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Title: Still Glides the Stream (1948)
Author: Flora Jane Thompson (1876-1947)
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Still Glides the Stream (1948)
Author: Flora Jane Thompson (1876-1947)



'I see what was, and is, and will abide;
Still glides the stream and shall for ever glide.'



CONTENTS

1.  THE FOOTPATH
2.  MISS FINCH REMEMBERS
3.  WATERSIDE FARM
4.  POMPADOUR APRONS
5.  THE FLOWER SHOW
6.  NATURE STUDY
7.  SNAKE IN THE GRASS
8.  ST. VALENTINE'S EVE
9.  THE SWEETBRIAR HEDGE
10. FIELD FIRES
11. THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER
12. 'ALL'S WELL!'
13. RUNNING WATER



_One_

THE FOOTPATH

The Oxfordshire village of Restharrow has changed little in outward
appearance during the last fifty years. Three of the old cottages have
disappeared and to replace these, about half a dozen new pink-roofed
bungalows have been built. The village inn has been brought up to date
and its former frontage of oak beams and cream plaster has given place
to one decorated with green glazed tiles and red paint; but it is still
known as the _Magpie_ and the old sign-board depicting that knowing bird
with a gold ring in its beak still swings in its old position on the
grass margin before the inn door. The old lollipop shop with bull's-eyes
and barley sugar behind its dim green bottle-glass window has become the
General Stores. On one of its walls a scarlet Post Office letterbox has
appeared, with a notice above it stating that stamps may be obtained and
parcels posted within.

One of the bungalows is occupied by a retired Metropolitan Police
constable, another by the district nurse, and a lady who breeds alsatian
dogs has had three of the old cottages thrown into one and installed a
bathroom. The new schoolmaster is not expected to occupy the little
two-roomed lean-to beside the school building which served a succession
of schoolmistresses, but has his own house, remarkable for its well-kept
lawn and flower-beds. The sound of his lawn-mower strikes a new note in
the village symphony, but one which blends well with cock-crowing,
birdsong, the clinking of buckets, and the shouts and laughter of
children at play.

During the two world wars, at Restharrow as elsewhere, hearts must have
been torn with anxiety for the absent, and, at the close of both wars,
there must have been those there who mourned amidst the general
rejoicings. But such scars as were left were personal and invisible; no
bomb fell anywhere near Restharrow; no airfield or factory was
established in the immediate neighbourhood; on account of the limited
accommodation, evacuees were few, and the village retained and has since
kept the air of peaceful seclusion now only possible in such places, far
from towns, in the heart of the country.

It is a long, straggling place, consisting of what has always been known
as 'The Street', though street it is not in the ordinary sense of the
term, the cottages standing singly and in groups on both sides of a
country byway with fields and hedgerows between. Some of the cottages
stand on high banks with flights of stone steps leading up to the doors;
others have been built so flush with the road that a passing wagoner,
from the top of his load, might if he chose look into the bedroom
windows. One here and there of the houses has a honeysuckle-covered
porch, a pink or yellow washed front, or a gable end turned to the road,
but the greater number are plain, square dwellings of grey limestone,
only redeemed from ugliness by the mellowing effect of time and by the
profusion of old-fashioned garden flowers which is a feature of the
district.

There are many trees. Apple and plum and damson trees in the cottage
gardens, laburnums and lilacs at cottage gates, and everywhere in the
hedgerows wide-spreading oaks and elms. Around a roadside pond halfway
up the village street stand old pollarded willows, the trunks hollowed
by time to mere shells in which the village children hide, but every
tree with its living topknot of silvery green leaves. A few white
Aylesbury ducks still frequent this pond, though not so many as in
former years, when, towards nightfall, little girls with light switches
in their hands would go to the pond to call in those belonging to their
families. '_Dilly, dilly, dilly, dilly!_' they would call, and the ducks
would scramble up the bank and, with many a backward glance from their
cunning little eyes, they would form two files and waddle off, one file
up and the other down the street. It was as the children said, hard to
tell which was whosen; but the ducks knew to whom they belonged. In twos
and threes they would break from the rank and make for the garden gate
which led to the shed where they knew they would find in their troughs a
delicious mess of mashed potatoes and brewer's grain. Those were the
mass-minded ducks. One old drake, a strict individualist, had deserted
the flock, having become so enamoured of his mistress that he followed
her out of doors like a dog and, when she was at home, kept guard on the
doorstep. His devotion had so endeared him to the woman that she could
not bear to think of him in conjunction with sage and onions, and Mrs.
Rouse, going to the well with her buckets suspended by a yoke from her
shoulders, closely followed by her adoring Benny, as she had named him,
was for years one of the sights of the village.

Now, as always, the majority of the Restharrow men are farmworkers.
During the last half century the proportion of these has increased, for
village tradesmen are fewer. The shoemaker who made, as well as mended,
footgear and employed a journeyman helper and an apprentice is now
represented by an ordinary cobbler; the blacksmith, the carpenter and
the stonemason, who was also the sweep, have long ago shut up shop, and
the notice board of 'Adam Strong, Tailor' was, years ago, chopped up for
firewood. Adam Strong--'Mus' Strong' to most of his customers, 'Adam' to
a few, and plain 'Strong' to those of the gentry who employed him to do
their repairs--had the reputation of being the best tailor for miles
around. 'There's only one fault in your suits, Mus' Strong,' his
customers would tell him; and, after a weighty pause, they would add:
'The stuff's so strong and the work so good that you can't wear 'em out
nohow.' And Adam's invariable retort was, 'Try taking yours out of the
box and going to church in it Sundays.' But only a small minority of the
men were regular churchgoers; they left that to the women and children;
and, after its first appearance as wedding attire, the best suit was
folded away with lavender sprigs in its owner's clothes' chest and only
taken out on high days and holidays, including the christenings, and,
later, the weddings, of his children. Adam's suits cost three pounds, an
enormous sum to men who, in those days, earned ten or twelve shillings a
week, but the general opinion was that it paid to save up for one before
marriage, for then, they said, a man had a decent coat to his back for
the rest of his days, whatever betided.

Beyond the last group of cottages and the Manor House and the Vicarage,
both set well back among trees, stands the church, a small grey building
with a shingled belfry and a churchyard where the unmarked graves are as
waves in a sea of long grass. The sound most frequently heard there is
the moaning of wood pigeons in the surrounding elm trees, for that is
the end of the village and few pass beyond the church in that direction.

A long flagged path bordered on both sides by tall, pointed clipped
yews, leads from the church gate to the porch, and exactly opposite to
the gate on the other side of the road is a stile. One August afternoon
an elderly woman stood by this stile and saw that the footpath which
crossed the meadow within had become faint from disuse. It was not
entirely obliterated, but could still be discerned, winding up and over
the gentle rise and dipping to the moist places. A disused footpath,
especially one in a district far from towns and not on the itinerary of
walking clubs, is to-day no uncommon sight, nor did this particular
footpath appear to have any special feature to cause her to gaze upon it
so long and intently. Neither was the meadow over which it wound in any
way remarkable, being but a few undulating acres of turf, brightened
just then by the golds and yellows of the common later summer flowers
and closed in by dark hedgerows studded with elms.

Beyond the meadow lay a prospect of other fields, some dark golden with
still uncut corn, others with corn in shocks, bluish green with root
crops, or grassland; broken here and there by the dark bushiness of a
copse, or by the line of tall herbage which marked a hidden watercourse.
Overhead, the high, pale sky was flecked with moon-coloured clouds.
Swallows darted and skimmed, white butterflies drifted with thistledown
on air currents. Except for the distant dot-like figures of men working
in a harvest field, these were the only living things she beheld. Such a
landscape may be seen from the window of a railway carriage in almost
any part of the country at that season. Yet, though homely, such scenes
never tire English eyes, for there is about them a quiet charm which can
heal sore hearts and tranquillize tired minds. Demanding nothing from
the onlooker, they bless alike the aware and the unaware. The woman at
the stile had a special awareness. Her features relaxed and her
expression was that of the deep satisfaction of one who in a changed
world finds one beloved thing unchanged.

Though getting on in years, she was still pleasant to look upon; of good
medium height; plump, but by no means unpleasing of figure, with wavy
grey hair, fresh complexion, and clear, penetrating grey eyes. Women of
her type are not uncommon in that part of the country; they serve you in
shops, nurse you in hospitals, and welcome and make you comfortable at
inns. Often, as cleaners or caretakers, they show you round churches or
other old buildings. They have good memories and can tell those
interested where in the neighbourhood the rarer birds or less common
wildflowers are to be found. They can relate, and relate very well, the
history of an old mansion or family, or describe, and sometimes
interpret, a local custom. In cases of illness or accident, they are the
first to be called upon for help by their neighbours. Chance-met
strangers have been known to unfold for them the stories of their lives.

But the woman by the stile had not the appearance of an ordinary
countrywoman; her neat grey suit, smart hat and good shoes were not in
the country mode; neither had she the brisk, purposeful look of one
going about some homely errand in a place where she knew everybody and
was herself well known. That afternoon in the church and churchyard she
had gazed long and intently upon objects which an inhabitant of the
place might have been expected to pass unseeing, or with but a casual
glance. And the graves beside which she had stood longest had not been
the more recent ones, kept neatly clipped or planted with flowers, but
those in the older part of the churchyard where long grasses billowed
and even Clerk Tom himself had forgotten who was lying below. But she
remembered; for she was a native of the village, a now-retired
schoolmistress who, after an absence of many years, was revisiting the
scene of her childhood. Her name was Charity Finch.

As she had passed through the village she had noted the few outward
changes with a tolerant smile. The wonder, she had thought, was that
they were so few when in the outer world all seemed to have changed
utterly. What had touched her more nearly was that every face she had
seen had been, to her, the face of a stranger. She had known where to
look for those she had loved most dearly, or rather the low mounds which
covered their mortal remains; but other old friends and neighbours must
still be living. Where were they? When she had set out that morning from
the farmhouse in the next parish where she had found rooms, she had
imagined men and women of her own age and older ones coming forward to
grasp her hand and exclaim: 'Why, bless my soul! if it ain't
Charity--Charity Finch? How be 'ee, me dear, how be 'ee?' but no one she
had seen had recognized her and she had recognized no one.

Young women, many of whom might well have been born since her last visit
to the place, stood in the doorways of cottages once occupied by
well-remembered old neighbours. They hung their own artificial silk sets
and the many-coloured garments of their children on clothes-lines in
gardens where once rows of unbleached sheets and plain calico underwear
had billowed, and called to their children from the old gateways. Some
of them looked at her curiously, as if thinking, 'Who is this stranger
and what is she doing in our street?' but though they were evidently now
in possession they struck her as interlopers. That young person with a
baby under her arm and a cigarette hanging from her lips at the door of
what had been old Mrs. Burdett's cottage, a door always kept shut in
those days, for Mrs. Burdett had been one of those who, as they said,
kept themselves to themselves. And the girl in the skin-tight jumper
bashing down apples with a clothes prop from the tree Jake Harding had
planted. The apples would not be fit to eat, for the tree was an annual
souring. Jake had favoured that apple because it was a good keeper, and
had had several trees of that kind in his garden. Every year about
Candlemas time he had gone round the village with a basketful of the
fruit and handed out one apple for each member of the family at the
doors of those who had shown him small kindnesses. 'Mind you bakes 'em
well, missis, and you'll find they'll come up as white and as light as
snow, and when 'em be done, you mash up the inners wi' a knob o' fresh
butter and all the brown sugar you've got in the pantry, then you'll
know why Eve stole the apple,' he would say. It was the nearest approach
to a joke he had ever been known to make, for Jake was himself a bit of
an annual souring. Well, Jake had gone, and all his apple trees save one
had disappeared. But the girl seemed rather a nice girl really; she had
smiled as she caught her eye and wished her good morning.

The children were coming home from school and their mothers were calling
to them and they were calling back to their mothers, exactly as other
mothers and children had called to each other long ago. But the sound of
their speech had not the homely old Oxfordshire tang it was such as
might be heard in any part of the country. The children looked better
fed and were better shod and clad, and the women appeared more leisured
than those she had known there, and she was glad to see that, though she
sadly missed the old familiar faces. She had a feeling of unreality, of
herself walking like a ghost on a scene where she had once been one of
the living company which then held the stage.

But here, at the church stile, she felt at home once more. The little
grey church was unaltered, every stone, tile, and weather-worn carving,
were exactly as she remembered. The flagstones of the pathway had become
mossed at the edges as if fewer feet trod them than formerly, but the
yews looked not a day older, and the chestnut by the stile beneath which
she was standing was no more widely spreading. The wood pigeons,
descendants many times removed from those she had mocked in her
childhood, 'Take two cows, Taffy! Take two cows, Taffy!' kept up the
same perpetual moaning. Even the stile upon which she was leaning had
not altered. It was still the same substantial structure, with high
mounting-stools and a rounded beam for a top rail. ''T'ould take a
charge of dynamite to shift this', her father had once said as he
crossed it, and he had spoken authoritatively as a craftsman. The
rounded top rail had been polished to glassiness by the Sunday
trouser-seats of generations of village youths whose favourite perch it
had been while waiting for the chimes to stop and the little _ting-tang_
bell to tell them that the parson was getting into his surplice, when
they would shuffle in a body up the flagstone path and tip-toe into the
seat nearest the door, determined not to spend indoors a moment more
than was necessary.

She saw again in memory those of her own day, heavy-footed, rosy-cheeked
lads with honest eyes, wearing Sunday-best suits of pale plaids, and
bright blue or pink neckties, their hair well plastered down and
darkened with hair-oil, and in their buttonholes the largest and
brightest flowers their parents' gardens could furnish. Some of them
would wear a second flower in their hatbands. She had seen some of their
names on the 1914-18 war memorial as she had passed through the village.
Those of them still living must be grandfathers.

In the days of her childhood the footpath over the meadow had been a
hard, well-defined track, much used by men going to their fieldwork, by
children going blackberrying, nutting, or in search of violets or
mushrooms, and, on Sunday evenings, by pairs of sweethearts who
preferred the seclusion of the fields and copses beyond to the more
public pathways. The footpath had led to a farmhouse and a couple of
cottages, and, to the dwellers in these, it had been not only the way to
church and school and market, but also the first stage in every journey.
It had led to London, to Queensland and Canada, to the Army depot and
the troopship. Wedding and christening parties had footed it merrily,
and at least one walking funeral had passed that way. She herself when a
child had trodden it daily, often with her skipping-rope, her white
pinafore billowing, her long hair streaming, her feet scarcely touching
the ground, or so it seemed to her now. At other times she had carried a
basket, on an errand for her mother, to fetch a shillingsworth of eggs,
perhaps; eggs twenty a shilling. Not very large eggs, to be sure--they
were common barndoor fowls' eggs--but warm from the nest and so full of
a delicious milky fluid that it gushed from the shell when the egg was
tapped for breakfast next morning. Most often of all she had gone that
way on her own errands, for a family of her cousins had lived in the
farmhouse, which, to her, had been a second home.

She knew every foot of that meadow by heart. Beneath that further
hedgerow violets had grown--white violets and grey blue-veined ones, as
well as the more ordinary purple. In spring that dry slope had been
yellow with cowslips, short-stemmed cowslips, but honey-sweet of scent.
She had once helped to pick a peck of cowslips pips there to make wine,
and the flowers and their green rosettes of leaves had felt warm to her
hand in the sunshine. The call of the cuckoo had floated over from
Beacon Copse, and her mother had told her to wish, because, she had
said, if you wish when you hear the first cuckoo of the year your wish
will be granted--if reasonable. The little girl she had then been had
wished for a kitten. She would have liked a white kitten, to be called
Snow, but she thought it might not be reasonable to specify colour. The
kitten given to her by a neighbour a few weeks later was a tabby with a
white breast. She had to wait for the first of her long succession of
Snows until she was grown up and could choose it from a cage in a pet
shop.

She smiled at her own wandering fancy. More than half a century lay
between to-day and that day's cowslipping. Long years which had turned
the little Charity, or Cherry, as she had then more often been called,
into the elderly Miss Finch. Years of hard work and many
disappointments, a typical schoolmarm's life. But there had been
compensations. One here and there of her pupils had shown the sudden
gleam of comprehension, the mental and spiritual response to her
teaching which sometimes in her lighter moments she had referred to when
talking to her colleagues as 'plugging in', or 'taking the bait', but
which in her secret thoughts she had treasured as her most precious
experience. That, and the privilege of fostering such promise, had been
the chief joy of her life; but there had also been material advantages,
personal independence, a home of her own, books, friends and holiday
travel. She had planned for herself a trip round the world the year she
retired, but by that time the world was at war, and travelling
impossible. Instead of voyaging round the world, she had gone back to
her work and was only now free. A few weeks back she had been spending a
weekend with a friend in her Essex cottage and, while there, she had
smelled a bean field in bloom. The scent had so vividly brought back to
her the bean rows by the beehives in her father's garden that she had
felt an irresistible longing to see her old home. She had no longer
anyone belonging to her living at Restharrow and had not herself been
there for twenty-four years, but the impulse was so strong it had to be
obeyed.

She had that morning found unoccupied the thatched cottage where she had
lived with her parents, and had gazed through broken and cobwebbed
windowpanes at the old familiar rooms. Cold ashes filled the grate where
cheerful fires had once burned; torn wallpaper hung in tatters on the
walls; and the red-tiled floor which her mother had made cosy with rugs
was mudstained and littered with straw. At the side of the house an
outhouse door, hinges broken, stood wide open, exposing the seat of the
earth closet within. Thistles and weeds choked the flower borders, the
sprawling limbs of neglected shrubs blocked the pathway, and, although
the day was warm and sunny, the air had the chill, moist smell of decay.

The desolation was no more than she might have expected. Men, she had
been aware, were everywhere leaving the land and taking their families
to live in towns, and those remaining would naturally prefer to live in
one of the more convenient cottages. Still, dilapidated as it had
become, the cottage had character and it was roomy; she herself could
live happily there, and she had spent some time thinking out what
improvements could be made and what furniture would look best in the
different rooms. She still had several of the old family pieces which
had helped to furnish the house in her childhood, and she felt she would
like to see them back in the old positions. It was a daydream, of
course, a daydream! She could not put back the clock. Cliffbourne was
now her home; there she had her nice little flat and her friends and her
committee work and her evening classes. She was too old to be
retransplanted. And yet----

Her dreams were dispersed by a polite cough behind her; she turned and
saw standing in the road a countryman with a scythe upon his shoulder.
She scanned his face hopefully, for he was a man of about her own age,
but again the face was that of a stranger. 'Good arternoon to you,
ma'am,' he was saying, then, perhaps thinking to save her a fruitless
walk, he added: 'That path over the stile there don't lead nowhere.'

'But it was used a good deal at one time,' she said, and he, perhaps
taking the statement for a question, replied, 'Yes, I dare say. There
used to be a farmhouse over there, but they had a bit of a fire and what
wasn't destroyed outright went to rack and ruin afterwards. Nobody's
lived there since.'

Charity remembered the fire. Would she ever forget it! But all she said
now, and why she said it she did not know, was, 'What kind of people
lived there?'

The man smiled good-naturedly. 'Ah! now you're axin' me summat,' he
said. 'It all happened years before I come here--I'm a Launton man
myself. "Launton, God help us," they call it, though God knows why!'
Charity knew, but she did not enlighten him, and, after a few moments'
consideration, he went on: 'I've bin told that the farmer hisself didn't
live at the farm. He'd got a better and bigger place at t'other end o'
th' village and had put some of his workfolks into th' old un. So they
wer' just folks, I s'pose, what wer' livin' there. Just folks, same as
anybody else might be, just folks!' and, scythe on shoulder, he plodded
on.

Just folks! How well that described those she had known there. Just
folks like anybody else might be who for the short term of a lifetime
had held a lease of their world with all the pride of permanent
possession; then, when their time had expired, they had disappeared and
others had taken their places. The green fields, the footpath, the
village street, had known them no more, a new generation had taken
possession and even their names were forgotten. Forgotten by all but
her, the one living survivor of the family. In her memory they still
lived, moved, and had their being. In imagination she still heard their
voices and saw them in their accustomed haunts, and to her, at that
moment, they appeared more vividly alive than many of the still living.

Before her inward eye the footpath became once more a well-beaten track,
the meadow yellowed over with buttercups, the hedgerows frothed with
may. And who were these coming towards her? Two tall girls in their
teens, her cousins, Bess and Mercy, and the small, fat child who swung
on their hands between them, her feet now off the ground, now on it, was
little Polly. Pollywaddles, they used to call her because she was such a
soft, dimpled, roly-poly little thing and late in learning to walk. To
encourage her now and to help her along, Bess was singing an old country
rhyme:


All in a row, a bendy bow,
Shot at a pigeon and killed a crow,
Shot at another and killed his brother,
And then went home and told his mother,


and Charity, as in fancy she rushed to meet and fall down with them
among the buttercups, took up the strain, _All a row, a bendy bow!_

A bended bow! The only bow known to those children was of the homemade
kind, used with a pointed stick for arrow by boys for shooting at
sparrows, and the story behind the lines they sang conveyed to them
nothing of the tragedy they apparently commemorated. Echoed for
centuries by children at play the rhyme had become meaningless, mere
words, a jingle to hop, skip, and jump to. Theirs had been the day of
the bayonet and the Gatling gun, of horse-drawn gun-carriages and
balloon observation, of soldiers fighting in tight-necked scarlet
tunics. The most gallant among them knelt before a gentle, white-handed
woman to be decorated. Some had spoken of her as Victoria the Good;
others, more flippantly, as the Widow of Windsor; but all spoke of her
with affection, for had she not said that she loved every soldier in her
forces as her own child? Their world had seemed to them to be a modern,
progressive world; but now, looking back upon it over the vortex of war
upon war, the simple life of that time was seen to be in all but actual
time nearer to the bow-and-arrow age than to that of the bombing
aeroplane.

The fighting man she now envisaged was a tall, leggy youth in a scarlet
tunic who crossed the meadow at a run, leapt the stile, and, finding on
the farther side a small girl in a blue Mother Hubbard bonnet, snatched
her up in his arms to lift her over, then paused with her in the air
above his head to exclaim: 'Why, Cherry, how light you are! You don't
weigh no more than a feather. I believe your bones are hollow, like a
bird's. I could put you on my shoulder and run with you all the way to
Banbury. You'd like me to take you to Banbury Fair, wouldn't you,
Cherry? You wait till I come home from India, you'll be a big girl by
then, and I'll squire you to Banbury and buy you a silk handkerchief
with the Queen's picture on it and as much toffee and brandysnap as you
can eat, you see if I don't!' And he passed from her vision, as he had
passed from her sight on that long-ago misty morning when he had swung
off down the village street to meet the carrier's cart at the
crossroads.

Then Bess, the grown-up Bess, in her fresh pink gingham and shady hat,
came, swinging her blackberrying basket, her round, freckled face as
innocent-looking as if, as they said, butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.
Who, seeing her cross the meadow so leisurely, could have guessed she
was off to the pond to meet the young squire and by so doing to start a
train of events which would set every tongue in the village wagging?

And Charity's uncle, Reuben Truman. He had used that footpath all his
life, for he had been born in the parish. When a child he must often
have played in the meadow; as a youth and young man he had crossed it to
his work in the fields, and, later, for thirty years, the footpath had
led to his home. She saw him now as she remembered him best, a shortish
but solidly built and erect man, somewhat past the prime of life, his
dark hair and beard sprinkled with grey, and the eyes in his honest
countryman's face clear and steadfast. He was wearing his decent
churchgoing suit of an old-fashioned pepper-and-salt mixture, and under
his arm he carried his old family Prayer Book with its gilt-edged leaves
shut tightly in with brass clasps. In his hand or his buttonhole there
would be a stalk or two of lavender, or a sprig of southernwood, thyme,
or some other sweet-smelling herb. In his childhood it had been a
general custom to carry such sprigs of sweet herbs to church, and he
loved to keep up the old country ways, including regular churchgoing.

And others, old neighbours and friends and relations, came thronging
into her memory, and countryside figures all dead and forgotten, even by
her, until to-day. As she walked back through the fields to the
farmhouse where she was staying, their faces, their actions, words and
expressions, long forgotten or not consciously remembered, were
recalled; and seen in the perspective of time and in the light of mature
experience they took on a new significance. The dead lived again, the
missing peopled their former haunts, and for her, for one sunset hour,
the past and the present merged in one pattern of living.

On her first arrival the farm people had welcomed her effusively; they
were young people, interested in education, and far in advance of
herself in many of their ideas. They declared themselves intolerant of
social snobbery, yet, after learning from herself something of her local
antecedents, they had cooled visibly towards her, and for the next few
days after her first visit to Restharrow she seldom saw for more than a
few moments any other than the maid who brought in her meals. In her
present thoughtful reminiscent mood this suited her well. During her
long solitary walks, in bed at night, or with an unread book propped up
before her at table, her mind continued to explore the past. She went
again to Restharrow and, after making inquiries, found still living
there a few survivors of her own and her parents' generations. When
talking over old times with these, they supplied her with details she
had forgotten, or had not known, and from their varying viewpoints threw
crosslights on happenings already in her mind, though none of them
appeared to have retained more than a few isolated impressions.

She found herself being addressed by these old neighbours as 'Miss
Finch', or 'Ma'am', and although she repeatedly asked them to call her
'Charity', as in the old days, the usual response was, 'Oh, no! I
couldn't; not now! You says you be and I knows you be, or was, that
little gal of George Finch's, but it don't seem as if you can be,
somehow.'

'I assure you I am that same person,' Charity would say with a smile;
but, although she so frequently stated the fact, she herself found it
increasingly difficult to identify that same child with the woman she
had become. She attributed the feeling of detachment which grew upon her
to her long absence and to the world-shaking events of the later years;
but she discovered afterwards that her experience is one not uncommon to
age, looking backwards in time.

Then, one afternoon, while sipping tea in a hop-covered arbour in the
farmhouse orchard, her only company web-spinning spiders and a robin
pecking up the crumbs of her biscuit, herself thinking of quite
irrelevant matters, such as the proper airing of her bed at home in her
flat at Cliffbourne, it suddenly occurred to her that the part of the
child Charity had been that of a learner, an onlooker, rather than that
of an actor on that bygone scene. Her then companions had been living
their lives fully; hers had not properly begun. They were eventually to
close their eyes for ever on an order of living they had at birth found
firmly established and which they had accepted as inevitable, never
suspecting that already its foundations were crumbling and that in a
very few years it would have become but a fading memory. Long after they
had passed from this earthly scene, her own life had gone on, through
the disruptions of war and change, into a new world of marvellous
discoveries, overturned idols, changed values, and a new conception of
human relationships. Though she was by no means aged as age is
considered to-day, her own life had bridged the old and the new worlds,
and now, while appreciating the new resources and rejoicing in the new
opportunities and new freedoms, she could still look back on the past
with loyal affection.

The world of her childhood had been a narrow world, inhabited by simple
people whose lives had been restricted by poverty and other hardships
and deprivations; yet it had held something of beauty, of
unself-conscious simplicity and downright integrity that seemed to her
worthy of remembrance.



_Two_

MISS FINCH REMEMBERS

The cottage where she had been born and had lived as a child with her
parents was the first on the right hand side when coming into the
village, and stood at the point where the narrow, tree-shaded lane which
led to the crossroads widened into the village street. Between the house
and the road a brown path zigzagged over a stretch of rough turf and, to
reach the gate, the brook which ran below the garden hedge had to be
crossed by way of a plank bridge with a handrail. In summer this small
stream was so choked with willow-herb and water-mint that its gentle
murmur could barely be heard above the humming of the hive-bees. After
the autumn rains, on quiet winter days, pauses in the conversation
within-doors were filled by the sound of running water. Even in the
hottest summer the stream never dried up, and this, she was told, was
because it was fed by well-springs. Charity's father called the house
their castle and the brook their moat and laughed when a neighbour asked
him how he could a-bear to live in such a lonesome old place, adding
that to live there would have made him feel unked.

At that time village houses had no numbers or names, the names of the
occupants being sufficient distinction, and Charity's home was usually
spoken of as 'Finch's', though some of the older inhabitants persisted
in calling it 'Gaspar's'. Tradition said that a white wizard of that
name had once lived there and that he had made a fortune by charming
away illnesses, finding lost things, and telling people their lucky
days. He had either died suddenly or disappeared, and was supposed to
have left his hoard hidden beneath the thatch or under the floor-boards.
But although Charity searched hopefully, she never found anything of
more value than a coil of wire, a pewter spoon, and a King George III
penny. When she found the penny her father laughed and told her to take
care of it, for it was the first coin that had ever come into their
family without hard labour.

He must have intended that as a joke, for he was the last man in the
world to make hard labour of his work. To him his craft was his pleasure
as well as his means of livelihood. He was the village carpenter and had
a workshop at the back of the cottage. On some days he worked there,
making doors and window-frames and mantelpieces, or making or mending
furniture; on other days he went out to mend gates and fences and to
build sheds for the farmers. The farm work was known as rough carpentry,
and he preferred the smoother, workshop kind; but, as he said, you had
to take rough and smooth as it came to make a living in a small place
like Restharrow. Before Charity was born he had made for her a wooden
cradle with a carved hood and sides and with rockers he had guaranteed
to outlast three lifetimes, no matter how hard or how often the cradle
was rocked. Charity had put her doll or her kitten to bed in it until
her mother had given it to a very poor family, who, after their last
baby had outgrown it, had used it as a washtub and left it out in the
rain. Her mother would have preferred one of the more fashionable
wickerwork cradles, lined with pink glazed calico covered with spotted
muslin.

The cottage was an old-fashioned, countrified place standing in a garden
crammed with fruit trees, vegetables, flowers, and lavender bushes.
Inside, it had none of the conveniences now considered essential to
comfort. Water had to be drawn up with a long hooked pole from a well in
the garden; paraffin lamps and candles lighted the hours of darkness,
and the sanitation was primitive. There were red-tiled floors in the
downstair rooms, and the only fireplace besides the small oven grate in
the kitchen was the parlour grate, of the high, bow-barred,
basket-shaped kind under a high mantelpiece now seen only in old prints.
But the unenlightened Finches found their house comfortable enough;
indeed, they rather prided themselves upon living in one of the most
commodious cottages in the village, with a parlour and three bedrooms,
whereas most of their neighbours had but one room downstairs and two, at
most, upstairs. The tiled floors were made warm and comfortable with
home-made rugs and long strips of red and brown matting, and the low
price of coals made it possible to keep up roaring great fires in cold
weather. 'I'm going to make this house as warm and snug as a chaffinch's
nest,' her mother had said one day, while spreading out on the floor a
handsome new black-and-scarlet rug she had been making, and that idea
had pleased her small daughter, for weren't they themselves Finches, and
was not the cottage their nest? She liked the idea of a nest better than
that of a castle, for a castle she had never seen, and there were nests
in every hedgerow.

People in the neighbouring villages, speaking from the superior
standpoint of those living one, two, or three miles nearer a town, used
to say that the Restharrow folks were a rum lot, and it may be that,
secluded as they were from outside influence, they had lagged behind in
the march of progress. Many of the old country customs, dead or dying
out elsewhere, were still honoured at Restharrow. There were the
Christmas mummers, the May Day garland; broad beans were planted in
gardens on Candlemas Day. _Candlemas Day, stick beans in the clay_.
_Throw candle and candlestick right away_, they would quote. But they no
longer heeded the second admonition; they lighted their paraffin lamps
and stayed up until nine or ten. If a lamp burned low or smoked, the
older ones would say, ''Pon my soul, this lamp's no better than a
farthing rushlight!' and describe to their grandchildren how their own
mothers had dipped and dipped and dipped a rush from the brook in melted
fat to form the tiny, twinkling candles of their childhood. 'You young
uns be a lucky little lot,' they would say. 'You'll never know life in
the rough with all these wonderful inventions.'

At Restharrow sprigs of oak leaves were worn on 29 May to commemorate
the escape from his enemies of King Charles II in the Boscobel Oak. That
day had become known as Shigshag Day, and on it no child or young person
dared to appear in public without their oak-sprig, for, had they done
so, every wearer of one would have rushed to them and trodden on their
toes. Many Prayer Books still in use contained the service formerly used
in church on the day devoted to the memory of King Charles I--'King
Charles the Martyr'. On Easter Sunday something new had to be worn, if
only a bootlace; on Whit-Sunday, something white: if these observances
were neglected the birds of the air would drop their little messes on
the offender. Nobody would open an umbrella indoors, even to dry it, for
that was certain to bring bad luck, or eat one single blackberry after
Michaelmas Day, for then the devil dragged his tail over those left on
the bushes. But the observance of such customs and superstitions was not
as yet so singular as to mark the participants as rum. That reputation
was probably founded on a certain untamedness, a closer-to-earth
earthiness, a hanging together in clans and regarding outsiders as
potential enemies, shown by the older inhabitants.

As was then usual in small country places where little happened to crowd
out of village memory the events of former years, old traditions were
cherished and old stories re-told. Village memory was long, very long.
In the eighteen-eighties an aged man told Charity that his
great-great-grandfather, when what he described as 'a girt, lolloping
lad', sat on a field gate on a Sunday morning and looked on at the
Battle of Edgehill--a family tradition which may or may not have been
founded on fact. Charity, after working it out on paper, decided that
there should have been at least one more 'great' in it; on the other
hand, the correct day of the week gave a circumstantial touch to the
story. Another aged man remembered the arrival in this country of the
news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo and the bonfires lighted to
celebrate our victory. Everybody over sixty remembered Queen Victoria's
Coronation, and the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny were spoken of by
many as if they had happened but yesterday.

The village families had intermarried for generations and three surnames
served for quite half the population. Relationships were involved; there
were first, second and third cousins and, after that, those who were
known as 'a sort o' cousin'. A gossiping woman could spend a diverting
if not very profitable morning determining the exact degree of affinity
of some about-to-be-married couple. 'His aunt what brought him up,' she
would say, ticking her off on her finger, 'she's his aunt on his
mother's side, but on his dad's she's his step-grandmother. And, to
her', meaning the bride, 'he's a full cousin on his mother's side and a
sort o' cousin on his dad's. But it's all right', she would conclude
authoritatively, 'there's no blood relation, for I've puzzled it out in
the Prayer Book.'

In past times these mixed marriages had produced a wild, lawless race of
sheep-stealers, poachers, and fighting and drinking men. Stories were
still told of pitched battles with gamekeepers, or the men of
neighbouring villages, in which knives and bludgeons had figured. There
were stories of murder, almost openly committed, for which no one had
been brought to trial, for none would give information lest by doing so
they brought down upon themselves and their families the vengeance of
the murderer's relatives. The most horrifying of these was that of a man
who was said to have murdered his stepson, a boy of five. The charred
remains of the poor child had been found in the big bread-baking oven in
the wash-house wall of his mother's cottage. It had never been actually
proved how he had got there, but his stepfather had been known to
dislike the child and to have treated him badly and all in the village
were convinced that he was responsible for the crime. At the inquest the
man, when asked how he supposed the boy had got into the oven, had said
he supposed he must have climbed into it to hide and have accidentally
banged to the door, which could only be opened from the outside, and
when it was pointed out to him that even a child of five should have
known better than climb into a hot oven, he had said that anybody might
have thought so, but young Amos was a stubborn sort of child and if he
once made up his mind to do a thing he'd do it, if only to aggravate.
Though the Coroner and his jury must have had their suspicions, there
was no evidence upon which the man could be sent for trial, and a
verdict of accidental death was returned. But the villagers were
convinced of his guilt and, from that time on, he was an outcast among
them. After a time he left the village--some said that he had taken to
the road as a tramp--and nothing was ever heard about him afterwards.
But for forty years the story survived, and a piece of broken wall, half
buried in nettles, where his cottage had stood was avoided by most
people after nightfall. Strange noises were said to have been heard
there for years; then, about the time when the stepfather might have
been expected to die of old age, they had ceased. 'For why? The wretch
had gone to his account,' they told their children.

The more certain perpetrators of lesser crimes had usually escaped
punishment. One old woman told Charity that when she had been left a
young widow, forty years previously, a neighbour who had so far appeared
well disposed towards her had taken her late husband's tools from a shed
at the side of the house and pushed them off on a wheelbarrow in broad
daylight. She had watched his proceedings from an upstairs window and,
although indignant, she had not gone out to remonstrate, because, she
said, he might have blackened her character by telling folks lies about
her. That was the woman who once described the Restharrow of her youth
as a regular little rogues' harbour.

That was long before Charity's time. In her childhood there was an
occasional bout of fisticuffs outside the inn after closing time on a
Saturday night; one man was known to do a little mild poaching, and
fruit sometimes vanished from trees and vegetables from gardens after
dark, but nothing worse happened, and, on the whole, Restharrow was as
peaceable and law-abiding a place as any in the county. Peaceful and
law-abiding; though, as they said of themselves, its inhabitants were
not all cut to the same pattern. The State had taken in hand and was
educating and smoothing out oddities in the younger generation, but many
of the older people had been born too soon to have come under its
equalizing influence, and among these there were individuals of the kind
then described as 'cards', or 'characters'.

About half a dozen old men who, having become too infirm for fieldwork,
had yet managed to keep out of the workhouse, made their headquarters on
the bench provided by the landlord for more paying customers beneath the
swinging signboard of the Magpie. When one of them happened to be in
funds, a pot of beer would be called for and passed from hand to hand;
when, as more frequently happened, not one of the company had (as they
said) a couple of coppers to rub together, they cut chunks off their
rolls of twist tobacco and chewed. When there was a horse to be held or
a message to carry, the more active among them would spring up spryly,
for on such casual earnings they depended for their pocket money.
Twopence was the usual reward for such small services; if there was a
garden hedge to be trimmed or a path to be weeded the pay might be
sixpence. Between whiles they discussed life in general.

The spirits of the little assembly depended mainly upon funds. Over a
pint of beer the conversation grew lively. On beerless days rheumatism,
lumbago, bad weather, and the deterioration of the world since their own
young days were the staple topics. The married old men, told to be home
at certain time, would frequently drag their old-fashioned turnip
witches from their trouser pockets; the lone widowers had only to
consult their own inclinations. When the talk became lively one old man
of a timid nature would glance over his shoulder and the others would
rally him, 'No, she beant a comin' and she can't hear us neither,' they
would say. Poor old Ben had a regular tartar of a wife. Once Charity,
passing by on the roadway, saw her, a big, sour-looking old woman in an
enormous pink print apron, steal silently up to the back of the bench
and seize old Ben by the shoulder. 'Off you go and clean them winders,'
she shouted. 'I'll larn 'ee to set here gossiping while I work me
fingers to the bone!' and Ben followed her meekly.

But that pair was an exception; most of the poor old men and their poor
old wives lived together in quiet decency. A few in affectionate
intimacy. Old Ambrose Moss paid but a short morning visit to the
benchers, and when he thought his wife had had time to make all snug at
home he returned to his own fireside, only crossing the road once more
towards nightfall with a jug for their supper porter. Mrs. Moss was a
tall, thin old woman with a dark upper lip who strode in her walk like a
man. Both of the couple were slightly deaf and at seasons when doors and
windows stood open their conversation could be heard by any passer-by on
the road. Charity, standing on a neighbouring doorstep waiting for her
basket to be filled with damsons for jam-making, once heard Ambrose
exclaim: 'You doant remember Aaron? Him what married the pub at Asbury
with th' landlady thrown in as a makeweight--'ooman wi' a face like a
pickling cabbage, weighted sixteen stun if her did an ounce. You surely
can't've forgot the two of 'um!' and Judy roared back that, though she
could not call the couple to mind, she was glad that the young feller
got a good makeweight, and they sat by their fire guffawing over their
stout like two jolly old men.

These had all been landworkers. They had known all their lives that in
their old age parish relief and any help that their children could give
them were all that would stand between themselves and the workhouse.
There was another old man in the parish, not one of the benchers, who
had earned good wages as a craftsman and had in his time saved money and
yet in old age was incomparably worse off than the poorest of them.
Thomas Hearne was a native of Restharrow, a stonemason, who, after
spending his active years working for a firm of builders in a distant
part of the county, had in his old age drifted back to the home of his
childhood. Hearne had in his day been a first-class workman with
experience, skill, and that something beyond skill which is a compound
of taste and imagination. His firm had valued his services. When there
had been a difficult or a delicate job to be done, it had been given to
Hearne as a matter of course. Specimens of his workmanship stood, and
some must still be standing, all over that countryside, in the renovated
stonework of restored churches, the arches of bridges, stone piers at
entrance gates, and on the fašades of mansions. He had in his day
instructed two generations of apprentices.

But by the eighteen-eighties Hearne's day was over. Physically he was
past his prime, though still hale and hearty and capable of a full day's
work at his bench in the shop, or of walking, toolbag on shoulder, three
or four miles or more to an outside job. But times and ideas had changed
and his fastidious, painstaking methods were out of date. Speed had
become more important than craftsmanship and the artistry which aimed at
nothing less than perfection was little esteemed. The more important
jobs were being given to younger men, smart fellows who knew all the
latest dodges for saving time and materials. Young workmen, apprentices
but yesterday, would take upon themselves to instruct him in his craft.
It had been all very well in his day, they told him, to go in for all
this undercutting and finishing, but who was going to wait or to pay for
it now? and the kindly disposed would bring their mallets and chisels
over to Hearne's bench and show him what they called the tricks of the
trade.

But Hearne had no use for tricks. He preferred to work as he had been
taught to work, leisurely and lovingly, striving always to approach as
nearly as possible his own vision of perfection. For a few more years he
continued to use the bench which for more than a quarter of a century
had been known as 'Hearne's', working steadily at such jobs as were
given him, consulted by others less often than formerly and respected
less, but never abating his own self-respect. In his home village he was
liked and respected as a man with a good trade in his hands, who had a
good wife and a pleasant, cheerful cottage, and there were some there
who envied him those blessings, for it was a poor agricultural
neighbourhood.

This state of things might have lasted until his working life had ended
in the natural way had not his old employer, the head of the firm, died
and his son, a young man with modern ideas and a determination to
increase his business, come into possession. The firm was reorganized,
the latest and cheapest methods were instituted, and in the new scheme
there was no place for Hearne as leading mason. He was called into the
office and told that a younger and smarter man was to have his bench in
the shop. The young builder was about to add that he had no idea of
cutting adrift an old servant like Hearne, that as long as he was able
to work there would still be a job in the yard for him, an old man's job
with an old man's wages, but, before he could speak further, Hearne took
him up sharply. 'Is anything wrong with my work?' he demanded. His young
employer hummed and hawed, for he had no wish to hurt Hearne's feelings.
'Well, since you ask me,' he said, 'I'll say that you're a bit too
finicking. You put in too much time on a job to justify your wage in
these competitive times.'

'But look at my work!' cried Hearne. 'Look at that east window tracery
in Tisley Church, and the new keystone I let into the Norman arch at
Bradbury, and that bridge over the Ouse at Biddingfold; masterpieces all
of 'em, though I says it as shouldn't. Other jobs, too. You've only got
to take a walk in the cool of the evening and use your eyes and wherever
you go in any direction you'll find summat worth seein' with my mark
'pon it,' and this he said, not pleadingly, but rather by way of a
challenge, and as he spoke he stretched out his arms as though to call
the whole neighbourhood as witness.

The young builder was in a difficult position. 'I know all that,' he
said. 'I'm not denying you've been a good mason, a first-rate man in
your day. But those were the days of my father and grandfather and those
times have gone, the world's on the move, and the truth of the matter,
though I'm sorry to say it, is that you do your work too well. You take
too much time over it, and that doesn't pay in these days. We've been
out of pocket by you for years.'

Hearne's fine dark eyes flamed and his long, thin old figure shook with
rage. 'Too much time over it!' he shouted. 'Too much time! And how d'ee
think good work's allus been done? By hurrying? By scamping? By
begrudging a stroke here or a moment there? Look at the churches round
here. Bloxham for length, Adderbury for strength, and Kings Sutton for
beauty! Think they grew out o' th' ground like mushrooms? Or were flung
together by slick youngsters such as yourn? Let me tell yer, young
feller-me-lad, I learnt my craft from them as made a craft o't, not a
come day go day means o' puttin a bit o' bread in their mouths, and I
ain't goin' to alter my ways and disgrace my upbringin' for nobody. I'll
make up my timesheet and you can put one o' your slick youngsters at my
bench, for I've done with th' firm. And this I'll say before I've done
with you for ever: th' work of my hands'll be standin' to bear witness
for me when you and your like be frizzlin' in the spot old Nick keeps
specially hotted for bad workmen!'

Old Hearne neither starved nor entered the workhouse. For some years
longer he made a poor livelihood by replacing roof tiles, building
pigsties, setting grates, repairing walls, sweeping chimneys, or any
other odd job which could be regarded, however remotely, as included in
his own trade. When his wife died he left the village near the town
where he had worked and returned to his native Restharrow, where he
still owned the cottage in which he had been born, and there carried on
his humble occupation of jobbing mason. On chimney-sweeping days he was
grimy, but, at other times, he went about his work in the immemorial
garb of his craft, corduroy trousers scrubbed white, or whitish, white
apron girded up round the waist for walking, billycock hat and
nondescript coat powdered with stone and mortar dust. He had become, as
they said, as thin as a rake, and his fine dark eyes, into which the
fire of fanaticism was creeping, had become so sunken that his forehead
looked like that of a skull. By the time Charity first remembered him,
he had become queer in his ways. Harvesters going to the fields at
daybreak would meet him far from his home, wild-eyed and wild-haired and
dew-soaked. When asked where he had been he would whisper confidentially
that he had been out all night, guarding some church or other building,
but who had set him to guard them or what they were to be guarded
against he would not say. Otherwise he talked more freely than he had
been used to do and with many a 'he sez' and 'sez I' he would relate the
story of his last interview with his former employer to anyone he could
buttonhole. Everybody in the parish had heard that story, though few
with sympathy, for it seemed to most of his listeners but an instance of
a man throwing away a good job in a fit of temper, and, to save
themselves from a third or fourth recital, when they saw Hearne in the
distance they would turn aside to avoid a meeting. The more kindly spoke
of him as 'poor old Tom Hearne', the less kindly as 'that tiresome old
fool', and the children would tease him by calling after him, 'Tom!
you're slow! You're too slow for a funeral! Old Slowcoach! Old
Slowcoach!'

But there were still a few who respected him, craftsmen who, though
compelled by changed conditions to modify their own methods, had not
entirely lost the ideals of former days. Charity's father was one of
these. He would listen patiently to Hearne's rambling talk, fill his
tobacco pouch or ask him in for a drink, and once when his wife remarked
that a fat lot of good the old man's fine workmanship seemed to have
done him, he said quite angrily that money was not everything, there was
the satisfaction of knowing you'd turned out a good job. Charity, upon
whom Hearne's story had made a deep impression, concluded that his best
friend in that house was her father, and that her mother disliked him
and only did him the few little kindnesses she could because, to her,
kindness came naturally.

Then, one Sunday morning when her father was hearing her repeat her
Catechism in readiness for Sunday School and her mother was stuffing a
fowl at the table, Hearne passed their house with a mob of teasing boys
at his heels. People used to take the law into their own hands in those
days, and George Finch ran out and dispersed the ringleaders with a cuff
or two. 'That'll larn 'em!' he said when he returned. 'Now Charity, get
on, "My duty towards my neighbour"?' 'My duty towards my neighbour is to
love him as myself and to do unto all men as I would they should do unto
me----' Charity was fairly launched when her mother heaved a prodigious
sigh. 'Aye, there's my bosom snake!' she exclaimed. 'To do unto all
men.' 'Just hark at the woman!' said her husband. 'You'd think she was
the chief of sinners! Your bosom snake, my girl, if you've got one, must
be about the size of a cheese mite!'

'It's that poor old Hearne,' said his wife. 'I think and I think about
him, living all alone with nobody to do as much as a hand's turn for
him, and us with that good attic and a crust we should never miss.'

'Well,' said her husband decisively, 'if that's your bosom snake you can
scotch it, once and for all. Your duty to your neighbours begins with
them nearest to you, and that's me and Charity. We should neither of us
be any the better for havin' a poor old death's head like Hearne sittin'
with us at table and talkin' us upstairs and downstairs and out into the
garden. Ask him to dinner on Christmas Day, send him a plateful of
anything tasty you've cooked any time, knit him a pair or two of socks
for the winter, or anything of that sort, but don't bring him into the
house for good for I couldn't stand it!' Again Mrs. Finch sighed, but
this time it was a sigh of relief rather than one of regret. ''Twasn't
that I wanted him here myself,' she said. 'I only thought perhaps 't
would be Christian.'

'Christian or heathen,' said her husband, ''t'ldn't be natural. Now,
Charity, get on with that "Duty towards my neighbour", and you, Mother,
see that you put a sprig of marjoram in that stuffin', and if you've a
mind to send Charity up street with a bit of dinner for Hearne when 'tis
done, I've got nothin' to say against it, 'cept that she'd better have
her own before she goes or she won't get any.'

Living as they did a little removed from the rest of the village, the
Finches had no very near neighbours. In the house nearest to them, one
of a row facing the road, lived an elderly widow who was often spoken of
as peculiar; by some as 'eggcentric'. She was Mrs. Burdett, the widow of
a ganger who, a few years before, had come to work on a section of a new
railway which passed through the district and had met with his death in
circumstances which had obliged the Company to give his widow a small
life-pension. Mrs. Burdett was by birth a North Countrywoman, but she
had none of the physical traits of those hardy races, being thin and
frail-looking, with dark, haunting eyes in a very pale face. 'Looks as
if the first puff of wind'd blow her away', was what people said of her
appearance. Her peculiarity chiefly consisted of keeping herself aloof
from her neighbours, of taking long, solitary walks in the fields and
lanes, and of what the neighbours considered excessive letter-writing.

Her aloofness might have passed with little comment, for there were
other women in the village who kept themselves to themselves, as the
saying went; and the walks, though singular in a place where walking for
walking's sake was unheard of, might have been excused on the ground of
the want of other employment; but why she should be seen sitting in
front of her window, bending over a paper, pen in hand, every time a
body chanced to pass by her house, was, as the bodies said, a puzzler,
'and her without a chick or child of her own to write to, and herself
not gettin' a letter once in a month o' Sundays. Besides, whoever saw
her post one o' them she'd written?' The only person who could have
explained that matter was Mrs. Burdett herself, and nobody cared to ask
her to do so; for one thing a direct question was not 'manners', and,
for another, she might have told her interrogator to mind her own
business, as she had once told somebody who had asked her another
question about her affairs. 'Pardon me, but that is my business,' she
had said, as grand in her manner as any duchess, the neighbour had
reported. With her neighbours generally, Mrs. Burdett had little to do.
If she met one of them face to face in the street she would pass the
time of day with them and pass on, never stopping to talk. If anyone
made occasion to knock at her door, she would reply civilly to what they
had to say, but never herself started a topic or asked them inside.
Naturally, she was not a popular person. People said she was proud and
stand-offish, though what she had to be proud of God only knew, and her
with but a paltry pension of seven and sixpence a week and lookin' as if
a good meal'd do her no harm, and as to her craze of strolling the
fields, and at her age too, it looked to them as if her wits were going.

Charity's parents liked Mrs. Burdett. They said she was the kind of
neighbour they preferred, civil but never intrusive. When Charity's
father sent her a few green peas or a vegetable marrow from his garden,
she accepted them courteously and even seemed pleased, and when her
mother said to her one day that if ever she fell ill, or needed any
other kind of help, she knew where to send for it, she thanked her with
some show of feeling. But those were their nearest approach to intimacy.
With Charity she was a little more communicative. Once she had met her
when the child was searching for violets in a deserted green lane out in
the fields and had shown her a blackbird's and a thrush's nest back to
back in the same stump, and, afterwards, had lent her a book with
coloured pictures of birds which, she had told her, had been written by
a country clergyman named Gilbert White. But, on the whole, Mrs. Burdett
appeared to be one of those reserved, self-contained natures whose only
wish as far as their neighbours are concerned is to be on polite but by
no means familiar terms.

Close by Mrs. Burdett lived another old widow, but a widow of a very
different quality. Mrs. Sykes had lived at Restharrow all her life and
knew everyone who lived and everything which happened there, including
some things which happened only in her own imagination. She dressed in
the old country garb of shawl and sunbonnet and, in wet weather, clacked
about on pattens. She was as willing to enter into conversation with
anyone as Mrs. Burdett was unwilling, and might be seen at any hour of
the day having what she called 'a bit of a clack' with a few like-minded
neighbours in the village street. To eke out her parish relief of three
and sixpence a week, she went out washing and charing for the
innkeeper's wife, or for anyone else who could afford to pay her her
wages of one shilling and sixpence a day, and, in the capacity of
washerwoman, she came once a fortnight to Charity's home. There, in the
thick, warm, steamy atmosphere of soapsuds, she would scour and rinse
and scrub down, talking all the time at the top of her voice. Her one
fault as a worker was not one of the present day; far from keeping one
eye on the clock towards finishing time, there was no getting rid of her
without telling her directly to go. If she had been permitted to do so
she would have stayed on till midnight. When, at last, she had
unwillingly edged out of the door, still talking, her employer would
feel almost as exhausted as if she had herself done the day's washing.

If it could have been taken in moderation, much of her conversation
would have been entertaining, for she knew everyone in the village and
all that had happened there for the previous fifty years, and had the
history of each family and all the ramifications of the involved
relationships by heart. When, after Mrs. Sykes had gone, Mrs. Finch
complained to her husband of having been talked to death, he would laugh
and say that, exhausted or not exhausted, she seemed to have picked up a
lot of information. Which she had; she could not help doing so when all
that had happened or was thought to have happened in the village since
the last wash-day had been related, with copious illustrations drawn
from the happenings of other days, and with nothing lost in the telling.

Mrs. Sykes was superstitious and believed not only in charms and omens,
the meaning of dreams and the telling of fortunes from tea-leaves, but
even more firmly in witchcraft and ghosts. And she was not at all choice
in her language. Mrs. Finch had often to _S-s-s-sh!_ her when Charity
was by, and afterwards to excuse her by saying that in Mrs. Sykes's
young days countryfolks were an ignorant, broad-spoken lot; and, taking
her all in all, she would add, she was a cheery, good-natured old soul
and an excellent washerwoman.

She might not have thought so well of her had she heard some of the
stories Mrs. Sykes told her small daughter when she happened to be alone
with her for a few minutes. After hearing some of these tales, Charity
could not sleep at night for thinking of the sheep-stealer on the
gibbet, calling aloud all night to his mother to save him, _Mother! Oh,
Mother!_ or of the woman, laid out for dead, who came downstairs in her
graveclothes. Mrs. Sykes had a ghoulish mind. Once, after a child had
died in the village, herself sitting, fat and rosy, at the kitchen table
having what she called her 'bavour' of bread and cheese and beer while
Mrs. Finch hung out the clothes to dry in the garden, she said
meditatively: 'Six weeks to-day since little Anna Parminter died. Poor
little lamb! six weeks in the pitty-hole! By this time th' worms've
gnawed at her; you'd never know little Anna if you seed her now. When I
wer' a little gal, like you, I once seed a bone ole Clerk Moss'd turned
up, diggin' a new grave----' Fortunately, at that moment Mrs. Finch came
in, but Charity had already heard enough to give her some nightmarish
evenings in bed that winter.

The then Vicar of the parish, Mr. Penpethy, was said to be, and no doubt
was, a very learned man, and he had all the queer, absent-minded ways
popularly associated with learning. Often, in cold or wet weather, he
would be seen walking in the fields and lanes in his old library cassock
and slippers, having forgotten to put on his coat and boots before
leaving home. On such walks he would talk aloud to himself, checking off
what may have been the feet of verse on his fingers; or he would stand
silent, gazing at the earth at his feet, apparently lost in meditation.
At such times he would fail to respond to the greetings of his
parishioners, not from ill-will or disdain, but because he did not
observe the bobbed curtsy or the pulled forelock. He would forget that
he had to conduct any but the regular Sunday services, and wedding and
funeral parties would have to wait in the church porch until he had been
found and reminded of his appointment. He once christened a child by an
entirely different name than that given by the godparents. At that time
the upper servants in big houses were called, not by their Christian,
but by their surnames, and the mother of the child had had a favourite
fellow servant named Veness, after whom she wished to name her new baby,
but this was pronounced at the font Venus, and the clergyman, after
shaking his head and whispering, No! No!, declared loudly, 'Mary, I
baptize thee----' He told the mother afterwards that the name she had
chosen was unsuitable for a Christian child. 'Perhaps you do not know
that Venus was a heathen goddess!' he suggested. 'Oh, no, sir, she
wasn't,' the mother said tartly. 'She was the cook at Finchingfield
House, for I knowed her!'

Mr. Penpethy was said to be poor--'as poor as a crow' was the village
expression--and he lived alone in his big, silent Vicarage without any
other attendance than that of the parish clerk, who, officially his
gardener, was actually his man-of-all-work. Except for one small plot in
what had once been the kitchen garden, kept cleared by Clerk Savings for
the growing of vegetables, the Vicarage garden was a jungle of weeds and
thistles and untended shrubs and fruit trees. Grass grew on the carriage
drive which led to the locked and barred front door. The villagers when
they wished to put up their banns of marriage or had to arrange for a
funeral went to the back door, and Mr. Penpethy's only other known
visitor was one of the neighbouring clergy who was said to have been
with him at college. The Vicar, indeed, was as near being a recluse as
is possible for a parish priest. He was a small, nervous man,
prematurely grey, and with a habit of pausing in mid-speech and gazing
into the distance, as though he had lost the thread of his discourse and
was seeking it there. But, when once his attention was attracted, he was
not unkindly and the villagers rather took a pride in his oddities than
resented them, feeling that to have a parson so very unlike other
parsons, one who never interfered or bothered people about going to
church, and could speak Greek and Latin (as they said) like a native and
read old books written, very likely, before Noah's flood, conferred
distinction on the whole community.

Of course, no coal or blankets or soup in winter, or little delicacies
for invalids, could be expected from that quarter. For these the
Restharrow poor had to look to the lady of the Manor House, and even
from thence such bounties came in a trickle, rather than in the steady,
generous stream known in more fortunate villages. 'Poor and proud' was
the local description of the Manor House family, which family at that
date consisted of Mrs. Maitland herself and one son, away at school, and
afterwards at Oxford. Her daughters had married and gone to live in
other counties.

At one time the Maitlands had owned the greater part of the parish; but,
farm by farm, then field by field, they had had to sell their property,
until only the house and grounds, some of the village cottages, and a
few acres of what had been the home farm remained. It was said that by
that time all would have gone had not the late squire, Mrs. Maitland's
husband, met with a comparatively early death in the hunting field,
leaving their baby son and the shrunken remains of the family estate to
the able, determined management of his widow. Now, it was thought, she
had so far retrieved the situation that her son, when he came of age,
would be able in a modest way to maintain the establishment. Charity had
sometimes seen the young squire when home for his school holidays and,
later, from Oxford, riding his pony, or carrying his gun or fishing
tackle, a tall, slender youth with smooth dark hair and friendly brown
eyes. He had always a smile for the children playing in the road and a
cheerful greeting for the old men and women, and he had once given a
huge pike he had caught to Mrs. Taverner, who had a family of twelve,
including herself and her husband. It was Master Roger, too, who had got
old Bowden's thatched roof repaired. At first Mrs. Maitland had said
that as the Bowdens paid but a shilling a week rent and were six months
behind with that, she could do nothing, even if they did have to fix up
an umbrella over their bed. Then, according to the parlourmaid at the
Manor House, Master Roger had offered to pay for the work with his
pocket-money, and his mother had said of course he must not; that she
herself was sorry about the rain coming through on their bed, but an
active old fellow like Bowden could, if he liked, borrow a ladder and
repair the thatch; he was a lazy old scamp, old Bowden. However, she
would give orders that the work should be done at her own expense.

When Charity first remembered her, Mrs. Maitland was a tall,
tight-lipped, aristocratic-looking, middle-aged woman. Her son, Mr.
Roger, was the youngest of her family, a latecomer after a long
interval. Although she was what the village called 'near' in money
matters, her own dress was of the richest description, of dark-coloured
silks and velvets with real lace at the neck and wrists and with skirts
of a length to trail slightly. In summer weather she carried a parasol
with a long carved ivory handle which she held between her thumb and
first finger with the air of a queen holding her sceptre. Her carriage
was majestic, her ideas were feudal, and her heart, if she had one, was
deeply hidden. No one in the village had ever seen her moved or excited.
She lived in her grand house, removed, as it seemed, from the trials and
vexations of lesser humanity. Although she had entertained little during
her stewardship, she had kept up her county connexions, and any fine
afternoon might be seen driving out in her old-fashioned carriage to pay
calls. Twice a week she went to the village school to examine the girls'
needlework and to hear the younger children repeat the catechism. She
visited regularly the poorer cottagers and was said to be very good to
the sick and aged.

She had never been to Charity's home, for the Finches belonged to the
class then known as the comfortable poor, and, as such, were supposed to
have no need of her ministrations. Perhaps, too, she felt some degree of
personal distaste for that particular family. George Finch, called in to
repair some floorboards in the Manor House drawing-room, had told her
frankly that patching would be of no use, for dry rot had set in and a
new floor and wainscoting were necessary. 'I'll patch up the planks if
you wish, Ma'am,' he had said, 'but if you take my advice you'll make a
complete clearance.'

At that the lady had, as he had expressed it, reared up: 'You will
please do the work I have ordered,' she commanded. 'But when once this
here dry rot sets in----' he had begun, his craftsman's soul troubled by
the ruin he envisaged, but he was talking to an empty room; the lady had
gone and he heard the silken rustle of her skirts on the stairs.

He had felt his experience slighted and had taken offence. It did not
occur to him that the lady, quite probably, had gone to her bedroom to
face in privacy what may have been to her an appalling expense. Or that
her pride and hauteur might have been a shield and the woman behind it
as vulnerable as anything human. It must have been gall and wormwood to
her pride to feel herself hated by her maids for her frugal housekeeping
and to imagine the comments of the villagers when her bounty did not
come up to their Big House standard. Like many elderly ladies of her
day, she no longer attempted to keep up with the changing fashions, and
her rich clothes may have seen long service, for such materials as she
favoured would with care last a lifetime, and her furs and real lace
were probably family possessions. But her gallant stand to save her
son's inheritance was outside the range of village sympathy. The real
poor cannot be expected to sympathize with the difficulties of the
poor-rich, and the general view of her economies was expressed when they
said she was one of them who'd skin a flint for a farthing, if she
spoilt a good knife over the job.

Pride and poverty had soured Mrs. Maitland. The more typical country
lady of her age and social position was, if somewhat masterful, kindly,
and often showed genuine affection for her poorer neighbours. Once in
her childhood Charity had an opportunity of studying one of these ladies
closely. Restharrow stood in the midst of good hunting country; hounds
often met near the village and the hunt in full cry over fields and
hedges was a familiar sight to its inhabitants. One mild, misty December
morning a middle-aged lady had taken a toss in a field near the Finch's
cottage and had been brought there to rest while her carriage was
fetched to take her to her own home in a distant village. She had
escaped injury, but felt, as she said, a little shaken. 'Not as young as
I once was,' she told Mrs. Finch. 'Ten years ago I should have taken
that fence like a bird. But I mustn't grumble, I've had forty-five years
with the best pack in the county and enjoyed every run. I'm now
sixty-two and it's time I gave up the huntin' and stayed by the fireside
makin' flannel petticoats for my old women.'

'Excuse me, my lady, but I can't see you sitting indoors sewing on a
hunting morning. It doesn't seem natural, somehow,' said Mrs. Finch,
who, down on her knees on the hearthrug, had been pulling off the lady's
hunting boots and now slipped on her feet a brand new pair of carpet
slippers she had in readiness for her husband's birthday. As she rose,
the lady looked her full in the face. 'By all that's holy, it's Alice!'
she exclaimed, seizing her hand, and from the conversation which
followed Charity soon gathered that the lady sitting in her father's
armchair with the skirt of her habit turned up over her knees and her
feet on the fender was no lesser person than the great Lady Travers who
reigned over the distant village which had been her own mother's
birthplace.

Mrs. Finch's offer of refreshment was welcomed. 'That fool of a groom'
who had taken the two mounts and gone for the carriage had carried off
with him his mistress's sandwich case. So a pot of tea was quickly made
and the table was spread with a modest repast to which Lady Travers did
full justice. Over the meal old times and old friends were discussed.
So-and-So was married and the father or mother of so many children, or
had emigrated to Australia and was doing well there, or had not been
heard of for years. Poor old Mark Allen had died at last, this very
winter, ninety-eight. Pity he couldn't have stayed the course and made
his century! Sir Thomas had intended to celebrate his hundredth
birthday, with a tea-fight for the whole village, with Mark as the guest
of honour and a birthday cake and whatnot, but it was not to be. 'Yes, I
will have another cup, please. I know it's my third, but never take more
than one cup before starting to a meet. It doesn't do with a long day on
horseback before one. And I'll have another of your excellent
sandwiches, if you don't mind, and you need not bother to cut the bread
or the bacon too thin, I'm sharp set, as you see, sharp set! There!' as
she wiped her lips with her pocket handkerchief, 'I haven't enjoyed a
meal so much for an age. I must say you know how to cure a side of
bacon. Ours has never been quite so good since Saunders left. Oh, yes,
she's gone, pensioned off two years ago and living in that little
cottage in the park where poor old Trent spent his last days. You
remember Trent? He died two years last Christmas. Eighty-seven. We still
miss the old fellow. Ah, Alice, we have had many changes of late. You
heard about our own poor boy?'

Alice said she had read in the newspaper at the time that the Captain
had been killed in the Sudan and had been sorry. 'Yes,' said the lady.
'It is always saddening to see a young life cut short. And this was one
that could ill be spared--heir to an estate like ours and full of ideas
for improving the property--intended to sell out and leave the Army when
things quieted down again; but we must not murmur, God knows what is
best for us.'

Charity, making herself scarce on the window-seat, herself unnoticed,
but with the handsome, hook-nosed profile of their guest in view, was
amazed to see one big tear course silently down the weather-beaten
cheek. Then the lady blew her nose loudly and said in her ordinary,
cheerful tone, 'Thank God he died for his Queen and country!' Then, with
barely a pause, 'You've got a nice little place here. Just the kind of
little place I should like myself if the time should come for me to
retire. Our Dower House, as no doubt you remember, is bleak and bare and
far too large for one old woman. And your girl does you credit, but why
only one? Ah, yes, of course, I understand, and a nasty time you must
have had, I'm sure. And you've got a good husband, I hope?' Alice said
that she had the best husband in the world and was rather surprisingly
told that she was lucky, for good husbands were few and far between;
certainly there were not enough of them to go round.

'She's a fine-spirited one is Lady Travers,' said Charity's mother after
she had gone. 'I remember once when I was a child she was out with the
guns and stepped in a hole and broke her ankle. They said Sir Thomas was
all of a dither and white as a sheet, but though the pain must have been
awful she laughed and told him there was no need to make a fuss; she
wasn't killed, only wounded. "Get me home and send for the doctor," she
said. "It's certainly a bit painful, but if I can't bear a bit of pain
at my time of life I'm no sportswoman." And the gentlemen carried her
home, bandy, two at a time, in turns. Of course they ought to have got a
hurdle or something to carry her on and have kept her foot up, but the
keeper didn't like to tell 'em so, and off they went over the rough
ground with her foot going dangle, dangle, and swelled to the size of
vegetable marrow by the time they got her home, and not so much as a
groan.'

That hunting morning, before she left the Finch's cottage, Lady Travers
said lightly, 'Where's the child's money-box?' and Charity, not
understanding her mother's forbidding headshake, fetched it, as she
thought, merely to be inspected. Her ladyship turned up the skirt of her
habit and, from some interior pocket, produced a bright half-sovereign
and slipped it into the box. She knew that to have offered payment to
her hostess for her hospitality would have given offence; yet she could
not have brought herself to have consumed so much of Alice's excellent
bacon and make no recompense, so she did what she would have called 'the
right thing', gracefully and unostentatiously, talking all the time of
other matters.

There were several other such gallant old ladies at that time still
living about the countryside. One Lady Louisa was still riding to hounds
at the age of near eighty. Keen sportswomen, good neighbours, kind
though exacting employers, bounteous to the poor in their own villages,
they ruled over their own small worlds as by sovereign right and, when
they died, they were mourned by whole neighbourhoods. And they had their
counterparts among their poorer neighbours. Women who also knew how to
do the right thing in their lesser degree. Learned only in country lore
and the Holy Scriptures, but keenly intelligent, they ruled over their
own families, fulfilled their personal obligations, and used their spare
energy in helping their neighbours. Racy of tongue, forthright in
manner, firm believers in the cakes-and-ale side of life, with big,
comfortable bosoms and fat sides, often shaken with laughter, they
slapped life into the newly born and sped the dying with words of homely
comfort. Their day has passed and they have passed with their day; there
is no place for Lady Bountiful or Dame Smith in this modern world. But
in their own day they served their world well. In the family vault and
the unmarked grave, peace be to their ashes!



_Three_

WATERSIDE FARM

In a small village like Restharrow, everyone knew everyone and all were
counted as neighbours; but there was one family which concerned Charity
and her parents more than the rest. It was that of her uncle, Reuben
Truman. Reuben was a farm bailiff who occupied part of a farmhouse at
the farther end of the village. His wife had been Mrs. Finch's dearly
loved elder sister. While Charity had been quite a small child, she had
died, leaving her husband with three daughters, the eldest at that time
fifteen, the youngest but two years old. As Waterside stood out in the
fields beyond the farther end of the one long, straggling village
street, a distance of nearly a mile separated the two dwellings. But
this distance had never been allowed to restrict communication; when
Charity's aunt was alive, she and her mother had met almost daily, for,
besides being sisters, they were the closest of friends and did nothing
without consulting each other. On Sundays it was the custom for the two
families to take tea at each other's houses alternately, and on weekdays
there were garments to be cut out, jam or pickles or home-made wine to
be made, or some important family letter to be written in collaboration.
And, almost every day, between school hours, one or other or both of
Charity's elder cousins would come running over the grass plot in front
of her home with a book, or the newspaper, or the paper pattern of some
garment, or to borrow or bring back something, or with what they called
a 'taster' of something their mother had cooked. If they happened to
come at a mealtime, they would draw up a chair to the table as a matter
of course, and Charity was just as much at home at their house, for, as
the neighbours sometimes said, the two families were like one family.

One of Charity's earliest recollections was of her eldest cousin, Bess,
racing across the grass patch with hair and pinafore flying and, in her
hand, a covered basin, calling, 'Cherry curds! Cherry curds, ho! Old
Daisy has calved and I've brought some cherry curds for our Cherry,' and
Cherry sat down on a little, low stool and was given a spoon and ate her
curds, just like little Miss Muffet. Only there was no nasty great
spider to bother her; it would have been difficult to find a spider or a
spider's web in Mrs. Finch's clean, tidy house. The spiders lived in the
workshop, up in the rafters, where no one disturbed them unless someone
got a bad cut, when a handful of their dark, thick webs would be reached
down and clapped on the wound to stop the bleeding.

After the girls' mother had died and Bess had had to turn housekeeper,
Cousin Mercy was the usual messenger. She would come in, puffing and
panting with hurrying, for she was a sturdy, thickset girl and fattish,
and say, 'Please, Aunt Alice, how long ought our Bess to boil that
breast and hand of pork?' or 'What groceries ought she to get when the
wagon goes to Banbury?' or, unrolling a bundle, 'Please, Aunt, our Bess
says would you mind ironing our Polly's Sunday frock. She's washed and
starched and rough-dried it, but she can never get the frills to set
nohow,' and the advice or the help was most willingly given, for Mrs.
Finch felt she could never do enough for those she spoke of as 'those
poor motherless girls'.

When Charity was old enough to be trusted out alone, she was often sent
to the farm. 'Now, be sure not to get run over,' her mother would say,
snapping the elastic of her hat under her chin, and she would promise to
be careful, though it would have been difficult for a much more
venturesome child than her to have got itself run over on a road where
the most dashing equipage was the Manor House wagonette with, between
its shafts, the old grey mare, which at other times pulled the
lawn-mower. The doctor's gig, an occasional farm wagon, the baker's van,
or the coalman's cart were the only other wheeled vehicles she was
likely to meet. She might see a horseman or a horsewoman, a tinker with
his barrow, or a herd of cows ambling peacefully homeward towards
milking time, but seldom anything more dangerous. Once, indeed, on a
grey, misty, September morning, she had suddenly been confronted by a
large flock of geese being driven by road to market. She had not stopped
to say 'Bo!' to them, but had crept between the lower rails of a field
gate, for she knew that geese had a nasty way of stretching out their
necks and hissing at small girls. When they had passed and she had
ventured out of the field, she found the wet road patterned all over
with webbed footprints, and that pleased her. She was one of those
children who notice such things.

Usually she saw but a neighbour coming from the well with her
water-buckets, or a youth riding sideways on a farm horse, _clop,
clopping_ along with jingling harness from field to field, or, out of
school hours, children playing marbles or hopscotch in the road. They
usually played together near their homes, but, once, on a cold windy
day, she had met a big fair boy of seven, in petticoats made from an old
plaid shawl of his mother's, his knees blue-mottled with cold, marching
alone in the middle of the road, drumming on an empty treacle tin and
shouting:


Wake up the dead! What ho! What ho!
How sound they sleep who lie below,
Never heeding poor mortals who walk aboe,
Wake up the dead! Wake up the dead!


and, really, she thought, Johnny Tuffrey was making enough noise to
awaken them. Charity knew the lines; she had read them, written in pale
brown ink, on the fly-leaf of an old Prayer Book at home; but to hear
them shouted aloud close by the churchyard wall seemed to her shocking.
Suppose the sleepers within should hear him: what then?

Poor Johnny himself with his bold blue eyes and massive knees was soon
to join the sleepers. A few years later, a month after he had started
work, the horses had moved on prematurely and he had been flung, face
foremost, from a loaded wagon in the harvest field. One moment he had
been brimming with life and high spirits; the next, not all the noise in
the world could have awakened him. Poor Johnny!

After the footpath had crossed the meadow it merged in a little green
lane which led to the open fields and a farmyard where elaborately
thatched and pointed stacks stood on stone straddles. From this, past a
long apple orchard, a rutted track led by a less direct route than the
footpath to the road which passed the church. The farmhouse was built of
grey limestone and half covered with creepers, including a monthly rose
trained round the parlour window, which, except in frosty spells, could
show a few pale pink blooms nine months out of the twelve. In June it
was covered with blossoms; the girls used to pick great bunches out of
the bedroom windows to give to their friends.

Waterside Farm had been so named because of the stream which flowed,
with the road between, in front of the house and the farm-buildings. It
was the stream which as a brooklet ran before Charity's home, but in the
course of its windings and turnings back upon itself through the fields
it had grown deeper and wider. In front of the stable yard at Waterside
a dam had been made, with, beneath it, a round pool that had been
scooped out for the horses to drink from, and the water falling over
this ledge into the pool kept up continually a splashing, gurgling,
waterfallish sound which Charity afterwards remembered as one of the
distinctive voices of Waterside. When after more meanderings the stream
reached the next village, it had increased sufficiently in depth and
width to be known as 'the river'. And as the river it continued,
threading the rich, flat, corn-growing country, with water-lilies on its
breast and bulrushes by its margins, past quiet villages and peaceful,
prosperous little towns, until at last it came to and was merged in the
North Sea, known at that time as the German Ocean.

The farmhouse was a roomy, rambling old place. In the older, back
portion, stone steps led up into some of the rooms and down into others.
A long, stone-floored passage ran through the house from the front door
to the back door, and opening off this, near the back door, was the big
living kitchen, also stone-floored, though cheerful and cosy-looking,
with its two windows, brightly coloured rag rugs, good fires and
well-filled dresser. Next to the kitchen door was a glass-panelled one
which opened out into a small walled garden. Tradition said that in the
palmy days of the house, before it had become a farmhouse, this garden
had been the ladies' herb garden. But that was probably a guess, for no
one living remembered that time or who had lived there. When Charity
grew older, as a girl in her teens, she often marvelled that of all the
people who had been born, lived and died in that house, nothing whatever
was known, not even their names, though to have occupied a house such as
that they must have been people of some importance. It may be that the
big altar tomb surrounded by iron railings in the churchyard belonged to
them, or the other graves with sculls and cross-bones, or cherub's
heads, carved in high relief on the headstones. Rain and frost had
obliterated the incised inscriptions.

Surrounding the back courtyard were many out-buildings--wash-house,
brewhouse, dairy, and cheese-room--reminders of a time when the
farmhouse had been the headquarters of the farmer himself. Now that the
herd of cows had been moved to grazing grounds nearer their owner's
present abode, dairy and cheese-room stood empty and were kept locked to
save cleaning. Through the dim, cobwebbed panes glimpses might be caught
of old, forgotten utensils once in use there, stone slabs, rusty
dippers, and wooden milking-pails, falling to pieces. The brewhouse had
been abandoned long before the dairy, and the only out-building still in
use was the one known as the pump-house, where water was obtained for
domestic purposes. The front part of the house had at some time been
rebuilt and the rooms there were large and well-proportioned, with long
sash windows with window-seats and white panelled inside shutters, high
ceilings, and handsome mantelpieces. In one of these rooms stood an
immense oak settle which had been found too large and heavy to be
removed with the other goods belonging to the farmer, and that was the
only furniture in either of the two front parlours, for neither of the
present tenants had sufficient to half fill one of them, and they had
chosen smaller and, to them, more homely apartments.

Although Charity's uncle lived in what seemed to her a very fine house,
it must not be supposed that he was a rich or in any way an important
person. He was but a working bailiff, or foreman, who, when the farmer
had moved with his family into a newer and more convenient farmhouse,
had been given part of the old one instead of a cottage. His duty it was
to set the men employed on that part of the farm to work on the tasks
decreed by the farmer and to visit them from time to time in the fields
to see that they did their work properly. Betweenwhiles, he kept all in
order about the farmstead and, when called for, he would often appear,
wearing the old smock frock he called his yard smock, with a shovel, or
a broom, or a polishing-rag in his hand. When he rode out to inspect the
work of the men on the grey, long-tailed pony the farmer had provided
for his use, he discarded his smock and appeared in the usual bailiff's
garb of rough tweed coat and cord breeches and gaiters. Reuben Truman
was a countryman through and through, a sturdily built man with greying
hair and beard and the healthy complexion of one who had never had a
day's illness in his life. His expression was serious; some might have
thought it severe, save when something was said or done which brought
the twinkle to his eyes and the countryman's slow, cautious smile to his
lips. He had a passion for horses and liked to see the teams turned out
in the morning well-groomed and with plaited manes and tails and shining
brasses, as if, the men said, they were going to a fair, instead of to a
hard day's ploughing. As only a young carter was kept, any extra work
involved fell upon Reuben himself. He would cut big squares of hay from
the hayrick with a great flashing knife to fill the racks above the
mangers, give the stable floors an extra cleaning and bed them down with
clean straw. If a horse was unwell, he would doctor it himself, only
calling in the vet. for serious cases, when he would play the part of
nurse to the other one's doctor. When old Captain, the big grey
carthorse with feathered fetlocks, had pneumonia, Reuben sat up all
night poulticing its chest. He had the management of the mares when
foaling and of the breaking in of young colts, and for these duties he
received a money bonus. His standing wage was thirty shillings a week.
His hobby was that of acquiring and keeping well-polished the brass
horse-ornaments which decorated the foreheads and reins of his
favourites.

There were those in the village who did not like Reuben. They said he
was too solemn and strait-laced and 'a durned sight too particular' as
to how the work was done, 'Jest for all th' world as if the land was
his'n and all the profits went into his pocket. Give me a bayley like
Muster Radley o' Shaplands,' they'd say. 'Wi' him, if things look all
right they be all right, an' none o' y'r pokin' an' peerin' an' as like
as not findin' fault, an' ready to crack a joke or to drain a pint pot
wi' th' next man,' and when Mr. Radley disappeared suddenly from the
neighbourhood on account of some shady dealings with a corn-merchant,
they continued to speak of him as the poor man's friend. Those who had
nothing to fear from inspection of their work liked and respected Reuben
for his readiness to give credit where credit was due, and for his
thoroughness and downright sincerity. Those who had found him a friend
in trouble loved the man.

From the time she had been a small child, Charity had loved her Uncle
Reuben. No matter how busy he might be about the farmyard, he would
always find time to show her the new foal nozzling in the straw beside
its mother; or the fat old sow with her family of little pink piglets.
Or he would reach her down a ripe pear from the tree, or find her a
freshly laid egg, warm from the nest, to take home for her breakfast
next morning. Such small kindnesses please children, and she loved him
for them; but she loved him more deeply for what he was in himself,
though at that time she could not have defined what appealed to her in
his character.

Her parents spoke of him as 'Reuben', or, to her, as 'your Uncle
Reuben', as of one so firmly established as he was then in their lives
and thoughts that a Reuben at any other age or in any other relationship
was unthinkable. Charity, looking back in later years, thought how
little they had really known about him. He had married Mrs. Finch's
sister comparatively late in life, his age at that time being forty and
his bride's twenty. She had been a newcomer to the village, as had the
rest of her family. Even living in a remote village and working on the
land, no man can reach the age of forty without going through many
experiences. By the time he has reached that age, what most people would
regard as the best years of his life have passed, and in most lives
those are the most eventful years. Reuben had been a boy, a young man,
and a man in his prime before they had known him; he had not always been
just 'Uncle Reuben'.

Reuben Truman had been twice married. Charity had learned this one
autumn afternoon when she had gone to the churchyard with her mother to
plant bulbs on the grave of his second wife, her own Aunt Marianna. The
graves of his two wives were far apart, for the poor of that parish had
no choice of a burial plot; their dead were buried in long rows and the
latest comer was given the next vacant plot after the last burial. 'A
nice tidy arrangement, but a bit of a mix up,' Mrs. Finch had remarked,
energetically digging and prodding with the little fork she had brought
with her to plant her snowdrop bulbs. 'Old enemies lying side by side
quite as often as good neighbours. Those two at the end of that row
there were always at it, hammer and tongs, in their lifetimes--but of
course you remember Mrs. Pulbrook and Caroline?'

Charity remembered them well and saw them again in imagination: Mrs.
Pulbrook, large, pink-checked and placid-looking, when untroubled by her
foe, and Caroline, about five feet high and dark as a gipsy, with snaky
curls and spit-fire eyes and a voice which, as the neighbours said, went
through your head like a knife. The two had lived side by side in a pair
of semi-detached cottages, like two matchboxes set end to end under one
covering of thatch. The two front doors were but a foot or two apart and
the best of good neighbours might have found such propinquity a strain
on their neighbourly feelings. To Mrs. Pulbrook and Caroline it was
fatal. Between their contests they were not on speaking terms and, after
Mrs. Pulbrook had whitened her doorstep in the morning, her door was
kept closed for the rest of the day, so that she might not see Caroline
lounging on her own untidy doorstep and, as she said, be tempted to set
the mark of her ten finger-nails on her impudent face. But the two back
gardens had no dividing fence and, with wood to be chopped, pigs to be
fed, and washing to be hung on the line, they were bound to come face to
face almost daily. And when they did, as the neighbours said, the
feathers began to fly. 'As good as a poppy show, any day,' was the
comment of a man who had chanced to witness one of their encounters.
'Poor old Ma Pulbrook, as red as a turkey cock and tremblin' like a
leaf, and Caroline--you Ought to've seen Caroline, the little devil!
dancin' round and round an'shakin' her fist at the poor old soul;
baitin' her, reg'larly baitin' her!'

When and how the feud had began nobody knew; but whatever the cause of
their original difference, at the mere sight of each other it revived.
Charity had been told never to go near when she heard their voices
raised, for their language, especially that of Caroline, was what her
mother called 'not pretty for a child to hear'; but as she had to pass
their gate four times a day on her way to and from school, she could not
always avoid hearing. As it happened, she heard what must have been one
of their last contests.

Mrs. Pulbrook had been to fetch water from the well, and the two heavy
buckets, suspended by a yoke from her shoulders, had no doubt tired her,
for she had set them down on the path inside their gate and was standing
with her hands on her hips, panting, when Caroline came out and accused
her of blocking the pathway. Caroline had had her say--there was no
stopping her once she had started--then, without permitting Mrs.
Pulbrook to get in a word edgeways, she screamed what she intended as a
parting shot: 'And now you get along indoors, you old so-and-so, and cry
y'r so-and-so eyes out, same as you did the last time I told yet a bit
o' God's truth,' and Mrs. Pulbrook, who had not caught what she had said
and perhaps had lost some of her old spirit, for soon afterwards she
fell ill of the complaint which carried her to the churchyard, turned
weakly and said, 'Eh?'

'Ay--Ay--Ay!' jeered Caroline. Then chanted: '_Ay for 'osses, straw for
rows, milk f'r little pigs, and wash for gert ole sows_--like you!' And,
stung by the insult, Mrs. Pulbrook rallied and retorted, '_You mind your
own business and I'll mind mine. You drink the pigs' wash and I'll drink
wine!_' Whether or not this rhyming back-chat was extemporized is hard
to say. Probably not, though Charity had never heard it before and never
heard it again. In either case it made a neat ending to their long
contention.

A few days later Mrs. Pulbrook was taken ill and the next time Charity
saw Caroline she had a clean face and was wearing a nearly clean apron,
and was stepping from her own doorstep to that of Mrs. Pulbrook with a
covered basin in her hand. 'Tendin' her night and day, same as she might
her own mother,' people said of Caroline. 'Shows she can't be a bad gal
at bottom, f'r all her tantrumy ways.' When Mrs. Finch repeated this to
her husband, he remarked rather dryly that he had no doubt there was
some good in everybody, but you often had to be dying before you got
down to it. Mrs. Pulbrook died, and a few months later Caroline was
knocked down by a cart and fatally injured coming back late on a
Saturday night from Mixlow, and, as hers was the next death in the
village, she was laid by the side of her old enemy. 'But what's the
odds?' said Mrs. Finch cheerfully while planting the snowdrops. 'They're
quiet and peaceful enough now! And, mind, not a word to the girls about
me planting these snowdrops. I want it to be a surprise to them when
they come out next February.'

It was like Charity's mother to think less of the dead than the living.
She had dearly loved her elder sister and had shed many bitter tears
when she died. But that was five years before the day when she planted
the snowdrops, and she had long ceased grieving and had even ceased
saying, 'All the grieving in the world won't bring the dead back to life
again,' though her care had never slackened for those her sister's death
had left motherless.

The graves of Mrs. Pulbrook and Caroline could easily be distinguished,
for the grass had not had time to engulf them; but, beyond them, the
low, unmarked mounds were swallowed up in a green tide and Charity was
afraid she would step upon one as she tiptoed behind her mother between
the long lines to the older part of the churchyard.

'Here we are,' said her mother at last. 'It's easy to find because of
the headstone,' and Charity read aloud, stumbling a little over the
Christian name, which was new to her:

_Lavinia.
The Beloved Wife of Reuben Truman.
Who departed this Life
November 23rd, 1856.
Aged 19 years._

and her mother told her that Lavinia had been buried with a little
day-old baby on her arm which could not be mentioned on the headstone
because it had not been baptized. 'But,' she continued, 'that's only
what I've been told. It all happened long before any of us came to live
here, and your uncle's never mentioned her to me, nor I to him. I expect
he felt losing her at the time, but a lot has happened since then and
very likely he's forgotten all about her. Men are like that.'

After that, Charity would sometimes wade through the churchyard grass to
Lavinia's grave, and she several times noticed a trail other than her
own from the path to the grave. In spring the grave was covered with
forget-me-nots, like a lovely blue counterpane over a bed. At the time
she thought that the flowers had been planted long before and seeded and
renewed themselves year after year; but in later life she concluded
that, though she had been dead thirty years, and he had married again
and had children and again been widowed, Reuben had not forgotten
Lavinia.

The grave of Charity's own Aunt Marianna was as homely a sight to her as
their own front garden bed at home. She often went with her cousins to
place flowers upon it, and when on one of these occasions little Polly
said, 'I wonder what Mother was like,' she was able to tell her. She
remembered her Aunt Marianna best as she had been on the day of Polly's
christening, a small, plump woman with a kind smile, and dark hair
which, for all her smoothing, would escape at her temples and the nape
of her neck in tiny, round curls. That Sunday she had been wearing a
dress of her favourite plum colour, with lots of little frills, and
before she had taken the baby up from the cradle, she had turned back
her skirt and made a lap on her white embroidered petticoat, 'For fear
of accidents,' she had said.

Charity remembered all this because Polly's christening party stood out
as one of the first landmarks in her childhood. She and her parents had,
of course, been invited, but all the morning the sky had been dark and
lowering and she had feared that it would rain and her mother would say
they must stay at home. 'There's snow about. I can smell and taste it,
and by the look of that feather-bed sky we're going to have a lot of it
before we're very much older,' her father had said as he held open the
garden gate for her mother and her to pass through.

'Oh, dear!' her mother had exclaimed. 'I wonder what we'd better do. I
don't like taking Charity out if it's likely to snow, and her bronchitis
so bad last winter, and yet I don't see how we can stop at home, me
being one of the godmothers, and having promised to meet them in the
church porch.' And she stood stock-still on the plank bridge, looking
upward, as though for guidance.

'Oh, come along, do!' urged her husband impatiently. 'We can't stand
here all day sky-gazing like a lot of ducks in a thunderstorm. It's not
often I go to church, and now I have got into my best suit I'm not going
to turn back for a few snowflakes,' for, even as he was speaking, the
first fine flakes had come powdering down and Charity's mother had
opened her best umbrella.

'We shan't have much yet awhiles,' spoke the voice of authority; 'and if
we do we're not made of sugar; we shan't melt. Here, take my arm, and
Charity, you take hold of my other hand.' And thus linked together, with
snowflakes floating around them, they had trudged churchward.

The village street was deserted of all but themselves. Firelight
flickered on the cottage window-panes, every door and window was shut
fast; evidently it was the general opinion that home was the best place
in such weather. Mrs. Finch's best blue velvet bonnet with its posy of
artificial primroses was protected by the umbrella; but her husband's
Sunday top-hat soon looked like that of a snow man, and, by squinting
upward, Charity could see snowflakes hanging on the grey fur edging of
her bonnet. She would have loved to run about and catch the falling
flakes in her fingers and to have sung, _See the old woman a-picking
her geese! Selling her feathers a penny apiece_, but not only was it
Sunday, when such rhymes were forbidden, but she also feared to draw
attention to herself before they were more than halfway up the street
and nearer the church than home. If they take me back after starting,
she thought, my heart will be broken. She had recently heard for the
first time of a broken heart. So she made herself as small as possible
and walked very quietly, consoling herself the while by licking the
snowflakes off the fur edging of her tippet.

After they had passed the _Magpie_ one other churchgoer appeared. It was
Luke Atwell, a stocky, red-faced youth of eighteen, who had been asked
to stand godfather to the baby. He was waiting for them at his mother's
gate, dressed, most unsuitably for the weather, in his all-the-year-round
reach-me-down suit of pale grey, with a brand new bright magenta necktie,
bought specially for the occasion. His large red hands hung bare by his
sides and his peaked cloth cap was but poor protection for his carefully
oiled and parted crop of light flaxen hair; but he looked so well pleased
with his appearance that it seemed almost cruel of Charity's father to
say, 'Surely you're not going out in this weather in that rig-out?
Where's your top coat, man? You'll need it before you get back.' Luke,
ever obedient to the voice of authority, even when, as now, the authority
was that of age alone, went back indoors and reappeared wearing the old
black waterproof he wore at his work. It was the only overcoat he
possessed, and that, like his suit, had become too small for him. 'Button
up the collar, or you'll get a sore throat,' advised Mrs. Finch, and,
obedient still, though reluctant, poor Luke extinguished the glory of his
bright new tie. Why did not grown-up people understand a person's feelings
better, thought Charity.

Luke had begun to work for his own and his widowed mother's living when
he was ten years old, at first scaring rooks from the corn, then as a
ploughboy, leading by the rein great carthorses which, as the ploughmen
told him, could have eaten him up, bones and all, at one mouthful. In
time he had become a ploughman himself, and now was working under Reuben
as carter at Waterside, earning man's wages, as his mother told people
proudly. But as those wages were only ten shillings a week-although Luke
and his mother had become as well off as most other people in the
village and better off than some, for they were but two in family-after
they had paid their rent and for food and firing, they had little left
over for clothes. Reuben had asked Luke to stand godfather to the baby
because, he had said, 'Luke's a good, willing, hard-working chap and
deserves encouragement,' and his wife, who was one of the
sweetest-natured creatures on earth, had dismissed from her mind her own
more ambitious plan of asking the farmer to honour them, and said, 'Yes,
to be sure, and such a good boy to his mother. Let's ask him to stand.'
Which seems to show that, though their conception of baptism as a
sacrament of the Church might be hazy, their hearts were sound.

As Luke had but recently been confirmed, it was the first time he had
been asked to officiate as godfather, and he felt nervous. 'I know all
eyes in th' church'll be on me,' he told Mrs. Finch, 'and I don't want
to go makin' a fool of meself. So, please, do 'ee just tell me what I've
got to do when we comes to the font. Do I have to kneel down, or stand
up, or what?' And, by the time she had assured him that he had only to
watch her and do exactly as she did, except, of course, that he wouldn't
be called upon to handle the baby, they had reached the church porch.

As the service within proceeded, the air without became so darkened with
snowflakes that old Clerk Savings had to light candles. He lighted as
few as possible and grumbled beneath his breath as he stalked down the
aisle with his long taper, for candles were seldom needed at the early
afternoon service and he had come to regard them as ornaments and hated
to see the wicks blackened. Mrs. Truman unwound the wrappings of the
bundle on her lap, first peeling off the best Paisley shawl in which
Charity and her elder cousins had gone to their christenings, then the
large white woolly shawl, then the small knitted one, and revealed the
baby in long, lacy robes with blue ribbon bows on the shoulders. The
impression this transformation scene should have made was ruined by the
smallness of the congregation. Besides the christening party, there were
but about a dozen in church, mostly men and boys, and there was none of
the rustling and peering and 'pretty dearing' usual on such occasions.
But Charity and her cousins were much impressed, especially when Mrs.
Truman whispered to them that little Mary Alice was bound to be good all
her life, as she had not cried once, not even when the water touched her
forehead. The fact that Mary Alice, or Polly, as she soon became, was
not outstandingly good-tempered in after life may be accounted for by
her mother having previously paid Clerk Savings a shilling to take the
chill off the baptismal water.

When they came out of church a fleecy white covering lay on the smooth,
level flagstones, snow powdered the graves and hung in soft masses on
the yew branches; but it had stopped snowing, and, when questioned,
after turning his aged eyes to the sky and considering, old James
Atwell, the local weather authority, decided that they had what he
called their whack for the time being. That bit of a breeze in the tops
of the elms, he said, was a sign that the snow-clouds were passing over,
and he prophesied a wildish night out Lingstone way. This pronouncement
was contested by Clerk Savings, who said anybody with half an eye could
see that the sky was as full as it could hold, and, more likely than
not, the roads would be blocked by morning. But he was always an old
spoil-sport, and Mrs. Truman and her invited guests preferred to put
their trust in the forecast which favoured their own inclinations; so,
after some further discussion, it was agreed that Charity and her
parents should, as previously arranged, go on to the farm for the
christening tea.

Once over the stile and on the meadow footpath, the little party spaced
out. In front walked the two mothers with the bundle containing the
baby, which they carried by turns, the one holding it hugging it to her
breast and bending forward from the waist above it, as if to shelter
something most precious. Not far behind them came the two fathers,
engaged in a conversation which necessitated occasional halting for
face-to-face converse, which looked as if they had some weighty question
to decide, probably the amount of the compensation the M.F.H. was likely
to award to old Nanny French for the three ducks the fox was supposed to
have carried off. When he had offered her ten shillings she had stuck
out for fifteen, and the whole village was interested in the outcome.
Some said that a gentleman ought to behave as a gentleman and give the
poor soul a pound; others that Nanny deserved nothing, for they well
knew and could prove that she sold her three ducks to the butcher at
Mixlow and the fox had had neither feather nor bone.

At a much greater distance than separated the two first groups came the
girls, Bess, Mercy and Charity, with Luke hovering around them and
keeping as close to Bess as he dared. Poor Luke! he adored Bess, and she
led him a pretty dance, coaxing and flattering him when she had need of
his services and teasing him mercilessly when she had not. At thirteen
she had no idea of encouraging him as a sweetheart, but already she
loved to exert her power of attraction and it pleased her to see the
clumsy great fellow blush and tremble, and, as she said, look silly.

People said that Bess Truman wouldn't have been a bad-looking girl if it
hadn't been for her freckles. She hadn't bad features and would have a
neat little figure when she'd filled out a bit; though, to be sure, if
her hair had had one more dip 't'ld've come out sandy. Freckles and hair
in any degree approaching sandiness would, according to village
standards, have made a fright of a goddess. In some other circles a
light dusting of freckles over the bridge of a nose, especially a nose
as pretty as Bess's and on a skin as white satiny as hers, would have
passed as a minor blemish. Bess's light, loose-lying masses of
golden-brown hair would certainly have been admired.

Bess was satisfied with her hair, but her freckles she regarded as a
great and unmerited affliction. 'I've soaked 'em in buttermilk and I've
basted 'em with hog's lard, and once even went so far as to buy some
ointment from the chemist in Mixlow; but nothing does any good, nothing
at all! I s'pose it's my cross and I must bear it,' she said one day to
her aunt, and her aunt, after telling her that if she went through life
with no heavier cross than a few freckles to bear she'd be lucky,
suggested elder-flower ointment and brought out and gave her a little
pot of her own making. But, although the application of the ointment
seemed to make the fair skin still fairer, the tiny, golden-brown flecks
remained, and Bess carried them with her through life.

That snowy Sunday afternoon she had drawn the hood of her ulster over
her head, and her small round face with its sparkling blue-grey eyes was
framed in the brown woollen material. To protect her best hat from the
damp air, she carried it in one of the long, wide cape sleeves of her
ulster. She had a light, springy step and floated over the meadow
buoyantly. Mercy, good, plain, sensible Mercy, trudged stolidly by her
side, her always rosy cheeks stung by the cold air to crimson and her
coconut-coloured hair hanging in wisps over her ears. She had not
attempted to protect her Sunday hat; but had banged it down firmly on
her forehead. Although her hat had been bought on the same day and had
cost exactly the same amount as her sister's, it had already lost its
original shape and much of its freshness and looked, as Bess said of all
Mercy's belongings, Mercyish. But, although no beauty and with no taste
in dress, Mercy had her good points. Her candid grey eyes had the
kindest expression imaginable and her rosy cheeks and sturdy figure had
the wholesome attractiveness of perfect health. Her nature was
unassuming, unselfish and wholly dependable. As Charity's mother said,
you always knew where you were with Mercy.

After an interval of nearly twelve years, Mrs. Truman must have looked
forward with mixed feelings to an addition to her family; but when she
saw the joyous excitement with which her two daughters welcomed the
idea, one at least of her apprehensions was dispersed. Bess, who was a
beautiful needlewoman, set to work at once making small garments, and
Mercy, who had passed the school-leaving age but had been staying on for
another year, insisted upon leaving school forthwith and taking upon
herself the rougher of the housework. From that time on it was Mercy who
scrubbed the stone floors, cleaned the steel knives and forks with
brickdust on the knife-board, swept the kitchen flues, saw to the fires,
and swished down with much water the paved courtyard.

Little Polly, when she arrived, was adored by the whole family. To hear
the mother and daughters discuss her various perfections one might have
concluded that there never had been and would never again be such a
babe. She was what was known there as a Lammas lamb, the last,
late-comer, of a family, and such children were usually loved with a
special tenderness. The parents, many of whom had been strict in their
upbringing of their elder children, would relax their discipline and
become indulgent; sisters, out in service and earning wages, saw that
the little one was better clad and had more sweets and toys than had
come their own way, while those nearer in age to the newcomer combined
to guard it against the hardships of village and school life. In some
cases the Lammas lamb appreciated its advantages and made good use of
its superior opportunities; in other cases the result of all the love
and protecting care was a spoilt child.

The Trumans had no son of their own, but the Cousin Oliver, who had gone
with his regiment to India, had lived with them for some years and been
to them as a son. He was, strictly speaking, but slightly related to the
Trumans and not at all to the Finches, being the orphan son of a second
or third cousin of Reuben's. After this distant relative, Oliver's
mother, had died, his father had married again. Reuben had somehow
discovered that the boy was unwanted and unhappy at home and had had him
at the farm, at first for his school holidays and later permanently.
When he had first come there Oliver had been a poor, thin, frightened
and subdued child, distrustful of kindness, but he had soon, as Reuben
said, opened out, and become what was known in that neighbourhood as 'a
regular young Turk', full of fun and high spirits and as often as not in
mischief. But although mischievous and given to practical jokes, there
was no harm in Oliver, and his charm and high spirits soon made him a
general favourite, not only with his adopted family, but also with the
neighbours. Reuben had hoped that he would stay at the farm and work
under him on the land, but Oliver had an adventurous nature, and in
those days and in that place the only way to gratify this was to enlist
in the Army. Oliver had enlisted, and by the time of Polly's birth he
had been a year on foreign service.

On that snowy christening Sunday, Charity, trudging along between her
two cousins, had been thinking of her mother's promise that when the
baby was undressed for bed that night she should hold it on her lap.
Being an only child, she had never seen a small baby without its outer
wrappings, and the prospect of holding and touching one was exciting.
And how happy she felt that after her day-long fears and in spite of the
snow they were actually on their way to Waterside. She was so much
younger than her companions that a great deal of their talk went on over
her head, but when Luke began telling the story of the ghost which had
recently appeared in the churchyard at midnight, she listened. It was a
negative kind of ghost, a floating figure in white, without shape or
form, name, story, or sex, that Bill Gaskin said he had seen hovering
over the churchyard when he had returned at midnight from a visit to his
sick sister. The more matter-of-fact were inclined to think that all
Bill had seen had been mist, or a gleam of moonlight on a tombstone; but
the superstitious majority were, or affected to be, terribly upset, and
nobody was disposed to go near the churchyard after nightfall.

'I bet you'd be afraid to come this way after dark,' Bess was saying,
and Luke, who was a truthful lad, admitted that he'd rather not. 'But,'
he added, 'I'd come like a shot in the middle of the night if I'd summat
to come for--if one of th' 'osses wer' took bad an' Muster Truman sent
for me, or if one of th' 'ayricks got fired, or anything.' And Bess
laughed and said he could well afford to make rash promises, because he
knew very well that if every horse in the stable got colic at once, her
father would not send for him, but for Mr. Virtue, the vet.; and as to
the hayrick firing, that was not likely to happen; their hay was well
dried before it was stacked. 'So, there, young Luke, that means you
dursent go at all, not even with one of your grand turnip lanterns to
light you! But what are they stopping for?'

The couple in front with the baby had stopped and Mrs. Truman was
calling and beckoning. They could not hear what she was saying at that
distance, but her husband's strong voice took up and repeated her call:
'Bess? Bess! Bes-sy!' and Bess hurried on to where her mother and aunt
were waiting and apparently was given some instructions, for she ran on
at top speed towards home, raising and letting fall her arms in the long
cape sleeves in imitation of a bird flying.

Soon they were all in the big, warm living kitchen, their damp outer
garments removed, and their faces, burnished by a rough towelling,
reflecting the blaze of the fresh log Bess had thrown on the embers. The
blaze shone on the brightly-coloured crockery on the dresser shelves and
the brass candlesticks and red-and-white pottery dogs on the mantelpiece
and lighted up the festive-looking tea-table, which had been left ready
spread with the best china and with dishes of bread and butter and
scones and jam and, to crown all, in the middle, the christening cake
which, the day before, Charity's mother had iced and inscribed in pink
sugar piping: _Mary Alice_.

But there was a surprise to come. When, in the semi-privacy of the
chimney-corner, Mrs. Truman had fed Mary Alice with food more suitable
to her age than iced cake and laid her in her cradle, 'Now, Bess', she
said. 'Look sharp with the forks and spoons.' Then, to the company at
large, 'You'll never guess what I've got for your teas.'

Her sister, with her head on one side, studied the forks and spoons Bess
was placing on the table, then said in the conventionally reproachful
tone called for in such circumstances, 'You've never gone and cooked a
ham?' 'No,' said her sister. 'It's not ham; nothing so common. It's
something you've never heard of for tea before, christening or no
christening. But you wait a minute and you'll see,' and, after girding
herself with a white apron, she went out to the back kitchen and soon
reappeared carrying a pudding of noble proportions. 'Now, pass your
plates,' she said, seating herself at table. 'I'm not going to tell you
what's in it; you must find out,' and she stuck her knife into the rich,
flaky suet crust, releasing a stream of brown gravy, and began to spoon
generous helpings on to the plates.

'You could make a good meal on the smell alone,' said Charity's father,
sniffing the air appreciatively. But what was that within the pudding
which smelt so delicious? It was not beef, for it was cut into joints,
and the joints were not those of a rabbit. Charity's parents looked
puzzled. Luke was licking his lips and staring round-eyed. Then, as Mrs.
Finch began cutting up Charity's portion, she exclaimed, 'Upon my soul,
our Marianna, I do believe it's a fowl! Who ever heard of such
extravagance!' And Marianna said modestly, 'I thought you'd all be as
hungry as hunters this cold day, so I got Reuben to kill a couple of
those cockerels.' By the terms of their agreement with the farmer, who
kept no poultry at Waterside, the Trumans were permitted to keep fifteen
fowls, which, it was understood, would live chiefly, or more likely
wholly, on their own gleanings of corn from beneath the mangers and
about the farmyard, and the cockerels then sacrificed, probably belonged
to a late brood which had brought the number beyond the limit. Which may
have accounted for the extravagance, though not for the brilliantly
original idea of putting them into a pudding.

If her guests had not felt hungry before, the sight and smell of the
cockerel pudding had given them good appetites. In a very short time the
last remnant of suet crust, with the last scraping of gravy and oddments
of pork, were being spooned on to Luke's plate to accompany the last
pickings of his drumstick. Then every vestige of the meat course was
cleared from the table by Bess. 'Take pepper and salt and everything,'
her mother said. 'Then I'll cut the cake. We must have a genteel
tea-table when Mrs. Pocock and Stella come in.'

Mrs. Pocock and Stella were the mother and daughter who occupied part of
the farmhouse. Mr. Pocock had been a former bailiff who had died from
injuries caused by being tossed by a bull, and the farmer, as
compensation, allowed his widow a few shillings a week and rent-free
quarters at Waterside. There was plenty of room for the two families,
and, as they had separate kitchens, they were able to live together
amicably, though without being particularly friendly. ''T'ld never do
for us to be running in and out each other's rooms at all hours of the
day and telling each other everything, living at such close quarters as
we do,' Mrs. Truman had said when discussing the matter with her sister,
and Mrs. Pocock appeared to be of the same opinion, for she seldom came
into the Trumans' living kitchen unless invited, and still more seldom
invited them into her own upstair sitting-room. Which was just as well,
for Mrs. Pocock and Mrs. Truman, in nature and ideas and ways of life,
were as dissimilar as the proverbial chalk and cheese.

That being a formal occasion, Mrs. Pocock and Stella had been asked to
the christening tea; but as they were at present attending the services
at a church in the next village, Mrs. Pocock having recently decided
that those at the church in her own parish were too high, they were late
in returning, and she had said that they were on no account to wait tea
for her. Stella and she would look in for a cup later.

Presently there came a small little rat-tat at the kitchen door and Mrs.
Pocock and Stella entered. Fresh tea was made, which Mrs. Pocock sipped
genteelly, her bonnet strings thrown back over her shoulders and her
white handkerchief spread on her lap to keep any chance crumb from her
Sunday skirt. She was altogether a genteel little woman, being what was
known there as a 'bettermost person'. The bettermost person, who was
always a woman, never a man, was not, as might be supposed, one
belonging to the upper ranks of society. Those at the top of the social
tree were always spoken of as 'gentry' and, after them, came several
grades higher than the bettermost. That term, in that locality, was used
to describe anyone in ever so slight a degree removed from the general
level of poverty, provided that she herself showed by her manner of
living that she was conscious of her own supposed superiority. The
bettermost person did not stand upon her doorstep to gossip; she invited
another of her own kind to tea behind starched white lace curtains. When
she went shopping, she took as her right the front seat beside the
driver in the carrier's cart and turned her back, if not always a deaf
ear, on the gossiping crowd in the back seats. For church or market she
always wore gloves, usually of black kid, and, wet or fine, carried a
neatly rolled umbrella. Mrs. Pocock was such a bettermost person, and
that afternoon, in her black silk blouse, with lace at the neck and a
locket suspended on a thick gold chain at her breast, she had the true
bettermost appearance. Her first act on coming in had been to blow into
each separate finger of her black kid gloves and place them carefully
near the fire to finish drying. She had a pale, worn face, smooth,
greasy-looking black hair, and remarkably small grey eyes, set closely
together. Hers would not to-day be considered an attractive face, nor
was hers an attractive nature; there were many of the poorer neighbours
who said they couldn't abide that Pocock 'ooman, although at the big
houses where she went sewing she was, according to her own account, a
great favourite.

Although she could keep silent--deep as a well some people called
her--she talked a great deal about herself and her own affairs, and that
day, as the guest of honour at a christening tea, she evidently felt it
behoved her to make conversation. They had had a blessed time that
afternoon, she said; Mr. Gosney had excelled himself in his sermon. Pure
Gospel, none of your popery and monkey tricks, such as crossing and
curtsying, and no drifting off into Latin or Greek, like some parsons
nearer home she could mention. Meaning by that not like their own
eccentric, absent-minded old vicar, who had a habit of introducing Latin
quotations when preaching, though, to do him justice, it must be said
that he usually followed these with a translation.

Lady Aline had not been in church herself--who could expect her to be
here in such weather?--but she had sent by her own maid, Miss Perkins,
who had been present, a message to her, Mrs. Pocock, asking if she would
kindly oblige by undertaking the young ladies' mending while the
schoolroom-maid was away nursing her mother. Miss Perkins thought she
had cancer and, if so, the girl might be away weeks, months even, and
how tiresome that would have been for her ladyship if she had not known
to whom to turn in such an emergency. Of course, with all her own
engagements, it was difficult to arrange for three days a week at
Norvale House, but she meant to fit it in somehow. She didn't see why
she should put herself out for folks such as Mrs. Eaton, the doctor's
wife at Radley, who expected her to make her boy a suit out of one of
her own old skirts and actually found fault if it didn't fit to a T.
Such as her would have to wait. But she must spare one day for Mrs.
Mercer at the farm; they were killing a pig on Thursday and were
inclined to forget the little bit of griskin they gave her if she was
not on the spot. Mrs. Mercer had said some time ago that she wanted that
sea-green alpaca of hers made over for Miss Emily, and now was the time
to see about it.

Marianna and Alice listened to all this with patience, if not with much
sympathy, putting in Ah's and Yesses and Noes at appropriate intervals.
Reuben and Luke had gone to the stables to see to the horses, and
Charity's father, after asking to be excused, had retired to the chimney
corner with the newspaper and a candle. Mercy and Bess were washing up
the tea-things in the back kitchen, and Charity, mindful of the maxim,
'Children should be seen but not heard', sat silent on a low chair
beside her mother.

Boring as Mrs. Pocock's monologue might be supposed to be to a child,
Charity had not found it boring, for it had gone in at one ear and out
at the other. All her attention had been concentrated on Stella Pocock,
sitting at the table beside her mother, saying nothing and doing
nothing, but simply being herself. Eyes of speedwell, hair pale golden,
a skin like alabaster, fairylike lightness and grace of form--all were
Stella's. At nine years old she was already the one perfectly beautiful
person Charity was ever to see in her life, and it was sufficient
pleasure to her merely to gaze upon her. When she had come in that day,
fresh from the cold outer air, the ordinary lily pallor of her cheeks
had been tinged with pale pink, and her hair, carefully arranged in
long, fat ringlets by combing round her mother's finger, had been
scattered by the wind and clung in tiny gold tendrils to the rich, dark
fur of the little sealskin cap she was wearing. Her mother had hurriedly
removed the cap and smoothed down the hair, apologizing for what she
called Stella's untidiness, but not before Charity had absorbed an
impression never to be forgotten. Looking back in after life, she
sometimes wondered that, even taking into account a certain coldness of
perfection in Stella's looks, her beauty had not attracted more
attention. The villagers were quite ready to admit that Stella Pocock
was pretty, but they usually qualified the admission by saying that hers
were not the sort of good looks they admired. Too set and
stiff-starched, they said, too much like an angel on a gravestone; give
them a gal with a good colour in her cheeks and a bit of life and fun in
her. The ladies at the great houses where her mother went sewing and
where she often took Stella must have noticed her remarkable beauty, but
Charity never heard that they ever commented upon it; perhaps they
thought that admiration was not good for a girl in Stella's position.
The only compliment upon record was that of the Vicar, who, after
scrutinizing her closely one day, as if newly aware of her existence,
was heard to mutter, 'Fair as a lily! Fair as a lily!'

Though her mother was a widow and poor, Stella was always prettily
dressed. From the houses where she worked Mrs. Pocock returned laden.
The lady of the house gave her left-off clothing for herself and for
Stella; the cook filled her basket with left-over food, the gardener
with fruit or choice vegetables, and even the gamekeeper made an
occasional contribution of a brace of rabbits. The three upstair rooms
they occupied were filled to overflowing with furniture others had
discarded, and padded with carpets, cushions and curtains that had seen
better days, but were still presentable. Even Stella's name had been
given her by one of her mother's ladies, when graciously consenting to
be her godmother. 'And may I have the honour of naming her after you,
m'lady?' Mrs. Pocock had said; and the lady had replied, 'Certainly you
may if you wish.'

The reason for Mrs. Pocock's popularity with such people no one knew,
though there was plenty of speculation about it, some saying bluntly
that she was 'a reg'lar old creeper', meaning by that she had a
flattering tongue and was ready to make a doormat of herself when she
saw it would be to her own advantage.

That Sunday evening Stella said little. She was at no time a talkative
child and was always less communicative than usual when her mother was
present. When Charity asked her if she had been permitted to hold the
new baby, she said 'No', and added that she did not think she would like
to as it might mess her frock. And when Charity, suddenly conscious of
her own bad manners in staring so long and fixedly at Stella, suggested
that they should go out to the other girls in the back kitchen, she
again replied, 'No, I don't think I had better, not in my new frock.'
That gave Charity the opportunity to say how pretty the frock was and
how well it suited Stella. Which it did, being a perfectly plain,
straight garment made of a deep sapphire velvet, which had been one of a
pair of window-curtains given to Mrs. Pocock by one of her ladies, who
had found that, when hung, the colour of the curtains did not harmonize
with the rest of her room. Rich as the lady was, had she seen Stella in
the frock she might have regretted that she had not thought of using the
material to make a frock for her own daughter. But perhaps she had
thought of it and decided that sapphire was not the colour to bring into
close juxtaposition with the big dark eyes and sallow complexion of
little Lady Anne, who at that time showed small sign of her future
beauty.

After Mrs. Pocock and Stella had retired to their own part of the house,
the christening party drew into a circle round the fire and the men
drank beer, heated by thrusting down into the hot coals the point of the
long, conical vessel there known as a hooter, while the women and girls
sipped elderberry wine and ate hot roasted chestnuts. Luke held the
shovel containing the chestnuts over the fire and when they were roasted
handed them round in strict rotation, though the largest and best-cooked
nuts seemed always to fall to Bess's share, and these, before passing
them to her, he shelled. His face was almost as red as the live coals
and sweat glistened upon his brow, but his broad smile betokened pure
happiness.

The baby had been washed and dressed for the night and her mother and
aunt took turns at holding her in their arms and rocking and singing to
her. She ought, long before, to have been carried upstairs in her
cradle, but, as her mother said, it was her day, the day of her
christening, and why should she be put to bed in the dark while the rest
of the family was celebrating. Once or twice Luke put out his big hand
and touched the tiny fingers of his godchild. Since the demand for
roasted chestnuts had slacked he had become thoughtful. He opened his
mouth as though about to speak, then closed it again and fidgeted with
some coins in his pocket. His silence and unease became so marked that
Charity's father exclaimed, 'Why, Luke, what ails you, man? You've been
fidgeting this last ten minutes like a cat on hot bricks. If you've got
anything to say, out with it!' and, thus brought to the point, Luke
dipped into the pocket with which he had been concerned and brought out
a sixpence which he deposited upon the little round chimney-corner table
beside Mrs. Truman.

'A sixpence! A bright and shining new sixpence!' she said, raising her
eyebrows, 'But why? And what for?'

'For her,' stammered Luke nervously, indicating the baby. 'To--to wet
her hair and to bring her good luck.' His elders gazed at him in silence
for a moment. They were in a delicate position. Luke's offering was a
considerable amount out of his small spending-money and it could not be
refused without hurting his feelings. Yet, on the other hand, they all,
except Reuben, prided themselves upon belonging to a new and
unsuperstitious generation which abominated such old heathenish
practices as wetting the head of a newly-born child with spirits.
Charity's mother especially objected to the custom still observed in the
village of wetting a child's head with gin immediately after its
christening; before, as she said, the blessed water was dry on its
forehead.

They stared in silence at Luke, and he, never dreaming that any
objection could exist to a custom observed by his parents and
grandparents, and relieved that he had fulfilled his last duty as a
godfather, without, as he had said, making a fool of himself, beamed
back upon them. Then Mrs. Truman took up the sixpence--she said
afterwards that it was nearly red hot from his constant handling--and
said warmly: 'That's real good of you, Luke, and 'twill bring little
Polly good luck, I feel certain. But, myself, I haven't much faith in
the gin, and she does so badly need a pair of little woolly bootikins to
keep her little tootsies warm, so, if you're sure you don't mind, I'll
get her a pair with your sixpence next time I go shopping and you shall
come in and put them on for her the first time of wearing. What colour
would you like me to get, pink or pale blue?' Luke turned to Bess for
advice as to colour and the episode ended happily.

Soon afterwards the christening party broke up, and Mr. and Mrs. Finch
and Luke set out for their homes and bed, Mr. Finch teasingly telling
Luke that he must take Mrs. Finch's hand when they came to the
churchyard, or the ghost would get him.

Charity, tucked up in Bess's bed in the room overlooking the farmyard,
said as Bess sprang up from saying her prayers, 'I think I can hear the
brook.' Bess stood for a moment in her long white nightgown, listening.
'Yes, that's the brook,' she said. 'You can hear it in this room at
night when everything's quiet, but I'm so used to the sound I never
notice.' And she jumped into bed and caught Charity in her arms and the
two snuggled down in the deep feather bed.

Outside, far away in the snowy fields, a dog-fox barked sharply; an owl
drifted across the window of their room, _Too-hoo-oo!_-ing; one of the
horses in the stable shifted its hooves uneasily; then all was still but
the stream, which stole, babbling and gurgling, all night past the
silent house with its sleeping inmates.



_Four_

POMPADOUR APRONS

Their mother's death after only a few days' illness was a great blow to
Bess and Mercy, and they thought and said that life could never be the
same again. But they were young. Bess had her new responsibilities to
cope with, Mercy her honest hard labour, while the care and management
of their little sister occupied the time and thoughts of both; and, as
time went on, their first painful grief became softened to a wistful
regret, tempered by everyday cheerfulness.

Under her aunt's guidance, Bess became a fairly good housekeeper. She
was inclined to do things by fits and starts, not keeping to a
particular day for particular work. At times the whole place would be in
such a ferment of activity that her father, standing in the living
kitchen doorway, would call out, 'Haven't you got so much as a spot
where a man can set down the sole of his foot when he comes in to
dinner?' But he said it with an amused smile in his eyes, for he was
mindful that Bess was still little more than a child. Although somewhat
lax in the routine of housekeeping, there were other ways in which Bess
excelled, especially in the eyes of the younger children. She became
quite an expert at cake and pastry making, and sometimes, when in what
the other girls called her good moods, she would make treacle toffee in
the brass skillet over the open fire, the kind of toffee known as
stick-jaw, which could be pulled out in long threads and ribbons; or she
would give Charity papers of sugar and currants and rice to play shops
with Polly, or make sweet, brightly-coloured drinks with fruit juice,
which they all sipped out of what had been her mother's best wine
glasses.

Her rule over her younger sisters was also spasmodic. At some times she
treated Mercy as an equal partner and consulted her in difficulties; at
others she ordered her around as though she had been a servant. People
in the village began to say that Bess Truman put upon that sister of
hers; but Mercy did not feel herself put upon. Beneath her somewhat
stolid exterior she had an immense store of energy, and hard manual work
was a pleasure to her. 'I know I'm not good-looking or clever, like our
Bess,' she told her aunt, 'but there are some things I can do a lot
better than she can, and I like to see a job that's got to be done well
done; it gives me a sort of satisfaction,' and her satisfaction was
shared by all who saw her cherry-red brick floors, her well-scoured deal
tables and shining dish-covers. Mercy was one of those who love doing
better than thinking or talking. She would listen to the conversation of
others, seldom putting in a word herself, but nodding or smiling at
appropriate intervals to show that she missed nothing. When her opinion
or advice were directly asked for, it was found that neither good sense
nor good judgement were lacking, and as to good nature, that was never
in question, for all knew that she would, as the saying went, have given
her own head away if she could have unscrewed it from her shoulders.

With Polly, Bess would one day be indulgent, letting her do as she liked
and giving her whatever she asked for, allowing her to run upstairs with
muddy shoes or to play with the parlour ornaments, and laughingly
excusing her little misdeeds. The next day she would say that the child
was getting unbearably spoilt and scold her severely for the very
transgressions which, the day before, she had found amusing. Bess had
always been inclined to spoil Polly. When, as a baby, she had not been
allowed to have her own way and had fallen into one of her tantrums, in
which she would stiffen her spine and scream herself red in the face,
and her mother had put her to bed in a darkened room as both cure and
punishment, Bess would steal into the room and kiss and cuddle her. With
less opposition, Polly had become better-tempered, but only on condition
that she had her own way in everything, and, though she no longer kicked
and screamed, she was still often tiresome. But Bess adored Polly, and
it was her delight to see the child grow, to teach her her prayers and
pretty manners, and, above all, to dress her prettily.

Bess was a good needlewoman and spent much of her time making or
altering her own and Polly's clothes. The sewing machine stood almost
permanently uncovered on the kitchen side-table, and partly made
garments and scraps of material from cutting out often littered the sofa
and chairs. 'You and your fal-lals!' her father would say, clearing a
chair for himself before drawing it up to the table; but he never came
nearer than that to reproaching her for what some fathers might have
thought waste of time or extravagance. Indeed, he loved to see Bess
wearing the pretty clothes she made for herself at surprisingly small
cost. Although his whole being was rooted in the past, and though he
practised all he thought good of the old customs, Reuben was in some
other respects in advance of his age. 'Every tub must stand on its own
bottom', was one of his homely ways of expressing the individual
independence desirable in children. He maintained that, no matter how
loving and wise parents might be, they could only guide their children
up to a certain point. After that point was reached, the child must be
held responsible for its own opinions and welfare. He was a good friend
to Charity when the time came for her to choose her own profession. 'You
can't live her life for her. It's her life and she's got to live it; you
can only help by giving her a start in the way she's inclined,' he told
her parents.

Reuben was just in his money dealings with his daughters. A few weeks
after he had lost his wife he began giving the two elder girls a small
sum weekly, for which he refused to take credit, saying that it was well
earned and only their right. These allowances were, of course, very
small, but in those days of now almost unbelievably cheap dress
materials--cotton prints for instance, at a few pence a yard--a clever
home dressmaker, such as Bess, could dress nicely on very little. Her
father's generosity did not end at the weekly allowance. It had been his
custom throughout his married life to divide his bonuses, extra to his
standing wages, between his wife and himself, and he now gave Bess and
Mercy quarter shares. But though in such matters he took care to treat
his elder daughters exactly alike, and tenderly as he loved his
motherless babe and appreciated Mercy's good qualities, there was no
concealing the fact that Bess was his favourite daughter. He had great
faith in her judgement and soon fell into the habit of consulting her on
his business affairs, as he had done her mother. Bess was the only
person on earth who did not take Reuben too seriously. If she did not
agree with something he said, she would say so and give her reason for
disagreeing. She would laugh at and tease him about some of his
old-fashioned country ideas. In their blooming season, he liked a few
marigold heads in his mutton broth, and tansy flowers in his rice
pudding, and he liked his cabbage or greens boiled with the bacon, not
in a separate saucepan, and Bess, who was beginning to pride herself
upon her up-to-date ideas in cookery, as in other things, would tell him
that taste had changed and people no longer cared for such strongly
flavoured dishes. But, for all that, she always took care that, when
available, a few marigold heads should float on her father's basin of
broth and that at least once in the season there should be a tansy
pudding made from the old country recipe.

At that time Charity had affairs of her own to occupy her mind. She was
learning to read and to write, and the names of dozens of the less
common field and garden flowers, and to lay the table for meals and to
wash and dry the tea-cups without breaking them, and to iron her doll's
clothes with the small-sized iron her father had bought for her from the
scrap-iron merchant, and to sweep the floor with her little broom, going
carefully into the corners. She never quite grasped the reason why the
corners were so much more important than the middle of the floor;
surely, she thought, it should be swept well all over, but her mother
seemed to think that the corners were most important. Bess said Aunt
Alice was an old fidge.

Stella Pocock, as she grew older, spent most of her time out of school
hours with the Truman girls; otherwise, with her mother so often from
home, her life would have been a lonely one. Though she was approaching
what was known as the awkward age, there was nothing awkward about
Stella; perfect beauty, perfect grace, were still hers. She was not as
silent as she had been, at times she would become quite animated,
talking and laughing with the other girls about things which interested
or amused them. Bess and she had always plenty to talk about, for both
were interested in dress and the fashions, and of Polly she appeared to
be really fond. When the talk turned to more serious subjects, Stella
had less to say, unless it was something irrelevant, and Charity was
beginning to wonder that one so lovely should have none but commonplace
ideas. Still, it gave her a shock when Miss Fowkes, their
schoolmistress, said one day that Stella Pocock was a stupid girl, 'as
these great beauties so often are,' she added, a remark which some
hearers might have attributed to the inborn jealousy the plain woman is
supposed to feel for the well-favoured. Poor Miss Fowkes herself
certainly could boast no beauty of feature or colouring, though by that
time her face had become so dear to Charity that, for her, it had its
own peculiar beauty. Stella did not share Charity's feeling for their
schoolmistress; she positively disliked her, and the rude remarks she
made about her and the ugly names she called her behind her back made
Charity feel that, for all her loveliness, she did not like Stella as
much as she had once done. Other small, disquieting things, many of them
mere trifles, occurred to widen the cleavage.

Occasionally Bess would join in Stella and Charity's games with Polly.
Charity especially remembered one summer afternoon when they were
playing in the orchard and Bess, who must have been in one of her best
moods, brought out their tea and her own on a tray and sat down with
them to partake of it in the shade of the apple trees. Stella was
wearing a white embroidered dress which had once belonged to Lady Anne,
and a cushion had to be fetched from the house for her to sit upon to
guard the frock from grass-stains. The others sank down into the tall
grass with the earth for a seat and ragged robin, sorrel, and moon
daisies as a curtain. The day had been hot, the cool air beneath the
apple boughs was refreshing, and the taste of food eaten out of doors
was a delightful novelty in those days before picnics became popular.

After tea, they played hunt-the-thimble, the 'thimble' being on that
occasion a battered old pewter pot from the harness-room window-sill.
Bess entered into the game with zest. She was wearing a washed-out lilac
print dress which hung limply upon her and was made so long that she had
to hold up the front of the skirt when she ran. She was then eighteen
and had reached her full height, though light and springy as ever of
figure and gait. After she had given her father his tea, Mercy came out
and joined in the game. In looks she had altered little, being still
short and stocky, with apple-red cheeks. Over her dark afternoon dress
she wore an oatmeal cloth apron, upon the bib and pockets of which Bess
had embroidered poppies and wheat ears in the then fashionable crewel
stitches.

From the beginning of the game Stella had distinguished herself, as she
often did at hiding and finding games, by always being the first to spot
the hidden article. Even when Bess stood the pot in the fork of an apple
tree, unconcealed, but above the range of vision of the seekers, it was
Stella who called out, 'I spy!' 'Oh, Stella, how lucky you are!' cried
Charity, and Stella said modestly, 'It's only because I've got an eye
for finding things.' It was then Charity's turn to hide the pot and she
was thrusting it down into a thicket of raspberry canes when, for no
particular reason, she glanced back over her shoulder. Bess had turned
her face to a tree trunk and only the long sweep of her lilac dress and
the back of her head with its bunch of escaping curls at the nape of her
neck were visible. Mercy had both hands in front of her face, and
Polly's eyes were screwed up as tightly as sleeping daisies. But it was
not on account of any of these that the scene imprinted itself upon
Charity's memory; that was due to her instantaneous impression of Stella
hastily lifting her hands to cover her eyes. She had been looking.

Charity told no one of what she had seen, for, according to the country
code, telling tales of each other was almost as bad as cheating at
games, but the knowledge that Stella was not quite straight widened the
breach between the two girls.

To a differently brought up child than Charity, Stella's defection might
have seemed trifling, but to her her discovery came as a shock; the game
in the orchard lost all charm and she felt quite relieved when, soon
afterwards, someone whispered, 'Here comes Mr. Virtue.' At the mention
of that name, Bess suddenly remembered that she had something to do in
the house and departed. Mercy went with her and the younger girls
followed, for although they as yet had heard nothing to prejudice them
against Mr. Virtue, they were not very fond of him, and also had tired
of their play.

No picture of Restharrow or of Waterside at that time would be complete
without mention of Mr. Virtue. In those days of heavily stocked farms
and when horses did the work now largely done by tractors, the
veterinary surgeon was an important man in all country districts, and
Mr. Virtue, the Mixlow vet., had other qualities besides his profession
to make him conspicuous. Tall, lean and weatherbeaten, straddling in his
walk, bold of feature and bolder of eye, wearing the distinctive garb of
his calling--loud, check-patterned suits, well-polished leggings, a
four-in-hand tie with a horse's head tiepin, and a cloth cap set at a
rakish angle--for forty years he was a well-known figure about that
countryside.

Mr. Virtue's Christian name was Emmanuel, a name which, when she first
heard it applied to him, Charity thought blasphemous; but none of the
villagers ever spoke of him by his Christian name; he was 'Mus' Virtue',
or 'sir' when present; 'Dog Virtue' or 'Old Dog' only when they spoke of
him among themselves. The men liked him well enough. Not so the women,
for he had a way of looking at anything in petticoats in such a manner
that some of the women and girls declared it made them blush to the
backbone.

Though said to be hard as nails in his dealings with human beings, he
was marvellously gentle with sick animals, and, although horses and cows
were his speciality, he would just as readily examine and prescribe for
the cottagers' pigs, cats, and dogs--for any animal, indeed, which was
suffering. There was a tortoise at the Manor House, said to be over a
hundred years old and nearly blind, and on this he worked a marvellous
cure simply by washing its eyes with a lotion he had brought with him
for the purpose. And the strange thing about this, as people thought,
was that he would make no charge. He said that he would as soon have
thought of taking a fee from Methuselah. He asked no fee of the
cottagers for advice when their pigs or pets were ailing; but he did
make a small charge for medicine, because, he once told Reuben, that was
the only way to insure that the creatures got their regular doses.
Something for nothing, he said, was not valued.

As a man, Mr. Virtue was not so much esteemed as he was as a vet. He was
reputed to be what was then known as 'a loose liver'. A girl living in
the poorer quarter of Mixlow was said to have her rent paid by Mr.
Virtue, who was also credited with being the father of her three
children. There were other tales, too. People said they couldn't think
how his poor wife stood his goings on; perhaps she had never heard of
them; the person most concerned is usually the last to hear of such
things, and many seemed anxious for her enlightenment.

It happened that about the time when Charity was old enough to hear of
such things, a Restharrow girl was in service with the Virtues. A
dangerous position, her mother's neighbour maintained, though Sally had
never complained of her master's attentions. She had been with the
Virtues some years and had become devoted to them when her mistress's
illness began, and there was a note of triumph in her tone when she told
of her master's patience and kindness. 'Night and day,' she said, 'night
and day, anything he can do for her he will do. "How do you feel,
darling? What sort of a day have you had? Let me put another cushion
under your head," or "Do, just to please me, take a spoonful of this
soup," or "a sip of this claret". And when she wanted him to go and
sleep in the spare room, so as not to be disturbed by her groaning, he
wouldn't. "No," he says. "You might want something in the night, and I
know you wouldn't ring your bell. Besides, after twenty-five years
together, I'm not going to leave you alone to suffer. I'll keep to my
shakedown in the corner"--that's what he calls his camp-bed in her
room--"and then, even if you don't want anything, you'll know I'm there
and ready and waiting to get you anything"; and, if you ask me, I don't
believe he's had his clothes off these five nights.' Such was Sally's
testimony, and although it made little impression upon those who wished
to believe Mr. Virtue the villain of the neighbourhood, it was probably
truthful. There may have been some truth in the other stories, too;
human nature is a strange mixture.

At thirteen and a half Charity was appointed monitress at school, with a
salary of two pounds ten a year and, as her badge of office, a short,
light cane, known as a pointer, officially intended for pointing out the
letters of the alphabet on the big wall card to her class of infants,
but equally useful for banging the desk to give emphasis to her
instructions. To help her support the dignity of her new position, her
hair, which had hitherto hung loose upon her shoulders, was plaited into
a long, thick pigtail. Her skirts were brought down from her knees to
her ankles and, over them, instead of a white pinafore, she wore a small
black, or coloured, apron. Instead of as 'Charity' or 'Cherry', as
formerly, the children of her class were told to address her as
'Teacher', and this trifling rise in status gave her great satisfaction,
for she felt she had taken the first step towards realizing her
long-cherished ambition of becoming the mistress of a village school,
like her own Miss Fowkes, whom she greatly admired.

Her parents had had other plans for her than teaching; but when they
found that her heart was set upon it, they consented to her plan, though
not before Miss Fowkes had been to the house and employed her superior
powers of persuasion. The shilling a week, her mother conceded, would
certainly keep her in shoeleather, and the extra education she would
obtain would do her no harm, but where the money was to come from to
send her by-and-by to training college, she did not know; she could make
no promises. It was not an encouraging consent, but it served to launch
Charity on the career she had chosen.

During the midday break, after bolting her own dinner at home, she
returned to the school playground for games with her infants, and after
school in the evening she had her own lessons to prepare for Miss
Fowkes, so her days were well filled. Not so full, however, that she saw
less of her cousins. Saturday afternoons she always spent at Waterside,
on Sundays there were the family tea-drinkings, and on light evenings
and even on dark ones, the moment her lessons were done, she would dash
off up the street and over the meadow to see Mercy and Bess. By that
time they were both grown up. They wore their skirts down to the ground
and their hair wound round and round in little plaits at the back of
their heads, like a flat cap that had slipped back or an inverted
saucer. But, though both had an abundance of hair and they wore it
arranged in the same style, the effect was dissimilar, for Bess's
goldy-brown locks still rebelled against close confinement and escaped
in masses of soft, light curls at the nape of her neck and her temples;
while Mercy's hair was tightly strained back and as smooth as wetting
and brushing could make it. But, for all her strained-back hair, which
left a good deal of her forehead exposed and gave her grey eyes a
watchful look, Mercy at twenty was not uncomely. She had her admirers.
One afternoon, when the two sisters had been shopping at Mixlow, and on
their way home had passed the school gate as Charity came out of the
door, Charity saw the old road-mender leaning on his scraping tool and
gazing after the two girls. 'That second gal o' Reuben's is a-going to
make a fine figure of an 'ooman,' he was saying to a passing neighbour.
'Fe-ace as red as any rose in th' garden, and look 'ee, now she's
raisin' her skirts! There's a fine leg for 'ee! makes the shanks of
t'other gal look like a robin redbreast's against a gatepost! 'T other's
a poor, puny scrag of a critter to my way o' thinkin'. Give me a gal as
has got a bit o' colour in her cheeks and a leg she needn't be ashamed
of anybody seein', an' she's the gal for my money!' And although the
neighbour said somewhat sourly that he ought to be thinking of his own
latter end and not of gal's legs at his age, and that they, for their
part, mud or no mud, had no business to hold up their skirts to their
knees, he only showed his toothless gums in a broad smile and continued
to gaze after the two retreating figures--Bess, light and buoyant,
picking her way daintily between the puddles, and Mercy, with the heavy
marketing basket in one hand and a bulging umbrella in the other,
trudging along stolidly.

Polly was no longer the fat, dimpled, roly-poly child she had been. She
had grown into a tall, thin little girl with her hair in two plaits, who
went to school and to choir practice and had her own ideas and
interests. 'A reg'lar little madam,' some said, when speaking about her,
meaning by that one who was over-fastidious about her clothes and her
personal cleanliness and had, altogether, a too good opinion of herself.
Polly was an intelligent child and did well at her lessons; but outside
school, in the playground, she was not at all popular. She was too fond
of telling the other children what they ought to do and exactly how it
should be done. If the other children of her own age were making what
they called a house by laying stones on the ground to represent rooms
and Polly came up, she would at once take charge of the proceedings and
decide which room was to be the kitchen, which the parlour, and where
the fireplaces were to be put, and, after the house was completed, who
was to be father, mother, and baby. Although her ideas were often an
improvement on the original plan, she was not liked any the better for
that, for young builders are no more willing than older ones to change
their own plans for those of another, however superior. But Polly had
her good points. She was practical and quick-witted. If a child fell
down in the playground and barked its shin, it was Polly who produced a
clean, or nearly clean, handkerchief and bound up the injured member.
When Miss Fowkes was at her wits' end for a new flower to work on the
samplers, it was Polly who remembered that her father had a pair of
carpet slippers at home with a pattern of pansies, and Polly who copied
the pansies on her own sampler first, then showed the rest of the class
how it was done.

To save her the walk home in all weathers, Polly brought her dinner to
school with her and ate it at Charity's home. Her readiness to join in
the grown-up conversation and to give her opinion on all manner of
subjects often irritated Mrs. Finch. But she was a just woman, and she
often remarked that it was a marvel how much Polly knew, and how clever
she was in thinking of things.

One day after he had submitted to what almost amounted to a lecture from
Polly, Charity's father remarked, 'Our Lammas lamb seems to be turning
out more of a sheep dog.' He smiled at Charity as he spoke and Charity
smiled back at him. They often exchanged such private glances, for Mrs.
Finch had a differently constituted mind to theirs. On that occasion she
remarked, 'I do hope our Polly's not going to grow up one of these
strong-minded women you hear so much about nowadays.'

'Her mind'll be a regular giant for strength if it goes on growing,'
said her husband. 'But, as you're always telling us we are all as we
were made, and it takes all sorts to make a world. To my way of
thinking, a few strong minds among womankind are just what's needed to
stiffen up the bulk a bit. Charity's mind's all right, and yours is all
right in a different way, but the minds of most women I meet are like
thin porridge, some sweetened and some unsweetened, but all weak and
watery,' and, without waiting for further discussion, he went back to
his work.

'Did you ever hear the like?' said her mother to Charity. 'But, there!
men do say queer things.'

The one thing about Polly that no one ever criticized was her singing.
Her voice was quite out of the ordinary. Even before she was able to
speak plainly she had caught up and could repeat in her baby way any
tune once sung in her hearing. It had never been any trouble to Bess to
get Polly ready for church, for the church services were her treat of
the week on account of the hymn-singing. At eight years old she led the
church choir of schoolgirls and at ten she sang 'Caller Herrin'' at one
of the village concerts. The few strangers who came to the Restharrow
Church services remarked on her voice, and one gentleman, said to
understand music, actually saw her father about it and said that it
ought to be properly trained. That, of course, was out of the question,
but his interest pleased Reuben, and also, it must be said, increased
Polly's already high opinion of her own powers. Kind Miss Fowkes, who,
in addition to her duties as schoolmistress, played the harmonium in
church and trained the choir, gave Polly what singing hints she could,
and, for several years, on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, Polly sang
an anthem: a great event in the village life, especially as while one
half of the congregation enjoyed it, the other half objected and said it
was popish.

Those were the days of the pompadour style of dress, a style which no
doubt had originally been inspired by pictures of the Marquise de
Pompadour and other ladies of the Court of Louis XVI, though probably
not one in a thousand of the wearers and admirers of the style had ever
heard the name of the king or his Pompadour. To the feminine inhabitants
of Restharrow, pompadour was the name of the fashionable flowered print
which could be bought from any draper for sixpence or eightpence a yard.
To begin with, in more fashionable circles the name had been associated
with the polonaise of brocade or flowered silk, made with wide panniers
and a bunched-up back and worn over a skirt of some harmonizing plain
material. For those who followed fashion at a distance, cotton prints
took the place of the richer materials, and soon everybody who was
anybody, as they said, was sporting a pompadour polonaise. Eventually
the name was transferred to all printed cotton goods with bright
patterns, and there were pompadour bedspreads, pompadour chair covers,
pompadour frocks, and even pompadour aprons.

At Restharrow the pompadour apron had a tremendous vogue, for there were
few who cared for fashion who could not afford to spend a shilling or so
to be in the swim. Another advantage was that anyone who could use a
needle could run up their own pompadour apron in an evening; it being
but a three-cornered piece of print with the upper corner made to pin at
the breast as a bib, and the sides caught together by means of wide
strings, tied in a bow at the back of the waist. Sometimes the strings
were arranged to tie a few inches below the natural waist line, with the
dress skirt bunched up a little above the bow, and this style was
considered exceptionally smart and graceful.

Stella and Bess had made for themselves pompadour polonaises which they
wore to church on Sundays, but neither they, nor the other girls,
including Charity, had a pompadour apron, and it caused quite a flutter
of excitement among them when Charity's mother came home from shopping
in Banbury with the material to make them one each. The print was not in
one piece or of one pattern. Mrs. Finch was too good a shopper for that.
She had chosen short lengths of the patterns and colours she liked and
she said that when she had made the aprons the girls were to choose,
except Polly, whose apron had to be made smaller.

A few days later, when Charity came in from afternoon school, her mother
had finished making the aprons and had laid them in a row on the parlour
sofa for her to choose her own and for her elder cousins to choose
theirs the next time they came in. But this plan did not suit Charity,
who was bent upon giving immediate pleasure and at the same time wanted
to give her own pompadour its first public airing, so, without staying
for tea, or even to look at her geography questions, after choosing for
herself an apron with tiny pink rosebuds sprinkled on a pale green
ground, she wrapped the others in paper and set out for the farm.

She found her cousins in holiday mood. Their father had gone for the day
with the farmer to a distant cattle market and would not be home before
evening, and, fond of him as his daughters were, they enjoyed an
occasional day free from his sobering presence. Bess had baked a plate
of hot cakes for tea and placed a dish of stewed cherries on the table,
and these, together with the pompadour aprons, which had quickly been
chosen and donned, gave quite a festive air to the tea-drinking. Bess
looked particularly well in her new apron, with the bow at the back so
arranged that its wide loops fell gracefully over the back fullness of
her grey alpaca afternoon dress. 'Bess is to choose first, because she's
the eldest,' Charity's mother had said. 'But you mark my words, this is
Bess's apron,' and she had held up one with a pretty all-over design in
soft pinks and mauves. Bess had taken up that apron as soon as the
parcel was opened and held it up to her face before the big
Alice-in-Wonderland mirror over the parlour mantelshelf, and Charity
then had realized for the first time that Bess's eyes were not grey or
blue, but a greyish violet. Bess herself must have been satisfied with
what she saw in the mirror, for she tied the apron around her with no
more than a casual glance at the one remaining. That left Mercy no
choice, but she was very well pleased with the poppy and cornflower
pattern.

Stella Pocock was with them. She had for the past nine months been
apprenticed to a dressmaker at Mixlow, walking the three miles to and
from her work daily, but that day she had stayed at home with what was
then called a summer cold. Summer and winter, Stella was subject to
colds, and the long walk to Mixlow in all weathers could not have been
good for her. She had, as they said, shot up suddenly, and was then a
tall, thin girl of eighteen. As she had grown up her features had
sharpened slightly and her complexion, always pale, had become almost
transparent; but, although more fragile-looking than formerly, she was
still the same lovely, graceful creature Charity had adored when a
child.

Of course, there was no pompadour apron for Stella, and as she did not
happen to possess one she looked upon those of the others disparagingly.
They were getting common, she said; the last time she and her mother
were at Banbury they had seen a gipsy selling clothes-pegs in an apron
very like Bess's. Bess laughed; she had heard of that gipsy before; then
she had been wearing a hat the very image of the one Miss Fowkes had
brought back from her holiday at Oxford. But allowances had to be made
for Stella. She was not strong; her nerves were unstrung, her mother
said so, and, of course, it must have been vexing for her to be wearing
a red flannel bandage round her throat and having continually to mop her
eyes with her handkerchief while the other girls were trying on their
new aprons.

At tea she cheered up and told them about a servants' ball she had been
to at one of the big houses where her mother worked. She had danced
every dance and completely worn out the soles of a nearly new pair of
white satin slippers which had been given to her for the occasion. Her
frock had been given her, too, for the lady of the house was her
godmother and she had rummaged the young ladies' wardrobe and found a
really lovely white silk and given it to Mrs. Pocock for Stella, saying,
'It's quite a nice frock, though it has never suited Lady Margot. Her
complexion won't bear a pure white. Stella will look well in it, she
will certainly be the belle of the ball,' and the ball had been lovely;
they should have heard the music, the schoolroom piano and two violins.
. . .

'I wish I could dance,' sighed Charity, and Bess sprang up from her seat
behind the teapot, saying, 'Well, why shouldn't you? We'll soon teach
her, won't we, Stella? Let's go into the empty front parlour and give
her her first lesson while Mercy's washing up. You come, too, Polly.
You'll soon pick up the steps, being so tuney,' and they all ran down
the long passage to one of the unused rooms at the front of the house.
Although the only piece of furniture there was the heavy oak settle left
behind by the farmer, the room was a pleasant one, with its bare
floor-boards, wide-open windows, and white muslin curtains billowing
inward in the breeze.

It was great fun, learning the steps. Polly, light-footed and sharp as a
needle in grasping the rhythm, was guided by Bess. Charity, with
Stella's arm round her waist, less quick and graceful, but doing her
conscientious best. As they had no musical instrument of any kind,
Stella and Bess took turns at chanting: _One, two, three, hop! One, two,
three, hop! One, hop! Two hop! One, two, three, hop!_, breaking off
occasionally to laugh at the mistakes of the beginners, or to fan their
own faces and exclaim on the heat. Then Bess and Stella footed it
together to show the others how it should be done. Bess was a good
natural dancer, but she had not had the advantages of Stella, who had
actually been to a real ball in a real ballroom. Bess's dancing had been
done on the greensward on such rustic occasions as the Feast and the
Flower Show. However, Stella was generous enough to praise her dancing
and to offer to teach her one of the new waltzes. Then Mercy came in,
caught Polly round the shoulders and clumped around the room with her,
and Charity retired to a seat on the settle and became what Stella
called a wallflower.

'What we want is some gentlemen partners,' panted Bess, stopping to fan
her hot face and to tuck back the little curls from her forehead. 'Call
in Luke,' suggested Polly mischievously. 'I'll bet he's not far away.'
And, sure enough, the next moment, Luke's full moon face appeared
between the window curtains. It had popped up from nowhere, like the
head of a Jack-in-the-box, and was greeted by bursts of laughter. 'Am I
wanted?' he asked, gazing into the faces of one after another of the
girls, who were too overcome by mirth to answer. 'I thought I heard
somebody call me,' he continued rather aggrievedly, 'and I thought as
how you wanted me to dance.'

'Well, can you dance?' asked Bess tauntingly, and he said he expected he
could if he tried. 'So could an elephant,' laughed Bess, 'but its
partner'd be likely to get her feet squashed.'

'Let him come in for a bit,' urged Mercy, but Bess shook her heard and
said, no, she'd never dream of asking any man into the house while her
father was away, no matter if it was the Prince of Wales himself.

While they were whispering together, Luke had thrust his head and
shoulders inside the window and was watching their faces with an
imploring expression on his own which might have softened Bess's heart
towards him if Polly had not called pertly, 'You go back to your work,
Luke. You know very well you've no business to go pushing yourself in
where you're not wanted.' At that Luke's face flamed with mortification.
'All right, Miss Meddlesome,' he retorted. 'If you'd like to know, I
have finished me work, and was just gooin' home to me supper when I
heard me own name spoken. A pretty fine godchild you are! I'll see that
you don't have that turnip lantern I've bin makin' for you. I'll go back
and give it to th' pigs; they've got better manners than you, any day,'
and off he went.

'What a country bumpkin! I can't think how you put up with him,' said
Stella to Bess. 'Oh, he's rough and ready, of course,' said Bess, 'but
he's not a bad sort, really.' With which opinion Polly did not at all
agree. 'I think he's awful,' she said. 'How could Dad and Mother let him
stand godfather to me? I never own him. If anybody asks me who my
godfather is, I say Mr. Nobody,' and she looked ready to cry.

After they had rested they went at it again, _La, la, tumpity ta!_ until
the floor shook and the window-panes rattled. Mercy slipped out to begin
cooking her father's supper. She was followed by Polly, whose evening it
was for choir practice. Bess and Stella went on dancing. It seemed that
they never would tire. Stella's cold had disappeared suddenly, as her
colds were apt to do, and she had snatched the flannel bandage off her
throat and flung it into the fireplace. She was in her element, teaching
Bess, who, though far from an awkward learner, needed much instruction,
and the exercise had brought a little colour into her cheeks. Bess also
was flushed, and so absorbed in her effort to master the waltz that she
no longer tried to control her troublesome curls, which had escaped in
little bunches of whorls and tendrils at her nape and forehead; she
panted a little and her eyes had gone dark, almost purple.

Charity watched them from her seat on the settle, trying to pick up a
little instruction for herself from Stella's orders and explanations,
but hopeless of ever becoming efficient in so difficult an art. It was
Charity who first saw the new face at the window.

'Is Truman about?' asked the new comer, and the dancing came to a full
stop. The speaker was the young squire, Roger Maitland, a visitor so
unusual and unexpected that his sudden appearance caused a flutter of
not unpleasant embarrassment. Bess hastily pushed back her curls, pulled
down her apron, and went to the window. Her father, she said, had gone
out for the day, but was expected home shortly.

'Ah-h-h!' said the young man. 'I see! While the cat's away, etcetera?
But go on with your dancing. I don't think you've got that waltz step
quite right. Perhaps I had better come in and show you how it should go.
Example is better than precept any day,' and, taking Bess's permission
for granted, he vaulted over the window-sill. 'May I have the pleasure?'
he asked.

'My father will be in any moment now,' demurred Bess, but he had already
his arm round her waist and was humming his version of the dance tune.
Round and round the room they floated, Bess's expression at first a
little troubled, but soon one of perfect enjoyment, he gazing down into
her mauve eyes and flushed, freckled face, as one might who looked for
the first time on a new flower. His own eyes were dark and expressive,
his face and neck were sun-tanned, and he wore his easy country clothes
with a grace that was captivating, especially to eyes accustomed to the
stolid ungainliness of ploughmen.

The wide, sashlike ends of Bess's apron strings floated out behind her,
one plait of hair escaped from its pins and fell on her shoulder, but
she did not seem to tire. _Tum, tum, tumpity-ta!_ Now and again Roger
would whisper a word of direction, but there was little need of these,
for Bess was an apt pupil. It may have been, too, that her teacher was
not exacting, or they may have moved to a rhythm of their own.

Stella stood, lovely as a statue, and as cold and expressionless, one
elbow resting upon the mantelpiece, one slippered foot tapping out the
tune. After his first long waltz with Bess had ended, Mr. Roger
approached her. 'May I have the pleasure!' he asked, and they danced
together. When their dance was over, he returned to Bess, and Stella to
her former position by the fireplace. Although Mr. Roger danced with
Stella again and paid her such attentions as were proper, it could
plainly be seen by an onlooker that his interest was centred upon Bess.
Stella must have noticed and may have resented this. Bess's good looks
were modest indeed compared to her own beauty; she herself was a more
finished dancer than Bess, and, in her own estimation, was more versed
in the ways of polite society, and it could not have pleased her to see
Bess preferred to herself. But if she felt any resentment she gave no
sign; she stood, cold and silent, one elbow upon the mantelshelf, her
hand supporting her chin, until Mercy looked in at the door to say that
her father was coming along the footpath, and Roger went out to meet
him. Not by way of the window, as he had come in, but properly shown out
of the front door by Bess, who, when she had seen him off, ran upstairs
to tidy her hair, humming the waltz tune.

Charity, hurrying home conscience-stricken to her neglected geography
paper, found her uncle and Mr. Roger standing face to face in the lane,
talking. 'No, Mr. Roger, I wouldn't advise it, not on that damp, heavy
land, no!' Reuben was saying as she passed them. 'You keep it for
grazing, as it's always been kept. It might be worth your while to get
another good milking cow. But there's that other piece of yourn, Dun
Plack, 'ud be better ploughed up and planted----'

So the village turnouts had been true. Mr. Roger had come home for good
and intended farming his own few acres.

When a popular fashion reached Restharrow it usually had a very long
run. The bustle, for instance, survived in that village for at least
five years after it had disappeared from the haunts of fashion, and the
pompadour apron might have been expected to remain even longer in
favour, being a bright and attractive adornment and easy to come by; yet
its vogue lasted no more than a year. And, when it came to an end, the
aprons did not disappear gradually, the more fashionably inclined
discarding theirs for something newer and the less fashion-minded
clinging to theirs to the last shred. One day, at Restharrow, pompadour
aprons abounded; the next, there were none to be seen, and, oddly
enough, the fashion was snuffed out by a man.

The old doctor at Mixlow, who attended the country people for miles
around that town and to quite half his patients sent in no bill because
he knew they were too poor to pay one, about the time when the pompadour
aprons first appeared instituted what was known as a Doctor's Club, the
members of which paid twopence weekly and, for that, when ill, were
entitled to free attendance. When this club had been long enough in
existence for the members to claim benefits, there was such an outbreak
of minor ailments that he had to engage as assistant a young man, newly
qualified, or perhaps partly qualified, for there was more of the
medical student than the doctor about him. This Dr. Frewin was to the
Restharrow folk a novelty in the way of doctors, used as they were to
the aged, dignified and kindly, though somewhat stern, Dr. Fisher. He
was a large young man with a fair, innocent-looking, almost babyish
face, who, when in attendance at the cottage front room which served as
a surgery at Restharrow, had an alarming habit of throwing himself back
and balancing his weight on the back legs of the ordinary kitchen chair
which served for surgery uses. In that position he would hold with some
of the older and coarser women long, bantering conversations which
covered the more modest and sedate with confusion. Many, perhaps most,
country doctors of that day were outspoken, even coarse, in their
language when dealing with the older country women. To some extent they
had to be, for the use of scientific names for the parts of the body
would only have caused confusion. Dr. Frewin went farther than
these--much farther. The surgery became the favourite resort of a few
choice spirits of the place, and on Monday and Thursday mornings the
room was crowded.

It happened that one day at the surgery Dr. Frewin noticed two women
patients jostling for precedence, one of whom was wearing an old
fashioned white, the other a pompadour apron.

'Here! Come along, you with the decent white apron,' he called jocundly,
and, after she had been dealt with, he called to the other, 'Now, you
with the figleaf!'

'Figleaf' was not the word he used, but it is the nearest printable
approach to it; his term was such that, within a week, three-fourths of
the pompadour aprons in Restharrow had been converted into
antimacassars. People laughed. How they laughed! But it was a pity about
the aprons.



_Five_

THE FLOWER SHOW

If an inhabitant of one of the neighbouring villages spoke of Restharrow
to its detriment, nine times out of ten the retort of a native would be:
'Very like! That's as it may be; but arter all we do have our own Flower
Show,' implying by his tone: 'And that's more than you can say.' No
other village of its size in the district could make such a boast,
though some might be able to claim a share in a Flower Show which served
for three or four villages and was held at the largest of these. The
Restharrow Flower Show had been instituted by the late squire, Roger
Maitland's father, in one of his generous moods. He had lent the meadow
in which it was held, provided the marquee, and given and presented the
prizes. After he had died no other such patron had offered, but the
farmer, the innkeeper, and two or three head gardeners on neighbouring
estates had formed a committee and kept the Show going. Mrs. Maitland
still lent the meadow and formally presented the prizes provided by the
committee. The fees paid by the owners of the various amusements were
calculated to cover the necessary expenses.

By the villagers the Flower Show was regarded as the crowning event of
the Restharrow year. It was always arranged to take place between
haytime and harvest, so that the men of the village could be spared for
a day from their fieldwork. The schoolchildren were given a holiday, and
their mothers on that day did as little work as possible. On Flower Show
day no washing flapped on the clothes lines, very few chimneys smoked,
for no cooking was done, and between mealtimes the cottage doors were
closed and the village street deserted, for all except a few poor
bedridden souls had gone to the Flower Show.

About noon the place woke up for an hour. Those families that were
pig-keepers always reserved a ham to be cooked and stand cold for that
day; those who had no ham got in a tin of salmon, or cooked a piece of
bacon to eat with fresh lettuce and green onions, soaked in vinegar.
Those who could run to the expense, got in a nine-gallon cask of ale,
and those who could not ran with jugs and cans to the _Magpie_. And
these provisions were necessary, for, on that day, people had not only
to provide for their ordinary households, but also for married sons and
wives, daughters on holiday from service, and friends, relatives and
acquaintances who lived within walking distance. It was the recognized
day for family reunions, for the cementing of friendships, for the
wearing of new clothes and for general jollity. Compared to the Flower
Show, Christmas was but a minor festivity.

The Show was held in a large, wooded meadow of park-like appearance
adjoining the Manor House gardens. From ten o'clock in the morning
onward a stream of villagers and their friends, thin at first, but
steadily increasing in volume, might have been seen making its way over
the greensward towards the big marquee flying the Union Jack and the
smaller, but no less exciting, cluster of show booths, coconut shies,
and gingerbread stalls by which it was surrounded. A brass band was
engaged for the day, and the steam roundabout had an organ attached
which was permitted to play by arrangement at such times as the bandsmen
felt in need of refreshment. Hours before the general public began to
arrive, in the cool, misty dawn, had come cottage gardeners, carrying
such of their produce as they had deemed too valuable, or too delicate,
to be delivered the previous evening. Flowers and fruit with the dew
still upon them, lettuce and spinach and other tender things. They
carried them lovingly, as a mother might carry a young infant, an
absorbed expression upon their faces, intent upon preserving the
unbruised freshness of their produce. If one of them met a tried friend,
he would open his arms or raise the lid of his basket with the air of
one conferring a great favour. From the rest of the world these exhibits
were jealously guarded and any questions were met by a pretendedly
jocular 'Wait and see!'

At ten o'clock the judges assembled to affix to the prize-winning
entries the coveted cards, red, blue, and yellow, which denoted 'First',
'Second', and 'Third'. During their session within the closed marquee a
throng would gather outside, anxious to know who had won the prizes and
to decide if they had been won fairly. Often it was thought that they
had not been fairly won. One prize-winner, for instance, had made for
himself a cold frame from a couple of disused windows; another kept
three pigs, instead of the more usual one, or two, and so had what some
thought an unfair advantage in his manure supply, while it was the
general opinion that a man who worked himself or had a son working in a
subordinate position in one of the big house gardens should be
permanently disqualified. However, after Mrs. Maitland, handsomely
attired and seated on a high-backed, carved oak chair, brought from her
house for the ceremony, had presented the prizes--ten shillings, seven
and sixpence, and, thirds, five shillings--all disputes were suspended
and the rest of the day was devoted to pleasure.

Charity's father was a keen gardener, and she and her mother always
accompanied him to the prize-giving ceremony. Twice, Charity herself
figured as a prize-winner. One year for the greatest variety of wild
flowers, and, another year, when her entry was a close runner-up, with a
special unscheduled prize for tasteful arrangement. After she had passed
the schoolgirls' competition age-limit, she still loved to walk with her
parents through the cool, moist, flower-scented aisles of the tent,
stopping every few feet to admire the exhibits--stocks and asters,
runner beans and vegetable marrows and well-scrubbed carrots and turnips
from the cottage gardens, and, on the head gardeners' stall, great
bunches of purple grapes, melons the colour of the harvest moon, and
strange, exotic flowers from hothouse and garden. The rich colours, seen
in the soft, mellow light filtering down through the yellow tent fabric,
the moist, flower- and fruit-scented air, the greetings of neighbours,
all dressed in their best and with their cares cast aside for the
moment, the strains of the band music, softened by distance, all held
for her such charm that, when younger, she had imagined Heaven as
something like a perpetual Flower Show.

A few days after the dance in the pompadour aprons, she made the round
of the exhibits with her parents as usual. Her father had been awarded
the first prize for his onions and, after he had received the bright
half-sovereign from Mrs. Maitland, he intended to go back to his
workshop. Her mother would go with him and remain indoors for the rest
of the day, ostensibly in case friends should happen to drop in for tea,
but really because, like her husband, she did not care for crowded
amusements. For Charity the day was only beginning, for Bess and Mercy
and she were to spend the afternoon and evening enjoying the fun of the
fair. Polly would be with the schoolchildren, adding to her laurels of
former years at their sports, and Stella, after her day's work at
Mixlow, could only hope to arrive in time for a dance or two.

Until her cousins arrived, Charity found pleasure enough in dawdling
with her parents around the stalls, admiring and appraising the exhibits
and observing the reactions of her fellows. Most of the women who walked
through the show tent would exclaim with delight when they came to a
fine or an uncommon bloom. 'There! ain't that a beauty!' they would cry
to their companions; 'They sells such roses as that for sixpence apiece
for gentlemen's buttonholes in towns'; or 'You can see that's a head
gardener's flower. I wager its root cost a pound'; or they would
jokingly wish for a dress of silk or velvet 'just that colour', or a
bottle of scent made of its perfume. The men, too, would admire some
flower of outstanding beauty or rarity; but they, as gardeners
themselves, would chiefly be concerned with the method of its
production. To have a bit of glass and a stableful of manure was their
ambition.

Only two of all the people there appeared to value the flowers entirely
for their own loveliness. One of these was the Vicar, who on Flower Show
day would tear himself away from his books and studies for the
prize-giving. Charity had seen him sauntering alone round the banked-up
show benches in his old greenish-black cassock, his short-sighted eyes
peering into the very hearts of the roses, lilies and carnations,
sniffing their scent, stroking their petals, and sometimes cupping a
bloom in his hand; for, although a notice board forbade touching the
exhibits, he, as the Vicar, might do as he pleased, and it pleased him
to look long into the golden pollen-dusted heart of a lily with a look
on his face approaching adoration.

That, Charity thought, might have been expected of one whose business it
was to preach the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley; but Mrs.
Burdett was but a poor and presumably ignorant old country woman, and it
was surprising to find her bending over a cluster of deep crimson roses
with tears in her eyes. When she saw Charity beside her she smiled and
said: 'I know I'm making a silly of myself, but whenever I see a perfect
rose it makes me feel a sort of unworthiness. What have we menkind done
to deserve such a sight!'

At one end of the marquee, a little apart from the show benches, beneath
a placard marked PETS' SECTION, stood an array of rabbit hutches,
birdcages, and wire-netting-faced boxes. These last were the
extemporized abodes of cats. The Restharrow people were fond of
cats--practically every household included one--and there were tabby
cats, white cats, all black and black-and-white cats, and one immense
long-haired tortoiseshell tom, the property of the innkeeper, and in
former years a frequent prize-winner. In the birdcages were canaries and
siskins. No other birds, for, although many caged wild birds were kept
in the village, they were never shown because one year Mr. Virtue, who
judged the pet entries, had carried outside and released a skylark, and
when its owner had complained had thrown the empty cage at him, swearing
with many oaths unfitting for a Flower Show that a man who was capable
of robbing a little singing bird of its liberty should be sent to gaol
for six months' hard.

That day, before the hutches and cages, stood Mr. Virtue himself,
studying the exhibits with a whimsical look, then making little ticks or
crosses in his note-book. As sole judge in that section, he had not to
attend the general assessment, but could come and affix the prize labels
when convenient to himself, a latitude due to an expert who also
furnished the money for the prizes in his section. His was a thankless
task, for the exhibits were a plebeian lot, and yet every owner was
convinced that his or her own pet possessed more beauty, grace and
intelligence than the more highly bred of its species.

'Just noting their points, Mr. Virtue?' asked Charity's father
quizzingly, and Mr. Virtue retorted: 'Yes. Can you lend me a
microscope?' Which, between the two, passed as an excellent joke.

However, in the Cats' Class that year Mr. Virtue's work was lightened by
the first appearance of a fine young tom in the very pink of perfect
health and glossiness, his blackest of coats relieved by a white vest
and leg-stripes, and with wide, candid-looking eyes of the greenest.
'Not your lucky day this time, old boy,' said the judge, poking the big
yellow cat in the ribs. 'We all have our turn, then have to make way for
the young and virile,' and he affixed the prize label to the temporary
abode of the black-and-white tom and reached down a birdcage.

After the prizes had been presented, the big show tent was deserted by
all but a few late-coming gardening enthusiasts. It was then that the
younger people arrived, the girls in their smartest hats and print or
muslin dresses, the young men in their Sunday best, with their hair well
oiled and their boots well polished. Some walked sedately in couples,
arm in arm, already determined to keep together for the rest of the day;
others came with those of their own sex in laughing, chattering bands,
intent only upon having a good time. There were married couples with
their children, and fathers and mothers and grandparents. There were
music and sunshine and soft greensward to tread upon, friends and
neighbours to chat with, and nothing to do but be happy.

Charity and her cousins met at the gate of the meadow and made their way
leisurely towards the tents, Bess's frilled muslin dress trailing a
little on the grass and her sunshade held delicately over her shoulder
to shield her always sensitive skin from the burning rays of the
midsummer sun. Almost the first person they saw as they neared the edge
of the crowd was Roger Maitland, starting the schoolchildren's races.
When he caught sight of them, he already had the whistle to his lips,
but he withdrew it for a moment to smile at Bess and to say to her in a
low voice, 'Please keep me some dances.'

Flags were flying, the band was playing, swingboats soared higher and
higher, till feet seemed to touch the blue; Aunt Sallies and coconut
shies did good business, but, until the dancing began, the chief
attraction was the roundabout. How deliciously luxurious it seemed to
riders accustomed on other days to kitchenwork or hard field labour to
float around without effort on the fiery-nostrilled, dapple-grey steeds
to the strains of _Sweet Belle Mahone_ or of _Jenny, my Own True Loved
One_. Soon, someone began singing:


Jenny, my own true loved one, I'm going far from thee,
Over the raging billows, over the deep blue sea,


and others joined in:


Wait till the clouds roll by, Jenny,
Wait till the clouds roll by,


or the song may have been _Sweet Belle Mahone_: 'Wait for me at Heaven's
gate, Sweet Belle Mahone', or 'Bring back to memory, days of long ago'.
Whatever song was chosen, its burden would be patience and resignation,
for patience and resignation were qualities born and bred in the
countryfolk of that day, and such popular songs as expressed them were
dear to their hearts, even in their moments of exhilaration. To the
slow, dreamy music of such songs, they circled around, clinging to the
upright brass supporting rods in a state of trancelike beatitude.

'Bring back to memory,' Bess hummed the air below her breath as the
three girls drifted around the show tents watching the coconut shiers
and the men and youths aiming with balls at the hideous old woman's
figure with a pipe in its mouth, known as Aunt Sally. Those who
succeeded in knocking the pipe from its mouth were given the choice of a
prize from a stall in the background, loaded with mugs and jugs, pottery
figures, witch balls and silvered vases; but so few succeeded that, at
closing time, the stall was still loaded, as it is to be supposed was
also the proprietor's pence bag. Then Luke came up to them carrying a
coconut and offered to crack it if anybody fancied a bit. When they each
in turn refused, he looked so disappointed that Mercy told him they
would like some tomorrow; but Bess was disdainful and said that he ought
to have known that she at any rate was not one of those persons who went
about chewing.

From the tea tent came whiffs of hot tea steam and a tempting aroma of
spiced dough cake. Tea with bread and butter and cake or buns was priced
at sixpence a head, and though many considered that charge was excessive
and declared that they only wished they themselves had the chance of
providing a slap-up Sunday dinner at that price, their criticism usually
ended with, 'But, oh! my poor feet! Sit down I must! And, arter all,
there's no limit. We must do our best to eat and drink our sixpen'orth,'
which worthy endeavour occupied them so long that the tea tent was
crowded to suffocation point.

One couple, it was said, one year had spent the whole holiday in the tea
tent. Not because the weather was wet--it was a lovely day--but because
on their arrival on the field they had happened to drop in for
refreshment and the lady had found the atmosphere of the tent so much to
her taste that she had said to her husband: 'If we're here to enjoy
ourselves, why not stay where we are and enjoy ourselves? We've got good
seats and plenty to eat and drink, so why go trapesing around?' and
there they had stayed, sipping tea and talking to friends, the whole
afternoon and evening. Fortunately, most people preferred to share in
the fun outside, or the poor, perspiring ladies who worked like galley
slaves filling tea urns, cutting huge piles of bread and butter and
cake, and running from table to table with more hot water or milk, or to
give change or to settle disputes, would, as they sometimes foretold,
have dropped down dead from heat and exhaustion.

Near the tea tent, on a grassy knoll shaded by trees, a little removed
from the throng, the wives of the committee-men sat on garden chairs and
sipped the tea which had been specially brought out for them. Most of
them were important, matronly looking persons, dressed in the dark, rich
stuffs then considered proper to their age, with large gold lockets upon
their bosoms and upon their heads little dark bonnets adorned with
artificial flowers of the more modest varieties--violets,
forget-me-nots, or love-in-a-mist. With them was Miss Fowkes, wearing
her famous Oxford hat and a dress of the new cornflower blue;
fashionable, but not her colour; indeed, as someone remarked at
Charity's elbow, it made her face look as yellow as a duck's foot,
though, fortunately, this was unsuspected by the wearer, who smiled
happily as she waved and beckoned to Charity to join her. She found her
surrounded by bats and balls, shuttlecocks and battledores,
pocket-knives, work-boxes and writing-cases, prizes won by the children
in their sports and brought to her for safe keeping. 'As you see, I
can't move with all these valuables to guard, so do come and talk to
me,' she cried gaily, and, after Charity had becomingly replied to the
greetings of the other ladies present, she cleared for herself a space
on the turf and, like the devoted disciple she was, sat down at the feet
of her mistress.

But little conversation with Miss Fowkes was possible. Her seat was on
the edge of the group, slightly below those of the other ladies, and
overlooking a path along which people were constantly passing. 'Nice
day, ain't it? Real Flower Show weather!' one and another would call to
her as they passed, and she would respond with, 'Glorious! Glorious! And
what a splendid gathering!' The rest of the privileged little party had
more leisure to chat. Their position was such that they could see all
that passed without themselves being too conspicuous, and Charity soon
gathered that they were taking a lively interest in the scene. 'There!
Did you ever!' exclaimed one of the matrons. 'If there isn't that young
Maudie Dynes actually arm in arm with Bob Taverner! And her with a child
still under a year! 'Tis to be hoped the poor silly thing's not going to
make a fool of herself a second time!' and Mrs. Mercer, the farmer's
wife, said in her deep, quiet voice: No, she didn't think so. Poor
Maudie had had her lesson and they mustn't forget, for all her one slip,
she was still but a young thing and wanted a bit of pleasure. She had
heard, she added, though she couldn't say whether it was true or not,
that Bob and Maudie were going to be married, and criticism was
silenced.

Mrs. Mercer herself, it appeared, had once been young and fond of
pleasure. She recalled for the benefit of one of the head gardeners'
wives, a comparative newcomer to the district, some Flower Shows of
earlier years. The year when the roundabout first appeared had been a
landmark in the progress and importance of the festivity. Before there
had been but a few gingerbread and sweet stalls and a coconut shy, and,
of course, no band, only old Jeff Tuffrey and his fiddle for the
dancing. 'But the old times were good times and we all enjoyed them. I
know I did. You may not believe it, but I actually danced my hair down
one of those years. The old squire persuaded me. 'May I have the
pleasure, Mrs. Mercer?' he said, and, before I could say knife, he had
me by the waist, and me the mother of three children! After that, of
course, I had to dance with Mercer. Then others we knew came up----
Well, well, I was still in my twenties.'

Mrs. Mercer's reminiscences were cut short by a voice exclaiming: 'Well,
I never! If my eyes don't deceive me, that's young Mr. Maitland over
there, talking to one of the Truman girls,' and all eyes were turned in
the direction of one of the less frequented paths, a little apart from
the throng and lightly screened by bushes, but clearly visible from the
eminence occupied by the tea-drinkers, where Mr. Roger and Bess could be
seen, apparently in close converse. Roger, it seemed, was doing the
talking. Bess had taken off her hat and stood swinging it by the
strings; she was smiling and shaking her head. The two had the
appearance of close friends who had drawn apart to discuss some matter
of importance, and this naturally gave rise to some curiosity among the
ladies seated on the knoll. 'By the look of it, they've plenty to say to
each other,' said one of the ladies. And another: 'If you ask me, I'll
say they look as thick as thieves.' Then spoke a severe-looking dame in
an aggrieved tone: 'I'm surprised, I really am, at his stopping at all
for the amusements, and no other gentry present, for his mother went
home, as she always does, after she'd handed out the prizes; and why he
should be talking in a corner to Bess Truman is hard to say; you'd've
thought he'd've come over to us for a cup of tea. He must have seen us.'

'Tish! Tish!' said Mrs. Mercer. 'What does he want at his age with a
lot of old women like us! The young fly to the young like a needle to
the loadstone; and Bess Truman's a nice-looking girl, and a good girl,
too, and, besides, isn't she Reuben's daughter? What more natural than
that the young squire show her some attention for her father's sake?
And, for all we know, he may be giving her a message to take to Reuben.'

If so, the message had by that time been given, for the two had parted,
Bess to stroll back to the main path, Roger to go on his way in the
other direction, he with several backward glances, she never once
looking back. Either because Mrs. Mercer, who, as the wife of the
largest employer of labour in the place, was a lady second only to Mrs.
Maitland in importance, had again silenced criticism, or because the
company had suddenly recollected that Charity and Bess were cousins, the
conversation turned to another subject. 'Isn't it delightful to see
everybody happy?' asked Miss Fowkes, who had observed nothing of the
little by-play. 'But I think I see your cousins waving to you,' she
continued. 'How charming Bess is looking to-day!' And Bess was, indeed,
looking charming. She looked, as they said, as if butter would not melt
in her mouth, and not one word did she say about having seen Mr. Roger.
Instead, she fairly rated Mercy for getting lost in the throng.

When the dancing began, the moment the band struck up, Roger appeared
and claimed the dance, which he said had been promised him by Bess. 'No!
No! Mr. Roger, I didn't say I would dance with you. I only said I
might,' Bess protested; but, even as she was speaking, she took the arm
he offered, and a moment later they were floating around to the strains
of _The Blue Danube_.

Charity danced with a young soldier home on furlough, the son of a
neighbour, a grave, quiet young man who seemed anxious to impress upon
her that the private soldier was no longer looked upon as the scum of
the earth by his superiors, as in the bad old days. For picked men, he
said, there were now all sorts of advantages; he himself was attending
classes with a view to bettering his school education sufficiently to
stand a good chance of promotion. 'And let's see,' he said, 'you've got
a cousin in the Army, corporal or something, isn't he, out in India?'
And Charity, after explaining that Oliver was not really her cousin, but
a cousin of her cousins, said Oliver was now a sergeant-major. 'Crikey!'
ejaculated the young soldier, much impressed. 'You'll hardly know him
when he comes home; they let you know who they are all right, those
S.M.s!' Charity laughed, she was unable to imagine Oliver as other than
the thin, gawky boy in uniform who had tossed her over the stile. Then
the spur worn by her partner got entangled in the frilled muslin skirt
of another dancer and Charity went down on her knees to help in
releasing it, and for some time she saw little of what was going on.
Afterwards, she danced an old country dance with Luke, because he looked
so neglected and forlorn that she felt sorry for him, and all her
faculties were involved in piloting him around. When, at last she had a
breathing space, Bess was again dancing with Roger. Apparently there had
been some dispute as to their partnership, for, as Bess floated off on
Roger's arm, she heard one of Reuben's younger ploughmen say in a
lugubrious tone, 'But she promised me! She promised me!' and another
voice asking him acidly, 'Ain't you larned yet that a gal's promises be
but piecrust, made to be broke?' ''Specially when t'other chap's richer
and handsomer,' added another voice.

People, she could see and hear, were looking at and talking about Bess,
and it made her feel uncomfortable. However, she told herself, Bess was
older than she was and probably knew better what was right and proper,
and she made a determined effort to put the whole affair out of her
mind. That was not difficult when the band was playing and the dancers
were gliding around on the trampled greensward and the fairy lights upon
bushes and trees were twinkling in the twilight, red, yellow, and green
and blue. Presently, the older people who had ringed around as
spectators drifted off in twos and threes and families, towards their
suppers and beds; but the dancers still circled, the girls in their
light frocks like moths flitting hither and thither, their partners
invisible, save for a face here and there, picked out for an instant,
red or yellow or blue, by the flickering light of a lamp. Even when the
candles within the fairy lamps, one by one, flickered and went out, and,
but for the bandsmen's light and the naphtha flares on the booths
farther down the field, all was in darkness, the dancing continued.
'You're tired, my pretty. Let's go and sit down under the trees a
while,' said a man's voice tenderly; but the girl said no, they could
sit down under trees any night of the year. At least he could, if he
could get anybody to sit down with him; she was for the dance. Stars
came out over the elm tops; bats dashed and tumbled over the heads of
the dancers and night moths brushed their cheeks, but the couples only
clung together more closely and the dance went on, for all there were
determined to drain to the last drop the cup of that day's pleasure.

But even a Flower Show day must come to an end, and punctually on the
stroke of eleven the band gave the signal that all was over by playing
_God save the Queen_.

Bess, Mercy, and Charity ran like so many Cinderellas over the
greensward, under the trees and out on the road. They had never before
stayed till the end of the dancing, but, other years, had walked quietly
and sedately away between nine and ten with Charity's mother, stopping
now and again to exchange remarks with other home-going parties.
Although their time of return had been left that year to their own
discretion--for weren't they now all grown-up girls, or, in Charity's
case, as good as?--they knew they must have long been expected at their
homes. 'Oh, what a day! What a glorious day! I've enjoyed every moment
of it,' they panted as they ran. They had neither the breath nor the
time to say more.

When Charity got indoors her father had already gone to bed and her
mother soon followed him, leaving her to finish her supper and put out
the light. Charity, helping herself hugely to stewed plums and custard,
felt vaguely uneasy about Bess's behaviour; but, after a night's sleep,
she decided that she had made much of little. Why should not Bess dance
with Mr. Roger? There was no harm in her doing so, and it was only
natural that he should have asked her to dance with him after what had
happened a few days before at the farm. There was no other public
holiday before the Feast in April, and probably by that time he would
have found someone else to interest him. Bess herself made nothing of
the occurrence. When, a few days later, Charity was at Waterside, the
dancing, the band, and the state of the turf were all discussed, but all
Bess said about Roger was that he danced so well that it spoilt anybody
for other partners, and this she said in such a light, matter-of-fact
tone that Charity felt ashamed of ever having thought twice about the
incident. She was glad she had not mentioned it to her mother. Her
mother was a darling, but she was very old-fashioned in her ideas.

Perhaps Charity should have spoken. Had she done so, it might have
prevented some after-trouble. But, again, it might not have done. Bess
hated and scorned what she called 'prunes and prisms and don'ts and
mustn't', and well-intended advice from her aunt might have driven her
to further lengths than she actually reached. Her fault, if fault it
could be called, was no more than the flouting of the country convention
which decreed that an unmarried girl must on no account do anything, how
ever innocent, to make herself conspicuous. She must not get herself
talked about. That, most unreasonably, was considered an unforgivable
offence by the very persons who did, and thoroughly enjoyed doing, the
talking.

Whether Bess was much talked about at that time cannot be said. There
was probably some gossip about her dancing and appearing to be on
friendly terms with the young squire, though none of it reached the ears
of her relatives; or it may have been that less interest than might have
been expected was taken in her affairs, for it happened that, that same
week, a more urgent and exciting event occurred. The poor-box inside the
church door was found broken open and empty. There was no mystery as to
the identity of the thief; a tramp had that morning begged his way from
house to house through the village and had last been seen sitting on the
church stile, examining the blade of a pocket-knife. 'As good as caught
red-handed,' people said, 'an' might've been collared and popped in quod
within a couple of hours if it hadn't a-bin f'r this maggot our parson's
got in his head.' For what caused the excitement and the endless
discussion was less the actual theft than the Vicar's attitude towards
the thief. When told of the crime and dragged almost forcibly to the
church to inspect the evidence, he had flatly refused to have the tramp
followed and prosecuted.

'The money in the box,' he had said, 'if money it contained, which it
frequently does not, was intended by the almsgivers to relieve the needs
of the poor, and who could be poorer or more in need than the man you
describe! Hand him over to the police? No, that might be giving him a
final thrust downward. Let us pray for him as an erring brother whose
need and temptations we have no means of knowing.'

'Pray for him, my elbow!' growled Clerk Savings, on guard for the day
beside the rifled alms-box. 'I'd pray for him to get six months' hard,
as he 'uld do if any justice wer' left in this country. At one time
't'ud 'a bin a hangin' job, an' ought to be now, breakin' into th' house
o' God an' stealin' the alms of th' feathful! What beats me is to know
why I wasn't fetched. I wus the one to be sent for, and if I had bin I
should 'a' dealt with it proper. Might as well 'a' fetched a babby in
arms as our reverend!'

The church robbery was altogether an unsatisfactory affair. To begin
with, nobody knew what money, if any, there was in the box. Some said
the fellow had made off with a pound; others, 'more like twopence
ha'penny'; the general estimate, quite unfounded, was five or six
shillings. The parishioners thought that the Vicar had failed in his
duty; the Vicar was distressed by the uncharitable attitude of his
parishioners towards the sinner, and Clerk Savings was furious because,
as he expressed it, the Vicar had been called in over his own head.
There was no Court case and not a word about Restharrow's loss in the
local newspaper. What, if properly dealt with, might have provided
excitement for weeks had ended in a prayer in church for the poor and
outcast with their grievous temptations, and the erring brother himself
must speedily have realized the error of his ways, for even if he had
found a few coppers in the alms-box they could not have sufficed to
replace the pocket-knife which he left behind with its blade broken.



_Six_

NATURE STUDY

Nature study was as yet an unheard of subject in village schools; but
Miss Fowkes was in many of her ideas in advance of her time, and
occasionally on an especially fine and sunny afternoon she would say to
Charity: 'It seems a shame to keep these infants indoors on a day like
this. They will learn nothing, for they will most of them fall asleep,
face forward on the desk. I think you had better take them out in the
sunshine for an hour or two. Take them for a walk, and, on the way, you
might point out and tell them the names of any of the less common wild
flowers you pass. It always seems a pity to me that, living in the
country as they do, any flower which is not a buttercup or a daisy, or a
cowslip or a bluebell, is to them no more than that red, yellow or blue
flower.' And when Charity had marshalled her charges and marched them
two and two through the village, she would allow them to scatter and
explore the hedgerow in a meadow, those who had become interested
searching for flowers, the others in their own way enjoying the outing.
They were good, obedient children, especially on such an occasion, which
they looked upon as one of their greatest treats; and Charity enjoyed
the school walks as much as her charges.

Miss Fowkes was mistaken in thinking that the children had no names for
the less familiar flowers. They had names which she had never heard for
many. 'Goat's-beard! Tommy! Goat's-beard! I've told you a thousand times
that the name of that flower is goat's-beard and that it has nothing
_whatever_ to do with the male fowl; so don't be rude!' But although
already well in training for a schoolmarm, Charity was not devoid of
taste and encouraged her infants to use such of the old flower-names as
were not calculated to raise a blush. Wild arum was not insisted upon
for lords and ladies; kiss-me-quick was accepted for tansy; angel's eyes
passed current for speedwell; and why speak formally of toad flax when
butter-and-eggs described the flower more exactly? Nor had she any
prejudice against wild foods. On their spring outings quantities of
young green hawthorn leaves were devoured under the name of 'bread and
cheese'. The leaves of sorrel, or sour grass, were a favourite
refreshment; and of crab apples, sweet chestnuts, hips and haws and
blackberries in their season the children ate pounds. The only
stipulation made by their teacher was that they should not swallow the
stones of the haws, because, she told them, a boy her mother had known
had once swallowed so many of these that he afterwards became terribly
ill and had to be dosed with a teacup of castor oil.

Some weeks after the Flower Show came a day of blue skies and moist
autumn sunshine. It was well on in September, and the flowers which
remained were mostly the coarse yellow flowers left over from late
summer. But it was blackberry time and the time of ripe haws and
streaked crab apples. There were late mushrooms to be found in the
meadows and a new, tender growth of watercress in the brook, both
eagerly sought by the children, who loved to take home something for
tea. Very soon the winter would come and the little ones would go to
school muffled in scarves or their mothers' old shawls, their limbs and
faces mottled with cold and with chilblains on their toes. 'We must make
the most of such weather as we have to-day,' said Miss Fowkes. 'Take
them out in the sunshine.' Then, when they were all in alinement, with
Charity beside the last couple, Miss Fowkes brought out a little basket
and handed it to Charity, saying: 'I wish you'd pick me a few
blackberries. I should like to make one more pie, and Michaelmas will be
here before we know where we are,' and she gave Charity a confidential
little smile which said as plainly as words could have done, 'You and I
know that the weather and not the date affects the condition of
blackberries, but while we are in Rome I suppose we must respect the
Roman customs.'

Nothing could have suited Charity better, for she knew that Bess, that
afternoon, had gone blackberrying in the direction of Warren Pond, an
unusual proceeding with Bess, who as a general rule hated to get her
hands scratched and left the picking of blackberries when required to
her younger sisters, who had only to run to the nearest hedge to fill a
pie-dish. However, that day she had apparently a sudden fancy for
blackberrying. Charity, on her way to afternoon school, had met her in
the street, carrying a basket and a hooked stick, and she had said she
was going blackberrying. She had been wearing her pink gingham dress and
a shady, rush-plaited hat with a wreath of pink rose-buds, the frock,
Charity had thought, too good to risk tearing; and when Charity had
said, 'How stylish you look!' she had flourished her stick and replied,
'But you see I mean business!' Now Charity felt sure she would find her,
picking industriously from the hedge surrounding a copse through which
ran a path from the road to the pond, a large, rushy sheet of water,
belonging to the Maitlands. It was one of the least frequented spots
near the village and the blackberries there grew large and juicy and
sweet as sugar and dropped off the briars, for no one went there to pick
them; there were plenty nearer home.

In the copse, beneath the trees, were hillocks and dells and limestone
cliffs, the workings of a long-disused quarry. The shell of an old
limekiln beside one of the pathways was smothered in ivy and briars, and
the cart-track on which horses had once sweated and strained with their
loads was blocked with boulders and bracken. What had become a green
solitude must at one time have been a busy and cheerful place. Men had
earned their living there and, between accidents, had rejoiced in the
high wages paid for their dangerous work. The ringing of their picks,
the trundling of their barrows, the report of their charges and the
thunder of subsidences must once have sounded there. Some there had
suffered the anguish of injuries; some had died, for the moss-grown
inscription on a tombstone in the churchyard stated that fact. Now the
names on the stone were but names; those who had borne them were
forgotten. Since the day of terror when a prematurely fired train had
resulted in an explosion which had killed four men, in what had been the
quarry-bed trees had sprung up and come to maturity, bracken and briars
had formed an impenetrable thicket, and the peculiarly deep silence of
once populous places from which life has ebbed overhung the old
workings.

Then came Charity with her infants, and for an hour the old place awoke.
While she with a few willing helpers filled Miss Fowkes's basket, the
other children amused themselves by shouting their own names, 'Jack!'
'Margaret!' 'Sally!', and listening for the echo thrown back by a cliff,
'J-a-a-ck!' 'Mar-g-r-e-t!' 'S-a-a-l-ee!' One boy who happened to have a
piece of string in his pocket made for himself a bow, and with a stick
for an arrow shot from a loophole in the wall of the old limekiln.
Others made castles of pine-needles, or slid down banks. There was not
much Nature study that afternoon, but there was plenty of enjoyment, in
which Charity shared, although she still felt a little puzzled to see
nothing of Bess, who had said definitely that she intended going that
way.

When Charity, tired with romping with the little ones, sat down to rest,
she gave some of the larger and more adventurous boys permission to play
King of the Castle on a high but gently sloping mound left from the old
workings. For a time all went well, and she sat with one of the babies
asleep on her lap, breathing the sweet, pine-scented air and admiring
the new autumn tints on birch and bracken. But, soon there were cries of
alarm and, one after another, the boys came sliding down the mound on
their bottoms, crying, 'Oh, Teacher! Teacher! There's a lion in the
copse. Us heard him a-roarin'. Let's run! Let's run!' At first she
laughed and told them not to be silly; there were no lions in England,
except in wild beast shows; but they appeared to be really alarmed, one
of the smallest was crying, and, to reassure them, she decided herself
to climb to the top of the mound and investigate.

Taking with her one of the bigger and braver boys as a guide, and
bidding the others to stay where they were and take care of the little
ones, she climbed the slope, looking back often at her charges, who
stood in a huddled group with faces turned up to watch her ascent.
Although she had sometimes played in the copse when a child, she did not
remember climbing that particular mound, which was higher than she had
estimated. At the top she found a flattened space, a few feet wide, like
a raised walk, between pine trees. The pines, towering above the green
level of the rest of the wood, caught every breath of wind and filled
the air with their sighing. That, and the subdued voices of the children
below, were, at first, the only sounds she could distinguish. Then,
gradually, she became aware of deep moaning or crooning, a soft murmur,
more a throbbing of the air than a sound, rising now to a moan, now
sinking to a concerted sighing. 'Listen! Is that what you heard?' she
asked the child whose hot little hand she held, and he nodded. 'Oh, you
silly children!' she cried. 'It's only a lot of wood-pigeons cooing! a
sound you must have heard thousands of times, though perhaps not so many
together,' and although at first the boy protested that he knew very
well what them old wood-pigeons said--Take two cows, Taffy! Take two
cows, Taffy!--and that rum row wasn't like them at all, and he was
sartin sure 'twas an old lion, got out of a show, like that one got out
at Towcester, he at last allowed himself to be convinced and slid down
the slope on his buttocks as the quickest way of taking the good news to
his companions. Whether the children had really taken that most gentle
of sounds, the cooing of doves, for the roar of a lion, or whether one
of them more imaginative than the rest had first said it was in
make-believe play and the others had taken him seriously, Charity was
never to know. She did not question the children, for before she
returned to the level, she had a surprise which turned her thoughts into
another channel.

After seeing Dicky safely down and wondering if she might venture to
follow him in a similar fashion, which she decided against as too
undignified a mode of progression for a teacher, she remained for a few
moments, looking around her. Standing high above the general level of
the wood, she could see the pond. It was nearer than she had thought. So
near, indeed, that it seemed that anyone wishing to bathe could have
taken a flying leap over the few fringing tree-tops into the water. It
was a narrow L-shaped stretch, banked by thick rush beds and islanded by
accumulations of water weeds and clumps of water lilies. Like the copse,
the pond was overgrown, neglected and seldom visited. A schoolboy
bathing there the year before had become entangled in an under-water
growth and been drowned, and the poles which had been used in the search
for his body still lay on one of the banks, in company with the skeleton
of an old toboggan, a relic of Mr. Roger's school holidays. Immediately
beneath the mound where she stood was a wooden boathouse, its boarded
roof and sides weathered to a silvery grey, which housed, she knew, a
large, flat-bottomed boat which Roger's father had used for fishing and
duck-shooting and which he, himself, had sometimes used when a boy. The
old boat must be leaky by this time, she thought, and was turning to go,
when, suddenly, that very vessel shot round the bend of the L and made
for the boathouse. In it a tall, slender young man in white flannels
stood poling it out from the rushes. It was Mr. Roger, of course, but
who was the lady sitting in the stern, trailing one hand in the water?
She was wearing a pink frock and the hat lying upon her lap had pink on
it. It couldn't be Bess? But Bess it was. The sound of her voice came
distinctly over the water. 'I could go on floating like this for ever,'
she was saying, 'but I must go now, I must, really.'

The boat and its occupants disappeared beneath the boathouse arch and
Charity descended, gathered together her infants and hurried them at
such a rate out of the copse and away down the road that they had no
energy left for noise-making. Charity was determined not to be seen by
Bess and, to that end, instead of the way by which they had come, took
another narrow byway, and, although no longer likely to be seen, so
hurried the children that one of them asked, 'Teacher, have we been
naughty?' and when one of them said that he wanted to leave the room,
she told him in a tone which, for her, was sarcastic, 'You'll have to
wait till you get inside one.' Teacher was cross. The lovely outing was
ending badly. It was a subdued little party which filed into the
playground.

Charity was in an uncomfortable position. To know that she had secret
knowledge of Bess's doings which Bess herself did not suspect made her
feel sly and mean, and, to cleanse her own conscience, rather than as a
warning to Bess, she decided to tell her that she had seen her with
Roger. But how? If she said, 'I saw you in the boat with Mr. Roger,'
Bess would naturally ask, 'Where were you?' and whatever answer she gave
she would appear as a despicable Peeping Tom, for had she not spied on
the couple, herself unseen, and hurried off before they landed? Better
lead up to it tactfully by saying, 'Where did you go for your
blackberries after all?' or 'I took my class to Warren Copse on
Thursday' and trust to luck to get further.

As it turned out, no such opening was necessary. The next time the two
were alone together Bess said lightly, 'I went out in a boat on Thursday
afternoon. It was lovely on the water,' and Charity asked with feigned
astonishment, 'But how came you to be in a boat?' 'Oh, just by taking
somebody's hand and stepping on board, first with one foot, then with
the other, and sitting down in the stern,' said Bess teasingly, and
Charity could think of nothing better to say than: 'But who were you
with? Not Mr. Roger?'

'Yes, with the great Roger Maitland, the Lord of the Manor himself!
And--would you believe it?--I find he's just an ordinary human being,
even as you and me. Can you believe that either? If so, I'm sure nobody
else in the parish could. It makes me sick, and I expect it makes him
sick, too, to see the way they set him up on a pedestal. The young
squire this and the young squire that, they say in churchgoing voices.
You girls mustn't look at or speak to him, not even if he looks at or
speaks to you, but cast down your eyes and drop your curtsy--anything
more would be unbecoming. And he, for his part, must keep to his own
sort or the nation knows what might happen. You'd think folks about here
were born in the year dot! But I'm not going to lie down and say,
"Please wipe your feet on me" to anybody; not this little girl! I shall
look at and talk to anybody I want to, if only to show that I think
myself as good as anybody,' a revolutionary outpouring which so
astonished Charity that she missed the opportunity of declaring herself
an involuntary witness of the boating scene. Instead, she asked mildly,
'Do you like Mr. Roger, Bess?' and Bess laughed and said, 'Oh, he's all
right. I like him very well to talk to, after talking to suet dumplings
like Luke; but as to liking him more than that, I don't know that I do.
Though he's of age, he's more like a boy than a man, and how can he help
it, always waited upon, hand, foot, and finger, and everything made easy
for him? As Dad says, such ones don't know the nature of life. But Mr.
Roger's jolly good company; you should have heard some of the tales he
told me about their Oxford goings on! "God bless Marlborough and damn
the dons" some of them chalked on the college doors when they were
forbidden to go to the big ball at Blenheim. Other things, too; you
cannot help laughing. But there it is, as I said before, he and his
kind've all been brought up to believe the world was made on purpose for
them.'

'Why, Bess, you're quite a socialist!' exclaimed Charity, and Bess said:
'I believe I am. It'd make anybody turn socialist to live at
Restharrow.'

'Does Uncle Reuben know about your going out in the boat?' asked Charity
timidly, and Bess gave her a searching look before she replied, 'Not
that I know of. I haven't told him, and you needn't go telling your
mother or anybody. I'm old enough to look after myself, and it's my
business.' Charity felt a little offended. 'You need not be afraid,' she
said. 'I'm no telltale.' But, though somewhat relieved, her conscience
was still not easy. She was well aware that if her mother had known of
Bess's association with the young squire she would not have approved.
How many times had Charity heard her say when a girl in the village had
made herself in any way conspicuous, 'It doesn't do! It doesn't do in a
small place like this! You know what the Bible says, "abstain from the
very appearance of evil"; and that's a good rule at Restharrow, if you
want to live free of annoyances. Not but what, I must say, it's hard on
the young, who mean no harm.'

After the day of Bess's outbreak, Charity saw less of her than usual for
a fortnight. The time of the annual visit of Her Majesty's Inspector of
Schools was drawing near and she had extra lessons of her own to
prepare, as well as to help Miss Fowkes coach some of the backward
pupils. At that time the Inspector's visit was regarded by teachers and
pupils alike as an ordeal, which it seldom failed to prove. If anyone
had told Charity then that she would live to see a successor of the ogre
of her own childhood take a backward child upon his knee and prompt its
answers to his questions she would have thought they were joking. That
year, too, she had fears and apprehensions on her own behalf, for the
time of her probation as monitress had expired and upon the decision of
the great man her whole future depended. For it was he, and only he, who
could accept or reject her application for the advanced post of pupil
teacher. But for her personally all went well on the day of judgement.

Mr. Findlater was a learned man, an historian, with a leaning to the
already becoming-less-popular Right. It happened that Charity's history
paper dealt with the events leading up to the Civil War, and,
unwittingly, she gained her examiner's favour by supporting the royal
cause. At the end of her _viva voce_, he grunted, 'Very creditable,'
and, instead of going away and leaving her in suspense, as he often did
such candidates, he told her at once that the appointment was hers.
After he had gone, Miss Fowkes kissed and congratulated her upon
'passing with honours', and she bounded home to tell her parents the
good news with her head in the air. It was years later, when she came to
read Mr. Findlater's _England in the Seventeenth Century_ that she
recognized the working of Chance.

The ordeal over, apprehension gave place to relief, and, to celebrate
her success, Charity decided to do no lessons on the following Saturday
morning, but to give herself a whole day's holiday. Miss Fowkes, she
knew, intended to stay in bed all day and rest from her labours, with a
well-cosied-down teapot on her bedside table and one of her Jane Austens
to read. But such a programme, though all very well for fifty, appeared
a mere waste of a day to fifteen. Charity was on pleasure bent.
Accordingly, immediately after breakfast, she bounded across the meadow
to Waterside, hoping to persuade Bess to go with her to Banbury. Her
father had given her a sovereign to mark the occasion of her promotion
to the full status of pupil teacher, and the coin was, as her mother
said, burning a hole in her pocket. It would buy her a new winter coat,
and to have Bess's advice when choosing one would, she knew, be a great
advantage. Quality first, Bess would say, then cut, then colour, and,
however attractive a thing may be, if it doesn't suit you or your
purpose, better keep your money in your pocket. Bess was not likely to
need much persuasion to come, for she dearly loved a trip into Banbury
in the carrier's cart to see the shops and to enjoy a cup of tea at
Betts's.

Very little cooking was done at Waterside on a Saturday morning.
Saturday was the day for eating what was left in the larder, in view of
the Sunday cooking, and Charity found Bess, as she had expected to find
her, sitting on one of the windowseats in the living kitchen with a
basket of mending on the table before her. Charity had often helped with
the mending, which Bess was inclined to allow to accumulate, preferring
to employ the needle she used so deftly upon other, more decorative
needlework, and always before, Bess had said that she liked to have
company when engaged upon such dull jobs as mending; but, on that
Saturday morning, she did not even seem pleased to see Charity. Nor was
she eager to join in the outing. When invited, she said that she did not
think she could spare the time; and, as the carrier's cart was not due
at the crossroads much before noon, Charity sat down, drew a stocking
over her hand, and began darning.

For a few minutes they worked in silence, or, rather, Charity worked
while Bess drooped over her sewing, putting in a stitch now and again
and gazing idly at her work betweenwhiles. At last Charity could bear
the silence no longer. 'I hope I have done nothing to offend you, Bess,'
she said. Bess said, 'No. Nothing at all. If everybody minded their own
business as you do, this world'd be a pleasanter place.' That was as far
as they got at the moment, but, after putting in a few more stitches,
Bess burst out with: 'I don't think I can stand this place much longer.
Restharrow's full of interfering old women, a regular tabby cats' nest,
you can't speak or move but one of 'em's got their claws into you. I'll
tell Father I'm going to take a situation as sewing-maid or something.
Mercy can very well manage here, and stand it I can't, so there!' And
she flung her best scissors down on the table.

'Why, Bess, whatever's the matter?' asked the astonished Charity. 'You
know you've always said that you'd hate to go out to service and have to
scrape your hair back and wear a little black bonnet for church. And you
always seemed to like Waterside and said that you'd never leave your
father, not even to get married. Why have you changed your mind?' Bess
folded her patched pillowcase and laid it on the pile of finished work
and began darning a stocking before she spoke. 'Well, I may as well tell
you,' she said, 'but for God's sake don't go telling anybody, not even
Aunt Alice, or I shall die of shame. Dad's had a letter.'

'A letter? Who from? And why should it worry you?' were Charity's
natural questions, and, for answer, Bess brought out from her apron
pocket an envelope. 'You just read that!' she said, and Charity unfolded
the letter and read:


'REUBEN TRUMAN,

'I advise you to keep an eye on that eldest daughter of yours. She's
meeting the young squire secret. If you'd seen what I seen down by
Warren pond yesterday you'd have taken your horsewhip to her. You know
what they say, a word to the wise. This letter comes from

'A WELL WISHER.'


There was no other signature and no address was given. The communication
was neatly written in script on such paper as was then sold in penny
packets, six sheets of paper, six envelopes, and a slip of pink blotting
paper. No clue there to the sender. Charity examined the postmark. It
was that of Mixlow, their own post town. All the letters written at
Restharrow and handed to the postman bore that postmark, as well as
those posted in the town and in other villages for miles around. The
address on the envelope was also in script. Anyone above the level of
absolute illiteracy might have written it. The names of several people
she knew did not like Bess flashed through Charity's mind, but not one
of them, she felt sure, was capable of such a mean action. 'Whoever can
have done it!' she cried helplessly. But Bess had not as yet arrived at
the point of trying to trace the sender. She held the whole village
responsible and accused the population at large of envy, hatred and
malice. Her cheeks flushed, and her eyes wet with anger and
mortification, she cried, 'The hateful, hateful creatures! How I loathe
them!' including many of her neighbours who had none but kindly feelings
towards her and some whom she really liked.

'What does Uncle Reuben say about it?' asked Charity when she had
recovered a little from her bewilderment and Bess's indignation had for
the moment exhausted itself.

'He didn't say anything when he first read it. Just folded up the
letter, put it in his pocket, and went out, and I thought it was one of
his usual letters, from the corn-merchant or somebody. But, afterwards,
when Polly had gone out and Mercy was scrubbing the courtyard, he came
back and gave me the letter and said he'd thought at first he'd put it
in the fire and say nothing about it to anybody; that was all such
letters deserved; but, now, he thought that as it was about me I had
better read it, and when I had read it, him standing by and looking on
all the time, he said, "Is there any truth in what it says about you and
Mr. Roger?" and of course I had to tell him that we had met once or
twice by accident and that he had taken me for a row in his boat on the
pond and shown himself friendly in other ways.

'At that, Dad looked a bit worried. You know the way he's got of shaking
his head when things don't go just as he'd like? Well, he just stood
there, sighing and shaking his head over me till I wanted to scream.
"Seems there's more in it than I thought," he said at last. "Now, tell
me the truth, my dear. Has there been any sweethearting between the two
of you?" And I said, "Certainly not! Only a little ordinary fun, such as
a girl might have with a cousin, if she'd got one." At that he looked a
bit more satisfied and began talking about how careful a girl ought to
be never to give a handle to gossip, and how, since our mother died,
he'd tried to be father and mother, too, but he knew that the best man
in the world, let alone such a one as himself, could never take the
place of a mother, and he looked so sad that when he asked me to promise
him never to be alone with Roger any more I just threw my arms round his
neck and promised. And that's partly what's worrying me. I can trust
you, can't I, Charity?'

Charity said, 'You know very well you can,' and, lowering her voice to a
whisper, Bess continued: 'I wouldn't tell this to anybody else in the
world but you. Though our other meetings were accidental, or nearly so,
I had promised to meet Roger at the boathouse this afternoon, and I want
you to help me. Will you?'

An unkind voice within whispered to Charity, 'Ah, she's told you all
because she wants your help,' and she answered Bess a little coldly: 'I
will if I can, but what do you want me to do?'

'I want you to go down to the pond this afternoon. You'll find Roger
there. And I want you to tell him about the letter and the promise I've
made Dad. Tell him I shan't be seeing him again, but I'll not forget the
pleasant times we've had. You'll do this little thing for me, won't you,
Charity?'

'And you really don't mean ever to see him again?'

'Of course not. I've given my word. And why should I want to? There's
been enough fuss and bother about the few times we have met. He's good
fun to talk to and it's nice to be taken notice of by a young gentleman
like him, but I'd rather never set eyes on him again than vex Dad. But
we're sure to see each other, living in the same place, and if I'm to
pass him by with a plain "Good day to you, sir"--for I s'pose if I don't
"sir" him there'll be another letter--perhaps, to be on the safe side,
I'd better drop him a curtsy--I should like him to know the reason for
the change. And I don't relish the idea of him waiting for hours and
hours this afternoon and me not turning up. He doesn't deserve that, for
the letter's not his fault. So please, Charity, dear, kind Charity, do
do this one little thing to oblige me!'

To Charity it did not seem so small a thing. She was young and
inexperienced and of a retiring disposition, and, could she have chosen,
she would almost as soon have walked into a lion's den as carry such a
message to Mr. Roger at his boathouse. And she was disappointed. All her
plans for her one precious holiday were knocked on the head. That golden
sovereign was still in her purse. She had not even been able to tell
Bess about it, or about the examination, or anything. But there was no
escaping her mission and she said that she would go if Bess was sure,
quite sure, that she would keep the promise she had made her father.

Bess sprung up from her chair, pretended to lick her finger, drew it
across her throat, and swore she would by the old childish oath, finger
wet, finger dry, and, Mercy coming in at that moment to lay the cloth
for dinner, no more could be said.

Neither Mercy nor Polly had been told about the letter, and they chatted
cheerfully about everyday matters at the table. Reuben's expression may
have been somewhat more grave and thoughtful than ordinarily, but he
appeared to enjoy the simple fare, and, when speech was required of him,
spoke freely and naturally. Bess seemed to have completely regained her
spirits. She chaffed Polly about one of her recent singing successes and
Charity about her interview with the dread Inspector. Charity began to
think she was heartless; but her father, who was a more experienced
observer, no doubt attributed her flushed cheeks and raised voice to
excitement, for his manner towards her was tender and soothing. After
the meal was over, he asked her to come with him to the garden and see
what last night's wind had done to the dahlias, adding that she'd be
none the worse for a breath of fresh air and sunshine.

When she returned and found Charity alone in the living kitchen, she
said, 'He's taken back the letter, and he says I'm not to worry about it
any more, but 'to leave it to him to deal with. And now you'd better go.
You know what you've got to say to Roger, don't you? Of course, you
can't show him the letter now. You must tell him what was in it, and be
sure and notice how he takes it, so that you can tell me afterwards.
When that's done and you get back, we'll try to put the horrid old
business out of our minds. Father means to destroy the letter; he said
so. And, Charity, I'm sorry you've been done out of your trip to
Banbury. Next Saturday I'll go with you and we'll have such a day! We
shall be able to laugh at this ridiculous fuss by that time.'

It had been decided between them that, in order to avoid the village
street and the possibility of being seen and questioned by either of her
parents, Charity should go by a roundabout way through the fields to the
pond. In other circumstances she would have enjoyed this walk along
narrow field paths, by berried hedgerows and always within sight, or at
least sound, of the running brook; but that day her mind was so occupied
with the coming interview that she was barely conscious of her
surroundings. She had been late in starting, too, and had to run most of
the way. On she went, stumbling over tussocks on little trodden paths,
rough with molehills and overgrown with bindweed and briar, her mind no
more at ease than her body. Her errand was not at all to her taste. She
felt she was deceiving her uncle and her parents. If her mother were
thinking of her at that moment, she would picture her with Bess, gazing
into shop windows, or sipping tea and nibbling a Banbury cake in the Old
Teashop; and here she was, quite close to her home, hot and dusty and
bothered, panting and stumbling on an errand she knew in her own heart
was likely to worsen rather than improve matters. She felt herself
entangled in a web not of her own making. Still, there was Bess, proud,
pretty, lovable Bess, to be thought of. She was entangled even more than
herself and she must do what she could to help her. She found Roger on
the path which led through the copse, near the mound, scanning the way
by which he expected Bess to come, and somehow, she could never remember
how, she delivered her message. The young squire was not unnaturally
indignant at what he considered unwarranted interference. 'It's come to
a pretty pass,' he cried, 'if one cannot look at or speak to the
daughter of an old neighbour without causing a scandal. One would think
we were living in the bad old days of the villainous squire and the
betrayed village maiden. I'm surprised at Reuben. He should know me
better! And surprised that Bess should submit so meekly to her father's
unreasonable decree. Tell her I thought she was a girl of more spirit.
However, if I am not to see her again, I am not. It is her decision and
I must abide by it, but tell her I never thought of her as one so ready
to desert a friend.'

'It is really because of the letter,' said Charity timidly. 'Uncle
Reuben does not like Bess to be talked about. Surely you can see his
point of view?' And that started him off again. The anonymous
letter-writer, he declared, must be found and brought to justice. He or
she must be made to suffer by a prosecution for libel, for, if Charity
had repeated the contents of the letter aright, libel it was to put such
an interpretation upon an innocent friendship. And he made her repeat as
nearly as she could remember what had been written, which repetition
made him angrier than ever, although she had from the first left out the
bit about the horsewhipping. She tried to implore him to let the matter
drop and be forgotten, but he talked so hotly and angrily that she could
not get in a word, and she stood before him miserably wondering what she
ought to do. She had delivered her message, given all the explanation
possible, and she longed to go; yet, though he seemed to be talking to
himself, regardless of her presence, she felt she could not turn round
and leave him talking alone in the wood.

He was still storming and she was still standing with bent head, like a
guilty creature before him, when one appeared whom they had little
expected to see there. It was Reuben, in his decent market-day suit and
his low, square crowned market-day hat, who emerged from the winding
path through the bushes. 'Ah, young sir,' he said. 'I thought I might
find you here, though Charity I did not expect to see. However, as she
is here, she may as well stop and hear what I've got to say. I s'pose
she's given you some idea of what I've come about. Read that letter.'

Roger read, then re-read the letter Reuben had handed to him. 'Damned
impertinence!' he exclaimed, and he folded the letter and was about to
put it in his own pocket when Reuben stretched out his hand. 'I'll take
that, if you please,' he said. ''Tis addressed to me and I'm the one to
deal with it,' and he stooped down, scooped out a shallow hole in the
earth with his hand, tore the letter to fragments and put a lighted
match to it. Over the shrivelling tinder the two men eyed each other.
The one young, handsome, and endowed with the privileges of class and
education; the other but an old countryman with only his ingrained
integrity and common sense to support him, but rich in experience. 'Now,
just a few words,' said Reuben, 'and as far as I'm concerned the whole
dirty business is finished. You and Bess are better apart. I think she
sees that herself now, for I've got her word there shall be no more of
these unseemly meetings. Of course, if you should meet in the ordinary
way, in the street, or going into church, with other folks about, you'll
naturally be civil to each other. I don't need to teach either of you
your manners. It's these meetings in out-of-the-way places I don't like.
They're not for her good, nor for your good, and, by God, sir, I won't
have 'em!'

Roger had not listened to this speech, probably one of the longest
Reuben had ever made, without signs of impatience. Flushed with anger
and outraged pride, he had muttered interjections of dissent, and there
was a note of sarcasm in his tone when he said, 'Surely, Mr. Truman, you
do not suspect me of trying to seduce your daughter?'

'No, I do not,' was Reuben's reply. 'I've got too good an opinion of you
to suspect anything of the sort; and, if I hadn't, I know my own
daughter. You won't find our Bess giving way to any shady practices;
she's got too much pride. But she's young and maybe a bit giddy, and
flattery from anybody in your position might set her against her own
proper way of life; and, above all, I'm not goin' to have her talked
about. So now you know.'

'Well, Mr. Truman,' said Roger haughtily, 'if you feel like that about a
few innocent civilities, there's no more to be said. Good day to you,'
and he turned and went back to his boathouse.

Reuben took off his hat, brought out a clean white handkerchief and
mopped his brow. 'Well, that's it and that's all about it,' he said.
When they were out of the wood he asked Charity which way she had come
and when she said by the field way, he said, 'We'd better go back that
way then.' Afterwards he spoke only of ordinary everyday things. He did
not then or ever afterwards ask how she came to be in the wood with
Roger, or explain his own presence there. He may have suspected that
Bess and Roger had arranged to meet there that afternoon; or he may have
gone there as to the most likely place to find Roger alone. That the
young squire had painted up his father's old boat and meant to go in for
some duck-shooting was village talk at the moment.

What Reuben's thoughts and feelings were cannot be said; but Charity's
feeling was one of relief. Neither Bess nor Roger appeared to have been
deeply involved, or they would not have been so ready to sever their
intimacy. It had, as Bess had said, been but a bit of fun, and, except
that her father had had a hot, tiring walk and a disagreeable interview,
nobody was any the worse for it. The whole puzzling business had ended
happily, and, as she tripped before or beside her uncle, according to
the width of the field path, she felt she had escaped from a tangle in
the affairs of others and might again live her own life. She had still
to learn that life is not so simple or so detached, that the threads of
human destiny intertwine, and that one thread pulled roughly may get the
whole skein in a tangle.



_Seven_

SNAKE IN THE GRASS

Often, at Restharrow, when one neighbour remarked that that day things
had turned out better than she had expected, another would say
quenchingly, 'Ah, you're up and dressed, but you haven't gone to bed
yet!' A dreary hint that not one of those gathered around the tea-table
at Waterside Farm that Saturday evening thought of applying to
themselves and their own affairs. Bess talked brightly, every now and
then casting a questioning glance at Charity, who, when she came in, had
told her that all was satisfactorily concluded, but as yet had had no
opportunity of telling the whole story. Polly had brought indoors three
small kittens, the progeny of the stable cat, and their laughable antics
did much to enliven the meal.

When Reuben went out, saying, 'Saturday evening or no Saturday evening,
the stock's got to be seen to,' Bess almost dragged Charity to the empty
room where they had danced. 'Now tell me everything,' she demanded. 'How
did he take it? Did he seem sorry he was not to see me any more?'

Charity began her story and had just come to the point where Reuben had
appeared when Bess grasped her by the shoulder. 'Look! Look who's
coming,' she whispered, and Charity saw through the window a majestic
figure in dove-grey silk, half covered by a transparent black lace
mantle, hurrying as much as a lady of importance could permit herself to
hurry towards the front gate. It was Mrs. Maitland. She had with her on
a leash her two little Skye terriers, and, as she entered the gate the
little creatures, unused to such hurried progress, got their leashes
entangled and tumbled over each other. 'Order! Order!' commanded their
mistress, and her tone when speaking to her cherished pets did not augur
well for whomsoever she had come to interview. 'Oh, I can't see her! I
can't!' whispered Bess hoarsely, apparently as near to being afraid as
Charity had ever seen her; and, as leaving the room they were in would
have necessitated passing the front door, the two girls crouched behind
the window-curtains, Charity's arm round Bess's trembling shoulders.

Mrs. Maitland's sharp rat-tat was answered by Mercy. 'Is your father
within?' asked that lady, wasting no time on preliminary greetings. 'Oh,
you will please fetch him. Tell him I wish to speak to him immediately.
No, thank you, I will not come in. My little dogs do not like strange
houses.'

In their position, near the open window, Bess and Charity heard all that
was said. Bess, shivering like a guilty thing, whispered, 'Oh, don't!
Pray don't!' when Charity made a slight noise with her feet.

Soon, Reuben, having doffed his old yard smock, came to the door and
invited Mrs. Maitland to enter, which invitation she again refused. 'I
wish to speak to you about your eldest daughter. Her name I believe is
Elizabeth,' she said haughtily. 'For her own good, I advise you to get
her a place in service, away from home.'

'But, ma'am,' said Reuben, still courteously, 'will you not come in and
sit down? I am not used to discussing my family affairs on the doorstep.
You would rather not? Then, with all due respect, I must tell you that
whether my daughter leaves home or not is none of your business. What
right have you to take upon yourself to interfere?'

'I have a perfect right. I have to-day received a letter, giving me
certain information----'

'I know, or can guess, what that letter said. I had the fellow to it
myself this morning. But, let me remind you, ma'am, that I didn't come
to your house and order you to send your son away. After I'd made proper
inquiries, as I had a right to do, I burnt it, as I've always been
told's the right way to deal with such muck; but it seems you think
otherwise, and if you won't come in and sit down, ma'am, I've no more to
say, for it goes against the grain with me to keep a lady standing.'

'But you will send Elizabeth away? If I can be of any assistance in
getting her a superior situation, as sewing-maid, or something of that
kind----'

'I thank you, ma'am, but, no,' said Reuben sternly. 'My daughter's done
no wrong and she's not going to be packed off to service in disgrace.
But, although I've no need to, just to ease your mind like, I'll tell
you here and now that she's no wish in the world to see your son any
more. She's had more than enough annoyance already over a bit of light
chat with one who, after all, is but a young thing like herself. There's
been no harm whatever in anything that's passed between them, not the
least bit in the world; the worst you can say is 'twas thoughtless, and,
as far as me and mine's concerned, 'tis all over. Good day to you,
ma'am.' But Mrs. Maitland was in no humour for leave-taking; she was
already at the gate.

There was no longer any possibility of keeping the matter secret. Mrs.
Maitland's voice, loud and clear at all times, had been raised in anger,
and everyone in the house or in the nearer portion of the farmyard must
have heard the conversation. Polly had gone to her choir practice before
Mrs. Maitland's arrival, but Mercy had heard enough for Charity to find
her in tears. When the situation had been explained to her, she passed
instantaneously from tearful bewilderment to indignation. 'How dare she!
How dare she!' she cried, and declared she would go herself that very
moment to the Manor House and tell Mrs. Maitland to mind her own
business. The idea of Mercy, usually retiring and shy to the point of
speechlessness, telling the great Mrs. Maitland to mind her own business
brought a wan smile to poor Bess's woebegone face. Her father laughed
heartily. 'You'll do no such thing,' he said. 'You couldn't if you tried
to; and when you come to think on't you'll see that she thought it was
her own business. The poor soul was only trying to do her best for her
own, same as I was doing what I thought was best for my own, and it
grieved me to see her, tired and upset, standing there on the doorstep,
too proud to come in and rest herself. I've got nothing against her, nor
against her son, for the matter of that, beyond his being young and
thoughtless; but, whether I liked it or not, I had to stand firm, or
she'd've been riding over me roughshod. And the best thing you can do,
Mercy, is to make a good strong cup of tea for yourselves, and you,
Bess, my dear, go and lie down on your bed. You've had a hard lesson.
Now I'll go and finish what I was doing. There's no sense or reason on
letting the poor animals suffer for our ups and downs.'

Even in the midst of their distress, while Mrs. Maitland had been
speaking, one thought had occurred to both Charity and Bess. Were the
Pococks in, and were they listening? Now, when Mercy was questioned, she
said she did not know, she had not seen or heard them all the afternoon,
and they hoped they were to escape the humiliation of having to discuss
what had happened with Stella. But they were not to be spared. As
Charity followed Bess upstairs, she happened to glance upward, and
there, leaning over the banister, she beheld Stella Pocock. Stella was
smiling; but, as their eyes met, she drew a long face and exclaimed,
'Oh, Bess, what is the matter? I didn't mean to listen, I didn't really,
but Mrs. Maitland shouted so and I couldn't help hearing. Why is she so
angry, and with you above all people? I'm sure you've never done
anything to offend her!'

While the story was unfolded, or as much of it as was thought impossible
to hide, Stella was unusually sympathetic. 'Poor Bess! What a shame!'
she ejaculated repeatedly. 'I can't see that you've done anything at all
to be blamed for. Anybody in your place'd been pleased to go out with
young Mr. Maitland. I'm sure, if he'd asked me, I'd have gone like a
shot. So'd any girl, and why that old tabby's making all this fuss about
it beats me!' and she ran off to her own room and came back with a
little bottle of _eau de Cologne_ to sponge Bess's forehead.

'Oh, those miserable letters! It's them that have worked the mischief,'
sighed Bess miserably, and Mercy, coming in at that moment with the tea,
flared up again. 'I only wish I could lay hands on whoever it was who
wrote them,' she cried. 'I'd wring their neck for them, that I would!'

'I wonder who did write them,' said Stella ponderingly, and she went on
to suggest the names of several most unlikely people, including those of
the Vicar and Mr. Virtue. But although her suggestions as to the
possible writer of the letters were stupid, Stella showed the best side
of her nature that evening. 'Poor Bess! I am so sorry!' she said again
and again as she lavishly sprinkled her _eau de Cologne_ on Bess's
pillow. 'Stella is not such a bad sort,' said Charity when Stella had
gone downstairs for a moment, and Bess said, 'Well, perhaps not,' though
she added that it was vexing to be treated as an invalid, and that she
wished they had not other people living in the house, for, try as you
might, they were bound to know everything. 'But Stella is really
sympathetic, isn't she?' urged Charity. 'Well, she seems so,' Bess
admitted; 'but I don't know! I really don't! You never do know where you
are with Stella, and, if you ask me, I think she's being a bit too
kind,' and Charity, remembering the look of exultation on Stella's face
as they had mounted the staircase, herself felt uncertain.

When Charity reached home and told her mother of the day's doings, as
she had been bidden to tell her by Reuben, her mother was angry. Angry
with Charity for having become what she called mixed up in the affair,
angry with Bess for her frivolous conduct, and, above all, angry with
Mrs. Maitland for having taken up the attitude she had. 'Who does she
think she is?' she cried. 'The Queen of England, and that son of her's a
prince of the realm? I only wish I had been at Waterside this afternoon.
I'd have told her a few home truths! Reuben's too mild and kindly for
anything when it comes to being at grips with a woman. I'll lay any
money he said afterwards that he was sorry he'd had to vex her. Ah, if I
didn't think so! Not but what that letter was a dirty trick on her, as
well as on us, and I shan't rest till I find out who sent it. One of the
men on the farm, I'll bet! One of them Reuben's had to find fault with
at some time. But we must go quietly to work; 'tis not the sort of thing
to be shouted from the house-tops. And a fine holiday you've had,
trapesing about the fields as a go-between! I hope it'll be a lesson to
you, and one you won't forget in a hurry!' and Charity went to bed
thinking how hard it was to know what to do for the best.

Of course everyone in the village must have heard one version or another
of what had happened. In those days, in a small place like Restharrow,
where very little of first-rate interest occurred, such a titbit of news
was a godsend to the gossips. For a few weeks, when Bess appeared in the
village, she was stared at, and, once or twice, she saw, or thought she
saw, one neighbour nudge another as she passed them in the street. But,
as usually happened when one belonging to a respected family was
implicated, whatever gossip circulated, circulated below the surface.
Mr. Penpethy called at the farm and stayed to tea, which he had never
done before. He was very kind and gentle when speaking to Bess, and, as
he was taking his leave, he said to her, 'We must try to forgive our
enemies, my dear, and pray for those who despitefully use us,' which
seemed to signify that he was not as oblivious as some thought him to
what went on among his parishioners.

At the farm, the letters and the events which had led up to them were
seldom mentioned. As Reuben said one day when he was told that Stella
had brought up the subject, such matters were best put out of mind. 'Do
you remember all that fuss and bother about those nasty old letters?'
she had said, as though Bess were likely to forget. 'I wonder who sent
them,' she had continued. 'Whoever did ought to be well punished. But I
don't s'pose we shall ever find out now.' And Bess, who was retrimming
her best hat, had held it at arm's length to judge the effect before she
replied, 'Let's leave them, whoever they are, to their own conscience.'
Then, after a few minutes' silence, Stella had said meditatively, 'I
wonder if there'll be any more and who'll get the next,' a speculation
which the others present regarded as too far-fetched to require
enlarging upon. The next! What an idea! Of course no more would be sent.
Why should there be? The two already sent and received had surely caused
annoyance enough to satisfy that unknown enemy, that snake in the grass.

Roger Maitland had disappeared from the place. According to the maids at
the Manor House, he had sailed for the West Indies and would be away for
at least six months. Perhaps longer; it all depended upon what he found
when he got there. The Maitlands, it appeared, had a small estate on one
of the islands, which had been bought as an investment by Roger's
father, from which for some time no dividends had been received, and his
mother had sent Roger to look into the matter. It was said afterwards
that he found their plantation gone to rack and ruin and the manager
gone native; but the blow, if the disappointment amounted to a blow, was
softened for him by his meeting on the voyage out the lady he afterwards
married. His promised bride was to some modest extent an heiress, and
later the whole village benefited by her presence; but theirs was
another story, ripening in time, to provide future entertainment for the
Restharrow villagers. Exciting events, in which many of themselves were
to be involved, were close upon them.

The winter had come. The footpath over the meadow was slippery with mud;
the stream ran in spate, and the trees stood bare. Except for a few
nipped blooms on the monthly rose, the Waterside garden was flowerless.
In the village people were making their Christmas puddings and
mincemeat; there were fires in the grates and the curtains were drawn
and toast was made for five o'clock tea by lamplight. The weather was
too cold and cheerless for out-of-door gossip. After water had been
fetched from the well, the women seldom left their own firesides.
Everybody and everything seemed to have settled down until the spring.

Then came 'the next'. One morning in the middle of December a young man
in the village whose wife was away from home nursing her sick mother was
advised by the anonymous writer to 'Keep an eye on that wife of yours.
She's having high jinks at Wallingham. Ask her who it is she meets every
night after dark in Lover's Lane.' The young man was of a jealous
disposition, as, no doubt, was known to his anonymous correspondent,
and, without saying a word to anybody, he took french leave from his
work, locked up his house, and trudged the six miles across country on a
day of thaw and rain and bitter wind to his wife's maiden home at
Wallingham; to find when he reached there a house of mourning and his
wife in the state any other young woman might be who, a few hours
before, had lost a dearly loved parent. Without any inquiry on his part,
the young husband's doubts were dispersed, for almost the first words of
his father-in-law were, 'And there's Alice here, she hasn't had her
clothes off at night or been over the doorstep for a breath of fresh air
since she came. Not left her poor mother for ten minutes, she hasn't.
It's a good job you've come, for maybe you can persuade her to lie down
for an hour.' After the young man had done what he could to help, he
trudged back the six cold, wet, weary miles, to be ready for his work in
the morning. 'Cussin' an' swearin' an' stumblin' over furrows an'
gettin' wetshod by steppin' into puddles,' he said afterwards; 'it'd bin
a bad look out for the bloke what wrote that letter if I'd come across
him!' When he reached Restharrow, before facing his dark, fireless home,
he turned into the _Magpie_ for a mug of hot ale and handed the letter
round.

The habitues of that establishment had a few weeks before heard about
and discussed the letter received by Reuben; but that they had not taken
very seriously, regarding it as part of Bess's little escapade and a
matter for mirth, rather than indignation. But that such a letter should
have been sent to one of themselves and have cost the poor chap a day's
pay, and, over and above that, a twelve-mile hommock, over ploughed
fields part of the way, and in unked weather, was, as one of them said,
carrying the thing beyond a joke.

All present agreed that something must be done about it. But what?
Someone suggested calling in the police, but he was talked down. The
less a man had to do with the law the better was an old Restharrow
maxim. After a good deal of discussion, they decided to take Old Postie
into their confidence and to get him to note the addresses of all
letters handed to him for posting, and to try to remember and tell them
the names of the senders. At the same time the young men and lads might
be told to keep a watch on the cottages; they might just as well be
doing that as lounging outside under the signpost of an evening,
hollerin' and wrestlin' and strikin' these 'ere Bengal lights and
throwin' 'em about and makin' 'emselves a general nuisance. Ducking in
the pond was mentioned as a suitable punishment for the offender, when
found.

Indignation and the desire for vengeance grew when other such letters
began to arrive, addressed to different people in the village and all
apparently from the same source. For a week or two they appeared
regularly at intervals of a few days, and they were horrible letters.
Husbands were informed that one or other of their numerous progeny had
another father than themselves; wives that their husbands were 'carrying
on' with the dairymaid at such and such a farmhouse; parents that their
sons had stolen money, or been seen poaching, or that their daughters
were on the road to ruin. The farmer was told that his workmen were
robbing his corn-bin; workers that there was a tale-bearer trying to
oust them from their employment. One leading cottage gardener was
accused of buying, not growing, his last Flower Show exhibits, and
another man who the previous summer had been foremost in saving a
burning haystack was informed that the writer knew for a fact that he
himself had set it on fire. Then there were pin-pricks, reminders of
some slight physical deformity, splay feet, a red nose, or an impediment
in the speech. Whoever the writer might be, it was evident that he or
she knew the village folk and the village affairs intimately. The
letters all bore the Mixlow postmark, all were written in neat script on
identical paper and ironically signed 'Well Wisher'.

Over Bess's affair the village had been divided. Some folks had said
there was no smoke without fire and they themselves had always thought
Bess Truman a stuck-up little bit of goods who'd get all she deserved
before she'd finished. Others, and those the greater number, had been
more indulgent. Bess might be a bit flighty, they said, and inclined to
dress above her station; but, after all, the girl was young and not
bad-looking, and there was no harm in her, only high spirits; and,
anyhow, sending that letter to Reuben was a dirty old trick. The two
sides had agreed to differ amicably; what had happened did not touch
them personally, beyond providing matter for speculation which had
helped to relieve the tedium of village life. Now practically every
household was involved, for the families were so interrelated that those
who had themselves escaped had at heart the cause of some relative.
Members of those families which had so far escaped were apprehensive.
Nobody knew what was going to turn up by post any morning. The postman
was watched from one end of the village to the other and every house
where he had been seen to hand in a letter was soon crowded with
callers, some of whom seemed to be disappointed when told that the
letter was but from 'my poor old mother' or 'our young Jenny' or Bill or
Arthur.

Indignation rose to fever heat. 'Us've got to find out who's a doin'
on't, and punish 'em ourselves if the law can't do nothin',' men said to
each other, and one man who considered himself an authority on the law
on the strength of having once been tried in a court and sentenced to
fourteen days' imprisonment for poaching, roared out: 'The law, my
elbow! We ain't a-goin' to bring any bobbies into it, nor yet no beaks,
with the duckpond handy. It's a clear case for ducking!' And ducked the
offender would certainly have been if he could have laid hands on him.

At the _Magpie_ an informal committee sat every evening to investigate
possible clues to the mystery. They had secured as many as they could of
the letters and examined them again and again beneath an old reading
glass someone had produced, shaking their heads wisely. The postman who
delivered the Restharrow letters each morning and, on his return
journey, carried back those handed to him for posting at Mixlow, though
willing enough, could throw no light on the matter. He recorded the
addresses of all letters given to him to post and submitted the list to
the landlord daily, but not one of the anonymous letters appeared to
have passed through his hands before they were given to him for the
morning delivery. When it had been concluded that the writer must post
them in the Post Office letter-box at Mixlow, people began to be afraid
to go there for their Saturday night shopping, lest they should fall
under suspicion.

Almost everybody had a pet theory as to the originator of the letters,
which they would expound at great length whenever they could find a
listener. So-and-So, one said, had a shifty, hang-dog sort of look and
they for their part had never trusted him; or they knew for a fact that
somebody else had been the best writer in her class at school. Of
course, she couldn't have had much practice lately with that tribe of
small children, but the speaker would not be surprised if the letters
were her handiwork. 'You know how artful and cunning them clever ones
be.' Or, there was that Madge Price, now in service with the baker's
wife at Mixlow, only two doors off the Post Office. All she'd have to do
would be to slip out after dark to the post-box and be seen by nobody.
At that point the listener, with some suspect of her own in view, would
_pooh-pooh_ the idea of clean, tidy, good-humoured Madge Price having
anything to to with the letters. And, she would add, why go as far
afield as Mixlow? Or even to t'other end of Restharrow? She knew what
she knew and was only waiting till the time was ripe to declare it.

Even Charity's name was mentioned. One man was reported to have said at
the _Magpie_, 'And there's that little wench o' George Finch's. She's
always walkin' about wi' books and papers under her arm. S'pose she
ain't had no hand in it?' 'Charity? Charity Finch? No, no!' said
another. 'You've only got to look at the child to know she'd never get
up to such tricks.' And the first speaker said, 'Well, no, she don't
look as if she'd got the sense,' which, when repeated to her, amused
Bess mightily.

There were more direct approaches. One evening, at the _Magpie_, a
mild-mannered little man who had a big, raw-boned, rough-tongued wife
was cornered. 'Now, Andrew, my lad,' said the spokesman kindly, 'we all
know that you've had the luck to pluck a bitter weed in matrimony, for
haven't us heard times out of number your Liddy a-hollerin' out to you
to wipe y'r gret hommickin' feet on the mat, or to leave y'r filthy old
coat in th' wash'us, and not come muckin' up her clean house. It's no
good y'r denyin' y'r henpecked, because us all knows you be, and sorry
enough we are for you, and that your 'ooman ain't exactly a lover of her
kind, that we know also. So, now, tell us th' truth. Has your Liddy had
any hand in them letters? Have 'ee seen any signs, such as th' inkpot
standin' about?'

All through the speech Andrew had been fretting and fuming. At the end
of it he boiled over. 'My Liddy have any hand in them letters?' he
shouted. 'I tell you my Lydia's as straight as a die. She wouldn't
demean herself to touch such muck with a pair of tongs. And as to me
being henpecked, that's as may be, though I can't say that I've noticed
it. If any man's got a good wife, it's Andrew Walker. Why should a chap
be let to go messing up a floor that his wife's just been down on her
marrows to clean? It don't seem right to me, somehow! And if being
warned off sometimes is being henpecked, well, then, I be henpecked, but
you needn't trouble yourselves to be sorry for me, 'cos I like it!' And
he got up and went out without finishing his beer.

Then, one evening, a band of youths who were acting as spies burst into
the inn taproom. In the course of their prowling they had peeped through
a crack in a shutter and seen Mrs. Burdett writing away, as they said,
for dear life. One of them said she seemed to be writing a letter;
another, that when his turn came to peep she was writing in a book.
'Writin' down the addresses where she means to work mischief, I'll lay,'
said one of the men. 'And now's the time. Let's go and catch the old
witch red-handed.' ''Ere! 'ere!' said another. 'I allus thought there
wer' summat underhanded about that old party, or why should she go
strolling the country like she do, and at her age!' 'To post them
letters, to be sure!' came in chorus. 'What fools we've a-bin not to
think of her before! We'll larn her to go writin' nonnymous letters and
stealin' off to post 'em at Mixlow! Come on, boys! There's plenty of
water in th' duckpond!'

A few of the older, steadier men held back. 'Arter all, we don't know as
she done it,' they said, or that she's a-doin' it now; she might be
writin' to her relations, or adding up her bits of expenses; and even if
she has done it, we can't go duckin' her in this weather at her age; it
might do her a mischief and we should have to answer for it, and sarve
us right for setting ourselves up as judge, jury and constable,' and
they drew in a closer circle round the fire. Some of them blamed
themselves afterwards for, as they said, not going to see fair play.
From all accounts, the play at Mrs. Burdett's house that night was far
from fair.

When the party of youths and young men reached her cottage and peeped
through the hole in the shutter Mrs. Burdett was seen, still seated at
her table, writing slowly and carefully with a quill pen upon a blank
page of an old ledger, and the sight so infuriated them that they burst
into the room without knocking. 'Now, then! We've caught you! Hand over
that book, you crafty old devil, or 't will be the worse for you!'
shouted one of the ringleaders. 'Hand it over, I say!' and he tried to
wrench the book from her. 'No! No! It is mine! What business have you to
demand it,' cried Mrs. Burdett, much alarmed, but determined to retain
her property, and she held on to the ledger so tenaciously that she was
dragged round the table to the doorway. Nobody actually struck her, but,
during the struggle, one sleeve of her dress was torn out, her feet were
trodden on, her ankles kicked and her shins badly bruised against some
article of furniture. And worse was to come, for when a sudden wrench
tore the ledger from her grasp, she fell back and her head was cut on
the edge of the table. She fell to the floor senseless. Without staying
to see if she were seriously hurt, the excited gang rushed off towards
the inn, shouting, 'Let's go and show it 'em, then come back and duck
her. We'll put an end to her tricks. The witch! The damned old witch! To
the pub! To the pub! Come along, boys!'

They did not come back, for, when examined, the book was found to
contain nothing of an incriminating nature, and had not some neighbours,
disturbed by the shouting, run to her house to see what was the matter,
Mrs. Burdett might have lain on the floor all night. As it was, the
doctor had to be fetched from Mixlow. After he had examined her, he said
that though her injury was not likely to be fatal, she had sustained a
shock which at her age might prove more serious. She was carefully
tended by neighbours that night, and next day she was taken away to the
hospital, where those in authority advised her to prosecute her
assailants. This she refused to do, saying, 'You don't know the
Restharrow folks as I do, sir. If I set the police on them, I can never
go back there, for I should have no more peace, and all I want is peace
and quiet and to be let to go my own way, and maybe they are sorry for
what they have done by this time.'

All her assailants were sorry and a few were deeply ashamed when they
found that the entries in the book, written in her old-fashioned spidery
handwriting, with long 'f'-like s's, had no connexion whatever with the
anonymous letters. It was, they said, just a lot of drooling nonsense
she had written, about birds and flowers and things, which, though
harmless enough, showed that the poor old soul had gone a bit queer in
the headpiece; but, if she liked to waste pen, paper and ink, and wear
out what she had left of her eyesight, that was her own lookout, and the
shattered ledger was returned to her house and placed on the table,
together with a half-pound packet of tea as a peace offering.

Some of the leaves of the ledger had been scattered and lay the next
morning in the roadside gutter, and Charity, on her way to school,
secured one of these. It may have been the very leaf upon which Mrs.
Burdett was writing at the time of her disturbance, for the entry ended
abruptly and a few spots of blood showed through the mudstains. What
Mrs. Burdett had written was puzzling. Miss Fowkes thought she had been
keeping a kind of diary, Mrs. Finch that she had been copying from a
book, but both advised Charity to put the leaf in the fire and have done
with it, for Mrs. Burdett, they said, would not want to see anything
likely to remind her of her ordeal. Charity read it over and over, then
put it away in a drawer and kept it for years. It ran as follows:


'The aconites under my blenheim orange apple out early this year, but
pale and peaky as if the sun was not strong enough to colour a flower a
right yellow, but they look nice with their little green frills round
their necks and I was glad when I saw them for when the aconites open I
know that the snowdrops will soon be here and then we shall have the
daffies and the wallflowers and know that its spring.

'A great big missel thrush, spotted like a toad, was eating the last of
the ivy berries over my little house down the garden, and afterwards,
my! didn't he sing. I looked at him and he looked at me out of his great
round eyes and I said you've got more than I've got, you've got a
thankful heart to be singing like that for a few dried up old ivy
berries. My tom pussy that I've had these ten years very poorly with a
nasty cut on his foreleg. Been caught in a trap I fancy. Those who set
traps for poor animals ought to spend a night caught by the leg in one.
I remember when mantraps were set for poachers. Then folks used to say . . .'


Charity would have liked to learn more about the mantraps and what
people said about them, but she never had an opportunity to ask Mrs.
Burdett to tell her more, for she never returned to her cottage at
Restharrow. Before she was due to leave the hospital, a brother of hers
appeared in the village and said he was taking his sister back with him
to their old home in Westmorland. He and his wife had long wanted her to
share their home; he had a good farm and money enough for them all; but
Avis, as he called his sister, had clung to her own cottage and
independence. She had always been like that. When a girl she had loved
to wander alone, watching the birds and searching for flowers, and he
found that she liked to do that still. At Overshaw, she could do as much
of it as she liked and had strength for, but he had managed to persuade
her that now, at her age, she needed a comfortable hearth-place to come
back to, and her own folks to look after her if she should fall ill, and
she had decided to go back with him to the home of their childhood.
Restharrow, he thought, seemed a roughish place for a widow woman to
live alone in, but he'd say no more of that, for he'd promised his
sister not to, and, rough as it might be, it seemed there were some good
Christian people living there. All this he said with such a strong
Northern burr in his voice that to hear him talk was like listening to a
foreign language when he came to thank Charity's mother for caring for
his sister on the night she received her injuries and for visiting her
in the hospital afterwards. Mr. Finch said that he seemed a good,
substantial sort of a fellow, and Mrs. Finch that it was as good as a
tonic to her to know that Mrs. Burdett would be in good hands.

Mrs. Burdett's cottage was bespoken by a soon-to-be-married young
couple. And Charity's father held a Dutch auction and sold what she did
not wish to take with her of her furniture. The Dutch auction was great
fun; everybody in the village attended it, everything was sold, and all
vowed afterwards that it had been as good entertainment, if not better,
than one of those Dutch auctions at fairs, where they sold solid gold
watches for five shillings and threw in a silver chain, free, gratis,
and for nothing. 'Who'd've thought that Carpenter Finch had had it in
him to make folks laugh till they busted their sides a-most, and him
generally that prim and proper that you'd think butter 'uldn't melt in
his mouth?'

The Dutch auction helped to distract public attention from the anonymous
letters, and, apart from that, village interest was waning. Indignation
had burnt itself out, and no more letters came to revive it. There were
two or three ill-natured persons who said that, of course, there were no
more, now old Mother Burdett had been laid by the heels; but they
usually got the answer, 'The less we says about that poor old soul the
better. Knockin' a poor old 'ooman about ain't nothin' to boast of, and
us Restharrow folks ain't thought none the better of for it, either.
Only the other day a Burmile man says to me . . .'

Mr. Virtue, looking in at the _Magpie_ one evening for a glass of brandy
and water, said the final word. 'Don't let me hear another word about
those letters,' he said, dropping water into his brandy as sparingly as
he measured out his medicines. 'You don't know who sent 'em, and I can't
tell you, for I don't know myself; but this I will say, whoever it was
he's had a fine run for his money. He meant to annoy and he has annoyed.
My God, hasn't he! It must have been as good as a play to him to hear
all your arguing and suspecting and quarrelling and all but fighting
over 'em! I advised you at the start to ignore the letters. Always
ignore 'em myself, and I've had scores in my time. According to my
unknown correspondents, I've been a champion smasher of the Ten
Commandments. But think that I ever lost any sleep over 'em? Not I!
Here's to 'em, every one of 'em, who've wasted their penny stamps on
me!' and he threw back his head and swallowed the contents of his glass.
Then, in a more mellow tone, he continued: 'Take my advice and let the
matter rest. You say the letters have stopped coming? Nobody's had one
for a fortnight? Then don't let a word cross your lips about them in
public and I'll lay ten to one there won't be any more.'

Thenceforth, if anyone tried to bring up the subject of the letters,
another would say, 'Oh, cheese it, old lad! Us've heard more than enough
about they,' or, more gravely, 'Let's take Dog Virtue's advice and let
them things bide. Arter all, 't ain't a matter f'r our boasting.'

No more anonymous letters were delivered at Restharrow at that time, or,
as far as Charity knew, ever afterwards, and gradually the story of them
took its place as one to be told by the winter fireside as that of an
unsolved mystery. But, though the discovery was never made public, the
identity of the writer became known to a few, and how this came about
shall be told in the next chapter.



_Eight_

ST. VALENTINE'S EVE

On the eve of St. Valentine's, Bess and Charity sat with their feet on
the fender in the warm, bright living kitchen at Waterside, Bess
stitching industriously, Charity gazing into the glowing coals,
thinking. Every door and window in the place was closed, for the weather
was as bad as it can be in February. For a week there had been night
frosts, followed by days of the damp, creeping cold which rises from
damp pastures and ploughed fields and seems to seep into the very
marrow. Upon the hedgerow thorns the melted hoar frost hung in drops of
moisture at the point of each twig and the lowering grey sky threatened
snow, or very cold rain. 'Tarrible weather!' 'Just about unkid!' people
called to each other and passed on hurriedly, fearing to be detained.
Washing hung to dry around cottage fires and filled the rooms with steam
and the smell of soapsuds. The old and poor who went to pick up sticks
in the copses were hard put to it to dry them for burning, and, if they
found their fires out when they returned, went to bed to get themselves
warm.

On winter afternoons school was dismissed at three to allow those
children who lived at a distance to get home before dark, and, that day,
the moment she was free, Charity had hurried to Waterside to see what
the girls were doing about valentines.

Stella stood at the living kitchen table, cutting out a garment. The
cold weather, as Mrs. Pocock said, had got on her chest again, and she
had not gone that day to her dressmaking. She was wearing a pale blue
knitted scarf twisted round her delicate throat, her feet were thrust
into red felt slippers, and she carried about with her a strong smell of
camphorated oil; but she was in one of her sociable moods, and when
Mercy in a clean starched white apron and with her face shining from her
afternoon toilet brought in cups of tea and a plate of hot cakes they
all drew round the fire in a circle and discussed the one topic of the
day.

That, of course, was valentines, for the next day was Valentine's Day
and Old Postie would go his round no matter what the weather. Would he
bring anything for those there assembled? That was the first question.
He might, or he might not, for the custom of sending valentines was in
its decline. It was said to have gone out of fashion altogether in the
upper circles of society and in towns, but in such places as Restharrow
valentines were still sent and received. Lovers, as a matter of course,
expected to receive from the one and only a valentine of the elaborate
boxed kind, with the coloured vignette of a bouquet, or a pair of
billing and cooing doves, or a human heart, stuck through with a
skewer-like arrow, frilled round with white paper lace and inscribed
with appropriate verses. Others than lovers who cared to keep up the old
custom sent to each other pretty trifles. The year before Charity had on
St. Valentine's morning received by post a mysterious package which,
when opened, was found to contain a pair of scarlet silk garters with
gilt clasps. She had known very well that the handwriting of the address
was Bess's, but she had at first pretended not to recognize it; that was
part of the fun. Her father's valentine had not been so pleasant a
surprise. It was one of the ugly kind, coarsely printed on a sheet of
thin paper, and showing a carpenter at his bench, exclaiming, according
to the balloon of speech which issued from his lips, 'I can't get it to
join, nohow!' which was not to be wondered at when it was seen that the
glue pot beside him was labelled 'Water'. He had not known who had sent
it and he had not troubled to guess, for he had known that no reflection
on his craftsmanship was intended. The sender had simply walked into the
stationer's shop at Mixlow and purchased the first valentine which came
to hand in the box marked 'Carpenters'. 'Well, it's Valentine's Day, and
I s'pose they must have their joke,' he had said, and left it at that.
Charity's mother had found her valentine on her dressing-table, an oval
cardboard box of candied fruit with a picture on the lid, and she had
called to Charity, dressing in the next room, You extravagant young
puss! You know my weakness!' and Charity had run and kissed and thanked
her for her lovely new nightgown.

But such gifts of love were not those under discussion in the Waterside
kitchen. At that moment the girls were concerned with the unexpected,
exciting kind, sent by some unknown admirer of the opposite sex. Though
affecting to despise such communications as silly, each of the girls
secretly hoped to receive one or more of such valentines the next
morning. After all, thought Charity, they were a kind of tribute and
showed that the receiver was not without attractions. Bess often got
three or four, Mercy sometimes two, but Charity so far had received
none. Neither, as far as was known, had Stella.

It was Stella who said, 'Let us send somebody a valentine!' 'But who can
we send it to?' asked the others. 'Somebody who'll be shocked, or it'll
be no fun,' she replied, and a search began for pens, ink and paper. 'I
know what we'll do! We'll all send one!' said Stella when these were
collected, and the others agreed that it would be fun, but to whom could
they send them?

'I think I'll send mine to Mr. Onders,' said Stella meditatively, and
the idea was greeted with laughter, for Mr. Onders was the new curate, a
shy, pink-faced, very young man in spectacles, lately engaged to help
Mr. Penpethy on account of his failing health. The laughter was rather
shocked laughter. 'Oh, Stella! you can't!' remonstrated Bess. 'He's only
been here a month and we hardly know him. Besides, he might tell Mr.
Penpethy.'

'The more fool he if he does,' laughed Stella, 'and it doesn't matter if
he does, for he won't know who sent it. How will this do!' and she
recited the old Valentine rhyme:


Roses are red and violets blue,
Carnations sweet, and so are you,
And so's the one who sends you this,
And when we meet we'll have a kiss.


It was a stock valentine and familiar to all of them, but when applied
to the shy, prim, almost coy-looking curate, it seemed outrageously
funny, and, although she again protested, 'But you can't! You really
can't!' Bess laughed as much as the other two.

'Oh, can't I? You'll see!' said Stella and forthwith sat down at the
table and began writing. Bess went on sewing. As she said to Charity
afterwards, she had had enough of anonymous communications to last her a
lifetime. Mercy said she would like to send her valentine to Luke. She
didn't suppose the poor fellow had had one in his life and it might give
him pleasure. But what could she write? Could Charity think of anything?
And Charity suggested, 'This is the morn':


This is the morn, the blessed morn,
A little bird sat on a thorn,
Choosing its mate for all the year,
As I have chosen you, my dear.


Although Mercy objected to the last line as not quite suitable, she was
charmed with the rhyme as a whole, the only remaining difficulty was
that she could not remember the words long enough to get them down on
paper, so Charity wrote them in pencil for her to copy and she, too, sat
down at the table.

Charity had decided to take her valentine to Miss Fowkes. A few
snowdrops were out in a sheltered spot near the brook at her home and
these she would take with her to school the next morning. 'My valentine,
Miss Fowkes,' she would say; or perhaps she might say 'my _dear_ Miss
Fowkes upon such an occasion; she would decide that later. If they were
to be given as a valentine, she must write something to go with them.
What should it be?


When these you see,
Pray think of me.


Appropriate, she thought, but scarcely sufficient, and she wondered if
it would appear too familiar if she added as another line, 'Your
Charity'. If she afterwards thought that might appear too forthcoming,
she could alter it when she reached home.

Her short valentine was soon written, and she had nothing to do but to
sit watching the others writing. Mercy, sitting square at the table, her
tongue slightly protruding, was laboriously copying the sheet supplied
by Charity. Stella, who was ordinarily what was then known as slap-dash
penwoman, making large, queerly shaped letters which soon filled a page,
seemed, that day, to be taking unusual pains with her handwriting. Her
head bent over the sheet, her bright hair falling over her face, she was
forming small, delicate strokes with her pen, slowly and carefully.
Charity, who already knew what she had intended to write, thought it no
harm to look over her shoulder.

'Oh, Stella, how beautifully you can print!' she exclaimed.

The effect of that innocently intended remark was such that, for the
rest of her life, Charity's memory retained the impression of Stella,
her head thrown back, her usually pale cheeks crimson, and, in her eyes,
an expression of mingled guilt, fear, and defiance. For an instant the
eyes of the two met. Not a word was spoken by either, but something more
subtle than words passed between them, and Charity realized in a flash
why Stella's delicate script had seemed to her vaguely familiar. She had
seen it before, several times, for it was the script of the anonymous
letter-writer.

For an instant the two gazed into each other's faces; then Stella sprung
up from her seat at the table, crumpled her sheet and flung it into the
fire. 'Oh, I can't bother! Too much trouble!' she said. 'And I'd better
go now. Mother will be in,' and, without any further leave-taking she
went, banging the door behind her. Bess looked up from her needlework,
'There's manners for you!' she said. 'Anybody'd think she was doing it
to please us, instead of its being her own idea,' but it was the
abruptness of Stella's departure she referred to; as to the cause of
that sudden exit she had no suspicion. Mercy had not looked up from her
writing: 'c-h-o-s-e-n' she was murmuring aloud as she formed the
letters. Neither of them had noticed anything unusual.

The revelation of Stella's treachery had so shocked and wounded Charity
that it was as much as she could do to talk naturally to her cousins for
the ten minutes before, pleading the darkness and cold, she left them
earlier than she would otherwise have done. They suspected nothing; she
felt sure of that, for they both of them pressed her to stay longer,
saying that Luke would be going home soon and would be only too pleased
to escort her; and, when they had found her determined to go, Bess,
holding a candle in the doorway to light her across the dark courtyard,
had called after her: 'Mind you bring all your valentines in a bushel
basket to show us to-morrow.'

Alone on the footpath, Charity's mind cleared a little. She asked
herself if it might not be possible that Stella's expression had been
one of annoyance at her own bad manners in looking over her shoulder
while she was writing. How she wished she could think so! But it was no
good trying to deceive herself. She had once before seen that expression
in Stella's eyes. A long time ago, when she had caught her cheating at
their game in the orchard. Then, as to-day, there had been that angry,
sly, cornered look, with something in it of pleading, and perhaps a
little of shame. A horribly revealing look, made still more horrible by
coming from one of Stella's loveliness.

As she neared her home and saw the cheerfully lighted window, she paused
and stood leaning on the handrail of the plank bridge, trying to decide
what she ought to do. She was as sure as if Stella had confessed in
words that she had written the anonymous letters. But not a word had
passed between them, and how could she describe a look? And she did not
want to describe it. She did not want anyone but herself to know. She
did not want Stella punished. And why should she mention to anyone her
suspicion. After all, it was but a suspicion, or so it would appear to
others, though she herself was only too sure.

The brook babbled coldly beneath the plank bridge, the trees sighed in
the night wind, and Charity shivered. She looked up to the few stars
showing through the scudding storm clouds: they could not help her;
nothing could. Within that lighted window she knew there were those she
could trust and whose advice she could rely upon; but, in case she was
mistaken, would it be fair to Stella to say anything? Full of
conflicting thoughts and desires, and remembering her father's maxim,
when in doubt or difficulty, sleep upon it, she went indoors and to bed
as quickly as she might.

The next morning she carried the snowdrops to Miss Fowkes, but they were
accompanied by no valentine. The one she had written had ended, as
Stella's had, in the fire; and not until afterwards did she realize that
the 'dear' she had meditated had been applied, not to Miss Fowkes, but
to herself. 'How lovely!' Miss Fowkes had exclaimed as she took the
snowdrops, 'Thank you! Thank you, Charity dear!'

That evening Charity and her mother were alone in the house. The
fourteenth of each month was her father's club night, when he walked
into Mixlow to pay his subscription to the Oddfellows Benefit Club, and
usually, as he said, made a night of it, meaning that he might not be
home before eleven o'clock, a late hour at Restharrow. When he came home
he would be gay and animated, not from what he had drunk, for he seldom
took more than one pint of ale, but because the talk at the club had
been stimulating. Members of other, more conventional fraternities used
at that time to say that the Oddfellows were no better than a lot of old
freemasons, and this idea was not discouraged by the Oddfellows
themselves. Though their mysteries probably consisted of no more than a
password to gain admittance to their clubroom, the addressing each other
as 'Brother' while there, and the possession of an elected member known
as 'our almoner', whose office it was to visit the sick and dispense
benefits, they liked to think of their own as a secret society. In
politics, the majority of the brethren were Liberals with a Radical
tinge; many of them were less strict churchgoers than their
neighbours--one man belonging to the Mixlow branch professed to be an
atheist--and, altogether, the Oddfellows were regarded as a daring lot;
though, strange as it may have appeared to some people, their lives were
generally exemplary.

On Mr. Finch's club night, his wife would often say after he had gone,
'Talk about women gossiping! Nobody knows what gossip is until they've
heard a lot of men together. But there! who'd begrudge them their little
treat, playing with their passwords and three knocks on the door, like a
lot of children, bless them! I've laid out his best suit, got his back
collar-stud through, put a clean handkerchief in his breast pocket and
seen that he took his umbrella, and now I must look round for something
for supper, for he'll come back as hungry as a hawk!' and she would put
on something tasty to cook for supper, which she and Charity would, of
course, share. That night, no rabbit or tripe or pig's fry being
available, she had cut three thick slices of ham and put them in the
oven, meaning, later, to top each slice with a poached duck's egg.

Charity had taken the opportunity to wash her hair, and her mother was
towelling it briskly in front of the fire when she suddenly suspended
her action and said, 'You don't think Mrs. Pocock had anything to do
with those letters, do you?'

Charity started. She had the moment before been thinking: 'She's rubbing
the outside of my head, but she little knows what's going on inside it';
but all she said was; 'No, I don't think so. Not Mrs. Pocock.' She may
have laid unconscious stress on the 'Mrs.', for her mother exclaimed
instantly, 'You don't think it was Stella?' and, gradually, led on by
one question after another, Charity told her all she surmised. And what
a relief it was to unburden her mind to the one of all the world whose
judgement she knew she could trust.

Her mother did not appear as astonished as she had expected. She had
had, or now imagined that she had had, glimmerings of the truth, and
really the wonder was that general suspicion had never for a moment
fallen upon one who went daily to Mixlow, where the letters were posted.
'We've all been as blind as bats!' declared Mrs. Finch. 'We'd ought to
have known that anybody can look like an angel and yet have a heart as
black as my hat!'

After they had talked the matter over, both deeply shocked and Charity
still grieved, though no longer without some enjoyment of the situation,
the two of them knowing what no one else in the village knew, and
discussing it at night in their quiet cottage before a roaring fire and
with an appetizing smell of frizzled ham coming from the oven, Charity
said: 'And now, Mother, what ought I to do?'

'Do?' said her mother. 'Do nothing! What can you do? You can't tell them
at the farm. 'Twould make things very awkward, them having to live
together. And you can't go crying it from the housetops without them
knowing. Besides, there's been bad feeling enough about it in the place
already, and it just won't do to start it all off again. You do nothing
and say nothing; we won't let it go beyond these four walls for the
present. When you're with Stella, you be a bit cold to her, but not so
as anybody else notices it. She knows that you know and she'll see by
your manner you haven't forgotten, and that'll give her something to
think about for the time being. Then leave her to me. I'll deal with
her!' and with such a sense of relief as she had never before
experienced, Charity promised to follow her mother's advice. When the
time came for their share of the ham and eggs to be brought out of the
oven, she was surprised to find herself not only hungry, but also
moderately cheerful.

Mrs. Finch's opportunity to deal with Stella did not occur immediately.
After St. Valentine's Day Stella became seriously unwell and was at home
for weeks. Her state so alarmed her mother that she procured the loan of
a little governess car belonging to the nursery party at one of the
houses where she worked to take her to consult the doctor at Mixlow.
After examining Stella, Dr. Fisher said he could find nothing definitely
wrong with her health. As her mother already knew, she had a chest which
needed care, but that she would probably outgrow. 'Let her have good
food and plenty of milk and eggs and get her out in the fresh air
whenever the sun shines, and the roses will soon be blooming here
again,' and he playfully pinched Stella's cheek and sent her out to keep
watch over the pony he saw browsing on his new quickset hedge.

'Um-er-er. She's got nothing on her mind, I suppose?' he asked after
Stella had gone, and when Mrs. Pocock had assured him that the child had
not a care in the world, he rose from his chair and said in his blunt,
old-fashioned way, 'That may be at the root of the trouble. Too much
time in which to imagine troubles which do not exist. If you take my
advice, you will get her married as soon as possible. A husband and half
a dozen thumping great babies are a grand cure in such cases. Eh, Mrs.
Pocock?' And he dispensed with his own hands a tonic for the one he
spoke of as our interesting invalid, and refused to accept any fee, for
was not Mrs. Pocock a widow, and an uncommonly nice-spoken little widow,
too, and Stella a young and pretty orphan to boot? To advise them, he
said, was a privilege.

When the warmer days came, Stella was better and able to return to her
dressmaking, and an evening came when, returning from her work at
Mixlow, she met Mrs. Finch in the street. Hearing that, though she was
really quite well now, Stella's cough still troubled her at night, Mrs.
Finch offered to give her a bottle of her own homemade raspberry
vinegar, if she would step indoors. When her mother and Stella came into
the parlour, Charity was sitting at the table, doing her home lessons. A
moment before she had buried her face in the bowl of wallflowers which
stood before her and thought as she drank in the scent how delightful it
was to know that the winter with all its worries and excitements was
over. When she saw them come in her heart sank, for she knew by her
mother's resolute expression that the time had come for Stella to be
dealt with, and there was nothing she so much disliked as a scene. She
need not have been afraid. Her mother, too, disliked what she called an
upset, and her voice and manner were kindly matter of fact when she
said, 'And here's Charity, busy with her books as usual,' and invited
Stella to be seated. Then she crossed the room to the corner cupboard
and reached down from a shelf a half-pint bottle of the raspberry
vinegar. 'Slip this in your satchel,' she said. 'You'll find a sip or
two comforting when your cough bothers you, and you needn't be afraid to
take it. Dr. Fisher won't mind. I send him a pint bottle for his own use
every year; though, would you believe it, he has it on his suet
puddings. Says it won't keep till he gets his winter touches of
bronchitis.'

Stella thanked her prettily and slipped the bottle into the satchel in
which she took her dinner to Mixlow, keeping her eyes all the time on
Mrs. Finch's face, as Charity thought, apprehensively. Mrs. Finch
continued to face her. 'Stella,' she said, 'I hear you can print very
nicely.'

Stella laughed a nervous little laugh. 'What if I can?' she said. 'As
far as I know, printing's no crime.'

'That all depends on what's printed. I've heard of folks who've found
themselves in the lock-up through printing too well. And you don't want
to go to gaol, do you, Stella? And you don't want to be disgraced and
have the finger of scorn pointed at you at home here in Restharrow? So
take my advice--and I mean this seriously--don't ever do any printing
any more.'

Stella's head drooped like the head of a lovely flower on its stem.
''Twas only done for a joke,' she murmured almost inaudibly. Which
feeble excuse so vexed Mrs. Finch that she exclaimed sharply, 'Joke,
forsooth! Our ideas of a joke differ! Think of all the trouble you've
made! You did ought by rights to be put where you'd learn better
judgement; and if ever you get up to any such tricks again, you will.
That I promise you! Howsoever, you're young and not well, and this time
I'll spare you if, here and now, you'll give me your solemn word never,
in all your life, to play such a prank again. Now promise!' And Stella,
her expression still more aggrieved than ashamed, said, 'I promise.'

Charity felt Stella's humiliation keenly and wished more than once
during the interview that she had kept her discovery entirely to
herself. When she went out to see her off at the gate she picked for her
a large bunch of purple and white lilac, and, as she held the cool,
fragrant flowers against Stella's face for her to smell, she could not
help saying: 'Don't be angry, Stella. Nobody knows you sent the letters
but Mother and me, and we shall never, never tell anybody.' Then Stella
looked back at her more kindly than she had done for years and there
were tears in her eyes when she said, 'I was sorry myself about poor old
Mrs. Burdett, though it wasn't my fault, really. I didn't mean to hurt
anybody.'

'Stupid creature!' exclaimed Mrs. Finch when, hoping to mollify her,
Charity repeated those parting words. 'I s'pose she hasn't the sense to
know there are other ways of hurting than the breaking of bones! Such
ones as her only learn by suffering themselves. But we've done what we
can and there we must leave it. Go back to your sums, child, if your
brains aren't too scattered, and I'll see about supper.'

The summer following the events narrated was one of the most glorious
within their living memory. For weeks at a time the weather was
flawless, with cloudless skies and brilliant sunshine by day, followed
by gentle, dew-dropping nights. What rain fell, fell at appropriate
times, by night, and between haytime and harvest. Even the farmer was
heard to say, not too grudgingly, 'Wonderful weather, for sure!' At
Waterside there were picnic meals in the hayfields and orchard; and
outings to Banbury and to neighbouring villages; to feasts and clubs,
and to dance on the green in the lightest of muslin dresses. For the
young in such weather it was joy enough to be alive. All that summer
Bess was eagerly courted by young Ted Furlonger, the son of the
blacksmith in the neighbouring village of Embley. No matter where she
went, to feast or club, Ted followed her, and, at other times, he was
often at the farm, ostensibly to see Reuben on his father's business,
though most of his time there was spent in following Bess about the
garden and orchard, or sitting at gaze in the kitchen while she did her
needlework. The blacksmith's trade was then at its most flourishing.
Horses were still in use for all agricultural purposes, making much
shoeing, and to this had been added of late years the upkeep of the new
agricultural machinery. The Furlongers had one of those fine old family
businesses which had descended from father to son for generations, and,
according to country standards of that day, they were exceedingly well
to do, and Ted was no ignorant country youth, such as poor old Luke; he
had been educated at the local grammar school, and was himself a fine,
well-set-up young fellow with modern ideas. But, except to keep him
dangling after her as a handy partner for dances, Bess would have none
of him, and she told him plainly, more than once, she had no intention
of marrying. Even Reuben, for all his tolerance, seemed a little grieved
at this; it would have been an ideal match from his point of view. Bess
so near home, just that pleasant walk through fields; he could have seen
her almost daily; and to know her well provided for would have been a
comfort. However, as he told Mrs. Finch, it was Bess's business; he
should say nothing to persuade her; the best marriage in the world was a
bad one if either of the couple had not got just the man or the woman
they wanted, and that only they could decide. Mrs. Finch was furious.
Throwing away her chances, she called Bess's behaviour. 'You mark my
words,' she said to her husband, 'that girl'll go round and round the
wood and bring out a crooked stick in the end!' In the autumn Roger
Maitland returned to his home and on Sunday mornings was seen by all
coming into church by the chancel door with the brim of his glossy top
hat pressed to his breast. When they met, as they were bound to do, in
the village, he bowed politely to Bess, Bess acknowledged his salutation
becomingly, and that was all that passed between them. None of the
neighbours troubled to watch their movements; there were newer and more
rewarding subjects for gossip afoot, and their brief association was no
more remembered than last year's flowers.

When there was talk of Roger's engagement, Bess merely said, 'Let's hope
they'll be happy!' as she might have said of any other newly engaged
couple. As far as outsiders could judge, that couple were quite happy.
Life at the Manor House was certainly more comfortable. The whole house
was renovated and re-furnished, new servants were engaged and a carriage
and horses were purchased. On the estate a small but model home farm was
established; broken-down fences were mended, and old gates, dragging on
the hinges, were replaced by new ones. 'Lord!' said an old labourer on
the estate, 'just see what a bit o' money can do! They tells us in
church that 'tis the root of all evil, but, seems to me, that from it
all blessin's do flow!'

The only imaginable drawback to the bride's felicity may at first have
been a resident mother-in-law. It was said in the village that the two
ladies did not hit it off, and perhaps they did not, for in less than a
year Mrs. Maitland senior left the Manor House for an establishment of
her own at Harrogate. 'Far enough off! They don't mean to have any
runnin' in and out of one another's houses!' was the village comment.
'And I don't blame our new young lady,' said those who were already
experiencing the benefits of the new regime in the shape of school
treats and Christmas trees, half-tons of coal and flannel waistcoats and
petticoats.

One activity of the young bride which was not dependent upon her fortune
should be recorded. After Mr. Penpethy had called upon her, as in duty
bound, she sought him out in his own dreary abode and so charmed him by
her gentle manner and her intelligent interest in his own pursuits that
she became a welcome visitor at the house where no woman had entered for
years. Gradually, she introduced at the Vicarage many improvements which
added to the comfort of the Vicar, and eventually persuaded him to allow
her to find for him a good working housekeeper, the kind of woman who
would cook and care for him without making any demands on his time or
attention.

Clerk Savings, thus deposed, hated the housekeeper and never forgave the
squire's lady. 'That 'ooman's fair starvin' the master,' he told people.
'In my time we got a good leg o' mutton or a round o' beef and I roast
'en on Saturday to last th' week, cut an' come again, and there wer'
allus a bit o' good wholesome victuals in the place, and ready whenever
he might fancy a cut. But what do I see now when I goes into the kitchen
wi' my vegetables? That graven image of a housekeeper stirrin' little
messes in saucepans, or a beatin' up what she calls a homelit, or doin'
summat to a bundle o' sparrer grass that 'tother beauty 'ave sent in
from her garden, and I've seen her takin' little tinny winny puddens out
of th' oven, not big enough to feed a fly. And th' Reverend's vest and
pants airin' on a 'oss round the fire, and her a single 'ooman; but
she's as bold as brass, that one! I did make it my business to go to
Madge Perks, as have allus washed for his Reverence, and I telled 'er
"That one up there at th' Vicarage don't trust 'ee; she's a airin' your
washing," I says. But, Lord! what wer' th' good? Women all hold together
like a hank o' wool, and Madge laughed and said that another turn by th'
fire 'udn't do the things no harm; 'twas rather damp weather. And her
badgers th' poor ole gent fair out of his life. When he's a mind to go
out, it's "Sir, won't you change yer shoes? I've cleaned 'em an' put 'em
to warm by yer study fire," an' "Sir, won't yet do this, or won't yet do
that?" I've seen wi' me own eyes that 'ooman run arter the man wi' a
clothes brush! 'Twasn't so in my time. No! No! Things be changed up
there. 'Tis shockin'! 'Tis shockin'! You mark my words, our Reverend
won't be long for this world!'

As Clerk Savings had foretold, Mr. Penpethy was not much longer for our
world, but it is good to know that his last few years here were spent in
comparative comfort and brightened by friendship.



_Nine_

THE SWEETBRIAR HEDGE

At the very best time of the year, when the meadows were yellow with
buttercups and the hedges were white with may and the cuckoo was calling
from five in the morning till twilight, it became known that the Pococks
were to have a young man visitor. Not a relative, either, though from
words that Mrs. Pocock let fall it seemed probable that he would soon
become one. Arnold Milton was the brother of a lady's maid employed at
one of the houses where Mrs. Pocock went sewing. Their parents were dead
and they had no settled home or near relatives at whose house they could
meet for their holidays, and when Miss Milton had said in Mrs. Pocock's
hearing that her brother would like to spend a few weeks in her
neighbourhood if she could find him accommodation, Mrs. Pocock had, as
she expressed it, taken pity on them and invited him to stay at her own
home.

But, far from being an object for pity, the young man appeared to be in
what most people would have considered an enviable position. He was a
schoolmaster, who, after some years as assistant, had recently been
appointed to a school of his own in a large village near Northampton. As
was then usual, a partly furnished house was provided by the school
managers for the headmaster. A very nice house, his sister had said,
with three bedrooms and water laid on to the kitchen sink, and the
village where the school was situated was large and lively, with
something going on all the time. The retiring headmaster had been much
respected; he and his wife had often been invited to tea or supper at
the Vicarage, no stand-offishness; people were more friendly in those
parts. The school managers had probably taken for granted that, at
twenty-eight, Arnold was married. But he was not, he had been too taken
up with his work and studies to think about marrying, and the running of
a house of his own was going to be a bit of a puzzle. She herself would
have loved to have gone and kept house for him, but she could not
possibly leave her ladyship now she was ailing; perhaps better, too, to
stick to her independence; he might marry later, you never knew. She had
advised him to engage a housekeeper, some elderly person, of course,
whose presence could give rise to no scandal. But all that could be
arranged; the great thing was that he had actually got a school of his
own. His house would be her own home in future; she should spend all her
holidays there. Was it not splendid?

The housekeeper, whom Miss Milton was addressing, laughed the sardonic
laugh of middle-aged experience and said, 'Splendid as long as its
lasts! Marriage alters all things! A wife seems at present his most
pressing need, and a young man with a good house and salary won't have
to look far for one.'

That speech of the housekeeper's may have given Mrs. Pocock, down on her
knees, mending the carpet in a corner of the room, the idea of securing
for herself so desirable a guest, for she lost no time in getting Miss
Milton alone with herself and proposing that her brother should spend
his holiday at Waterside. There were only herself and her little girl in
their part of the house, so he would have the rest and quiet he needed,
and she'd see that he was well looked after, even if she had to
sacrifice a day's work here and there. Not as a paying guest, as Miss
Milton suggested. Oh no! she could not agree to that when Miss Milton
had been such a kind friend to her in the past; her brother must come as
one of the family. 'You trust him to me, Miss Milton,' she said, 'and
I'll see that he has a holiday that he'll long remember,' and Miss
Milton, relieved to have the matter so easily settled, for accommodation
was scarce in the neighbourhood, unconsciously used one of Mrs. Pocock's
favourite expressions, 'You shan't be the loser,' she said, and pressed
into her hand a sovereign towards getting in provisions.

To those who knew Mrs. Pocock, it seemed likely that, far from being a
loser, she would gain a successful and, according to country standards,
a well-to-do husband for her daughter. 'Miss Milton says her brother's
not much of a one for girls, but you wait till he sees our Stella!' she
said in an unguarded moment to Bess. Stella appeared to be, and probably
was, unconscious of her mother's design, though it was noticeable that
her health improved and that she took even more pains than ordinarily
with the new spring outfit she was making. 'I don't think I've ever seen
Stella look so well,' said Charity to Bess a few days before Arnold
Milton's arrival at Waterside. 'Getting ready to be fallen in love
with,' responded Bess with her nose in the air.

Charity and her cousins could not help being interested in the Pocock's
prospective visitor. They wondered what he would be like and if they
would see much of him. Something, of course, they were bound to see, as
he would be staying in the same house as themselves; but would he be
permitted to talk to them, or to go out in the stables and about the
farm with Reuben, as other summer visitors had done, or would the
Pococks monopolize him as Stella's exclusive property? They pictured him
as a lean, pale, spectacled young man, worn out with much study, and it
amused them to think of him, innocent and unsuspecting as a lamb,
walking straight into the trap of matrimony. But although they laughed
at Mrs. Pocock's transparent wiles, and pitied, or pretended to pity,
her predestined victim, they were all of them so touched with the
freemasonry of sex that they felt themselves in honour bound to further
in any way they might the scheme of the matchmaker.

For some days after Arnold's arrival at the farm, Bess and Mercy kept
strictly to their own part of the house and only caught brief glimpses
of him as he passed their windows, though in those brief glimpses they
saw sufficient to know that he was not in the least like they had
imagined. Arnold Milton was what was then called a presentable young
fellow. He was a good height and muscular and healthy-looking; he wore
good clothes, parted his hair in the middle, and the ends of his
straw-coloured moustache were carefully waxed. Bess pronounced him at
first sight civilized-looking. Charity, whose favourite type he was not,
thought he had rather a towny appearance; and Mercy, as usual, expressed
no opinion, but said that she hoped the Pococks were giving him good
food. That hope may have been prompted by the knowledge that cooking was
not Stella's strong point, for it had turned out that, instead of
sacrificing here and there a day's pay for her own work, as she had at
first suggested, Mrs. Pocock had arranged that Stella, who was an unpaid
apprentice, should take her summer holidays and keep house while her
mother was otherwise engaged. She would be company for Mr. Milton, said
her mother, young company, and that was what he needed after his long
years of study. Stella, who hated housework, looked discontented. 'I
don't think I care for men much. At any rate, not schoolmasters,' she
said to Bess one day. That, and the fact that no sound of the youthful
mirth which Mrs. Pocock had prescribed for Arnold ever reached ears
which, if not exactly listening, were not closed, looked as if matters
were not progressing according to plan.

Then, one afternoon, Reuben, who had had some conversation with the
young man and found him interested in old country relics, brought him
indoors to see his collection of horse brasses. The best of his
collection hung in a glass case on the wall of the parlour, and as they
passed through the living kitchen where Bess was polishing the
candlesticks, Reuben introduced the two to each other in what he called
proper form--'Mr. Milton, meet my daughter'--and they exchanged a few
remarks on the weather. Very little was said, but, as Bess said long
afterwards, she took to the man at once, and when they passed through
the kitchen again on their way out and Reuben said, 'I've got a lot more
brasses lying loose about the house, but I couldn't put my hand on 'em
at the moment. You must come in and have a cup of tea with us one of
these days. Mustn't he, Bess?' Bess, who usually objected to visitors at
short notice because, she said, it didn't give you time to do full
justice, said impulsively, 'What about to-morrow? Ask Stella to bring
you.'

The next morning Charity received a little note, folded in the
cocked-hat shape and addressed to her at the school, charging her,
without fail, to be at Waterside by four o'clock at the latest, as
Stella was bringing her young man to tea. 'He doesn't seem at all a bad
sort and I think we shall like him,' Bess had added; then, as a
postscript, she had written beneath, 'Be sure and burn this', which
instruction Charity faithfully carried out, though she saw no reason
whatever for doing so and had no excuse to offer when, seeing her thrust
it between the bars at her home, her mother reproved her for wasting
good paper which would have made a couple of spills for candle-lighting.

They had a pleasant time at Waterside that afternoon. Bess was
especially lively and entertaining and, as always when animated, she was
looking her best. After Reuben had gone back to his work, she and Arnold
did most of the talking, discussing all manner of subjects, some of
which had certainly never been discussed in that kitchen before. Arnold,
like Bess, it appeared, was a bit of a rebel against convention, and,
far from being shocked when Bess expressed some of her daring opinions,
he encouraged and led her on. His last school had been in the poor
quarter of a town, and it had aroused his indignation that some of the
less fortunate children should come to school cold, hungry, and
barefooted. 'And you should see their homes,' he said; 'like pigsties,
no warmth, no comfort, no cleanliness! They fall asleep in class for
want of proper rest in proper beds,' and Bess, always quickly aroused to
indignation, called such a state of affairs a sin and a shame and a
disgrace to the nation.

'There are some very poor cottages in Restharrow,' put in Charity
mildly. 'But they're mostly kept clean and the children don't have to go
to school barefoot,' snapped Bess, and Charity did not like to point out
before a stranger that although the Restharrow children had shoes and
stockings, such as they were, many came to school wet-footed. Perhaps it
was as well that she did not, for, according to the views of their new
acquaintance, the making the best of things and the seeming content of
country people was largely to blame for bad cottages and low wages. He
seemed positively to hate the creeper-covered walls and diamond-paned
windows of some of the older cottages; such houses, he said, were damp
and dark within and a trap for disease germs. Charity ventured to say
that although no doubt some old cottages were unhealthy, others had
large, light rooms and were snug, for which speech she was rewarded by
Bess with a look which bade her beware of airing her ignorance. Stella,
who had been quite talkative at the tea-table, began to look bored and
rose readily when Charity proposed a turn in the walled garden. 'Did you
ever hear such talk?' she said as they stood looking up at the sky
through the blossoming apple tree. 'Why should they go exciting
themselves about what's no business of theirs?' Charity was not so sure
it was none of their business. She thought something ought to be done to
put an end to the state of affairs described by Arnold, though she
agreed that the discussing of it was dampening at a friendly tea party.
'Let's go in and get them to play snakes and ladders,' she proposed.

Bess and Arnold were still seated at table, but the subject of
conversation had changed. Bess was reading the visitor's teacup,
swirling the dregs around, turning it upside down to drain, then gazing
at the tea-leaf formations with the intent, witchlike expression assumed
on such occasions. 'I see wedding bells in your cup,' she said, 'and
they are near the rim. That means a speedy wedding.' 'But not mine! Not
mine!' protested Arnold, 'I mean to live and die a bachelor.' The seer's
lips trembled with amusement and Charity smiled openly. 'Man
proposes----' said Bess. 'Have I not told you that that is just what I
do _not_ intend to do!' retorted Arnold. His protest must have shaken
Bess's conviction, for, the next time Charity spoke of Arnold as
Stella's young man, she said quite snappishly, 'Don't make too sure! He
may have more sense than we credited!'

That conversation between the two was the first of many. It seemed to
Charity that whenever she went to Waterside she found Bess and Arnold
discussing some wrong which they declared ought to be righted.
Workhouses, prisons, poverty, wealth, workmen's long hours, and women's
rights, all had their turn. Bess nodded agreement to all Arnold said,
and Arnold, when Bess was speaking, listened as to an oracle. No doubt
Arnold was better informed on all these subjects than Bess, though even
he could have had little first-hand knowledge of some of them, and many
of the solutions put forward struck Charity as far-fetched, for they
were inclined to go to extremes which could never have been workable.
Still, their warm championship of much-needed reforms did their hearts
credit. 'What you two want is a little heaven on earth,' said Reuben one
day, but neither retorted, 'And we mean to have it,' as young people in
such circumstances would do to-day, for ordinary people had not as yet
realized their power, or their responsibility.

But the two now close friends were not always discussing social wrongs;
betweenwhiles they took their pleasure as became their ages. Although
they did not go out together for formal walks, they might often be seen
out in the orchard or down by the brook, and could be heard laughing and
talking as gaily together as though all was right with the world.

On Whit-Monday Charity and her cousins, with Stella and Arnold and
Arnold's sister, were to go to Embley Feast, and Charity had risen early
to bath and dress before breakfast. It was a perfect morning with bright
sunshine and little warm, wandering winds which stirred the tulips in
the garden beneath her window and brought to her as she stood pulling on
her best grey dress the delicious scent of early blooming stocks and
gilly-flowers. She was to join the rest of the party at Waterside, for
they had arranged to go to the neighbouring village through the fields,
which would not only shorten the way by a mile, but would also, as Bess
had said, be a treat, with the grass fresh and green and the may blossom
out. And Arnold's sister Rose would be with them; she had one whole day
off a month, and this was the day. Charity had already met her several
times at Waterside and found her interesting--to her mind, far more
interesting than Arnold--and this would be an opportunity to get to know
her better. It would be quite a large party. They could not walk in a
drove. Bess and Mercy would go on in front, she supposed, then Rose and
herself, followed, perhaps at a little distance by Arnold and Stella. So
she arranged it in her own mind while she stood before her looking-glass
adjusting the white collar and the little black bow at her throat and
drawing the two thick plaits of hair over her shoulders. The face which
looked back at her from the glass was, in its quiet way, not
unattractive, with its broad white forehead, serious-looking grey eyes,
and cheeks faintly tinged with pink. A thoughtful face, people said when
describing it, or a sensitive face. But Charity at sixteen took no
account of her own expression; she had long before decided that she had
no personal attractions, and it was her feeling of freshness after her
bath and her clean clothes that she rejoiced in at that moment; that,
and the prospect of the outing with merry companions.

It was half-past nine when Charity reached Waterside and walked into the
living kitchen without having seen anyone. They were to start at ten,
and Rose had evidently not yet arrived, but she could hear Mercy's firm
footfall upstairs and knew she was making her father's bed. Bess might
be with her, or dressing. The housework downstairs was finished and
everything was in order for leaving for the day. She walked up and down
the kitchen for a few minutes, too unsettled in mind to sit down and
read; then thought she would go upstairs and see what Bess was doing.

As she came out of the kitchen into the hall she noticed that the
glass-panelled door which led to the walled garden was open. Never had
the little enclosed plot looked more lovely. In the morning light and
morning freshness, against the young, tender green of leaf and blade,
the brighter tints of the old-fashioned flowers, peony, tulip, and crown
imperial, stood out with almost startling clearness. In their dewy
perfection they seemed, not flowers that had grown, but flowers newly
created. Charity stepped into the doorway to breathe the sweet air, and
saw, quite close to her, though invisible from within, Bess standing
with Arnold.

They stood with a low sweetbriar hedge between them. Bess had evidently
come out to shake the breakfast crumbs for the birds, for she had a
folded tablecloth over one arm; in the other hand she held a few bruised
sweetbriar leaves and was inhaling the scent; bur absent-mindedly, for
her whole attention seemed fixed on the face but a yard or so from her
own. Arnold must have been to meet the postman, for he held a wrappered
newspaper in his hand. They had probably been chatting over the hedge,
but, at the moment, neither was speaking, they were gazing into each
other's eyes. Theirs was a tender, absorbed, yet at the same time
triumphant look, so fixed and deep-drinking that it seemed some urgent
message was passing between them. Charity had never before seen that
expression in human eyes, but she recognized it instinctively: the two
were in love with each other. They had evidently not heard her light
footstep, and, blushing with shame for her involuntary intrusion, she
withdrew.

A few minutes later Bess came in from the garden and whisked Charity
upstairs to help her dress for their outing. 'What a day! What a
heavenly day!' she exclaimed again and again. 'I don't think I've ever
known such weather in May. The flowers in the walled garden are coming
out lovely and the sweetbriar hedge is in leaf. I've just been out
looking at everything, and it's made me feel so happy! As the day is so
warm I think I might wear my mauve muslin. I could wear my little black
jacket over it and take it off for the dancing. You're ready and Mercy's
ready and Stella's been togged up for hours. Rose'll be here directly. I
must hurry! I must hurry! I must hurry!' but, for all that, she did not
appear to hurry herself in making an even more than usually fastidious
toilet. Never were plaits more carefully woven, curls more exactly
placed, or bows more tastefully tied and pulled out than by Bess on that
Whitsuntide morning.

But at last they were off, over the fields and the stiles and the brooks
to Embley. They set out in much the same order as Charity had imagined,
but soon Arnold's group merged in Bess's and he walked beside her the
rest of the way. They were, for them, unusually silent. That day no
abstract ideas were discussed and no plans were made for world
reformation; it appeared to suffice them to walk side by side, their
elbows touching, and to glance shyly now and then at each other's faces.

Charity walked staidly with Rose behind the main group, and presently
Stella joined them; then, finding their conversation no more exciting
than that of her former companions, she hovered between the two groups,
now with one, now with the other. Once she stopped to break from the
hedge a branch of blossoming may, then carried it with her, held aloft,
like a may garland. In her white frock and blue sash, with the
blossoming bough, she might have stepped straight out of a picture by
Botticelli, and that day she did not disgrace her angelic appearance.
When she joined in the conversation her remarks were agreeable and her
tone was pleasant, but, for the greater part of the way she walked a few
paces apart, flourishing her may bough and humming softly one of the old
may songs. If she knew what was going on between Bess and Arnold, the
knowledge left her unruffled. After all, she had never been what the
country folks called a dog in the manger. If she wanted a thing, it was
war to the knife for it; if not, it could go to whomsoever it might; she
was indifferent. And that morning her mind may have been occupied with
her own projects; for, as they were crossing the last bridge over the
stream, she said to Charity, 'Do you think Bess and Arnold would mind if
I go with Jane Elliott when we get to Embley? She has asked me to meet
her and to go round the shows together, and her two brothers are coming
in time for the dancing,' and Arnold, who had heard what she said,
called, rather too heartily, 'Not in the least!' 'And you won't mention
at home that I was not with you all the time? And if I'm not home before
you, you might say that I had stopped to talk to somebody. I dare say
one of the Elliott boys'll see me home, so you needn't trouble to wait
about for me.' At that moment Jane Elliott approached, strolling along
the footpath to meet her friend, and, nobody having raised the slightest
objection, the two went off together.

Mercy had all along intended to go straight to the house of the
Furlongers, who had asked the whole party to dinner, and on their
arrival at Embley she went at once to the Forge. Rose and Charity were
getting on so well together that they decided on partnership for the
day. So, as soon as the booths and stalls came in sight, they all went
their different ways, leaving Arnold and Bess to take their pleasure
alone together, to Bess's professed amazement, though almost certainly
not to her dissatisfaction.

Neither Rose nor Charity cared for noisy crowds, and when they found
that the Vicarage garden was for that one day thrown open to the public
they paid their sixpences for the local hospital and passed through
wrought-iron gates into an oasis of peaceful beauty. The garden with its
lawns, shrubberies and flower borders, all at their freshest and
fairest, appeared to have less attraction for the holiday crowd than the
fun of the fair. A few couples sauntered on the pathways, pausing to
admire the Vicar's peonies, for which the garden was famous; others had
established themselves on garden seats and were lunching out of paper
bags, but, altogether, these numbered too few to disturb the serenity of
the extensive grounds. Rose and Charity seated themselves in a leafy
recess in a small sunk garden where irises bloomed around a basin of
goldfish. Over their heads drooped the gold-ladened boughs of a laburnum
and other laburnums closed the little garden around. 'If we've come here
to 'joy ourselves, why not stay here and 'joy ourselves?' asked Charity,
quoting the old couple in the Flower Show tea tent, and Rose declared
she could stay there for ever. They did stay for at least an hour;
until, in fact, the Vicar himself appeared and offered to show them some
of his treasures, which was in itself a most enjoyable experience,
though Charity's chief enjoyment that day was getting to know Rose
better.

Rose Milton was five years older than her brother. She was a small,
pale, rather serious-looking young woman, always tastefully dressed and
self-possessed. At first Charity had thought her reserved, but on closer
acquaintance she found her ready enough to talk to an interested
listener. And she talked entertainingly, for she had a sense of humour
and she had travelled abroad a good deal with a former employer,
spending one winter in Rome and another in Paris, besides making visits
of shorter duration to other famous places. When travelling with her
mistress, Rose had made good use of her opportunities, visiting in her
off-duty time famous buildings and picture galleries and observing the
customs of the countries. For Rose was an intelligent girl; she had read
a good deal, as she had had many opportunities of doing in the long
evenings when waiting up for her ladies to return from their balls and
parties. She had often had the run of the family library, a privilege,
she told Charity, that was readily conceded to a lady's own maid who was
fond of reading. Altogether, Rose Milton was as unlike as possible to
the stage or the novelist's conception of a lady's maid, as indeed were
the generality of lady's maids of that date, when no fastidious woman of
fashion would have tolerated near her person the noisy, slap-dash
Abigail of fiction.

For the position some education was needed, and, before entering her
first situation the would-be maid had to serve a five-year
apprenticeship to dressmaking, followed by a course in hairdressing at
some establishment of repute. Ladies of that day relied in the ordinary
way on their own maids for the care and dressing of their long hair.
Only on special occasions, such as a Court function, an important ball,
or a fashionable wedding, was it thought necessary to call in outside
professional aid. Then the hairdresser, always a man and more often than
not a foreigner, came to the house carrying a mysterious-looking black
bag, and was conducted upstairs to the lady's bed- or dressing-room,
where he practised his art with the lady's maid in close attendance to
hand him his implements and to gather as much of his method as possible
for her own future use. In times of any but serious illness, the maid
turned sick nurse, and at all times her relation to her mistress was a
close personal relation. She had to be one who could be thoroughly
trusted, and such a one was Rose.

Rose had been fortunate in those she had served; all appeared to have
been worthy of her devotion. After she had been telling Charity about
her winter in Rome with all its wonders of fountains and flowers and
pictures and statues, Charity exclaimed, 'How lucky you were! How
lucky!' Rose gazed up at the golden chains of the laburnums for a moment
in silence, and then said, 'Well, yes, in a way; but I would not go
through that time again for anything. It was the saddest time in my
life, for it was there that my darling Miss Sybil's cough that had long
been troublesome got worse, and my heart was torn by anxiety. When at
last she consented to see the English doctor, he sent her straight back
to London to a specialist, and, after that, it was but a question of
time. Her father--she had no mother--tried everything money could buy,
and the next winter came with us himself to the Riviera; but it was no
good; nothing could save her; she died. . . . But this is fine talk for
a Bank Holiday outing! I don't know what made me begin it, unless
perhaps Stella reminded me of Miss Sybil; she has the same lovely
fairness, with more colour though; Miss Sybil had a lovely colour, and
her expression just like a light shining through! But this is sad talk
for this lovely day. Let us go and see what the others are doing.' And
they were about to go when the Vicar appeared and took such pleasure in
showing his flowers, as they did in viewing them, that they were still
gazing and admiring when the church clock struck twelve.

When they reached the forge house, they found old Mr. Furlonger
stretched out on two chairs, resting. As a senior member of the Club and
one of its founders, he had with a few other elders headed the
procession to and from the church service which preceded the
festivities, and he still wore, pinned to his coat, a huge rosette of
the Club colours, Oxford blue and yellow. He was a tall, stout old man,
swarthy as a gipsy, who had had immense physical strength in his day.
Now his place at the anvil had been taken by his son, and he was doing
his best to resign himself to what he described as pottering around--a
situation which suited ill a man who had been for the best part of his
life at the head of a thriving business and had prided himself on his
feats of strength; but, as he said, it had to be borne, and bear it he
did, though since his retirement he was apt to be silent and grumpy.
However, that day he was in better spirits, and welcomed Charity and her
friend with old-fashioned compliments. An appetizing smell of cooking
pervaded the house, and Charity was not surprised to hear that Mercy was
out in the kitchen, helping Mrs. Furlonger and the maid with the
dishing-up of the dinner. Soon Mercy came into the room with a
tablecloth and began laying out the best silver, heavy solid ware which
tired the hands when in use. Everything there was on the same scale:
furniture, clock, and the few ornaments, though not in the taste of the
day, were all good and solid. Almost every article had a history: this
had belonged to Mr. Furlonger's parents, that to his grandparents,
another had been in the house since no one knew when; perhaps it had
been brought there when the house was first furnished by the Furlonger
family towards the end of the eighteenth century. They were the
possessions of a hardy and a hard-working race which had given its best
to its craft and for which, in return, only the best had been good
enough.

Soon Ted Furlonger came in. He was dressed in his best and wore a wide
sash of the Club colours over his shoulder, but, judging by his
expression, he was in anything but a holiday mood. When asked where he
had been, he said glumly that, as a Club member, he had had to attend
the church service, but that in his opinion it had been a waste of time,
with the shop chock-a-block with jobs and both journeymen
holiday-making. When Charity asked him if he had seen Bess, there was
concentrated venom in his tone when he answered, ''Oh, aye, I've _seen_
her!' and she gathered that the sight of Bess with another than himself,
and that other one he had supposed to be but a mere acquaintance of
hers, accounted for his depression.

Bess and Arnold came in soon after Ted, Bess full of reproaches for
those who, she said, had deserted her all the morning, but apparently
not much cast down in spirits by their so-called desertion. Then huge
dishes of roast fowls and ham and vegetables were brought in and they
all sat down to a substantial meal, talking and laughing happily, with
the exception of Ted, who declared that he did not feel hungry, but
afterwards cleared an enormous plateful of food in the absent-minded
manner of one who had more important matters on his mind. Before the
meal was over, he asked to be excused, saying that there was work
waiting that must be done, and somebody had to see to it. It didn't do
for all to be idle! Which caused his father to say, after he had gone
upstairs to change, 'Don't tell me any more that the age of miracles is
over! Our young Ted's a good enough boy, and well on the way to making a
fine smith, but never what you might call a glutton for hard work,
especially at holiday time, and he's been talking for days about your
coming and saying that he'd do this and that and the other. I can't
think what ails the chap!' But his mother knew what ailed Ted. 'Leave
the boy alone,' she said. 'He'll come round presently. Just another
teeny-weeny shaving of ham, Mr. Milton? As I always say, a fowl's not
worth eating without it; and, Bess, my dear, you're not getting on at
all well. Let me give you another slice off the breast and a spoonful of
stuffing? Yes, Mercy, thank you, you may fetch the rhubarb tart out of
the oven, if you'll be so kind, and you'll find a jug of cream on the
slab in the larder. Perhaps you wouldn't mind taking the girl's dinner
with you? I'd like her to have it good and hot, though she little
deserves it after smashing one of my best wineglasses this morning. Now,
come along, all of you! You're all pecking at your plates like sparrows,
and you'll not get another meal till tea-time, so up with your plates!'

As his mother had foretold, Ted 'came round'. He squired Rose and
Charity round the club amusements, though still with a joyless look in
his eyes, especially when they happened to light upon Bess with Arnold.
But he got over it all in time, and later transferred his affections to
Charity, which caused her much trouble with her mother, who had
difficulty in comprehending that a daughter of hers could be so blind to
her own interests as to prefer teaching other people's children to
having a husband and children of her own, 'and all of the best and money
in the bank' to boot.

On the homeward journey over the misty meadows in the moonlight there
were but two groups. Stella had her own escort, and Rose had been driven
off by road to Marston Place in the conveyance sent for her, as
arranged. As dusk was falling, Arnold insisted that Charity and Mercy
should keep close behind him and Bess, 'for we don't want to lose the
only two virtues we possess,' he declared, which mild joke caused much
merriment. So, with Bess's arm tightly drawn through his own and with
Mercy and Charity as rearguard, they passed beneath glimmering hawthorn
hedges and over meadows, stiles and bridges in the peaceful twilight.
Once, when they crossed a plank bridge, Arnold exclaimed, 'Did you hear
that frog jump?' and it was Bess who said 'Yes' and remained behind with
him while he turned over the kingcups with his walking-stick. 'Whatever
are they stopping for? It's too dark to see the frog if there is one,'
said the matter-of-fact Mercy as she and Charity waited, a little in
advance of the others. She did not hear as Charity heard, or imagined
she heard, the sound of a kiss.

Kiss or no kiss, there's no more hiding of love nor there's hiding of
measles, as the saying went at Restharrow, and, before that week was
out, Mrs. Sykes, ironing at the table beneath the window in Mrs. Finch's
kitchen, said suddenly, 'I see Reuben's Bess's got a sweetheart at
last.' She spoke with one eye on Mrs. Finch while taking up an iron from
the fire and spitting upon it to try its heat, and either because she
hated the dirty habit of spitting upon an iron or to discourage what she
thought baseless gossip, Mrs. Finch frowned. 'That's the first I've
heard of anything of the kind,' she said coldly.

The old woman, her withered-apple cheeks and small inquisitive eyes
framed in a white cap-frill, pursed up her lips and nodded. 'Aye, she's
a sly puss, that Bess!' she said, and thumped on a sheet with her iron.
'Well, seein's believin' and feelin's the naked truth, as they say, an'
if you'd seed what I seed at the church stile last night you'd know as
much as I do meself. Holdin' of hands wi' that young schoolmaster, an'
him helpin' her over the stile as careful as countin' gold; and her
holdin' her skirts close down to her ankles, as prim as me lady! Ho! Ho!
I thinks to meself, you wasn't always so choice, me gal! I've seed 'ee
lop over that stile with yer drawers showin' many a time. The case is
altered! The case is altered! thinks I!' Before the old woman had
finished _tee-heeing_, Mrs. Finch said in her grandest manner, 'Staying
in the same house, as he is, I s'pose Mr. Milton feels bound to show my
niece some civility.'

'Civility! Civility, forsooth!' tittered Mrs. Sykes, 'I med be a poor
ig'orant ole washer'ooman as 'aven't seen much, but what I do know I do
know, an' if them two wasn't lookin' babies into one another's eyes call
me a fool and a-done w'it!' And, displeased with the reception of her
toothsome morsel of gossip, she turned sulky and soon went home.

'What a curious expression, "looking babies into each other's eyes",'
said Charity after Mrs. Sykes had departed. 'What did she mean by it? No
scandal, I hope?' And her mother said rather abstractedly, 'Oh, no, no.
She meant nothing scandalous. It's just an old country saying about any
courtin' couple who seem more than ordinary wrapped up in each other. I
once heard a clergyman who took an interest in such sayings tell
somebody that it meant the little picture of yourself you can see when
you look hard into anybody else's eyes; but, myself, I've always
understood that it meant that when sweethearts look like that at one
another there's bound to be babies sooner or later. After marriage, of
course; I don't think it means anything vulgar.' 'I see,' said Charity.
'The look is the beginning of the story and the babies come in the last
chapter,' and her mother agreed that things did usually happen like
that. 'For, after all,' she sighed, 'in love or not in love, we're all
of us human. But do you think there is anything in what she said about
Bess?' Charity said she should not be surprised if there were something
in it; she thought Bess and Mr. Milton liked each other; and her mother
said, well, things will be as they will be, though she had always
thought that in the end Bess would have taken young Furlonger. She
didn't know what ailed young people in these days; no sooner full grown
than they must be off to the ends of the earth. 'There's you with your
training college, and God knows where afterwards, and our young Oliver
in heathen lands, and now Bess! The others'll go too, and in fifty
years' time, you mark my words, there won't be a Finch or a Truman left
in Restharrow parish. Still, as I say, things will be as they will be,
and there's no denying that Bess was never cut out for country life in
the rough, and maybe she'd be happier as a schoolmaster's wife, if such
is to be her lot in life,' and she soon talked herself into approval.

That evening, when Charity was unpicking the seams of a skirt her mother
was going to wash and turn for her and thinking how dull was the job
which had kept her indoors, Bess, all blown by the wind and with little
sparkling raindrops on her hair and scarf, burst into the cottage,
exclaiming, 'I can't stay a moment, Aunt Alice, but I feel I must tell
you and Charity. Such news! You'd never guess it in a month of Sundays,
and nobody else has got any idea! I'm engaged, engaged to Arnold! and
Dad knows and he says that all he wants is for me to be happy. Kiss me!
Kiss me!' and there were kisses and hugs all round. Then Mr. Finch,
finding that Arnold had been left outside in the rain, had to fetch him
in, and a bottle of homemade wine was opened and healths were drunk to
the radiant pair.

'Whew! what a tornado! And what a surprise! I wonder you weren't both of
you flabbergasted. I had enough to do to keep my own head,' cried Mr.
Finch afterwards, stretching himself out in mock prostration in his
chair; and his wife rejoined with an air of superiority that she had
seen it coming for some time, which meant for exactly two hours.

There was nothing to delay the wedding. A house stood waiting, a small,
but sufficient income was assured, and Bess's modest outfit was soon
prepared. It had already been partly provided by her own skill at
needlework. Like other girls of her day, she had made and laid by
underwear in half-dozens. This was done with no definite idea of
marriage, but rather from a love of acquiring pretty things and the need
for congenial employment in leisure hours in the days before there were
outside amusements. 'You never know what you'll need,' a girl would
remark when showing her laid-by treasures to a friend; or she might say,
'I've made these in case,' which, though it might possibly include
marriage, was supposed to refer as well to any other contingency.

For the wedding ceremony a new dress was considered desirable, though
not absolutely necessary, and Bess was thinking of wearing her new
summer frock when, one day, her father came to her in the kitchen with
the bag which contained his savings and counted ten golden sovereigns
into her palm. 'There, my dear,' he said. 'That is for you to buy your
wedding gown and anything else you may fancy. But don't spend every
penny, my dearie; keep something back; you don't want to have to go
running to Arnold for money the moment you're married. A bride ought by
rights to have her purse-penny when she leaves home, and there was a
time when even poor folks had too much pride to let their daughter go
empty-handed. A father'd see that his girl had something in her pocket,
if only half a crown, for her purse-penny; but things are sadly altered
now in the way of self-respect,' and he drew back into place the brass
ring which secured the waist of his long canvas bag, now visibly
depleted, and told Bess not to cry because she had come into a little
money. 'But you're too good to me,' she said, 'too good, when I'm going
to leave you and all!' and he had to take her into his arms and comfort
her.

Bess's was an old-fashioned country wedding, without white-be-ribboned
carriages, or anything which could afterwards be described as a
reception. One August morning, before the early freshness had gone from
the fields, the little procession came winding along the footpath. First
came the bride on her father's arm, all in white to outward appearance,
but wearing the traditional 'something blue' in the shape of blue ribbon
garters, made and presented by Mrs. Finch, who, determined that the
marriage should be a lucky one, had also provided the 'something old', a
lace and net veil, the work of her own great-aunt. The very veil,
indeed, that had once disappeared when spread to dry on a lavender bush,
and had been found three months afterwards in the nest of a thieving
magpie. This veil, thrown back over her hat and floating slightly, gave
the happy, laughing bride a hurrying, eager look as she stepped lightly
over the greensward. Mercy and Charity, in their new summer dresses,
pink and mauve respectively, followed as bridesmaids. They carried huge
home-made bouquets of mixed summer garden flowers, of all colours and
delicious scent. A similar bouquet had been made for Bess, but, at the
last moment before they started, a head gardener friend of her father
had sent her one of white carnations and maidenhair, and the more homely
posy had been handed to Mrs. Finch to enliven her sober grey gown and
black silk mantle.

After the wedding party proper, strung out in twos and threes and groups
along the footpath, came relatives, invited guests, and neighbours who
had chosen to cross the meadow to escort the bride from her home. All
were in their Sunday best and all carried flowers, which they intended
to strew before the bridal pair after the ceremony. The Pococks had gone
to visit some relatives. The bridegroom had gone on to the church, as
was proper; Polly was already in her place in the choir, and Luke, at
his own request, had been left behind to help his mother and Mrs. Sykes
with the cooking.

The school holidays had begun and girls in clean pinafores and boys with
clean faces, all carrying flowers, lined the way from the stile to the
church porch. Clerk Savings stood with Arnold at the door to make sure
that his own peculiar rules of precedence were observed. 'Here 'em
come,' he said as the bride's party appeared; 'an' I see 'em be bringin'
two vartues along wi' 'em, Charity an' Mercy. Pity you ain't got no
Patience! That'd bin the one to stand by 'ee in Holy Matrimony.' Miss
Fowkes at the harmonium struck up a wedding march which, though somewhat
wheezy and halting, added to the impressiveness of the ceremony. Mr.
Penpethy on that occasion had not forgotten his engagement. Bess and
Arnold were the last couple he married, and afterwards people said that
he had looked like a saint at the altar. 'An' that thin and pale you
could a'most see through the poor old gentleman.' Afterwards, in the
vestry, he said, patting Arnold's wrist, 'Your gain is our loss, my lad;
but cherish her as she deserves and we'll forgive you.' Then he took
Bess's hand and said, 'Bless you, my dear!' and they all trooped out to
face the rice- and flower-throwing.

The guests previously invited and others picked up on the way filled the
big barn, where two long tables were spread. Hot roast beef and plum
pudding were then not considered too heavy fare for a hot August noon,
and the guests passed their plates again and again. Jugs of foaming ale
circulated and the old traditional toasts were honoured.

Only Mercy noticed that Luke was missing. When she questioned him
afterwards, he said he had gone to look for a lost whetstone in a
recently mown field, and, being Mercy, she did not reproach him for not
being at hand to help swell the chorus of cheers when the newly married
pair had been driven off to the station in Farmer Mercer's best
dog-cart; but, instead, sat him down at the back kitchen table to cold
beef and ale. She wished she could have told him that Bess had missed
and inquired for him when she had made her final adieux; but, of course,
she had not given him a thought. How could it have been expected of her?
She had her own life to live, and her life that day was at its apex of
happiness. How should she know that her sunshine was Luke's shadow?

Bess found her new home all she had hoped for, and her letters reflected
her satisfaction. She was making such-and-such improvements in the
house; she had been with Arnold to tea at the Vicarage; she was teaching
needlework to the girls in school, and had engaged a young maid to do
the rough housework. She was as happy as a lark, but there was nowhere
like dear Waterside and she longed for the Christmas holidays. Mrs.
Finch had come to take such a pleasure and pride in the match that she
had almost persuaded herself it was one of her own making. 'What did I
tell you?' she would say after reading one of Bess's letters. 'Bess was
never cut out for our rough life. She needed a little refinement and
gaiety and a man she could look up to, not one who, however thriving,
'ud be coming in grimy from his work, like that Ted Furlonger. No! as I
said from the first, 't'ud never have done, though the lad's well enough
in his way.'

Yet, a year or so later, she and Charity came as near to quarrelling as
they ever did in their lives over that same lad! The situation was saved
at the last moment by Mrs. Finch laughing and saying, 'Don't take any
notice of what I say. I s'pose it's the waste of a good husband I can't
bear. Waste always goes against the grain with me, as you know. Well,
well, well! If you won't have Ted, you won't. You know your own mind
best and I won't try to persuade you. But I don't like him going out of
the family. Do you think he might by any chance fancy Mercy?



_Ten_

FIELD FIRES

One October Saturday afternoon Charity had gone to the more distant
Waterside fields to pick sloes, or slans, as the fruit was called
locally, intending, when she had filled her basket, to call at the farm.
It had been a good year for sloes; never had the bushes been so loaded
or the fruit larger and juicier, each sloe like a small plum, misted
with pale purple bloom. Her mother had already filled a nine-gallon cask
with the wine she had made, but this she had determined to keep for some
special occasion, as it had been a kind of vintage year. 'Not a tap
shall be knocked into that barrel till the day of Charity's wedding, or
the day she gets her own school,' she had declared. But now she had said
that if Charity would go round the hedgerows and fill the basket she
gave her she would make another quart or two for what she called common
use. 'It's a bit late for them, I know,' she said, 'but there must be
pecks still hanging on the boughs, and the wine won't be any the worse
for a touch of frost. Better, according to some folks' opinion. 'Twas
always said when I was a child that celery, sloes and savoy cabbage
wasn't worth a tinker's cuss till they'd been frosted.' And Charity had
taken the basket and strolled along the hedgerows, picking the finest.

By the time her basket was full she was a long way from home. The fields
she had come to were large arable fields, lying bare beneath a grey sky,
some still stubble, others ribbed like brown corduroy from ploughing, or
levelled and sown with winter wheat. The only bright colour was provided
by the hedgerows, still washed with the crimson of haws and brightened
by the sunset tints of the sprinkling of leaves still left on the
quickset. Moisture rose from the ploughed fields and drifted in thin
veil-like clouds low down over the earth's surface, bearing with it the
strong earthy scents of charlock and stubble and freshly turned clods,
with a flavour of smoke from some invisible field fire.

No footpath ran in that direction, for no cottage or farm building were
anywhere near. Except for the birds which scoured the stubble in flocks,
or sank twittering into some hedgerow tree where they loaded the
branches like feathered fruit, Charity for some time passed from field
to field without seeing a living creature. Then there came to her,
faintly at first, then loud and insistent, the bleating of sheep, and
she skirted the field where they were folded and called a greeting to
old Shepherd Moss. He was driving in stakes to extend his fold, his
white beard bobbing in time to the strokes of his mallet, and did not
hear or see her; but, a little further on, crouching down on the damp
earth at the open end of a turnip clamp, she found his son Clem. He had
apparently been sent to fetch turnips to be ground in the cutter and fed
to the sheep, for a bushel scuttle lay near him, empty and on its side;
but Clem was otherwise engaged. He was carving a turnip with his
pocket-knife with minute, delicate strokes, and when he became aware of
Charity standing over him he opened his palm and showed her his
handiwork. He had fashioned a flower, a rose, quite recognizably a wild
rose, though the petals were an eighth of an inch in thickness and the
one leaf, of similar thickness, had been pinned to the stalk with a
thorn. Charity praised it loudly, as she would have done whatever its
degree of excellence, but in this instance sincerely, shouting a little,
as one does instinctively when speaking to one slow of comprehension.

Poor Clem! He was Shepherd Moss's Lammas lamb, the last of a long family
and, as sometimes happens with the child of ageing parents, he was
defective, having a cleft palate which impaired his articulation. The
village children called him a looney and teased him. His intellect was
not of the brightest; but at that moment the expression in his pale eyes
of pure joy in his handiwork was not unintelligent.

'It's lovely, Clem! A real dog-rose! How clever of you to cut it!'
'F'oo! F'oo!' mouthed the lad, rising and offering her his rose. To
please him, she took it and carried it on her own palm, as one might
carry a gem. When she reached the next field gate she turned. The
shepherd had finished driving his stakes and was banging hurdles about,
the ewes all the time keeping up their loud, plaintive cries. As yet
Clem had evidently not been missed by his father and had again crouched
down by the clamp and was using his penknife. Poor Clem! she thought,
slipping his rose in her pocket. If he had had a chance, he might have
made a good stonemason, or something; now all he could be sure of was a
hiding for laziness, and that in the near future.

Charity plodded on beside the hedgerows, the stiff, clayey soil clinging
to her boot soles and the mist wrapping her around. The cries of the
ewes followed her for a time, then became fainter, and soon there was no
sound to be heard but the occasional flapping of a wing. She had come to
the highest point of the farmland. These were the fields she had seen
every day from the footpath. Seen from that distance, they had an
everyday, cheerful look, now they seemed strange and mysterious. Rough
stone walls, falling in places to ruins, supported the hedgerow banks.
These, she had been told, had been built as relief work by starving men
during the agricultural depression of the forties, and she thought of
them sighing and groaning as they lifted the stones into position. But
that was long ago. The thorn bushes in the hedges which had been planted
above the walls had had time to become old and gnarled and hung with
lichen, and the bad time for farm workers had passed from the memory of
all but a few old people who at the time had been children. Since that
time many a harvest had been carried from the fields by the starving
men's descendants with cheers for the merry, merry harvest home to come;
and their children's children had walked entwined in couples along the
field margins and loitered in the gateways, with no thought of the
earlier toilers. Yet in the brooding grey silence it seemed to her that
something remained of the tears and the cheers and the kisses that
lonely upland had known. She stood in a massive stonebuilt gateway to
take her bearings. Restharrow lay hidden somewhere below in the
distance, but she saw the stackyard and farm buildings of Waterside and
smoke rising from one of the house chimneys. She was nearing the field
fire, wreaths of aromatic smoke drifted around her, and she thought she
would go to the fire and ask the man or boy in attendance to tell her
the nearest way down to Waterside.

She had not far to go. The next gateway opened on to a newly harrowed
field with, in two long lines down its whole length, small smoking heaps
of couch grass. A man in earth-coloured clothes stood prodding one of
the smoking heaps with a pitchfork and, when that was burning to his
satisfaction, he shambled heavily down the line, attending to those
fires which needed attention. Earth-coloured, heavy-footed, with
hunched-up shoulders, to one to whom he was a stranger he might have
appeared little more than an animated clod, but Charity recognized in
him a very human individual. It was Luke.

'Hullo, Luke!' she called cheerfully. 'What are you doing up here? I
thought Saturday was your afternoon for cleaning the stables,' and Luke
said he had finished his work 'down yonder' and, having an hour to
spare, he had thought he would come up and see how the fires were
burning. But it was hard going, he said, hommicking over the wet land,
and he brought out his clasp knife and, standing first on one foot, then
on the other, slowly and deliberately scraped the soil from his boot
soles. Charity thought he looked unusually thoughtful and a little
downcast, and she wondered if he was grieving for Bess's lost presence.
Now she came to think of it, he had been looking downcast lately; his
broad red face had still its kindly expression, but it had lost its old
beaming smile.

'This wet squitch is a caution to keep alight,' said Luke, squatting
down beside a sulking fire and taking matches and paper from his pocket.
Then he leaned forward, puffed out his cheeks, and blew on the feeble
flame he had lighted. No more was said until it was burning to his
satisfaction, then, sitting back on his heels, he looked up into
Charity's face and said, 'You be lonesome these days, seemingly?' and
Charity said, yes, she was lonesome in a way since her cousin was
married, but added brightly that she had enjoyed her walk; the fields up
there were so quiet and old-seeming, sort of enchanted, she thought.

'They be lonesome, right 'nuff,' said Luke, 'and they be the best place
for lonesome people. Nobody 'ud come here if they wasn't lonesome;
they'd go and enjoy 'emselves where other folks wer'.'

'Are you lonely, Luke?' asked Charity, and at that a look of real
suffering came into his china-blue eyes. He rose and shook himself. The
smoke from the rekindled fire rose in a spiral, then mingled with the
smoke of other fires to float in a pale blue haze over the newly-raked
acres, but Luke made no attempt to answer her question. Instead, he
burst out with more spirit than she had ever seen in him before, 'I
can't stand this life much longer! Come day, go day, one day's the same
as t'other; same old 'osses, same old fields! You ploughs and you
harrows an' you gets in th' seed corn; then comes haytime an' harvest
an' you starts all over again! I be just about sick an' sated of it all,
an' I've a gert mind to take th' Queen's shillin'.'

'You go for a soldier!' exclaimed the amazed Charity. 'I can't imagine
you as one somehow; and I thought you liked the farm work. You have
always seemed to like the horses and things, and you are Uncle's
right-hand man, you know you are! Besides, what would your mother do
without you? It would break her heart if you enlisted, but you can't
mean to!'

Luke smiled rather shamefacedly. 'No, I don't s'pose I do mean it,' he
said, 'an' if I did I don't reckon any recruiting sergeant'd look at me;
but everybody gets a bit unkid at times and then they sez anything.
Talks as their belly guides 'em, as the sayin' goes. Don't take any
notice of me, I sh'll be as bright as a button come mornin'. You get
along down to a good fire an' y'r tea,' and Charity, seeing that he had
rather be alone, left him.

She knew very well what was the matter with Luke. He must always have
known that Bess would never marry him; probably he had never dreamed
that she would; but while she had remained at the farm he had had
opportunities of seeing and serving her, and with her going the sunshine
had gone from his life. At the gateway she turned and looked back. Luke
was still standing leaning on his pitchfork where she had left him. She
waved to him, but he did not see her waving and she turned sadly away.
By the time she reached Waterside dusk was falling.

After the mist and the dripping hedgerows, the living kitchen at
Waterside looked a picture of homely comfort. Polly was toasting muffins
before a huge fire. She had been on her favourite Saturday-afternoon
errand to waylay the muffin man, who once a week on that day at that
season came through the village with his wares in a flat
oil-cloth-covered tray on his head, ringing his bell and calling,
_Muffins and crumpets! Who'll buy! Who'll buy! Muffins and crumpets and
S-a-a-l-l-y L-u-n-n-s!_ A covered soup-plate containing those she had
toasted stood to keep hot on the high steel fender. Firelight gleamed on
the the walls and ceiling and picked out with its flickering light the
brass candlesticks and the crockery on the dresser.

'Hullo! Here you are, you old owl!' she cried when Charity came blinking
into the firelit room. 'Wherever have you been? We've been just bursting
to tell you the news. You'd never guess! Dad's had a letter, Mrs. Harper
brought it from the post office at Mixlow and Cousin Oliver's coming
home from India!' And she danced excitedly around the room, waving her
toasting-fork with a crumpet impaled upon it, singing, 'He's coming
home! He's coming home! Our Cousin Oliver's coming home as soon as a
ship can carry him!'

Charity was almost as excited as Polly, and the next few minutes were
spent in discussing what they would do to welcome the wanderer when he
arrived. Polly thought of ringing the long row of room-bells over the
back kitchen mantelpiece. She thought she could just manage to produce
on them _Home, sweet Home_, or _Hail the Conquering_, and, indeed, if
she could not it would not have been for want of practice, for, as her
father had said, she had 'terrified' those bells from the time when she
could first climb on a chair and reach them with a walking-stick.
Charity was for some more quiet way of welcoming their cousin. She
thought a wreath of snowdrops round his plate would give him more
pleasure, and the snowdrops would be out by the time he arrived, as he
had said in his letter that he had to wait for a ship. Polly buttered
her crumpets lavishly and returned to her toasting. She had never seen
Oliver; he had left the country before she had been born, and now she
asked what he was like. Mercy, who had just come into the room, said he
was just a nice boy, full of mischief and fun. Polly would find him a
tease. Charity suggested that Oliver might have changed during all those
years away; he had been a boy when he left home, now he must be a man;
but the man Oliver she could not visualize; she still thought of him as
the long-limbed country youth in uniform who had played with and teased
her twelve years before.

Then Reuben came in and the lamp was lighted and they gathered around
the tea-table. 'Oh, Polly! I do wish you'd go easier with the butter!'
said Mercy reprovingly, as she uncovered the dish. 'Those crumpets are
swimming, regularly swimming, and you know Bess always told you it was
vulgar to spread butter too thick!' 'Um-m, um-m! Perhaps she did say so,
but for all that I noticed that when we had crumpets she liked the
bottom layer,' was Polly's pert retort, and for once neither her father
nor Mercy checked her pertness. Polly's manners was a stock subject;
that of Oliver's return was new and absorbing.

'Let's see,' said Reuben reflectively, 'young Oliver'll be thirty by
this time. Time he married and settled down. We must see if we can't
find him a wife.' 'What about Sally Price?' asked pert little Polly, and
the idea of Sally Price as a wife for a smart young soldier made them
all laugh, for Sall was a queer, old-fashioned little body of forty
whose youth had been spent in caring for her aged and invalid parents
and who had only recently appeared to have awakened to the danger of
old-maidhood. Then all she could do, poor maid, was to purchase a spray
of artificial red roses to enliven the crape she had been wearing as
mourning for her last parent, and to make shy awkward advances towards
an elderly widower who had no intention of marrying her, but had no
objection to walking home from church with her on Sundays in return for
the free washing and mending of his clothes. Her eager adoration and his
lumpish indifference had made poor Sally's matrimonial designs the talk
of the parish.

'No, no! Sally won't do at all. I'm sure Cousin Oliver'd never fancy
Sally,' said Mercy, who always took literally all that was said. Then,
after a moment's thought, she added, 'I can't think of anybody in this
place at all likely for Oliver.'

Her father laughed and said, 'No, no! You didn't mean it seriously, did
you, Poll? Although, mind you, there's many a man who might do worse
than take a good hard-working maid like Sall for a wife. But this Oliver
of ours you'll find'll be a smartish sort of chap, and such ones don't
long go begging for a wife. There's more danger of 'em being mobbed by
young women, and if he wants a wife he won't want any help from us;
he'll soon set the church bells ringing. So don't you girls go worrying
yourselves about gettin' him married, but have ready a bit of cousinly
affection.' Then, as he took his hat down from its peg by the doorway,
he said slyly over his shoulder, 'And don't go marrying him yourselves,
for I can't spare neither of you!'

Mrs. Finch's letter from Oliver, not having been called for at the
Mixlow Post Office, arrived on the Monday morning. Charity took in the
thin, crackling foreign envelope with the regimental badge on the back.
The letter expressed the same warm affection and pleasure at the
prospect of meeting as the one to Waterside. 'Tell Cherry,' it ended,
that I have not forgotten her, nor have I forgotten my promise to take
her to Banbury. I'll warrant she's too grown up now to care about
brandy-snaps, but I shall find something to pleasure her. Give her my
love.'



_Eleven_

THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER

But March had set in, mild as a lamb for once, and the daffodils were
nodding in the Finches' garden when the soldier returned. Then, towards
the close of a day of sunshine and showers, when the Finches were
sitting round the table having tea by daylight and telling each other
how the days were drawing out, Charity's father, who sat facing the
window, exclaimed, 'God bless my soul! Here's the Crown turn-out
stopping in front and a gentleman getting out, and he's coming this way.
Somebody about a job of work, I s'pose.' 'Or to ask the way somewhere,'
suggested his wife, and both she and Charity rose from the table to look
out of the window. A tall, broad, well-dressed man was coming across the
green, followed by the hotel groom carrying a stylish portmanteau. Not
one of them recognized Oliver, but Oliver it was, and an Oliver who had
changed less than suggested by his outward appearance, for he fairly
lifted his Aunt Alice, as he still called her, from her feet as he
kissed and hugged her. 'Not know me!' he cried. 'Well, that's a good
joke! Why, I'd have known you if I'd meet you in the streets of Bombay!
And Uncle George, too, you've not changed at all, either of you. And
this is Charity? She has altered a bit. Too grown up now to be carried
on my shoulder when we take our long-promised trip to Banbury Town!'

Then the groom had to be dismissed with a tip, and after a cup of tea
pressed upon him by Mrs. Finch, whose rule it was that anyone whomsoever
who entered the house while a meal was upon the table must be treated as
a guest. But, soon, the young man had gulped down the tea, asked
permission to take the wedge of cake with him to eat upon the way, and
had gone. Then Oliver had to rummage in his portmanteau for the shawl he
had brought for Mrs. Finch and the embroidered muslin dress-length for
Charity. 'Just a few trifles to be going on with,' he said
magnificently, as he handed a case of silver-mounted pipes to Mr. Finch,
'There's a packing case of curios on the way and there's something else
there for all of you.'

In a very short time a ham had been reached down from the rack and
slices had been cut and fried with eggs for Oliver's tea, and, after
Mrs. Finch had surreptitiously changed the tablecloth and substituted as
much of the best china as she could without making what she called an
upset, they all sat down to the table again. While they plied him with
eatables and he ate, Oliver told them about some of his adventures, and
they, in return, told him of the Restharrow changes. So-and-so had died,
years ago, and So-and-so had married, been widowed, and married again,
and such-and-such a house or farm had changed hands. And, all the time,
the eyes of the three Finches were upon Oliver. His height, breadth, and
the little bald spot on the top of his head amazed them no more than his
improved accent and bearing. He was something quite new to them in the
way of time-expired Service men, who, after serving abroad, usually
returned to Restharrow with impaired health and empty pockets and ever
afterwards spoke of their period of foreign service as a kind of
purgatory. Oliver had actually liked India. He had made friends and been
happy there! He had thought seriously at one time of signing on for a
further period with his regiment! But this, though astonishing, scarcely
prepared them for the greater surprise when he said casually, 'I'm going
back there in three months' time.' 'Going back? Going back! But why?'
cried Mrs. Finch in amazement, and Charity echoed, 'Why?' Mr. Finch
thought the announcement was one of Oliver's jokes. 'I'll bet!' he said
dryly. But Oliver assured him he was quite in earnest; he had had the
offer of a post with a business firm in Bombay, which he was to take up
at the end of August. 'But that's some time yet,' he added, 'and in the
meantime we're all going to have the time of our lives. I've not had a
holiday that you might call a holiday for twelve years, only Army
leaves, and I've mostly worked in them, off duty times as well; been
doing the correspondence for this firm I was speaking of; first-rate
fellows they are, too. But now I mean us to enjoy ourselves. What do you
say to a day in London?'

Before bedtime, Oliver had to go to Waterside to show himself to Reuben
and the girls, and out in the larder Charity whispered to her mother,
might she go, too? And her mother said, of course, if she wrapped up
well against the night air. She would have gone with them herself if she
had not had Oliver's bed to make up, for it had been agreed that Oliver
should sleep at the Finches' cottage for the next few nights, then,
perhaps, for a few nights at Waterside; after that, he thought he would
put up at the Crown at Mixlow. He had made the acquaintance of the
people there to-day and liked them. And when Mrs. Finch protested, he
said he could not think of quartering himself on friends for so long.
Besides, she must remember that he was now an old bachelor with odd
bachelor's ways, and at an inn he could get up and go to bed and order
his meals when he pleased, without disturbing family arrangements.

Mrs. Finch had never in her life before known a visitor who had
relatives in a place stay at any but relatives' houses; but Oliver spoke
so persuasively and at the same time so authoritatively that she was
soon convinced that for him to put up at the Crown was the proper thing,
and only stipulated that he should come daily to see them and eat his
Sunday dinners at Restharrow and Waterside alternately. At that Oliver
laughed and said he should come so often that they would get tired of
seeing him. Besides, had he not promised Charity long ago to squire her
around? What about a day in Oxford next week? He would find out at the
Crown what was on at the theatre.

Charity smiled back into the merry blue eyes which were regarding her so
intently. That would be lovely, she said, twisting a warm, knitted scarf
round her head and neck before venturing out into the night air. She was
glad that the scarf was one which became her, dim purple in colour, and
lightly knitted and lacey, and when Oliver sprang forward to hold her
coat while she put it on she was thrilled by the delicate attention.

At Waterside there was more happy, excited talk and more expressions of
wonder. Elderberry wine was brought out in the tall glass decanter only
used on special occasions, and biscuits and filberts and apples were
placed on the table in the old-fashioned green leaf-shaped dessert
dishes which had belonged to the girls' grandmother. To Reuben the
occasion seemed to demand something even more special. He went to the
cupboard known as 'Dad's' and brought out a dusty black bottle. 'Here's
something you've not tasted on all your travels, a drop of fine old
metheglin,' he told Oliver. ''Tis the last bottle of the half-dozen your
Aunt Marianna made the first year of our marriage. I'd meant it for
Bess's wedding, but somehow forgot all about it; maybe because it didn't
seem to mix well with Arnold's champagne. I'm not going to offer you
girls any; 'tis too strong and heady for maidens and you'd best stick to
your wine.' He poured three glasses for the men of the party, then,
holding his own glass up to the light and closing one eye, the better to
focus the dark amber liquid, he said, 'Here's welcome home to the
warrior, love to the absent, fond memories of our lost ones, and good
luck to us all!' and they honoured the old country toast by draining
their glasses.

Mercy, at first, had appeared to be a little overawed by Oliver. She
said afterwards that he was so tall and big and somehow so
important-looking that she could scarcely believe that he was a relative
of theirs; but very soon she was sitting comfortably by his side, not
saying much, beyond pressing upon him this and that on the table, but
giving what he was saying the closest attention. Shyness was not one of
Polly's failings; she was not content merely to listen, but asked so
many questions about Oliver's travels that her father had to remind her
that it was long past her bedtime and tell her that, some day or other,
she could bring out the map and put her cousin through a regular
examination, but to-night was the turn of her elders; and she lighted
her candle for bed with much jingling of the silver bangles which Oliver
had given her and departed with many a backward look at the hero of the
hour.

Going back by the footpath way between her father and Oliver, Charity
felt a hand on her shoulder and a voice said, 'Will you not take my
arm?' For a man to offer his arm to a lady to help her over an uneven
road, or in darkness, or when hurry was called for, was still at that
date but commonplace good manners, but Charity regarded the invitation
as a great compliment from a man of the world, such as Oliver, to a
country mouse like herself; and when Oliver patted the hand on his elbow
and said, 'You and I, Charity, must always stick together,' her pulse
bounded with delight.

For the next few days she seemed to herself to be floating on air,
rather than walking on solid earth. Every day she hurried home from
school, happy in the prospect of sitting beside Oliver at table and
strolling with him afterwards through the village or out in the fields.
Often he was waiting for her to go with him to Waterside, where later
her parents would join them, and after tea there would be singing, or
cards, or country games--Postman's Knock, or Blind Man's Buff, or Turn
the Trencher. These parties were family parties; no outsiders were
invited, for that was only done at Christmas, and Mrs. Pocock and
Stella, who would have had to be included occasionally, were away on a
visit to their London relations. They were a party in themselves; none
of them wished to share Oliver with other company, and he himself seemed
perfectly satisfied with that in which he found himself. For all his
varied experience and knowledge of the world, he appeared to have
remained at heart a simple, affectionate being whose present happiness
it was to give pleasure to those who had befriended his orphaned
childhood.

When Oliver walked through the village, with his upright carriage, good
looks and good clothes and pleasant manners, looking, as one of his
admirers said, 'every inch a gentleman', smiles greeted him on every
side. No one whom he had known as a boy was forgotten; he remembered
their names, their family histories, even their favourite ailments. He
visited aged women in their cottages and knew by a kind of instinct
where the gift of a shilling would be appreciated and where it would
give more pleasure for himself to accept some hoarded trifle as a
memento of his visit. One day when he came out of the _Magpie_ and found
four old men on the bench beneath the sign-post, taking the air, but
with no visible sign of other refreshment, he went back and called for
four pints of the best and himself helped to carry the mugs out to them.
The children followed him everywhere. He would beg little girls to give
him one of their curls, clap little boys on the shoulder and tell them
they would soon make fine soldiers, and compliment their elder sisters
on their fine eyes or rosy complexions. All this, of course, made him
extremely popular, but it was not done designedly for that purpose, it
was merely the natural expression of his high spirits and good nature.
And those who might have been thought to flatter him were not insincere.
They naturally wanted to share his goodwill and generosity, but they
also felt a less selfish pride in the young man whom they thought had
got on in the world and yet had remained one of themselves. The general
feeling was that Oliver Lathom was a credit to Restharrow and that
somehow or other they had all had a hand in shaping his course.

At Waterside, Mercy spent what would have been her spare time thinking
out and cooking unaccustomed dishes which she thought might please
Oliver. Curry appeared for the first time on the Waterside table and was
praised with overflowing eyes and contorted features by the girls,
because Oliver praised it. Polly adored Oliver and on one occasion was
seen sitting on his knee and singing to him one of his favourite old
country songs. Like a young thrush sitting on a perch, said her father,
though Charity, who happened to be present, thought she more nearly
resembled a young hawk cooing.

Reuben liked Oliver, and when it came to discussing politics or improved
farming methods found him a stimulating companion. But, surprisingly,
there was a slight reserve in his liking, for one day, when told of some
instance illustrating his nephew's popularity, he said thoughtfully,
'All things to all men. It's a cheap way to liking, and those who've got
the knack o't are generally the sort that change like the wind. Though,
mind you, there may be exceptions.'

Mr. Finch liked Oliver unreservedly. It was seldom he came in close
contact with so travelled and well-informed a man, and by the fireside
and out in the workshop, himself measuring and planing and Oliver
perched on a corner of the bench with his legs swinging, they talked, as
Mrs. Finch said, nineteen to the dozen. Mrs. Finch herself, though, as
always, loving Oliver as she might have done her own son had she had
one, was a little distrustful of his charm. Or perhaps it was her
daughter's good sense she distrusted, for more than once she said to
Charity, as she had done on other occasions, 'Beware the desire of the
eye!'

Charity was almost in love with Oliver. Not quite; her time for loving
and being loved was still far in the future, and, when it came, the
desire of the eye had no part in it. She was rather in love with
Oliver's good looks and gay spirits and with the distinction of being
singled out by him as his chosen companion than with him as a man. It
all culminated in their day in Oxford, a magic, never-to-be-forgotten
day of April showers and sunshine, of budding green and hyacinth beds
against grey stone buildings and wisps of amethyst mist floating around
turrets and towers. They saw and did everything appropriate to such a
visit, from walking shyly round such places as were open to the public
to peering through holes in a screen at a sixpenny peepshow at such
scenes as Queen Victoria on her way to open Parliament and the Prince of
Wales leading one of the horses from his racing stable. They dined at
the ordinary at one of the lesser hotels; roast sirloin with horseradish
sauce and apple tart with cream; two shillings for the two of them and
twopence left under Oliver's plate for the waiter. They drove home from
the railway station at Mixlow in style. Oliver had ordered the hotel
dog-cart to meet their train, and the quick, stimulating passage between
budding hedgerows gave the last touch of delight to a perfect day. It
was the last such day they were to enjoy together, for within a week the
Pococks returned from their holiday in London and all was changed.

Stella and her mother arrived, loaded with their own luggage and
articles which had been given to them and tired after their walk from
Mixlow. To save them the trouble of lighting their fire and pumping
water, Mercy suggested that they should have tea with the Truman family.
Charity was there with her mother, and when Reuben and Oliver came in
from the farmyard there was a little bustle of fetching more chairs and
rearranging places; but room and provisions were ample and other
entertainment was unnecessary, as Mrs. Pocock was prepared to do most of
the talking. Every room and practically every piece of furniture in her
brother's house had to be described, and the superior social position of
himself and his friends had to be extolled. Stella and she had been to
the theatre, seen the West End shops and the Crystal Palace and been on
a Sunday to Kew Gardens. How, after a fortnight of civilized life, they
would be able to exist in this dead-alive place she declared that she
did not know.

She had so much to tell and took so long in telling it that probably no
one but Charity noticed Oliver's unwonted silence. He sat, as she
thought, gloomily, cutting his bread and butter into fingers and
spreading the fingers with jam with a finicking care very unlike his
usually hearty enjoyment of food. Once or twice he cast a sidelong
glance at Stella, who sat next to him, her lovely profile set off by the
green window-curtains, and once he asked her how she liked London. 'Very
much, thanks', was her sweetly demure reply, which he seemed to find
satisfying, for he did not take further advantage of the opening.
Strangely enough, he seemed a little shy and awkward that day, which
rather disappointed Charity, who had counted upon his making a good
impression on Stella and her mother. She would have liked them to have
seen that others besides themselves had dashing relations. But, she
concluded, it was quite natural that Oliver should show no particular
interest in his cousin's housemates. Why should he, after all the more
exciting people he had known?

It was a surprise to her when, the first moment they were alone
together, he asked, 'Why didn't any of you tell me about Stella?'
Charity said he must have heard them speaking of her at least a score of
times. 'Do you mean to tell me you didn't know there were other people
living in the house?' she asked. 'Other people! Other people!' he
exclaimed almost rudely. 'Including in this case a perfect beauty! It
makes a fellow look silly coming suddenly on one such as her without any
preparation. A clumsy great idiot she must have thought me!' Charity, a
little nettled, said that beauty was a matter of opinion; some people
she knew did not care for Stella's looks, leaving him to suppose that
she herself did not; and Oliver, also a little nettled, said that he
could quite believe that some women did not care for Stella Pocock's
looks, for they knew that she put them all in the shade. 'But she
strikes a mere man as being too lovely for this earth, and too modest
and gentle.'

Modest and gentle or not, Stella was certainly at her best in Oliver's
company, and from that day on she was often in his company, for her
former custom of dropping into the Truman's living kitchen at odd
moments, which had declined since Bess's departure, was resumed. Oliver
was usually there to entertain her, and with him she was never sarcastic
or sulky, but at her gayest and most animated. It was remarked that her
holiday in London had done wonders for Stella. 'I've never known her so
bright and bonny,' her mother said. 'A change was all she needed, a
change and good company,' and Mercy agreed. Charity, when this was
repeated to her, thought bitterly that there had been no need for Stella
to go to London for change and good company, for Restharrow now provided
both: the change for herself to digest as best she could while Stella
enjoyed the good company. By that time Oliver was staying at the Crown
at Mixlow, and every evening he would escort Stella home from her work,
and the walk took longer and longer, until often the lamp would be
lighted and supper would have begun before they reached Waterside.

This did not pass unnoticed. 'Our Oliver's not been here to tea for a
week,' complained Mrs. Finch to her husband. 'I do hope he's not going
to take up seriously with that Stella.'

Mr. Finch laughed. 'Oh, you women! You women!' he said. 'A man can't
look at a pretty maid without you've got them wedded and bedded in
fancy. Besides, what if he does take up with her, as you call it? I
s'pose the man's got to marry somebody; most of us do at one time or
another--you women take care we do that--and Ol's old enough to know his
own mind and there's nothing against the girl that I know of.'

'But she's not good enough for our Ol,' persisted his wife. 'If he weds
her he'll wed trouble.'

Again Mr. Finch laughed, this time a little sardonically. 'Well, come to
that,' he said, 'matrimony at its best is no bed of roses. But don't you
go frettin' yourself. Oliver's old enough and big enough to look after
himself. Surely a man who can be trusted to keep a regiment of soldiers
in order can manage a bit of a girl no bigger than three-hap'orth of
soap,' and he went whistling out to his workshop.

Charity and her mother looked at each other. 'Men don't care,' sighed
Mrs. Finch; 'and I s'pose what he says is right enough. Ol is a man in
years and knows his own business best. He must do as he thinks fit.'
Then, after a pause and with more spirit, 'Though I must say he's not
treated you at all well.'

'Now, Mother,' said Charity loftily, 'please don't get the idea into
your head that there was ever anything between Oliver and me, save what
was cousinly. You know very well that I don't want to marry Oliver or
anybody else. I want to be a schoolmistress.' Then, seeing her mother's
hurt expression, she gave her a tight hug and ran upstairs to shed a few
tears in privacy, for, though her heart was not broken, it was a little
bruised. To see another preferred to oneself seems to the young hard to
bear. We get used to it in later life.

The weeks went on and the time of Oliver's return to India drew near.
Although Oliver came to see his Restharrow relatives less frequently
than before, when with them he behaved in his old affectionate manner,
but said not a word of the expected engagement. Nor was Stella more
communicative. Once she let drop some chance remark about the
innkeeper's wife at the Crown; she wore this or that, or had said
something which Stella repeated; and, knowing that Oliver had become
close friends with the family at the Crown, Mrs. Finch concluded that
Stella had been invited there and had also become on friendly terms with
the family. Several times Mrs. Pocock told Mercy that Stella was working
late on a wedding or funeral order, which at the time was regarded as an
invention to excuse her daughter's late hours; but it is quite likely
that the excuse may have been Stella's, for it turned out afterwards
that, for once, Mrs. Pocock had had no hand in shaping events. It was
certainly not only a surprise, but also a shock to her when, late one
evening, the pair walked hand in hand into the Waterside kitchen and
announced their marriage.

It happened that Mrs. Pocock had herself been working late that evening
and, when she reached home, had come downstairs to get water from the
pump in the courtyard, and Mercy had told her that the kettle on the
kitchen fire was on the point of boiling. If she liked to make her tea
from it, it would save time, and she must be in need of a cup after her
long, dusty walk. Mrs. Pocock had fetched her teapot and was stooping
over the fire filling it, and Mercy, who had been pumping her water for
her, was standing, pail in hand, in the doorway, when the couple came in
and Oliver called gaily, 'Allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Oliver
Lathom! Married to yours truly at Mixlow Registrar's Office this
morning!'

'Married! You don't say so!' gasped Mercy; then, hurriedly collecting
her wits, she added, 'I wish you joy!' But Stella's mother said nothing;
she was not in a condition to do so, for she had fallen across the arms
of Reuben's chair in a dead faint. She had barely recovered when Stella
announced, 'I'm going to India with Oliver. My passage was booked weeks
ago.' Her mother gave me one stricken look and moaned, 'You're never
going to leave me!' Neither bride nor bridegroom troubled themselves to
answer; they were too taken up with their own affairs to consider the
position of an unloved mother. In less than an hour Stella had gathered
together such of her belongings as she required for the time being and,
except for one short visit a day or two later, had left the home of her
childhood for ever. A room had been engaged for them for a few days at
Mixlow; the rest of Oliver's leave was to be spent in London.

Charity met the bridal couple on the footpath, closely linked arm in
arm, his head bent tenderly to catch her every expression. Stella, in a
new grey suit and a fashionably small hat with a spotted veil to the
chin, was a model of elegance. 'Congratulate us!' she cried as Charity
drew near. 'This is our wedding day. Married this morning at Mixlow! No
wonder you look astonished; everybody does when we tell them, and when
they hear that I'm going to India with Ol they flop down in faints!
Charity did not flop down in a faint. Upon her the news had a different
effect. It may have been her proneness to the desire of the eye, against
which her mother had so often warned her, for they certainly were a
handsome pair, which caused in her the sudden rush of sympathy, even of
love. For all their assurance and their brave attire, there seemed to
her something pathetic about the untried pair who, so rashly or bravely,
had joined themselves together and were about to face the unknown. For
the first time for years she threw her arms about Stella and kissed her.
Oliver had gone on and was shouting, 'Hoi! Hoi!' to the groom who had
brought the dog-cart to the stile--he came back for his kiss
afterwards--and while for a few moments the girls were alone, Stella
seized Charity's hand and whispered, 'You won't ever tell Oliver about
those letters, will you? He thinks I'm a saint, and I do mean to be
good, really!' And Charity said, 'Of course not! Never!'

It was Mercy who, that night, helped Stella's mother to undress and did
what she could to console her. What she could do was but little, but
that little could not have been done better; for the poor proud woman,
with all her defences down, had less need of spoken than of practical
sympathy. Mercy was not one to talk about another's weakness; but, years
afterwards, in an unguarded moment, she did say that she had never in
her life seen anyone so distressed as Mrs. Pocock on her daughter's
wedding night. The next day, when she reappeared, Mrs. Pocock was as
self-possessed as usual, and afterwards declared that the marriage was
what she had wished and made a boast of Stella's prospects. But, as long
as she remained at Waterside, she was more gentle and considerate than
her wont towards Mercy. 'I don't include you, my dear; you're all
right,' she would say when condemning the villagers in general. She did
not remain long at Waterside after Stella had gone. One of her patrons,
having one of the lodges on her husband's estate fall vacant, offered
the post of lodgekeeper to 'that dear, kind, patient soul, Mrs. Pocock'.
There happened to be a right of way through the park by way of the gate
she controlled, and at great inconvenience to herself she blocked it by
keeping the gate locked and only opening it to wheeled vehicles. The
villagers, denied access to their short cut, were so enraged that a
number of them assembled on a Sunday morning and tore a section of the
park palings down, which caused almost as much commotion in the place as
the anonymous letters had done at Restharrow. But that was later.

Before Oliver and Stella left, Oliver told Mrs. Finch that he had
suggested to Stella that her mother should go with them to India and
share their home; but Stella had at once rejected the proposal. 'Of
course you know that Stella has never been happy at home,' he said. Mrs.
Finch replied that that was the first word she had heard of it, and
refrained by an effort from adding that if Stella had not been happy at
home it was not for want of having her own way in everything.

'No, you wouldn't have heard of it,' continued Oliver gravely. 'I might
have known that Stella would be too loyal to have told anyone of her
sufferings. I fear my poor darling has had a miserable childhood, shut
up in two rooms with that bad-tempered old mother of hers and made to
slave at the housework like a little Cinderella from the time she was
tall enough to use a broom, and neglected and nagged at and dressed in
old-cast-off clothes, given to her mother in charity, when the best and
richest wouldn't be fit to show off her beauty as it deserves. But
there's going to be a change now; she's going where she'll be
appreciated. I wish you could be there to see her shine, for shine she
will; nobody with a pair of eyes in their head could help but admire
her. And it's not only her looks; she's got a nature to match her
beauty, has my Stella!'

Before such doting, Mrs. Finch had not the heart to say all she had
intended to say. 'He'll find her out only too soon,' she said
afterwards. All she said at the time was: 'I think you ought to have
told us you were going to get married, and you ought not to have let
Stella deceive her mother'; but, as she told Charity afterwards, it was
like talking to a man deaf and blind, and 'my heart bleeds for him when
his eyes are open,' she ended.

Oliver may have been disillusioned; but, if so, there was no hint of
disillusion in his letters. After he had returned with Stella to India,
he still wrote occasionally to Mrs. Finch and to Reuben. Stella's
pleasures, Stella's attainments, Stella's social triumphs, and, later,
Stella's ailments was the main theme of his letters, though he still
expressed his own warm affection and hopes for the well-being of his
Restharrow friends. He never at any time appeared to be conscious that
he himself had ever given cause for disappointment.

Many years afterwards, after a long letter-less period, when writing to
tell Mrs. Finch of Stella's death, he wrote of her as 'my dear wife',
'my own lost angel, too good for this wicked world', and Charity, who by
that time had gained more experience, wondered if Oliver had lived all
those years in a fool's paradise, or if Stella in childhood had been a
jewel misplaced and unappreciated.



_Twelve_

'ALL'S WELL!'

Charity's generation at Restharrow was dispersing. The girls who had sat
with her on the school benches in childhood had gone out to service,
away from home; many of the boys had enlisted in the Army, or emigrated,
or gone to work in towns; those who were left to work on the land were
thinking of marrying. Other children, babes or unborn when their elders
had been pupils, hung their clothes on their pegs and occupied their
seats at the desks. From Waterside, Bess had gone, and Stella, and Mrs.
Pocock had relinquished her free quarters there to keep the lodge gates
of her Ladyship. Charity was teaching for her last term at Restharrow
National School; after Christmas she was to enter the Training College
for Teachers at Radley. Reuben, Mercy and Polly remained at Waterside.
In that great barn of a place, Reuben said, the three of them rattled
like shrunken kernels in a nutshell; but their part of the house was
unchanged, being, as it had always been, an example of homely comfort.
There, in a changing outside world, the old country customs and ways of
life were observed, the old country principles were honoured, the tender
ties of family affection and loyalties were preserved, and from there
neighbourly sympathy and goodwill radiated. All this was soon to become
but a memory.

It was towards the close of a close, overcast October day that Bob
Purchase brought Champion II to Waterside. _Clip, clop! Clip, clop!
Clip, clop! Jingle, jingle_, they had come along dusty roads and lanes
from the farm of Champion's last engagement, Bob, small and monkey-like,
straddling bow-leggedly beside the great, glossy stallion, linked to
himself by a thin, loosely held leading-rein. There had been one of
those hot, dry spells which so often follow a wet summer, the kind of
autumn weather which exasperates a farmer who has had a wet haytime and
harvest, and the narrow, flinty byways were padded with dust. But a
change was at hand; towards evening the heavy grey canopy overhead
parted to reveal an angry red sunset. Sharp little squalls shook the
hedgerows and sent the dust whirling. Champion had taken every one of
these disturbances as a personal affront. 'Now! Now! Steady there!
Steady, my beauty, steady!' Bob had urged, tightening his hold on the
leading-rein, and, after a show of backing on the one side and soothing
words and caresses on the other, the two had gone on as before. To
anyone following them they must have appeared an ill-matched pair:
Champion's great hooves and dust-whitened fetlocks planted firmly, his
plaited and beribboned tail swinging across his hindquarters with the
regularity of a pendulum; and, beside him, the little man, Bob, spidery
of build, and, of gait, almost mincing.

Bob loved his charge and was its willing slave. All his days and
sometimes part of his nights were devoted to its service, feeding and
grooming and leading him from farm to farm, soothing his temper,
smoothing his way, and supervising his engagements. In return, Champion
gave Bob a grudging obedience. Perhaps affection also, who can tell? At
least he would permit no one but Bob to attend him--an exclusiveness
which sometimes troubled his owner, who, while appreciating Bob's expert
management of the animal, saw himself at a loss if he should leave his
service or fall ill. However, there seemed no likelihood of either
event. Though small, Bob was wiry and, in his employer's phrase, hard as
nails, and, setting aside his devotion to Champ, he knew a good job when
he'd got one. You can't pick a pound a week off a furze bush, and Bob
knows it, was the farmer's conclusion.

That day there had been other hindrances besides the dust-whorls.
Champion was under the impression that any road upon which he travelled
should be reserved for his own royal progress, and showed his resentment
of other traffic by plunging and rearing. 'That 'oss be nout but a
bundle o' narves,' a wagoner had remarked when he had had to halt his
own team with their load while the backing stallion was coaxed past on
the grass margin. That accomplished, Bob had looked back over his
shoulder, 'A fat lot you know about 'osses what be 'osses!' he called.
'Narves, my elber! 'Tis his mettle what's talkin',' and they had gone on
their way, the horse still twitching and trembling, the man whispering
into its ear words of soothing.

'Ole Bob may say what he's a mind to; but if I've got any eyes in me yed
that stallion of his'n's a mischief-maker,' called the carter to the man
on the top of the load, and the other called back, 'You're right, mate.
Champ'll be pickin' up ole Bob one o' these days an' shakin' him like a
terrier shakes a rat at threshin' time. Lord! he could eat up ole Bob in
one mouthful!'

Meanwhile Bob was carrying on a one-sided conversation with Champ. 'Now,
now, my beauty! Never let it be said that you was frittened by a
wagon-load o' straw! And these comin' now be but milkin' cows. Take no
notice. Let 'em see how a tip-top gentleman can behave when he's a mind
to. Eyes sore? Dust in 'em? If I had my way you should have a
watering-cart goin' on before, like th' chap wi' th' red flag what goes
in front o' th' traction engine. Better not talk about engines, though,
after that one this mornin' at Gibbery Corner! All over now though, so
perk up, my lovely, there's Waterside and a good feed o' corn just
comin' into sight,' and _Clip, clop! Jingle_, _jingle_, the two came up
the rutted cart track and into the farmyard.

Reuben happened to be indoors at the moment of their arrival, but when
Luke came running to tell him that Champion was there he hurried out to
make sure that nothing was lacking for the animal's comfort. Champion
was tired after his journey and, except for a whinny or two when he
scented the mares, allowed himself to be led quietly into the smaller,
less-used stable across the yard, which had been prepared for his
reception, and soon had been rubbed down and was munching. Then, and not
until then, Bob turned his attention to the steaming jug of tea Mercy
had brought out for his own refreshment.

It was the custom, when away from home on such itineraries, for the man
in charge to sleep at the farmhouse where the horse was stabled, the
idea being that he should be at hand in case any harm threatened the
valuable creature during the night; and when, on his travels with
Champion, Bob reached Waterside, he slept there. At most other farms he
remained about the place all the evening--on guard, as it were; but it
happened that Bob was a native of Restharrow and had an old mother still
living there, and when his travels brought him to Waterside it was his
custom to take an hour or two off in order to visit her, leaving
Champion as a sacred charge to Reuben, in whom he had perfect
confidence. But, that evening, when all had been done that had to be
done and all said that was necessary, he still lingered. 'I don't half
like leaving him,' he said, as he closed the stable door.

'Why, man, what's going to harm him?' asked Reuben somewhat impatiently.
'It isn't his first night in that stable and I don't s'pose it's going
to be his last. What's worrying you?'

'Nothin' that I knows on. 'Tis just a feelin', same as you might have
for a nipper you was fond of and could hardly bring yourself to let out
of your sight. But, as you says, he's safely bedded down for the night
now, and if you'll give him a look in once or twice I'll be getting
along,' and Bob went straddling over the footpath, a straw between his
teeth, and in his hand a few comforts he had brought for his mother,
tied up in a red, white-spotted handkerchief.

Reuben laughed when he told the girls about this at the supper-table.
'Talk about a mother putting her first bantling to bed!' he said when
describing Bob's meticulous care. 'Not that I think any the worse of the
chap for it. You can't spend your days and part of your nights with a
creature without getting fond of it; besides, it's a valuable beast and
old Bob's responsible.'

'You men and your old horses!' laughed Polly. 'I protest you think more
of yours than you do of your daughters!' And Mercy ladled out more
pickled cabbage on to her father's plate and begged him to cut himself
another slice of cold bacon from the streaky end, to which he was
partial. But though he knew that what he was saying was but partly
comprehended by his listeners, Reuben continued meditatively: 'No! I
don't think any the worse of the chap. A man who gives no more nor a dry
bed and a feed of corn to his beast is but half a man. And Bob's a whole
man. If you'd seen him as I've seen him, holding back and controlling
Champ in his tantrums, and him but a midget himself, you'd have felt a
sort of pride in him, as I've felt. No, thankee, Mercy, no more beer for
me. When did you know me to go beyond my pint? Now you girls had better
go to bed and get your beauty sleep, and I'll sit by the fire with my
pipe till Bob comes in,' and he was about to withdraw to the chimney
corner when the back door was burst open and an agitated voice shouted,
'Mus' Truman! Mus' Truman! Come quick!' He went. There was a sound of
hurrying feet on the courtyard cobbles, then silence.

'I wonder what's up!' said Polly, and she went over and drew back the
window-curtain. 'Mercy,' she said wonderingly, 'the sky's all red. There
must be a fire somewhere,' and both girls ran out to the gate to behold
a scene which they never forgot. A hayrick in the rickyard beyond the
farm buildings was alight. Already flames mounted high above the stable,
or, puffed by the wind, bent down to lick the slated roof. The two men
who had first seen the blaze from the road past the churchyard and given
the alarm were dragging out pitchforks and other implements from the
cart-house to fight the fire. Other men and boys rushed panting past the
house, shouting, 'Fire! Fire! Fire!'

Polly ran at once to the rickyard and was soon organizing a chain of
bucket-bearers from the horsepond. People said of her afterwards that,
that night, she was as good as any two men, for she'd got the headpiece.
Mercy turned back into the house and filled and put on the embers the
big black kettle, to have hot water in readiness in case of accidents,
or to make tea for the workers. So far her feeling was one of
excitement, rather than of apprehension. It was no uncommon thing for a
hayrick here and there about the countryside to fire after a wet summer,
although, within her memory, it had not happened at Waterside. All would
be well, thought Mercy. Dad was there with plenty of willing workers. If
they found the burning rick could not be saved they would concentrate
upon those surrounding it and all would be over in half an hour. Then
she would have the helpers to feed; she must look to the bread and the
bacon. But those out of doors already knew that fighting the fire was
not going to be so simple a matter. The danger lay in the wind, which in
the last hour had freshened and was bearing down and directing the
flames to the farm buildings. The house, being situated at the farther
end of the farmstead, was reasonably safe.

Mercy, running towards the rickyard, saw burning wisps of straw floating
in the air. One fell to earth close beside her and she stopped to stamp
out the smouldering mass, but another and another came floating over the
roof of the stables until fire seemed to be falling all around her, and
for the first time that night she felt afraid. The rickyard was alive
with men, some up ladders, beating down the flames, others below with
buckets or pitchforks, all working frantically, their dark, moving
figures silhouetted against the blaze. Besides these serious helpers
there were others, tearing around and shouting without visible object.
At the rickyard gate stood a small group of women watchers, their
frightened faces illuminated by the conflagration. 'Have you seen my
sister?' Mercy asked one of these, but before she had succeeded in
making herself heard Polly herself dashed past them. She had either lost
or discarded her skirt and appeared in her short red flannel petticoat,
with a man's red pocket-handkerchief tied gipsy-wise over her hair. If
she saw Mercy, she had no time to stop to speak to her, but tore on
towards the burning ricks with the coil of rope she was carrying. Mercy
gazed after her helplessly. Though twice the size of Polly, she was not
made of the same material. Frightened, confused, destitute of ideas, and
of a too gentle nature to push her way through the throng, she was
carried hither and thither. She heard someone shout, 'Look to the stable
roof!' and there was a stampede in that direction with ladders to reach
the slates, through which puffs of smoke were issuing. 'Father! Where's
Father?' she cried, seizing a man by the elbow. 'Gettin' out th'
'osses,' he shouted. 'But don't hold me--don't hinder me--we must fend
th' roof,' and he shook himself free and was gone.

Mercy pushed her way out of the rickyard in time to see the end of a
string of farm horses disappear down the lane towards the paddock, each
horse led by a man or a youth by the mane, or by a hastily caught up
bridle. There was some plunging and whinnying among them, but, with
their backs to the fire and soothed by familiar voices, they went fairly
quietly.

'All out?' shouted somebody as she neared the stable entrance, and
another voice called in reply, 'All out but old Champ, and Mus' Truman's
got he well in hand. We've sent for Bob, but he hasn't come yet.' Reuben
had got Champ well in hand. By using all his wiles with horses, he had
coaxed him out through the doorway and in another moment or two all
would have been well had not a wisp of floating flame fallen so near to
the horse's head that it lighted up his exposed teeth and glaring
eyeballs. Whinnying loudly, he reared, carrying upward the small,
frail-looking man who held to his bridle and jerking him violently up
and down until he relaxed his hold and fell to the ground, to be, as it
seemed, trodden to death by the great ironshod hooves. But Reuben fell
clear and lay on his back a few feet away, apparently insensible. The
first of his men who tried to reach him received a glancing blow on his
forehead which laid him low, but, regardless of their own lives, others
sprung forward and dragged both men to comparative safety. Then Bob came
up at a shambling run, seized Champion's bridle and, after a sharp
tussle, led him away. All this had taken place in a few moments and all
had taken place by the light of the flames.

Reuben was carried indoors and laid on the sofa beneath the
living-kitchen window. When water was dashed on his forehead he opened
his eyes, but he did not speak, and soon relapsed into unconsciousness.
By that time the fire had been checked or burnt itself out in the
rickyard, but the farm buildings were still in great danger and every
pair of skilled hands were needed, so, after feeling Reuben's limbs and
assuring Mercy that no bones were broken, that her father had but
swooned and would come round in a few minutes, the men went away, saying
that they would send a woman or two to keep her company. Mercy begged
them to send a messenger for her aunt, Mrs. Finch, who, she knew, would
have been there already had she known of the fire, and the men promised
to send for her immediately.

The Finches had not heard of the fire. They were all sleeping peacefully
in their beds when knocked up by the messenger, when they quickly threw
on their clothes and hurried towards the farm. Mercy fetched pillows for
her father's head and blankets to cover him, filled the big stone
hot-water bottle and put it to his feet, and sponged the soot and grime
from his face, then sat down beside him and chafed his cold hands.
Except for flashes of red light on the window when a roof collapsed and
flames shot up, she could see nothing of the fire, though the crashes of
falling rafters and tiles and the loud warning shouts of the men told
her that it was still raging. In contrast with the turmoil without, the
house seemed unnaturally silent. She could hear the loud, regular
ticking of the grandfather's clock, the creaking of floorboards and the
scuffling of mice behind the wainscot. She said afterwards, and repeated
many times during the rest of her life, that what chiefly impressed her
at that time was the unreality, the unbelievableness of it all--flames
raging out of doors and the whole population of the parish gathered
there at that time of night, yet, within doors, every familiar thing in
place and herself watching alone beside the unconscious form of her
father, who but little more than an hour before had been eating his
supper at the table. She never for one moment doubted that he would
revive. Indeed, one of her anxieties was how she should prevent him from
rushing out to take charge of the fire-fighting before he had
sufficiently recovered. But when he did at last open his eyes, she knew
at once that she need have no further anxiety on that score, for he was
obviously too weak even to raise himself. After she had got him to
swallow a spoonful of brandy, he sank back in a doze which she thought
it better not to disturb, and again she listened to the clock, ticking
off moments which seemed to her hours.

She heard the fire-engine arrive and the firemen shouting to their
horses as they backed it into the farmyard; then came the sound of
hurrying feet on the courtyard cobbles and Mr. Virtue entered the
kitchen. 'All alone, Mercy?' he said. 'Well, you won't be much longer.
Your uncle and aunt and Charity are on their way; saw them getting over
the church stile when I galloped past.' While he was speaking he was
looking closely at Reuben. 'They told me your father had swooned,' he
said, and I thought I'd just look in and see how he was,' and he felt
Reuben's pulse, then opened his waistcoat and laid his hand on his
heart. 'Have you ever known him to faint before, or to complain of his
heart or anything?' he asked, and Mercy said no, her father had never
ailed in any way. He leaned down again and listened to Reuben's
breathing. 'Um, aye,' he said. 'Not come round yet, not properly round.
But there's nothing for you to worry about; he'll be all right in time.
He's not so young as he was and he's had a proper wrenching. I think
perhaps we'd better send for the doctor; more satisfactory. I'll go and
get Chump Nixey to go for him; he can borrow the landlord's bicycle. I
know the young rip can ride, for I saw him fall off at the bottom of
Toft Hill last Sunday,' and he replaced the blankets and was about to go
when, slowly and languidly, Reuben opened his eyes. 'You all right,
Mercy?' he asked weakly, then, 'Where's Polly?' and Mercy assured him
that Polly was safe and out helping the men.

'Nobody hurt, I hope?'

'Only a few cuts and bruises.'

'And Bess? Is Bess safe?' he asked, which Mercy thought a curious
question, as Bess was far away in her own home and knew nothing of that
night's happenings; but, as she thought to humour him, she told him that
Bess and Arnold and little Marianna were all safe and well.

'And the horses? Are they safe? And Champ?'

Mr. Virtue said that the horses were safe and had quieted down; he had
had a look at them in the paddock as he passed; and Champion, too, was
uninjured; Bob had led him off home or to another farm; and the
fire-engine had come and the fire was well under. All Reuben had to do
now was to lie still and rest. Reuben must have heard all this, though
he said nothing. His breathing had become heavy and laboured. Mercy
brought another pillow and they were about to raise his head, when he
suddenly sat up and said, loudly and clearly, 'All's well!' and sank
back upon his pillows.

As he had spoken those last words, Mr. and Mrs. Finch and Charity had
come into the room. Mrs. Finch flung off her cloak and darted forward;
Mercy and Charity clung together; Mr. Virtue leaned over and gently
closed Reuben's eyelids. 'All is well with you, my good old friend,' he
said; 'but you'll be missed here, my man, you'll be missed!'

It was Bess's wish that her father should be carried to his rest by the
footpath way with his own men as bearers and followed only by his
family. 'No hearse and no carriages,' she said. 'He would not have
wished it. Let us bury him as he lived, in the old country way.' There
were no flowers on his coffin, for he had disliked the custom, then
coming into fashion, of loading the dead with flowers. 'When my time
comes,' he had often said, 'I hope nobody'll spend their money or spoil
their garden on my account. If any of you want to show your affection,
you can plant a flower or two on my grave, where they'll have a chance
of living; though, to my mind, there's no better covering than a bit of
green turf.'

It was a small, homely procession which on a moist, sunshiny October
afternoon accompanied Reuben on the last of his many journeys along the
footpath. Though the women wore black and the men showed some token of
mourning, the scene was not one of unrelieved woe. In the sunshine the
meadow turf, lately washed with rain, gleamed emerald; the
richly-berried hedges shone scarlet and crimson, and, once, while the
bearers were resting, the silvery sweet strain of a robin threaded the
silence. 'The welcome home!' said Mrs. Finch, and her husband, who in a
general way cared little for such country superstitions, listened a
moment then echoed her words, 'The welcome home!'

'We've lost a good friend,' said one of the village spectators in the
churchyard, and another replied, 'Aye, we have. It'll be some time
before we see his likes again. Perhaps never.' And though doubtless they
found other good friends, they never did, or could, see Reuben's like
again, for he was one of the last of the old country breed, poor in this
world's goods, obscure in position, not gifted with speech or any
intellectual attainment, but for all that a man who stood out from his
fellows in his complete mastery of all that pertains to the land, and in
his tolerance, sympathy, and sturdy independence.



_Thirteen_

RUNNING WATER

After her father's death, Mercy took a situation as housekeeper to a
market gardener living near Mixlow. At that time Ben Franklin was a
widower with four young children. His was a pretty and substantial
cottage, situated in the part of his garden devoted to flower-growing;
but since his wife's death a succession of incompetent or idle
housekeepers had allowed everything within doors to go to rack and ruin.
The children, too, had been neglected and had to be won back to
obedience and orderly living, so Mercy had plenty of scope for her own
peculiar qualities. But perhaps, as she said afterwards, the hard work
and the overcoming of difficulties were good for her, for she had little
leisure in which to brood on her own loss.

Soon the house had become a pattern of neatness and comfort, and the
children, reclaimed and reclothed, were her joy and pride. A year later,
she and Ben Franklin were married. When Mrs. French expressed some
surprise that she should have married a man fifteen years her senior and
the father of a ready-made family, Mercy said she had felt sorry for
Ben, he had suffered so much and, not being very strong in health, he
needed somebody to look after him. As to the children, she already loved
them as if they were her own, and they seemed to love her, but she
thought she could be more of a mother to them if she married their
father. 'It's the children, not the father, she's marrying,' said Mrs.
Finch to Charity afterwards. 'I hope she'll never have cause to regret
it.' Mercy never regretted her marriage. Many years later, when someone
spoke of her to one of her grown-up sons as 'your stepmother,' he looked
confused, then laughed and said, 'We've never thought of our Mum as a
step, but as what she's always been to us--the best mother in all the
world, let whosoever may be the next best.'

Bess died at forty-three. Though full of life and energy, she had never
been robust, and during her married life she had exerted herself in such
public work as was then expected of the wives of village schoolmasters.
She had had her own interests, too, and shortly before she died had
taken part in a processional march organized by the Women's Suffrage
Movement. Her daughter Marianna married an Australian soldier during the
First World War, and afterwards joined him in Queensland. She had
several children, some of whom must still be living and have children of
their own, and it may be that this description of Waterside will be read
by Bess's grandchildren and Reuben's great-grandchildren.

Time turned Polly, that Lammas lamb, into a tall, bony, somewhat grim,
though thoroughly efficient hospital sister. Her life was cut short by a
flying fragment of shell near a field hospital in France in 1915.

Luke never married. He became one of those odd bachelor men at that time
to be found in every village. He cooked, washed and mended for himself,
dug and planted his garden patch and kept his two-roomed cottage clean,
if not very tidy according to feminine standards. The last time Charity
saw Luke he was returning from a walk on a Sunday morning, accompanied
by a crowd of little ones between the ages of three and seven. They had
been in the meadows, and there the children had decked Uncle Luke, as
they called him, with buttercup chains--a buttercup chain round his
neck, another round his black bowler hat, buttercup wristlets, buttercup
garters, and, in every buttonhole, from top to bottom of his Sunday
coat, a buttercup bouquet. 'Looks a bit of a fool, don't he?' said one
of two youths who were pushing their bicycles up the Restharrow street.
But Luke was no fool; his only peculiarity was simple goodness.

After the debris of the fire had been cleared and the stock had been
provided for elsewhere, the farmhouse for some time stood empty, the
farmer having decided to let it as a small country house for gentlefolks
as soon as a likely tenant appeared. But, although not far from a
village, it was far from a town or a main road, and in what in those
days before motor cars or the general use of the telephone was
considered an isolated position; and although Mr. Mercer was prepared to
let it at less than the present-day rent of a suburban bungalow, it
remained unoccupied. At last he gave up all hope of the kind of tenant
he desired and again offered the house rent-free to two of his workmen.
Two families actually lived there for a time, but the two women could
not agree and one family left, the husband saying that two shillings a
week for a cottage in the village was a small price to pay for peace and
quiet. After they had gone, the remaining housewife complained of the
loneliness, caged up all day in that gert barracks of a place, with her
husband at work and her children at school and not so much as a
neighbour to speak to. So they, too, departed, and although it was
afterwards offered to several, no one else ever lived there. The house,
once so well-kept and well-loved, stood empty, and damp and frost and
high winds did their work on the structure, which ultimately was
demolished and the stones were carted away to build pigsties and walls
and for road metal.

On the last day of her Restharrow visit, Charity stood in the deserted
field corner still known as Waterside. Where the orchard and farmyard
had been the ground had been levelled and taken into the field. Of the
buildings, only the big barn remained. That had been given a new
corrugated iron roof, painted dark red, but was otherwise unchanged.
Solid, four-square, silvery-grey, the thick walls looked good for
another century. A couple of hayricks stood beside the barn. The field
was under grass that year and sheep were grazing the aftermath. The wind
ruffled their fleeces, waved through the clover and bent the hazel
boughs in the lane. Although the sun was still hot overhead, the weather
had broken and one more summer had gone.

The site of the house and the little walled garden had not been levelled
sufficiently for cultivation. Long, overgrown mounds marked the
foundations of the house, and by these the position of the different
rooms could be traced. A flourishing bed of nettles filled the space
once occupied by the living kitchen. Briars had encroached on the little
walled garden with its one remaining fruit tree. Charity remembered that
tree in its prime. It was a Blenheim orange apple which had been a
favourite with Reuben on account of the quality of its prolific yield.
Now it had aged into a gnarled stump with one bough, which, sticking out
at a right angle, had still persisted in putting out a few green leaves.
Moreover, it had actually borne fruit, for, in the long grass beside it,
she found one apple, eaten to a shell by wasps. Of herbs and flowers
there was no trace at that season; but she had been told in the village
that every year in February there was an abundance of snowdrops. Then on
Sundays, after afternoon church, people crossed the meadow to pick the
flowers to stand in jugs and pots on their windowsills, and many
wondered how they had come to grow there, for it was not a wild snowdrop
country. The little walled garden had been Bess's garden and she had
planted the snowdrops. For a year or two they had not bloomed and she
had feared they were dwindling; but they had recovered and now had
spread, until, as the woman had said, when out they lay as thick as snow
on the grass. A fitting legacy, those graceful flowers, to be left by
one so graceful as Bess.

For the rest of the year, but for a roving band of schoolboys who might
light upon the old foundations and find them good for their camping
games, or for men working in the nearby fields, who might go there to
get an implement from the barn or to eat their dinner in its shelter or
shade, the place was deserted. Yet that day it had about it none of the
melancholy atmosphere which so often envelops once-occupied places from
which human life has ebbed. The sunlit sweep of green field with its
hayricks and grazing sheep was a wholesome sight. The wind waved the
grasses, larks soared and sang, and all the time Charity was aware of
another sound--a sound associated with her early memories of Waterside.
It was the sound of running water.

Unchanged where all else had changed, the stream still wound through the
fields between its margins of willow and willowherb; foaming around
obstacles, lapping softly over shallows, dimpling in the sunshine,
running dark in the shade. With its sound in her ears and the scent of
meadowsweet and watermint in her nostrils, Charity stood musing. Every
year, she thought, new flowers had bloomed on its margins, new water had
constantly poured down from its springs; yet the stream was the same
stream. So it had run and so it had sung before the house known for a
century or so as Waterside had been built on its bank, so it had
continued through all the changes in the lives of those who had dwelt in
that house, and so it remained and would remain when the memory of that
house and those lives had faded.

And so with us, she thought. We come, we go, and, as individuals, we are
forgotten. But the stream of human life goes on, ever changing, but ever
the same, and as the stream is fed by well-springs hoarded by Nature so
the stream of humanity is fed by the store of accumulated wisdom and
effort and hard-won experience of past generations. Lapping peacefully
over the shallows, running dark in the shade, wrestling turbulently with
the obstacles, ever changing, yet ever the same, it continues. And as
she once more trod the old footpath way with the sound of running water
in her ears, these thoughts gave her an extraordinary sense of comfort
and reassurance.



THE END



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