Part 11 out of 12
intrigues of society. He felt himself now in a manner debased by
having had to listen with enforced patience to Bainton's rambling
account of the gossip going on in the neighbourhood, and despite
that worthy servitor's disquisition on the subject, he could not
imagine how it had arisen, unless his quarrel with Putwood Leveson
were the cause. It was all so sudden and unlooked for! Maryllia had
gone away,--and that fact of itself was sufficient to make darkness
out of sunshine. He could not quite realise it. And not only had she
gone away, but some slanderous story had been concocted concerning
her in connection with himself, which was being bandied about on all
the tongues of the village and county. How it had arisen he could
not understand. He was, of course, unaware of the part Lord Roxmouth
had played in the matter, and in his ignorance of the true source of
the mischief, tormented his mind with endless fancies and
perplexities, all of which helped to increase his annoyance and
agitation. Pacing restlessly up and down his study, his eyes
presently fell on the little heap of letters which had accumulated
on his table during his brief absence, all as yet unopened. Turning
them over indifferently, he came suddenly on one small sealed note,
inscribed as having been left 'by hand,' addressed to him in the
bold frank writing to which he had once, not so very long ago, felt
such an inexplicable aversion when Mrs. Spruce was the recipient of
a first letter from the same source. Now he snatched the little
missive up with a strangely impulsive ardour, and being quite alone,
indulged himself in the pleasure of kissing the firm free pen-
strokes with all the passion of a boy. Then opening it, he read:
"DEAR MR. WALDEN,--You will be surprised to find that I have gone
away from the dear home I love so well, and I daresay you will think
me very capricious. But please do not judge me hastily, or believe
everything you may hear of me from others. I am very sorry to go
away just now, but circumstances leave me no other choice. I should
like to have bidden you good-bye, as I could perhaps have explained
things to you better, but old Josey Letherbarrow tells me you have
gone to see the Bishop on business, so I leave this note myself just
to say that I hope you will think as kindly of me as you can now I
am gone. Please go into the Manor gardens as often as you like, and
let the sick and old people in the village have plenty of the
flowers and fruit. By doing this you will please me very much. My
agent, Mr. Stanways, will be quite at your service if you ever want
his assistance. Perhaps I ought just to mention that Lord Roxmouth
overheard our conversation in the picture-gallery that night of the
dinner-party. He was very rude about it. I tell you this in case you
should see him, but I do not think you will. Good-bye! Try to forget
that I smoked that cigarette!--Your sincere friend,"
As he perused these lines, Walden alternately grew hot and cold--red
and pale. All was clear to him now!-it was Lord Roxmouth who had
played the spy and eavesdropper! He recalled every little detail of
the scene in the picture-gallery and at once realised how much a
treacherous as well as jealous and vindictive man could make of it.
Maryllia's hand laid so coaxingly on his arm,--Maryllia's face so
sweetly and pleadingly upturned,--Maryllia's half-tender tremulous
voice with its 'Will you forgive me?'--and then--his own impetuous
words!--the way he had caught her hand and kissed it!--why his very
look must have betrayed him to the 'noble and honourable' detective,
part of whose distinguished role it was to listen at doors and
afterwards relate to an inquisitive and scandal-loving society all
that he heard within. By degrees he grasped the whole situation. He
realised that his name and honour lay at the mercy of this man
Roxmouth, who under the circumstances of the constant check put upon
his mercenary aims, would certainly spare no pains to injure both.
And he felt sick at heart.
Locking Maryllia's note carefully in his desk, he stepped into his
garden and walked up and down the lawn slowly with bent head, Nebbie
trotting after him with a sympathetically disconsolate air. And
gradually it dawned upon him that Maryllia had possibly--nay very
probably--gone away for his sake,--to make things easier for him--to
remove her presence altogether from his vicinity-and so render
Roxmouth's tale-bearing, with its consequent malicious gossip,
futile, till of itself it died away and was forgotten. As this idea
crossed his mind and deepened into conviction, his eyes filled with
a sudden smarting moisture.
"Poor child!" he said, half aloud--"Poor little lonely child!"
Then a fresh thought came to him,--one which made the blood run more
quickly through his veins and caused his heart to pulsate with quite
a foolish joy. If--if she had indeed gone away out of a sweet
womanly wish to save him from what she imagined might cause him
embarrassment or perplexity, then--then surely she cared! Yes--she
must care for him greatly as a friend,--though only as a friend--to
be willing to sacrifice the pleasure of passing all the summer in
the old home to which she had so lately returned, merely to relieve
him of any difficulty her near society might involve. If she cared!
Was such a thing--could such a thing be possible? Tormented by many
mingled feelings of tenderness, regret and pain, John pondered his
own heart's problem anxiously, and tried to decide the best course
to pursue,--the best for her--the best for himself. He was not long
in coming to a decision, and once resolved, he was more at ease.
When he celebrated the evening service that Sunday the garrulous
Bainton saw, much to his secret astonishment, that the effect of his
morning's communication had apparently left no trace on his master's
ordinary demeanour, except perhaps to add a little extra gravity to
his fine strong features, and accentuate the reserve of his
accustomed speech and manner. His habitual dignity was even greater
than usual,--his composed mien and clear steadfastness of eye had
lost nothing of their quelling and authoritative influence,--and so
far as his own manner and actions showed, the absence or presence of
Miss Vancourt was a matter to him of complete unconcern. His visit
to his friend the Bishop had 'done 'im a power o' good'--said his
parishioners, observing him respectfully, as, Sunday being over and
the week begun, he went about among them on his accustomed round of
duty, enquiring after the poultry and the cattle with all the zeal
expected of him. The name of Miss Vancourt seldom passed his lips,--
when other people spoke of her, either admiringly, questioningly or
suggestively, he merely listened, offering no opinion. He denied
himself to all 'county' visitors on plea of press of work,--he never
once went to Abbot's Manor or entered the Manor grounds--and the
only persons with whom he occasionally interchanged hospitalities
were Julian Adderley and the local doctor, 'Jimmy' Eorsyth.
Withdrawing himself in this fashion into closer seclusion than ever,
his life became almost hermit-like, for except in regard to his
daily parish work, he seldom or never went beyond the precincts of
his own garden.
Days went on, weeks went on,--and soon, too soon, summer was over.
The melancholy autumn shook down the once green leaves, all curled
up in withering death-convulsions, from the branches of the trees
now tossing in chill wind and weeping mists of rain. No news had
been received by anyone in the village concerning Maryllia. The
'Sisters Gemini,' Lady Wicketts and Miss Fosby, had departed from
Abbot's Manor when the time of their stay had concluded, and neither
of the twain had given the slightest hint to any enquirer, as to the
probable date of the return of the mistress of the domain. Sir
Morton Pippitt at last got tired of talking scandal for which there
seemed no visible or tangible foundation, and even his daughter
Tabitha began to wonder whether after all there was not some
exaggeration in the story Lord Roxmouth had given her to sow like
rank seed upon the soil of daily circumstance? She never saw Walden
by any chance,--on one occasion she ventured to call, but he was
'out' as usual. Neither could she persuade Julian Adderley to visit
at Badsworth Hall. A veil of obscurity and silence was gradually but
surely drawn between St. Rest and the outlying neighbourhood so far
as its presiding ruler John Walden was concerned, while within the
village his reticence and reserve were so strongly marked that even
the most privileged person in the place, Josey Letherbarrow, awed at
his calm, cold, almost stern aspect, hesitated to speak to him
except on the most ordinary matters, for fear of incurring his
Meanwhile the village sorely missed the bright face and sweet ways
of 'th' owld Squire's gel'--and many of the inhabitants tried to get
news of her through Mrs. Spruce, but all in vain. That good lady,
generally so talkative, was for once in her life more than
discreetly dumb. All that she would say was that she "didn't know
nothink. Miss Maryllia 'ad gone abroad an' all 'er letters was sent
to London solicitors. Any other address? No--no other address. The
servants was to be kep' on--no one wasn't goin' to lose their places
if they behaved theirselves, which please the Lord, they will do!"--
she concluded, with much fervour. Bennett, the groom, was entrusted
with the care of the mares Cleo and Daffodil, and might be seen
exercising them every day on the open moors beyond the village,
accompanied by the big dog Plato,--and so far as the general
management of affairs was concerned, that was ably undertaken by the
agent Stanways, who though civil and obliging to all the tenantry,
had no news whatever to give respecting the absence or the probable
return of the lady of the Manor. The Reverend Putwood Leveson
occasionally careered through the village on his bicycle,
accompanied by Oliver Leach who bestrode a similar machine, and both
individuals made a point of grinning broadly as they passed the
church and rectory of St. Rest, jerking their fingers and thumbs at
both buildings with expressively suggestive contempt.
And by and by the people began to settle down, into the normal
quietude which had been more or less their lot, before Maryllia,
with her vivacious little musical protegee Cicely Bourne had
awakened a new interest and animation in the midst of their small
community,--and they began to resign themselves to the idea that her
'whim' for residing once more in the home of her childhood had
passed, and that she would now, without doubt, marry the future Duke
of Ormistoune, and pass away from the limited circle of St. Rest to
those wider spheres of fashion, the splendours of which, mere
country-folk are not expected to have more than the very faintest
glimmering conception. Even in that independent corner of opinion,
the tap-room of the 'Mother Huff,' her name was spoken with almost
bated breath, though Mr. Netlips was not by any means loth to spare
any flow of oratorical eloquence on the subject.
"I think, Mr. Buggins," he said one evening, addressing 'mine host'
with due gravity--"I think you will recall to your organisation
certain objective propositions I made with regard to Miss Vancourt,
when that lady first entered into dominative residence at Abbot's
Manor. Personally speaking, I have no discrepancies to suggest
beyond the former utterance. Matters in which I have taken the
customary mercantile interest have culminated with the lady to the
satisfaction of all sides. Nothing has been left standing
controversially on my books. Nevertheless it would be repudiative to
say that I have sophisticated my previous opinion. I said then, and
I confirm the observation, that a heathen cannot enjoy the
prospective right of the commons."
"I s'pose,"--said Mr. Buggins, meditatively in reference to this
outburst--"you means, Mr. Netlips, that Miss Vancourt is a kind of
Mr. Netlips nodded severely.
"'Cos she don't go to church?" suggested Dan Ridley, who as usual
was one of the tap-room talkers. Again Mr. Netlips nodded.
"Well," said Dan, "she came to church once an' brought her friends--
"Late,--very late,"--interposed Mr. Netlips, solemnly--"The
tardiness of her entrance was marked by the strongest decorum. The
strongest, the most open decorum! Deplorable decorum!"
"What's decorum?" enquired Mr. Buggins, anxiously.
Mr. Netlips waved one fat hand expressively.
Buggins scratched his head dubiously. Dan Ridley looked perplexed.
There was a silence,--the men listening to the wailing of a rising
wind that was beginning to sweep round the house and whistle down
the big open chimney, accompanied by pattering drops of rain.
"Summer's sheer over,"--said a labourer, lifting his head from his
tankard of ale--"Howsomever, we're all safe this winter in the worst
o' weather. Rents are all down at 'arf what they was under Oliver
Leach, thanks to the new lady, so whether she's a decorum or not
don't matter to me. She's a right good sort--so here's to her!"
And he drained off his ale at one gulp with a relish, several men
present following his example.
"Passon Walden,"--began Dan Ridley--"Passon Walden---"
But here there was a sudden loud metallic crash. Buggins had
overturned two empty pewter-mugs on his counter.
"No gossiping o' Passon Walden allowed 'ere,"--he said,--"Not while
I'm master o' this public!"
"Leeze majestas,"--proclaimed Mr. Netlips, impressively--"You're
right, Buggins--you're quite right! Leeze majestas would be entirely
An awkward pause ensued. 'Leeze majestas' in all its dark
incomprehensibility had fallen like a weight upon the tavern
company, and effectually checked any further conversation. It was
one of those successful efforts of Mr. Netlips, which, by its
ponderous vagueness and inscrutability, produced an overwhelming
effect. There was nothing to be said after it.
The gold and crimson glory of autumn slowly waned and died,--and the
village began to look very lonely and dreary. Heavy rains fell and
angry gales blew,--so that when dark November came glooming in, with
lowering skies, there was scarcely so much as a leaf of russet or
scarlet Virginian creeper clinging to roof or wall. The woods around
Abbot's Manor were leafless except where the pines and winter laurel
grew in thick clusters, and where several grand old hollies showed
their scarlet berries ripening among the glossy green. The Manor
itself however looked wide-awake and cheerful,--smoke poured up from
the chimneys and glints of firelight sparkled through the windows,--
all the shutters, which had been put up after the departure of the
'Sisters Gemini,' were taken down--blinds were raised and curtains
drawn back,--and as soon as these signs and tokens were manifested,
people were not slow in asking Mrs. Spruce whether Miss Vancourt was
coming back for Christmas? But to all enquiries that estimable dame
gave the same answer. She 'didn't know nothink.' The groom Bennett
was equally reticent. He had received 'no orders.' Mr. Stanways, the
agent, and his wife, both of whom had become very friendly with all
the villagers, were cheerfully talkative on every subject but one,--
that of Miss Vancourt and her movements. All they could or would say
was that her return was 'quite uncertain.' Fires were lighted in the
Manor--oh yes!--to keep the house well aired--and windows were
opened for the same purpose,--but beyond that--'really," said Mr.
Stanways, smiling pleasantly--'I can give no information!'
The days grew shorter, gloomier and colder,--and soon, when the
chill nip of winter began to make itself felt in grim damp earnest,
the whole county woke up from the pleasant indolence into which the
long bright summer had steeped it, and responded animatedly to the
one pulse of vitality which kept it going. The hunting season began.
Old, otherwise dull men, started up into the semblance of youth
again, and sprang to their saddles with almost as much rigour and
alertness as boys,--and Reynard with his cubs ruled potently the
hour. The first 'meet' of the year was held at Ittlethwaite Park,--
and for days before it took place nothing else was talked of.
Hunting was really the one occupation of the gentry of the
district,--everything else distinctly 'bored' them. Many places in
England are entirely under the complete dominion of this particular
form of sport,--places, where, if you do not at least talk about
hunting and nothing BUT hunting, you are set down as a fool.
Politics, art, literature,--these matters brought into conversation
merely excite a vacuous stare and yawn,--and you may consider
yourself fortunate if, in alluding to such things at all, you are
not considered as partially insane. To obtain an ordinary reputation
for common-sense in an English hunting county, you must talk horse
all day and play Bridge all night,--then and then only will you have
earned admission into these 'exclusive' circles where the worth of a
quadruped exceeds the brain of a man.
The morning of the meet dawned dully--yet now and then the sun shone
fitfully through the clouds, lighting up with a cold sparkle the
thick ivy, wet with the last night's rain, which clung to the walls
of Walden's rectory. There was a chill wind, and the garden looked
bleak and deserted, though it was kept severely tidy, Bainton never
failing to see that all fallen leaves were swept up every afternoon
and all weeds 'kep' under.' But there was no temptation to saunter
down the paths or across the damp lawn in such weather, and Walden,
seated by a blazing fire in his study, with Nebbie snoozing at his
feet, was sufficiently comfortable to be glad that no 'parochial'
duties called him forth just immediately from his warm snuggery. He
had felt a little ailing of late--'the oncoming of age and
infirmity,' he told himself, and he looked slightly more careworn.
The strong restraint he had imposed upon himself since he knew the
nature of the scandal started by Lord Roxmouth, and the loyal and
strict silence he had maintained on the subject that was nearest and
dearest to his own heart, had been very trying to him. There was no
one to whom he could in any way unburden his mind. Even to his
closest friend, Bishop Brent, he had merely written the briefest of
letters, informing him that Miss Vancourt had left Abbot's Manor for
a considerable time,--but no more than this. He longed passionately
for news of Maryllia, but none came. The only person to whom he
sometimes spoke of her, but always guardedly, was Julian Adderley.
Julian had received one or two letters from Cicely Bourne,--but they
were all about her musical studies, and never a word of Maryllia in
them. And Julian was almost as anxious to know what had become of
her as Walden himself, the more so as he heard constantly from
Marius Longford, who never ceased urging him to try and discover her
whereabouts. Which request proved that, for once. Lord Roxmouth had
been foiled, and that even he with all his various social detectives
at work, had lost all trace of her.
On this particular morning of the opening of the hunting season,
Walden sat by the fire reading,--or trying to read. He was conscious
of a great depression,--a 'fit of the blues,' which he attributed
partly to the damp, lowering weather. Idly he turned over the leaves
of a first edition of Tennyson's poems,--pausing here and there to
glance at a favourite lyric or con over a well-remembered verse,
when the echo of a silvery horn blown clear on the wintry silence
startled him out of his semi-abstraction. Rising, he went
instinctively to the window, though from that he could see nothing
but his own garden, looking blank enough in its flowerless
condition, the only bright speck in it being a robin sitting on a
twig hard by, that ruffled its red breast prettily and blinked its
trustful eye at him with a friendly air of sympathy and recognition.
He listened attentively for a moment and heard the approaching trot
and gallop of horses,--then suddenly recalling the fact that the
hounds were to meet that day at Ittlethwaite Park, he took his hat
and went out to see if any of the hunters were passing by.
A wavering mass of colour gleamed at the farther end of the village
as he looked down the winding road;--scarlet coats, white vests and
buckskin breeches showed bravely against the satiny brown and greys
of a fine group of gaily prancing steeds that came following after
the huntsmen, the hounds and the whippers-in, and a cheery murmur of
pleasant voices, broken with an occasional musical ring of laughter,
dispersed for a time the heaviness of the rainy air. Something
unusually pleasant seemed to animate the faces of all who composed
the hunting train as they came into view,--Miss Arabella
Ittlethwaite, for example, portly of bulk though she was, sat in her
saddle with an almost mirthful lightness, her good-natured fat face
all smiles,--while her brother Bruce, laughing heartily over
something which had evidently tickled his fancy, looked more like
thirty than sixty, so admirably did his 'pink' become him, and so
excellently well did he ride. Walden saluted them as they passed,
and they gave him a pleasant 'good-day.' But,--what was that sudden
flash of deep purple, which the fitful sun, peering sulkily through
grey clouds, struck upon quickly with a slanting half-smile of
radiance? What--and who was the woman riding lightly, with uplifted
head like a queen, in the midst of the company, surrounded by all
the younger men of the neighbourhood who, keeping their horses close
on either side of her, appeared to be trying to outrival each other
in eager attentions, in questions and answers, in greetings and hat-
liftings, and general exchange of courtesies? Walden rubbed his
eyes, and gazed and gazed,-anon his heart gave a wild leap, and he
felt himself growing deadly pale. Had the portrait of 'Mary Elia
Adelgisa de Vaignecourt' in Abbot's Manor come visibly to life?--or
was it, could it be indeed,--Maryllia?
He would gladly have turned away, but some stronger force than his
own held him fast where he stood, stricken with surprise, and a
gladness that was almost fear. The swaying gleam of purple came
nearer and nearer, and resolved itself at last into definite shape,-
-Maryllia's face, Maryllia's eyes! Almost mechanically he half
opened his gate as all the hunters went trotting by, and she alone
reined in her mare 'Cleopatra' and spoke to him.
"How do you do, Mr. Walden!"
He looked up--and looking, smiled. What a child she was after all!--
full of quaint vanities surely, and naive coquetry! For her riding-
dress was the exact copy of that worn by her pictured ancestress
"Mary Elia,'--even to the three-cornered hat and the tiny rose
fastened in the bodice which was turned back with embroidered gold
revers,--so that the 'lady in the vi'let velvet' appeared before him
as it were, re-incarnated,--and the pouting lips, sweet eyes and
radiant hair were all part of the witch-glamour and mystery!
Mastering his thoughts with an effort, he raised his hat in his
usual quietly courteous way.
"This is a great surprise, Miss Vancourt!" he said, lightly, though
his voice trembled a little--"And a happy one! The villagers will be
delighted to see you back again! When did you return?"
"Last night,"--she answered, fixing her frank gaze fully upon him
and noting with a sharp little pang of compunction that he looked
far from well--"I felt I MUST be here for the first meet of the
season! I've been staying in an old convent on the Breton coast,--
such a dear quaint place! And I think,"--here she nodded her pretty
head wisely--"I THINK I've brought you enough stained glass to quite
finish your rose-window! I've been busy collecting it ever since I
left here. Gently, Cleo!--gently, my beauty!"--this, as her mare
pawed the ground restlessly and sprang forward--"Come and see me to-
morrow, Mr. Walden! I shall expect you!"
Waving her gloved hand she cantered off and rejoined the rest of the
hunters going on ahead. Once she turned in her saddle and looked
back,--and again waved her hand. The sun came out fully then, and
sweeping aside the grey mists, ehed all its brightness on the
graceful figure in the saddle, striking a reflex of rose from the
soft violet riding-dress, and sparkling against the rippling twists
of gold-brown, hair,--then,--as she disappeared between two rows of
leafless trees,--withdrew itself again frowningly and shone no more
Walden re-entered his house, hardly able to sustain the sudden joy
that filled him. He felt himself trembling nervously, and was angry
at his own weakness.
"I am more foolish than any love-sick boy!" he said to himself with
inward remonstrance--"And God knows I am old enough to know better!
But I cannot help being glad she has come home!--I cannot help it!
For with her presence it seems to me that 'the winter is past, the
rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, and the time
of the singing of birds is come'! She is so full of life and
brightness!-we shall know nothing of dull days or gloomy skies in
St. Rest if she stays with us,--though perhaps for me it might be
wiser and safer to choose the dull days and gloomy skies rather than
tempt my soul with the magical light of an embodied spring in
winter-time! But I shall be careful,--careful of myself and of her,-
-I shall guard her name in every way, on my side--and if--if I love
her, she shall never know it!"
He resumed his former seat by the study fire, and again took up his
volume of Tennyson. And opening the book at hazard, his glance fell
on that exquisite 'Fragment' which perhaps excels in its own way all
the 'Idylls of the King'--
"As she fled fast thro' sun and shade,
The happy winds upon her play'd,
Blowing the ringlet from the braid:
She look'd so lovely as she sway'd
The rein with dainty finger-tips.
A man had given all other bliss,
And all his worldly worth for this,
To waste his whole heart in one kiss
Upon her perfect lips."
"Quite true!" he said, as he read the lines half aloud, a tender
smile lighting up the gravity of his deep thoughtful eyes--"True to
the life, so far as the Guinevere of to-day is concerned! But let
the simile stop there, John, my boy! Don't carry it any further!
Don't deceive yourself as to your own demerits! You are nothing but
an old-fashioned country parson--a regular humdrum, middle-aged
fogey!--that's what you are!--so, even though you HAVE fallen in
love (which at your time of life is a folly you ought to be ashamed
of), don't for Heaven's sake imagine yourself a Lancelot, John!--it
Over the moist ground, and under the bare branches that dripped slow
tears of past rain, the brilliant hunting train swept onward,
Maryllia riding in the midst, till they came out on a bare stretch
of moorland covered with sparse patches of gorse and fir. Here they
all paused, listening to the cry of the huntsman in the bottoms, and
watching the hounds as they drew up wind.
The eyes of every man present wandered now and again to Maryllia in
admiration,--none of them had ever seen her look so lovely, so
bright, so entirely bewitching. She was always at her best in the
saddle. When she had paid her first visit to America with her uncle
and aunt as a girl of sixteen, she had been sent for the benefit of
her health to stay with some people who owned a huge Californian
'ranch,' and there she learned to ride on horses that were scarcely
broken in, and to gallop across miles and miles of prairie,
bareheaded to the burning sun, and had, in such pastime, felt the
glorious sense of that savage and splendid freedom which is the true
heritage of every child of nature,--a heritage too often lost in the
tangled ways of over-civilisation, and seldom or never regained. The
dauntless spirit of joyous liberty was in her blood,--she loved the
fresh air and vigorous exercise, and was a graceful, daring rider,
never knowing what it was to feel a single pulse of fear. Just now
she was radiantly happy. She was glad to be at home again,--and
still more glad that her plans for eluding the pursuit of Lord
Roxmouth had completely succeeded. He had been left absolutely in
the dark as to her whereabouts. His letters to her had been returned
unanswered, through her solicitors, who declined to make any
statement with regard to her movements, and, growing weary at last
of fruitless enquiry, he bad left England to winter in Egypt with a
party of wealthy friends, her aunt, Mrs. Fred Vancourt, being among
the number. She owed this pleasing news to Louis Gigue, who had
assisted her in her flight from the persecution of her detested
wooer. Gigue had, through his influence, managed to introduce her
under an assumed name, as a friend of his own to certain poor nuns
In a Brittany convent, who were only too willing to receive her as a
paying guest for a couple of months, and to ask no questions
concerning her. There she had stayed with exemplary patience and
resignation,--lonely indeed, yet satisfied to have made good her
escape for the time being, and, as she imagined, to have saved John
Walden from any possibility of annoyance chancing to him through
her, or by her means. She would not consent to have even Cicely with
her, lest any accidental clue to her hiding-place might be found and
As soon, however, as she heard that Roxmouth had actually left
England, she made haste to return at once to the home she had now
learned to love with a deep and clinging affection, and she had
timed her reappearance purposely for the first meet of the hunting
season. She would show herself, so she resolved, as a free and
independent woman to all the county,--and if people had gossiped
about her, or were prone to gossip, they would soon find out the
error of their ways. Hence the 'creation' of the becoming violet
velvet riding-dress, copied from the picture of her ancestress in
Abbot's Manor gallery. She had determined to make an 'effective'
entrance on the field,--to look as pretty and picturesque as she
possibly could, and to show that she was herself and nobody else,
bound to no authority save her own.
In this purely feminine ambition she certainly accomplished her end.
She was the centre of attraction,--all the members of the Riversford
Hunt dispersed round and about her in Hear or distant groups,
discussed her in low tones, even while watching the working of the
pack, and scanning every yard of open ground for the first sign of a
fox. Gradually the crowd of horses and riders increased,--men from
the county-town itself, farmers from the more outlying parts of the
neighbourhood, and some of the Badsworth Hall tenantry, having
arrived too late at Ittlethwaite Park for the actual meet, now came
hurriedly galloping up, and among these last was Oliver Leach. It
was the first time Maryllia had seen her dismissed agent since her
rescue of the Five Sister beeches, and she had thought of him so
little that she would not have recognised him now had not his horse,
a vicious-looking restive creature, started plunging close to her
own hunter 'Cleopatra,' and caused that spirited animal to rear
almost upright on her haunches. In the act of reining the mare out
of his way she looked at him, while he, in his turn stared full at
her in evident astonishment. As he appeared gradually to recognise
her identity, his face, always livid, grew more deeply sallow of
hue, and an ugly grin made a gargoyle of his mouth and eyes. She, as
soon as she recollected him, remembered at the same time the curse
he had flung at her--'a May curse,' she thought to herself with a
superstitious little shudder--'and a May curse always begins to work
in November, so the gossips say!'
Moved by an instinctive distrust and dislike of the man, she turned
her back upon, him, and patting Cleopatra's neck, cantered quickly
ahead to join the rest of the field which was now moving towards
another cover, while the hounds ran through some low thickets of
brushwood and tangled bracken.
She was in a curious frame of mind, and found her own emotions
difficult to analyse. The momentary glimpse she had just had of John
Walden had filled her with a strangely tender compassion. Why did he
look so worn and worried? Had he missed her? Had her two months and
more of absence seemed as long to him as they had to her? She
wondered! Anon, she asked herself why she wondered! What did it
matter to her what he thought, or how he passed his days? Then a
sudden rush of colour warmed her cheeks, and a light came into her
eyes. It DID matter!--there was no getting away from it,--it did
matter very much what he thought, and it had become of paramount
importance to her to know how he passed his days!
Deep in her heart a secret sweet consciousness lay nestled,--a
consciousness, subtly feminine, which told her that she was held in
precious estimation by at least one man,--and that she had advanced
towards her most cherished desire of love so far as to have become
'dear to someone else.' And that 'someone else'--who was he? Oh,
well!--nobody in particular!--only a country clergyman,--a poor
creature, so the world might say, to build romances upon! Yet she
was building them fast. One after the other they shaped themselves
like cloud-castles in the airy firmament of her dreams, and she
permitted herself to dwell on the possible joys they suggested. Very
simple joys too!--such as the completion of the rose-window in the
church of St. Rest,--he would be pleased if that were done--yes!--
she was sure he would be pleased!--and she had managed, during her
sojourn in Brittany, to secure some of the loveliest old stained
glass, dating from the twelfth century, which she meant to give him
to-morrow when he came to see her. To-morrow! What a long time it
seemed till then! And suppose he did not come? Well, then she would
go and see him herself, and would tell him just why she had gone
away from home, and why she had not written, to him or to anybody
else in the neighbourhood,--and then--and then---
Here she started at the sound of a sudden 'tally-ho!'--the hounds
had rallied--a fox was 'drawn,'--the whole field was astir, and with
a musical blast of the horn, the hunt swept on in a flash of scarlet
and white, black, brown and grey, across the moor. Maryllia gave
herself up to the excitement of the hour, and galloped along, her
magnificent mare 'Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt' scenting sport in the
wind and enjoying the wild freedom allowed her by a loose rein and
the light weight she bore. On, on!--with the wet chill perfume of
fallen leaves rising from the earth on which the eager hoofs of the
horses trampled,--on, always on, in the track of stealthy Reynard,
over dips and hollows in the ground and shallow pools fringed with
gaunt sedges and twisted brambles,--on, still on, crossing and re-
crossing lines of scent where the hounds appeared for the moment at
a loss, till they dashed off again towards the farther woods.
Putting her mare to a fence and clearing it easily, Maryllia crossed
a meadow, which she knew to be the shortest way to the spot where
she could just see the pack racing silently ahead,--and, coming out
on one of the high-roads between St. Rest and Riversford, she drew
rein for a moment. Several of the hunters had chosen the same short-
cut, and came out of the meadow with her, calling a cheery word or
two as they passed her and pressed on in the ardour of the chase.
Quickly resuming her gallop, and yielding to the exhilaration of the
air and the pleasure of movement, she urged her mare to a pace which
would have been deemed reckless by all save the most skilled and
daring riders, unaware of the unpleasant fact that she was being
closely followed by Oliver Leach. He rode about twenty paces behind
her, every now and then gaining on her, and anon pulling back his
horse in an apparent desire not to outstrip her. The rest of the
hunting party were well ahead, and they had the road to themselves,
with the exception of a fat man on a bicycle, who was careering
along in front of them, looking something like a ton on wheels.
Maryllia soon flew past this moving rotundity, and even if she had
had time to look at it, she would not have known that it was the
Reverend Putwood Leveson, as she had never seen that gentleman.
Catching a glimpse of the hounds, now racing round the edge of a
sloping hill, she galloped faster and faster,--while Oliver Leach,
with an odd set expression in his face and eyes, and his hat well
pulled down on his brows, followed her at an almost equally flying
speed. A ploughed field lay between them, and the smooth dark slope
of land edged with broken furze, where the pack could be plainly
seen racing for blood. A moderately low, straggling hedge
intervened. Such an obstacle was a mere trifle for 'Cleopatra, Queen
of Egypt' to clear, and Maryllia put her to it with her usual ease
and buoyancy. But now up came Oliver Leach on his ill-formed but
powerful beast;--and just as the spirited mare, with her lightly
poised rider on her back, leaped the hedge, he set his own animal at
precisely the same place in deliberate defiance of all hunting
rules, and springing at her like a treacherous enemy from behind,
closed on her haunches, and pounded straight over her! Maryllia
reeled in her saddle,--for one half second, her blue eyes wide with
terror, turned themselves full upon her pursuer--she raised her hand
appealingly--warningly--in vain! With a crash of breaking brushwood
the mare went down under the plunging hoofs that came thudding so
heavily upon her,--there was a quick shriek--a blur of violet and
gold hurled to the ground--and then,--then Leach galloped on--alone!
He dared not look back! His nerves throbbed--his heart beat high,--
and his evil soul rejoiced in its wickedness as only the soul of a
"Verdict--accidental death!" he muttered, with a fierce laugh--"No
doubt it will be thought singular that the daughter should have met
the same end as her father! And nothing more will be said. But
suppose she is not killed, since every cat has nine lives? No
matter, she will be disfigured for life! That will suit me just as
He laughed again, and passed on in the wake of the hunt which had
now swept far ahead round the bend of the hill.
Meanwhile, 'Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt,' rendered stunned and dizzy
by her fall, began to recover her equine senses. Sniffing the air
and opening her wild bright eyes, she soon perceived her loved
mistress lying flung about three yards distant from where she
herself had rolled over and over on the thick wet clod of the field.
With a supreme effort the gallant beast attempted to rise,--and
presently, with much plunging and kicking, in which struggles
however, she with an almost human intelligence pushed herself
farther away from that prone figure on the ground, so that she might
not injure it, she managed to stand upright, quivering in every
strained, sore limb. Lifting her head, she whinnied with a
melancholy long-drawn plaintiveness, and then with a slow, stiff
hobble, moved cautiously closer to Maryllia's fallen body. There she
paused and whinnied again, while the grey skies lowered and rain
began to ooze from the spreading leaden weight of cloud.
And now assistance seemed near, for the Reverend Putwood Leveson,
having had to lead his bicycle up a hill, and being overcome with a
melting tallow of perspiration in the effort, hove in sight like an
unwieldy porpoise bobbing up on dry land. Approaching the broken gap
in the hedge, he quickly spied the mare, and realised the whole
situation. Now was the chance for a minister of Christ to show his
brave and gentle ministry! He had a flask of brandy in his pocket,--
he never went anywhere without it. He felt it, where it was
concealed, comfortably pressed against his heart,--then he peered
blandly over the hedge at the helpless human creature lying there
unconscious. He knew who it was,--who it must be,--for, as he had
cycled through the village after the hunt had started, he had heard
everyone talking of Miss Vancourt's unexpected return, and how she
had been the 'queen' of the meet that morning. Besides, she had
passed him on the road, riding at full gallop. He wiped his forehead
now and smiled pleasantly.
"Queens are very soon discrowned!"--he said to himself--"And,
fortunately, vacant thrones are soon filled! Now if that sneak
Walden were here---"
He paused considering. The remembrance of the indignity he had
suffered at the hands of Julian Adderley was ever fresh with him,--
an indignity brought about all through the very woman who was now
perhaps dying before his eyes, if she was not already dead.
Suddenly, pushing his way through the broken hedge, he approached
'Cleopatra' cautiously. The malignant idea entered his brain that if
he could make the animal start and plunge, her hoofs would crush the
body of her mistress more surely and completely. Detestable as the
impulse was, it came quite naturally to him. He had helped to kill
butterflies often--why not a woman? The murderous instinct was the
same in both cases. He tried to snatch the mare's bridle-rein, but
she jerked her head away from him, and stood like a rock. He could
not move her an inch. Only her great soft eyes kindled with a
warning fire as he hovered about her,--and a decided movement of one
of her hind hoofs suggested that possibly he might have the worst of
any attempt to play pranks with her. He paused a moment,
"Oliver Leach came this way,"--he mused--"He passed me almost
immediately after she did. Is this his work, I wonder?" Here he drew
out his always greasy pocket-handkerchief and wiped his face with as
much tender care as though it were a handsome one--"I shouldn't be
surprised,"--he continued, in a mild sotto-voce--"I shouldn't be at
all surprised if he had arranged this little business! Clever--very!
Fatal accidents in the hunting-field are quite common. He knows
that. So do I. But I shall find out,--yes!--I shall find out---"
Here he almost jumped with an access of 'nerves'--for 'Cleopatra,
Queen of Egypt' suddenly stretched out her long arched neck and
whinnied with piteous, beseeching loudness. A pause of intense
stillness followed the mare's weird cry,--a stillness broken only by
the slow pattering of rain. Then from the near distance came the
baying of hounds and a far echo of the hunting horn.
Seized by panic, the Reverend 'Putty' scrambled quickly out of the
ploughed field, through the broken hedge and on to the high-road
again, where taking himself to his bicycle again, he scurried away
like a rat from falling timber. He had been on his way to Riversford
when he had stopped to look at the little fallen heap of violet and
gold,--guarded so faithfully by a four-footed beast twenty times
more 'Christian' in natural feeling than his 'ordained' clerical
self,--and he now resumed that journey. And though, as he neared the
town, he met many persons of the neighbourhood on foot, in carts,
and light-wheeled traps, he never once paused to give news of the
accident, or so much as thought of sending means of assistance.
"I am not supposed to have seen anything,"--he said, with a fat
smile--"and I am not supposed to know! I shall certainly not be
asked to assist at the funeral service. Walden will attend to that!"
He cycled on rapidly, and arriving at Riversford went to tea with
the brewer's wife, Mrs. Mordaunt Appleby, at Appleby Hall, and was
quite fatherly and benevolent to her son, a lumpy child of ten, the
future heir to all the malt, hops, barrels, vats, and poisonous
chemicals comprising the Appleby estates in this world.
The afternoon closed in coldly and mournfully. A steady weeping
drizzle of rain set in. Some of the hunters returned through St.
Rest by twos and threes, looking in a woeful condition, bespattered
up to their saddles with mud, and feeling, no doubt, more or less
out of temper, as notwithstanding a troublesome and fatiguing run,
the fox had escaped them after all. It was about five o'clock, when
Walden, having passed a quiet day among his books, and having felt
the sense of a greater peace and happiness at his heart than he had
been conscious of since the May-day morning of the year, pushed
aside his papers, rose from his chair, and, looking out at the
dreary weather, wondered if the 'Guinevere' of the hunt had got
safely home from her gallop across country.
"She will be wet through,"--he thought,--the tender smile that made
his face so lovable playing softly round his lips--"But she will not
mind that! She will laugh, and brush out her pretty hair all ruffled
and wet with the rain,--her cheeks will be glowing with colour, and
her lips will be as red as the cherries when they first begin to
ripen,--her eyes will be bright with health and vitality,--and life-
-young life--life full of joy and hope and brightness will radiate
from her as the light radiates from the sun. And I shall bask in the
luminance of her smile--I, cold and grey, like a burnt-out ember of
perished possibilities,--I shall warm my chill soul at the sweet
fire of her presence--I shall see her to-morrow!"
He went to the hearth and stirred the smouldering logs into a bright
blaze. He was just about to ring for fresh fuel, when there came a
sudden, alarmed knocking at the street door. Somewhat startled, he
listened, his hand on the bell. He heard the light step of Hester
the housemaid tripping along the passage quickly to answer the
imperative summons,--there was a confused murmur of voices--and then
a sudden cry of horror,--and a loud burst of sobbing.
"Whist--whist!--be quiet, be quiet!" said a hoarse trembling voice
which it was difficult to recognise as Bainton's; "For the Lord's
sake, don't make that noise, gel! Think o' Passon!--do'ee think o'
Passon! We must break it to 'im gently like---" But the hysterical
sobbing broke out again and drowned all utterance.
And still Walden stood, listening. A curious rigidity affected his
nerves. Something had happened--but what? His dry lips refused to
frame the question. All at once, he roused himself. With a couple of
strides across his little study he threw open the door and went out
into the passage. There stood Hester with her apron thrown over her
head, weeping convulsively--while Bainton, leaning against the ivied
porch entrance to ths house, was trembling like a woman in an ague
"What's the matter?" said Walden, in a voice of almost peremptory
loudness,--a voice that sounded harsh and wild on his own ears--
"What has happened?"
"Oh-oh--Oh-oh!" wailed Hester--"Oh, Mr. Walden, oh, sir, I can't
tell you! I can't indeed!--it's about Miss Vancourt--oh--poor dear
little lady!--oh-oh! I can't--I can't say it! I can't!"
"Don't ye try, my gel!"--said Bainton, gently--"You ain't fit
for't,--don't ye try! Which I might a'known a woman's 'art couldn't
abear it,--nor a man's neither!" Here he turned his pale face upon
his master, and the slow tears began to trickle down his furrowed
"Passon Walden,"--he began, in shaking accents--"Passon Walden, sir,
I'm fair beside myself 'ow to tell ye--but you're a brave man wot
knows the ways o' God an' 'ow mortal 'ard they seems to us all
sometimes, poor an' rich alike, an' 'ow it do 'appen that the
purttiest flowers is the quickest gone, an' the brightest wimin too,
for that matter,--an'--an'---" Here his rough halting voice broke
into a hoarse sob--"Oh, Passon, it's a blow!--it's a mortal 'ard
blow!--she was a dear, sweet lady an' a good one, say what they
will, an' 'ow they will--an' she's gone, Passon!--we won't never see
her no more!--she's gone!"
A swirling blackness came over Walden's eyes for a moment. He tried
to realise what was being said, but could not grasp its meaning.
Making a strong effort to control his nerves he spoke, slowly and
"Gone? I don't understand you,--I---"
Here, as he stood at the open doorway, he saw in the gathering dusk
of evening a small crowd of villagers moving slowly along the road.
Some burden was being carried tenderly between them,--it was like a
walking funeral. Someone was dead then? He puzzled himself as to who
it could be? He was the parson of the parish,--he had received no
intimation! And the hour was late,--they must put it off till to-
morrow! Yes--till to-morrow, when he would see Maryllia! Startled by
the sudden ghastly pallor of his master's face, Bainton ventured to
lay a hand on his arm.
"She was found two hours ago,"--he said, in hushed tones--"Up on
Farmer Thorpe's ploughed field--all crushed on the clods, an' no one
nigh 'er 'cept the mare. An' the mare was as sensible as a 'uman,
for she was a-whinnyin' loud like cryin' for 'elp--an' Dr. Forsyth
'e came by in his gig, drivin' 'ome from Riversford an' he 'ad his
man with 'im, so 'tween them both, they got some 'elp an' brought
'er 'ome--but I'm feared it's too late!--I'm awesome feared it's too
Walden looked straight down the road, watching the oncoming of the
"I think I begin to know what you mean," he said, slowly. "There has
been an accident to Miss Vancourt. She has been thrown--but she is
not dead! Not dead. Of course not! She could not be!"
As he spoke, he pushed aside Bainton's appealing hand gently yet
firmly and walked out bareheaded like a man in a dream to meet the
little ghost-like procession that was now approaching him nearly. He
felt himself trembling violently,--had he been called upon to meet
his own instant destruction at that moment, he would have been far
less unnerved. Low on the wet autumnal wind came the sound of men's
murmuring voices, of women's suppressed sobbing;--in the semi-
obscurity of fading light and deepening shadow he could discern and
recognise the figure of his friend the local doctor, 'Jimmy'
Forsyth, who was walking close beside a hastily improvised stretcher
composed of the boughs of trees and covered with men's coats and
driving-rugs,--and he could see the shadowy shape of 'Cleopatra,
Queen of Egypt,' being led slowly on in the rear, her proud head
drooping dejectedly, her easy stride changed to a melancholy limping
movement,--her saddle empty. And, as he looked, some nerve seemed to
tighten across his brows,--a burning ache and strain, as if a strong
cord stretched to a tension of acutest agony tortured his brain,--
and for a moment he lost all other consciousness but the awful sense
of death,--death in the air,--death in the cold rain--death in the
falling leaves--death in the deepening gloom of the night,--and
death, palpable, fierce and cruel in the solemn gliding approach of
that funeral group,--that hearse-like burden of the perished
brightness, the joyous innocence, the sunny smile, the radiant hair,
the sweet frank eyes--the all of beauty that was once Maryllia!
Then, unaware of his own actions, he went forward giddily, blindly
and unreasoningly---till, coming face to face with the little moving
group of awed and weeping people, all of whom halted abruptly at
sight of him, he suddenly stretched forth his hands as though they
held a book at arm's length, and his voice, tremulous, yet resonant,
struck through the hush of sudden silence.
"I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord: he that
believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and
whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die!"
A tragic pause ensued. Every face was turned upon him in tearful
wonder. Dr. Forsyth came quickly up to him.
"Walden!" he said, in a low tone--"What is this? What are you
saying? You are not yourself! Come home!"
But John stood rigidly inert. His tall slight figure, fully erect,
looked almost spectral in the mists of the gathering night. He went
on reciting solemnly,--
"I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the
latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet
in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine
eyes shall behold and not another!"
Here there was a general movement of consternation in the little
crowd. Parson Walden was beginning to read the burial service! Then
men whispered to one another,--and some of the women burst out
crying bitterly. Dr. Forsyth became alarmed.
"John!" he said, imperatively--"Rouse yourself, man! You are ill--I
see you are ill,--but I cannot attend to you now! Try not to delay
me, for God's sake! Miss Vancourt is seriously injured--but I MAY
save her life. She is not dead."
Something snapped like a broken harp-string behind Walden's
temples,--the horrible tension was relieved.
"Not dead--not dead?" he muttered--"Not dead? Forsyth, are you
His face changed and softened,--a sudden sweet moisture freshened
"Thank God!" he murmured.
Then he looked about him like a man suddenly wakened from sleep. He
was still unable quite to realise his surroundings or what he had
"Forgive me!" he said, pathetically--"I am afraid I have been a
trouble to you! I've been studying too much this afternoon,--and--
and--I don't know why I came out here just now--I'll--I'll go in.
Will you let me know how--how---"
Forsyth nodded comprehensively.
"You shall know everything--best or worst--to-morrow,"--he said--
"But now go in and lie down, Walden! You want rest!"
At an imperative sign from him, Walden obediently turned away, not
daring to look at the men that now passed him, carrying Maryllia's
senseless form back to Abbot's Manor, the beloved home from which
she had ridden forth so gaily that morning. He re-entered the still
open doorway of his rectory, wholly unconscious that his
parishioners, deeply affected by his strange and sudden mind-
bewilderment, were now all as anxious about him as they were about
Maryllia,--he was too dazed to see that the faithful Bainton still
waited for him on his own threshold, or that his servant Hester was
still crying as though her heart would break. He passed all and
everyone--and went straight upstairs to his own bedroom, where he
closed and locked the door. There, smiling down upon him was the
portrait of his dead sister,--and there too, just above his bed was
an engraving of the tragically sweet Head crowned with thorns, of
Guido's 'Ecce Homo.' On this his gaze rested abstractedly. His
temples ached and throbbed, and there was a dull cold heaviness at
his heart. Keeping his eyes still on the pictured face of Christ, he
dropped on his knees, clasped his hands, and tried to pray, but
could not. How should he appeal to a God who was cruel enough to
kill a bright creature like Maryllia in the very zenith and fair
flowering-time of her womanhood!--an innocent happy soul that had no
thought or wish to do anyone any harm! And then he remembered his
own reproaches to his friend Bishop Brent whom he had accused of
selfishness for allowing his life to be swayed by the memory of an
inconsolable sorrow and loss. 'You draw a mourning veil of your own
across the very face of God!' So he had said,--and was he not ready
now to do the same? Suddenly, like the teasing refrain of a haunting
melody, there came back to his mind the verse he had read that
"As she fled fast thro' sun and shade,
The happy winds upon her play'd,
Blowing the ringlet from the braid:
She look'd so lovely as she sway'd
The rein with dainty finger-tips.
A man had given all other bliss,
And all his worldly wealth for this,
To waste his whole heart in one kiss
Upon her perfect lips."
Over and over these rhymes went, jingling their sweet concord in his
brain,--till all at once the strong pressure upon his soul relaxed,-
-a great sigh escaped his lips--and with the sigh came the sudden
breaking of the wave of grief. A rush of scalding tears blinded his
eyes--and with a hard sob of agony his head fell forward on his
"Spare me her life, O God!" he passionately prayed--"Oh God, oh God!
And now a cloud of heavy sorrow and foreboding hung over the little
village. All its inhabitants were oppressed by a dreary sense of
helpless wretchedness and personal loss. Maryllia was not dead,--but
it was to be feared that she was dying,--slowly, and by inches as it
were, yet nevertheless surely. A great specialist had been summoned
from London by Dr. Forsyth, and after long and earnest consultation,
his verdict upon her case had been well-nigh hopeless. Thereupon
Cicely Bourne was immediately sent for, and arrived from Paris in
all haste, only to fall into a state of utter despair. For there
seemed no possible chance of saving the dear and valuable life of
her beloved friend and protectress to whom she owed all her
happiness, all her future prospects. And thus confronted with a
tragedy more dire and personal than any she had ever pictured in her
wildest imaginative efforts, she sat by Maryllia's bedside, hour
after hour, day after day, night after night, stunned by grief,
watching, weeping, and waiting for the least glimmer of returning
consciousness in that unconscious form which lay so terribly inert,
like a figure of life-in-death before her, till she became the mere
gaunt, little ghost of herself, her large melancholy dark eyes alone
expressing the burning vital anguish of her soul. A telegram
conveying the sad news of her niece's accident had been sent to Mrs.
Fred Vancourt at the Gezireh Palace Hotel, Cairo, to which, with the
happy vagueness which so often characterizes the ultra-fashionable
woman, Mrs. Fred had replied direct to Maryllia herself thus:
"So glad to know where you really are at last, but sorry you have
met with a spill. Hope you have a good doctor and nurses. Will write
on return from expedition to Luxor. Lord Roxmouth much regrets to
hear of accident and thinks it lucky you are back in your own home."
Of course this 'sympathetic' message was not read by its intended
recipient at the time of its arrival. Maryllia lay blind, deaf and
senseless to all that was going on around her, and for many days
gave no sign of life whatever save a faint uneasy breathing and an
occasional moan. Cicely was left alone to face all difficulties, to
receive and answer all messages and to take upon herself for the
time being the ostensible duties of the mistress of Abbot's Manor.
She bent her energies to the task, though she felt that her heart
must break in the effort,--and with tears blinding her eyes, she
told poor Mrs. Spruce, who was quite stupefied by the sudden crash
of misfortune that had fallen upon the household, that she meant to
try and do her best to keep everything going on just as Maryllia
would wish it kept, "till--till--she gets better,"--she faltered
sobbingly--"and you will help me, dear Mrs. Spruce, won't you?"
Whereupon Mrs. Spruce took the poor child into her motherly arms,
and they both cried and kissed each other, moved by the same common
The Manor was soon besieged with callers. Everyone in the county
flocked thither to leave cards, and express their sympathy for the
unfortunate mischance that had overtaken the bright creature who had
been the cynosure of all eyes for her beauty and grace on the
morning of the first fox-hunt of the year. All the ill-natured
gossip, all the slanderous tittle-tattle which had been started by
Lord Roxmouth and fostered by Miss Tabitha Pippitt, ebbed and died
away in the great wave of honest regret and kindly pity that
pervaded the whole neighbourhood. Even Sir Morton Pippitt, smitten
by compunction for certain selfish motives which had inspired him to
serve Lord Roxmouth as a willing tool, was an indefatigable, almost
daily enquirer as to Maryllia's condition, for though pompous,
blusterous, and to a very great extent something of a snob, his
nature was not altogether lacking in the milk of human kindness like
that of his daughter Tabitha. She, still smarting under the jealous
conviction that John Walden was secretly enamoured of the Lady of
the Manor, had heard the strange story of his having so far
forgotten his usual self as to wander out bareheaded in the evening
air and recite the commencement of the burial service like a man
distraught when Maryllia's crushed body had been brought home, and
she thought of it often with an inward rage she could scarcely
conceal. Almost,--such was her acrimony and vindictiveness--she
wished Maryllia would die.
"Serve her right!" she said to herself, setting her thin lips
spitefully together--"Serve her right!"
There are a great many eminently respectable ladies of Miss
Tabitha's temperament who always say 'Serve her right,' when a
pretty and charming woman, superior to themselves, meets with some
misfortune. They regard it as a just dispensation of Providence.
John Walden meanwhile had braced himself to face the worst that
could happen. Or rather, as he chose to put it, strength, not his
own, had been given him to stand up, albeit feebly, under the shock
of unexpected disaster. Pale, composed, punctilious in the
performance of all his duties, and patiently attentive to the needs
of his parishioners, he went about among them as usual in his own
quiet, sympathetic way just as if his heart were not crying out in
fierce rebellion against inexorable destiny,--and as if he were not
wildly clamouring to be near her whom, now that she was being taken
from him, he knew that he loved with an ardour far deeper and
stronger than with the same passion common to men in the first flush
of their early manhood. And though he sent Bainton every day up to
the Manor to make enquiries about her, he never went near the place
himself. He could not. Brave as he tried to be, he could not meet
Cicely Bourne. He knew that one look into the little singer's
piteous dark eyes would have broken him down completely.
Every night Dr. 'Jimmy' Forsyth came to the rectory with the latest
details respecting Maryllia's condition,--though for weeks there was
no change to report. She was suffering from violent concussion of
the brain, and was otherwise seriously injured, but Forsyth would
not as yet state how serious the injuries were. For he guessed
Walden's secret, and was deeply touched by the quiet patience and
restrained sorrow of the apparently calm, self-contained man who,
notwithstanding his own inward acute agony, never forgot a single
detail having to do with the poor or sick of the parish,--who
soothed little Ipsie Frost's bewildered grief concerning her 'poor
bootiful white lady-love,'--and who sat with old Josey Letherbarrow
by his cottage fire, trying as best he could to explain, ay, even to
excuse the mysterious ways of divine Providence as apparently shown
in the visitation of cruel affliction on the head of a sweet and
innocent woman. Josey was a little dazed about it all and could not
be brought to realise that 'th' owld Squire's gel' might never rise
from her bed again.
"G'arn with ye!" he said, indignantly, to the melancholy village
gossips who came in to see him and shake their heads generally over
life and its brief vanities--"Th' Almighty Lord ain't a pulin',
spiteful, hoppitty kicketty devil wot ain't sure of 'is own mind! He
don't make a pretty thing just to break it agin all for nowt! Didn't
ye all come clickettin' to me about the Five Sister beeches, an'
ain't they still stannin'? An' Miss Maryllia 'ull stan' too just as
fast an' firm as the trees,--you take my wurrd for't! She ain't
goin' to die! Why look at me--just on ninety, an' I ain't dead yet!"
But a qualm of fear and foreboding came over him whenever 'Passon'
visited him. John's sad face told him more than words could express.
"Ain't she no better, Passon?" he would ask, timidly and
And John, laying his own hand on the old brown wrinkled one, would
"No better, Josey! But we must hope,--we must hope always, and
believe that God will be merciful."
"An' if He ain't merciful, what'll we do?" persisted Josey once,
with tears in his poor dim eyes.
"We must submit!" answered John, almost sternly--"We must believe
that He knows what is wise and good for her--and for us all! And we
must live out our lives patiently without her, Josey!--patiently,
till the blessed end--till that peace cometh which passeth all
And Josey, looking at him, was awed by the pale spiritual serenity
of his features and the tragic human grief of his eyes.
One person in the neighbourhood proved himself a mainstay of help
and consolation during this time of general anxiety and suspense,
and this was Julian Adderley. He was always at hand and willing to
be of service. He threw his 'dreams' of poesy to the winds and
became poet in earnest,--poet in sympathy with others,--poet in
kindly thought,--poet in constant delicate ways of solace to the man
he had learned to respect above all others, and whose unspoken love
and despair he recognised with more passionate appreciation than any
grandly written tragedy. He had gone at once to the Manor on
Cicely's arrival there, and had laid himself, metaphorically so to
speak, at her feet. When she had first seen him, all oppressed by
the weight of her sorrow as she was, she had burst out crying,
whereat he had, without the slightest hesitation or embarrassment,
taken her in his arms and kissed her. Neither he nor she seemed the
least surprised at the spontaneity of their mutual caress,--it came
quite naturally. "It was so new--so fresh!" said Julian afterwards.
And from that eventful moment, he had installed himself more or less
at the Manor, under Cicely's orders. He wrote letters for her,
answered telegrams, drew up a formal list of 'Callers' and
'Enquiries,' kept accounts, went errands for the two trained nurses
who were in day and night attendance on the unconscious invalid
upstairs, and made himself generally useful and reliable. But his
'fantastic' notions were the same as ever. He would not, as he put
it, 'partake of food' at the Manor while its mistress was lying
ill,--nor would he allow any servant in the household to wait upon
him. He merely came and went, quietly to and fro, giving his best
services to all, and never failing to visit Walden every day, and
tell him all the latest news. He even managed to make friends with
the great dog Plato, who, ever since Maryllia's accident, had taken
up regular hours of vigil outside her bedroom door, regardless of
doctor and nurses, though he would move his leonine body gently
aside whenever they passed in or out, showing a perfectly
intelligent comprehension of their business. Plato every now and
again would indulge in a walk abroad with Julian, accompanying him
as far as the rectory, where he would enter, laying his broad head
on Walden's knee with a world of sympathy in his loving brown eyes,
while Nebbie, half-jealous, half-gratified, squatted humbly in the
shadow of his feathery tail. And John found a certain melancholy
pleasure in caressing the very dog Maryllia loved, and would sit,
thoughtfully stroking the animal's thick coat, while Adderley and
Dr. Forsyth, both of whom were now accustomed to meet in his little
study every evening, discussed the pros and cons of what was likely
to happen when Maryllia woke from her long trance of insensibility.
Would her awakening be to life or death? John listened to their
talk, himself saying nothing, all unaware that they talked merely to
cheer him and to try and put the best light they could on the face
of affairs in order to give him the utmost hope.
The weary days rolled on in rain and gloom,--Christmas came and went
with a weight and dullness never before known in St. Rest. Every
Sunday since the accident, Walden had earnestly requested the
prayers of his congregation for Miss Vancourt, 'who was seriously
ill'--and on Christmas Day, he gave out the same request, with a
pathetic alteration in the wording, which as he uttered it, caused
many people to sob as they listened.
"The prayers of this congregation," he said--"are desired for
Maryllia Vancourt, who has been much beloved among you, and whose
life is now in imminent peril!"
A chill seemed to strike through the church,--an icy blast far
colder than the wintry wind,--the alabaster sarcophagus in front of
the altar seemed all at once invested with a terrible significance,-
-death, and death only was the sovereign ruler of the world! And
when the children's choir rose to give the 'Hark the herald angels
sing, Glory to the new-born King'--their voices were unsteady and
fell out of tune into tears.
Maryllia was indeed in 'imminent peril.' She had become suddenly
restless, and her suffering had proportionately increased. At the
earliest symptom of returning consciousness, the attention of the
watchers at her bedside became redoubled;--should she speak, they
were anxious to hear the first word that escaped her lips. For as
yet, no one knew how she had come by her accident. None of the
hunters had seen her fall, and Bennett the groom, stoutly refused to
believe that the mare had either missed her jump, or thrown her
"She couldn't have done it,"--he declared--"And if she could, she
wouldn't! She's too sensible, and Miss Vancourt's too sure a rider.
Something's at the bottom of it all, and I'd give a good deal to
find out what it is, and WHO it is!"
Thus said Bennett, with many dark nods of meaning, and gradually the
idea that Maryllia had been the victim of foul play, took root in
the minds of all the villagers who heard him. Everyone in the place
was on the watch for a clue,--a whisper,--a stray suggestion as to
the possible cause of the mischief. But so far nothing had been
On the night before the last of the year, Maryllia, who had been
tossing uneasily all the afternoon, and moaning piteously, suddenly
opened her eyes and looked about her with a frightened air of
recognition. Cicely, always at hand with the nurse in attendance,
went quickly to the bedside in a tremour of hope and fear.
"Maryllia! Dearest, do you know me?"
She stared vaguely, and a faint smile hovered about her lips. Then
her brows suddenly knitted into a perplexed, pained frown, and she
said quite clearly--
"It was Oliver Leach!"
Cicely gave a little cry. The nurse warned her into silence by a
gesture. There was a pause. Maryllia looked from one to the other
"It was not Cleo's fault," she went on, speaking slowly, but
distinctly--"Cleo never missed. Oliver Leach took the hedge just
behind us. It was wrong! He meant to kill me. I saw it in his face!"
She shuddered violently, and her eyelids closed. "He was cruel--
cruel!" she murmured feebly--"But I was too happy!"
She drifted again into a stupor,--and Cicely, her whole soul
awakened by these broken words into a white heat of wrath and desire
for vengeance, left the room with sufficient information to set the
whole village in an uproar. Oliver Leach! In less than four-and-
twenty hours, the news was all over the place. The spreading wave of
indignation soon rose to an overwhelming high tide, and had Leach
shown himself anywhere in or near the village he would have stood an
uncommonly good chance of being first horsewhipped, and then
'ducked' in the river by an excited crowd. Oliver Leach! The hated,
petty upstart who had ground down the Abbot's Manor tenantry to the
very last penny that could be wrested from them!--who had destroyed
old cherished land-marks, and made ugly havoc in many once fair
woodland places in order to put money in his own pocket,--even he,
so long an object of aversion among them, was the would-be murderer
of the last descendant of the Vancourts! The villagers talked of
nothing else,--quiet and God-fearing rustics as they were, they had
no patience with treachery, meanness and cowardice, and were the
last kind of people in the world to hold their peace on a matter of
wickedness or injustice, merely because Leach was in the employ of
several neighbouring land-owners, including Sir Morton Pippitt.
Murmurs and threats ran from mouth to mouth, and Walden when he
heard of it, said nothing for, or against, their clamour for
revenge. The rage and sorrow of his own soul were greater than the
wrath of combined hundreds,--and his feeling was all the more deep
and terrible because it found no expression in words. The knowledge
that such a low and vile creature as Oliver Leach had been the
cause, and possibly the intentional cause of Maryllia's grievous
suffering and injury, moved him to realise for the first time in his
life what it was to be conscious of a criminal impulse. He himself
longed to kill the wretch who had brought such destruction on a
woman's beauty and happiness!--and it was with a curious sort of
satisfaction that he found himself called upon in the ordinary
course of things to read at evening service during the first week in
January, the Twenty-eighth Psalm, wherein David beseeches God to
punish the ungodly.
"Reward them according to their deeds, and according to the
wickedness of their own inventions!
"Recompense them after the work of their hands: pay them
that they have deserved!"
Such demands for the punishment of one's enemies may not be
'Christian,' but they are Scriptural, and as such, John felt himself
justified in pronouncing them with peculiar emphasis and fervour.
Meanwhile, by slow degrees, the 'imminent peril' passed, and
Maryllia came back to her conscious self,--a self that was tortured
in every nerve by pain,--but, with the return of her senses came
also her natural sweetness and gentleness, which now took the form
of a touching patience, very sad, yet very beautiful to see. The
first little gleam of gladness in her eyea awoke for Cicely,--to
whom, as soon as she recognised her, she put up her lips to be
kissed. Her accident had not disfigured her,--the fair face had been
spared, though it was white and drawn with anguish. But she could
not move her limbs,--and when she had proved this for herself, she
lay very still, thinking quietly, with a dream-like wonder and
sorrow in her blue eyes, like the wistfulness in the eyes of a
wounded animal that knows not why it should be made to suffer.
Docile to her nurses, and grateful for every little service, she
remained for some days in a sort of waking reverie, holding Cicely's
hand often, and asking her an occasional question about the house,
the gardens and the village. And January was nearly at an end, when
she began at last to talk connectedly and to enquire closely as to
her own actual condition.
"Am I going to die, Cicely?" she asked one morning--"You will tell
me the truth, dear, won't you? I would rather know."
Cicely choked back her tears, and smiled bravely.
"No, darling, no! You are better,--but--but you will be a long time
Maryllia looked at her searchingly, and sighed a little.
"What have they done with Cleo?" she murmured.
"Cleo is all right,"--said Cicely--"She was badly hurt, but Bennett
knows how you love her, and he is doing all he can for her. She will
never hunt again, I'm afraid!"
"Nor shall I!" and Maryllia sighed again, and closed her eyes to
hide the tears that welled up in them.
There was a dark presentiment in her mind,--a heavy foreboding to
which she would not give utterance before Cicely, lest it should
grieve her. But the next day, when Dr. Forsyth paid her his usual
visit, and said in his usual cheery way that all was 'going on
well'--she startled him by requesting to speak to him alone, without
anyone else in the room, not even the attendant nurse.
"It is only a little question I want to ask!" she said with the
faint reflex of her old bright smile on her face--"And I'm sure
you'll answer it!"
'Jimmy' Forsyth hesitated. He felt desperately uncomfortable. He
instinctively knew what her question would be,--a question to which
there was only one miserable answer. But her grave pleading glance
was not to be resisted,--so, making the best of a bad business, he
cleared the room, shut the door, and remained in earnest
conversation with his patient for half-an-hour. And at the end of
that time, he went out, with tears in his keen eyes, and a
suspicious cough catching his throat, as he strode away from the
Manor through the leafless avenues, and heard the branches of the
trees rattling like prison chains in an angry winter's wind.
The worst was said,--and when it was once said, it was soon known.
Maryllia was not to die--not yet. Fate had willed it otherwise. But
she was to be a cripple for life. That was her doom. Never again
would her little feet go tripping through the rose gardens and walks
of her beloved home,--never would her dainty form be borne, a
weightless burden, by 'Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt' through the
flowering woods of spring,--from henceforth she would have to be
carried by others up and down, to and fro, a maimed and helpless
creature, with all the physical and healthful joys of living cut
away from her at one cruel blow! And yet--it was very strange!--she
herself was not stricken with any particular horror or despair at
her destiny. When, after the doctor had left, Cicely came in,
trembling and afraid,--Maryllia smiled at her with quite a sweet
"I know all about myself now,"--she said, quietly--"I'm sorry in a
way,--because I shall be so useless. But--I have escaped Roxmouth
for good this time!"
"Oh my darling!" wept Cicely--"Oh my dear, beautiful Maryllia! If it
were only me instead of you!"
Maryllia drew the dark head down on the pillow beside her.
"Nonsense! Why should it have been you!" she said, cheerfully--"You
will be a delight to the world with your voice, Cicely,--whereas I
am nothing, and never have been anything. I shall not be missed---"
Her voice faltered a moment, as the thought of John Walden suddenly
crossed her mind. He would perhaps--only perhaps--miss her! Anon, a
braver and purely unselfish emotion moved her soul, and she began to
be almost glad that she was, as she said to herself, 'laid aside.'
"For now,"--she mused--"they can say nothing at all about him at MY
expense. Even Roxmouth's tongue must stop calumniating me,--for
though many people are very heartless, they do draw the line at
slandering a crippled woman! It's all for the best,--I'm sure it's
all for the best!"
And a serene contentment took possession of her,--a marvellous peace
that brought healing in its train, for with the earliest days of
February, when the first snowdrops were beginning to make their
white way through the dark earth, she was able to be moved from her
bed, and carried down to the morning room, where, lying on her
couch, near a sparkling fire, with a bunch of early flowering
aconites opening their golden eyes in a vase beside her, she looked
almost as if she were getting well enough soon to rise and walk
again. She was bright and calm, and quickly managed to impart her
own brightness and calmness to others. She summoned all the servants
of the household to her in turn, and spoke to them so kindly, and
thanked them so sweetly for the trouble and care they had taken and
were taking on her behalf that they could scarcely hide their tears.
As for poor Mrs. Spruce, who had nervously hesitated to approach her
for fear of breaking down in her presence, she no sooner made her
appearance than Maryllia stretched out her arms like a child, with a
smile on her face.
"Come and kiss me, Spruce!" she said, almost playfully--"and don't
cry! I'm not crying for myself, you see, and I don't want anyone
else to cry for me. You'll help to make the cripple-time pleasant,
won't you?--yes, of course you will!--and I can do the housekeeping
just the same as ever--nothing need alter that. Only instead of
running about all over the place, and getting in the way, I shall
have to keep still,--and you will always know where to find me.
That's something of an advantage, Spruce! And you'll talk to me!--oh
yes!--trust you for talking, you dear thing!--and I shall know just
as much about everybody as I want to,--there Spruce!--you WILL cry!-
-so run away just now, and come back presently when you feel better-
-and braver!" Whereat Mrs. Spruce had kissed her on the cheek at
her own request, and had caught her little hand and kissed that, and
had then hurried out of the room before her rising sobs could break
out, as they did, into rebellious blubbering.
"Which the Lord Almighty's ways are 'ard to bear!" she wailed. "An'
that they're past findin' out, no sensible person will contradict,
for why Miss Maryllia should be laid on 'er back an' me left to
stan' upright is a mystery Gospel itself can't clear! An' if I could
onny see Passon Walden, I'd ask 'im what it all means, for if
anybody knows it he will,--but he won't see no one, an' Dr. Forsyth
says best not trouble 'im, so there I am all at sea without a life-
belt, which Spruce bein' 'arder of 'earin' than ever, don't
understand nohow nor never will. But if there's no way out of all
this trouble, the Lord Himself ain't as wise as I took 'im for, for
didn't He say to a man what 'ad crutches in the Testymen 'Arise an'
walk'?--an' why shouldn't He say 'Arise an' walk' to Miss Maryllia?
I do 'ope I'm not sinful, but I'm fair mazed when I see the Lord
'oldin' off 'is hand as 'twere, an' not doin' the right thing as 'e
Thus Mrs. Spruce argued, and it is to be feared that 'not doing the
right thing' was rather generally attributed to 'the Lord,' by the
good folk of St. Rest at that immediate period. Most of them were
thirsting to try a little 'right' on their own account as concerned
Oliver Leach. For the whole story was now known,--though had
Maryllia not told it quite involuntarily in a state of semi-
consciousness, she would never have betrayed the identity of her
cowardly assailant. But finding that she had, unknowingly to
herself, related the incident as it happened, there was nothing to
be done on her part, except to entreat that Leach might be allowed
to go unpunished. This, however, was a form of ultra-Christianity
which did not in any way commend itself to the villagers of St.
Rest. They were on the watch for him day and night,--scouts
traversed the high road to Riversford from east to west, from north
to south in the hope of meeting him driving along to the town as
usual on his estate agency business, but not a sign of him had been
seen since the evening of the fox-hunt, when Maryllia's body had
been found in Farmer's Thorpe's field. Then, one of Adam Frost's
eldest boys had noticed him talking to the Reverend Putwood Leveson
at the entrance of the park surrounding Badsworth Hall, but since
that time he had not shown himself, and enquiries at his cottage
failed to elicit other information than that he was 'not at home.'
The people generally suspected him of being 'in hiding,' and they
were not far wrong.
One day, soon after her first move from her bedroom to the morning
room, and when she had grown in part accustomed to being carried up
and down, Maryllia suddenly expressed a wish to hear the village
"I should like the children to come and sing to me,"--she said to
Cicely--"You remember the hymn they sang on that one Sunday I went
to church last summer--'The Lord is my Shepherd'? You sang it with
them, Cicely,--and it was so very sweet! Couldn't they come up here
to the Manor and sing it to me again?"
"Of course they could if you wish it, darling!" said Cicely,
blinking away the tears that were only too ready to fall at every
gentle request proffered by her friend--"And I'm sure they will!
I'll go now and tell Miss Eden you want them."
"Yes, do!" said Maryllia, eagerly--"And, Cicely,--wait a minute!
Have you seen Mr. Walden at all since I've been ill?"
"No,"--replied Cicely, quietly--"He has not been very well himself,
so Dr. Forsyth says,--and he has not been about much except to
perform service on Sundays, and to visit his sick parishioners---"
"Well, I am a sick parishioner!" said Maryllia--"Why should he leave
Cicely looked at her very tenderly.
"I don't think he has left you out, darling! I fancy he has thought
of you a great deal. He has sent to enquire after you every day."
Maryllia was silent for a minute. Then, with her own quaint little
air of authority and decision, she said--
"Well!--I want to see him now. In fact, I must see him,--not only as
a friend, but as a clergyman. Because you know I may not live very
"Maryllia!" cried Cicely, passionately--"Don't say that!"
"I won't, if you don't like it!" and Maryllia smiled up at her from
her pillows--"But I think I should like to speak to Mr. Walden. So,
as you will be passing the rectory on your way to fetch Miss Eden
and the children, will you go in and ask him if he will come up and
see me this afternoon?"
"I will!" And Cicely ran out of the room with a sense of sudden,
inexplicable excitement which she could scarcely conceal. Quickly
putting on her hat and cloak, she almost flew down the Manor avenue,
regardless of the fact that it was raining dismally, and only
noticing that there was a scent of violets in the air, and one or
two glimmerings of yellow crocus peeping like golden spears through
the wet mould. Arriving at the rectory, she forgot that she had not
seen Walden at all since Maryllia's accident, and scarcely waiting
for the maid Hester to announce her, she hastened into his study
with startling suddenness. Springing from his chair, he confronted
her with wild imploring eyes, and a face from which ever vestige of
colour had fled.
"What is it?" he muttered faintly--"My God spare me!--she--she is
"No, no!" cried Cicely, smitten to the heart with self-reproach at
her own unthinking impetuosity--"No--no--NO! Oh what an utter idiot
I am! Oh, Mr. Walden, I didn't think--I didn't know--oh, dear Mr.
Walden, I'm so sorry I have alarmed you--do, do forgive me!---" And
she began to cry bitterly.
He looked at her vaguely for a moment,--anon his face relaxed, and
his eyes softened. Advancing to her, he took both her hands and
"Poor little Cicely!" he said, kindly--"So it is you, is it? Poor
dear little singer!--you have had so much anxiety--and I--" He broke
off and turned his head away. Then, after a pause, he resumed--"It's
all right, Cicely! You--you startled me just a little--I scarcely
knew you! You look so worn out, dear child, and no wonder! What can
I do to cheer you? Is she--is she still going on well?"
Cicely raised her dark, tear-wet eyes to his in a kind of wistful
wonder. Then she suddenly stooped and kissed the hands that held her
"Homage to a brave man!" she said, impulsively--"You ARE brave!--
don't contradict me, because I won't stand it!" She detached her
hands from his and tried to laugh. "Is she going on well, you ask?
Yes,--as well as she can. But--you know she will be a cripple--
Walden bent his head sadly.
"And it's all through those terrible 'Five Sister' beeches!" she
went on--"If Oliver Leach had been allowed to cut them down,
Maryllia would never have gone out to save them that morning, or
given the wretched man his dismissal. And he wouldn't have cursed
her, or tried to murder her!"
Walden shuddered a little.
"Then it is quite as much my fault as anybody else's, Cicely,"--he
said, wearily--"For I had something to do with the saving of the old
trees. At any rate, I did not exercise my authority as I might have
done to pacify the villagers, when their destruction was threatened.
I feel somehow that I my share of blame in the disaster."
"Nonsense!" snapped out Cicely, sharply, almost angrily--"Why should
you take the sins of everyone in the parish on. your shoulders?
Broad as they are, you can draw the line somewhere surely! You might
as well blame poor old Josey Letherbarrow. He was the one who
persuaded Maryllia to save the Five Sisters,--and if you were to
tell him that all the trouble had come through him, he'd die! Poor
old dear!" She laughed a trifle hysterically. "It's nobody's fault,
I suppose. It's destiny."
John sighed heavily.
"Of course," went on Cicely desperately--"Maryllia may live a long
time,--or she may not. She thinks not. And because she thinks not,
she wants to see you."
He started nervously.
"To see ME?"
"Yes. It's perfectly natural, isn't it? Isn't it your business to
visit the sick,--and---" He interrupted her by a quick gesture.
"Not dying,"--he said--"I will not have the word used! She is not
dying--she will not die! She shall not!"
His eyes flashed--he looked all at once like an inspired apostle
with the gift of life in his hand. Cicely watched him with a sudden
sense of awe.
"If you say so,"--she faltered slowly--"perhaps she will not. Go and
"Yes,--this afternoon. She has asked for the school children to come
and sing to her,--I shall try to get them about four. If you come at
five, she will be able to see you--alone."
A silence fell between them.
"I will come!" said John, at last.
"That's right! Good-bye till then!"
And with a glance more expressive than words, Cicely went.
Left to himself, John threw open his study windows, and stepping out
into his garden all wet with rain, made his way to its warmest
corner, where, notwithstanding inclement weather, the loveliest
sweet violets were thickly blossoming under his glass frames. He
began to gather them carefully, and massed them together in bunches
of deep purple and creamy white,--while Bainton, working at a little
distance off, looked up in surprise and gratification at the sight
of him. For it was many weary weeks since 'Passon' had taken any
interest in his 'forced blooms.' Nebbie, having got thoroughly
draggled and muddy by jumping wildly after his master through an
exceedingly wet tangle of ivy, sat demurely watching him, as the
little heap of delicately scented blossoms increased.
"The violets are doing wonderfully well this year, Bainton,"--he
presently said, with his old kind smile, addressing his gardener--"I
am taking these to Miss Vancourt this afternoon."
Bainton lifted his cap respectfully.
"God bless her!" he said,--"An' you too, Passon!"
And John, holding the fragrant bunch of small sweet flowers tenderly
in his hand, answered gently--
"Thank you, my friend! I hope He will!"
The rain cleared off in the afternoon and a bright glint of sunshine
shone through the slowly dispersing clouds, enabling the children of
the village choir to put on their best frocks and hats for the
important function to which Cicely had summoned them. There was
great excitement among these little people. That they should be
specially asked to sing to Miss Vancourt was to them an unexpected
and unprecedented honour, and filled them with speechless delight
and pride. They were all very shy and nervous, however, and it was
with quite a trembling awe that they scraped their feet on the
polished oak floors of the Manor, and dragged them hesitatingly and
timidly along into the morning room where Maryllia lay peacefully
resting, and awaiting their approach. Her nurses had attired her
freshly and becomingly, and had wrapped her in soft pale rose
cashmere with delicate ribbons of the same hue tying it about her,
while her lovely hair, loosely knotted on the top of her head, was
caught together by a comb edged with pink coral which gave just the
contrasting touch of colour to the gold-brown curls. She turned a
smiling happy face on the children as they entered, and to Miss Eden
and her young assistant, Susie Prescott, she held out her hand.
"It is so good of you to humour me in my fancy!" she said; "I loved
the little hymn you all sang on the Sunday I came to church with my
friends--don't you remember?--and I want to hear it again. I came in
late to service that day, didn't I?--yes!--it was so wrong of me!
But I should never do it again if I had the chance. Unfortunately we
are always sorry for our wrong-doings too late!" She smiled again,
and in answer to murmured words of sympathy from Miss Eden, and the
sight of tears in the eyes of Susie Prescott, made haste to say--"Oh
no!--I'm not in any pain just now. You need not think that. I am
just helpless--that's all. But I've got all my reasoning faculties
back, thank God!--and my sight has been spared. I can read and
write, and enjoy music,--so you see how many blessings are still
left to me! Will you ask the children to begin now, please? There is
not a piano in this room,--but Cicely will play the accompaniment on
the old spinet--it's quite in tune. And she will sing with you."
In another moment they were all grouped round the ancient instrument
of Charles the Second's day, and Cicely, keeping her hands well
pressed on the jingling ivory keys, managed to evoke from them
something like a faint, far-off organ-like sound. Falteringly at
first, and then more clearly and steadily, as Cicely's full round
voice assisted them, the children sang--
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me down to lie
In pleasant fields where the lilies grow,
And the river runneth by."
Maryllia listened, watching them. The declining sunlight, pale as it
was, shed luminance upon the awkward stumpy boys, and bashfully
shrinking girls, as with round, affectionate eyes fixed upon her,
they went on tunefully--
"The Lord is my Shepherd; He feedeth me,
In the depth of a desert land,
And, lest I should in the darkness slip,
He holdeth me by the hand.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,
My mind on Him is stayed,
And though through the Valley of Death I walk,
I shall not be afraid!"
Here, something like a sob interrupted the melody. Some one in the
little choir broke down,--but Cicely covered the break with a tender
chord, and the young voices rose above it.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; O Shepherd sweet,
Leave me not here to stray,
But guide me safe to Thy heavenly fold,
And keep me there, I pray!"
With each verse, the harmony grew sweeter and more solemn, till
Maryllia, lying back on her pillows with closed eyes through which
the tears would creep despite herself, began to feel earth very far
away and heaven very near. At the 'Amen,' she said:
"Thank you! That was beautiful! Do you mind singing the third verse
They obeyed, looking at Cicely for the lead.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want;
My mind on Him is stayed,
And though through the Valley of Death I walk,
I shall not be afraid!"
There was a silence.
"Now," breathed Cicely softly--"now the Amen!"
Full and grave came the solemn chord and the young fresh voices with
"A--men!" And then Cicely went up to Maryllia and bent over
"Are you pleased, dearest?"
She was very quiet. There were tears in her eyes, but at the
question, she smiled.
"Very pleased! And very happy! Take the children away now and give
them tea. And thank them all for me,--say I will see them again some
day when I am stronger--when I do not feel inclined to cry quite so
In a few minutes all the little scuffling shuffling feet had made
their way out of the room, and Maryllia was left to herself in the
deepening twilight,--a twilight illumined brightly every now and
again by the leaping flame of a sparkling log fire. Suddenly the
door which had just been closed after the children, gently opened
again, and Cicely entering, said in rather a tremulous voice--
"Mr. Walden is here, Maryllia."
Whereat she quickly disappeared.
Maryllia turned her head round on her pillows and watched John's
tall straight figure slowly approaching. A delicate, Spring-like
odour floated to her as he came, and she saw that he carried a bunch
of violets. Then she held out her hand.
"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Walden!"
He tried to speak, but could not. Without a word he laid the violets
gently down on the silk coverlet of her couch. She took them up at
once and kissed them.
"How sweet they are!" she murmured--"The first I have had given to
me this year!"
She smiled up at him gratefully, and pointed to a chair close beside
"Will you sit near me?" she said--"And then we can talk!"
Silently he obeyed. To see her lying there so quietly resigned and
helpless, nearly unmanned him, but he did brave battle with his own
emotions. He took her little offered hand and gently kissed it. If
to touch its soft smooth whiteness sent fire through his veins,
there was no sign of feeling in his face. He was grave and strangely
"I am grieved to see you like this---" he began.
"Yes, I am sure you are!" she quickly interrupted him--"But please
do not talk about it just now! I want to forget my poor crippled
body altogether for a little while. I've had so much bother with it
lately! I want to talk to you about my soul. That's not crippled.
And you can tell me just what it is and what I am to do with it."
He gazed at her in a kind of bewildered wonder.
"Your soul!"--he murmured,
"Yes." And a shadow of sad and wistful thought darkened her
features--"You see I may not live very long,--and I ought to be
properly prepared in case I die. I know you will explain everything
that is difficult to me,--because you seem to be sure of your faith.
You remember your sermon on the soul, when I came to church just
He bent his head. He could find no words with which to interrupt
"Well, I have often thought of it since,--and I have longed--oh, so
much!--to make a confession to you! But may I ask you one or two
His dry lips moved--and he whispered, rather than spoke--
"You may! But are you not distressing yourself about matters which--
which perhaps--could wait---?"
Her blue eyes regarded him with a wonderful courage.
"Dear Mr. Walden, I don't think I ought to wait,"--she said, very
earnestly--"Because really no one has ever done anything for me in a
religious sense,--and if I AM to die, you are the only person in the
world who can help me."
He tried to rouse his wandering, ebbing energies.
"I will do my best,"--he said, slowly--"My best, I mean, to answer
"You will?--As a clergyman, as a friend and an honest man?--yes, I
felt sure you would!" And she spoke with almost passionate
eagerness--"I will put you through your catechism, and you shall, if
you like, put me through mine! Now to begin with,--though it seems a
strange thing to ask a clergyman-do you really believe in God?"
He started,--wakened from his trance of mind by sheer amazement.
"Do I really believe in God? With all my soul, with all my heart, I
believe in Him!"
"Many clergymen don't,"--said Maryllia, gravely studying his face,--
"That is why I asked. You mustn't mind! You see I have met a great
many Churchmen who preach what they do not practise, and it has
rather worried me. Because, of course, if they really believed in
God they would he careful not to do things which their faith forbids
them to do."
He was silent.
"My next question is just as audacious as my first,"--she went on
after a pause--"It is this--do you believe in Christ?"
He rose from his chair and stood tenderly looking down upon her. His
old authoritative energy inspired him,--he had now recovered himself
sufficiently to be able to trample down his own clamorous personal
emotions for the time and to think only of his spiritual duty.
"I believe in Him as the one Divine Man ever born!" he said.
"Is that quite sufficient for orthodoxy?" And she looked up at him
with a half smile.
"Perhaps not! But I fear orthodoxy and I are scarcely the best of
friends!" he replied--"Must I really tell you my own private form of
"Ah yes!--please do so!" she answered gently--"It will help me so
He paused a moment. Then he said--
"I believe this,--that Christ was born into the world as a Sign and
Symbol of the life, death and destined immortality of each
individual human soul. Into the mystery of His birth I do not
presume to penetrate. But I see Him as He lived,--the embodiment of
Truth--crucified! I see Him dead,--rising from the grave to take
upon Himself eternal life. I accept Him as the true manifestation of
the possible Divine in Man--for no man before or after Him has had
such influence upon the human race. And I am convinced that the
faithful following of His Gospel ensures peace in this world, and
joy in the world to come!"
He paused, and drew nearer to her. "Will that suffice you?"
Her eyes were turned away from his, but he could see a sparkle as of
dew on her lashes.
"Sit down by me again,"--she said in a low uncertain voice--"You do
believe!--and now that I know this for certain, I can make my
confession to you."
He resumed his seat beside her couch.
"Surely you have nothing to confess--" he said, gently.
"Why yes, I have!" she declared--"I've not been good, you know!"
"Have you not?" But his voice trembled a little--"Well! I suppose I
must believe you--but it will be difficult!"
She looked down at the bunch of violets she held, and touched the
purple and white blossoms tenderly.
"I don't mean,"--she continued softly--"that I have been downright
wicked in a criminal sense. Oh no!--I haven't anything to confess
that way! What I mean is that I haven't been religious. Now please
let me go straight on and explain--will you?"
He made a slight gesture of assent.
"Well now, to begin with," she said--"of course when I was quite a
child, I was taught to say prayers, and I was taken to church on
Sundays just in the usual way. But I never could quite believe there
was anyone to listen to my prayers, and going to church bored me and
made me dreadfully sleepy. All the clergymen seemed to talk and
preach in exactly the same way, and they all spoke in the same sing-
song voice. I found it very dull and monotonous. I was told that God
lived up in the sky, and that He loved me very much and would take
care of me always,--but I never could make out why, if God loved me,
He should not tell me so Himself, without the help of a clergyman.
Because then I should have understood things better. I daresay it
was a very wicked idea,--but it used to come into my head like that,
and I couldn't help it. Then, everything in my life as a child came
to an end with a great crash as it were, when my father was killed.
I adored my father! He was always kind to me,--always tender!--he
was the only man in the world that ever loved me! And when he was
taken away suddenly from me like that, and I was told it was God's
will, I hated God! I did really! You know unless you are a born
angel, it is natural to hate anyone who takes away the dearest and
most beloved thing you have to live for, isn't it?"
John turned his head a little away, and looked straight before him
into the glowing embers of the fire. A deep sigh involuntarily
"I suppose it is natural!" he said, slowly--"But we must fight
against nature. We must believe that God knows best!"
Her eyes, blue as flax-flowers, turned towards him wistfully.
"You believe that?" she asked--"You are sure that God means
everything for the best, even when He makes you suffer for no fault
of your own?"
At this his heart was sorely troubled within him, but he answered
quietly and firmly--
"Yes! I am sure that God means everything for the best, even when He
makes me suffer for no fault of my own!"
His voice, always soft and mellow, dropped to a tenderer cadence,
as,--like a true servant of the Master he served,--he faithfully
asserted his belief, that even in personal sorrow, the Divine will
is always a Divine blessing.
A pause of silence ensued. Then Maryllia went on somewhat
"Well, I was wicked, you see! I could NOT believe that God meant it
for the best in killing my father! And I know that my father himself
never could understand that God was at all good in allowing my
mother to die when I was born. So that I was quite set against God,