God's Good Man
Part 2 out of 12
'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
"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
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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of
God, of great price."
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
"Yes," he bellowed--"af-ter lun-cheon! Yes! Ye-es!"
His reply at last penetrated the closed auricular doors of Spruce's
"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
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
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-
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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!"
"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
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
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
"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-
"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
"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
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
"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,
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