile, Bainton passed out, and left the rest of the company in the
'Mother Huff' tap-room solemnly gazing upon one another.

"He speaks straight, he do," said Farmer Thorpe, "An' he ain't no
canter,--he's just plain Tummas, an' wot he sez he means."

"Here's to his 'elth,--a game old boy!" said Bennett good-
humouredly, ordering another glass of ale; "It's quite a treat to
meet a man like him, and I shan't be above owning that he's got a
deal of right on his side. But what he says ain't Orthodox Church
teaching."

"Mebbe not," said Dan Kidley, "but it's Passon Walden's teachin',
an' if you ain't 'eard Passon yet, Mister Bennett, I'd advise ye to
go next Sunday. An' if your lady 'ud make up her mind to go too just
for once---"

Bennett gave an expressive gesture.

"She won't go--you may depend on that!" he said; "She's had too much
of parsons as it is. Why Mrs. Fred--that's her American aunt--was
regular pestered with 'em coming beggin' of her for their churches
and their windows and their schools and their infants and their
poor, lame, blind, sick of all sorts, as well as for theirselves.
D'rectly they knew she was a millionaire lady' they 'adn't got but
one thought--how to get some of the millions out of her. There was
three secretaries kept when we was in London, and they'd hardly time
for bite nor sup with all the work they 'ad, refusin' scores of
churches and religious folks all together. Miss Maryllia's got a
complete scare o' parsons. Whenever she see a shovel-hat coming she
just flew! When she was in Paris it was the Catholics as wanted
money--nuns, sisters of the poor, priests as 'ad been turned out by
the Government,--and what not,--and out in America it was the
Christian Scientists all the time with such a lot of tickets for
lectures and fal-lals as you never saw,--then came the
Spiritooalists with their seeances; and altogether the Vancourt
family got to look on all sorts of religions merely as so many kinds
of beggin' boxes which if you dropped money into, you went straight
to the Holy-holies, and if you didn't you dropped down into the
great big D's. No!--I don't think anyone need expect to see my lady
at church--it's the last place she'd ever think of going to!"

This piece of information was received by his hearers with profound
gravity. No one spoke, and during the uncomfortable pause Bennett
gave a careless 'Good-night!'--and took his departure.

"Things is come to a pretty pass in this 'ere country," then said
Mr. Netlips grandiosely, "when the woman who is merely the elevation
of the man, exhibits in public a conviction to which her status is
unfitted. If the lady who now possesses the Manor were under the
submission of a husband, he would naturally assume the control which
is govemmentally retaliative and so compel her to include the
religious considerations of the minority in her communicative
system!"

Farmer Thorpe looked impressed, but slightly puzzled.

"You sez fine, Mr. Netlips,--you sez fine," he observed
respectfully. "Not that I altogether understands ye, but that's onny
my want of book-larnin' and not spellin' through the dictionary as I
oughter when I was a youngster. Howsomever I makes bold to guess wot
you're drivin' at and I dessay you may be right. But I'm fair bound
to own that if it worn't for Mr. Walden, I shouldn't be found in
church o' Sundays neither, but lyin' flat on my back in a field wi'
my face turned up to the sun, a-thinkin' of the goodness o' God, and
hopin' He'd put a hand out to 'elp make the crops grow as they
should do. Onny Passon he be a rare good man, and he do speak to the
'art of ye so wise-like and quiet, and that's why I goes to hear him
and sez the prayers wot's writ for me to say and doos as he asks me
to do. But if I'd been unfort'nit enough to live in the parish of
Badsworth under that old liar Leveson, I'd a put my fist in his
jelly face 'fore I'd a listened to a word he had to say! Them's my
sentiments, mates!--and you can read 'em how you like, Mr. Netlips.
God's in heaven we know,--but there's onny churches on earth, an' we
'as to make sure whether there's men or devils inside of 'em 'fore
we goes kneelin' and grubbin' in front of 'uman idols--Good-night
t'ye!"

With these somewhat disjointed remarks Farmer Thorpe strode out of
the tap-room, whistling loudly to his dog as he reached the door.
The heavy tramp of his departing feet echoed along the outside lane
and died away, and Roger Buggins, glancing at the sheep-faced clock
in the bar, opined that it was 'near closin' hour.' All the company
rose and began to take their leave.

"Church or no church, Miss Vancourt's a real lady!" declared Dan
Bidley emphatically--"She may have her reasons, an' good ones too,
for not attending service, but she ain't no heathen, I'm sartin'
sure o' that."

"You cannot argumentarially be sure of what you do not know," said
Mr. Netlips, with a tight smile, buttoning on his overcoat--"A
heathen is a proscription of the law, and cannot enjoy the rights of
the commons."

Dan stared.

"There ain't no proscription of the law in stayin' away from
church," he said--"Nobody's bound to go. Lords nor commons can't
compel us."

Mr. Netlips shook his head and frowned darkly, with the air of one
who could unveil a great mystery if he chose.

"Compulsion is a legal community," he said--"And while powerless to
bring affluence to the Christian conscience, it culminates in the
citizenship of the heathen. Miss Vancourt, as her father's daughter,
should be represented by the baptized spirit, and not by the
afflatus of the ungenerate! Good-night!"

Still puckering his brow into lines of mysterious suggestiveness,
the learned Netlips went his way, Roger Buggins gazing after him
admiringly.

"That man's reg'lar lost down 'ere,"--he observed--"He oughter ha'
been in Parliament."

"Ah, so he ought!" agreed Dan Ridley--"Where's there's fog he'd a
made it foggier, and where's there's no understandin' he'd a made it
less understandable. I daresay he'd a bin Prime Minister in no time-
-he's just the sort. They likes a good old muddler for that work--
someone as has the knack o' addlin' the people's brains an' makin'
them see a straight line as though'twere crooked. It keeps things
quiet an' yet worrity-like--first up, then down--this way, then that
way, an' never nothin' certain, but plenty o' big words rantin'
round. That's Netlips all over,--it's in the shape of his 'ed,--he
was born like it. I don't like his style myself,--but he'd make a
grand cab-nit minister!"

"Ay, so he would!" acquiesced Buggins, as he drew the little red
curtains across the windows of the tap-room and extinguished the
hanging lamp--"Easy rest ye, Dan!"

"Same to you, Mr. Buggins!" responded the tailor cheerfully, as he
turned out into the cool sweet dimness of the hawthorn-hedged lane
in which the 'Mother Huff' stood--"I make bold to say that church or
no church, Miss Vancourt's bein' at her own 'ouse 'ull be a gain an'
a blessing to the village."

"Mebbe so," returned Buggins laconically,--and closing his door he
barred it across for the night, while Dan Ridley, full of the half-
poetic, half philosophic thoughts which the subjects of religion and
religious worship frequently excite in a more or less untutored
rustic mind, trudged slowly homeward.

During these days, Maryllia herself, unconscious of the remarks
passed upon her as the lady of the Manor by her village neighbours,
had not been idle, nor had she suffered much from depression of
spirits, though, socially speaking, she was having what she
privately considered in her own mind 'rather a dull time.' To begin
with, everybody in the neighbourhood that was anybody in the
neighbourhood, had called upon her,--and the antique oaken table in
the great hall was littered with a snowy array of variously shaped
bits of pasteboard, bearing names small and great,--names of old
county families,--names of new mushroom gentry,--names of clergymen
and their wives in profusion, and one or two modest cards with the
plain 'Mr.' of the only young bachelors anywhere near for fifteen
miles round. Nearly every man had a wife--"Such a pity!" commented
Maryllia, when noting the fact--"One can never ask any of them to
dinner without their dragons!"

Most of the callers had paid their 'duty visits' at a time of the
afternoon when she was always out,--roaming over her own woods and
fields, and 'taking stock' as she said, of her own possessions,--but
on one or two occasions she had been caught 'in,' and this was the
case when Sir Morton Pippitt, accompanied by his daughter Tabitha,
Mr. Julian Adderley, and Mr. Marius Longford were announced just at
the apt and fitting hour of 'five-o'clock tea.' Rising from the
chair where she had negligently thrown herself to read for a quiet
half hour, she set aside her book, and received those important
personages with the careless ease and amiable indifference which was
a 'manner familiar' to her, and which invariably succeeded in making
less graceful persons than she was, feel wretchedly awkward and
unhappy about the management of their hands and feet. With a smiling
upward and downward glance, she mastered Sir Morton Pippitt's
'striking and jovial personality,'--his stiffly-carried upright
form, large lower chest, close-shaven red face, and pleasantly clean
white hair,--"The very picture of a Bone-Melter"--she thought--"He
looks as if he had been boiled all over himself--quite a nice well-
washed old man,"--her observant eyes flashed over the attenuated
form of Julian Adderley with a sparkle of humour,--she noticed the
careful carelessness of his attire, the artistic 'set' of his ruddy
locks, the eccentric cut of his trousers, and the, to himself,
peculiar knot of his tie.

"The poor thing wants to be something out of the common and can't
quite manage it," she mentally decided, while she viewed with
extreme disfavour the feline elegance affected by Mr. Marius
Longford, and the sleek smile, practised by him 'for women only,'
with which he blandly admitted her existence. To Miss Tabitha Pippit
she offered a chair of capacious dimensions, amply provided with
large down cushons, inviting her to sit down in it with a gentleness
which implied kindly consideration for her years and for the fatigue
she might possibly experience as a result of the drive over from
Badsworth Hall,--whereat the severe spinster's chronically red nose
reddened more visibly, and between her thin lips she sharply
enunciated her preference for 'a higher seat,--no cushions, thank
you!' Thereupon she selected the 'higher seat' for herself, in the
shape of an old-fashioned music-stool, without back or arm-rest, and
sat stiffly upon it like a draper's clothed dummy put up in a window
for public inspection. Maryllia smiled,--she knew that kind of woman
well;--and paying only the most casual attention to her for the rest
of the time, returned to her own place by the open windows and began
to dispense the tea, while Sir Morton Pippitt opened conversation by
feigning to recall having met her some two or three years back. He
was not altogether in the best of humours, the sight of his recently
dismissed butler, Primmins, having upset his nerves. He knew how
servants 'talked.' Who could tell what Primmins might not say in his
new situation at Abbot's Manor, of his former experiences at
Badsworth Hall? And so it was with a somewhat heated countenance
that Sir Morton endeavoured to allude to a former acquaintance with
his hostess at a Foreign Office function.

"Oh no, I don't think so," said Maryllia, lazily dropping lumps of
sugar into the tea-cups--"Do you take sugar? I ought to ask, I
know,--such a number of men have the gout nowadays, and they take
saccharine. I haven't any saccharine,--so sorry! You do like sugar,
Mr. Adderley? How nice of you!" And she smiled. "None for you, Mr.
Longford? I thought not. You, Miss Pippitt? No! Everybody else, yes?
That's all right! The Foreign Office? I think not, Sir Morton,--I
gave up going there long ago when I was quite young. My aunt, Mrs.
Fred Vancourt, always went--you must have met her and taken her for
me, I always hated a Foreign Office 'crush.' Such big receptions
bore one terribly--you never see anybody you really want to know,
and the Prime Minister always looks tired to death. His face is a
study in several agonies. Two or three years ago? Oh no,--I don't
think I was in London at that time. And you were there, were you?
Really!"

She handed a cup of tea with a bewitching smile and a 'Will you
kindly pass it?' to Julian Adderley, who so impetuously accepted the
task she imposed upon him of acting as general waiter to the
company, that in hastening towards her he caught his foot in the
trailing laces of her gown and nearly fell over the tea-tray.

"A thousand pardons!" he murmured, righting himself with an effort--
"So clumsy of me!"

"Don't mention it!" said Maryllia, placidly--"Will you hand bread-
and-butter to Miss Pippitt, Do you take hot cake, Sir Morton?"

Sir Morton's face had become considerably redder during this
interval, and, as he spread his handkerchief out on one knee to
receive the possible dribblings of tea from the cup he had begun to
sip at somewhat noisily, he looked as he certainly felt, rather at a
loss what next to say. He was not long in this state of indecision,
however, for a bright idea occurred to him, causing a smile to
spread among his loose cheek-wrinkles.

"I'm sorry my friend the Duke of Lumpton has left me," he said with
unctuous pomp. "He would have been delighted--er--delighted to call
with me to-day--"

"Who is he?" enquired Maryllia, languidly.

Again Sir Morton reddened, but managed to conceal his discomfiture
in a fat laugh.

"Well, my dear lady, he is Lumpton!--that is enough for him, and for
most people--"

"Really?--Oh--well--of course!--I suppose so!" interrupted Maryllia,
with an expressive smile, which caused Miss Tabitha's angular form,
perched as it was on the high music-stool, to quiver with spite, and
moved Miss Tabitha's neatly gloved fingers to clench like a cat's
claws in their kid sheaths with an insane desire to scratch the fair
face on which that smile was reflected.

"He is a charming fellow, the Duke-charming-charming!" went on Sir
Morton, unconscious of the complex workings of thought in his
elderly daughter's acidulated brain! "And his great 'chum,' Lord
Mawdenham, has also been staying with us--but they left Badsworth
yesterday, I'm sorry to say. They travelled up to London with Lady
Elizabeth Messing, who paid us a visit of two or three days--"

"Lady Elizabeth Messing!" echoed Maryllia, with a sudden ripple of
laughter--"Dear me! Did you have her staying with you? How very nice
of you! She is such a terror!"

Mr. Marius Longford stroked one of his pussy-cat whiskers
thoughtfully, and put in his word.

"Lady Elizabeth spoke of you, Miss Vancourt, several times," he
said. "In fact"--and he smiled--"she had a good deal to say! She
remembers meeting you in Paris, and--if I mistake not--also at
Homburg on one occasion. She was surprised to hear you were coming
to live in this dull country place--she said it would never suit you
at all--you were altogether too brilliant--er--" he bowed--" and er-
-charming!" This complimentary phrase was spoken with the air of a
beneficent paterfamilias giving a child a bon-bon.

Maryllia's glance swept over him carelessly.

"Much obliged to her, I'm sure!" she said--"I can quite imagine the
anxiety she felt concerning me! So good of her! Is she a great
friend of yours?"

Mr. Longford looked slightly disconcerted.

"Well, no," he replied--"I have only during these last few days--
through Sir Morton--had the pleasure of her acquaintance--"

"Mr. Longford is not a 'society' man!" said Sir Morton, with a
chuckle--"He lives on the heights of Parnassus--and looks down with
scorn on the browsing sheep in the valleys below! He is a great
author!"

"Indeed!" and Maryllia raised her delicately arched eyebrows with a
faint movement of polite surprise--"But all authors are great
nowadays, aren't they? There are no little ones left."

"Oh, yes, indeed, and alas, there are!" exclaimed Julian Adderley,
flourishing his emptied tea-cup in the air before setting it back in
its saucer and depositing the whole on a table before him; "I am one
of them, Miss Vancourt! Pray be merciful to me!"

The absurd attitude of appeal he assumed moved Maryllia to a laugh.

"Well, when you look like that I guess I will!" she said playfully,
not without a sense of liking for the quaint human creature who so
willingly made himself ridiculous without being conscious of it--
"What is your line in the small way?"

"Verse!" he replied, with tragic emphasis--"Verse which nobody
reads--verse which nobody wants--verse which whenever it struggles
into publication, my erudite friend here, Mr. Longford, batters into
pulp with a sledge-hammer review of half-a-dozen lines in the
heavier magazines. Verse, my dear Miss Vancourt!--verse written to
please myself, though its results do not feed myself. But what
matter! I am happy! This village of St. Rest, for example, has
exercised a spell of enchantment over me. It has soothed my soul! So
much so, that I have taken a cottage in a wood--how melodious that
sounds!--at the modest rent of a pound a week. That much I can
afford,--that much I will risk--and on the air, the water, the nuts,
the berries, the fruits, the flowers, I will live like a primaeval
man, and let the baser world go by!" He ran his fingers through his
long hair. "It will be an experience! So new--so fresh!"

Miss Tabitha sniffed sarcastically, and gave a short, hard laugh.

"I hope you'll enjoy yourself!" she said tartly--"But you'll soon
tire. I told you at once when you said you had decided to spend the
summer in this neighbourhood that you'd regret it. You'll find it
very dull."

"Oh, I don't think he will!" murmured Maryllia graciously; "He will
be writing poetry all the time, you see! Besides, with you and Sir
Morton as neighbours, how CAN he feel dull? Won't you have some more
tea?"

"No, thank you!" and Miss Pippitt rose,--"Father, we must be going.
You have not yet explained to Miss Vancourt the object of our
visit."

"True, true!" and Sir Morton got out of his chair with some
difficulty--"Time flies fast in such fascinating company!" and he
smiled beamingly--"We came, my dear lady, to ask you to dine with us
on Thursday next at Badsworth Hall." No words could convey the
pomposity which Sir Morton managed to infuse into this simple
sentence. To dine at Badsworth was, or ought to be, according to his
idea, the utmost height of human bliss and ambition. "We will invite
some of our most distinguished neighbours to meet you,--there are a
few of the old stock left--" this as if he were of the 'old stock'
himself;--"I knew your father--poor fellow!--and of course I
remember seeing you as a child, though you don't remember me--ha-
ha!--but I shall be delighted to welcome you under my roof--"

"Thanks so much!" said Maryllia, demurely--"But please let it be for
another time, will you? I haven't a single evening disengaged
between this and the end of June! So sorry! I'll come over to tea
some day, with pleasure! I know Badsworth. Dear old place!--quite
famous too, once in the bygone days--almost as famous as Abbot's
Manor itself. Let me see!" and she looked up at the ceiling
musingly--"There was a Badsworth who fought against the
Commonwealth,--and there was another who was Prime Minister or
something of that kind,--then there was a Sir Thomas Badsworth who
wrote books--and another who did some wonderful service for King
James the First--yes, and there were some lovely women in the
family, too--I suppose their portraits are all there? Yes--I thought
so!"--this as Sir Morton nodded a blandly possessive affirmative--
"How things change, don't they? Poor old Badsworth! So funny to
think you live there! Oh, yes! I'll come over--certainly I'll come
over,--some day!"

Thus murmuring polite platitudes, Maryllia bade her visitors adieu.
Sir Morton conquered an inclination to gasp for breath and say
'Damn!' at the young lady's careless refusal of his invitation to
dinner,--Miss Tabitha secretly rejoiced.

"I'm sure I don't want her at Badsworth," she said within herself,
viciously--"Nasty little insolent conceited thing! I believe her
hair is dyed, and her complexion put on! A regular play-actress!"

Unconscious of the spinster's amiable thoughts, Maryllia was holding
out a hand to her.

"Good-bye!" she said--"So kind of you to come and see me! I'm sure
you think I must be lonely here. But I'm not, really! I don't think
I ever shall be,--because as soon as I have got the house quite in
order, I am going to ask a great many friends to stay with me in
turn. They will enjoy seeing the old place, and country air is such
a boon to London people! Good-bye!"--and here she turned to Marius
Longford--"I'm afraid I haven't read any of your books!--anyway I
expect they would be too deep for me. Wouldn't they?"

"Lord Roxmouth has been good enough to express his liking for my
poor efforts," he replied, with a slight covert smile--"I believe
you know him?"

"Oh, quite well--quite too well!" said Maryllia, without any
discomposure--"But what he likes, I always detest. Unfortunate,
isn't it! So I mustn't even try to read your works! You, Mr.
Adderley"--and she laughingly looked up at that gentleman, who, hat
in hand, was pensively drooping in a farewell attitude before her,--
"you are going to stop here all summer, aren't you? And in a
cottage! How delightful! Anywhere near the Manor?"

"I am not so happy as to have found a domicile on this side Eden!"
murmured Adderley, with a languishing look--"My humble hut is set
some distance apart,--about a mile beyond the rectory."

"Then your best neighbour will be the parson," said Maryllia, gaily-
-"So improving to your morals!"

"Possibly--possibly! "assented Adderley--" Mr. Walden is not exactly
like other parsons,--there is something wonderfully attractive about
him--"

"Something wonderfully conceited and unbearable, you mean!" snapped
out Sir Morton--"Come, come!--we must be off! The horses are at the
door,--can't keep them standing! Miss Vancourt doesn't want to hear
anything about the parson. She'll find him out soon enough for
herself. He's an upstart, my dear lady--take my word for it!--a
pretentious University prig and upstart! You'll never meet HIM at
Badsworth!--ha-ha-ha! Never! Sorry you can't dine on Thursday! Never
mind, never mind! Another time! Good-bye!"

"Good-bye!" and with a slight further exchange of salutations
Maryllia found herself relieved of her visitors. Of all the four,
Adderley alone looked back with a half-appealing smile, and received
an encouraging little nod for his pains--a nod which said 'Yes--you
can come again if you like!' The wheels of the Pippitt equipage
crunched heavily down the drive, and as the grating sound died away,
clear on the quiet air came the soft slow chime of the church-bells
ringing. It was near sunset,--and Walden sometimes held a short
simple service of evening prayer at that hour. Leaning against the
open window Maryllia listened.

"How pretty it is!" she said--"It must be the nearness of the river
that makes the tone of the bells so soft and mellow! Oh, what an
insufferable old snob that Pippitt is! And what a precious crew of
'friends' he boasts of! Lumpton, who, when he was a few years
younger, danced the skirt-dance in women's clothes for forty pounds
a night at a New York restaurant!--Mawdenham, who pawned all his
mother's jewels to pay his losses at Bridge--and Lady Elizabeth
Messing, who is such an abandoned old creature that her own married
daughters won't know her! Oh, dear! And I believe the Knighted Bone-
Boiler thinks they are quite good style! That literary man,
Longford, was a most unprepossessing looking object,--a friend of
Roxmouth's too, which makes him all the more unpleasant. And of
course he will at once write off and say he has seen me. And then--
and then-dear me! I wonder where Sir Morton picks these people up!
He doesn't like the parson here evidently--'a pretentious University
prig and upstart'--what a strong way of putting it!--very strong for
such a clean-looking old man! 'A pretentious University prig and
upstart' are you, Mr. Walden!" Here, smiling to herself, she moved
out into the garden and called her dog to her side--"Do you hear
that, Plato? Our next-door neighbour is a prig as well as a parson!-
-isn't it dreadful!" Plato looked up at her with great loving brown
eyes and wagged his plumy tail. "I believe he is,--and yet--yet all
the same, I think--yes!--I think, as soon as a convenient
opportunity presents itself, I'll ask him to dinner."




XIII


The next day Maryllia was up betimes, and directly after breakfast
she sent for Mrs. Spruce. That good lady, moved by the summons into
sudden trepidation, lest some duty had been forgotten, or some
clause of the household 'rules and regulations' left unfulfilled,
hastened to the inner library, a small octagonal room communicating
with the larger apartment, and there found her mistress sitting on a
low stool, with her lap full of visiting-cards which she was busily
sorting.

"Spruce!" and she looked up from her occupation with a mock tragic
air--"I'm dull! Positively D U double L! DULL!"

Mrs. Spruce stared,--but merely said:

"Lor, Miss!" and folded her hands on her apron, awaiting the next
word.

"I'm dull, dull, dull!" repeated Maryllia, springing up and tossing
all the cards into a wide wicker basket near at hand--"I don't know
what to do with myself, Spruce! I've got nobody to talk to, nobody
to play with, nobody to sing to, nobody to amuse me at all, at all!
I've seen everything inside and outside the Manor,--I've visited the
church,--I know the village--I've talked to dear old Josey
Letherbarrow till he must be just tired of me,--he's certainly the
cleverest man in the place,--and yesterday the Pippitts came and
finished me. I'm done! I throw up the sponge!--that's slang, Spruce!
There's nobody to see, nowhere to go, nothing to do. It's awful!
'The time is out of joint, O cursed spite!' That's Hamlet. Something
must HAPPEN, Spruce!"--and here she executed a playful pas-seul
around the old housekeeper--"There! Isn't that pretty? Don't look so
astonished!--you'll see ever so much worse than that by and bye! I
am going to have company. I am, really! I shall fill the house! Get
all the beds aired, and all the bedrooms swept out! I shall ask
heaps of people,--all the baddest, maddest folks I can find! I want
to be bad and mad myself! There's nobody bad or mad enough to keep
me going down here. Look at these!" And she raked among the
visiting-cards and selected a few. "Listen!--'Miss Ittlethwaite,
Miss Agnes Ittlethwaite, Miss Barbara Ittlethwaite, Miss Christina
Ittlethwaite, Ittlethwaite Park.' It makes my tongue all rough and
funny to read their names! They've called,--and I suppose I shall
have to call back, but I don't want to. What's the good? I'm sure I
never shall get on with the Ittlethwaites,--we shall never, never
agree! Do you know them, Spruce? Who are they?"

Mrs. Spruce drew a long breath, rolled up her eyes, and began:

"Which the Misses Ittlethwaite is a county fam'ly, Miss, livin' some
seven or eight miles from here as proud as proud, owin' to their
forebears 'avin' sworn death on Magnum Chartus for servin' of King
John--an' Miss Ittlethwaite proper, she be gettin' on in years, but
she's a great huntin' lady, an' come November is allus to be seen
follerin' the 'ounds, stickin' to the saddle wonderful for 'er size
an' time o' life, an' Miss Barbara, she doos a lot o' sick visitin',
an' Bible readin', not 'ere, for our people won't stand it, an'
Passon Walden ain't great on breakin' into private 'ouses without
owners' consents for Bible readin', but she, she's 'Igh, an' tramps
into Riversford near every day which the carrier's cart brings 'er
'ome to 'er own place they 'avin' given up a kerridge owin' to
spekylation in railways, an' Miss Hagnes she works lovely with 'er
needle, an' makes altar cloths an' vestis for Mr. Francis Anthony,
the 'Igh Church clergyman at Riversford, he not bein' married,
though myself I should say there worn't no chance for 'er, bein'
frightful skinny an' a bit off in 'er looks--an' Miss Christina she
do still play at bein' a baby like, she's the youngest, an' over
forty, yet quite a giddy in 'er way, wearin' ribbins round her
waist, an' if 'twarn't for 'er cheeks droppin' in long like, she
wouldn't look so bad, but they're all that proud--"

"That'll do, Spruce, that'll do!" cried Maryllia, putting her hands
to her ears--"No more Ittlethwaites, please, for the present!
Sufficient for the day is the Magnum Chartus thereof! Who comes
here?" and she read from another card,--"'Mrs. Mordaunt Appleby.'
Also a smaller label which says, 'Mr. Mordaunt Appleby'! More county
family pride or what?"

"Oh lor' no, Miss, Mordaunt Appleby's only the brewer of
Riversford," said Mrs. Spruce, casually. "He's got the biggest 'ouse
in the town, but people remembers 'im when he was a very shabby lot
indeed,-an awful shabby lot. HE ain't nobody, Miss-he's just got a
bit o' money which makes the commoner sort wag tails for 'im, but
it's like his cheek to call 'ere at all. Sir Morton Pippitt, bein'
in. the bone-meltin' line, as 'im up to dine now an' agin, just to
keep in with 'im like, for he's a nasty temper, an' his wife's got
the longest and spitefullest tongue in all the neighbourhood. But
you needn't take up wi' them, Miss-they ain't in your line,-which
some brewers is gentlemen, an' Appleby ain't--YOUR Pa wouldn't never
know HIS Pa."

"Then that's settled!" said Maryllia, with a sigh of relief.
"Depart, Mordaunt Applebys into the limbo of forgotten callers!"-and
she tossed the cards aside-"Here are the Pippitt names,-I small
remember them all right-Pip-pitt and Ittlethwaite have a tendency to
raise blisters of memory on the brain. What is this neat looking
little bit of pasteboard-' The Rev. John Walden.' Yes!-he called two
or three days ago when I was out."

Mrs. Spruce sniffed a sniff of meaning, but said nothing.

"I've not been to church yet"-went on Maryllia medi-tatively. "I
dare say he thinks me quite a dreadful person. But I hate going to
church,-it's so stupid-so boresome-and oh!-such a waste of time!"

Mrs. Spruce still held her peace. Maryllia gave her a little side-
glance and noted a certain wistfulness and wonder in the rosy,
wrinkled face which was not without its own pathos.

"I suppose everybody about here goes to church at least Once on
Sundays," pursued Maryllia-"Don't they?"

"Them as likes Mr. Walden goes," answered Mrs. Spruce promptly-"Then
as don't stops away. Sir Morton Pippitt used allus to attend 'ere
reg'ler when the buildin' was nowt but ruin, an' 'e 'ad a tin roof
put over it,-'e was that proud o' the tin roof you'd a' thought
'twas made o' pure gold, an' he was just wild when Mr. Walden pulled
it all off an' built up the walls an' roof again as they should be
all at 'is own expense, an' he went away from the place for sheer
spite like, an' stayed abroad a whole year, an' when 'e come back
again 'e never wouldn't go nigh it, an' now 'e attends service at
Badsworth Church,-Badsworth Barn we calls it,-for'tain't nowt but a
barn which Mr. Leveson keeps 'Igh as 'Igh with a bit o' tinsel an'
six candles, though it's the mis'ablest place ye ever set eyes on,
an' 'e do look a caution 'isself with what 'e calls a vestiment
'angin' down over 'is back, which is a baek as fat as porpuses, the
Lord forgive me for sayin.' it, but Sir Morton 'e be that set
against Mr. Walden he'll rather say 'is prayers in a pig-stye with a
pig for the minister than in our church, since it's been all
restored an' conskrated--then, as I told you just now, Miss, the
Ittlethwaites goes to Riversford where they gits opratick music with
the 'Lord be merciful to us mis'able sinners'--an' percessions with
candles,--so our church is mostly filled wi' the village folks,
farmer bodies an' sich-like,--there ain't no grand people what
comes, though we don't miss 'em, for Passon 'e don't let us want for
nothin' an' when there's a man out o' work, or a woman sick, or a
child what's pulin' a bit, an' ricketty, he's alhis ready to 'elp,
with all 'e 'as an' welcome, payin' doctor's fees often,--an' takin'
all the medicine bills on 'isself besides. Ah, 'e's a rare good sort
is Passon Walden, an' so you'd say yerself, Miss, if ever you took
on your mind to go and hear 'im preach, an' studied 'is ways for a
bit as 'twere an' asked 'bout 'im in the village, for 'e's fair an'
open as the day an' ain't got no sly, sneaky tricks in 'im,--he's
just a man, an' a good one--an' that's as rare a thing to find in
this world as a di'mond in a wash-tub, an' makin' so bold, Miss, if
you'd onny go to church next Sunday---"

Maryllia interrupted her by a little gesture.

"I can't, Spruce!" she said, but with great gentleness--"I know it's
the right and proper thing for me to do in the country if I wish to
stand well with my neighbours,-but I can't! I don't believe in it,--
and I won't pretend that I believe!"

Poor Mrs. Spruce felt a sudden choking in her throat, and her
motherly face grew red and pale by turns. Miss Maryllia, the old
squire's daughter, was--what? A heathen?--an unbeliever--an atheist?
Oh, surely it was not possible--it could not be!--she would not
accept the idea that a creature so dainty and pretty, so fair and
winsome, could be cast adrift on the darkness of life without any
trust in the saving grace of the Christian Faith! Limited as were
Mrs. Spruce's powers of intelligence, she was conscious enough that
there would be something sweet and strong lost out of the world,
which nothing could replace, were the message of Christ withdrawn
from it. The perplexity of her thoughts was reflected on her
countenance and Maryllia, watching her, smiled a little sadly.

"You mustn't think I don't believe in God, Spruce,"--she said
slowly--"I do! But I can't agree with all the churches teach about
Him. They make Him out to be a cruel, jealous and revengeful Being--
-"

"Mr. Walden don't---," put in Mrs. Spruce, quickly.

"And I like to think of Him as all love and pity and goodness," went
on Maryllia, not heeding her--"and I don't say prayers, because I
think He knows what is best for me without my asking. Do you
understand? So it's really no use my going to church, unless just
out of curiosity--and perhaps I will some day do that,--I'll see
about it! But I must know Mr. Walden a little better first,--I must
find out for myself what kind of a man he is, before I make up my
mind to endure such a martyrdom as listening to a sermon! I simply
loathe sermons! I suppose I must have had too many of them when I
was a child. Surely you remember, Spruce, that I used to be taken
into Riversford to church?" Mrs. Spruce nodded emphatically in the
affirmative. "Yes!--because when father was alive the church here
was only a ruin. And I used to go to sleep over the sermons always--
and once I fell off my seat and had to be carried out. It was
dreadful! Now Uncle Fred never went to church,--nor Aunt Emily. So
I've quite got out of the way of going--nobody is very particular
about it in Paris or London, you see. But perhaps I'll try and hear
Mr. Walden preach--just once--and I'll tell you then what I think
about it. I'll put his card on the mantelpiece to remind me!"

And she suited the action to the word, Mrs. Spruce gazing at her in
a kind of mild stupefaction. It seemed such a very odd thing to
stick up a clergyman's card as a reminder to go to church 'just
once' some Sunday.

Meanwhile Maryllia continued, "Now, Spruce, you must begin to be
busy! You must prepare the Manor for the reception of all sorts of
people, small and great. I feel that the time has come for 'company,
company!' And in the first place I'm going to send for Cicely
Bourne,--she's my pet 'genius'--and I'm paying the cost of her
musical education in Paris. She's an orphan--like me--she's all
alone in the world--like me;--and we're devoted to each other. She's
only a child--just over fourteen--but she's simply a wonder!--the
most wonderful musical wonder in the world!--and she has a perfectly
marvellous voice. Her master Gigue says that when she is sixteen she
will have emperors at her feet! Emperors! There are only a few,--but
they'll all be grovelling in the dust before her! You must prepare
some pretty rooms for her, Spruce, those two at the top of the house
that look right over the lawn and woods--and make everything as cosy
as you can. I'll put the finishing touches. And I must send to
London for a grand piano. There's only the dear old spinet in the
drawing-room,--it's sweet to sing to, and Cicely will love it,--but
she must have a glorious 'grand' as well. I shall wire to her to-
day,--I know she'll come at once. She will arrive direct from
Paris,--let me see!"--and she paused meditatively--"when can she
arrive? This is Friday,--yes!--probably she will arrive here Sunday
or Monday morning. So you can get everything ready."

"Very well, Miss," and Mrs. Spruce, with the usual regulation 'dip'
of respectful submission to her mistress was about to withdraw, when
Maryllia called her back and handed over to her care the wicker
basket full of visiting-cards.

"Put them all by,"--she said--"When Cicely comes we'll go through
them carefully together, and discuss what to eat, drink and avoid.
Till then, I shall blush unseen, wasting my sweetness on the desert
air! Time enough and to spare for making the acquaintance of the
'county.' Who was it that said:  Never know your neighbours'? I
forget,--but he was a wise man, anyway!"

Mrs. Spruce 'dipped' a second time in silence, and was then allowed
to depart on her various household duties. The good woman's thoughts
were somewhat chaotically jumbled, and most fervently did she long
to send for 'Passon,' her trusted adviser and chief consoler, or
else go to him herself and ask him what he thought concerning the
non-church-going tendencies of her mistress. Was she altogether a
lost sheep? Was there no hope for her entrance into the heavenly
fold?

"Which I can't and won't believe she's wicked,"--said Mrs. Spruce to
herself--"With that sweet childie face an' eyes she couldn't be!
M'appen 'tis bad example,--'er 'Merican aunt 'avin' no religion as
'twere, an' 'er uncle, Mr. Frederick, was never no great shakes in
'is young days if all the truth was told. Well, well! The Lord 'e
knows 'is own, an' my 'pinion is He ain't a-goin' to do without Miss
Maryllia, for it's allus 'turn again, turn again, why will 'ee die'
sort of thing with Him, an' He don't give out in 'is patience. I'm
glad she's goin' to 'ave a friend to stay with 'er,--that'll do 'er
good and 'earten her up--an' mebbe the friend'll want to go to
church, an' Miss Maryllia 'ull go with her, an' once they listens to
Passon 'twill be all right, for 'is voice do draw you up into a
little bit o' heaven somehow, whether ye likes it or not, an' if
Miss Maryllia once 'ears 'im, she'll be wanting to 'ear 'im again--
so it's best to leave it all in the Lord's 'ands which makes the
hill straight an' the valleys crooked, an' knows what's good for
both man and beast. Miss Maryllia ain't goin' to miss the Way, the
Truth an' the Life--I'm sartin sure o' that!"

Thus Mrs. Spruce gravely cogitated, while Maryllia herself, unaware
of the manner in which her immortal destinies were being debated by
the old housekeeper, put on her hat, and ran gaily across the lawn,
her great dog bounding at her side, making for the usual short-cut
across the fields to the village. Arrived there she went straight to
the post-office, a curious little lop-sided half-timbered cottage
with a projecting window, wherein, through the dusty close-latticed
panes could be spied various strange edibles, such as jars of
acidulated drops, toffee, peppermint balls, and barley-sugar--
likewise one or two stray oranges, some musty-looking cakes, a
handful or so of old nuts, and slabs of chocolate protruding from
shining wrappers of tin-foil,--while a flagrant label of somebody's
'Choice Tea' was suspended over the whole collection, like a flag of
triumph. The owner of this interesting stock-in-trade and the
postmistress of St. Rest, was a quaint-looking little woman, very
rosy, very round, very important in her manner, very brisk and
bright with her eyes, but very slow with her fingers.

"Which I gets the rheumatiz so bad in my joints," she was wont to
say--"that I often wonders 'ow I knows postage-stamps from telegram-
forms an' register papers from money-orders, an' if you doos them
things wrong Gove'nment never forgives you!"

"Ah, you'll never get into no trouble with Gove'nment, Missis
Tapple!" her gossips were wont to assure her, "For you be as ezack
as ezack!"

A compliment which Mrs. Tapple accepted without demur, feeling it to
be no more than her just due. She was, however, in spite of her
'ezack' methods, always a little worried when anything out of the
ordinary occurred, and she began to feel slightly flustered directly
she saw Maryllia swing open her garden gate. She had already, during
the last few days, been at some trouble to decipher various
telegrams which the lady of the Manor had sent down by Primmins for
immediate despatch, such as one to a certain Lord Roxmouth which had
run as follows:--"No time to reply to your letter. In love with pigs
and poultry."

"It IS 'pigs and poultry,' ain't it?" she had asked anxiously of
Primmins, after studying the message for a considerable time
through, her spectacles. And Primmins, gravely studying it, too, had
replied:--

"It is undoubtedly 'pigs and poultry.'"

"And it IS 'in love' you think?" pursued Mrs. Tapple, with
perplexity furrowing her brow.

"It is certainly 'in love,'" rejoined Primmins, and the faintest
suggestion of a wink affected his left eyelid.

Thereupon the telegram was 'sent through' to Riversford on its way
to London, though not without serious misgivings in Mrs. Tapple's
mind as to whether it might not be returned with a 'Gove'nment'
query as to its correctness. And now, when Maryllia herself entered
the office, and said smilingly, "Good-morning! Some foreign
telegram-forms, please!" Mrs. Tapple felt that the hour was come
when her powers of intelligence were about to be tried to the
utmost; and she accordingly began to experience vague qualms of
uneasiness.

"Foreign telegram-forms, Miss? Is it for Ameriky?"

"Oh, no!--only for Paris,"--and while the old lady fumbled nervously
in her 'official' drawer, Maryllia glanced around the little
business establishment with amused interest. She had a keen eye for
small details, and she noticed with humorous appreciation Mrs.
Tapple's pink sun-bonnet hanging beside the placarded 'Post Office
Savings Bank' regulations, and a half side of bacon suspended from
the ceiling, apparently for 'curing' purposes, immediately above the
telegraphic apparatus. After a little delay, the required pale
yellow 'Foreign and Colonial' forms were found, and Mrs. Tapple
carefully flattened them out, and set them on her narrow office
counter.

"Will you have a pencil, or pen and ink, Miss?" she enquired.

"Pen and ink, please," replied Maryllia; whereat the old
postmistress breathed a sigh of relief. It would be easier to make
out anything at all 'strange and uncommon' in pen and ink than in
pencil-marks which had a trick of 'rubbing.' Leaning lightly against
the counter Maryllia wrote in a clear bold round hand:

    "Miss CICELY BOURNE,

    "17 RUE CROISIE, PARIS.

    "Come to me at once. Shall want you all summer. Have
     wired Gigue. Start to-morrow.

                                             "MARYLLIA VANCOURT."

She pushed this over to Mrs. Tapple, who thankfully noting that she
was writing another, took time to carefully read and spell over
every word, and mastered it all without difficulty. Meanwhile
Maryllia prepared her second message thus:

                "Louis GIGUE,

                            "CONSERVATOIRE, PARIS.

    "Je desire que Cicely passe l'ete avec moi et qu'elle arrive
     immediatement. Elle peut tres-bien continuer ses etudes ici.
     Vous pouvez suivre, cher maitre, a votre plaisir.

                                             "MARYLLIA VANCOURT."

"It's rather long,"--she said thoughtfully, as she finished it. "But
for Gigue it is necessary to explain fully. I hope you can make it
out?"

Poor Mrs. Tapple quivered with inward agitation as she took the
terrible telegram in hand, and made a brave effort to rise to the
occasion.

"Yes, Miss," she stammered, "Louis Gigue--G.i.g.u.e., that's right--
yes--at the Conservatory, Paris."

"'No, no!" said Maryllia, with a little laugh--"Not Conservatory--
Conservatoire--TOIRE, t.o.i.r.e., the place where they study music."

"Oh, yes--I see!" and Mrs. Tapple tried to smile knowingly, as she
fixed her spectacles more firmly on her nose, and began to murmur
slowly--"Je desire, d.e.sire--oh, yes--desire!--que--q.u.e.--Cicely-
-yes that's all right!--passe, an e to pass--yes--now let me wait a
minute; one minute, Miss, if you please!--l'ete--l apostrophe e,
stroke across the e,--t, and e, stroke across the e---"

Maryllia's eyebrows went up in pretty perplexity.

"Oh dear, I'm afraid you won't be able to get it right that way!"
she said--"I had better write it in English,--why, here's Mr.
Walden!" This, as she saw the clergyman's tall athletic figure
entering Mrs. Tapple's tiny garden,--"Good-morning, Mr. Walden!" and
as he raised his hat, she smiled graciously--"I want to send off a
French telegram, and I'm afraid it's rather difficult---"

A glance at Mrs. Tapple explained the rest, and Walden's eyes
twinkled mirthfully.

"Perhaps _I_ can be of some use, Miss Vancourt," he said. "Shall I
try?"

Maryllia nodded, and he walked into the little office.

"Let me send off those telegrams for you, Mrs. Tapple," he said.
"You know you often allow me to amuse myself in that way! I haven't
touched the instrument for a month at least, and am getting quite
out of practice. May I come in?"

Mrs. Tapple's face shone with relief and gladness.

"Well now, Mr. Walden, if it isn't a real blessin' that you happened
to look in this mornin'!" she exclaimed--"For now there won't be no
delay,--not but what I knew a bit o' French as a gel, an' I'd 'ave
made my way to spell it out somehow, no matter how slow,--but there!
you're that handy that 'twon't take no time, an' Miss Vancourt will
be sure of her message 'avin' gone straight off from here correct,--
an' if they makes mistakes at Riversford, 'twon't be my fault!"

While she thus ran on, Walden was handling the telegraphic
apparatus. His back was turned to Maryllia, but he felt her eyes
upon him,--as indeed they were,--and there was a slight flush of
colour in his bronzed cheeks as he presenty looked round and said:

"May I have the telegram?"

"There are two--both for Paris," replied Maryllia, handing him the
filled-up forms--"One is quite easy--in English."  "And the other
quite difficult--in French!"--he laughed. "Let me see if I can make
it out correctly." Thereupon he read aloud: "'Louis Gigue,
Conservatoire, Paris. Je desire que Cicely passe l'ete avec moi et
qu'elle arrive immediatement. Elle peut tres-bien continuer ses
etudes ici. Vous pouvez suivre, cher maitre, a votre plaisir.' Is
that right?"

Maryllia's eyes opened a little more widely,--like blue flowers
wakening to the sun. This country clergyman's pronunciation of
French was perfect,--more perfect than her own trained Parisian
accent. Mrs. Tapple clasped her dumpy red hands in a silent ecstasy
of admiration. 'Passon' knew everything!

"Is it right?" Walden repeated.

Maryllia gave a little start.

"Oh I beg your pardon! Yes--quite right!--thank you ever so much!"

Click-click-click-click! The telegraphic apparatus was at work, and
the unofficial operator was entirely engrossed in his business. Mrs.
Tapple stood respectfully dumb and motionless, watching him.
Maryllia, leaning against the ledge of the office counter, watched
him, too. She took quiet observation of the well-poised head,
covered with its rich brown-grey waving locks of hair,--the broad
shoulders, the white firm muscular hands that worked the telegraphic
instrument, and she was conscious of the impression of authority,
order, knowledge, and self-possession, which seemed to have come
into the little office with him, and to have created quite a new
atmosphere. Outside, in the small garden, among mignonette and early
flowering sweetpeas, Plato sat on his huge haunches in lion-like
dignity, blinking at the sun,--while Walden's terrier Nebbie
executed absurd but entirely friendly gambols in front of him, now
pouncing down on two forepaws with nose to ground and eyes leering
sideways,--now wagging an excited tail with excessive violence to
demonstrate goodwill and a desire for amity.--and anon giving a
short yelp of suppressed feeling,--to all of which conciliatory
approaches Plato gave no other response than a vast yawn and
meditative stare.

The monotonous click-click-click continued,--now stopping for a
second, then going on more rapidly again, till Maryllia began to
feel quite unreasonably impatient. She found something irritating at
last in the contemplation of the back of Walden's cranium,--it was
too well-shaped, she decided,--she could discover no fault in it.
Humming a tune carelessly under her breath, she turned towards Mrs.
Tapple's small grocery department, and feigned to be absorbed in an
admiring survey of peppermint balls and toffee. Certain glistening
squares of sticky white substance on a corner shelf commended
themselves to her notice as specimens of stale 'nougat,' wherein the
almonds represented a remote antiquity,--and a mass of stringy
yellow matter laid out in lumps on blue paper and marked 'One Penny
per ounce' claimed attention as a certain 'hardbake' peculiar to St.
Rest, which was best eaten in a highly glutinous condition. A dozen
or so of wrinkled apples which, to judge by their damaged and worn
exteriors, must have been several autumns old, kept melancholy
companionship with assorted packages of the 'Choice Tea' whereof the
label was displayed in the window, and Maryllia was just about
wondering whether she would, or could buy anything out of the musty-
fusty collection, when the click-click-click stopped abruptly, and
Walden stepped forth from the interior 'den' of the post-office.

"That's all right, Miss Vancourt," he said. "Your telegrams are sent
correctly as far as Riversford anyhow, and there is one operator
there who is acquainted with the French language. Whether they will
transmit correctly from London I shouldn't like to say!--we are a
singular nation, and one of our singularities is that we scorn to
know the language of our nearest neighbours!"

She smiled up at him,--and as his glance met hers he was taken
aback, as it were, by the pellucid beauty and frank innocence of the
grave dark-blue eyes that shone so serenely into his own.

"Thank you so very, very much! You have been most kind!" and with a
swift droop of her white eyelids she veiled those seductive 'mirrors
of the soul' beneath a concealing fringe of long golden-brown
lashes--"It's quite a new experience to find a clergyman able and
willing to be a telegraph clerk as well! So useful, isn't it?"

"In a village like this it is," rejoined Walden, gaily--"And after
all, there's not much use in being a minister unless one can
practically succeed in the art of 'ministering' to every sort of
demand made upon one's capabilities! Even to Miss Vancourt's needs,
should she require anything, from the preservation of trees to the
sending of telegrams, that St. Rest can provide!"

Again Maryllia glanced at him, and again a little smile lifted the
corners of her mouth.

"I must pay for the telegrams," she said abruptly--"Mrs. Tapple---"

"Yes, Miss--I've written it all down," murmured Mrs. Tapple
nervously--"It's right, Mr. Walden, isn't it? If you would be so
good as to look at it, bein' tuppence a word, it do make it
different like, an' m'appen there might be a mistake---"

Walden glanced over the scrap of paper on which she had scrawled her
rough figures.

"Fivepence out, I declare, Mrs. Tapple!" he said, merrily. "Dear,
dear! Whatever is going to become of you, eh? To cheat yourself
wouldn't matter--nobody minds THAT--but to do the British Government
out of fivepence would be a dreadful thing! Now if I had not seen
this you would have been what is called 'short' this evening in
making up accounts." Here he handed the corrected paper to Maryllia.
"I think you will find that right."

Maryllia opened her purse and paid the amount,--and Mrs. Tapple, in
giving her change for a sovereign, included among the coins a bright
new threepenny piece with a hole in it. Spying this little bit of
silver, Maryllia held it up in front of Walden's eyes triumphantly.

"Luck!" she exclaimed--"That's for you! It's a reward for your
telegraphic operations! Will you be grateful if I give it to you?"

He laughed.

"Profoundly! It shall be my D.S.O.!"

"Then there you are!" and she placed the tiny coin in the palm of
the hand he held out to receive it. "The labourer is worthy of his
hire! Now you can never go about like some clergymen, grumbling and
saying you work for no pay!" Her eyes sparkled mischievously. "What
shall we do next? Oh, I know! Let's buy some acid drops!"

Mrs. Tapple stared and smiled.

"Or pear-drops," continued Maryllia, glancing critically at the
various jars of 'sweeties,'--"I see the real old-fashioned pink ones
up there,--lumpy at one end and tapering at the other. Do you like
them? Or brandy balls? I think the pear-drops carry one back to the
age of ten most quickly! But which do you prefer?"

Walden tried to look serious, but could not succeed. Laughter
twinkled all over his face, and he began to feel extremely young.

"Well,--really, Miss Vancourt,---" he began.

"There, I know what you are going to say!" exclaimed Maryllia--"You
are going to tell me that it would never do for a clergyman to be
seen munching pear-drops in his own parish. _I_ understand! But
clergymen do ever so much. worse than that sometimes. They do,
really! Two ounces of pear-drops for me, Mrs. Tapple, please!--and
one of brandy balls!"

Mrs. Tapple bustled out of her 'Gove'nment' office, and came to the
grocery counter to dispense these dainties.

"They stick to the jar so," said Maryllia, watching her
thoughtfully; "They always did. I remember, as a child, seeing a man
put his finger in to detach them. Don't put your finger in, Mrs.
Tapple!--take a bit of wood--an old skewer or something. Oh, they're
coming out all right! That's it!" And she popped one of the pear-
drops into her mouth. "They are really very good--better than French
fondants--so much more innocent and refreshing!" Here she took
possession of the little paper-bags which Mrs. Tapple had filled
with the sweets. "Thank you, Mrs. Tapple! If any answers to my
telegrams come from Paris, please send them up to the Manor at once.
Good-morning!"

"Good-morning, Miss!" And Mrs. Tapple, curtseying, pulled the door
of her double establishment wider open to let the young lady pass
out, which she did, with a smile and nod, Walden following her.
Plato rose and paced majestically after his mistress, Nebbie
trotting meekly at the rear, and so they all went forth from the
postmistress's garden into the road, where Walden, pausing, raised
his hat in farewell.

"Oh, are you going?" queried Maryllia. "Won't you walk with me as
far as your own rectory?"

"Certainly, if you wish it,"--he answered with a slight touch of
embarrassment; "I thought perhaps---"

"You thought perhaps,--what?" laughed Maryllia, glancing up at him
archly--"That I was going to make you eat pear-drops against your
will? Not I! I wouldn't be so rude. But I really thought I ought to
buy something from Mrs. Tapple,--she was so worried, poor old dear!-
-till you came in. Then she looked as happy as though she saw a
vision of angels. She's a perfect picture, with her funny old shawl
and spectacles and knobbly red fingers--and do you know, all the
time you were working the telegraph you were under the fragrant
shadow of a big piece of bacon which was 'curing,'--positively
'curing' over your head! Couldn't you smell it?"

Walden's eyes twinkled.

"There was certainly a fine aroma in the air," he said--"But it
seemed to me no more than the customary perfume common to Mrs.
Tapple's surroundings. I daresay it was new to you! A country
clergyman is perhaps the only human being who has to inure himself
to bacon odours as the prevailing sweetness of cottage interiors."

Maryllia laughed. She had a pretty laugh, silver-clear and joyous
without loudness.

"Fancy your being so clever as to be able to send off telegrams!"
she exclaimed--"What an accomplishment for a Churchman! Don't you
want to know all about the messages you sent?--who the persons are,
and what I have to do with them?"

"Not in the least!" answered John, smiling.

"Are you not of a curious disposition?"

"I never care about other people's business," he said, meeting her
upturned eyes with friendly frankness--"I have enough to do to
attend to my own."

"Then you are positively inhuman!" declared Maryllia--"And
absolutely unnatural! You are, really! Every two-legged creature on
earth wants to find out all the ins and cuts of every other two-
legged creature,--for if this were not the case wars would be at an
end, and the wicked cease from troubling and the weary be at rest.
So just because you don't want to know about my two friends in
Paris, I'm going to tell you. Louis Gigue is the greatest teacher of
singing there is,--and Cicely Bourne is his pupil, a perfectly
wonderful little girl with a marvellous compass of voice, whose
training and education I am paying for. I want her with me here--and
I have sent for her;--Gigue can come on if he thinks it necessary to
give her a few lessons during the summer, but of course she is not
to sing in public until she is sixteen. She is only fourteen now."

Walden listened in silence. He was looking at his companion
sideways, and noting the delicate ebb and flow of the rose tint in
her cheeks, the bright flecks of gold in the otherwise brown hair,
and the light poise of her dainty rounded figure as she stepped
along beside him with an almost aerial grace and swiftness.

"She was the child of a Cornish labourer,"--went on Maryllia. "Her
mother sold her for ten pounds. Yes!--wasn't it dreadful!" This, as
John's face expressed surprise. "But it is true! You shall hear all
the story some day,--it is quite a little romance. And she is so
clever!--you would think her ever so much older than she is, to hear
her talk. Sometimes she is rather blunt, and people get offended
with her-but she is true--oh, so true!--she wouldn't do a mean
action for the world! She is just devoted to me,--and that is
perhaps why I am devoted to her,--because after all, it's a great
thing to be loved, isn't it?"

"It is indeed!" replied John, mechanically, beginning to feel a
little dazed under the influence of the bright eyes, animated face,
smiling lips and clear, sweet voice--"It ought to be the best of all
things."

"It ought to be, and it is!" declared Maryllia emphatically. "Oh,
what a lovely bush of lilac!" And she hastened on a few steps in
order to look more closely at the admired blossoms, which were
swaying in the light breeze over the top of a thick green hedge--
"Why, it must be growing in your garden! Yes, it is!--of course it
is!--this is your gate. May I come in?"

She paused, her hand on the latch,--and for a moment Walden
hesitated. A wave of colour swept up to his brows,--he was conscious
of a struggling desire to refuse her request, united to a still more
earnest craving to grant it. She looked at him, wistfully smiling.

"May I come in?" she repeated.

He advanced, and opened the gate, standing aside for her to pass.

"Of course you may!"--he said gently,--"And welcome!"




XIV


Now it happened that Bainton was at that moment engaged in training
some long branches of honey-suckle across the rectory walls, and
being half-way up a ladder for the purpose, the surprise he
experienced at seeing 'Passon' and Miss Vancourt enter the garden
together and walk slowly side by side across the lawn, was so
excessive, that in jerking his head round to convince himself that
it was not a vision but a reality, he nearly lost his balance.

"Woa, steady!" he muttered, addressing the ladder which for a second
swayed beneath him--"Woa, I sez! This ain't no billowy ocean with
wot they calls an underground swell! So the ice 'ave broke, 'ave it!
She, wot don't like clergymen, an' he, wot don't like ladies, 'as
both come to saunterin' peaceful like with one another over the
blessed green grass all on a fine May mornin'! Which it's gettin'
nigh on June now an' no sign o' the weather losin' temper. Well,
well! Wonders won't never cease it's true, but I'd as soon a'
thought o' my old 'ooman dancin' a 'ornpipe among her cream cheeses
as that Passon Walden would a' let Miss Vancourt inside this 'ere
gate so easy like, an' he a bacheldor. But there!--arter all, he's
gettin' on in years, an' she's ever so much younger than he is, an'
I dessay he's made up his mind to treat 'er kind like, as 'twere her
father, which he should do, bein' spiritooal 'ead o' the village,
an' as for the pretty face of 'er, he's not the man to look at it
more'n once, an' then he couldn't tell you wot it's like. He favours
his water-lilies mor'n females,--ah, an' I bet he'd give ten pound
for a new specimen of a flower when he wouldn't lay out a 'apenny on
a new specimen of a woman." Here, pausing in his reflections, he
again looked cautiously round from his high vantage point of view on
the ladder, and saw Walden break off a spray of white lilac from one
bush of a very special kind near the edge of the lawn, and give it
to Miss Vancourt. "Well, now that do beat me altogether!" he
ejaculated under his breath. "If he's told me once, he's told me a
'undred times that he won't 'ave no blossoms broke off that bush on
no account An' there he is a-pickin' of it hisself! That's a kind of
thing which do make me feel that men is a poor feeble-minded lot,--
it do reely now!"

But feeble-minded or not, John had nevertheless gathered the choice
flower, and moreover, had found a certain pleasure in giving it to
his fair companion, who inhaled its delicious odour with an
appreciative smile.

"What a dear old house you have!" she said, glancing up at the
crossed timbers, projecting gables, and quaint dormer windows set
like eyes in the roof--"I had no idea that it was so pretty! And the
garden is perfectly lovely. It is so very artistic!--it looks like a
woman's dream of a garden rather than a man's."

John smiled.

"You think women more artistic than men?" he queried.

"In the decorative line--yes," she replied--"Especially where
flowers are concerned. If one leaves the planning of a garden
entirely to a man, he is sure to make it too stiff and
mathematical,--he will not allow Nature to have her own way in the
least little bit,--in fact"--and she laughed--"I don't think men as
a rule like to let anything or anybody have their own way except
themselves!"

The smile still lingered kindly round the corners of Walden's mouth.

"Possibly you may be right,"--he said--"I almost believe you are.
Men are selfish,--much more selfish than women. Nature made them so
in the first instance,--and our methods of education and training
all tend to intensify our natural bent. But"--here he paused and
looked at her thoughtfully; "I am not sure that absolute
unselfishness would be a wise or strong trait in the character of a
man. You see the first thing he has to do in this world is to earn
the right to live,--and if he were always backing politely out of
everybody else's way, and allowing himself to be hustled to one side
in an unselfish desire to let others get to the front, he would
scarcely be able to hold his own in any profession. And all those
dependent upon his efforts would also suffer,--so that his
'unselfishness' might become the very worst kind of selfishness in
the end--don't you think so?"  "Well--yes--perhaps in that way it
might!" hesitated Maryllia, with a faint blush--"I ought not to
judge anyone I know--but--oh dear!--the men one meets in town--the
society men with their insufferable airs of conceit and
condescension,--their dullness of intellect,--their preference for
cigars, whiskey, and Bridge to anything else under the sun,--their
intensely absorbed love of personal ease, and their perfectly absurd
confidence in their own supreme wisdom!--these are the hybrid
creatures that make one doubt the worth of the rest of their sex
altogether."

"But there are hybrid creatures on both sides,"--said Walden
quietly--"Just as there are the men you speak of, so there are women
of the same useless and insufferable character. Is it not so?"

She looked up at him and laughed.

"Why, yes, of course!" she frankly admitted--"I guess I won't argue
with you on the six of one and half-dozen of the other! But it's
just as natural for women to criticise men as for men to criticise
nowadays. Long ago, in the lovely 'once upon a time' fairy period,
the habit of criticism doesn't appear to have developed strongly in
either sex. The men were chivalrous and tender,--the women adoring
and devoted--I think it must have been perfectly charming to have
lived then! It is all so different now!"

"Fortunately, it is," said John, with a mirthful sparkle in his
eyes--"I am sure you would not have liked that 'once upon a time
fairy period' as you call it, at all, Miss Vancourt! Poets and
romancists may tell us that the men were 'chivalrous and tender,'
but plain fact convinces us that they were very rough unwashen
tyrants who used to shut up their ladies in gloomy castles where
very little light and air could penetrate,--and the adoring and
devoted ladies, in their turn, made very short work of the whole
business by either dying of their own grief and ill-treatment, or
else getting killed in cold blood by order of their lords and
masters. Why, one of the finest proofs of an improvement in our
civilisation is the freedom of thought and action given to women in
the present day. Personally speaking, I admit to a great fondness
for old-fashioned ways, and particularly for old-fashioned manners,-
-but I cannot shut my mind to the fact that for centuries women have
been unfairly hindered by men in every possible way from all chance
of developing the great powers of intelligence they possess,--and it
is certainly time the opposition to their advancement should cease.
Of course, being a man myself,"--and he smiled--"I daresay that in
my heart of hearts I like the type of woman I first learned to know
and love best,--my mother. She had the early Victorian, ways,--they
were very simple, but also very sweet."

He broke off, and for a moment or two they paced the lawn in
silence.

"I suppose you live all alone here?" asked Maryllia, suddenly.

"Yes. Quite alone."

"And are you happy?"

"I am content."

"I understand!" and she looked at him somewhat earnestly:--"'Happy'
is a word that should seldom be used I think. It is only at the
rarest possible moments that one can feel real true happiness."

"You are too young to say that,"--he rejoined gently--"All your life
is before you. The greater part of mine lies behind me."  Again she
glanced at him somewhat timidly.

"Mr. Walden"--she began--"I'm afraid--I suppose--I daresay you
think---"

John caught the appealing flash of the blue eyes, and wondering what
she was going to say. She played with the spray of lilac he had
given her, and for a moment seemed to have lost her self-possession.

"I am quite sure,"--she went on, hurriedly--"that you--I mean, I'm
afraid you haven't a very good opinion of me because I don't go to
church---"

He looked at her, smiling a little.

"Dor't you go to church?" he asked--"I didn't know it!"

Here was a surprise for the lady of the Manor. The clergyman of her
own parish,--a man, who by all accepted rule and precedent ought to
have been after her at once, asking for subscriptions to this fund
and that fund, toadying her for her position, and begging for her
name and support, had not even noticed her absence from divine
service on Sundays! She did not know whether to be relieved or
dissatisfied. Such indifference to her actions piqued her feminine
pride, and yet, his tone was very kind and courteous. Noting the
colour coming and going on her face, he spoke again---

"I never interfere personally with my parishioners, Miss Vancourt"--
he said--"To attend church or stay away from church is a matter of
conscience with each individual, and must be left to individual
choice. I should be the last person in the world to entertain a bad
opinion of anyone simply because he or she never went to church.
That would be foolish indeed! Some of the noblest and best men in
Christendom to-day never go to church,--but they are none the less
noble and good! They have their reasons of conscience for non-
committing themselves to accepted forms of faith, and it often turns
out that they are more truly Christian and more purely religious
than the most constant church-goer that ever lived."

Maryllia gave a little sigh of sudden relief.

"Ah, you are a broad-minded Churchman!" she said. "I am glad! Very
glad! Because you have no doubt followed the trend of modern
thought,--and you must have read all the discussions in the
magazines and in the books that are written on such subjects,--and
you can understand how difficult it is to a person like myself to
decide what is right when so many of the wisest and most educated
men agree to differ."

Walden stopped abruptly in his walk.

"Please do not mistake me, Miss Vancourt," he said gravely, and with
emphasis--"I should be sorry if you gathered a wrong opinion of me
at the outset of our acquaintance. As your minister I feel that I
ought to make my position clear to you. You say that I have probably
followed the trend of modern thought--and I presume that you mean
the trend of modern thought in religious matters. Now I have not
'followed' it, but I have patiently studied it, and find it in all
respects deplorable and disastrous. At the same time I would not
force the high truths of religion on any person, nor would I step
out of my way to ask anyone to attend church if he or she did not
feel inclined to do so. And why? Because I fully admit the laxity
and coldness of the Church in the present day--and I know that there
are many ministers of the Gospel who do not attract so much as they
repel. I am not so self-opinionated as to dream that I, a mere
country parson, can succeed in drawing souls to Christ when so many
men of my order, more gifted than I, have failed, and continue to
fail. But I wish you quite frankly to understand that the trend of
modern thought does not affect the vows I took at my ordination,--
that I do not preach one thing, and think another,--and that
whatever my faults and shortcomings may be, I most earnestly
endeavour to impress the minds of all those men and women who are
committed to my care with the beauty, truth and saving grace of the
Christian Faith."

Maryllia was silent. She appeared to be looking at the daisies in
the grass.

"I hope," he continued quietly, "you will forgive this rather
serious talk of mine. But when you spoke of 'the trend of modern
thought,' it seemed necessary to me to let you know at once and
straightly that I am not with it,--that I do not belong to the
modern school. Professing to be a Christian minister, I try to be
one,--very poorly and unsuccessfully I know,--but still, I try!"

Maryllia raised her eyes. There was a glisten on her long lashes as
of tears.

"Please forgive ME!" she said simply--"And thank you for speaking as
you have done! I shall always remember it, and honour you for it. I
hope we shall be friends?"

She put the words as a query, and half timidly held out her little
ungloved hand. He took it at once and pressed it cordially.

"Indeed, I am sure we shall!" he said heartily, and the smile that
made his face more than ordinarily handsome lit up his eyes and
showed a depth of sincerity and kindly feeling reflected straight
from his honest soul. A sudden blush swept over Maryllia's cheeks,
and she gently withdrew her hand from his clasp. A silence fell
between them, and when they broke the spell it was by a casual
comment respecting the wealth of apple-blossoms that were making the
trees around them white with their floral snow.

"St. Rest is a veritable orchard, when the season favours it," said
Walden--"It is one of the best fruit-growing corners in England. At
Abbot's Manor, for instance, the cherry crop is finer than can be
gathered on the same acreage of ground in Kent. Did you know that?"

Maryllia laughed.

"No! I know absolutely nothing about my own home, Mr. Walden,--and I
am perfectly aware that I ought to be ashamed of my ignorance. I AM
ashamed of it! I'm going to try and amend the error of my ways as
fast as I can. When Cicely Bourne comes to stay with me, she will
help me. She's ever so much more sensible than I am. She's a
genius."

"Geniuses do not always get the credit of being sensible, do they?"
queried John, smiling--"Are they not supposed to be creatures of
impulse, dwellers in the air, and wholly irresponsible?"

"Exactly so,"--she replied--"That is the commonplace opinion
commonplace people entertain of them. Yet the commonplace people owe
everything they enjoy in art, literature and science to the
conceptions of genius, and of genius alone. As for Cicely, she is
the most practical little person possible. She began to earn her
living at the age of eleven, and has 'roughed' it in the world more
severely than many a man. But she keeps her dreams,"

"And those who wish her well will pray that she may always keep
them,"--said Walden--"For to lose one's illusions is to lose the
world."

"The world itself may be an illusion!" said Maryllia, drawing near
the garden gate and leaning upon it for a moment, as she glanced up
at him with a vague sadness in her eyes,--"We never know. I have
often felt that it is only a pretty little pageant, with a very dark
background behind it!"

He was silent, looking at her. For the first time he caught himself
noticing her dress. It was of simple pale blue linen, relieved with
white embroidered lawn, and in its cool, fresh, clean appearance was
in keeping with the clear bright day. A plain straw garden hat tied
across the crown and under the chin with a strip of soft blue ribbon
to match the linen gown, was the finish to this 'fashionable' young
woman's toilette,--and though it was infinitely becoming to the fair
skin, azure eyes, and gold-brown hair of its wearer, it did not
suggest undue extravagance, or a Paris 'mode.' And while he yet
almost unconsciously studied the picture she made, resting one arm
lightly across his garden gate, she lifted the latch suddenly and
swung it open.

"Good-bye!" and she nodded smilingly--"Thank you so much for letting
me see your lovely garden! As soon as Cicely arrives, you must come
and see her--you will, won't you?"

"I shall be most happy---" he murmured.

"She will be so interested to hear how you sent her my telegram,"--
continued Maryllia--"And Gigue too--poor old Gigue!--he is sure to
come over here some time during the summer. He is such a quaint
person! I think you will like him. Good-bye!"

"Good-bye--for the present!" said John with a slight note of appeal
in his voice, which was not lost wholly upon the air alone, for
Maryllia turned her head back towards him with a laugh.

"Oh, of course!--only for the present! We are really next-door
neighbours, and I'm afraid we can't escape each other unless we each
play hermit in separate caves! But I promise not to bore you with my
presence very often!"

She waved the spray of white lilac he had given her in farewell, and
calling her dog to her side, passed down the village road lightly,
like a blue flower drifting with the May breeze, and was soon out of
sight.

Walden closed the gate after her with careful slowness, and returned
across the lawn to his favourite seat under his favourite apple-
tree. Nebbie followed him, disconsolately snuffing the ground in the
trail of the departed Plato, who doubtless, to the smaller animal's
mind, represented a sort of canine monarch who ruthlessly disdained
the well-meaning attentions of his inferiors. Bainton, having
finished his task of training the vines across the walls of the
rectory, descended his ladder, making as much noise as he could
about it and adding thereto a sudden troublesome cough which would
he considered, probably excite his master's sympathy and instant
attention. But Walden paid no heed. He was apparently busy fumbling
with his watch-chain. Bainton waited a moment, and then, unable any
longer to control his curiosity, seized his ladder and deliberately
carried it across the lawn, though he knew that that was not the
proper way to the tool-shed where it was kept. Halting close to the
seat under the apple-tree, he said:--

"Yon red honeysuckle's comin' on fine, Passon,--it be as full o' bud
as a pod o' peas."

"Ay indeed!" murmured Walden, absently--"That's all right!"

Bainton paused expectantly. No further word however was vouchsafed
to him, and he knew by experience that such silence implied his
master's wish to be left alone. With an almost magisterial gravity
he surveyed the Reverend John's bent head, and with another
scrutinising glance, ascertained the nature of the occupation on
which his fingers were engaged, whereupon his face expressed the
liveliest amazement. Shouldering his ladder, he went his way,--and
once out of earshot gave vent to a long low whistle.

"It do beat me!" he said, slapping one corduroy-trousered leg
vehemently--"It do beat me altogether--it do reely now! I ain't no
swearin' sort, an' bad langwidge ain't my failin', but I feel like
takin' a bet, or sayin' a swear when I sees a sensible man like,
makin' a fool of hisself! If Passon ain't gone looney all on a
suddint, blest if I knows wot's come to 'im. 'Tain't Miss Vancourt,-
-'tain't no one nor nothink wot I knows on, but I'm blowed if he
worn't sittin' under that tree, like a great gaby, a' fastenin' a
mis'able threepenny bit to 'is watch-chain! Did anyone ever 'ear the
like! A threepenny bit with a 'ole in it! To think of a man like
that turnin' to the sup'stitions o' maids an' wearin' a oley bit o'
silver! It do make me wild!--it do reely now!"

And snorting with ineffable disdain, Bainton almost threw his ladder
into the tool-shed, thereby scaring a couple of doves who had found
their way within, and who now flew out with a whirr of white wings
that glistened like pearl in the sunlight as they spread upwards and
away into the sky.

"A threepenny bit with a 'ole in it!" he repeated, mechanically
watching the birds of peace in their flight--"An' on his watch-chain
too, along wi' the gold cross wot he allus wears there, an' which
folks sez was the last thing wore by 'is dead sister! Somethin's
gone wrong with 'im-somethin' MUST a' gone wrong! Ginerally speakin'
a 'oley bit means a woman in it--but 'tain't that way wi' Passon for
sure--there's a deeper 'ole than the 'ole in the threepenny--a 'ole
wot ain't got no bottom to it, so fur as I can see. I'm just fair
'mazed with that 'ole!--'mazed an' moithered altogether, blest if I
ain't!"

The Reverend John, meanwhile, seated under his canopy of apple-
blossoms, had succeeded in attaching the ''oley bit' to his chain in
such a manner that it should not come unduly into notice with the
mere action of pulling out his watch. He could not, for the life of
him, have explained, had he been asked, the reason why he had
determined to thus privately wear it on his own person. To himself
he said he 'fancied' it. And why should not parsons have 'fancies'
like other people? Why should they not wear ''oley bits' if they
liked? No objection, either moral, legal or religious could surely
be raised to such a course of procedure!

And John actually whistled a tune as he slipped back his chain with
its new adornment attached, into his waistcoat pocket, and surveyed
his garden surroundings with a placid smile. His interview with Miss
Vancourt had not been an unpleasant experience by any means. He
liked her better than when he had first seen her on the morning of
their meeting under the boughs of the threatened 'Five Sister'
beeches. He could now, as he thought, gauge her character and
temperament correctly, with all the wonderful perspicuity and not-
to-be-contradicted logic of a man. She was charming,--and she knew
her charm;--she was graceful, and she was aware of her grace;--she
was bright and intelligent in the prettily 'surface' way of women,--
she evidently possessed a kind heart, and she seemed thoughtful of
other people's feelings,--she had a sweet voice and a delightfully
musical laugh,--and--and--that was about all. It was not much,
strictly speaking;--yet he found himself considerably interested in
weighing the pros and cons of her nature, and wondering how she had
managed to retain, in the worldly and social surroundings to which
she had been so long accustomed, the child-like impulsiveness of her
manner, and the simple frankness of her speech.

"Of course it may be all put on,"--he reflected, though with a touch
of shamed compunction at the bare suggestion--"One can never tell!
It seemed natural. And it would hardly be worth her while to act a
part for the benefit of an old fogey like myself. I think she is
genuine. I hope so! At any rate I will believe she is, till she
proves herself otherwise. Of course 'the trend of modern thought'
has touched her. The cruellest among the countless cruel deeds of
latter-day theism is to murder the Christ in women. For, as woman's
purity first brought the Divine Master into the world, so must
woman's purity still keep Him here with us,--else we men are lost--
lost through the sins, not only of our fathers, but chiefly of our
mothers!"

That same evening Maryllia received a prompt reply to one of the
telegrams which Walden had sent off for her in the morning. It was
brief and to the point, and only ran:--'Coming. Cicely';--a message
which Mrs. Tapple had no difficulty in deciphering, and which she
sent up to the Manor, post haste, as soon as it arrived. The
telegraph-boy who conveyed it, got sixpence for himself as a reward
for the extra speed he had put on in running all the way from the
village to the house, thereby outstripping the postman, who being
rotund in figure was somewhat heavily labouring up in the same
direction with the last delivery of letters for the day. Miss
Vancourt's correspondents were generally very numerous,--but on this
occasion there was only one letter for her,--one, neatly addressed,
with a small finely engraved crest on the flap of the envelope.
Maryllia surveyed that envelope and crest with disfavour,--she had
seen too many of the same kind. The smile that brightened her face
when she read Cicely's telegram, faded altogether into an expression
of cold weariness as with a small silver paper-knife she slowly slit
the closed edges of the unwelcome missive and glanced indifferently
at its contents. It ran as follows:

"MY DEAR MISS MARYLLIA,--I feel sure you do not realise the great
pain you are inflicting on your aunt, as well as on myself, by
declining to answer our letters except by telegram. Pray remember
that we are quite in the dark as to the state of your health, your
surroundings and your general well-being. Your sudden departure from
town, was, if you will permit me to say so, a most unwise impulse,
causing as it has done, the greatest perplexity in your own social
circle and among your hosts of friends. I have done my best to
smooth matters over, by assuring all enquirers that certain matters
on your country estate required your personal supervision, but
rumour, as you know, has many tongues which are not likely to be
easily silenced. Your aunt was much surprised and disturbed to
receive from you a box of peacock's feathers, without any word from
yourself. She has no doubt you meant the gift kindly, but was not
the manner of giving somewhat strange?--let me say eccentric? I hope
you will allow me to point out to you that nothing is more fatal to
a woman in good society than to attain any sort of reputation for
eccentricity. I may take the liberty of saying this to you as an old
friend, and as one who still holds persistently to the dear
expectation, despite much discouragement, of being able soon to call
you by a closer name than mere friendship allows. The disagreement
between your aunt and yourself should surely be a matter of slight
duration, and not sufficient in any case to warrant your rash
decision to altogether resign the protection and kindly guardianship
which she, on her part, has exercised over you for so many years. I
cannot too strongly impress upon your mind the fatal effect any long
absence from her is likely to have on your position in society, and
though as yet you have only been about three weeks away, people are
talking and will no doubt continue to talk. If you find your old
home an agreeable change from town life, pray allow your aunt to
join you there. She will do so, I am sure, with pleasure. She misses
you very greatly, and I will never believe that you would wilfully
cause her needless trouble. I may not, I know, express my own
feelings on the subject, as I should probably only incur your scorn
or displeasure, but simply as an honest man who wishes you nothing
but good, I ask you quietly to consider to what misrepresentation
and calumny you voluntarily expose yourself by running away, as it
were, from a rightful and affectionate protector and second mother
like your good aunt, and living all alone in the country without any
one of your immediate circle of friends within calling distance. Is
there a more compromising or more ludicrous position than that of
the independent and defenceless female? I think not! She is the
laughing-stock of the clubs, and the perennial joke of the comic
press. Pray do not place yourself in the same category with the
despised and unlovely of your sex, but remain on the height where
Nature placed you, and where your charm and intelligence can best
secure acknowledgment from the less gifted and fortunate. Entreating
your pardon for any word or phrase in this letter which may
unluckily chance to annoy you, I am. my dear Miss Maryllia,--Yours
with the utmost devotion,"
                                                       "ROXMOUTH."

 "What a humbug he is!" said Maryllia, half aloud, as she nut the
letter back in its envelope and set it aside--"What a soft, smooth,
civil, correctly trained humbug! How completely he ignores the
possibility of my having any intelligence, even while he asks me to
remain 'on the height' where it can best secure acknowledgment! He
never appears to realise that my intelligence may be of such a
quality as to enable me to see through him pretty clearly! And so
the 'independent and defenceless female' is the laughing-stock of
the clubs, is she? Well, I daresay he is quite right there! There's
nothing braver for men to do at their clubs than to laugh at the
'defenceless' women who would rather fight the world alone and earn
their own livelihood, than enter into loveless marriages! The
quaintest part of the letter is the bit about Aunt Emily. Roxmouth
must really think me a perfect idiot if he dreams that I would
accept such a story as that she was 'surprised and disturbed' at
receiving the box of peacock's feathers. Aunt Emily was never
'surprised' or 'disturbed' at anything in her life, I am sure! When
poor Uncle Fred died, she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes for
five minutes, and then sat down at her desk to write her orders for
mourning. And when I spoke my mind to her about Roxmouth, she only
smiled and told me not to excite myself. Then when I said I had
determined to leave her altogether and go back to my own home to
live, she took it quite easily, and merely stated she would have to
alter her will. I assured her I hoped she would do so at once, as I
had no wish to benefit by her death. Then she didn't speak to me for
several days, and I came away quietly without bidding her good-bye.
And here I am,--and here I mean to stay!"

She laughed a little, and moving to the open window, looked out on
the quiet beauty of the landscape. "Yes!--I too will become a
laughing-stock of the clubs;--and even I may attain the distinction
of being accepted as a 'joke by the comie press'! I will be an
'independent and defenceless female,' and see how I get on! In any
case I'd rather be defenceless than have Roxmouth as a defender. And
I shall not be alone here, now that Cicely is coming. Besides, I
have two men friends in the village,--at least, I think I have! I'm
sure of one,--old Josey Letherbarrow!" The smile lingered on her
lips, as she still looked out on the lawn and terrace, shadowed by
the evening dusk, and sweet with the cool perfume of the rising dew.
"And the other,--if he should turn out as agreeable as he seemed
this morning,--why, he is a tower of strength so far as
respectability is concerned! What better protection can an
'independent and defenceless female' have than the minister of the
parish? I can go to him for a character, ask him for a reference,
throw myself and my troubles upon him as upon a rock, and make him
answer for me as an honest and well-intentioned parishioner! And I
believe he would 'speak up' for me, as the poor folks say,--yes, my
Lord Roxmouth!--I believe he would,--and if he did, I'm certain he
would speak straight, and not whisper a few small poisonous lies
round the corner! For I think"--and here the train of her
reflections wandered away from her aunt and her lordly wooer
altogether, "yes,--I think Mr. Walden is a good man! I was not quite
sure about him when I first met him,--I thought his eyes seemed
deceitful,--so many parsons' eyes are!--but I looked well into them
to-day,--and they're not the usual eyes of a parson at all,--they're
just the eyes of a British sailor who has watched rough seas all his
life,--and such eyes are always true!"




XV


On the following Monday afternoon Cicely Bourne, to whom Walden had
so successfully telegraphed Maryllia's commands, arrived. She was
rather an odd-looking young person. Her long thin legs were much too
long for the shortness of her black cashmere frock, which was made
'en demoiselle,' after the fashion adhered to in French convents,
where girls are compelled to look as ugly as possible, in order that
they may eschew the sin of personal vanity,--her hair, of a rich
raven black, was plaited in a stiff thick braid resembling a Chinese
pigtail, and was fastened at the end with a bow of ribbon,--and a
pair of wonderfully brilliant dark eyes flashed under her arching
brows, suggesting something weird and witchlike in their roving
glances, and giving an almost uncanny expression to her small,
sallow face. But she was full of the most exuberant vitality,--she
sparkled all over with it and seemed to exhale it in the mere act of
breathing. Brimful of delight at the prospect of spending the whole
summer with her friend and patroness, to whom she owed everything,
and whom she adored with passionate admiration and gratitude, she
dashed into the old-world silence and solitude of Abbot's Manor like
a wild wave of the sea, crested with sunshine and bubbling over with
ripples of mirth. Her incessant chatter and laughter awoke the long-
hushed echoes of the ancient house to responsive gaiety,--and every
pale lingering shadow of dullness or loneliness fled away from the
exhilarating effect of her presence, which acted at once as a
stimulant and charm to Maryllia, who welcomed her arrival with
affectionate enthusiasm.

"But oh, my dear!" she exclaimed--"What a little school-guy they
have made of you! You must have grown taller, surely, since November
when I saw you last? Your frock is ever so much too short!"

"I don't think I've grown a bit,"--said Cicely, glancing down at her
own legs disparagingly--"But my frock wore shabby at the bottom, and
the nuns had a fresh hem turned up all round. That reduced its
length by a couple of inches at least. I told them as modestly as I
could that my ankles were too vastily exposed, but they said it
didn't matter, as I was only a day-boarder."

Maryllia's eyebrows went up perplexedly.

"I don't see what that has to do with it,"--she said--"Would you
have preferred to live in the Convent altogether, dear?"

"Grand merci!" and Cicely made an expressive grimace--"Not I! I
should not have had half as many lessons from Gigue, and I should
never have been able to write to you without the Mere Superieure
spying into my letters. That's why none of the girls are allowed to
have sealing wax, because all their letters are ungummed over a
basin of hot water and read before going to post. Discipline,
discipline! Torquemada's Inquisition was nothing to it! Of course I
had to tell the Mere Superieure that you had sent for me, and that I
should be away all summer. She asked heaps of questions, but she got
nothing out of me, so of course she wrote to your aunt. But that
doesn't matter, does it?"

"Not in the least,"--answered Maryllia, decisively,--"My aunt has
nothing whatever to do with me now, nor I with her. I am my own
mistress."

"And it becomes you amazingly!" declared Cicely--"I never saw you
looking prettier! You are just the sweetest thing that ever fell out
of heaven in human shape! Oh, Maryllia, what a lovely, lovely place
this is! And is it all yours?--your very, very own?"

"My very, very own!" and Maryllia, in replying to the question, felt
a thrill of legitimate pride in the beautiful old Tudor house of her
ancestors,--"I wish I had never been taken away from it! The more I
see of it, the more I feel I ought not to have left it so long."

"It is real home, sweet home!" said Cicely, and her great eyes grew
suddenly sad and wistful, as she slipped a caressing arm round her
friend's waist--"How grateful I am to you for asking me to come and
stay in it! Because, after all, I am only a poor little peasant,--
with a musical faculty!"

Maryllia kissed her affectionately.

"You are a genius, my dear!" she said--"There's is no higher
supremacy. What does Gigue say of you now?"

"Gigue is satisfied, I think. But I don't really know. He says I'm
too precocious--that my voice is a woman's before I'm a girl. It's
abnormal--and I'm abnormal too. I know I am,--and I know it's
horrid--but I can't help it! Whers'a the piano?"

"There isn't one in the house," said Maryllia, smiling; "Abbot's
Manor has always lived about a hundred and fifty years behind the
times. But I've sent for a boudoir grand--it will be here this week.
Meanwhile, won't this do?" and she pointed to a quaint little
instrument occupying a recess near the window--"It's a spinet of
Charles the Second's period---"

"Delightful!" cried Cicely, ecstatically--"There's nothing sweeter
in the whole world to sing to!"

Opening the painted lid with the greatest tenderness and care, she
passed her hands lightly over the spinet's worn and yellow ivory
keys and evoked a faint fairy-like tinkling.

"Listen! Isn't it like the wandering voice of some little ghost of
the past trying to speak to us?" she said--"And in such sweet tune,
too! Poor little ghost! Shall I sing to you? Shall I tell you that
we have a sympathy in common with you, even though you are so old
and so far, far away!"

Her lips parted, and a pure note, crystal clear, and of such silvery
softness as to seem more supernatural than human, floated upward on
the silence. Maryllia caught her breath, and listened with a quickly
beating heart,--she knew that the voice of this child whom she had
rescued from a life of misery, was a world's marvel.

    "Le douce printemps fait naitre,--
     Autant d'amours que de fleurs;
     Tremblez, tremblez, jeunes coeurs!
     Des qu'il commence a paraitre
     Il faut cesser les froideurs."

Here with a sudden brilliant roulade the singer ran up the scale to
the C in alt, and there paused with a trill as delicious and full as
the warble of a nightingale.

    "Mais ce qu'il a de douceurs
     Vous coutera cher peut-etre!
     Tremblez, tremblez jeunes coeurs,
     Le douce printemps fait naitre,
     Autant d'amours que de fleurs!"

She ceased. The air, broken into delicate vibrations, carried the
lovely sounds rhythmically outward, onward and into unechoing
distance.

She turned and looked at Maryllia--then smiled.

"I see you are pleased,"--she said.

"Pleased! Cicely, I don't believe anyone was ever born into the
world to sing as you sing!"

Cicely looked quaintly meditative.

"Well, I don't know about that! You see there have been several
millions of folks born into the world, and there may have been just
one naturally created singer among them!" She laughed, and touched a
chord on the spinet. "The old French song exactly suits this old
French instrument. I see it is an ancient thing of Paris. Gigue says
I have improved--but he will never admit much, as you know. He has
forbidden me to touch the C in alt, and I did it just now. I cannot
help it sometimes--it comes so easy. But you must scold me, Maryllia
darling, when you hear me taking it,--I don't want to strain the
vocal cords, and I always forget I'm only fourteen; I feel--oh! ever
so much older!--ages old, in fact!" She sighed, and stretched her
arms up above her head. "What a perfect room this is to sing in!
What a perfect house!--and what a perfect angel you are to have me
with you!"

Her eyes filled with sudden tears of emotion, but she quickly
blinked them away.

"Et ce cher Roxmouth?" she queried, suddenly, glancing
appreciatively at the rippling gold-brown lights and shades of her
friend's hair, the delicate hues of her complexion, and the grace of
her form--"Has he been to see you in this idyllic retreat?"

Maryllia gave a slight gesture of wearied impatience.

"Certainly not! How can you ask such a question, Cicely! I left my
aunt on purpose to get rid of him once and for all. And he knows
it;--yet he has written to me every two days regularly since I came
here!"

"Helas!--ce cher Roxmouth!" murmured Cicely, with a languid gesture
imitative of the 'society manner' of Mrs. Fred Vancourt,--"Parfait
gentilhomme au bout des ongles!"

Maryllia laughed.

"Yes,--Aunt Emily all over!" she said--"How tired I am of that
phrase! She knows as well as anybody that Roxmouth, for all his airs
of aristocratic propriety, is a social villain of the lowest type of
modern decadence, yet she would rather see me married to him than to
any other man she has ever met. And why? Simply because he will be a
Duke! She would like to say to all her acquaintances--'My niece is a
Duchess.' She would feel a certain fantastic satisfaction in
thinking that her millions were being used to build up the decayed
fortunes of an English nobleman's family, as well as to 'restore'
Roxmouth Castle, which is in a bad state of repair. And she would
sacrifice my heart and soul and life to such trumpery ambitions as
these!"

"Trumpery ambitions!" echoed Cicely--"My dear, they are ambitions
for which nearly all women are willing to scramble, fight and die!
To be a Duchess! To dwell in an ancient 'restored' castle of once
proud English nobles! Saint Moses! Who wouldn't sacrifice such vague
matters as heart, life and soul for the glory of being called 'Your
Grace' by obsequious footmen! My unconventional Maryllia! You are
setting yourself in rank, heretical opposition to the
conventionalities of society, and won't all the little conventional
minds hate you for it!"

"It doesn't matter if they do,"--rejoined Maryllia--"I have never
been loved since my father's death,--so I don't mind being hated."

"_I_ love you!" said Cicely, with swift ardour--"Don't say you have
never been loved!"

Maryllia caught her hand tenderly and kissed it.

"I was not thinking of you, dear!" she said--"Forgive me! I was
thinking of men. They have admired me and flirted with me,--many of
them have wanted to marry me, in order to get hold of Aunt Emily's
fortune with me,--but none of them have ever loved me. Cicely,
Cicely, I want to be loved!"

"So do I!" said Cicely, with answering light in her eyes--"But I
don't see how it's going to be done in my case! You may possibly get
your wish, but I!--why, my dear, I see myself in futur-oe as a
'prima donna assoluta' perhaps, with several painted and padded
bassi and tenori making sham love to me in opera till I get
perfectly sick of cuore and amore, and cry out for something else by
way of a change! I am quite positive that love,--love such as we
read of in poetry and romance, doesn't really exist! And I have
another fixed opinion--which is, that the people who write most
about it have never felt it. One always expresses best, even in a
song, the emotions one has never experienced."

Maryllia looked at her in a little wonder.

"Do you really think that?"

"I do! It's not one of Gigue's sayings, though I know I often echo
Gigue!"

She went to the window. "How lovely the garden is! Come out on the
lawn, Maryllia, and let us talk!" And as they sauntered across the
grass together with arms round each other's waists, she chattered
on--"People who write books and music are generally lonely,--and
they write best about love because they need it. They fancy it must
be much better than it is. But, after all, the grandest things go
unloved. Look at the sky, how clear it is and pure. Is it loved by
any other sky that we know of? And the sun up there, all alone in
its splendour,--I wonder if any other sun loves it? There are so
many lonely things in the universe! And it seems to me that the
loneliest are always the loveliest and grandest. It is only stupid
ephemera that are gregarious. Worms crawl along in masses,--mites
swarm in a cheese--flies stick in crowds on jam--and brainless
people shut themselves up all together within the walls of a city.
I'd rather be an eagle than a sparrow,--a star than one of a
thousand bonfire sparks,--and as a mere woman, I would rather ten
thousand times live a solitary life by myself till I die, than be
married to a rascal or a fool!"

"Exactly my sentiments,"--said Maryllia--"Only you put them more
poetically than I can. Do you know, Cicely, you talk very oddly
sometimes?--very much in advance of your age, I mean?"

"Do I?" And Cicely's tone expressed a mingling of surprise and
penitence--"I didn't know it. But I suppose I really can't help it,
Maryllia! I was a very miserable child--and miserable children age
rapidly. Perhaps I shall get younger as I grow older! You must
remember that at eleven years old I was scrubbing floors like any
charwoman in the Convent for two centimes an hour. I gained a lot of
worldly wisdom that way by listening to the talk of the nuns, which
is quite as spiteful and scandalous as anything one hears in outside
'wicked' society. Then I got into the Quartier Latin set with Gigue,
who picked me up because he heard me singing in the street,--and
altogether my experiences of life haven't been toys and bonbons. I
know I THINK 'old'--and I'm sure I feel old!"

"Not when you play or sing," suggested Maryllia.

"No--not then--never then! Then, all the youth of the world seems to
rush into me,--it tingles in my fingers, and throbs in my throat! I
feel as if I could reach heaven with sound!--yes! I feel that I
could sing to God Himself, if He would only listen!"

Her eyes glowed with passion,--the plainness of her features was
transformed into momentary beauty. Maryllia was silent. She knew
that the aspirations of genius pent up in this elf-like girl were
almost too strong for her, and that the very excitability and
sensitiveness of her nature were such as to need the greatest care
and tenderness in training and controlling. Tactfully she changed
the conversation to ordinary subjects, and in a little while Cicely
had learned all that Maryllia herself knew about the village of St.
Rest and its inhabitants. She was considerably interested in the
story of the rescue of the 'Five Sister' beeches, and asked with a
touch of anxiety, what had become of the dismissed agent, Oliver
Leach?

"Oh, he is still in the neighbourhood,"--said Maryllia,
indifferently--"He works for Sir Morton Pippitt, and I believe has
found a home at Badsworth. His accounts are not yet all handed in to
my solicitors. But I have a new agent now,--a Mr. Stanways--he is
just married to quite a nice young woman,--and he has already begun
work. Mr. Stanways has splendid recommendations--so that will be all
right."

"No doubt--so far as Mr. Stanways himself is concerned it will be
all right,"--rejoined Cicely, musingly--"But if, as you say, the man
Oliver Leach cursed you, it isn't pleasant to think he is hanging
around here."

"He isn't hanging round anywhere,"--declared Maryllia, easily--"He
is out of this beat altogether. He cursed me certainly,--but he was
in a temper,--and I should say that curses come naturally to him.
But, as the clergyman was present at the time, the curse couldn't
take any effect." She laughed. "You know Satan always runs away from
the Church."

"Who is the clergyman, and what is he like?" asked Cicely.

"He's not at all disagreeable"--answered Maryllia, carelessly--
"Rather stiff perhaps and old-fashioned,--but he seems to be a great
favourite with all his parishioners. His name is John Walden. He has
restored the church here, quite at his own expense, and according to
the early original design. It is really quite wonderful. When I was
a child here, I only remember it as a ruin, but now people come from
far and near to see it. It will please you immensely."

"But you don't go to it," observed Cicely, suggestively.

"No. I haven't attended a service there as yet. But I don't say I
never will attend one. That will depend on circumstances."

"I remember you always hated parsons," said Cicely, thoughtfully.

Maryllia laughed.

"Yes, I always did!"

"And you always will, I suppose?"

"Well, I expect I shall have to tolerate Mr. Walden,"--Maryllia
answered lightly,--"Because he's really my nearest neighbour. But
he's not so bad as most of his class."

"I daresay he's a better type of man than Lord Roxmouth," said
Cicely. "By the way, Maryllia, that highly distinguished nobleman
has spread about a report that you are 'peculiar,' simply because
you won't marry him? The very nuns at the Convent have heard this,
and it does make me so angry! For when people get hold of the word
'peculiar,' it is made to mean several things."

"I know!" and for a moment Maryllia's fair brows clouded with a
shadow of perplexity and annoyance--"It is a word that may pass for
madness, badness, or any form of social undesirability. But I don't
mind! I'm quite aware that Roxmouth, if he cannot marry me, will
slander me. It's a way some modern men have of covering their own
rejection and defeat. The woman in question is branded through the
'smart set' as 'peculiar,' 'difficult,' 'impossible to deal with'--
oh yes!--I know it all! But I'm prepared for it--and just to
forestall Roxmouth a little, I'm going to have a few people down
here by way of witnesses to my '-peculiar' mode of life. Then they
can go back to London and talk."

"They can, and they will,--you may be sure of that!" said Cicely,
satirically--"Is this a 'dressed' county, Maryllia?"

Maryllia gave vent to a peal of laughter.

"I should say not,--but I really don't know!" she replied,--"People
have called on me, but I have not, as yet, returned their calls.
We'll do that in this coming week. The only person I have seen, who
poses as a 'county' lady, is an elderly spinster named Tabitha
Pippitt, only daughter of Sir Morton Pippitt, who is a colonial
manufacturer, and, therefore, not actually in the 'county' at all.
Miss Tabitha was certainly not 'dressed,' she was merely covered."

"That's the very height of propriety!" declared Cicely--"For, after
all, covering alone is necessary. 'Dress,' in the full sense of the
word, implies vanity and all its attendant sins. Gigue says you can
always pick out a very dull, respectable woman by the hidecmsness
of her clothes. I expect Miss Tabitha is dull."

"She is--most unquestionably! But I'm afraid she is only a reflex of
country life generally, Cicely. Country life IS dull,--especially in
England."

"Then why do you go in for it?" queried Cicely, arching her black
brows perplexedly.

"Simply to escape something even duller,"--laughed Maryllia--"London
society and its 'Souls'!"

Cicely laughed too, and shrugged her shoulders expressively. She
understood all that was implied. And with her whole heart she
rejoiced that her friend whom she loved with an almost passionate
adoration and gratitude, had voluntarily turned her back on the
'Smart Set,' and so, of her own accord, instead of through her
godfathers and godmothers, had 'renounced the devil and all his
works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world and all the sinful
lusts of the flesh.'

Within a very few days St. Rest became aware of Cicely's quaint
personality, for she soon succeeded in making herself familiar with
everybody in the place. She had a knack of winning friends. She
visited old Josey Letherbarrow, and made him laugh till he nearly
choked, so that Maryllia had to pat him vigorously on the back to
enable him to recover his breath--she cut jokes with Mrs. Tapple,--
chatted with the sexton, Adam Frost, and scattered 'sweeties' galore
among all his children,--and she furthermore startled the village
choir at practice by suddenly flitting into the church and asking
Miss Eden, the schoolmistress, to allow her to play the organ
accompaniment, and on Miss Eden's consenting to this proposition,
she played in such a fashion that the church seemed filled with
musical thunder and the songs of angels,--and the village
choristers, both girls and boys, became awestruck and nervous, and
huddled themselves together in a silent group, afraid to open their
mouths lest a false note should escape, and spoil the splendour of
the wonderful harmony that so mysteriously charmed their souls. And
then, calming the passion of the music down, she turned with
gentlest courtesy to Miss Eden, and asked: 'What were the children
going to sing?'--whereupon, being told that it waft a hymn called
'The Lord is my Shepherd,' she so very sweetly entreated them to
sing it with her, that none of them could refuse. And she led them
all with wondrous care and patience, giving to the very simple tune,
a tender and noble pathos such as they had never heard before, yet
which they unconsciously absorbed into their own singing, as they
lifted up their youthful voices in tremulous unison.

    "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,
     He maketh me down to lie,
     In pleasant fields where the lilies grow.
     And the river runneth by.

    "The Lord is my Shepherd; He feedeth me
     In the depth of a desert land,
     And lest I should in the darkness slip,
     He holdeth me by the hand.

    "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,
     My mind on Him is stayed,
     And though through the Valley of Death I walk,
     I shall not be afraid.

    "The Lord is my Shepherd; O Shepherd sweet,
     Leave me not here to stray;
     But guide me safe to Thy heavenly fold,
     And keep me there, I pray!"

John Walden, passing through the churchyard just at this time, heard
the rhythmic rise and fall of the quaint old melody with a strange
thrill at his heart. He had listened to the self-same hymn over and
over again,--every year the school-children re-studied and re-sang
it,--but there was something altogether new in its harmony this
time,--something appealing and pathetic which struck to the inmost
core of his sensitive nature. Noiselessly, he entered the church,
and for a moment or two stood unobserved, watching the little scene
before him. Cicely was at the organ, and her hands still rested on
the keys, but she was speaking to the members of the choir.

"That is very nicely done,"--she said, encouragingly--"But you must
try and keep more steadily together in tune, must they not, Miss
Eden?"--and she turned to the schoolmistress at her side, who, with
a smile, agreed. "You"--and she touched pretty Susie Prescott on the
arm,--"You sing delightfully! It is a little voice--but so very
sweet!"

Susie blushed deeply and curtsied. It had got about in the village
that Miss Vancourt's young friend from Paris was a musical
'prodigy,' and praise from her was something to be remembered.

"Now listen!" went on Cicely--"I'm not going to sing full voice,
because I'm not allowed to yet,--but this is how that hymn should
go!" And her pure tones floated forth pianissimo, with slow and
tender solemnity:--

    "The Lord is my Shepherd; O Shepherd sweet,
     Leave me not here to stray;
     But guide me safe to Thy heavenly fold,
     And keep me there, I pray!
                              Amen!"

Silence followed. The children stood wonder-struck, and Miss Eden's
eyes filled with emotional tears.

"How beautiful!" she murmured--"How very beautiful!"

Cicely rose from the organ-stool, and turned round.

"Here is Mr. Walden," she said, in quite a matter-of-fact way as she
perceived him. "It IS Mr. Walden, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," replied John, advancing with a smile--"And very
fortunate Mr. Walden is to have heard such lovely singing!"

"Oh, that's not lovely," said Cicely, carelessly--"I was only
humming the last verse, just to put the expression right. I thought
it must be you!--though, of course, as I have not been introduced to
you, I couldn't be sure! Maryllia--Miss Vancourt--has told me all
about you,--and I know she has written twice since I've been here to
ask you up to the Manor--once to tea, and once to dinner. Why
haven't you come?"  Walden was slightly embarrassed by this point-
blank question. It was perfectly true he had received two
invitations from the lady of the Manor, and had refused both. Why he
had refused, he could not himself have told.

"I suppose you didn't want to meet me!" said Cicely, showing all her
white teeth in a flashing smile--"But there's no escape for it, you
see,--here I am! I'm not such a rascal as I look, though! I've been
playing accompaniments for the children!--go on singing, please!"--
and she addressed Miss Eden and Susie Prescott, who collecting their
straying thoughts, began hesitatingly to resume the interrupted
practice--"It's a nice little organ--very full and sweet. The church
is perfectly exquisite! I come in every day to look at it except
Sundays."

"Why except Sundays?" asked Walden, amused.

She gave him a quaint side-glance.

"I'll tell you some day,--not now!"--she answered--"This is not the
fitting time or place." She moved to the altar rails, and hung over
them, looking at the alabaster sarcophagus "This thing has a
perfect fascination for me!" she went on--"I can't bear not to know
whose bones are inside! I wonder you haven't opened it."

"It was not meant to be opened by those who closed it," said Walden,
quietly.

Cicely drooped her gipsy-bright eyes.

"That's one for me!" she thought--"He's just like what Maryllia says
he is,--very certain of his own mind, and not likely to move out of
his own way."

"I think," pursued Walden--"if you knew that someone very dear to
you had been laid in that sarcophagus 'to eternal rest,' you would
resent any disturbance of even the mere dust of what was once life,-
-would you not?"

"I might;" said Cicely dubiously--"But I have never had any 'someone
very dear to me' except Maryllia Vancourt. And if she died, I should
die too!"

John was silent, but he looked at her with increased interest and
kindliness.

They walked out of the church together, and once in the open air, he
became politely conventional.

"And how is Miss Vancourt?" he enquired.

"She is very well indeed,"--replied Cicely--"But tremendously busy
just now with no end of household matters. The new agent, Mr.
Stanways, is going over every yard of the Abbot's Manor property
with her, and she is making any quantity of new rules. All the
tenants' rents are to be reduced, for one thing--I know THAT. Then
there are a lot of London people coming down to stay--big house-
parties in relays,--I've helped write all the invitations. We shall
be simply crowded at the end of June and all July. We mean to be
very gay!"

"And you will like that, of course?" queried Walden, indulgently,
while conscious of a little sense of hurt and annoyance, though he
knew not why.

"Naturally!" and Cicely shrugged her shoulders carelessly, "Doesn't
the Bible say 'the laughter of fools is like the crackling of thorns
under a pot'? I love to set the pot down and hear the thorns
crackle!"

What a weird girl she was! He looked at her in mute amaze, and she
smiled.

"Do come up to tea some afternoon!" she said coaxingly, "We should
be so glad to see you! I know Maryllia would like it--she thinks you
are rather rude, you know! I'm to be here all the summer, but I'll
try to be good and not say things to vex you. And as you're a
clergyman, I can tell you all about myself--like the confessional
secrets! And when you hear some of my experiences, you won't wonder
a bit at my queer ways. I can't be like other girls of my age,--I
really CAN'T!--my life won't let me!"

Her tone was one of light banter, but her eyes were wistful and
pathetic. Walden was conscious of a sudden sympathy with this wild
little soul of song, and taking her hand, pressed it kindly.

"Wait till I see some of your 'queer ways,' as you call them!" he
said, with a genial laugh--"I know you sing very beautifully-is that
a 'queer way'?"

Cicely shook her mop-like tresses of hair back over her shoulders
with a careless gesture.

"It is--to people who can't do it!" she said. "Surely you know that?
For example, if you preach very well--I don't know that you do,
because I've never heard you, but Maryllia's housekeeper, Mrs.
Spruce, says you've got 'a mouth of angels'--she does really!" and,
as Walden laughed, she laughed with him--"Well, as I say, if you
preach very well with a mouth of angels, there must be several
parsons round here who haven't got that mouth, and who say of you,
of course metaphorically: 'He hath a devil'! Isn't it so?"

John hesitated.

"No doubt opinions differ,"---he began.

"Oh, of course!--you can get out of it that way, if you like!" she
retorted, gaily--"You won't say uncharitable things of the rest of
your brethren if you can help it, but you know--yes, you must know
that parsons are as jealous of each other and as nasty to each other
as actors, singers, writers, or any other 'professional' persons in
the world. In fact, I believe if you were to set two spiteful
clergymen nagging at each other, they'd beat any two 'leading
ladies' on the operatic stage, for right-down malice and meanness!"

"The conversation is growing quite personal!" said Walden, a broad
smile lighting up his fine soft eyes--"Shall we finish it at the
Manor when I come up to tea?"

"But are you really coming?" queried Cicely--"And when?"

"Suppose I say this afternoon---" he began. Cicely clapped her
hands.

"Good! I'll scamper home and tell Maryllia! I'll say I have met you,
and that I've been as impudent as I possibly could be to you---"

"No, don't say that!" laughed Walden--"Say that I have found you to
be a very delightful and original young lady---"

"I'm not a young lady,"--said Cicely, decisively--"I was born a
peasant on the sea-coast of Cornwall--and I'm glad of it. A 'young
lady' nowadays means a milliner's apprentice or a draper's model. I
am neither. I am just a girl--and hope, if I live, to be a woman.
I'll take my own ideas of a suitable message from you to Maryllia--
don't YOU bother!" And she nodded sagaciously. "I won't make
ructions, I promise! Come about five!"

She waved her hand and ran off, leaving Walden in a mood between
perplexity and amusement. She was certainly an 'original,' and he
hardly knew what to make of her. There was something 'uncanny' and
goblin-like in her appearance, and yet her sallow face had a certain
charm when the smile illumined it, and the light of aspiration
burned up in the large wild eyes. In any case, she had persuaded him
in a moment, as it were, and almost involuntarily, to take tea at
the Manor that afternoon. Why he had consented to do what he had
hitherto refused, he could not imagine. Cicely's remark that Miss
Vancourt thought him 'rather rude,' worried him a little.

"Perhaps I have been rude"--he reflected, uneasily--"But I am not a
society man;--I'm altogether out of my element in the company of
ladies--and it seemed so much better that I should avoid being drawn
into any intimacy with persons who are not likely to have anything
in common with me--but of course I ought to be civil--in fact, I
suppose I ought to be neighbourly---"

Here a sudden irritation against the nature of his own thoughts
disturbed him. He was not arguing fairly with himself, and he knew
it. He was perfectly aware that ever since the day of their meeting
in the village post-office, he had wished to see Miss Vancourt
again. He had hoped she might pass the gate of the rectory, or
perhaps even look into his garden for a moment,--but his expectation
had not been realised. He had heard of Cicely Bourne's arrival,--and
he had received two charmingly-worded notes from Maryllia, inviting
him to the Manor,--which invitations, as has already been stated, he
had, with briefest courtesy, declined. Now, why,--if he indeed
wished to see her again,--had he deliberately refused the
opportunities given him of doing so? He could not answer this at all
satisfactorily to his own mind, and he was considerably annoyed with
himself to be forced to admit the existence of certain portions of
his mental composition which were apparently not to be probed by
logic, or measured by mathematics.

"Well, at any rate, as I have promised the little singer, I can go
up to tea just this once, and have done with it," he decided--"I
shall then be exonerated from 'rudeness'--and I can explain to Miss
Vancourt--quite kindly and courteously of course--that I am not a
visiting man,--that my habits are rather those of a recluse, and
then--for the future--she will understand."

Cicely Bourne, meanwhile, on her way back to the Manor through the
fields, paused many times to gather cowslips, which were blooming by
thousands in the grass at her feet, and as she recklessly pulled up
dozens of the pale-green stems, weighted with their nodding golden
honey-bells, she thought a good deal about John Walden.

"Maryllia never told me he was handsome,"--she mused; "But he is! I
wonder why she didn't mention it? So odd of her,--because really
there are very few good-looking men anywhere, and one in the shape
of a parson is a positive rarity and ought to go on exhibition! He's
clever too--and--obstinate? Yes, I should say he was obstinate! But
he has kind eyes. And he isn't married. What a comfort THAT is!
Parsons are uninteresting enough in themselves as a rule, but their
wives are the last possibility in the way of dullness. Oh, that
honeysuckle!" And she sprang over the grass to the corner of a hedge
where a long trail of the exquisitely-scented flower hung
temptingly, as it seemed within reach, but when she approached it,
she found it just too high above her to be plucked from the bough
where its tendrils twined. Looking up at it, she carolled softly:

    "O Fortune capricieuse!
     Comme tu es cruelle!
     Pourquoi moques-tu ton esclave
     Qui sert un destin immortel!"

Here a sudden rustle in the leaves on the other side of the hedge
startled her, and a curious-looking human head adorned profusely
with somewhat disordered locks of red hair perked up enquiringly.
Cicely jumped back with an exclamation.

"Saint Moses! What is it?"

"It is me! Merely me!" and Sir Morton Pippitt's quondam guest, Mr.
Julian Adderley, rose to his full lanky height, and turned his
flaccid face of more or less comic melancholy upon her--"Pray do not
be alarmed! I have been reposing under the trees,--and I was, or so
I imagine, in a brief slumber, when some dulcet warblings as of a
nightingale awoke me"--here, stooping to the ground for his hat, he
secured it, and waved it expressively--"and I have, I fear, created
some dismay in the mind of the interesting young person who, if I
mistake not, is a friend of Miss Vancourt?"

Cicely surveyed him with considerable amusement.

"Never mind who _I_ am!" she said, coolly--"Tell me who YOU are! My
faith!--you are as rough all over as a bear! What have you been
doing to yourself? Your clothes are covered with leaves!"

"Even as a Babe in the Wood!" responded Adderley, "Yes!--it is so!"
and he began to pick off delicately the various burs and scraps of
forest debris which had collected and clung to his tweed suit during
his open-air siesta--"To speak truly, I am a trespasser in these
domains,--they are the Manor woods, I know,--forbidden precincts,
and possibly guarded by spring-guns. But I heeded not the board
which speaks of prosecution. I came to gather bluebells,--innocent
bluebells!--merely that and no more, to adorn my humble cot,--I have
a cot not far from here. And as for my identity, my name is
Adderley--Julian Adderley--a poor scribbler of rhymes--a votre
service!"

He waved his hat with a grand flourish again, and smiled.

"Oh _I_ know!" said Cicely--"Maryllia has spoken of you--you've
taken a cottage here for the summer. Pick that bit of honeysuckle
for me, will you?--that long trail just hanging over you!"

"With pleasure!" and he gathered the coveted spray and handed it to
her.

"Thanks!" and she smiled appreciatively as she took it. "How did you
get into that wood? Did you jump the hedge?"

"I did!" replied Adderley.

"Could you jump it again?"

"Most assuredly!"

"Then do it!"

Whereupon Adderley clapped his hat on his head, and resting a hand
firmly on one of the rough posts which supported the close green
barrier between them, vaulted lightly over it and stood beside her.

"Not badly done,"--said Cicely, eyeing him quizzically--"for 'a poor
scribbler of rhymes' as you call yourself. Most men who moon about
and write verse are too drunken, and vicious to even see a hedge,--
much less jump over it."

"Oh, say not so!" exclaimed Adderley--"You are too young to pass
judgment on the gods!"

"The gods!" exclaimed Cicely--"Whatever are you talking about? The
gods of Greece? They were an awful lot--perfectly awful! They
wouldn't have been admitted EVEN into modern society, and that's bad
enough. I don't think the worst woman that ever dined at a Paris
restaurant with an English Cabinet Minister would have spoken to
Venus, par exemple. I'm sure she wouldn't. She'd have drawn the line
there."

"Gracious Heavens!" and Adderley stared in wonderment at his
companion, first up, then down,--at her wild hair, now loosened from
its convent form of pigtail, and scarcely restrained by the big sun-
hat which was tied on anyhow,--at her great dark eyes,--at her thin
angular figure and long scraggy legs,--legs which were still
somewhat too visible, though since her arrival at Abbot's Manor
Maryllia had made some thoughtful alterations in the dress of her
musical protegee which had considerably improved her appearance--"Is
it possible to hear such things---"

"Why, of course it is, as you've got ears and HAVE heard them!" said
Cicely, with a laugh--"Don't ask 'is it possible' to do a thing when
you've done it! That's not logical,--and men do pride themselves on
their logic, though I could never find out why. Do you like
cowslips?" And she thrust the great bunch she had gathered up
against his nose--"There's a wordless poem for you!"

Inhaling the fresh fine odour of the field blossoms, he still looked
at her in amazement, she meeting his gaze without the least touch of
embarrassment.

"You can walk home with me, if you like!"--she observed
condescendingly--"I won't promise to ask you into the Manor, because
perhaps Maryllia won't want you, and I daresay she won't approve of
my picking up a young man in the woods. But it's rather fun to talk
to a poet,--I've never met one before. They don't come out in Paris.
They live in holes and corners, drinking absinthe to keep off
hunger."

"Alas, that is so!" and Adderley began to keep pace with the thin
black-stockinged legs that were already starting off through the
long grass and flowers--"The arts are at a discount nowadays.
Poetry is the last thing people want to read."

"Then why do you write it?" and Cicely turned a sharp glance of
enquiry upon him--"What's the good?"

"There you offer me a problem Miss--er--Miss---"

"Bourne,"--finished Cicely--"Don't fight with my name--it's quite
easy--though I don't know how I got it. I ought to have been a Tre
or a Pol-I was born in Cornwall. Never mind that,--go on with the
'problem.'"

"True--go on with the problem,"--said Julian vaguely, taking off his
hat and raking his hair with his fingers as he was wont to do when
at all puzzled--"The problem is--'why do I write poetry if nobody
wants to read it'--and 'what's the good'? Now, in the first place, I
will reply that I am not sure I write 'poetry.' I try to express my
identity in rhythm and rhyme--but after all, that expression of
myself may be prose, and wholly without interest to the majority.
You see? I put it to you quite plainly. Then as to 'what's the
good?'--I would argue 'what's the bad?' So far, I live quite
harmlessly. From the unexpected demise of an uncle whom I never saw,
I have a life-income of sixty pounds a year. I am happy on that--I
desire no more than that. On that I seek to evolve myself into
SOMETHING--from a nonentity into shape and substance--and if, as is
quite possible, there can be no 'good,' there may be a certain less
of 'bad' than might otherwise chance to me. What think you?"

Cicely surveyed him scrutinisingly.

"I'm not at all sure about that"--she said--"Poets have all been
doubtful specimens of humanity at their best. You see their lives
are entirely occupied in writing what isn't true--and of course it
tells' on them in the long run. They deceive others first, and then
they deceive themselves, though in their fits of 'inspiration' as
they call it, they may, while weaving a thousand lies, accidentally
hit on one truth. But the lies chiefly predominate. Dante, for
example, was a perfectly brazen liar. He DIDN'T go to Hell, or
Purgatory, or Paradise--and he DIDN'T bother himself about Beatrice
at all. He married someone else and had a family. Nothing could be
more commonplace. He invented his Inferno in order to put his
enemies there, all roasting, boiling, baking or freezing. It was
pure personal spite--and it is the very force of his vindictiveness
that makes the Inferno the best part of hid epic. The portraits of
Dante alone are enough to show you the sort of man he was. WHAT a
creature to meet in a dark lane at midnight!"

Here she made a grimace, drawing her mouth down into the elongated
frown of the famous Florentine, with such an irresistibly comic
effect that Adderley gave way to a peal of hearty, almost boyish
laughter.

"That's right!" said Cicely approvingly--"That's YOU, you know! It's
natural to laugh at your age--you're only about six or seven-and-
twenty, aren't you?"

"I shall be twenty-seven in August,"--he said with a swift return to
solemnity--"That is, as you will admit, getting on towards thirty."

"Oh, nonsense! Everybody's getting on towards thirty, of course--or
towards sixty, or towards a hundred. I shall be fifteen in October,
but 'you will admit'"--here she mimicked his voice and accent--"that
I am getting on towards a hundred. Some folks think I've turned that
already, and that I'm entering my second century, I talk so 'old.'
But my talk is nothing to what I feel--I feel--oh!" and she gave a
kind of angular writhe to her whole figure--"like twenty Methusalehs
in one girl!"

"You are an original!"--said Julian, nodding at her with an air of
superior wisdom--"That's what you are!"

"Like you, Sir Moon-Calf"--said Cicely--"The word 'moon-calf,' you
know, stands for poet--it means a human calf that grazes on the
moon. Naturally the animal never gets fat,--nor will you; it always
looks odd--and so will you; it never does anything useful,--nor will
you; and it puts a kind of lunar crust over itself, under which
crust it writes verses. When you break through, its crust you find
something like a man, half-asleep--not knowing whether he's man or
boy, and uncertain, whether to laugh or be serious till some girl
pokes fun at him--and then---"

"And then?"--laughed Adderley, entering vivaciously into her humour-
-"What next?"

"This, next!"--and Cicely pelted him full in the face with one of
her velvety cowslip-bunches--'And this,--catch me if you can!"

Away she flew over the grass, with Adderley after her. Through tall
buttercups and field daisies they raced each other like children,--
startling astonished bees from repasts in clover-cups--and shaking
butterflies away from their amours on the starwort and celandines.
The private gate leading into Abbot's Manor garden stood open,--
Cicely rushed in, and shut it against her pursuer who reached it
almost at the same instant.

"Too bad!" he cried laughingly--"You mustn't keep me out! I'm bound
to come inside!"

"Why?" demanded Cicely, breathless with her run, but looking all the
better for the colour in her cheeks and the light in her eyes--"I
don't see the line of argument at all. Your hair is simply dreadful!
You look like Pan, heated in the pursuit of a coy nymph of Delphos.
If you only wore skins and a pair of hoofs, the resemblance would be
perfect!"

"My dear Cicely!" said a dulcet voice at this moment,--"Where HAVE
you been all the morning! How do you do, Mr. Adderley? Won't you
come in?"

Adderley took off his hat, as Maryllia came across to the gate from
the umbrageous shadow of a knot of pine-trees, looking the
embodiment of fresh daintiness, in a soft white gown trimmed with
wonderfully knotted tufts of palest rose ribbon, and wearing an
enchanting 'poke' straw hat with a careless knot of pink hyacinths
tumbling against her lovely hair. She was a perfect picture 'after
Romney,' and Adderley thought she knew it. But there he was wrong.
Maryllia knew little and cared less about her personal appearance.

"Where have you been?" she repeated, taking Cicely round the waist--
"You wild girl! Do you know it is lunch time? I had almost given you
up. Spruce said you had gone into the village--but more than that
she couldn't tell me."

"I did go to the village,"--said Cicely--"and I went into the
church, and played the organ, and helped the children sing a hymn.
And I met the parson, Mr. Walden, and had a talk with him. Then I
started home across the fields, and found this man"--and she
indicated Adderley with a careless nod of her head--"asleep in a
wood. I almost promised him some lunch--I didn't QUITE---"

"My dear Miss Vancourt,"--protested Adderley--"Pray do not think of
such a thing!--I would not intrude upon you in this unceremonious
way for the world!"

"Why not?" said Maryllia, smiling graciously--"It will be a pleasure
if you will stay to luncheon with us. Cicely has carte blanche here
you know--genius must have its way!"

"Of course it must!"--agreed Cicely--"If genius wants to etand on
its head, it must be allowed to make that exhibition of itself lest
it should explode. If genius asks the lame, halt, blind and idiotic
into the ancestral halls of Abbot's Manor, then the lame, halt,
blind and idiotic are bound to come. If genius summons the god Pan
to pipe a roundelay, pipings there shall be! Shall there not, Mr.
Pan Adderley?"

Her eyes danced with mirth and mischief, as they flashed from his
face to Maryllia's. "Genius,"--she continued--"can even call forth a
parson from the vasty deep if it chooses to do so,--Mr. Walden is
coming to tea this afternoon."

"Indeed!" And Maryllia's sweet voice was a trifle cold. "Did you
invite him, Cicely?"

"Yes. I told him that you thought it rather rude of him not to have
come before---"

"Oh Cicely!" said Maryllia reproachfully--"You should not have said
that!"

"Why not? You did think him rude,--and so did I,--to refuse two kind
invitations from you. Anyhow he seemed sorry, and said he'd make up
for it this afternoon. He's really quite good-looking."

"Quite--quite!" agreed Julian Adderley--"I considered him
exceptionally so when I first saw him in his own church, opposing a
calm front to the intrusive pomposity and appalling ignorance of our
venerable acquaintance, Sir Morton Pippitt. I decided that I had
found a Man. So new!--so fresh! That is why I took a cottage for the
summer close by, that I might be near the rare specimen!"

Maryllia laughed.

"Are you not a man yourself?" she said.

"Not altogether!" he admitted,--"I am but half-grown. I am a raw and
impleasing fruit even to my own palate. John Walden is a ripe and
mellow creature,--moreover, he seems still ripening in constant
sunshine. I go every Sunday to hear him preach, because he reminds
me of so much that I had forgotten."

Here they went into luncheon. Maryllia threw off her hat as she
seated herself at the head of the table, ruffling her hair with the
action into prettier waves of brown-gold. Her cheeks were softly
flushed,--her blue eyes radiant.

"You are a better parishioner than I am, Mr. Adderley!"--she said--
"I have not been to church once since I came home. I never go to
church."

"Naturally! I quite understand! Few people of any education or
intelligence can stand it nowadays," he replied--"The Christian myth
is well-nigh exploded. Yet one cannot help having a certain sympathy
and interest in men, who, like Mr. Walden, appear to still honestly
believe in it."

"The Christian myth!" echoed Cicely--"My word! You do lay down the
law! Where should we be without the 'myth' I wonder?"

"Pretty much where we are now,"--said Julian--"Two thousand years of
the Christian dispensation leaves the world still pagan. Self-
indulgence is still paramount. Wealth still governs both classes and
masses. Politics are still corrupt. Trade still plays its old game
of 'beggar my neighbour.' What would you! And in this day there is
no restraining influence on the laxity of social morals. Literature
is decadent,--likewise Painting;--Sculpture and Poetry are moribund.
Man's inborn monkeyishness is obtaining the upper hand and bearing
him back to his natural filth,--and the glimmerings of the Ideal as
shown forth in a few examples of heroic and noble living are like
the flash of the rainbow-arch spanning a storm-cloud,--beautiful,
but alas!--evanescent."

"I'm afraid you are right"--said Maryllia, with a little sigh; "It
is very sad and discouraging, but I fear very true."

"It's nothing of the kind!"--declared Cicely, with quick vehemence--
"It's just absolute nonsense! It is! Ah, 'never shake thy gory locks
at me,' Sir Moon-Calf!" and she made a little grimace across the
table at Julian, who responded to it with a complacent smile--"You
can talk, talk, talk--of course! every man that ever sat in clubs,
smoking and drinking, can talk one's head off--but you've got to
LIVE, as well as talk! What do you know about self-indulgence being
'paramount,' except in your own case, eh? Do you think at all of the
thousands and thousands of poor creatures everywhere, who completely
sacrifice their lives to the needs of others?"

"Of course there are such--" admitted Adderley; "But---"

"No 'buts' come into the case," went on the young girl, her eyes
darkening with the earnestness of her thoughts--"I have seen quite
enough even in my time to know how good and kind to one another even
the poorest people can be. And I have had plenty of hardships to
endure, too! But I can tell you one thing--and that is, that the
Christian 'myth' as you call it, is just the one thing that makes MY
life worth living! I don't want to talk about religion--I never do,-
-I only just say this--that the great lesson of Christianity is
exactly what we most need to learn."

"In what way?" asked Julian, smiling indulgently.

"Why,--merely that if one is honest and true, one MUST be crucified.
Therefore one is prepared,--and there's no need to cry out when the
nails are driven in. The Christian 'myth' teaches us what to expect,
how to endure, and how at last to triumph!"

A lovely light illuminated her face, and Maryllia looked at her very
tenderly. Adderley was silent.

"Nothing does one so much good as to be hurt,"--went on Cicely in a
lighter tone--"You then become aware that you are a somebody whom
other bodies envy. You never know how high you have climbed till you
feel a few dirty hands behind you trying to pull you down! When I
start my career as a singer, I shall not be satisfied till I get
anonymous letters every morning, telling me what a fraud and failure
I am. Then I shall realise that I am famous!"

"Alas!" said Julian with a comically resigned air--"I shall never be
of sufficient importance for that! No one would waste a penny stamp
on me! All I can ever hope to win is the unanimous abuse of the
press. That will at least give me an interested public!"

They laughed.

"Is Mr. Marius Longford a great friend of yours?" enquired Maryllia.

"Ah, that I cannot tell!" replied Julian--"He may be friend, or he
may be foe. He writes for a great literary paper--and is a member of
many literary clubs. He has produced three books--all monstrously
dull. But he has a Clique. Its members are sworn to praise Longford,
or die. Indeed, if they do not praise Longford, they become
mysteriously exterminated, like rats or beetles. I myself have
praised Longford, lest I also get a dose of his unfailing poison. He
will not praise me--but no matter for that. If he would only abuse
me!--but he won't! His blame is far more valuable than his eulogy.
At present he stands like a kind of neutral whipping-post--very much
in my way!"

"He knows Lord Roxmouth, he tells me,"--went on Maryllia; whereat
Cicely's sharp glance flashed at her inquisitively--"Lord Roxmouth
is by way of being a patron of the arts."

The tone of her voice, slightly contemptuous, was not lost on
Adderley. He fancied he was on dangerous ground.

"I have never met Lord Roxmouth myself"--he said--"But I have heard
Longford speak of him. Longford however rather 'makes' for society.
I do not. Longford is quite at home with dukes and duchesses---"

"Or professes to be--" put in Maryllia, with a slight smile.

"Or professes to be,--I accept the correction!" agreed Adderley.

"Personally, I know nothing of him,"--said Maryllia--"I have never
seen him at any of the functions in London, and I should imagine him
to be a man who rather over-estimated himself. So many literary men
do. That is why most of them are such terrible social bores."

"To the crime of being a literary man I plead not guilty!" and
Julian folded his hands in a kind of mock-solemn appeal--"Moreover,
I swear never to become one!"

"Good boy!" smiled Cicely--"Be a modern Pan, and run away from all
the literary cliques, kicking up the dust behind you in their faces
as you go! Roam the woods in solitude and sing!

    "'The wind in the reeds and the rushes,
     The bees on the bells of thyme,
     The birds on the myrtle bushes,
     The cicale above in the lime,
     And the lizards below in the grass,
     Were as silent as ever old Tinolus was,
     Listening to my sweet pipings!'"

"Ah, Shelley!" cried Adderley--"Shelley the divine! And how divinely
you utter his lines! Do you know the last verse of that poem:--'I
sang of the dancing stars'?"

Cicely raised her hand, commanding attention, and went on:

    "'I sang of the dancing stars,
     I sang of the daedal Earth,
     And of Heaven,--and the giant wars,
     And Love and Death and Birth.
     And then I changed my pipings,--
     Singing, how down the vale of Menalus,
     I pursued a maiden and clasped a reed,
     Gods and men, we are all deluded thus!
     It breaks in our bosom and then we bleed;
     All wept, as I think both ye now would,
    If envy or age had not frozen your blood,
     At the sorrow of my sweet pipings!'"

"Beau-tiful!--beau-tiful!" sighed Adderley--"But so remote!--so very
remote! Alas!--who reads Shelley now!"

"I do"--said Cicely--"Maryllia does. You do. And many more. Shelley
didn't write for free-libraries and public-houses. He wrote for the
love of Art,--and he was drowned. You do the same, and perhaps
you'll be hung! It doesn't much matter how you end, so long as you
begin to be something no one else can be."

"You have certainly begun in that direction!" said Julian.

Cicely shrugged her shoulders.

"I don't know! I am myself. Most people try to be what they're not.
Such a waste of time and effort! That's why I've taken a fancy to
the parson I met this morning, Mr. Walden. He is himself and no
other. He is as much himself as old Josey Letherbarrow is. Josey is
an individuality. So is Mr. Walden. So is Maryllia. So am I. And"--
here she pointed a witch-like finger at Adderley--"so would you bes
if you didn't 'pose' as much as you do!"

"Cicely!" murmured Maryllia, warningly, though she smiled.

A slight flush swept over Adderley's face. But he took the remark
without offence, thereby showing himself to be of better mettle than
the little affectations of his outward appearance indicated.

"You think so?" he said, placidly--"That is very dear of you!--very
young! You may be right--you may be wrong,--but from one so
unsophisticated as yourself it is a proposition worth considering--
to pose, or not to pose! It is so new--so fresh!"




XVI


Walden kept his promise and duly arrived to tea at the Manor that
afternoon. He found his hostess in the library with Cicely and
Julian. She was showing to the latter one or two rare 'first
editions,' and was talking animatedly, but she broke off her
conversation the moment he was announced, and advanced to meet him
with a bright smile.

"At last, Mr. Walden!" she said--"I am glad Cicely has succeeded
where I failed, in persuading you to accept the welcome that has
awaited you here for some time!"

The words were gracefully spoken, with just the faintest trace of
kindly reproach in their intonation. Simple as they were, they
managed to deprive John of all power to frame a suitable reply. He
bowed over the little white hand extended to him, and murmured
something which was inaudible even to himself, while he despised
what he considered his own foolishness, clumsiness and general
ineptitude from the bottom of his heart. Maryllia saw his
embarrassment, and hastened to relieve him of it.

"We have been talking books,"--she said, lightly--"Mr. Adderley has
almost knelt in adoration before my Shakespeare 'first folio.' It is
very precious, being uncalendared in the published lists of ordinary
commentators. I suppose you have seen it?"

"Indeed I have"--replied Walden, as he shook hands with Cicely and
nodded pleasantly to Julian--"I'm afraid, Miss Vancourt, that if you
knew how often I have sat alone in this library, turning over the
precious volumes, you might be very angry with me! But I have saved
one or two from the encroaches of damp, such as the illuminated
vellum 'Petrarch,' and some few rare manuscripts--so you must try to
forgive my trespass. Mrs. Spruce used to let me come in and study
here whenever I liked."

"Will you not do so still?" queried Maryllia, sweetly--"I can
promise you both solitude and silence."

Again a wave of awkwardness overcame him. What could he say in
response to this friendly and gentle graciousness!

"You are very kind,"--he murmured.

"Not at all. The library is very seldom used--so the kindness will
be quite on your side if you can make it of service. I daresay you
know more about the books than I do. My father was very proud of
them."

"He had cause to be,"--said Walden, beginning to recover his
equanimity and ease as the conversation turned into a channel which
was his natural element--"It is one of the finest collections in
England. The manuscripts alone are worth a fortune." Here he moved
to the table where Adderley stood turning over a wondrously painted
'Book of Hours'--"That is perfect twelfth-century work"--he said--
"There is a picture in it which ought to please Miss Cicely," and he
turned the pages over tenderly--"Here it is,--the loveliest of Saint
Cecilias, in the act of singing!"

Cicely smiled with pleasure, and hung over the beautifully
illuminated figure, surrounded with angels in clouds of golden
glory.

"There's one thing about Heaven which everybody seems agreed upon,"-
-she said--"It's a place where we're all expected to sing!"

"Not a doubt of it!" agreed Walden--"You will be quite in your
element!"

"The idea of Heaven is remote--so very remote!" said Adderley--"But
if such a place existed, and I were bound to essay a vocal effort
there, I should transform it at once to Hell! The angels would never
forgive me!"

They laughed.

"Let us go into the garden"--said Maryllia--"It is quite lovely just
now,--there are such cool deep shadows on the lawn."

Cicely at once ran out, beckoning Adderley to follow. Maryllia tied
on her hat with its pink strings and its bunch of pink hyacinths
tumbling against her small shell-like ear, and looked up from under
its brim with an entrancing smile.

"Will you come, Mr. Walden?"

John murmured something politely inarticulate in assent. He was, as
has already been stated, apt to be rather at a loss in the company
of women, unless they were well-seasoned matrons and grandames, with
whom he could converse on the most ordinary and commonplace topics,
such as the curing of hams, the schooling of children, or the best
remedies for rheumatism. A feminine creature who appeared to exist
merely to fascinate the eye and attract the senses, moved him to a
kind of mental confusion, which affected himself chiefly, as no one,
save the most intimate of his friends, would ever have noticed it,
or guessed that he was at any sort of pains to seem at ease. Just
now, as he took his soft shovel-hat, and followed his fair hostess
out on the lawn, his mind was more or less in a state of chaos, and
the thoughts that kept coming and going were as difficult to put
into consecutive order as a Chinese puzzle. One uncomfortable memory
however sat prominently in a corner of his brain like the mocking
phantasm of a mischievous Puck, pointing its jeering finger and
reminding him of the fact, not to be denied, that but a short while
ago, he had made up his mind to dislike, ay, even to detest, that
mysterious composition of white and rose, blue eyes and chestnut-
gold hair, called Maryllia Vancourt,--that he had resolved she would
be an altogether objectionable personage in the village--HIS
village--of St. Rest,--and that he had wished--Ah! what had he
wished? Back, O teazing reminder of the grudging and suspicious
spirit that had so lately animated the soul of a Christian cleric!
Yet it had to be admitted, albeit now reluctantly, that he had
actually wished the rightful mistress of Abbot's Manor had never
returned to it! Smitten with sorest compunction at the recollection
of his former blind prejudice against the woman he had then never
seen, he walked by her side over the warm soft grass, listening with
a somewhat preoccupied air to the remarks she was making concerning
Cicely Bourne, and the great hopes she entertained of the girl's
future brilliant career.

"Really," she declared, "the only useful thing I have ever done in
my life is to rescue Cicely from uncongenial surroundings, and
provide her with all she needs for her musical studies. To help
bring out a great genius gives ME some little sense of importance,
you see! In myself I am such an utter nonentity."

She laughed. Walden looked at her with an earnestness of which he
was scarcely conscious. She coloured a little, and her eyes fell.
Something in the sudden delicate flush of her cheeks and the quick
droop of her eyelashes startled him,--he felt a curious sense of
contrition, as though he had given her some indefinable, altogether
shadowy cause for that brief discomposure. The idea that she seemed,
even for a second, not quite so much at her ease, restored his own
nerve and self-possession, and it was with an almost paternal
gentleness that he said.

"Do you really consider yourself a nonentity, Miss Vancourt? I am
sure the society you have left behind you in London does not think
you so."

She opened her sea-blue eyes full upon him.

"Society? Why do you speak of it? Its opinion of me or of anyone
else, is surely the last thing a sensible man. or woman would care
for, I imagine! One 'season' of it was enough for me. I have
unfortunately had several 'seasons,' and they were all too many."

Again Walden looked at her, but this time she did not seem to be
aware of his scrutiny.

"Do you take me for a member of the 'smart' set, Mr. Walden?" she
queried, gaily--"You are very much mistaken if you do! I have
certainly mixed with it, and know all about it--much to my regret--
but I don't belong to it. Of course I like plenty of life and
amusement, but 'society' as London and Paris and New York express it
in their modes and manners and 'functions,' is to me the dullest
form of entertainment in the world."

Walden was silent. She gave him a quick side-glance of enquiry.

"I suppose you have been told something about me?" she said--
"Something which represents me otherwise than as I represent myself.
Have you?"

At this abrupt question John fairly started out of his semi-
abstraction in good earnest.

"My dear Miss Vancourt!" he exclaimed, warmly--"How can you think of
such a thing! I have never heard a word about you, except from good
old Mrs. Spruce who knew you as a child, and who loves to recall
these days,--and--er--and---"

He broke off, checking himself with a vexed gesture.

"And--er--and--er--who else?" said Maryllia, smiling---"Now don't
play tricks with ME, or I'll play tricks with YOU!"

His eyes caught and reflected her smile.

"Well,--Sir Morton Pippitt spoke of you once in my hearing"--he
said--"And a friend of his whom he brought to see the church, the
Duke of Lumpton. Also a clergyman in this neighbourhood, a Mr.
Leveson--rector at Badsworth--HE mentioned you, and presumed"--here
John paused a moment,--"yes, I think I may say presumed--to know yon
personally."

"Did he really! I never heard of him!" And she laughed merrily. "Mr.
Walden, if I were to tell you the number of people who profess to
know ME whom _I_ do not know and never WILL know, you would be
surprised! I never spoke to Sir Morton Pippitt in my life till the
other day, though he pretends he has met me,-but he hasn't. He may
have seen me perhaps by chance when I was a child in the nursery,
but I don't remember anything about him. My father never visited any
of the people here,--we lived very much to ourselves. As for the
Duke of Lumpton,--well!--nobody knows him that can possibly avoid
it--and I have never even so much as seen him. Aunt Emily may
possibly have spoken of me in these persons' hearing--that's quite
likely,--but they know nothing of me at first hand." She paused a
moment, "Look at Cicely!" she said--"How quickly she makes friends!
She and Mr. Adderley are chattering away like two magpies!"

Walden looked in the direction indicated, and saw the couple at some
distance off, under the great cedar-tree which was the chief
ornament of the lawn,--Cicely seated in a low basket-chair, and
Adderley stretched on the grass at her feet. Both were talking
eagerly, both were gesticulating excitedly, and both looked exactly
what they were, two very eccentric specimens of humanity.

"They seem perfectly happy!" he said, smiling--"Adderley is a
curious fellow, but I think he has a good heart. He puts on a
mannerism, because he has seen the members of a certain literary
'set' in London put it on--but he'll drop that in time,--when he is
a little older and wiser. He has been in to see me once or twice
since he took up his residence here for the summer. He tries to
discuss religion with me--or rather, I should say. irreligion. His
own special 'cult' is the easy paganism of Omar Kayyam."

"Is he clever?"

"I think he is. He has a more or less original turn of mind. He read
me some of his verses the other day."

"Poor you!" laughed Maryllia.

"Well, I was inclined to pity myself when he first began"--said
Walden, laughing also--"But I must confess I was agreeably
surprised. Some of his fancies are quite charming."

They had been walking slowly across the lawn, and were now within a
few steps of the big cedar-tree.

"I must take you into the rose-garden, Mr. Walden!"--and she raised
her eyes to his with that childlike confiding look which was one of
her special charms,--"The roses are just budding out, and I want you
to see them before the summer gets more advanced. Though I daresay
you know every rosebush in the place, don't you?"

"I believe I do!" he admitted--"You see an old fogey like myself is
bound to have hobbies, and my particular hobby is gardening. I love
flowers, and I go everywhere I can, or may, to see them and watch
their growth. So that for years I have visited your rose-garden,
Miss Vancourt! I have been a regular and persistent trespasser,--but
all the same, I have never plucked a rose."

"Well, I wish you had!" said Maryllia, feeling somewhat impatient
with him for calling himself an 'old fogey,'--why did he give
himself away?--she thought,--"I wish you had plucked them all and
handed them round in baskets to the villagers, especially to the old
and sick persons. It would have been much better than to have had
them sold at Riversford through Oliver Leach."

"Did he sell them?" exclaimed John, quickly--"I am not surprised!"

"He sold everything, and put the money in his own pocket"--said
Maryllia,--"But, after all, the loss is quite my own fault. I ought
to have enquired into the management of the property myself. And I
certainly ought not to have stayed away from home so many years. But
it's never too late to mend!" She smiled, and advancing a step or
two called "Cicely!"

Cicely turned, looking up from beneath her spreading canopy of dark
cedar boughs.

"Oh, Maryllia, we're having such fun!" she exclaimed--"Mr. Adderley
is talking words, and I'm talking music! We'll show you how it goes
presently!"

"Do, please!" laughed Maryllia; "It must be delightful! Mr. Walden
and I are going into the rose-garden. We shall be back in a few
minutes!"

She moved along, her white dress floating softly over the green
turf, its delicate flounces and knots of rosy ribbon looking like a
trail of living flowers. Walden, walking at her side, nodded
smilingly as he passed close by Cicely and Julian, his tall athletic
figure contrasting well with Maryllia's fairy-like grace,--and
presently, crossing from the lawn to what was called the 'Cherry-
Tree Walk,' because the path led under an arched trellis work over
which a couple of hundred cherry-trees were trained to form a long
arbour or pergola, they turned down it, and drawing closer together
in conversation, under the shower of white blossoms that shed
fragrance above their heads, they disappeared. Cicely, struck by a
certain picturesqueness, or what she would have called a 'stage
effect' in the manner of their exit, stopped abruptly in the
pianissimo humming of a tune with which she declared she had been
suddenly inspired by some lines Adderley had just recited.

"Isn't she pretty!" she said, indicating with a jerk of her ever
gesticulating hand the last luminous glimmer of Maryllia's vanishing
gown--"She's like Titania,--or Kilmeny in Fairyland. Why don't you
write something about HER, instead of about some girl you 'imagine'
and never see?"

Adderley, lying at his ease on the grass, turned on his arm and
likewise looked after the two figures that had just passed, as it
seemed, into a paradise of snowy flowers.

"The girls I 'imagine' are always so much better than those I see,"-
-he replied, with uncomplimentary candour.

"Thank you!" said Cicely--"You are quite rude, you know! But it
doesn't matter."

He stared up at her in vague astonishment.

"Oh, I didn't mean you!" he explained--"You're not a girl."

"No, really!" ejaculated Cicely--"Then what am I, pray?"

He looked at her critically,--at her thin sallow little face with
the intense eyes burning like flame under her well-marked black
eyebrows,--at her drooping angular arms and unformed figure,
tapering into the scraggy, long black-stockinged legs which ended in
a pair of large buckled shoes that covered feet of a decidedly flat-
iron model,--then he smiled oddly.

"You are a goblin!"--he said--"An elf,--a pixie--a witch! You were
born in a dark cave where the sea dashed in at high tide and made
the rough stones roar with music. There were sea-gulls nesting above
your cradle, and when the wind howled, and you cried, they called to
you wildly in such a plaintive way that you stopped your tears to
listen to them, and to watch their white wings circling round you!
You are not a girl--no!--how can you be? For when you grew a little
older, the invisible people of the air took you away into a great
forest, and taught you to swing yourself on the boughs of the trees,
while the stars twinkled at you through the thick green leaves,--and
you heard the thrushes sing at morning and the nightingales at
evening, till at last you learned the trill and warble and the
little caught sob in the throat which almost breaks the heart of
those who listen to it? And so you have become what you are, and
what I say you always will be--a goblin--a witch!--not a girl, but a
genius!"

He waved his hand with fantastic gesture and raked up his hair.

"That's all very well and very pretty,"--said Cicely, showing her
even white teeth in a flashing 'goblin' grin,--"But of course you
don't mean a word of it! It's merely a way of talking, such as
poets, or men that call themselves poets, affect when the 'fit' is
on them. Just a string of words,--mere babble! You'd better write
them down, though,--you musn't waste them! Publishers pay for so
many words I believe, whether they're sense or nonsense,--please
don't lose any halfpence on my account! Do you know you are smiling
up at the sky as if you were entirely mad? Ordinary people would say
you were,--people to whom dinner is the dearest thing in life would
suggest your being locked up. And me, too, I daresay! You haven't
answered my question,--why don't you write something about
Maryillia?"

"She, too, is not a girl,"--rejoined Adderley--"She is a woman. And
she is absolutely unwritable!"

"Too lovely to find expression even in poetry,"--said Cicely,
complacently.

"No no!--not that! Not that!" And Adderley gave a kind of serpentine
writhe on the grass as he raised himself to a half-sitting posture--
"Gentle Goblin, do not mistake me! When I say that Miss Vancourt is
unwritable, I would fain point out that she is above and beyond the
reach of my Muse. I cannot 'experience' her! Yes--that is so! What a
poet needs most is the flesh model. The flesh model may be Susan, or
Sarah, or Jane of the bar and tap-room,--but she must have lips to
kiss, hair to touch, form to caress---"

"Saint Moses!" cried Cicely, with an excited wriggle of her long
legs--"Must she?"

"She must!" declared Julian, with decision--"Because when you have
kissed the lips, you have experienced a 'sensation,' and you can
write--'Ah, how sweet the lips I love.' You needn't love them, of
course,--you merely try them. She must be amenable and good-natured,
and allow herself to be gazed at for an hour or so, till you decide
the fateful colour of her eyes. If they are blue, you can paraphrase
George Meredith on the 'Blue is the sky, blue is thine eye' system--
if black, you can recall the 'Lovely as the light of a dark eye in
woman,' of Byron. She must allow you to freely encircle her waist
with an arm, so that having felt the emotion you can write--"How
tenderly that yielding form, Thrills to my touch!' And then,--even
as a painter who pays so much per hour for studying from the life,--
you can go away and forget her--or you can exaggerate her charms in
rhyme, or 'imagine' that she is fairer than Endymion's moon-goddess-
-for so long as she serves you thus she is useful,--but once her
uses are exhausted, the poet has done with her, and seeks a fresh
sample. Hence, as I say, your friend Miss Vancourt is above my
clamour for the Beautiful. I must content myself with some humbler
type, and 'imagine' the rest!"

"Well, I should think you must, if that's the way you go to work!"
said Cicely, with eyes brimful of merriment and mischief--"Why you
are worse than the artists of the Quartier Latin! If you must needs
'experience' your models, I wonder that Susan, Sarah and Jane of the
bar and tap-room are good enough for you!"

"Any human female suffices,"--murmured Julian, drowsily, "Provided
she is amenable,--and is not the mother of a large family. At the
spectacle of many olive branches, the Muse shrieks a wild farewell!"
Cicely broke into a peal of laughter.

"You absurd creature!" she said--"You don't mean half the nonsense
you talk--you know you don't!"

"Do I not? But then, what do I mean? Am I justified in assuming that
I mean anything?" And he again ran his fingers through his ruddy
locks abstractedly. "No,--I think not! Therefore, if I now make a
suggestion, pray absolve me from any serious intentions underlying
it--and yet---"

"'And yet'--what?" queried Cicely, looking at him with some
curiosity.

"Ah! 'And yet'! Such little words, 'and yet'!" he murmured--"They
are like the stepping-stones across a brook which divides one sweet
woodland dell from another! 'And yet'!" He sighed profoundly, and
plucking a daisy from the turf, gazed into its golden heart
meditatively. "What I would say, gentle Goblin, is this,--you call
me Moon-calf, therefore there can be no objection to my calling you
Goblin, I think?"

"Not the least in the world!" declared Cicely--"I rather like it!"

"So good of you!--so dear!" he said, softly--"Well!--'and yet'--as I
have observed, the Muse may, like the Delphic oracle, utter words
without apparent signification, which only the skilled proficient at
her altar may be able to unravel. Therefore,--in this precise
manner, my suggestion may be wholly without point,--or it may not."

"Please get on with it, whatever it is,"--urged Cicely, impatiently-
-"You're not going to propose to me, are you? Because, if so, it's
no use. I'm too young, and I only met you this morning!"

He threw the daisy he had just plucked at her laughing face.

"Goblin, you are delicious!" he averred--"But the ghastly spectre of
matrimony does not at present stand in my path, luring me to the
frightful chasms of domesticity, oblivion and despair. What was it
the charming Russian girl Bashkirtseff wrote on this very subject?
'Me marier et'---?"

"I can tell you!" exclaimed Cicely--"It was the one sentence in the
whole book that made all the men mad, because it showed such utter
contempt for them! 'Me marier et avoir des enfants? Mais--chaque
blanchisseuse peut en faire autant! Je veux la gloire!' Oh, how I
agree with her! Moi, aussi, je veux la gloire!"

Her dark eyes flamed into passion,--for a moment she looked almost
beautiful. Adderley stared languidly at her as he would have stared
at the heroine of an exciting scene on the stage, with indolent, yet
critical interest.

"Goblin incroyable!" he sighed--"You are so new!--so fresh!"

"Like salad just gathered," said Cicely, calming down suddenly from
his burst of enthusiasm--"And what of your 'suggestion'?"

"My suggestion," rejoined Adderley--"is one that may seem to you a
strange one. It is even strange to myself! But it has flashed into
my brain suddenly,--and even so inspiration may affect the dullard.
It is this: Suppose the Parson fell in love with the Lady, or the
Lady fell in love with the Parson? Either, neither, or both?"

Cicely sat up straight in her chair as though she had been suddenly
pulled erect by an underground wire.

"What do you mean?" she asked--"Suppose the parson fell in love with
the lady or the lady with the parson! Is it a riddle?"

"It may possibly become one;" he replied, complacently--"But to
speak more plainly--suppose Mr. Walden fell in love with Miss
Vancourt, or Miss Vancourt fell in love with Mr. Walden, what would
you say?"

"Suppose a Moon-calf jumped over the moon!" said Cicely
disdainfully--"Saint Moses! Maryllia is as likely to fall in love as
I am,--and I'm the very last possibility in the way of sentiment.
Why, whatever are you thinking of? Maryllia has heaps of men in,
love with her,--she could marry to-morrow if she liked."

"Ay, no doubt she could marry--that is quite common--but perhaps she
could not love!" And Julian waved one hand expressively. "To love is
so new!--so fresh!"

"But Maryllia would never fall in love with a PARSON!" declared
Cicely, almost resentfully--"A parson!--a country parson too! The
idea is perfectly ridiculous!"

A glimmer of white in the vista of the flowering 'Cherry-Tree Walk'
here suddenly appeared and warned her that Maryllia and the Reverend
John were returning from their inspection of the rose-garden. She
cheeked herself in an outburst of speech and silently watched them
approaching. Adderley watched them too with a kind of lachrymose
interest. They were deep in conversation, and Maryllia carried a
bunch of white and blush roses which she had evidently just
gathered. She looked charmingly animated, and now and then a light
ripple of her laughter floated out on the air as sweet as the songs
of the birds chirming around them.

"The roses are perfectly lovely!" she exclaimed delightedly, as she
came under the shadow of the great cedar-tree; "Mr. Walden says he
has never seen the standards so full of bud." Here she held the
cluster she had gathered under Cicely's nose. "Aren't they
delicious! Oh, by the bye, Mr. Walden, I have promised you one! You
must have it, in return for the spray of lilac you gave me when I
came to see YOUR garden! Now you must take a rose from mine!" And,
laying all the roses on Cicely's lap, she selected one delicate
half-opened, blush-white bloom. "Shall I put it in your coat for
you?"

"If you will so far honour me!" answered Walden;--he was strangely
pale, and a slight tremor passed over him as he looked down at the
small fingers,--pink-tipped as the petals of the flower they so
deftly fastened in his buttonhole; "And how"--he continued, with an
effort, addressing Cicely and Julian--"How have Music and Poetry got
on together?"

"Oh, we're not married yet,"--said Cicely, shaking off the dumb
spell which Adderley's 'suggestion' had for a moment cast upon her
mind--"We ought to be, of course,--for a real good opera. But we're
only just beginning courtship. Mr. Adderley has recited some lines
of his own composition, and I have improvised some music. You shall
hear the result some day."

"Why not now?" queried Maryllia, as she seated herself in another
chair next to Cicely's under the cedar boughs, and signed to Walden
to do the same.

"Why, because I believe that the tea is about to arrive. I saw the
majestic Primmins in the distance, wrestling with a table--didn't
you, Mr. Adderley?"

Adderley rose from his half recumbent position on the grass, and
shading his eyes from the afternoon sunshine, looked towards the
house.

"Yes,--it is even so!" he replied--"Primmins and a subordinate are
on the way hither with various creature comforts. Music and Poetry
must pause awhile. Yet why should there be a pause? It is for this
that I am a follower of Omar Kayyam. He was a materialist as well as
a spiritualist, and his music admits of the aforesaid creature
comforts as much as the exalted and subtle philosophies and ironies
of life."

"Poor Omar!" said Walden,--"The pretty piteousness of him is like
the wailing of a lamb led to the slaughter. Grass is good to graze
on, saith lambkin,--other lambs are fair to frisk with,--but alas!--
neither grass nor lambs can last, and therefore as lambkin cannot
always be lambkin, it bleats its end in Nothingness! But, thank God,
there is something stronger and wiser in the Universe than lambkin!"

"True!" said Adderley, "But even lambkin has a right to complain of
its destiny."

Walden smiled.

"I think not,"--he rejoined--"No created thing has a right to
complain of its destiny. It finds itself Here,--and the fact that it
IS Here is a proof that there is a purpose for its existence. What
that purpose is we do not know yet, but we SHALL know!"

Adderley lifted dubious eyelids.

"You think we shall?"

"Most assuredly! What does Dante Rosetti say?--

    'The day is dark and the night
     To him that would search their heart;
     No lips of cloud that will part
     Nor morning song in the light;
     Only, gazing alone
     To him wild shadows are shown,
     Deep under deep unknown,

    And height above unknown height
     Still we say as we go:
     "Strange to think by the way
     Whatever there is to know
     That shall we know one day."'"

He recited the lines softly, but with eloquent emphasis. "You see,
those of us who take the trouble to consider the working and
progress of events, know well enough that this glorious Creation
around us is not a caprice or a farce. It is designed for a Cause
and moves steadily towards that Cause. There may be--no doubt there
are--many men who elect to view life from a low, material, or even
farcical standpoint--nevertheless, life in itself is serious and
noble."

Cicely's dark face lightened as with an illumination while she
listened to these words. Maryllia, who had taken up the roses she
had laid in Cicely's lap, and was now arranging them afresh, looked
up suddenly.

"Yet there are many searching truths in the philosophy of Omar
Kayyam, Mr. Walden,"--she said--"Many sad facts that even our
religion can scarcely get over, don't you think so?"

He met her eyes with a gentle kindliness in his own.

"I think religion, if true and pure, turns all sad facts to
sweetness, Miss Vancourt,"--he said--"At least, so I have found it."

The clear conviction of his tone was like the sound of a silver bell
calling to prayer. A silence followed, broken only by the singing of
a little bird aloft in the cedar-tree, whose ecstatic pipings aptly
expressed the unspoilt joys of innocence and trust.

"One pretty verse of Omar I remember," then said Cicely, abruptly,
fixing her penetrating eyes on Walden,--"And it really isn't a bit
irreligious. It is this:--

    'The Bird of Life is singing on the bough,
     His two eternal notes of "I and Thou"--
     O hearken well, for soon the song sings through,
     And would we hear it, we must hear it Now!'"

A white rose slipped from the cluster Maryllia held, and dropped on
the grass. John stooped for it, and gave it back to her. Their hands
just touched as she smiled her thanks. There was nothing in the
simple exchange of courtesies to move any self-possessed man from
his normal calm, yet a sudden hot thrill and leap of the heart dazed
Walden's brain for a moment and made him almost giddy. A sick fear--
an indefinable horror of himself possessed him,--caught by this
mmameable transport of sudden and singular emotion, he felt he could
have rushed away, away!--anywhere out of reach and observation, and
have never entered the fair and halcyon gardens of Abbot's Manor
again. Why?--in Heaven's name, why? He could not tell,--but--he had
no right to be there!--no right to be there!--he kept on repeating
to himself;--he ought to have remained at home, shut up in his study
with his dog and his books,--alone, alone, always alone! The brief
tempest raged over his soul with soundless wind and fire,--then
passed, leaving no trace on his quiet features and composed manner.
But in that single instant an abyss had been opened in the depths of
his own consciousness,--an abyss into which he looked with amazement
and dread at the strange foolhardiness which had involuntarily led
him to its brink,--and he now drew back from it, nervously
shuddering.

"'And would we hear it, we must hear it Now!'" repeated Adderley,
with opportune bathos at this juncture--"As I have said, and will
always maintain, Omar's verse always fits in with the happy approach
of creature comforts! Behold the illustration and example!--Primmins
with the tea!"

"It is a pretty verse, though, isn't it?" queried Cicely, moving her
chair aside to make more space for the butler and footman as they
nimbly set out the afternoon tea-table in the deepest shade bestowed
by the drooping cedar boughs--"Isn't it?"

And her searching eyes fastened themselves pertinaciously upon
John's face.

"Very pretty!" he answered, steadily--"And--so far-as it goes--very
true!"




XVII


After tea, they re-entered the house at Maryllia's request to hear
Cicely play. Arrived in the drawing-room they found the only truly
modern thing in it, a grand piano, of that noted French make which
as far surpasses the German model as a genuine Stradivarius
surpasses a child's fiddle put together yesterday, and, taking her
seat at this instrument, Cicely had transformed both herself and it
into unspeakable enchantment. The thing of wood and wire and ivory
keys had become possessed, as it were, with the thunder of the
battling clouds and the great rush of the sea,--and then it had
suddenly whispered of the sweetness of love and life, till out of
storm had grown the tender calm of a flowing melody, on which
wordless dreams of happiness glittered like rainbow bubbles on foam,
shining for a moment and then vanishing at a breath; it had caught
the voices of the rain and wind,--and the pattering drops and
sibilant hurricane had whizzed sharply through the scale of sound
till the very notes seemed alive with the wrath of nature,--and then
it had rolled all the wild clamour away into a sustained
magnificence of prayerful chords which seemed to plead for all
things grand, all things true, all things beautiful,--and to list
the soul of man in panting, labouring ecstasy up to the very
threshold of Heaven! And she--the 'goblin' who evoked all this
phantasmagoria of life set in harmony--she too changed as it seemed,
in nature and aspect,--her small meagre face was as the face of a
pictured angel, with the dark hair clustering round it in thick
knots and curling waves as of blackest bronze,--while the eyes, full
of soft passion and fire, glowed beneath the broad temples with the
light of youth's imperial dream of fame. What human creature could
accept the limited fact of being mere man, mere woman only, while
Cicely played? Such music as hers recalled and revealed the earliest
splendour of the days when Poesy was newly born,--when gods and
goddesses were believed to walk the world in large and majestic
freedom,--and when brave deeds of chivalry and self-sacrifice became
exalted by the very plenitude of rich imagination, into supernatural
facts of heaven conquering, hell-charming prowess. Not then was man
made to seem uncouth, or mean and savage in his attempts to dominate
the planet, but strong, fearless, and endowed with dignity and
power. Not then was every noble sentiment derided,--every truth
scourged,--every trust betrayed,-every tenderness mocked,--and every
sweet emotion made the subject of a slander or a sneer. Not then was
love mere lust, marriage mere convenience, and life mere
covetousness of gain. There was something higher, greater, purer
than these,--something of the inspiring breath of God, which,
according to the old Biblical narrative, was breathed into humanity
with the words--"Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness."
That 'image' of God was featured gloriously in the waves of music
which surged through Cicely's brain and fingers, out on the
responsive air,--and when she ceased playing there followed a dumb
spell of wonderment and awe, which those who had listened to her
marvellous improvisation were afraid to break by a word or movement.
And then, with a smile at their mute admiration and astonishment,
she had passed her small supple hands lightly again over the piano-
keys, evoking therefrom a playful prelude, and the pure silvery
sound of her voice had cloven the air asunder with De Musset's
'Adieu, Suzon!'

    "Adieu, Suzon, ma rose blonde,
     Qui m'as aime pendant huit jours!
     Les plus courts plaisirs de ce monde
     Souvent font les meilleurs amours.

    Sais-je au moment ou je te quitte
     Ou m'entraine mon astre errant?
     Je m'en vais pourtant, ma petite,
     Bien loin, bien vite,
     Adieu, Suzon!"

Was it possible for any man with a drop of warm blood flowing
through his veins, not to feel a quicker heart-beat, a swifter
pulse, at the entrancing, half-melancholy, half-mocking sweetness
she infused into these lines?

    "Je pars, et sur ma levre ardente
     Brule encor ton dernier baiser.
     Entre mes bras, chere imprudente
     Ton beau front vient de reposer.
     Sens-tu mon coeur, comme il palpite?
     Le tien, comme il battait gaiment!

    Je m'en vais pourtant, ma petite,
     Bien loin, bien vite
     Tourjours t'aimant!
     Adieu, Suzon!"

With the passion, fire and exquisite abandon of her singing of this
verse in tones of such youthful freshness and fervour as could
scarcely be equalled and never surpassed, Adderley could no longer
restrain himself, and crying 'Brava!--brava! Bravissima!' fell to
clapping his hands in the wildest ecstasy. Walden, less
demonstrative, was far more moved. Something quite new and strange
to his long fixed habit and temperament had insidiously crept over
him,--and being well accustomed to self-analysis, he was conscious
of the fact, and uneasy at finding himself in the grip of an emotion
to which he could give no name. Therefore, he was glad when,--the
music being ended, and when he had expressed his more or less
incoherent praise and thanks to Cicely for the delight her wonderful
gift had afforded him,--he could plead some business in the village
as an excuse to take his departure. Maryllia very sweetly bade him
come again.

"As often as you like,"--she said--"And I want you to promise me one
thing, Mr. Walden!--you must consent to meet some of my London
friends here one evening to dinner."

She had given him her hand in parting, and he was holding it in his
own.

"I'm afraid I should be very much in the way, Miss Vancourt,"--he
replied, with a grave smile--"I am not a social acquisition by any
means! I live very much alone,--and a solitary life, I think, suits
me best."

She looked at him thoughtfully, and withdrew her hand.

"That means that you do not care to come,"--she said, simply--"I am
so sorry you do not like me!"

The blood rushed up to his brows.

"Miss Vancourt!" he stammered--"Pray--pray do not think---"

But here she turned aside to receive Adderley's farewells and thanks
for the charming afternoon he had spent in her company. After this,
and when Julian had made his exit, accompanied by Cicely who wanted
him to give her a written copy of certain verses he had composed,
Maryllia again spoke:

"Well, at any rate, I shall send you an invitation to one of my
parties, whether you come or not, Mr. Walden;" she said, playfully--
"Otherwise, I shall feel I have not done my social duty to the
minister of the parish! It will be for some evening during the
next three weeks. I hope you will be able to accept it. If not---"

A sudden resolve inspired John's hesitating soul. Taking the hand
she offered, he raised it lightly to his lips with all the gallantry
of an old-world courtier rather than a modern-time parson.

"If you wish me to accept it, it shall be accepted!"--he said, and
his voice shook a little--"Forgive me if in any way. I have seemed
to you discourteous, Miss Vancourt!--I am so much of a solitary,
that 'society' has rather an intimidating effect upon me,--but you
must never"--here he looked at her full and bravely--"You must never
say again or think that I do not like you! I DO like you!"

Her eyes met his with pure and candid earnestness.

"That is kind of you,"--she said--"And I am glad! Good-bye!"

"Good-bye!"

And so he left her presence.

When he started to walk home across the fields, Adderley proffered
his companionship, which could not in civility be refused. They left
the Manor grounds together by the little wicket-gate, and took the
customary short-cut to the village. The lustrous afternoon light was
mellowing warmly into a deeper saffron glow,--a delicate suggestion
of approaching evening was in the breath of the cooling air, and
though the uprising orb of Earth had not yet darkened the first gold
cloud beneath the western glory of the sun, there was a gentle
murmur and movement among the trees and flowers and birds, which
indicated that the time for rest and sleep was drawing nigh. The
long grasses rustled mysteriously, and the smafl unseen herbs hidden
under them sent up a pungently sweet odour as the two men trod them
down on their leisurely way across the fields,--and it was with a
certain sense of relief from mental strain that Walden lifted his
hat and let the soft breeze fan his temples, which throbbed and
ached very strangely as though with a weight of pent-up tears. He
was very silent,--and Julian Adderley, generally accustomed to talk
for two, seemed disposed to an equal taciturnity. The few hours they
had spent in the society of Maryllia Vancourt and her weird
protegee, Cicely Bourne, had given both men subject for various
thoughts which neither of them were inclined to express to one
another. Walden, in particular, was aware of a certain irritation
and uneasiness of mind which troubled him greatly and he looked
askance at his companion with unchristian impatience. The long-
legged, red-haired poet was decidedly in his way at the present
moment,--he would rather have been alone. He determined in any case
not to ask him to enter the rectory garden,--more of his society
would be intolerable,--they would part at the gate,--

"I'm afraid I'm boring you, Mr. Walden,"--said the unconscious
object of his musings, just then--" I am dull! I feel myself under a
cloud. Pray excuse it!"

The expression of his face was comically lachrymose, and John felt a
touch of compunction at the nature of his own immediate mental
attitude towards the harmless 'moon-calf.'

"Don't apologise!" he said, with a frank smile--"I myself am not in
a companionable humour. I think Miss Bourne's music has not only put
something into us, but taken something out of us as well."

"You are right!" said Julian--"You are perfectly right. And you
express the emotion aptly. It was extraordinary music! But that
voice! That voice will be a wonder of the world!"

"It is a wonder already"--rejoined Walden--"If the girl keeps her
health and does not break down from nervous excitement and
overstrain, she will have a dazzling career. I think Miss Vancourt
will take every possible care of her."

"Miss Vancourt is very lovely,"--said Adderley reflectively, "I have
made up my mind on that point at last. When I first saw her, I was
not convinced. Her features are imperfect. But they are mobile and
expressive--and in the expression there is a subtle beauty which is
quite provocative. Then again, my own 'ideals' of women have always
been tall and queenly,--yet in Miss Vanconrt we have a woman who is
queenly without being tall. It is the regal air without the material
inches. And I am now satisfied that the former is more fascinating
than the latter. Though I admit that it was once my dream to die
upon the breast of a tall woman!"

Walden. laughed forcedly. He was vexed to be compelled to listen to
Adderley's criticism of Maryllia Vancourt's physical charms, yet he
was powerless to offer any remonstrance.

"But, after all," continued Julian, gazing up into the pink and
mauve clouds of the kindling sunset,--"The tall woman might
possibly, from the very coldness of her height, be unsympathetic.
She might be unclaspable. Juno seems even more repellent than Venus
or Psyche. Then again, there are so many large women. They are
common. They obstruct the public highway. They tower forth in
theatre-stalls, and nod jewelled tiaras from the elevation of opera-
boxes, blocking out the view of the stage. They are more often
assertive than lovable. Therefore let me not cling to an illusion
which will not bear analysis. For Miss Vancourt is not a tall
woman,--nor for that matter is she short,--she is indescribable, and
therefore entirely bewitching!"

John said nothing, but only walked on a trifle more quickly.

"You are perhaps not an admirer of the fair sex, Walden?" pursued
his companion--"And therefore my observations awaken no sympathy in
your mind?"

"I never discuss women,"--replied Walden, drily--"I am not a poet,
you see,--" and he smiled--"I am merely a middle-aged parson. You
can hardly expect me to share in your youthful enthusiasms,
Adderley! You are going up the hill of life,--I am travelling down.
We cannot see things from the same standpoint." Here, they left the
fields and came to the high road,--from thence a few more paces
brought them to the gate of the rectory. "But I quite agree with you
in your admiration of Miss Vancourt. She seems a most kindly and
charming lady--and--I believe--I am sure"--and his remarks become
somewhat rambling and disjointed--"yes--I am sure she will try to do
good in the village now that she has taken up her residence here.
That is, of course, if she stays. She may get tired of country life-
-that is quite probable--but--it is, of course, a good thing to have
a strong social influence in the neighbourhood--especially a woman's
influence--and I should say Miss Vancourt will make herself useful
and beloved in the parish---"

At this period he caught Adderley's eyes fixed upon him somewhat
quizzically, and realised that he was getting quite 'parochial' in
his talk. He checked himself abruptly and swung open his garden
gate.

"I'm sorry I can't ask you in just now,"--he said--"I have some
pressing work to do---"

"Don't mention it!" and Julian clasped him by the hand fervently--"I
would not intrude upon you for worlds! You must be alone, of course.
You are delightful!--yes, my dear Walden, you are delicious! So new-
-so fresh! It is a privilege to know you! Good-bye for the moment! I
may come and talk to you another time!"

"Oh, certainly! By all means!" And Walden, shaking hands with all
the vigour Adderley's grasp enforced upon him, escaped at last into
the sanctuary of his own garden, and hastened under the covering
shadow of the trees that bordered the lawn. Adderley watched him
disappear, and then went on his own way with a gratified air of
perfect complacency.

"Those who 'never discuss women' are apt to be most impressed by
them,"--he sagaciously reflected--"The writhings of a beetle on a
pin are not so complex or interesting as the writhings of a parson's
stabbed senses! Now a remarkable psychological study might be made--
My good friend! Kindly look where you are going!"

This last remark was addressed to a half-drunken man who pushed past
him roughly without apology, almost jostling him off the foot-path.
It was Oliver Leach, who hearing himself spoken to, glanced round
sullenly with a muttered oath, and stumbled on.

"That is Miss Vancourt's dismissed agent,"--said Adderley, pausing a
moment to watch his uncertain progress up the road. "What an
objectionable beast!"

He walked on, and, his former train of thought being entirely
disturbed, he went to the 'Mother Huff,' where he was a frequent
visitor, his elaborate courtesies to Mrs. Buggins enabling him to
hear from that lady's pious lips all the latest news, scandal and
gossip, true or untrue, concerning the whole neighbourhood.

Walden, meanwhile, finding himself once more alone in his own
domain, breathed freely. The faithful Nebbie, who had passed all the
hours of his master's absence, 'on guard' by the window of the
vacant study, came running to meet him as he set foot upon the
lawn,--three or four doves that were brooding on the old tiled and
gabled roof of the rectory, rose aloft in a short flight and
descended again, cooing softly as though with satisfaction at his
return,--and there was a soothing silence everywhere, the work of
the day being done, and Bainton having left the garden trim and fair
to its own sweet solitude and calm. Gently patting his dog's rough
head, as the animal sprang up to him with joyous short barks of
welcome, John looked about him quietly for a moment or two with an
expression in his eyes that was somewhat dreamy and pathetic.

"I have known the old place so long and loved every corner of it!"--
he murmured--"And yet,--to-day it seems all strange and unfamiliar!"

The glow of the sunset struck a red flare against the walls of his
house, and beat out twinkling diamond flashes from the latticed
windows,--the clambering masses of honeysuckle and roses shone forth
in vivid clusters as though inwardly illuminated. The warmth and
ecstasy of life seemed palpitating in every flush of colour, every
shaft of light,--and the wild, voluptuous singing of unseen
skylarks, descending to their nests, and shaking out their songs, as
it seemed, like bubbles of music breaking asunder in the clear
empyrean, expressed the rapture of heaven wedded to the sensuous,
living, breathing joys of earth. The glamour and radiance of the air
affected Walden with a sudden unwonted sense of fatigue and pain,
and pressing one hand across his eyes, he shut out the dazzle of
blue sky and green grass for a moment's respite,--then went slowly,
and with bent head into his study. Here everything was very quiet,--
and, as it struck him then, curiously lonely,--on his desk lay
various notes and messages and accounts--the usual sort of paper
litter that accumulated under his hands every day,--two or three
visiting cards had been left for him during his absence,--one on the
part of the local doctor, a very clever and excellent fellow named
James Forsyth, who was familiarly called 'Jimmy' by the villagers,
and who often joined Walden of an evening to play a game of chess
with him,--and another bearing the neat superscription 'Mrs.
Mandeville Poreham. The Leas. At Home Thursdays,'--whereat he
smiled. Mrs. Mandeville Poreham was a 'county' lady, wife of a
gentleman-at-ease who did nothing but hunt, and who never had done
anything in all his life but hunt,--she was also the mother of five
marriageable daughters, and her calls on the Reverend John were
marked by a polite and patient persistency that seemed altogether
admirable. She lived some two miles out of St. Rest, but always
attended Walden's church regularly, driving thither with her family
in a solemnly closed private omnibus of the true 'county' type. She
professed great interest in all Church matters, on the ground that
she was herself the daughter of a dead-and-gone clergyman.

"My poor father!" she was wont to say, smoothing her sleek bandeaux
of grey hair on either side of her forehead with one long, pale,
thin finger--"He was such a good man! Ah yes!--and he had such a
lovely mind! My mother was a Beedle."

This last announcement, generally thrown in casually, was apt to be
startling to the uninitiated,--and it was not till the genealogy of
the Beedle family had been duly explained to the anxious enquirer,
that it was seen how important and allsufficing it was to have had a
Beedle for one's maternal parent. The Beedles were a noted 'old
stock' in Suffolk, so it appeared,--and to be connected with a
Suffolk Beedle was, to certain provincial minds of limited
perception, a complete guarantee of superior birth and breeding.
Walden was well accustomed to receiving a call from Mrs. Poreham
about every ten days or so, and he did his utmost best to dodge her
at all points. Bainton was his ready accomplice in this harmless
conspiracy, and promptly gave him due warning whenever the Poreham
''bus' or landau was seen weightily bearing down upon the village,
with the result that, on the arrival of the descendant of the
Beedles at the rectory door she was met by Hester Rockett, the
parlourmaid, with a demure smile and the statement,--'Mr. Walden is
out, mim.' Then, when Walden, according to the laws of etiquette,
had to return the lady's visit, Bainton again assisted him by
watching and waiting till he could inform him, ''as 'ow he'd seen
that blessed old Poreham woman drivin' out with 'er fam'ly to
Riversford. They won't likely be back for a couple of hours at
least.' Whereupon Walden straightway took a swinging walk up to 'The
Leas,' deposited his card with the footman, for the absent 'fam'ly'
and returned again in peace to his own dwelling.

This afternoon he had again, as usual, missed the worthy lady, and
he set aside her card, the smile with which he had glanced at it
changing suddenly to a sigh of somewhat wearied impatience. Surely
there was something unusually dark and solitary in the aspect of the
room to which, for so many years, he had been accustomed, and where
he had generally found comfort and contentment? The vivid hues of
the sunset were declining rapidly, and the solemn shadow of evening
was creeping up apace over the sky and outer landscape--but
something heavier than the mild obscurity of approaching night
seemed weighing on the air around him, which oppressed his nerves
and saddened his soul. He stood absently turning over the papers on
his desk, in a frame of mind which left him uncertain how to employ
himself,--whether to read,--to write,--to finish a sketch of the
flowering reeds on the river which he had yesterday begun,--or to
combat with his own mood, fathom its meaning, and conquer its
tendency? There came a light tap at his door and the maid Hester
entered with a letter.

"The last post, sir. Only one for you."

He took it up indifferently as the girl retired,--then uttered a
slight exclamation of pleasure.

"From Brent,"--he said, half aloud--"Dear old fellow! I have not
heard from him since New Year."

He opened the letter, and began to read. The interested look in his
eyes deepened,--and he moved nearer to the open window to avail
himself as much as possible of the swiftly decreasing light.

"DEAR WALDEN,"--it ran--"The spirit moves me to write to you, not
only because it occurs to me that I have failed to do so for a long
time, but also because I feel a certain necessity for thought-
expansion to someone, who, like yourself, is accustomed to the habit
of thinking. The tendency of the majority nowadays is,--or so it
appears to me,--to forget the purpose for which the brain was
designed, or rather to use it for no higher object than that for
which it is employed by the brute creation, namely to consider the
ways and means of securing food, and then to ruminate on the self-
gratification which follows the lusts of appetite. In fact, 'to rot
and rot,--and thereby hangs a tale!' But before I enter into any
particulars of my own special phase or mood, let me ask how it fares
with you in your small and secluded parish? All must be well, I
imagine, otherwise doubtless I should have heard. It seems only the
other day that I came, at your request, to consecrate your beautiful
little church of 'The Saint's Rest,'--yet seven years have rolled
away since then, leaving indelible tracks of age on me, as probably
on you also, my dear fellow!--though you have always carried old
Time on your back more lightly and easily than I. To me he has ever
been the Arabian Nights' inexorable 'Old Man of the Sea,' whose
habit is to kill unless killed. At fifty-one I feel myself either
'rusting' or mellowing; I wonder which you will judge the most
fitting appellation for me when we next meet? Mind and memory play
me strange tricks in my brief moments of solitude, and whenever I
think of you, I imagine it can only be yesterday that we two college
lads walked and talked together in the drowsy old streets of Oxford
and made our various plans for our future lives with all the superb
dominance and assertiveness of youth, which is so delightful while
it lasts, despite the miserable deceptions it practises upon us. One
thing, however, which I gained in the past time, and which has never
deceived me, is your friendship,--and how much I owe to you no one
but myself can ever tell. Good God!--how superior you always were,
and are, to me! Why did you efface yourself so completely for my
sake? I often ask this question, and except for the fact that it
would be impossible to you to even make an attempt to override, for
mere ambition, anyone for whom you had a deep affection, I cannot
imagine any answer. But as matters have turned out with me I think
it might have been better after all, had you been in my place and I
in yours! A small 'cure of souls' would have put my mental fibre to
less torture, than the crowding cares of my diocese, which depress
me more and more as they increase. Many things seem to me hopeless,-
-utterly irremediable! The shadow of a pre-ponderating, defiant,
all-triumphant Evil stalks abroad everywhere--and the clergy are as
much affected by it as the laymen. I feel that the world is far more
Christ-less to-day after two thousand years of preaching and
teaching, than it was in the time of Nero. How has this happened?
Whose the fault? Walden, there is only one reply--it is the Church
itself that has failed! The message of salvation,--the gospel of
love,--these are as God-born and true as ever they were,--but the
preachers and teachers of the Divine Creed are to blame,--the men
who quarrel among themselves over forms and ceremonies instead of
concentrating their energies on ministering to others,--and I
confess I find myself often at a loss to dispose Church affairs in
such wise as to secure at one and the same time, peace and
satisfaction amongst the clergy under me, with proper devotion to
the mental and physical needs of the thousands who have a right, yes
a right to expect spiritual comfort and material succour from those
who profess, by their vows of ordination, to be faithful and
disinterested servants of Christ.

"I daresay you remember how we used to talk religious matters over
when we were young and enthusiastic men, studying for the Church.
You will easily recall the indignation and fervour with which we
repudiated all heresies new and old, and turned our backs with
mingled pity and scorn on every writer of agnostic theories,
estimating such heterodox influences as weighing but lightly in the
balance of belief, and making little or no effect on the minds of
the majority. We did not then grasp in its full measure the meaning
of what is to-day called the 'rush' of life. That blind, brutal
stampede of humanity over every corner and quarter of the earth,--a
stampede which it is impossible to check or to divert, and which
arises out of a nameless sense of panic, and foreboding of disaster!
Like hordes of wild cattle on the prairies, who scent invisible
fire, and begin to gallop furiously headlong anywhere and
everywhere, before the first red gleam of the devouring element
breaks from the undergrowth of dry grass and stubble,--so do the
nations and peoples appear to me to-day. Reckless, maddened, fear-
stricken and reasonless, they rush hither and thither in search of
refuge from themselves and from each other, yet are all the while
driven along unconsciously in heterogeneous masses, as though swept
by the resistless breath of some mysterious whirlwind, impelling
them on to their own disaster. I feel the end approaching, Walden!--
sometimes I almost see it! And with the near touch of a shuddering
future catastrophe on me, I am often disposed to agree with sad King
Solomon that after all 'there is nothing better for a man than that
he should eat, drink and be merry all the days of his life.' For I
grow tired of my own puny efforts to lift the burden of human sorrow
which is laid upon me, aloft on the fainting wings of prayer, to a
God who seems wholly irresponsive,--mind, Walden, I say seems--so do
not start away from my words and judge me as beginning to weaken in
the faith that formerly inspired me. I confess to an intense fatigue
and hopelessness,--the constant unrelieved consciousness of human
wretchedness weighs me down to the dust of spiritual abasement, for
I can but think that if God were indeed merciful and full of loving-
kindness, He would not, He could not endure the constant spectacle
of man's devilish injustice to his brother man! I have no right to
permit myself to indulge in such reflections as these, I know,--yet
they have gained such hold on me that I have latterly had serious
thoughts of resigning my bishopric. But this is a matter involving
other changes in my life, on which I should like to have some long
friendly talks with you, before taking any decisive step. Your own
attitude of mind towards the 'calling and election' you have chosen
has always seemed to me so pre-eminently pure and lofty, that I
should condemn ray own feelings even more than I do, were I to allow
the twin forces of pessimism and despair to possess me utterly
without an attempt to bring them under your sane and healthful
exorcism, the more so, as you know all my personal history and life-
long sorrow. And this brings me to the main point of my letter which
is, that I should much like to see you, if you can spare me two or
three days of your company any time before the end of August. Try to
arrange an early visit, though I know how ill your parishioners can
spare you, and how more than likely they are to grumble at your
absence. You are to be envied in having secured so much affection
and confidence in the parish you control, and every day I feel more
and more how wisely you have chosen your lot in that comparative
obscurity, which, at one time, seemed to those who know your
brilliant gifts, a waste of life and opportunity. Of course you are
not without jealous enemies,--no true soul ever is. Sir Morton
Pippitt still occasionally sends me a spluttering note of
information as to something you have, or have not done, to the
church on which you have spent the greater part of your personal
fortune; and Leveson, the minister at Badsworth, appears to think
that I should assist him by heading a subscription list to obtain
funds for the purpose of making his church as perfect a gem of
architecture as yours. Due enquiries have been made as to the nature
and needs of his parishioners, and it appears that only twenty--five
adult persons on an average ever attend his ministrations, and that
the building for which he pleads is a brick edifice built in 1870
and deliberately allowed to decay by disuse and neglect. However,
Sir Morton Pippitt is taking some interest in it, so I am given to
understand,--and perhaps in 'restoring' a modern chapel, he will be
able to console himself for the ruthless manner in which you
stripped off his 'galvanised tin' roof from your old Norman church
walls!

"I am sorry to hear that the historic house of Abbot's Manor is
again inhabited, and by one who is likely to be a most undesirable
neighbour to you."

Here Walden, unable to read very quickly at the window, stepped out
on the lawn, still holding the letter close to his eyes. "A most
undesirable neighbour"--he-murmured-"Yes--now let me see!--where is
that phrase?--Oh, here it is,--'a most undesirable neighbour.'" And
he read on:-"I allude to Miss Vancourt, the only child of the late
Robert Vancourt who was killed some years ago in the hunting field.
The girl was taken away at her father's death by her uncle
Frederick, who, having sown an unusual crop of wild oats, had
married one of those inordinately wealthy American women to whom the
sun itself appears little more than a magnified gold-piece--and of
course between the two she has had a very bad training. Frederick
Vancourt was the worst and weakest of the family, and his wife has
been known for years as a particularly hardened member of the
'smart' set. Under their tutelage Miss Vancourt, or 'Maryllia Van,'
as she appears to be familiarly known and called in society, has
attained a rather unenviable notoriety; and when I heard the other
day that she had left her aunt's house in a fit of ungovernable
temper, and had gone to her own old house to live, I thought at once
of you with a pang of pity. For, if I remember rightly, you have a
great opinion of the Manor as an unspoilt relic of Tudor times, and
have always been rather glad that it was left to itself without any
modern improvement or innovation. I can imagine nothing worse to
your mind than the presence of a 'smart' lady in the unsophisticated
village of St. Rest! However, you may take heart of grace, as it is
not likely she will stay there long. Rumour asserts that she is
shortly to be married to Lord Roxmouth,--he who will be Duke of
Ormistoune and owner of that splendid but half-ruined pile, Roxmouth
Castle. She has, it appears, kept this poor gentleman dancing
attendance on her for a sufficient time to make evident to the world
her desire to secure his title, and her present sudden capricious
retirement into country life is understood to be a mere RUSE to draw
him more swiftly on to his matrimonial doom. No doubt he has an eye
on Mrs. Fred Vancourt's millions, which her niece would inherit in
the event of her marrying a future English duke,--still, from what I
gather, he would deserve some compensation for risking his life's
happiness with such a very doubtful partner. But I daresay I am
retailing information with which you are no doubt already quite
familiar, and in all probability 'Maryllia Van' is not likely to
cross your path at any time, as among her other reported
characteristics is that of a cheap scorn for religion,--a scorn
which sits so unbecomingly on our modern women, and forbodes so much
disaster in the future, they being the mothers of the coming race. I
expect the only circumstance likely to trouble your calm and
pleasant routine of life and labour is, that the present occupation
of Abbot's Manor may have stopped some of your romantic rambles in
the beautiful woods surrounding it! May never any greater care
disturb you, my dear fellow!--for even that is one, which, as I have
pointed out to you, will be of brief duration. Let me know when you
think you will be able to come and spend a couple of days here,--and
I will clear my work ahead in order to leave the time free for an
entire unburdening of my soul to you, as in the days of our youth,
so long ago.--Sincerely and affectionately yours, H.A. BRENT."

Slowly, and with methodical nicety, Walden folded up the letter and
put it in his pocket. With a kind of dazed air he looked about him,
vaguely surprised that the evening seemed to have fallen so soon.
Streaks of the sunset still glowed redly here and there in the sky,
but the dense purple of the night had widened steadily over the
spaces of the air, and just above the highest bough of the apple-
tree on the lawn, the planet Venus twinkled bravely in all its
silver panoply of pride as the Evening Star. Low and sweet on the
fragrant silence came the dulcet piping of a nightingale, and the
soft swishing sound of the river flowing among the rushes, and
pushing against the pebbly shore. A sudden smarting sense of pain
stung Walden's eyes,--pressing them with one hand he found it wet,--
with tears? No, no!--not with tears,--merely with the moisture of
strain and fatigue,--his sight was not so good as it used to be;--of
course he was getting old,--and Bishop Brent's small caligraphy had
been difficult to decipher by the half-light. All at once something
burning and passionate stirred in him,--a wave of chivalrous
indignation that poured itself swiftly through every channel of his
clean and honest blood, and he involuntarily clenched his hand.

"What liars there are in the world!" he said aloud and fiercely--
"What liars!"

Venus, peeping at him over the apple-boughs, gave out a diamond-like
sparkle as though she were no greater thing than a loving eye,--the
unseen nightingale, tuning its voice to richer certainties, broke
into a fuller, deeper warble,--more stars flew, like shining fire-
flies, into space, and on the lowest line of the western horizon a
white cloud fringed with silver, floated slowly, the noiseless
herald of the coming moon. But Walden saw nothing of the mystically
beautiful transfiguration of the evening into night. His thoughts
were elsewhere.

"And yet"--he mused sorrowfully--"How do I know? How can I tell? The
clear childlike eyes may be trained to deceive,--the smile of the
sweet, all too sweet mouth, may be insincere--the pretty, impulsive
confiding manner may be a mere trick---and---after all---what is it
to me? I demand of myself plainly and fairly--what is it to me?"

He gave a kind of unconscious despairing gesture. Was there some
devil in his soul whom he was bound to wrestle with by fasting and
prayer, and conquer in the end? Or was it an angel that had entered
there, before whose heavenly aspect he must kneel and succumb? Why
this new and appalling loneliness which had struck himself and his
home-surroundings as with an earthquake shock, shaking the
foundations of all that had seemed so safe and secure? Why this
feverish restlessness in his mind, which forbade him to occupy
himself with any of the work waiting for him to do, and which made
him unhappy and ill at ease for no visible or reasonable cause?

He walked slowly across the lawn to his favourite seat under the
apple-tree,--and there, beneath the scented fruiting boughs, with
the evening dews gathering on the grass at his feet, he tried
manfully to face the problem that troubled his own inner
consciousness.

"Let me brave it out!" he said--"Let me realise and master the
thoughts that seek to master ME, otherwise I am no man, but merely a
straw to be caught by the idle wind of an emotion. Why should I
shirk the analysis of what I feel to be true of myself? For, after
all, it is only a weakness of nature,--a sense of regret and loss,--
a knowledge of something I have missed in life,--all surely
pardonable if quelled in the beginning. She,--Maryllia Vancourt--is
only at woman,--I am only a man. There is more than at first seems
apparent in that simple qualification 'only'! She, the woman, has
charm, and is instinctively conscious of her power, as why should
she not be?--she has tried it, and found it no doubt in every case
effectual. I, the man, am long past the fervours and frenzies of
life,--and charm, whether it be hers or that of any other of her
sex, should have, or ought to have, no effect upon me, particularly
in my vocation, and with my settled habits. If I am so easily moved
as to be conscious of a certain strange glamour and fascination in
this girl,--for she is a girl to me, nay almost a child,--that is
not her fault, but mine. As well expect the sun not to shine or a
bird not to sing, as expect Maryllia Vancourt not to smile and look
sweet! Walking with her in her rose-garden, where she took me with
such a pretty air of confiding grace, to show me her border of old
French damask roses, I listened to her half-serious, sometimes
playful talk as in a dream, and answered her kindly questions
concerning some of the sick and poor in the village as best I could,
though I fear I must occasionally have spoken at random. Oh, those
old French damask roses! I have known them growing in that border
for years,--yet I never saw them as I saw them to-day,--never looked
they so darkly red and glowing!--so large and open-hearted! I fancy
I shall smell their fragrance all my life! 'Are they doing well, do
you think?'--she said, and the little white chin perked up from
under the pink ribbon which tied her hat, and the dark blue eyes
gleamed drowsily from beneath their drooping lids,--and the lips
parted, smiling--and then--then came the devil and tempted me! I was
no longer middle-aged John Walden, the quiet parson of a country
'cure,'--I was a man unknown to myself,--possessed as it were, by
the ghost of a dead youth, clamouring for youthful joy! I longed to
touch that delicate little pink-and-white creature, so like a rose
herself!--I was moved by an insane desire--yes!--it was insane, and
fortunately quite momentary,--such impulses are not uncommon"--and
here, as he unravelled, to his own satisfaction, the tangled web of
his impressions, his brow cleared, and he smiled gravely,--"I was, I
say, moved by an insane desire to draw that dainty small bundle of
frippery and prettiness into my arms--yes,--it was so, and why
should I not confess it to myself? Why should I be ashamed? Other
men have felt the same, though perhaps they do not count so many
years of life as I do. At any rate with me the feeling was
momentary,--and passed. Then,--some moments later,--under the cedar-
tree she dropped a rose from the cluster she had gathered,--and in
giving it back to her I touched her hand--and our eyes met."

Here his thoughts became disconnected, and wandered beyond his
control. He let them go,--and listened, instead of thinking, to the
notes of the nightingale singing in his garden. It was now being
answered by others at a distance, with incessant repetitions of a
flute-like warble,--and then came the long sobbing trill and cry of
love, piercing the night with insistant passion.

    "The Bird of Life is singing on the bough,
     His two eternal notes of 'I and Thou'--
     O hearken well, for soon the song sings through,
     And would we hear it, we must hear it Now."

A faint tremor shook him as the lines quoted by Cicely Bourne rang
back upon his memory. He rose to go indoors.

"I am a fool!"--he said--"I must not trouble my head any more about
a summer day's fancy. It was a kind of 'old moonlight in the blood,'
as Hafiz says,--an aching sense of loss,--or rather a touch of the
spring affecting a decaying tree!" He sighed. "I shall not suffer
from it again, because I will not. Brent's letter has arrived
opportunely,--though I think--nay, I am sure, he has been
misinformed. However, Miss Vancourt's affairs have nothing to do
with me,--nor need I interest myself in what is not my concern. My
business is with those who depend on my care,--I must not forget
myself--I must attend to my work."

He went into the house,--and there was confronted in his own hall by
a big burly figure clad in rough corduroys,--that of Farmer Thorpe,
who doffed his cap and pulled his forelock respectfully at the sight
of him.

"'Evenin', Passon!" he said--"I thought as 'ow I'd make bold to coom
an' tell ye my red cow's took the turn an' doin' wonderful! Seems a
special mussy of th' A'mighty, an' if there's anythin' me an' my
darter can do fur ye, ye'll let us know, Passon, for I'm darn
grateful, an' feels as 'ow the beast pulled round arter I'd spoke
t'ye about 'er. An' though as ye told me, 'tain't the thing to say
no prayers for beasties which is worldly goods, I makes a venture to
arsk ye if ye'll step round to the farm to-morrer, jest to please
Mattie my darter, an' take a look at the finest litter o' pigs as
ever was seen in this county, barrin' none! A litter as clean an'
sweet as daisies in new-mown hay, an' now's the time for ye to look
at 'em, Passon, an' choose yer own suckin' beast for bilin' or
roastin' which ye please, for both's as good as t'other,--an' there
ain't no man about 'ere what desarves a sweet suckin' pig more'n you
do, an' that I say an' swear to. It's a real prize litter I do
assure you!--an' Mattie my darter, she be that proud, an' all ye
wants to do is just to coom along an' choose your own!"

"Thank you, Mr. Thorpe!" said Walden with his usual patient
courtesy--"Thank you very much! I will certainly come. Glad to hear
the cow is better. And is Miss Thorpe well?"

"She's that foine,"--rejoined the farmer--"that only the pigs can
beat 'er! I'll be tellin' 'er you'll coom to-morrer then?"

"Oh yes--by all means! Certainly! Most kind of you, I'm sure! Good-
evening, Thorpe!"

"Same t'ye, Passon, an' thank ye kindly!"  Whereat John escaped at
last into his own solitary sanctum.

"My work!" he said, with a faint smile, as he seated himself at his
desk--"I must do my work! I must attend to the pigs as much as
anything else in the parish! My work!"




XVIII


It was the first Sunday in July. Under a sky of pure and cloudless
blue the village of St. Rest lay cradled in floral and foliage
loveliness, with all the glory of the morning sunshine and the full
summer bathing it in floods of living gold. It had reached the
perfect height of its annual beauty with the full flowering of its
orchards and fields, and with all the wealth of colour which was
flung like spray against the dark brown thatched roofs of its
clustering cottages by the masses of roses, red and white, that
clambered as high as the tops of the chimneys, and turning back from
thence, dropped downwards again in a tangle of blossoms, and twined
over latticed windows with a gay and gracious air like garlands hung
up for some great festival. The stillness of the Seventh Day's pause
was in the air,--even the swallows, darting in and out from their
prettily contrived nests under the bulging old-fashioned eaves,
seemed less busy, less active on their bright pinions, and skimmed
to and fro with a gliding ease, suggestive of happy indolence and
peace. The doors of the church were set wide open,--and Adam Frost,
sexton and verger, was busy inside the building, placing the chairs,
as was his usual Sunday custom, in orderly rows for the coming
congregation. It was about half-past ten, and the bell-ringers,
arriving and ascending into the belfry, were beginning to 'tone' the
bells before pealing the full chime for the eleven o'clock service,
when Bainton, arrayed in his Sunday best, strolled with a casual air
into the churchyard, looked round approvingly for a minute or two,
and then with some apparent hesitation, entered the church porch,
lifting his cap reverently as he did so. Once there, he coughed
softly to attract Frost's attention, but that individual was too
much engrossed with his work to heed any lesser sound than the
grating of the chairs he was arranging. Bainton waited patiently,
standing near the carved oaken portal, till by chance the verger
turned and saw him, whereupon he beckoned mysteriously with a
crook'd forefinger.

"Adam! Hi! A word wi' ye!"

Adam came down the nave somewhat reluctantly, his countenance
showing signs of evident preoccupation and harassment.

"What now?" he demanded, in a hoarse whisper-'"Can't ye see I'm
busy?"

"O' coorse you're busy--I knows you're busy,"--returned Bainton,
soothingly--"I ain't goin' to keep ye back nohow. All I wants to
know is, ef it's true?"

"Ef what's true?"

"This 'ere, wot the folks are all a' clicketin' about,--that Miss
Vancourt 'as got a party o' Lunnon fash'nables stayin' at the Manor,
an' that they're comin' to church this marnin'?"

"True enough!" said Frost--"Don't ye see me a-settin' chairs for 'em
near the poopit? There'll be what's called a 'crush' I can tell ye!-
-for there ain't none too much room in the church at the best o'
times for our own poor folk, but when rich folks comes as well,
we'll be put to it to seat 'em. Mister Primmins, he comes down to me
nigh 'arf an hour ago, an' he sez, sez he: 'Miss Vancourt 'as
friends from Lunnon stayin' with 'er, an' they're comin' to church
this marnin'. 'Ope you'll find room?' An' I sez to 'im, 'I'll do my
best, but there ain't no reserve seats in the 'ouse o' God, an' them
as comes fust gits fust served.' Ay, it's true enough they're a-
comin', but 'ow it got round in the village, I don't know. I ain't
sed a wurrd."

"Ill news travels fast,"--said Bainton, sententiously, "Mister
Primmins no doubt called on his young 'ooman at the 'Mother Huff'
an' told 'er to put on 'er best 'at. She's a reg'ler telephone tube
for information--any bit o' news runs right through 'er as though
she was a wire. 'Ave ye told Passon Waldon as 'ow Miss Vancourt an'
visitors is a-comin' to 'ear 'im preach?"

"No,"--replied Adam, with some vigour--"I ain't told 'im nothin'.
An' I ain't goin' to neither!"

Bainton looked into the crown of his cap, and finding his
handkerchief there wiped the top of his head with it.

"It be powerful warm this marnin', Adam,"--he said--"Powerful warm
it be. So you ain't goin' to tell Passon nothin',--an' for why, may
I ask, if to be so bold."

"Look 'ere, Tummas,"--rejoined the verger, speaking slowly and
emphatically--"Passon, 'e be a rare good man, m'appen no better man
anywheres, an' what he's goin' to say to us this blessed Sunday is
all settled-like. He's been thinkin' it out all the week. He knows
what's what. 'Tain't for us,--'tain't for you nor me, to go puttin'
'im out an' tellin' 'im o' the world the flesh an' the devil all a-
comin' to church. Mebbe he'a been a-prayin' to the Lord A'mighty to
put the 'Oly Spirit into 'im, an' mebbe he's got it--just THERE."
And Adam touched his breast significantly. "Now if I goes, or you
goes and sez to 'im: 'Passon, there's fash'nable folks from Lunnon
comin' 'ere to look at ye an' listen to ye, an' for all we kin tell
make mock o' ye as well as o' the Gospel itself in their 'arts'--
d'ye think he'd be any the better for it? No, Tummas, no! I say
leave Passon alone. Don't upset 'im. Let 'im come out of 'is 'ouse
wise an' peaceful like as he allus do, an' let 'im speak as the
fiery tongues from Heaven moves 'im, an' as if there worn't no
fashion nor silly nonsense in the world. He's best so, Tummas!--you
b'lieve me,--he's best so!"

"Mebbe--mebbe!" and Bainton twirled his cap round and round
dubiously--"But Miss Vancourt---"

"Miss Vancourt ain't been to church once till now,"--said Adam,--
"An' she's only comin' now to show it to her friends. I doesn't want
to think 'ard of her, for she's a sweet-looking little lady an' a
kind one--an' my Ipsie just worships 'er,--an' what my baby likes
I'm bound to like too--but I do 'ope she ain't a 'eathen, an' that
once comin' to church means comin' again, an' reg'lar ever
arterwards. Anyway, it's for you an' me, Tummas, to leave Passon to
the Lord an' the fiery tongues,--we ain't no call to interfere with
'im by tellin' 'im who's comin' to church an' who ain't. Anyone's
free to enter the 'ouse o' God, rich or poor, an 'tain't a world's
wonder if strangers worships at the Saint's Rest as well as our own
folk."

Here the bells began to ring in perfect unison, with regular rhythm
and sweet concord.

"I must go,"--continued Adam--"I ain't done fixin' the chairs yet,
an' it's a quarter to eleven. We'll be 'avin 'em all 'ere d'rectly."

He hurried into the church again just as Miss Eden and her boy-and-
girl 'choir' entered the churchyard, and Bainton seeing them, and
also perceiving in the near distance the slow halting figure of
Josey Letherbarrow, who made it a point never to be a minute late
for divine service, rightly concluded that there was no time now,
even if he were disposed to such a course, to 'warn Passon' that he
would have to preach to 'fashionable folks' that morning.

"Mebbe Adam's right," he reflected--"An' yet it do worry me a bit to
think of 'im comin' out of 'is garden innercent like an' not knowin'
what's a-waitin' for 'im. For he's been rare quiet lately--seems as
if he was studyin' an' prayin' from mornin' to night, an' he ain't
bin nowhere,--an' no one's bin to see 'im, 'cept that scarecrow-
lookin' chap, Adderley, which HE stayed a 'ole arternoon, jabberin'
an' readin' to 'im. An' what's mighty queer to me is that he ain't
bin fidgettin' over 'is garden like he used to. He don't seem to
care no more whether the flowers blooms or doesn't. Them phloxes up
against the west wall now--a finer show I never seen--an' as for the
lilum candidum, they're a perfect picter. But he don't notice 'em
much, an' he's not so keen on his water-lilies as I thought he would
be, for they're promisin' better this year than they've ever done
before, an' the buds all a-floatin' up on top o' the river just
lovely. An' as for vegetables--Lord!--he don't seem to know whether
'tis beans or peas he 'as--there's a kind o' sap gone out o' the
garden this summer, for all that it's so fine an' flourishin'.
There's a missin' o' somethin' somewheres!"

His meditations were put to an end by the continuous arrival of all
the villagers coming to church;--by twos and threes, and then by
half dozens and dozens, they filed in through the churchyard,
exchanging brief neighbourly greetings with one another as they
passed quietly into the sacred edifice, where the soft strains of
the organ now began to mingle with the outside chiming of the bells.
Bainton still lingered near the porch, moved by a pardonable
curiosity. He was anxious to see the first glimpse of the people who
were staying at the Manor, but as yet there was no sign of any one
of them, though the time wanted only five minutes to eleven.

The familiar click of the latch of the gate which divided the church
precincts from the rectory garden, made him turn his head in that
direction, to watch his master approaching the scene of his
morning's ministrations. The Reverend John walked slowly, with
uplifted head and tranquil demeanour, and, as he turned aside up the
narrow path which led to the vestry at the back of the church the
faithful 'Tummas' felt a sudden pang. 'Passon' looked too good for
this world, he thought,--his dignity of movement, his serene and
steadfast eyes, his fine, thoughtful, though somewhat pale
countenance, were all expressive of that repose and integrity of
soul which lifts a man above the common level, and unconsciously to
himself, wins for him the silent honour and respect of all his
fellows. And yet there was a touch of pathetic isolation about him,
too,--as of one who is with, yet not of, the ordinary joys, hopes,
and loves of humanity,--and it was this which instinctively moved
Bainton, though that simple rustic would have been at a loss to
express the sense of what he felt in words. However there was no
more leisure for thinking, if he wished to be in his place at the
commencement of service. The servants from Abbot's Manor were just
entering the churchyard-gates, marshalled, as usual, by the
housekeeper, Mrs. Spruce, and her deaf but ever dutiful husband,--
and though Bainton longed to ask one of them if Miss Vancourt and
her guests were really coming, he hesitated,--and in that moment of
hesitation, the whole domestic retinue passed into church before
him, and he judged it best and wisest to follow quickly in silence,
lest, when prayers began, his master should note his absence.

The building was very full,--and it was difficult to see where, if
any strangers did arrive, they could be accommodated. Miss Eden, in
her capacity as organist, was still playing the opening voluntary,
but, despite the fact that there was no apparent disturbance of the
usual order of things, there was a certain air of hushed expectancy
among the people which was decidedly foreign to the normal
atmosphere of St. Rest. The village lasses looked at each other's
hats with keener interest,--the lads fidgeted with their ties and
collars more strenuously, and secreted their caps more
surreptitiously behind their legs,--and the most placid-looking
personage in the whole congregation was Josey Letherbarrow, who, in
a very clean smock, with a small red rose in his buttonhole, and his
silvery hair parted on either side and just touching his shoulders,
sat restfully in his own special corner not far from the pulpit,
leaning on his stick and listening with rapt attention to the fall
and flow of the organ music as it swept round him in soft and ever
decreasing eddies of sound. The bells ceased, and eleven o'clock
struck slowly from the church tower. At the last stroke, the
Reverend John entered the chancel in his plain white surplice,
spotless as new-fallen snow,-and as he knelt for a moment in silent
devotion, the voluntary ended with a grave, long, sustained chord. A
pause,--and then the 'Passon' rose, and faced his little flock, his
hand laid on the open 'Book of Common Prayer.'

"When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath
committed and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save
his soul alive."

Walden's voice rang clear and sonorous,--the sunshine pouring
through the plain glass of the high rose-window behind and above
him, shed effulgence over the ancient sarcophagus in front of the
altar and struck from its alabaster whiteness a kind of double light
which, circling round his tall slight figure made it stand out in
singularly bold relief.

"If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is
not in us, but if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to
forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

A ripple of gay laughter here echoed in through the church doors,
which were left open for air on account of the great heat of the
day. There was an uneasy movement in the congregation,--some men and
women glanced at one another. That light, careless laughter was
distinctly discordant. The Reverend John drew himself up a little
more rigidly erect, and his face grew a shade paler. Steadily, he
read on:--

"Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places
to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and
that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of
Almighty God our Heavenly Father, but confess them with an humble,
lowly, penitent and obedient heart---"

He ceased abruptly. A glimmer of colour,--a soft gliding swish of
silken skirts, an affectation of tip-toe movement up the nave,--a
wave of indescribable artificial perfume,--and then, a general stir
and head-turning among the people showed that a new and unaccustomed
element had suddenly merged into the simple human material whereof
the village of St. Rest was composed,--an element altogether strange
to it, not to say troublous and confusing. Walden saw, and bit his
lips hard,--his hand instinctively clenched itself nervously on the
'Book of Common Prayer.' But his rigid attitude did not relax, and
he remained mute, his eyes fixed steadily on the fashionably dressed
new-comers, who, greatly embarrassed by the interruption their late
entrance had caused,--an interruption emphasised in so marked a
manner by the silence of the officiating minister, made haste to
take the chairs pointed out to them by the verger, with crimsoning
faces and lowered eyelids. It was a new and most unpleasant
experience for them. They did not know, of course, that it was
Walden's habit to pause in whatever part of the service he was
reading if anyone came in late,--to wait till the tardy arrivals
took their places,--and then to begin the interrupted sentence over
again,--a habit which had effectually succeeded in making all his
parishioners punctual.

But Maryllia, whose guests they were,--Maryllia, who was responsible
as their hostess for bringing them to church at all, and who
herself, with Cicely, was the last to enter after service had begun,
felt a rebellious wave of colour rushing up to her brows. It was
very rude of Mr. Walden, she thought, to stop short in his reading
and cause the whole congregation to turn and stare curiously at
herself and her friends just because they were a little bit behind
time! It exposed them all to public rebuke! And when the stir caused
by their entrance had subsided, she stood up almost defiantly,
lifting her graceful head haughtily, her soft cheeks glowing and her
eyes flashing, looking twenty times prettier even than usual as she
opened her daintily bound prayer-book with a careless, not to eay
indifferent air, as though her thoughts were thousands of miles away
from St. Rest and all belonging to it. Glancing at the different
members of her party, she was glad that one of them at least, Lady
Eva Beaulyon, had secured a front seat, for her ladyship was never
content unless she was well to the foremost of everything. She was a
reigning beauty,--the darling of the society press, and the model of
all aspiring photographers,--and she could hardly be expected to put
up with any obscure corner, even in a church;--if she ever went to
the Heaven of monkish legend, one could well imagine St. Peter
standing aside for her to pass. Close beside her was another
wonderful looking woman, a Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, a 'leader' in
society, who went everywhere, did everything, wore the newest coat,
skirt or hat from Paris directly it was put on the market, and wrote
accounts of herself and her 'smartness' to the American press under
a 'nom-de-plume.' She was not, like Lady Beaulyon, celebrated for
her beauty, but for her perennial youth. Her face, without being in
the least interesting or charming, was smooth and peach-coloured,
without a line of thought or a wrinkle of care upon it. Her eyes
were bright and quite baby-like in their meaningless expression, and
her hair was of the loveliest Titian red. She had a figure which was
the envy of all modellers of dress-stands,--and as she was wont to
say of herself, it would have been difficult to find fault with the
'chic' of her outward appearance. Painters and sculptors would have
found her an affront to nature--but then Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay had
no acquaintance with painters and sculptors. She thought them
'queer' people, with very improper ideas. She was exceedingly put
out by Walden's abrupt pause in his reading of the 'Dearly beloved,'
while she and the other members of the Manor house-party rustled
into their places,--and when he recommenced the exordium she
revenged herself by staring at him quizzically through a long-
handled tortoiseshell-mounted lorgnon. But she did not succeed in
confusing him at all, or in even attracting his attention,--so she
merely shrugged her shoulders, with what the French call an 'air
moqueuse.'

The momentary confusion caused by the pause in the service soon
passed, and the spirit of calm again settled on the scene after the
'General Confession.' But Maryllia was deeply conscious of hurt and
vexation. It was too bad of Mr. Walden, she kept on. saying to
herself over and over again,--too bad! Her friends and herself were
only five or six minutes late, and to have stopped in his reading of
the service like that to put them all to shame was unkind--'yes,
unkind,' she said in her vexed soul,--vexed all the more because she
was inwardly conscious that Walden was right and herself wrong. She
knew well enough that she could have reached the church at eleven
had she chosen, and have brought her friends punctual to time as
well. She knew it was neither reverent nor respectful to interrupt
divine worship. But she was too irritated to reason the matter out
calmly just then,--all she could think of was that she and her
London guests had received a reproof from the minister of the
parish--silent, but none the less severe--before all the villagers-
before her own servants--and on the first occasion of her coming to
church, too! She could not get over it.

"If he can see me," she thought, "he will know that I am angry!"

Chafed little spirit!--as if it mattered to Walden whether she was
angry or not! He saw her well enough,--he noted her face 'red as a
rose,' with its mobile play of expression, set in its frame of
golden-brown hair,--it flitted, sunbeam-like between his eyes and
the 'Book of Common Prayer'--and, when he ceased reading, while the
village choir, rendered slightly nervous by the presence of 'the
quality,' chanted the 'O come let us sing unto the Lord,' he was
conscious of a sudden lassitude, arising, as he knew, from the
strain he had put upon himself for the past few minutes. He was,
however, quite calm and self-possessed when he rose to read the
Lessons of the Day, and the service proceeded as usual in the
perfectly simple, unadorned style of 'that pure and reformed part of
Christ's Holy Catholic Church which is established in this Realm.'
Now and then his attention wandered--once or twice his eyes rested
on the well-dressed group directly opposite to him with a kind of
vague regret and doubt. There was an emotion working in his soul to
which he could scarcely give a name. Instinctively he was conscious
that a certain embarrassment and uneasiness affected the ordinary
members of his congregation,--he knew that their minds were
disquieted and distracted,--that the girls and women were open-eyed
and almost open-mouthed at the sight of the fashionable costumes and
wondrous millinery which the ladies of Miss Vancourt's house-party
wore, and were dissatisfied with their own clothing in consequence,-
-and that the lads and men felt themselves to be awkward, uncouth
and foolish in the near presence of personages belonging to quite
another sphere than their own. He knew that the showy ephemera of
this world had by a temporary fire-fly glitter, fascinated the
simple souls that had been erstwhile glad to dwell for a space on
the contemplation of spiritual and heavenly things. He saw that the
matchless lesson of Christ's love to humanity was scarcely heeded in
the contemplation of how very much humanity was able to do for
itself even without Christ's love, provided it had money and the
devil to 'push' it on! He sighed a little;--and certain words in the
letter of his friend Bishop Brent came back to his memory--"Many
things seem to me hopeless,-utterly irremediable ... I grow tired of
my own puny efforts to lift the burden which is laid upon me." Then
other, and stronger, thoughts came to him, and when the time arrived
to read the Commandments, a rush of passion and vigorous intensity
filled him with a force far greater than he knew. Cicely Bourne said
afterwards that she should never forget the thrill that ran through
her like a shock of electricity, when he proclaimed from the altar:-
-"GOD spake these words and said: Thou shalt have none other gods
but me!"

Looking up at this moment, she saw Julian Adderley in the aisle on
her left-hand side,--he too was staring at Walden as though he saw
the figure of a saint in a vision. But Maryllia kept her face
hidden, listening in a kind of awe, as each 'Commandment' was, as it
seemed, grandly and strenuously insisted upon by the clear voice
that had no tone of hypocrisy in its whole scale.

"Thou shalt NOT bear false witness against thy neighbour!"

Lady Beaulyon forgot to droop her head in the usual studied way
which she knew was so becoming to her,--the NOT was so emphatic. An
unpleasant shiver ran through her daintily-clothed person,--dear
me!--how often and often she had 'borne false witness,' not only
against her neighbour, but against everyone she could think of or
talk about! Where could be the fun of living if you must NOT swear
to as many lies about your neighbour as possible? No spice or savour
would be left in the delicate ragout of 'swagger' society! The
minister of St. Rest was really quite objectionable,--a ranter,--a
noisy, 'stagey' creature!--and both she and Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay
murmured to each other that they 'did not like him.'

"So loud!" said Lady Beaulyon, breathing the words delicately
against her friend's Titian-red hair.

"So provincial!" rejoined Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, in the same dulcet
undertone, adding to her remark the fervent--"Lord have mercy upon
us and incline our hearts to keep this law!"

One very gratifying circumstance to these ladies, however, and one
that considerably astonished all the members of Miss Vancourt's
house-party, as well as Miss Vancourt herself, was that no
'collection' was made. Neither the church, the poor, nor some
distant mission to the heathen served as any excuse for begging, in
the shrine of the 'Saint's Rest.' No vestige of a money-box or
'plate' was to be seen anywhere. And this fact pre-disposed them to
survey Walden's face and figure with critical attention as he left
the chancel and ascended the pulpit during the singing of 'The Lord
is my Shepherd.' At the opening chords of that quaint and simple
hymn, Cicely Bourne glanced at Miss Eden and Susie Prescott with a
little suggestive smile, and caught their appealing glances,--then,
as the quavering chorus of boys and girls began, she raised her
voice as the 'leading soprano,' and like a thread of gold it twined
round all the notes and tied them together in clear and lovely
unison:

    "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,
     He maketh me down to lie,
     In pleasant fields where the lilies grow,
     And the river runneth by."

Everyone in the congregation stared and seemed stricken with sudden
wonderment. Such singing they had never heard before. Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay put up her lorgnon.

"It's Maryllia Vancourt's creature,"--she whispered--"The ugly child
she picked up in Paris. I suppose it really IS a voice?"

"It really is, I think!" responded Lady Beaulyon, languidly, turning
her fair head to look at the plain sallow girl with the untidy black
hair whom she had only seen for a few minutes on her arrival at
Abbot's Manor the previous day, and whom she had scarcely noticed.
But Cicely saw her not--her whole soul was in her singing,--and she
had no glance even for Julian Adderley, who, gazing at her as if she
were already the prima donna in an opera, listened enrapt.

    "The Lord is my Shepherd; He feedeth me,
     In the depth of a desert land;
     And, lest I should in the darkness slip,
     He holdeth me by the hand."

Maryllia felt a contraction in her throat, and her eyes
unconsciously filled with tears. How sweet that hymn was!--how very
sweet! Tender memories of her father crowded upon her,--her mother's
face, grown familiar to her sight from her daily visits to the now
no longer veiled picture in the Manor gallery, shone out upon her
from the altar like a glorified angel above the white sarcophagus
where the word 'Resurget' sparkled jewel-like in the sunshine,--and
she began to feel that after all there was something in the
Christian faith that was divinely helpful and uplifting to the soul.

    "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,
     My mind on Him is stayed,
     And though through the Valley of Death I walk,
     I shall not be afraid!"

Pure and true rang Cicely's young, fresh and glorious voice,
carrying all the voices of the children with it on the pulsating
waves of the organ chords,--and an impression of high exaltation,
serenity and peace, rested on the whole congregation with the
singing of the last verse--

    "The Lord is my Shepherd: O Shepherd sweet,
     Leave me not here to stray;
     But guide me safe to Thy heavenly fold,
     And keep me there, I pray!
                                     Amen!"

During the silence that immediately followed, Walden stood erect in
the pulpit, looking down upon the people. He saw Maryllia's face,--
he saw all the eyes of her London friends fixed on him with a more
or less critical and supercilious stare,--he saw his own  flock'
waiting for his first word with their usual air of respectful
attention,--every small point and detail in his surroundings became
suddenly magnified to his sight,--even the little rose in old Josey
Letherbarrow's smock caught his eye with an almost obtrusive flare.
The blithe soft carol of the birds outside sounded close and loud,--
the buzzing of a bumble-bee that had found its way into the church
and was now bouncing fussily against a sunlit window, in its efforts
to pass through what seemed to itself clear space, made quite an
abnormal noise. His heart beat heavily,--he fancied he could hear it
thudding in his breast,--then, all at once, an inflow of energy
rushed upon him as though the 'fiery tongues' of which Adam Frost
had spoken, were in very truth descending upon him. Maryllia's face!
There it was--so winsome, so bright, and proud and provocative in
its every feature,--and the old French damask roses growing in her
garden borders could not show a prettier colour than her cheeks! He
lifted his hands. "Let us pray!"

The villagers all obediently dropped on their knees. The Manor
'house-party' politely bent their heads.

"Supreme Creator of the Universe, without Whose power and permission
no thought is ever generated in the brain of Thy creature, man; Be
pleased to teach me, Thy unworthy servant, Thy will and law this
day, that I may speak to this congregation even as Thou shalt
command, without any care for myself or my words, but in entire
submission to Thee and Thy Holy Spirit! Amen."

He rose. The congregation rose with him. Some of the village folks
exchanged uneasy glances with one another. Was their beloved
'Passon' quite himself? He looked so very pale,--his eyes were so
unusually bright,--and his whole aspect so more than commonly
commanding. Almost nervously they fumbled with their Bibles as he
gave out the text:--"The twenty-sixth verse of the sixteenth chapter
of the Gospel according to St. Matthew."

He paused, and then, as was his usual custom, patiently repeated--
"The sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew,
twenty-sixth verse." Again he waited, while the subdued rustling of
pages and turning over of books continued,--and finally pronounced
the words--"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world
and lose his own soul?" Here he closed the Testament, leaning one
hand upon it. He had resolved to speak 'extempore,' just as the mood
moved him, and to make his discourse as brief as possible,--a mere
twelve minutes' sermon. For he knew that his ordinary congregation
were more affected by a sense of restlessness and impatience than
they themselves realised, and that such strangers as were present
were of a temperament more likely to be bored, than interested.

"What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose
his own soul?"--he began, slowly, and with emphasis, his eyes
resting steadfastly on the fashionably-attired group of persons
immediately under his observation--"This was one of the questions
put by the Divine Man Christ, to men,--and was no doubt considered
then, as it surely is considered now, a very foolish enquiry. For to
'gain the whole world' is judged as so exceedingly profitable to
most people that they are quite willing to lose everything else they
have in exchange for it. They will gladly barter conscience,
principle, honour and truth to gain 'the whole world'--and as for
the 'soul,' that fine and immortal essence is treated by the
majority as a mere poetic phrase--a figure of speech, without any
real meaning behind it. I know well how some of you here to-day will
regret wasting your time in listening, even for a few minutes, to
anything about so obsolete a subject as the Soul! The Soul! What is
it? A fiction or a fact? How many of us possess a Soul, or THINK we
possess one? Of what is it composed, that it should be judged as so
much more precious than the Body?--the dear Body, which we pamper
and feed and clothe and cosset and cocker, till it struts on the
face of the planet, a mere magnified Ape of conceit and trickery,
sloth and sensuality, the one unforgivable anachronism in an
otherwise perfect Creation! For Body without Soul is a blot on the
Universe,--a distortion and abomination of nature, with which nature
by and by will have nothing to do. Yet I freely grant that while
Soul animates and inspires all creation, man cannot or will not
comprehend it; he may, therefore, in part, be condoned for not
endeavouring to 'save' what he is not taught to truly recognise. To
explain the 'Soul' more clearly, I will refer you all to the Book of
Genesis, where it is written--'And God made man of the dust of the
ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man
became A LIVING SOUL.' Thus we see that 'Soul' is the breath of God,
which is also the Eternal breath of Eternal Life. Each human being
is endowed with this essence of immortality, which cannot die with
death, being, as it is, the embryo of endless lives to come. This is
why it is pre-eminently valuable--this is why we should take heed
that it be not 'lost.' It may be argued--'How can anything be lost
which is eternally alive?' That proposition is easily answered. A
jewel may be 'lost' in the sea, but it is still existent as a jewel.
In the same way a man may 'lose' his Soul, though he can never
destroy it. It is the 'breath of God'--the germ of immortal Life,--
and if one 'loses' it, another may find it. This is not only
religion,--it is also science. In the present age, when all
imagination, all poetry, all instinctive sense of the divine, is
being subordinated to what we consider as Fact, there is one supreme
mystery which eludes the research of the most acute and pitiless
materialist--and that is life itself,--its origin, its evolution and
its intention. We can do many wonderful things,--but we cannot re-
animate the corpse of a friend! Christ could do this, being Divinity
incarnate,--but we can only wring our hands helplessly, and wonder
where the spirit has fled,--that spirit which made our beloved one
speak to us, smile, and exchange the looks which express the
emotions of the heart more truly than words. We want the 'Soul' we
loved! The inanimate clay, stretched cold in its coffined rest, is a
strange sight to us. We do not know it. It is not our friend! Our
friend was the 'Soul' that lived in the clay,--the 'breath of God'
that moved our own 'Soul' to respond to it in affection and
tenderness. And we instinctively know and feel that though this
breath of God' is gone from us, it cannot be dead. And 'lost' is not
an expression that we would ever apply to it, because we hope and
believe it is 'found'--found by its Creator, and taught to realise
and rejoice in its own immortality. All religion means this,--the
'finding' of the Soul. The passion of our Saviour teaches this,--His
resurrection, His ascension into Heaven, symbolises and expresses
the same thing. Yet, in the words of Christ Himself, it would
nevertheless seem, that the 'Soul' divinely generated and immortal
as it is, can be 'lost' by our own act and will. 'What is a man
profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?' I
venture to think the text implies, that in the very attempt to 'gain
the whole world,' the loss of the soul is involved. I am not going
to detain you here this morning with a long exordium concerning how
some of you can and may, if you choose, play havoc with the
priceless gift God baa bestowed upon each one of you. I only desire
to impress upon you all, with the utmost earnestness, that it is
idle to say among yourselves 'We have no souls,' or 'The soul is an
unknown quantity and cannot be proved.' The soul is as and actual a
part of you as the main artery is of the body,--and that you cannot
see it, touch it, or put it under the surgeon's dissecting knife is
no proof that it is not there. You might as well say life itself
does not exist, because you cannot see its primaeval causes or
beginnings. The Soul is the centre of your being,--the compass of
your life-journey,--the pivot round which, whether you will or not,
you shape your actions in this world for the next. If you lose that
mainspring of motive, you lose all. Your conduct, your speech, your
expression in every movement and feature all show the ungoverned and
ungovernable condition in which you are. God is not mocked,--and in
many cases,--taking the grand majority of the human race,--neither
is man!"

He paused. The congregation was very quiet. He felt, rather than
saw, that Maryllia's eyes were fixed upon him,--and he was perfectly
aware that Lady Beaulyon,--whom he recognised, as he would have
recognised an actress, on account of the innumerable photographs of
her which were on sale in the windows of every stationer in every
moderate-sized town,--was gazing straight up at him with a bright,
mocking glance in which lurked a suspicion of disdain and laughter.
Moved by a sudden impulse, he bent his own regard straight down upon
her with an inflexible cool serenity. An ugly frown puckered her
ladyship's brow at once,--and she lowered her eyelids angrily.

"I say God is not mocked,"--he continued slowly; "Neither is man!
The miserable human being that has 'lost' his or her Soul, may be
assured that the 'gain' of the whole world in exchange, will prove
but Dead Sea fruit, bitter and tasteless, and in the end wholly
poisonous. Loss of the Soul is marked by moral degradation and
deterioration,--and this inward crumbling and rotting of all noble
and fine feeling into baseness, shows itself on the fairest face,--
the proudest form. The man who lies against his neighbour for the
sake of worldly convenience or personal revenge, writes the lie in
his own countenance as he utters it. It engraves its mark,--it can
be seen by all who read physiognomy--it says plainly--'Let not this
man be trusted!' The woman who is false and treacherous carries the
stigma on her features, be they never so perfect. The creature of
clay who has lost Soul, likewise lacks Heart,--and the starved,
hopeless poverty of such an one is disclosed in him, even if he be a
world's millionaire. Moreover, 'Soul'--that delicate, divine,
eternal essence, is easily lost. Any earthly passion carried to
excess, will overwhelm it, and sink it in an unfathomable sea. It
can slip away in the pursuit of ambition,--in schemes for self-
aggrandisement,--in the building up of huge fortunes,--in the pomp,
and show, and vanity of mundane things. It flies from selfishness
and sensuality. It can be lost in hate,--it can equally be lost in
love!"

Again he paused--then went on--"Yes--for even in love, that purest
and most elevating of human emotions, the Soul must have its way
rather than the Body. Loss of the 'Soul' in love, means that love
then becomes the mere corpse of itself, and must needs decay with
all other such dust-like things. In every sentiment, in every
thought, in every hope, in every action, let us find the 'Soul,' and
never let it go! For without it, no great deed can be done, no
worthy task accomplished, no life lived honourably and straightly in
the sight of God. It shall profit us nothing to be famous, witty,
wealthy, or admired, if we are mere stuffed figures of clay without
the 'breath of God' as our animating life principle. The simple
peasant, who has enough 'soul' in him to reverently watch the sunset
across the hills, and think of God as the author of all that
splendour, is higher in the spiritual scale than the learned scholar
who is too occupied with himself and his own small matters to notice
whether it is a sunset or a house on fire. The 'soul' in a man
should be his sense, his sight, his touch, his very inmost and
dearest centre,--the germ of all good,--the generator of all peace
and hope and happiness. It is the one and only thing to foster,--the
one and only thing to save,--the only part of man which, belonging
as it does to God, God will require again. Some of you here present
to-day will perhaps think for a little while on what I have said
when you leave this church,--and others will at once forget it,--but
think, forget, or remember as you choose, the truth remains, that
all of you, young and old, rich and poor, are endowed in your own
selves with the 'making of an angel.' The 'Soul' within you, which
you may elect to keep or to lose, is the infant of Heaven. It
depends on you for care,--for sustenance;--it needs all your work
and will to aid it in growing up to its full stature and perfection.
It shall profit you nothing if you gain the whole world, and at
death have naught to give to your Maker but crumbling clay. Let the
Angel be ready,--the 'Soul' in you prepared, and full-winged for
flight! According to the power and purity with which you have
invested and surrounded it, will be its fate. If you have
voluntarily checked and stunted its aspirations, even so checked and
stunted must be its next probation,--but if you have faithfully done
your best to nourish it with loving thoughts and noble aims,--if you
have given it room to expand and shine forth with all its own
original God-born radiance, then will its ascension to a higher
sphere of action and attainment be attended with unimaginable joy
and glory. Let the world go, rather than lose the Divine Light
within you! For that Light will, and must, attract all that is worth
knowing, worth loving and worth keeping in our actual environment.
The rest can be well spared,--whether it be money, position,
notoriety or social influence,--for none of these things last,--none
of them are in any way precious, save to such ignorant and misguided
persons as are deceived by external shows. The Soul is all! Keep but
that 'breath of God' within you, and the world becomes merely one
step of the ladder on which you may easily mount through everlasting
love upon love, joy upon joy, to the utmost height of Heaven!"

He ceased. For a moment there was a profound stillness. And then,
with the usual formula--"Now to God the Father, God the Son, and God
the Holy Ghost be praise, honour and glory for ever and ever"--the
congregation stood up. Lady Beaulyon shook her silken skirts
delicately. Mrs. Bludlip Oourtenay put her hand to her back hair
coil and made sure that it was safe. And there was a general stir
and movement, which instantly subsided again, as the people knelt to
receive the parting benediction. Maryllia's eyes were riveted on
Walden as he stretched out his hands;--she was conscious of a
certain vague awe and reverence for this man with whom she had so
casually walked and talked, only as it seemed the other day;--he
appeared, as it were, removed from her by an immeasurable distance,-
-his spirit and hers had gone wide apart,--his was throned upon a
height of noble ideals,--hers was low, low down in a little valley
of worldly nothings,--and oh, how small and insignificant she felt!
Cicely's hand caught hers and gave it an affectionate little
pressure, as they bowed their heads together under the solemnly
pronounced blessing.

"The peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts
and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus
Christ our Lord,"--here Walden turned ever so slightly towards the
place where Maryllia knelt; "and the blessing of God Almighty, the
Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with
you always!"

"A---men!"

With this last response from the choir, the congregation began to
disperse, and Walden, glancing over the little moving crowd, saw the
eager bustle and pressure of all its units to look at 'the ladies
from the Manor' and take stock of their wonderful costumes. The grip
of 'the world' was on them, and the only worshipper remaining
quietly in his place, with hands clasped across his stick, and eyes
closed, was Josey Letherbarrow. The old man seemed to be praying
inwardly--his face was rapt and serene. Walden looked down upon him
very tenderly. A verse of Browning's ran through his mind:--

    "Grow old along with me!
     The best is yet to be,
     The last of life for which the first was made.
     Our times are in His hand,
     Who saith: 'A whole I planned,'
     Youth shows but half; trust God; see all, nor be afraid!"


And musing on this, he descended slowly from the pulpit and retired.




XIX


Outside in the churchyard, there was a general little flutter of
local excitement. Maryllia lingered there for several minutes,
pointing out the various beauties in the architecture of the church
to her guests, not that these individuals were very much interested
in such matters, for they were of that particular social type which
considers that the highest form of good breeding is to show a polite
nullity of feeling concerning everything and everybody. They were
eminently 'cultured,' which nowadays means pre-eminently dull. Had
they been asked, they would have said that it is dangerous to
express any opinion on any subject,--even on the architecture of a
church. Because the architect himself might be somewhere near,--or
the architect's father, or his mother or his great-grandam--one
never knows! And by a hasty remark in the wrong place and at the
wrong moment, one might make an unnecessary enemy. It is so much
nicer--so much safer to say nothing at all! Of course they looked at
the church,--it would have been uncivil to their hostess not to look
at it, as she was taking the trouble to call their attention to its
various points, and they assumed the usual conventional air of
appreciative admiration. But none of, them understood anything about
it,--and none of them cared to understand. They had not even noticed
the ancient sarcophagus in front of the altar except as 'some odd
kind of sculptured ornament.' When they wore told what it was, they
smiled vacuously, and said: 'How curious!' But further than this
mild and non-aggressive exclamation they did not venture. The
villagers hung about shyly, loth to lose sight of the 'quality';--
two or three 'county' people lingered also, to stare at, and comment
upon, the notorious 'beauty,' Lady Beaulyon, whose physical charms,
having been freely advertised for some years in the society columns
of the press, were naturally 'on show' for the criticism of Tom,
Dick and Harry,--Mrs. Mandeville Poreham, marshalling her five
marriageable daughters together, stalked magisterially to her
private 'bus, very much en evidence, and considerably put out by the
supercilious gaze and smile of the perfectly costumed Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay,--Julian Adderley, coming up in response to the beckoning
finger of Cicely Bourne, was kindly greeted by Maryllia, introduced
to one or two of her friends, and asked then and there to luncheon,
an invitation he accepted with alacrity, and, after this, all the
Manor party started with their hostess to walk home, leaving the
village and villagers behind them, and discussing as they went, the
morning's service and sermon in the usual brief and desultory style
common to fashionable church-goers. The principal impression they
appeared to have on their minds was one of vague amusement. The
notion that any clergyman should have the 'impudence'--(this was the
word used by Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay)--to pause in the service
because people came in late, touched the very apex of absurdity.

"So against his own interests too,"--said Lady Beaulyon, carelessly-
-"Because where would all the parsons be if they offended their
patrons?"

Mr. Bludlip Courtenay, a thin gentleman with a monocle--assented to
this proposition with a "Where indeed!" He considered that clergymen
should not forget themselves,--they should show proper respect
towards those on whom they depended for support.

"Mr. Walden depends on God for support, I believe,"--said Cicely
Bourne suddenly.

Mr. Bludlip Courtenay fixed his monocle firmly in his left eye and
stared at her.

"Really!" he drawled dubiously--"You surprise me!"

"It IS funny, isn't it?" pursued Cicely--"So unlike the Apostles!"

Maryllia smiled. Lady Beaulyon laughed outright.

"Are you trying to be satirical, you droll child?" she enquired
languidly.

"Oh no, I'm not trying,"--replied Cicely, with a quick flash of her
dark eyes--"It comes quite easy! You were talking about clergymen
offending their patrons. Now Mr. Walden hasn't got any patron to
offend. He's his own patron."  "Has he purchased the advowson,
then?" enquired Mr. Courtenay--"Or, to put it more conventionally,
has he obtained it through a friend at court?"

"I don't know anything about the how or the why or the when,"--said
Cicely--"But I know he owns the living and the church. So of course
if he chooses to show people what he thinks of them when they come
in to service late, he can do it. If they don't like it, he doesn't
care. He doesn't ask anybody for anything,--he doesn't even send
round a collection plate."

"No--_I_ noticed that!--awfully jolly!"--said a good-natured looking
man who had been walking beside Julian Adderley,--a certain Lord
Charlemont whose one joy in life was motoring--"Awfully game! Ought
to make him quite famous!"

"It ought,--it ought indeed!" agreed Adderley--"I do not suppose
there is another clergyman in England who obliterates the plate from
the worship of the Almighty! It is so remote--so very remote!"

"I think he's a funny sort of parson altogether,"--said Cicely
meditatively--"He doesn't beg, borrow or steal,--he isn't a toady,
he isn't a hypocrite, and he speaks his mind. Queer, isn't it?"

"Very!" laughed Lord Charlemont--"I don't know another like him,
give you my word!"

"Well, he can't preach,"--said Lady Beaulyon, decisively--"I never
heard quite such a stupid sermon."

All the members of the house-party glanced at one another to see if
this verdict were generally endorsed. Apparently some differed in
opinion.

"Didn't you like it, Eva?" asked Maryllia.

"My dear child! Who COULD like it! Such transcendental stuff! And
all that nonsense about the Soul! In these scientific days too!"

"Ah science, science!" sighed Mr. Bludlip Courtenay, dropping his
monocle with a sharp click against his top waistcoat button--"Where
will it end?"

Nobody volunteered a reply to this profound proposition.

"'Souls' are noted for something else than being saved for heaven
nowadays, aren't they, Lady Beaulyon?" queried Lord Charlemont, with
a knowing smile.

Lady Beaulyon's small, rather hard mouth tightened into a thin line.

"I really don't know!"--she said carelessly--"If you mean the social
'Souls,' they are rather unconventional certainly, and not always
discreet. But they are generally interesting--much more so, I should
think, than such 'Souls' as the parson preached about just now."

"Indeed, yes!" agreed Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay--"I can imagine nothing
more tiresome than to be a Soul without a Body, climbing from height
to height of a heaven where there is no night, no sleep, no rest for
ever and ever. Simply dreadful! But there!--one only goes to church
for form's sake--just as an example to one's servants--and when it's
done, don't you think it's best to forget it as soon as possible?"

She raised her baby eyes appealingly as she put the question.

Everybody laughed, or rather sniggered. Real honest laughter is not
considered 'good form' by certain sections of society. A gentle
imitation of the nanny-goat's bleat is the most seemly way for
cultured persons to give vent to the expression of mirth. Maryllia
alone was grave and preoccupied. The conversation of her guests
annoyed her, though in London she had been quite well accustomed to
hear people talk lightly and callously of religion and all religious
subjects. Yet here, in the quiet country, things were different,
somehow. God seemed nearer,--it was more difficult to blaspheme and
ignore Him. And there was a greater sense of regret and humiliation
in one's self for one's own lack of faith. Though, at the same time,
it has to be reluctantly conceded that in no quarter of the world is
religious hypocrisy and sham so openly manifested as in the English
provinces, and especially in the small towns, where, notwithstanding
the fact that all the Sundays are passed in persistent church and
chapel going, the result of this strenuous sham piety is seen in the
most unchristian back-biting and mischief-making on every week-day.

But St. Rest was not a town. It was a tiny village apart,--utterly
free from the petty pretensions of its nearest neighbour,
Riversford, which considered itself almost 'metropolitan' on account
of its modern red-brick and stucco villas into which its trades-
people 'retired' as soon as they had made enough money to be able to
pretend that they had never stood behind a counter in their lives.
St. Rest, on the contrary, was simple in its tastes,--so simple as
to be almost primitive, particularly in its religious sentiments,
which the ministry of John Walden had, so far, kept faithful and
pure. Its atmosphere was therefore utterly at variance with the
cheap atheism of the modern world, and it was this discordancy which
struck so sharply on Maryllia's emotional nature and gave her such a
sense of unaccustomed pain.

At the Manor there were a few other visitors who had not attended
church,--none of them important, except to themselves and the
society paragraphist,--none of them distinguished as ever having
done anything particularly good, or useful in the world,--and none
of them possessing any very unconventional characteristics, with the
exception of two very quaint old ladies, who were known somewhat
irreverently among their acquaintances as the 'Sisters Gemini.' They
were of good birth and connection, but, being cast adrift as wrecks
on the shores of Time,--the one as a widow, the other as a
spinster,--had sworn eternal friendship on the altar of their
several disillusioned and immolated affections. In the present day
we are not overtroubled by any scruples of reverence for either old
widowhood or old spinsterhood; and the 'Sisters Gemini' had become a
standing joke with the self-styled 'wise and witty' of London
restaurants and late suppers. Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby were
their actual names, and they were happily unconscious of the
unfeeling sobriquet bestowed upon them when they were out of
hearing. Lady Wicketts had once been a reigning 'beauty,' and she
lived on the reputation of that glorious past. Miss Fosby aided and
abetted her in this harmless self-deception. Lady Wicketts had been
painted by all the famous artists of her era, from the time of her
seventeeth birthday to her thirtieth. She had been represented as a
'Shepherdess,' a 'Madonna,' a 'Girl with Lilies,' a 'Lady with a
Greyhound,' a 'Nymph Sleeping,' and more briefly and to the
purpose, as 'Portrait of Lady Wicketts,' in every exhibition of
pictures that had been held during her youth and prime. Miss Fosby
carried prints and photographs of these works of art everywhere
about with her. She would surprise people by casually taking one of
them out of her album and saying softly "Isn't that beautiful?"

And then, if the beholders fell into the trap and uttered
exclamations of rapture at the 'Shepherdess' or the 'Madonna,' or
whatever allegorical subject it happened to be, she would smile
triumphantly and say-'Lady Wicketts!'--to all appearance enjoying
the violent shock of incredulous amazement which her announcement
invariably inflicted on all those who received it.

"Not possible!" they would murmur--"Lady Wicketts---!"

"Yes,--Lady Wicketts when she was young,"--Miss Fosby would say
mildly--"She was very beautiful when she was twenty. She is sixty-
seven now. But she is still beautiful,--don't you think so? She has
such an angelic expression! And she is so good--ah!--so very goodl
There is no one like Lady Wicketts!"

All this was very sweet and touching on the part of Miss Fosby, so
far as Miss Fosby alone was concerned. To her there was but one
woman in the world, and that was Lady Wicketts. But the majority of
people saw Lady Wicketts in quite another light. They knew she had
been, in her time, as unprincipled as beautiful, and that she had
'gone the pace' more openly than most of her class. They beheld her
now without spectacles,--an enormously fat woman, with a large round
flaccid face, scarred all over by Time's ploughshare with such deep
furrows that one might have sown seed in them and expected it to
grow.

But Miss Fosby still recognised the 'Shepherdess,' the 'Madonna' and
the 'Girl with Lilies,' in the decaying composition of her friend,
and Miss Fosby was something of a bore in consequence, though the
constancy of her devotion to a totally unworthy object was quaintly
pathetic in its way. The poor soul herself was nearer seventy than
sixty, and she was quite as lean as her idol was fat,--she had never
been loved by anyone in all her life, but,--in her palmy days,--she
had loved. And the necessity of loving had apparently remained a
part of her nature, otherwise it would have been a sheer
impossibility for her to have selected so strange a fetish as Lady
Wicketts for her adoration. Lady Wicketts did not, in any marked
way, respond to Miss Fosby's tenderness,--she merely allowed herself
to be worshipped, just as in her youth she had allowed scores of
young bloods to kiss her hand and murmur soft nothings in her then
'shell-like' ear. The young bloods were gone, but Miss Fosby
remained. Better the worship of Miss Fosby than no worship at all.
Maryllia had met these two old ladies frequently at various
Continental resorts, when she had travelled about with her aunt,--
and she had found something amusing and interesting in them both,
especially in Miss Fosby, who was really a good creature,--and when
in consultation with Cicely as to who, among the various people she
knew, should be asked down to the Manor and who should not, she had
selected them as a set-off to the younger, more flippant and casual
of her list, and also because they were likely to be convenient
personages to play chaperones if necessary.

For the rest, the people were of the usual type one has got
accustomed to in what is termed 'smart' society nowadays,--listless,
lazy, more or less hypocritical and malicious,--apathetic and
indifferent to most things and most persons, save and except those
with whom unsavoury intrigues might or would be possible,--sneering
and salacious in conversation, bitter and carping of criticism,
generally blase, and suffering from the incurable ennui of utter
selfishness,--the men concentrating their thoughts chiefly on
racing, gaining, and Other Men's Wives,--the women dividing all
their stock of emotions between Bridge, Dress, and Other Women's
Husbands. And when Julian Adderley, as an author in embryo, found
himself seated at luncheon with this particular set of persons, all
of whom were more or less well known in the small orbit wherein they
moved, he felt considerably enlivened and exhilarated. Life was
worth living, he said to himself, when one might study at leisure
the little tell-tale lines of vice and animalism on the exquisite
features of Lady Beaulyon, and at the same time note admiringly how
completely the united forces of massage and self-complacency had
eradicated every wrinkle from the expressionless countenance of Mrs.
Bludlip Courtenay. These two women were, in a way, notorious as
'leaders' of their own special coteries of social scandalmongers and
political brokers; Lady Beaulyon was known best among Jew
financiers; Mrs. Courtenay among American 'Kings' of oil and steel.
Each was in her own line a 'power,'--each could coax large advances
of money out of the pockets of millionaires to further certain
'schemes' which were vaguely talked about, but which never came to
fruition,--each had a little bevy of young journalists in
attendance,--press boys whom they petted and flattered, and
persuaded to write paragraphs concerning their wit, wisdom and
beauty, and how they 'looked radiant in pink' or 'dazzling in pea
green.' Contemplating first one and then the other of these ladies,
Julian almost resolved to compose a poem about them, entitled 'The
Sirens' and, dividing it into Two Cantos, to dedicate the First
Canto to Lady Beaulyon and the Second to Mrs. Courtenay.

"It would be so new--so fresh!" he mused, with a bland anticipation
of the flutter such a work might possibly cause among society dove-
cots--"And if ALL the truth were told, so much more risque than 'Don
Juan'!"

Glancing up and down, and across the hospitable board, exquisitely
arranged with the loveliest flowers and fruit, and the most
priceless old silver, he noticed that every woman of the party was
painted and powdered except Maryllia, and her young protegee,
Cicely. The dining-room of Abbot's Manor was not a light apartment,-
-its oak-panelled walls and raftered ceiling created shadow rather
than luminance,--and though the windows were large and lofty, rising
from the floor to the cornice, their topmost panes were of very old
stained glass, so that the brightest sunshine only filtered, as it
were, through the deeply-encrusted hues of rose and amber and
amethyst squares, painted with the arms of the Vancourts, and
heraldic emblems of bygone days. Grateful and beautiful indeed was
this mysteriously softened light to the ladies round the table,--and
for a brief space they almost LOVED Maryllia. For HER face was
flushed, and quite uncooled by powder--'like a dairymaid's--she will
get so coarse if she lives in the country always!' Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay confided softly to Lord Charlemont, who vaguely murmured--
'Ah! Yes! I daresay!' quite without any idea of what the woman was
talking about. Maryllia's pretty hair too was ruffled, she having
merely taken off her hat in the hall on her return from church,
without troubling to go up to her room and 'touch up' her appearance
as all the other ladies who had suffered from walking exercise had
done,--and her eyes looked just a trifle tired. Adderley found her
charming with this shade of fatigue and listlessness upon her,--more
charming than in her most radiant phases of vivacity. Her peach-like
skin, warmed as it was by the sun, was tinted with Nature's own
exquisite colouring, and compared most favourably with the cosmetic
art so freely displayed by her female friends on either side of her.
Julian began to con verses in his head, and he recalled the lines of
seventeeth-century Eichard Crashaw:--

    "A Face that's best
     By its own beauty drest,
     And can alone command the rest."

And he caught himself wondering why,--whenever he came near the Lady
of the Manor,--he was anxious to seem less artificial, less
affected, and more of a man than his particular 'Omar Kayyam' set
had taught him to be. The same praiseworthy desire moved him in the
company of John Walden, therefore sex could have nothing to do with
it. Was it 'Soul'?--that 'breath of God' which had been spoken of in
the pulpit that morning?

He could not, however, dwell upon this rather serious proposition at
luncheon, his thoughts being distracted by the conversation, if
conversation it could be called, that was buzzing on either side of
the table, amidst the clattering of plates and the popping of
champagne corks. It was neither brilliant, witty nor impersonal,--
brilliant, witty and impersonal talk is never generated in modem
society nowadays. "I would much rather listen to the conversation of
lunatics in the common room of an asylum, than to the inane gabble
of modern society in a modern drawing-room"--said a late
distinguished politician to the present writer--"For the lunatics
always have the glimmering of an idea somewhere in their troubled
brains, but modern society has neither brains nor ideas."
Fragmentary sentences, often slangy, and occasionally ungrammatical,
seemed most in favour with the Manor 'house-party,'--and for a time
splinters of language flew about like the chips from dry timber
under a woodman's axe, without shape, or use, or meaning. It was a
mere confused and senseless jabber--a jabber in which Maryllia took
no part. She sat very quietly looking from one face to the other at
table with a critical interest. These were the people she had met
every day more or less in London,--some of them had visited her aunt
constantly, and had invited her out to dinners and luncheons, 'at
homes,' balls and race parties, and all were considered to be 'very
select' in every form that is commended by an up-to-date
civilisation. Down here, in the stately old-world surroundings of
Abbot's Manor, they looked very strange to her,--nay, even more than
strange. Clowns, columbines and harlequins with all their 'make-up'
on, could not have seemed more out of place than these socially
popular persons in the historic house of her ancestors. Lady
Beaulyon was perhaps the most remarkable 'revelation' of the whole
company. Maryllia had always admired Eva Beaulyon with quite an
extravagant admiration, on account of her physical charm and grace,-
-and had also liked her sufficiently well to entirely discredit the
stories that were rife about the number of her unlawful amours. That
she was an open flirt could not be denied,--but that she ever
carried a flirtation beyond bounds, Maryllia would never have
believed. Now, however, a new light seemed thrown upon her--there
was a touch of something base in her beauty--a flash of cruelty in
her smile--a hardness in her eyes. Maryllia looked at her wistfully
now and then, and was half sorry she had invited her, the
disillusion was so complete.

The luncheon went on, and was soon over, and coffee and cigarettes
were served. All the women smoked with the exception of Maryllia,
Cicely and old Miss Fosby. The rings of pale blue vapour circled
before Maryllia's eyes in a dim cloud,--she had seen the same kind
of mixed smoking going on before, scores of times, and yet now--why
was it that she felt vaguely annoyed by a sense of discrepancy and
vulgarity She could not tell. Cicely watched her lovingly,--and
every now and again Julian Adderley, waving away the smoke of his
own cigar with one hand, studied her face and tried to fathom its
expression. She spoke but little, and that chiefly to Lord
Charlemont who was on her left-hand side.

"And how long are you going to stay in this jolly old place, Miss
Vancourt?" he asked.

"All my life, I hope,"--she said with a little smile--"It is my own
home, you know."

"Oh yes!--I know!--but--" he hesitated for a moment; "But your aunt-
--"

"Aunt Emily and I don't quite agree,"--said Maryllia, quietly--"She
has been very kind to me in the past,--but since Uncle Fred's death,
things have not been just as pleasant. You see, I speak frankly.
Besides I'm getting on towards thirty,--it's time I lived my own
life, and tried to do something useful."

Charlemont laughed.

"You look more like eighteen than thirty,"--he said--"Why give
yourself away?"

"Is that giving myself away?" and she raised her eyebrows
quizzically--"I'm not thirty yet--I'm twenty-seven,--but that's old
enough to begin to take things seriously. I've made up my mind to
live here at Abbot's Manor and do all I can for the tenantry and the
village generally--I'm sure I shall be perfectly happy."  "How about
getting married?" he queried.

Her blue eyes darkened with a shade of offence.

"The old story!" she said--"Men always think a woman must be married
to be happy. It doesn't at all follow. I know heaps and heaps of
married women, and they are in anything but an enviable state. I
would not change with one of them!"

"Would you like to be another Miss Fosby?" he suggested in a
mirthful undertone.

She smiled.

"Well--no! But I would rather be Miss Fosby than Lady Wicketts!"

Here she rose, giving the signal for general adjournment to the
drawing-room. The windows of this apartment were set open, and a
charming garden vista of lawn and terraee and rose-walk opened out
before the eyes.

"Now for Bridge!" said Lady Beaulyon--"I'm simply dying for a game!"

"So am I!" declared Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay--"Lord Charlemont, you'll
play?"

"Charmed, I'm sure!" was the ready response. "Where shall we put the
card tables? Near the window? Such an enjoyable prospect!"

"We'll have two tables, or even three,"--said Lady Beaulyon; "I
suppose most of us will play?"

"Oh yes!" "Why of course!" "I should think so!" "Just what we're all
longing for!" Such were the expressions of general delight and
acceptance chorussed by the whole party.

"You'll join, Lady Wicketts?"

"With pleasure!" and Lady Wicketts' sunken old eyes gleamed with an
anxious light over the furrows of flesh which encircled them, as she
promptly deserted Miss Fosby, who had been sitting next to her, for
the purpose of livelier entertainment;--and in a moment there was a
general gathering together in the wide embrasure of the window nook,
and an animated discussion as to who should play Bridge and who
should not. Maryllia watched the group silently. There were varying
shades of expression on her mobile features. She held Cicely's hand
in her own,--and was listening to some of Adderley's observations on
quite ordinary topics, when suddenly, with, an impulsive movement,
she let Cicely go, and with an 'Excuse me!' to Julian, went towards
her guests. She had made a resolve;--it would be an attempt to swim
against the social current, and it was fraught with difficulty and
unpleasantness,--yet she was determined to do it. "If I am a coward
now," she thought--"I shall never be brave!" Her heart beat
uncomfortably, and she could feel the blood throbbing nervously in
her veins, as she bent her mind to the attitude she was about to
take up, regardless of mockery or censure. Scraps of the window
conversation fell on her ears--"I won forty pounds last Wednesday,--
it just paid my boot-bill!" said one young woman, laughing
carelessly.

"Luckier than me!" retorted a man next to her--"I had to pay a
girl's losses to the tune of a hundred. It's all right though!" And
he grinned suggestively.

"Is she pretty?"

"Ripping!"

"I want to make up five hundred pounds this week," observed Mrs.
Bludlip Courtenay, in the most serious and matter-of-fact way--"I've
won it all but a hundred and fifty."

"Good for you!"

"Rather!" said Lord Charlemont, nodding approval--"I'd like to get
you for a partner!"

"I AM considered lucky,"--smiled Mrs. Courtenay, with an air of
virtuous pride--"I always win SOMETHING!"

"Well, let's begin at once,--we'll play all the afternoon." said
Lady Beaulyon.

"Where are the tables?" "AND the cards?"

"Ask Maryllia---"

But at that moment Maryllia stepped gently into their midst, her
eyes shining, her face very pale.

"Not on Sunday, please!" she said.

A stillness fell upon them all. They gazed upon each other in sheer
stupefaction. Lady Beaulyon smiled disdainfully.

"Not on Sunday? What are you talking about, Maryllia? Not WHAT on
Sunday?"

"Not Bridge,"--replied Maryllia, in her clear soft voice--"I do not
allow it."

Fresh glances of wonderment were exchanged. The men hummed and hawed
and turned themselves about on their heels--the women simply stared.
Lady Beaulyon burst out laughing.

"Ridiculous!" she exclaimed,--then flushed, and bit her lip, knowing
that such an ejaculation was scarcely civil to her hostess. But
Maryllia took no offence.

"Pray do not think me discourteous,"--she said, very sweetly. "I
would not interfere with your pleasure in any way if I could
possibly help it. But in this instance I really must do so."

"Oh certainly, Miss Vancourt!" "We would not think of playing if you
do not wish it!" These, and similar expressions came from Lord
Charlemont, and one or two others.

"My dear Maryllia," said Mrs. Courtenay, reproachfully--"You are
really VERY odd! I have myself seen you playing Bridge, Sunday after
Sunday at your aunt's house in London. Why should you now suddenly
object to your friends doing what you have so often done yourself?"

Maryllia flushed a pretty rose-red.

"In my aunt's house I had to do as my aunt wished, Mrs. Courtenay,"
she said--"In my own house I do as _I_ wish!"

Here her face relaxed into a bright smile, as she raised her candid
blue eyes to the men standing about her--"I'm sure you won't mind
amusing yourselves with something else than cards, just for one day,
will you? Come into the garden,--it's such a perfect afternoon! The
rose-walk just opposite leads down to the bank of the river,--would
some of you like to go on the water? There are two boats ready there
if you would. And do forgive me for stopping your intended game!--
you can play Bridge every day in the week if you like, but spare the
Sunday!"

There was a brief awkward pause. Then Eva Beaulyon turned her back
indifferently on the whole party and stepped out on the lawn. She
was followed by Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, and both ladies gave vent to
small smothered bleats of mocking laughter as they sauntered across
the grass side by side. But Maryllia did not care. She had carried
her point, and was satisfied. The Sunday's observance in Abbot's
Manor, always rigorously insisted upon by her father, would not be
desecrated by card-playing and gambling under his daughter's sway.
That was enough for her. A serene content dwelt in her eyes as she
watched her guests disperse and scatter themselves in sections of
twos and threes all over the garden and grounds--and she said the
pleasantest and kindest things when any of them passed her on their
way, telling them just where to find the prettiest nooks, and where
to pick the choicest fruit and flowers. Lord Charlemont watched her
with a sense of admiration for her 'pluck.'

"By Jove!" he thought--"I'd rather have fronted the guns in a
pitched battle than have forbidden my own guests to play Bridge on
Sunday! Wants nerve,--upon my soul it does!--and the little woman's
got it--you bet she has!" Aloud he said--

"I'm awfully glad to be let off Bridge, Miss Vancourt! A day's
respite is a positive boon!"

"Do you play it so often, then?" she asked gently. He flushed
slightly.

"Too often, I'm afraid! But how can I help it? One must do something
to kill time!"

"Poor Time!" said Maryllia, with a smile--"Why should he be killed?
I would rather make much of him while I have him!"

Charlemont did not answer. He lit a cigar and strolled away by
himself to meditate.

Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay just then re-entered the drawing-room from
the garden, fanning herself vigorously with her handkerchief.

"It is so frightfully warm!" she complained--"Such a burning sun! So
bad for the skin! They are picking strawberries and eating them off
the plants--very nice, I daresay--but quite messy. Eva Beaulyon and
two of the men have taken a boat and gone on the water. If you don't
mind, Maryllia, I shall rest and massage till dinner."

"Pray do so!" returned Maryllia, kindly, smiling, despite herself;
Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay's life was well-nigh, spent in 'massage' and
various other processes for effacing the prints of Time from her
carefully guarded epidermis--"But I was just going to ask Cicely to
play us something. Won't you wait five minutes and hear her?"

Mrs. Courtenay sighed and sank into a chair. Nothing bored her so
utterly as music,--but as it was only for 'five minutes,' she
resigned herself to destiny. And Cicely, at a sign from Maryllia,
went to the piano and played divinely,--wild snatches of Polish and
Hungarian folk-songs, nocturnes and romances, making the instrument
speak a thousand things of love and laughter, of sorrow and death,--
till the glorious rush of melody captivated some of the wanderers in
the garden and brought them near the open window to listen. When she
ceased, there was a little outbreak of applause, and Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay rose languidly.

"Yes, very nice!" she said--"Very nice indeed! But you know,
Maryllia, if you would only get one of those wonderful box things
one sees advertised so much in the papers, the pianista or mutuscope
or gramophone--no, I THINK it's pianola, but I'm not quite sure--you
would save such a lot of study and brain-work for this poor child!
And it sounds quite as well! I'm sure she could manage a gramophone
thing--I mean pianista--pianola--quite nicely for you when you want
any music. Couldn't you, my dear?"

And she gazed at Cicely with a bland kindliness as she put the
question. Cicely's eyes sparkled with fun and satire.

"I'm sure I could!" she declared, with the utmost seriousness--"It
would be delightful! Just like organ-grinding, only much more so! I
should enjoy it of all things! Of course one ought NEVER to use the
brain in music!"

"Not nowadays,"--said Mrs. Courtenay, with conviction--"Things have
improved so much. Mechanism does everything so well. And it is SUCH
a pity to use up one's vital energy in doing what one of those box-
things can do better. And do you too play music?"

And she addressed herself to Adderley who happened to be standing
near her. He made one of his fantastic salutes.

"Not I, madam! I am merely a writer,--one who makes rhymes and
verses---"

Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay waved him away with a hand on which at least
five diamond rings sparkled gorgeously.

"Oh dear! Don't come near me!" she said, with a little affected
laugh--"I simply HATE poetry! I'm so sorry you write it! I can't
think why you do. Do you like it?--or are you doing it for somebody
because you must?"

Julian smiled, and ran his fingers through his hair, sticking it up
rather on end, much to Mrs. Courtenay's abhorrence.

"I like it more than anything else in the world!" he said. "I'm
doing it quite for myself, and for nobody else."

"Really!"--and Mrs. Courtenay gave him a glance of displeased
surprise--"How dreadful!" Here she turned to Maryllia. "Au revoir,
my dear, for the present! As you won't allow any Bridge, I'm going
to sleep. Then I shall do massage for an hour. May I have tea in my
own room?"

"Certainly!" said Maryllia.

"Thanks!" She glided out, with a frou-frou of her silken skirts and
a trail of perfume floating after her.

The three she left behind her exchanged amused glances.

"Wonderful woman!" said Adderley,--"And, no doubt, a perfectly happy
one!"

"Why of course! I don't suppose she has ever shed a tear, lest it
should make a wrinkle!" And Cicely, as she made these remarks,
patted her own thin, sallow cheeks consolingly. "Look at my poor
face and hers! Mine is all lined and puckered with tears and sad
thoughts--SHE hasn't a wrinkle! And I'm fourteen, and she's forty!
Oh dear! Why did I cry so much over all the sorrow and beauty of
life when I was young!"

"Ah--and why didn't you have a pianista-pianola!" said Adderley.
They all laughed,--and then at Maryllia's suggestion, joined the
rest of the guests in the garden.

That same evening when Maryllia was dressing for dinner, there came
a tap at her bedroom door, and in response to her 'Come in!' Eva
Beaulyon entered.

"May I speak to you alone for a minute?" she said.

Maryllia assented, giving a sign to her maid to leave the room.

"Well, what is it, Eva?" said Maryllia, when the girl had gone--
"Anything wrong?"

Eva Beaulyon sank into a chair somewhat wearily, and her beautiful
violet eyes, despite artistic 'touching up' looked hard and tired.

"Not so far as I am concerned,"--she said, with a little mirthless
laugh--"Only I think you behaved very oddly this afternoon. Do you
really mean that you object to Bridge on Sundays, or was it only a
put on?"

"It was a put off!" responded Maryllia, gaily--"It stopped the
intended game! Seriously, Eva, I meant it and I do mean it. There's
too much Bridge everywhere--and I don't think it necessary,--I don't
think it even decent--to keep it going on Sundays."

"I suppose the parson of your parish has told you that!" said Lady
Beaulyon, suddenly.

Maryllia's eyes met hers with a smile.

"The parson of the parish has not presumed to dictate to me on my
actions,"--she said--"I should deeply resent it if he did."

"Well, he had no eyes for anyone but you in the church this morning.
A mole could have seen that in the dark. He was preaching AT us and
FOR you all the while!"

A slight flush swept over Maryllia's cheeks,--then she laughed.

"My dear Eva! I never thought you were imaginative! The parson has
nothing whatever to do with me,--why, this is the first Sunday I
have ever been to his church,--you know I never go to church."

Lady Beaulyon looked at her narrowly, unconvinced.

"What have you left your aunt for?" she asked.

"Simply because she wants me to marry Roxmouth, and I won't!" said
Maryllia, emphatically.

"Why not?"

"First, because I don't love him,--second, because he has slandered
me by telling people that I am running after his title, to excuse
himself for running after Aunt Emily's millions; and lastly, but by
no means leastly, because he is--unclean."

"All men are;" said Eva Beaulyon, drily--"It's no use objecting to
that!"

Maryllia made no remark. She was standing before her dressing-table,
singing softly to herself, while she dexterously fastened a tiny
diamond arrow in her hair.

"I suppose you're going to try and 'live good' down here!"--went on
Lady Beaulyon, after a pause--"It's a mistake,--no one born of human
flesh and blood can do it. You can't 'live good' and enjoy
yourself!"

"No?" said Maryllia, tentatively.

"No, certainly not! For if you never do anything out of the humdrum
line, and never compromise yourself in any way, Society will be so
furious with your superiority to itself that it will invent a
thousand calumnies and hang them all on your name. And you will
never know how they arise, and never be able to disprove them."

"Does it matter?"--and Maryllia smiled--"If one's conscience is
clear, need one care what people say?"

"Conscience!" exclaimed Lady Beaulyon--"What an old-fashioned
expression! Surely it's better to do something people can lay hold
of and talk about, than have them invent something you have never
done! They will give you no credit for virtue or honesty in this
world, Maryllia, unless you grow ugly and deformed. Then perhaps
they will admit you may be good, and they will add--'She has no
temptation to be otherwise.'"

"I do not like your code of morality, Eva," said Maryllia, quietly.

"Perhaps not, but it's the only one that works in OUR day!" replied
Eva, with some heat, "Surely you know that?"

"I try to forget it as much as possible,"--and Maryllia's eyes were
full of a sweet wistfulness as she spoke--"Especially here--in my
father's home!"

"Oh well!" said Lady Beaulyon, with a touch of impatience--"You are
a strange girl--you always were! You can 'live good,' or try to, if
you like; and stay down here all alone with the doldrums and the
humdrums. But you'll be sick of it in six months. I'm sure you will!
Not a man will come near you,--they hate virtuous women nowadays,--
and scarce a woman will come either, save old and ugly ones! You
will kill yourself socially altogether by the effort. Life's too
short to lose all the fun out of it for the sake of an ideal or a
theory!"

Here the gong sounded for dinner. Maryllia turned away from her
dressing-table, and confronted her friend. Her face was grave and
earnest in its expression, and her eyes were very steadfast and
clear.

"I don't want what you call 'fun,' Eva,"--she said--"I want love!
Love seems to me the only good thing in life. Do you understand? You
ask me why I left my aunt--it was to escape a loveless marriage,--a
marriage that would be a positive hell to me for which neither
wealth nor position could atone. As for 'living good,' I am not
trying that way. I only want to understand myself, and find out my
own possibilities and limitations. And if I never do win the love I
want,--if no one ever cares for me at all, then I shall be perfectly
content to live and die unmarried."

"What a fate!" laughed Lady Beaulyon, shrugging her white shoulders.

"A better one than the usual divorce court result of some 'society'
marriages,"--said Maryllia, calmly--"Anyhow, I'd rather risk single
blessedness than united 'cussedness'! Let us go down to dinner, Eva!
On all questions pertaining to 'Souls' and modern social ethics, we
must agree to differ!"




XX


For the next fortnight St. Rest was a scene of constant and unwonted
excitement. There was a continual coming and going, to and from
Abbot's Manor,--some of the guests went away to be replaced by
others, and some who had intended to spend only a week-end and then
depart, stayed on, moved by unaccountable fascination, not only for
their hostess, but for the general pleasantness of the house, and
the old-world, tranquil and beautiful surroundings of the whole
neighbourhood. Lord Charlemont and Mr. Bludlip Courtenay had brought
their newest up-to-date motor-cars with them,--terrible objects to
the villagers whenever they dashed, like escaped waggons off an
express train, through the little street, with their horns blowing
violently as though in a fog at sea. Mrs. Frost was ever on the
alert lest any of her smaller children should get in the way of
these huge rubber-tyred vehicles tearing along at reckless speed,--
and old Josey Letherbarrow resolutely refused to go outside his
garden gate except on Sundays.

"Not but what I ain't willin' an' cheerful to die whenever the Lord
A'mighty sends for me;"--he would say--"But I ain't got no fancy for
bein' gashed and jambled."

'Gashed and jambled,' was his own expression,--one that had both
novelty and suggestiveness. Unfortunately, it happened that a small
pet dog belonging to one of the village schoolboys, no other than
Bob Keeley, the admitted sweet-heart of Kitty Spruce, had been run
over by Mr. Bludlip Courtenay, as that gentleman, driving his car
himself, and staring indifferently through his monocle, had 'timed'
his rush through the village to a minute and a half, on a bet with
Lord Charlemont,--and 'gashed and jambled' was the only description
to apply to the innocent little animal as it lay dead in the dust.
Bob Keeley cried for days,--cried so much, in fact, over what he
considered 'a wicked murder' that his mother sent for 'Passon' to
console him. And Walden, with his usual patience, listened to the
lad's sobbing tale:

"Which the little beast wor my friend!" he gasped amid his tears--
"An' he wor Kitty's friend too! Kitty's cryin' 'erself sick, same as
me! I'd 'ad 'im from a pup--Kitty carried 'im in 'er apron when 'e
was a week old,--he loved me--yes 'e did!--an' 'e slept in my weskit
iviry night of 'is life!--an' he 'adn't a fault in 'im, all lovin'
an' true!--an' now 'e's gone--an'--an'-I HATE the quality up at the
Manor--yes I do!--I HATE 'em!--an' if Miss Vancourt 'adn't never
come 'ome, my doggie 'ad been livin' now, an' we'd all a' bin
'appy!"

Walden patted the boy's rough towzled head gently, and thought of
his faithful 'Nebbie.' It would have been mere hypocrisy to preach
resignation to Bob, when he, the Reverend John, knew perfectly well
that if his own canine comrade had been thus cruelly slain, he also
would have 'hated the quality.'

"Look here, Bob," he said at last,--"I know just how you feel! It's
just as bad as bad can be. But try and be a man, won't you? You
can't bring the poor little creature back to life again,--and it's
no use frightening your mother with all this grief for what cannot
be helped. Then there's poor Kitty--SHE 'hates the quality';--her
little heart is sore and full of bad feelings--all for the sake of
you and your dog, Bob! She's giving her mother no end of trouble up
at the Manor, crying and fretting--suppose you go and see her? Talk
it over together, like two good children, and try if you can't
comfort each other. What do you say?"

Bob rose from beside the chair where he had flung himself on his
knees when Walden had entered his mother's cottage,--and rubbed his
knuckles hard into his eyes with a long and dismal sniff.

"I'll try, sir!" he said chokingly, and then suddenly seizing
'Passon's' hand, he kissed it with boyish fervour, caught up his cap
and ran out. Walden stood for a moment inert,--there was an
uncomfortable tightness in his throat.

"Poor lad!" he said to himself,--"He is suffering as much in his way
as older people suffer in theirs,--perhaps even more,--because to
the young, injustice always seems strange--to the old it has become
customary and natural!"

He sighed,--and with a pleasant word or two to Mrs. Keeley, who
waited at her door for him to come out, and who thanked him
profusely for coming to 'hearten up the boy,' he went on his usual
round through the village, uncomfortably conscious that perhaps his
first impressions respecting Miss Vancourt's home-coming were
correct,--and that it might have been better for the peace and
happiness of all the simple inhabitants of St. Rest, if she had
never come.

Certainly there was no denying that a change had crept over the
little sequestered place,--a change scarcely perceptible, but
nevertheless existent. A vague restlessness pervaded the
atmosphere,--each inhabitant of each cottage was always on the look-
out for a passing glimpse of one of the Abbot's Manor guests, or one
of the Abbot's Manor servants,--it did not matter which, so long as
something or somebody from the Manor came along. Sir Morton Pippitt
had, of course, not failed to take full advantage of any slight
surface or social knowledge he possessed of Miss Vancourt's guests,-
-and had, with his usual bluff pomposity, invited them all over to
Badsworth Hall. Some of them accepted his invitation,--others
declined it. Lord Charlemont and Mr. Bludlip Courtenay discovered
him to be a 'game old boy'--while Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby found
something congenial in the society of Miss Tabitha Pippitt, who,
cherishing as she did, an antique-virgin passion for the Reverend
John Walden, whom her father detested, had come to regard herself as
a sort of silent martyr to the rough usages of this world, and was
therefore not unwilling to listen to the long stories of life's
disillusions which Lady Wicketts unravelled for her benefit, and
which Miss Fosby, with occasional references to the photographs and
prints of the 'Madonna' or the 'Girl with Lilies' tearfully
confirmed. So the motor-cars continually flashed between Abbot's
Manor and Badsworth Hall, and Lady Beaulyon apparently found so much
to amuse her that she stayed on longer than she had at first
intended. So did Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay. They had their reasons for
prolonging their visit,--reasons more cogent than love of fresh air,
or admiration of pastoral scenery. Both of them kept up an active
correspondence with Maryllia's aunt, Mrs. Fred Vancourt, a lady who
was their 'very dear' friend, owing to her general usefulness in the
matter of money. And Mrs. Fred having a fixed plan in her mind
concerning the welfare and good establishment of her niece, they
were not unwilling to assist her in the furtherance of her views,
knowing that whatever trouble they took would be substantially
rewarded 'under the rose.'

So they remained, on one excuse or the other,--while other guests
came or went, and took long walks and motor-rides in the
neighbourhood and amused themselves pretty much in their own way,
Maryllia rightly considering that to be the truest form of
hospitality. She herself, however, was living a somewhat restrained
life among them,--and she began to realise more than ever the
difference between 'friends' and 'acquaintances,' and the hopeless
ennui engendered by the proximity of the latter, without the
sympathy of the former. She was learning the lesson that cannot be
too soon mastered by everyone who seeks for pure happiness in this
world--'The Kingdom of God is within you.' In herself she was not
content,--yet she knew no way in which to make herself contented. "I
want something"--she said to herself--"Yet I do not know what I
want." Her pleasantest time during the inroad of her society
friends, was when, after her daily housekeeping consultations with
Mrs. Spruce, she could go and have a chat with Cicely in that young
person's small study, which was set apart for her, next to her
bedroom nearly at the top of the house, and which commanded a wide
view of the Manor park-lands, and the village of St. Rest, with the
silvery river winding through it, and the spire of the church rising
from the surrounding foliage like a finger pointing to heaven. And
she also found relief from the strain of constant entertaining by
rising early in the mornings and riding on her favourite 'Cleopatra'
all over her property, calling on her new agent, Frank Stanways, and
his wife, and chatting with the various persons in her employ. She
did not however go much into the village, and on this point one
morning her agent ventured to observe--

"Old Mr. Letherbarrow has been saying that he has not seen you
lately, Miss Vancourt,--not since your friends came down. He seems
to miss you very much."

Maryllia, swaying lightly in her saddle, stooped over her mare's
neck and patted it, to hide sudden tears that sprang, she knew not
why, to her eyes.

"Poor Josey!" she said--"I'm sorry! Tell him I'll come as soon as
all my visitors are gone--they will not stay long. The dinner-party
next week concludes everything. Then I shall have time to go about
the village as usual."

"That will be delightful!" said Alicia Stanways, a bright little
woman, whose introduction and supervision of a 'model dairy' on the
Abbot's Manor estate was the pride of her life--"It really makes all
the people happy to see you! Little Ipsie Frost was actually crying
for you the other day."

"Was she? Poor little soul! The idea of a child crying for me! It's
quite a novel experience!" And Maryllia laughed--"But I don't think
I'm wanted at all in the village. Mr. Walden does everything."

"So he does!"--agreed Stanways--"He's a true 'minister' if there
ever was one. Still, he has not been quite so much about lately."

"No?" queried Maryllia--"I expect he's very busy!"

"I think he has only one wish in the world!" said Mrs. Stanways,
smiling.

"What is that?" asked Maryllia, still stroking 'Cleopatra's' glossy
neck thoughtfully.

"To fill the big rose-window in the church with stained glass,--real
'old' stained glass! He's always having some bits sent to him, and I
believe he passes whole hours piecing it together. It's his great
hobby. He won't have a morsel that is not properly authenticated.
He's dreadfully particular,--but then all old bachelors are!"

Maryllia smiled, and bidding them good-morning cantered off. She was
curiously touched at the notion of old Josey Letherbarrow missing
her, and 'Baby Hippolyta' crying for her.

"Not one of my society friends would miss me!"--she said to herself-
-"And certainly I know nobody who would cry for me!" She checked her
thoughts--"Except Cicely. SHE would miss me,--SHE would cry for me!
But, in plain matter-of-fact terms, there is no one else who cares
for me. Only Cicely!"

She looked up as she rode, and saw that she was passing the 'Five
Sisters,' now in all the glorious panoply of opulent summer leafage.
Moved by a sudden impulse, she galloped up the knoll, and drew rein
exactly at the spot where she had given Oliver Leach his dismissal,
and where she had first met John Walden. The wind rustled softly
through the boughs, which bent and swayed before her, as though the
grand old trees said: 'Thanks to you, we live!' Birds flew from twig
to twig,--and the persistent murmur of many bees working amid the
wild thyme which spread itself in perfumed purple patches among the
moss and grass, sounded like the far-off hum of a human crowd.

"I did something useful when I saved you, you dear old beeches!" she
said--"But the worst of it is I've done nothing worth doing since!"

She sighed, and her pretty brows puckered into a perplexed line, as
she slowly guided 'Cleopatra' down the knoll again.

"It's all so lonely!" she murmured--"I felt just a little dull
before Eva Beaulyon and the others came,--but it's ever so much
duller with them than without them!"

That afternoon, in compliance with a particularly pressing request
from Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, she accompanied a party of her guests
to Badsworth, driving thither in Lord Charlemont's motor. Sir Morton
Pippitt, red-faced and pompous as usual, met them at the door, in
all the resplendency of new grey summer tweeds and prominent white
waist-coat, his clean-shaven features shining with recent soap, and
his white hair glistening like silver. He was quite in his element,
as he handed out the beautiful Lady Beaulyon from the motor-car, and
expressed his admiration for her looks in no unmeasured terms,--he
felt himself to be almost an actual Badsworth, of Badsworth Hall, as
he patted Lord Charlemont familiarly on the shoulder, and called him
'My dear boy!' As he greeted Maryllia, he smiled at her knowingly.

"I think I have a friend of yours here to-day, my dear lady!" he
said with an expressive chuckle--"Someone who is most anxious to see
you!" And escorting her with obtrusive gallantry into the hall, he
brought her face to face with a tall, elegant, languid-looking man
who bowed profoundly; "I believe you know Lord Roxmouth?"

The blood sprang to her brows,--and for a moment she was so startled
and angry that she could scarcely breathe. A swift glance from under
her long lashes showed her the situation--how Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay
was watching her with ill-concealed amusement, and how all the rest
of the party were expectant of a 'sensation.' She saw it all in a
moment,--she recognised that a trap had been laid for her to fall
into unwarily, and realising the position she rose to it at once.

"How do you do!" she said carelessly, nodding ner head without
giving her hand--"I thought I should meet you this afternoon!"

"Did you really!" murmured Roxmouth--"Some magnetic current of
thought---"

"Yes,--'by the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way
comes!'--THAT sort of sensation, you know!" and she laughed; then
perceiving a man standing in the background whose sleek form and
lineaments she instantly recognised, she added--"And how are you,
Mr. Longford? Did you bring Lord Roxmouth here, or did he bring
you?"

Marius Longford, 'of the Savage and Savile,' was taken by surprise,
and looked a little uncomfortable. He stroked one pussy whisker.

"We came together," he explained in his affected falsetto voice--
"Sir Morton Pippitt was good enough to invite me to bring any
friend,--and so--"

"I see!" and Maryllia lifted her little head with an unconscious
gesture, implying pride, or disdain, or both, as she passed with the
other guests into the Badsworth Hall drawing-room; "The country is
so delightful at this time of year!"

She moved on. Lord Roxmouth stroked down his fair moustache to hide
a smile, and quietly followed her. He was a good-looking man, tall
and well-built, with a rather pale, clean-cut face, and sandy hair
brushed very smooth; form and respectability were expressed in the
very outline of his figure and the fastidious neatness and nicety of
his clothes. Entering the room where Miss Tabitha Pippitt was
solemnly presiding over the tea-tray with a touch-me-not air of
inflexible propriety, he soon made himself the useful and agreeable
centre of a group of ladies, to whom he carried cake, bread-and-
butter and other light refreshments, with punctilious care, looking
as though his life depended upon the exact performance of these
duties. Once or twice he glanced at Maryllia, and decided that she
appeared younger and prettier than when he had seen her in town. She
was chatting with some of the country people, and Lord Roxmouth
waited for several moments in vain for an opportunity to intervene.
Finally, securing a cup of iced coffee, he carried it to her.

"No, thanks!" she said, as he approached.

"Strawberries?" he suggested, appealingly.

"Nothing, thank you!"

Smiling a little, he looked at her.

"I wish you would give me a word, Miss Vancourt! Won't you?"

"A dozen, if you like!"--she replied, indifferently--"How is Aunt
Emily?"

"I am glad you ask after her!"--he said, impressively--"She is
well,--but she misses you very much." He paused, and added in a
lower tone--"So do I!"

She was silent.

"I know you are angry!" he went on softly--"You went away from
London to avoid me, and you are vexed to see me down here. But I
couldn't resist the temptation of coming. Marius Longford told me he
had called upon you with Sir Morton Pippitt at Abbot's Manor,--and I
got him to bring me down on a visit to Badsworth Hall,--only to be
near you! You are looking quite lovely, Maryllia!"

She raised her eyes and fixed them full on him. His own fell.

"I said you were angry, and you are!" he murmured--"But you have the
law in your own hands,--you need not ask me to your house unless you
like!"

The buzz of conversation in the room was now loud and incessant. Sir
Morton Pippitt's 'afternoon teas' were always more or less
bewildering and brain-jarring entertainments, where a great many
people of various 'sets,' in the town of Riversford and the county
generally, came together, without knowing each other, or wishing to
know each other,--where the wife of the leading doctor in
Riversford, for example, glowered scorn and contempt on Mrs.
Mordaunt Appleby, the wife of the brewer in the same town, and where
those of high and unimpeachable 'family,' like Mrs. Mandeville
Poreham, whose mother was a Beedle, stared frigidly and unseeingly
at every one hailing from the same place as creatures beneath her
notice.

For--"Thank God!"--said Mrs. Poreham, with feeling,--"I do not live
in Riversford. I would not live in Riversford if I were paid a
fortune to do so! My poor mother never permitted me to associate
with tradespeople. There are no ladies or gentlemen in Riversford,--
I should be expected to shake hands with my butcher if I resided
there,--but I am proud and glad to say that at present I know nobody
in the place. I never intend to know anybody there!"

Several curious glances were turned upon Miss Vancourt as she stood
near an open window looking out on the Badsworth Hall 'Italian
Garden,'--a relic of Badsworth times,--her fair head turned away
from the titled aristocrat who bent towards her, as it seemed, in an
attitude of humble appeal,--and one or two would-be wise persons
nodded their heads and whispered--"That's the man she's engaged to."
"Oh, really!---and his name---?" "Lord Roxmouth;--will be Duke of
Ormistoune---" "Good gracious! THAT woman a Duchess!" snorted Mrs.
Mordaunt Appleby, as she heard--"The men must be going mad!" Which
latter remark implied that had she not unfortunately married a
brewer, she might easily have secured the Ormistoune ducal coronet
herself.

Unaware of the gossip going on around her, Maryllia stayed where she
was at the window, coldly silent, her eyes fixed on the glowing
flower-beds patterned in front of her,--the gorgeous mass of
petunias, and flame-colored geraniums,--the rich saffron and brown
tints of thick clustered calceolarias,--the purple and crimson of
pendulous fuchsias, whose blossoms tumbled one upon the other in a
riot of splendid colour,--and all at once her thoughts strayed
capriciously to the cool green seclusion of John Walden's garden.
She remembered the spray of white lilac he had given her, and
fancied she could almost inhale again its delicious perfume. But the
lilac flowering-time was over now--and the roses had it all their
own way,--she had given a rose in exchange for the lilac, and--Here
she started almost nervously as Lord Roxmouth's voice again fell on
her ears.

"You are not sparing me any of your attention," he said--"Your mind
is engrossed with something--or somebody--else! Possibly I have a
rival?"

He smiled, but there was a quick hard gleam of suspicion in his cold
grey eyes. Maryllia gave him a look of supreme disdain.

"You are insolent," she said, speaking in very low but emphatic
tones--"You always were! You presume too much on Aunt Emily's
encouragement of your attentions to me, which you know are
unwelcome. You are perfectly aware that I left London to escape a
scheme concocted by you and her to so compromise me in the view of
society, that no choice should be left to me save marriage with you.
Now you have followed me here, and I know why! You have come to try
and find out what I do with myself--to spy upon my actions and
occupations, and take back your report to Aunt Emily. You are
perfectly welcome to enter upon this congenial task! You can visit
me at my own house,--you can play detective all over the place, if
you are happy in that particular role. Every opportunity shall be
given you!"

He bowed. "Thank you!" And stroking his moustache, as was his
constant habit, he smiled again. "You are really very cruel to me,
Maryllia! Why can I never win your confidence--I will not say your
affection? May I not know?"

"You may!"--she answered coldly--"It is because there is nothing in
you to trust and nothing to value. I have told you this so often
that I wonder you want to be told it again! And though I give you
permission to call on me at my own home,--just to save you the
trouble of telling Aunt Emily that her 'eccentric' niece was too
'peculiar' to admit you there,--I reserve to myself the right at any
moment to shut the door against you."

She moved from him then, and seeing the Ittlethwaites of
Ittlethwaite Park, went to speak to them. He stood where she had
left him, surveying the garden in front of him with absolute
complacency. Mr. Marius Longford joined him.

"Well?" said the light of the Savage and Savile tentatively.

"Well! She is the same ungovernable termagant as ever--conceited
little puss! But she always amuses me--that's one consolation!" He
laughed, and taking out his cigar-case, opened it. "Will you have
one?" Longford accepted the favour. "Who is this old fellow,
Pippitt?" he asked--"Any relation of the dead and gone Badsworth?
How does he get Badsworth Hall? Doesn't he grind bones to make his
bread, or something of that kind?"

Longford explained with civil obsequiousness that Sir Morton Pippitt
had certainly once 'ground bones,' but that he had 'retired' from
such active service, while still retaining the largest share in the
bone business. That he had bought Badsworth Hall as it stood,--
pictures, books, furniture and all, for what was to him a mere
trifle; and that he was now assuming to himself by lawful purchase,
the glory of the whole deceased Badsworth family.

Lord Roxmouth shrugged his shoulders in contempt.

"Such will be the fate of Roxmouth Castle!" he said--"Some grinder
of bones or maker of beer will purchase it, and perhaps point out
the picture of the founder of the house as being that of a former
pot-boy!"

"The old order changeth,"--said Longford, with a chill smile--"And I
suppose we should learn to accustom ourselves to it. But you, with
your position and good looks, should be able to prevent any such
possibility as you suggest. Miss Vancourt is not the only woman in
the world."

"By no means,"--and Roxmouth strolled into the garden, Longford
walking beside him--"But she is the only woman I at present know,
who, if she obeys her aunt's wishes, will have a fortune of several
millions. And just because such a little devil SHOULD be mastered
and MUST be mastered, I have resolved to master her. That's all!"

"And, to your mind, sufficient,"--said Longford--"But if it is a
question of the millions chiefly, there is always the aunt herself."

Roxmouth stared--then laughed.

"The aunt!" he ejaculated--"The aunt?"

"Why not?" And Longford stole a furtive look round at the man who
was his chief literary patron--"The aunt is handsome, well-
preserved, not more than forty-five at most--and I should say she is
a woman who could be easily led--through vanity."

"The aunt!" again murmured Roxmouth--"My dear Longford! What an
appalling suggestion! Mrs. Fred as the Duchess of Ormistoune! Forbid
it, Heaven!"

Then suddenly he laughed aloud.

"By Jove! It would be too utterly ridiculous! Whatever made you
think of such a thing?"

"Only the prospect you yourself suggested,"--replied Longford--"That
of seeing a brewer or a bone-melter in possession of Roxmouth
Castle. Surely even Mrs. Fred would be preferable to that!"

With an impatient exclamation Roxmouth suddenly changed the subject;
but Longford was satisfied that he had sown a seed, which might,--
time and circumstances permitting,--sprout and grow into a tangible
weed or flower.

Maryllia meantime had made good her escape from the scene of Sir
Morton Pippitt's 'afternoon-tea' festivity. Gently moving through
the throng with that consummate grace which was her natural
heritage, she consented to be introduced to the 'county' generally,
smiling sweetly upon all, and talking so kindly to the Mandeville
Poreham girls, that she threw them into fluttering ecstasies of
delight, and caused them to declare afterwards to their mother that
Miss Vancourt was the sweetest, dearest, darlingest creature they
had ever met! She stood with patience while Sir Morton Pippitt,
over-excited by the presence of the various 'titled' personages in
his house, guffawed and blustered in her face over the 'little
surprise' he had prepared for her in the unexpected appearance of
Lord Roxmouth; she listened to his "Ha!-ha!-ha! My dear lady! We
know a thing or two! Handsome fellow,--handsome fellow! Think of a
poor old plain Knight when you are a Duchess! Ha! ha! ha! God bless
my soul!"---and without a word in confirmation or denial of his
blatant observations, she managed to slip gradually out of the
drawing-room to the hall and from thence to the carriage drive,
where she found, as she thought she would, Lord Charlemont looking
tenderly into the mechanism of his motor-car, unscrewing this,
peering into that, and generally hanging round the vehicle with a
fatuous lover's enthusiasm.

"Would you mind taking me back to St. Rest now?" she enquired--"I
have an appointment in the village--you can do the journey in no
time."

"Delighted!" And Charlemont got his machine into the proper state of
spluttering, gasping eagerness to depart. "Anyone coming with you?"

"No--nobody knows I am leaving." And Maryllia mounted lightly into
the car. "You can return and fetch the others afterwards. Put me
down at the church, please!"

In a moment more the car flashed down the drive and out of Badsworth
Hall precincts, and was soon panting and pounding along the country
road at most unlawful speed. As a rule Maryllia hated being in a
motor-car, but on this occasion she was glad of the swift rush
through the air; had the vehicle torn madly down a precipice she
would scarcely have cared, so eager was she to get away from the
hateful vicinity of Lord Roxmouth. She was angry too--angry with
Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, whose hand she recognised in the matter as
having so earnestly begged her to go to Badsworth Hall that
afternoon,--she despised Sir Morton Pippitt for lending himself to
the scheme,--and with all her heart she loathed Mr. Marius Longford
whom she at once saw was Roxmouth's paid tool. The furious rate at
which Lord Charlemont drove his car was a positive joy to her--and
as he was much too busy with his steering gear to speak, she gave
herself up to the smouldering indignation that burned in her soul
while she was, so to speak, carried through space as on a panting
whirlwind.

"Why can they not leave me alone!" she thought passionately--"How
dare they follow me to my own home!--my own lands!--and spy upon me
in everything I do! It is a positive persecution and more than
that,--it is a wicked design on Aunt Emily's part to compromise me
with Roxmouth. She wants to set people talking down here in the
country just as she set them talking in town, and to make everyone
think I am engaged to him, or OUGHT to be engaged to him. It is
cruel!--I suppose I shall be driven away from here just as I have
been driven from London,--is there NO way in which I can escape from
this man whom I hate!--NO place in the world where he cannot find me
and follow me!"

The brown hue of thatched roofs through the trees here caused Lord
Charlemont to turn round and address her.

"Just there!" he said, briefly--"Six minutes exactly!"

"Good!" said Maryllia, nodding approvingly--"But go slowly through
the village, won't you? There are so many dear little children
always playing about."

He slackened speed at once, and with a weird toot-tootling of his
horn guided the car on at quite a respectable ambling-donkey pace.

"You said the church?"

"Yes, please!"

Another minute, and she had alighted.

"Thanks so much!" she said, smiling up into his goggle-guarded eyes.
"Will you rush back for the others, please? And--and--may I ask you
a favour?"

"A thousand!" he answered, thinking what a pretty little woman she
was, as he spoke.

"Well--don't--even if they want you to do so,--don't bring Lord
Roxmouth or Mr. Marius Longford back to the Manor. They are Sir
Morton Pippitt's friends and guests--they are not mine!"

A faint flicker of surprise passed over the aristocratic motor-
driver's features, but he made no observation. He merely said:

"All right! I'm game!"

Which brief sentence meant, for Lord Charlemont, that he was loyal
to the death. He was not romantic in the style of expressing
himself,--he would not have understood how to swear fealty on a
drawn sword--but when he said--'I'm game,'-it came to the same
thing. Reversing his car, he sped away, whizzing up the road like a
boomerang, back to Badsworth Hall. Maryllia watched him till he was
out of sight,--then with a sigh of relief, she turned and look
wistfully at the church. Its beautiful architecture had the
appearance of worn ivory in the mellow radiance of the late
afternoon, and the sculptured figures of the Twelve Apostles in
their delicately carved niches, six on either side of the portal,
seemed almost life-like, as the rays of the warm and brilliant
sunshine, tempered by a touch of approaching evening, struck them
aslant as with a luminance from heaven. She lifted the latch of the
churchyard gate,--and walking slowly with bent head between the rows
of little hillocks where, under every soft green quilt of grass lay
someone sleeping, she entered the sacred building. It was quite
empty. There was a scent of myrtle and lilies in the air,--it came
from two clusters of blossoms which were set at either side of the
gold cross on the altar. Stepping softly, and with reverence,
Maryllia went up to the Communion rails, and looked long and
earnestly at the white alabaster sarcophagus which, in its unknown
origin and antiquity, was the one unsolved mystery of St. Rest. A
vague sensation of awe stole upon her,--and she sank involuntarily
on her knees.

"If I could pray now,"--she thought--"What should I pray for?"

And then it seemed that something wild and appealing rose in her
heart and clamoured for an utterance which her tongue refused to
give,--her bosom heaved,--her lips trembled,--and suddenly a rush of
tears blinded her eyes.

"Oh, if I were only LOVED!" she murmured under her breath--"If only
someone could find me worth caring for! I would endure any
suffering, any loss, to win this one priceless gift,--love!"

A little smothered sob broke from her lips.

"Father! Mother!" she whispered, instinctively stretching out her
hands--"I am so lonely!--so very, very lonely!"

Only silence answered her, and the dumb perfume of the altar
flowers. She rose,--and stood a moment trying to control herself,--a
pretty little pitiful figure in her dainty, garden-party frock, a
soft white chiffon hat tied on under her rounded chin with a knot of
pale blue ribbon, and a tiny cobweb of a lace kerchief in her hand
with which she dried her wet eyes.

"Oh dear!" she sighed--"It's no use crying! It only shows what a
weak little idiot I am! I'm lonely, of course,--I can't expect
anything else; I shall always be lonely--Roxmouth and Aunt Emily
will take care of that. The lies they will tell about me will keep
off every man but the one mean and slanderous fortune-hunter, to
whom lies are second nature. And as I won't marry HIM, I shall be
left to myself--I shall be an old maid. Though that doesn't matter--
old maids are often the happiest women. Anyhow, I'd rather be an old
maid than Duchess of Ormistoune."

She dabbed her eyes with the little handkerchief again, and went
slowly out of the church. And as she stepped from the shadow of its
portal into the sunshiny open air, she came face to face with John
Walden. He started back at the sudden sight of her,--then
recollecting himself, raised his hat, looking at her with
questioning eyes.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Walden!" she said, affecting a sprightly air--
"Are you quite well?"

He smiled.

"Quite. And you? You look---"

"As if I had been crying, I suppose?"--she suggested. "So I have.
Women often cry."

"They do,--but---"

"But why should they?--you would say, being a man,"--and Maryllia
forced a laugh.--"And that's a question difficult to answer! Are you
going into the church?"

"Not for a service, or on any urgent matter,"--replied John--"I left
a book in the vestry which I want to refer to,--that's all."

"Fetch it," said Maryllia--"I'll wait for you here."

He glanced at her--and saw that her lips trembled, and that she was
still on the verge of tears. He hurried off at once, realising that
she wanted a minute or two to recover herself. His heart beat
foolishly fast and uncomfortably,--he wondered what had grieved or
annoyed her.

"Poor little soul!" he murmured, reflecting on a conversation with
which Julian Adderley had regaled him the previous day, concerning
some of the guests at Abbot's Manor--"Poor, weary, sweet little
soul!"

While Maryllia, during his brief absence was thinking--"I won't cry,
or he'll take me for a worse fool than I am. He looks so terribly
intellectual--so wise and cool and calm!--and yet I think--I THINK
he was rather pleased to see me!"

She smoothed her face into a smile,--gave one or two more reproving
taps to her eyelids with her morsel of a kerchief, and was quite
self-possessed when he returned, with a worn copy of the Iliad under
his arm.

"Is that the book you wanted?" she asked.

"Yes--" and he showed it to her--"I admit it had no business to be
left in the church."

She peeped between the covers.

"Oh, it's all Greek!"--she said--"Do you read Greek?"

"It is one of the happiest accomplishments I learned at college,"--
he replied. "I have eased many a heartache by reading Homer in the
original."

She looked meditative.

"Now that's very strange!" she murmured--"I should never have
thought that to read Homer in the original Greek would ease a
heartache! How does it do it? Will you teach me?"

She raised her eyes--how beautiful and blue they were he thought!--
more beautiful for the mist of weeping that still lingered about
their soft radiance.

"I will teach you Greek, if you like, with pleasure!"--he said,
smiling a little, though his lips trembled--"But whether it would
cure any heartache of yours I could not promise!"

"Still, if it cures YOUR heartaches?" she persisted.

"Mine are of a different character, I think!"--and the smile in his
eyes deepened, as he looked down at her wistfully upturned face,--"I
am getting old,--you are still young. That makes all the difference.
My aches can be soothed by philosophy,--yours could only be charmed
away by--"

He broke off abruptly. The hot blood rose to his temples, and
retreated again, leaving him very pale.

She looked at him earnestly.

"Well!--by what?"

"I imagine you know, Miss Vancourt! There is only one thing that can
ease the burden of life for a woman, and that is--love!"

She nodded her fair head sagaciously.

"Of course! But that is just what I shall never have,--so it's no
use wanting it. I had better learn to read Greek at once, without
delay! When shall I come for my first lesson?"

She laughed unforcedly now, as she looked up at him. They were
walking side by side out of the churchyard.

"You are much too busy to learn Greek," he said, laughing with her.
"Your London friends claim all your time,--much to the regret of our
little village."

"Ah!--but they won't be with me very long now,"--she rejoined--
"They'll all go after the dinner next week, except Louis Gigue.
Gigue is coming for a day or two and he will perhaps stay on a bit
to give lessons to Cicely. But he's not a society man. Oh, dear no!
Quite the contrary--he's a perfect savage!--and says the most awful
things! Poor old Gigue!"

She laughed again, and looked happier and brighter than she had done
for days.

"You have rather spoilt the villagers," went on Walden, as he opened
the churchyard gate for her to pass out, and closed it again behind
them both. "They've got accustomed to seeing you look in upon them
at all hours,--and, of course, they miss you. Little Ipsie Frost
especially frets after you."

"I'll go and see her very, very soon," said Maryllia, impulsively;
"Dear little thing! When you see her next, tell her I'm coming,
won't you?"

"I will," he rejoined,--then paused, looking at her earnestly. "Your
friends must find St. Rest a very old-fashioned, world-forgotten
sort of place,"--he continued--"And you must, equally, find it
difficult to amuse them?"

"Well, perhaps, just a little," she admitted--"The fact is--but tell
it not in Gath--I was happier without them! They bore me to death!
All the same they really mean to be very nice,--they don't care, of
course, for the things I care about,--trees and flowers and books
and music,--but then I am always such an impossible person!"

"Are you?" His eyes were full of gentleness as he put this question-
-"I should not have thought that!"

She coloured a little--then changed the subject.

"You have seen Lady Beaulyon, haven't you?" He bent his head in the
affirmative--"Isn't she lovely?"

"Not to me," he replied, quietly--"But then I'm no judge."

She looked at him in surprise.

"She is considered the most beautiful woman in England!"

"By whom?", he enquired;--"By the society paragraphists who are paid
for their compliments?"

Maryllia laughed.

"Oh, I don't know anything about that!" she said--"I never met a
paragraphist in my life that I know of. But Eva is beautiful--there
is no denying it. And Margaret Bludlip Courtenay is called the
youngest woman in the world!"

"She looks it!" answered Walden, with great heartiness. "I cannot
imagine Time making any sort of mark upon her. Because--if you don't
mind my saying so--she has really nothing for Time to write upon!"

His tone was eminently good-natured, and Maryllia glancing at his
smiling face laughed gaily.

"You are very wicked, Mr. Walden," she said mirthfully--"In fact,
you are a quiz, and you shouldn't be a quiz and a clergyman both
together. Oh, by the way! Why did you stop reading the service when
we all came in late to church that Sunday?"

He looked full at her.

"Precisely for that reason. Because you all came in late."

Maryllia peered timorously at him, with her pretty head on one side,
like an enquiring bird.

"Do you think it was polite?"

Walden laughed.

"I was not studying politeness just then,"--he answered--"I was
exercising my own authority."

"Oh!" She paused. "Lady Beaulyon and the others did not like it at
all. They thought you were trying to make us ashamed of ourselves."

"They were right,"--he said, cheerfully--"I was!"

"Well,--you succeeded,--in a way. But I was angry!"

He smiled.

"Were you, really? How dreadful! But you got over it?"

"Yes,"--she said, meditatively--"I got over it. I suppose you were
right,--and of course we were wrong. But aren't you a very arbitrary
person?"

His eyes sparkled mirthfully.

"I believe I am. But I never ask anyone to attend church,--everyone
in the parish is free to do as they like about that. Only if people
do come, I expect them to be punctual,--that's all."

"I see! And if they're not, you make them feel very small and cheap
about it. People don't like being made small and cheap,--_I_ don't,
for instance. Now good-bye! You are coming to dine next week,
remember!"

"I remember!" he rejoined, as he raised his hat in farewell. "And do
you think you will learn Greek?"

"I am sure I will!--as soon as ever all these people are gone. The
week after next I shall be quite free again."

"And happy?"

She hesitated.

"Not quite, perhaps, but as happy as I ever can be! Good-bye!"

She held out her hand. He pressed it gently, and let her go,
watching her as she moved along the road holding up her dainty skirt
from the dust, and walking with the ease and graceful carriage which
was, to her, second nature. Then he went into his own garden with
the Iliad, and addressing his ever attentive and complaisant dog,
said:

"Look here, Nebbie--we mustn't think about her! She's a bewildering
little person, with a good deal of the witch glamour in her eyes and
smile,--and it's quite absurd for such staid and humdrum creatures
as you and I, Nebbie, to imagine that we can ever be of the
slightest service to her, or to dream that she ever gives us a
single thought when she has once turned her back upon us. But it is
a pity she should cry about anything!--her eyes were not made for
tears--her life was not created for sorrow! It should be all
sunshine and roses for her--French damask roses, of course!" and he
smiled--"with their hearts full of perfume and their petals full of
colour! As for me, there should only be the grey of her plots of
lavender,--lavender that is dried and put away in a drawer, and more
often than not helps to give fragrance to the poor corpse ready for
burial!"

He sighed, and opened his Homer. Greek, for once, failed to ease his
heartache, and the Iliad seemed singularly over-strained and deadly
dull.




XXI


That evening before joining her guests at the usual eight o'clock
repast, Maryllia told Cicely Bourne of the disagreeable 'surprise'
which had been treacherously contrived for her at Sir Morton
Pippitt's tea-party by the unexpected presence of the loathed wooer
whom she sought to avoid.

"Margaret Bludlip Courtenay must certainly have known he was to be
there,"--she said--"And I think, from her look, Eva Beaulyon knew
also. But neither of them gave me a hint. And now if I were to say
anything they would only laugh and declare that they 'thought it
would be fun.' There's no getting any help or sympathy out of such
people. I'm sorry!--but--as usual--I must stand alone."

"I daresay every one of them was in the plot--men and all, if the
truth were told!"--burst out Cicely, indignantly--"And Mrs. Fred is
at the bottom of the mischief. It's a shame! Your aunt is a brute,
Maryllia! I would say so to her face if she were here! She's a
calculating, selfish, title-grubbing brute! There! What are you
going to do?"

"Nothing!"--and Maryllia looked thoughtfully out of the window at
the flaming after-glow of the sunset, bathing all the landscape in a
flood of coppery crimson--"I shall just go on as usual. When I go
down to dinner presently, I shall not speak of to-day's incident at
all. Eva Beaulyon and Margaret Courtenay will expect me to speak of
it--and they will be disappointed. If they allude to it, I shall
change the subject. And I shall invite Roxmouth and his tame pussy,
Mr. Marius Longford, to dinner next week, as guests of Sir Morton
Pippitt,--that's all."

Cicely opened her big dark eyes.

"You will actually invite Roxmouth?"

"Of course I will--of course I MUST. I want everyone here to see and
understand how absolutely indifferent I am to him."

"They will never see--they will NEVER understand!" said Cicely,
shaking her mop of wild hair decisively--"My dear Maryllia, the
colder you are to 'ce cher Roxmouth' the more the world will talk!
They will say you are merely acting a part. "No woman in her senses,
they will swear, would discourage the attentions of a prospective
Duke."

"They may say what they like,--they may report me OUT of my senses
if they choose!" declared Maryllia, hotly--"I am not a citizeness of
the great American Republic that I should sell myself for a title! I
have suffered quite enough at the hands of this society sneak,
Roxmouth--and I don't intend to suffer any more. His methods are
intolerable. There is not a city on the Continent where he has not
paid the press to put paragraphs announcing my engagement to him--
and he has done the same thing with every payable paper in London.
Aunt Emily has assisted him in this,--she has even written some of
the announcements herself, sending them to the papers with my
portrait and his, for publication! And because this constantly
rumoured and expected marriage does not come off, and because people
ask WHY it doesn't come off, the pair of conspirators are reduced to
telling lies about me! I almost wish I could get small-pox or some
other hideous ailment and become disfigured,--THEN Roxmouth might
leave me alone! Perhaps Providence will arrange it in that way."

Cicely uttered an exclamation of horror.

"Oh, don't say such a thing, Maryllia! It's too dreadful! You are
the prettiest, sweetest creature I ever saw, and I wouldn't have a
scar or a blemish on your dear face for a million Roxmouths! Have
patience! We'll get rid of him!"

Maryllia gave a hopeless gesture.

"How?"

"Well, I don't quite know!" and Cicely knitted her black brows
perplexedly--"But don't worry, Maryllia! I believe it will all come
right. Something will happen to make short work of him,--I'm sure of
it!"

"You are an optimist,"--said Maryllia, kissing her--"and you're very
young! I have learned that in this best of all possible worlds,
human nature is often the worst part of all creation, and that when
you want to avoid a particularly objectionable human being, that
being is always round the corner. However, if I cannot get rid of
Roxmouth, I shall do something desperate! I shall disappear!"

"Where to?" asked Cicely, startled.

"I don't know. Nowhere that you cannot find me!"

She laughed,--she had recovered her natural buoyancy and light-
heartedness, and when she joined her party at dinner that evening,
she showed no traces of annoyance or fatigue. She made no allusion
to Lord Roxmouth's appearance at Sir Morton Pippitt's, and Mrs.
Bludlip Courtenay, glancing at her somewhat timorously, judged it
best to avoid the subject. For she knew she had played a mean trick
on the friend whose guest she was,--she knew she had in her pocket a
private letter from Mrs. Fred Vancourt, telling her of Lord
Roxmouth's arrival at Badsworth Hall, and urging her to persuade
Maryllia to go there, and to bring about meetings between the two as
frequently as possible,--and as she now and then met the straight
flash of her hostess's honest blue eyes, she felt the hot colour
rising to her face underneath all her rouge, and for once in her
placid daily life of body-massage and self-admiration, she felt
discomposed and embarrassed. The men talked the incident of the day
over among themselves when they were left to their coffee and
cigars, and discussed the probabilities and non-probabilities of
Miss Vancourt becoming the Duchess of Ormistoune, with considerable
zest.

"She'll never have him--she hates him like poison!"--declared Lord
Charlemont.

"Not surprised at that,"--said another man--"if she knows anything
about him!"

"He has gone the pace!" murmured Mr. Bludlip Courtenay thoughtfully,
dropping his monocle out of his eye and hastily putting it back, as
though he feared his eye itself might escape from its socket unless
thus fenced in--"But then, after all--wild oats! Once sown and
reaped, they seldom spring again after marriage."

"I think you're wrong there!" said Charlemont--"Wild oats are a
singularly perpetual crop. In many cases marriage seems to give them
a fresh start."

"Will there be a good harvest when YOU marry, Charly?" asked one of
the company, with a laugh.

"Oh, I shouldn't wonder!" he returned, good-naturedly--"I'm just as
big a fool as any other man. But I always do my best not to play
down on a woman."

"Woman"--said Mr. Bludlip Courtenay, sententiously--"is a riddle.
Sometimes she wants a vote in elections,--then, if it's offered to
her, she won't have it. Buy her a pearl, and she says she would
rather have had a ruby. Give her a park phaeton, and she declares
she has been dying for a closed brougham. Offer her a five-hundred-
guinea pair of cobs, and she will burst into tears and say she would
have liked a 'little pug-dog--a dear, darling, little Japanese pug-
dog'--she has no use for cobs. And to carry the simile further, give
her a husband, and she straightway wants a lover."

"That implies that a husband ceases to be a lover,"--said
Charlemont.

"Well, I guess a husband can't be doing Romeo and 'oh moon'-ing till
he's senile," observed a cadaverous looking man, opposite, who
originally hailed from the States, but who, having purchased an
estate in England, now patriotically sought to forget that he was
ever an American.

They laughed.

"'Oh moon'-ing is a good expression,"--said Lord Charlemont--"very
good!"

"It's mine, sir--but you're welcome to it,"--rejoined the Anglicised
renegade of the Stars and Stripes,--"To 'oh moon' is a verb every
woman likes to have conjugated by a male fool once at least in her
life."

"Yes--and if you don't 'oh m-moon' with her,"--lisped a young fellow
at the other end of the table--"She considers you a b-b-brute!"

Again the laugh went round.

"Well, I don't think Roxmouth will have a chance to go 'oh moon'-ing
with our hostess,"--said Charlemont--"The whole idea of her marriage
with him has been faked up by Mrs. Fred. The girl herself,--Miss
Vancourt,--doesn't want him, and won't have him."

"Will you take a bet on it?" asked Mr. Bludlip Courtenay.

"Yes, if you like!" and Charlemont laughed--"I don't bet much, but
I'll bet anything you choose to name on that. Maryllia Vancourt will
never, unless she is bound, gagged and drugged into it, become
Duchess of Ormistoune."

"Shall we say a tenner?" suggested Courtenay, writing the bet down
in his notebook.

"Certainly."

"Good! I take the other side. I know something of Roxmouth,--he's
seldom baffled. Miss Vancourt will be the Duchess before next year!"

"Not a bit of it! Next year Miss Vancourt will still be Miss
Vancourt!" said Charlemont. emphatically--"She's a woman of
character, and if she doesn't intend to marry Roxmouth, nothing will
make her. She's got a mind of her own,--most women's minds are the
minds of their favourite men."

"He-he-te-he--te-he--he!" giggled the young man who had before
spoken,--"I know a girl---"

"Shut up, old chappie! You 'know a bank whereon the wild thyme
grows'--that's what YOU know!" said Charlemont. "Come and have a
look at the motor."

Whereupon they rose from the table and dispersed.

From that day, however, a certain additional interest was given to
the house-party entertainment at Abbot's Manor. Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay and Lady Beaulyon fell so neatly into the web which
Maryllia carefully prepared for them, that she soon found out what a
watch they kept upon her, and knew, without further trouble, that
she must from henceforth regard them as spies in her aunt and Lord
Roxmouth's service. The men took no part in this detective business,
but nevertheless were keenly inquisitive in their own line, more
bets being given and taken freely on what was likely to be the
upshot of affairs. Meanwhile, Lord Roxmouth and Mr. Longford,
sometimes accompanied by Sir Morton Pippitt, and sometimes without
him, called often, but Maryllia was always out. She had two watch-
dogs besides her canine friend, Plato,--and these were Cicely and
Julian Adderley. Cicely had pressed the 'moon calf' into her
service, and had told him just as much as she thought proper
concerning Roxmouth and his persecution of her friend and patroness.

"Go as often as you can to Badsworth Hall,"--she commanded him--"and
find out all their movements there. Then tell ME,--and whenever
Roxmouth comes here to call, Maryllia will be out! Be vigilant and
faithful!"

And she had shaken her finger at him and rolled her dark eyes with
such tragic intensity, that he had entered zealously into the spirit
of the little social drama, and had become as it were special
reporter of the Roxmouth policy to the opposing party.

But this was behind the scenes. The visible action of the piece
appeared just now to be entirely with Maryllia and her lordly
wooer,--she as heroine, he as hero,--while the 'supers,' useful in
their way as spies, messengers and general attendants, took their
parts in the various scenes with considerable vivacity, wondering
how much they might possibly get out of it for themselves. If, while
they were guests at Abbot's Manor, an engagement between Lord
Roxmouth and Maryllia Vancourt could be finally settled, they felt
they could all claim a share in having urged the matter on, and
'worked' it. And it was likely that in such a case, Mrs. Fred
Vancourt, with millions at her disposal, would be helpful to them in
their turn, should they ever desire it. Altogether, it seemed a game
worth playing. None of them felt any regret that Maryllia should be
made the pivot round which to work their own schemes of self-
aggrandisement. Besides, no worldly wise society man or woman could
be expected to feel sorry for assisting a young woman to attain the
position of a Duchess. Such an idea would be too manifestly absurd.

"It will soon be over now,"--said Cicely, consolingly, one afternoon
in the last week of Maryllia's entertaining--"And oh, how glad we
shall be when everybody has gone!"

"There's one person who won't go, I'm afraid!" said Maryllia.

"Roxmouth? Well, even HE can't stay at Badsworth Hall for ever!"

"No,--but he can stay as long as he likes,--long enough to work
mischief. Sir Morton Pippitt won't send him away,--we may be sure of
that!"

"If HE doesn't go, I suppose WE must?" queried Cicely tentatively.

Maryllia's eyes grew sad and wistful.

"I'm afraid so--I don't know--we shall see!"--she replied slowly--
"Something will have to be settled one way or another--pleasantly or
unpleasantly."

Cicely's black brows almost met across her nose in a meditative
frown.

"What a shame it is that you can't be left in peace, Maryllia!"--she
exclaimed--"And all because of your aunt's horrible money! Why
doesn't Roxmouth marry Mrs. Fred?"

"I wish he would!" said Maryllia, heartily, and then she began to
laugh. "Then it would be a case of 'Oh my prophetic soul! mine
uncle!' And I should be able to say: 'My aunt is a Duchess.' Imagine
the pride and glory of it!"

Cicely joined in her laughter.

"It WOULD be funny!" she said--"But whatever happens, I do hope
Roxmouth isn't going to drive us away from the Manor this summer.
You won't let him, will you?"

Maryllia hesitated a moment.

"It will depend on circumstances," she said, at last--"If he
persists in staying at Badsworth, I must leave the neighbourhood.
There's no help for it. It would only be for a short time, of
course--and it seems hard, when I have only just come home, as it
were,--but there,--never mind, Cicely! We'll treat it as a game of
hare and hounds,--and we'll baffle the hounds somehow!"

Cicely gave a comic gesture of resignation to the inevitable.

"Anyhow, if we want a man to help us,"--she said,--"There's Gigue.
Fortunately he's here now."

Gigue WAS there--very certainly there, and all there. Louis Gigue,
renowned throughout the world for his culture of the human voice
divine, had arrived the previous day direct from Paris, and had
exploded into the Manor as though he were a human bombshell. He had
entered at the hour of afternoon tea, wild-eyed, wild-haired,
travel-soiled, untidy and eminently good-natured, and had taken
everybody by surprise. He had rushed up to Maryllia, and seizing her
hand had kissed it rapturously,--he had caught Cicely in his arms
and embraced her enthusiastically with a 'Mon enfant prodigue!' and,
tossing his grizzled locks from off his broad forehead, he had
seated himself, sans ceremonie, amidst the company, as though he had
known everyone present all his life.

"Mon Dieu, ze mal der mer!" he had exclaimed--"Ze bouleversement of
ze vagues! Ze choses terribles! Ze femmes sick!--zen men of ze
coleur blieu! Ah, quel ravissement to be in ze land!"

Gigue's English was his own particular dialect--he disdained to try
and read a single word of it, but from various sources he had picked
up words which he fitted into his speech as best it suited him, with
a result which was sometimes effective but more often startling.
Maryllia was well accustomed to it, and understood what she called
'Gigue's vernacular'--but the ladies and gentlemen of her house-
party were not so well instructed, and Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay, whose
knowledge of the French language was really quite extraordinary,
immediately essayed the famous singing-master in his own tongue.

"Esker vous avez un moovais passage, Mo'sieur?" she demanded, with
placid self-assurance--"Le mer etait bien mal?"

Gigue laughed, showing a row of very white strong teeth under his
grizzled moustache, as he accepted a cup of tea from Cicely's hand,
who gave him a meaning blink of her dark eyes as she demurely waited
upon him.

"Ah, Madame! Je parle ze Inglis seulement in ze England! Oui, oui!
Je mer etait comme l'huile, mais avec un so-so!" And he swayed his
hands to and fro with a rocking movement--"Et le so-so faisaient les
dames--ah, ciel!--so-so!"

And he placed his hand delicately to his head, with an inimitable
turning aside gesture that caused a ripple of laughter. Maryllia's
eyes sparkled with fun. She saw Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay surveying
Gigue through her lorgnon with an air of polite criticism amounting
to disdain,--she noted the men hanging back a little in the way that
well-born Britishers do hang back from a foreigner who is 'only' a
teacher of singing, especially if they cannot speak his language,--
and she began to enjoy herself. She knew that Gigue would say what
he thought or what he wanted to say, reckless of censure, and she
felt the refreshment and relief of having one, at least, in the
group of persons around her, who was not in her Aunt Emily's
service, and who uttered frankly his opinions regardless of results.

"Et maintenant,"--said Gigue, taking hold of Cicely's arm and
drawing her close up to his knee--"Comment chante le rossignol? Do,
re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do! Chantez!"

All the members of the house-party stared,--they had taken scarcely
any notice of Cicely Bourne, looking upon her as more or less
beneath their notice--as a 'child picked up in Paris'--a 'waif and
stray'--a 'fad of Maryllia Vancourt's'--and now here was this wild
grey-haired man of renown bringing her into sudden prominent notice.

"Chantez!" reiterated Gigue, furrowing his brows into a commanding
frown--"Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do!"

Cicely's dark eyes flashed--and her lips parted.

"Do--re--mi--sol---"

Round and full and clear rang the notes, pure as a crystal bell,--
and the listeners held their breath, as she made such music of the
common scale as only a divinely-gifted singer can.

"Bien!--tres-bien!" said Gigue, approvingly, with a smile round at
the company--"Mademoiselle Cicely commence a chanter! Ze petite sera
une grande cantatrice! N'est-ce-pas?"

A stiffly civil wonderment seemed frozen on the faces of Lady
Beaulyon and the others present. Wholly lacking in enthusiasm for
any art, they almost resented the manner in which Cicely was thus
brought forward as a kind of genius, a being superior to them all.
Gigue sniffed the air, as though he inhaled offence in it. Then he
shook his finger with a kind of defiance.

"Mais--pas en Angleterre!" he said--"Ze petite va commencer a Milan-
-St. Petersburg--Vienna! Zen, ze Inglis vill say--'Ha ha! Zis prima
donna chante pour les Francais, les Italiens, les Russes!--il faut
qu'elle chante pour nous!' Zen--zey vill pay ze guinea--ces commes
des moutons! Zey follow les autres pays--zey know nosing of ze art
demselves!"

Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay coughed delicately.

"Music is so very much overdone in England"--she said, languidly--
"One gets so tired of it! Concerts are quite endless during the
season, and singers are always pestering you to take tickets. It's
quite too much for anyone who is not a millionaire."

Gigue did not catch this flow of speech--but Cicely heard it,

"Well, I shall never ask anyone to 'take tickets' to hear me!" she
said, laughing. "A famous prima donna never does that kind of
thing!"

"How do you know you will be famous?" asked Lady Beaulyon, amused.

"Instinct!" replied Cicely, gaily--"Just as the bird knows, it will
be able to make a nest, so do I know I shall be famous! Don't let us
talk any more about singing! Come and see the garden, Gigue!--I'll
take you round it--and I want a chat with you."

The two went off together, much to the relief of the rest of the
party.

"What an extraordinary-looking creature!" said Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay--"Is he quite a gentleman, Maryllia?"

Maryllia smiled.

"He is a gentleman according to my standard," she said. "He is
honest, true to his friends, and faithful to his work. I ask nothing
more of any man."

She changed the subject of conversation,--and Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay, in the privacy of her own apartment, confided to her
husband that she really thought Maryllia Vancourt was a little 'off
her head'--just a little.

"Because, really,"--said Mrs. Courtenay--"when it comes to
harbouring geniuses in one's own house, it is quite beyond all
reason. I sympathise so much with poor Mrs. Fred! If Maryllia would
only marry Lord Roxmouth, all these flighty and fantastic notions of
hers about music and faithful friends and honour and principle would
disappear. I am sure they would!--and she would calm down and be
just like one of us."

Mr. Bludlip Courtenay stared hard through his monocle.

"Why don't you talk to her about it?" he said--"You might do more
for Roxmouth than you are doing, Peggy! I may tell you it would mean
good times for both of us if you pushed that affair on!"

Mrs. Courtenay looked meditative.

"I'll try!"--she said, at last--"Roxmouth is to dine here to-morrow
night--I'll say something before he comes."

And she did. She took an opportunity of finding Maryllia alone in
her morning-room, where she was busy answering some letters. Gliding
in, without apology, she sank into the nearest comfortable chair.

"We shall soon all be gone from this dear darling old house!" she
said, with a sigh--"When are you coming back to London, Maryllia?"

"Never, I hope,"--Maryllia answered--"I am tired of London,--and if
I go anywhere away from here for a change it will be abroad--ever so
far distant!"

"With Lord Roxmouth?" suggested Mrs. Courtenay, with a subtle blink
in her eyes.

Maryllia laid down the pen she held, and looked straight at her.

"I think you are perfectly aware that I shall never go anywhere with
Lord Roxmouth,"--she said--"Please save yourself the trouble of
discussing this subject! I know how anxious you are upon the point--
Aunt Emily has, of course, asked you to use your influence to
persuade me into this detestable marriage--now do understand me,
once and for all, that it's no use. I would rather kill myself than
be Lord Roxmouth's wife!"

"But why--" began Mrs. Courtenay, feebly.

"Why? Because I know what kind of a man he is, and how
hypocritically he conceals his unnameable vices under a cloak of
respectability. I can tolerate anything but humbug,--remember that!"

Mrs. Courtenay winced, but stuck to her guns.

"I'm sure he's no worse than other men!"--she said--"And he's
perfectly devoted to you! It would be much better to be Duchess of
Ormistoune, than a poor lonely old maid looking after geniuses.
Geniuses are perfectly horrible persons! I've had experience with
them. Why, I tried to bring out a violinist once--such a dirty young
man, and he smelt terribly of garlic--he came from the Pyrenees--but
he was quite a marvellous fiddler--and he turned out most
ungratefully, and married my manicurist. Simply shocking! And as for
singers!--my dear Maryllia, you never seem to realise what an utter
little fright that Cicely Bourne of yours is! She will never get on
with a yellow face like that! And SUCH a figure!"

Maryllia laughed.

"Well, she's only fourteen---"

"Nonsense!" declared Mrs. Courtenay--"She tells you that--but she's
twenty, if she's a day! She's 'doing' you, all round, and so is that
artful old creature Gigue! Taking your money all for nothing!--you
may be sure the two of them are in a perfect conspiracy to rob you!
I can't imagine why you should go out of your way to pick up such
people--really I can't--when you might marry into one of the best
positions in England!"

Maryllia was silent. After a pause, she said gently:

"Is there anything else you want to tell me? I'm rather pressed for
time,--I have one or two letters to write---"

"Oh, I see you want to get rid of me," and Mrs. Courtenay rose from
her chair with a bounce--"You have become so rude lately, Maryllia,-
-you really have! Your aunt is quite right! But I'm glad you have
asked Roxmouth to dine to-night--that is at least one step in the
right direction! I'm sure if you will let him say a few words to you
alone---"

Maryllia lifted her eyes.

"I have already asked you to drop this subject," she said.

"Well!--if you persist in your obstinacy, you can only blame
yourself for losing a good chance,"--said Mrs. Courtenay, with real
irritation--"You won't see it, of course, but you're getting very
passee, Maryllia--and it's only an old friend of your aunt's like
myself that can tell you so. I have noticed several wrinkles round
your eyes--you should massage with some 'creme ivoire' and tap those
lines--you really should--tap on to them so---" and Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay illustrated her instructions delicately on her own pink-
and-white dolly face with her finger-tips--"I spend quite an hour
every day tapping every line away round my eyes--but you've really
got more than I have---"

"I'm not so young as you are, perhaps!" said Maryllia, with a little
smile--"But I don't care a bit how I look! If I'm getting old, so is
everyone--it's no crime. If we live, we must also die. People who
sneer at age are likely to be sneered at themselves when their time
comes. And if I'm growing wrinkles, I'd rather have country ones
than town ones. See?"

"Dear me, what odd things you do say!" and Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay
shook out her skirts and glanced over her shoulder at her own
reflection in a convenient mirror--"You seem to be quite impossible
at times---"

"Yes,--Aunt Emily always said so!"--interposed Maryllia, quietly.

"And yet think of the advantages you have had!--the education--the
long course of travel!--you should really know the world by this
time better than you do?"--went on the irrepressible lady--"You
should surely be able to see that there is nothing so good for a
woman as a good marriage. Everything in a girl's life points to that
end--she is trained for it, dressed for it, brought up to it--and
yet here you are with a most brilliant position waiting for you to
step into it, and you turn your back upon it with contempt! What do
you imagine you can do with yourself down here all alone? There are
no people of your own class residing nearer to you than three or
four miles distant--the village is composed of vulgar rustics--the
rural town is inhabited only by tradespeople, and though one of your
near neighbours is Sir Morton Pippitt, one would hardly call him a
real gentleman--so there's really nobody at all for YOU to associate
with. Now is there?"

Maryllia glanced up, her eyes sparkling.

"You forget the parson!" she said.

"Oh, the parson!" And Mrs. Courtenay tittered. "Well, you're the
last woman in the world to associate with a parson! You're not a bit
religious!"

"No," said Maryllia--"I'm afraid I'm not!"

"And you couldn't do district visiting and soup kitchens and
mothers' meetings"--put in Mrs. Courtenay--"It would be too sordid
and dull for words. In fact, you wil simply die of ennui down here
when the summer is over. Now, if you married Roxmouth---"

"There would be a gall-moon, instead of a honey one," said Maryllia,
calmly,--"But there won't be either. I MUST finish my letters! Do
you mind leaving me to myself?"

Mrs. Courtenay tossed her head, bit her lip, and rustled out of the
room in a huff. She reported her ill-success with 'Maryllia Van' to
her husband, who, in his turn, reported it to Lord Roxmouth, who
straightway conveyed these and all other items of the progress or
retrogression of his wooing to Mrs. Fred Vancourt. That lady,
however, felt so perfectly confident that Roxmouth would,--with the
romantic surroundings of the Manor, and the exceptional
opportunities afforded by long afternoons and moonlit evenings,--
succeed where he had hitherto failed, that she almost selected
Maryllia's bridal gown, and went so far as to study the most
elaborate designs for wedding-cakes of a millionaire description.

"For,"--said she, with comfortable self-assurance--"St. Rest, as I
remember it, is just the dullest place I ever heard of, except
heaven! There are no men in it except dreadful hunting, drinking
provincial creatures who ride or play golf all day, and go to sleep
after dinner. That kind of thing will never suit Maryllia. She will
contrast Roxmouth with the rural boors, and as a mere matter of good
taste, she will acknowledge his superiority. And she will do as I
wish in the long run,--she will be Duchess of Ormistoune."




XXII


The long lazy afternoons of July, full of strong heat and the
intense perfume of field-flowers, had never seemed so long and lazy
to John Walden as during this particular summer. He felt as if he
had nothing in the world to do,--nothing to fill up his life and
make it worth living. All his occupations seemed to him very
humdrum,--his garden, now ablaze with splendid bloom and colour,
looked tawdry, he thought; it had been much prettier in spring-time
when the lilac was in blossom. There was not much pleasure in
punting,--the river was too glassy and glaring in the sun,--the
water dripped greasily from the pole like warm oil--besides, why go
punting when there was nobody but one's self to punt? Whether it was
his own idle fancy, or a fact, he imagined that the village of St.
Rest and its villagers had, in some mysterious way, become separated
from him. Everybody in the place, or nearly everybody, had something
to do for Miss Vancourt, or else for one or other of Miss Vancourt's
guests. Everything went 'up to the Manor '--or came 'down from the
Manor'--the village tradespeople were all catering for the Manor--
and Mr. Netlips, the grocer, driving himself solemnly ever to
Riversford one day, came back with a board--'a banner with a strange
device'--painted in blue letters on a white ground, which said:

PETROL STORED HERE.

This startling announcement became a marvel and a fascination to the
eyes of the villagers, every one of them coming out of their houses
to look at it, directly it was displayed.

"You'll be settin' the 'ouse on fire, Mr. Netlips, I'm afraid," said
Mrs. Frost, severely, putting her arms akimbo, and sniffing at the
board as though she could smell the spirit it proclaimed--"You don't
know nothink about petrol! An' we ain't goin' to have motor-cars
often 'ere, please the Lord's goodness!"

Mr. Netlips smiled a superior smile.

"My good woman,"--he said, with his most magisterial air--"if you
will kindly manage your own business, which is that of pruning the
olive and uprooting the vine, and leave me to manage my
establishment as the reversible movement of the age requires, it
will be better for the equanimity of the gastritis."

"Good Lord!" and Mrs. Frost threw up her hands--"You're a fine sort
of man for a grocer, with your reversibles and your gastritis! What
in the world are you talking about?"

Mr. Netlips, busy with the unpacking of a special Stilton cheese
which he was about to send 'up to the Manor,' waved her away with
one hand.

"I am talking above your head altogther, Mrs. Frost,"--he said,
placidly--"I know it! I am aware that my consonances do not
tympanise on your brain. Good afternoon!"

"Petrol Stored Here!"--said Bainton, standing squat before the
announcement, as he returned from his day's work--"Hor-hor-hor! Hor-
hor! I say, Mr. Netlips, don't blow us all into the middle of next
week. Where does ye store it? Out in the coal-shed? It's awful
'spensive, ain't it?"

"It is costly,"--admitted Mr. Netlips, with a grandiose manner,
implying that even if it had cost millions he would have been equal
to 'stocking' it--"But the traveling aristocrat does not interrogate
the lucrative matter."

"Don't he?" and Bainton scratched his head ruminatively. "I s'pose
you knows what you means, Mr. Netlips, an' you gen'ally means a lot.
Howsomever, I thought you was dead set against aristocrats anyway--
your pol'tics was for what you call masses,--not classes, nor asses
neither. Them was your sentiments not long ago, worn't they?"

Mr. Netlips drew himself up with an air of offended dignity.

"You forestall me wrong, Thomas Bainton,"--he said--"And I prefer
not to amplify the conference. A sentiment is no part of a political
propinquity."

With that, he retired into the recesses of his 'general store,'
leaving Bainton chuckling to himself, with a broad grin on his
weatherbeaten countenance.

The 'Petol' board displayed on the front of Mr. Netlips' shop,
however, was just one of those slight indications which showed the
vague change that had crept over the erstwhile tranquil atmosphere
of St. Rest. Among other signs and tokens of internal disquiet was
the increasing pomposity of the village post-mistress, Mrs. Tapple.
Mrs. Tapple had grown so accustomed to various titles and prefixes
of rank among the different guests who came in turn to stay at the
Manor, that whereas she had at one time stood in respectful awe of
old Pippitt because he was a 'Sir,' she now regarded him almost with
contempt. What was a 'Sir' to a 'Lord'? Nothing!--less than nothing!
For during one week she had sold stamps to a real live Marquis and
post-cards to a 'Right Honourable,' besides despatching numerous
telegrams for the Countess of Beaulyon. By all the gods and little
fishes, Sir Morton Pippitt had sunk low indeed!--for when Mrs.
Tapple, bridling with scorn, said she 'wondered 'ow a man like 'im
wot only made his money in bone-boilin' would dare to be seen with
Miss Vancourt's real quality' it was felt that she was expressing an
almost national sentiment.

Taking everything into consideration, it was not to be denied that
the new element infused into the little village community had
brought with it a certain stir and excitement, but also a sense of
discontent. And John Walden, keenly alive to every touch of feeling,
was more conscious of the change than many another man would have
been who was not endowed with so quick and responsive a nature. He
noted the quaint self-importance of Mrs. Tapple with a kindly
amusement, not altogether unmixed with pain,--he watched regretfully
the attempts made by the young girls of his little parish to trick
themselves out with cheap finery imported from the town of
Riversford, in order to imitate in some fashion, no matter how far
distant, the attire of Lady Beaulyon, whose dresses were a wonder,
and whose creditors were legion,--and he was sincerely sorry to see
that even gentle and pretty Susie Prescott had taken to a new mode
of doing her hair, which, though elaborate, did not suit her at all,
and gave an almost bold look to an otherwise sweet and maidenly
countenance.

"But I am old,--and old-fashioned too!"--he said to himself,
resignedly--"The world must move on--and as it moves it is bound to
leave old times behind it--and me with them. I must not complain--
nor should I, even in my own heart, find too many reproaches for the
ways of the young."

And involuntarily he recalled Tennyson's lines:--

    "Only 'dust to dust' for me that sicken at your lawless din,--
     Dust in wholesome old-world dust before the newer world begin!"

"'Wholesome old-world dust'!" he mused--"Yes! I think it WAS more
wholesome than our too heavily manured soil!"

And a wave of pained regret and yearning arose in him for the days
when life was taken more quietly, more earnestly, more soberly--with
the trust and love of God inspiring the soul to purity and peace--
when to find a woman who was at the same time an atheist was a thing
so abnormal and repulsive as to excite the utmost horror in society.
Society! why, now, many women in society were atheists, and made no
secret of their shame!

"I must not dwell on these thoughts,"--he said, resolutely. "The
sooner I see Brent, the better. I've accepted his invitation for the
last week of this month--I can be spared then for two or three days-
-indeed, I doubt whether I shall even be missed! The people only
want me on Sundays now--and--though I do try not to notice it,--a
good many of the congregation are absent from their usual places."

He sighed. He would not admit to himself that it was Maryllia
Vancourt--'Maryllia Van'--or rather her guests who had exercised a
maleficent influence on his little cure of souls, and that because
the 'quality' did not go to church on Sundays, then some of the
villagers,--like serfs under the sway of nobles,--stayed away also.
He realised that he had given offence to this same 'quality,' by
pausing in his reading, when they entered late on the one occasion
they did attend divine service,--but he did not care at all for
that. He knew, that the truth of the mischief wrought by the idle,
unthinking upper classes of society, is always precisely what the
upper classes do not want to hear;--and he was perfectly aware in
his own mind that his short, but explicit sermon, on the 'Soul,' had
not been welcome to any one of his aristocratic hearers, while it
had been a little over the heads of his own parishioners.

"Mere waste of words!" he mused, with a kind of self-reproach--"I
don't know why I chose the text or subject at all. Yes--yes!--I do
know! Why do I play the deceiver with myself! She was there--so
winsome--so pretty!--and her soul is sweet and pure;--it must be
sweet and pure, if it can look out of such clear windows as her
eyes. Let all the world go, but keep that soul, I thought!--and so I
spoke as I did. But I think she scarcely listened--it was all waste
of time, waste of words,--waste of breath! I shall be glad to see
dear old Brent again. He wants to talk to me, he says--and I most
certainly want to talk to him. After the dinner-party at the Manor,
I shall be free. How I dread that party! How I wish I were not
going! But I have promised her--and I must not break my word!"

He began to think about one or two matters that to him were not
altogether pleasing. Chief among these was the fact that Sir Morton
Pippitt had driven over twice now 'to inspect the church'--
accompanied by Lord Roxmouth, and the Reverend 'Putty' Leveson. Once
Lord Roxmouth had left his card at the rectory, and had written on
it: 'Wishing to have the pleasure of meeting Mr. Walden'--a pleasure
which had not, so far, been gratified. Walden understood that Lord
Roxmouth was, or intended to be, the future husband of Miss
Vancourt. He had learned something of it from Bishop Brent's letter-
-but now that his lordship was staying as a guest at Badsworth Hall,
rumour had spread the statement so very generally that it was an
almost accepted fact. Three days had been sufficient to set the
village and county talking;--Roxmouth and his tools never did their
mischievous work by halves. John Walden accepted the report as
others accepted it--only reserving to himself an occasion to ask
Miss Vancourt if it were indeed true. Meantime, he kept himself
apart from the visitors--he had no wish to meet Lord Roxmouth--
though he knew that a meeting was inevitable at the forthcoming
dinner-party at Abbot's Manor. Bainton had that dinner-party on his
mind as well as his master. He had heard enough of it on all sides.
Mrs. Spruce had gabbled of it, saying that 'what with jellies an'
ices an' all the things as has to be thought of an' got in ready,'
she was 'fair mazed an' moithered.' And she held forth on the
subject to one of her favourite cronies, Mrs. Keeley, whose son Bob
was still in a state of silent and resentful aggressiveness against
the 'quality' for the death of his pet dog.

"It's somethin' too terrible, I do assure you!" she said--"the way
these ladies and gentlemen from Lunnon eats fit to bust themselves!
When they fust came down, I sez to cook, I sez--'Lord bless 'em,
they must 'ave all starved in their own 'omes'--an' she laughed--she
'avin 'sperience, an' cooked for 'ouse-parties ever since she
learned makin' may'nases [mayonnaise] which she sez was when she was
twenty, an' she's a round sixty now, an' she sez, 'Lor, no! It do
frighten one at first wot they can put into their stummicks, Missis
Spruce, but don't you worry--you just get the things, and they'll
know how to swaller 'em.' Well now, Missis Keeley, if you'll b'lieve
me"--and here Mrs. Spruce drew a long breath and began to count on
her fingers--"This is 'ow we do every night for the visitors, makin'
ready for hextras, in case any gentleman comes along in a motor
which isn't expected--fust we 'as horduffs---"

"Save us!" exclaimed Mrs. Keeley--"What's they?"

"Well _I_ calls 'em kickshaws, but the right name is horduffs,
Primmins sez, bein' a butler he should know the French, an' 'tis a
French word, an' it's nothin' but little dishes 'anded round, olives
an' anchovies, an' sardines an' messes of every kind, enough to make
ye sick to look at 'em--they swallers 'em, an' then we sends in
soup--two kinds, white an' clear. They swallers THAT, an' the fish
goes in--two kinds--the old Squire never had but one--THAT goes
down, an' then comes the hentreys. Them's sometimes two--sometimes
four--it just depends on the number we 'as at table. They'se all got
French names--there's nothing plain English about them. But they'se
only bits o' meat an' fowl, done up in different ways with sauces
an' vegetables, an' the quality eats 'em up as though they was two
bites of an apple. Then we sends in the roast and b'iled--and they
takes good cuts off both--then there's game,--now that's nearly
allus all eat up, for I like to pick a bone now and then myself if
it comes down on a dish an' no one else wants it--but there's never
a morsel left for me, I do assure you! Then comes puddings an'
sweets--then cheese savouries--then ices--an' then coffee--an' all
the time the wine's a-goin', Primmins sez, every sort, claret, 'ock,
chably, champagne,--an' the Lord alone He knows wot their poor
insides feels like when 'tis all a-mixin' up together an' workin'
round arterwards. But, as I sez, 'tain't no business o' mine if the
fash'nables 'as trained their stummicks to be like the ostriches
which eats, as I'm told, 'ard iron nails with a relish, I onny know
I should 'a' bin dead an' done with long ago if I put a quarter of
the stuff into me which they puts into theirselves, while some of
the gentlemen drinks enough whiskey an' soda to drown 'em if 'twas
all put in a tub at once---"

"But Miss Vancourt," interrupted Mrs. Keeley, who had been listening
to her friend's flow of language in silent wonder,--"She don't eat
an' drink like that, do she?"

"Miss Maryllia, bless 'er 'art, sits at her table like a little
queen,"--said Mrs. Spruce, with emotion--"Primmins sez she don't eat
scarce nothin', and don't say much neither. She just smiles pretty,
an' puts in a word or two, an' then seems lookin' away as if she saw
somethink beautiful which nobody else can see. An' that Miss Cicely
Bourne, she's just a pickle!--'ow she do play the comic, to be
sure!--she ran into the still-room the other day an' danced round
like a mad thing, an' took off all the ladies with their airs an'
graces till I nearly died o' larfin'! She's a good little thing,
though, takin' 'er all round, though a bit odd in 'er way, but that
comes of bein' in France an' learnin' music, I expect. But I really
must be goin'--there's heaps an' heaps to do, but by an' by we'll
have peace an' quiet again--they're all a-goin' next week."

"Well, I shan't be sorry!"--and Mrs. Keeley gave a short sigh of
satisfaction--"I'm fair sick o' seein' them motor-cars whizzin'
through the village makin' such a dust an' smell as never was,--an'
I'm sure there's no love lost 'tweens Missis Frost an' me, but it do
make me worrited like when that there little Ipsie goes runnin' out,
not knowin' whether she mayn't be run over like my Bob's pet dog.
For the quality don't seem to care for no one 'cept theirselves--an'
it ain't peaceful like nor safe as 'twas 'fore they came. An' I
s'pose we'll be seein' Miss Maryllia married next?"

Mrs. Spruce pursed up her mouth tightly and looked unutterable
things.

"'Tain't no good countin' chickens 'fore they're hatched, Missis
Keeley!" she said--"An' the Lord sometimes fixes up marriages in
quite a different way to what we expects. There ain't goin' to be no
weddin's nor buryin's yet in the Manor, please the A'mighty
goodness, for one's as mis'able as t'other, an' both means change,
which sometimes is good for the 'elth but most often contrariwise,
though whatever 'appens either way we must bend our 'eads under the
rod to both. But I mustn't stay chitterin' 'ere any longer--good day
t'ye!"

And nodding darkly as one who could say much an' she would, the
worthy woman ambled away.

Scraps of information, such as this talk of Mrs. Spruce's, reached
Bainton's ears from time to time in a disjointed and desultory
manner and moved him to profound cogitation. He was not quite sure
now whether, after all, his liking for Miss Vancourt had not been
greatly misplaced.

"When I seed her first,"--he said to himself, pathetically, while
hoeing the weeds out of the paths in the rectory garden, "When me
an' old Josey went up to get 'er to save the Five Sisters, she
seemed as sweet as 'oney,--an' she's done many a kind thing for the
village since. But I don't care for 'er friends. They've changed her
like--they've made her forget all about us! An' as for Passon, she
don't come nigh 'im no more, an' he don't go nigh 'er. Seems to me
'tis all a muddle an' a racket since the motor-cars went bouncin'
about an' smellin' like p'ison--'tain't wot it used to be.
Howsomever, let's 'ope to the Lord it'll soon be over. If wot they
all sez is true, there'll be a weddin' 'ere soon, Passon'll marry
Miss Vancourt to the future Dook, an' away they'll go, an' Abbot's
Manor'll be shut up again as it used to afore. An' the onny change
we'll 'ave will be Mr. Stanways for agent 'stead of Oliver Leach--
which is a blessin'--for Stanways is a decent, kindly man, an'
Oliver Leach--well now!" And he paused in his hoeing, fixing his
round eyes meditatively on a wall where figs were ripening in the
sun--"Blest if I can make out Oliver Leach! One day he's with old
Putty Leveson--another he's drunk as a lord in the gutter--an'
another he's butterfly huntin' with a net, lookin' like a fool--but
allus about the place--allus about--an' he's got a face that a kid
would scream at seein' it in the dark. I wish he'd find another
situation in a fur-off neighbourhood!"

Here, looking towards the lawn, he saw his master walking slowly up
and down on the grass in front of his study window, with head bent
and hands loosely clasped behind his back, apparently lost in
thought.

"Passon ain't hisself,--seems all gone to pieces like," he mused--
"He don't do nothin' in the garden,--he ain't a bit partikler or
fidgetty--an all he cares about is the bits o' glass which comes on
approval from all parts o' the world for the rose window. I sez to
him t'other day--'Ain't ye got enough old glass yet, Passon?'--and
he sez all absent-minded like, 'No, Bainton--not yet! There are many
difficulties to be conquered--one must have patience. It's almost
like piecing a life together,' sez he--'one portion is good--another
bad--one's got the true colour--the other's false--and so on--it's
hard work to get all the little bits of love an' charity an'
kindness to fit into their proper places. Don't you understand?'
'No, Passon,' sez I, 'I can't say as I do!' Then he laughed, but sad
like--an' went away with his 'ead down as he's got it now.
Something's wrong with him--an' it's all since Miss Vancourt came.
She's a real worry to 'im I 'spect,--an' it's true enough the place
ain't like what it was a month ago. Yet there's no denyin' she's a
sweet little lady for all one can say!"

Bainton's sentiments were a fair reflection of the general village
opinion, though in the town of Riversford the tide of feeling ran
high, and controversy raged furiously, over the ways and doings of
Miss Vancourt and her society friends. A certain vague awe stole
over the gossips, however, when they heard that, whether rapid or
non-rapid, 'Maryllia Van,' as Sir Morton Pippitt persisted in
calling her, was likely to be the future Duchess of Ormistoune. Lord
Roxmouth had been seen in Riversford just once, and many shop-girls
had declared him 'so distinguished looking!' Mordaunt Appleby, the
brewer, had thrown out sundry hints to Sir Morton Pippitt that he
'should be pleased to see his lordship at Appleby House'--Appleby
House being the name of his, the brewer's, residence--but somehow
his lordship had not yet availed himself of the invitation.
Sufficient, however, was altogether done and said by all concerned
to weave a web of worry round Maryllia,--and to cause her to
heartily regret that she had ever asked any of her London
acquaintances down to her house.

"I did it as a kind of instruction to myself,--a lesson and a test,"
she said--"But I had far better have run the risk of being called an
old maid and a recluse than have got these people round me,--all of
whom I thought were my friends,--but who have been more or less
tampered with by Aunt Emily and Roxmouth, and pressed in to help
carry on the old scheme against me of a detestable alliance with a
man I hate. Well!--I have learned the falsity of their protestations
of liking and admiration and affection for me,--and I'm sorry for
it! I should like to believe in the honesty of at least a few
persons in the world--if that were possible!--I don't want to have
myself always 'on guard' against intrigue and humbug!"

Everyone present, however, on the night of the last dinner-party she
gave to her London guests, was bound to admit that a sweeter, fairer
creature than its present mistress never trod the old oaken floors
of Abbot's Manor; and that even the radiant pictured beauty of 'Mary
Elia Adelgisa de Vaignecourt,' to whom no doubt many a time the
Merry Monarch had doffed his plumed hat in salutation, paled and
grew dim before the living rose of Maryllia's dainty loveliness and
the magnetic tenderness of Maryllia's eyes. Something of the
exquisite pensiveness of her mother's countenance, as portrayed in
the long hidden picture which was now one of the gems of the Manor
gallery, seemed to soften the outline of her features, and deepen
the character and play of the varying expression which made her so
fascinating to those who look for the soul in a woman's face, rather
than its mere physical form. Lady Beaulyon, beautiful though she
was, owed something to art; but Maryllia was nature's own untouched
product, and everything about her exhaled freshness, sweetness, and
radiant vitality. Roxmouth, entering 'most carefully upon his hour,'
namely at a quarter to eight o'clock, found her singularly
attractive,--more so, he thought, than he had ever before realised.
The stately old-world setting of Abbot's Manor suited her--the dark
oak panelling,--the Flemish tapestries, the worn shields and
scutcheons, the old banners and armorial bearings,--all the numerous
touches of the past which spoke of chivalry, ancestral pride and
loyalty to great traditions, lent grace and colouring to the picture
she herself made, as she received her guests with that sweet
kindness, ease and distinction, which are the heritage of race and
breeding.

"Pretty little shrew!" he said, in an aside to Marius Longford--"She
is really charming,--and I begin to think I want her as much for
herself as for her aunt's millions!"

Longford smiled obsequiously.

"There is a certain air of originality, or shall we say
individuality, about the lady,"--he observed, with a critical, not
to say insolent stare in Maryllia's direction,--"The French term
'beaute du diable' expresses it best. But whether the charm will
last, is another question."

"No woman's beauty lasts more than a few years,"--said Roxmouth, as
he glanced at the various guests who had entered or were entering.
"Lady Beaulyon wears well--but she is forty years old, and begins to
show it. Margaret Bludlip Courtenay must be fifty, and she doesn't
show it--she manages her Paris cosmetics wonderfully. Some of these
county ladies would be better for a little touch of her art! But
Maryllia Vancourt needs no paint,--she can afford to be natural. Is
that the parson?"

Walden was just entering the room, and Longford put up his glasses.

"Yes,"--he replied--"That is the parson. He is not without
character."

Roxmouth became suddenly interested. He saw Walden go up to his
hostess and bow--he also saw the sudden smile that brightened
Maryllia's face as she welcomed her clerical guest,--the one
Churchman of the party.

"Rather a distinguished looking fellow,"--he commented carelessly--
"Is he clever?"

Longford hesitated. He had been pulverised in one of the literary
weeklies by an article on the authenticity of Shakespeare's plays,
signed boldly 'John Walden'--and he had learned, by cautious
enquiries here and there in London, that though, for the most part,
extremely unassuming, the aforesaid John Walden was considered an
authority in matters of historical and antiquarian research. But he
was naturally anxious that the future Duke of Ormistoune, when he
had secured Mrs. Fred Vancourt's millions, should not expend his
powerful patronage to a country clergyman who might, from a 'Savage
and Savile' point of view, be considered an interloper. So he
replied with caution:

"I believe he dabbles a little in literary and archaeological
pursuits,--many parsons do. As an archaeologist, he certainly has
merit. You entertain a favourable opinion of the church, he has
restored?"

"The church, as I have before told you, is perfect,"--replied
Roxmouth--"And the man who carried out such a design must needs be
an interesting personality. I think Miss Vancourt finds him so!"

His cold grey eyes lightened unpleasantly as he made this remark,
and Marius Longford, quick to discern every shade of tone in a
voice, recognised a touch of satire in the seemingly casual words.
He made no observation, however, but kept his lynx eyes and ears
open, watching and listening for anything that might perchance be of
use in furthering his patron's desires and aims.

Walden, meanwhile, had, quite unconsciously to himself, created a
little sensation by his appearance. HE was the parson who had dared
to stop in his reading of the service because the Manor house-party
had entered the church a quarter of an hour behind time,--HE was the
man who had told them that it was no use gaining the whole world if
they lost their own souls,--as if, in this advanced era of progress,
any one of them had souls to lose! Preposterous! Here he was, this
country cleric, who, as he was introduced by his hostess to the
various gentlemen standing immediately about her, smiled urbanely,
bowed ceremoniously, and comported himself with an air of
intellectual composure and dignity that had a magnetic effect upon
all. Yet in himself he was singularly ill at ease. Various emotions
in his mind contended together to make him so. To begin with, he
disliked social 'functions' of all kinds, and particularly those at
which any noted persons of the so-called 'Smart Set' were present.
He disliked women who made capital out of their beauty, by allowing
their photographs to be on sale in shop-windows and to appear
constantly in cheap pictorials, and of these Lady Beaulyon was a
notorious example, to say nothing of the graver sins against
morality and principle for which she was renowned. He had no
sympathy with sporting or betting men--and he knew by repute that
Lord Charlemont and Bludlip Courtenay were of this class. Then
again, deep down in his own soul, he resented the fact that Maryllia
Vancourt entertained this sort of people as her guests. She was much
too good for them, he thought,--she wronged herself by being in
their company, or allowing them to be in hers! He watched her as she
received part of the 'county' in the Ittlethwaites of Ittlethwaite
Park, with a charming smile of welcome for Bruce Ittlethwaite, a
lively bachelor of sixty, and for his eldest sister Arabella, some
ten years younger, a lady whose portly form was attired in a
wonderful apple-green satin, trimmed with priceless lace, the latter
entirely lost as an article of value, among the misshapen folds of
the green gown, which had been created, no doubt, by some local
dressmaker, whose ideas were evidently more voluminous than
artistic. And presently, as he stood, a quiet spectator of the
different types of persons who were mingling with each other in the
casual conversation on current topics and events, which always
occupies that interval of time known as the 'mauvais quart d'heure'
before the announcement of dinner, he happened to look at Maryllia's
own dress, and, noticing it more closely, smiled. It was not the
first time he had seen that dress!--and a faint colour warmed his
cheeks as he remembered the occasion when Mrs. Spruce had sent for
him as a 'man o' God' to serve as a witness to her system of
unpacking her lady's wardrobe. That was the dress the garrulous old
housekeeper had held up in her arms as though she were a clothes-
prop, with the observation, 'It's orful wot the world's a-comin' to-
-orful! Fancy diamants all sewed on to a gown!' The gown with the
'diamants' was the very one which now clothed Maryllia,--falling
over an underskirt of palest pink satin, it glittered softly about
her like dew spangles on rose-leaves--and involuntarily Walden
thought of the pink shoes he had also seen,--those absurd little
shoes!--did she wear them with that fairy-like frock, he wondered?
He dared not look towards the floor, lest he should catch a sudden
glimpse of the shining points of that ridiculous but fascinating
foot-gear that had once so curiously discomposed him. Those shoes
might peep out at any moment from under the 'diamants'--with a blink
of familiarity which would be, to say the least of it, embarrassing.
His reflections were at this juncture interrupted by a smooth voice
at his ear.

"How do you do, Mr. Walden?"

A glance showed the speaker to be Mr. Marius Longford, and he
responded with brief courtesy.

"Permit me"--continued Mr. Longford--"to introduce you to Lord
Roxmouth!"

Walden bowed stiffly.

"I must congratulate you on the beauty of your church, Mr. Walden,"-
-said Roxmouth, with his usual conventional smile--"I have never
seen a finer piece of work. It is not so much a restoration as a
creation."

Walden said nothing. He did not particularly care for compliments
from Lord Roxmouth.

"That sarcophagus,"--continued his lordship--"was a very singular
'find.' I suppose you have no clue to the possible identity of the
saint or sinner whose ashes repose within it?"

"None,"--replied Walden--"Something might probably be discovered if
the casket were opened. But that will never happen during my
lifetime."

"You would consider it sacrilege, no doubt?" queried Roxmouth, with
a tolerant air.

"I should, most certainly!"

"Nonsense, nonsense!" said Sir Morton Pippitt, obtruding himself on
the conversation at this moment--"God bless my soul! Not so very
long ago every churchyard in England used to have its regular clean
out--ha-ha-ha!--all the bones and skulls used to be dug up and
thrown together in a charnel house, higgledy-piggledy--and nobody
ever talked about sacrilege! You should progress with the age, Mr.
Walden!--you should progress! Why shouldn't a coffin be opened as
readily as any other box, eh? There's generally nothing inside--ha-
ha-ha!--nothing inside worth keeping, ha-ha-ha! The plan of a
spring-cleaning for churchyards was an excellent one, I think;--God
bless my soul!--why not?--makes room for more hodies and saves extra
land being given up to those who are past farming it, except in the
way of manure, ha-ha-ha! There's no such thing as sacrilege
nowadays, Mr. Walden!--why we've got the photograph of Rameses,
taken after a few thousand years' decomposition had set in--ha-ha-
ha! And not bad looking--not bad looking!--rather wild about the
eyes, that's all--ha-ha! God bless my soul!"

These choice observations of the knight Pippitt were brought to a
happy conclusion by the marshalling of the guests into dinner. Sir
Morton, much to his chagrin, found himself deputed to escort Lady
Wicketts, whose unwieldy proportions allied to his own, made it
difficult for both to pass with proper dignity through the dining-
room doorway. A little excited whispering between Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay and Lady Beaulyon took place, as to whether 'Maryllia Van'
in her professed detestation of Lord Roxmouth, would forget
etiquette and the rule of 'precedence'--but they soon saw she did
not intend to so commit herself. For when all her guests had passed
in before her, she followed resignedly on the arm of the future
Duke. As the greatest stranger, and as the highest in social rank of
all present, he had claim to this privilege, and she was too tactful
to refuse it.

"What a delightful chatelaine you are!" he murmured, looking down at
her as she rested her little gloved hand with scarce a touch on his
arm--"And how proud and glad I am to be once more beside you! Ah,
Maryllia, you are very cruel to me! If you would only realise how
happy we could be--always together!"

She made no answer. Arriving in the dining-room, she withdrew her
hand from his arm, and seated herself at the head of her table. He
then found that he was on her right hand, while Lord Charlemont was
on her left. Next to Lord Charlemont sat Lady Beaulyon,--and next to
Lady Beaulyon John Walden was placed with the partner allotted to
him, Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay. On Roxmouth's own side there were Lady
Wicketts and Sir Morton Pippitt,--so it chanced that the table was
arranged in a manner that brought certain parties who were by no
means likely to agree on any one given point, directly opposite to
each other. Cicely, peeping out from a little ante-room, where she
had entreated to be allowed to stand and watch the proceedings, made
a running commentary on this in her own particular fashion. Cicely
was looking very picturesque, in a new white frock which Maryllia
had given her,--with a broad crimson sash knotted carelessly round
her waist and a ribbon of the same colour in her luxuriant black
hair. She was to sing after dinner--Gigue had told her she was to
'astonish ze fools'--and she was ready to do it. Her dark eyes shone
like stars, and her lips were cherry-red with excitement,--so much
so that Mrs. Spruce, thinking she was feverish, had given her a
glass of 'cooling cordial'--made of fruit and ice and lemon water,
which she was enjoying at intervals while criticising the fine folks
in the dining-room.

"Well done, Maryllia!" she murmured, as she saw her friend enter on
Roxmouth's arm--"Cold as a ray of the moon, but doing her social
duty to the bitter end! What a tom-cat Roxmouth is!--a sleek pussy,
sure to snarl if his fur is rubbed up the wrong way--but he is just
the type that some women would like to marry--he looks so well-bred.
Poor Mr. Walden!--he's got to talk to the Everlasting-Youth lady,--
and old Sir Morton Pippitt is immediately opposite to him!--now
that's too bad of Maryllia!--it really is! She knows how the bone-
boiler longs to boil Mr. Walden's bones, and that Mr. Walden wishes
Sir Morton Pippitt were miles away from him! They shouldn't have
faced each other. But how very, very superior to all the lot Mr.
Walden looks!--he really IS handsome!--he has such an intellectual
head. There's Gigue chattering away to poor old Miss Fosby!--oh
dear! Miss Fosby will never understand him! What a motley crew! And
I shall have to sing to them all after they've dined! Saint Moses!
It will be a sort of 'first appearance in England.' A good test,
too, because all the English eat nearly to bursting before they go
to the opera. No wonder they never can grasp what the music is
about, or who's who! It's all salmon and chicken and lobster and
champagne with them--not Beethoven or Wagner or Rossini. Good old
Gigue! His spirits are irrepressible! How he is laughing! Mr. Walden
looks very serious--almost tragic--I wonder what he is thinking
about! I wish I could hear what they are all saying--but it's
nothing but buzz, buzz!"

She took a sip at her 'cordial,' watching with artistic appreciation
the gay scene in the Manor dining-room--the twinkling lights on the
silver and glass and flowers--the elegant dresses of the women,--the
jewels that flashed like starbeams on the lovely neck and shoulders
of Lady Beaulyon,--the ripples of gold-auburn in Maryllia's hair,--
it was a picture that radiated with a thousand colours on the eye
and the brain, and was certainly one destined, so far as many of
those who formed a part of it were concerned, never to be forgotten.
Not that there was anything very remarkable or brilliant in the
conversation at the dinner-table,--there never is nowadays. Peeple
dine with their friends merely to eat, not to talk. One never by any
chance hears so much even as an echo of wit or wisdom. Occasionally
a note of scandal is struck,--and more often than not, a
questionable anecdote is related, calculated to bring 'a blush to
the cheek of the Young Person,' if a Young Person who can blush
still exists, and happens to be present. But as a rule, the general
habitude of the dining class is to discourse in a very desultory and
inconsequential, not to say stupid, style, and the guests at the
Manor proved no exception to the rule. Sir Morton Pippitt fired off
bumptious observations at Walden, who paid no heed to them--Bruce
Ittlethwaite of Ittlethwaite Park, found a congenial spirit in Lord
Charlemont, and talked sport right through the repast--and Louis
Gigue enlivened the table by a sudden discussion with Mr. Marius
Longford, relative to the position of art in Great Britain.

"Mon Dieu!" he exclaimed, with a snap of his fingers--"Ze art is
dead in Angleterre,--zere is no musique, ze poesie. Zis is ze land
of ze A-penny journal--ze musique, ze poesie, ze science, ze
politique, ze sentiment,--one A-penny! Bah! Ca, ce, n'est pas
possible!--zis pauvre pays is kill avec ze vulgarite of ze cheap! Ze
people are for ze cheap--for ze photographic, instead of ze picture-
-ze gramophone, instead of ze artist fingers avec ze brain--et ze
literature--it is ze cheap 'imitation de Zola,' qui obtient les
eloges du monde critique a Londres. Vous ecrivez?"--and he shook his
finger at Longford--"Bien'! Ecrivez un roman qui est sain, pure et
noble--et ze A-penny man vill moque de ca--mais--ecrivez of ze dirt
of ze human naturel, et voila! Ze A-penny man say 'Bon! Ah que c'est
l'art! Donnes moi l'ordure que je peux sentir! C'est naturel! C'est
divin! C'est l'art!'"

A murmur, half of laughter, half of shocked protest, went round the
table.

"I think," said Mr. Longford, with a pale smile--"that according to
the school of the higher criticism, we must admit the natural to be
the only divine."

Gigue's rolling eyes gleamed under his shaggy hair.

"Je ne comprends pas!"--he said--"Ven ze pig squeak, c'est naturel--
ce n'est pas divin! Ven ze man scratch ze flea, c'est naturel--ce
n'est pas divin! Ze art ne desire pas ze picture of ze flea! Ze
literature n'existe pas pour ze squeak of ze pig! Ah, bah! L'art,--
c'est l'imagination--l'ideal--c'est le veritable Dieu en l'homme!"

Longford gave vent to a snigger, which was his way of laughing.

"God is an abstract illusion,"--he said--"One does not introduce a
non-available quantity in the summing up of facts!"

"Ah! Vous ne croyez pas en Dieu?" And Gigue ruffled up his grey hair
with one hand. "Mais--a quoi bon! Ca ne sert rien! Dieu pent exister
sans votre croyance, Monsieur!--je vous jure!"

And he laughed--a hearty laugh that was infectious and carried the
laughter of everyone else with it. Longford, irritated, turned to
his next neighbour with some trite observation, and allowed the
discussion to drop. But Walden had heard it, and his heart went out
to Gigue for the manner in which he had, for the moment at least,
quenched the light of the 'Savage and Savile.'

Up at the end of the table at which he, Walden, sat, things were of
rather a strained character. Lord Roxmouth essayed to be witty and
conversational, but received so little encouragement in his sallies
from Maryllia, that he had to content himself with Lady Wicketts,
whom he found a terrible bore. Sir Morton Pippitt, eating heartily
of everything, was gradually becoming purple in the face and
somnolent under the influence of wine and food,--Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay, tired of trying to 'draw' Walden on sundry topics, got
cross and impatient, the more so as she found that he could make
himself very charming to the other people in his immediate vicinity,
and that, as the dinner proceeded, he 'came out' as it were, very
unexpectedly in conversation, and proved himself not only an
intellectually brilliant man, but a socially entertaining one. Lord
Roxmouth glanced at him curiously from time to time with growing
suspicion and disfavour. He was not the kind of subservient, half
hypocritical, mock-meek being that is conventionally supposed to
represent a country 'cure.' His independent air, his ease of manner,
and above all, his intelligence and high culture, were singularly
displeasing to Lord Roxmouth, especially as he noticed that Maryllia
listened to everything Walden said, and appeared to be more
interested in his observations than in those of anyone else at the
table. Exchanging a suggestive glance with Lady Beaulyon, Roxmouth
saw that she was taking notes equally with himself on this
circumstance, and his already hard face hardened, and grew colder
and more inflexible as Walden, with a gaiety and humour irresistibly
his own, kept the ball of conversation rolling, and gradually drew
to his own strong and magnetic personality, the appreciative
attention of nearly all present.

Truth to tell, a sudden exhilaration and excitement had wakened up
John's latent forces,--Maryllia's eyes, glancing half timidly, half
wistfully at him, and her fair face, slightly troubled in its
expression, had moved him to an exertion of his best powers to
please her, and make everything bright and gay around her. Instinct
told him that some secret annoyance fretted her--and watching her
looks, and noting the monosyllabic replies she gave to Lord Roxmouth
whenever that distinguished personage addressed her, he decided,
with a foolish thrill at his heart, that the report of her intended
marriage with this nobleman could not be true--she could never look
so coldly at anyone she loved! And with this idea paramount in his
brain he gave himself up to the humour of the hour--and by and by
heads were turned in his direction, and people whispered--'Is that
the parson of the parish?'--and when the answer was given in the
affirmative, wondering glances were exchanged, and someone at the
other end of the table remarked sotto voce:--'Much too brilliant a
man for the country!'--whereat Miss Arabella Ittlethwaite bridled up
and said she 'hoped nobody thought that town offered the only
samples of the human brain worth noticing,' as she would, in that
case, 'beg to differ.' Whereat there ensued a lively discussion,
which ended, so far as the general experience went, in the decision
that clever men were always born or discovered in the country, but
that after a while they invariably went up to town, and there became
famous.

Presently, the dinner drawing to an end, dessert, coffee and the
smoking conveniences for both ladies and gentlemen were handed
round,--cigars for the gentlemen, cigarettes for both gentlemen and
ladies. All the women helped themselves to cigarettes, as a matter
of course, with the exception of Miss Ittlethwaite,--(who, as a
'county' lady of the old school, sat transfixed with horror at the
bare idea of being expected to smoke)--poor old Miss Fosby, and
Maryllia. And now occurred an incident, in itself trifling, but
fraught with strange results to those immediately concerned. Lady
Beaulyon was just about to light her own cigarette when, in
obedience to a sudden thought that flashed across her brain, she
turned her lovely laughing face round towards Walden, and said:

"As there's a clergyman present, I'm sure we ought to ask his
permission before we light up! Don't you think it very shocking for
women to smoke, Mr. Walden?"

He looked straight at her--his face paling a little with a sense of
strongly suppressed feeling.

"I have always been under the impression that English ladies never
smoke,"--he said, quietly, with a very slight emphasis on the word
'ladies.' "The rest, of course, must do as they please!"

Had a bombshell suddenly exploded in the dining-room, the effect
could hardly have been more stupefying than these words. There was
an awful pause. The women, holding the unlit cigarettes delicately
between their fingers, looked enquiringly at their hostess. The men
stared; Lord Roxmouth laughed.

Maryllia turned white as a snowdrop--but her eyes blazed with sudden
amazement, indignation and pride that made lightning in their tender
blue. Then,--deliberately choosing a cigarette from the silver box
which had been placed on the table before her, she lit it,--and
began to puff the smoke from her rosy lips in delicate rings,
turning to Lord Roxmouth as she did so with a playful word and
smile. It was enough;--the 'lead' was given. A glance of approval
went the round of her London lady guests--who, exonerated by her
prompt action from all responsibility, lighted their cigarettes
without further ado, and the room was soon misty with tobacco fumes.
Not a word was addressed to Walden,--a sudden mantle of fog seemed
to have fallen over him, covering him up from the consciousness of
the company, for no one even glanced at him, except covertly,--no
one appeared to have heard or noticed his remark. Lord Charlemont
looked, as he felt, distressed. In his heart he admired Walden for
his boldness in speaking out frankly against a modern habit of women
which he also considered reprehensible,--but at the same time he
recognised that the reproof had perhaps been administered too
openly. Walden himself sat rigid and very pale--he fully realised
what he had done,--and he knew he was being snubbed for it--but he
did not care.

"Better so!"--he said to himself in an inward rage--"Better that I
should never see her again than see her as she is now! She wrongs
herself!--and I cannot be a silent witness of her wrong, even though
it is wrought by her own hand!"

The buzz of talk now grew more loud and incessant;--he saw Sir
Morton Pippitt's round eyes fixed upon him with an astonished and
derisive stare,--and he longed for the moment to come when he might
escape from the whole smoking, chattering party. All that his own
eyes consciously beheld was Maryllia--Maryllia, the dainty, pretty,
delicate feminine creature who seemed created out of the finest
mortal and spiritual essences,--smoking! That cigarette stuck in her
pretty mouth, vulgarised her appearance at once,--coarsened her--
made her look as if she were indeed the rapid 'Maryllia Van' his
friend Bishop Brent had written of. What did he care if not a soul
at that table ever spoke to him again? Nothing! But he cared--oh, he
cared greatly for any roughening touch on that little figure of
smooth white and rose flesh, which somehow he had, unconsciously to
himself, set in a niche for thoughts higher than common! He was
quite aware that he had committed a social error, yet he was sorry
she could not have reproved him in some other fashion than that of
deliberately doing what he had just condemned as unbecoming to a
lady. And his mind was in a whirl, when at last she rose to give the
signal to adjourn, passing out of the dining-room without a glance
in his direction.

The moment she had vanished, he at once prepared to leave, not only
the room, but the house. No one offered to detain him. The men were
all too conscious of what they considered his 'faux pas'--and they
were also made rather uncomfortable by the decided rebuff he had
received from their hostess. Yet they all liked him, and were, in
their way, sorry for what had occurred. Lord Roxmouth, with the easy
assurance of one who is conscious of his own position, remarked with
kindly banter:--

"Won't you stay with us, Mr. Walden? Are you obliged to go?"

Walden looked at him unflinchingly, yet with a smile.

"When a man elects to speak his mind, Lord Roxmouth, his room is
better than his company!"

And with this he left them--to laugh at him if they chose--caring
little whether they did or not. Passing into the hall, he took his
hat and coat,--he was angry with himself, yet not ashamed,--for
something in his soul told him that he had done rightly, even as a
minister of the Gospel, to utter a protest against the vulgarising
of womanhood. He stepped out into the courtyard--the moon was
rising, and the air was very sweet and cool.

"I was wrong!"--he said, half aloud--"And yet I was right! I should
not have said what I did,--and yet I should! If no man is ever bold
enough to protest again the voluntary and fast-increasing self-
degradation of women, then men will be most to blame if the next
generation of wives and mothers are shameless, unsexed, indecorous,
and wholly unworthy of their life's mission. How angry she looked!
Possibly she will never speak to me again. Well, what does it
matter! The wider apart our paths are set, the better!"

He reached the gate of the courtyard, and was about to pass through
it, when a little fluttering figure in white, with crimson in its
rough dark hair, rushed after him. It was Cicely.

"Don't go, please Mr. Walden!" she said, breathlessly; and he saw,
even by the light of the moon, that her eyes were wet--"Please don't
go! Maryllia wishes to speak to you."

He turned a pale, composed face upon her.

"Where?"

"In the picture-gallery. She is alone there. She saw you cross the
courtyard, and sent me after you. All the other people are in the
drawing-room, waiting to hear me sing--and I must run, for Gigue is
there, and he is so impatient! Please, Mr. Walden!"--and Cicely's
voice shook--"Please don't mind if Maryllia is angry! She IS angry!
But it's all on the surface--she doesn't really mean it--she
wouldn't be unkind for all the world! I know what you said,--I was
watching the dinner-party from the ante-room and I saw everything--
and--and--I think you were just splendid!--it's horrid for women to
smoke--but they nearly all do it nowadays--only I never saw Maryllia
do it before, and oh, Mr. Walden, make it all right with her,
please!"

For a moment John hesitated. Then a kind smile softened his
features.

"I can't quite promise that, Cicely,--but I'll do my best!" And
taking her hand he patted it gently, as she furtively dashed one or
two tear-drops from her lashes--"Come, come, you mustn't cry! Run
away and sing like the little nightingale you are--don't fret---"

"But you'll go to Maryllia, won't you?" she urged, anxiously.

"Yes. I'll go!"

She lifted her dark eyes, and he saw how true and full of soul they
were, despite their witch-like wildness and passion. Just then a
stormy passage of music, played on the piano, and tumbling out, as
it seemed, on the air through the open windows of the Manor drawing-
room, reminded her that she was being waited for by her impetuous
and impatient maestro.

"That's the signal for me!" she said--"I must run! But oh do, do
make it up with Maryllia and be friends!"

She rushed away. He waited till she had disappeared, then turning
back through the courtyard, slowly re-entered the house.




XXIII


The lights were burning low and dimly in the picture-gallery when he
entered it and saw Maryllia there, pacing restlessly up and down,
the folds of her dress with the 'diamants' sparkling around her as
she moved, like a million little drops of frost on gossamer, while
her small head, lifted proudly on its slim arched throat, seemed to
his heated fancy, as though crowned with fresh coronals of gold
woven from the summer sun. Turning, she confronted him and paused
irresolute,--then, with a sudden impulsive gesture, came forward
swiftly,--her cheeks flaming crimson,--her lips trembling, and her
bosom heaving with its quickened breath like that of a fluttered
bird.

"How dare you!" she said, in a low, strained voice--"How dare you!"

He met her eyes,--and in that moment individual and personal
considerations were swept aside, and only the Right and the Wrong
presented themselves to his mental vision, like witnesses from a
higher world, invisible but omnipotent, waiting for the result of
the first clash of combat between two human souls. Yielding to his
own over-mastering emotion, and reckless of consequences, he caught
her two hands lightly in his own.

"And how dare YOU!" he said earnestly,--"Little girl, how dare YOU
so hurt yourself!"

They gazed upon one another,--each one secretly amazed at the
other's outbreak of feeling,--she grown white and speechless,--he
with a swift strong sense of his own power and authority as a mere
man, nerving him to the utterance of truth for her sake--for her
sake!--regardless of all forms and ceremonies. Then he dropped her
hands as quickly as he had grasped them.

"Forgive me!" he said, very softly,--and paused, till recovering
more of his self-possession, he continued quietly--"You should not
have sent for me, Miss Vancourt! Knowing that I had offended you, I
was leaving your house, never intending to enter it again. Why did
you summon me back? To reproach me? It would be kinder to spare me
this, and let me go my own way!"

He waited for her to speak. But she was silent. Anger, humiliation
and wounded pride, mingled with a certain struggling respect and
admiration for his boldness, held her mute. She little knew how
provocatively lovely she looked as she stood haughtily immovable,
her eyes alone flashing eloquent rebellion;--she little guessed that
John committed the picture of her fairness to the innermost
recording cells of his brain, there to be stored up preciously, and
never forgotten.

"I am sorry,"--he resumed--"that I spoke as I did just now at your
table--because you are angry with me. But I cannot say that I am
sorry for any other reason--"

At this Maryllia found her voice suddenly.

"You have insulted my guests---"

"Ah, no!" said John, almost with a smile--"Women who are habitual
smokers are not easily insulted! They are past that, believe me! The
fine susceptibilities which one might otherwise attribute to them
have been long ago blunted. They do not command respect, and
naturally, they can scarcely expect to receive it."

"I do not agree with you!" retorted Maryllia, with rising warmth, as
she regained her self-control, and with it her deep sense of
irritation--"You were rude,--and rudeness is unpardonable! You said
as much as to imply that none of the women present were ladies---"

"None of those who smoked were!"--said John, coolly.

"Mr. Walden! I myself, smoked!"

"You did,"--and he moved a step or two nearer to her, his whole face
lighting up with keen emotion--"And why did you? The motive was
intended to be courteous--but the principle was wrong!"

"Wrong!" she echoed, angrily--"Wrong?"

"Yes--wrong! Have you never been told that you can do one thing
wrong among so many that you do right, Miss Vancourt?" he asked,
with great gentleness--"You had it in your power to show your true
womanliness by refusing to smoke,--you could, in your position as
hostess, have saved your women friends from making fools of
themselves--yes--the word is out, and I don't apologise for it!"--
here a sudden smile kindled in his fine eyes--"And you could also
have given them all an example of obedience."

"Obedience!" exclaimed Maryllia, astonished,--"What do you mean?
Obedience to whom?"

"To me!" replied John, with perfect composure.

She gazed at him, scarcely believing she had heard aright.

"To you?" she repeated--"To you?"

"Why certainly!" said John, wondering even as he spoke at his own
ease and self-assurance--"As minister of the parish I am the only
person here that is set in authority over you--and the first thing
you do is to defy me!"

His manner was whimsical and kindly,--his tone of voice playfully
tender, as though he were speaking to some naughty child whom,
notwithstanding its temper, he loved too well to scold,--and
Maryllia was completely taken aback by this unexpected method of
treating her combative humour. Her pretty mouth opened like a
rosebud,--she seemed as though she would speak, but only an
inarticulate murmur came from her parted lips; while the very
faintest lurking suspicion of a smile crept dimpling over her face,
to be lost again in the hostile expression of her eyes.

"You say I was rude,"--he went on,--"If I was, need you have been
rude too?"

She found utterance quickly.

"I was not rude---" she began.

"Pardon me,--you were! Rude to me--and still more rude to yourself!
The last was the worst affront, in my opinion!"

"I do not understand you," she said, impatiently--"Your ideas of
women are not those of the present day---"

"Thank God, they are not!" he replied--"I am glad to be in that
respect, old-fashioned! You say you do not understand me. Now that
is not true! You do understand! You know very well that if I was
rude in my UNpremeditated speech, you were much more rude in your
premeditated act!--that of deliberately spoiling your womanly self
by doing what you know in your own heart was--will you forgive me
the word?--unwomanly!"

Maryllia flushed red.

"There is no harm in smoking," she said, coldly;--"it is quite the
usual thing nowadays for ladies to enjoy their cigarettes. Why
should they not? It is nothing new. Spanish women have always
smoked--Austrian and Italian women smoke freely without any adverse
comment--in fact, the custom is almost universal. English women have
been the last, certainly, to adopt it--but then, England is always
behind every country in everything!"

She spoke with a hard flippancy,--and she knew it. Walden's eyes
darkened into a deeper gravity.

"Miss Vancourt, this England of ours was once upon a time not
behind, but BEFORE every nation in the whole world for the
sweetness, purity and modesty of its women! That it has become one
with less enlightened races in the deliberate unsexing and
degradation of womanhood does not now, and will not in the future,
redound to its credit. But I am prolonging a discussion uselessly,--
" He waited a moment. "I shall trouble you no more with my opinions,
believe me,--nor shall I ever again intrude my presence upon
yourself or your guests,"--he continued, slowly,--"As I have already
said, I am sorry to have offended YOU,--but I am not sorry to have
spoken my mind! I do not care a jot what your friends from London
think of me or say of me,--their criticism, good or bad, is to me a
matter of absolute indifference--but I had thought--I had hoped---"

He paused,--his voice for the moment failing him. Maryllia looked at
his pale, earnest face, and a sudden sense of shamed compunction
smote her heart. Her anger was fast cooling down,--and with the
swift change of mood which made her so variable and bewitching, she
said, more gently:

"Well, Mr. Walden? You thought--you hoped?"

"That we might be friends,"--he answered, quietly--"But I see
plainly that is impossible!"

She was silent. He stood very still,--his eyes wandering
involuntarily to the painted beauty of 'Mary Elia Adelgisa de
Vaignecourt,' which he had admired and studied so often for many
lonely years, and back again along the dimly lit gallery to that
unveiled portrait of the young bride who never came home, the mother
of the little proud creature who confronted him with such fairy-like
stateliness and pretty assertion of her small self in combat against
him, and upon whom his glance finally rested with a lingering
sadness and pain. Then he said in a low tone:

"Good-night, Miss Vancourt--good-bye!"

At this a cloud of distress swept across her mobile features. "There
now!" she said to herself--"He's going away and he'll never come to
the Manor any more! I intended to make him quite ashamed of himself-
-and he isn't a bit! So like a man! He'd rather die than own himself
in the wrong--besides he ISN'T wrong,--oh dear!--he mustn't go away
in a huff!"

And with a sudden yielding sweetness and grace of action of which
she was quite unconscious, she extended her hands to him--

"Oh, no, Mr. Walden!" she said, earnestly--"I am not so angry as all
that! Not good-bye!"  Hardly knowing what he did, he took her
offered hands and held them tenderly in his own.

"Not good-bye!" she said, trembling a little, and flushing rose-red
with a certain embarrassment--"I don't really want to quarrel--I
don't indeed! We--we were getting on so nicely together--and it is
so seldom one CAN get on with a clergyman!"--here she began to
laugh--"But you know it was dreadful of you, wasn't it?--at any rate
it sounded dreadful--when you said that English ladies never smoked-
--"

"Neither they do,"--declared John resolutely, yet smilingly, "Except
by way of defiance!"

She glanced up at him,--and the mirthful sparkle in his eyes was
reflected in her own.

"You are very obstinate!" she said, as she drew her hands away from
his--"But I suppose you really do think smoking is wrong for women?"

His heart was beating, his pulses thrilling under the influence of
her touch, her appealing look and sudden change of manner,--but he
was not to be moved from his convictions, though all the world
should swim round him in a glamour of blue eyes and gold hair.

"I think so, most certainly!"

"But why?"

He hesitated.

"Well, the act of smoking in itself is not wrong--but the
associations of the habit are unfit for womanhood. I know very well
that it has become usual in England for ladies to smoke,--most
unfortunately--but there are many habits and customs in this country
as well as in others, which, because they are habitual, are not the
less, but rather the more, pernicious. I confess to a strong
prejudice against smoking women."

"But men smoke--why should not women smoke also?" persisted
Maryllia.

Walden heard this plea with smiling patience.

"Men,--a very large majority of them too--habitually get drunk. Do
you think it justifiable for women to get drunk by way of following
the men's example?"

"Why no, of course not!"--she answered quickly--"But drunkenness is
a vice---"

"So is smoking! And it is quite as unhealthy as all vices are. There
have been more addle-pated statesmen and politicians in England
since smoking became a daily necessity with, them than were ever
known before. I don't believe in any human being who turns his brain
into a chimney. And.--pardon me!--when YOU deliberately put that
cigarette in your mouth---"

"Well!" and a mischievous dimple appeared on each soft cheek as she
looked up--"What did you think of me? Now be perfectly frank!"

"I will!" he said, slowly, with an earnest gravity darkening in his
eyes--"I should not be your true friend if I were otherwise! But if
I tell you what I thought--and what I may say I know from long
experience all honest Englishmen think when they see a woman
smoking--you must exonerate me in your mind and understand that my
thoughts were only momentary. I knew that your better, sweeter self
would soon reassert its sway!"

Her head drooped a little--she was quite silent.

"I thought,"--he went on, "when I saw you actually smoking, that
something strange and unnatural had happened to you! That you had
become, in some pitiful way, a different woman to the one that
walked with me, not so long ago, and showed me her old French damask
roses blossoming in the border!"--he paused an instant, his voice
faltering a little,--then he resumed, quietly and firmly--"and that
you had, against all nature's best intentions for you, descended to
the level of Lady Beaulyon---"

She interrupted him by a quick gesture---

"Eva Beaulyon is my friend, Mr. Walden!"

"No--not your friend!"--he said steadily--"Forgive me! You asked me
to speak frankly. She is a friend to none except those of her own
particular class and type---"

"To which I also belong,"--said Maryllia, with a sudden flash of
returning rebellion--"You know I do!"

"I know you do NOT!" replied Walden, with some heat--"And I thank
God for it! I know you are no more of her class and type than the
wood lily is like the rank and poisonous marsh weed! Oh, child!--why
do you wrong yourself! If I am too blunt and plain in what I say to
you, let me cease speaking--but if you ask ME as your friend--as
your minister!"--and he emphasised the word--"to tell you honestly
my opinion, have patience with my roughness!"

"You are not rough," she murmured,--and a little contraction in her
throat warned her of the possible rising of tears--"But you are
scarcely tolerant!"

"I cannot be tolerant of the demoralisation of womanhood!"--he said,
passionately--"I cannot look on with an easy smile when I see the
sex that SHOULD be the saving purity of the world, deliberately
sinking itself by its own free will and choice into the mire of the
vulgarest social vice, and parting with every redeeming grace,
modesty and virtue that once made it sacred and beautiful! I am
quite aware that there are many men who not only look on, but even
encourage this world-wide debasement of women in order to bring them
down on a par with themselves--but I am not one of these. I know
that when women cease to be womanly, then the sorrows of the world,
already heavy, will be doubled and trebled! When men come to be
ashamed of their mothers--as many of them are to-day--there will be
but little hope of good for future generations! And the fact that
there are many women of title and position like your guest, Lady
Beaulyon, who deliberately drag their husband's honour through the
dust and publicly glory in their own disgrace, does not make their
crime the less, but rather the more criminal. You know this as well
as I do! You are not of Lady Beaulyon's class or type--if you were,
I should not waste one moment of my time in your presence!"

She gazed at him speechlessly. And now from the drawing room came
the sound of Cicely's voice, clear, powerful, and as sweet as
legends tell us the voices of the angels are--

    "Luna fedel, tu chiama
     Col raggio ed io col suon,
     La fulgida mia dama
     Sul gotico veron!"

"You know," he went on impetuously--"You know I told you before that
I am not a society man. I said that if I came to dinner to meet your
London friends, I should be very much in the way. You have found me
so. A man of my age and of my settled habits and convictions ought
to avoid society altogether. It is not possible for him to
accommodate himself to it. For instance,--see how old-fashioned and
strait-laced I am!--I wish I had been miles away from St. Rest
before I had ever seen you smoking! It is a trifle, perhaps,--but it
is one of those trifles which stick in the memory and embitter the
mind!"

Around them the air seemed to break and divide into pulsations of
melody as Cicely sang:

    "Diro che sei d'argente
     D'opale, d'ambra e d'or,
     Diro che incanti il vento,
     E che innamori i fior!"

"You have seemed to me such an ideal of English womanhood!"--he went
on dreamily, hardly aware how far his words were carrying him--"The
sweet and fitting mistress of this dear old house, richly endowed as
it is with noblest memories of the noble dead! Their proud and
tender spirit has looked out of your eyes--or so I have fancied;--
and you are naturally so kind and gentle--you have been so good to
the people in the village,--they all love you--they all wish to
think well of you;--for you have proved yourself practically as well
as emotionally sympathetic to them. And, above all things, you have
appeared so pre-eminently delicate and dainty in your tastes--so
maidenly!--I should as soon have expected to see the Greek Psyche
smoking as you!"

She took a swift step towards him, and laid her hand on his arm.

"Can't you forget it?" she said.

He looked at her. Her eyes were humid, and her lips trembled a
little.

"Forget what?" he asked gently.

"That I smoked!"

He hesitated a second.

"I will try!"

"You see!"--went on Maryllia, coaxingly--"we shall have to live in
the same parish, and we shall be compelled to meet each other often-
-and it would never do for you to be always thinking of that
cigarette! Now would it?"

He was silent. The little hand on his arm gave an insistent
pressure.

"Of course when you conjure up such an awful picture as Psyche
smoking, I know just how you feel about it!" And her eyes sparkled
up at him with an arch look which, fortunately for his peace of
mind, his own eyes did not meet,--"And naturally you must hold very
strong opinions on the subject,--dreadfully strong! But then--nobody
has ever thought me at all like Psyche before--so you so--you see!--
" She paused, and John began to feel his heart beating uncomfortably
fast. "It's very nice to be compared to Psyche anyhow!--and of
course she would look impossible and awful with a cigarette in her
mouth! I quite understand! She couldn't smoke,--she wouldn't!--and--
and--_I_ won't! I won't really! You won't believe me, I expect,--but
I assure you, I never smoke! I only did it this evening, because,--
because,--well!--because I thought I ought to defend my own sex
against your censure--and also perhaps--perhaps out of a little bit
of bravado! But, I'm sorry! There! Will you forgive me?"

Nearly, very nearly, John lost his head. Maryllia had used the
strongest weapon in all woman's armoury,--humility,--and he went
down before it, completely overwhelmed and conquered. A swirl of
emotion swept over him,--his brain grew dizzy, and for a moment he
saw nothing in earth or heaven but the sweet upturned face, the soft
caressing eyes, the graceful yielding form clad in its diaphanous
draperies of jewelled gossamer,--then pulling himself together with
a strong effort which made him well-nigh tremble, he took the small
hand that lay in white confidence on his arm, and raised it to his
lips with a grave, courtly, almost cold reverence.

"It is you to forgive ME, Miss Vancourt!"--he said, unsteadily. "For
I am quite aware that I committed a breach of social etiquette at
your table,--and--and--I know I have taken considerable liberty in
speaking my mind to you as I have done. Even as your minister I fear
I have overstepped my privileges---"

"Oh, please don't apologise!" said Maryllia, quickly--"It's all
over, you know! You've said your say, and I've said mine--and I'm
sure we both feel better for it. Don't we?"

John smiled, but his face was very pale, and his eyes were troubled.
He was absorbed in the problem of his own struggling emotions--how
to master them--how to keep them back from breaking into passionate
speech,--and her bewitching, childlike air, half penitent, half
mischievous, was making sad havoc of his self-possession.

"We are friends again now,"--she went on--"And really,--really we
MUST try and keep so!"

This, with a quaint little nod of emphatic decision.

"Do you think it will be difficult?" he asked, looking at her more
earnestly and tenderly than he himself was aware of.

She laughed, and blushed a little.

"I don't know!--it may be!" she said--"You see you've twice ruffled
me up the wrong way! I was very angry--oh, very angry indeed, when
you coolly stopped the service because we all came in late that
Sunday,--and to-night I was very angry again---"

"But I was NOT angry!" said John, simply--"And it takes two to make
a quarrel!"

She peeped at him from under her long lashes and again the fleeting
blush swept over her fair face.

"I must go now!"--she said--"Won't you come into the drawing-room?--
just to hear Cicely sing at her very best?"

"Not to-night,"--he answered quickly--"If you will excuse me---"

"Of course I will excuse you!" and she smiled--"I know you don't
like company."

"I very much DISLIKE it!" he said, emphatically--"But then I'm quite
an unsociable person. You see I've lived alone here for ten years---
"

"And you want to go on living alone for another ten years--I see!"
said Maryllia--"Well! So you shall! I promise I won't interfere!"

He looked at her half appealingly.

"I don't think you understand,"--he said,--then paused.

"Oh yes, I understand perfectly!" And she smiled radiantly. "You
like to be left quite to yourself, with your books and flowers, and
the bits of glass for the rose-window in the church. By the bye, I
must help you with that rose-window! I will get you some genuine old
pieces--and if I find any very rare specimens of medieval blue or
crimson you'll be so pleased that you'll forget all about that
cigarette--you know you will!"

"Miss Vancourt,"--he began earnestly--"if you will only believe that
it is because I think so highly of you--because you have seemed to
me so much above the mere society woman that I---I---"

"I know!" she said, very softly--"I quite see your point of view!"

"You are not of the modern world,"--he went on, slowly--"Not in your
heart--not in your real tastes and sentiments;--not yet, though you
may possibly be forced to become one with it after your marriage---"

"And when will that be?" she interrupted him smiling.

His clear, calm blue eyes rested upon her gravely and searchingly.

"Soon surely,--if report be true!"

"Really? Well, you ought to know whether the date has been fixed
yet,"--she said, very demurely--"Because, of course YOU'LL have to
marry me!"

Something swayed and rocked in John's brain, making the ground he
stood upon swerve and seem unsteady. A wave of colour flushed his
bronzed face up to the very roots of his grey-brown hair. Maryllia
watched him with prettily critical interest, much as a kitten
watches the rolling out of a ball of worsted on which it has just
placed its little furry paw. Hurriedly he sought in his mind for
something to say.

"I---I---don't quite understand,"--he murmured.

"Don't you?" and she smiled upon him blandly--"Surely you wouldn't
expect me to be married in any church but yours, or by any clergyman
but you?"

"Oh, I see!" And Maryllia mentally commented--'So do I!'--while he
heaved a sigh unconsciously, but whether of relief or pain it was
impossible to tell. Looking up, he met her eyes,--so deep and blue,
so strangely compassionate and tender! A faint smile trembled on her
lips.

"Good-night, Mr. Walden!"

"Good-night!" he said; then suddenly yielding to the emotion which
mastered him, he made one swift step to her side--"You will forgive
me, I know!--you will think of me presently with kindness, and with
patience for my old-fashioned ways!--and you will do me the justice
to believe that if I seemed rude to your guests, as you say I was,
it was all for your sake!--because I thought you deserved more
respect from them than that they should smoke in your presence,--and
also, because I felt--I could not help feeling that if your father
had been alive he would not have allowed them to do so,--he would
have been too precious of you,--too careful that nothing of an
indecorous or unwomanly nature should ever be associated with you;--
and--and--I spoke as I did because it seemed to me that someone
SHOULD speak!--someone of years and authority, who from the point of
experience alone, might defend you from the contact of modern
vulgarity;--so--so--I said the first words that came to me--just as
your father might have said them!--yes!--just as your father might
have spoken,--for you--you know you seem little more than a child to
me!--I am so much older than you are, God help me!"

Stooping, he caught her hands and kissed them with a passion of
which he was entirely unconscious,--then turned swiftly from her and
was gone.

She stood where he had left her, trembling a little, but with a
startled radiance in her eyes that made them doubly beautiful. She
was pale to the lips;--her hands,--the hands he had kissed, were
burning. Suddenly, on an impulse which she could not have explained
to herself, she ran swiftly out of the picture-gallery and into the
hall where,--as the great oaken door stood open to the summer
night,--she could see the whole flower-garlanded square of the Tudor
court, gleaming like polished silver in the intense radiance of the
moon. John Walden was walking quickly across it,--she watched him,
and saw him all at once pause near the old stone dial which at this
season of the year was almost hidden by the clambering white roses
that grew around it. He took off his hat and passed his hand over
his brows with an air of dejection and fatigue,--the moonlight fell
full on the clear contour of his features,--and she drew herself and
her sparkling draperies well back into the deep shadow of the portal
lest he should catch a glimpse of her, and, perhaps,--so seeing her,
return--

"And that would never do!" she thought, with a little tremor of fear
running through her which was unaccountably delicious;--"I'm sure it
wouldn't!--not to-night!"

The air was very warm and sultry,--all the windows of the Manor were
thrown open for coolness,--and through those of the drawing-room
came the lovely vibrations of Cicely's pure fresh voice. She was
singing an enchanting melody on which some words of Julian
Adderley's, simple and quaint, without having any claim to
particular poetic merit, floated clearly with distinct and perfect
enunciation--

    "A little rose on a young rose-tree
     Shed all its crimson blood for me,
     Drop by drop on the dewy grass,
     Its petals fell, and its life did pass;
     Oh little rose on the young rose-tree,
     Why did you shed your blood for me?

    "A nightingale in a tall pine-tree
     Broke its heart in a song for me,
     Singing, with moonbeams around it spread,
     It fluttered, and fell at my threshold, dead;--
     Oh nightingale in the tall pine-tree,
     Why did you break your heart for me?

    "A lover of ladies, bold and free,
     Challenged the world to a fight for me,
     But I scorn'd his love in a foolish pride,
     And, sword in hand, he fighting died!
     Oh lover of ladies, bold and free,
     Why did you lose your life for me?"

And again, with plaintive insistence, the last two lines were
repeated, ringing out on the deep stillness of the summer night--

    "Oh lover of ladies, told and free,
     Why did you lose yowr life for me?"

The song ceased with a clash of chords. It was followed by a subdued
clapping of hands,--a pause of silence--and then a renewed murmur of
conversation. Walden looked up as if suddenly startled from a
reverie, and resumed his quick pace across the courtyard,--and
Maryllia, seeing him go, advanced a little more into the gleaming
moonlight to follow him with her eyes till he should quite
disappear.

"Upon my word, a very quaint little comedy!" said a coldly mocking
voice behind her--"A modern Juliet gazing pathetically after the
retiring form of a somewhat elderly clerical Romeo! Let me
congratulate you, Miss Maryllia, on your newest and most brilliant
achievement,--the conquest of a country parson! It is quite worthy
of you!"

And turning, she confronted Lord Roxmouth.




XXIV


For a moment they looked at each other. The smile on Roxmouth's face
widened.

"Come, come, Maryllia!" he said, easily--"Don't be foolish! The airs
of a tragedy queen do not suit you. I assure you I haven't the least
objection to your amusing yourself with a parson, if you like! The
conversation in the picture-gallery just now was quite idyllic--all
about a cigarette and Psyche! Really it was most absurd!--and the
little sermon of the enamoured clergyman to his pretty penitent was
as unique as it was priggish. I'm sure you must have been vastly
entertained! And the final allusion he made to his age--THAT was a
masterstroke of pathos!--or bathos? Which? Du sublime au ridicule il
n'y'a qu'un pas, Madame!"

Her eyes were fixed unswervingly upon him.

"So you listened!" she said.

"Naturally! One always listens to a comedy if it is played well.
I've been listening all the evening. I've listened to your waif and
stray, Cicely Bourne, and am perfectly willing to admit that she is
worth the training you are giving her. It's the first time I've
heard her sing to advantage. I've listened to Eva Beaulyon's
involved explanation of a perfectly unworkable scheme for the
education of country yokels (who never do anything with education
when they get it), on which she is going to extract twenty thousand
pounds for herself from the pockets of her newest millionaire-
victim. I've listened to the Bludlip Courtenay woman's enthusiastic
description of a new specific for the eradication of wrinkles and
crowsfeet. I've listened to that old bore Sir Morton Pippitt, and to
the afflicting county gossip of the lady in green,--Miss
Ittlethwaite is her name, I believe. And, getting tired of these
things, I strolled towards the picture-gallery, and hearing your
delightful voice, listened there. I confess I heard more than I
expected!"

Without a word in response, she turned from him and began to move
away. He stretched out a hand and caught her sleeve.

"Maryllia, wait! I must speak to you--and I may as well say what I
have to say now and get it over."

She paused. Lifting her eyes she glanced at him with a look of utter
scorn and contempt. He laughed.

"Come out into the moonlight!"--he said--"Come and walk with me in
this romantic old courtyard. It suits you, and you suit it. You are
very pretty, Maryllia! May I--notwithstanding the parson--smoke?"

She said nothing. Drawing a leather case from his pocket, he took a
cigar out and lit it.

"Silence gives consent,"--he went on--"Besides I'm sure you don't
mind. You know plenty of men who can never talk comfortably without
puffing smoke in between whiles. I'm one of that sort. Don't look at
me like Cleopatra deprived of Marc Antony. Be reasonable! I only
want to say a few plain matter-of-fact words to you---"

"Say them then as quickly as possible, please,"--she replied--"I am
NOT a good listener!"

"No? Now I should have thought you were, judging by the patience
with which you endured the parson's general discursiveness. What a
superb night!" He stepped from the portal out on the old flagstones
of the courtyard. "Take just one turn with me, Maryllia!"

Quietly, and with an air of cold composure she came to him, and
walked slowly at his side. He looked at her covertly, yet
critically.

"I won't make love to you,"--he said presently, with a smile--
"because you tell me you don't like it. I will merely put a case
before you and ask for your opinion! Have I your permission?"

She bent her head slightly. Her throat was dry,--her heart was
beating painfully,--she knew Roxmouth's crafty and treacherous
nature, and her whole soul sickened as she realised that now he
could, if he chose, drag the name of John Walden through a mire of
social mud, and hold it up to ridicule among his own particular
'set,' who would certainly lose no time in blackening it with their
ever-ready tar-brush. And it was all through her--all through her!
How would she ever forgive herself if his austere and honourable
reputation were touched in ever so slight a degree by a breath of
scandal? Unconsciously, she clasped her little hands and wrung them
hard--Roxmouth saw the action, and quickly fathomed the inward
suffering it indicated.

"You know my dearest ambition,"--he went on,--"and I need not
emphasise it. It is to call you my wife. If you consent to marry me,
you take at once a high position in the society to which you
naturally belong. But you tell me I am detestable to you--and that
you would rather die than accept me as a husband. I confess I do not
understand your attitude,--and, if you will allow me to say so, I
hardly think you understand it yourself. You are in a state of
uncertainty--most women live always in that state;--and your
vacillating soul like a bewildered butterfly--you see I am copying
the clerical example by dropping into poetry!--and a butterfly, NOT
a cigarette, is I believe the correct emblem of Psyche,--" here he
took a whiff at his cigar, and smiled pleasantly--"your soul, I
repeat, like a bewildered butterfly, has lighted by chance on a
full-flowering parson. The flight--the pause on that maturely-grown
blossom of piety, is pardonable,--but I cannot contemplate with
pleasure the idea of your compromising your name with that of this
sentimental middle-aged individual who, though he may be an
excellent Churchman, would make rather a grotesque lover!"

She remained silent. Glancing sideways at her, he wondered whether
it was the moonlight that made her look so set and pale.

"But I said I would put a case before you,"--he continued, "and I
will. Here are you,--of an age to be married. Here am I,--anxious to
marry you. We are neither of us growing younger--and delay seems
foolish. I offer you all I am worth in the world--myself, my name
and my position. You have refused me a score of times, and I am not
discouraged--you refuse me still, and I am not baffled. But I ask
why? I am not deformed or idiotic. I would try to make you happy. A
woman is best when she has entirely her own way,--I would let you
have yours. You would be free to follow your own whims and caprices.
Provided you gave me lawful heirs, I should ask no more of you. No
reasonable man ought to ask more of any reasonable woman. Life could
be made very enjoyable to us both, with a little tact and sense on
either side. I should amuse myself in the world, and so I hope,
would you. We understand modern life and appreciate its
conveniences. The freedom of the matrimonial state is one of those
conveniences, of which I am sure we should equally take advantage."

He puffed at his cigar for a few minutes complacently.

"You profess to hate me,"--he went on--"Again I ask, why? You tell
your aunt that you want to be 'loved.' You consider love the only
lasting good of life. Well, you have your desire. _I_ love you!"

She raised her eyes,--and then suddenly laughed.

"You!" she said--"You 'love' me? It must be a very piecemeal sort of
love, then, for I know at least five women to whom you have said the
same thing!"

He was in nowise disconcerted.

"Only five!" he murmured lazily--"Why not ten--or twenty? The more
the merrier! Women delight in bragging of conquests they have never
made, as why should they not? Lying comes so naturally to them! But
I do not profess to be a saint,--I daresay I have said 'I love you'
to a hundred women in a certain fashion,--but not as I say it to
you. When I say it to you, I mean it."

"Mean what?" she asked.

"Love."

She stopped in her walk and faced him.

"When a man loves a woman--really loves her,"--she said, "Does he
persecute her? Does he compromise her in society? Does he try to
scandalise her among her friends? Does he whisper her name away on a
false rumour, and accuse her of running after him for his title,
while all the time he knows it is he himself that is running after
her money? Does he make her life a misery to her, and leave her no
peace anywhere, not even in her own house? Does he spy upon her, and
set others to do the same?--does he listen at doors and interrogate
servants as to her movements--and does he altogether play the
dastardly traitor to prove his 'love'?"

Her voice shook--her eyes were ablaze with indignation. Roxmouth
flicked a little ash off his cigar.

"Why, of course not!" he replied--"But who does these dreadful
things? Are they done at all except in your imagination?"

"YOU do them!" said Maryllia, passionately--"And you have always
done them! When I tell you once and for all that I have given up
every chance I ever had of being my aunt's heiress--that I shall
never be a rich woman,--and that I would far rather die a beggar
than be your wife, will you not understand me?--will you not leave
me alone?"

He looked at her with quizzical amusement.

"Do you really want to be left alone?" he asked--"Or in a 'solitude
a deux'--with the parson?"

She was silent, though her silence cost her an effort. But she knew
that the least word she might say concerning Walden would be
wilfully misconstrued. She knew that Roxmouth was waiting for her to
burst out with some indignant denial of his suggestions--something
that he might twist and turn in his own fashion and repeat
afterwards to all his and her acquaintances. She cared nothing for
herself, but she was full of dread lest Walden's name should be
bandied up and down on the scurrilous tongues of that 'upper class'
throng, who, because they spend their lives in nothing nobler than
political intrigue and sensual indulgence, are politely set aside as
froth and scum by the saner, cleaner world, and classified as the
'Smart Set.' Roxmouth watched her furtively. His clear-cut face,
white skin and sandy hair shone all together with an oily lustre in
the moonlight;--there was a hard cold gleam in his eyes.

"It would be a pretty little story for the society press," he said,
after a pause--"How the bewitching Maryllia Vancourt resigned the
brilliancy of her social life for a dream of love with an elderly
country clergyman! By Heaven! No one would believe it! But,"--and he
waited a minute, then continued--"It's a story that shall never be
told so far as I am concerned--if--" He broke off, and looked
meditatively at the end of his cigar. "There is always an 'if'--
unfortunately!"

Maryllia smiled coldly.

"That is a threat,"--she said--"But it does not affect me! Nothing
that you can do or say will make me consent to marry you. You have
slandered me already--you can slander me again for all I care. But I
will never be your wife."

"You have said so before,"--he observed, placidly--"And I have put
the question many times--why?"

She looked at him steadily.

"Shall I tell you?"

"Do! I shall appreciate the favour!"

For a moment she hesitated. A great pain and sorrow clouded her
eyes.

"No woman marries a leper by choice!"--she said at last, slowly.

He glanced at her,--then shrugged his shoulders.

"You talk in parables. Pardon me if I am too dull to understand
you!"

"You understand me well enough,"--she answered--"But if you wish it,
I will speak more plainly. I dream of love---"

"Most women do!" he interrupted her, smilingly--"And I am sure you
dream charmingly. But is a middle-aged parson part of the romantic
vision?"

She paid no heed to this sarcasm. She had moved a pace or two away
from him, and now stood, her head slightly uplifted, her eyes turned
wistfully towards the picturesque gables of the Manor outlined
clearly in the moon against the dense night sky.

"I dream of love!"--she repeated softly,--while he, smoking
tranquilly, and looking the very image of a tailor's model in his
faultlessly cut dress suit, spotless shirt front, and aggressively
neat white tie, studied her face, her figure and her attitude with
amused interest--"But my dream is not what the world offers me as
the dream's realisation! The love that I mean--the love that I seek-
-the love that I want--the love that I will have,"--and she raised
her hand involuntarily with a slight gesture which almost implied a
command--"or else go loveless all my days--is an honest love,--
loyal, true and pure!--and strong enough to last through this life
and all the lives to come!"

"If there are any!"--interpolated Roxmouth, blandly.

She looked at him,--and a vague expression of something like
physical repulsion flitted across her face.

"It is no use talking to you,"--she said--"For you believe in
nothing--not even in God! You are a man of your own making--you are
not a man in the true sense of manhood. How can you know anything of
love? You will not find it in the low haunts of Paris where you are
so well known,--where your name is a byword as that of an English
'milord' who degrades his Order!"

"What do YOU know of the low haunts of Paris?" he queried with a
cold laugh--"Is Louis Gigue your informant?'

"I daresay Louis Gigue knows as much of you as most men do,"--she
replied, quietly--"But I never speak of you to him. Indeed, I never
speak of you at all unless you are spoken of, and not always then.
You do not interest me sufficiently!"

She moved towards the house. He followed her.

"Your remarks have been somewhat rambling and disjointed,"--he said-
-"But essentially feminine, after all. And they merely tend to one
thing--that you are still an untamed shrew!"

She looked back at him over her shoulder. Her eyes gleamed in the
moonlight,--a faint smile curved her pretty mouth.

"If I am, it will need someone braver than you are to tame me!" she
said--"A trickster is always a coward!"

With an angry exclamation he flung away the end of his cigar,--it
fell into a harmless bed of mignonette and seared the sweet blossom,
burning redly in the green like a wicked eye. And then he caught her
hand firmly and held it grasped as in a vice.

"You insult me!" he said, thickly--"And I shall not forget it! You
talk as a child talks--though you are no child! You are a woman of
the world--you have travelled--you have had experience--and you know
men. You are perfectly aware that the sentimental 'love' you speak
of exists nowhere except in poems and story-books--you know that no
sane man alive would tie himself to one woman save for the law's
demand that his heirs shall be lawfully born. You are no shrinking
maid in her teens, that you should start and recoil or blush, at the
truth of the position, and it is the merest affectation on your part
to talk about 'love lasting forever,' for you are perfectly aware
that it cannot last very long over the honeymoon. The natural state
of man is polygamous. Englishmen are the same as Turks or Hottentots
in this respect, except for the saving grace of hypocrisy, which is
the chief prop of European civilisation. If it were not for
hypocrisy, we should all be savages as utterly and completely as in
primaeval days! You know all this as well as I do--and yet you feign
to desire the impossible, while all the time you play the fool with
a country parson! But I'll make you pay for it--by Heaven, I will!
You scorn me and my name--you call me a social leper---"

"You are one!" she said, wrenching her hand from his clasp--"And
what is more, you know it, and you glory in it! Who are your
associates? Men who are physically or morally degenerate--women who,
so long as their appetites are satisfied, seek nothing more! You
play the patron to a certain literary 'set' who produce books unfit
to be read by any decent human being,--you work your way, by means
of your title and position, through society, contaminating
everything you touch! You contaminate ME by associating my name with
yours!--and my aunt helps you in the wicked scheme! I came here to
my own home--to the house where my father died--thinking that
perhaps here at least I should find peace,"--and her voice shook as
with tears--"that here, at least, the old walls might give me
shelter and protection!--but even here you followed me with your
paid spy, Marius Longford--and I have found myself surrounded by
your base tools almost despite myself! But even if you try to hound
me into my grave, I will never marry you! I would rather die a
hundred times over than be your wife!"

His face flushed a dark red, and he suddenly made an though he would
seize her in his arms. She retreated swiftly.

"Do not touch me!" she said, in a low, strained voice--"It will be
the worse for you if you do!"

"The worse for me--or for YOU?" he muttered fiercely,--then
regaining his composure, he burst into an angry laugh. "Bah! You are
nothing but a woman! You fling aside what you have, and pine for
what you have not! The old, old story! The eternal feminine!"

She made no reply, but moved on towards the house.  "Quel
ravissement de la lune!" exclaimed a deep guttural voice at this
juncture, and Louis Gigue came out from the dark embrasure of the
Manor's oaken portal into the full splendour of the moonlight--"Et
la belle Mademoiselle Vancourt is ze adorable fantome of ze night!
Et milord Roxmouth ze what-you-call?--ze gnome!--ze shadow of ze
lumiere! Ha-ha! C'est joli, zat little chanson of ze little rose-
tree! Ze music, c'est une inspiration de Cicely--and ze words are
not so melancolique as ze love-songs made ordinairement en
Angleterre! Oui--oui!--c'est joli!"

He turned his shrewd old face up to the sky, and blinked at the dim
stars,--there was a smile under his grizzled moustache. He had
interrupted the conversation between his hostess and her
objectionable wooer precisely at the right moment, and he knew it.
Roxmouth's pale face grew a shade paler, but he made a very good
assumption of perfect composure, and taking out his case of cigars
offered one to Gigue, who cheerfully accepted it. Then he lit one
for himself with a hand that trembled slightly. Maryllia, pausing on
the step of the porch as she was about to enter, turned her head
back towards him for a moment.

"Are you staying long at Badsworth Hall?" she asked.

"About a fortnight or three weeks,"--he answered carelessly, "Mr.
Longford is doing some literary work and needs the quiet of the
country--and Sir Morton Pippitt is good enough to wish us to extend
our visit."

He smiled as he spoke. She said nothing further, but slowly passed
into the house. Gigue at once began to walk up and down the
courtyard, smoking vigorously, and talking volubly concerning the
future of his pupil Cicely Bourne, and the triumph she would make
some two years hence as a 'prima donna assoluta,' far greater than
Patti ever was in her palmiest days,--and Roxmouth was perforce
compelled, out of civility, as well as immediate diplomacy, to
listen to him with some show of interest.

"Do you think an artistic career a good thing for a woman?" he
asked, with a slight touch of satire in his voice as he put the
question.

Gigue glanced up at him quickly and comprehendingly.

"Ah, bah! Pour une femme il n'y'a qu'une chose--l'Amour!" he
replied--"Mais--au meme temps--l'Art c'est mieux qu'un mariage de
convenance!"

Roxmouth shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly, smiled tolerantly,
and changed the subject.

That same evening, when everyone had retired to bed, and when Mrs.
Bludlip Courtenay was carefully taking off her artistically woven
'real hair' eyebrows and putting them by in a box for the night,
Lady Beaulyon, arrayed in a marvellous 'deshabille' of lace and pale
blue satin, which would have been called by the up-to-date modiste
'a dream of cerulean sweetness,' came into her room with dejection
visibly written on her photographically valuable features.

"It's all over, Pipkin!" she said, with a sigh,--Pipkin was the
poetic pet-name by which the 'beauty' of the press-paragraphist
addressed her Ever-Youthful friend,--"We shall never get a penny out
of Mrs. Fred Vancourt. Maryllia is a mule! She has told me as
plainly as politeness will allow her to do that she does not intend
to know either you or me any more after we have left here--and you
know we're off to-morrow. So to-morrow ends the acquaintance. That
girl's 'cheek' is beyond words! One would think she was an empress,
instead of being a little bounder with only an old Manor-house and
certainly not more than two thousand a year in her own right!"

'Pipkin' stared. That she was destitute of eyebrows, save for a few
iron-grey bristles where eyebrows should have been, and that her
beautiful Titian hair was lying dishevelled on her dressing table,
were facts entirely lost sight of in the stupefaction of the moment.

"Maryllia Vancourt does not intend to know US!" she ejaculated,--
"Nonsense, Eva! The girl must be mad!"

"Mad or sane, that's what she says,"--and Eva Beaulyon turned away
from the spectacle of her semi-bald and eyebrow-less confidante with
a species of sudden irritation and repulsion--"She declares we are
in the pay of her aunt and Lord Roxmouth. So we are, more or less!
And what does it matter! Money must be had--and whatever way there
is of getting it should be taken. I laughed at her, and told her
quite frankly that I would do anything for money,--flatter a
millionaire one day and cut him the next, if I could get cheques for
doing both. How in the world should I get on without money?--or you
either! But she is an incorrigible little idiot--talks about honour
and principle exactly like some mediaeval story-book. She declares
she will never speak to either of us again after we've gone away to-
morrow. Of course we can easily reverse the position and turn the
tables upon her by saying we will not speak to her again. That will
be easy enough--for I believe she's after the parson."

Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay's eyes lightened with malignity.

"What, that man who objected to our smoke?"

Lady Beaulyon nodded.

"And I think Roxmouth sees it!"--she added.

'Pipkin' looked weirdly meditative and curiously wizened for a
moment. Then she suddenly laughed and clapped her hands.

"That will do!" she exclaimed--"That's quite good enough for US!
Mrs. Fred will pay for THAT information! Don't you see?"

Lady Beaulyon shook her head.

"Don't you? Well, wait till we get back to town!"--and 'Pipkin' took
up her false hair and shook it gently, as she spoke--"We can do
wonders--wonders, I tell you, Eva! And till we go, we'll be as nice
to the girl as we can,--go off good friends and all that sort of
thing--tell her how much we've enjoyed ourselves--thank her
profusely,--and then once away we'll tell Mrs. Fred all about John
Walden, and leave her to do as she likes with the story. That will
be quite enough! If Maryllia has any sneaking liking for the man,
she'll do anything to save HIS name if she doesn't care about saving
her own!"

"Oh, I see now!" and Lady Beaulyon's eyes sparkled up with a gleam
of malice--"Yes--I quite understand!"

'Pipkin' danced about the room in ecstasy,--she was half undressed
for the night, and showed a pair of exceedingly thin old legs under
an exceedingly short young petticoat.

"Maryllia Vancourt and a country parson!" she exclaimed, "The whole
thing is TOO delicious! Go to bed, Eva! Get your beauty sleep or
you'll have ever so many more wrinkles than you need! Good-night,
dearest! If Maryllia declines to know US, we shall soon find
excellent reasons for not knowing HER! Good-night!"

With a shrill little laugh, the lady kissed her dear friend
affectionately--and if the caress was not returned with very great
fervour, it may be presumed that this coldness was due more to the
unlovely impression created by the night 'toilette' of the Ever-
Youthful one, than anything else. Anyway the two social schemers
parted on the most cordial terms, and retired to their several
couches with an edifying sense of virtue pervading them both morally
and physically.

And while they and others in the Manor were sleeping, Maryllia lay
broad awake, watching the moonbeams creeping about her room like
thin silver threads, interlacing every object in a network of pale
luminance,--and listening to the slow tick-tock of the rusty
timepiece in the courtyard which said, 'Give all--take nothing--
give--all--take--no--thing!'--with such steady and monotonous
persistence. She was sad yet happy,--perplexed, yet peaceful;--she
had decided on her own course of action, and though that course
involved some immediate vexation and inconvenience to herself, she
was satisfied that it was the only one possible to adopt under the
irritating circumstances by which she was hemmed in and surrounded.

"It will be best for everyone concerned,"--she said, with a sigh--
"Of course it upsets all my plans and spoils my whole summer,--but
it is the only thing to do--the wisest and safest, both for--for Mr.
Walden--and for me. I should be a very poor friend if I could not
sacrifice myself and my own pleasure to save him from possible
annoyance,--and though it is a little hard--yes!--it IS hard!--it
can't be helped, and I must go through with it. 'Home, Home, sweet
Home!' Yes--dear old Home!--you shall not be darkened by a shadow of
deceit or treachery if _I_ can prevent it!--and for the present, my
way is the only way!"

One or two tears glittered on her long lashes when she at last fell
into a light slumber, and the old pendulum's rusty voice croaking
out: 'Give all--take no--thing' echoed hoarsely through her dreams
like a harsh command which it was more or less difficult to obey.
But life, as we all know, is not made up of great events so much as
of irritating trifles,--poor, wretched, apparently insignificant
trifles, which, nevertheless do so act upon our destinies sometimes
as to put everything out of gear, and make havoc and confusion where
there should be nothing but peace. It was the merest trifle that Sir
Morton Pippitt should have brought his 'distinguished guests,'
including Marius Longford, to see John Walden's church--and also
have taken him to visit Maryllia in her own home;--it was equally
trifling that Longford, improving on the knightly Bone-Melter's
acquaintance, should have chosen to import Lord Roxmouth into the
neighbourhood through the convenient precincts of Badsworth Hall;--
it was a trifle that Maryllia should have actually believed in the
good faith of two women who had formerly entertained her at their
own houses and whose hospitality she was anxious to return;--and it
was a trifle that John Walden should, so to speak, have made a
conventionally social 'slip' in his protest against smoking women;--
but there the trifles stopped. Maryllia knew well enough that only
the very strongest feeling, the very deepest and most intense
emotion could have made the quiet, self-contained 'man o' God' as
Mrs. Spruce called him, speak to her as he had done,--and she also
knew that only the most bitter malice and cruel under-intent to do
mischief could have roused Roxmouth, usually so coldly self-centred,
to the white heat of wrath which had blazed out of him that evening.
Between these two men she stood--a quite worthless object of regard,
so she assured herself,--through her, one of them was like to have
his name torn to shreds in the foul mouths of up-to-date salacious
slanderers,--and likewise through her, the other was prepared and
ready to commit himself to any kind of lie, any sort of treachery,
in order to gain his own interested ends. Small wonder that tears
rose to her eyes even in sleep--and that in an uneasy and confused
dream she saw John Walden standing in his garden near the lilac-tree
from which he had once given her a spray,--and that he turned upon
her a sad white face, furrowed with pain and grief, while he said in
weary accents--"Why have you troubled my peace? I was so happy till
you came!" And she cried out--"Oh, let me go away! No one wants me!
I have never been loved much in all my life--but I am loving enough
not to wish to give pain to my friends--let me go away from my dear
old home and never come back again, rather than make you wretched!"

And then with a cry she awoke, shivering and half-sobbing, to feel
herself the loneliest of little mortals--to long impotently for her
father's touch, her father's kiss,--to pray to that dimly-radiant
phantom of her mother's loveliness which was pictured on her brain,
and anon to stretch out her pretty rounded arms with a soft cry of
mingled tenderness and pain--"Oh, I am so sorry!--so sorry for HIM!
I know he is unhappy!--and it's all my fault! I wish--I wish---"

But what she wished she could not express, even to herself. Her
sensitive nature was keenly alive to every slight impression of
kindness or of coldness;--and the intense longing for love, which
had been the pulse of her inmost being since her earliest infancy,
and which had filled her with such passionate devotion to her father
that her grief at his loss had been almost abnormally profound and
despairing, made her feel poignantly every little incident which
emphasised, or seemed to emphasise, her own utter loneliness in the
world; and she was just now strung up to such a nervous tension,
that she would almost have consented to wed Lord Roxmouth if by so
doing she could have saved any possible mischief occurring to John
Walden through Roxmouth's malignancy. But the shuddering physical
repulsion she felt at the bare contemplation of such a marriage was
too strong for her.

"Anything but that!"--she said to herself, with something of a
prayer--"O dear God!--anything but that!"

Sometimes God hears these little petitions which are not of the
orthodox Church. Sometimes, as it seems, by a strange chance, the
cry of a helpless and innocent soul does reach that vast Profound
where all the secrets of life and destiny lie hidden in mysterious
embryo. And thus it happens that across the din and bustle of our
petty striving and restless disquietudes there is struck a sudden
great silence, by way of answer,--sometimes it is the silence of
Death which ends all sorrow,--sometimes it is the sweeter silence of
Love which turns sorrow into joy.

Next day all the guests at the Manor had departed with the exception
of three--Louis Gigue, and the 'Sisters Gemini,' namely, Lady
Wicketts and Miss Fosby. With much gush and gratitude for a
'charming stay--a delightful time!' Lady Beaulyon and Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay took leave of their 'dear Maryllia,' who received their
farewells and embraces with an irresponsively civil coldness. Lord
Charlemont and Mr. Bludlip Courtenay 'motored' to London,
undertaking with each other to keep up a speed of fifty miles an
hour, provided there were not too many hills and not too much
'slowing down' for the benefit of unexpected policemen round
corners. And at sunset, a pleasant peace and stillness settled on
the Manor grounds, erstwhile disturbed by groups of restless persons
walking aimlessly to and fro,--persons who picked flowers merely to
throw them away again, and played tennis and croquet only to become
quarrelsome and declare that the weather was much too hot for games.
Everybody that was anybody had gone their ways,--and within her own
domicile Mrs. Spruce breathed capaciously and freely, and said in
confidence to the cook and to Primmins:

"Thank the Lord an' His mercies, that's all over! An' from what I
hears, Miss Maryllia won't be wantin' no more London folks for a
goodish bit o' time, an' we'll all 'ave peace to turn round an' look
at ourselves an' find out whether we're sane or silly, for the two
old leddies what is stayin' on give no trouble at all, an' that Mr.
Gigg don't care what he gets, so long as he can bang away on the
pianner an' make Miss Cicely sing, an' I will own she do sing lovely
like the angels in a 'evenly 'ost, but there!--_I_ don't want no
more company, for what with French maids an' valets, all talkin' the
wickedest stuff I ever heard about the ways an' doins o' their
masters an' missises in London, I'm downright glad to be rid o' the
whole lot! For do what we will, there is limits to patience, an' a
peaceful life is what suits me best not knowin' for the past three
weeks whether my 'ead or my 'eels is uppermost with the orderin' an'
messin' about, though I will say Miss Maryllia knows what's what,
an' ain't never in a fuss nor muddle, keepin' all wages an' bills
paid reg'lar like a hoffice clerk, mebbe better, for one never knows
whether clerks pays out what they're told or keeps some by in their
own pockets, honesty not bein' always policy with the likes o' they.
Anyway 'ere we are all alive an' none the worse for the bustle,
which is a mercy, an' now mebbe we'll have time to think a bit as we
go, an' stop worrittin' over plates an' dishes an' glass an' silver,
which, say what we like, do sit on one like a burden when there's a
many to serve. A bit o' quiet 'ull do us all good!"

The 'quiet' she thus eulogised was to be longer and lonelier than
she imagined, but of this she knew nothing. The whole house was
delightfully tranquil after the departure of the visitors, and the
spirit of a grateful repose seemed to have imparted itself to its
few remaining occupants. Louis Gigue played wonderful improvisations
on the piano that evening, and Cicely sang so brilliantly and
ravishingly that had she then stood on the boards of the Paris Grand
Opera, she would have created a wild 'furore.' Lady Wicketts knitted
placidly; she was making a counterpane, which no doubt someone would
reluctantly decide to sleep under--and Miss Fosby embroidered a
cushion cover for Lady Wicketts, who already possessed many of these
articles wrought by the same hand. Maryllia occupied herself in
writing many letters,--and all was peace. Nothing in any way
betokened a change, or suggested the slightest interruption to the
sun-lighted serenity of the long, lovely summer days.




XXV


Whatever the feelings of John Walden were concerning the incidents
that had led him to more or less give himself away, as the saying
goes, into Maryllia's hands, he remained happily unconscious of the
fact that Lord Roxmouth had overheard his interview with her in the
picture-gallery--and being a man who never brooded over his own
particular small vexations and annoyances, he had determined, as far
as might be possible, to put the whole incident behind him, as it
were, and try to forget it. Of course he knew he never could forget
it,--he knew that the sweet look in Maryllia's eyes--the little
appealing touch of her hand on his arm, would be perchance the most
vivid impressions of his life till that life should be ended. But it
was useless to dwell with heart-aching persistence on her
fascination, or on what he now called his own utter foolishness, and
he was glad that he had arranged to visit his old friend Bishop
Brent, as this enabled him to go away at once for three or four
days. And it was possible, so he argued with himself, that this
three or four days' break of the magnetic charm that had, against
his own wish and will, enslaved his thoughts and senses, would
restore him to that state of self-poise and philosophic tranquillity
in which he had for so many years found an almost, if not quite,
perfect happiness. Bracing himself fully up to the determination
that he would, at all hazards, make an effort to recover his lost
peace, he made rapid preparations for his departure from St. Rest,
and going the round of his parish, he let all whom it might concern
know, that for the first time in a long ten years, he was about to
take two or three days' holiday. The announcement was received by
some with good-natured surprise--by others with incredulity--but by
most, with the usual comfortable resignation to circumstances which
is such a prevailing characteristic of the rustic mind.

"It'll do ye good, Passon, that it will!" said Mrs. Frost, in her
high acidulated voice, which by dint of constant scolding and
screaming after her young family had become almost raspish--"For
you're looking that white about the gills that it upsets my mind to
see it. I sez to Adam onny t'other day, 'You'll be diggin' a grave
for Passon presently--see if you don't--for he's runnin' downhill as
fast as a loaded barrow with naught ahint it.' That's what I said,
Passon--an' its Gospel true!"

Walden smiled.

"You're quite right, Mrs. Frost,"--he said, patiently--"I am
certainly going downhill, as you say--but I must try to put a little
check on the wheels! There's one thing to be said about it, if Adam
digs my grave, as it is likely he will, I know he will do it better
than any other sexton in the county! I shall sleep in it well, and
securely!"

Mrs. Frost felt a certain sense of pride in this remark.

"You may say that, Passon--you may say that and not be fur wrong,"--
she said, complacently--"Adam don't do much, but what he doos is
well done, an' there's no mistake about it. If I 'adn't a known 'im
to be a 'andy man in his trade he wouldn't 'a had me to wife, I do
assure you!"

Walden smiled and passed on. To Mr. Netlips, the grocer, he confided
a few orders for the household supplies during his absence, which
that worthy and sapient personage accepted with due attention.

"It is a demonstrable dispensation, Mr. Walden, sir,"--he said,
"that you should be preparing yourself for locomotion at the moment
when the house-party at the Manor is also severed indistinguishably.
There is no one there now, so my imparted information relates, with
the exception of her ladyship Wicketts, a Miss Fosby and a hired
musician from the cells of the professional caterer, named Gigg."

Walden's eyes twinkled. He was always very indulgent to Mr. Netlips,
and rather encouraged him than otherwise in his own special flow of
language.

"Really!" he said--"And so they are all gone! I'm afraid it will
make a difference to your trade, Mr. Netlips! How about your Petrol
storage?"

Mr. Netlips smiled, with a comfortable air of self-conscious wisdom.

"It has been absorbed--quite absorbed," he said, complacently--"The
board of announcement was prospective, not penetrative. Orders were
consumed in rotation, and his lordship Charlemont was the last
applicant on the formula."

"I see!" said Walden--"So you are no loser by the transaction. I'm
glad to hear it! Good-day! I only intend to be away a short time.
You will scarcely miss me,--as I shall occupy my usual post on
Sunday."

"Your forethought, Mr. Walden, sir, is of a most high
complication,"--rejoined Mr. Netlips with a gracious bend of his fat
neck--"And it is not to be regretted by the profane that you should
rotate with the world, provided you are seen in strict adhesion to
the pulpit on the acceptable seventh day. Otherwise, it is but
natural that you should preamble for health's sake. You have been
looking poorly, Mr. Walden sir, of late; I trust you will
beneficially profit by change."

Walden thanked him, and went his way. His spirits were gradually
rising--he was relieved to hear that Maryllia's house-party had
broken up and dispersed, and he cogitated within himself as to
whether he should go and say good-bye to her before leaving the
village, or just let things remain as they were. He was a little
uncertain as to which was the wisest course to adopt,--and while he
was yet thinking about it he passed the cottage of old Josey
Letherbarrow, and saw the old man sitting at his door peacefully
smoking, while at his feet, Ipsie Frost was curled up comfortably
like a kitten, busying herself in tying garlands of ivy and
honeysuckle round the tops of his big coarsely-laced boots. Pausing,
John leaned on the gate and looked at the two with a smile.

"Ullo, Passon!" said Ipsie, turning her blue eyes up at him with a
confidential air--"Tum an' tie up my Zozey-Posey! Zozey-Posey's bin
naughty,--he's dot to be tied up so he tan't move!"

"And when he's good again, what then?" said Walden--"Will you untie
him?"

Ipsie stared roundly and meditatively.

"Dunno!"--she said--"'Specks I will! But oh, my Zozey-Posey IS so
bad!" and she screwed her little flaxen head round with an
expression of the most comical distress--"See my wip?" And she held
up a long stem of golden-rod in flower,--"Zozey dot to be wipped--
poor Zozey! But he's dot to be tied up fust!"

Josey heard all this nonsense babble with delighted interest, and
surveyed the tops of his decorated boots with much admiration.

"Ain't she a little caution!" he said--"She do mind me somehow of
th' owld Squire's gel! Ay, she do!--Miss Maryllia was just as peart
and dauntsome when she was her age. Did I ever tell ye, Passon,
'bout Miss Maryllia's legs an' the wopses' nest?"

John started violently. What was the old man talking about? He felt
that he must immediately put a stop to any chance of indecorous
garrulity.

"No, you never told me anything about it, Josey,"--he said,
hastily,--"an I've no time just now to stay and listen. I'm off on a
visit for two or three days--you won't see me again till Sunday."

Josey drew his pipe slowly out of his mouth.

"Goin' away, Passon, are ye?" he said in quavering accents of
surprise--"Ain't that a bit strange like?"

"Why yes, I suppose it is,"--said John, half laughing--"I never do
go away I know--but---"

"Look 'ere Passon! Speak frank an' fair!--there baint nothin'
drivin' ye away, be there?"

The hot colour sprang to Walden's brows.

"Why no, Josey!--of course not! How can you think of such a thing?"

Josey stooped and patted Ipsie's flaxen tangle of curls softly. Then
he straightened himself and looked fully into John's face.

"Well I dunno how 'tis, Passon,"--he said, slowly--"When the body
gets old an' feels the fallin' o' the dark shadder, the soul begins
to feel young, an' sees all at once the light a-comin' which makes
all things clear. See this little child playin' wi' me?--well, she
don't think o' me as an old worn man, but as somethin' young like
herself--an' for why? Because she sees the soul o' me,--the eyes o'
the children see souls more'n bodies, if ye leave 'em alone an'
don't worrit 'em wi' worldly talk. An' it's MY soul wot sees more'n
my body--an' that's why I sez to ye, Passon, that if so be you've
any trouble don't run away from it! Stay an' fight it out--it's the
onny way!--fight it out!"

Walden was for a moment taken aback. Then he answered steadily.

"You're right, Josey! If I had any trouble I should stay and as you
say, fight it out;--but I've none, Josey!--none in the world! I am
as happy as I can be,--far happier than I deserve,--and I'm only
going away to see my old friend Bishop Brent--you remember--the
Bishop who consecrated the church seven years ago?"--Josey nodded
comprehensively, "He lives, as you know, quite a hundred miles from
here--but I shall be in my usual place on Sunday."

"Please God, you will!" said Josey, devoutly--"And please God, so
shall I. But there's never no knowin' what may 'appen in a day or
two days---"

Here Ipsie gave vent to a yell of delight. She had been groping
among the flowers in the cottage border, and now held up a deep red
rose, darkly glowing at its centre.

"Wed wose!" she announced, screamingly--"Wed--all wed! For Passon!
Passon, tiss it!"

John still leaning on the gate, reached down and took the flower,
kissing it as he was told, with lips that trembled on the velvet
leaves. It was one of the 'old French damask' roses--and its rich
scent, so soft and full of inexplicable fine delicacy, affected him
strangely.

"'Ave ye heard as 'ow Miss Maryllia's goin' to marry that fine
gen'leman wot's at Badsworth?" pursued Josey, presently, beginning
to chuckle as he asked the question--"Roxmouth, they calls him;--
Lord, Lord, what clicketin' talk, like all the grass-'oppers out for
a fairin'! She ain't goin' to marry no Roxmouths, bless 'er 'art!--
she's goin' to stick to the old 'ome an' people, and never leave 'em
no more! _I_ knows her mind! She tells old Josey wot she don't tell
nobody else, you bet she do!"

John Walden tried not to look interested.

"Miss Vancourt will no doubt marry some day,"--he said, somewhat
lamely.

"Av coorse she will!"--returned Josey--"When Mr. Right comes along,
she'll know 'im fast enough! Them blue eyes ain't goin' to be
deceived, _I_ tell ye! But she ain't goin' to be no Duchess as they
sez,--it's my 'pinion plain Missis is good 'nough for the Squire's
gel, if so be a lovin' an' true Mister was to ax 'er and say--'Will
'ee be my purty little wife, an' warm my cold 'art all the days o'
my life?'--an' there'd be no wantin' dukes nor lords round when
there's real love drivin' a man an' woman into each other's arms!
Lord--Lord, don't I know it! Seems but t'other day I was a fine man
o' thirty odd, an' walkin' under the hawthorns all white wi' bloom,
an' my wife that was to be strollin' shy like at my side--we was
kind o' skeered o' one another, courtin' without knowin' we was
courtin' ezackly, an' she 'ad a little blue print gown on an' a
white linen sunbonnet--I kin see 'er as clear an' plain as I see
you, Passon!--an' she looks up an' she sez--'Ain't it a lovely day,
Joe?' An' I sez--'Yes, it's lovely, an' you're lovely too!' An' my
'art gave a great dump agin my breast, an' 'fore I knowed it I 'ad
'er in my arms a-kissin' 'er for all I was worth! Ay, that was so--
an' I never regretted them kisses under the may-trees, I tell ye!
An' that's what'll 'appen to Squire's gel--some good man 'ull walk
by 'er side one o' these days, an' won't know wot he's a-doin' of
nor she neither, an' love 'ull just come down an' settle in their
'arts like a broodin' dove o' the 'Oly Spirit, not speakin'
blasPHEmous, Passon, I do assure ye! For if Love ain't a 'Oly
Spirit, then there ain't no Lord God in the 'Love one another!' I
sez 'tis a 'Oly Spirit wot draws fond 'arts together an' makes 'em
beat true--and the 'Oly Spirit 'ull fall on Squire's gel in its own
time an' bring a blessin' with it. That's wot I sez,--are ye goin',
Passon?"

"Yes--I'm going," said John in an uncertain voice, while Ipsie
stared up at him in sudden enquiring wonder, perhaps because he
looked so pale, and because the hand in which he held the rose she
had given him trembled slightly--"I've a number of things to do,
Josey--otherwise I should love to stop and hear you talk--you know I
should!" and he smiled kindly--"For you are quite right, Josey! You
have faith in the beautiful and the true, and so have I! I believe--
yes--I believe that everything--even a great sorrow--is for the
best. We cannot see,--we do not know--but we should trust the Divine
mind of God enough to feel that all is, all must be well!"

"That's so, Passon!" said Josey, with grave heartiness--"Stick to
that, an' we're all right. God bless ye! I'll see ye Sunday if I
ain't gone to glory!"

Walden pulled open the garden gate to shake hands with the old man,
and to kiss Ipsie who, as he lifted her up in his arms, caressed his
cheeks with her two dumpy hands.

"Has 'oo seen my lady-love?" she asked, in a crooning whisper--"My
bootiful white lady-love?"

Walden looked at Josey perplexedly.

"She means Miss Maryllia,"--said the old man--"That's the name she's
given 'er--lady-love--the thinkin' little imp she is! Where's lady-
love? Why she's in 'er own house--she don't want any little tags o'
babbies runnin' round 'er--your lady-love's got somethin' else to
do."

"She AIN'T!" said Ipsie, with dramatic emphasis--"She tums an' sees
me often--'oo don't know nuffin' 'bout it! HAS 'oo seen 'er?" she
asked Walden again, taking hold of one end of his moustache very
tenderly.

He patted the little chubby arm.

"I saw her the other night,"--he said, a sudden rush of words coming
to his lips in answer to the child's query--"Yes, Ipsie,--I saw her!
She was all in white, as a lady-love should be--only there were
little flushes of pink on her dress like the sunset on a cloud--and
she had diamonds in her hair,"--Here Ipsie sighed a profound sigh of
comfortable ecstasy--"and she looked very sweet and beautiful--and--
and"--Here he suddenly paused. Josey Letherbarrow was looking at him
with sudden interest. "And that's all, Ipsie!"

"Didn't she say nuffin' 'bout me?" asked the small autocrat.

Walden set her gently down on the ground.

"Not then, Ipsie,"--he said--"She was very busy. But I am sure she
thought of you!"

Ipsie looked quite contented.

"'Ess,--my lady-love finks a lot, oh, a lot of me!" she said,
seriously--"Allus finkin' of me!"

John smiled, and again shook old Josey's hand.

"Good-bye till Sunday!" he said.

"Good-bye, Passon!" rejoined Josey, cheerily--"Good luck t'ye! God
bless ye!"

And the old man watched John's tall, slim athletic figure as long as
his failing sight could follow it, murmuring to himself--

"Who'd a thought it!--who'd 'a thought it! Yet mebbe I'm wrong--an'
mebbe I'm right!--for the look o' love never lightens a man's eyes
like that but once in his life--all the rest o' the sparkles is only
imitations o' the real fire. The real fire burns once, an' only
once--an' it's fierce an' hot when it kindles up in a man after the
days o' his youth are gone! An' if the real fire worn't in Passon's
eyes when he talked o' the lady-love, than I'm an old idgit wot
never felt my heart go dunt again my side in courtin' time!"

Walden meanwhile went on his round of visits, and presently,--the
circle of his poorer parishioners being completed,-he decided to
call on Julian Adderley at his 'cottage in the wood' and tell him
also of his intended absence. He had taken rather a liking to this
eccentric off-shoot of an eccentric literary set,--he had found that
despite some slight surface affectations, Julian had very straight
principles, and loyal ideas of friendship, and that he was not
without a certain poetic talent which, if he studied hard and to
serious purpose, might develop into something of more or less
worthiness. Some lines that he had recently written and read aloud
to Walden, had a haunting ring which clung to the memory:



     Art thou afraid to live, my Heart?
     Look round and see
     What life at its best,
     With its strange unrest,
     Can mean for thee!
     Ceaseless sorrow and toil,
     Waits for each son of the soil;
     And the highest work seems ever unpaid
     By God and man,
     In the mystic plan;--
     Think of it! Art thou afraid?

    Art thou afraid to love, my Heart?
     Look well and see
     If any sweet thing,
     That can sigh or sing,
     Hath need of thee!
     Of Love cometh wild desire,
     Hungry and fierce as fire,
     In the souls of man and maid,--
     But the fulness thereof
     Is the end of love,--
     Think of it! Art thou afraid?

    Art thou afraid of Death, my Heart?
     Look down and see
     What the corpse on the bed,
     So lately dead,
     Can teach to thee!
     Is it the close of the strife,
     Or a new beginning of Life?
     The secret is not betrayed;--
     But Darkness makes clear
     That Light must be near!
     Think of it! Art thou afraid?

"'Darkness makes clear, that Light must be near,'--I am sure that is
true!"--murmured John, as he swung along at a quick pace through a
green lane leading out of the village into the wider country, where
two or three quaint little houses with thatched roofs were nestled
among the fields, looking like dropped acorns in the green,--"It
must be true,--there are so many old saws and sayings of the same
kind, like 'The darkest hour's before the dawn.' But why should I
seek to console myself with a kind of Tupper 'proverbial
philosophy'? I have no black hour threatening me,--I have nothing in
the world to complain of or grumble at except my own undisciplined
nature, which even at my age shows me it can 'kick against the pricks'
and make a fool of me!"

Here turning a corner of the road which was overshaded by a huge
chestnut-tree, he suddenly came face to face with the Reverend
Putwood Leveson, who, squatted on the hank by the roadside, with his
grand-pianoforte legs well exposed to view in tight brown
knickerbockers and grey worsted stockings, was bending perspiringly
over his recumbent bicycle, mending something which had, as usual,
gone wrong.

"Hullo, Walden!" he said, looking up and nodding casually--"Haven't
seen you for an age! What have you been doing with yourself? Always
up at the Manor, I suppose! Great attraction at the Manor!--he-he-
he!"

A certain quick irritation, like that produced by the teasing buzz
of some venomous insect, affected Walden's nerves. He looked at the
porcine proportions of his brother minister with an involuntary
sense of physical repulsion. Then he answered stiffly--

"I don't understand you. I have not been visiting at the Manor at
all. I dined there the night before last for the first and only
time."

Leveson winked one purple puffy eyelid. Then he began his 'He-he-he'
again to himself, while he breathed hard and sweated profusely over
the rubber tyre of his machine.

"Is that so?" he sniggered--"Well, that's all the better for you!--
you do well to keep away! Men of our cloth ought not to be seen
there really."

And scrambling to his feet with elephantine ease, he brushed the
dust from his knickers, and wiped his brows with an uncleanly
handkerchief which looked as if it had been used for drying oil off
the bicycle as well as off the man.

"We ought not to be seen there,"--he repeated, disregarding Walden's
steady coldness of eye--"I myself made a great mistake when I wrote
to the woman. I ought not to have done so. But of course I did not
know--I thought it was all right." And the reverend gentleman
assumed an air of mammoth-like innocence--"I am so mediaeval, you
know!--I never suspect anything or anybody! I wrote to her in quite
a friendly way, suggesting that I should arrange her family papers
for her--I thought she might as well employ me as anyone else--and
she never answered my letter--never answered a word!"

"Well, of course not!" said Walden, composedly, though his blood
began to tingle hotly through his veins with rising indignation--
"Why should she? Her family papers are all in order, and no doubt
she considered your application both ignorant and impertinent."

Leveson's gross countenance flushed a deeper crimson.

"Ignorant and impertinent!" he echoed--"Come, I like that! Why she
ought to have considered herself uncommonly lucky to receive so much
as a civil letter from a respectable man,--such a woman as she is!--
'Maryllia Van'--he-he-he-he!"

Walden took a quick step towards him.

"What do you mean?" he demanded--"What right have you to speak of
her in such a manner?"

Leveson recoiled, startled by the intense pallor of Walden's face,
and the threatening light in his eyes.

"What right?" he stammered--"Why--why what do yon mean by flaring up
in such a temper, eh? What does it matter to you?"

"It matters this much,--that I will not allow Miss Vaneourt to be
insulted by you or anyone else!" retorted Walden, hotly--"You have
never spoken to her,--you know nothing about her,--so hold your
tongue!"

The Reverend 'Putty's' round eyes protruded with amazement.

"Hold--my--tongue!" he repeated, in a kind of stupefaction--"Are you
gone mad, Walden? Do you know who you are talking to?"

John gave a short laugh. His hands clenched involuntarily.

"Oh, I know well enough!" he said--"I am talking to a man who has no
more regard for a woman's name than a cat has for the mouse it
kills! I am talking to a man who is an ordained Christian minister,
who has less Christianity than a dog, which at least is faithful to
its master!"

Leveson uttered a kind of inarticulate sound something between a
gasp and a grunt. Then he fell back on his old snigger.

"He-he, he-he-he!" he bleated--"You must be crazy, Walden!--or else
you've been drinking! I've a perfect right to speak of the Abbot's
Manor woman IF I like and as I like! All men have a right to do the
same--she's been pretty well handed round as common property for a
long time! Why, she's perfectly notorious!--everybody knows that!"

"You lie!"

And Walden sprang at him, one powerful clenched fist uplifted.
Leveson staggered back in terror,--and so for a moment they
stood, staring upon one another. They did not hear a stealthy rustle
among the branches of the chestnut-tree near which they stood, nor
see a long lithe shadow creep towards them for the dense low-hanging
foliage. Face to face, eye to eye, they remained for a moment's
space as though ready to close and wrestle,--then suddenly Walden's
arm dropped to his side.

"My God!" he muttered--"I nearly struck you!"

Leveson drew a long breath of relief, and sneaked backward on his
heels.

"You--you're a nice kind of 'ordained Christian minister' aren't
you?" he spluttered--"With all your humbug and cant you're no better
than a vulgar bully! A vulgar bully!--that's what you are! I'll
report you to the Bishop--see if I don't!--brow-beating me, and
putting me in bodily fear, all about a woman too! Great Scott!--a
fine scandal you'll make in the Church one of these days if you're
not watched pretty closely and pulled up pretty sharply--and pulled
up you shall be, take my word for it! We've had about enough of your
high-and-mighty airs--it's time you learned to know your place---"

The words had scarcely left his mouth when a pair of long muscular
arms seized him by the shoulders, shook him briefly and
emphatically, and turning him easily over, deposited him flat in the
dust.

"It is time--yea verily!--it is full time you learned to know your
place!" said Julian Adderley, calmly standing with legs-astride
across his fat recumbent body--"And there it is--and there you are!
My dear Walden, how are you? Excuse my shaking hands with you--
having defiled myself, as the Orientals say, by touching unclean
meat, I must wash first!"

For a moment Walden had been so taken aback by the suddenness of
Leveson's unexpected overthrow that he could scarcely realise what
had happened,--but presently when the Reverend 'Putty's' cobby legs
began to sprawl uneasily on the ground, and the Eeverend 'Putty'
himself gave vent to sundry blasphemous oaths and curses, he grasped
the full humour of the situation. A broad smile lit up his face.

"That was a master-stroke, Adderley!" he said, and the smile
deepened into sudden laughter--"But how in the world did you come
here?"

"I was here all the time,"--said Adderley, still standing across
Leveson's prostrate form--"Returning to the habits of primaeval
monkey as I often do, I was seated in the boughs of that venerable
chestnut-tree-and I heard all the argument. I enjoyed it. I was
hoping to see the Church militant belabour the Church recusant. It
would have been so new--so fresh! But as the sacred blow failed, the
secular one was bound to fall. Don't get up, my excellent sir!--
don't, I beseech of you!" This to Leveson, who was trying by means
of the most awkward contortions to rise to a sitting posture--"You
will find it difficult--among other misfortunes your knickers will
burst, and there is no tailor close at hand. Spare yourself,--and
us!"

"Oh give him a hand, Adderley!" said Walden, good-naturedly. "Help
him up! He's had his beating!"

"He hasn't,"--declared Julian, with a lachrymose air of intense
regret--"I wish he had! He is less hurt than if he had fallen off
his bicycle. He is in no pain;--would that he were!"

Here Leveson managed to partially lift himself on one side.
"Assault!" he stuttered--"Assault--common assault---"

"AND battery,"--said Julian--"You can summons me, my dear sir--if
you feel so inclined! I shall be happy to explain the whole incident
in court--and also to pay the five pounds penalty. I only wish I
could have got more for my money. There's such a lot of you!--such a
lot!" he repeated, musingly, "And I've only sailed round such a
small portion of your vast fleshy continent!"

Walden controlled his laughter, and stooping, offered to assist
Leveson to get up, but the indignant 'Putty' refused all aid, and
setting his own two hands firmly against the ground, tried again to
rise.

"Remove your legs, sir!" he shouted to Julian, who still stood
across him in apparent abstraction--"How dare you--how dare you pin
me down in this fashion?--how dare---"

Here his voice died away choked by rage.

"You are witty without knowing it, my fat friend!" said Julian
languidly--"Legs, in slang parlance, are sometimes known as 'pins,'-
-therefore, when you say I 'pin' you down, you use an expression
which is, like the 'mobled queen' in Hamlet, good. Be unpinned, good
priest--and remember that you must be prepared to say your prayers
backwards, next time you slander a woman!"

He relaxed his position, and Leveson with an effort scrambled to his
feet, covered with dust. Picking up his cap from the gutter where it
had fallen, he got his bicycle and prepared to mount it. He
presented a most unlovely spectacle--his face, swollen and crimson
with fury, seemed twice its usual size,--his little piggy eyes
rolled in his head like those of a man threatened with apoplexy--and
the oily perspiration stood upon his brow and trickled from his
carroty hair in great drops.

"You shall pay for this!" he said in low vindictive tones, shaking
his fist at both Walden and Adderley--"There are one or two old
scores to be wiped off in this village, and mine will help to
increase the account! Your fine lady at the Manor isn't going to
have everything her own way, I can tell you--nor you either, you--
you--you upstart!"

With this last epithet hurled out at Walden, who, shrugging his
shoulders, received it with ineffable contempt, he got on his
machine and worked his round legs and round wheels together
furiously away. When his bulky form had disappeared, the two men he
had left behind glanced at one another, and moved by the same
risible emotion burst out laughing,--and once their laughter began,
they gave it full vent, Walden's mellow 'Ha-ha-ha!' ringing out on
the still air with all the zest and heartiness of a boy's mirth.

"Upon my word, Adderley, you are a capital 'thrower'?" he said,
clapping Julian on the shoulder. "I never was more surprised in my
life than to see that monstrous 'ton of man' heave over suddenly and
sprawl in the dust! It was an artistic feat, most artistically
executed!"

"It was--it was,--I think so myself!"--agreed Julian--"I am proud of
my own skill! That pious porpoise will not forget me in a hurry. You
see, my dear Walden, you merely threatened punishment,--you did not
inflict it,--I suppose out of some scruple of Church conscience,
which is quite a different conscience to the lay examples,--and it
was necessary to act promptly. The air of St. Rest is remarkably
free from miasma, but Leveson was discharging microbes from his
tongue and person generally that would have been dangerous to life
in another minute." He laughed again. "Were you coming my way?"

"Yes, I was," replied Walden, as they began to walk along the road
together--"I am going away on a visit, and I meant to call and say
good-bye to you."

Julian glanced at him curiously.

"Going away? For long?"

"Oh no! Only for two or three days. I want to see my Bishop."

"On a point of conscience?"

John smiled, but coloured a little too.

"No--not exactly! We are very old friends, Brent and I--but we have
not met for seven years,--not since my church was consecrated. It
will be pleasant to us to have a chat about old times---"

"And new times--don't leave THEM out," said Julian--"They are quite
as interesting. The present is as pleasing as the past, don't you
think so?"

Walden hesitated. A touch of sorrow and lingering regret clouded his
eyes.

"No--I cannot say that I do!" he answered, at last, with a sigh--"In
the past I was young, with all the world before me,--in the present
I am old, with all the world behind me!"

"Does it matter?" and Adderley lifted his eyelids with a languid
expression--"For instance let us suppose that in the past you have
lost something and that in the present you gain something, does it
not equalise the position?"

"The gain is very little in my case!"--said John, yet even as he
spoke he felt a pang of shame at his own thanklessness. Had he not
secured a peaceful home, a round of work that he loved, and
happiness far beyond his merits, and had not God blessed him with
health and a quiet mind? Yes--till quite lately he had had a quiet
mind--but now---

"You perhaps do not realise how much the gain is, or how far it
extends,"--pursued Adderley, thoughtfully--"Youth and age appear to
me to have perfectly equal delights and drawbacks. Take me, for
example,--I am young, but I am in haste to be older, and when I am
old I am sure I shall never want to be young again. It is too
unsettled a condition!"

Walden smiled, but made no answer. They walked on in comparative
silence till they reached Adderley's cottage--a humble but
charmingly artistic tenement, with a thatched roof and a small
garden in front which was little more than a tangle of roses.

"I am taking this house--this mansion--on," said Julian, pausing at
the gate--"I shall stop here all winter. The surroundings suit me.
Inspiration visits me in the flowering of the honeysuckle, and
encircles me in the whispering of the wind among the roses. When the
leaves drop and the roses fade, I shall hear a different chord on
the harp of song. When the sleet and snow begin to fall, I shall
listen to the dripping of the tears of Nature with as much sympathy
as I now bask in her smiles. I have been writing verses to the name
of Maryllia--they are not finished--but they will come by degrees--
yes!--I am sure they will come! This is how they begin,"--and
leaning on the low gate of his cottage entrance he recited softly,
with half-closed eyes:

    In the flowering-time of year
     When the heavens were crystal clear,
     And the skylark's singing sweet
     Close against the sun did beat,--
     All the sylphs of all the streams,
     All the fairies born in dreams,
     All the elves with wings of flame,
     Trooping forth from Cloudland came
     To the wooing of Maryllia!

Walden murmured something inarticulate, but Adderley waved him into
silence, and continued:

    Woodland sprites of ferns and trees,
     Ariels of the wandering breeze,
     Kelpies from the hidden caves
     Coral-bordered 'neath the waves,
     Sylphs, that in the rose's heart,
     Laugh when leaves are blown apart,--
     All the Faun and Dryad crew
     From their mystic forests flew
     To the wooing of Maryllia!

"Very fanciful!" said John, with a forced smile--"I suppose you can
go on like that interminably?"

"I can, and I will,"--said Julian--"So long as the fit possesses me.
But not now. You are in a hurry, and you wish to say good-bye. You
imply the P.P.C. in your aspect. So be it! I shall see you on Sunday
in the pulpit as usual?"

"Yes."

"Badsworth Hall will probably attend your ministrations, so I am
told,"--continued Julian--"Lord Roxmouth wants to hear you preach,--
and Sir Morton himself proposes to 'sit under' you."

"Sorry for it!" said Walden abruptly--"He should attend his own
'cure'--Mr. Leveson."

They laughed.

"Of course you don't credit that story about Miss Vancourt's
marriage with Lord Roxmouth?" queried Adderley, suddenly.

"I am slow to believe anything I hear,"--replied John--"But--is it
quite without foundation?"

Adderley looked him straight in the eyes.

"Quite! Very quite! Most quite! My dear Walden, you are pale! A
change, even a brief one, will do you good. Go and see your Bishop
by all means. And tell him how nearly, how very nearly you gave
prestige to the calling of a Churchman by knocking down a rascal!"

They parted then; and by sundown Walden was in the train speeding
away from St. Rest at the rate of fifty miles an hour to one of the
great manufacturing cities where human beings swarm together more
thickly than bees in a hive, and overcrowd and jostle each other's
lives out in the desperate struggle for mere bread. Bainton and
Nebbie were left sole masters of the rectory and its garden, and
both man and dog were depressed in spirits, and more or less
restless and discontented.

"'Tain't what it used to be by no manner o' means,"--muttered
Bainton, looking with a dejected air round the orchard, where the
wall fruit was hanging in green clusters of promise--"Passon don't
seem to care, an' when HE don't care then I don't care! Why, it
seems onny t'other day 'twas May morning, an' he was carryin' Ipsie
Frost on his shoulder, an' leadin' all the children wi' the Maypole
into the big meadow, an' all was as right as right could be,--yet
'ere we're onny just in August an' everything's topsy-turvy like.
Lord, Lord!--'ow trifles do make up a sum o' life to be sure, as the
copybooks sez--for arter all, what's 'appened? Naught in any wise
partikler. Miss Vancourt 'as come 'ome to her own,--an' she's 'ad a
few friends from Lunnon stayin' with 'er. That's simple enough, as
simple as plantains growin' in a lawn. Then Miss Vancourt's 'usband
that is to be, comes down an' stays with old Blusterdash Pippitt at
the 'All, in order to be near 'is sweet'art. There ain't nothin' out
of the common in that. It's all as plain as piecrust. An' Passon
ain't done nothin' either but jest his dooty as he allus doos it,--
he ain't been up to the Manor more'n once,--he ain't been at the
'All,--an' Miss Vancourt she ain't been 'ere neither since the day
he broke his best lilac for her. So it can't be she what's done
mischief--nor him, nor any on 'em. So I sez to myself, what is it?
What's come over the old place? What's come over Passon? Neither
place nor man's the same somehow, yet blest if I know where the
change comes in. It's like one of the ways o' the Lord, past findin'
out!"

He might have thought there was something still more to wonder at if
he could have looked into Josey Letterbarrow's cottage that evening
and seen Maryllia there, sitting on a low stool at the old man's
knee and patting his wrinkled hand tenderly, while she talked to him
in a soft undertone and he listened with grave intentness and
sagacity, though, also with something of sorrow.

"An' so ye think it's the onny way, my beauty!" he queried,
anxiously--"There ain't no other corner round it?"

"I'm afraid not, dear Josey!" she answered, with a sigh--"And I'm
telling you all about it, because you knew my father, and because
you saw me when I was a little child. You would not like me to marry
a man whom I hate,--a man who is bad right through, and who only
wants my aunt's money, which he would get if I consented to be his
wife. I am sure, Josey, you don't think money is the best thing in
life, do you?--I know you agree with me that love is better?"

Josey looked down upon her where she sat with an almost devout
tenderness.

"Love's the onny thing in the world worth 'avin' an' keeping my
beauty!" he said--"An' love's wot you desarves, an' wot you're sure
to get. I wouldn't see Squire's gel married for money, no, not if it
was a reglar gold mine!--I'd rather see 'er in 'er daisy grave fust!
An' I don't want to see 'er with a lord nor a duke,--I'll be content
to see 'er with a good man if the Lord will grant me that 'fore I
die! An' you do as you feels to be right, an' all things 'ull work
together for good to them as loves the Lord! That's Passon's
teachin' an' rare good teachin' it be!"

At this Maryllia rose rather hurriedly and put on her hat, tying its
chiffon strings slowly under her chin.

"Good-bye, Josey dear!"--she said--"It won't be for very long. But
you must keep my secret--you mustn't say a word, not even"--here she
paused and laughed a little forcedly--"not even to the Parson you're
so fond of!"

Josey looked at her sideways, with a quaintly meditative expression.

"Passon be gone away hisself,"--he said, a little smile creeping
among the kindly wrinkles of his brown weather-beaten face--"He
baint comin' back till Sunday."

"Gone away?" Maryllia was quite unconscious of the vibration of pain
in her voice as she asked the question, as she was equally of the
startled sorrow in her pretty eyes.

"Ah, my beauty, gone away,"--repeated Josey, with a curious sort of
placid satisfaction--"Passon, he be lookin' downhearted like, an' a
change o' scene 'ull do 'im good mebbe, an' bring 'im back all the
better for it. He came an' said good-bye to me this marnin'."

Maryllia stood for a moment irresolute. Why had he gone away? Her
brows met in a little puckered line of puzzled wonder.

"He be gone to see the Bishop,"--pursued Josey, watching her
tenderly with his old dim eyes,--it was like reading a love-story to
see the faint colour flushing those soft round cheeks of hers, and
the tremulous quiver of that sweet sensitive mouth--"Church
business, likely. But never you mind, my beauty!--he'll be 'ere to
preach, please the Lord, on Sunday."

"Oh, I don't mind," said Maryllia, quickly recovering herself--"Only
I shan't be here, you see--and--and I had intended to explain
something to him--however, it doesn't matter! I can write all I
wanted to say. Good-bye, Josey! Give my love to Ipsie!"

"Good-bye, my beauty!" returned Josey, with emphatic earnestness--
"An' God bless ye an' make all the rough places smooth for ye!
You'll find us all 'ere, lovin' an' true, whenever ye comes,
mornin', noon or night--the village ain't the world, but you've got
round it, my dearie--you've got round it!"

And in the deep midnight when the church chimes rang the hour, and
the moon poured a pearly shower of luminance over the hushed
woodland and silently winding river, Josey lay broad awake,
resignedly conscious of his extreme age, and thinking soberly of the
beginning and end of life,--the dawn and fruition of love,--the
wonderful, beautiful, complex labyrinth of experience through which
every human soul is guided from one mystic turn to another of
mingled joy and sorrow by that supreme Wisdom, Whom, though we
cannot see, we trust,--and feeling the near close of his own long
life-journey, he folded his withered hands and prayed aloud:

"For all Thy childern, O Lord God, that 'ave gone by the last
milestone on the road an' are growin' footsore an' weary, let there
be Thy peace which passeth all understandin'!--but for Squire's gel
with the little lonely heart of 'er beatin' like the wings of a bird
that wants a nest, let there be Love!"




XXVI


Next day at Badsworth Hall, a stately luncheon was in progress.
Luncheon, or indeed any meal, partaken of under the rolling and
excitable eye of Sir Morton Pippitt, was always a function fraught
with considerable embarrassment to any guests who might happen to be
present, being frequently assisted by the Shakespearean stage
direction 'alarums and excursions.' With Sir Morton at the head of
the table, and the acid personality of his daughter Miss Tabitha at
the foot, there was very little chance of more than merely
monosyllabic conversation, while any idea of merriment, geniality or
social interchange of thought, withered in conception and never came
to birth. The attention of both host and hostess was chiefly
concentrated on the actual or possible delinquencies of the servants
in attendance--and what with Sir Morton's fierce nods and becks to
unhappy footmen, and Miss Tabitha's freezing menace of brow bent
warningly against the butler, those who, as visitors, were outside
these privacies of the domestic circle, never felt altogether at
their ease. But the fact that other people were made uncomfortable
by his chronic irascibility moved Sir Morton not at all, so long as
he personally could enjoy himself in his own fashion, which was to
browbeat, bully and swear at every hapless household retainer that
came across his path in the course of the day. He was more than
usually choleric and fussy in the 'distinguished' presence of Lord
Roxmouth, for though that individual had gone the social pace very
thoroughly, and was, to put it mildly, a black sheep of modern
decadence, hopelessly past all regeneration, he still presented the
exterior appearances of a gentleman, and was careful to maintain
that imperturbable composure of mien, dignity of bearing, and
unruffled temper which indicate breeding, though they are far from
being evidences of sincerity. And thus it very naturally happened
that in the companionship of the future Duke of Ormistoune, Sir
Morton did not shine. His native vulgarity came out side by side
with his childish pomposity, and Roxmouth, after studying his
habits, customs and manners for two or three days, began to feel
intensely bored and out of humour.

"Upon my word,"--he said, to his fidus Achates, Marius Longford,--"I
am enduring a great deal for the sake of the Vancourt millions! To
follow an erratic girl like Maryllia from one Continental resort to
another was bad enough,-but to stay here in tame, highly respectable
country dullness is a thousand times worse! Why on earth, my good
fellow, could you not have found a more educated creature to play
host to me than this terrible old Bone-Boiler?"

Longford pressed the tips of his fingers together with a deprecatory
gesture.

"There was really no one else who could receive you,"--he answered,
almost apologetically--"I thought I had managed the affair rather
well. You will remember that directly Miss Vancourt had announced to
her aunt her intention to return to her own home, you sent me down
here to investigate the place and its surroundings, and see what I
could do. Sir Morton Pippitt seemed to be the only person, from the
general bent of his character, to suit your aims, and his house was,
(before he had it) of very excellent historic renown. I felt sure
you would be able to use him. There is no other large place in the
neighbourhood except Miss Vancourt's own Manor, and Ittlethwaite
Park--I doubt whether you could have employed the Ittlethwaites to
much purpose---"

"Spare me the suggestion!" yawned Roxmouth--"I should not have
tried!"

"Well, there is no one else of suitable position, or indeed of
sufficient wealth to entertain you,"--continued Longford--"Unless
you had wished me to fraternise with the brewer, Mordaunt Appleby?
HE certainly might have been useful! oj He would sell his soul to a
title!"

Roxmouth gave an exclamation of mingled contempt and impatience, and
dropped the conversation. But he was intensely weary of Sir Morton's
'fine jovial personality'--he hated his red face, his white hair,
his stout body, his servile obsequiousness to rank, and all his
'darling old man' ways. Darling old man he might be, but he was
unquestionably a dull old man as well. So much so, indeed, that when
at luncheon on the day now named, his lordship Roxmouth, as Mr.
Netlips would have styled him, was in a somewhat petulant mood,
being tired of the constant scolding of the servants that went on
around him, and being likewise moved to a sort of loathing repulsion
at the contemplation of Miss Tabitha's waxy-clean face lined with
wrinkles, and bordered by sternly smooth grey hair. He was lazily
wondering to himself whether she had ever been young--whether the
same waxy face, wrinkles and grey hair had not adorned her in her
very cradle,--when the appearance of an evidently highly nervous boy
in buttons, carrying a letter towards his host on a silver salver,
distracted his attention.

"What's this--what's this?" spluttered Sir Morton, hastily dropping
a fork full of peas which he had been in the act of conveying to his
mouth--"What are you bringing notes in here for, eh? Haven't I told
you I won't have my meals disturbed by messages and parcels? What
d'ye mean by it? Take it away--take it away!--No!--here!--stop a
minute, stop a minute! Yes--yes!--I see!--marked 'immediate,' and
from Abbot's Manor. My dear lord!"--And here he raised his voice to
a rich warble-"I believe this will concern you more than me--ha-ha-
ha!--yes, yes! we know a thing or two! 'When a woman will, she will,
you may depend on't!'--never mind the other line!--never mind, never
mind!" And he broke open the seal of the missive presented to him,
and adjusted his gold-rimmed spectacles to read its contents. "Eh--
what's this--what's this? God bless my soul!" And his round eyes
protruded in astonishment and dismay--"Look here!--I say--really!
You'd better read this, my lord! God bless my soul! She's bolted!"

Roxmouth started violently. Mr. Marius Longford looked up sharply--
and Miss Tabitha laid down her knife and fork with the regular old
maid's triumphant air of 'I told you so!'

"God bless my soul!" said Sir Morton again--"Was ever such a bit of
damned cheek!--beg pardon, my lord!---"

"Don't apologise!" said Roxmouth, with courteous languor, "At least,
not to ME! To Miss Tabitha!" and he waved his hand expressively.
"May I see the letter?"

"Certainly--certainly!" and Sir Morton in a great fluster passed it
along. It was a very brief note and ran as follows:

"DEAR SIR MORTON,--I quite forgot to tell you, when you and your
friends dined with me the other day, that I am leaving home
immediately and shall be away for the rest of the summer. Lady
Wicketts and Miss Fosby are staying on at the Manor for a fortnight
or three weeks, as the country air does them so much good. It will
be very kind if you and Lord Roxmouth will call and see them as
often as you can,--they are such dear kind people!--and I am sure
Miss Tabitha will be glad to have them near her as she already likes
them so much. Anything you can do to give them pleasure while they
are here, will be esteemed as a personal favour to myself. I am
sorry not to have the time to call and say good-bye--but I am sure
you will excuse ceremony. I shall have left before you receive this
note.--With kind regards, sincerely yours,"
                                               "MARYLLIA VANCOURT."

Roxmouth read this letter, first to himself, and then aloud to all
at table. For a moment there was a silence of absolute stupefaction.

"Then she's gone!" at last said Miss Tabitha, placidly nodding,
while the suspicion of a malign smile crept round the hard corners
of her mouth.

"Evidently!" And Roxmouth crumbled the bread beside his plate into
fine shreds with a nervous, not to say vicious clench of his hand.

He was inwardly furious. There is nothing so irritating to a man of
his type as to be made ridiculous. Maryllia had done this. In the
most trifling, casual, and ordinary way she had compelled him to
look like a fool. All his carefully laid plans were completely
upset, and he fancied that even Longford, his tool, to whom he had
freely confided his wishes and intentions, was secretly laughing at
him. To have plotted and contrived a stay at Badsworth Hall with the
blusterous Pippitt in order to have the opportunity of crossing
Maryllia's path at every turn, and compromising her name with his in
her own house and county, and then to find himself 'left,' with the
civil suggestion that he should 'call and see' the antique Sisters
Gemini, Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby, was somewhat too much for his
patience. The blow was totally unexpected,--the open slight to his
amour propre sudden and keen. His very blood tingled under the lash
of Maryllia's disdain--she had carried a point against him, and he
almost imagined he could hear the distant echo of her light mocking
laughter. His brow reddened,--he gnawed his under-lip angrily, and
sat mute, aware that he had been tricked and foiled.

Longford watched him narrowly and with something of dismay,--for if
this lordly patron, who, by his position alone, was able to push
things on in certain quarters of the press, were to suddenly turn
crusty and unreasonable, where would his, Longford's, 'great
literary light' be? Quenched utterly like a rush-light in a gale!
Sir Morton Pippitt during the uncomfortable pause of silence had
grown purple with suppressed excitement. He knew perfectly well,--
because he had consented to it,--that his house had only been 'used'
for Roxmouth's purposes, and that he, personally, was of no more
consideration to a man like the future Duke of Ormistoune than a
landlord for the time being, whose little reckoning for
entertainment would in due course be settled in some polite and
ceremonious fashion. And he realised dolefully that his
'distinguished' guest might, and probably would, soon take his
departure from Badsworth Hall, that abode no longer being of any
service to him. This meant annihilation to many of Sir Morton's
fondest hopes. He had set his heart on appearing at sundry garden-
parties in the neighbourhood during the summer with Lord Roxmouth
under his portly wing--he had meant to hurl Lord Roxmouth here, Lord
Roxmouth there at all the less 'distinguished' people around him, so
that they should almost sink into the dust with shame because they
had not had the honour of sheltering his lordship within their
walls,--and he had expected to add considerably to his own
importance by 'helping on' the desired union between Roxmouth Castle
and the Vaneourt millions. Now this dream was over, and he could
willingly have thrown plates and dishes and anything else that came
handy at the very name of Maryllia for her 'impudence' as he called
it, in leaving them all in the lurch.

"It will be quite easy to ascertain where she has gone,"--said
Marius Longford presently, in soft conciliatory accents--"Lady
Wicketts will probably know, and Miss Fosby---"

"Damn Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby!" snapped out Sir Morton, this
time without any apology--"A couple of female donkeys! 'Kind of me
to call upon them!' God bless my soul! I should think it WOULD be
kind! Nobody but a fool would go near them---"

"They are very pleasant, good women,"--said Miss Tabitha with severe
serenity--"Personally, I much prefer them to Miss Vancourt."

Sir Morton snorted contempt; Mr. Longford coughed discreetly.

"Miss Vancourt has not yet ripened sufficiently to bear comparison
with Lady Wicketts,"--he said, smoothly--"or with Miss Fosby. But I
think, Miss Pippitt, there is a great deal in what you say!" Miss
Tabitha bowed, and smiled a vinegary smile. "Lady Wicketts has a
fine mind--very fine! Her husband, Sir Thomas---"

"Oh never mind her husband!" blustered Sir Morton,--

"He's dead. And a good job too--for himself. Now what's to be done,
my dear lord, eh?--what's to be done?"

Roxmouth looked up and managed to force his usual conventional
smile.

"Nothing!"

"Nothing? Oh come, come! That won't do! Paint heart never won fair
lady--ha-ha-ha! God bless my soul! The course of true love never did
run smooth--that's the advice of what's-his-name--Shakespeare. Ha-
ha! By the bye, what's become of that poet acquaintance of yours,
Longford? Oughtn't HE to have known something about this? Didn't you
tell him to keep a sharp look-out on Maryllia Van, eh?"

Longford reddened slightly under his pale yellow skin. What a vulgar
way Sir Morton had of putting things, to be sure!

"I certainly asked Mr. Adderley to let us know if there was anything
in which we could possibly participate to give pleasure and
entertainment to Miss Vancourt,"--he answered frigidly--"He seems to
have ingratiated himself with both Miss Vancourt and her young
friend Miss Bourne--I should have thought he would have been told of
their intending departure."

"You may depend he knows all about it!" said Sir Mortou--"He's
double-faced, that's what he is! Poets always are. I hate 'em!
Regular sneaks!--always something queer about their morals--look at
Byron!--God bless my soul!--he ought to have been locked up--
positively locked up, he-ha-ha! We'll come down on this Adderley--
we'll take him by surprise and cross-examine him--we'll ask him why
the devil he has played a double game---"

"Pray do not think of such a thing!"--interrupted Roxmouth, quietly-
-"I really doubt whether he knows any more than we do. Maryllia--
Miss Vancourt--is not of a character to confide her movements, even
to a friend,--she has always been reticent---" He paused.

"And sly!"--said Miss Tabitha, finishing his sentence for him, "Very
sly! The first time I ever saw Miss Vancourt I knew she was
deceitful! Her very look expresses it!"

"I'm afraid,"--murmured Roxmouth,--and then hesitating a moment, he
raised his eyes with an affectation of great frankness--"I'm really
afraid you may be right, Miss Tabitha! I had hoped that I should not
have had to speak of a matter,--a very disagreeable matter which
happened the other night--but, under the circumstances, it may be as
well to mention it. You can perhaps imagine how distressing it has
been to me--distressing and painful--and indeed incredible,--to
discover the lady whom I have every right to consider almost my
promised wife, entering into a kind of amorous entanglement down
here with a clergyman!"

Sir Morton bounced in his chair.

"God bless my soul! A clergyman?"

"A clergyman?" echoed Miss Tabitha, with sudden sharpness in her
tone--"What clergyman do you mean?"

"Who should I mean!" And Roxmouth affected a somewhat sad and
forbearing demeanour--"There is only one who appears to be welcome
at the Manor-the Reverend John Walden."

Miss Tabitha turned a paler waxen yellow-Sir Morton shot forth a
deep, dreadful and highly blasphemous oath.

"That prig?" he roared, with a bull-like loudness and fury--"That
high-and-mighty piece of damned superior clerical wisdom? God bless
my soul! There must be some mistake---"

"Yes surely!"--murmured Miss Tabitha, feeling the clutch of a deadly
spite and fear at her heart,--for was not Walden HER clergyman?--HER
choice of a husband?--the man she had resolved to wed sooner or
later, even if she had to wait till he was senile, and did not know
what he was doing when led to the altar? "Mr. Walden is not a man
who would be easily allured---"

"Perhaps not,"--said Roxmouth, quietly--"But I can hardly refuse to
accept the witness of my own eyes and ears." And, attended by an
almost breathless silence on the part of his auditors, he related
with an air of patient endurance and compassionate regret, his own
account of the interview between Maryllia and Walden in the picture-
gallery, exaggerating something here, introducing a suggestive
insinuation there, suppressing the simplicity of the true facts, and
inserting falsehood wherever convenient, till he had succeeded in
placing Walden's good name at Miss Tabitha's cat-like mercy for her
to rend and pounce upon to the utmost extent of her own jaundiced
rage and jealous venom.

Nothing could equal or surpass Sir Morton's amazement and wrath as
he listened to the narration. His eyes seemed to literally start out
of his head,--his throat swelled visibly till a fat ridge of flesh
lolled over the edge of his stiff shirt-collar, and he threw in
various observations of his own with regard to Walden, such as
'Sniveling puppy!' 'Canting rascal!' 'Elderly humbug!' 'Sneaking
upstart,' which were quite in accordance with his native good taste
and refinement of speech. And when at last his stock of expletives
became, for the time being, exhausted, and when Miss Tabitha's dumb
viciousness had, like an invisible sculptor's chisel, carved sudden
deep lines in her face as fitting accompaniments to the deepening
malice of her thoughts, they all rose from the luncheon table and
went their several ways in their several moods of disconcerted
confusion, impotence and vexation, in search of fresh means to gain
new and unexpected ends. Roxmouth, reluctantly yielding to the
earnest persuasions of Longford, walked with him into the village of
St. Rest, and made enquiries at the post-office as to whether Miss
Vancourt's sudden departure was known there, or whether any
instructions had been left as to the forwarding of her letters. But
the postmistress, Mrs. Tapple, breathing hard and curtseying
profoundly to the 'future Dook' declared she ''adn't heard nothink,'
and ''adn't 'ad no orders.' Miss Vancourt's letters and telegrams
all went up to the Manor as usual. Whereupon, still guided by the
astute Longford, Roxmouth so far obeyed Maryllia's parting
suggestion as to go and 'kindly call' upon Lady Wicketts and Miss
Fosby at the Manor itself. The beautiful old house looked the same
as usual; there were no shutters up, no blinds drawn, in any of the
windows,--nothing indicated absence on the part of the reigning
mistress of the fair domain; and even the dog Plato was comfortably
snoozing according to daily custom, on the sun-baked flag-stones in
the Tudor court. Primmins opened the door to them with his usual
well-trained and imperturbable demeanour.

"Miss Vancourt is not at home?" began Roxmouth tentatively.

"Miss Vancourt has left for the Continent, my lord," replied
Primmins, sedately.

Longford exchanged a swift glance with his patron. The latter gave a
slight, weary shrug of his shoulders.

"Miss Bourne."--began Longford then.

"Miss Bourne and Mr. Gigg have also left," said Primmins.

"I suppose Miss Vancourt went with them?"

"No, sir."

This was baffling.

"Lady Wicketts is staying here, I believe,"--murmured Roxmouth--"Can
I--er?"

"Her ladyship has the neuralgy and is lying down, my lord," and an
acute observer might have noticed the tremor of a wink in Primmins'
eye--"Miss Fosby is in the drawing-room."

With a profound sigh Roxmouth glanced at Longford. That gentleman
smiled a superior smile.

"We should like to see Miss Fosby."

Primmins at once threw open the door more widely.

"This way, if you please!"

In another moment they were ushered into the presence of Miss Fosby,
who, laying aside her embroidery, rose with punctilious ceremony to
receive them.

"Lady Wicketts is not well,"--she said, in tenderly lachrymose
accents--"Dear Lady Wicketts! She is always so good!--always
thinking of other people and doing such kind things!--she fatigues
herself, and she is so delicate--ah!--so very delicate! She is
suffering from neuralgia, I am sorry to say!"

"Don't mention it,"--said Roxmouth, hastily--"We would not disturb
her for the world! The fact is, we called to see Miss Vancourt---"

"Yes?" queried Miss Fosby, gently, taking up her embroidery again,
and carefully setting her needle into the petal of a rosebud she was
designing--"Dear girl! She left here yesterday."

"Rather sudden, wasn't it?" said Longford.

Miss Fosby looked up placidly, and smiled. She had a touch of humour
about her as well as much 'early Victorian' sentiment, and she was
just now enjoying herself.

"I think not! Young women like change and travel. Maryllia has
always been accustomed to go abroad in August. The first time Lady
Wicketts and I ever met her, she was travelling with her aunt. Oh
no, I don't think it is at all sudden!"

"Where has she gone?" asked Roxmouth, affecting as much ease and
lightness of manner as he could in putting the question.

Miss Fosby smiled a little more.

"I really don't know,"--she replied, with civil mildness--"I fancy
she has no settled plans at all. She has kindly allowed Lady
Wicketts and myself the use of the Manor for three weeks."

"Till she returns?" suggested Longford.

This time Miss Fosby laughed.

"Oh no! When WE leave it, the Manor is to be shut up again for quite
a long time--probably till next summer."

"Miss Bourne has gone with her friend, I suppose?" "No,"--and Miss
Fosby sought carefully among her embroidery silks for some special
tint of colour--"Little Cicely and Monsieur Gigue, her master, went
away together only this morning."

"Well, I suppose Miss Vancourt's letters will he forwarded on
somewhere!"--said Eoxmouth, unguardedly. Miss Fosby's back stiffened
instantly.

"Really, my lord, I know nothing about that,"--she said, primly--
"Nor should I even make it my business to enquire." There was an
awkward pause after this, and though Longford skilfully changed the
subject of conversation to generalities, the rest of the interview
was fraught with considerable embarrassment. Miss Fosby was not to
be 'drawn.' She was distinctly 'old-fashioned,'--needless therefore
to add that she was absolutely loyal to her absent friend and
hostess.

Leaving the Manor, Lord Roxmouth and his tame pussy sought for
information in other quarters with equal futility. The agent, Mr.
Stanways, 'knew nothing.' His orders were to communicate all his
business to Miss Vancourt's solicitors in London. Finally the last
hope failed them in Julian Adderley. They found that young gentleman
as much taken aback as themselves by the news of Maryllia'a
departure. He had been told nothing of it. A note from Cicely Bourne
had been brought to him that morning by one of the gardeners at the
Manor--and he showed this missive to both Roxmouth and Longford with
perfect frankness. It merely ran: "Goodbye Moon-calf! Am going away.
No time to see you for a fond farewell! Hope you will be famous
before I come back. Enclosed herewith is my music to your 'Little
Eose Tree,' GOBLIN."

This, with the accompanying manuscript score of the song alluded to
was all the information Julian could supply,--and his own surprise
and consternation at the abrupt and unexpected termination of his
pleasant visits to the Manor, were too genuine to be doubted.

"It is positively remote!" he said, staring vaguely at his visitors-
-"Too remote for realisation! Mr. Walden has gone away too."

Roxmouth started.

"Mr. Walden?"

"Yes." And Julian looked surprised at the other's hasty tone,--"But
only to see his Bishop. He will preach here as usual on Sunday."

"Are you sure of that?" asked Longford, sharply scanning Julian's
flabby face, green-grey eyes and ruddy locks with sudden suspicion--
"Or is it only a blind?"

"A blind?" And Adderley lifted his shoulders to the lobes of his
ears and spread out his hands in flat amazement,--"What do you mean,
most obscure Marius? For what purpose should a blind be used? Mr.
Walden is the last person in the world to wish to cover his
intentions, or disguise his motives. He is the sincerest man I ever
met!"

Longford glanced at his patron for instructions. Was Adderley to be
told of the 'amorous entanglement' of Miss Vancourt? Roxmouth
frowned at him warningly, and he understood his cue.

"Well, if you hear any news from the Manor, you can let us know,"--
he said--"You are quite aware of the position---"

"Quite!" murmured Julian, lazily.

"And if you want to get on, you will hardly find a better friend
than Lord Roxmouth,"--pursued Longford, with meaning emphasis--"He
has made many a man famous!"

"Oh, my dear Longford!-pray do not speak of these things!"--
interrupted Roxmouth, with an air of gentlemanly humility. "Merit
always commands my interest and attention--and Mr. Adderley's talent
as a poet--naturally--!" Here he waved his hand and allowed the
sentence to finish itself.

Julian looked at him thoughtfully.

"Thanks! I THINK I see what you mean!"--he said slowly--"But I'm
afraid I am not a useful person. I never have been useful in my
life--neither to myself, nor to anybody else. To be useful would be
new--and in some cases, fresh,"--here he smiled dubiously--"Yes--
very fresh!--and delightful! But I fear--I very much fear that I
shall always 'lack advancement' as Hamlet says--I can never
accommodate myself to other people's plans. You will excuse my
inabilities?"

Roxmouth flushed angrily. He understood. So did Marius Longford--
resolving in his own mind that whenever, IF ever, a book of poems
appeared by Julian Adderley, he would so maul and pounce upon it in
the critical reviews, that there should not be a line of it left
unmangled or alive. They parted with him, however, on apparently
excellent terms.

Returning to Badsworth Hall they found no further news awaiting them
than they had themselves been able to obtain. Sir Morton's fussy
enquiries had brought no result--Miss Tabitha had scoured the
neighbourhood in her high dogcart, calling on the Ittlethwaites and
Mandeville Porehams, all in vain. Nobody knew anything. Nobody had
heard anything. The sudden exit of Maryllia from the scene took
everyone by surprise. And when Miss Pippitt began to hiss a
scandalous whisper concerning John Walden, and a possible intrigue
between him and the Lady of the Manor, the 'county' sat up amazed.
Here indeed was food for gossip! Here was material for 'local'
excitement!

"Old Tabitha's jealous!--that's what it is!" said Bruce Ittlethwaite
of Ittlethwaite Park, to his maiden sisters,--"Ha-ha-ha! Old green-
and-yellow Tabitha is afraid she'll lose her pet parson! Dammit! A
pretty woman always starts this kind of nonsense. If it wasn't the
clergyman, it would be somebody else--perhaps Sir Morton himself--or
perhaps me! Ha-ha-ha! Dammit!"

"I don't believe a word of it!" declared the eldest Miss
Ittlethwaite,--"I do not attend Mr. Walden's services myself, but I
am quite sure he is an excellent man--and a perfect gentleman.
Nothing that Tabitha Pippitt can ever say, will move me on that
point!"

"I always had my suspicions!"--said Mrs. Mandeville Poreham,
severely, when she in her turn heard the news--"I heard that Miss
Vancourt had insisted--positively INSISTED on Mr. Walden's visiting
her nearly every day, and I trembled for him! MY girls have gone
quite crazy about Miss Vancourt ever since they met her at Sir
Morton Pippitt's garden-party, but _I_ have NEVER changed my
opinion.  MY poor mother always taught me to be firm in my
convictions. And Miss Vancourt is a designing person. There's no
doubt of it. She affects the innocence of a child--but I doubt
whether I have ever met anyone QUITE so worldly and artful!"

So the drops of petty gossip began to trickle,--very slowly at
first, and then faster and faster, as is their habitude in the
effort to wear away the sparkling adamant of a good name and
unblemished reputation. The Reverend Putwood Leveson, vengefully
brooding over the wrongs which he considered he had sustained at the
hands of Walden, as well as Julian Adderley, rode to and fro on his
bicycle from morn till dewy eye, perspiring profusely, and shedding
poisonous slanders almost as freely as he exuded melted tallow from
his mountainous flesh, aware that by so doing he was not only
ingratiating himself with the Pippitts, but also with Lord Roxmouth,
through whose influence he presently hoped to 'get a thing or two.'
Mordaunt Appleby, the Riversford brewer, and his insignificant
spouse, irritated at never having had the chance to 'receive' Lord
Roxmouth, were readily pressed into the same service and did their
part of scandal-mongering with right good-will and malignant
satisfaction. And in less than forty-eight hours' time there was no
name too bad for the absent Maryllia; she was 'mixed up' with John
Walden,--she had 'tried to entangle him'--there had been 'a scene
with him at the Manor,'--she was 'forward,' 'conceited'--and utterly
lost to any sense of propriety. Why did she not marry Lord Roxmouth?
Why, indeed! Many people could tell if they chose! Ah yes!--and with
this, there were sundry shakings of the head and shruggings of the
shoulders which implied more than whole volumes of libel.

But while the county talked, the village listened, sagaciously
incredulous of mere rumour, quiescent in itself and perfectly
satisfied that whoever else was wrong, 'Passon Walden' in everything
he did, said, or thought, was sure to be right. Wherefore, until
they heard their 'man o' God's' version of the stories that were
being so briskly circulated, they reserved their own opinions. The
infallibility of the Supreme Pontiff was not more securely founded
in the Roman Catholic Ritual than the faith of St. Rest in the
'gospel according to John.'




XXVII


Meanwhile Walden himself, ignorant of all the 'local' excitement so
suddenly stirred up in his tiny kingdom, had arrived on a three
days' visit at the house, or to put it more correctly, at the
palace, of his friend Bishop Brent. It was, in strict reality a
palace, having been in the old days one of the residences of Henry
VII. Much of the building had been injured during the Cromwellian
period, and certain modern repairs to its walls had been somewhat
clumsily executed, but it still retained numerous fine old mullioned
windows, and a cloistered court of many sculptured arches still
eminently beautiful, though grey and crumbling under the touch of
the melancholy vandal, Time. The Bishop's study had formerly been
King Henry's audience chamber, and possessed a richly-wrought
ceiling of interlaced oak rafters, and projecting beams smoothly
polished at the ends and painted with royal emblems, from which
projections no doubt, in early periods, many a banner of triumph had
floated and many a knightly pennon. Bishop Brent was fond of this
room, and carefully maintained its ancient character in the style of
its furniture and general surroundings. The wide angle-nook and high
carved chimney-piece, supported by two sculptured angel-figures of
heroic size, was left unmodernised, and in winter the gaping recess
was filled with great logs blazing cheerily as in olden times, but
in summer, as now, it served as a picturesque setting for masses of
rare flowers which, growing in pots, or cut freshly and set in
crystal vases, were grouped together with the greatest taste and
artistic selection of delicate colouring, forming, as it seemed, a
kind of blossom-wreathed shrine, above which, against the carved
chimney itself, hung a wonderfully impressive picture of the Virgin
and Child. Placed below this, and slightly towarde the centre of the
room, was the Bishop's table-desk and chair, arranged so that
whenever he raised his head from his work, the serene soft eyes of
Mary, Blessed among Women, should mystically meet his own. And here
just now he sat at evening, deep in conversation with John Walden,
who with the perfect unselfishness which was an ingrained part of
his own nature, had for the time put aside or forgotten all his own
little troubles, in order to listen to the greater ones of his
friend. He had been shocked at the change wrought in seven years on
Brent's form and features. Always thin, he had now become so
attenuated as to have reached almost a point of emaciation,--his
dark eyes, sunk far back under his shelving brows, blazed with a
feverish brilliancy which gave an almost unearthly expression to his
pale drawn features, and his hand, thin, long, and delicate as a
woman's, clenched and unclenched itself nervously when he spoke,
with an involuntary force of which he was himself unconscious.

"You have not aged much, Walden!" he said, thoughtfully regarding
his old college chum's clear and open countenance with a somewhat
sad smile--"Your eyes are the same blue eyes of the boy that linked
his arm through mine so long ago and walked with me through the
sleepy old streets of 'Alma Mater!' That time seems quite close to
me sometimes--and again sometimes far away--dismally, appallingly,
far away!"

He sighed. Walden looked at him a little anxiously, but for the
moment said nothing.

"You give me no response,"--continued Brent, with sudden
querulousness--"Since you arrived we have been talking nothing but
generalities and Church matters. Heavens, how sick I am of Church
matters! Yet I know you see a change in me. I am sure you do--and
you will not say it. Now you never were secretive--you never said
one thing and meant another--so speak the truth as you have always
done! I AM changed, am I not?"

"You are,"--replied Walden, steadily--"But I cannot tell how, or in
what way. You look ill and worn out. You are overworked and
overwrought--but I think there is something else at the root of the
evil;--something that has happened during the last seven years. You
are not quite the man you were when you came to consecrate my church
at St. Rest."

"St. Rest!" repeated the Bishop, musingly--"What a sweet name it is-
-what a still sweeter suggestion! Rest--rest!--and a saint's rest
too!--that perfect rest granted to all the martyrs for Christ!--how
safe and peaceful!--how sure and glorious! Would that such rest were
mine! But I see nothing ahead of me but storm and turmoil, and
stress of anguish and heartbreak, ending in--Nothingness!"

Walden bent a little more forward and looked his friend full in the
eyes.

"What is wrong, Harry?" he asked, with exceeding gentleness.

At the old schoolboy name of bygone years, Brent caught and pressed
his hand with strong fervour. A smile lighted his eyes.

"John, my boy, everything is wrong!" he said--"As wrong as ever my
work at college was, before you set it right. Do you think I forget!
Everything is wrong, I tell you! I am wrong,--my thoughts are
wrong,--and my conscience leaves me no peace day or night! I ought
not to be a Bishop--for I feel that the Church itself is wrong!"

John sat quiet for a minute. Then he said--

"So it is in many ways. The Church is a human attempt to build
humanity up on a Divine model, and it has its human limitations. But
the Divine model endures!"

Brent threw himself back in his chair and closed his eyes.

"The Divine model endures--yes!" he murmured--"The Divine foundation
remains firm, but the human building totters and is insecure to the
point of utter falling and destruction!" Here, opening his eyes, he
gazed dreamily at the pictured face of the Madonna above him.
"Walden, it is useless to contend with facts, and the facts are,
that the masses of mankind are as unregenerate at this day as ever
they were before Christ came into the world! The Church is powerless
to stem the swelling tide of human crime and misery. The Church in
these days has become merely a harbour of refuge for hypocrites who
think to win conventional repute with their neighbours, by affecting
to believe in a religion not one of whose tenets they obey!
Blasphemy, rank blasphemy, Walden! It is bad enough in all
conscience to cheat one's neighbour, but an open attempt to cheat
the Creator of the Universe is the blackest crime of all, though it
be unnamed in the criminal calendar!"

He uttered these words with intense passion, rising from his seat,
and walking up and down the room as he spoke. Walden watched his
restless passing to and fro, with a wistful look in his honest eyes.
Presently he said, smiling a little--

"You are my Bishop--and I should not presume to differ from you,
Brent! YOU must instruct ME,--not I you! Yet if I may speak from my
own experience---"

"You may and you shall!"--replied Brent, swiftly--"But think for a
moment, before you speak, of what that experience has been! One
great grief has clouded your life--the loss of your sister. After
that, what has been your lot? A handful of simple souls set under
your charge, in the loveliest of little villages,--souls that love
you, trust you and obey you. Compared to this, take MY daily life!
An over-populated diocese--misery and starvation on all sides,--men
working for mere pittances,--women prostituting themselves to obtain
food--children starving--girls ruined in their teens--and over it
all, my wretched self, a leading representative of the Church which
can do nothing to remedy these evils! And worse than all, a Church
in which some of the clergy themselves who come under my rule and
dominance are more dishonourable and dissolute than many of the so-
called 'reprobates' of society whom they are elected to admonish! I
tell you, Walden, I have some men under my jurisdiction whom I
should like to see soundly flogged!--only I am powerless to order
the castigation--and some others who ought to be serving seven years
in penal servitude instead of preaching virtue to people a thousand
times more virtuous than themselves!"

"I quite believe that!" said Walden, smiling--"I know one of them!"

The Bishop glanced at him, and laughed.

"You mean Putwood Leveson?" he said--"He seems a mischievous fool--
but I don't suppose there is any real harm in him, is there?"

"Real harm?"--and John flared up in a blaze of wrath--"He is the
most pernicious scoundrel that ever masqueraded in the guise of a
Christian!"

The Bishop paused in his walk up and down, and clasping his hands
behind his back, an old habit of his, looked quizzically at his
friend. A smile, kindly and almost boyish, lightened the grey pallor
of his worn face.

"Why, John!" he said--"you are actually in a temper! Your mental
attitude is evidently that of squared fists and 'Come on!' What has
roused the slumbering lion, eh?"

"It doesn't need a lion to spring at Leveson,"--said Walden,
contemptuously--"A sheep would do it! The tamest cur that ever
crawled would have spirit enough to make a dash for a creature so
unutterably mean and false and petty! I may as well admit to you at
once that I myself nearly struck him!"

"You did?" And Bishop Brent's grave dark eyes flashed with a sudden
suspicion of laughter.

"I did. I know it was not Churchman-like,--I know it was a case of
'kicking against the pricks.' But Leveson's 'pricks' are too much
like hog's bristles for me to endure with patience!"

The Bishop assumed a serious demeanour.

"Come, come, let me hear this out!" he said--"Do you mean to tell me
that you--YOU, John--actually struck a brother minister?"

"No--I do not mean to tell you anything of the kind, my Lord
Bishop!" answered Walden, beginning to laugh. "I say that I 'nearly'
struck him,--not quite! Someone else came on the scene at the
critical moment, and did for me what I should certainly have done
for myself had I been left to it. I cannot say I am sorry for the
impulse!"

"It sounds like a tavern brawl,"--said the Bishop, shaking his head
dubiously--"or a street fight. So unlike you, Walden! What was it
all about?"

"The fellow was slandering a woman,"--replied Walden, hotly--
"Poisoning her name with his foul tongue, and polluting it by his
mere utterance--contemptible brute! I should like to have
horsewhipped him---"

"Stop, stop!" interrupted the Bishop, stretching out his thin long
white hand, on which one single amethyst set in a plain gold ring,
shone with a pale violet fire--"I am not sure that I quite follow
you, John! What woman is this?"

Despite himself, a rush of colour sprang to Walden's brows. But he
answered quite quietly.

"Miss Vancourt,--of Abbot's Manor."

"Miss Vancourt!" Bishop Brent looked, as he felt, utterly
bewildered. "Miss Vancourt! My dear Walden, you surprise me! Did I
not write to you--do you not know---"

"Oh, I know all that is reported of her,"--said John, quickly--"And
I remember what you wrote. But it's a mistake, Brent! In fact, if
you will exonerate me for speaking bluntly, it's a lie! There never
was a gentler, sweeter woman than Maryllia Vancourt,--and perhaps
there never was one more basely or more systematically calumniated!"

The Bishop took a turn up to the farther end of the room. Then he
came back and confronted Walden with an authoritative yet kindly
air.

"Look me straight in the face, John!"

John obeyed. There was a silence, while Brent scanned slowly and
with appreciative affection the fine intellectual features, brave
eyes, and firm, yet tender mouth of the man whom he had, since the
days of their youth together, held dearest in his esteem among all
other men he had ever known, while Walden, in his turn, bore the sad
and searching gaze without flinching. Then the Bishop laid one hand
gently on his shoulder.

"So it has come, John!" he said.

Then and then only the brave eyes fell,--then and then only the firm
mouth trembled. But Walden was not the man to shirk any pain or
confusion to himself in matters of conscience.

"I suppose it has!" he answered, simply.

The Bishop sat down, and, seemingly out of long habit, raised his
eyes to the blandly smiling Virgin and Child above him.

"I am sorry!"--he murmured--"John, my dear old fellow, I am very
sorry---"

"Why should you be sorry?" broke out Walden, impetuously, "There is
nothing to be sorry for, except that I am a fool! But I knew THAT
long ago, even if you did not!"--and he forced a smile--"Don't be
sorry for me, Brent!--I'm not in the least sorry for myself. Indeed,
if I tell you the whole truth, I believe I rather like my own folly.
It does nobody any harm! And after all it is not absolutely a
world's wonder that a decaying tree should, even in its decaying
process, be aware of the touch of spring. It should not make the
tree unhappy!"

The Bishop raised his eyes. They were full of a deep melancholy.

"We are not trees--we are men!" he said--"And as men, God has made
us all aware of the love of woman,--the irresistible passion that at
one time or another makes havoc or glory of our lives! It is the
direst temptation on earth. Worst of all and bitterest it is when
love comes too late,--too late, John!--I say in your case, it comes
too late!"

John sighed and smiled.

"Love--if it has come to me at all--is never too late,"--he said
with quiet patience,--"My dear Brent, don't you understand? This
little girl--this child--for she is nothing more than that to a man
of my years--has slipped into my life by chance, as it were, like a
stray sunbeam--no more! I feel her brightness--her warmth--her
vitality--and my soul is conscious of an animation and gladness
whenever she is near, of which she is the sole cause. But that is
all. Her pretty ways--her utter loneliness,--are the facts of her
existence which touch me to pity, and I would see her cared for and
protected,--but I know myself to be too old and too unworthy to so
care for and protect her. I want her to be happy, but I am fully
conscious that I can never make her so. Would you call this kind of
chill sentiment 'love'?"

Brent regarded him steadfastly.

"Yes, John! I think I should!--yes, I certainly should call 'this
chill sentiment' love! And tell me--have you never got out of your
depth in the water of this 'chill sentiment,' or found yourself
battling for dear life against an outbreak of volcanic fire?"

Walden was silent.

"I never thought,"--continued the Bishop, rather sorrowfully,--"when
I wrote to you about the return of Robert Vancourt's daughter to her
childhood's home, that she would in any serious way interfere with
the peace of your life, John! I told you just what I had heard--no
more. I have never seen the girl. I only know what people say of
her. And that is not altogether pleasing."

"Do you believe what people say?" interrupted Walden, suddenly,--"Is
it not true that when a woman is pretty, intelligent, clean-souled
and pure-minded, and as unlike the rest of 'society' women as she
can well be, she is slandered for having the very virtues her rivals
do not possess?"

"Quite true!"--said Brent--"and quite common. It is always the old
story--'Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not
escape calumny.' Do not imagine for a moment, John, that I am going
to run the risk of losing your friendship by repeating anything that
may have been said against the reputation or the character of Miss
Vancourt. I have always prayed that no woman might ever come between
us,"--and here a faint tinge of colour warmed the pallor of his
face--"And, so far, I fancy the prayer has been granted. And I do
not think that this--this--shall we call it glamour, John?--this
glamour, of the imagination and the senses, will overcome you in any
detrimental way. I cannot picture you as the victim of a 'society'
siren!"

John smiled. A vision rose up before his eyes of a little figure in
sparkling white draperies--a figure that bent appealingly towards
him, while a soft childlike voice said--'I'm sorry! Will you forgive
me?' The tender lines round his mouth deepened and softened at the
mental picture.

"She is not a society siren,"--he said, gently--"Poor little soul!
She is a mere woman, needing what woman best thrives upon--love!"

"Well, she has been loved and sought in marriage for at least three
years by Lord Roxmouth,"--said the Bishop.

"Has SHE been loved and sought, or her aunt's millions?" queried
Walden--"That is the point at issue. But my dear Brent, do not let
us waste time in talking over this little folly of mine--for I grant
you it is folly. I'm not sorry you have found it out, for in any
case I had meant to make a clean breast of it before we parted,"--he
hesitated--then looked up frankly--"I would rather you spoke no more
of it, Harry! I've made my confession. I admit I nearly struck
Leveson for slandering an innocent and defenseless woman,--and I
believe you'll forgive me for that. Next, I own that though I am
getting into the sere and yellow leaf, I am still conscious of a
heart,--and that I feel a regretful yearning at times for the joys I
have missed out of my life--and you'll forgive me for that too,--I
know you will! For the rest, draw a curtain over this little
weakness of mine, will you? I don't want to speak of it--I want to
fight it and conquer it."

The Bishop stretched out a hand and caught Walden's in a close
grasp.

"Right!"--he said--"Do that, and you will do well! It is all a
question of fighting and conquering, or--being conquered. But YOU
will never give in, John! You are not the man to yield to the wiles
of the devil. For there IS a devil!--I am sure of it!" And his dark
eyes flashed with a sudden wild light. "A cozening, crafty, lurking
devil, that sets temptation before us in such varied and pleasing
forms that it is difficult--sometimes impossible--to tell which is
right and which is wrong! Walden, we must escape from this devil--we
must escape!"

He sprang up with an impulsive quickness which startled Walden, and
began to pace up and down the room again.

"A mocking devil,"--he said--"a lying devil!--whispering from
morning till evening, and from evening till morning, doubts of God!
Doubts whether He, the Creator of worlds, really exists,-doubts as
to whether He, or It, is not some huge blind, deaf Force, grinding
its way on through limitless and eternal Production and Reproduction
to one end,--Annihilation! Walden, you must now hear MY confession!
These doubts are driving me mad! I cannot bear the thought of the
whirl of countless universes, immeasurable solar systems, crammed
with tortured life for which there seems to be no hope, no care, no
rescue, no future! I am unable to preach or to FEEL comfort for the
human race! The very tragedy of the Cross only brings me to one
result--that Truth is always crucified. The world prefers Falsehood.
So much so indeed that the Christian religion itself is little more
than a super-structure of lies raised above the sepulchre of a
murdered Truth. I told you in my letter I had serious thoughts of
resigning my bishopric. So I have. My spirit turns to Rome!"

"Rome!" cried Walden--"What, YOU, Brent!--you think of going over to
Rome? What strange fantasy has seized you?"

"Rome," said Brent, slowly, stopping in his restless walk--"is the
Mother of Creeds--the antique Muse of the world's history! Filled
with the blood of martyrs, hallowed by the memories of saints, she
is, she must always be, supreme in matters of faith--or
superstition!" And he smiled,--a wan and sorrowful smile--"Or even
idolatry, if you will! Emotionalism,--sensationalism in religion--
these the craving soul must have, and these Rome gives! We must
believe,--mark you, Walden!--we must positively BELIEVE that the
Creator of all Universes was moved to such wrath against the
helpless human creature He had made, that he cursed that creature
forever for merely eating, like a child, fruit which had been
forbidden! And after that we must believe everything else that has
since followed in the track of the Woman, the Serpent and the Tree.
Now in the Church of England I find I cannot believe these things--
in the Church of Rome I WILL believe, because I MUST! I will humble
myself in dust and ashes, and accept all--all. Anything is better
than Nothingness! I will be the lowest of lay brethren, and in
solitude and silence, make atonement for my unbelief. It is the only
way, Walden!--for me, it is the only way! To Her!" And he pointed up
to the picture of the Virgin and Child--"To Her, my vows! As Woman,
she will pity me--as Woman, she can be loved!"

Walden heard this wild speech without any word or gesture of
interruption. Then, raising his eyes to the picture Brent thus
apostrophised, he said, quietly--

"When did you have that painted, Brent?"

A sudden change came over the Bishop's features. He looked as though
startled by some vague terror. Then he answered, slowly:

"Some years ago--in Florence. Why do you ask? It is a copy---"

"Of HER likeness--yes!" said Walden, softly--"I saw that at once.
You had it done, of course! She was beautiful and good--she died
young. I know! But you have no right to turn your personal passion
and grief into a form of worship, Harry!"

The Bishop gazed at him fixedly and solemnly.

"You do not know,"--he murmured--"You have not seen what I have
seen! She has come to me lately--she, who died so long ago!--she has
come to me night after night, and she has told me to pray for her--
'pray' she says--'pray that I may help to save your soul!' And I
must surely do as she bids. I must get away from this place--away
from this city of turmoil and wickedness, into some quieter comer of
the world,--some monastic retreat where I may end my days in peace,-
-I cannot fight my devils here--they are too strong for me!"

"They will be too strong for you anywhere, if you are a coward!"--
said Walden, impetuously. "Brent, I thought you had gotten the
victory over this old despair of yours long ago! I thought you had
made the memory of the woman you loved a noble spur to noble
actions! I never dreamed that it would be possible for you to brood
silently on your sorrow till you made it a cause of protest against
God's will! And worst and strangest of all is this frenzied idea of
yours to fly to the Church of Rome for shelter from yourself and
your secret misery, and there give yourself over to monasticism and
a silent, idolatrous worship,--not of Mary, the Mother of Christ,--
but of the mere picture of the woman you loved! And you would pray
to THAT?--you would kneel before THAT?--you would pass long hours of
fasting and vigil, gazing at that face, till, like the 'stigmata,'
it is almost outlined in blood upon your heart? My dear Brent, is it
possible your brain is so shaken and your soul so feeble that you
must needs seek refuge in a kind of half-spiritual, half-sensuous
passion, which is absolute rank blasphemy?"

At this the Bishop raised his head with an air of imperious
authority.

"I cannot permit!---" he said, in unsteady accents--"You have no
right to speak to me in such a tone--it is not your place---"

Then, suddenly, his voice broke, and throwing himself into his
chair, he dropped his head forward on the desk and covered it with
his hands in an attitude of the utmost abandonment and dejection.
The moisture rose to Walden's eyes,--he knew the great tragedy of
his friend's life--all comprised in one brief, romantic episode of
the adoring love, and sudden loss of a beautiful woman drowned by
accident in her own pleasure-boat on the very eve of her marriage
with him,--and be knew that just as deep and ardent as the man's
passion had been, so deep and ardent was his sorrow--a sorrow that
could never be consoled. And John sat silent, deeply moved in
himself, and ever and anon glancing upwards at the exquisite face of
the painted Virgin above him,--the face of the dead girl whom her
lover had thus sanctified. Presently Brent raised his head,--his
face was white and worn--his eyes were wet.

"Forgive me, John!" he said--"I have been working hard of late, and
my nerves are unstrung. And--I cannot, I cannot forget her! And what
is more awful and terrible to me than anything is that I cannot
forgive God!" He uttered these words in an awed whisper. "I cannot!
I bear the Almighty a grudge for wrenching her life away from mine!
Of what use was it to be so cruel? Of what purpose to kill one so
young? If God is omnipotent, God could have saved her. But He let
her die! I tell you, Walden, that ever since I have been Bishop of
this diocese, I have tried to relieve sorrow and pain whenever I
have met with it--I have striven to do my duty, hoping against hope
that perhaps God would teach me--would explain the why and wherefore
of so much needless agony to His creatures--and that by discovering
reasons for the afflictions of others, I should learn to become
reconciled to my own. But no!--nothing has been made clear! I have
seen innocent women die in the tortures of the damned--while their
drunken husbands have lived to carouse over their coffins.
Children,--mere babes--are afflicted with diseases for which often
no cause can be assigned and no cure discovered--while over the
whole sweltering mass of human helplessness and ignorance, Death
stalks triumphant,--and God, though called upon for rescue with
prayers and tears, withdraws Himself in clouds of impenetrable
silence. It is all hopeless, useless, irremediable! That is why my
thoughts turn to Rome--I say, let me believe in SOMETHING, if it be
only a fairy tale! Let me hear grand music mounting to heaven, even
if human words cannot reach so high!--let me think that guardian
angels exist, even if there is nothing in space save a blind Chance
spawning life particles uselessly,--let my soul and senses feel the
touch of something higher, vaster, purer and better than what the
Church of England calls Christianity at this present day!"

"And that 'something higher, vaster, purer and better'--would you
call it the Church of Rome?" asked Walden.  "In suggestion,--in
emotion and poetic inspiration, yes!"--said Brent--"In theory and in
practice, no!"

There was a pause. Walden sat for a few moments absorbed in anxious
thought. Then he looked up with a cheerful air.

"Harry," he said--"Will you do me a favour? Promise that you will
postpone the idea of seceding, or as you put it, 'returning' to
Rome, for six months. Will you? At the end of that time we'll
discuss it again."

The Bishop looked uneasy.

"I would rather do what has to be done at once,"--he said.

"Then I must talk to you straightly,"--continued John, bracing
himself up, and squaring his shoulders resolutely--"I must forget
that you are my Bishop, and speak just as man to man. All the facts
of the case can be summed up in one word--Selfishness! Pure
Selfishness, Harry!--and I never thought I should have had to
convict you of it!"

Brent drew himself slowly up in his chair.

"Selfishness!" he echoed, dreamily--"I can take anything from you,
John!--I did at college,--but--selfishness---"

"Selfishness!" repeated John, firmly--"You have had to suffer a
grief--a great grief,--and because it was so sudden, so tragic and
overwhelming, you draw a mourning veil of your own across the very
face of God! You try to rule your diocese by the measure of your own
rod of affliction. And, finding that nothing is clear to you,
because of your own obstructive spirit, you would set up a fresh
barrier between yourself and Eternal Wisdom, by deserting your post
here, and separating yourself from all the world save the shadow of
the woman you yourself loved! Harry, my dear old friend, unless I
had heard this from your own lips, I should never have believed it
of you!"

Brent sat heavily in his chair, sunk in a brooding melancholy.

"'The heart knoweth its own bitterness!'"--he murmured wearily--
"Your reproaches are just,--I know I deserve them, but they do not
rouse me. They do not stir one pulse in my soul! What have _I_
learned of Eternal Wisdom?--what have _I_ seen? Nothing but cruelty
upon cruelty dealt out, not to the wicked, but to the innocent! And
because I protest against this, you call my spirit an obstructive
one--well!--it may be so! But, Walden, you have never loved!--you
have never felt all your life rush like a river to the sea of
passion!--not low, debasing passion, but passion born of vitality,
ardour, truth, hope, sympathy!--such emotion as most surely
palpitates through the whole body of the natural creation, else
there would be naught created. God Himself--if there be a God--must
be conscious of Love! Do we not say: 'God IS Love'?--and this too
while we suffer beneath His heavy chastisements which are truely
more like Hate! I repeat, Walden, you have never loved,--till now
perhaps--and even now you are scarcely conscious of the hidden
strength of your own feelings. But suppose--just for the sake of
argument--suppose this 'little girl' as you call her, Maryllia
Vancourt, were to die suddenly, would you not, as you express it,
'draw a mourning veil of your own across the face of God'?"

Walden started as though suddenly wounded. If Maryllia were to die!'
He shuddered as the mere thought passed across his brain. 'If
Maryllia were to die!' Why then--then the world would be a blank--
there would be no more sunshine!--no roses!--no songs of birds!--
nothing of fairness or pleasure left in life--not for him, whatever
there might be for others. Was it possible that her existence meant
so much to him? Yes, it meant so much!--it had come to mean so much!
He felt his old friend's melancholy eyes upon him, and looking up
met their searching scrutiny with a serious and open frankness.

"Honestly, I think I should die myself, or lose my senses!"--he
said--"And honestly, I hardly realised this,--which is just as much
selfishness on my part as any of which I hastily accused you,--till
you put it to me. I will not profess to have a stoicism beyond
mortal limits, Harry, nor should I expect such from you. But I WILL
say, that despite our human weakness, we must have courage!--we are
not men without it. And whether faith stands fast or falters,
whether God seems far off or very near, we must face and fight our
destiny--not run away from it! You want to run away,"--and he smiled
gravely--"or rather, just in the present mood of yours you think of
doing so--but I believe it is only a mood--and that you will not,
after putting your hand to the plough, turn back because of the
aridness or ungratefulness of the soil,--that would not be like you.
If one must needs perish, it is better to perish at one's post of
duty than desert over to the enemy."

"I am not sure that Rome is an enemy;"--said the Bishop, musingly.

To this Walden gave no reply, and the conversation fell into other
channels. But, during the whole time of his visit, John was forced
to realise, with much acute surprise and distress, that constant
brooding on grief,--and excessive spiritual emotion of an exalted
and sensuous kind, with much perplexed pondering on human evils for
which there seemed no remedy, had produced a painful impression of
life's despair and futility on Brent's mind,--an impression which it
would be difficult to eradicate, and which would only be softened
and possibly diminished by tenderly dealing with it as though it
were an illness, and gradually bringing about restoration and
recovery through the gentlest means. Though sometimes it was to be
feared that all persuasion would be useless, and that the scandalous
spectacle of an English Bishop seceding to the Church of Rome would
be exhibited with an almost theatrical effect in his friend's case.
For the ornate ritual which the Bishop maintained in his Cathedral
services was almost worthy of a Mass at St. Peter's. The old, simple
chaste English style of 'Morning Prayer' was exchanged for
'Matins,'--choristers perpetually chanted and sang,--crosses were
carried to and fro,--banners waved--processions were held--and the
'Via Crucis' was performed by a select number of the clergy and
congregation every Friday.

"I never have this sort of thing in my church,"--said Walden,
bluntly, on one occasion--"My parishioners would not understand it."

"Why not teach them to understand it?" asked the Bishop, dreamily.
They were standing together in the beautiful old Cathedral, now
empty save for their presence, and Brent's eyes were fixed with a
kind of sombre wistfulness on a great gold crucifix up on the altar.

"Teach them to understand it?" echoed Walden, with a touch of sorrow
and indignation--"You are my Bishop, but if you commanded me to
teach them these 'vain repetitions' prohibited by the Divine Master,
I should disobey you!"

The Bishop flushed red.

"You disapprove?"

"I disapprove of everything that tends to put England back again
into the old religious fetters which she so bravely broke and cast
aside,"--said John, warmly--"I disapprove of all that even hints at
the possibility of any part of the British Empire becoming the slave
of Rome!"

Brent gave a weary gesture.

"In religious matters it is wiser to be under subjection than
free,"--he said, with a sigh--"In a state of freedom we may think as
we please--and freedom of thought breeds doubt,--whereas in a state
of subjection we think as we MUST, and so we are gradually forced
into an attitude of belief. The spread of atheism among the English
is entirely due to the wild, liberty of opinion allowed tham by
their forms of faith."

"I do not agree with you!"--declared Walden, firmly--"The spread of
atheism is due, not to freedom of opinion, nor forms of faith, but
simply to the laxity and weakness of the clergy."

The Bishop looked at him with a smile.

"You always speak straight out, John!" he said--"You always did! And
strange to say, I like you all the better for it. I could, if I
chose, both reprove and command you--but I will do neither. You must
take your own way, as you always have done. But there is a flavour
of Rome even in your little church of St. Rest,--your miracle
shrine,--your unknown saint in the alabaster coffin. You and your
parishioners kneel before that every Sunday."

"True--but we do not kneel to IT,--nor do we pray through It,"--
replied Walden--"It stays in the chancel because it was found in the
chancel. But it does not make  a miracle shrine' as you say,--there
is nothing miraculous about it."

"If it contains the body of a Saint,"--said the Bishop, slowly--"it
MUST be miraculous! If, in the far-gone centuries, the prayers and
tears of sorrowful human beings have bedewed that cold stone, some
efficacy, some tenderness, some vitality, born of these prayers and
tears, must yet remain! Walden, we preach the supernatural--do we
not believe in it?"

"The Divine supernatural--yes!" answered Walden,--"But---"  The
Bishop interrupted him by a gesture of his delicate hand.

"There are no 'buts' in the matter, John,"--he said, quietly--"What
is supernatural is so by its own nature. The Divine is the Human,
the Human is the Divine. In all and through all things the Spirit
moves and makes its way. Our earth and ourselves are but particles
of matter, worked by the spirit or essence of creative force. This
spirit we can neither see nor touch, therefore we call it super-
natural. But it permeates all things,--the stone as completely as
the flower. It circulates through that alabaster sarcophagus in your
church, as easily as through your own living veins. Hence, as I say,
if the mortal remains of a saint are enshrined within that
reliquary, the spirit or 'soul' enveloping it MAY work 'miracles,'
for all we dare to know!" He paused, and looking kindly at Walden's
grave and somewhat troubled face, added--"Some day, when we are in
very desperate straits, John, we will am what your saint can do for
us!"

He smiled. Walden returned the smile, but nevertheless was conscious
of a sorrowful sense of regret at what he considered his friend's
leaning toward superstitious observances and idolatrous ceremonies.
At the same time he well knew that any violent opposition on the
subject would be worse than useless in the Bishop's present mood. He
therefore contented himself with, as he mentally said, 'putting in
the thin end of the wedge'--and,--carefully steering clear of all
controversial matters,--contrived in a great measure to reassert the
old magnetic sway he had been wont to exercise over Brent's more
pliable mind when at college--so that before they parted, he had
obtained from him a solemn promise that there should be no
'secession' or even preparation for secession to Rome, till six
months had elapsed.

"And if you would only put away that picture,"--said Walden,
earnestly, pointing towards the 'Virgin and Child'--"Or rather, if
you would have another one painted of the sweet woman you loved as
she really was in life, it would be wiser and safer for your own
peace."

The Bishop shook his head.

"The Virgin and Child are a symbol of all humanity,"--he said--
"Mother and Son,--Present and Future! Woman holds the human race in
her arms--at her breast!--without her, Chaos would come again! And
for me, all Womanhood is personified in that one face!"

He raised his eyes to the picture with an almost devout passion--and
then abruptly turned away. The conversation was not renewed again
between them, but when Walden parted from his friend, he had the
satisfaction of knowing that he left him in a brighter, more hopeful
and healthful condition, cheered, soothed and invigorated by the
exchange of that mutual confidence and close sympathy which had
linked their two lives together in boyhood, and which held them
still subtly and tenderly responsive to each other's most intimate
emotions as men.




XXVIII


Arriving home at his own domain late on the Saturday night, Walden
had no opportunity to learn anything of the incidents which had
occurred during his brief absence. Letters were waiting for him, but
he opened none, and shut himself up in his study at once to prepare
his next day's sermon. He wrote on far into the night, long after
all the servants of his household had retired to rest, and overslept
himself the next morning in consequence, therefore his preparation
for the eleven o'clock service were necessarily somewhat hurried,
and he had not time to say more than a cheery 'Good-morning' even to
Bainton, whom he passed on his way into the church, or to Adam
Frost, though he fancied that both, men looked at him somewhat
curiously, as with an air of mingled doubt and enquiry. Once within
the sacred building he was conscious of an exceptionally crowded
congregation. None that he could see were missing from their usual
places. Maryllia certainly was not there,--but as she was admittedly
not a church-goer, he did not expect her to be present. Badsworth
Hall was entirely unrepresented, much to his relief; neither Sir
Morton Pippitt nor Lord Roxmouth, nor Mr. Marius Longford were
anywhere visible. Old Josey Letherbarrow sat in his usual corner,--
everything was precisely the same as it was wont to be--and yet a
sense of vague trouble oppressed him,--he saw, or thought he saw, an
expression on some of the faces of his parishioners which was new to
him, and he felt instinctively that some disturbing element had
found its way into the peace of the village, though what the trouble
could be, he was at a loss to imagine. He chose as his text: 'What
went ye out for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?' and preached
thereon with wonderful force, simplicity, eloquence and fervour--
though all the time he spoke he wondered why his people stared at
him so persistently, and why so many round eyes in so many round
faces appeared to express such a lively, not to say questioning
curiosity.

After service, however, the whole mystery was cleared up. Bainton,
in his Sunday best, with hat in hand, presented himself at the
garden gate on his master's return from the church to the rectory,
and after a word or two was admitted into the study. Bainton, honest
as the daylight, and sturdy in his principles as an oak in its
fibres, had determined to have 'no humbuggin' wi' Passon.' And in a
few words, spoken with a great deal of feeling and rough eloquence,
he had told all,--how Miss Vancourt had gone away 'suddint-like'
from the Manor,--and how it was said and reported all through the
county and neighbourhood that she had gone because her engaged
husband, Lord Roxmouth, had caught her 'makin' love' to a parson,
that parson being no other than St. Rest's own beloved 'man o' God,'
John Walden. And that Lord Roxmouth had at once gone after her, and
that neither of the twain 'weren't never comin' back no more.' So
said Bainton, twirling his cap round, and fixing his eyes
sympathetically on his master's face,--eyes as faithful as those of
the dog Nebbie, who clambered at his master's knee, equally gazing
up at him with a fondness exceeding all speech.

John Walden sat, white and rigid, in his chair and heard the tale
out to its end.

"Is that all?" he asked, when Bainton had concluded.

"That's all, an' ain't it enough, Passon?" queried Bainton in
somewhat dismal accents. "Not that I takes in 'arf wot I hears, but
from the fust I sez you should know every bit on it, an' if no one
else 'ad the 'art or the pluck to tell ye straight out, I'd tell ye
myself. For that old Miss Tabitha's got a tongue as long as a
tailor's yard-measure wot allus measures a bit oif to 'is own good,
an' Sir Morton Pippitt he do nothin' but run wild-like all over the
place a-talkin' of it everywhere, an' old Putty Leveson, he's up at
the 'All, day in, an' day out, tellin' 'ow you was goin' to hit 'im
in the eye--hor-hor-hor!--an' why didn't ye do it, Passon?--'twould
a' been a real Gospel mercy!--an' 'ow 'twas all about Miss Vancourt,
till Mr. Hadderley 'e come up an throwed 'im over in the road on 'is
back which makes me think all the better o' that young man,
'owsomever, I never took to 'im afore. But though he's all skin an'
bone an' long 'air as red as a biled carrot, he's got a fist of 'is
own, that's pretty plain, an' if he knocked down old Putty Leveson
it shows 'e's got some sense in 'im as well as sperrit. For it's all
over the place that there's trouble about Miss Vancourt, an' you may
take my wurrd for it, Passon, they don't leave the poor little leddy
alone, nor you neither, an' never takes into their minds as 'ow
you're old enough to be 'er father. That Miss Tabitha don't spare no
wurrds agin 'er--an' as ye know, Passon, she's a leddy wot's like
curdled cream all gone wrong in a thunderstorm. Anyways, I thought
it best to tell ye straight out an' no lyin' nor trickin'--an' if
I've stepped over my dooty, I 'umbly axes pardin, but I means well,
Passon,--I means well,--I do reely now!"

Walden looked up,--his eyes were glittering--his lips were pate and
dry.

"I know-I know!"--he said, speaking with an effort--"You're an
honest fellow, Bainton!--and--and--I thank you! Tou not only mean
well--you have done well. But it's a lie, Bainton!--it's all a
wicked, damnable lie!"

He sprang to his feet as he said this, the wrath in his eyes
flashing a steel-like lightning.

"It's a lie!" he repeated--"Do you understand? A cruel, abominable
lie!"

Bainton twirled his cap sympathetically.

"So it be, Passon,"--he murmured--"So it be--I know'd that all
along! It's a lie set goin' by that fine gentleman rascal, Lord
Roxmouth, wot can't get Miss Maryllia and 'er aunt's money nohow.
Lor' bless ye, I sees that plain enough! But take it 'ow we will, a
lie's a nasty sort o' burr to stick to a good name, 'speshully a
name like yours, Passon,--an' when it comes to that I feel that
moithered an' worrited-like not knowin' 'ow to pick the burr off
again. An' Lord Roxmouth he be gone away or mebbe you could a' had
it out wi' him---"

"That will do, Bainton!"--said Walden, interrupting him by a
gesture--"Say no more about it, please! I'm glad you've spoken,--I'm
glad I know! But,--let it rest there! Never allude to it again!"

Bainton glanced up timorously at his master's pale set face.

"Ain't nothin' goin' to be done?" he faltered anxiously--"Nothin' to
say as 'ow it's all a lie---"

"Nothing on my part!"--said Walden, quickly and sternly, "The best
answer to such low gossip and slander is silence. You understand?"

His look was a command, and Bainton felt it to be such. Shuffling
about a little, he murmured something about the 'apples comin' on
fine in the orchard'--as if Walden's three days' absence had somehow
or other accelerated their ripening, and then slowly and reluctantly
retired, deeply dejected in his own mind.

"For silence gives consent," he argued dolefully with himself--
"That's copybook truth! Yet o' coorse 'tain't to be expected as
Passon would send for the town-crier from Riversford to ring a bell
through the village an' say as 'ow he 'adn't nothin' to dp with Miss
Vancourt nor she with 'im. Onny the worst of it is that in this
wurrld lies is allus taken for truth since the beginnin', when the
Sarpint told the first big whopper in the Garden of Eden an' took in
poor silly Eve. An' ye can't contradict a lie somehow without makin'
it look more a truth than ever,--that's the way o' the thing. An' it
do stick!--Passon himself 'ull find that out,--it do stick, it do
reely now!"

Meantime, Walden, left alone, gave himself up to a tumult of misery
and self-torture. His sensitive nature shrank from the breath of
vulgar scandal like the fine frond of delicate foliage from the
touch of a coarse finger. He had never before been associated with
the faintest rumour of it,--his life had been too simple, too
austere, and too far removed from all the trumpery shows and petty
intrigues of society. He felt himself now in a manner debased by
having had to listen with enforced patience to Bainton's rambling
account of the gossip going on in the neighbourhood, and despite
that worthy servitor's disquisition on the subject, he could not
imagine how it had arisen, unless his quarrel with Putwood Leveson
were the cause. It was all so sudden and unlooked for! Maryllia had
gone away,--and that fact of itself was sufficient to make darkness
out of sunshine. He could not quite realise it. And not only had she
gone away, but some slanderous story had been concocted concerning
her in connection with himself, which was being bandied about on all
the tongues of the village and county. How it had arisen he could
not understand. He was, of course, unaware of the part Lord Roxmouth
had played in the matter, and in his ignorance of the true source of
the mischief, tormented his mind with endless fancies and
perplexities, all of which helped to increase his annoyance and
agitation. Pacing restlessly up and down his study, his eyes
presently fell on the little heap of letters which had accumulated
on his table during his brief absence, all as yet unopened. Turning
them over indifferently, he came suddenly on one small sealed note,
inscribed as having been left 'by hand,' addressed to him in the
bold frank writing to which he had once, not so very long ago, felt
such an inexplicable aversion when Mrs. Spruce was the recipient of
a first letter from the same source. Now he snatched the little
missive up with a strangely impulsive ardour, and being quite alone,
indulged himself in the pleasure of kissing the firm free pen-
strokes with all the passion of a boy. Then opening it, he read:

"DEAR MR. WALDEN,--You will be surprised to find that I have gone
away from the dear home I love so well, and I daresay you will think
me very capricious. But please do not judge me hastily, or believe
everything you may hear of me from others. I am very sorry to go
away just now, but circumstances leave me no other choice. I should
like to have bidden you good-bye, as I could perhaps have explained
things to you better, but old Josey Letherbarrow tells me you have
gone to see the Bishop on business, so I leave this note myself just
to say that I hope you will think as kindly of me as you can now I
am gone. Please go into the Manor gardens as often as you like, and
let the sick and old people in the village have plenty of the
flowers and fruit. By doing this you will please me very much. My
agent, Mr. Stanways, will be quite at your service if you ever want
his assistance. Perhaps I ought just to mention that Lord Roxmouth
overheard our conversation in the picture-gallery that night of the
dinner-party. He was very rude about it. I tell you this in case you
should see him, but I do not think you will. Good-bye! Try to forget
that I smoked that cigarette!--Your sincere friend,"
                                               "MARYLLIA VANCOURT."

As he perused these lines, Walden alternately grew hot and cold--red
and pale. All was clear to him now!-it was Lord Roxmouth who had
played the spy and eavesdropper! He recalled every little detail of
the scene in the picture-gallery and at once realised how much a
treacherous as well as jealous and vindictive man could make of it.
Maryllia's hand laid so coaxingly on his arm,--Maryllia's face so
sweetly and pleadingly upturned,--Maryllia's half-tender tremulous
voice with its 'Will you forgive me?'--and then--his own impetuous
words!--the way he had caught her hand and kissed it!--why his very
look must have betrayed him to the 'noble and honourable' detective,
part of whose distinguished role it was to listen at doors and
afterwards relate to an inquisitive and scandal-loving society all
that he heard within. By degrees he grasped the whole situation. He
realised that his name and honour lay at the mercy of this man
Roxmouth, who under the circumstances of the constant check put upon
his mercenary aims, would certainly spare no pains to injure both.
And he felt sick at heart.

Locking Maryllia's note carefully in his desk, he stepped into his
garden and walked up and down the lawn slowly with bent head, Nebbie
trotting after him with a sympathetically disconsolate air. And
gradually it dawned upon him that Maryllia had possibly--nay very
probably--gone away for his sake,--to make things easier for him--to
remove her presence altogether from his vicinity-and so render
Roxmouth's tale-bearing, with its consequent malicious gossip,
futile, till of itself it died away and was forgotten. As this idea
crossed his mind and deepened into conviction, his eyes filled with
a sudden smarting moisture.

"Poor child!" he said, half aloud--"Poor little lonely child!"

Then a fresh thought came to him,--one which made the blood run more
quickly through his veins and caused his heart to pulsate with quite
a foolish joy. If--if she had indeed gone away out of a sweet
womanly wish to save him from what she imagined might cause him
embarrassment or perplexity, then--then surely she cared! Yes--she
must care for him greatly as a friend,--though only as a friend--to
be willing to sacrifice the pleasure of passing all the summer in
the old home to which she had so lately returned, merely to relieve
him of any difficulty her near society might involve. If she cared!
Was such a thing--could such a thing be possible? Tormented by many
mingled feelings of tenderness, regret and pain, John pondered his
own heart's problem anxiously, and tried to decide the best course
to pursue,--the best for her--the best for himself. He was not long
in coming to a decision, and once resolved, he was more at ease.

When he celebrated the evening service that Sunday the garrulous
Bainton saw, much to his secret astonishment, that the effect of his
morning's communication had apparently left no trace on his master's
ordinary demeanour, except perhaps to add a little extra gravity to
his fine strong features, and accentuate the reserve of his
accustomed speech and manner. His habitual dignity was even greater
than usual,--his composed mien and clear steadfastness of eye had
lost nothing of their quelling and authoritative influence,--and so
far as his own manner and actions showed, the absence or presence of
Miss Vancourt was a matter to him of complete unconcern. His visit
to his friend the Bishop had 'done 'im a power o' good'--said his
parishioners, observing him respectfully, as, Sunday being over and
the week begun, he went about among them on his accustomed round of
duty, enquiring after the poultry and the cattle with all the zeal
expected of him. The name of Miss Vancourt seldom passed his lips,--
when other people spoke of her, either admiringly, questioningly or
suggestively, he merely listened, offering no opinion. He denied
himself to all 'county' visitors on plea of press of work,--he never
once went to Abbot's Manor or entered the Manor grounds--and the
only persons with whom he occasionally interchanged hospitalities
were Julian Adderley and the local doctor, 'Jimmy' Eorsyth.
Withdrawing himself in this fashion into closer seclusion than ever,
his life became almost hermit-like, for except in regard to his
daily parish work, he seldom or never went beyond the precincts of
his own garden.

Days went on, weeks went on,--and soon, too soon, summer was over.
The melancholy autumn shook down the once green leaves, all curled
up in withering death-convulsions, from the branches of the trees
now tossing in chill wind and weeping mists of rain. No news had
been received by anyone in the village concerning Maryllia. The
'Sisters Gemini,' Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby, had departed from
Abbot's Manor when the time of their stay had concluded, and neither
of the twain had given the slightest hint to any enquirer, as to the
probable date of the return of the mistress of the domain. Sir
Morton Pippitt at last got tired of talking scandal for which there
seemed no visible or tangible foundation, and even his daughter
Tabitha began to wonder whether after all there was not some
exaggeration in the story Lord Roxmouth had given her to sow like
rank seed upon the soil of daily circumstance? She never saw Walden
by any chance,--on one occasion she ventured to call, but he was
'out' as usual. Neither could she persuade Julian Adderley to visit
at Badsworth Hall. A veil of obscurity and silence was gradually but
surely drawn between St. Rest and the outlying neighbourhood so far
as its presiding ruler John Walden was concerned, while within the
village his reticence and reserve were so strongly marked that even
the most privileged person in the place, Josey Letherbarrow, awed at
his calm, cold, almost stern aspect, hesitated to speak to him
except on the most ordinary matters, for fear of incurring his
displeasure.

Meanwhile the village sorely missed the bright face and sweet ways
of 'th' owld Squire's gel'--and many of the inhabitants tried to get
news of her through Mrs. Spruce, but all in vain. That good lady,
generally so talkative, was for once in her life more than
discreetly dumb. All that she would say was that she "didn't know
nothink. Miss Maryllia 'ad gone abroad an' all 'er letters was sent
to London solicitors. Any other address? No--no other address. The
servants was to be kep' on--no one wasn't goin' to lose their places
if they behaved theirselves, which please the Lord, they will do!"--
she concluded, with much fervour. Bennett, the groom, was entrusted
with the care of the mares Cleo and Daffodil, and might be seen
exercising them every day on the open moors beyond the village,
accompanied by the