Part 4 out of 12
"Wishin' ye long days o' peace an' plenty," said Bainton, between
his appreciative sips; "But as fur as the trees is consarned,
you'll'scuse me, Miss, for sayin' it, but the time bein' short, I
don't see 'ow it's goin' to be 'elped, Oliver Leach bein' away, and
no post delivered at his 'ouse till eight o'clock--"
"I will settle all that," said Maryllia--"You must leave everything
to me. In the meantime,"--and she glanced at Spruce,--then
appealingly turned to Bainton,--"Will you try and make your friend
understand an order I want to give him? Or shall I ask Mrs. Spruce
to come and speak to him?"
"Lord love ye, he'll be sharper to hear me than his wife, Miss,
beggin' yer pardon," said Bainton, with entire frankness. "He's too
accustomed to her jawin' an' wouldn't get a cleat impression like.
Spruce!" And he uplifted his voice in a roar that made the old
rafters of the hall ring. "Get ready to take Miss Vancourt's orders,
Spruce was instantly on the alert, and put his hand to his ear.
"Tell him, please," said Maryllia, still addressing Bainton, "that
he is to meet the agent as arranged at the appointed place to-morrow
morning; but that he is not to take any ropes or axes or any men
with him. He is simply to say that by Miss Vancourt's orders the
trees are not to be touched."
These words Bainton dutifully bellowed into Spruce's semi-closed
organs of hearing. A look first of astonishment and then of fear
came over the simple fellow's face.
"I'm afraid," he at last faltered, "that the lady does not know what
a hard man Mr. Leach is; he'll as good as kill me if I go there
alone to him!"
"Lord love ye, man, you won't be alone!" roared Bainton,--"There's
plenty in the village 'ull take care o' that!"
"Say to him," continued Maryllia steadily, noting the forester's
troubled countenance, "he must now remember that I am mistress here,
and that my orders, even if given at the last moment, are to be
"That's it!" chuckled Josey Letherbarrow, knocking his stick on the
ground in a kind of ecstasy,--"That's it! Things ain't goin' to be
as they 'as been now the Squire's little gel is 'ome! That's it!"
And he nodded emphatically. "Give a reskil rope enough an' he'll
'ang hisself by the neck till he be dead, and the Lord ha' mercy on
Maryllia smiled, watching all her three quaint visitors with a
sensation of mingled interest and whimsical amusement.
"D'ye hear? You're to tell Leach," shouted Bainton, "that Miss
Vancourt is mistress 'ere, and her orders is to be obeyed at the
last moment! Which you might ha' understood without splittin' my
throat to tell ye, if ye had a little more sense, which, lackin',
'owever, can't be 'elped. What are ye afeard of, eh?"
"Mr. Leach is a hard man," continued Spruce, anxiously glancing at
Maryllia; "He would lose me my place if he could--:"
Maryllia heard, and privately decided that the person to lose his
place would be Leach himself. "It is quite exciting!" she thought;
"I was wondering a while ago what I should do to amuse myself in the
country, and here I am called upon at once to remedy wrongs and
settle village feuds! Nothing could be more novel and delightful!"
Aloud, she said,--
"None of the people who were in my father's service will lose their
places with me, unless for some very serious fault. Please"--and she
raised her eyes in pretty appeal to Bainton, "Please make everybody
understand that! Are you one of the foresters here?"
Bainton shook his head.
"No, Miss,--I'm the Passon's head man. I does all his gardening and
keeps a few flowers growin' in the churchyard. There's a rose
climbin' over the cross on the old Squire's grave what will do ye
good to see, come another fortnight of this warm weather. But
Passon, he be main worrited about the Five Sisters, and knowin' as
'ow I'd worked for the old Squire at 'arvest an,' sich-like, he
thought I might be able to 'splain to ye--"
"I see!" said Maryllia, thoughtfully, surveying with renewed
interest the old-world figure of Josey Letherbarrow in his clean
smock-frock. "Now, how are you going to get Josey home again?" And a
smile irradiated her face. "Will you carry him along just as you
"Why, yes, Miss--it'll be all goin' downhill now, and there's a moon,
and it'll be easy work. And if so be we're sure the Five Sisters
'ull be saved--"
"You may be perfectly certain of it," said Maryllia interrupting him
with a little gesture of decision--"Only you must impress well on
Mr. Spruce here, that my orders are to be obeyed."
"Beggin' yer pardon, Miss--what Spruce is afeard of is that Leach
may tell him he's a liar, and may jest refuse to obey. That's quite
on the cards, Miss--it is reely now!"
"Oh, is it, indeed!" and Maryllia's eyes flashed with a sudden fire
that made them look brighter and deeper than ever and revealed a
depth of hidden character not lacking in self-will,--"Well, we shall
see! At any rate, I have given my orders, and I expect them to be
carried out! You understand!"
"I do, Miss;" and Bainton touched his forelock respectfully; "An'
while we're joggin' easy downhill with Josey, I'll get it well
rubbed into Spruce. And, by yer leave, if you hain't no objection,
I'll tell Passon Walden that sich is your orders, and m'appen he'll
find a way of impressin' Leach straighter than we can." Maryllia
was not particularly disposed to have the parson brought into her
affairs, but she waived the query lightly aside.
"You can do as you like about that," she said carelessly; "As the
parson is your master, you can of course tell him if you think he
will be interested. But I really don't see why he should be asked to
interfere. My orders are sufficient."
A very decided ring of authority in the clear voice warned Bainton
that here was a lady who was not to be trifled with, or to be told
this or that, or to be put off from her intentions by any influence
whatsoever. He could not very well offer a reply, so he merely
touched his forelock again and was discreetly silent. Maryllia then
turned playfully to Josey Letherbarrow.
"Now are you quite happy?" she asked. "Quite easy in your mind about
"Thanks be to the Lord and you, God bless ye!" said Josey, piously;
"I'm sartin sure the Five Sisters 'ull wave their leaves in the
blessed wind long arter I'm laid under the turf and the daisies!
I'll sleep easy this night for knowin' it, and thank ye kindly and
all blessin' be with ye! And if I never sees ye no more--"
"Now, Josey, don't talk nonsense!" said Maryllia, with a pretty
little air of protective remonstrance; "Such a clever old person as
you are ought to know better than to be morbid! 'Never see me no
more' indeed! Why I'm coming to see you soon,--very soon! I shall
find out where you live, and I shall pay you a visit! I'm a dreadful
talker! You shall tell me all about the village and the people in
it, and I'm sure I shall learn more from you in an hour than if I
studied the place by myself for a week! Shan't I?"
Josey was decidedly flattered. The port wine had reddened his nose
and had given an extra twinkle to his eyes.
"Well, I ain't goin' to deny but what I knows a thing or two--" he
began, with a sly glance at her.
"Of course you do! Heaps of things! I shall coax them all out of
you! And now, good-night!--No!--don't get up!" for Josey was making
herculean efforts to rise from his chair again. "Just stay where you
are, and let them carry you carefully home. Good-night!"
She gave a little salute which included all three of her rustic
visitors, and moved away. Passing under the heavily-carved arched
beams of oak which divided the hall from the rest of the house, she
turned her head backward over her shoulder with a smile.
"Good-night, Ambassador Josey!"
Josey waved his old hat energetically.
"Good-night, my beauty! Good-night to Squire's gel! Good-night--"
But before he could pile on any more epithets, she was gone, and the
butler Primmins stood in her place.
"I'll help give you a lift down to the gates," he said, surveying
Josey with considerable interest; "You're a game old chap for your
Josey was still waving his hat to the dark embrasure through which
Maryllia's white figure had vanished.
"Ain't she a beauty? Ain't she jest a real Vancourt pride?" he
demanded excitedly; "Lord! We won't know ourselves in a month or
two! You marrk my wurrds, boys! See if what I say don't come true!
Leach may cheat the gallus, but he won't cheat them blue eyes, let
him try ever so! They'll be the Lord's arrows in his skin! You see
if they ain't!"
Bainton here gave a signal to Spruce, and they hoisted up the
improvised carrying-chair between them, Primmins steadying it
"There ain't goin' to be no layin' low of the Five Sisters!" Josey
continued with increasing shrillness and excitement as he was borne
out into the moonlit courtyard; "And there ain't goin' to be no
devil's work round the old Manor no more! Welcome 'ome to Squire's
gel! Welcome 'ome!"
"Shut up, Josey!" said Bainton, though kindly enough--"You'll soon
part with all the breath you've got in yer body if ye makes a
screech owl of yerself like that in the night air! You's done enough
for once in a way,--keep easy an' quiet while we carries ye back to
the village--ye weighs a hundred pound 'eavier if ye're noisy,--ye
do reely now!"
Thus adjured, Josey subsided into silence, and what with the joy he
felt at the success of his embassy, the warm still air, and the
soothing influence of the moonlight, he soon fell fast asleep, and
did not wake till he arrived at his own home in safety. Having
deposited him there, and seen to his comfort, Spruce and Bainton
left him to his night's rest, and held a brief colloquy outside his
"I'm awful 'feard goin' to-morrow marnin' up to the Five Sisters
with ne'er a tool and ne'er a man,--Leach 'ull be that wild!" said
Spruce, his rubicund face paling at the very thought--"If I could
but 'ave 'ad written instructions, like!"
"Why didn't you ask for 'em while you 'ad the chance?" demanded
Bainton testily; "It's too late now to bother your mind with what ye
might ha' done if ye'd had a bit of gumption. And it's too late for
me to be goin' and speakin' to Passon Walden. There's nothin' to be
done now till the marnin'!"
"Nothin' to be done till the marnin'," echoed Spruce with a sigh,
catching these words by happy chance; "All the same, she's a fine
young lady, and 'er orders is to be obeyed. She ain't a bit like
what I expected her to be."
"Nor she ain't what I bet she would be," said Bainton, heedless as
to whether his companion heard him or not; "I've lost 'arf a crown
to my old 'ooman, for I sez, sez I, 'She's bound to be a 'igh an'
mighty stuck-up sort o' miss wot won't never 'ave a wurrd for the
likes of we,' an' my old 'ooman she sez to me: 'Go 'long with ye for
a great silly gawk as ye are; I'll bet ye 'arf a crown she won't
be!' So I sez 'Done,'--an' done it is. For she's just as sweet as
clover in the spring, an' seems as gentle as a lamb,--though I
reckon she's got a will of 'er own and a mind to do what she likes,
when and 'ow she likes. I'll 'ave a fine bit o' talk with Passon
'bout her as soon as iver he gives me the chance."
"Ay, good-night it is," observed Spruce, placidly taking all these
remarks as evening adieux,--"Yon moon's got 'igh, and it's time for
bed if so be we rises early. Easy rest ye!"
Bainton nodded. It was all the response necessary. The two then
separated, going their different ways to their different homes,
Spruce having to get back to the Manor and a possible curtain-
lecture from his wife. All the village was soon asleep,--and eleven
o'clock rang from the church-tower over closed cottages in which not
a nicker of lamp or candle was to be seen. The moonbeams shed a
silver rain upon the outlines of the neatly thatched roofs and
barns--illumining with touches of radiance as from heaven, the
beautiful 'God's House' which dominated the whole cluster of humble
habitations. Everything was very quiet,--the little hive of humanity
had ceased buzzing; and the intense stillness was only broken by the
occasional murmur of a ripple breaking from the river against the
Up at the Manor, however, the lights were not yet extinguished.
Maryllia, on the departure of 'Ambassador Josey' as she had called
him, and his two convoys, had sent for Mrs. Spruce and had gone very
closely with her into certain matters connected with Mr. Oliver
Leach. It had been difficult work,--for Mrs. Spruce's garrulity,
combined with her habit of wandering from the immediate point of
discussion, and her anxiety to avoid involving herself or her
husband in trouble, had created a chaotic confusion in her mind,
which somewhat interfered with the lucidity of her statements.
Little by little, however, Maryllia extracted a sufficient number of
facts from her hesitating and reluctant evidence to gain
considerable information on many points respecting the management of
her estate, and she began to feel that her return home was
providential and had been in a manner pre-ordained. She learned all
that Mrs. Spruce could tell her respecting the famous 'Five
Sisters'; how they were the grandest and most venerable trees in all
the country round--and how they stood all together on a grassy
eminence about a mile and a half from the Manor house and on the
Manor lands just beyond the more low-lying woods that spread
between. Whereupon Maryllia decided that she would take an early
ride over her property the next day,--and gave orders that her
favourite mare, 'Cleopatra,' ready saddled and bridled, should be
brought round to the door at five o'clock the next morning. This
being settled, and Mrs. Spruce having also humbly stated that all
the peacock's feathers she could find had been summarily cast forth
from the Manor through the medium of the parcels' post, Maryllia
bade her a kindly good-night.
"To-morrow," she said, "we will go all over the house together, and
you will explain everything to me. But the first thing to be done is
to save those old trees."
"Well, no one wouldn't 'ave saved 'em if so be as you 'adn't come
'ome, Miss," declared Mrs. Spruce. "For Mr. Leach he be a man of his
word, and as obs'nate as they makes 'em, which the Lord Almighty
knows men is all made as obs'nate as pigs--and he's been master over
the place like--"
"More's the pity!" said Maryllia; "But he is master here no longer,
Spruce; I am now both mistress and master. Remember that, please!"
Mrs. Spruce curtseyed dutifully and withdrew. The close cross-
examination she had undergone respecting Leach had convinced her of
two things,--firstly, that her new mistress, though such a
childlike-looking creature, was no fool,--and secondly, that though
she was perfectly gentle, kind, and even affectionate in her manner,
she evidently had a will of her own, which it seemed likely she
would enforce, if necessary, with considerable vigour and
imperativeness. And so the worthy old housekeeper decided that on
the whole it would be well to be careful--to mind one's P's and Q's
as it were,--to pause before rushing pell-mell into a flood of
unpremeditated speech, and to pay the strictest possible attention
to her regular duties.
"Then m'appen we'll stay on in the old place," she considered; "But
if we doos those things which we ought not to have done, as they sez
in the prayer-book, we'll get the sack in no time, for all that she
looks so smilin' and girlie-like."
And so profound were her cogitations on this point that she actually
forgot to give her husband the sound rating she had prepared for him
concerning the part he had taken in bringing Josey Letherbarrow up
to the Manor. Returning from the village in some trepidation, that
harmless man was allowed to go to bed and sleep in peace, with no
more than a reminder shrilled into his ears to be 'up with the dawn,
as Miss Maryllia would be about early.'
Maryllia herself, meanwhile, quite unconscious that her small
personality had made any marked or tremendous effect upon her
domestics, retired to rest in happy mood. She was glad to be in her
own home, and still more glad to find herself needed there.
"I've been an absolutely useless creature up till now," she said,
shaking down her hair, after the maid Nancy had disrobed her and
left her for the night. "The fact is, there never was a more utterly
idle and nonsensical creature in the world than I am! I've done
nothing but dress and curl my hair, and polish my face, and dance,
and flirt and frivol the time away. Now, if I only am able to save
five historical old trees, I shall have done something useful;--
something more than half the women I know would ever take the
trouble to do. For, of course, I suppose I shall have a row,--or as
Aunt Emily would say 'words,'--with the agent. All the better! I
love a fight,--especially with a man who thinks himself wiser than I
am! That is where men are so ridiculous,--they always think
themselves wiser than women, even though some of them can't earn
their own living except through a woman's means. Lots of men will
take a woman's money, and sneer at her while spending it! I know
them!" And she nestled into her bed, with a little cosy cuddling
movement of her soft white shoulders; "'Take all and give nothing!'
is the motto of modern manhood;--I don't admire it,--I don't endorse
it; I never shall! The true motto of love and chivalry should be
'Give all--take nothing'!"
Midnight chimed from the courtyard turret. She listened to the
mellow clang with a sense of pleased comfort and security.
"Many people would think of ghosts and all sorts of uncanny things
in an old, old house like this at midnight;" she thought; "But
somehow I don't believe there are any ghosts here. At any rate, not
unpleasant ones;--only dear and loving 'home' ghosts, who will do me
She soon sank into a restful slumber, and the moonlight poured in
through the old latticed windows, forming a delicate tracery of
silver across the faded rose silken coverlet of the bed, and showing
the fair face, half in light, half in shade, that rested against the
pillow, with the unbound hair scattered loosely on either side of
it, like a white lily between two leaves of gold. And as the hours
wore on, and the silence grew more intense, the slow and somewhat
rusty pendulum of the clock in the tower could just be heard faintly
ticking its way on towards the figures of the dawn. "Give all--take
nothing--Give--all--take--no--thing!" it seemed to say;--the motto
of love and the code of chivalry, according to Maryllia.
A thin silver-grey mist floating delicately above the river Rest and
dispersing itself in light wreaths across the flowering banks and
fields, announced the breaking of the dawn,--and John Walden, who
had passed a restless night, threw open his bedroom window widely,
with a sense of relief that at last the time had come again for
movement and action. His blood was warm and tingling with suppressed
excitement,--he was ready for a fight, and felt disposed to enjoy
it. His message to Miss Vancourt had apparently failed,--for on the
previous evening Bainton had sent round word to say that he had been
unable to see the lady before dinner, but that he was going to try
again later on. No result of this second attempt had been
forthcoming, so Walden concluded that his gardener had received a
possibly curt and complete rebuff from the new 'Squire-ess,' and had
been too much disheartened by his failure to come and report it.
"Never mind!--we'll have a tussle for the trees!" said John to
himself, as after his cold tubbing he swung his dumb-bells to and
fro with the athletic lightness and grace of long practice; "If the
villagers are prepared to contest Leach's right to destroy the Five
Sisters, I'll back them up in it! I will! And I'll speak my mind to
Miss Vancourt too! She is no doubt as apathetic and indifferent to
sentiment as all her 'set,' but if I can prick her through her
pachydermatous society skin, I'll do it!"
Having got himself into a great heat and glow with this mental
resolve and his physical exertions combined, he hastily donned his
clothes, took his stoutest walking-stick, and sallied forth into the
cool dim air of the as yet undeclared morning, the faithful Nebbie
accompanying him. Scarcely, however, had he shut his garden gate
behind him when Bainton confronted him.
"Oh, there you are!" said Walden--"Well, now what's going to be
"Nothin's goin' to be done;" rejoined Bainton stolidly, with his
usual inscrutable smile; "Unless m'appen Spruce is 'avin' every bone
broke in his body 'fore we gets there. Ye see, he ain't got no
written orders like,--and mebbe Leach 'ull tell him he's a liar and
that Miss Vancourt's instructions is all my eye!"
"Miss Vancourt's instructions?" echoed Walden; "Has she given any?"
"Of coorse she has!" replied Bainton, triumphantly; "Which is that
the trees is not to be touched on no account. And she's told Spruce,
through me,--which I bellowed it all into his ear,--to go and meet
Leach this marnin' up by the Five Sisters and give him 'er message
straight from the shoulder!"
Walden's face cleared and brightened visibly.
"I'm glad--I'm very glad!" he said; "I hardly thought she could
sanction such an outrage--but, tell me, how did you manage to give
her my message?"
"'Tworn't your message at all, Passon, don't you think it!" said
Bainton; "You ain't got so fur as that. She's not the sort o' lady
to take a message from no one, whether passon, pope or emp'rur. Not
she! It was old Josey Letherbarrow as done it." And he related the
incidents of the past evening in a style peculiar to himself, laying
considerable weight on his own remarkable intelligence and foresight
in having secured the 'oldest 'n'abitant' of the village to act as
representative and ambassador for the majority.
Walden listened with keen interest.
"Yes,--Leach is likely to be quarrelsome," he said, at its
conclusion; "There's no doubt about that. We mustn't leave Spruce to
bear the brunt of his black rage all alone. Come along, Bainton!--I
will enforce Miss Vancourt's orders myself if necessary."
This was just what Bainton wanted,--and master and man started off
at a swinging pace for the scene of action, Bainton pouring forth as
he went a glowing description of the wonderful and unexpected charm
of the new mistress of the Manor.
"There ain't been nothin' like her in our neighbourhood iver at all,
so fur as I can remember," he declared. "A' coorse I must ha' seed
her when I worked for th' owld Squire at whiles, but she was a child
then, an' I ain't a good hand at rememberin' like Josey be, besides
I never takes much 'count of childern runnin' round. But 'ere was we
all a-thinkin' she'd be a 'igh an' mighty fashion-plate, and she
ain't nothin' of the sort, onny jest like a little sugar figure on,
a weddin'-cake wot looks sweet at ye and smiles pleasant,--though
she's got a flash in them eyes of her which minds me of a pony wot
ain't altogether broke in. Josey, he sez them eyes is a-goin' to
finish up Leach,--which mebbe they will and mebbe they won't;--all
the same they's eyes you won't see twice in a lifetime! Lord love
ye, Passon, ain't it strange 'ow the Almighty puts eyes in the 'eads
of women wot ain't a bit like wot he puts in the 'eads of men! We
gets the sight all right, but somehow we misses the beauty. An'
there's plenty of women wot has eyes correct in stock and colour, as
we sez of the flowers,--but they're like p'ison berries, shinin' an'
black an' false-like,--an' if ye touch 'em ye're a dead man.
Howsomever when ye sees eyes like them that was smilin' at old Josey
last night, why it's jest a wonderful thing; and it don't make me
s'prised no more at the Penny Poltry-books wot's got such a lot
about blue eyes in 'em. Blue's the colour--there's no doubt about
it;--there ain't no eye to beat a blue one!"
Walden heard all this disjointed talk with a certain impatience.
Swinging along at a rapid stride, and glad in a sense that the old
trees were to be saved, he was nevertheless conscious of annoyance,-
-though by whom, or at what he was annoyed, he could not have told.
Plunging into the dewy woods, with all the pungent odours of moss
and violets about his feet, he walked swiftly on, Bainton having
some difficulty to keep up with him. The wakening birds were
beginning to pipe their earliest carols; gorgeously-winged insects,
shaken by the passing of human footsteps from their slumbers in the
cups of flowers, soared into the air like jewels suddenly loosened
from the floating robes of Aurora,--and the gentle stir of rousing
life sent a pulsing wave through the long grass. Every now and again
Bainton glanced up at the 'Passon's' face and murmured under his
breath,--'Blue's the colour--there ain't nowt to beat it!' possibly
inspired thereto by the very decided blue sparkle in the eyes of the
'man of God' who was marching steadily along in the 'Onward
Christian Soldiers' style, with his shoulders well back, his head
well poised, and his whole bearing expressive of both decision and
Out of the woods they passed into an open clearing, where the
meadows, tenderly green and wet with dew, sloped upwards into small
hillocks, sinking again into deep dingles, adorned with may-trees
that were showing their white buds like little pellets of snow among
the green, and where numerous clusters of blackthorn spread out
lovely lavish tangles of blossom as fine as shreds of bleached wool
or thread-lace upon its jet-like stems. Across these fields dotted
with opening buttercups and daisies, Walden and his 'head man about
the place' made quick way, and climbing the highest portion of the
rising ground just in front of them, arrived at a wide stretch of
peaceful pastoral landscape comprising a fine view of the river in
all its devious windings through fields and pastures, overhung at
many corners with ancient willows, and clasping the village of St.
Rest round about as with a girdle of silver and blue. Here on a
slight eminence stood the venerable sentinels of the fair scene,--
the glorious old 'Five Sisters' beeches which on this very morning
had been doomed to bid farewell for ever to the kind sky. Noble
creatures were they in their splendid girth and broadly-stretching
branches, which were now all alive with the palest and prettiest
young green,--and as Walden sprang up the thyme-scented turfy ascent
which lifted them proudly above all their compeers, his heart beat
with mingled indignation and gladness,--indignation that such grand
creations of a bountiful Providence should ever have been so much as
threatened with annihilation by a destructive, ill-conditioned human
pigmy like Oliver Leach,--and gladness, that at the last moment
their safety was assured through the intervention of old Josey
Letherbarrow. For, of course Miss Vancourt herself would never have
troubled about them. Walden made himself inwardly positive on that
score. She could have no particular care or taste for trees, John
thought. It was the pathetic pleading of Josey,--his quaint
appearance, his extreme age--and his touching feebleness, which
taken all together had softened the callous heart of the mistress of
the Manor, and had persuaded her to stay the intended outrage.
"If Josey had asked her to spare a gooseberry bush, she would
probably have consented," said Walden to himself; "He is so old and
frail,--she could hardly have refused his appeal without seeming to
be almost inhuman."
Here his reflections were abruptly terminated by a clamour of angry
voices, and hastening his steps up the knoll, he there confronted a
group of rough rustic lads gathered in a defensive half-circle round
Spruce who, white and breathless, was bleeding profusely from a deep
cut across his forehead. Opposite him stood Oliver Leach, livid with
rage, grasping a heavy dog-whip.
"You damned, deaf liar!" he shouted; "Do you think I'm going to take
YOUR word? How dare you disobey my orders! I'll have you kicked off
the place, you and your loud-tongued wife and the whole kit of you!
What d'ye mean by bringing these louts up from the village to bull-
bait me, eh? What d'ye mean by it? I'll have you all locked up in
Riversford jail before the day's much older! You whining cur!" And
he raised his whip threateningly. "I've given you one, and I'll give
"Noa, ye woan't!" said a huge, raw-boned lad, standing out from the
rest. "You woan't strike 'im no more, if ye wants a hull skin! Me
an' my mates 'ull take care o' that! You go whoam, Mister Leach!--
you go whoam!--you've 'eerd plain as the trees is to be left
stannin'--them's the orders of the new Missis,--and you ain't no
call to be swearin' yerself black in the face, 'cos you can't get
yer own way for once. You're none so prutty lookin' that we woan't
know 'ow to make ye a bit pruttier if ye stays 'ere enny longer!"
And he grinned suggestively, doubling a portentous fist, and
beginning to roll up his shirt sleeves slowly with an ominous air of
Leach looked at the group of threatening faces, and pulled from his
pocket a notebook and pencil.
"I know you all, and I shall take down your names," he said, with
vindictive sharpness, though his lips trembled--"You, Spruce, are
under my authority, and you have deliberately disobeyed my orders--"
"And you, Leach, are under Miss Vancourt's authority and you are
deliberately refusing to obey your employer's orders!" said Walden,
suddenly emerging from the shadow east by one of the great trees,
"And you have assaulted and wounded Spruce who brought you those
orders. Shame on you, man! Riversford jail is more likely to receive
YOU as a tenant than any of these lads!" Here he turned to the young
men who on seeing their minister had somewhat sheepishly retreated,
lifting their caps and trampling backward on each other's toes; "Go
home, boys," he said peremptorily, yet kindly; "There's nothing for
you to do here. Go home to your breakfasts and your work. The trees
won't be touched--"
"Oh, won't they!" sneered Leach, now perfectly white with passion;
"Who's going to pay me for the breaking of my contract, I should
like to know? The trees are sold--they were sold as they stand a
fortnight ago,--and down they come to-day, orders or no orders; I'll
have my own men up here at work in less than an hour!"
Walden turned upon him.
"Very well then, I shall ask Miss Vancourt to set the police to
watch her trees and take you into custody;" he said, coolly; "If you
have sold the trees standing, to cover your gambling debts, you will
have to UNsell them, that's all! They never were yours to dispose
of;--you can no more sell them than you can sell the Manor. You have
no permission to make money for yourself out of other people's
property. That kind of thing is common thieving, though it MAY
sometimes pass for Estate Agency business!"
Leach sprang forward, his whip uplifted,--but before it could fall,
with one unanimous yell, the young rustics rushed upon him and
wrested it from his hand. At this moment Bainton, who had been
silently binding Spruce's cut forehead with a red cotton
handkerchief, so that the poor man presented the appearance of a
melodramatic 'stage' warrior, suddenly looked up, uttered an
exclamation, and gave a warning signal.
"Better not go on wi' the hargyment jes' now, Passon!" he said,--
"'Ere comes the humpire!"
Even as he spoke, the quick gallop of hoofs echoed thuddingly on the
velvety turf, and the group of disputants hastily scattered to right
and left, as a magnificent mare, wild-eyed and glossy-coated, dashed
into their centre and came to a swift halt, drawn up in an instant
by the touch of her rider on the rein. All eyes were turned to the
slight woman's figure in the saddle, that sat so easily, that swayed
the reins so lightly, and that seemed as it were, throned high above
them in queenly superiority--a figure wholly unconventional, clad in
a riding-skirt and jacket of a deep soft violet hue, and wearing no
hat to shield the bright hair from the fresh wind that waved its
fair ripples to and fro caressingly and tossed a shining curl loose
from the carelessly twisted braid. Murmurs of 'The new Missis!' 'Th'
owld Squire's darter!'--ran from mouth to mouth, and John Walden,
seized by a sudden embarrassment, withdrew as far as possible into
the shadow of the trees in a kind of nervous hope to escape from the
young lady's decidedly haughty glance, which swept like a flash of
light, round the assembled group and settled at last with chill
scrutiny on the livid and breathless Oliver Leach.
"You are the agent here, I presume?"
Maryllia's voice rang cold and clear,--there was not a trace of the
sweet and coaxing tone in it that had warmed the heart of old Josey
Leach looked up, lifting his cap half reluctantly.
"You have had my orders?"
Leach was silent. The young rustics hustled one another forward,
moved by strong excitement, all eager to see the feminine 'Humpire'
who had descended upon them as suddenly as a vision falling from the
skies, and all wondering what would happen next.
"You have had my orders?" repeated Maryllia;--then, as no answer was
vouchsafed to her, she looked round and perceived Bainton. To him
she at once addressed herself.
"Who has struck Spruce?"
Bainton hesitated. It was an exceedingly awkward position. He looked
appealingly, as was his wont, up into the air and among the highest
branches of the 'Five Sisters' for 'Passon Walden,' but naturally
could not discover him at that elevation.
"Come, come!" said Maryllia, imperatively--"You are not all deaf, I
hope! Give me a straight answer, one of you! Who struck Spruce?"
"Mister Leach did!" said the big-boned lad who had constituted
himself Spruce's defender. "We 'eerd down in the village as 'ow
you'd come 'ome, Miss, and as 'ow you'd give your orders that the
Five Sisters was to be left stannin', and we coomed up wi' Spruce to
see 'ow Leach 'ud take it, an' 'fore we could say a wurrd Leach he
up wi' his whip and cut Spruce across the for'ead as ye see--"
Maryllia raised her hand and silenced him with a gesture. "Thank
you! That will do. I understand!" She turned towards Leach; "What
have you to say for yourself?" "I take no orders from a servant,"
replied Leach, insolently; "I have managed this estate for ten
years, and I give in my statements and receive my instructions from
the firm of solicitors who have it in charge. I am not called upon
to accept any different arrangement without proper notice."
Maryllia heard him out with coldly attentive patience.
"You will accept a different arrangement without any further notice
at all," she said; "You will leave the premises and resign all
management of my property from this day henceforward. I dismiss you,
for disobedience and insolence, and for assaulting my servant,
Spruce, in the execution of his duty. And as for these trees, if any
man touches a bough of one of them without my permission, I will
have him prosecuted! Now you know my mind!".
She sat proudly erect in her saddle, while the village hobbledehoys
who had instinctively gathered round her, like steel shavings round
a magnet, fairly gasped for breath. Oliver Leach dismissed! Oliver
Leach, the petty tyrant, the carping, snarling jack-in-office, cast
out like a handful of bad rubbish! It was like a thunderbolt fallen
from heaven and riving the earth on which they stood! Bainton heard,
and could scarcely keep back a chuckle of satisfaction. He longed to
make Spruce understand what was going on, but that unfortunate
individual was slightly stunned by Leach's heavy blow, and sitting
on the grass with his head between his two hands, was gazing, in a
kind of stupefaction at the 'new Missis'; so that any 'bellowing'
into his ear was scarcely possible.
Leach himself stared blankly and incredulously,--his face crimsoned
with a sudden rush of enraged blood and then paled again, and
changing his former insolent tone for one both fawning and
propitiatory, he stammered out:
"I am very sorry--I--I beg your pardon, Madam!--if you will give
yourself a little time to consider, you will see I have done my duty
on this property all the time I have been connected with it. I hope
you will not dismiss me for the first fault!--I--I--admit I should
not have struck Spruce,--but--I--I was taken by surprise--I--I know
my business,--and I am not accustomed to be interfered with--" Here
his pent-up anger got the better of him and he again began to
bluster. "I have done my duty--no man better!" he said in fierce
accents. "There's not an acre of woodland here that isn't in a
better condition than it was ten years ago--Ah!--and bringing in
more money too!--and now I am to be turned off for a parcel of
village idiots who hardly know a beech from an elm! I'll make a case
of it! Sir Morton Pippitt knows me--I'll speak to Sir Morton
"Sir Morton Pippitt!" echoed Maryllia disdainfully; "What has he to
do with me or my property?" Here she suddenly spied Walden, who, in
his eagerness to hear every word that passed had, unconsciously to
himself, moved well out of the sheltering shadow of the trees--"Are
YOU Sir Morton Pippitt?"
A broad grin, deepening into a scarcely suppressed titter, Went the
round of the gaping young rustics. Walden himself smiled,--and
recognising that the time had now come to declare himself, he
advanced a step or two and lifted his hat.
"I have not that pleasure! I am the minister of this parish, and my
name is John Walden. I'm afraid I am rather a trespasser here!--but
I have loved these old trees for many years, and I came up this
morning,--having heard what your orders were from my gardener
Bainton,--to see that those orders were properly carried out,--and
also to save possible disturbance--"
He broke off. Maryllia, while he spoke, had eyed him somewhat
critically, and now favoured him with a charming smile.
"Thank you very much!" she said sweetly; "It was most kind of you! I
wonder--" And she paused, knitting her pretty brows in perplexity;
"I wonder if you could get rid of everybody for me?"
He glanced up at her in a little wonderment.
"Could you?" she repeated.
He drew nearer.
"Get rid of everybody?--you mean?--"
She leaned confidentially from her saddle.
"Yes--YOU know! Send them all about their business! Clergymen can
always do that, can't they? There's really nothing more to be said
or done--the trees shall not be touched,--the matter is finished.
Tell all these big boys to go away--and--oh, YOU know!"
A twinkle of merriment danced in Walden's eyes. But he turned quite
a set and serious face round on the magnetised lads of the village,
who hung about, loth to lose a single glance or a single word of the
wonderful 'Missis' who had the audacious courage to dismiss Leach.
"Now, boys!" he said peremptorily; "Clear away home and begin your
day's work! You're not wanted here any longer. The trees are safe,--
and you can tell everyone what Miss Vancourt says about them.
Bainton! You take these fellows home,--Spruce had better go with
you. Just call at the doctor's on the way and get his wound attended
to. Come now, boys!--sharp's the word!"
A general scrambling movement followed this brief exordium. With shy
awkwardness each young fellow lifted his cap as he shambled
sheepishly past Maryllia, who acknowledged these salutes smilingly,-
-Bainton assisted Spruce to rise to his feet, and then took him off
under his personal escort,--and only Leach remained, convulsively
gripping his dog-whip which he had picked up from the ground where
the lads had thrown it,--and anon striking it against his boot with
a movement of impatience and irritation.
"GOOD-morning, Mr. Leach!" said Walden pointedly. But Leach stood
still, looking askance at Maryllia.
"Miss Vancourt," he said, hoarsely; "Am I to understand that you
meant what you said just now?"
She glanced at him coldly.
"That I dismiss you from my service? Of course I meant it! Of course
I mean it!"
"I am bound to have fair notice," he muttered. "I cannot collect all
my accounts in a moment--"
"Whatever else you may do, you will leave this place at, once;" said
Maryllia, firmly,--"I will communicate my decision to the solicitors
and they will settle with you. No more words, please!"
She turned her mare slowly round on the grassy knoll, looking up
meanwhile at the lovely canopy of tremulous young green above her
head. John Walden watched her. So did Oliver Leach,--and with a
sudden oath, rapped out like a discordant bomb bursting in the still
air, he exclaimed savagely:
"You shall repent this, my fine lady! By God, you shall! You shall
rue the day you ever saw Abbot's Manor again! You had far better
have stayed with your rich Yankee relations than have made such a
home-coming as this for yourself, and such an outgoing for me! My
curse on you!"
Shaking his fist threateningly at her, he sprang down the knoll, and
plunging through the grass and fern was soon lost to sight.
The soft colour in Maryllia's cheeks paled a little and a slight
tremor ran through her frame. She looked at Walden,--then laughed
"Guess I've given him fits!" she said, relapsing into one of her
Aunt Emily's American colloquialisms, with happy unconsciousness
that this particular phrase coming from her pretty lips sent a kind
of shock through John's sensitive nerves. "He's not a very pleasant
man to meet anyway! And it isn't altogether agreeable to be cursed
on the first morning of my return home. But, after all, it doesn't
matter much, as there's a clergyman present!" And her blue eyes.
danced mischievously; "Isn't it lucky you came? You can stop that
curse on its way and send it back like a homing pigeon, can't you?
What do you say when you do it? 'Retro me Sathanas,' or something of
that kind, isn't it? Whatever it is, say it now, won't you?"
Walden laughed,--he could not help laughing. She spoke, with such a
whimsical flippancy, and she looked so bewitchingly pretty.
"Really, Miss Vancourt, I don't think I need utter any special
formula on this occasion," he said, gaily. "You have done a good
action to the whole community by dismissing Leach. Good actions
bring their own reward, while curses, like chickens, come home to
roost. Pray forgive me for quoting copybook maxims! But, for the
curse of one ill-conditioned boor, you will have the thanks and
blessings of all your tenantry. That will take the edge of the
malediction; don't you think so?"
She turned her mare in the homeward direction, and began to guide it
gently down the slope. Walking by her side, John held back one of
the vast leafy boughs of the great trees to allow her to pass more
easily, and glanced up at her smilingly as he put his question.
She met his eyes with an open frankness that somewhat disconcerted
"Well, I don't know about that!" she replied. "You see, in these
days of telepathy and hypnotic suggestion, there may be something
very catching about a curse. It's just like a little seed of
disease;--if it falls on the right soil it germinates and spreads,
and then all manner of wicked souls get the infection. I believe
that in the old days everybody guessed this instinctively, without
being able to express it scientifically,--and that's why they ran to
the Church for protection agaiast curses, and the evil eye, and
things of that sort. See how some of the old Scottish curses cling
even to this day! The only way to take the sting out of a curse is
to get it transposed"--and she smiled, glancing meditatively up into
the brightening blue of the sky. "Like a song, you know! If it's too
low for the voice you transpose it to a higher key. I daresay the
Church was able to do that in the days when it had REAL faith--oh!--
I beg your pardon!--I ought not to say that to a man of your
"Why not?" said Walden; "Pray say anything you like to me, Miss
Vancourt;--I should be a very poor and unsatisfactory sort of
creature if I could not bear any criticism on my vocation. Besides,
I quite agree with you. The early Church had certainly more faith
than it has now."
"You're not a bit like a parson," said Maryllia gravely, studying
his face with embarrassing candour and closeness; "You look quite a
nice pleasant sort of man."
John Walden laughed again,--this time with sincere heartiness.
Maryllia's eyes twinkled, and little dimples came and went round her
mouth and chin.
"You seem amused at that," she said; "But I've seen a great deal of
life--and I have met heaps and heaps of parsons--parsons young and
parsons old--and they were all horrid, simply horrid! Some talked
Bible--and others talked the Sporting Times--any amount of them
talked the drama, and played villains in private theatricals. I
never met but one real minister,--that is a man who ministers to the
poor,--and he died in a London slum before he was thirty. I believe
he was a saint; and if he had lived in the days of the early Church,
he would certainly have been canonised. He would have been Saint
William--his name was William. But he was only one William,--I've
seen hundreds of them."
"Hundreds of Williams?" queried Walden suggestively.
This time it was Maryllia who laughed,--a gay little laugh like that
of a child.
"No, I guess not!" she answered; "Some of them are real Johnnies! Oh
dear me!"--and again her laughter broke forth; "I quite forgot! You
said YOUR name was John!"
"So it is." And he smiled; "I'm sorry you don't like it!"
She checked her merriment abruptly, and became suddenly serious.
"But I do like it! You mustn't think I don't. Oh, how rude I must
seem to you! Please forgive me! I really do like the name of John!"
He glanced up at her, still smiling.
"Thank you! It's very kind of you to say so!"
"You believe me, don't you?" she said persistently.
"Of course I do! Of course I must! Though unhappily a Churchman, I
am not altogether a heretic.'"
The smile deepened in his eyes,--and as she met his somewhat
quizzical glance a slight wave of colour rose to her cheeks and
brow. She drew herself up in her saddle with a sudden, proud
movement and carried her little head a trifle higher. Walden looked
at her now as he would have looked at a charming picture, without
the least embarrassment. She appeared so extremely young to him. She
awakened in his mind a feeling of kindly paternal interest, such as
he might have felt for Susie Prescott or Ipsie Frost. He was not
even quite sure that he considered her in any way out of the common,
so far as her beauty was concerned,--though he recognised that she
was almost the living image of 'the lady in the vi'let velvet' whose
portrait adorned the gallery in Abbot's Manor. The resemblance was
heightened by the violet colour of the riding dress she wore and the
absence of any head-covering save her own pretty brown-gold hair.
"I'm glad I've saved the old trees," she said presently, checking
her mare's pace, and looking back at the Five Sisters standing in
unmolested grandeur on their grassy throne. "I feel a pleasant
consciousness of having done something useful. They are beautiful! I
haven't looked at them half enough. I shall come here all by myself
this afternoon and bring a book and read under their lovely boughs.
Just now I've only had time to cry 'rescue.'" She hesitated a
moment, then added:" I'm very much obliged to you for your
assistance, Mr. Walden!--and I'm glad you also like the trees. They
shall never be touched in my lifetime, I assure you I--and I
believe--yes, I believe I'll put something in my last will and
testament about them--something binding, you know! Something that
will set up a block in the way of land agents. Such trees as these
ought to stand as long as Nature will allow them."
Walden was silent. Somehow her tone had changed from kind
playfulness to ordinary formality, and her eyes rested upon him with
a cool, slightly depreciatory expression. The mare was restless, and
pawed the green turf impatiently.
"She longs for a gallop;" said Maryllia, patting the fine creature's
glossy neck; "Don't you, Cleo? Her name is Cleopatra, Queen of
Egypt. Isn't she a beauty?"
"She is indeed!" murmured Walden, with conventional politeness,
though he scarcely glanced at the eulogised animal.
"She isn't a bit safe, you know," continued Maryllia; "Nobody can
hold her but me! She's a perfectly magnificent hunter. I have
another one who is gentleness itself, called Daffodil. My groom
rides her. He could never ride Cleo." She paused, patting the mare's
neck again,--then gathering up the reins in her small, loosely-
gloved hand, she said: "Well, good-morning, Mr. Walden! It was most
kind of you to get up so early and come to help defend my trees! I
am ever so grateful to you! Pray call and see me at the Manor when
you have nothing better to do. You will be very welcome!"
She nodded gracefully to him, and a few loose curls of lovely hair
fell with the action like a web of sunbeams over her brow. Smiling,
she tossed them back.
"Good-bye!" she called.
He raised his hat,--and in another moment the gallop of Cleopatra's
swift hoofs thudded across the grass and echoed over the fields,
gradually diminishing and dying away, as mare and rider disappeared
within the enfolding green of the Manor woods. He stood for a while
looking after the vanishing flash of violet, brown and gold,
scudding over the turf and disappearing under the closely twisted
boughs of budding oak and elm,--and then started to walk home
himself. His face was a study of curiously mingled expressions.
Surprise, amusement, and a touch of admiration struggled for the
mastery in his mind, and he was compelled to admit to himself,
albeit reluctantly, that the doubtfully-anticipated 'Squire-ess' was
by no means the sort of person he had expected to see. Herein he was
at one with Bainton.
"'Like a little sugar figure on a wedding-cake, looking sweet, and
smiling pleasant!'" thought Walden, humorously recalling his
gardener's description; "Scarcely that! She has a will of her own,
and--possibly--a temper! A kind of spoilt child-woman, I should
imagine; just the person to wear all the fripperies Mrs. Spruce was
so anxious about the other day, and quite frivolous enough to
squeeze her feet into shoes a couple of sizes too small for her.
Beautiful? No,--her features are not regular enough for actual
beauty. Pretty? Well,--perhaps she is!--in a certain sense,--but I'm
no judge. Fascinating? Possibly she might be--to some men. She
certainly has a sweet voice, and a very charming manner. And I don't
think she is likely to be disagreeable or discourteous. But there is
nothing remarkable about her--she's just a woman--with a bright
smile,--and a touch of American vivacity running through her English
insularity. Just a woman--with a way!"
And he strode on, his terrier trotting soberly at his heels. But he
was on the whole glad he had met the lady of the Manor, because now
he no longer felt any uneasiness concerning her. His curiosity was
satisfied,--his instinctive dislike of her had changed to a kindly
toleration, and his somewhat morbid interest in her arrival had
quite abated. The 'Five Sisters' were saved--that was a good thing;
and as for Miss Vancourt herself,--well!--she was evidently a
harmless creature who would most likely play tennis and croquet all
day and take very little interest in anything except herself.
"She will not interfere with me, nor I with her," said Walden with a
sigh of satisfaction and relief; "And though we live in the same
village, we shall be as far apart as the poles,--which is a great
Meanwhile, Maryllia cantered home through the woods in complacent
and lively humour. The first few hours of her return to the home of
her forefathers had certainly not been lacking in interest and
excitement. She had heard and granted a village appeal,--she had
stopped an act of vandalism,--she had saved five of the noblest
trees in England,--she had conquered the hearts of several village
yokels,--she had thrust a tyrant out of office,--she had been cursed
by the said tyrant, a circumstance which was, to say the very least
of it, quite new to her experience and almost dramatic,--and,--she
had 'made eyes' at a parson! Surely this was enough adventure for
one morning, especially as it was not yet eight o'clock. The whole
day had yet to come; possibly she might be involved later on in
still more thrilling and sensational episodes,--who could tell! She
carolled a song for pure gaiety of heart, and told the rustling
leaves and opening flowers in very charmingly pronounced French that
"Votre coeur a beau se defendre De s'enflammer,--Le moment vient, il
faut se rendre, Il faut aimer!"
Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, curveted and pranced daintily at every
check imposed on her rein, as became an equine royalty,--she was
conscious of the elastic turf under her hoofs, and glad of the fresh
pure air in her nostrils,--and her mistress shared with her the
sense of freedom and buoyancy which an open country and fair
landscape must naturally inspire in those to whom life is a daily
and abounding vigorous delight, not a mere sickly brooding over the
past, or a morbid anticipation of the future. The woods surrounding
Abbot's Manor were by no means depressing,--they were not dark
silent vistas of solemn pine, leading into deeper and deeper gloom,
but cheery and picturesque clumps of elm and beech and oak, at
constant intervals with hazel-copse, hawthorn and eglantine,--true
English woods, suggestive of delicate romance and poesy, and made
magical by the songs of birds, whose silver-throated melodies are
never heard to sweeter advantage than under the leafy boughs of such
unspoilt green lanes and dells as yet remain to make the charm and
glamour of rural England. Primroses peeped out in smiling clusters
from every mossy nook, and the pale purple of a myriad violets
spread a wave of soft colour among the last year's fallen leaves,
which had served good purpose in keeping the tender buds warm till
Spring should lift them from their earth-cradles into full-grown
blossom. Maryllia's bright eyes, glancing here and there, saw and
noted a thousand beauties at every turn,--the chains of social
convention and ordinance had fallen from her soul, and a joyous
pulse of freedom quickened her blood and sent it dancing through her
veins in currents of new exhilaration and vitality. With her multi-
millionaire aunt, she had lived a life of artificial constraint,
against which, despite its worldly brilliancy, her inmost and best
instincts had always more or less rebelled;--now,--finding herself
alone, as it were, with Mother Nature, she sprang like a child to
that great maternal bosom, and nestled there with a sense of glad
refreshment and peace.
"What dear wildflowers!" she murmured now, as restraining
Cleopatra's coquettish gambols, she rode more slowly along, and
spied the bluebells standing up among tangles of green, making
exquisite contrast with the golden glow of aconites and the fragile
white of wood-anemones,--"They are ever so much prettier than the
hot-house things one gets any day in Paris and London! Big forced
roses,--great lolling, sickly-scented lilies, and orchids--oh dear!
how tired I am of orchids! Every evening a bouquet of orchids for
five weeks--Sundays NOT excepted,--shall I ever forget the
detestable 'rare specimens'!"
A little frown puckered her brow, and for a moment the lines of her
pretty mouth drooped and pouted with a quaintly petulant expression,
like that of a child going to cry.
"It was complete persecution!" she went on, crooning her complaints
to herself and patting Cleopatra's arched neck by way of
accompaniment to her thoughts--"Absolute dodging and spying round
corners after the style of a police detective. I just hate a lover
who makes his love, if it is love, into a kind of whip to flog your
poor soul with! Roxmouth here, Roxmouth there, Roxmouth everywhere!-
-he was just like the water in the Ancient Mariner 'and not a drop
to drink.' At the play, at the Opera, in the picture-galleries, at
the races, at the flower-shows, at all the 'crushes' and big
functions,--in London, in Paris, in New York, in St. Petersburg, in
Vienna,--always 'ce cher Roxmouth'--as Aunt Emily said;--money no
consideration, distance no object,--always 'ce cher Roxmouth,' stiff
as a poker, clean as fresh paint, and apparently as virtuous as an
old maid,--with all his aristocratic family looming behind him, and
a long ancestry of ghosts in the shadow of time, extending away back
to some Saxon 'nobles,' who no doubt were coarse barbarians that ate
more raw meat than was good for them, and had to be carried to bed
dead drunk on mead! It IS so absurd to boast of one's ancestry! If
we could only just see the dreadful men who began all the great
families, we should be perfectly ashamed of them! Most of them tore
up their food with their fingers. Now we Vancourts are supposed to
be descended from a warrior bold, named Robert Priaulx de
Vaignecourt, who fought in the Crusades. Poor Uncle Fred used to be
so proud of that! He was always talking about it, especially when we
were in America. He liked to try and make the Pilgrim-Father-
families jealous. Just as he used to boast that if he had only been
born three minutes before my father, instead of three minutes after,
he would have been the owner of Abbot's Manor. That three minutes'
delay and consideration he took about coming into the world made him
the youngest twin, and cut off his chances. And he told me that
Robert the Crusader had a brother named Osmond, who was believed to
have founded a monastery somewhere in this neighbourhood, and who
died, so the story goes, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
though there's no authentic trace left of either Osmond or Robert
anywhere. They might, of course, have been very decent and agreeable
men,--but it's rather doubtful. If Osmond went on a pilgrimage he
would never have washed himself, to begin with,--it would have
destroyed his sanctity. And as for Robert the warrior bold, he would
have been dreadfully fierce and hairy,--and I'm quite sure I could
not possibly have asked him to dinner!"
She laughed at her own fancies, and guided her mare under a drooping
canopy of early-flowering wild acacia, just for the sheer pleasure
of springing lightly up in her saddle to pull off a tuft of scented
"The fact is," she continued half aloud, "there's nobody I can ask
to dinner even now as it is. Not down here. The local descriptions
of Sir Morton Pippitt do not tempt me to make his acquaintance, and
as for the parson I met just now,-why he would be impossible!--
simply impossible!" she repeated with emphasis--" I can see exactly
what he's like at a glance. One of those cold, quiet, clever men who
'quiz' women and never admire them,--I know the kind of horrid
University creature! A sort of superior, touch-me-not-person who can
barely tolerate a woman's presence in the room, and in his heart of
hearts relegates the female sex generally to the lowest class of the
animal creation. I can read it all in his face. He's rather good-
looking--not very,--his hair curls quite nicely, but it's getting
grey, and so is his moustache,--he must be at least fifty, I should
think. He has a good figure--for a clergyman;--and his eyes--no, I'm
not sure that I like his eyes--I believe they're deceitful. I must
look at them again before I make up my mind. But I know he's just as
conceited and disagreeable as most parsons--he probably thinks that
he helps to turn this world and the next round on his little
finger,--and I daresay he tells the poor village folk here that if
they don't obey him, they'll go to hell, and if they do, they'll fly
straight to heaven and put on golden crowns at once. Dear me! What a
ridiculous state of things! Fancy the dear old man in the smock who
came to see me last night, with a pair of wings and a crown!"
Laughing again, she flicked Cleopatra's neck with the reins, and
started off at an easy swinging gallop, turning out of the woods
into the carriage drive, and never checking her pace till she
reached the house.
All that day she gave marked evidence that her reign as mistress of
Abbot's Manor had begun in earnest. Changing her riding dress for a
sober little tailor-made frock of home-spun, she flitted busily over
the old house of her ancestors, visiting it in every part, peering
into shadowy corners, opening antique presses and cupboards, finding
out the secret of sliding panels in the Jacobean oak that covered
the walls, and leaving no room unsearched. The apartment in which
her father's body had lain in its coffin was solemnly unlocked and
disclosed to her view under the title of 'the Ghost Room,'--whereat
she was sorrowfully indignant,--so much so indeed that Mrs. Spruce
shivered in her shoes, pricked by the sting of a guilty conscience,
for, if the truth be told, it was to Mrs. Spruce's own too-talkative
tongue that this offending name owed its origin. Quietly entering
the peaceful chamber with its harmless and almost holy air of
beautiful, darkened calm, Maryllia drew up the blinds, threw back
the curtains, and opened the latticed windows wide, admitting a
flood of sunshine and sweet air.
"It must never be called 'the Ghost Room' again,"--she said, with a
reproachful gravity, which greatly disconcerted and overawed Mrs.
Spruce--"otherwise it will have an evil reputation which it does not
deserve. There is nothing ghostly or terrifying about it. It is a
sacred room,--sacred to the memory of one of the dearest and best of
men! It is wrong to let such a room be considered as haunted,--I
shall sleep in it myself sometimes,--and I shall make it bright and
pretty for visitors when they come. I would put a little child to
sleep in it,--for my father was a good man, and nothing evil can
ever be associated with him. Death is only dreadful to the ignorant
and the wicked."
Mrs. Spruce wisely held her peace, and dutifully followed her new
mistress to the morning-room, where she had to undergo what might be
called quite a stiff examination regarding all the household and
housekeeping matters. Armed with a fascinating little velvet-bound
notebook and pencil, Maryllia put down all the names of the
different servants, both indoor and outdoor (making a small private
mark of her own against those who had served her father in any
capacity, and those who were just new to the place), together with
the amount of wages due every month to each,--she counted over all
the fine house linen, much of which had been purchased for her
mother's home-coming and had never been used;--she examined with all
a connoisseur's admiration the almost priceless old china with which
the Manor shelves, dressers and cupboards were crowded,--and finally
after luncheon and an hour's deep cogitation by herself in the
library, she wrote out in a round clerkly hand certain 'rules and
regulations,' for the daily routine of her household, and handed the
document to Mrs. Spruce,--much to that estimable dame's perturbation
"These are my hours, Spruce," she said--"And it will of course be
your business to see that the work is done punctually and with
proper method. There must be no waste or extravagance,--and you will
bring me all the accounts every week, as I won't have bills running
up longer than that period. I shall leave all the ordering in of
provisions to you,--if it ever happens that you send something to
table which I don't like, I will tell you, and the mistake need not
occur again. Now is there anything else?"--and she paused
meditatively, finger on lip, knitting her brows--"You see I've never
done any housekeeping, but I've always had notions as to how I
should do it if I ever got the chance to try, and I'm just
beginning. I believe in method,--and I like everything that HAS a
place to be in IN its place, and everything that HAS a time, to come
up to its time. It saves ever so much worry and trouble! Now let me
think!--oh yes!--I knew there was another matter. Please let the
gardeners and outdoor men generally know that if they want to speak
to me, they can always see me from ten to half-past every morning.
And, by the way, Spruce, tell the maids to go about their work
quietly,--there is nothing more objectionable than a noise and fuss
in the house just because a room is being swept and turned out. I
simply hate it! In the event of any quarrels or complaints, please
refer them to me--and--and--" Here she paused again with a smile--
"Yes! I think that's all--for the present! I haven't yet gone
through the library or the picture-gallery;--however those rooms
have nothing to do with the ordinary daily housekeeping,--if I find
anything wanting to be done there, I'll send for you again. But
that's about all now!"
Poor Mrs. Spruce curtseyed deferentially and tremulously. She was
not going to have it all her own way as she had fondly imagined when
she first saw the apparently child-like personality of her new lady.
The child-like personality was merely the rose-flesh covering of a
somewhat determined character.
"And anything I can do for you, Spruce, or for your husband,"
continued Maryllia, dropping her business-like tone for one of as
coaxing a sweetness as ever Shakespeare's Juliet practised for the
persuasion of her too tardy Nurse--"will be done with ever so much
pleasure! You know that, don't you?" And she laid her pretty little
hands on the worthy woman's portly shoulders--"You shall go out
whenever you like--after work, of course!--duty first, pleasure
second!--and you shall even grumble, if you feel like it,--and have
your little naps when the midday meal is done with,--Aunt Emily's
housekeeper in London used to have them, and she snored dreadfully!
the second footman--QUITE a nice lad--used to tickle her nose with a
straw! But I can't afford to keep a second footman--one is quite
enough,--or a coachman, or a carriage;--besides, I would always
rather ride than drive,--and my groom, Bennett, will only want a
stable-boy to help him with Cleo and Daffodil. So I hope there'll be
no one downstairs to tease you, Spruce dear, by tickling YOUR nose
with a straw! Primmins looks much too staid and respectable to think
of such a thing."
She laughed merrily,--and Mrs. Spruce for the life of her could not
help laughing too. The picture of Primmins condescending to indulge
in a game of 'nose and straw' was too grotesque to be considered
"Well I never, Miss!" she ejaculated--"You do put things that
"Do I? I'm so glad!" said Maryllia demurely--"it's nice to be funny
to other people, even if you're not funny to yourself! But I want
you to understand from the first, Spruce, that everyone must feel
happy and contented in my household. So if anything goes wrong, you
must tell me, and I will try and set it right. Now I'm going for an
hour's walk with Plato, and when I come in, and have had my tea,
I'll visit the picture-gallery. I know all about it,--Uncle Fred
told me,"--she paused, and her eyes darkened with a wistful and
deepening gravity,--then she added gently--"I shall not want you
there, Spruce,--I must be quite alone."
Mrs. Spruce again curtseyed humbly, and was about to withdraw, when
Maryllia called her back.
"What about the clergyman here, Mr. Walden?"--she asked--"Is he a
nice man?--kind to the village people, I mean, and good to the
Mrs. Spruce gave a kind of ecstatic gasp, folded her fat hands
tightly together in front of her voluminous apron, and launched
forth straightway on her favourite theme.
"Mr. Walden is jest one of the finest men God ever made, Miss," she
said, with solemnity and unction--"You may take my word for it! He's
that good, that as we often sez, if m'appen there ain't no saint in
the Sarky an' nowt but dust, we've got a real live saint walkin'
free among us as is far more 'spectable to look at in his plain coat
an' trousers than they monks an' friars in the picter-books wi'
ropes around their waistses an' bald crowns, which ain't no sign to
me o' bein' full o' grace, but rather loss of 'air,--an' which you
will presently see yourself, Miss, as 'ow Mr. Walden's done the
church beautiful, like a dream, as all the visitors sez, which there
isn't its like in all England--an' he's jest a father to the village
an' friends with every man, woman, an' child in it, an' grudges
nothink to 'elp in cases deservin', an' works like a nigger, he do,
for the school, which if he'd 'ad a wife it might a' been better an'
it might a' been worse, the Lord only knows, for no woman would a'
come up 'ere an' stood that patient watchin' me an' my work, an' I
tell you truly, Miss Maryllia, that when your boxes came an' I had
to unpack 'em an' sort the clothes in 'em, I sent for Passon Walden
jest to show 'im that I felt my 'sponsibility, an' he sez, sez he:
'You go on doin' your duty, Missis Spruce, an' your lady will be all
right'--an' though I begged 'im to stop, he wouldn't while I was a-
shakin' out your dresses with Nancy--"
Here she was interrupted by a ringing peal of laughter from
Maryllia, who, running up to her, put a little hand on her mouth.
"Stop, stop, Spruce!" she exclaimed--"Oh dear, oh dear I Do you
think I can understand all this? Did you show the parson my clothes-
-actually? You did!" For Mrs. Spruce nodded violently in the
affirmative. "Good gracious! What a perfectly dreadful thing to do!"
And she laughed again. "And what is the saint in the Sarky?" Here
she removed her hand from the mouth she was guarding. "Say it in one
word, if you can,--what is the Sarky?"
"It's in the church,"--said Mrs. Spruce, dauntlessly proceeding with
her flow of narrative, and encouraged thereto by the sparkling mirth
in her mistress's face--"We calls it Sarky for short. Josey
Letherbarrow, what reads, an' 'as larnin', calls it the Sarky Fagus,
an' my Kitty, she's studied at the school, an' SHE sez 'it's Sar-KO-
fagus, mother,' which it may be or it mayn't, for the schools don't
know more than the public-'ouses in my opinion,--leastways it's a
great long white coffin what's supposed to 'ave the body of a saint
inside it, an' Mr. Walden he discovered it when he was rebuildin'
the church, an' when the Bishop come to conskrate it, he sez 'twas a
saint in there an' that's why the village is called St. Rest--but
you'll find it all out yourself. Miss, an' as I sez an' I don't care
who 'ears me, the real saint ain't in the Sarky at all,--it's just
Mr. Walden himself,--"
Again Maryllia's hand closed her mouth.
"You really must stop, Spruce! You are the dearest old gabbler
possible--but you must stop! You'll have no breath left--and I shall
have no patience! I've heard quite enough. I met Mr. Walden this
morning, and I'm sure he isn't a saint at all! He's a very ordinary
person indeed,--most ordinary--not in the very least remarkable.
I'm. glad he's good to the people, and that they like him--that's
really all that's necessary, and it's all I want to know. Go along,
Spruce!--don't talk to me any more about saints in the Sarky or out
of the Sarky! There never was a real saint in the world--never!--not
in the shape of a man!"
With laughter still dancing in her eyes, she turned away, and Mrs.
Spruce, in full possession of restored nerve and vivacity, bustled
off on her round of household duty, the temporary awe she had felt
concerning the new written code of domestic 'Rules and Regulations'
having somewhat subsided under the influence of her mistress's gay
good-humour. And Maryllia herself, putting on her hat, called Plato
to her side, and started off for the village, resolved to make the
church her first object of interest, in order to see the wondrous
"I never was so much entertained in my life!" she declared to
herself, as she walked lightly along,--her huge dog bounding in
front of her and anon returning to kiss her hand and announce by
deep joyous barks his delight at finding himself at liberty in the
open country--"Spruce is a perfect comedy in herself,--ever so much
better than a stage play! And then the quaint funny men who came to
see me last night,--and those village boys this morning! And the
'saintly' parson! I'm sure he'll turn out to be comic too,--in a
way--he'll be the 'heavy father' of the piece! Really I never
imagined I should have so much fun!"
Here, spying a delicate pinnacle gleaming through the trees, she
rightly concluded that it belonged to the church she intended to
visit, and finding a footpath leading across the fields, she
followed it. It was the same path which Walden had for so many years
been accustomed to take in his constant walks to and from the Manor.
It soon brought her to the highroad which ran through the village,
and across this it was but a few steps to the gate of the
churchyard. Laying one hand on her dog's neck, she checked the great
creature's gambols and compelled him to walk sedately by her side,
as with hushed footsteps she entered the 'Sleepy Hollow' of death's
long repose, and went straight up to the church door which, as
usual, stood open.
"Stay here, Plato!" she whispered to her four-footed comrade, who,
understanding the mandate, lay down at once submissively in the
porch to wait her pleasure.
Entering the sacred shrine she stood still,--awed by its exquisite
beauty and impressive simplicity. The deep silence, the glamour of
the soft vari-coloured light that flowed through the lancet windows
on either side,--the open purity of the nave, without any
disfiguring pews or fixed seats to mar its clear space,--(for the
chairs which were used at service were all packed away in a remote
corner out of sight)--the fair, slender columns, springing up into
flowering capitals, like the stems of palms breaking into leaf-
coronals,--the dignified plainness of the altar, with that strange
white sarcophagus set in front of it,--all these taken together,
composed a picture of sweet sanctity and calm unlike anything she
had ever seen before. Her emotional nature responded to the
beautiful in all things, and this small perfectly designed House of
Prayer, with its unknown saintly occupant at rest within its walls,
touched her almost to tears. Stepping on tip-toe up to the altar-
rails, she instinctively dropped on her knees, while she read all
that could be seen of the worn inscription on the sarcophagus from
that side-'In Resurrectione--Sanctorum--Resurget.' The atmosphere
around her seemed surcharged with mystical suggestions,--a vague
poetic sense of the super-human and divine moved her to a faint
touch of fear, and made her heart beat more quickly than its wont.
"It is lovely--lovely!" she murmured under her breath, as she rose
from her kneeling attitude--"The whole church is a perfect gem of
architecture! I have never seen anything more beautiful in its way,-
-not even the Chapel of the Thorn at Pisa. And according to Mrs.
Spruce's account, the man I met this morning--the quizzical parson
with the grey-brown curly-locks, did it all at his own expense--he
must really be quite clever,--such an unusual thing for a country
She took another observant survey of the whole building, and then
went out again into the churchyard. There she paused, her dog beside
her, shading her eyes from the sun as she looked wistfully from
right to left across the sadly suggestive little hillocks of mossy
turf besprinkled with daisies, in search of an object which was as a
landmark of disaster in her life.
She saw it at last, and moved slowly towards it,--a plain white
marble cross, rising from a smooth grassy eminence, where a rambling
rose, carefully and even artistically trained, was just beginning to
show pale creamy buds among its glossy dark green leaves. Great
tears rose to her eyes and fell unheeded, as she read the brief
inscription--'Sacred to the Memory of Robert Vancourt of Abbot's
Manor,' this being followed by the usual dates of birth and death,
and the one word 'Resting.' With tender touch Maryllia gathered one
leaf from the climbing rose foliage, and kissing it amid her tears,
turned away, unable to bear the thoughts and memories which began to
crowd thickly upon her. Almost she seemed to hear her father's deep
mellow voice which had been the music of her childhood, playfully
saying as was so often his wont:--"Well, my little girl! How goes
the world with you?" Alas, the world had gone very ill with her for
a long, long time after his death! Hers was too loving and
passionately clinging a nature to find easy consolation for such a
loss. Her uncle Frederick, though indulgent to her and always kind,
had never filled her father's place,--her uncle Frederick's American
wife, had, in spite of much conscientious tutelage and chaperonage,
altogether failed to win her affection or sympathy. The sorrowful
sense that she was an orphan, all alone as it were with herself to
face the mystery of life, never deserted her,--and it was perhaps in
the most brilliant centres of society that this consciousness of
isolation chiefly weighed upon her. She saw other girls around her
with their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters,--but she--she,
by the very act of being born had caused her mother's death,--and
she well knew that her father's heart, quietly as he had endured his
grief to all outward appearances, had never healed of that agonising
"I think I should never have come into the world at all,"--she said
to herself with a sigh, as she returned over the fields to the
Manor--"I am no use to anybody,--I never have been of any use! Aunt
Emily says all I have to do to show my sense of proper feeling and
gratitude to her for her care of me is to marry--and marry well--
marry Lord Roxmouth, in short--he will be a duke when his father
dies, and Aunt Emily would like to have the satisfaction of leaving
her millions to enrich an English dukedom. Nothing could commend
itself more favourably to her ideas--only it just happens my ideas
won't fit in the same groove. Oh dear! Why can't I be 'amenable' and
become a future duchess, and 'build up' the fortunes of a great
family? I don't know I'm sure,--except that I don't feel like it!
Great families don't appeal to me. I shouldn't care if there were
none left. They are never interesting at the best of times,--perhaps
out of several of them may come one clever man or woman,--and all
the rest will be utter noodles. It isn't worth while to marry
Roxmouth on such dubious grounds of possibility!"
Entering the Manor, she was conscious of some fatigue and
listlessness,--a touch of depression weighed down her naturally
bright spirits. She exchanged her home-spun walking dress for a tea-
gown, and descended somewhat languidly to the morning-room where tea
was served with more ceremoniousness than on the previous day,
Primmins having taken command, with the assistance of the footman.
Both men-servants stole respectful glances at their mistress, as she
sat pensively alone at the open window, looking out on the verdant
landscape that spread away from the terrace, in undulations of lawn,
foliage and field to the last border of trees that closed in Abbot's
Manor grounds from the public highway. Both would have said had they
been asked, that she was much too pretty and delicate to be all
alone in the great old house, with no companion of her own age to
exchange ideas with by speech or glance,--and, with that masculine
self-assurance which is common to all the lords of creation, whether
they be emperors or household domestics, they would have opined that
'she ought to be married.' In which they would have entirely agreed
with Maryllia's 'dragon' Aunt Emily. But Maryllia's own mind was far
from being set on such themes as love and marriage. Her meditations
were melancholy, and not unmixed with self-reproach. She blamed
herself for having stayed away so long from her childhood's home,
and her father's grave.
"I might have visited it at least once a year!" she thought with
sharp compunction--"I never really forgot,--why did I seem to
The sun was sinking slowly in a glory of crimson and amber cloud,
when, having resolved upon what she was going to do, she entered the
picture-gallery. Softly she trod the polished floor,--with keen
quick instinct and appreciative eyes, she noted the fine Vandyke
portraits,--the exquisite Greuze that shone out, star-like, from a
dark corner of the panelled walls,--and walking with measured pace
she went straight up to the picture of 'Mary Elia Adelgisa de
Vaignecourt'--and gazed at it with friendly and familiar eyes.
"I know YOU quite well!"--she said, addressing the painted beauty--
"I have often dreamed about you since I left home! I always admired
you and wanted to be like you. I remember when I must have been
about seven or eight years old, I ran in from a game in the garden
one summer's afternoon, and I knelt down in front of you and I said:
'Pray God make little Maryllia as pretty as big Mary Elia!' And I
think,--I really do think--though of course I'm not half or quarter
as pretty, I'm just a little like you! Just a very, very little! For
instance my hair is the same colour--almost--and my eyes--no! I'm
sure I haven't such beautiful eyes as yours--I wish I had!"
Her lovely ancestress appeared to smile,--if she could have spoken
from the canvas that held her painted image she might have said:--
"You have eyes that mirror the sunshine,--you have life, and I am
dead,--your day is still with you--mine is done! For me love and the
world's delight are ended,--and whither my phantom fairness has
fled, who knows! But you are a vital breathing essence of beauty--be
glad and rejoice in it while you may!"
Some thought of this kind would have suggested itself to an
imaginative beholder had such an one stood by to compare the picture
with its almost twin living copy. Maryllia however had a very small
stock of vanity,--she was only pleasantly aware that she possessed a
certain grace and fascination not common to the ordinary of her sex,
but beyond that, she rated her personal charms at very slight value.
The portrait of Mary Elia Adelgisa made her more seriously
discontented with herself than ever,--and after closely studying the
picturesque make of the violet velvet riding-dress which the fair
one of Charles the Second's day had worn, and deciding that she
would have one 'created' for her own adornment exactly like it, she
turned towards the other end of the gallery. There hung that
preciously guarded mysterious portrait of her dead mother, which she
herself had never gazed upon, covered close with its dark green
baize curtain,--a curtain no hand save her father's had ever dared
to raise. She remembered how often he had used to enter here all
alone and lock the doors, remaining thus in sorrow and solitude many
hours. She recalled her own childish fears when, by chance running
in to look at the pictures for her own entertainment, or to play
with her ball on a rainy day for the convenience of space and a
lofty ceiling, she was suddenly checked and held in awe by the sight
of that great gilded frame enshrining the, to her, unknown
presentment of a veiled Personality. Her father alone was familiar
with the face hidden behind that covering which he had put up with
his own hands,--fastening it by means of a spring pulley, which in
its turn was secured to the wall by lock and key. Ever since his
death Maryllia had worn that key on a gold chain hidden in her
bosom, and she drew it out now with a beating heart and many
tremours of hesitation. The trailing folds of her pretty tea-gown,
all of the filmiest old lace and ivory-hued cashmere, seemed to make
an obtrusive noise as they softly swept the floor,--she felt almost
as though she were about to commit a sacrilege and break open a
"I must see her!" she said, whisperingly--"I shall not offend her
memory. I have never done anything very wrong in my life,--if I had,
I should have reason to be afraid--or ashamed,--and then of course
wouldn't dare to look at her. I have often been silly and frivolous
and thoughtless,--but never spiteful or malicious, or really wicked.
I could meet my father if he were here, just as frankly as if I were
still a little girl,--and I think he would wish me to see his
Dearest now! His Dearest! He always called her that!"
With the breath coming and going quickly through her parted lips,
she stepped slowly and timidly up to that corner in the wall behind
the picture, where the fastenings of the spring pulley were
concealed, and fitted the key into the padlock which guarded it. The
light of the setting sun threw a flame of glory aslant through the
windows, and filled the gallery with a warm rush of living colour
and radiance; and as she removed the padlock, and came to the front
of the picture to pull the curtain-cord, she stood, unconsciously to
herself, in a pure halo of gold, which intensified the brown and
amber shades of her hair and the creamy folds of her gown, so that
she resembled 'an angel newly drest, save wings, for heaven,' such
as one may see delineated on the illuminated page of some antique
missal. Her hand trembled, as at the first touch on the pulley the
curtain began to move,--inch by inch it ascended, showing pale
glimmerings of white and rose,--still higher it moved, giving to the
light a woman's beautiful hand, so delicately painted as to seem
almost living. The hand held a letter, and plainly on the half
unfolded scroll could be read the words:
"Thine till death, ROBERT VANCOURT."
Another touch, and the whole covering rolled up swiftly to its full
height,--while Maryllia breathless with excitement and interest
gazed with all her soul in her eyes at the exquisite, dreamy, poetic
loveliness of the face disclosed. All the beauty of girlhood with
the tenderness of womanhood,--all the visions of young romance,
united to the fulfilled passion of the heart,--all the budding
happiness of a radiant life,-all the promise of a perfect love;--
these were faithfully reflected in the purely moulded features, the
dark blue caressing eyes, and the sweet mouth, which to Maryllia's
fervid imagination appeared to tremble plaintively with a sigh of
longing for the joy of life that had been snatched away so soon.
Arrayed in simplest white, with a rose at her breast, and her
husband's letter clasped in her hand, the fair form of the young
bride that never came home gathered from the sunset-radiance an
aspect of life, and seemed to float forth from the dark canvas like
a holy spirit of beauty and blessing. Shadow and Substance--dead
mother and living child--these twain gazed on each other through
cloud-veils of impenetrable mystery,--nor is it impossible to
conceive that some intangible contact between them might, through
the transference of a thought, a longing, a prayer, have been
realised at that mystic moment. With a sudden cry of irresistible
emotion Maryllia stretched out her arms, and dropping on her knees,
broke out into a passion of tears.
"Oh mother, mother!" she sobbed--"Oh darling mother! I would have
In such wise, under the silent benediction of the lost loving dead,
the long-deserted old Manor received back the sole daughter of its
ancestry to that protection which we understand, or did understand
at one time in our history, as 'Home.' Home was once a safe and
sacred institution in England. There seemed no likelihood of its
ever being supplanted by the public restaurant. That it has, in a
great measure, been so supplanted, is no advantage to the country,
and that many women, young and old, prefer to be seen in gregarious
over-dressed hordes, taking their meals in Piccadilly eating-houses,
rather than essay the becoming grace of a simple and sincere
hospitality to their friends in their own homes, is no evidence of
their improved taste or good breeding. Abbot's Manor was in every
sense 'Home' in the old English sense of the word. Its ancient
walls, hallowed by long tradition, formed a peaceful and sweet
harbour of rest for a woman's life,--and the tranquil dignity of her
old-world surroundings with all the legends and memories they
awakened, soon had a beneficial effect on Maryllia's impressionable
temperament, which, under her aunt's 'social' influence, had been
more or less chafed and uneasy. She began to feel at peace with
herself and all the world,--while the relief she experienced at
having deliberately severed herself by both word and act from the
undesired attentions of a too-persistent and detested lover in the
person of Lord Roxmouth, future Duke of Ormistonne, was as keen and
pleasurable as that of a child who has run away from school. She was
almost confident that the fact of her having thrown off her aunt's
protection together with all hope of inheriting her aunt's wealth,
would be sufficient to keep him away from her for the future. "For
it is Aunt Emily's money he wants--not me;" she said to herself--"He
doesn't care a jot about me personally--any woman will do, provided
she has the millions. And when he knows I've given up the millions,
and don't intend ever to have the millions, he'll leave me alone.
And he'll go over to America in search of somebody else--some proud
daughter of oil or pork or steel!--and what a blessing that will
Meanwhile, such brief excitement as had been caused in St. Rest by
the return of 'th' owld Squire's gel' and by the almost simultaneous
dismissal of Oliver Leach, had well-nigh abated. A new agent had
been appointed, and though Leach had left the immediate vicinity,
having employment on Sir Morton Pippitt's lands, he had secured a
cottage for himself in the small outlying hamlet of Badsworth. He
also undertook some work for the Reverend 'Putty' Leveson in
assisting him to form an entomological collection for the private
museum at Badsworth Hall. Mr. Leveson had a singular fellow-feeling
for insects,--he studied their habits, and collected specimens of
various kinds in bottles, or 'pinned' them on cardboard trays,--he
was an interested observer of the sprightly manners practised by the
harvest-bug, and the sagacious customs of the ruminating spider,--as
well as the many surprising and agreeable talents developed by the
common flea. Leach's virulent hatred of Maryllia Vancourt was not
lessened by the apparently useful and scientific nature of the
employment he had newly taken up under the guidance of his reverend
instructor,--and whenever he caught a butterfly and ran his
murderous pin through its quivering body at Leveson's bland command,
he thought of her, and wished vindictively that she might perish as
swiftly and utterly as the winged lover of the flowers. Every small
bright thing in Nature's garden that he slew and brought home as
trophy, inspired him with the same secret fierce desire. The act of
killing a beautiful or harmless creature gave him pleasure, and he
did not disguise it from himself. The Reverend 'Putty' was delighted
with his aptitude, and with the many valuable additions he made to
the 'specimen' cards and bottles, and the two became constant
companions in their search for fresh victims among the blossoming
hedgerows and fields. St. Rest, as a village, was only too glad to
be rid of Leach's long detested presence to care anything at all as
to his further occupations or future career,--and only Bainton kept
as he said 'an eye on him.'
Bainton was a somewhat curious personage,--talkative as he showed
himself on most occasions, he was both shrewd and circumspect; no
stone was more uncommunicative than he when he chose. In his heart
he had set Maryllia Vancourt as second to none save his own master,
John Walden,--her beauty and grace, her firm action with regard to
the rescue of the 'Five Sisters,' and her quick dismissal of Oliver
Leach, had all inspired him with the most unbounded admiration and
respect, and he felt that he now had a double interest in life,--the
'Passon'--and the 'lady of the Manor.' But he found very little
opportunity to talk about his new and cherished theme of Miss
Vancourt and Miss Vancourt's many attractions to Walden,--for John
always 'shut him up' on the subject with quite a curt and peremptory
decision whenever be so much as mentioned her name. Which conduct on
the part of one who was generally so willing to hear and patient to
listen, somewhat surprised Bainton.
"For," he argued--"there ain't much doin' in the village,--we ain't
always 'on the go'--an' when a pretty face comes among us, surely
it's worth looking at an' pickin' to pieces as 'twere. But Passon's
that sharp on me when I sez any little thing wot might be
interestin' about the lady, that I'm thinkin' he's got out o' the
habit o' knowin' when a face is a male or a female one, which is wot
often happens to bacheldors when they gits fixed like old shrubs in
one pertikler spot o' ground. Now I should a' said he'd a' bin glad
to 'ear of somethin' new an' oncommon as 'twere,--he likes it in the
way o' flowers, an' why not in the way o' wimmin? But Passon ain't
like other folk--he don't git on with wimmin nohow--an' the prettier
they are the more he seems skeered off them."
But such opinions as Bainton entertained concerning his master, he
kept to himself, and having once grasped the fact that any mention
of Miss Vancourt's ways or Miss Vancourt's looks appeared to
displease rather than to entertain the Reverend John, he avoided the
subject altogether. This course of action on his part, if the truth
must be told, was equally annoying to Walden, who was in the curious
mental condition of wishing to know what he declined to hear.
For the rest, the village generally grew speedily accustomed to the
presence of the mistress of the Manor. She had fulfilled her promise
of paying a visit to Josey Letherbarrow, and had sat with the old
man in his cottage, talking to him for the better part of two hours.
Rumour asserted that she had even put the kettle on the fire for
him, and had made his tea. Josey himself was reticent,--and beyond
the fact that he held up his head with more dignity, and showed a
touch of more conscious superiority in his demeanour, he did not
give himself away by condescending to narrate any word of the
lengthy interview that had taken place between himself and 'th' owld
Squire's little gel.' One remarkable thing was noticed by the
villagers and commented upon,--Miss Vancourt had now passed two
Sundays in their midst, and had never once attended church. Her
servants were always there at morning service, but she herself was
absent. This occasioned much whispering and head-shaking in the
little community, and one evening the subject was openly discussed
in the bar-room of the 'Mother Huff' by a group of rustic worthies
whose knowledge of matters theological and political was, by
themselves, considered profound. Mrs. Buggins had started the
conversation, and Mrs. Buggins was well known to be a lady both
pious and depressing. She presided over her husband's 'public' with
an air of meek resignation, not unmixed with sorrowful protest,--she
occasionally tasted the finer cordials in the bar-room, and was
often moved to gentle tears at the excellence of their flavour,--she
had a chronic 'stitch in the side,' and a long smooth pale yellow
countenance from which the thin grey hair was combed well back from
the temples in the frankly unbecoming fashion affected by the
provincial British matron. She begun her remarks by plaintively
opining that "it was a very strange thing not to see Miss Vancourt
at church, on either of the Sundays that had passed since her
return--very strange! Perhaps she was 'High'? Perhaps she had driven
into Riversford to attend the 'processional' service of the Reverend
"Perhaps she ain't done nothing of the sort!"--growled a thick-set
burly farmer, who with a capacious mug of ale before him was sucking
at his pipe with as much zeal as a baby at its bottle--"Ef you cares
for my 'pinion, which, m'appen you doan't, she's neither Low nor
'Igh. She's no Seck. If she h'longed to a Seck, she wouldn't be
readin' on a book under the Five Sisters last Sunday marnin' when
the bells was a-ringin' for church time. I goes past 'er, an' I sez
'Marnin,' mum!' an' she looks up smilin'-like, an' sez she: 'Good-
marnin!' Nice day, isn't it?' 'Splendid day, mum,' sez I, an' she
went on readin', an' I went on a walkin'. I sez then, and I sez now,
she ain't no Seck!"
"Example," sighed Mrs. Buggins, "is better than precept. It would be
more decent if the lady showed herself in church as a lesson to
others,--if she did so more lost sheep might follow!"
"Hor-hor-hor!" chuckled Bainton, from a corner of the room--"Don't
you worrit yourself, Missis Buggins, 'bout no lost sheep! Sheep
allus goes where there's somethin' to graze upon,--leastways that's
my 'speriemce, an' if there ain't no grazin' there ain't no sheep!
An' them as grazes on Passon Walden, gittin' out of 'im all they can
to 'elp 'em along, wouldn't go to church, no more than Miss Vancourt
do, if they didn't know wot a man 'e is to be relied on in times o'
trouble, an' a reg'lar 'usband to the parish in sickness an' in
'elth, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, till death do
'im part. Miss Vancourt don't want nothin' out of 'im as all we
doos, an' she kin show 'er independence ef she likes to by stayin'
away from church when she fancies, an' readin' books instead of
'earin' sermons,--there ain't no harm in that."
"I'm not so sure that I agree with you, Mr. Bainton,"--said a stout,
oily-looking personage, named Netlips, the grocer and 'general
store' dealer of the village, a man who was renowned in the district
for the profundity and point of his observations at electoral
meetings, and for the entirely original manner in which he 'used'
the English language; "Public worship is a necessary evil. It is a
factor in vulgar civilisations. Without it, the system of religious
politics would fall into cohesion,--absolute cohesion!" And he
rapped his fist on the table with a smartness that made his hearers
jump. "At the last meeting I addressed in this division, I said we
must support the props. The aristocracy must bear them on their
shoulders. If your Squire stays away from church, he may be called a
heathen with propriety, though a Liberal. And why? Because he makes
public exposure of himself as a heathen negative! He is bound to
keep up the church factor in the community. Otherwise he runs
straight aground on Cohesion."
This oratorical outburst on the part of Mr. Netlips was listened to
with respectful awe and admiration.
"Ay, ay!" said Roger Buggins, who as 'mine host' stood in his shirt
sleeves at the entrance of his bar, surveying his customers and
mentally counting up their reckonings--"Cohesion would never do--
cohesion government would send the country to pieces. You're right,
Mr. Netlips,--you're right! Props must be kep' up!"
"I don't see no props in goin' to church,"--said Dan Ridley, the
little working tailor of the village--"I goes because I likes Mr.
Walden, but if there was a man in the pulpit I didn't like, I'd stop
away. There's a deal too many wolves in sheep's clothing getting
ordained in the service o' the Lord, an' I don't blame Miss Vancourt
if so be she takes time to find out the sort o' man Mr. Walden is
before settin' under him as 'twere. She can say prayers an' read 'em
too in her own room, an' study the Bible all right without goin' to
church. Many folks as goes to church reg'lar are downright mean
lyin' raskills--and don't never read their Bibles at all. Mebbe they
does as much harm as what Mr. Netlips calls Cohesion, though I don't
myself purfess to understand Government language, it bein' too deep
Mr. Netlips smiled condescendingly, and nodded as one who should
say--'You do well, my poor fellow, to be humble in my presence!'--
and buried his nose in his tankard of ale.
"Mebbe Cohesion's got hold o' my red cow"--said the burly farmer who
had spoken before--"For she's as ailin' as ever she was, an' if I
lose her, I loses a bit o' my livin.' An' that's what I sez an'
'olds by, no church-goin' seems to 'elp us in a bit o' trouble, an'
it ain't decent or Christian like, so it 'pears, to pray to the
Almighty for the savin' of a cow. I asked Passon Walden if 'twould
be right, for the cow's as valuable to me as ever my wife was when
she was alive, if not more, an' he sez quite pleasant-like--'Well
no, Mister Thorpe, I think it best not to make any sort of special
prayer for the poor beast, but just do all you can for it, and leave
the rest to Providence. A cow is worldly goods, you see--and we're
not quite justified in praying to be allowed to keep our worldly
goods.' 'Ain't we!' I sez--'Is that a fact? He smiled and said it
was. So I thanked him and comed away. But I've been thinkin' it over
since, an' I sez to myself--ef we ain't to pray for keepin' an'
'avin' our worldly goods, wot 'ave we got to pray for?"
"Oh Mr. Thorpe!" ejaculated Mrs. Buggins, almost tearfully--"It is
not this world but the next, that we must think of! We must pray for
"Well, marm, I ain't got a 'soul' wot I knows on--an' as for the
next world, if there ain't no cattle farmin' there, I reckon I'll be
out o' work. Do you count on keepin' a bar in the 'eavenly country?"
A loud guffaw went the round of the room, and Mrs. Buggins gasped
"Oh, Roger!" she murmured, addressing her portly spouse, who at once
took up the argument.
"You goes too fur--you goes too fur, Mister Thorpe!" he said
severely--"There ain't no keepin' bars nor farmin' carried on in the
next world, nor marrying nor givin' in marriage. We be all as the
"A nice angel you'll make too, Mr. Buggins!" said Farmer Thorpe, as
he sent his tankard to be refilled,--"Lord! We won't know you!"
Again the laugh went round, and Mrs. Buggins precipitately retired
to her 'inner parlour' there to recover from the shock occasioned to
her religious feelings by the irreverent remarks of her too matter-
of-fact customer. Meanwhile Dan Ridley, the tailor, had again
reverted to the subject of Miss Vancourt.
"There's one thing about her comin' to church,"--he said; "If so be
as she did come it 'ud do us all good, for she's real pleasant to
look at. I've seen her a many times in the village."
"Ah, so have I!" chorussed two or three more men.
"She's been in to see Adam Frost's children an' she gave Baby
Hippolyta a bag o' sweeties,"--said Bainton. "An' she's called at
the schoolhouse, but Miss Eden, she worn't in an' Susie Prescott saw
her, an' Susie was that struck that she 'adn't a wurrd to say, so
she tells us, an' Miss Vancourt she went to old Josey Letherbarrow's
straight away an' there she stayed iver so long. She ain't called at
our house yet."
"Which 'ouse might you be a-meanin', Tummas?" queried Farmer Thorpe,
with a slow grin--"Your own or your measter's?"
"When we speaks in the plural we means not one, but two,"--rejoined
Bainton with dignity. "An' when I sez 'our' I means myself an'
Passon, which Miss Vancourt ain't as yet left her card on Passon. He
went up in a great 'urry one afternoon when he knowed she was out,--
he knowed it, 'cos I told 'im as 'ow I'd seen her gallopin' by on
that mare of hers which, they calls Cleopatra-an' away 'e run like a
March 'are, an' he ups to the Manor and down again, an' sez he,
laughin' like: 'I've done my dooty by the lady' sez he--'I've left
my card!' That was three days ago, an' there ain't been no return o'
the perliteness up to the present--"
Here he broke off and began to drink his ale, as a small dapper man
entered the bar-room with a brisk step and called for 'a glass of
home-brewed,' looking round on those assembled with a condescending
smile. All of them knew him as Jim Bennett, Miss Vancourt's groom.
"Well, mates!" he said with a sprightly air of familiarity--"All
well and hearty?"
"As yourself, Mr. Bennett,"--replied Roger Buggins, acting as
spokesman for the rest, and personally serving him with the foaming
draught he had ordered. "Which, we likewise trusts your lady is
"My lady enjoys the hest of health, thank you!" said Bennett, with
polite gravity. And tossing off the contents of his glass, he
signified by an eloquent gesture and accompanying wink, that he was
'good for another.'
"We was just a-sayin' as you come in, Mr. Bennett," observed Dan
Ridley, "that we'd none of us seen your lady at church yet on
Sundays, Mebbe she ain't of our 'persuasion' as they sez, or mehbe
she goes into Riversford, preferrin' 'Igh services---"
Bennett smiled a superior smile, and leaning easily against the bar,
crossed his legs and surveyed the company generally with a
"I suppose it's quite a business down here,--goin' to church, eh?"
he queried--"Sort of excitement like--only bit of fun you've got--
helps to keep you all alive! That's the country way, but Lord bless
you!--in town we're not taking any!"
Bainton looked up,--and Mr. Netlips loosened his collar and lifted
his head, as though preparing himself for another flow of 'cohesion'
eloquence. Farmer Thorpe turned his bull-neck slowly round, and
brought his eyes to bear on the speaker.
"How d'ye make that out, Mr. Bennett?" he demanded. "Doan't ye sarve
the A'mighty same in town as in country?"
"Not a bit of it!" replied Bennett airily--"You're a long way behind
the times, Mr. Thorpe!--you are indeed, beggin' your pardon for
sayin' so! The 'best' people have given up the Almighty altogether,
owing to recent scientific discoveries. They've taken to the
Almighty Dollar instead which no science can do away with. And
Sundays aren't used any more for church-going, except among the
middle-class population,--they're just Bridge days with OUR set--
Bridge lunches, Bridge suppers,--every Sunday's chock full of
engagements to 'Bridge,' right through the 'season.'"
"That's cards, ain't it?" enquired Dan Ridley.
"Just so! Harmless cards!" rejoined Bennett--"Only you can chuck
away a few thousands or so on 'em if you like!"
Mr. Netlips here pushed aside his emptied ale-glass and raised his
fat head unctuously out of his stiff shirt-collar.
"Are we to understand," he began ponderously, "that Miss Vancourt is
addicted to this fashion of procrastinating the Lord's Day?"
Bennett straightened his dapper figure suddenly.
"Now don't you put yourself out, Mr. Netlips, don't, that's a good
feller!" he said in sarcastically soothing tones--"There's no
elections going on just at present--when there is you can bring your
best leg foremost, and rant away for all you're worth! My lady don't
gamble, if that's what you mean,--though she's always with the
swagger set, and likely so to remain. But you keep up your spirits!-
-your groceries 'ull be paid for all right!--she don't run up no
bills--so don't you fear, cards or no cards! And as for
procrastinating the Lord's Day, whatever that may be, I could name
to you the folks what does worse than play Bridge on Sundays. And
who are they? Why the clergymen theirselves! And how does they do
worse? Why by tellin' lies as fast as they can stick! They says