Part 3 out of 12
Josey, I couldn't! It's eyes were like those of my Dearest. So I let
it live; an' I'll do my best by it, Josey,'--yes, them's the words
'e said--'I'll do my best by it!'"
Here Josey broke off in his narrative, and resumed his crawling
"You ain't finished, 'ave ye, Josey?" said Roger Buggins
propitiatingly, drawing closer to the old man. "It's powerful
interestin', all this 'ere!"
Josey halted again.
"Powerful interestin'? O' course it is! There ain't nobody's story
wot ain't interestin', if ye onny knows it. An' it's all six-an'-
twenty year agone now; but I can see th' owld Squire still, an' the
nurse walkin' slow up an' down by the border of the field, hushin'
the baby to sleep. And 'twas a good sound baby, too, an' thrived
fine; an' 'fore we knew where we was, instid of a baby there was a
little gel runnin' wild all over the place, climbin' trees, swannin'
up hay-stacks an' up to all sorts of mischief--Lord, Lord!" And
Josey began to chuckle with a kind of inward merriment; "I'll never
forget the day that child sat down on a wopses' nest an' got all 'er
little legs stung;--she was about five 'ear old then, an' she never
cried--not she!--the little proud spitfire that she was, she jes'
stamped 'er mite of a foot an' she sez, sez she: 'Did God make the
wopses?' An' 'er nurse sez to 'er: 'Yes, o' course, lovey, God made
'em.' 'Then I don't think much of Him!' sez she. Lord, Lord! We
larfed nigh to split ourselves that arternoon;--we was all makin'
'ay an' th' owld Squire was workin' wi' us for fun-like. 'I don't
think much o' God, father!'--sez Miss Maryllia, runnin' up to 'im,
an' liftin' up all 'er petticuts an' shewin' the purtiest little
legs ye ever seed; 'Nurse sez He made the wopses!' He-ee-ee-hor-hor-
A slow smile was reflected on the faces of the persons who heard
this story,--a smile that implied lurking doubt as to whether it was
quite the correct or respectful thing to find entertainment in an
anecdote which included a description of 'the purtiest little legs'
of the lady of the Manor whose return to her native home was so soon
expected,--but Josey Letherbarrow was a privileged personage, and he
might say what others dared not. As philosopher, general moralist
and purveyor of copy-book maxims, he was looked upon in the village
as the Nestor of the community, and in all discussions or
disputations was referred to as final arbitrator and judge. Born in
St. Rest, he had never been out of it, except on an occasional jaunt
to Riversford in the carrier's cart. He had married a lass of the
village, who had been his playmate in childhood, and who, after
giving him four children, had died when she was forty,--the four
children had grown up and in their turn had married and died; but
he, like a hardy old tree, had still lived on, with firm roots well
fixed in the soil that had bred him. Life had now become a series of
dream pictures with him, representing every episode of his
experience. His mind was clear, and his perception keen; he seldom
failed to recollect every detail of a circumstance when once the
clue was given, and the right little cell in his brain was stirred.
To these qualities he added a stock of good sound common sense, with
a great equableness of temperament, though he could be cynical, and
even severe, when occasion demanded. Just now, however, his
venerable countenance was radiant,--his few remaining tufts of white
hair glistened in the sun like spun silver,--his figure in its
homely smock, leaning on the rough ash stick, expressed in its very
attitude benevolence and good-humour, and 'the purtiest little legs'
had evidently conjured up a vision of childish grace and innocence
before his eyes, which he was loth to let go.
"She was took away arter the old Squire was killed, worn't she?"
asked Bainton, who was drinking in all the information he could, in
order to have something to talk about to his master, when the
opportunity offered itself.
"Ay! ay! She was took away," replied Josey, his smile darkening into
a shadow of weariness; "The Squire's neck was broke with Firefly--
every man, woman and child knows that about here--an' then 'is
brother came along, 'im wot 'ad married a 'Merican wife wi'
millions, an' 'adn't got no children of their own. An' they took the
gel away with 'em--a purty little slip of about fifteen then, with
great big eyes and a lot of bright 'air;--don't none of ye remember
Mr. Buggins shook his head.
"'Twas afore my time," he said. "I ain't had the 'Mother Huff'
more'n eight years."
"I seed 'er once," said Bainton--"but onny once--that was when I was
workin' for the Squire as extra 'and. But I disremember 'er face.''
"Then ye never looked at it," said Josey, with a chuckle; "or bein'
made man ye wouldn't 'ave forgot it. Howsomever, it's 'ears ago an'
she's a woman growed--she ain't been near the place all this time,
which shows as 'ow she don't care about it, bein' took up with 'er
'Merican aunt and the millions. An' she'd got a nice little penny of
'er own, too, for the old Squire left 'er all he 'ad, an' she was to
come into it all when she was of age. An' now she's past bein' of
age, a woman of six-an'-twenty,--an' 'er rich uncle's dead, they
say, so I suppose she an' the 'Merican aunt can't work it out
together. Eh, dear! Well, well! Changes there must be, and changes
there will be, and if the Five Sisters is a-comin' down, then
there's ill-luck brewin' for the village, an' for every man, woman
and child in it! Mark my wurrd!"
And he resumed his hobbling trudge, shaking his head dolefully.
"Don't say that, Josey!" murmured one of the women with a little
shudder; "You didn't ought to talk about ill-luck. Don't ye know
it's onlucky to talk about ill-luck?"
"No, I don't know nothin' o' the sort," replied Josey, "Luck there
is, and ill-luck,--an' ye can talk as ye like about one or t'other,
it don't make no difference. An' there's some things as comes
straight from the Lord, and there's others what comes straight from
the devil, an' ye've got to take them as they comes. 'Tain't no use
floppin' on yer knees an' cryin' on either the Lord or the devil,--
they's outside of ye an' jest amusin' theirselves as they likes.
Mussy on me! D'ye think I don't know when the Lord 'ides 'is face
behind the clouds playin' peep-bo for a bit, and lets the devil 'ave
it all 'is own way? An' don't I know 'ow, when old Nick is jes' in
the thick o' the fun 'avin' a fine time with the poor silly souls o'
men, the Lord suddenly comes out o' the cloud and sez, sez He: 'Now
'nuff o' this 'ere; get thee behind me!' An' then--an' then--," here
Josey paused and struck his staff violently into the earth,--"an'
then there's a noise as of a mighty wind rushin', an' the angels all
falls to trumpetin' an' cries; 'Alleluia! Lift up your 'eads ye
everlasting gates that the King of Glory may come in'!"
The various village loafers sauntering beside their venerable
prophet, listened to this outburst with respectful awe.
"He's meanderin'," said Bainton in a low tone to the portly
proprietor of the 'Mother Huff'; "It's wonderful wot poltry there is
in 'im, when 'e gives way to it!"
'Poltry' was the general term among the frequenters of the 'Mother
Huff' for 'poetry.'
"Ay, ay!" replied Buggins, somewhat condescendingly, as one who bore
in mind that he was addressing a creditor; "I don't understan'
poltry myself, but Josey speaks fine when he has a mind to--there's
no doubt of that. Look 'ee 'ere, now; there's Ipsie Frost runnin' to
And they all turned their eyes on a flying bundle of curls, rosy
cheeks, fat legs and clean pinafore, that came speeding towards old
Josey, with another young feminine creature scampering after it
"Ipsie! Hip-po-ly-ta! Baby! Come back to your dinner!"
But Hippolyta was a person evidently accustomed to have her own way,
and she ran straight up to Josey Letherbarrow as though he were the
one choice hero picked out of a world.
"Zozey!" she screamed, stretching out a pair of short, mottled arms;
"My own bootiful Zozey-posey! Tum and pick fowers!"
With an ecstatic shriek at nothing in particular, she caught the
edge of the old man's smock.
"My Zozey," she said purringly, "'Oo vezy old, but I loves 'oo!"
A smile and then a laugh went the round of the group. They were all
accustomed to Ipsie's enthusiasms. Josey Letherbarrow paused a
minute to allow his small admirer to take firm hold of his garments,
and patted her little head with his brown wrinkled hand.
"We'se goin' sweetheartin', ain't we, Ipsie," he said gently, the
beautiful smile that made his venerable face so fine and lovable,
again lighting up his sunken eyes. "Come along, little lass! Come
"She ain't finished her dinner!" breathlessly proclaimed a long-
legged girl of about ten, who had run after the child, being one of
her numerous sisters; "Mother said she was to come back straight."
"I s'ant go back!" declared Ipsie defiantly; "Zozey and me's
Old Josey chuckled.
"That's so! So we be!" he said tranquilly; "Come along little lass!
Come along!" And to the panting sister of the tiny autocrat, he
said: "You go on, my gel! I'll bring the baby, 'oldin' on jest as
she is now to my smock. She won't stir more'n a fond bird wot's
stickin' its little claws into ye for shelter. I'll bring 'er along
'ome, an' she'll finish 'er dinner fine, like a real good baby! Come
along, little lass! Come along!"
So murmuring, the old man and young child went on together, and the
group of villagers dispersed. Roger Buggins, however, paused a
moment before turning up the lane which led to the 'Mother Huff.'
"You tell Passon," he said addressing Bainton, "You tell him as 'ow
the Five Sisters be chalked for layin' low on Wednesday marnin'!"
"Never fear!" responded Bainton; "I'll tell 'im. If 'tworn't Sunday,
I'd tell 'im now, but it's onny fair he should 'ave a bit o' peace
on the seventh day like the rest of us. He'll be fair mazed like
when he knows it,--ay! and I shouldn't wonder if he gave Oliver
Leach a bit of 'is mind. For all that he's so quiet, there's a real
devil in 'im wot the sperrit o' God keeps down,--but it's there,
lurkin' low in 'is mind, an' when 'is eyes flashes blue like
lightnin' afore a storm, the devil looks straight out of 'im, it do
"Well, well!" said Buggins, tolerantly, with the dignified air of
one closing the discussion; "Devil or no devil, you tell 'im as 'ow
the Five Sisters be chalked for layin' low on Wednesday marnin'.
Good day t'ye!"
"Good day!" responded Bainton, and the two worthies panted, each to
go on their several ways, Buggins to the 'Mother Huff' from whose
opened latticed windows the smell of roast beef and onions, which
generally composed the Buggins' Sunday meal, came in odorous whiffs
down the little lane, almost smothering the delicate perfume of the
sprouting sweet-briar hedges on either side, and the nodding
cowslips in the grass below; Bainton to his own cottage on the
border of his master's grounds, a pretty little dwelling with a
thatched roof almost overgrown with wistaria just breaking into
Far away from St. Rest, the greater world swung on its way; the
whirl of society, politics, fashion and frivolity revolved like the
wheel in a squirrel's cage, round which the poor little imprisoned
animal leaps and turns incessantly in a miserable make-believe of
forest freedom,--but to the old gardener who lifted the latch of his
gate and went in to the Sunday dinner prepared for him by his stout
and energetic helpmate, who was one of the best dairy-women in the
whole countryside, there was only one grave piece of news in the
universe worth considering or discussing, and that was the 'layin'
low of the Five Sisters.'
"Never!" said Mrs. Bainton, as she set a steaming beef-steak pudding
in its basin on the table and briskly untied the ends of the cloth
in which it had been boiling. "Never, Tom! You don't tell me! The
Five Sisters comin' down! Why, what is Oliver Leach thinking about?"
"Himself, I reckon!" responded her husband, "and his own partikler
an' malicious art o' forestry. Which consists in barin' the land as
if it was a judge's chin, to be clean-shaved every marnin'. My
wurrd! Won't Passon Walden be just wild! M'appen he's heard of it
already, for he seems main worrited about somethin' or other. I've
allus thought 'im wise-like an' sensible for a man in the Church wot
ain't got much chance of knowin' the wurrld, but he was jes'
meanderin' along to-day--meanderin' an' jabberin' about a meek an'
quiet sperrit, as if any of us wanted that kind o' thing 'ere! Why
it's fightin' all the time! If 'tain't Sir Morton Pippitt, it's
Leach, an' if 'tain't Leach it's Putty Leveson--an' if 'tain't
Leveson, why it's Adam Frost an' his wife, an' if 'tain't Frost an'
his wife, why it's you an' me, old gel! We can get up a breeze as
well as any couple wot was ever jined in the bonds of 'oly
matterimony! Hor-hor-hor! 'Meek an' quiet sperrit,' sez he--'have
all of ye meek an' quiet sperrits'! Why he ain't got one of 'is own!
Wait till he 'ears of the Five Sisters comin' down! See 'im then! Or
wait till Miss Vancourt arrives an' begins to muddle round with the
"Nonsense! She won't muddle round with the church," said Mrs.
Bainton cheerfully, sitting down to dinner opposite her husband,
'What nesh fools men are, to be sure! Every-one says she's a fine
lady 'customed to all sorts of show and gaiety and the like--what
will she want to do with the church? Ten to one she never goes
"You shouldn't bet, old woman, 'tain't moral," said Bainton, with a
chuckle; "You ain't got ten to bet agin one--we couldn't spare so
much. If she doos nothing else, she'll dekrate the church at 'Arvest
'Ome an' Christmas--that's wot leddies allus fusses about--
dekratin'. Lord, Lord! The mess they makes when they starts on it,
an' the mischief they works! Tearin' down the ivy, scrattin' up the
moss, pullin' an' grabbin' at the flowers wot's taken months to
grow,--for all the wurrld as if they was cats out for a 'oliday. I
tell ye it's been a speshel providence for us 'ere, that Passon
Walden ain't got no wife,--if he 'ad, she'd a been at the dekratin'
game long afore now. Our church would be jes' spoilt with a lot o'
trails o' weed round it--but you mark my wurrd!--Miss Vancourt will
be dekratin' the Saint in the coffin at 'Arvest 'Ome wi' corn and
pertaters an' vegetable marrers, all a-growin' and a-blowin' afore
we knows it. There ain't no sense o' fitness in the feminine natur!"
Mrs. Bainton laughed good-naturedly.
"That's quite true!" she agreed; "If there were, I shouldn't have
made Sunday pudding for a man who talks too much to eat it while
it's hot. Keep your tongue in your mouth, Tom!--use it for tastin'
jes' now an' agin!"
Bainton took the hint and subsided into silent enjoyment of his
food. Only once again he spoke in the course of the meal, and that
was during the impressive pause between pudding and cheese.
"When he knows as 'ow the Five Sisters be chalked, Passon Walden's
sure to do somethin'," he said.
"Ay!" responded his wife thoughtfully; "he's sure to do something."
"What d'ye think he'll do?" queried Bainton, somewhat anxiously.
"Oh, you know best, Tom," replied his buxom partner, setting a
flat Dutch cheese before him and a jug of foaming beer; "There ain't
no sense o' fitness in ME, bein' a woman! You know best!"
Bainton lowered his eyes sheepishly. As usual his better half had
closed the argument unanswerably.
Seldom in the placid course of years had St. Rest ever belied its
name, or permitted itself to suffer loss of dignity by any undue
display of excitement. The arrival of John Walden as minister of the
parish,--the re-building of the church, and the discovery of the
medieval sarcophagus, which old Josey Letherbarrow always called the
Sarky Fagus, together with the consecration ceremony by Bishop
Brent,--were the only episodes in ten years that had moved it
slightly from its normal calm. For though rumours of wars and
various other mishaps and tribulations, reached it through the
medium of the newspapers in the ordinary course, it concerned itself
not at all with these, such matters being removed and apart from its
own way of life and conduct. It was a little world in itself, and
had only the vaguest interest in any other world, save perhaps the
world to come, which was indeed a very real prospect to most of the
villagers, their inherited tendency being towards a quaint and
simple piety that was as childlike as it was sincere. The small
congregation to which John Walden preached twice every Sunday was
composed of as honest men and clean-minded women as could be found
in all England,--men and women with straight notions of honour and
duty, and warm, if plain, conceptions of love, truth and family
tenderness. They had their little human failings and weaknesses,
thanks to Mother Nature, whose children we all are, and who sets her
various limitations for the best of us,--but, taken on the whole,
they were peculiarly unspoilt by the iconoclastic march of progress;
and 'advanced' notions of doubt as to a God, and scepticism as to a
future state, had never clouded their quiet minds. Walden had taken
them well in hand from the beginning of his ministry,--and being
much of a poet and dreamer at heart, he had fostered noble ideals
among them, which he taught in simple yet attractive language, with
the happiest results. The moral and mental attitude of the villagers
generally was a philosophic cheerfulness and obedience to the will
of God,--but this did not include a tame submission to tyranny, or a
passive acceptance of injury inflicted upon them by merely human
Hence,--though any disturbance of the daily equanimity of their
agricultural life and pursuits was quite an exceptional
circumstance, the news of the 'layin' low of the Five Sisters' was
sufficient cause, when once it became generally known, for visible
signs of trouble. In its gravity and importance it almost overtopped
the advent of the new mistress of the Manor; and when on Tuesday it
was whispered that 'Passon Walden' had himself been to expostulate
with Oliver Leach concerning the meditated murder of the famous
trees, and that his expostulations had been all in vain, clouded
brows and ominous looks were to be seen at every corner where the
men halted on their way to the fields, or where the women gathered
to gossip in the pauses of their domestic labour. Walden himself,
pacing impatiently to and fro in his garden, was for once more
disturbed in his mind than he cared to admit. When he had been told
early on Monday morning of the imminent destruction awaiting the
five noble beeches which, in their venerable and broadly-branching
beauty, were one of the many glories of the woods surrounding
Abbot's Manor, he was inclined to set it down to some capricious
command issued by the home-coming mistress of the estate; and, in
order to satisfy himself whether this was, or was not the case, he
had done what was sorely against his own sense of dignity to do,--he
had gone at once to interview Oliver Leach personally on the
subject. But he had found that individual in the worst of all
possible moods for argument, having been, as he stated, passed over'
by Miss Vancourt. That lady had not, he said, written to inform him
of her intended return, therefore,--so he argued,--it was not his
business to be aware of it.
"Miss Vancourt hasn't told me anything, and of course I don't know
anything," he said carelessly, standing in his doorway and keeping
his hat on in the minister's presence; "My work is on the land, and
when timber has to be felled it's my affair and nobody else's. I've
been agent on these estates since the Squire's death, and I don't
want to be taught my duty by any man."
"But surely your duty does not compel you to cut down five of the
finest old trees in England," said Walden, hotly,--"They have been
famous for centuries in this neighbourhood. Have you any right to
fell them without special orders?"
"Special orders?" echoed Leach with a sneer; "I've had no 'special
order' for ten years at least! My employers trust me to do what I
think best, and I've every right to act accordingly. The trees will
begin to rot in another eighteen months or so,--just now they're in
good condition and will fetch a fair price. You stick to your
church, Parson Walden,--you know all about that, no doubt!--but
don't come preaching to me about the felling of timber. That's my
Walden flushed, and bit his lip. His blood grew warm with
indignation, and he involuntarily clenched his fist. But he
suppressed his rising wrath with an effort.
"You may as well keep a civil tongue in your head, Mr. Leach--it
will do you no harm!" he said quietly; "I have no wish to interfere
with what you conceive to be your particular mode of duty, but I
think that before you destroy what can never be replaced, you should
consult the owner of the trees, Miss Vancourt, especially as her
return is fixed for to-morrow."
"As I told you before, I know nothing about her return," replied
Leach, obstinately; "I am not supposed to know. And whether she's
here or away, makes no difference to me. I know what's to be done,
and I shall do it."
Walden's eyes flashed. Strive as he would, he could not disguise his
inward contempt for this petty jack-in-office,--and his keen glance
was, to the perverse nature of the ill-conditioned boor he
addressed, like the lash of a whip on the back of a snarling cur.
"I know what's to be done, and I shall do it," Leach repeated in a
louder tone; "And all the sentimental rot ever talked in the village
about the Five Sisters won't make me change my mind,--no, nor all
the sermons on meek and quiet spirits neither! That's my last word,
Mr. Walden, and you may take it for what it is worth!"
Walden swung round on his heel and went his way without replying.
Outwardly, he was calm enough, but inwardly he was in a white heat
of anger. His thoughts dwelt with a passionate insistence on the
grand old trees with their great canopies of foliage, where hundreds
of happy birds annually made their homes,--where, with every
recurring Spring, the tender young leaves sprouted forth from the
aged gnarled boughs, expressing the joy of a life that had outlived
whole generations of men--where, in the long heats of summer broad
stretches of shade lay dense on the soft grass, offering grateful
shelter from the noon-day sun to the browsing cattle,--and where
with the autumn's breath, the slow and glorious transformation of
green leaves to gold, with flecks of scarlet between, made a
splendour of colour against the pale grey-blue sky, such as artists
dream of and with difficulty realise. All this wealth of God-granted
natural beauty,--the growth of centuries,--was to perish in a single
morning! Surely it was a crime!--surely it was a wicked and wanton
deed, for which, there could be no sane excuse offered! Sorrowfully,
and with bitterness, did Walden relate to his gardener, Bainton, the
failure of his attempt to bring Oliver Leach to reason,--solemnly,
and in subdued silence did Bainton hear the tale.
"Well, well, Passon," he said, when his master had finished; "You
doos your best for us, and no man can't say but what you've done it
true ever since you took up with this 'ere village,--and you've
tried to save the Five Sisters, and if 'tain't no use, why there's
no more to be said. Josey Letherbarrow was for walkin' up to the
Manor an' seein' Miss Vancourt herself, as soon as iver she gets
within her own door,--but Lord love ye, he'd take 'arf a day to jog
up there on such feet as he's got left after long wear and tear, an'
there ain't no liftin' 'im into a cart nohow. Sez he to me: 'I'll
see the little gel wot I used to know, and I'll tell 'er as 'ow the
Five Sisters be chalked, an' she'll listen to me--you see if she
don't!' I was rather took with the idee myself, but I sez, sez I: 'Let
alone, Josey,--you be old as Methusaleh, and you can't get up to
the Manor nohow; let Passon try what he can do wi' Leach,'--and now
you've been and done your best, and can't do nothin', why we must
give it up altogether."
Walden walked up and down, Ms hands loosely clasped behind his back,
lost in thought.
"We won't give it up altogether, Bainton," he said; "We'll try and
find some other way--"
"There's goin' to be another way," declared Bainton, significantly;
"There's trouble brewin' in the village, an' m'appen when Oliver
Leach gets up to the woods to-morrow mornin' he'll find a few ready
to meet 'im!"
Walden stopped abruptly.
"What do you mean?"
"'Tain't for me to say;" and Bainton pretended to be very busy in
pulling up one or two plantains from the lawn; "But I tells ye true,
Passon, the Five Sisters ain't goin' to be laid low without a
John's eyes sparkled. He scented battle, and was not by any means
"This is Tuesday, isn't it?" he asked abruptly; "This is the day
Miss Vancourt has arranged to return?"
"It is so, sir," replied Bainton; "and it's believed the
arrangements 'olds good--for change'er mind as a woman will, 'er
'osses an' groom's arrived--and a dog as large as they make 'em,
which 'is name is Plato."
Walden gave a slight gesture of annoyance. Here was a fresh cause of
antipathy to the approaching Miss Vancourt. No one but a careless
woman, devoid of all taste and good feeling, would name a dog after
the greatest of Greek philosophers!
"Plato's a good name," went on Bainton meditatively, unconscious of
the view his master was taking of that name in his own mind; "I've
'eard it somewheres before, though I couldn't tell just where. And
it's a fine dog. I was up at the Manor this mornin' lookin' round
the grounds, just to see 'ow they'd been a-gettin' on--and really it
isn't so bad considerin', and I was askin' a question or two of
Spruce, and he showed me the dog lyin' on the steps of the Manor,
lookin' like a lion's baby snoozin' in the sun, and waitin' as wise
as ye like for his mistress. He don't appear at all put out by new
faces or new grounds--he's took to the place quite nat'ral."
"You saw Spruce early, then?"
"Yes, sir, I see Spruce, and arter 'ollerin' 'ard at 'im for 'bout
ten minutes, he sez, sez he, as gentle as a child sez he: 'Yes, the
Five Sisters is a-comin' down to-morrow mornin', and we's all to be
there a quarter afore six with ropes and axes.'"
John started walking up and down again.
"When is Miss Vancourt expected?" he enquired.
"At tea-time this arternoon," replied Bainton. "The train arrives at
Riversford at three o'clock, if so be it isn't behind its time,--and
if the lady gets a fly from the station, which if she ain't ordered
it afore, m'appen she won't get it, she'll be 'ere 'bout four."
Instinctively Walden glanced at his watch. It was just two o'clock.
Another hour and the antipathetic 'Squire-ess' would be actually on
her way to the village! He heaved a short sigh. Forebodings of evil
infected the air,--impending change, disturbing and even disastrous
to St. Rest suggested itself troublously to his mind. Arguing
inwardly with himself, he presently began to think that
notwithstanding all his attempts to live a Christian life, after the
manner Christianly, he was surely becoming a very selfish and
extremely narrow-minded man! He was unreasonably, illogically vexed
at the return of the heiress of Abbot's Manor; and why? Why, chiefly
because he would no longer be able to walk at liberty in Abbot's
Manor gardens and woods,--because there would be another personality
perhaps more dominant than his own in the little village, and
because--yes!--because he had a particular aversion to women of
fashion, such as Miss Vancourt undoubtedly must be, to judge from
the brief exhibition of her wardrobe which, through the
guilelessness of Mrs. Spruce, had been displayed before his
These objections were after all, so he told himself, really rooted
in masculine selfishness,--the absorbing selfishness of old
bachelorhood, which had grown round him like a shell, shutting him
out altogether from the soft influences of feminine attraction,--so
much so indeed that he had even come to look upon his domestic
indoor servants as obliging machines rather than women,--machines
which it was necessary to keep well oiled with food and wages, but
which could scarcely be considered as entering into his actual life
more than the lawn-mower or the roasting-jack. Yet he was invariably
kind to all his dependants,--invariably thoughtful of all their
needs,--nevertheless he maintained a certain aloofness from them,
not only because he was by nature reserved, but because he judged
reserve necessary in order to uphold respect. In sickness or
trouble, no one could be more quietly helpful or consolatory than
he; and in the company of children he threw off all restraint and
was as a child himself in the heartiness and spontaneity of his
mirth and good humour,--but with all women, save the very aged and
matronly, he generally found himself at a loss, uncertain what to
say to them, and equally uncertain as to how far he might accept or
believe what they said to him. The dark eyes of a sparkling brunette
embarrassed him as much as the dreamy blue orbs of a lily-like
blonde,--they were curious dazzlements that got into his way at
times, and made him doubtful as to whether any positive sincerity
ever could or ever would lurk behind such bewildering brief flashes
of light which appeared to shine forth without meaning, and vanish
again without result. And in various ways,--he now began to think,--
he must certainly have grown inordinately, outrageously selfish!--
his irritation at the prospective return of Miss Vancourt proved it.
He determined to brace himself together and put the lurking devil of
"Put it down!" he said inwardly and with sternness,--"put it down--
trample it under foot, John, my boy! The lady of the Manor is
perhaps sent here to try your patience and prove the stuff that is
in you! She is no child,--she is twenty-seven years of age--a full
grown woman,--she will have her ways, just as you have yours,--she
will probably rub every mental and moral hair on the skin of your
soul awry,--but that is really just what you want, John,--you do
indeed! You want something more irritating than Sir Morton Pippitt's
senile snobberies to keep you clean of an overgrowth or an
undergrowth of fads! Your powers of endurance are about to be put to
the test, and you must come out strong, John! You must not allow
yourself to become a querulous old fellow because you cannot always
do exactly as you like!"
He smiled genially at his own mental scolding of himself, and
addressing Bainton once more, said:
"I shall probably write a note to Miss Vancourt this afternoon, and
send you up with it. I shall tell her all about the Five Sisters,
and ask her to give orders that the cutting down of the trees may be
delayed till she has seen them for herself. But don't say anything
about this in the village," here he paused a moment, and then spoke
with greater emphasis--"I don't want to interfere with anything
anybody else may have on hand. Do you understand? We must save the
old beeches somehow. I will do my best, but I may fail; Miss
Vancourt may not read my letter, or if she does, she may not be
disposed to attend to it; it is best that all ways and means should
He broke off,--but his eyes met Bainton's in a mutual flash of
"You're a straight man, Passon, and no mistake," observed Bainton
with a slow smile; "No beatin' about the bush in the likes o' you!
Lord, Lord! What a mussy we ain't saddled with a poor snuffling,
addle-pated, whimperin' man o' God like we 'ad afore you come 'ere--
what found all 'is dooty an' pleasure in dinin' with Sir Morton
Pippitt up at the 'All! And when there was a man died, or a baby
born, or some other sich like calamity in the village, he worn't
never to 'and to 'elp,-but he would give a look in when it was all
over, and then he sez, sez he: 'I'm sorry, my man, I wasn't 'ere to
comfort ye, but I was up at the 'All.' And he did roll it round and
round in his mouth like as 'twas a lump o' butter and 'oney--'up at
the 'All'! Hor-hor-hor! It must a' tasted sweet to 'im as we used to
say,--and takin' into consideration that Sir Morton was a bone-
melter by profession, we used to throw up the proverb 'the nearer
the bone, the sweeter the meat'--not that it had any bearin' on the
matter, but a good sayin's a good thing, and a proverb fits into a
fancy sometimes better'n a foot into a shoe. But you ain't a
snuffler, Passon!--and you ain't never been up at the 'All, nor
wouldn't go if you was axed to, and that's one of the many things
what makes you a gineral favourite,--it do reely now!"
Walden smiled, but forbore to continue conversation on this somewhat
personal theme. He retired into his own study, there to concoct the
stiffest, most clerical, and most formal note to Miss Vancourt that
he could possibly devise. He had the very greatest reluctance to
attempt such a task, and sat with a sheet of notepaper before him
for some time, staring at it without formulating any commencement.
Then he began: "The Rev. John Walden presents his compliments to
Miss Vancourt, and begs to inform her--"
No, that would never do! 'Begs to inform her' sounded almost
threatening. The Rev. John Walden might 'beg to inform her' that she
had no business to wear pink shoes with high heels, for example. He
destroyed one half sheet of paper, put the other half economically
aside to serve as a stray leaflet for 'church memoranda,' and
commenced in a different strain.
"Dear Madam!" He looked at the two words in some annoyance. They
were very ugly. Addressed to a person who wore pink shoes, they
seemed singularly abrupt. And if Miss Vancourt should chance to
resemble in the least her ancestress, Mary Elia Adelgisa de
Vaignecourt, they were wholly unsuitable. A creditor might write
'Dear Madam' to a customer in application for an outstanding bill,--
but to Mary Elia Adelgisa one would surely begin,--Ah!--now how
would one begin? He paused, biting the end of his penholder. Another
half sheet of notepaper was wasted, and equally another half sheet
devoted to 'church memoranda.' Then he began:
"Dear Miss Vancourt,"
At this, he threw down his pen altogether. Too familiar! By all the
gods of Greece, whom he had almost believed in even while studying
Divinity at Oxford, a great deal too familiar!
"It is just as if I knew her!" he said to himself in vexation. "And
I don't know her! And what's more, I don't want to know her! If it
were not for this business of the Five Sisters, I wouldn't go near
her. Positively I wouldn't!"
A mellow chime from the old eight-day clock in the outer hall struck
on the silence. Three o'clock! The train by which Miss Vancourt
would arrive, was timed to reach Riversford station at three,--if it
was not late, which it generally was. Nebbie, who had been snoozing
peacefully near the study window in a patch of sunlight, suddenly
rose, shook himself, and trotted out on to the lawn, sniffing the
air with ears and tail erect. Walden watched him abstractedly.
"Perhaps he scents a future enemy in Miss Vancourt's dog, Plato!"
And this whimsical idea made him smile. "He is quite intelligent
enough. He is certainly more intelligent than I am this afternoon,
for I cannot write even a commonplace ordinary note to a commonplace
ordinary woman!" Here a sly brain-devil whispered that Miss Vancourt
might possibly be neither commonplace nor ordinary,--but he put the
suggestion aside with a 'Get thee behind me, Satan' inflexibility.
"The fact is, I had better not write to her at all. I'll send
Bainton with a verbal message; he is sure to give a quaint and
pleasant turn to it,--he knew her father, and I didn't;--it will be
much better to send Bainton."
Having made this resolve, his brow cleared, and he was more
satisfied. Tearing up the last half sheet of wasted note-paper he
had spoilt in futile attempts to address the lady of the Manor, he
laughed at his failures.
"Even if it were etiquette to use the old Roman form of
correspondence, which some people think ought to be revived, it
wouldn't do in this case," he said. "Imagine it! 'John Walden to
Maryllia Vancourt,--Greeting!' How unutterably, how stupendously
ridiculous it would look!"
He shut all his writing materials in his desk, and following Nebbie
out to the lawn, seated himself with a volume of Owen Meredith in
his hand. He was soon absorbed. Yet every now and again his thoughts
strayed to the Five Sisters, and with persistent fidelity of detail
his mind's eye showed him the grassy knoll so soft to the tread,
where the doomed trees stood proudly and gracefully, clad just at
this season all in a glorious panoply of young green,--where, as the
poet whose tender word melodies he was reading might have said of
"For moisture of sweet showers, All the grass is thick with
"Yes, I shall send Bainton up to the Manor with a civil message," he
mused--"and he can--and certainly will--add anything else to it he
likes. Of course the lady may be offended,--some women take offence
at anything--but I don't much care if she is. My conscience will not
reproach me for having warned her of the impending destruction of
one of the most picturesque portions of her property. But
personally, I shall not write to her, nor will I go to see her. I
shall have to pay a formal call, of course, in a week or two,--but I
need not go inside the Manor for that. To leave my card, as minister
of the parish, will be quite sufficient."
He turned again to the volume in his hand. His eyes fell casually on
a verse in the poem of 'Resurrection':
"The world is filled with folly and sin; And Love must cling where
it can, I say,--For Beauty is easy enough to win, But one isn't
loved every day."
He sighed involuntarily. Then to banish an unacknowledged regret, he
began to criticise his author.
"If the world and the ambitions of diplomatic service had not
stepped in between Lord Lytton and his muse, he would have been a
fine poet," he said half aloud;--"A pity he was not born obscurely
and in poverty--he would have been wholly great, instead of as now,
merely greatly gifted. He missed his true vocation. So many of us do
likewise. I often wonder whether I have missed mine?"
But this idea brooked no consideration. He knew he had not mistaken
his calling. He was the very man for it. Many of his 'cloth' might
have taken a lesson from him in the whole art of unselfish
ministration to the needs of others. But with all his high spiritual
aim, he was essentially human, and pleasantly conscious of his own
failings and obstinacies. He did not hold himself as above the
weaker brethren, but as one with them, and of them. And through the
steady maintenance of this mental attitude, he found himself able to
participate in ordinary emotions, ordinary interests and ordinary
lives with small and outlying parishes in the concerns of the people
committed to their charge. It is not too much to say that though he
was in himself distinctly reserved and apart from the average
majority of men, the quiet exercise of his influence over the
village of St. Rest had resulted in so attracting and fastening the
fibres of love and confidence in all the hearts about him to his
own, that anything of serious harm occurring to himself, would have
been considered in the light of real fatality and ruin to the whole
community. When a clergyman can succeed in establishing such
complete trust and sympathy between himself and his parishioners,
there can be no question of his fitness for the high vocation to
which he has been ordained. When, on the contrary, one finds a
village or town where the inhabitants are split up into small and
quarrelsome sects, and are more or less in a state of objective
ferment against the minister who should be their ruling head, the
blame is presumably more with the minister than with those who
dispute his teaching, inasmuch as he must have fallen far below the
expected standard in some way or other, to have thus incurred
"If all fails," mused Walden presently, his thoughts again reverting
to the Five Sisters' question,--"If Bainton does his errand
awkwardly,--if the lady will not see him,--if any one of the
thousand things do happen that are quite likely to happen, and so
spoil all chance of interceding with Miss Vancourt to spare the
trees,--why then I will go myself to-morrow morning to the scene of
intended massacre before six o'clock. I will be there before an axe
is lifted! And if Bainton meant anything at all by his hint, others
will be there too! Yes!--I shall go,--in fact it will be my duty to
go in case of a row."
A smile showed itself under his silver-brown moustache. The idea of
a row seemed not altogether unpleasant to him. He stooped and patted
his dog playfully.
"Nebuchadnezzar!" he said, with mock solemnity; whereat Nebbie,
lying at his feet, opened one eye, blinked it lazily and wagged his
tail--"Nebuchadnezzar, I think our presence will be needed to-morrow
morning at an early hour, in attendance on the Five Sisters! Do you
hear me, Nebuchadnezzar?" Again Nebbie blinked. "Good! That wink
expresses understanding. We shall have to be there, in case of a
Nebbie yawned, stretched out his paws, and closed both eyes in
peaceful slumber. It was a beautiful afternoon;--'sufficient for the
day was the evil thereof' according to Nebbie. The Reverend John
turned over a few more pages of Owen Meredith, and presently came to
the conclusion that he would go punting. The decision was no sooner
arrived at than he prepared to carry it out. Nebbie awoke with a
start from his doze to see his master on the move, and quickly
trotted after him across the lawn to the river. Here, the sole
occupant of the shining stream was a maternal swan, white as a cloud
on the summit of Mont Blanc, floating in stately ease up and down
the water, carrying her young brood of cygnets on her back, under
the snowy curve of her arching wings. Walden unchained the punt and
sprang into it,--Nebbie dutifully following,--and then divested
himself of his coat. He was just about to take the punting pole in
hand, when Bainton's figure suddenly emerged from the shrubbery.
"Off on the wild wave, Passon, are ye?" he observed,--"Well, it's a
fine day for it! M'appen you ain't seen the corpses of four rats
anywhere around? No? Then I 'spect their lovin' relations must ha'
been an' ate 'em up, which may be their pertikler way of doin'
funerals. I nabbed 'em all last night in the new traps of my own
invention. mebbe the lilies will be all the better for their loss.
I'll be catchin' some more this evenin'. Lord; Passon, if you was to
'old out offers of a shillin' a head, the rats 'ud be gone in no
time,--an' the lilies too!"
Walden absorbed in getting his punt out, only smiled and nodded
"The train must ha' been poonctual," went on Bainton, staring
stolidly at the shining water. "Amazin' poonctual for once in its
life. For a one 'oss fly, goin' at a one 'oss fly pace, 'as jes'
passed through the village, and is jiggitin' up to the Manor this
very minute. I s'pose Miss Vancourt's inside it."
Walden paused,--punt-pole in hand.
"Yes, I suppose she is," he rejoined. "Come to me at six o'clock,
Bainton. I shall want you."
"Very good, sir!"
The pole splashed in the water,--the punt shot out into the clear
stream,--Nebbie gave two short barks, as was his custom when he
found himself being helplessly borne away from dry land,--and in a
few seconds Walden had disappeared round one of the bends of the
river. Bainton stood ruminating for a minute.
"Jest a one 'oss fly, goin' at a one 'oss fly pace!" he repeated,
slowly;--"It's a cheap way of comin' 'ome to one's father's 'Alls--
jest in a one 'oss fly! She might ha' ordered a kerridge an' pair by
telegram, an' dashed it up in fine style, but a one 'oss fly! It do
take the edge off a 'ome-comin'!--it do reely now."
And with a kind of short grunt at the vanity and disappointment of
human expectations, he went his way to the kitchen garden, there to
'chew the cud of sweet and bitter memory' over the asparagus beds,
which were in a highly promising condition.
The one-horse fly, going at a one-horse fly pace, had made its way
with comfortable jaunting slowness from Riversford to St. Rest, its
stout, heavy-faced driver being altogether unconscious that his fare
was no less a personage than Miss Vancourt, the lady of the Manor.
When a small, girlish person, clad in a plain, close-fitting garb of
navy-blue serge, and wearing a simple yet coquettish dark straw hat
to match, accosted him at the Riversford railway station with a
brief, 'Cab, please,' and sprang into his vehicle, he was a trifle
sulky at being engaged in such a haphazard fashion by an apparently
insignificant young female who had no luggage, not so much as a
"Wheer be you a-goin'?" he demanded, turning his bull neck slowly
round--"I baint pertikler for a far journey."
"Aren't you?" and the young lady smiled. "You must drive me to St.
Rest,--Abbot's Manor, please!"
The heavy-faced driver paused, considering. Should he perform the
journey, or should he not? Perhaps it would be wisest to undertake
the job,--there was the 'Mother Huff' at the end of the journey, and
Roger Buggins was a friend of his. Yes,--he would take the risk of
conveying the humbly-clad female up to the Manor; he had heard
rumours that the old place was once again to be inhabited, and that
the mistress of it was daily expected;--this person in the blue
serge was probably one of her messengers or retainers.
"My fare's ten shillings," he observed, still peering round
distrustfully; "It's a good seven mile up hill and down dale."
"All right!" responded the young woman, cheerfully; "You shall have
ten shillings. Only please begin to go, won't you?"
This request was accompanied by an arch smile, and a flash of blue
eyes from under the dark straw hat brim. Whereat the cumbrous Jehu
was faintly moved to a responsive grin.
"She ain't bad-looking, neither!" he muttered to himself,--and he
was in a somewhat better humour when at last he ondescended to
start. His vehicle was a closed one, and though be fully expected
his passenger would put her head out of the window, when the horse
was labouring up-hill, and entreat him to go faster,--which habit he
had found by experience was customary to woman in a one-horse fly,-
-nothing of the kind happened on this occasion. The person in the
blue serge was evidently both patient and undemonstrative. Whether
the horse crawled or slouched, or trotted,--whether the fly dragged,
or bumped, or jolted, she made no sign. When St. Rest was reached at
last, and the driver whipped his steed into a semblance of spirit,
and drove through the little village with a clatter, two or three
people came to the doors of their cottages and looked at the vehicle
scrutinisingly, wondering whether its occupant was, or was not Miss
Vancourt. But a meaning wink from the sage on the box intimated that
they need not trouble themselves,--the 'fare' was no one of the
Presently, the fine old armorial gates of the drive which led up to
Abbot's Manor were reached,--they were set wide open, this having
been done according to Mrs. Spruce's orders. A woman at the lodge
came hastily out, but the cab had passed her before she had time to
see who was in it. Up through the grand avenue of stately oaks and
broad-branching elms, whose boughs, rich with the budding green,
swayed in the light wind with a soft rustling sound as of sweeping
silks on velvet, the unostentatious vehicle jogged slowly,--it was a
steady ascent all the way, and the driver was duly considerate of
his animal's capabilities. At last came the turn in the long
approach, which showed the whole width of the Manor, with its
ancient rose-brick frontage and glorious oaken gables shining in the
warm afternoon sunlight,--the old Tudor courtyard spreading before
it, its grey walls and paving stones half hidden in a wilderness of
spring blossom. Here, too, the gates were open, and the one-horse
fly made its lumbering and awkward entrance within, drawing up with
a jerk at the carved portico. The young person in blue serge jumped
out, purse in hand.
"Ten shillings, I think?" she said; but before the driver could
answer her, the great iron-clamped door of the Manor swung open, and
a respectable retainer in black stood on the threshold.
"Oh, will you pay the driver, please?" said the young lady,
addressing this functionary; "He says his fare is ten shillings. I
daresay he would like an extra five shillings for himself as well,"
and she smiled--"Here it is!"
She handed the money to the personage in black, who was no other
than the former butler to Sir Morton Pippitt, now at the Manor on
temp'ry service,' and who in turn presented it with an official
stateliness to the startled fly-man, who was just waking up to the
fact that his fare, whom he had considered as a person of no account
whatever, was the actual mistress of the Manor.
"Drive out to the left of the court," said the butler imperatively;
"Reverse way to which you entered."
The submissive Jehu prepared to obey. The young person in blue serge
smiled up at him.
"Good afternoon!" said she.
"Same to you, mum!" he replied, touching his cap; "And thank ye
Whereat, his stock of eloquence being exhausted, he whipped up his
steed to a gallop and departed in haste for the 'Mother Huff,' full
of eagerness to relate the news of Miss Vancourt's arrival, further
embellished by the fact that he had himself driven her up from the
station, 'all unbeknown like.'
Miss Vancourt herself, meanwhile, stepped into her ancestral halls,
and stood for a moment, silent, looking round her with a wistful,
almost pathetic earnestness.
"Tea is served in the morning-room, Madam," said the butler
respectfully, all the time wondering whether this slight, childlike-
looking creature was really Miss Vancourt, or some young friend of
hers sent as an advance herald of her arrival. "Mrs. Spruce thought
you would find it comfortable there."
"Mrs. Spruce!" exclaimed the girl, eagerly; "Where is she?"
"Here, ma'am-here, my lady," said a quavering voice-and Mrs. Spruce,
presenting quite a comely and maternal aspect in her best black silk
gown, and old-fashioned cap, with lace lappets, such as the late
Squire had always insisted on her wearing, came forward curtseying
"I hope, ma'am, you've had a pleasant journey--"
But her carefully prepared sentence was cut short by a pair of arms
being flung suddenly round her, and a fresh face pressed against her
"Dear Mrs. Spruce! I am so glad to see you! You knew me when I was
quite a little thing, didn't you? And you knew my father, too! You
were very fond of my father, weren't you? I am sure you were! You
must try to be fond of me now!"
Never, as Mrs. Spruce was afterwards wont to declare, had she been
so 'took back,' as by the unaffected spontaneity and sweetness of
this greeting on the part of the new mistress, whose advent she had
so greatly feared. She went, to quote her own words, 'all of a
fluster like, and near busted out cryin'. It was like a dear lovin'
little child comin' 'ome, and made me feel that queer you might have
knocked me down with a soap-bubble!'
Whatever the worthy woman's feelings were, and however much the
respectable butler, whose name was Primmins, might have been
astonished in his own stately mind at Miss Vancourt's greeting of
her father's old servant, Miss Vancourt herself was quite
unconscious of any loss of dignity on her own part.
"I am so glad!" she repeated; "It's like finding a friend at home to
find you, Spruce! I had quite forgotten what you looked like, but I
begin to remember now--you were always nice and kind, and you always
managed so well, didn't you? Yes, I'm sure you did! The man said tea
was in the morning-room. You come and pour it out for me, like a
dear old thing! I'm going to live alone in my own home now for
always,--for always!" she repeated, emphatically; "Nobody shall ever
take me away from it again!"
She linked her arm confidingly in that of Mrs. Spruce, who for once
was too much astonished to speak,--Miss Vancourt was so entirely
different to the chill and reserved personage her imagination had
depicted, that she was quite at a loss how to look or what to say.
"Is this the way?" asked Maryllia, stepping lightly past the stuffed
knight in armour; "Yes? I thought it was! I begin to remember
everything now! Oh, how I wish I had never gone away from this dear
She entered the morning-room, guiding Mrs. Spruce, rather than being
guided by her,--for as that worthy woman averred to Primmins at
supper that self-same night: "I was so all in a tremble and
puspration with 'er 'oldin' on to my arm and takin' me round, that I
was like the man in the Testymen what had dumb devils,--and scarcely
knew what ground my feet was a-fallin' on!" The cheerful air of
welcome which pervaded this charming, sunny apartment, with its
lattice windows fronting the wide stretch of velvety lawn, terrace
and park-land, delighted Maryllia, and she loosened her hold on Mrs.
Spruce's arm with a little cry of pleasure, as a huge magnificently
coated Newfoundland dog rose from his recumbent position near the
window, and came to greet her with slow and expansive waggings of
his great plumy tail.
"Plato, my beauty!" she exclaimed; "How do you like Abbot's Manor,
boy? Eh? Quite at home, aren't you! Good dog! Isn't he a king of
dogs?" And she turned her smiling face on Mrs. Spruce. "A real king!
I bought him because he was so big! Weren't you frightened when you
saw such a monster?--and didn't you think he would bite everybody on
the least provocation? But he wouldn't, you know! He's a perfect
darling--as gentle as a lamb! He would kill anyone that wanted to
hurt me--oh, yes of course!--that's why I love him!"
And she patted the enormous creature's broad head tenderly.
"He's my only true friend!" she continued; "Money wouldn't buy HIS
fidelity!" Here, glancing at Mrs. Spruce, she laughed merrily. "Dear
Mrs. Spruce! You DO look so uncomfortable!--so--so warm! It IS warm,
isn't it? Make me some tea!--tea cools one, they say, though it's
hot to drink at first. We'll talk afterwards!"
Mrs. Spruce, with inaudible murmurings, hastened to the tea-tray,
and tried to compose her agitated nerves by bringing her attention
to bear on the silver tea-kettle which Primmins had just brought in,
and in which the water was beginning to bubble, in obedience to the
newly-kindled flame of the spirit-lamp beneath.
Maryllia, meanwhile, stepped out on the grass terrace in front of
the window, with the dog Plato at her side, and looked long and
earnestly at the fair stretch of woodland scenery before her. While
she thus stood absorbed, Mrs. Spruce stole covert glances at her
with increased wonder and bewilderment. She looked much younger than
her twenty-seven years,--her childlike figure and face portrayed her
as about eighteen, not more. She stood rather under than over the
medium height of woman,--yet she gave the impression of being taller
than she actually was, owing to the graceful curve of her arched
neck, which rose from her shoulders with a daintily-proud poise,
marking her demeanour as exceptional and altogether different to
that of ordinary women. Her back being turned to Mrs. Spruce for the
moment, that sagacious dame decided that she was 'real stately, for
all that she was small,' and also noted that her hair, coiled
loosely in a thick knot, which pushed itself with rebellious fulness
beyond the close-fitting edge of the dark straw hat she wore, was of
a warm auburn gold, rippling here and there into shades of darker
brown. Suddenly, with a decided movement, she turned from the
terrace and re-entered the morning-room.
"Tea ready?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am!--yes, miss--my lady--it's just made--perhaps it's best
to let it draw a bit--"
"I don't like it strong!" said Maryllia, sitting down, and leisurely
taking off her hat; "And you mustn't call me 'my lady.' I'm not the
daughter of an earl, or the wife of a knight. If I were Scotch, I
might say 'I'm Mclntosh of Mclntosh'; or some other Mac of Mac,--but
being English, I'm Vancourt of Vancourt! And you must call me
'Miss,' till I become 'Ma'am.' I don't want to bear any unnecessary
dignities before my time! In fact, I think you'd better call me Miss
Maryllia, as you used to do when my father was alive."
"Very well, ma'am--miss--Miss Maryllia," faltered Mrs. Spruce,
fumbling distractedly with the tea-things, and putting cream and
sugar recklessly into three or four cups without thinking; "There!
Really, I don't know what I am a-doin' of--do you like cream and
sugar, my dear?--beggin' your parding--Miss Maryllia?"
"Yes, I like cream and sugar both," replied the young lady with a
mirthful gleam in her eyes, as she noted the old housekeeper's
confusion; "But don't spoil the tea with either! If you put too much
cream, you will make the tea cold,--if you put too much sugar, you
will make it syrupy,--you must arrive at the juste milieu in a cup
of tea! I am VERY particular!"
Poor Mrs. Spruce grew warmer and redder in the face than ever. What
was the 'juste milieu'? Often and often afterwards did she puzzle
over that remarkable phrase.
"I think," continued Maryllia, with a dimpling smile, "if you put
one lump of sugar in the cup and two brimming tea-spoonfuls of
cream, it will be exactly right!"
Gladly, and with relief, Mrs. Spruce obeyed these explicit
instructions, and handed her new mistress the desired refreshment
with assiduous and respectful care.
"You are a dear!" said Maryllia, lazily taking the cup from her
hand; "Just the kindest and nicest of persons! And good-tempered? I
am sure you are good-tempered, aren't you?"
"Pretty well so, Miss," responded Mrs. Spruce, now gaining courage
to look at the fair smiling face opposite her own, more squarely and
openly; "Leastways, I've been told I keeps my 'ead under any amount
of kitchen jawin'. For, as you may believe me, in a kitchen where
there's men as well as women, an' a servants' 'All leadin' straight
through from the kitchen, jawin' there is and jawin' there must be,
and such bein' the Lord's will, we must put up with it. But it wants
a 'ead to keep things straight, and I generally arranges pretty
well, though I'll not deny but I'm a bit flustered to-day,--
howsomever, it will soon be all right, and any think that's wrong,
Miss, if you will be so good as to tell me--"
"I will!" said Maryllia, sweetly; and she leaned back in her chair,
whimsically surveying the garrulous old dame with eyes which Mrs.
Spruce then and there discovered to be 'the most beautiful blue eyes
ever seen,'--"I will tell you all I do like, and all I don't like.
I'm sure we shall get on well together. The tea is perfect,--and
this room is exquisite. In fact, everything is delightful, and I'm
so happy to be in my own home once more! I wish I had never left
Her eyes darkened suddenly, and she sighed. Mrs. Spruce watched her
in submissive silence, realising as she gazed that Miss Maryllia was
'a real beauty and no mistake.' Why and how she came to that
conclusion, she could not very well have explained. Her ideas of
feminine loveliness were somewhat hazy and restricted. She privately
considered her own girl, Kitty, 'the handsomest lass in all the
country-side' and she had been known to bitterly depreciate what she
called 'the pink and white dolly-face' of Susie Prescott, the
acknowledged young belle of the village. But there was an
indefinable air of charm about her new lady which was quite foreign
to all her experience,--a bewildering grace and ease of manner
arising from high education and social cultivation, that confused
her and robbed her of all her usual self-sufficiency; and for once
in her life she checked her customary volubility and decided that it
was perhaps best to say as little as possible till she saw exactly
how things were going to turn out. Miss Maryllia was very kind,--but
who could tell whether she was not also capricious? There was
something slightly quizzical as well as sweet in her smile,--
something subtle--something almost mysterious. She had greeted her
father's old servant as affectionately as a child,--but her
enthusiasm might be only temporary. So Mrs. Spruce vaguely reflected
as she stood with her hands folded on her apron, waiting for the
next word. That next word came with a startling suddenness.
"Oh, you wicked Spruce! How could you!"
And Maryllia, springing up from her chair, made a bound to the
opposite corner of the room, where there was a tall vase filled with
peacocks' feathers. Gathering all these in her hand, she flourished
them dramatically in the old housekeeper's face.
"The most unlucky things in the world!" she exclaimed; "Peacocks'
feathers! How could you allow them to be in this room on the very
day of my return! It's dreadful!--quite dreadful!--you know it is!
Nothing is quite so awful as a peacock's feather!"
Mrs. Spruce stared, gasped and blinked,--her hand involuntarily
wandered to her side in search for convenient 'spasms.'
"They've always been 'ere, Miss," she stammered; "I 'adn't no idee
as 'ow you wouldn't like them, though to tell the truth, I 'ave
'eard somethin' about their bein' onlucky---"
"Unlucky! I should think so!" replied Maryllia, holding the
objectionable plumes as far away from herself as possible,--"No
wonder we've been unfortunate, if these feathers were always in the
old house! No wonder everything went wrong! I must break the spell
at once and for ever. Are there more of these horrible 'witch-eyes'
in any of the rooms?"
Poor Mrs. Spruce made a great effort to cudgel her memory. She was
affected by 'a palpitation,' as she expressed it. There was her
newly-arrived mistress confronting her with the authoritative air of
a young empress, holding the bunch of glittering peacocks' plumes
aloft, like a rod uplifted for summary chastisement, and asking her
to instantly remember whether there were any more 'horrible witch-
eyes' about. Mrs. Spruce had never before heard such a term applied
to the tail-sheddings of the imperial fowl,--but she never forgot
it, and never afterwards saw a peacock's feather without a qualm.
"I couldn't say, Miss; I'm not sure--" she answered flutteringly;
"But I'll have every 'ole and corner searched to-morrow---"
"No, to-night!" said Maryllia, with determination; "I will not sleep
in the house if ONE peacock's feather remains in it! There!" Her
brows were bent tragically;--in another moment she laughed; "Take
them away!" she continued, picking up Mrs. Spruce's apron at the
corners and huddling all the glittering plumage into its capacious
folds; "Take them all away! And go right through the house, and
collect every remaining feather you can find--and then--and then---"
Here she paused dubiously. "You mustn't burn them, you know! That
would be unluckier still!"
"Lor! Would it now, Miss? I never should 'ave thought it!" murmured
Mrs. Spruce plaintively, grasping her apronful of 'horrible witch-
eyes'; "What on earth shall I do with them?"
Maryllia considered. Very pretty she looked at that moment, with one
small finger placed meditatively on her lips, which were curved
close like a folded rosebud. "You must either bury them, or drown
them!" she said at last, with the gravest decision; "If you drown
them, you must tie them to a stone, so that they will not float. If
you bury them, you must dig ten feet deep! You must really! If you
don't, they will all come up again, and the eyes will be all over
the place, haunting you!" Here she broke into the merriest little
laugh possible. "Poor Spruce! You do look so miserable! See here--
I'll tell you what to do! Pack them ail in a box, and I will send
them to my aunt Emily! She loves them! She likes to see them stuck
all over the drawing-room. They're never unlucky to her. She has a
fellow-feeling for peacocks; there is a sort of affinity between
herself and them! Pack up every feather you can find, Spruce! The
box must go to-night by parcel's post Address to Mrs. Fred Vancourt,
at the Langham Hotel. She's staying there just now. Will you be sure
to send them off to-night?"
She held up her little white hand entreatingly, and her blue eyes
wonderfully sweet and childlike, yet grave and passionate, looked
straight into the elder woman's wrinkled apple face.
"When she looked at me like that, I'd a gone barefoot to kingdom-
come for her!" Mrs. Spruce afterwards declared to some of her
village intimates--"And as for the peacocks' feathers, I'd a
scrubbed though the 'ole 'ouse from top to bottom afore I'd a let
one be in it!"
To Maryllia she said:
"You may take my word for it, Miss! They'll all go out of the 'ouse
'fore seven o'clock. I'll send them myself to the post."
"Thank you, so much!" said Maryllia, with a comical little sigh of
relief. "And now, Spruce, I will go to my bedroom and lie down for
an hour. I'm just a little tired. Have you managed to get a maid for
"Well, Miss, there's jest a gel-she don't know anythink much, but
she's 'andy and willin' and 'umble, and quick with her needle, and
tidy at foldin', and got a good character. She's the best I could
do, Miss. Her name is Nancy Pyrle--I'll send her to you directly."
"Yes, do!" answered Miss Vancourt, with a little yawn; "And show me
to my rooms;--you prepared the ones I told you--my mother's rooms?"
"Yes, Miss," answered Mrs. Spruce in subdued accents; "I've made
them all fresh and sweet and clean; but of course the furniture is
left jest as it was when the Squire locked 'em all up after he lost
Maryllia said nothing, but followed the housekeeper upstairs, the
great dog Plato in attendance on her steps. On reaching the bedroom,
hung with faded rose silk hangings, and furnished with sixteenth
century oak, she looked at everything: with a curious wistfulness
and reverence. Approaching the dressing-table, she glanced at her
own reflection in the mirror; but fair as the reflection was that
glanced back at her, she gave it no smile. She was serious and
absorbed, and her eyes were clouded with a sudden mist of tears.
Mrs. Spruce took the opportunity to slip away with her collection of
peacocks' feathers, and descended in haste to the kitchen, where for
some time the various orders she issued caused much domestic
perturbation, and fully expressed the chaotic condition of her own
mind. The maid, Nancy Pyrle, was hustled off to 'wait on Miss
Vancourt upstairs, and don't be clumsy with your 'ands, whatever you
do!'--Primmins, the butler, was sent to remove the tea-things from
the morning-room,--at which command he turned round somewhat
indignantly, asking 'who are you a-orderin' of; don't you think I
know my business?'--Spruce himself, unhappily coming by chance to
the kitchen door to ask if it was really true that Miss Vancourt had
arrived, was shrilly told to 'go along and mind his own business,'--
and so it happened that when Bainton appeared, charged with the
Reverend John Walden's message concerning the Five Sisters, he might
as well have tried to obtain an unprepared audience with the King,
as to see or speak with the lady of the Manor. Miss Vancourt had
arrived--oh yes, she had certainly arrived, Mrs. Spruce told him,
with much heat and energy; but she was tired and was lying down, and
certainly could not be asked to see anyone, no matter what the
business was. And to make things more emphatic, at the very time
that Bainton was urging his cause, and Mrs. Spruce was firmly
rejecting it, Nancy Pyrle came down from attendance on her mistress
and said that Miss Vancourt was going to sleep a little, and she did
not wish to be disturbed till she rang her bell.
"Oh, and she's beautiful!" said Nancy, drawing a long breath,--"and
so very kind! She showed me how to do all she wanted--and was that
patient and gentle! She says I'll make quite a good maid after a
"Well, I hope to the Lord you will!" said Mrs. Spruce with a sniffy
"For it's a chance in a 'undred, comin' straight out of the village
to a first situation with, a lady like Miss Vancourt. And I 'ope
you'll profit by it! And if you 'adn't taken the prize for
needlework in the school, you wouldn't 'ave 'ad it, so now you sees
what good it does to serve your elders when you're young." Here she
turned to Bainton, who was standing disconsolately half in and half
out of the kitchen doorway. "I'm real sorry, Mr. Bainton, that you
can't see our lady, more 'specially as you wishes to give a message
from Passon Walden himself--but you jest go back and tell 'im 'ow it
is;--Miss Vancourt is restin' and can't be disturbed nohow."
Bainton twirled his cap nervously in his hand.
"I s'pose no one couldn't say to her quiet-like as 'ow the Five
Sisters be chalked?--"
Mrs. Spruce raised her fat hands with a gesture of dismay.
"Lor' bless the man!" she exclaimed; "D'ye think we're goin' to
worrit Miss Vancourt with the likes o' that the very first evenin'
she's set foot in 'er own 'ouse? Why, we dussn't! An' that there
great dog Plato lyin' on guard outside 'er door! I've 'ad enough to-
day with peacocks' feathers, let alone the Five Sisters! Besides,
Oliver Leach is agent 'ere, and what he says is sure to be done. She
won't worry 'erself about it,--and you may be pretty certain he
won't be interfered with. You tell Passon Walden I'm real sorry, but
it can't be 'elped."
Reluctantly, Bainton turned away. He was never much disposed for a
discussion with Mrs. Spruce,--her mind was too illogical, and her
tongue too persistent. Her allusion to peacocks' feathers was
unintelligible to him, and he wondered whether 'anythink she's been
an' took' had gone to her head. Anyway, his errand was foiled for
the moment. But he was not altogether disheartened. He determined
not to go back to Walden with his message quite undelivered.
"Where there's a will, there's a way!" he said to himself. "I'll go
and do a bit of shoutin' to Spruce,--deaf as he is, he's more
reasonable-like than his old 'ooman!"
With this resolve, he went his way by a short-cut through Abbot's
Manor gardens to a small thatched shelter in the woods, known as
'the foresters' hut,' where Spruce was generally to be found at
about sunset, smoking a peaceful pipe, alone and well out of his
Meanwhile, Maryllia Vancourt, lying wide awake on her bed in the
long unused room that was to have been her mother's, experienced
various chaotic sensations of mingled pleasure and pain. For the
first time in her life of full womanhood she was alone,--
independent,--free to come or go as she listed, with no one to
gainsay her wishes, or place a check on her caprices. She had
deliberately thrown off her aunt's protection; and with that action,
had given up the wealth and luxury with which she had been lavishly
surrounded ever since her father's death. For reasons of her own,
which she considered sufficiently cogent, she had also resigned all
expectations of being her aunt's heiress. She had taken her liberty,
and was prepared to enjoy it. She had professed herself perfectly
contented to live on the comparatively small patrimony secured to
her by her father's will. It was quite enough, she said, for a
single woman,--at any rate, she would make it enough.
And here she was, in her own old home,--the home of her childhood,
which she was ashamed to think she had well-nigh forgotten. Since
her fifteenth year she had travelled nearly all over the world;
London, Paris, Vienna, New York, had each in turn been her 'home'
under the guidance of her wealthy perambulating American relative;
and in the brilliant vortex of an over-moneyed society, she had been
caught and whirled like a helpless floating straw. Mrs. 'Fred'
Vancourt, as her aunt was familiarly known to the press
paragraphist, had spared no pains to secure for her a grand
marriage,--and every possible advantage that could lead to that one
culminating point, had been offered to her. She had been taught
everything; that could possibly add to her natural gifts of
intelligence; she had been dressed exquisitely, taken about
everywhere, and 'shown off' to all the impecunious noblemen of
Europe;--she had been flattered, praised, admired, petted and
generally spoilt, and had been proposed to by 'eligible' gentlemen
with every recurring season,--but all in vain. She had taken a
singular notion into her head--an idea which her matter-of-fact aunt
told her was supremely ridiculous. She wanted to be loved.
"Any man can ask a girl to marry him, if he has pluck and
impudence!" she said; "Especially if the girl has money, or
expectations of money, and is not downright deformed, repulsive and
ill-bred. But proposals of marriage don't always mean love. I don't
care a bit about being married,--but I do want to be loved--really
loved!--I want to be 'dear to someone else' as Tennyson sings it,--
not for what I HAVE, but for what I AM."
It was this curious, old-fashioned notion of wanting to be loved,
that had estranged Maryllia from her wealthy American protectress.
It had developed from mere fireside argument and occasional
dissension, into downright feud, and its present result was self-
evident. Maryllia had broken her social fetters, and had returned to
her own rightful home in a state which, for her, considered by her
past experience, was one of genteel poverty, but which was also one
of glorious independence. And as she restfully reclined under the
old rose silk hangings which were to have encanopied that perished
beauty from which she derived her own fairness, she was conscious of
a novel and soothing sense of calm. The rush and hurry and frivolity
of society seemed put away and done with; through her open window
she could hear the rustling of leaves and the singing of birds;--the
room in which she found herself pleased her taste as well as her
sentiment,--and though the faintest shadow of vague wonder crossed
her mind as to what she would do with her time, now that she had
gained her own way and was actually all alone in the heart of the
country, she did not permit such a thought to trouble her peace. The
grave tranquillity of the old house was already beginning to exert
its influence on her always quick and perceptive mind,--the dear
remembrance of her father whom she had idolised, and whose sudden
death had been the one awful shock of her life, came back to her now
with a fresh and tender pathos. Little incidents of her childhood
and of its affection, such as she thought she had forgotten,
presented themselves one by one in the faithful recording cells of
her brain,--and the more or less feverish and hurried life she had
been compelled to lead under her aunt's command and chaperonage,
began to efface itself slowly, like a receding coast-line from a
"It is home!" she said; "And I have not been in a home for years!
Aunt Emily's houses were never 'home.' And this is MY home--my very
own; the home of our family for generations. I ought to be proud of
it, and I WILL be proud of it! Even Aunt Emily used to say that
Abbot's Manor was a standing proof of the stuck-up pride of the
Vancourts! I'm sure I shall find plenty to do here. I can farm my
own lands and live on the profits--if there are any!"
She laughed a little, and rising from the bed went to the window and
leaned out. A large white clematis pushed its moonlike blossom up to
her face, as though asking to be kissed, and a bright red butterfly
danced dreamily up and down in the late sunbeams, now poising on the
ivy and anon darting off again into the mild still air.
"It's perfectly lovely!" said Maryllia, with a little sigh of
content; "And it is all my own!"
She drew her head in from the window and turned to her mirror.
"I'm getting old," she said, surveying herself critically, and with
considerable disfavour;--"It's all the result of society 'pressure,'
as they call it. There's a line here--and another there"--indicating
the imaginary facial defects with a small tapering forefinger--"And
I daresay I have some grey hairs, if I could only find them." Here
she untwisted the coil at the back of her head and let it fall in a
soft curling shower round her shoulders--"Oh, yes!--I daresay!" she
went on, addressing her image in the glass; "You think it looks very
pretty--but that is only an 'effect,' you know! It's like the
advertisements the photographers do for the hairdressers; 'Hair-
positively-forced-to-grow-in-six-weeks' sort of thing. Oh, what a
dear old chime!" This, as she heard the ancient clock in the square
turret which overlooked the Tudor courtyard give forth a mellow
tintinnabulation. "What time is it, I wonder?" She glanced at the
tiny trifle of a watch she had taken off and placed on her dressing-
table. "Quarter past seven! I must have had a doze, after all. I
think I will ring for Nancy Pyrle"--and she suited the action to the
word; "I have not the least idea where my clothes are."
Nancy obeyed the summons with alacrity. She could not help a slight
start as she saw her mistress, looking like 'the picture of an
angel' as she afterwards described it, in her loose white dressing-
gown, with all her hair untwisted and floating over her shoulders.
She had never seen any human creature quite so lovely.
"Do you know where my dresses are, Nancy?" enquired Maryllia.
"Yes, Miss. Mrs. Spruce unpacked everything herself, and the dresses
are all hanging in this wardrobe." Here Nancy went to the piece of
furniture in question. "Which one shall I give you, Miss?"
Maryllia came to her side, and looked scrutinisingly at all the
graceful Parisian and Viennese flimsies that hung in an. orderly row
within the wardrobe, uncertain which to take. At last she settled on
an exceedingly simple white tea-gown, shaped after a Greek model,
and wholly untrimmed, save for a small square gold band at the
"This will do!" she decided; "Nobody's coming to dine; I shall be
The thought struck her as quaint and strange. Nobody coming to
dinner! How very odd! At Aunt Emily's there was always someone, or
several someones, to dinner. To-night she would dine all alone.
Well! It would be a novel experience!
"Are there any nice people living about here?" she asked Nancy, as
that anxious young woman carefully divested her of her elegant
dressing-gown; "People I should like to know?"
"Oh, I don't think so, Miss," replied Nancy, quite frankly, watching
in wonder the dexterity and grace with which her mistress swept up
all her hair into one rich twist and knotted it with two big
tortoiseshell hairpins at the back of her head. "There's Sir Morton
Pippitt at Badsworth Hall, three miles from here--"
Maryllia laughed gaily.
"Sir Morton Pippitt! What a funny name! Who is he?"
"Well, Miss, they do say he makes his money at bone-melting; but
he's awful proud for all that--awful proud he is--"
"Well, I should think so!" said Maryllia, with much solemnity;
"Bone-melting is a great business! Does he melt human bones, Nancy?"
"Oh, lor', Miss, no!" And Nancy laughed, despite herself; "Not that
I've ever heard on--it's bones of animals he melts and turns into
buttons and such-like."
"Man is an animal, Nancy," said Maryllia, sententiously, giving one
or two little artistic touches to the loose waves of hair on her
forehead; "Why should not HIS bones be turned into buttons? Why
should HE not be made useful? You may depend upon it, Nancy, human
bones go into Sir Morton What's-his-name's stock-pot. I shouldn't
wonder if he had left his own bones to his business in his will!
"'Imperial Caesar dead and turned to clay, May stop a hole to
keep the wind away!'
That's so, Nancy! And is the gentleman who boils bones the only man
about here one could ask to dinner?"
"There's the Passon--" she began.
"Oh, dear me!" exclaimed Maryllia, with a little shrug of
impatience; "Worse than the bone-boiler!--a thousand times worse!
There! That will do, Nancy! I'll stroll about till dinner's ready."
She left the room and descended the stairs, followed by the faithful
Plato, and was soon to be seen by various retainers of the curious
and excited household, walking slowly up and down on the grass
terrace in her flowing white draperies, the afterglow of the sinking
sun shining on her gold-brown hair, and touching up little reddish
ripples in it,--such ripples as were painted by the artist of
Charles the Second's day when he brushed into colour and canvas the
portrait of Mary Elia Adelgisa de Vaignecourt. Primmins, late butler
to the irascible Sir Morton Pippitt, was so taken with the sight of
her that he then and there resolved his 'temp'ry service' should be
life-long, if he could manage to please her; and little Kitty Spruce
being permitted by her mother to peep at the 'new lady' through the
staircase window, could only draw a long breath and ejaculate: "Oh!
Ain't she lovely!" while she followed with eagerly admiring eyes the
gossamer trail of Maryllia's white gown on the soft turf, and
strained her ears to catch the sound of the sweet voice which
suddenly broke out in a careless chansonette:
"Tu m'aimes, cherie?
Seulement un petit 'oui,'
Je demande a toi!
Le bonheur supreme
Vient quand on aime,
"She's singin' to herself!" said the breathless Kitty, whispering to
her mother; "Ain't she jest smilin' and beautiful?"
"Well, I will own," replied Mrs. Spruce, "she's as different to the
lady _I_ expected as cheese from chalk, which they generally says
chalk from cheese, howsomever, that don't matter. But if I don't
mistake, she's got a will of 'er own, for all that she's so smilin'
and beautiful as you says, Kitty; and now don't YOU go runnin' away
with notions that you can dress like 'er or look like 'er,--for when
once a gel of YOUR make thinks she can imitate the fashions and the
ways of a great lady, she's done for, body and soul! YOU ain't goin'
to wear white gowns and trail 'em up an' down on the grass, nor 'ave
big dogs a-follerin' up an' down while you sings in a furrin
langwidge to yerself; no, not if you was to read all the trashy
story-books in the world--so you needn't think it. For there ain't
no millionaires comin' arter you, as they doos in penny novels,--nor
nothink else what's dished up in newspapers; so jes' wear your
cotton frocks in peace, an' don't worry me with wantin' to look like
Miss Maryllia, for you never won't look like 'er if ye tried till ye
was dead! Remember that, now! The Lord makes a many women,--but now
and again He turns out a few chice samples which won't bear
copyin.'. Miss Maryllia's one of them samples, and we must take 'er
with prayer and thanksgivin' as sich!"
Maryllia's first solitary dinner in the home of her ancestors passed
off with tolerable success. She found something not altogether
unpleasant in being alone after all. Plato was always an
intelligent, well-behaved and dignified companion in his canine way,
and the meal was elegantly served by Primmins, who waited on his new
mistress with as much respect and zeal as if she had been a queen. A
sense of authority and importance began to impress itself upon her
as she sat at the head of her own table in her own dining-hall, with
all the Vandykes and Holbeins and Gainsboroughs gazing placidly down
upon her from their gilded frames, and the flicker of many wax
candles in old silver sconces glancing upon the shields, helmets,
rusty pikes and crossed swords that decorated the panelling of the
walls between and above the pictures.
"Fancy! No gas and no electric light! It is simply charming!" she
thought, "And so becoming to one's dress and complexion! Only
there's nobody to see the becomingness. But I can soon remedy that.
Lots of people will come down and stay here if I only ask them.
There's one thing quite certain about society folk--they will always
come where they can be lodged and boarded free! They call it country
visiting, but it really means shutting up their houses, dismissing
their servants, and generally economising on their housekeeping
bills. I've seen SUCH a lot of it!"
She heaved a little sigh over these social reminiscences, and
finished her repast in meditative silence. She had not been
accustomed to much thinking, and to indulge in it at all for any
length of time was actually a novelty. Her aunt had told her never
to think, as it made the face serious, and developed lines on the
forehead. And she had, under this kind of tutelage, became one of a
brilliant, fashionable, dress-loving crowd of women, who spend most
of their lives in caring for their complexions and counting their
lovers. Yet every now and again, a wave of repugnance to such a
useless sort of existence arose in her and made a stormy rebellion.
Surely there was something nobler in life--something higher--
something more useful and intelligent than the ways and manners of a
physically and morally degenerate society?
It was a still, calm evening, and the warmth of the sun all day had
drawn such odours from the hearts of the flowers that the air was
weighted with perfume when she wandered out again into her garden
after dinner, and looked up wistfully at the gables of the Manor set
clear against a background of dark blue sky patterned with stars. A
certain gravity oppressed her. There was, after all, something just
a little eerie in the on-coming of night in this secluded woodland
place where she had voluntarily chosen to dwell all alone and
unprotected, rather than lend herself to her aunt's match-making
"Of course," she argued with herself, "I need not stay here if I
don't like it. I can get a paid companion and go travelling,--but,
oh dear, I've had so much travelling!--or I can own myself in the
wrong to Aunt Emily, and marry that wretch Roxmouth,--Oh, no! I
COULD not! I WILL not!"
She gave an impatient little stamp with her foot, and anon surveyed
the old house with affectionate eyes.
"You shall be my rescue!" she said, kissing her hand playfully to
the latticed windows,--"You shall turn me into an old-fashioned
lady, fond of making jams and pickles, and preserves and herbal
waters! I'll put away all the idiotic intrigues and silly fooling of
modern society in one of your quaint oaken cupboards, and lock them
all up with little bags of lavender to disinfect them! And I will
wait for someone to come and find me out and love me; and if no one
ever comes--" Here she paused, then went on,--"If no one ever comes,
why then--" and she laughed--"some man will have lost a good chance
of marrying as true a girl as ever lived!--a girl who could love--
ah!" And she stretched out her pretty rounded arms to the scented
air. "HOW she could love if she were loved!"
The young moon here put in a shy appearance by showing a fleck of
silver above the highest gable of the Manor.
"A little diamond peak,
No bigger than an unobserved star,
Or tiny point of fairy scimitar;
Bright signal that she only stooped to tie
Her silver sandals ere deliciously
She bowed unto the heavens her timid head,
Slowly she rose as though she would have fled."
"There's no doubt," said Maryllia, "that this place is romantic! And
romance is what I've been searching for all my life, and have never
found except in books. Not so much in modern books as in the books
that were written by really poetical and imaginative people sixty or
seventy years ago. Nowadays, the authors that are most praised go in
for what they call 'realism'--and their realism is very UNreal, and
very nasty. For instance, this garden,--these lovely trees,--this
dear old house--all these are real--but much too romantic for a
modern writer. He would rather describe a dusthole and enumerate
every potato paring in it! And here am I--I'm real enough--but I'm
not a bad woman--I haven't got what is euphoniously called 'a past,'
and I don't belong to the right-down vicious company of 'Souls.' So
I should never do for a heroine of latter-day fiction. I'm afraid
I'm abnormal. It's dreadful to be abnormal! One becomes a
'neurotic,' like Lombroso, and all the geniuses. But suppose the
world were full of merely normal people,--people who did nothing but
eat and sleep in the most perfectly healthy and regular manner,--oh,
what a bore it would be! There would be no pictures, no sculpture,
no poetry, no music, no anything worth living for. One MUST have a
few ideas beyond food and clothing!"
The moon, rose higher and shed a shower of silver over the grass,
lighting up in strong relief the fair face upturned to it.
"Now the 'Souls' pretend to have ideas," continued Maryllia, still
apostrophising the bland stillness; "But their ideas are low,--
decidedly low,--and decidedly queer. And that Cabinet Ministers are
in their set doesn't make them any the better. I could have been a
'Soul' if I had liked. I could have learnt a lot of wicked secrets
from the married peer who wanted to be my 'affinity,'--only I
wouldn't. I could have got all the Government 'tips,' gambled with
them on the Stock Exchange, and made quite a fortune as a 'Soul.'
Yet here I am,--no 'Soul,'--but only a poor little body, with
something in me that asks for a higher flight than mere social
intrigue. Just a bit of a higher flight, eh, Plato? What do you
think about it?"
Plato the leonine, waved his plumy tail responsively and gently
rubbed his great head against her arm. Resting one hand lightly on
his neck, she moved towards the house and slowly ascended the
graduating slopes of the grass terrace. Here she was suddenly met by
"Beg your pardon, Miss," he said, with an apologetic air, "but
there's an old man from the village come up to see you--a very old
man,--he's had to be carried in a chair, and it's took a couple of
men nigh an hour and a half to bring him along. He says he knew you
years ago--I hardly like to send him away--"
"Certainly not!--of course you mustn't send him away," said
Maryllia, quickening her steps; "Poor old dear! Where is he?"
"In the great, hall, Miss. They brought him through the courtyard
and got him in there, before I had time to send them round to the
Maryllia entered the house. There she was met by Mrs. Spruce, with
"Well, it do beat me altogether, Miss," she exclaimed, "as to how
these silly men, my 'usband, too, one of the silliest, beggin' your
parding, could bring that poor old Josey Letherbarrow up here all
this way! And he not toddled beyond the church this seven or eight
years! And it's all about those blessed Five Sisters they've come,
though I told 'em you can't nohow be worrited and can't see no one--
"But I can!" said Maryllia decisively; "I can see anyone who wishes
to see me, and I will. Let me pass, Mrs. Spruce, please!"
Mrs. Spruce, thus abruptly checked, stood meekly aside, controlling
her desire to pour forth fresh remonstrances at the unseemliness of
any person or persons intruding upon the lady of the Manor at so
late an hour in the evening as half-past nine o'clock. Maryllia
hastened into the hall and there found an odd group awaiting her,
composed of three very odd-looking personages,--much more novel and
striking in their oddity than anything that could have been
presented to her view in the social whirl of Paris and London. Josey
Letherbarrow was the central figure, seated bolt upright in a cane
arm-chair, through the lower part of which a strong pole had been
thrust, securely nailed and clamped, as well as tied in a somewhat
impromptu fashion with clothes-line. This pole projected about two
feet on either side of the chair to accommodate the bearers, namely
Spruce and Bainton, who, having set their burden down, were now
wiping their hot faces and perspiring brows with flagrantly coloured
handkerchiefs of an extra large size. As Maryllia appeared, they
abruptly desisted from this occupation and remained motionless,
stricken with sudden confusion and embarrassment. Not so old Josey,
for with unexpected alacrity he got out of his chair and stood
upright, supporting himself on his stick, and doffing his old straw
hat to the light girlish figure that approached him with the grace
of kindliness and sympathy expressed in its every movement.
"There she be!" he exclaimed; "There be the little gel wot I used to
know when she was a babby, God bless 'er! Jes' the same eyes and
'air and purty face of 'er! Welcome 'ome to th' owld Squire's
daughter, mates! D'ye 'ear me!" And he turned a dim rolling eye of
command on Spruce and Bainton--"I sez welcome 'ome! And when I sez
it I'spect it to be said arter me by the both of ye,--welcome 'ome!"
Spruce, unable to hear a word of this exordium, smiled sheepishly,--
and twirling the cap he held, put his coloured handkerchief into it
and squeezed it tightly within the lining. Bainton, with the
impending fate of the Five Sisters in view, judged it advisable not
to irritate or disobey the old gentleman whom he had brought forward
as special pleader in the case, and gathering his wits together he
spoke out bravely.
"Welcome 'ome, it is, Josey!" he said; "We both sez it, and we both
means it! And we 'opes the young lady will not take it amiss as 'ow
we've come to see 'er on the first night of 'er return, and wish 'er
'appy in the old 'ouse and long may she remain in it!"
Here he broke off, his eloquence being greatly disturbed by the
gracious smile Maryllia gave him.
"Thank you so much!" she murmured sweetly; and then going up to
Josey Letherbarrow, she patted the brown wrinkled hand that grasped
the stick. "How kind and good of you to come and see me! And so you
knew me when I was a little girl? I hope I was nice to you! Was I?"
Josey waved his straw hat speechlessly. His first burst of
enthusiasm over, he was somewhat dazed, and a little uncertain as to
how he should next proceed with his mission,
"Tell 'er as 'ow the Five Sisters be chalked;" growled Bainton in an
But Josey's mind had gone wandering far afield, groping amid
memories of the past, and his aged eyes were fixed on Maryllia with
a strange look of wonder and remembrance commingled.
"Th' owld Squire! Th' owld Squire!" he muttered; "I see 'im now--as
broad an' tall and well-set up a gentleman as ever lived--and sez
he: 'Josey, that little white thing is all I've got left of the wife
I was bringin' 'ome to be the sunshine of the old Manor.' Ay, he
said that! 'Its eyes are like those of my Dearest!' Ay, he said
that, too! The little white thing! She's 'ere,--and th' owld
The pathos of his voice struck Maryllia to the heart,--and for the
moment she could not keep back a few tears that gathered, despite
herself, and glistened on her long lashes. Furtively she dashed them
away, but not before Bainton had seen them.
"Well, arter all, Josey's nothin' but a meanderin' old idgit!" he
thought angrily: "'Ere 'ave I been an' took 'im for a wise man wot
would know exackly 'ow to begin and ask for the sparin' of the old
trees, and if he ain't gone on the wrong tack altogether and made
the poor little lady cry! I think I'll do a bit of this business
myself while I've got the chance--for if I don't, ten to one he'll
be tellin' the story of the wopses' nest next, and a fine oncommon
show we'll make of ourselves 'ere with our manners." And he coughed
loudly--"Ahem! Josey, will you tell Miss Vancourt about the Five
Sisters, or shall I?"
Maryllia glanced from one to the other in bewilderment.
"The Five Sisters!" she echoed; "Who are they?"
Here Spruce imagined, as he often did, that he had been asked a
"Such were our orders from Mr. Leach," he said, in his quiet equable
voice; "We's to be there to-morrow marnin' quarter afore six with
ropes and axes."
"Ropes and axes shall not avail against the finger of the Lord, or
the wrath of the Almighty!" said Josey Letherbarrow, suddenly coming
out of his abstraction; "And if th' owld Squire were alive he
wouldn't have had 'em touched--no, not he! He'd ha' starved sooner!
And if the Five Sisters are laid low, the luck of the Manor will lay
low with 'em! But it's not too late--not too late!"--and he turned
his face, now alive in its every feature with strong emotion, to
Maryllia--"Not too late if the Squire's little gel is still her
father's pride and glory! And that's what I've come for to the Manor
this night,--I ain't been inside the old 'ouse for this ten 'ear or
more, but they's brought me,--me--old Josey,--stiff as I am, and
failin' as I am, to see ye, my dear little gel, and ask ye for God's
love to save the old trees wot 'as waved in the woodland free and
wild for 'undreds o' years, and wot deserves more gratitude from
Abbot's Manor than killin' for long service!"
He began to tremble with nervous excitement, and Maryllia put her
hand soothingly on his arm.
"You must sit down, Josey," she said; "You will be so tired
standing! Sit down and tell me all about it! What trees are you
speaking of? And who is going to cut them down! You see I don't know
anything about the place yet,--I've only just arrived--but if they
are my trees, and you say my father would not have wished them to be
cut down, they shan't be cut down!--be sure of that!"
Josey's eyes sparkled, and he waved his battered hat triumphantly.
"Didn't I tell ye?" he exclaimed, turning round upon Bainton;
"Didn't I say as 'ow this was the way to do it?--and as 'ow the
little gel wot I knew as a baby would listen to me when she wouldn't
listen to no one else? An' as 'ow the Five Sisters would be spared?
An' worn't I right! Worn't I true?"
"You really must sit down!" she said again, gently persuading him
into his chair, wherein he sank heavily, like a stone, though his
face shone with alertness and vigour. "Primmins!" and she addressed
that functionary who had been standing in the background watching
the little scene; "Bring some glasses of port wine." Primmins
vanished to execute this order. "Now, you dear old man," continued
Maryllia, drawing up an oaken settle close to Josey's knee and
seating herself with a confidential air; "you must tell me just what
you want me to do, and I will do it!"
She looked a mere child, with her fair face upturned and her
rippling hair falling loosely away from her brows. A great
tenderness softened Josey's eyes as he fixed them upon her.
"God Almighty bless ye!" he said, raising his trembling hand above
her head; "God bless ye in your uprisin' and downlyin',--and make
the old 'ouse and the old ways sweet to ye! For there's naught like
'ome in a wild wandering world--and naught like love to make
'appiness out of sorrow! God bless ye, dear little gel!--and give ye
all your 'art's desire, if so be it's for your good and guidin'!"
Instinctively, Maryllia bent her head with a pretty reverence under
the benediction of so venerable a personage, and gently pressed the
wrinkled hand as it slowly dropped again. Then glancing at Bainton,
she said softly:
"He's very tired, I'm afraid!--perhaps too tired to tell me all he
wishes to say. Will you explain what it is he wants?"
Bainton, thus adjured, took courage.
"Thank ye kindly, Miss; and if I may make so bold, it's not what he
wants more'n wot all the village wants and wot we've been 'opin'
against 'ope for, trustin' to the chance of your comin' 'ome to do
it for us. Passon Walden he's a rare good man, and he's done all he
can, and he's been and seen Oliver Leach, but it ain't all no use,--
He paused, as Maryllia interrupted him by a gesture.
"Oliver Leach?" she queried; "He's my agent here, I believe?"
"Jes' so, Miss--he was put in as agent arter the Squire's death, and
he's been 'ere ever since, bad luck to 'im! And he's been a-cuttin'
down timber on the place whenever he's took a mind to, askin' no by-
your-leaves, and none of us 'adn't no right to say a wurrd, he bein'
master-like--but when it comes to the Five Sisters--why then we sez,
if the Five Sisters lay low there's an end of the pride and
prosperity of the village, an' Passon Walden he be main worrited
about it, for he do love trees like as they were his own brothers,
m'appen more'n brothers, for sometimes there's no love lost twixt
the likes o' they, and beggin' your pardon, Miss, he sent me to ye
with a message from hisself 'fore dinner, but you was a-lyin' down
and couldn't be disturbed nohow, so I goes down to Spruce"--here
Bainton indicated the silent Spruce with a jerk of his thumb--"he be
the forester 'ere, under Mr. Leach's orders, as deaf as a post
unless you 'ollers at him, but a good-meanin' man for all that--and
I sez, 'Spruce, you and me 'ull go an' fetch old Josey Letherbarrow,
and see if bein' the oldest 'n'abitant, as they sez in books, he
can't get a wurrd with Miss Vancourt, and so 'ere we be, Miss, for
the trees be chalked"--and he turned abruptly to Spruce and
bellowed--"Baint the trees chalked for comin' down to-morrow
marnin'? Speak fair!"
Spruce heard, and at once gave a lucid statement.
"By Mr. Leach's orders, Miss," he said, addressing Maryllia; "The
five old beech-trees on the knoll, which the village folk call the
'Five Sisters,' are to be felled to-morrow marnin'. They've stood,
so I'm told, an' so I b'lieve, two or three hundred years--"
"And they're going to be cut down!" exclaimed Maryllia. "I never
heard of such wickedness! How disgraceful!"
Spruce saw by the movement of her lips that she was speaking, and
therefore at once himself subsided into silence. Bainton again took
up the parable.
"He's nigh stone-deaf, Miss, so you'll 'scuse him if he don't open
his mouth no more till we shouts at him--but what he sez is true
enough. At six o'clock to-morrow marnin'--"
Here Primmins entered with the port wine.
"Primmins, where does the agent, Leach, live?" enquired Maryllia.
"I really couldn't say, Miss. I'll ask--"
"'Tain't no use askin'," said Bainton; "He lives a mile out of the
village; but he ain't at 'ome nohow this evenin' bein' gone to
Riversford town for a bit o' gamblin' at cards. Lor', Miss, beggin'
yer pardon, gamblin' with the cards do get rid o' timber--it do
Maryllia took a glass of port wine from the tray which Primmins
handed to her, and gave it herself to old Josey. Her mind had
entirely grasped the situation, despite the prolix nature of
Bainton's discourse. A group of historic old trees were to be felled
by the agent's orders at six o'clock the next morning unless she
prevented it. That was the sum total of the argument. And here was
something for her to do, and she resolved to do it.
"Now, Josey," she said with a smile, "you must drink a glass of wine
to my health. And you also--and you!" and she nodded encouragingly
to Spruce and Bainton; "And be quite satisfied about the trees--they
shall not be touched."
"God bless ye!" said Josey, drinking off his wine at a gulp; "And
long life t'ye and 'appiness to enjoy it!"
Bainton, with a connoisseur's due appreciation of a good old brand,
sipped at his glass slowly, while Spruce, hastily swallowing his
measure of the cordial, wiped his mouth furtively with the back of
his hand, murmuring: "Your good 'elth, an' many of 'em!"