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GOD'S GOOD MAN
A Simple Love Story
By MARIE CORELLI
AUTHOR OF "THE TREASURE OF HEAVEN," "THELMA," "A ROMANCE OF TWO
WORLDS," "THE MASTER CHRISTIAN," ETC.
THE LIVING ORIGINAL
"THE REVEREND JOHN WALDEN"
AND HIS WIFE
THIS SIMPLE LOVE STORY
"THERE WAS A MAN SENT FROM GOD WHOSE NAME WAS JOHN."
GOD'S GOOD MAN
It was May-time in England.
The last breath of a long winter had blown its final farewell across
the hills,--the last frost had melted from the broad, low-lying
fields, relaxing its iron grip from the clods of rich, red-brown
earth which, now, soft and broken, were sprouting thick with the
young corn's tender green. It had been a hard, inclement season.
Many a time, since February onward, had the too-eagerly pushing buds
of trees and shrubs been nipped by cruel cold,--many a biting east
wind had withered the first pale green leaves of the lilac and the
hawthorn,--and the stormy caprices of a chill northern. Spring had
played havoc with all the dainty woodland blossoms that should,
according to the ancient 'Shepherd's Calendar' have been flowering
fully with the daffodils and primroses. But during the closing days
of April a sudden grateful warmth had set in,--Nature, the divine
goddess, seemed to awaken from long slumber and stretch out her arms
with a happy smile,--and when May morning dawned on the world, it
came as a vision of glory, robed in clear sunshine and girdled with
bluest skies. Birds broke into enraptured song,--young almond and
apple boughs quivered almost visibly every moment into pink and
white bloom,--cowslips and bluebells raised their heads from mossy
corners in the grass, and expressed their innocent thoughts in
sweetest odour--and in and through all things the glorious thrill,
the mysterious joy of renewed life, hope and love pulsated from the
Creator to His responsive creation.
It was May-time;--a real 'old-fashioned' English May, such as
Spenser and Herrick sang of:
"When all is yclad
With blossoms; the ground with grass, the woodes
With greene leaves; the bushes with blossoming buddes,"
and when whatever promise our existence yet holds for us, seems far
enough away to inspire ambition, yet close enough to encourage fair
dreams of fulfilment. To experience this glamour and witchery of the
flowering-time of the year, one must, perforce, be in the country.
For in the towns, the breath of Spring is foetid and feverish,--it
arouses sick longings and weary regrets, but scarcely any positive
ecstasy. The close, stuffy streets, the swarming people, the high
buildings and stacks of chimneys which only permit the narrowest
patches of sky to be visible, the incessant noise and movement, the
self-absorbed crowding and crushing,--all these things are so many
offences to Nature, and are as dead walls of obstacle set against
the revivifying and strengthening forces with which she endows her
freer children of the forest, field and mountain. Out on the wild
heathery moorland, in the heart of the woods, in the deep bosky
dells, where the pungent scent of moss and pine-boughs fills the air
with invigorating influences, or by the quiet rivers, flowing
peacefully under bending willows and past wide osier-beds, where the
kingfisher swoops down with the sun-ray and the timid moor-hen
paddles to and from her nest among the reeds,--in such haunts as
these, the advent of a warm and brilliant May is fraught with that
tremor of delight which gives birth to beauty, and concerning which
that ancient and picturesque chronicler, Sir Thomas Malory, writes
exultantly: "Like as May moneth flourisheth and flowerth in many
gardens, so in likewise let every man of worship flourish his heart
in this world!"
There was a certain 'man of worship' in the world at the particular
time when this present record of life and love begins, who found
himself very well-disposed to 'flourish his heart' in the Maloryan
manner prescribed, when after many dark days of unseasonable cold
and general atmospheric depression, May at last came in rejoicing.
Seated under broad apple-boughs, which spread around him like a
canopy studded with rosy bud-jewels that shone glossy bright against
the rough dark-brown stems, he surveyed the smiling scenery of his
own garden with an air of satisfaction that was almost boyish,
though his years had run well past forty, and he was a parson to
boot. A gravely sedate demeanour would have seemed the more fitting
facial expression for his age and the generally accepted nature of
his calling,--a kind of deprecatory toleration of the sunshine as
part of the universal 'vanity' of mundane things,--or a
condescending consciousness of the bursting apple-blossoms within
his reach as a kind of inferior earthy circumstance which could
neither be altered nor avoided.
The Reverend John Walden, however, was one of those rarely gifted
individuals who cannot assume an aspect which is foreign to
temperament. He was of a cheerful, even sanguine disposition, and
his countenance faithfully reflected the ordinary bent of his
humour. Seeing him at a distance, the casual observer would at once
have judged him to be either an athlete or an ascetic. There was no
superfluous flesh about him; he was tall and muscular, with well-
knit limbs, broad shoulders, and a head altogether lacking in the
humble or conciliatory 'droop' which all worldly-wise parsons
cultivate for the benefit of their rich patrons. It was a
distinctively proud head,--almost aggressive,--indicative of strong
character and self-reliance, well-poised on a full throat, and set
off by a considerable quantity of dark brown hair which was
refractory in brushing, inclined to uncanonical curls, and
plentifully dashed with grey. A broad forehead, deeply-set, dark-
blue eyes, a straight and very prominent nose, a strong jaw and
obstinate chin,--a firmly moulded mouth, round which many a sweet
and tender thought had drawn kindly little lines of gentle smiling
that were scarcely hidden by the silver-brown moustache,--such,
briefly, was the appearance of one, who though only a country
clergyman, of whom the great world knew nothing, was the living
representative of more powerful authority to his little 'cure of
souls' than either the bishop of the diocese, or the King in all his
He was the sole owner of one of the smallest 'livings' in England,--
an obscure, deeply-hidden, but perfectly unspoilt and beautiful
relic of mediaeval days, situated in one of the loveliest of
woodland counties, and known as the village of St. Rest, sometimes
called 'St. Est.' Until quite lately there had been considerable
doubt as to the origin of this name, and the correct manner of its
pronouncement. Some said it should be, 'St. East,' because, right
across the purple moorland and beyond the line of blue hills where
the sun rose, there stretched the sea, miles away and invisible, it
is true, but nevertheless asserting its salty savour in every breath
of wind that blew across the tufted pines. 'St. East,' therefore,
said certain rural sages, was the real name of the village, because
it faced the sea towards the east. Others, however, declared that
the name was derived from the memory of some early Norman church on
the banks of the peaceful river that wound its slow clear length in
pellucid silver ribbons of light round and about the clover fields
and high banks fringed with wild rose and snowy thorn, and that it
should, therefore, be 'St. Rest,' or better still, 'The Saint's
Rest.' This latter theory had recently received strong confirmation
by an unexpected witness to the past,--as will presently be duly
seen and attested.
But St. Rest, or St. Est, whichever name rightly belonged to it, was
in itself so insignificant as a 'benefice,' that its present rector,
vicar, priest and patron had bought it for himself, through the good
offices of a friend, in the days when such purchases were possible,
and for some ten years had been supreme Dictator of his tiny kingdom
and limited people. The church was his,--especially his, since he
had restored it entirely at his own expense,--the rectory, a lop-
sided, half-timbered house, built in the fifteenth century, was
his,--the garden, full of flowering shrubs, carelessly planted and
allowed to flourish at their own wild will, was his,--the ten acres
of pasture-land that spread in green luxuriance round and about his
dwelling were his,--and, best of all, the orchard, containing some
five acres planted with the choicest apples, cherries, plums and
pears, and bearing against its long, high southern wall the finest
peaches and nectarines in the county, was his also. He had, in fact,
everything that the heart of a man, especially the heart of a
clergyman, could desire, except a wife,--and that commodity had been
offered to him from many quarters in various delicate and diplomatic
ways,--only to be as delicately and diplomatically rejected.
And truly there seemed no need for any change in his condition. He
had gone on so far in life,--'so far!' he would occasionally remind
himself, with a little smile and sigh,--that a more or less solitary
habit had, by long familiarity, become pleasant. Actual loneliness
he had never experienced, because it was not in his nature to feel
lonely. His well-balanced intellect had the brilliant quality of a
finely-cut diamond, bearing many facets, and reflecting all the hues
of life in light and colour; thus it quite naturally happened that
most things, even ordinary and common things, interested him. He was
a great lover of books, and, to a moderate extent, a collector of
rare editions; he also had a passion for archaeology, wherein he was
sustained by a certain poetic insight of which he was himself
unconscious. The ordinary archaeologist is generally a mere Dry-as-
Dust, who plays with the bones of the past as Shakespeare's Juliet
fancied she might play with her forefathers' joints, and who eschews
all use of the imaginative instinct as though it were some deadly
evil. Whereas, it truly needs a very powerful imaginative lens to
peer down into the recesses of bygone civilisations, and re-people
the ruined haunts of dead men with their shadowy ghosts of learning,
art, enterprise, or ambition.
To use the innermost eyes of his soul in such looking backward down
the stream of Time, as well as in looking forward to that 'crystal
sea' of the unknown Future, flowing round the Great White Throne
whence the river of life proceeds, was a favourite mental occupation
with John Walden. He loved antiquarian research, and all such
scientific problems as involve abstruse study and complex
calculation,--but equally he loved the simplest flower and the most
ordinary village tale of sorrow or mirth recounted to him by any one
of his unlessoned parishioners. He gave himself such change of air
and scene as he thought he required, by taking long swinging walks
about the country, and found sufficient relaxation in gardening, a
science in which he displayed considerable skill. No one in all the
neighbourhood could match his roses, or offer anything to compare
with the purple and white masses of violets which, quite early in
January came out under his glass frames not only perfect in shape
and colour, but full of the real 'English' violet fragrance, a
benediction of sweetness which somehow seems to be entirely withheld
from the French and Russian blooms. For the rest, he was physically
sound and morally healthy, and lived, as it were, on the straight
line from earth to heaven, beginning each day as if it were his
first life-opportunity, and ending it soberly and with prayer, as
though it were his last.
To such a mind and temperament as his, the influences of Nature, the
sublime laws of the Universe, and the environment of existence, must
needs move in circles of harmonious unity, making loveliness out of
commonness, and poetry out of prose. The devotee of what is
mistakenly called 'pleasure,'--enervated or satiated with the sickly
moral exhalations of a corrupt society,--would be quite at a loss to
understand what possible enjoyment could be obtained by sitting
placidly under an apple-tree with a well-thumbed volume of the
wisdom of the inspired pagan Slave, Epictetus, in the hand, and the
eyes fixed, not on any printed page, but on a spray of warmly-
blushing almond blossom, where a well-fed thrush, ruffling its
softly speckled breast, was singing a wild strophe concerning its
mate, which, could human skill have languaged its meaning, might
have given ideas to a nation's laureate. Yet John Walden found
unalloyed happiness in this apparently vague and vacant way. There
was an acute sense of joy for him in the repeated sweetness of the
thrush's warbling,--the light breeze, stirring through a great bush
of early flowering lilac near the edge of the lawn, sent out a wave
of odour which tingled through his sensitive blood like wine,--the
sunlight was warm and comforting, and altogether there seemed
nothing wrong with the world, particularly as the morning's
newspapers had not yet come in. With them would probably arrive the
sad savour of human mischief and muddle, but till these daily morbid
records made their appearance, May-day might be accepted as God made
it and gave it,--a gift unalloyed, pure, bright and calm, with not a
shadow on its lovely face of Spring. The Stoic spirit of Epictetus
himself had even seemed to join in the general delight of nature,
for Walden held the book half open at a page whereon these words
"Had we understanding thereof, would any other thing better beseem
us than to hymn the Divine Being and laud Him and rehearse His
gracious deeds? These things it were fitting every man should sing,
and to chant the greatest and divinest hymns for this, that He has
given us the power to observe and consider His works, and a Way
wherein to walk. If I were a nightingale, I would do after the
manner of a nightingale; if a swan, after that of a swan. But now I
am a reasoning creature, and it behooves me to sing the praise of
God; this is my task, and this I do, nor as long as it is granted
me, will I ever abandon this post. And you, too, I summon to join me
in the same song."
"A wonderfully 'advanced' Christian way of looking at life, for a
pagan slave of the time of Nero!" thought Walden, as his eyes
wandered from the thrush on the almond tree, back to the volume in
his hand,--"With all our teaching and preaching, we can hardly do
better. I wonder---"
Here his mind became altogether distracted from classic lore, by the
appearance of a very unclassic boy, clad in a suit of brown
corduroys and wearing hob-nailed boots a couple of sizes too large
for him, who, coming suddenly out from a box-tree alley behind the
gabled corner of the rectory, shuffled to the extreme verge of the
lawn and stopped there, pulling his cap off, and treading on his own
toes from left to right, and from right to left in a state of
"Come along,--come along! Don't stand there, Bob Keeley!" And Walden
rose, placing Epictetus on the seat he vacated--"What is it?"
Bob Keeley set his hob-nailed feet on the velvety lawn with gingerly
precaution, and advancing cap in hand, produced a letter, slightly
grimed by his thumb and finger.
"From Sir Morton, please sir! Hurgent, 'e sez."
Walden took the missive, small and neatly folded, and bearing the
words 'Badsworth Hall' stamped in gold at the back of the envelope.
Opening it, he read:
"Sir Morton Pippitt presents his compliments to the Reverend John
Walden, and having a party of distinguished guests staying with him
at the Hall, will be glad to know at what day and hour this week he
can make a visit of inspection to the church with his friends."
A slight tinge of colour overspread Walden's face. Presently he
smiled, and tearing up the note leisurely, put the fragments into
one of his large loose coat pockets, for to scatter a shred of paper
on his lawn or garden paths was an offence which neither he nor any
of those he employed ever committed.
"How is your mother, Bob?" he then said, approaching the stumpy
urchin, who stood respectfully watching him and awaiting his
"Please sir, she's all right, but she coughs 'orful!"
"Coughs 'orful, does she?" repeated the Reverend John, musingly;
"Ah, that is bad!--I am sorry! We must--let me think!--yes, Bob, we
must see what we can do for her--eh?"
"Yes, sir," replied Bob meekly, turning his cap round and round and
wondering what 'Passon' was thinking about to have such a 'funny
look' in his eyes.
"Yes!" repeated Walden, cheerfully, "We must see what we can do for
her! My compliments to Sir Morton Pippitt, Bob, and say I will
"Nothink else, sir?"
"Nothing--or as you put it, Bob, 'nothink else'! I wish you would
remember, my dear boy,"--and here he laid his firm, well-shaped hand
protectingly on the small brown corduroy shoulder,--"that the word
'nothing' does not terminate in a 'k.' If you refer to your
spelling-book, I am sure you will see that I am right. The
Educational authorities would not approve of your pronunciation,
Bob, and I am endeavouring to save you future trouble with the
Government. By the way, did Sir Morton Pippitt give you anything for
bringing his note to me?"
"Sed he would when I got back, sir."
"Said he would when you got back? Well,--I have my doubts, Bob,--I
do not think he will. And the labourer being worthy of his hire,
here is sixpence, which, if you like to do a sum on your slate, you
will find is at the rate of one penny per mile. When you are a
working man, you will understand the strict justice of my payment.
It is three miles from Badsworth Hall and three back again,--and now
I come to think of it, what were you doing up at Badsworth?"
Bob Keeley grinned from ear to ear.
"Me an' Kitty Spruce went up on spec with a Maypole early, sir!"
John Walden smiled. It was May morning,--of course it was!--and in
the village of St. Rest the old traditional customs of May Day were
still kept up, though in the county town of Riversford, only seven
miles away, they were forgotten, or if remembered at all, were only
used as an excuse for drinking and vulgar horse-play.
"You and Kitty Spruce went up on spec? Very enterprising of you
both, I am sure! And did you make anything out of it?"
"No, sir,--there ain't no ladies there, 'cept Miss Tabitha,--onny
some London gents,--and Sir Morton, 'e flew into an orful passion--
like 'e do, sir,--an' told us to leave off singin' and git out,--
'Git off my ground,' he 'ollers--'Git off!'--then jest as we was a
gittin' off, he cools down suddint like, an' 'e sez, sez 'e: 'Take a
note to the dam passon for me, an' bring a harnser, an' I'll give
yer somethink when yer gits back.' An' all the gents was a-sittin'
at breakfast, with the winders wide open an' the smell of 'am an'
eggs comin' through strong, an' they larfed fit to split
theirselves, an' one on 'em tried to kiss Kitty Spruce, an' she
spanked his face for 'im!"
The narration of this remarkable incident, spoken with breathless
rapidity in a burst of confidence, seemed to cause the relief
supposed to be obtained by a penitent in the confessional, and to
lift a weight off Bob Keeley's mind. The smile deepened on the
'Passon's' face, and for a moment he had some difficulty to control
an outbreak of laughter, but recollecting the possibly demoralising
effect it might have on the more youthful members of the community,
if he, the spiritual director of the parish, were reported to have
laughed at the pugnacious conduct of the valiant Kitty Spruce, he
controlled himself, and assumed a tolerantly serious air.
"That will do, Bob!--that will do! You must learn not to repeat all
you hear, especially such objectionable words as may occasionally be
used by a--a--a gentleman of Sir Morton Pippitt's high standing."
And here he squared his shoulders and looked severely down an the
abashed Keeley. Anon he unbent himself somewhat and his eyes
twinkled with kindly humour: "Why didn't you bring the Maypole
here?" he enquired; "I suppose you thought it would not be as good a
'spec as Badsworth Hall and the London gents--eh?"
Bob Keeley opened his round eyes very wide.
"We be all comin' 'ere, sir!" he burst out: "All on us--ever so many
on us! But we reckoned to make a round of the village first and see
how we took on, and finish up wi' you, sir! Kitty Spruce she be a-
keepin' her best ribbin for comin' 'ere--we be all a-comin' 'fore
"Good! I shall expect you! And mind you don't all sing out of tune
when you do come. If you commit such an offence, I shall--let me
see!--I shall make mincemeat of you!--I shall indeed! Positive
mincemeat!--and bottle you up in jars for Christmas!" And he nodded
with the ferociously bland air of the giant in a fairy tale, whose
particular humour is the devouring of small children. "Now you had
better get back to Badsworth Hall with my message. Do you remember
it? My compliments to Sir Morton Pippitt, and I will write."
He turned away, and Bob Keeley made as rapid a departure as was
consistent with the deep respect he felt for the 'Passon,' having
extracted a promise from the butcher boy of the village, who was a
friend of his, that if he were 'quick about it,' he would get a
drive up to Badsworth and back again in the butcher's cart going
there for orders, instead of tramping it.
The Reverend John, meanwhile, strolled down one of the many winding
garden paths, past clusters of daffodils, narcissi and primroses,
into a favourite corner which he called the 'Wilderness,' because it
was left by his orders in a more or less untrimmed, untrained
condition of luxuriantly natural growth. Here the syringa, a name
sometimes given by horticultural pedants to the lilac, for no reason
at all except to create confusion in the innocent minds of amateur
growers, was opening its white 'mock orange' blossoms, and a mass of
flowering aconites spread out before him like a carpet of woven
gold. Here, too, tufts of bluebells peeked forth from behind the
moss-grown stems of several ancient oaks and elms, and purple
pansies bordered the edge of the grass. A fine old wistaria grown in
tree-form, formed a natural arch of entry to this shady retreat, and
its flowers were just now in their full beauty, hanging in a
magnificent profusion of pale mauve, grapelike bunches from the
leafless stems. Many roses, of the climbing or 'rambling' kind, were
planted here, and John Walden's quick eye soon perceived where a
long green shoot of one of those was loose and waving in the wind to
its own possible detriment. He felt in his pockets for a bit of
roffia or twine to tie up the straying stem,--he was very seldom
without something of the kind for such emergencies, but this time he
only groped among the fragments of Sir Morton Pippitt's note and
found nothing useful. Stepping out on the path again, he looked
about him and caught a glimpse of a stooping, bulky form in weather-
beaten garments, planting something in one of the borders at a
"Bainton!" he called.
The figure slowly raised itself, and as slowly turned its head.
"Just come here and tie this rose up, will you?"
The individual addressed approached at a very deliberate pace,
dragging out some entangled roffia from his pocket as he came and
severing it into lengths with his teeth. Walden partly prepared his
task for him by holding up the rose branch in the way it should go,
and on his arrival assisted him in the business of securing it to
the knotty bough from which it had fallen.
"That looks better!" he remarked approvingly, as he stepped back and
surveyed it. "You might do this one at the same time while you are
about it, Bainton."
And he pointed to a network of 'Crimson rambler' rose-stems which
had blown loose from their moorings and were lying across the grass.
"This place wants a reg'ler clean out," remarked Bainton then, in
accents of deep disdain, as he stooped to gather up the refractory
branches: "It beats me altogether, Passon, to know what you wants
wi' a forcin' bed for weeds an' stuff in the middle of a decent
garden. That old Wistaria Sinyens (Sinensis) is the only thing here
that is worth keeping. Ah! Y'are a precious sight, y'are!" he
continued, apostrophising the 'rambler' branches--"For all yer green
buds ye ain't a-goin' to do much this year! All sham an' 'umbug,
y'are!--all leaf an' shoot an' no flower,--like a great many people
I knows on--ah!--an' not so far from this village neither! I'd clear
it all out if I was you, Passon,--I would reely now!"
"Don't open the old argument, Bainton!" he said good-humouredly; "We
have talked of this before. I like a bit of wild Nature sometimes."
"Wild natur!" echoed Bainton. "Seems to me natur allus wants a bit
of a wash an' brush up 'fore she sits down to her master's table;--
an' who's 'er master? Man! She's jest like a child comin' out of a
play in the woods, an' 'er 'air's all blown, an' 'er nails is all
dirty. That's natur! Trim 'er up an' curl 'er 'air an' she's worth
looking at. Natur! Lor', Passon, if ye likes wild natur ye ain't got
no call to keep a gard'ner. But if ye pays me an' keeps me, ye must
'spect me to do my duty. Wherefore I sez: why not 'ave this 'ere
musty-fusty place, a reg'ler breedin' 'ole for hinsects, wopses,
'ornits, snails an' green caterpillars--ah! an' I shouldn't wonder
if potato-fly got amongst 'em, too!--why not, I say, have it cleaned
"I like it as it is," responded Walden with cheerful
imperturbability, and a smile at the thick-set obstinate-looking
figure of his 'head man about the place' as Bainton loved to be
called. "Have you planted out my phloxes?"
"Planted 'em out every one," was the reply; "Likewhich the Delphy
Inums. An' I've put enough sweet peas in to supply Covint Garden
market, bearin' in mind as 'ow you sed you couldn't have enough on
'em. Sir Morton Pippitt's Lunnon valet came along while I was a-
doin' of it, an' 'e peers over the 'edge an' 'e sez, sez 'e:
'Weedin' corn, are yer?' 'No, ye gowk,' sez I! 'Ever seen corn at
all 'cept in a bin? Mixed wi' thistles, mebbe?' An' then he used a
bit of 'is master's or'nary language, which as ye knows, Passon, is
chice--partic'ler chice. 'Evil communications c'rupts good manners'
even in a valet wot 'as no more to do than wash an' comb a man like
a 'oss, an' pocket fifty pun a year for keepin' of 'is haristocratic
master clean. Lor'!--what a wurrld it is!--what a wurrld!"
He had by this time tied up the 'Crimson rambler' in orderly
fashion, and the Reverend John, stroking his moustache to hide a
smile, proceeded to issue various orders according to his usual
"Don't forget to plant some mignonette in the west border, Bainton.
Not the giant kind,--the odour of the large blooms is rough and
coarse compared with that of the smaller variety. Put plenty of the
'common stuff' in,--such mignonette as our grandmothers grew in
their gardens, before you Latin-loving horticultural wise-acres
began to try for size rather than sweetness."
Bainton drew himself up with a quaint assumption of dignity, and by
lifting his head a little more, showed his countenance fully,--a
countenance which, though weather-worn and deeply furrowed, was a
distinctly intelligent one, shrewd and thoughtful, with sundry
little curves of humour lighting up its native expression of
"I suppose y'are alludin' to the F.R.H.'s, Passon," he said; "They
all loves Latin, as cats loves milk; howsomever, they never knows
'ow to pronounce it. Likewhich myself not bein' a F.R.H. nor likely
to be, I'm bound to confess I dabbles in it a bit,--though there's a
chap wot I gets cheap shrubs of, his Latin's worse nor mine, an'
'e's got all the three letters after 'is name. 'Ow did 'e get 'em?
By reason of competition in the Chrysanthum Show. Lor'! Henny fool
can grow ye a chrysanthum as big as a cabbage, if that's yer fancy,-
-that ain't scientific gard'nin'! An' as for the mignonette, I
reckon to agree wi' ye, Passon--the size ain't the sweetness,
likewhich when I married, I married a small lass, for sez I: 'Little
to carry, less to keep!' An' that's true enough, though she's gained
in breadth, Lor' love 'er!--wot she never 'ad in heighth. As I was
a-sayin', the chap wot I gets shrubs of, reels off 'is Latin like
chollops of mud off a garden scraper; but 'e don't understand it
while 'e sez it. Jes' for show, bless ye! It all goes down wi' Sir
Morton Pippitt, though, for 'e sez, sez 'e: 'MY cabbages are the
prize vegetable, grown by Mr. Smogorton of Worcester, F.R.H.' 'E's
got it in 'is Catlog! Hor!--hor!--hor! Passon, a bit o' Latin do go
down wi' some folks in the gard'nin' line--it do reely now!"
"Talking of Sir Morton Pippitt," said Walden, disregarding his
gardener's garrulity, "It seems he has visitors up at the Hall."
"'E 'as so," returned Bainton; "Reg'ler weedy waifs an' strays o'
'umanity, if one may go by out'ard appearance; not a single firm,
well-put-down leg among 'em. Mos'ly 'lords' and 'sirs.' Bein' so
jes' lately knighted for buildin' a 'ospital at Riversford, out of
the proceeds o' bone meltin' into buttons, Sir Morton couldn't a'
course, be expected to put up wi' a plain 'mister' takin' food wi'
"Well, well,--whoever they are, they want to see the church."
"Seems to me a sight o' folks wants to see the church since ye spent
so much money on it, Passon," said Bainton somewhat resentfully;
"There oughter be a charge made for entry."
Walden smiled thoughtfully; but there was a small line of vexation
on his brow.
"They want to see the church," he repeated, "Or rather Sir Morton
wants them to 'inspect' the church;"--and then his smile expanded
and became a soft mellow laugh; "What a pompous old fellow it is!
One would almost think he had restored the church himself, and not
only restored it, but built it altogether and endowed it!" He turned
to go, then suddenly bethought himself of other gardening matters,--
"Bainton, that bare corner near the house must be filled with
clematis. The plants are just ready to bed out. And look to the
geraniums in the front border. By the way, do you see that straight
line along the wall there,--where I am pointing?"
"Yes, sir!" dutifully rejoined Bainton, shading his eyes from the
strong sun with one grimy hand.
"Well, plant nothing but hollyhocks there,--as many as you can cram
in. We must have a blaze of colour to contrast with those dark yews.
See to the jessamine and passion-flowers by the porch; and there is
a 'Gloire' rose near the drawing-room window that wants cutting back
a bit." He moved a step or two, then again turned: "I shall want you
later on in the orchard,--the grass there needs attending to."
A slow grin pervaded Bainton's countenance.
"Ye minds me of the 'Oly Scripter, Passon, ye does reely now!" he
said--"Wi' all yer different orders an' idees, y'are behavin' to me
like the very moral o' the livin' Wurrd!"
Walden looked amused.
"How do you make that out?"
"Easy enough, sir,--'The Scripter moveth us in sun'ry places'! Hor!-
hor!-hor!--"and Bainton burst into a hoarse chuckle of mirth,
entirely delighted with his own witticism, and walked off, not
waiting to see whether its effect on his master was one of offence
or appreciation. He was pretty sure of his ground, however, for he
left John Walden laughing, a laugh that irradiated his face with
some of the sunshine stored up in his mind. And the sparkle of mirth
still lingered in his eyes as, crossing the lawn and passing the
seat where the volume of Epictetus lay, now gratuitously decorated
by a couple of pale pink shell-like petals dropped from the apple-
blossoms above it, he entered his house, and proceeding to his study
sat down and wrote the following brief epistle:
"The Reverend John Walden presents his compliments to Sir Morton
Pippitt, and in reply to his note begs to say that, as the church is
always open and free, Sir Morton and his friends can 'inspect' it at
any time provided no service is in progress."
Putting this in an envelope, he sealed and stamped it. It should go
by post, and Sir Morton would receive it next morning. There was no
need for a 'special messenger,' either in the person of Bob Keeley,
or in the authorised Puck of the Post Office Messenger-service.
"For there is not the slightest hurry," he said to himself: "It will
not hurt Sir Morton to be kept waiting. On the contrary, it will do
him good. He had it all his own way in this parish before I came,--
but now for the past ten years he has known what it is to 'kick
against the pricks' of legitimate Church authority. Legitimate
Church authority is a fine thing! Half the Churchmen in the world
don't use it, and a goodly portion of the other half misuse it. But
when you've got a bumptious, purse-proud, self-satisfied old county
snob like Sir Morton Pippitt to deal with, the pressure of the iron
hand should be distinctly exercised under the velvet glove!"
He laughed heartily, throwing back his head with a sense of
enjoyment in his laughter. Then, rising from his desk, he turned
towards the wide latticed doors of his study, which opened into the
garden, and looked out dreamily, as though looking across the world
and far beyond it. The sweet mixed warbling of birds, the thousand
indistinguishable odours of flowers, made the air both fragrant and
musical. The glorious sunshine, the clear blue sky, the rustling of
the young leaves, the whispering swish of the warm wind through the
shrubberies,--all these influences entered the mind and soul of the
man and aroused a keen joy which almost touched the verge of
sadness. Life pulsated about him in such waves of creative passion,
that his own heart throbbed uneasily with Nature's warm
restlessness; and the unanswerable query which, in spite of his high
and spiritual faith had often troubled him, came back again
hauntingly to his mind,--"Why should Life be made so beautiful only
to end in Death?"
This was the Shadow that hung over all things; this was the one
darkness he and others of his calling were commissioned to transfuse
into light,--this was the one dismal end for all poor human
creatures which he, as a minister of the Gospel was bound to try and
represent as not an End but a Beginning,--and his soul was moved to
profound love and pity as he raised his eyes to the serene heavens
and asked himself: "What compensation can all the most eloquent
teaching and preaching make to men for the loss of the mere
sunshine? Can the vision of a world beyond the grave satisfy the
heart so much as this one perfect morning of May!"
An involuntary sigh escaped him. The beating wings of a swallow
flying from its nest under the old gabled eaves above him flashed a
reflex of quivering light against his eyes; and away in the wide
meadow beyond, where the happy cattle wandered up to their fetlocks
in cowslips and lush grass, the cuckoo called with cheerful
persistence. One of old Chaucer's quaintly worded legends came to
his mind,--telling how the courtly knight Arcite,
"Is risen, and looketh on the merrie daye
All for to do his observance to Maye,--
And to the grove of which that I you told,
By aventure his way he gan to hold
To maken him a garland of the greves,
Were it of woodbind or of hawthorn leaves,
And loud he sung against the sunny sheen,--
'O Maye with all thy flowers and thy green,
Right welcome be thou, faire, freshe, Maye!
I hope that I some green here getten may!"
Smiling at the antique simplicity and freshness of the lines as they
rang across his brain like the musical jingle of an old-world
spinet, his ears suddenly caught the sound of young voices singing
at a distance.
"Here come the children!" he said; and stepping out from his open
window into the garden, he again bent his ear to listen. The
tremulous voices came nearer and nearer, and words could now be
distinguished, breaking through the primitive quavering melody of
'The Mayers' Song' known to all the country side since the
"Remember us poor Mayers all.--
And thus do we begin,
To lead our lives in righteousness,
Or else we die in sin.
We have been rambling all this night,
And almost all this day,
And now returning back again,
We bring you in the May.
The hedges and trees they are so green,
In the sunne's goodly heat,
Our Heavenly Father He watered them
With His Heavenly dew so sweet.
A branch of May we have brought you---"
Here came a pause and the chorus dropped into an uncertain murmur.
John Walden heard his garden gates swing back on their hinges, and a
shuffling crunch of numerous small feet on the gravel path.
"G'arn, Susie!" cried a shrill boy's voice--"If y'are leadin' us,
A sweet flute-like treble responded to this emphatic adjuration,
singing alone, clear and high,
"A branch of May---" and then all the other voices chimed in:
"A branch of May we have brought you
And at your door it stands,
'Tis but a sprout,
But 'tis budded out
By the work of our Lord's hands!"
And with this, a great crown of crimson and white blossoms, set on a
tall, gaily-painted pole and adorned with bright coloured ribbons,
came nid-nodding down the box-tree alley to the middle of the lawn
opposite Walden's study window, where it was quickly straightened up
and held in position by the eager hands of some twenty or thirty
children, of all sizes and ages, who, surrounding it at its base,
turned their faces, full of shy exultation towards their pastor,
still singing, but in more careful time and tune:
"The Heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain,
And if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again.
The moon shines bright and the stars give light
A little before it is day,
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a merrie May!"
For a moment or two Walden found himself smitten by so strong a
sense of the mere simple sensuous joy of living, that he could do no
more than stand looking in silent admiration at the pretty group of
expectant young creatures gathered round the Maypole, and huddled,
as it were, under its cumbrous crown of dewy blossoms, which showed
vividly against the clear sky, while the long streamers of red,
white and blue depending from its summit, trailed on the daisy-
sprinkled grass at their feet.
Every little face was familiar and dear to him. That awkward lad,
grinning from ear to ear, with a particularly fine sprig of
flowering hawthorn in his cap, was Dick Styles;--certainly a very
different individual to Chaucer's knight, Arcite, but resembling him
in so far that he had evidently gone into the woods early, moved by
the same desire: "I hope that I some green here getten may!" That
tiny girl, well to the front, with a clean white frock on and no hat
to cover her tangle of golden curls, was Baby Hippolyta,--the last,
the very last, of the seemingly endless sprouting olive branches of
the sexton, Adam Frost. Why the poor child had been doomed to carry
the name of Hippolyta, no one ever knew. When he, Walden, had
christened her, he almost doubted whether he had heard the lengthy
appellation aright, and ventured to ask the godmother of the
occasion to repeat it in a louder voice. Whereupon 'Hip-po-ly-ta'
was uttered in such strong tones, so thoroughly well enunciated,
that he could no longer mistake it, and the helpless infant,
screaming lustily, left the simple English baptismal font burdened
with a purely Greek designation. She was, however, always called
'Ipsie' by her playmates, and even her mother and father, who were
entirely responsible for her name in the first instance, found it
somewhat weighty for daily utterance and gladly adopted the simpler
sobriquet, though the elders of the village generally were rather
fond of calling her with much solemn unction: 'Baby Hippolyta,' as
though it were an elaborate joke. Ipsie was one of the loveliest
children in the village, and though she was only two-and-a-half
years old, she was fully aware of her own charms. She was pushed to
the front of the Maypole this morning, merely because she was
pretty,--and she knew it. That was why she lifted the extreme edge
of her short skirt and put it in her mouth, thereby displaying her
fat innocent bare legs extensively, and smiled at the Reverend John
Walden out of the uplifted corners of her forget-me-not blue eyes.
Then there was Bob Keeley, more or less breathless with excitement,
having just got back again from Badsworth Hall, his friend the
butcher boy having driven him to and from that place 'in a jiffy' as
he afterwards described it,--and there was a very sparkling,
smiling, vivacious little person of about fifteen, in a lilac cotton
frock, who wore a wreath of laburnum on her black curls, no other
than Kitty Spruce, generally alluded to in the village as 'Bob
Keeley's gel';--and standing near Baby Hippolyta, or 'Ipsie,' was
the acknowledged young beauty of the place, Susie Prescott, a slip
of a lass with a fair Madonna-like face, long chestnut curls and
great, dark, soft eyes like pansies filled with dew. Susie had a
decided talent for music,--she sang very prettily, and led the
village choir, under the guidance of Miss Janet Eden, the
schoolmistress. This morning, however, she was risking the duties of
conductorship on her own account, and very sweet she looked in her
cheap white nuns-veiling gown, wearing a bunch of narcissi
carelessly set in her hair and carrying a flowering hazel-wand in
her hand, with which she beat time for her companions as they
followed her bird-like carolling in the 'Mayers' Song.' But just now
all singing had ceased,--and every one of the children had their
round eyes fixed on John Walden with a mingling of timidity,
affection and awe that was very winning and pretty to behold.
Taking in the whole picture of nature, youth and beauty, as it was
set against the pure background of the sky, Walden realised that he
was expected to say something,--in fact, he had been called upon to
say something every year at this time, but he had never been able to
conquer the singular nervousness which always overcame him on such
occasions. It is one thing to preach from a pulpit to an assembled
congregation who are prepared for orthodoxy and who are ready to
listen with more or less patience to the expounding of the same,--
but it is quite another to speak to a number of girls and boys all
full of mirth and mischief, and as ready for a frolic as a herd of
young colts in a meadow. Especially when it happens that most of the
girls are pretty, and when, as a clergyman and director of souls,
one is conscious that the boys are more or less all in love with the
girls,--that one is a bachelor,--getting on in years too;--and that-
-chiefest of all--it is May-morning! One may perhaps be conscious of
a contraction at the heart,--a tightening of the throat,--even a
slight mist before the eyes may tease and perplex such an one--who
knows? A flash of lost youth may sting the memory,--a boyish craving
for love and sympathy may stir the blood, and may make the gravest
parson's speech incoherent,--for after all, even a minister of the
Divine is but a man.
At any rate the Reverend John found it difficult to begin. The round
forget-me-not eyes of Baby Hippolyta stared into his face with
relentless persistency,--the velvet pansy-coloured ones of Susie
Prescott smiled confidingly up at him with a bewildering
youthfulness and unconsciousness of charm; and the mischief-loving
small boys and village yokels who stood grouped against the Maypole
like rough fairy foresters guarding magic timber, were, with all the
rest of the children, hushed into a breathless expectancy, waiting
eagerly for 'Passon' to speak. And 'Passon' thereupon began,--in the
lamest, feeblest, most paternally orthodox manner:
"My dear children--"
"Hooray! Hooray! Three cheers for 'Passon'! Hooray!"
Wild whooping followed, and the Maypole rocked uneasily, and began
to slant downward in a drunken fashion, like a convivial giant whom
strong wine has made doubtful of his footing.
"Take care, you young rascals!" cried Walden, letting sentiment,
orthodoxy and eloquence go to the winds,--"You will have the whole
Peals of gay laughter responded, and the nodding mass of bloom was
swiftly pulled up and assisted to support its necessary horizontal
dignity. But here Baby Hippolyta suddenly created a diversion. Moved
perhaps by the consciousness of her own beauty, or by the general
excitement around her, she suddenly waved a miniature branch of
hawthorn and emitted a piercing yell.
"Passon! Tum 'ere! Passon! Tum 'ere!"
There was no possibility of 'holding forth' after this. A. short
address on the brevity of life, as being co-equal with the
evanescent joys of a Maypole, would hardly serve,--and a fatherly
ambition as to the unbecoming attitude of mendi-cancy assumed by
independent young villagers carrying a great crown of flowers round
to every house in the neighbourhood, and demanding pence for the
show, would scarcely be popular. Because what did the 'Mayers' Song
"The Heavenly gates are opened wide, Our paths are beaten plain; And
if a man be not too far gone, He may return again."
And the 'Heavenly gates' of Spring being wide open, the Reverend
John, thought his special path was 'beaten plain' for the occasion;
and not being 'too far gone' either in bigotry or lack of heart,
John did what he reverently imagined the Divine Master might have
done when He 'took a little child and set it in the midst." He
obeyed Baby Hippolyta's imperious command, and to her again loudly
reiterated "Passon! Tum 'ere!" he sprang forward and caught her up
in his arms, kissing her rosy cheeks heartily as he did so. Seated
in 'high exalted state' upon his shoulder. 'Ipsie' became Hippolyta
in good earnest, so thoroughly aware was she of her dignity, while,
holding her as lightly and buoyantly as he would have held a bird,
the Reverend John turned his smiling face on his young parishioners.
"Come along, boys and girls!" he exclaimed,--"Come and plant the
Maypole in the big meadow yonder, as you did last year! It is a
holiday for us all to-day,--for me as well as for you! It has always
been a holiday even before the days when great Elizabeth was Queen
of England, and though many dear old customs have fallen into disuse
with the changing world, St. Rest has never yet been robbed of its
May-day festival! Be thankful for that, children!--and come along;--
but move carefully!--keep order,--and sing as you come!"
Whereupon Susie Prescott lifted up her pretty voice again and her
hazel wand baton at the same moment, and started the chorus with the
"We have been rambling all this night, And almost all this day; And
now returning back again, We bring you in the May!"
And thus carolling, they passed through the garden moving meadow-
wards, Walden at the head of the procession,--and Baby Hippolyta
seated on his shoulder, was so elated with the gladsome sights and
sounds, that she clasped her chubby arms round 'Passon's' neck and
kissed him with a fervour that was as fresh and delightful as it was
Bainton, making his way along the southern wall of the orchard, to
take a 'glance round' as he termed it, at the condition of the wall
fruit-trees before his master joined him on the usual morning tour
of inspection, stopped and drew aside to watch the merry procession
winding along under the brown stems dotted with thousands of red
buds splitting into pink-and-white bloom; and a slow smile moved the
furrows of his face upward in various pleasant lines as he saw the
'Passon' leading it with a light step, carrying the laughing 'Ipsie'
on his shoulder, and now and again joining in the 'Mayers' Song'
with a mellow baritone voice that warmed and sustained the whole
"There 'e goes!" he said half aloud--"Jes' like a boy!--for all the
wurrld like a boy! I reckon 'e's got the secret o' never growin'
old, for all that 'is 'air's turnin' a bit grey. 'Ow many passons in
this 'ere neighbrood would carry the children like that, I wonder?
Not one on 'em!--though there's a many to pick an' choose from--a
darned sight too many if you axes my opinion! Old Putty Leveson,
wi's bobbin' an' 'is bowin's to the east--hor!--hor!--hor!--a fine
east 'e's got in 'is mouldy preachin' barn, wi' a whitewashed wall
an' a dirty bit o' tinsel fixed up agin it--he wouldn't touch a
child o' ourn, to save 'is life--though 'e's got three or four mean,
lyin' pryin' brats of 'is own runnin' wild about the place as might
jest as well 'ave never been born. And as for Francis Anthony, the
'igh pontiff o' Riversford, wi's big altar-cloak embrided for 'im by
all the poor skinny spinsters wot ain't never 'ad no chance to
marry--'e'd see all the children blowed to bits under the walls of
Jericho to the sound o' the trumpets afore 'e'd touch 'em! Talk o'
saints!--I'm not very good at unnerstannin' that kind o' folk, not
seein' myself 'owever a saint could manage to get on in this mortal
wurrld; but I reckon to think there's a tollable imitation o' the
real article in Passon Walden--the jolly sort o' saint, o' coorse,--
not the prayin', whinin', snuffin' kind. 'E's been doin' nothin' but
good ever since 'e came 'ere, which m'appen partly from 'is not
bein' married. If 'e'd gotten a wife, the place would a' been awsome
different. Not but wot 'e ain't a bit cranky over 'is, flowers
'isself. But I'd rather 'ave 'im fussin' round than a petticut arter
me. A petticut at 'ome's enough, an' I ain't complainin' on it,
though it's a bit breezy sometimes,--but a petticut in the gard'nin'
line would drive me main wild--it would reely now!"
And still smiling with perfect complacency, he watched the Maypole
being carried carefully along the space of grass left open between
the fruit trees on either side of the orchard, and followed its
bright patch of colour and the children's faces and forms around it,
till it entirely disappeared among the thicker green of a clump of
elms that bordered the 'big meadow,' which Walden generally kept
clear of both crops and cattle for the benefit of the village sports
He was indeed the only land-owner in the district who gave any
consideration of this kind to the needs of the people. St. Rest was
surrounded on all sides by several large private properties, richly
wooded, and possessing many acres of ploughed and pasture land, but
there was no public right-of-way across any single one of them, and
every field, every woodland path, every tempting dell was rigidly
fenced and guarded from 'vulgar' intrusion. None of the proprietors
of these estates, however, appeared to take the least personal joy
or pride in their possessions. They were for the most part away in
London for 'the season' or abroad 'out' of the season,--and their
extensive woods appeared to exist chiefly for the preservation of
game, reared solely to be shot by a few idle louts of fashion during
September and October, and also for the convenience and support of a
certain land agent, one Oliver Leach, who cut down fine old timber
whenever he needed money, and thought it advisable to pocket the
proceeds of such devastation.
Scarcely in one instance out of a hundred did the actual owners of
property miss the trees sufficiently to ask what had become of them.
So long as the game was all right, they paid little heed to the
rest. The partridges and the pheasants thrived, and so did Mr.
Oliver Leach. He enjoyed, however, the greatest unpopularity of any
man in the neighbourhood, which was some small comfort to those who
believed in the laws of compensation and justice. Bainton was his
particular enemy for one, and Bainton's master, John Walden, for
another. His long-practised 'knavish tricks' and the malicious
delight he took in trying to destroy or disfigure the sylvan beauty
of the landscape by his brutish ignorance of the art of forestry,
combined with his own personal greed, were beginning to be well-
known in St. Rest, and it is very certain that on May-morning when
the youngsters of the village were abroad and, to a great extent,
had it all their own way, (aided and abetted in that way by the
recognised authority of the place, the minister himself,) he would
never have dared to show his hard face and stiffly upright figure
anywhere, lest he should be unmercifully 'guyed' without a chance of
rescue or appeal.
With the disappearance of the Maypole into the further meadow,
Bainton likewise disappeared on his round of duty, which, as he had
declared, moved him 'in sundry places,' and for a little while the
dove-like spirit of Spring brooded in restful silence over the quiet
orchard and garden.
The singing of the May-day children had now grown so faint and far
as to be scarcely audible,--and the call of the cuckoo shrilling
above the plaintive murmur of the wood pigeons, soon absorbed even
the echo of the young human voices passing away. A light breeze
stirred the tender green grass, shaking down a shower of pink almond
bloom as it swept fan-like through the luminous air,--a skylark half
lost in the brilliant blue, began to descend earthwards, flinging
out a sparkling fountain of music with every quiver of his jewel-
like wings, and away in the sheltered shade of a small hazel copse,
the faint fluty notes of a nightingale trembled with a mysterious
sweetness suggestive of evening, when the song should be full.
More than an hour elapsed, and no living being entered the seclusion
of the parson's garden save Nebbie, the parson's rough Aberdeen
terrier, who, appearing suddenly at the open study-window, sniffed
at the fair prospect for a moment, and then, stepping out with a
leisurely air of proprietorship lay down on the grass in the full
sunshine. A wise-looking dog was Nebbie,--though few would have
thought that his full name was Nebuchadnezzar. Only the Reverend
John knew that. Nebbie was perfectly aware that the children had
come with the Maypole, and that his master had accompanied them to
the big meadow. Nebbie also knew that presently that same master of
his would return again to make the circuit of the garden in the
company of Bainton, according to custom,--and as he stretched his
four hairy paws out comfortably, and blinked his brown eyes at a
portly blackbird prodding in the turf for a worm within a stone's
throw of him, he was evidently considering whether it would be worth
his while, as an epicurean animal, to escort these two men on their
usual round on such a warm pleasant morning. For it was a dog's real
lazy day,--a day when merely to lie on the grass was sufficient
satisfaction for the canine mind. And Nebbie, yawning extensively,
and stretching himself a little more, closed his eyes in a rapture
of peace, and stirred his tail slightly with one, two, three mild
taps on the soft grass, when a sudden clear whistle caused him to
spring up with every hair bristling on end, fore-paws well forward
and eyes wide open.
Nebbie was nothing if not thoroughbred, and the voice of his master
was, despite all considerations of sleep and sunshine, to him as the
voice of the commanding officer to a subaltern. He was off like a
shot at a tearing pace, nose down and tail erect, and in less than a
minute had scented Walden in the shrubbery, which led by devious
windings down from the orchard to the banks of the river Rest, and
there finding him, started frantically gambolling round and round
him, as though years had parted man and dog from one another,
instead of the brief space of an hour. Walden was smiling to
himself, and his countenance was extremely pleasant. Nebbie, with
the quaint conceit common to pet animals, imagined that the smile
was produced specially for him, and continued his wild jumps and
barks till his red tongue hung a couple of inches out of his mouth
with excess of heat and enthusiasm.
"Nebbie! Nebbie!" said the Reverend John, mildly; "Don't make such a
noise! Down, lad, down!"
Nebbie subsided, and on reaching the river bank, squatted on his
haunches, with his tongue still lolling out, while he watched his
master step on a small floating pier attached by iron chains and
posts to the land, and bend therefrom over into the clear water,
looking anxiously downward to a spot he well knew, where hundreds of
rare water-lilies were planted deep in the bed of the stream.
"Nymphea Odorata,"--he murmured, in the yearning tone of a lover
addressing his beloved;--"Nymphea Chromatella--now I wonder if I
shall see anything of them this year! The Aurora Caroliniana must
have been eaten up by water-rats!"
Nebbie uttered a short bark. The faintest whisper of 'rats'
seriously affected his nerves. He could have told his master many a
harrowing story of those mischievous creatures swimming to and fro
in the peaceful flood, tearing with their sharp teeth at the lily
roots, and making a horrible havoc of all the most perfect buds of
promise. The river Rest itself was so clear and bright that it was
difficult to associate rats with its silver flowing,--yet rats there
were, hiding among the osiers and sedges, frightening the moorhens
and reed-warblers out of their little innocent lives. Nebbie caught
and killed them whenever he could,--but he had no particular taste
for swimming, and he was on rather 'strained relations' with a pair
of swans who, with a brood of cygnets kept fierce guard on the
opposite bank against all unwelcome intrusion.
His careful examination of the lily beds done, John Walden sprang
back again from the pier to the land, and there hesitated a moment.
His eyes rested longingly on a light punt, which, running half out
of a rustic boathouse, swayed suggestively on the gleaming water.
"I wish I had time,--" he said, half aloud, while Nebbie wagging his
tail violently, sat waiting and expectant. The river looked
deliciously tempting. The young green of the silver birches drooping
above its shining surface, the lights and shadows rippling across it
with every breath of air,--the skimming of swallows to and fro,--the
hum of bees among the cowslips, thyme and violets that were pushing
fragrantly through the clipped turf,--were all so many wordless
invitations to him to go forth into the fair freedom of Nature.
"The green trees whispered low and mild, It was a sound of joy! They
were my playmates when a child, And rocked me in their arms so wild!
Still they looked on me and smiled As if I were a boy!"
Such simple lines,--by Longfellow too, the despised of all the Sir
Oracles of criticism,--yet coming to Walden's memory suddenly, they
touched a chord of vivid emotion.
"And still they whispered soft and low! Oh, I could not choose but
he hummed half under his breath, and then with a decided movement
turned from the winding river towards the house.
"No, Nebbie, it's no use," he said aloud, addressing his four-footed
comrade, who thereupon got up reluctantly and began to trot
pensively beside him--"We mustn't be selfish. There are a thousand
and one things to do. There is dinner to be served to the children
at two o'clock--there is Mrs. Keeley to call upon--there are the
school accounts to be looked into,--" here he glanced at his watch--
" Good Heavens!--how time flies! It is half-past eleven! I shall
have to see Bainton later on."
He hurried his steps and was just in sight of his study window, when
he was met by his parlourmaid, a neat, trim young woman who rejoiced
in the euphonious name of Hester Rockett, and who said as she
"If you please, sir, Mrs. Spruce."
His genial face fell a little, and he heaved a short sigh.
"Mrs. Spruce? Oh, Lord!--I mean, very well! Show her in, Hester. You
are sure she wants to see me? Or is it her girl Kitty she is after?"
"She didn't mention Kitty, sir," replied Hester demurely; "She said
she wished to see you very particular."
"All right! Show her into my study, and afterwards just go round to
the orchard and tell Bainton I will see him when he's had his
dinner. I know I sha'n't get off under an hour at least!"
He sighed again, then smiled, and entered the house, Nebbie sedately
following. Arrived in his own quiet sanctum, he took off his soft
slouched hat and seated himself at his desk with a composed air of
patient attention, as the door was opened to admit a matronly-
looking lady with a round and florid countenance, clad in a
voluminous black gown, and wearing a somewhat aggressive black
bonnet, 'tipped' well forward, under which her grey hair was
plastered so far back as to be scarcely visible. There was a certain
aggrieved dignity about her, and a generally superior tone of self-
consciousness even in the curtsey which she dropped respectfully, as
she returned Walden's kindly nod and glance.
"Good morning, Mrs. Spruce!"
"Good morning, sir! I trust I see you well, sir?"
"Thank you, Mrs. Spruce, I am very well."
"Which is a mercy indeed!" said Mrs. Spruce fervently; "For we never
knows from one day to another whether we may be sound or crippled,
considering the diseases which now flies in the air with the dust in
the common road, as the papers tell us,--and dust is a thing we
cannot prevent, do what we may, for the dust is there by the will of
the Almighty, Who made us all out of it."
She paused. John Walden smiled and pointed to a chair,
"Won't you sit down, Mrs. Spruce?"
"Thank you kindly, sir!" and Mrs. Spruce accordingly plumped into
the seat indicated with evident relief and satisfaction. "I will
confess that it is a goodish step to walk on such a warm morning."
"You have come straight from the Manor?" enquired Walden, turning
over a few papers on his desk, and wondering within himself when the
good woman was going to unburden herself of her business.
"Straight from the Manor, sir, yes,--and such a heat and moil I
never felt on any May morning, which is most onwholesome, I am sure.
A cold May and a warm June is what I prefers myself,--but when you
get the cuckoo and the nightingale clicketin' together in the woods
on the First of May, you can look out for quarrelsome weather at
Midsummer, leastways so I have heard my mother often say, and she
was considered a wise woman in her time, I do assure you!"
Here Mrs. Spruce untied her bonnet-strings and flung them apart,--
she likewise loosened the top button of her collar and heaved a deep
sigh. Again the Reverend John smiled, and vaguely balanced a
penholder on his fore-finger.
"I daresay your mother was quite right, Mrs. Spruce! Indeed, I
believe all our mothers were quite right in their day. All the same,
I'm glad it's a fine May morning', for the children's sakes. They
are all down in the big meadow having a romp together. Your little
Kitty is with them, looking as bright as a May blossom herself."
Mrs. Spruce straightened herself up, patted her ample bosom, with
one hand, and threw her bonnet-strings still further back.
"Kitty's a good lass," she said, "though a bit mettlesome and wild;
but I'm not saying anything again her. The Lord forbid that I should
run down my own flesh and blood! An' she's better than most gels of
her age. I wouldn't grudge her a bit of fun while she's got it in
her,--Heaven knows it'll be soon gone out of her when she marries,
which nat'rally she will do, sooner or later. Anyhow, she's all I've
got,--which is a marvel how the Lord deals with some of us, when you
see a little chidester of a woman like Adam Frost's wife with
fifteen, boys and girls, and me with only one nesh maid."
Walden was silent. He was not disposed to argue on such marvels of
the Lord's way, as resulted in endowing one family with fifteen
children, and the other with only a single sprout, such as was
accorded to the righteous Jephthah, judge of Israel.
"Howsomever," continued Mrs. Spruce, "Kitty's welcome to jump round
the Maypole till she's wore her last pair of boots out, if so be
it's your wish, Mr. Walden,--and many thanks to you, sir, for all
your kindness to her!"
"Don't mention it, Mrs. Spruce!" said Walden amicably, and then,
determining to bring the worthy woman sharply round to the real
object of her visit, he gave a side-glance at the clock. "Is there
anything you want me to do for you this morning? I'm rather busy--"
"Beggin' your pardon, I'm sure, sir, for troubling you at all!--
knowin' as I do that what with the moithering old folks and the
maupsing young ones, your 'ands is always full. But when I got the
letter this morning, I says to my husband, William--'William,' says
I, very loud, for the poor creature's growing so deaf that by and by
I shall be usin' a p'lice whistle to make him 'ear me--'William,'
says I, 'there is only one man in this village who's got the right
to give advice when advice is asked for. Of course there's no call
for us to follow advice, even when we gets it,--howsomever, it's
only respectable for decent church-going folks to see the minister
of the parish whenever there's any fear of our makin' a slip of our
souls and goin' wrong. Therefore, William,' says I, shaking him By
the arm to make the poor silly fool understand me, 'it's to Passon
Walden I'm goin' this mornin' with this letter,--to Passon Walden,
d'ye 'ear?' And he nodded his head wise-like, for all the world as
though there were a bit of sense in it, (which there ain't), and
agrees with me;--for the Lord, knows, if William doesn't, that it
may make an awsome change for him as well as for me. And I do
confess I've been took back."
Following as best he could the entangled thread of the estimable
lady's discourse, Walden grasped the fact, albeit vaguely, that some
unexpected letter with unexpected news in it had arrived to trouble
the Spruces' domestic peace. Suppressing a slight yawn, he
endeavoured to assume the proper show of interest which every
village parson is expected to display on the shortest notice
concerning any subject, from the birth of the latest baby
parishioner, to the death of the earliest sucking pig.
"I'm sorry you're in trouble, Mrs. Spruce," he said kindly; "What
letter are you speaking of? You see I don't quite understand--"
"Which it's not to be expected you should, sir!" replied Mrs. Spruce
with an air of triumph,--"Considerin' as you wer'n't here when she
left, and the Manor has been what you may call a stately 'ome of
England deserted as most stately 'omes are, for more'n ten years,
you couldn't be expected to understand!"
The Reverend John looked as he felt, completely mystified. He
'wasn't here when she left.' Who was 'she'? With all his naturally
sweet temper he began to feel slightly irritated.
"Really, Mrs. Spruce," he said, endeavouring to throw an inflection
of sternness into his mellow voice, "I must ask you to explain
matters a little more clearly. I know that the Manor has been
practically shut up ever since I've been here,--that you are the
housekeeper in charge, and that your husband is woodman or forester
there,--but beyond this I know nothing. So you must not talk in
riddles, Mrs. Spruce,"--here his kind smile shone out again--"Even
as a boy I was never good at guessing them! And I am getting old
"So you are, sir--so you are!" agreed Mrs. Spruce sympathetically;
"And 'tis a shame for me to come worryin' of you,--for no one more
truly than myself can feel pity for the weariness of the flesh, when
'tis just a burden to the bones and no pleasure in the carryin' of
it, though you don't put much of it on, Passon Walden, you don't, I
do assure you! But it's Gospel truth that some folks wears thin like
a knife, while others wears thick like a pig, and there is no
stopping them,--either way bein' the Lord's will,--but I'm feelin'
real okkard myself to have put you about, Passon, only as I said,
I've been took back,--and here's the letter, sir, which if you will
kindly glance your hi over, you will tell me whether I've done the
right thing to call on my way down here and get in a couple of
scrubbers at eighteen-pence a day, which is dear, but they won't
come for less, jest to get some of the rough dirt off the floors
afore polishin', which polishin' will have to be done whether we
will or no, for the boards are solid oak, and bein' ancient take the
shine quickly, which is a mercy, for this day week is none too far
off, seein' all that's put upon me suddint."
Here, being short of breath, she paused, and fumbling in a large
black calico pocket which hung loosely at her side, attached to her
ample waist by a string, she drew out with great care a rather
large, square-looking missive, and then rising from her chair with
much fluttering of her black gown and mysterious creaking sound, as
of tight under-wear strained to breaking point, she held it out
toward Walden, who had durng her last oratorical outburst
unconsciously put his hand to his head in a daze of bewilderment.
"There is the letter sir," she continued, in the tone of one who
should say: 'There is the warrant for execution'--"'Short and
sweet,' as the farmer's wife said when she ate the pig's tail what
dropped off while the animal was a-roastin'."
Allowing this brilliant simile to pass without comment, Walden took
the thick, creamy-white object she offered and found himself
considering it with a curious disfavour. It was a strictly
'fashionable' make of envelope, and was addressed in a particularly
bold and assertive hand-writing to
MRS. SPRUCE, Housekeeper, Abbot's Manor, St. Rest.
Opening it, the Reverend John read as follows:
"Miss Vancourt begs to inform Mrs. Spruce that she will arrive at
Abbot's Manor on the 7th inst., to remain there in residence. Mrs.
Spruce is requested to engage the necessary household servants, as
Miss Vancourt will bring none except the groom in charge of her two
Over and over again Walden read this curt and commonplace note, with
a sense of irritation which he knew was perfectly absurd, but which,
nevertheless, defied all reason. The paper on which it was written
was thick and satiny,--and there was a faint artificial odour of
violets about it which annoyed him. He hated scented notepaper.
Deliberately he replaced it in its envelope, and holding it for a
moment as he again studied the superscription, he addressed the
expectant Mrs. Spruce, who had re-seated herself and was waiting for
him to speak.
"Well, Mrs. Spruce, I don't think you need any advice from me on
such a simple matter as this," he said slowly. "Your duty is quite
plain. You must obey orders. Miss Vancourt is, I suppose, the
mistress of Abbot's Manor?"
"She is, sir,--of course it all belongs to Miss Maryllia--"
"Miss--what?" interrupted Walden, with a sudden lightening of his
dark blue eyes.
"Maryllia, sir. It is a kind of family name, pronounced 'Ma-rill-
yer,'" explained Mrs. Spruce with considerable pomposity; "Many
folks never gets it right--it wants knowledge and practice. But if
you remember the pictures in the gallery at the Manor, sir, you may
call to mind one of the ancestresses of the Vancourts, painted in a
vi'let velvet; ridin' dress and holdin' a huntin' crop, and the name
underneath is 'Mary Ella Adelgisa de Vaignecourt' and it was after
her that the old Squire called his daughter Maryllia, rollin' the
two fust names, Mary Elia, into one, as it were, just to make a name
what none of his forebears had ever had. He was a queer man, the old
Squire--he wouldn't a-cared whether the name was Christian or
"I suppose not." said the Reverend John carelessly, rising and
pushing back his chair with a slightly impatient gesture; whereupon
Mrs. Spruce rose too, and stood 'at attention,' her loosened bonnet-
strings flying and her large black calico pocket well in evidence to
the front of her skirt.
"Here's your letter, Mrs. Spruce;" and as she took it from his hand
with a curtsey he continued: "There is evidently nothing for it but
to get the house in order by the day appointed and do your best to
please the lady. I can quite understand that you feel a little
worried at having to prepare everything so quickly and
unexpectedly,--but after all, you must have often thought that Miss
Vancourt's return to her old home was likely to happen at any time."
"Which I never did, sir!" declared Mrs. Spruce emphatically, "No,
sir, never! For when the old Squire died, she was jest a slip of
fifteen and her uncle, the Squire's own twin brother, what had
married an American heiress with somethin' like a hundred million of
money, so I'm told, took her straight away and adopted her like, and
the reg'ler pay for keepin' up the Manor and grounds has been sent
to us through a Bank, and so far we've got nothin' to complain of
bein' all strictly honourable both ways, but of Miss Vancourt we
never heard a thing. And Mr. Oliver Leach he is the agent of the
property, and he ain't never said a word,--and we think, me and my
husband, that he don't know nothin' of her comin' back, and should
we tell him, sir? Or would you reckon that we'd better keep a still
tongue in our heads till she do come? For there's no knowin' why or
wherefore she's comin',--though we did hear her poor uncle died two
years ago, and we wondered where she and her aunt with the hundred
million was got to--but mebbe she'll change her mind and not come,
"I should certainly not count upon that, if I were you, Mrs.
Spruce," said Walden decisively; "Your business is to keep
everything in order for the lady's arrival; but I don't think,--I
really don't think, you are at all bound to inform Mr. Oliver Leach
of the matter. He will no doubt find out for himself. or receive his
orders direct from Miss Vancourt." Here he paused. "How old did you
say she was when, she went away from home?"
"Fifteen, sir. That was nigh eleven years ago,--just one week after
the Squire's funeral, and a year afore you came here, sir. She's
gettin' on for seven-and-twenty now."
"Quite a woman, then," said Walden lightly; "Old enough to know her
own mind at any rate. Do you remember her?"
"Perfectly well, sir,--a little flitterin' creature all eyes and
hair, with a saucy way of tossin' her curls about, and a trick of
singin' and shoutin' all over the place. She used to climb the pine
trees and sit in them and pelt her father with the cones. Oh, yes,
sir, she was a terrible child to rule, and it's Gospel truth there
was no ruling her, for the governesses came and went like the
seasons, one in, t'other out. Ay, but the Lord knows I'll never
forget the scream she gave when the Squire was brought home from the
hunting field stone dead!"
Here John Walden turned his head towards her with an air of more
interest than he had yet shown.
"Ah!--How was that?" he enquired.
"He was killed jumpin' a fence;" went on Mrs. Spruce; "A fine,
handsome gentleman,--they say he'd been wild in his youth; anyhow he
got married in London to a great Court beauty, so I've been told.
And after the wedding, they went travelling allover the world for a
year and a half, and just when they was expected 'ome Mrs. Vancourt
died with the birth of the child, and he and the baby and the nurses
all came back here and he never stirred away again himself till
death took him at full gallop,--which is 'ow he always wished to
die. But poor Miss Maryllia--" And Mrs. Spruce sighed dolefully--
"'Twas hard on her, seein' him ride off so gay and well and cheery
in the early mornin' to be brought home afore noon a corpse! Ay, it
was an awsome visitation of the Lord! Often when the wind goes
wimblin' through the pines near the house I think I 'ear her shriek
now,--ay, sir!--it was like the cry of somethin' as was havin' its
heart tore out!"
Walden stood very silent, listening. This narrative was new to him,
and even Mrs. Spruce's manner of relating it was not without a
certain rough eloquence. The ancient history of the Vancourts he
knew as well as he knew the priceless archaeological value of their
old Manor-house as a perfect gem of unspoilt Tudor architecture,--
but though he had traced the descent of the family from Robert
Priaulx de Vaignecourt of the twelfth century and his brother
Osmonde Priaulx de Vaignecourt who had, it was rumoured, founded a
monastery in the neighbourhood, and had died during a pilgrimage to
the Holy Land, he had ceased to follow the genealogical tree with
much attention or interest when the old Norman name of De
Vaignecourt had degenerated into De Vincourt and finally in the
times of James I. had settled down into Vancourt. Yet there was a
touch of old-world tragedy in Mrs. Spruce's modern history of the
young girl's shriek when she found herself suddenly fatherless on
that fatal hunting morning.
"And now," continued Mrs. Spruce, coaxing one bonnet-string at a
time off each portly shoulder with considerable difficulty; "I
s'pose I must be goin', Passon Walden, and thank you kindly for all!
It's a great weight off my mind to have told you just what's
'appened, an' the changes likely to come off, and I do assure you
I'm of your opinion, Passon, in letting Oliver Leach shift for
himself, for if so be Miss Vancourt has the will of her own she had
when she was a gel, I shouldn't wonder if there was rough times in
store for him! But the Lord only knows what may chance to all of
us!" and here she heaved another dismal sigh as she tied the
refractory bonnet-strings into a bow under her fat chin. "It's
right-down sinful of me to be wishin' rough times to any man, seein'
I'm likely in for them myself, for a person's bound to be different
at nigh seven-and-twenty to what she was at fifteen, and the modern
ways of leddies ain't old ways, the Lord be merciful to us all! And
I do confess, Passon, it's a bit upsettin' at my time of life to
think as how I've lived in Abbot's Manor all these years, and now
for all I can tell, me and William may have to shift. And where
we'll go, the Lord only knows!"
"Now don't anticipate misfortune, Mrs. Spruce!" said Walden,
beginning to shake off the indescribable feeling of annoyance
against which he had been fighting for the past few minutes and
resuming his usual quiet air of cheerfulness; "Miss Vancourt is not
likely to dismiss you unless you offend her. The great thing is to
avoid offence,--and to do even more than your strict duty in making
her old home look its best and brightest for her return and--" Here
he hesitated for a moment, then went on--"Of course if I can do
anything to help you, I will."
"Thank you, sir, I'm sure most kindly," said Mrs. Spruce curtseying
two or three times in a voluminous overflow of gratitude. "I shall
take the liberty of asking you to step up during the week, to see
how things appears to you yourself. And as for servants, there's no
gels old enough at the school for servants, so I'll be goin' to
Riversford with the carrier's cart to-morrow to see what I can do.
Ah, It's an awsome mission I'm goin' on; there ain't no gels to be
got of the old kind, as far as I can make out. They all wants to be
fine leddies nowadays and marry 'Merican millionaires."
"Not quite so bad as that, I think, Mrs. Spruce!" laughed Walden,
holding open the door of the study for her to pass out, as a broad
hint that the interview must be considered at an end.--"There are
plenty of good, industrious, intelligent girls in England ready and
willing to enter domestic service, if we make it worth their while,-
-and I'm sure no one can teach YOU anything in that line! Good-
morning, Mrs. Spruce!"
"Good-morning, sir,--and you'll step up to the Manor when convenient
"Certainly, if you wish it. Whenever convenient to yourself, Mrs.
Mrs. Spruce curtseyed again at the respect for her own importance
which was implied in Walden's last sentence, and slowly sidled out,
the 'Passon' watching her with a smile as she trotted down the
passage from his study to a door which led to the kitchen and
"Now she'll go and tell all her story again to Hester and the cook,"
he said to himself; "And how she will enjoy herself to be sure!
Bless the woman, what a tongue she has! No wonder her husband is
He re-seated himself at his desk, and taking up a bundle of accounts
connected with the church and the school, tried to fix his attention
on them, but in vain. His mind wandered. He was obliged to own to
himself that he was unreasonably irritated at the news that Abbot's
Manor, which had been so long a sort of unoccupied 'show' house, was
again to be inhabited,--and by one who was its rightful owner too.
Ever since he had bought the living of St. Rest he had been
accustomed to take many solitary walks through the lovely woods
surrounding the Vancourts' residence, without any fear of being
considered a trespasser,--and he had even strolled through the wide,
old-fashioned gardens with as little restraint as though they had
belonged to himself, Mrs. Spruce, the housekeeper, being the last
person in the world to forbid her minister to enter wherever he
would. He had passed long hours of delightful research in the old
library, and many afternoons of meditation in the picture gallery,
where the portrait of the lady in the 'vi'let velvet,' Mary Elia
Adelgisa de Vaignecourt, had often caught his eye and charmed his
fancy when the setting sun had illumined its rich colouring and had
given life to the face, half-petulant, half-sweet, which pouted
forth from the old canvas like a rose with light on its petals. Now
all these pleasant rambles were finished. The mistress of Abbot's
Manor would certainly object to a wandering parson in her house and
grounds. Probably she was a very imperious, disagreeable young
woman,--full of the light scorn, lack of sentiment and cheap atheism
common to the 'smart' lady of a decadent period, and if it were true
that she had been for so many years in the charge of an American
aunt with a 'hundred millions,' the chances were ten to one that she
would be an exceedingly unpleasant neighbour.
He gave a short impatient sigh.
"Ah, well! I only hope she will put a stop to the felling of the
fine old trees in her domain," he said half aloud,--"If no one else
in the village has the pluck to draw her attention to the
depredations of Oliver Leach, I will. But, so far as other matters
go,--my walks in the Manor woods are ended! Yes, Nebbie!" and he
gently patted the head of the faithful animal, who, with inborn
sagacity instinctively guessing that his master was somewhat
annoyed, was clambering with caressing forepaws against his knee.
"Our rambles by the big elms and silvery birches and under the
beautiful tall pines are over, Nebbie! and we shouldn't be human if
we weren't just a trifle sorry! Sir Morton Pippitt is bad enough as
a neighbour, but he's a good three miles off at Badsworth Hall,
thank Heaven!--whereas Abbot's Manor is but a quarter of an hour's
walk from this gate. We've had pleasant times in the dear old-
fashioned gardens, Nebbie, you and I, but it's all over! The
mistress of the Manor is coming home,--and I'm positively certain,
Nebbie,--yes, old boy!--positively certain that we shall both detest
When England's great Queen, Victoria the Good; was still enjoying
her first happy years of wedded life, and society, under her gentle
sway, was less ostentatious and much more sincere in its code of
ethics than it is nowadays, the village of St. Rest, together with
the adjacent post-town of Riversford, enjoyed considerable
importance in county chronicles. Very great 'county personages' were
daily to be seen comporting themselves quite simply among their own
tenantry, and the Riversford Hunt Ball annually gathered together a
veritable galaxy of 'fair women and brave men' who loved their
ancestral homes better than all the dazzle and movement of town, and
who possessed for the most part that 'sweet content' which gives
strength to the body and elasticity to the mind. There was then a
natural gaiety and spontaneous cheerfulness in English country life
that made such a life good for human happiness; and the jolly
Squires who with their 'dames' kept open house and celebrated
Harvest Home and Christmas Festival with all the buoyancy and vigour
of a sane and healthful manhood undeteriorated by any sickly taint
of morbid pessimism and indifferent inertia, were the beneficent
rulers of a merrier rural population than has ever been seen since
their day. Squire Vancourt the elder, grandfather of the present
heiress of Abbot's Manor, had been a splendid specimen of 'the fine
old English gentleman, all of the olden time,' and his wife, one of
the handsomest, as well as one of the kindest-hearted women that
ever lived, had been justly proud of her husband, devoted to her
children, and a true friend and benefactress to the neighbourhood.
Her four sons, two of whom were twins, all great strapping lads,
built on their vigorous father's model, were considered the best-
looking young men in the county, and by their fond mother were
judged as the best-hearted; but, as it often happens, Nature was
freakish in their regard, and turned them all out wild colts of a
baser breed than might have been expected from their unsullied
parentage. The eldest took to hard drinking and was killed at
steeple-chasing; the second was drowned while bathing; one of the
twins, named Frederick, the younger by a few minutes, after nearly
falling into unnameable depths of degradation by gambling with
certain 'noble and exalted' personages of renown, saved himself, as
it were, by the skin of his teeth, through marriage with a rich
American girl whose father was blessed with unlimited, oil-mines. He
was thereby enabled to wallow in wealth with an impaired digestion
and shattered nervous power, while capricious Fate played him her
usual trick in her usual way by denying him any heirs to his married
millions. His first-born brother, Robert, wedded for love, and chose
as his mate a beautiful girl without a penny, whose grace and charm
had dazzled the London world of fashion for about two seasons, and
she had died at the age of twenty in giving birth to her first
child, the girl whom her father had named Maryllia.
All these chances and changes of life, however, occurring to the
leading family of the neighbourhood had left very little mark on St.
Rest, which drowsed under the light shadow of the eastern hills by
its clear flowing river, very much as it had always drowsed in the
old days, and very much as it would always do even if London and
Paris were consumed by unsuspected volcanoes. The memory of the
first 'old Squire,'--who died peacefully in his bed all alone, his
wife having passed away two years before him, and his two living
twin sons being absent,--was frequently mixed with stories of the
other 'old Squire' Robert, the elder twin, who was killed in the
hunting field,--and indeed it often happened that some of the more
ancient and garrulous villagers were not at all sure as to which was
which. The Manor had been shut up for ten years,--the Manor 'family'
had not been heard of during all that period, and the tenantry's
recollection of their late landlord, as well as of his one daughter,
was more vague and confused than authentic. The place had been
'managed' and the cottage rents collected by the detested agent
Oliver Leach, a fact which did not sweeten such remembrance of the
Vancourts as still existed in the minds of the people.
However, nothing in the general aspect and mental attitude of the
village had altered very much since the early thirties, except the
church. That from a mere ruin, had under John Walden's incumbency
become a gem of architecture, so unique and perfect as to be the
wonder and admiration of all who beheld it, and whereas in the early
Victorian reign a few people stopped at Riversford because it was a
county town and because there was an inn there where they could put
up their horses, so a few people now went to St. Rest, because there
was a church there worth looking at. They came by train to
Riversford, where the railway line stopped, and then took carriage
or cycled the seven miles between that town and St. Rest to see the
church; and having seen it, promptly went back again. For one of the
great charms of the little village hidden under the hills was that
no tourist could stay a night in it, unless he or she took one spare
room--there was only one--at the small public-house which sneaked
away up round a corner of the street under an archway of ivy, and
pushed its old gables through the dark enshrouding leaves with a
half-surprised, half-propitiatory air, as though somewhat ashamed of
its own existence. With the exception of this one room in this one
public-house, there was no accommodation for visitors. Never will
the rash cyclist who ventured once to appeal to the sexton's wife
for rooms in her cottage, forget the brusqueness of his reception:
"Rooms!" And Mrs. Frost, setting her arms well akimbo, surveyed the
enquirer scornfully through an open doorway, rendered doubly
inviting by the wealth of roses clambering round it. "Be off, young
man! Where was you a-comin' to? D'ye think a woman wi' fifteen great
boys and girls in an' out of the 'ouse all day, 'as rooms for payin'
guests!" And here Mrs. Frost, snorting at the air in irrepressible
disdain, actually snapped her fingers in her would-be lodger's face.
"Rooms indeed! Go to Brighting!"
Whereupon the abashed wheelman went,--whether to Brighton, as the
irate lady suggested, or to a warmer place unmentionable history
sayeth not. But St. Rest remained, as its name implied, restful,--
and the barbaric yell of the cheap tripper, together with the
equally barbaric scream of the cheap tripper's 'young lady' echoed
chiefly through modernised and vulgarised Riversford, where there
were tea-rooms and stuffy eating-houses and bad open-air concerts,
such as trippers and their 'ladies' delight in,--and seldom
disturbed the tranquil charm of the tiny mediaeval village dear to a
certain few scholars, poets and antiquarians who, through John
Walden, had gradually become acquainted with this 'priceless bit' as
they termed it, of real 'old' England and who almost feared to
mention its existence even in a whisper, lest it should be 'swarmed
over' by enquiring Yankees, searching for those everlasting
ancestors who all managed so cleverly to cross the sea together in
one boat, the Mayflower.
There is something truly pathetic as well as droll in the anxiety of
every true American to prove himself or herself an offshoot from
some old British root of honour or nobility. It would be cruel to
laugh at this instinct, for after all it is only the passionate
longing of the Prodigal Son who, having eaten of the husks that the
swine did eat, experienced such an indigestion at last, that he said
'I will arise and go to my father.' And it is quite possible that an
aspiring Trans-Atlantic millionaire yearning for descent more than
dollars, would have managed to find tracks of a Mayflower pedigree
in St. Rest, a place of such antiquity as to be able to boast a
chivalric 'roll of honour' once kept in the private museum at
Badsworth Hall before the Badsworth family became extinct, but now,
thanks to Walden, rescued from the modern clutch of the Hall's
present proprietor, Sir Morton Pippitt, and carefully preserved in
an iron box locked up in the church, along with other documents of
value belonging to the neighbourhood. On this were inscribed the
names of such English gentlemen once resident in the district, who
had held certain possessions in France at the accession of Henry II.
in 1154. Besides the 'roll of honour' there were other valuable
records having to do with the Anglo-French campaigns in the time of
King John, and much concerning those persons of St. Rest and
Riversford who took part in the Wars of the Barons.
Whatever there was of curious or interesting matter respecting the
village and its surroundings had been patiently ferreted out by John
Walden, who had purchased the living partly because he knew it to be
a veritable mine for antiquarian research, and one likely to afford
him inexhaustible occupation and delight. But there were, of course,
other reasons for his settling down in so remote a spot far from the
busy haunts of men,--reasons which, to his own mind, were perfectly
natural and simple, though on account of his innate habit of
reticence, and disinclination to explain his motives to others, they
were by some supposed to be mysterious. In his youth he had been one
of the most brilliant and promising of University scholars, and all
those who had assisted to fit him for his career in the Church, had
expected great things of him. Some said he would be a Bishop before
he was thirty; others considered that he would probably content
himself with being the most intellectual and incisive preacher of
his time. But he turned out to be neither one nor the other. A
certain Henry Arthur Brent, his fellow student at College and five
years his senior, had, with apparent ease, outstripped him in the
race for honour, though lacking in all such exceptional slowly off
towards the vegetable garden where his 'under gardeners' as he
called three or four sturdy village lads employed to dig and hoe,
constantly required his supervision.
Meanwhile Walden, leaving his own grounds, entered the churchyard,
walking with softly reverent step among the little green mounds of
earth, under which kind eyes were closed, and warm hearts lay cold,
till, reaching the porched entrance of the church itself, he paused,
brought to a halt by the sound of voices which were pitched rather
too loud for propriety, considering the sacredness of the
"That eastern window is crude--very crude!" said a growlingly robust
baritone; "I suppose the reverend gentleman could not secure
sufficient subscriptions to meet the expense of suitable stained
"Unfortunately Mr. Walden is a very self-opinionated man," replied a
smooth and oily tenor, whose particular tone of speech Walden
recognised as that of the Reverend 'Putty' Leveson, the minister of
Badsworth, a small scattered village some five or six miles 'on the
wrong side of Badsworth Hall,' as the locality was called, owing to
its removed position from the county town of Riversford. "He would
not accept outside advice. Of course these columns and capitals are
all wrong,--they are quite incongruous with early Norman walls,--but
when ignorance is allowed to have its own way, the effect is always
"Always--always,--my dear sir--always!" And the voice or Sir Morton
Pippitt, high pitched and resonant, trolled out on the peaceful air;
"The fact is, the church could have been much better done, had I
been consulted! The whole thing was carried out in the most brazen
manner, under my very nose, sir, under my very nose!--without so
much as a 'by your leave'! Shocking, shocking! I complained to the
Bishop, but it was no use, for it seems that he has a perfect
infatuation for this man Walden--they were college friends or
something of that kind. As for the sarcophagus here, of course it
ought in the merest common decency to have been transferred to the
Cathedral of the diocese. But you see the present incumbent bought
the place;--the purchase of advowsons is a scandal, in my opinion--
however this man got it all his own way, more's the pity!--he bought
it through some friend or other--and so--"
"So he could do as he liked with it!" said a mild, piping falsetto;
"And so far, he has made it beau-ti-ful!--beau-ti-ful!" carved with
traceries of natural fruit and foliage, which were scarcely injured
by the devastating mark of time. But rough and sacrilegious hands
had been at work to spoil and deface the classic remains of the
time-worn edifice, and some of the lancet windows had been actually
hewn out and widened to admit of the insertion of modern timber
props which awkwardly supported a hideous galvanised iron roof, on
the top of which was erected a kind of tin hen-coop in which a sharp
bell clanged with irritating rapidity for Sunday service. Outside,
the building was thus rendered grotesquely incongruous,--inside it
was almost blasphemous in its rank ugliness. There were several rows
of narrow pews made of common painted deal,--there was a brown stone
font and a light pine-wood pulpit--a small harmonium stood in one
corner, festooned by a faded red woollen curtain, and a general air
of the cheap upholsterer and jerry-builder hovered over the whole
concern. And the new incumbent, gazing aghast at the scene, was
triumphantly informed that "Sir Morton Pippitt had been generous
enough to roof and 'restore' the church in this artistic manner out
of his own pocket, for the comfort of the villagers," and moreover
that he actually condescended to attend Divine service under the
galvanised iron roof which he had so liberally erected. Nay, it had
been even known that Sir Morton had on one or two occasions himself
read the Lessons in the absence of the late rector, who was subject
to sore throats and was constantly compelled to call in outside
To all this information John Walden said nothing. He was not
concerned with Sir Morton Pippitt or any other county magnate in the
management of his own affairs. A fortnight after his arrival he
quietly announced to his congregation that the church was about to
be entirely restored according to its original lines of
architecture, and that a temporary building would be erected on his,
Walden's, own land for the accommodation of the people during such
time as the restoration should be in progress. This announcement
brought about Walden's first acquaintance with his richest
neighbour, Sir Morton Pippitt. That gentleman having been accustomed
to have his own way in everything concerning St. Rest, for a
considerable time, straightway wrote, expressing his 'surprise and
indignation' at the mere assumption that any restoration was
required for the church beyond what he, Sir Morton, had effected at
his own expense. The number of parishioners was exceedingly small,--
too small to warrant any further expenditure for enlarging a place
of worship which mental ability as he possessed, and was now Bishop
of the very diocese in which he had his little living. University
men said he had 'stood aside' in order to allow Brent to press more
swiftly forward, but though this was a perfectly natural supposition
on the part of those who knew something of Walden's character, it
was not correct. Walden at that time had only one object in life,--
and this was to secure such name and fame, together with such
worldly success as might delight and satisfy the only relative he
had in the world, his sister, a beautiful and intelligent woman,
full of an almost maternal tenderness for him, and a sweet
resignation to her own sad lot, which made her the victim of a slow
and incurable disease. So long as she lived, her brother threw
himself into his work with intensity and ardour; but when she died
that impulse withered, as it were, at its very root. The world
became empty for him, and he felt that from henceforth he would be
utterly companionless. For what he had seen of modern women, modern
marriage and modern ways of life, did not tempt him to rashly seek
refuge for his heart's solitude in matrimony. Almost immediately
following the loss of his sister, an uncle of whom he had known very
little, died suddenly, leaving him a considerably large fortune. As
soon as he came into possession of this unexpected wealth, he
disappeared at once from the scene of his former labours,--the
pretty old house in the University town, with its great cedars
sloping to the river and its hallowed memories of the sister he had
so dearly loved, was sold by private treaty,--his voice was heard no
more in London pulpits, where it had begun to carry weight and
influence,--and he managed to obtain the then vacant and obscure
living of St. Rest, the purchase of the advowson being effected, so
it was said, privately through the good offices of his quondam
college friend, Bishop Brent. And at St. Rest he had remained,
apparently well contented with the very simple and monotonous round
of duty it offered.
When he had first arrived there, he found that the church consisted
of some thick stone walls of the early Norman, period, built on a
cruciform plan, the stones being all uniformly wrought and close-
jointed,--together with a beautiful ruined chancel divided from the
main body of the building by massive columns, which supported on
their capitals the fragments of lofty arches indicative of an
architectural transition from the Norman to the Early Pointed
English style. There were also the hollow slits of several lancet
windows, and one almost perfect pierced circular window to the east,
elaborately And here he whirled round on his only daughter, an
angular and severely-visaged spinster; "Look at this fool!--this
staring ape! All the sauce on the carpet! Wish he had to pay for it!
He'll take an hour to get a cloth and wipe it up! Why did you engage
such a damned ass, eh?"
Miss Tabitha preserved a prudent silence, seeing that the butler, a
serious-looking personage with a resigned-to-ill-usage demeanour,
was already engaged in assisting the hapless footman to remove the
remains of the spilt condiment, from the offended gaze of his irate
"Like his damned impudence!" broke out Sir Morton again, resuming
with some reluctance his seat at the breakfast table, and chopping
at the fried bacon on his plate till the harder bits flew far and
wide,--"'Happy to reimburse me!'--the snivelling puppy! Why the
devil he was allowed to sneak into this living, I don't know! The
private purchase of advowsons is a scandal--a disgraceful scandal!
Any Tom, Dick or Harry can get a friend to buy him a benefice in
which to make himself a nuisance! Done under the rose,--and called a
'presentation'! All humbug and hypocrisy! That's why we get impudent
dogs like this beast Walden settling down in a neighbourhood whether
we like it or not!"
Miss Tabitha munched some toast slowly with a delicate regard for
her front teeth, which had cost money. There was no one in the room
to suggest to Sir Morton that it is a pity some law is not in
progress to prevent the purchase of historic houses by vulgar and
illiterate persons of no family;--which would be far more a benefit
to the land at large than the suppression of privately purchased
benefices. For the chances are ten to one that the ordained
minister, who, by his own choice secures a Church living for
himself, is likely at least to be a well-educated gentleman,
interested in the work he has himself elected to do,--whereas the
illiterate individual who buys an historic house simply for self-
glorification, will probably be no more than a mere petty and
pompous tyrant over the district which that particular house
Badsworth Hall, a fine sixteenth-century pile, had, through the
reckless racing and gambling propensities of the last heir, fallen
into the hands of the Jews. On the fortunate demise of the young
gentleman who had brought it to this untimely end, it was put up for
sale with all its contents. And Sir Morton Pippitt,--a rich
colonial, whose forebears were entirely undistinguished, but who had
made a large fortune by a bone-melting business, which converted the
hoofs, horns and (considering that some years ago it had been a mere
roofless ruin, and that the people had been compelled to walk or
drive to Riversford in order to attend church at all on Sundays) Sir
Morton thought was now very comfortable and satisfactory. In fact,
Sir Morton concluded, "Mr. Walden would be very ill-advised if he
made any attempt to raise money for such a useless purpose as the
'entire restoration' of the church of St. Rest, and Mr. Walden might
as well be at once made aware that Sir Morton himself would not give
a penny towards it." To which somewhat rambling and heated epistle
John Walden replied with civil stiffness as follows:
"The Rev. John Walden presents his compliments to Sir Morton
Pippitt, and in answer to his letter begs to say that he has no
intention of raising any subscription to defray the cost of
restoring the church, which in its present condition is totally
unfit for Divine service. Having secured the living, Mr. Walden will
make the restoration the object of his own personal care, and will
also be pleased to reimburse Sir Morton Pippitt for any outlay to
which he may have been put in erecting the galvanised roof and other
accessories for the immediate convenience of the parishioners who
have, he understands, already expressed their sense of obligation to
Sir Morton for kindly providing them with such temporary shelter
from the changes of the weather as seemed to be humanely necessary."
This calm epistle when received at Badsworth Hall, had the effect of
a sudden stiff breeze on the surface of hitherto quiet waters. Sir
Morton Pippitt in a brand-new tweed suit surmounted by a very high,
clean, stiff shirt-collar, was sitting at breakfast in what was
formerly known as the 'great Refectory,' a memory of the days when
Badsworth had been a large and important monastery, but which was
now turned into a modern-antique dining-room,--and as he read, with
the aid of his gold-rimmed spectacles, the curt, chill, severely
polite letter of the 'new parson' he flew into a sudden violent
"Damn the fellow!" he spluttered, jumping up in haste and striking
out an arm towards the very direction in which a mild young footman
was just approaching him with a bottle of Worcester sauce on a
The footman staggered back in terror, and the Worcester sauce reeled
over drunkenly on to the carpet.
"There you go, you clumsy, gaping idiot!" roared Sir Morton, growing
purple with increasing fury. "Tabitha!" called 'The Riversford
Gazette.' If Sir Morton had a pig killed, the fact was duly notified
to an admiring populace in the 'Riversford Gazette.' If he took a
prize in cabbages at the local vegetable and flower show, the
'Riversford Gazette' had a column about it. If he gave a tennis-
party, there were two columns, describing all the dresses of the
ladies, the prowess of the 'champions' and the 'striking and jovial
personality' of Sir Morton Pippitt. And if the fact of that