Part 9 out of 12
Walden bowed stiffly.
"I must congratulate you on the beauty of your church, Mr. Walden,"-
-said Roxmouth, with his usual conventional smile--"I have never
seen a finer piece of work. It is not so much a restoration as a
Walden said nothing. He did not particularly care for compliments
from Lord Roxmouth.
"That sarcophagus,"--continued his lordship--"was a very singular
'find.' I suppose you have no clue to the possible identity of the
saint or sinner whose ashes repose within it?"
"None,"--replied Walden--"Something might probably be discovered if
the casket were opened. But that will never happen during my
"You would consider it sacrilege, no doubt?" queried Roxmouth, with
a tolerant air.
"I should, most certainly!"
"Nonsense, nonsense!" said Sir Morton Pippitt, obtruding himself on
the conversation at this moment--"God bless my soul! Not so very
long ago every churchyard in England used to have its regular clean
out--ha-ha-ha!--all the bones and skulls used to be dug up and
thrown together in a charnel house, higgledy-piggledy--and nobody
ever talked about sacrilege! You should progress with the age, Mr.
Walden!--you should progress! Why shouldn't a coffin be opened as
readily as any other box, eh? There's generally nothing inside--ha-
ha-ha!--nothing inside worth keeping, ha-ha-ha! The plan of a
spring-cleaning for churchyards was an excellent one, I think;--God
bless my soul!--why not?--makes room for more hodies and saves extra
land being given up to those who are past farming it, except in the
way of manure, ha-ha-ha! There's no such thing as sacrilege
nowadays, Mr. Walden!--why we've got the photograph of Rameses,
taken after a few thousand years' decomposition had set in--ha-ha-
ha! And not bad looking--not bad looking!--rather wild about the
eyes, that's all--ha-ha! God bless my soul!"
These choice observations of the knight Pippitt were brought to a
happy conclusion by the marshalling of the guests into dinner. Sir
Morton, much to his chagrin, found himself deputed to escort Lady
Wicketts, whose unwieldy proportions allied to his own, made it
difficult for both to pass with proper dignity through the dining-
room doorway. A little excited whispering between Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay and Lady Beaulyon took place, as to whether 'Maryllia Van'
in her professed detestation of Lord Roxmouth, would forget
etiquette and the rule of 'precedence'--but they soon saw she did
not intend to so commit herself. For when all her guests had passed
in before her, she followed resignedly on the arm of the future
Duke. As the greatest stranger, and as the highest in social rank of
all present, he had claim to this privilege, and she was too tactful
to refuse it.
"What a delightful chatelaine you are!" he murmured, looking down at
her as she rested her little gloved hand with scarce a touch on his
arm--"And how proud and glad I am to be once more beside you! Ah,
Maryllia, you are very cruel to me! If you would only realise how
happy we could be--always together!"
She made no answer. Arriving in the dining-room, she withdrew her
hand from his arm, and seated herself at the head of her table. He
then found that he was on her right hand, while Lord Charlemont was
on her left. Next to Lord Charlemont sat Lady Beaulyon,--and next to
Lady Beaulyon John Walden was placed with the partner allotted to
him, Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay. On Roxmouth's own side there were Lady
Wicketts and Sir Morton Pippitt,--so it chanced that the table was
arranged in a manner that brought certain parties who were by no
means likely to agree on any one given point, directly opposite to
each other. Cicely, peeping out from a little ante-room, where she
had entreated to be allowed to stand and watch the proceedings, made
a running commentary on this in her own particular fashion. Cicely
was looking very picturesque, in a new white frock which Maryllia
had given her,--with a broad crimson sash knotted carelessly round
her waist and a ribbon of the same colour in her luxuriant black
hair. She was to sing after dinner--Gigue had told her she was to
'astonish ze fools'--and she was ready to do it. Her dark eyes shone
like stars, and her lips were cherry-red with excitement,--so much
so that Mrs. Spruce, thinking she was feverish, had given her a
glass of 'cooling cordial'--made of fruit and ice and lemon water,
which she was enjoying at intervals while criticising the fine folks
in the dining-room.
"Well done, Maryllia!" she murmured, as she saw her friend enter on
Roxmouth's arm--"Cold as a ray of the moon, but doing her social
duty to the bitter end! What a tom-cat Roxmouth is!--a sleek pussy,
sure to snarl if his fur is rubbed up the wrong way--but he is just
the type that some women would like to marry--he looks so well-bred.
Poor Mr. Walden!--he's got to talk to the Everlasting-Youth lady,--
and old Sir Morton Pippitt is immediately opposite to him!--now
that's too bad of Maryllia!--it really is! She knows how the bone-
boiler longs to boil Mr. Walden's bones, and that Mr. Walden wishes
Sir Morton Pippitt were miles away from him! They shouldn't have
faced each other. But how very, very superior to all the lot Mr.
Walden looks!--he really IS handsome!--he has such an intellectual
head. There's Gigue chattering away to poor old Miss Fosby!--oh
dear! Miss Fosby will never understand him! What a motley crew! And
I shall have to sing to them all after they've dined! Saint Moses!
It will be a sort of 'first appearance in England.' A good test,
too, because all the English eat nearly to bursting before they go
to the opera. No wonder they never can grasp what the music is
about, or who's who! It's all salmon and chicken and lobster and
champagne with them--not Beethoven or Wagner or Rossini. Good old
Gigue! His spirits are irrepressible! How he is laughing! Mr. Walden
looks very serious--almost tragic--I wonder what he is thinking
about! I wish I could hear what they are all saying--but it's
nothing but buzz, buzz!"
She took a sip at her 'cordial,' watching with artistic appreciation
the gay scene in the Manor dining-room--the twinkling lights on the
silver and glass and flowers--the elegant dresses of the women,--the
jewels that flashed like starbeams on the lovely neck and shoulders
of Lady Beaulyon,--the ripples of gold-auburn in Maryllia's hair,--
it was a picture that radiated with a thousand colours on the eye
and the brain, and was certainly one destined, so far as many of
those who formed a part of it were concerned, never to be forgotten.
Not that there was anything very remarkable or brilliant in the
conversation at the dinner-table,--there never is nowadays. Peeple
dine with their friends merely to eat, not to talk. One never by any
chance hears so much even as an echo of wit or wisdom. Occasionally
a note of scandal is struck,--and more often than not, a
questionable anecdote is related, calculated to bring 'a blush to
the cheek of the Young Person,' if a Young Person who can blush
still exists, and happens to be present. But as a rule, the general
habitude of the dining class is to discourse in a very desultory and
inconsequential, not to say stupid, style, and the guests at the
Manor proved no exception to the rule. Sir Morton Pippitt fired off
bumptious observations at Walden, who paid no heed to them--Bruce
Ittlethwaite of Ittlethwaite Park, found a congenial spirit in Lord
Charlemont, and talked sport right through the repast--and Louis
Gigue enlivened the table by a sudden discussion with Mr. Marius
Longford, relative to the position of art in Great Britain.
"Mon Dieu!" he exclaimed, with a snap of his fingers--"Ze art is
dead in Angleterre,--zere is no musique, ze poesie. Zis is ze land
of ze A-penny journal--ze musique, ze poesie, ze science, ze
politique, ze sentiment,--one A-penny! Bah! Ca, ce, n'est pas
possible!--zis pauvre pays is kill avec ze vulgarite of ze cheap! Ze
people are for ze cheap--for ze photographic, instead of ze picture-
-ze gramophone, instead of ze artist fingers avec ze brain--et ze
literature--it is ze cheap 'imitation de Zola,' qui obtient les
eloges du monde critique a Londres. Vous ecrivez?"--and he shook his
finger at Longford--"Bien'! Ecrivez un roman qui est sain, pure et
noble--et ze A-penny man vill moque de ca--mais--ecrivez of ze dirt
of ze human naturel, et voila! Ze A-penny man say 'Bon! Ah que c'est
l'art! Donnes moi l'ordure que je peux sentir! C'est naturel! C'est
divin! C'est l'art!'"
A murmur, half of laughter, half of shocked protest, went round the
"I think," said Mr. Longford, with a pale smile--"that according to
the school of the higher criticism, we must admit the natural to be
the only divine."
Gigue's rolling eyes gleamed under his shaggy hair.
"Je ne comprends pas!"--he said--"Ven ze pig squeak, c'est naturel--
ce n'est pas divin! Ven ze man scratch ze flea, c'est naturel--ce
n'est pas divin! Ze art ne desire pas ze picture of ze flea! Ze
literature n'existe pas pour ze squeak of ze pig! Ah, bah! L'art,--
c'est l'imagination--l'ideal--c'est le veritable Dieu en l'homme!"
Longford gave vent to a snigger, which was his way of laughing.
"God is an abstract illusion,"--he said--"One does not introduce a
non-available quantity in the summing up of facts!"
"Ah! Vous ne croyez pas en Dieu?" And Gigue ruffled up his grey hair
with one hand. "Mais--a quoi bon! Ca ne sert rien! Dieu pent exister
sans votre croyance, Monsieur!--je vous jure!"
And he laughed--a hearty laugh that was infectious and carried the
laughter of everyone else with it. Longford, irritated, turned to
his next neighbour with some trite observation, and allowed the
discussion to drop. But Walden had heard it, and his heart went out
to Gigue for the manner in which he had, for the moment at least,
quenched the light of the 'Savage and Savile.'
Up at the end of the table at which he, Walden, sat, things were of
rather a strained character. Lord Roxmouth essayed to be witty and
conversational, but received so little encouragement in his sallies
from Maryllia, that he had to content himself with Lady Wicketts,
whom he found a terrible bore. Sir Morton Pippitt, eating heartily
of everything, was gradually becoming purple in the face and
somnolent under the influence of wine and food,--Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay, tired of trying to 'draw' Walden on sundry topics, got
cross and impatient, the more so as she found that he could make
himself very charming to the other people in his immediate vicinity,
and that, as the dinner proceeded, he 'came out' as it were, very
unexpectedly in conversation, and proved himself not only an
intellectually brilliant man, but a socially entertaining one. Lord
Roxmouth glanced at him curiously from time to time with growing
suspicion and disfavour. He was not the kind of subservient, half
hypocritical, mock-meek being that is conventionally supposed to
represent a country 'cure.' His independent air, his ease of manner,
and above all, his intelligence and high culture, were singularly
displeasing to Lord Roxmouth, especially as he noticed that Maryllia
listened to everything Walden said, and appeared to be more
interested in his observations than in those of anyone else at the
table. Exchanging a suggestive glance with Lady Beaulyon, Roxmouth
saw that she was taking notes equally with himself on this
circumstance, and his already hard face hardened, and grew colder
and more inflexible as Walden, with a gaiety and humour irresistibly
his own, kept the ball of conversation rolling, and gradually drew
to his own strong and magnetic personality, the appreciative
attention of nearly all present.
Truth to tell, a sudden exhilaration and excitement had wakened up
John's latent forces,--Maryllia's eyes, glancing half timidly, half
wistfully at him, and her fair face, slightly troubled in its
expression, had moved him to an exertion of his best powers to
please her, and make everything bright and gay around her. Instinct
told him that some secret annoyance fretted her--and watching her
looks, and noting the monosyllabic replies she gave to Lord Roxmouth
whenever that distinguished personage addressed her, he decided,
with a foolish thrill at his heart, that the report of her intended
marriage with this nobleman could not be true--she could never look
so coldly at anyone she loved! And with this idea paramount in his
brain he gave himself up to the humour of the hour--and by and by
heads were turned in his direction, and people whispered--'Is that
the parson of the parish?'--and when the answer was given in the
affirmative, wondering glances were exchanged, and someone at the
other end of the table remarked sotto voce:--'Much too brilliant a
man for the country!'--whereat Miss Arabella Ittlethwaite bridled up
and said she 'hoped nobody thought that town offered the only
samples of the human brain worth noticing,' as she would, in that
case, 'beg to differ.' Whereat there ensued a lively discussion,
which ended, so far as the general experience went, in the decision
that clever men were always born or discovered in the country, but
that after a while they invariably went up to town, and there became
Presently, the dinner drawing to an end, dessert, coffee and the
smoking conveniences for both ladies and gentlemen were handed
round,--cigars for the gentlemen, cigarettes for both gentlemen and
ladies. All the women helped themselves to cigarettes, as a matter
of course, with the exception of Miss Ittlethwaite,--(who, as a
'county' lady of the old school, sat transfixed with horror at the
bare idea of being expected to smoke)--poor old Miss Fosby, and
Maryllia. And now occurred an incident, in itself trifling, but
fraught with strange results to those immediately concerned. Lady
Beaulyon was just about to light her own cigarette when, in
obedience to a sudden thought that flashed across her brain, she
turned her lovely laughing face round towards Walden, and said:
"As there's a clergyman present, I'm sure we ought to ask his
permission before we light up! Don't you think it very shocking for
women to smoke, Mr. Walden?"
He looked straight at her--his face paling a little with a sense of
strongly suppressed feeling.
"I have always been under the impression that English ladies never
smoke,"--he said, quietly, with a very slight emphasis on the word
'ladies.' "The rest, of course, must do as they please!"
Had a bombshell suddenly exploded in the dining-room, the effect
could hardly have been more stupefying than these words. There was
an awful pause. The women, holding the unlit cigarettes delicately
between their fingers, looked enquiringly at their hostess. The men
stared; Lord Roxmouth laughed.
Maryllia turned white as a snowdrop--but her eyes blazed with sudden
amazement, indignation and pride that made lightning in their tender
blue. Then,--deliberately choosing a cigarette from the silver box
which had been placed on the table before her, she lit it,--and
began to puff the smoke from her rosy lips in delicate rings,
turning to Lord Roxmouth as she did so with a playful word and
smile. It was enough;--the 'lead' was given. A glance of approval
went the round of her London lady guests--who, exonerated by her
prompt action from all responsibility, lighted their cigarettes
without further ado, and the room was soon misty with tobacco fumes.
Not a word was addressed to Walden,--a sudden mantle of fog seemed
to have fallen over him, covering him up from the consciousness of
the company, for no one even glanced at him, except covertly,--no
one appeared to have heard or noticed his remark. Lord Charlemont
looked, as he felt, distressed. In his heart he admired Walden for
his boldness in speaking out frankly against a modern habit of women
which he also considered reprehensible,--but at the same time he
recognised that the reproof had perhaps been administered too
openly. Walden himself sat rigid and very pale--he fully realised
what he had done,--and he knew he was being snubbed for it--but he
did not care.
"Better so!"--he said to himself in an inward rage--"Better that I
should never see her again than see her as she is now! She wrongs
herself!--and I cannot be a silent witness of her wrong, even though
it is wrought by her own hand!"
The buzz of talk now grew more loud and incessant;--he saw Sir
Morton Pippitt's round eyes fixed upon him with an astonished and
derisive stare,--and he longed for the moment to come when he might
escape from the whole smoking, chattering party. All that his own
eyes consciously beheld was Maryllia--Maryllia, the dainty, pretty,
delicate feminine creature who seemed created out of the finest
mortal and spiritual essences,--smoking! That cigarette stuck in her
pretty mouth, vulgarised her appearance at once,--coarsened her--
made her look as if she were indeed the rapid 'Maryllia Van' his
friend Bishop Brent had written of. What did he care if not a soul
at that table ever spoke to him again? Nothing! But he cared--oh, he
cared greatly for any roughening touch on that little figure of
smooth white and rose flesh, which somehow he had, unconsciously to
himself, set in a niche for thoughts higher than common! He was
quite aware that he had committed a social error, yet he was sorry
she could not have reproved him in some other fashion than that of
deliberately doing what he had just condemned as unbecoming to a
lady. And his mind was in a whirl, when at last she rose to give the
signal to adjourn, passing out of the dining-room without a glance
in his direction.
The moment she had vanished, he at once prepared to leave, not only
the room, but the house. No one offered to detain him. The men were
all too conscious of what they considered his 'faux pas'--and they
were also made rather uncomfortable by the decided rebuff he had
received from their hostess. Yet they all liked him, and were, in
their way, sorry for what had occurred. Lord Roxmouth, with the easy
assurance of one who is conscious of his own position, remarked with
"Won't you stay with us, Mr. Walden? Are you obliged to go?"
Walden looked at him unflinchingly, yet with a smile.
"When a man elects to speak his mind, Lord Roxmouth, his room is
better than his company!"
And with this he left them--to laugh at him if they chose--caring
little whether they did or not. Passing into the hall, he took his
hat and coat,--he was angry with himself, yet not ashamed,--for
something in his soul told him that he had done rightly, even as a
minister of the Gospel, to utter a protest against the vulgarising
of womanhood. He stepped out into the courtyard--the moon was
rising, and the air was very sweet and cool.
"I was wrong!"--he said, half aloud--"And yet I was right! I should
not have said what I did,--and yet I should! If no man is ever bold
enough to protest again the voluntary and fast-increasing self-
degradation of women, then men will be most to blame if the next
generation of wives and mothers are shameless, unsexed, indecorous,
and wholly unworthy of their life's mission. How angry she looked!
Possibly she will never speak to me again. Well, what does it
matter! The wider apart our paths are set, the better!"
He reached the gate of the courtyard, and was about to pass through
it, when a little fluttering figure in white, with crimson in its
rough dark hair, rushed after him. It was Cicely.
"Don't go, please Mr. Walden!" she said, breathlessly; and he saw,
even by the light of the moon, that her eyes were wet--"Please don't
go! Maryllia wishes to speak to you."
He turned a pale, composed face upon her.
"In the picture-gallery. She is alone there. She saw you cross the
courtyard, and sent me after you. All the other people are in the
drawing-room, waiting to hear me sing--and I must run, for Gigue is
there, and he is so impatient! Please, Mr. Walden!"--and Cicely's
voice shook--"Please don't mind if Maryllia is angry! She IS angry!
But it's all on the surface--she doesn't really mean it--she
wouldn't be unkind for all the world! I know what you said,--I was
watching the dinner-party from the ante-room and I saw everything--
and--and--I think you were just splendid!--it's horrid for women to
smoke--but they nearly all do it nowadays--only I never saw Maryllia
do it before, and oh, Mr. Walden, make it all right with her,
For a moment John hesitated. Then a kind smile softened his
"I can't quite promise that, Cicely,--but I'll do my best!" And
taking her hand he patted it gently, as she furtively dashed one or
two tear-drops from her lashes--"Come, come, you mustn't cry! Run
away and sing like the little nightingale you are--don't fret---"
"But you'll go to Maryllia, won't you?" she urged, anxiously.
"Yes. I'll go!"
She lifted her dark eyes, and he saw how true and full of soul they
were, despite their witch-like wildness and passion. Just then a
stormy passage of music, played on the piano, and tumbling out, as
it seemed, on the air through the open windows of the Manor drawing-
room, reminded her that she was being waited for by her impetuous
and impatient maestro.
"That's the signal for me!" she said--"I must run! But oh do, do
make it up with Maryllia and be friends!"
She rushed away. He waited till she had disappeared, then turning
back through the courtyard, slowly re-entered the house.
The lights were burning low and dimly in the picture-gallery when he
entered it and saw Maryllia there, pacing restlessly up and down,
the folds of her dress with the 'diamants' sparkling around her as
she moved, like a million little drops of frost on gossamer, while
her small head, lifted proudly on its slim arched throat, seemed to
his heated fancy, as though crowned with fresh coronals of gold
woven from the summer sun. Turning, she confronted him and paused
irresolute,--then, with a sudden impulsive gesture, came forward
swiftly,--her cheeks flaming crimson,--her lips trembling, and her
bosom heaving with its quickened breath like that of a fluttered
"How dare you!" she said, in a low, strained voice--"How dare you!"
He met her eyes,--and in that moment individual and personal
considerations were swept aside, and only the Right and the Wrong
presented themselves to his mental vision, like witnesses from a
higher world, invisible but omnipotent, waiting for the result of
the first clash of combat between two human souls. Yielding to his
own over-mastering emotion, and reckless of consequences, he caught
her two hands lightly in his own.
"And how dare YOU!" he said earnestly,--"Little girl, how dare YOU
so hurt yourself!"
They gazed upon one another,--each one secretly amazed at the
other's outbreak of feeling,--she grown white and speechless,--he
with a swift strong sense of his own power and authority as a mere
man, nerving him to the utterance of truth for her sake--for her
sake!--regardless of all forms and ceremonies. Then he dropped her
hands as quickly as he had grasped them.
"Forgive me!" he said, very softly,--and paused, till recovering
more of his self-possession, he continued quietly--"You should not
have sent for me, Miss Vancourt! Knowing that I had offended you, I
was leaving your house, never intending to enter it again. Why did
you summon me back? To reproach me? It would be kinder to spare me
this, and let me go my own way!"
He waited for her to speak. But she was silent. Anger, humiliation
and wounded pride, mingled with a certain struggling respect and
admiration for his boldness, held her mute. She little knew how
provocatively lovely she looked as she stood haughtily immovable,
her eyes alone flashing eloquent rebellion;--she little guessed that
John committed the picture of her fairness to the innermost
recording cells of his brain, there to be stored up preciously, and
"I am sorry,"--he resumed--"that I spoke as I did just now at your
table--because you are angry with me. But I cannot say that I am
sorry for any other reason--"
At this Maryllia found her voice suddenly.
"You have insulted my guests---"
"Ah, no!" said John, almost with a smile--"Women who are habitual
smokers are not easily insulted! They are past that, believe me! The
fine susceptibilities which one might otherwise attribute to them
have been long ago blunted. They do not command respect, and
naturally, they can scarcely expect to receive it."
"I do not agree with you!" retorted Maryllia, with rising warmth, as
she regained her self-control, and with it her deep sense of
irritation--"You were rude,--and rudeness is unpardonable! You said
as much as to imply that none of the women present were ladies---"
"None of those who smoked were!"--said John, coolly.
"Mr. Walden! I myself, smoked!"
"You did,"--and he moved a step or two nearer to her, his whole face
lighting up with keen emotion--"And why did you? The motive was
intended to be courteous--but the principle was wrong!"
"Wrong!" she echoed, angrily--"Wrong?"
"Yes--wrong! Have you never been told that you can do one thing
wrong among so many that you do right, Miss Vancourt?" he asked,
with great gentleness--"You had it in your power to show your true
womanliness by refusing to smoke,--you could, in your position as
hostess, have saved your women friends from making fools of
themselves--yes--the word is out, and I don't apologise for it!"--
here a sudden smile kindled in his fine eyes--"And you could also
have given them all an example of obedience."
"Obedience!" exclaimed Maryllia, astonished,--"What do you mean?
Obedience to whom?"
"To me!" replied John, with perfect composure.
She gazed at him, scarcely believing she had heard aright.
"To you?" she repeated--"To you?"
"Why certainly!" said John, wondering even as he spoke at his own
ease and self-assurance--"As minister of the parish I am the only
person here that is set in authority over you--and the first thing
you do is to defy me!"
His manner was whimsical and kindly,--his tone of voice playfully
tender, as though he were speaking to some naughty child whom,
notwithstanding its temper, he loved too well to scold,--and
Maryllia was completely taken aback by this unexpected method of
treating her combative humour. Her pretty mouth opened like a
rosebud,--she seemed as though she would speak, but only an
inarticulate murmur came from her parted lips; while the very
faintest lurking suspicion of a smile crept dimpling over her face,
to be lost again in the hostile expression of her eyes.
"You say I was rude,"--he went on,--"If I was, need you have been
She found utterance quickly.
"I was not rude---" she began.
"Pardon me,--you were! Rude to me--and still more rude to yourself!
The last was the worst affront, in my opinion!"
"I do not understand you," she said, impatiently--"Your ideas of
women are not those of the present day---"
"Thank God, they are not!" he replied--"I am glad to be in that
respect, old-fashioned! You say you do not understand me. Now that
is not true! You do understand! You know very well that if I was
rude in my UNpremeditated speech, you were much more rude in your
premeditated act!--that of deliberately spoiling your womanly self
by doing what you know in your own heart was--will you forgive me
Maryllia flushed red.
"There is no harm in smoking," she said, coldly;--"it is quite the
usual thing nowadays for ladies to enjoy their cigarettes. Why
should they not? It is nothing new. Spanish women have always
smoked--Austrian and Italian women smoke freely without any adverse
comment--in fact, the custom is almost universal. English women have
been the last, certainly, to adopt it--but then, England is always
behind every country in everything!"
She spoke with a hard flippancy,--and she knew it. Walden's eyes
darkened into a deeper gravity.
"Miss Vancourt, this England of ours was once upon a time not
behind, but BEFORE every nation in the whole world for the
sweetness, purity and modesty of its women! That it has become one
with less enlightened races in the deliberate unsexing and
degradation of womanhood does not now, and will not in the future,
redound to its credit. But I am prolonging a discussion uselessly,--
" He waited a moment. "I shall trouble you no more with my opinions,
believe me,--nor shall I ever again intrude my presence upon
yourself or your guests,"--he continued, slowly,--"As I have already
said, I am sorry to have offended YOU,--but I am not sorry to have
spoken my mind! I do not care a jot what your friends from London
think of me or say of me,--their criticism, good or bad, is to me a
matter of absolute indifference--but I had thought--I had hoped---"
He paused,--his voice for the moment failing him. Maryllia looked at
his pale, earnest face, and a sudden sense of shamed compunction
smote her heart. Her anger was fast cooling down,--and with the
swift change of mood which made her so variable and bewitching, she
said, more gently:
"Well, Mr. Walden? You thought--you hoped?"
"That we might be friends,"--he answered, quietly--"But I see
plainly that is impossible!"
She was silent. He stood very still,--his eyes wandering
involuntarily to the painted beauty of 'Mary Elia Adelgisa de
Vaignecourt,' which he had admired and studied so often for many
lonely years, and back again along the dimly lit gallery to that
unveiled portrait of the young bride who never came home, the mother
of the little proud creature who confronted him with such fairy-like
stateliness and pretty assertion of her small self in combat against
him, and upon whom his glance finally rested with a lingering
sadness and pain. Then he said in a low tone:
"Good-night, Miss Vancourt--good-bye!"
At this a cloud of distress swept across her mobile features. "There
now!" she said to herself--"He's going away and he'll never come to
the Manor any more! I intended to make him quite ashamed of himself-
-and he isn't a bit! So like a man! He'd rather die than own himself
in the wrong--besides he ISN'T wrong,--oh dear!--he mustn't go away
in a huff!"
And with a sudden yielding sweetness and grace of action of which
she was quite unconscious, she extended her hands to him--
"Oh, no, Mr. Walden!" she said, earnestly--"I am not so angry as all
that! Not good-bye!" Hardly knowing what he did, he took her
offered hands and held them tenderly in his own.
"Not good-bye!" she said, trembling a little, and flushing rose-red
with a certain embarrassment--"I don't really want to quarrel--I
don't indeed! We--we were getting on so nicely together--and it is
so seldom one CAN get on with a clergyman!"--here she began to
laugh--"But you know it was dreadful of you, wasn't it?--at any rate
it sounded dreadful--when you said that English ladies never smoked-
"Neither they do,"--declared John resolutely, yet smilingly, "Except
by way of defiance!"
She glanced up at him,--and the mirthful sparkle in his eyes was
reflected in her own.
"You are very obstinate!" she said, as she drew her hands away from
his--"But I suppose you really do think smoking is wrong for women?"
His heart was beating, his pulses thrilling under the influence of
her touch, her appealing look and sudden change of manner,--but he
was not to be moved from his convictions, though all the world
should swim round him in a glamour of blue eyes and gold hair.
"I think so, most certainly!"
"Well, the act of smoking in itself is not wrong--but the
associations of the habit are unfit for womanhood. I know very well
that it has become usual in England for ladies to smoke,--most
unfortunately--but there are many habits and customs in this country
as well as in others, which, because they are habitual, are not the
less, but rather the more, pernicious. I confess to a strong
prejudice against smoking women."
"But men smoke--why should not women smoke also?" persisted
Walden heard this plea with smiling patience.
"Men,--a very large majority of them too--habitually get drunk. Do
you think it justifiable for women to get drunk by way of following
the men's example?"
"Why no, of course not!"--she answered quickly--"But drunkenness is
"So is smoking! And it is quite as unhealthy as all vices are. There
have been more addle-pated statesmen and politicians in England
since smoking became a daily necessity with, them than were ever
known before. I don't believe in any human being who turns his brain
into a chimney. And.--pardon me!--when YOU deliberately put that
cigarette in your mouth---"
"Well!" and a mischievous dimple appeared on each soft cheek as she
looked up--"What did you think of me? Now be perfectly frank!"
"I will!" he said, slowly, with an earnest gravity darkening in his
eyes--"I should not be your true friend if I were otherwise! But if
I tell you what I thought--and what I may say I know from long
experience all honest Englishmen think when they see a woman
smoking--you must exonerate me in your mind and understand that my
thoughts were only momentary. I knew that your better, sweeter self
would soon reassert its sway!"
Her head drooped a little--she was quite silent.
"I thought,"--he went on, "when I saw you actually smoking, that
something strange and unnatural had happened to you! That you had
become, in some pitiful way, a different woman to the one that
walked with me, not so long ago, and showed me her old French damask
roses blossoming in the border!"--he paused an instant, his voice
faltering a little,--then he resumed, quietly and firmly--"and that
you had, against all nature's best intentions for you, descended to
the level of Lady Beaulyon---"
She interrupted him by a quick gesture---
"Eva Beaulyon is my friend, Mr. Walden!"
"No--not your friend!"--he said steadily--"Forgive me! You asked me
to speak frankly. She is a friend to none except those of her own
particular class and type---"
"To which I also belong,"--said Maryllia, with a sudden flash of
returning rebellion--"You know I do!"
"I know you do NOT!" replied Walden, with some heat--"And I thank
God for it! I know you are no more of her class and type than the
wood lily is like the rank and poisonous marsh weed! Oh, child!--why
do you wrong yourself! If I am too blunt and plain in what I say to
you, let me cease speaking--but if you ask ME as your friend--as
your minister!"--and he emphasised the word--"to tell you honestly
my opinion, have patience with my roughness!"
"You are not rough," she murmured,--and a little contraction in her
throat warned her of the possible rising of tears--"But you are
"I cannot be tolerant of the demoralisation of womanhood!"--he said,
passionately--"I cannot look on with an easy smile when I see the
sex that SHOULD be the saving purity of the world, deliberately
sinking itself by its own free will and choice into the mire of the
vulgarest social vice, and parting with every redeeming grace,
modesty and virtue that once made it sacred and beautiful! I am
quite aware that there are many men who not only look on, but even
encourage this world-wide debasement of women in order to bring them
down on a par with themselves--but I am not one of these. I know
that when women cease to be womanly, then the sorrows of the world,
already heavy, will be doubled and trebled! When men come to be
ashamed of their mothers--as many of them are to-day--there will be
but little hope of good for future generations! And the fact that
there are many women of title and position like your guest, Lady
Beaulyon, who deliberately drag their husband's honour through the
dust and publicly glory in their own disgrace, does not make their
crime the less, but rather the more criminal. You know this as well
as I do! You are not of Lady Beaulyon's class or type--if you were,
I should not waste one moment of my time in your presence!"
She gazed at him speechlessly. And now from the drawing room came
the sound of Cicely's voice, clear, powerful, and as sweet as
legends tell us the voices of the angels are--
"Luna fedel, tu chiama
Col raggio ed io col suon,
La fulgida mia dama
Sul gotico veron!"
"You know," he went on impetuously--"You know I told you before that
I am not a society man. I said that if I came to dinner to meet your
London friends, I should be very much in the way. You have found me
so. A man of my age and of my settled habits and convictions ought
to avoid society altogether. It is not possible for him to
accommodate himself to it. For instance,--see how old-fashioned and
strait-laced I am!--I wish I had been miles away from St. Rest
before I had ever seen you smoking! It is a trifle, perhaps,--but it
is one of those trifles which stick in the memory and embitter the
Around them the air seemed to break and divide into pulsations of
melody as Cicely sang:
"Diro che sei d'argente
D'opale, d'ambra e d'or,
Diro che incanti il vento,
E che innamori i fior!"
"You have seemed to me such an ideal of English womanhood!"--he went
on dreamily, hardly aware how far his words were carrying him--"The
sweet and fitting mistress of this dear old house, richly endowed as
it is with noblest memories of the noble dead! Their proud and
tender spirit has looked out of your eyes--or so I have fancied;--
and you are naturally so kind and gentle--you have been so good to
the people in the village,--they all love you--they all wish to
think well of you;--for you have proved yourself practically as well
as emotionally sympathetic to them. And, above all things, you have
appeared so pre-eminently delicate and dainty in your tastes--so
maidenly!--I should as soon have expected to see the Greek Psyche
smoking as you!"
She took a swift step towards him, and laid her hand on his arm.
"Can't you forget it?" she said.
He looked at her. Her eyes were humid, and her lips trembled a
"Forget what?" he asked gently.
"That I smoked!"
He hesitated a second.
"I will try!"
"You see!"--went on Maryllia, coaxingly--"we shall have to live in
the same parish, and we shall be compelled to meet each other often-
-and it would never do for you to be always thinking of that
cigarette! Now would it?"
He was silent. The little hand on his arm gave an insistent
"Of course when you conjure up such an awful picture as Psyche
smoking, I know just how you feel about it!" And her eyes sparkled
up at him with an arch look which, fortunately for his peace of
mind, his own eyes did not meet,--"And naturally you must hold very
strong opinions on the subject,--dreadfully strong! But then--nobody
has ever thought me at all like Psyche before--so you so--you see!--
" She paused, and John began to feel his heart beating uncomfortably
fast. "It's very nice to be compared to Psyche anyhow!--and of
course she would look impossible and awful with a cigarette in her
mouth! I quite understand! She couldn't smoke,--she wouldn't!--and--
and--_I_ won't! I won't really! You won't believe me, I expect,--but
I assure you, I never smoke! I only did it this evening, because,--
because,--well!--because I thought I ought to defend my own sex
against your censure--and also perhaps--perhaps out of a little bit
of bravado! But, I'm sorry! There! Will you forgive me?"
Nearly, very nearly, John lost his head. Maryllia had used the
strongest weapon in all woman's armoury,--humility,--and he went
down before it, completely overwhelmed and conquered. A swirl of
emotion swept over him,--his brain grew dizzy, and for a moment he
saw nothing in earth or heaven but the sweet upturned face, the soft
caressing eyes, the graceful yielding form clad in its diaphanous
draperies of jewelled gossamer,--then pulling himself together with
a strong effort which made him well-nigh tremble, he took the small
hand that lay in white confidence on his arm, and raised it to his
lips with a grave, courtly, almost cold reverence.
"It is you to forgive ME, Miss Vancourt!"--he said, unsteadily. "For
I am quite aware that I committed a breach of social etiquette at
your table,--and--and--I know I have taken considerable liberty in
speaking my mind to you as I have done. Even as your minister I fear
I have overstepped my privileges---"
"Oh, please don't apologise!" said Maryllia, quickly--"It's all
over, you know! You've said your say, and I've said mine--and I'm
sure we both feel better for it. Don't we?"
John smiled, but his face was very pale, and his eyes were troubled.
He was absorbed in the problem of his own struggling emotions--how
to master them--how to keep them back from breaking into passionate
speech,--and her bewitching, childlike air, half penitent, half
mischievous, was making sad havoc of his self-possession.
"We are friends again now,"--she went on--"And really,--really we
MUST try and keep so!"
This, with a quaint little nod of emphatic decision.
"Do you think it will be difficult?" he asked, looking at her more
earnestly and tenderly than he himself was aware of.
She laughed, and blushed a little.
"I don't know!--it may be!" she said--"You see you've twice ruffled
me up the wrong way! I was very angry--oh, very angry indeed, when
you coolly stopped the service because we all came in late that
Sunday,--and to-night I was very angry again---"
"But I was NOT angry!" said John, simply--"And it takes two to make
She peeped at him from under her long lashes and again the fleeting
blush swept over her fair face.
"I must go now!"--she said--"Won't you come into the drawing-room?--
just to hear Cicely sing at her very best?"
"Not to-night,"--he answered quickly--"If you will excuse me---"
"Of course I will excuse you!" and she smiled--"I know you don't
"I very much DISLIKE it!" he said, emphatically--"But then I'm quite
an unsociable person. You see I've lived alone here for ten years---
"And you want to go on living alone for another ten years--I see!"
said Maryllia--"Well! So you shall! I promise I won't interfere!"
He looked at her half appealingly.
"I don't think you understand,"--he said,--then paused.
"Oh yes, I understand perfectly!" And she smiled radiantly. "You
like to be left quite to yourself, with your books and flowers, and
the bits of glass for the rose-window in the church. By the bye, I
must help you with that rose-window! I will get you some genuine old
pieces--and if I find any very rare specimens of medieval blue or
crimson you'll be so pleased that you'll forget all about that
cigarette--you know you will!"
"Miss Vancourt,"--he began earnestly--"if you will only believe that
it is because I think so highly of you--because you have seemed to
me so much above the mere society woman that I---I---"
"I know!" she said, very softly--"I quite see your point of view!"
"You are not of the modern world,"--he went on, slowly--"Not in your
heart--not in your real tastes and sentiments;--not yet, though you
may possibly be forced to become one with it after your marriage---"
"And when will that be?" she interrupted him smiling.
His clear, calm blue eyes rested upon her gravely and searchingly.
"Soon surely,--if report be true!"
"Really? Well, you ought to know whether the date has been fixed
yet,"--she said, very demurely--"Because, of course YOU'LL have to
Something swayed and rocked in John's brain, making the ground he
stood upon swerve and seem unsteady. A wave of colour flushed his
bronzed face up to the very roots of his grey-brown hair. Maryllia
watched him with prettily critical interest, much as a kitten
watches the rolling out of a ball of worsted on which it has just
placed its little furry paw. Hurriedly he sought in his mind for
something to say.
"I---I---don't quite understand,"--he murmured.
"Don't you?" and she smiled upon him blandly--"Surely you wouldn't
expect me to be married in any church but yours, or by any clergyman
"Oh, I see!" And Maryllia mentally commented--'So do I!'--while he
heaved a sigh unconsciously, but whether of relief or pain it was
impossible to tell. Looking up, he met her eyes,--so deep and blue,
so strangely compassionate and tender! A faint smile trembled on her
"Good-night, Mr. Walden!"
"Good-night!" he said; then suddenly yielding to the emotion which
mastered him, he made one swift step to her side--"You will forgive
me, I know!--you will think of me presently with kindness, and with
patience for my old-fashioned ways!--and you will do me the justice
to believe that if I seemed rude to your guests, as you say I was,
it was all for your sake!--because I thought you deserved more
respect from them than that they should smoke in your presence,--and
also, because I felt--I could not help feeling that if your father
had been alive he would not have allowed them to do so,--he would
have been too precious of you,--too careful that nothing of an
indecorous or unwomanly nature should ever be associated with you;--
and--and--I spoke as I did because it seemed to me that someone
SHOULD speak!--someone of years and authority, who from the point of
experience alone, might defend you from the contact of modern
vulgarity;--so--so--I said the first words that came to me--just as
your father might have said them!--yes!--just as your father might
have spoken,--for you--you know you seem little more than a child to
me!--I am so much older than you are, God help me!"
Stooping, he caught her hands and kissed them with a passion of
which he was entirely unconscious,--then turned swiftly from her and
She stood where he had left her, trembling a little, but with a
startled radiance in her eyes that made them doubly beautiful. She
was pale to the lips;--her hands,--the hands he had kissed, were
burning. Suddenly, on an impulse which she could not have explained
to herself, she ran swiftly out of the picture-gallery and into the
hall where,--as the great oaken door stood open to the summer
night,--she could see the whole flower-garlanded square of the Tudor
court, gleaming like polished silver in the intense radiance of the
moon. John Walden was walking quickly across it,--she watched him,
and saw him all at once pause near the old stone dial which at this
season of the year was almost hidden by the clambering white roses
that grew around it. He took off his hat and passed his hand over
his brows with an air of dejection and fatigue,--the moonlight fell
full on the clear contour of his features,--and she drew herself and
her sparkling draperies well back into the deep shadow of the portal
lest he should catch a glimpse of her, and, perhaps,--so seeing her,
"And that would never do!" she thought, with a little tremor of fear
running through her which was unaccountably delicious;--"I'm sure it
The air was very warm and sultry,--all the windows of the Manor were
thrown open for coolness,--and through those of the drawing-room
came the lovely vibrations of Cicely's pure fresh voice. She was
singing an enchanting melody on which some words of Julian
Adderley's, simple and quaint, without having any claim to
particular poetic merit, floated clearly with distinct and perfect
"A little rose on a young rose-tree
Shed all its crimson blood for me,
Drop by drop on the dewy grass,
Its petals fell, and its life did pass;
Oh little rose on the young rose-tree,
Why did you shed your blood for me?
"A nightingale in a tall pine-tree
Broke its heart in a song for me,
Singing, with moonbeams around it spread,
It fluttered, and fell at my threshold, dead;--
Oh nightingale in the tall pine-tree,
Why did you break your heart for me?
"A lover of ladies, bold and free,
Challenged the world to a fight for me,
But I scorn'd his love in a foolish pride,
And, sword in hand, he fighting died!
Oh lover of ladies, bold and free,
Why did you lose your life for me?"
And again, with plaintive insistence, the last two lines were
repeated, ringing out on the deep stillness of the summer night--
"Oh lover of ladies, told and free,
Why did you lose yowr life for me?"
The song ceased with a clash of chords. It was followed by a subdued
clapping of hands,--a pause of silence--and then a renewed murmur of
conversation. Walden looked up as if suddenly startled from a
reverie, and resumed his quick pace across the courtyard,--and
Maryllia, seeing him go, advanced a little more into the gleaming
moonlight to follow him with her eyes till he should quite
"Upon my word, a very quaint little comedy!" said a coldly mocking
voice behind her--"A modern Juliet gazing pathetically after the
retiring form of a somewhat elderly clerical Romeo! Let me
congratulate you, Miss Maryllia, on your newest and most brilliant
achievement,--the conquest of a country parson! It is quite worthy
And turning, she confronted Lord Roxmouth.
For a moment they looked at each other. The smile on Roxmouth's face
"Come, come, Maryllia!" he said, easily--"Don't be foolish! The airs
of a tragedy queen do not suit you. I assure you I haven't the least
objection to your amusing yourself with a parson, if you like! The
conversation in the picture-gallery just now was quite idyllic--all
about a cigarette and Psyche! Really it was most absurd!--and the
little sermon of the enamoured clergyman to his pretty penitent was
as unique as it was priggish. I'm sure you must have been vastly
entertained! And the final allusion he made to his age--THAT was a
masterstroke of pathos!--or bathos? Which? Du sublime au ridicule il
n'y'a qu'un pas, Madame!"
Her eyes were fixed unswervingly upon him.
"So you listened!" she said.
"Naturally! One always listens to a comedy if it is played well.
I've been listening all the evening. I've listened to your waif and
stray, Cicely Bourne, and am perfectly willing to admit that she is
worth the training you are giving her. It's the first time I've
heard her sing to advantage. I've listened to Eva Beaulyon's
involved explanation of a perfectly unworkable scheme for the
education of country yokels (who never do anything with education
when they get it), on which she is going to extract twenty thousand
pounds for herself from the pockets of her newest millionaire-
victim. I've listened to the Bludlip Courtenay woman's enthusiastic
description of a new specific for the eradication of wrinkles and
crowsfeet. I've listened to that old bore Sir Morton Pippitt, and to
the afflicting county gossip of the lady in green,--Miss
Ittlethwaite is her name, I believe. And, getting tired of these
things, I strolled towards the picture-gallery, and hearing your
delightful voice, listened there. I confess I heard more than I
Without a word in response, she turned from him and began to move
away. He stretched out a hand and caught her sleeve.
"Maryllia, wait! I must speak to you--and I may as well say what I
have to say now and get it over."
She paused. Lifting her eyes she glanced at him with a look of utter
scorn and contempt. He laughed.
"Come out into the moonlight!"--he said--"Come and walk with me in
this romantic old courtyard. It suits you, and you suit it. You are
very pretty, Maryllia! May I--notwithstanding the parson--smoke?"
She said nothing. Drawing a leather case from his pocket, he took a
cigar out and lit it.
"Silence gives consent,"--he went on--"Besides I'm sure you don't
mind. You know plenty of men who can never talk comfortably without
puffing smoke in between whiles. I'm one of that sort. Don't look at
me like Cleopatra deprived of Marc Antony. Be reasonable! I only
want to say a few plain matter-of-fact words to you---"
"Say them then as quickly as possible, please,"--she replied--"I am
NOT a good listener!"
"No? Now I should have thought you were, judging by the patience
with which you endured the parson's general discursiveness. What a
superb night!" He stepped from the portal out on the old flagstones
of the courtyard. "Take just one turn with me, Maryllia!"
Quietly, and with an air of cold composure she came to him, and
walked slowly at his side. He looked at her covertly, yet
"I won't make love to you,"--he said presently, with a smile--
"because you tell me you don't like it. I will merely put a case
before you and ask for your opinion! Have I your permission?"
She bent her head slightly. Her throat was dry,--her heart was
beating painfully,--she knew Roxmouth's crafty and treacherous
nature, and her whole soul sickened as she realised that now he
could, if he chose, drag the name of John Walden through a mire of
social mud, and hold it up to ridicule among his own particular
'set,' who would certainly lose no time in blackening it with their
ever-ready tar-brush. And it was all through her--all through her!
How would she ever forgive herself if his austere and honourable
reputation were touched in ever so slight a degree by a breath of
scandal? Unconsciously, she clasped her little hands and wrung them
hard--Roxmouth saw the action, and quickly fathomed the inward
suffering it indicated.
"You know my dearest ambition,"--he went on,--"and I need not
emphasise it. It is to call you my wife. If you consent to marry me,
you take at once a high position in the society to which you
naturally belong. But you tell me I am detestable to you--and that
you would rather die than accept me as a husband. I confess I do not
understand your attitude,--and, if you will allow me to say so, I
hardly think you understand it yourself. You are in a state of
uncertainty--most women live always in that state;--and your
vacillating soul like a bewildered butterfly--you see I am copying
the clerical example by dropping into poetry!--and a butterfly, NOT
a cigarette, is I believe the correct emblem of Psyche,--" here he
took a whiff at his cigar, and smiled pleasantly--"your soul, I
repeat, like a bewildered butterfly, has lighted by chance on a
full-flowering parson. The flight--the pause on that maturely-grown
blossom of piety, is pardonable,--but I cannot contemplate with
pleasure the idea of your compromising your name with that of this
sentimental middle-aged individual who, though he may be an
excellent Churchman, would make rather a grotesque lover!"
She remained silent. Glancing sideways at her, he wondered whether
it was the moonlight that made her look so set and pale.
"But I said I would put a case before you,"--he continued, "and I
will. Here are you,--of an age to be married. Here am I,--anxious to
marry you. We are neither of us growing younger--and delay seems
foolish. I offer you all I am worth in the world--myself, my name
and my position. You have refused me a score of times, and I am not
discouraged--you refuse me still, and I am not baffled. But I ask
why? I am not deformed or idiotic. I would try to make you happy. A
woman is best when she has entirely her own way,--I would let you
have yours. You would be free to follow your own whims and caprices.
Provided you gave me lawful heirs, I should ask no more of you. No
reasonable man ought to ask more of any reasonable woman. Life could
be made very enjoyable to us both, with a little tact and sense on
either side. I should amuse myself in the world, and so I hope,
would you. We understand modern life and appreciate its
conveniences. The freedom of the matrimonial state is one of those
conveniences, of which I am sure we should equally take advantage."
He puffed at his cigar for a few minutes complacently.
"You profess to hate me,"--he went on--"Again I ask, why? You tell
your aunt that you want to be 'loved.' You consider love the only
lasting good of life. Well, you have your desire. _I_ love you!"
She raised her eyes,--and then suddenly laughed.
"You!" she said--"You 'love' me? It must be a very piecemeal sort of
love, then, for I know at least five women to whom you have said the
He was in nowise disconcerted.
"Only five!" he murmured lazily--"Why not ten--or twenty? The more
the merrier! Women delight in bragging of conquests they have never
made, as why should they not? Lying comes so naturally to them! But
I do not profess to be a saint,--I daresay I have said 'I love you'
to a hundred women in a certain fashion,--but not as I say it to
you. When I say it to you, I mean it."
"Mean what?" she asked.
She stopped in her walk and faced him.
"When a man loves a woman--really loves her,"--she said, "Does he
persecute her? Does he compromise her in society? Does he try to
scandalise her among her friends? Does he whisper her name away on a
false rumour, and accuse her of running after him for his title,
while all the time he knows it is he himself that is running after
her money? Does he make her life a misery to her, and leave her no
peace anywhere, not even in her own house? Does he spy upon her, and
set others to do the same?--does he listen at doors and interrogate
servants as to her movements--and does he altogether play the
dastardly traitor to prove his 'love'?"
Her voice shook--her eyes were ablaze with indignation. Roxmouth
flicked a little ash off his cigar.
"Why, of course not!" he replied--"But who does these dreadful
things? Are they done at all except in your imagination?"
"YOU do them!" said Maryllia, passionately--"And you have always
done them! When I tell you once and for all that I have given up
every chance I ever had of being my aunt's heiress--that I shall
never be a rich woman,--and that I would far rather die a beggar
than be your wife, will you not understand me?--will you not leave
He looked at her with quizzical amusement.
"Do you really want to be left alone?" he asked--"Or in a 'solitude
a deux'--with the parson?"
She was silent, though her silence cost her an effort. But she knew
that the least word she might say concerning Walden would be
wilfully misconstrued. She knew that Roxmouth was waiting for her to
burst out with some indignant denial of his suggestions--something
that he might twist and turn in his own fashion and repeat
afterwards to all his and her acquaintances. She cared nothing for
herself, but she was full of dread lest Walden's name should be
bandied up and down on the scurrilous tongues of that 'upper class'
throng, who, because they spend their lives in nothing nobler than
political intrigue and sensual indulgence, are politely set aside as
froth and scum by the saner, cleaner world, and classified as the
'Smart Set.' Roxmouth watched her furtively. His clear-cut face,
white skin and sandy hair shone all together with an oily lustre in
the moonlight;--there was a hard cold gleam in his eyes.
"It would be a pretty little story for the society press," he said,
after a pause--"How the bewitching Maryllia Vancourt resigned the
brilliancy of her social life for a dream of love with an elderly
country clergyman! By Heaven! No one would believe it! But,"--and he
waited a minute, then continued--"It's a story that shall never be
told so far as I am concerned--if--" He broke off, and looked
meditatively at the end of his cigar. "There is always an 'if'--
Maryllia smiled coldly.
"That is a threat,"--she said--"But it does not affect me! Nothing
that you can do or say will make me consent to marry you. You have
slandered me already--you can slander me again for all I care. But I
will never be your wife."
"You have said so before,"--he observed, placidly--"And I have put
the question many times--why?"
She looked at him steadily.
"Shall I tell you?"
"Do! I shall appreciate the favour!"
For a moment she hesitated. A great pain and sorrow clouded her
"No woman marries a leper by choice!"--she said at last, slowly.
He glanced at her,--then shrugged his shoulders.
"You talk in parables. Pardon me if I am too dull to understand
"You understand me well enough,"--she answered--"But if you wish it,
I will speak more plainly. I dream of love---"
"Most women do!" he interrupted her, smilingly--"And I am sure you
dream charmingly. But is a middle-aged parson part of the romantic
She paid no heed to this sarcasm. She had moved a pace or two away
from him, and now stood, her head slightly uplifted, her eyes turned
wistfully towards the picturesque gables of the Manor outlined
clearly in the moon against the dense night sky.
"I dream of love!"--she repeated softly,--while he, smoking
tranquilly, and looking the very image of a tailor's model in his
faultlessly cut dress suit, spotless shirt front, and aggressively
neat white tie, studied her face, her figure and her attitude with
amused interest--"But my dream is not what the world offers me as
the dream's realisation! The love that I mean--the love that I seek-
-the love that I want--the love that I will have,"--and she raised
her hand involuntarily with a slight gesture which almost implied a
command--"or else go loveless all my days--is an honest love,--
loyal, true and pure!--and strong enough to last through this life
and all the lives to come!"
"If there are any!"--interpolated Roxmouth, blandly.
She looked at him,--and a vague expression of something like
physical repulsion flitted across her face.
"It is no use talking to you,"--she said--"For you believe in
nothing--not even in God! You are a man of your own making--you are
not a man in the true sense of manhood. How can you know anything of
love? You will not find it in the low haunts of Paris where you are
so well known,--where your name is a byword as that of an English
'milord' who degrades his Order!"
"What do YOU know of the low haunts of Paris?" he queried with a
cold laugh--"Is Louis Gigue your informant?'
"I daresay Louis Gigue knows as much of you as most men do,"--she
replied, quietly--"But I never speak of you to him. Indeed, I never
speak of you at all unless you are spoken of, and not always then.
You do not interest me sufficiently!"
She moved towards the house. He followed her.
"Your remarks have been somewhat rambling and disjointed,"--he said-
-"But essentially feminine, after all. And they merely tend to one
thing--that you are still an untamed shrew!"
She looked back at him over her shoulder. Her eyes gleamed in the
moonlight,--a faint smile curved her pretty mouth.
"If I am, it will need someone braver than you are to tame me!" she
said--"A trickster is always a coward!"
With an angry exclamation he flung away the end of his cigar,--it
fell into a harmless bed of mignonette and seared the sweet blossom,
burning redly in the green like a wicked eye. And then he caught her
hand firmly and held it grasped as in a vice.
"You insult me!" he said, thickly--"And I shall not forget it! You
talk as a child talks--though you are no child! You are a woman of
the world--you have travelled--you have had experience--and you know
men. You are perfectly aware that the sentimental 'love' you speak
of exists nowhere except in poems and story-books--you know that no
sane man alive would tie himself to one woman save for the law's
demand that his heirs shall be lawfully born. You are no shrinking
maid in her teens, that you should start and recoil or blush, at the
truth of the position, and it is the merest affectation on your part
to talk about 'love lasting forever,' for you are perfectly aware
that it cannot last very long over the honeymoon. The natural state
of man is polygamous. Englishmen are the same as Turks or Hottentots
in this respect, except for the saving grace of hypocrisy, which is
the chief prop of European civilisation. If it were not for
hypocrisy, we should all be savages as utterly and completely as in
primaeval days! You know all this as well as I do--and yet you feign
to desire the impossible, while all the time you play the fool with
a country parson! But I'll make you pay for it--by Heaven, I will!
You scorn me and my name--you call me a social leper---"
"You are one!" she said, wrenching her hand from his clasp--"And
what is more, you know it, and you glory in it! Who are your
associates? Men who are physically or morally degenerate--women who,
so long as their appetites are satisfied, seek nothing more! You
play the patron to a certain literary 'set' who produce books unfit
to be read by any decent human being,--you work your way, by means
of your title and position, through society, contaminating
everything you touch! You contaminate ME by associating my name with
yours!--and my aunt helps you in the wicked scheme! I came here to
my own home--to the house where my father died--thinking that
perhaps here at least I should find peace,"--and her voice shook as
with tears--"that here, at least, the old walls might give me
shelter and protection!--but even here you followed me with your
paid spy, Marius Longford--and I have found myself surrounded by
your base tools almost despite myself! But even if you try to hound
me into my grave, I will never marry you! I would rather die a
hundred times over than be your wife!"
His face flushed a dark red, and he suddenly made an though he would
seize her in his arms. She retreated swiftly.
"Do not touch me!" she said, in a low, strained voice--"It will be
the worse for you if you do!"
"The worse for me--or for YOU?" he muttered fiercely,--then
regaining his composure, he burst into an angry laugh. "Bah! You are
nothing but a woman! You fling aside what you have, and pine for
what you have not! The old, old story! The eternal feminine!"
She made no reply, but moved on towards the house. "Quel
ravissement de la lune!" exclaimed a deep guttural voice at this
juncture, and Louis Gigue came out from the dark embrasure of the
Manor's oaken portal into the full splendour of the moonlight--"Et
la belle Mademoiselle Vancourt is ze adorable fantome of ze night!
Et milord Roxmouth ze what-you-call?--ze gnome!--ze shadow of ze
lumiere! Ha-ha! C'est joli, zat little chanson of ze little rose-
tree! Ze music, c'est une inspiration de Cicely--and ze words are
not so melancolique as ze love-songs made ordinairement en
Angleterre! Oui--oui!--c'est joli!"
He turned his shrewd old face up to the sky, and blinked at the dim
stars,--there was a smile under his grizzled moustache. He had
interrupted the conversation between his hostess and her
objectionable wooer precisely at the right moment, and he knew it.
Roxmouth's pale face grew a shade paler, but he made a very good
assumption of perfect composure, and taking out his case of cigars
offered one to Gigue, who cheerfully accepted it. Then he lit one
for himself with a hand that trembled slightly. Maryllia, pausing on
the step of the porch as she was about to enter, turned her head
back towards him for a moment.
"Are you staying long at Badsworth Hall?" she asked.
"About a fortnight or three weeks,"--he answered carelessly, "Mr.
Longford is doing some literary work and needs the quiet of the
country--and Sir Morton Pippitt is good enough to wish us to extend
He smiled as he spoke. She said nothing further, but slowly passed
into the house. Gigue at once began to walk up and down the
courtyard, smoking vigorously, and talking volubly concerning the
future of his pupil Cicely Bourne, and the triumph she would make
some two years hence as a 'prima donna assoluta,' far greater than
Patti ever was in her palmiest days,--and Roxmouth was perforce
compelled, out of civility, as well as immediate diplomacy, to
listen to him with some show of interest.
"Do you think an artistic career a good thing for a woman?" he
asked, with a slight touch of satire in his voice as he put the
Gigue glanced up at him quickly and comprehendingly.
"Ah, bah! Pour une femme il n'y'a qu'une chose--l'Amour!" he
replied--"Mais--au meme temps--l'Art c'est mieux qu'un mariage de
Roxmouth shrugged his shoulders deprecatingly, smiled tolerantly,
and changed the subject.
That same evening, when everyone had retired to bed, and when Mrs.
Bludlip Courtenay was carefully taking off her artistically woven
'real hair' eyebrows and putting them by in a box for the night,
Lady Beaulyon, arrayed in a marvellous 'deshabille' of lace and pale
blue satin, which would have been called by the up-to-date modiste
'a dream of cerulean sweetness,' came into her room with dejection
visibly written on her photographically valuable features.
"It's all over, Pipkin!" she said, with a sigh,--Pipkin was the
poetic pet-name by which the 'beauty' of the press-paragraphist
addressed her Ever-Youthful friend,--"We shall never get a penny out
of Mrs. Fred Vancourt. Maryllia is a mule! She has told me as
plainly as politeness will allow her to do that she does not intend
to know either you or me any more after we have left here--and you
know we're off to-morrow. So to-morrow ends the acquaintance. That
girl's 'cheek' is beyond words! One would think she was an empress,
instead of being a little bounder with only an old Manor-house and
certainly not more than two thousand a year in her own right!"
'Pipkin' stared. That she was destitute of eyebrows, save for a few
iron-grey bristles where eyebrows should have been, and that her
beautiful Titian hair was lying dishevelled on her dressing table,
were facts entirely lost sight of in the stupefaction of the moment.
"Maryllia Vancourt does not intend to know US!" she ejaculated,--
"Nonsense, Eva! The girl must be mad!"
"Mad or sane, that's what she says,"--and Eva Beaulyon turned away
from the spectacle of her semi-bald and eyebrow-less confidante with
a species of sudden irritation and repulsion--"She declares we are
in the pay of her aunt and Lord Roxmouth. So we are, more or less!
And what does it matter! Money must be had--and whatever way there
is of getting it should be taken. I laughed at her, and told her
quite frankly that I would do anything for money,--flatter a
millionaire one day and cut him the next, if I could get cheques for
doing both. How in the world should I get on without money?--or you
either! But she is an incorrigible little idiot--talks about honour
and principle exactly like some mediaeval story-book. She declares
she will never speak to either of us again after we've gone away to-
morrow. Of course we can easily reverse the position and turn the
tables upon her by saying we will not speak to her again. That will
be easy enough--for I believe she's after the parson."
Mrs. Bludlip Courtenay's eyes lightened with malignity.
"What, that man who objected to our smoke?"
Lady Beaulyon nodded.
"And I think Roxmouth sees it!"--she added.
'Pipkin' looked weirdly meditative and curiously wizened for a
moment. Then she suddenly laughed and clapped her hands.
"That will do!" she exclaimed--"That's quite good enough for US!
Mrs. Fred will pay for THAT information! Don't you see?"
Lady Beaulyon shook her head.
"Don't you? Well, wait till we get back to town!"--and 'Pipkin' took
up her false hair and shook it gently, as she spoke--"We can do
wonders--wonders, I tell you, Eva! And till we go, we'll be as nice
to the girl as we can,--go off good friends and all that sort of
thing--tell her how much we've enjoyed ourselves--thank her
profusely,--and then once away we'll tell Mrs. Fred all about John
Walden, and leave her to do as she likes with the story. That will
be quite enough! If Maryllia has any sneaking liking for the man,
she'll do anything to save HIS name if she doesn't care about saving
"Oh, I see now!" and Lady Beaulyon's eyes sparkled up with a gleam
of malice--"Yes--I quite understand!"
'Pipkin' danced about the room in ecstasy,--she was half undressed
for the night, and showed a pair of exceedingly thin old legs under
an exceedingly short young petticoat.
"Maryllia Vancourt and a country parson!" she exclaimed, "The whole
thing is TOO delicious! Go to bed, Eva! Get your beauty sleep or
you'll have ever so many more wrinkles than you need! Good-night,
dearest! If Maryllia declines to know US, we shall soon find
excellent reasons for not knowing HER! Good-night!"
With a shrill little laugh, the lady kissed her dear friend
affectionately--and if the caress was not returned with very great
fervour, it may be presumed that this coldness was due more to the
unlovely impression created by the night 'toilette' of the Ever-
Youthful one, than anything else. Anyway the two social schemers
parted on the most cordial terms, and retired to their several
couches with an edifying sense of virtue pervading them both morally
And while they and others in the Manor were sleeping, Maryllia lay
broad awake, watching the moonbeams creeping about her room like
thin silver threads, interlacing every object in a network of pale
luminance,--and listening to the slow tick-tock of the rusty
timepiece in the courtyard which said, 'Give all--take nothing--
give--all--take--no--thing!'--with such steady and monotonous
persistence. She was sad yet happy,--perplexed, yet peaceful;--she
had decided on her own course of action, and though that course
involved some immediate vexation and inconvenience to herself, she
was satisfied that it was the only one possible to adopt under the
irritating circumstances by which she was hemmed in and surrounded.
"It will be best for everyone concerned,"--she said, with a sigh--
"Of course it upsets all my plans and spoils my whole summer,--but
it is the only thing to do--the wisest and safest, both for--for Mr.
Walden--and for me. I should be a very poor friend if I could not
sacrifice myself and my own pleasure to save him from possible
annoyance,--and though it is a little hard--yes!--it IS hard!--it
can't be helped, and I must go through with it. 'Home, Home, sweet
Home!' Yes--dear old Home!--you shall not be darkened by a shadow of
deceit or treachery if _I_ can prevent it!--and for the present, my
way is the only way!"
One or two tears glittered on her long lashes when she at last fell
into a light slumber, and the old pendulum's rusty voice croaking
out: 'Give all--take no--thing' echoed hoarsely through her dreams
like a harsh command which it was more or less difficult to obey.
But life, as we all know, is not made up of great events so much as
of irritating trifles,--poor, wretched, apparently insignificant
trifles, which, nevertheless do so act upon our destinies sometimes
as to put everything out of gear, and make havoc and confusion where
there should be nothing but peace. It was the merest trifle that Sir
Morton Pippitt should have brought his 'distinguished guests,'
including Marius Longford, to see John Walden's church--and also
have taken him to visit Maryllia in her own home;--it was equally
trifling that Longford, improving on the knightly Bone-Melter's
acquaintance, should have chosen to import Lord Roxmouth into the
neighbourhood through the convenient precincts of Badsworth Hall;--
it was a trifle that Maryllia should have actually believed in the
good faith of two women who had formerly entertained her at their
own houses and whose hospitality she was anxious to return;--and it
was a trifle that John Walden should, so to speak, have made a
conventionally social 'slip' in his protest against smoking women;--
but there the trifles stopped. Maryllia knew well enough that only
the very strongest feeling, the very deepest and most intense
emotion could have made the quiet, self-contained 'man o' God' as
Mrs. Spruce called him, speak to her as he had done,--and she also
knew that only the most bitter malice and cruel under-intent to do
mischief could have roused Roxmouth, usually so coldly self-centred,
to the white heat of wrath which had blazed out of him that evening.
Between these two men she stood--a quite worthless object of regard,
so she assured herself,--through her, one of them was like to have
his name torn to shreds in the foul mouths of up-to-date salacious
slanderers,--and likewise through her, the other was prepared and
ready to commit himself to any kind of lie, any sort of treachery,
in order to gain his own interested ends. Small wonder that tears
rose to her eyes even in sleep--and that in an uneasy and confused
dream she saw John Walden standing in his garden near the lilac-tree
from which he had once given her a spray,--and that he turned upon
her a sad white face, furrowed with pain and grief, while he said in
weary accents--"Why have you troubled my peace? I was so happy till
you came!" And she cried out--"Oh, let me go away! No one wants me!
I have never been loved much in all my life--but I am loving enough
not to wish to give pain to my friends--let me go away from my dear
old home and never come back again, rather than make you wretched!"
And then with a cry she awoke, shivering and half-sobbing, to feel
herself the loneliest of little mortals--to long impotently for her
father's touch, her father's kiss,--to pray to that dimly-radiant
phantom of her mother's loveliness which was pictured on her brain,
and anon to stretch out her pretty rounded arms with a soft cry of
mingled tenderness and pain--"Oh, I am so sorry!--so sorry for HIM!
I know he is unhappy!--and it's all my fault! I wish--I wish---"
But what she wished she could not express, even to herself. Her
sensitive nature was keenly alive to every slight impression of
kindness or of coldness;--and the intense longing for love, which
had been the pulse of her inmost being since her earliest infancy,
and which had filled her with such passionate devotion to her father
that her grief at his loss had been almost abnormally profound and
despairing, made her feel poignantly every little incident which
emphasised, or seemed to emphasise, her own utter loneliness in the
world; and she was just now strung up to such a nervous tension,
that she would almost have consented to wed Lord Roxmouth if by so
doing she could have saved any possible mischief occurring to John
Walden through Roxmouth's malignancy. But the shuddering physical
repulsion she felt at the bare contemplation of such a marriage was
too strong for her.
"Anything but that!"--she said to herself, with something of a
prayer--"O dear God!--anything but that!"
Sometimes God hears these little petitions which are not of the
orthodox Church. Sometimes, as it seems, by a strange chance, the
cry of a helpless and innocent soul does reach that vast Profound
where all the secrets of life and destiny lie hidden in mysterious
embryo. And thus it happens that across the din and bustle of our
petty striving and restless disquietudes there is struck a sudden
great silence, by way of answer,--sometimes it is the silence of
Death which ends all sorrow,--sometimes it is the sweeter silence of
Love which turns sorrow into joy.
Next day all the guests at the Manor had departed with the exception
of three--Louis Gigue, and the 'Sisters Gemini,' namely, Lady
Wicketts and Miss Fosby. With much gush and gratitude for a
'charming stay--a delightful time!' Lady Beaulyon and Mrs. Bludlip
Courtenay took leave of their 'dear Maryllia,' who received their
farewells and embraces with an irresponsively civil coldness. Lord
Charlemont and Mr. Bludlip Courtenay 'motored' to London,
undertaking with each other to keep up a speed of fifty miles an
hour, provided there were not too many hills and not too much
'slowing down' for the benefit of unexpected policemen round
corners. And at sunset, a pleasant peace and stillness settled on
the Manor grounds, erstwhile disturbed by groups of restless persons
walking aimlessly to and fro,--persons who picked flowers merely to
throw them away again, and played tennis and croquet only to become
quarrelsome and declare that the weather was much too hot for games.
Everybody that was anybody had gone their ways,--and within her own
domicile Mrs. Spruce breathed capaciously and freely, and said in
confidence to the cook and to Primmins:
"Thank the Lord an' His mercies, that's all over! An' from what I
hears, Miss Maryllia won't be wantin' no more London folks for a
goodish bit o' time, an' we'll all 'ave peace to turn round an' look
at ourselves an' find out whether we're sane or silly, for the two
old leddies what is stayin' on give no trouble at all, an' that Mr.
Gigg don't care what he gets, so long as he can bang away on the
pianner an' make Miss Cicely sing, an' I will own she do sing lovely
like the angels in a 'evenly 'ost, but there!--_I_ don't want no
more company, for what with French maids an' valets, all talkin' the
wickedest stuff I ever heard about the ways an' doins o' their
masters an' missises in London, I'm downright glad to be rid o' the
whole lot! For do what we will, there is limits to patience, an' a
peaceful life is what suits me best not knowin' for the past three
weeks whether my 'ead or my 'eels is uppermost with the orderin' an'
messin' about, though I will say Miss Maryllia knows what's what,
an' ain't never in a fuss nor muddle, keepin' all wages an' bills
paid reg'lar like a hoffice clerk, mebbe better, for one never knows
whether clerks pays out what they're told or keeps some by in their
own pockets, honesty not bein' always policy with the likes o' they.
Anyway 'ere we are all alive an' none the worse for the bustle,
which is a mercy, an' now mebbe we'll have time to think a bit as we
go, an' stop worrittin' over plates an' dishes an' glass an' silver,
which, say what we like, do sit on one like a burden when there's a
many to serve. A bit o' quiet 'ull do us all good!"
The 'quiet' she thus eulogised was to be longer and lonelier than
she imagined, but of this she knew nothing. The whole house was
delightfully tranquil after the departure of the visitors, and the
spirit of a grateful repose seemed to have imparted itself to its
few remaining occupants. Louis Gigue played wonderful improvisations
on the piano that evening, and Cicely sang so brilliantly and
ravishingly that had she then stood on the boards of the Paris Grand
Opera, she would have created a wild 'furore.' Lady Wicketts knitted
placidly; she was making a counterpane, which no doubt someone would
reluctantly decide to sleep under--and Miss Fosby embroidered a
cushion cover for Lady Wicketts, who already possessed many of these
articles wrought by the same hand. Maryllia occupied herself in
writing many letters,--and all was peace. Nothing in any way
betokened a change, or suggested the slightest interruption to the
sun-lighted serenity of the long, lovely summer days.
Whatever the feelings of John Walden were concerning the incidents
that had led him to more or less give himself away, as the saying
goes, into Maryllia's hands, he remained happily unconscious of the
fact that Lord Roxmouth had overheard his interview with her in the
picture-gallery--and being a man who never brooded over his own
particular small vexations and annoyances, he had determined, as far
as might be possible, to put the whole incident behind him, as it
were, and try to forget it. Of course he knew he never could forget
it,--he knew that the sweet look in Maryllia's eyes--the little
appealing touch of her hand on his arm, would be perchance the most
vivid impressions of his life till that life should be ended. But it
was useless to dwell with heart-aching persistence on her
fascination, or on what he now called his own utter foolishness, and
he was glad that he had arranged to visit his old friend Bishop
Brent, as this enabled him to go away at once for three or four
days. And it was possible, so he argued with himself, that this
three or four days' break of the magnetic charm that had, against
his own wish and will, enslaved his thoughts and senses, would
restore him to that state of self-poise and philosophic tranquillity
in which he had for so many years found an almost, if not quite,
perfect happiness. Bracing himself fully up to the determination
that he would, at all hazards, make an effort to recover his lost
peace, he made rapid preparations for his departure from St. Rest,
and going the round of his parish, he let all whom it might concern
know, that for the first time in a long ten years, he was about to
take two or three days' holiday. The announcement was received by
some with good-natured surprise--by others with incredulity--but by
most, with the usual comfortable resignation to circumstances which
is such a prevailing characteristic of the rustic mind.
"It'll do ye good, Passon, that it will!" said Mrs. Frost, in her
high acidulated voice, which by dint of constant scolding and
screaming after her young family had become almost raspish--"For
you're looking that white about the gills that it upsets my mind to
see it. I sez to Adam onny t'other day, 'You'll be diggin' a grave
for Passon presently--see if you don't--for he's runnin' downhill as
fast as a loaded barrow with naught ahint it.' That's what I said,
Passon--an' its Gospel true!"
"You're quite right, Mrs. Frost,"--he said, patiently--"I am
certainly going downhill, as you say--but I must try to put a little
check on the wheels! There's one thing to be said about it, if Adam
digs my grave, as it is likely he will, I know he will do it better
than any other sexton in the county! I shall sleep in it well, and
Mrs. Frost felt a certain sense of pride in this remark.
"You may say that, Passon--you may say that and not be fur wrong,"--
she said, complacently--"Adam don't do much, but what he doos is
well done, an' there's no mistake about it. If I 'adn't a known 'im
to be a 'andy man in his trade he wouldn't 'a had me to wife, I do
Walden smiled and passed on. To Mr. Netlips, the grocer, he confided
a few orders for the household supplies during his absence, which
that worthy and sapient personage accepted with due attention.
"It is a demonstrable dispensation, Mr. Walden, sir,"--he said,
"that you should be preparing yourself for locomotion at the moment
when the house-party at the Manor is also severed indistinguishably.
There is no one there now, so my imparted information relates, with
the exception of her ladyship Wicketts, a Miss Fosby and a hired
musician from the cells of the professional caterer, named Gigg."
Walden's eyes twinkled. He was always very indulgent to Mr. Netlips,
and rather encouraged him than otherwise in his own special flow of
"Really!" he said--"And so they are all gone! I'm afraid it will
make a difference to your trade, Mr. Netlips! How about your Petrol
Mr. Netlips smiled, with a comfortable air of self-conscious wisdom.
"It has been absorbed--quite absorbed," he said, complacently--"The
board of announcement was prospective, not penetrative. Orders were
consumed in rotation, and his lordship Charlemont was the last
applicant on the formula."
"I see!" said Walden--"So you are no loser by the transaction. I'm
glad to hear it! Good-day! I only intend to be away a short time.
You will scarcely miss me,--as I shall occupy my usual post on
"Your forethought, Mr. Walden, sir, is of a most high
complication,"--rejoined Mr. Netlips with a gracious bend of his fat
neck--"And it is not to be regretted by the profane that you should
rotate with the world, provided you are seen in strict adhesion to
the pulpit on the acceptable seventh day. Otherwise, it is but
natural that you should preamble for health's sake. You have been
looking poorly, Mr. Walden sir, of late; I trust you will
beneficially profit by change."
Walden thanked him, and went his way. His spirits were gradually
rising--he was relieved to hear that Maryllia's house-party had
broken up and dispersed, and he cogitated within himself as to
whether he should go and say good-bye to her before leaving the
village, or just let things remain as they were. He was a little
uncertain as to which was the wisest course to adopt,--and while he
was yet thinking about it he passed the cottage of old Josey
Letherbarrow, and saw the old man sitting at his door peacefully
smoking, while at his feet, Ipsie Frost was curled up comfortably
like a kitten, busying herself in tying garlands of ivy and
honeysuckle round the tops of his big coarsely-laced boots. Pausing,
John leaned on the gate and looked at the two with a smile.
"Ullo, Passon!" said Ipsie, turning her blue eyes up at him with a
confidential air--"Tum an' tie up my Zozey-Posey! Zozey-Posey's bin
naughty,--he's dot to be tied up so he tan't move!"
"And when he's good again, what then?" said Walden--"Will you untie
Ipsie stared roundly and meditatively.
"Dunno!"--she said--"'Specks I will! But oh, my Zozey-Posey IS so
bad!" and she screwed her little flaxen head round with an
expression of the most comical distress--"See my wip?" And she held
up a long stem of golden-rod in flower,--"Zozey dot to be wipped--
poor Zozey! But he's dot to be tied up fust!"
Josey heard all this nonsense babble with delighted interest, and
surveyed the tops of his decorated boots with much admiration.
"Ain't she a little caution!" he said--"She do mind me somehow of
th' owld Squire's gel! Ay, she do!--Miss Maryllia was just as peart
and dauntsome when she was her age. Did I ever tell ye, Passon,
'bout Miss Maryllia's legs an' the wopses' nest?"
John started violently. What was the old man talking about? He felt
that he must immediately put a stop to any chance of indecorous
"No, you never told me anything about it, Josey,"--he said,
hastily,--"an I've no time just now to stay and listen. I'm off on a
visit for two or three days--you won't see me again till Sunday."
Josey drew his pipe slowly out of his mouth.
"Goin' away, Passon, are ye?" he said in quavering accents of
surprise--"Ain't that a bit strange like?"
"Why yes, I suppose it is,"--said John, half laughing--"I never do
go away I know--but---"
"Look 'ere Passon! Speak frank an' fair!--there baint nothin'
drivin' ye away, be there?"
The hot colour sprang to Walden's brows.
"Why no, Josey!--of course not! How can you think of such a thing?"
Josey stooped and patted Ipsie's flaxen tangle of curls softly. Then
he straightened himself and looked fully into John's face.
"Well I dunno how 'tis, Passon,"--he said, slowly--"When the body
gets old an' feels the fallin' o' the dark shadder, the soul begins
to feel young, an' sees all at once the light a-comin' which makes
all things clear. See this little child playin' wi' me?--well, she
don't think o' me as an old worn man, but as somethin' young like
herself--an' for why? Because she sees the soul o' me,--the eyes o'
the children see souls more'n bodies, if ye leave 'em alone an'
don't worrit 'em wi' worldly talk. An' it's MY soul wot sees more'n
my body--an' that's why I sez to ye, Passon, that if so be you've
any trouble don't run away from it! Stay an' fight it out--it's the
onny way!--fight it out!"
Walden was for a moment taken aback. Then he answered steadily.
"You're right, Josey! If I had any trouble I should stay and as you
say, fight it out;--but I've none, Josey!--none in the world! I am
as happy as I can be,--far happier than I deserve,--and I'm only
going away to see my old friend Bishop Brent--you remember--the
Bishop who consecrated the church seven years ago?"--Josey nodded
comprehensively, "He lives, as you know, quite a hundred miles from
here--but I shall be in my usual place on Sunday."
"Please God, you will!" said Josey, devoutly--"And please God, so
shall I. But there's never no knowin' what may 'appen in a day or
Here Ipsie gave vent to a yell of delight. She had been groping
among the flowers in the cottage border, and now held up a deep red
rose, darkly glowing at its centre.
"Wed wose!" she announced, screamingly--"Wed--all wed! For Passon!
Passon, tiss it!"
John still leaning on the gate, reached down and took the flower,
kissing it as he was told, with lips that trembled on the velvet
leaves. It was one of the 'old French damask' roses--and its rich
scent, so soft and full of inexplicable fine delicacy, affected him
"'Ave ye heard as 'ow Miss Maryllia's goin' to marry that fine
gen'leman wot's at Badsworth?" pursued Josey, presently, beginning
to chuckle as he asked the question--"Roxmouth, they calls him;--
Lord, Lord, what clicketin' talk, like all the grass-'oppers out for
a fairin'! She ain't goin' to marry no Roxmouths, bless 'er 'art!--
she's goin' to stick to the old 'ome an' people, and never leave 'em
no more! _I_ knows her mind! She tells old Josey wot she don't tell
nobody else, you bet she do!"
John Walden tried not to look interested.
"Miss Vancourt will no doubt marry some day,"--he said, somewhat
"Av coorse she will!"--returned Josey--"When Mr. Right comes along,
she'll know 'im fast enough! Them blue eyes ain't goin' to be
deceived, _I_ tell ye! But she ain't goin' to be no Duchess as they
sez,--it's my 'pinion plain Missis is good 'nough for the Squire's
gel, if so be a lovin' an' true Mister was to ax 'er and say--'Will
'ee be my purty little wife, an' warm my cold 'art all the days o'
my life?'--an' there'd be no wantin' dukes nor lords round when
there's real love drivin' a man an' woman into each other's arms!
Lord--Lord, don't I know it! Seems but t'other day I was a fine man
o' thirty odd, an' walkin' under the hawthorns all white wi' bloom,
an' my wife that was to be strollin' shy like at my side--we was
kind o' skeered o' one another, courtin' without knowin' we was
courtin' ezackly, an' she 'ad a little blue print gown on an' a
white linen sunbonnet--I kin see 'er as clear an' plain as I see
you, Passon!--an' she looks up an' she sez--'Ain't it a lovely day,
Joe?' An' I sez--'Yes, it's lovely, an' you're lovely too!' An' my
'art gave a great dump agin my breast, an' 'fore I knowed it I 'ad
'er in my arms a-kissin' 'er for all I was worth! Ay, that was so--
an' I never regretted them kisses under the may-trees, I tell ye!
An' that's what'll 'appen to Squire's gel--some good man 'ull walk
by 'er side one o' these days, an' won't know wot he's a-doin' of
nor she neither, an' love 'ull just come down an' settle in their
'arts like a broodin' dove o' the 'Oly Spirit, not speakin'
blasPHEmous, Passon, I do assure ye! For if Love ain't a 'Oly
Spirit, then there ain't no Lord God in the 'Love one another!' I
sez 'tis a 'Oly Spirit wot draws fond 'arts together an' makes 'em
beat true--and the 'Oly Spirit 'ull fall on Squire's gel in its own
time an' bring a blessin' with it. That's wot I sez,--are ye goin',
"Yes--I'm going," said John in an uncertain voice, while Ipsie
stared up at him in sudden enquiring wonder, perhaps because he
looked so pale, and because the hand in which he held the rose she
had given him trembled slightly--"I've a number of things to do,
Josey--otherwise I should love to stop and hear you talk--you know I
should!" and he smiled kindly--"For you are quite right, Josey! You
have faith in the beautiful and the true, and so have I! I believe--
yes--I believe that everything--even a great sorrow--is for the
best. We cannot see,--we do not know--but we should trust the Divine
mind of God enough to feel that all is, all must be well!"
"That's so, Passon!" said Josey, with grave heartiness--"Stick to
that, an' we're all right. God bless ye! I'll see ye Sunday if I
ain't gone to glory!"
Walden pulled open the garden gate to shake hands with the old man,
and to kiss Ipsie who, as he lifted her up in his arms, caressed his
cheeks with her two dumpy hands.
"Has 'oo seen my lady-love?" she asked, in a crooning whisper--"My
bootiful white lady-love?"
Walden looked at Josey perplexedly.
"She means Miss Maryllia,"--said the old man--"That's the name she's
given 'er--lady-love--the thinkin' little imp she is! Where's lady-
love? Why she's in 'er own house--she don't want any little tags o'
babbies runnin' round 'er--your lady-love's got somethin' else to
"She AIN'T!" said Ipsie, with dramatic emphasis--"She tums an' sees
me often--'oo don't know nuffin' 'bout it! HAS 'oo seen 'er?" she
asked Walden again, taking hold of one end of his moustache very
He patted the little chubby arm.
"I saw her the other night,"--he said, a sudden rush of words coming
to his lips in answer to the child's query--"Yes, Ipsie,--I saw her!
She was all in white, as a lady-love should be--only there were
little flushes of pink on her dress like the sunset on a cloud--and
she had diamonds in her hair,"--Here Ipsie sighed a profound sigh of
comfortable ecstasy--"and she looked very sweet and beautiful--and--
and"--Here he suddenly paused. Josey Letherbarrow was looking at him
with sudden interest. "And that's all, Ipsie!"
"Didn't she say nuffin' 'bout me?" asked the small autocrat.
Walden set her gently down on the ground.
"Not then, Ipsie,"--he said--"She was very busy. But I am sure she
thought of you!"
Ipsie looked quite contented.
"'Ess,--my lady-love finks a lot, oh, a lot of me!" she said,
seriously--"Allus finkin' of me!"
John smiled, and again shook old Josey's hand.
"Good-bye till Sunday!" he said.
"Good-bye, Passon!" rejoined Josey, cheerily--"Good luck t'ye! God
And the old man watched John's tall, slim athletic figure as long as
his failing sight could follow it, murmuring to himself--
"Who'd a thought it!--who'd 'a thought it! Yet mebbe I'm wrong--an'
mebbe I'm right!--for the look o' love never lightens a man's eyes
like that but once in his life--all the rest o' the sparkles is only
imitations o' the real fire. The real fire burns once, an' only
once--an' it's fierce an' hot when it kindles up in a man after the
days o' his youth are gone! An' if the real fire worn't in Passon's
eyes when he talked o' the lady-love, than I'm an old idgit wot
never felt my heart go dunt again my side in courtin' time!"
Walden meanwhile went on his round of visits, and presently,--the
circle of his poorer parishioners being completed,-he decided to
call on Julian Adderley at his 'cottage in the wood' and tell him
also of his intended absence. He had taken rather a liking to this
eccentric off-shoot of an eccentric literary set,--he had found that
despite some slight surface affectations, Julian had very straight
principles, and loyal ideas of friendship, and that he was not
without a certain poetic talent which, if he studied hard and to
serious purpose, might develop into something of more or less
worthiness. Some lines that he had recently written and read aloud
to Walden, had a haunting ring which clung to the memory: