Ecbasis


Lady Selina, you may be sure, betrayed at first neither surprise nor
anger. She lifted her arched brows, smiled faintly, and murmured:

“Indeed! Am I to take that literally, child? You, not Arthur, have
broken off this solemn engagement?”

Cicely, on the verge of tears, pulled herself together, retorting
sharply:

“That’s it, Mother. I broke off the engagement because really it was not
what you mean by ‘solemn.’” As Lady Selina, slightly taken aback, paused
to reply suitably, Cicely continued with vehemence: “I blame myself for
that. Arthur has behaved splendidly. I have been stupidly weak. I
suppose it comes to this. I simply can’t give him what he wants and what
he deserves. If I married him, feeling as I feel, the punishment would
fall on him quite as heavily as on me.”

The sincerity and conviction of her voice and manner were not wasted
upon a woman who, whatever her faults might be, was honest herself and
quick to approve honesty in others. Lady Selina sat down, gazing
intently at her daughter’s flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.

“What do you feel?” she asked quietly.

It was a difficult question for any young girl to answer adequately.
Cicely made a gesture indicating protest. To Lady Selina it may have
indicated more. Perhaps at that moment she measured the distance between
herself and her child. Perhaps she wondered if it could be bridged by a
mother’s kiss. Deep down in her heart anger smouldered. To suppress
this, to use tact, to invite confidence courteously—these
considerations burked the natural impulse.

“Have I not the right to ask you how you feel?”

“Of course. But could you tell me exactly how you feel? No. But I can
guess how you feel—all the disappointment and vexation and humiliation.
But you, being you, couldn’t put all that into words. And it is the same
with me. To please you—and I know how it would please you—I would
marry Arthur if I could, but I can’t. I have at any rate been brave
enough to make that plain to him. He wouldn’t take me now if I hurled
myself at his head.”

“You mean there is nothing more to be said?”

“Yes; I mean that.”

Lady Selina stood up. Once more impulse assailed her. And, oddly enough,
behind impulse, fortifying it, was the certain assurance that love would
break down all barriers. Behind that again, a grim portcullis, was the
impossibility of playing a part, of pretending to be other than what she
had been trained to be. She told herself that she could kiss this
unhappy child when anger had been exorcised by prayer and reflection,
not before.

“I will leave you, Cicely. Before I do so I will say this: I would not
force marriage upon you or anybody else. Apparently the knot has been
irrevocably cut by you for reasons which you may wish to keep to
yourself. However, a girl who changes her mind so swiftly may change it
again. Before your decision is made public I entreat you to weigh well
the consequences. Even to-day, when the world seems in chaos, no girl
can jilt a man with impunity.”

“As if I didn’t know that! . . .”

At the door Lady Selina fired her most telling shot.

“One thing,” she said slowly, “would excuse and account for your
impropriety of conduct, to give it no harsher word—a change of heart as
well as mind. If you care for another man it would indeed be wicked to
give yourself to Arthur.”

The door closed gently behind her.

II

Left alone, and reasonably certain that her mother had retired
majestically to her own room, Cicely reflected that a flood of tears
might wash away some of the more importunate thoughts that were
attacking her. The conviction that Tiddy would not sit down and howl put
to flight this reflection. Tiddy, probably, would attempt to fight
reaction with action. Tiddy would work things off.

_Le travail est consolateur._

No work lying ready to her hand, Cicely decided to go for a brisk walk.

She escaped from the house, and sped swiftly towards the beloved
village. Instantly she became conscious of her freedom. A breeze was
cooling the hot afternoon, rustling delightfully amongst the leaves of
the beeches and elms. The world seemed incomparably fresher and younger.
The sense of having done the real right thing quickened her pulses. As
she walked she heard the stable clock strike five. It was tea-time, and
actually she felt hungry and thirsty. She had trifled with her luncheon.
To forego tea would be silly. Mrs. Rockram would provide it with
pleasure. She stood still, hesitating. She might meet Grimshaw. But it
was almost certain that Grimshaw would drink his tea with Dr. Pawley.
The risk of meeting Grimshaw might be considered negligible. So she
walked on nimbly as before, wondering whether Arthur had any appetite
for his tea.

Mrs. Rockram received her effusively, but Cicely cleverly silenced an
old servant’s eager questions concerning courtship and matrimony.

“I came here to escape from all that,” she affirmed positively.

“What a tale!”

“The truth and nothing but the truth. Let us have a good gossip about
the village. I saw Mary Farleigh this morning. She looked very thin and
worn.”

“Pore dear soul!”

“I told her to send for Mr. Grimshaw.”

“She won’t never do that, miss. She’s the sart that stands up till she
tumbles down. I told her, I did: ‘You’ll carry on,’ I says, ‘till you’re
carried out toes first,’ I says.”

“What a way to put it!”

“That’s as may be. She passes the remark to me: ‘My time’ll come,’ she
says, ‘when I bain’t needed so badly herealong.’ And ’tis true. The dear
Lord only knows what Timothy’d do wi’out her.”

“Mr. Grimshaw must see her.”

“She won’t send for him, miss. But, maybe, he’d go to her if you asked
him, as a favour like.”

Cicely answered quickly: “I will.”

Before she had finished her tea she decided that she would write to
Grimshaw about Mary Farleigh. Also, she might hint delicately that
reform in the sanitary conditions of Upworthy might come about the more
surely if not pressed too vigorously at first. If her mother refused,
under present conditions, to accept Arthur’s help, somebody else must be
found.

She was sipping a second cup of Mrs. Rockram’s tea when Grimshaw came
into the kitchen. To make matters worse he had not had his tea. Mrs.
Rockram bustled out, leaving man and maid together. Grimshaw was the
more self-possessed. At once Cicely said hurriedly:

“I was going to write to you.”

“Yes?”

“Will you, as a personal favour, see Mary Farleigh? She won’t send for
you. She looks wretchedly.”

Grimshaw consented, adding a few disconcerting words. “What you told me
this morning was heartening. Lord Wilverley is a man of tremendous
executive ability. With his cordial co-operation everything is
possible.”

Cicely murmured, almost inaudibly:

“But . . . if . . . if he should be unable to help?”

“_Unable?_”

He looked so astonished that the unhappy Cicely found herself blushing.
To save an intolerable situation she made another blunder.

“I mean if . . . my mother was too proud to accept his help?”

Grimshaw replied with a sub-acid inflection. He detested the waste of
labour in making mountains out of molehills.

“But, frankly, Miss Chandos, is she too proud to accept the help of her
own son-in-law?”

Cicely’s eyes, beneath his sharp glance, showed a hunted expression. Why
was Mrs. Rockram so long making a fresh brew of tea? Why had Fate
ordained that she should meet this man twice in one day? What would
Tiddy do in such an emergency? It is certain that Tiddy would not have
looked piteous. Grimshaw’s voice became tender as he put another
question.

“Am I distressing you?”

“N-no.”

“But, forgive me, you look distressed. It is possible, of course, that
my zeal for the welfare of Upworthy has caused—how shall I put it
without offence—some friction between Lady Selina and you?”

She assured him too eagerly that this was not the case.

“But something must have happened since this morning?”

“Yes; something has happened.”

Mrs. Rockram entered with the teapot just half a minute too late.
Fortified by her presence, Cicely might have pigeon-holed further
explanations. In a moment she would be alone again with Grimshaw, and
some insistent quality about him would evoke the truth. And why not?
Wasn’t evasion the meanest weapon used by women?

“I’ll make you a bit of toast, sir,” said Mrs. Rockram.

“Please,” replied Grimshaw. “_Two_ bits,” he added as Mrs. Rockram
turned to leave the parlour.

“You are hungry, Mr. Grimshaw.”

“Not particularly. It takes time to make two bits of toast.”

He smiled encouragingly at her, inviting confidence, dropping his
slightly formal manner and address. She said abruptly:

“What has happened is this: I have broken my engagement to Lord
Wilverley.”

“Good God!”

The sharp ejaculation indicated amazement—and what else? Cicely was too
nervous to analyse her own emotions, much less those of another; but the
light in Grimshaw’s eyes illuminated his deeps unmistakably. He was
glad—glad. And in a second an amazing change took place in him. He
became the friend, eager to help and console. The two met again upon
equal terms. Ten years seemed to drop from him as he exclaimed
fervently:

“I knew it.”

“What did you know?”

She asked the question calmly, although her heart was throbbing.

“I knew that he was not the man for you and that you were not the woman
for him. I understand exactly how you drifted into the engagement. And
how plucky to have broken it! He is such a good fellow that he made it
less hard for you, didn’t he?”

She nodded, hardly able to speak. He continued in the same boyish tones:

“And your mother? . . . I’m most awfully sorry for her.”

“Mother is miserable, too miserable to scold me. And she is not the
scolding sort. At this moment she is lying down—brooding. She will go
on brooding. At dinner, to-night, she will be ever so nice to me, but
the distance between us will be immense. Tell me how I can lessen it.
There must be a way.”

“You love her; she loves you. Pin your faith to that.”

“And then there is you. I am sure that she will not ask Lord Wilverley
to help her, and you . . . you . . .”

“Yes?”

“You see, you have held a sort of pistol to her head.”

He weighed her words carefully, slightly frowning, as he wrestled with
the issues involved. When he spoke no boyishness informed his tones.

“Do you ask me to lower that pistol?”

“I feel such a helpless fool.”

“Well, if you want the whole truth, so do I. We are both in the same
boat. As an honest man I have to face the fact that conditions here are
getting worse every day. Action, to be of real use, should be immediate
and sustained.”

“I suppose you must do your duty.”

“What is my duty? To better conditions if I can. How? That’s the rub.
That’s where my helplessness comes in. If I rush things, kick up a
horrid rumpus, shall I achieve my ends? I doubt it.”

“Don’t rush things, Mr. Grimshaw, please.”

“So be it! And, perhaps, your mother is not quite so proud as you think.
She may yet be guided by Lord Wilverley.”

To this Cicely replied with an emphatic “Never!” as Mrs. Rockram
appeared with the toast.

III

Two or three days slipped by without incident. What Cicely had predicted
with such assurance came to pass. Lady Selina accepted the thwackings of
Fate in silence. She remained consistently “nice” to her daughter. But
she refused peremptorily the help that Arthur Wilverley offered within
twenty-four hours of his dismissal. Before the week was out the usual
announcement appeared in the columns of the _Morning Post_.

Upon the Monday following Cicely heard at breakfast that Mary Farleigh
was sick abed and dying. Stimson told the tale.

“Dying?” repeated Lady Selina. “Did you say ‘dying,’ Stimson?”

“The word was used, my lady, by Annie, at ten o’clock last night. She
had been in the village, her Sunday out, my lady.”

“I shall go down at once,” said Cicely.

“I will follow,” added Lady Selina. “Probably Annie is exaggerating. Mr.
Grimshaw thought that Isaac Burble was dying. My people, I am glad to
think, do not die easily.”

“What is the matter, Stimson?” asked Cicely.

Stimson, treading delicately, murmured:

“They say the fever, miss.”

“Heavens! What fever?”

“Typhoid, miss.”

“I don’t believe it,” declared Lady Selina.

Nevertheless, she filled a small basket with soup and wine, and
dispatched Cicely with it immediately. Obviously the lady of the manor
was distressed. Her fingers trembled as she tied on the lid of the
basket, and she said nervously: “I send you first, Cicely, because I am
aware of Timothy Farleigh’s hostility. I saw poor Mary a week ago. There
was nothing about her appearance to suggest this.”

“I saw her too. I—I thought she looked ill, so ill that I begged her to
see Mr. Grimshaw.”

“Quite right. And has she?”

“I don’t know.”

On arrival at Timothy’s pretty cottage, Cicely found Martha Giles and
Timothy in the kitchen. Grimshaw, so she learned, was upstairs with his
patient. Timothy received Cicely civilly but coldly. Martha chattered
away as usual:

“Ramblin’ in her talk, pore Mary be. ’Tis the fever seemin’ly.”

“Does Mr. Grimshaw say so?”

“He bain’t sure yet.”

“I be sure,” growled Timothy. “I know by my bees that Mary be dying,
yes, I do. She loved her bees, she did. They’ll up and leave the hives
when she goes.”

“You be daffy,” said Martha cheerfully. “Mary bain’t dead yet. I mind me
when my lil’ Willie lay cold an’ stiff in his bed, and old Doctor Pawley
he says to me: ‘Martha Giles,’ he says, ‘Willie be gone.’ An’ the lil’
dear opens both his eyes and says: ‘No, I bain’t.’ And I speaks quite
sharp to the lad: ‘Now, Willie,’ I says, ‘don’t ’ee conterdict Doctor,
because he knows best.’ And Lard bless ’ee! Miss Cicely, Willum be
cartin’ manure this instant minute. I’ve some nice cow-heel broth for
Mary, if so be as her pore stummick can stand it.”

“I have some nourishing soup,” said Cicely.

Timothy never thanked her. In the same apathetic tone as before he
informed Cicely that his niece Agatha was coming to nurse her aunt, and
when Cicely expressed her approval of this, adding a few pleasant words
about Agatha, Mrs. Giles burst out again:

“Full o’ beans she be, and quite the lady.”

“Ladies be damned!” grunted Farleigh.

“Timothy Farleigh! . . . And before Miss Cicely too! You’ll excuse his
ignerunce, miss, I know.”

“I’ve nothing agen she,” continued the old man, indicating Cicely with a
gesture. “When I says ‘Ladies be damned!’ I speaks of fine ladies, who
toil not neither do they spin, and Solomon in all his glory bain’t
arrayed like unto ’un.”

Mrs. Giles was unaffectedly shocked.

“I never heard such blasphemious talk.”

“You’ll hear more of it, Marthy, afore you find yourself snug i’
churchyard. They do say as Aggie and Johnny Exton have fixed things up
to get married soon as never.”

“I think I hear Mr. Grimshaw’s step,” said Cicely.

Grimshaw came in, carrying his small doctor’s bag. Timothy confronted
him, a gaunt, eager man; all trace of apathy had vanished.

“What be the trouble, Doctor?”

“I am not quite certain yet, Farleigh. I shall find out to-night.” He
took Farleigh’s arm, pressing it. “We shall fight for her. Go to her. Be
as cheerful as possible. For the moment she is rather dazed.”

Timothy went out, followed by Martha.

“Is it typhoid?” asked Cicely breathlessly.

“It may be,” he answered cautiously.

“Oh, dear! oh, dear! And his children, who died here! How could he go on
living in this cottage!”

Grimshaw, looking very tired and worn, answered curtly:

“Men like Farleigh can’t uproot themselves. He is part of your soil.
And—forgive my saying so—Lady Selina doesn’t exactly encourage her
labourers to labour elsewhere.”

“Of course she doesn’t. You . . . you look very tired, Mr. Grimshaw.”

“I’ve had a bout of that malaria. It prevented my coming here, as you
asked me, earlier. It’s not easy for a doctor to bear patiently his own
physical infirmities. Please tell Timothy that I’ll look in again
presently. For the moment nothing can be done.”

He bowed and moved towards the door. Cicely was infinitely distressed by
his appearance and manner. Did he deliberately wish to impose barriers
between herself and him? Sympathy for him welled up and overbrimmed.

“Stay one moment,” she faltered.

He turned quickly, standing still, with his eyes upon her troubled face.
She continued hurriedly:

“I thought we were friends.”

“We are friends.”

“Are we? Surely friendship pulls down barriers; it doesn’t deliberately
build them.”

She spoke so ingenuously that Grimshaw was disarmed. More than physical
infirmity had been his portion during the week that had passed since he
met Cicely at Mrs. Rockram’s. Before the malaria seized him, he had lain
awake hour after hour, fighting furiously against his love for a girl
whose happiness had become dearer to him than his own. The issues were
crystal-clear. Something told him that her friendship for him, so
artlessly revealed, might be fanned by him into the more ardent flame.
The mere thought was intoxicating. Then in colder blood he began to
calculate the consequences to her if he won her love. The mother would
withhold her consent. It lay within her power to disinherit a
disobedient daughter. And, unless all his knowledge of Lady Selina’s
character were at fault, she would exercise that power in the firm
conviction that she was doing so conscientiously. All these
considerations tore to tatters the primal instinct of the male to pursue
and capture. Another thought distracted him and kept sleep from his
pillow. Sure as he was of himself, of his ability to provide the
necessaries of life, with some of its superfluities, for his wife, he
was not yet sure of Cicely’s adaptability to conditions widely differing
from those to which she was accustomed. As a practitioner he had seen
enough and to spare of the miseries brought about by comparative
poverty. It became torment to reflect that Cicely, if she married him,
might live to regret it. Add to this that he was proud and perhaps
unduly sensitive. Finally, he had reached the sum-total of many
computations. For the present at least, till his own position was more
assured, he must mark time, an exercise he cordially detested.

He replied awkwardly: “If there are barriers between our friendship,
Miss Chandos, they are not of my building.”

“What are they—these barriers?”

“Almost as big and as old as the Pyramids.”

He spoke harshly, angry with himself, conscious that he was dissembling
badly. He went out quickly, leaving Cicely erect and defiant. But, as
the door closed behind him, a faint exclamation of dismay escaped her.
She sank back into a chair close to the big kitchen table, and covered
her face with her hands. At the same moment Grimshaw, passing the open
casement, glanced in and beheld her. His quick ears caught a muffled
sob. This was more than flesh and blood could stand. Cicely looked up as
he came back. In silence each read the heart of the other. No words were
needed. She stood up, trembling. He took her in his arms, kissing her
hair, her brow, her cheeks. She remained passive, almost swooning under
this revelation of feeling and passion. She heard his voice, broken and
insistent:

“I want you. I want you more than all the world. I have always wanted
you, from the day I first saw you. Is it possible that you want me?”

He found on her lips the answer to that question.

When they returned to earth she whispered:

“You didn’t wear your heart upon your sleeve!”

“How could I, when you had stolen it?”

“Blind man!”

“Not altogether.”

“What! You saw?”

“I saw the Pyramids. I see them still. I believed them to be
unsurmountable after Brian’s death, but when you told me about Wilverley
I knew somehow that it was not love that made you take him. But the
Pyramids remain.”

She disengaged herself gently, raising rueful eyes to his.

“I had forgotten—Mother.”

“So had I, for one blessed minute.”

“What are we going to do?”

He answered decisively:

“I’ll see her at once and plead my case as best I may.”

His grim tone was not exactly encouraging. Cicely, however, nothing
daunted, put both her hands upon his shoulders, smiling at him.

“I know,” he said, smiling back at her.

“What do you know?”

“You are about to ask me to leave your mother to you.”

“What a clever man! Frighteningly so. Yes; I have a little plan. How
much do you love me, Harry?”

The name slipped from her so easily that he guessed how often it must
have been in her thoughts.

“Ah! How much? I came back here, against my judgment, my pride,
everything, because I loved you so desperately.”

She exclaimed joyfully:

“That is how a girl wants to be loved. I am ever so proud that you love
me like that.”

She kissed him, so sweetly, with such self-surrender, that he asked
himself, humbly and gratefully, “Am I worthy of her?” And behind the
question rankled the fact that he had doubted her strength of character
and ability to rise above conventions rigorously imposed since her
childhood. He heard her soft voice, so beguiling:

“I suppose you know that Mother loves me very dearly?”

He laughed, pressing her to him.

“Well, I think I can guess what sort of strangle-hold you have on her.”

“Since Brian died she has been so tender to me, and more dependent. And
I’m all she has.” She sighed a little.

“You would like to spare me,” he said. “Your mother is not very likely
to love me.”

“If she knew you as I do, she would consent to our marriage.”

“Would she? Um! My time this morning is not my own, darling. Let’s hear
your little plan.”

“I want you to make love to Mother. You never half wooed me. But I’ll
forgive you, if you woo her. You must woo her.”

“But she doesn’t give me many opportunities. And, you see, I’m no
courtier.”

She stepped back from him, eyeing him critically, but still smiling.

“You aren’t, if you won’t try to do the first thing I ask you. But you
will, won’t you?”

“I antagonised her at the start.”

“I can assure you she’s getting over that. She admits you are
tremendously clever. She says that you have resurrected old Isaac Burble
from the dead. And you will save poor Mary Farleigh. Her illness will
bring you together. When you meet, will it be so frightfully difficult
to be nice to her?”

“And hold my tongue about you?”

“Her ways,” she pleaded, “are not your ways, but can’t you walk in them
for a little while to—to please me?”

“What a witch! I prefer more direct methods.”

“Oh-h-h!”

Tears filled her eyes. Feeling a brute, he kissed them away, whispering:
“I’ll do my best, dearest. Now, tell me, when shall I see you again?”

“I may be here when you come back presently. And to-morrow I shall be
under the big tree on the green at six-thirty.”

Grimshaw laughed gaily.

“What a coincidence! I, too, shall be under the big tree at that very
time.”

With that pleasant assurance he went his way. Cicely took from her
basket a pint of port wine, some linen, and a small basin of clear soup
in jelly. Whilst she was doing this, Nicky, the softy, came in and
grinned at her knowingly. Cicely greeted him:

“Well, Nicky, how are you?”

“I seen you mumbudgettin’ wi’ doctor, I did.”

Cicely exhibited slight confusion.

“Oh! How did you see us?”

“Through crack i’ door, I did.”

What he saw, however, was not destined to be revealed, because a sharp
tap at the cottage door interrupted the duologue.

“Come in,” said Cicely, much relieved.

Nick slipped out as Agatha Farleigh entered, followed by John Exton,
carrying Agatha’s neat suit-case. John was wearing khaki and a
sergeant’s stripes. Upon his chest was the D.C.M. After greeting Cicely
Agatha said briskly:

“You remember John Exton, Miss Cicely?”

“Indeed I do. He hasn’t let us forget him. We were so dreadfully sorry
to hear you had lost an arm, John.”

“I gave it, miss.”

“You look very well.”

Agatha glanced at the port wine and the basin.

“Is my aunt seriously ill?” she asked. “Uncle wired for me this morning.
I got leave at once. I suppose Mr. Grimshaw is attending her?”

“Yes; he has just left. I am afraid it is serious, Agatha. It may be
typhoid.”

Agatha, without a word, crossed the room and hurried out. Cicely said to
John:

“This is a cruel shock for her. You are still in the army?”

“With a month’s leave. I was so sorry, miss, to hear about Mr. Brian.”

“Thank you, John. It hardly bears speaking about. How is your father?”

“He’s well, and doing well, thank God!”

A slight emphasis on the last half of the sentence had significance. An
awkward pause was broken by the return of Agatha, somewhat excited.

“Uncle Timothy wouldn’t let me in. Why did he send for me, if he doesn’t
want me?”

“Of course he wants you,” replied Cicely. “Naturally, he is very upset.
I will call again this afternoon to see if you want anything.”

She moved to the door, which John politely opened for her. Agatha began
to take off her hat. As soon as she was alone with the young man she
exclaimed bitterly:

“Typhoid! . . . I expected it.”

“Expected it, Aggie?”

“Regular poison trap, this cottage. Ought to have been pulled down years
ago. I’ll bet Mr. Grimshaw agrees with that.”

Agatha’s obvious exasperation was excusable. Her uncle’s telegram
summoning her to nurse Mary Farleigh happened to arrive at a moment when
she was expecting to spend a well-earned leave with the Extons. Also, it
seemed to her that John accepted her disappointment too coolly. Surely
he must know that she was “fed up” with work. The equanimity of the
trained soldier, his acquiescence in misfortune, his good-temper under
it, would have provoked admiration from Aggie at any other time. Let us
make due allowance for her. John attempted to soothe her, not very
successfully. And then Martha Giles poked in her comical old head
explaining:

“Well, I never! . . . Johnny Exton—a gentleman officer!”

John took her hand heartily.

“Only a sergeant, Mrs. Giles.”

“With three wound-stripes,” added Agatha proudly. Her tone became
aggrieved again, as she added: “Uncle Timothy wouldn’t let me in,
Martha.”

“Let ’un bide wi’ the pore sick soul. She be tarr’ble low, dazed an’
mazed as never was; but Mary be tough, and the dear Lard well knows that
she bain’t to be spared, no more than I be.”

“Is there proper food in the house?” asked Agatha.

“Yes; my cow-heel broth. Hark! Timothy be comin’ down.”

A heavy step was heard on a creaking stair. Martha whispered hurriedly:

“Now, don’t ’ee be miffed, if he acts flustratious, pore dear man!”

Timothy entered, carefully closing the door behind him. For an instant
he stared questioningly at John Exton and Agatha, a mute, tragic figure
bowed by years of toil. Agatha went up to him and kissed him.

“How is she?”

“She don’t know me. Aggie; she don’t know me. I ain’t no use to her.
Who’s that?”

“John Exton, whom I’m going to marry.”

“Aye, aye. You two do as I bids ye. Bring no childer into this world.
Where’s doctor?”

“He’ll be herealong soon,” said Martha.

“Doctor can’t do nothink. I might as well get coffin-stools out.”

“Shall I go?” said John to Agatha.

“Not yet.” She addressed her uncle: “You’ll be wanting your dinner,
dear?”

“No; I wants my old Mary. I be fair lost wi’out she.”

He sat down in the big worn arm-chair near the hearth. Mrs. Giles said
in a piping voice:

“I’ll bide wi’ Mary till Aggie be ready to take my place.”

“I’m ready now, Martha.”

Timothy growled out: “You bide wi me a bit, my girl. I’ve summat to say
to ’ee.” As Martha slipped away he addressed John Exton: “Your father
was allers my good friend.”

“Yes, yes; indeed he was—and is.”

Timothy thumped the stout oak arm of his chair.

“Ah-h-h! My lady turned ’un out. And she killed my lil’ maids! . . . An’
now ’tis Mary’s turn.”

John said quietly:

“Steady on. I thought I was dead in the trenches, but I wasn’t.”

Timothy rose up, lifting a heavy, misshapen hand.

“Gi’ me the Book,” he commanded, pointing dramatically at the big Bible
lying upon the window-ledge between two pots of scented geranium. John
fetched it, laying it upon the kitchen table.

“Where be my specs?”

Agatha saw them on the chimney-piece, and handed them to him in silence.
With trembling fingers he put them on. Then he opened the Bible, turning
a page or two, till he found the fly-leaf.

“I be going blind,” he muttered feebly.

“No, no; let me wipe your glasses.”

Agatha wiped his glasses.

“That be better, my girl. Aye.” He ran his finger along an entry in
faded ink. “Here we be. . . . ‘Mary Jane, barn October 2nd, 1897, died
June 7th, 1904.’ My first-barn, a dinky lil’ maid as never was.”

Agatha, much moved, and relapsing unconsciously into the Doric, said
excitedly:

“I mind her curly lil’ head, I do.”

“Ah-h-h! Here we be agen. ‘Ellen Adeliza, barn November 9th, 1898, died
June 9th, 1904,’ just two days arter her sister.”

He glared at Agatha. Suddenly his voice became harsh and fierce.

“Gi’ me pen and ink, Aggie.”

“Whatever for, Uncle?”

“To make proper entry, my girl.”

John said softly:

“But the proper entry is there, Mr. Farleigh.”

“No, it bain’t. I be going to scratch out ‘died’ an’ write—‘murdered.’”

John approached him, saying firmly:

“Don’t do that, Mr. Farleigh.”

Timothy snarled at him:

“Be I master in my own house, or be you, young man?”

At that Agatha took his arm.

“Dear Uncle, John is right. ’Twould make Aunt Mary so unhappy if she
knew.”

“Gi’ me pen an’ ink,” he replied with all the obstinacy of the peasant.

The ink-pot stood on the window-ledge, near the open casement. Timothy
was staring at Agatha. John, standing close to the window, deftly
emptied the ink-pot without being perceived.

“No,” said Agatha.

“I says—yes.”

John held up the ink-pot.

“There’s no ink in the pot, Mr. Farleigh, not a drop.” He held the
ink-pot upside down, as proof positive.

“No ink—no ink,” he mumbled, dazed again and irresolute. Agatha pushed
him gently toward his chair. He sank into it, still mumbling. John’s
face softened; Agatha’s assumed a hard expression. The silence was
broken by voices outside. Timothy took no notice.

“Who is it?” asked Agatha impatiently.

John looked through the casement before he answered:

“The Ancient, Nicodemus Burble, and Nick.”

“We don’t want that old gaffer. Tell him he can’t come in.”

But Timothy objected.

“Let ’un in; let ’un in. All friends be heartily welcome.”

Agatha shrugged her shoulders. John opened the door to Nicodemus, who
entered gallantly, carrying his many years as if they were feathers.

“Marning, all.”

Nick followed, and espying a newspaper which John had stuck into the
strap of Agatha’s suit-case, furtively purloined it, sidling into the
ingle-nook, where he remained more or less invisible.

“Glad to see you looking so hearty, Mr. Burble,” said John.

“John Exton, I do declare, and Aggie Farleigh! Well, well!”

“How are you, granfer?” asked Agatha.

Nicodemus squared his shoulders.

“I be the most notable man in village. How be Auntie, Aggie?”

“Very sick. I’ve not seen her yet.”

Nicodemus greeted Timothy, and then smacked his lips as he envisaged the
small bottle of port wine.

“Ah-h-h! Her ladyship ha’ been herealong. Part wine, as I live!”

At once Timothy jumped up, fierce and menacing.

“Her wine? In my house? Gi’ me that bottle!”

“We may need it,” protested Agatha. Timothy pushed her roughly aside and
seized the bottle, exclaiming with biblical fervour:

“Death be in her loving-kindness, and sorrow in her cups o’ wine. I be
goin’ to throw ’un away.”

The Ancient tottered at such a threat.

“Throw away good liquor! What an onchristian act! A rare churchgoer,
such as you be, Tim Farleigh, ought to behave hisself more genteel.
Throw away my lady’s part wine! I never heard such hellish talk.”

Timothy turned upon him aggressively, but the Ancient stood his ground.

“There be no heaven and hell, save on this earth. The quality gets the
heaven, and we pore folks walks in hell. I be done wi’
church-goin’—done wi’ it for ever—done!”

He went out. A crash of breaking glass was heard. Nicodemus looked up to
Heaven.

“Lard help ’un!”

To his immense amazement, Agatha snapped out:

“My lady’s wine is poison to him, and no wonder.”

“Part wine bain’t pison, neighbours. Why not drink the wine, and then
smash bottle?”

“Because his wife may be dying, Mr. Burble.”

“Fevers and such comes from Providence, Aggie. I holds tight to
Providence, I do. And I don’t hold wi’ talk agen the quality. That was
never my way.”

Timothy came back.

“What be saying?” he asked.

Nicodemus wagged his head solemnly.

“I don’t hold wi’ talk agen the quality, Tim. Her ladyship spends money
on we wi’ both hands.”

“You tell me how much she spends,” sneered Timothy.

“I dunno.”

“I can tell you,” said Agatha. “I was her secretary. I know all about
her doles.”

“Doles? What be doles, Aggie?”

“Soup, blankets, cloaks, a dozen or two of port from the wood.”

Nicodemus looked incredulous.

“Part from the wood? What a queer place to get ’un. There be allers beef
at Yuletide, milk for widders and little ’uns, a mort o’ comfort for
them as keers for cows’ gifts. A gert charitable ’ooman, my lady be.
Rich folk should be treated wi’ respect.”

“And what does it all come to in cash?” asked Agatha. “I’ll tell you.
About five hundred pounds—counting everything.”

Nicodemus chuckled, rubbing together his gnarled hands, which indicated
more than his face great age.

“A gert noble sum, neighbours. My lady has done her dooty.”

“What hasn’t she done?” asked John sharply.

“Dang my old boans, I dun’no.”

“She hasn’t pulled down a score of cottages like this.”

“Pulled down cottages?” Nicodemus wiped his shining brow.

“They ought to be burnt—burnt,” repeated Agatha excitedly.

“Aye,” said Timothy, “and the Hall wi’ ’un.”

Nick’s voice was heard from the ingle-nook, shrill and ear-piercing:

“’Twould be a rare lark!”

Nobody noticed the boy. The Ancient thumped the tiled floor with his oak
stick, exclaiming angrily: “What blarsted talk! ’Tis a fool’s cap you be
wanting, Aggie Farleigh.”

Nick interposed again:

“I’ll make ’ee one, Aggie.”

The tension was increasing. Timothy’s deep-set eyes glowered; John
Exton, thinking of his father, and recalling old calculations, said
emphatically:

“I’ve been into this. Upworthy ought to have fifty new cottages. At the
old prices, three hundred apiece, that would make fifteen thousand. Two
thousand more would lay down decent drains.”

Nicodemus thumped the floor more vigorously:

“I says in my common way: ‘Drains be damned!’”

John continued, warming to his work:

“Eight thousand more would be little enough to spend on the farms. That
foots up twenty-five thousand pound.”

“Ah-h-h!” The Ancient shook a trembling forefinger at him. “’Tis easy to
make free wi’ other folk’s cash. Johnny’d have my lady so pore as we.”

Agatha turned upon him.

“That’s nonsense, granfer. Her income is six thousand a year. She could
borrow twenty-five thousand by giving up one thousand a year. Instead of
putting this big property in order, she bribes you all with doles. And
she saves herself five hundred a year. Have you got it?”

Nicodemus retorted smartly:

“I holds wi’ King Solomon, a wiser man even than I be, there bain’t no
fool so irksome as a female fool.”

“Meaning, you rude old man?”

“That you be a lovesick maid, Aggie, and so soft as Nicky there.”

John, still at the window, electrified the company by his next remark:

“My lady is here.”

As he spoke, Lady Selina’s stately figure was seen passing the casement.
Timothy hurried from the kitchen; a firm tap was heard upon the door.

“Come in,” said Agatha.

IV

Lady Selina, more imposing even than usual in her deep mourning, entered
the kitchen. Nicodemus removed his hat deferentially. John stood stiffly
at attention; Agatha remained near the table.

“Good morning to you.”

Her eyes rested sympathetically upon John’s empty sleeve. She held out
her hand very graciously:

“My daughter told me that you and Agatha were engaged. You have my
sincere good wishes.”

John took the outstretched hand, and grasped it so awkwardly that Lady
Selina slightly winced.

“Thank you, my lady.”

Lady Selina turned to Agatha.

“I only heard this morning that your poor aunt was ill. I should like to
see your uncle.”

Agatha, taken aback, hesitated. Nicodemus said promptly: “I’ll ask ’un
to step down, my lady.”

As he went out, Nick emerged from the ingle-nook, carrying a fool’s cap,
cleverly fashioned out of the newspaper he had purloined. Quite ignoring
the great lady, intent only upon himself, he said pipingly:

“Here be your fool’s cap, Aggie.”

“What does he mean?” asked Lady Selina. She was conscious of the hostile
atmosphere, mildly resentful that Agatha had not asked her to sit down,
but willing to make due allowance for this breach of manners, because
serious illness had obviously upset a tiny household.

“He means nothing,” replied Agatha hastily.

“Granfer Burble told me to make ’un.”

“Yes, yes. You can run away, Nick. You aren’t afraid of me, are you?”

“I bain’t afeard o’ nothing, excep’, maybe, our old broody hen.”

He retired to his ingle-nook, as Nicodemus stumped back, his face redder
than usual, his large mouth agape with consternation.

“Well, Nicodemus? . . .”

“Timothy won’t come, my lady.”

“Won’t?” she repeated sharply. “Surely he sent some message?”

Nicodemus gasped out:

“I be too flustrated to gi’ his message.”

“Rubbish, my good man! Give me his message at once.”

“Not me, my lady. I dassent repeat to your ladyship his sinful words.”

“You will please obey me, Nicodemus, and kindly deliver the message
exactly, _exactly_ as it was given to you.”

The Ancient almost whimpered:

“If so be as I do, you’ll stop my—my——” the right word planted
securely in his memory by Agatha slipped out unexpectedly—“doles.”

“Doles! doles! What an extraordinary word for you to use to me!”

“’Twas Aggie’s word, not mine, my lady. I means the milk and good wine
you sends me.”

“Oh!” Lady Selina glanced at Agatha, who by this time was
expressionless. To Nicodemus she said tartly:

“I may stop your doles, if you disobey me.”

“Timothy Farleigh be daffy, my lady.”

“I insist upon being told what Timothy said, and at once.”

Nicodemus, helplessly cornered, exploded with brutal violence.

“He said you might go to hell, my lady.”

“Bless my soul!”

Lady Selina, however, was the first to recover her self-possession. She
spoke very kindly to the unhappy old man.

“Thank you, Nicodemus. I beg your pardon. Had I guessed that such a
message could be sent to me, I should not have asked you to deliver it.
The man, of course, is mad.”

“With grief,” added Agatha defiantly.

Lady Selina ignored her, looking at Nicodemus.

“When he recovers his senses he will apologise.”

“Not if I knows ’un,” quavered the old man. “I allers says that rich
folk should be treated wi’ respect.”

At this moment Agatha scrapped self-control. Her nerves, of course, were
on edge. Possibly, too, Arthur Wilverley had overworked a too willing
typist. And the spirit of revolt, as we know, was beginning at that time
to stir the hearts of women. Agatha ought to have remembered what she
owed to Lady Selina, who, in a material sense, had helped her to find
herself. But, even here, the sense of obligation may have rankled. At
any rate, the really irritating cause was the conviction that her
holiday had been wrecked by Lady Selina’s neglect of great issues
entrusted to her. She addressed Nicodemus angrily:

“Yes; treated with respect—if they deserve it.”

John attempted a warning cough.

“What do you mean, Agatha?”

Lady Selina spoke very softly, but she assumed quite unconsciously the
look and pose of a mistress addressing a servant. To the emancipated
Agatha this was unendurable.

“I mean,” she retorted bitterly, “that my dear uncle is not mad. Words
have burst from him because for all these dreary years he has been
dumb—dumb.”

Lady Selina eyed her derisively, thinking of past benefits conferred
upon the undeserving.

“I am waiting for further enlightenment, you thankless young woman.”

But Agatha, having shot her bolt, burst into tears. John came forward.
What else could he do? A hunted glance from his future wife had set him
afire. He pointed to the Bible.

“Enlightenment is in that,” he said coldly.

“The Bible!” She stared at the big book and then at John. Was he
deliberately trying to be insolent? “Do you read it?” she asked, with a
lift of her eyebrows.

John opened the Bible and found the fly-leaf. His voice was trembling as
he replied:

“Here, on this page, are the death-dates of Farleigh’s two children, who
died of diphtheria. Ever since, he has thought of things. You never
guessed why he was so silent. How should you know what goes on in
people’s hearts? If Farleigh is mad, who made him so? Just now I emptied
the ink-pot out of that window to prevent him altering ‘died’ to——”

“Go on! To—what?”

“To—_murdered_.”

“Murdered by whom?”

John closed the Bible and made no answer. He withdrew quietly to the
window. Meanwhile, Agatha had controlled her emotions and was dabbing at
her eyes with a pocket-handkerchief which Lady Selina perceived to be of
cambric as fine as her own. She addressed Agatha:

“Obviously you two think that I murdered these little girls.”

Agatha replied without acrimony:

“I know what causes diphtheria and typhoid.”

“I wonder if others in this village share your views and judgments.”

Nicodemus made bold to say:

“I bain’t one o’ they, my lady.”

“No, no; I am quite sure of that, my old friend.” As she spoke she heard
the crunching of gravel outside. “Who is this?”

“Mr. Grimshaw,” answered John.

“You can ask him what he thinks,” murmured Agatha, sensible that she and
her John had exhausted their munitions.

“I will ask him,” said Lady Selina.