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flattered himself that he knew something of the difficulties that might beset him in his new sphere. The Bishop, however, had given him to understand that it was a favorable field in which to begin work on his Own account, for, sad to say, the parish had been much neglected. The late rector had been old and infirm, and often absent, leaving his place to be filled by locum tenens, who came and went pretty frequently. The various parochial agencies, such as Sunday-schools, had, he believed, been carried on as usual, but without a head the work must of necessity have been desultory and fitful. The people would welcome a guiding hand at the helm, and a new rector, instead of having to run counter to some energetic predecessor's ideas, would be able, to all intents and purposes, to make a fresh beginning for himself. These deductions the Bishop had made from information extracted with difficulty from the churchwardens-two worthy farmers-who had been too much overcome by the importance of an interview at the Palace to be very talkative. The Squire-oh, yes-the Squire was an easy man to get on with. He and his wife were quite old people, their family grown up and off their hands, with the exception of one daughter-"the necessity and comfort of old age," smiled his Lordship.
For a passing moment a picture framed itself in the Rector's mind of a middle-aged woman devoting herself to her aged parents; and then he thought no more about her until a few days after his arrival at Lavington.
By that time he had found out that the Bishop was right on at least one point-namely, that there was little or no dissent in the parish. There seemed, also, to be little of the bickering and party spirit too often found in hamlets, outwardly the homes of peace and beauty. People apparently loved each
other more than is usually the case in country villages. They gave him a cordial welcome, and said "it wer a good job to have a parson of our own at last!"
"Miss Penelope too-she'll be real glad! Them curates as was always comin' and goin' bothered her rarely," said the old sexton, as after service on the first Sunday evening he and his rector stood together in the vestry, the latter occupied in filling up, with no little satisfaction, the columns of the churchwardens' book.
"And who is Miss Penelope?" asked Mr. Hardinge, with a half smile at the name, as he dipped his pen in the ink.
"Why, the Squire's daughter up at the Hall," answered the man, with a jerk of his thumb towards the northwest corner of the vestry.
"How did the curates bother her?" Really these country people were amusing in their slow way.
"Well, I can't say 'zackly how, but she had 'words' now and agin with them. Miss Penelope, she won't stand no nonsense!"
The Rector's face became grave. Here was the Squire's daughter in quite a new light; no longer the devoted daughter, but a woman with a tongue-a lady so lost to the fitness of things as to have "words" with her parish priest. It would be as well, perhaps, to learn a little more about her.
"But what has Miss Graham to do with the clergy, that they should disagree?" he asked in more orthodox language.
"Oh, she loikes to have a finger in every pie, she do! She knows more about the parish nor any parson. I often say as I don't see we wants one at all as long as we've got Miss Penelope. She's as good as one any day."
A huge grin distorted the speaker's countenance, and served him in place of a chuckle at his own joke.
A cloud had indeed suddenly descended on the Rector's spirit, and although such clouds are not always definable, he knew that the name, Penelope, had called up this for him.
His first Sunday had naturally been somewhat anxious and exciting, but at the end of it he had gone into the vestry in a very happy frame of mind, truly thankful for the position in which he found himself, and for the success which he could not but feel had so far attended his efforts. That the church had been packed was not so much the point. The people would flock out of curiosity, but they had listened attentively to his simple, direct discourse, and thanked him afterwards for speaking so "plain like." Every one seemed to have a word and a smile for him. He had a hundred plans to carry out, a score of theories to test the truth of, and under such happy auspices it ought not to be difficult to make Lavington soon a model parish.
Such had been his thoughts ten minutes ago, but now-!
The sexton's words came back to him. Graphic as was the man's description of the lady, his chuckles, and the facetious manner of his speech would seem to indicate that he had not said all. What scope was there not
for the vagaries of feminine conduct in the phrase, "her ways"? He fairly groaned.
He was man enough to like a few obstacles in his path, but like many of us he preferred to choose them, and Miss Penelope, with her sharp, overbearing, meddlesome temperament, was not to his mind. Backed up as she was by her position as the Squire's daughter, and the means at her command, she would be difficult to dislodge. But here the Rector became aware that his thoughts were not quite what they ought to be; that they were becoming bitter, not to say unchristian. Did he not value the ministry of women? and, after all, the man had said she had a good heart. He was not sure, however, that, uttered in such a context, the words were not omi
As the week wore on he found, indeed, that Miss Penelope permeated the parish. He was met at every turn by her wishes and desires. "She must be a woman of considerable strength of character," was the conviction forced upon him; for in several instances where he had offered very reasonable advice, which was undoubtedly acceptable, the people reserved their decision until it should have the seal of Miss Penelope's arrival. Though still unknown to him, so real had she become that he seemed to see her tall, manly, short-skirted form disappearing round corners as he went about the parish. He modelled for himself the course of conduct he would pursue when they in reality met face to face. He must be firm from the beginning, not needlessly thwarting her, but it was absolutely necessary for the good of all that he should take his proper position as rector.
This was his mental condition when, on the following Thursday morning, a college friend ran down from town to see him.
This friend was an excellent antidote to James Hardinge's sadder views of life. He had no forebodings, and apparently few regrets, while the present was generally-as he expressed it -good enough for him.
"You've got a pretty good billet here, I should say," he remarked soon after his arrival.
They were drinking tea outside the study window, over which clustered a late blossoming rose. Through a gap in the trees they could see the cut harvest fields lying golden in the sunshine, and a tiny trout stream glimmering on its course.
"Oh, yes," was the answer. "yes" was not quite whole-hearted, and Charlie Cox, knowing his friend well, asked
"What's wrong, old chap?"
The whole story was soon before him, and the silence with which he listened to it seemed to be sympathetic.
"Well." he said, when it came to an end, "there's only one thing for you to do that I can see-marry her."
The Rector gave a gesture of disgust and disapproval at the tone of the remark.
"It is no joking matter, I can assure you," he exclaimed, getting up from his chair and beginning to pace up and down.
"Quite so; that's why I said marry her."
The words were said gravely enough, and it was difficult to see the speaker's eyes as he sat smoking at ease, his feet on another chair, with his straw hat tilted over his forehead. Mr. Hardinge's face grew even more troubled. "You see, one cannot be rude to a woman," he continued.
Charlie Cox shouted with laughter. "You could not be, I am sure," he said. "Rude-to a ministering angel!"
"It was the one drawback," the other went on, unheeding; "I remember now that Williams told me he had
in his country parish a lady of influence in the place, who ruled everything, and interfered with him at every turn. Now, if she was only a man-"
"You could swear at her," finished his friend. "Look here, old chap," he cried, rising and slapping him on the 'shoulder, "don't you worry about her! Give her a chance, too. She may turn out to be a most fascinating damsel."
"Not she," groaned Mr. Hardinge. "Only this morning an old woman called her a 'dear, good soul!'" But it was a relief even to have aired his grievance, for it had been obviously impossible to discuss the Squire's daughter with the village people.
Charlie Cox left early the next morning, and the friends bicycled down to the station together, the Gladstone being conveyed in the butcher's cart.
"You'll see me again before long," remarked the departing guest. "There's a flavor of unconventionality about your arrangements, and of possible romance and intrigue, which will be refreshing to a hard-worked man!"
They found the station-master, man of leisure as he was, standing in the middle of the line. He touched his cap, and having waved one of his satellites to their assistance, came forward.
"Good morning, sir!"
"Good morning," replied his rector. "The Squire returns to-day, sir." "And Miss Penelope?" put in Charlie Cox quickly.
The man looked at him. Who was this stranger who uttered her name so glibly?
"And Miss Penelope, of course, sir." he answered slowly. "She never leaves her parents."
"Good hearing for you, Jim." muttered Cox, as the man moved off. "She won't be wanting to exchange the Hall for the Rectory, though, of course, the two are not very far apart—"
But here the train came in, and the speaker took his seat in an empty carriage.
"I have a premonition," he said, with his head out of the window, "that -not next time, perhaps, but later on -I shall come down to be best man at Miss-." The sentence was left unfinished, for the station-master came along, and would have pricked up his ears at a second mention of "Miss Penelope," while the Rector waved his hand to his mocking friend. He did his usual round of visiting up to one o'clock, then shut himself up in his own domain for the rest of the day, for he had no intention of allowing Miss Penelope to view him for the first time from the vantage-ground of her carriage and pair; she would be quite capable of hailing him to come up and speak to her! It was absolutely necessary, too, that he should cultivate a hobby of some sort as a recreation. Later on he might become a fisherman, but, as yet, he was unlearned in the art; to-day, therefore, he would garden. The flower-beds, though brilliant, were overgrown and untidy; to the uninitiated it was ticklish work to begin meddling with them, so he turned his attention to the grass, where another year he hoped to lay out a tennis-lawn. He knew the difference between a daisy and a dandelion. The latter were, without doubt, obnoxious weeds, and, seated on a low stool in his shirtsleeves, the new rector prodded away for a couple of hours; prodded, as if his one thought was the destruction of the dandelions, while all the time the spirit of Miss Penelope seemed to hover near him, and only vanished with the sound of retreating wheels, which he heard about four o'clock, and which, he knew well, was the Hall carriage going home.
He wondered, when he got up the next morning, what the day would VOL. LXIX. 3
bring forth for him. Anything would be better than this suspense, and he was almost disappointed to find the children assembled at the Sundayschool with no sign of Miss Penelope.
"I have placed the classes as you wished, sir," said the school-master; "but I think you said that you would not want my help to-day."
"Nor shall I," said the Rector, with his pleasant smile. "I shall take the older boys myself."
"I am particularly fond of lads," he went on. "I am glad to see so many of them here. Yes, my boy-what is it?" he asked, as a small urchin shuffled up to him.
"Please, sir, may I take care of Nipper to-day?"
"Who is Nipper?"
"Miss Penelope's dog, sir."
"Dog?" echoed the Rector. Was it possible that she brought a dog with her?
"Miss Penelope is not here, as you see," he replied, rather sternly. "Go back to your seat. Now, boys-silence!"
And so prayers were got through with. Then Mr. Hardinge seated himself in front of the class of big boys, and was about to inquire whether they were in the habit of learning their collects, when a squeal, followed by an angry voice, drew his attention to the further end of the room. He went to see what was the matter, and was on the point of resuming his seat, when the door was pushed open by a goodsized Irish terrier, who, wagging his tail in a most friendly manner, took up his position in the midst of the boys. He was followed by a young lady-really young, not much, probably, over twenty. She was of middle height, dressed -Mr. Hardinge's town experience told him-fashionably, in a white skirt and a flowered muslin blouse; her hat a veritable flower-garden, after the fashion of the day. She
had brown curly hair, and eyes which were dark blue, or violet, as you chose to call them. She paused just inside the door at the sight of the tall, wellgroomed young clergyman. The faintest look of surprise flitted across her face; then she opened her lips to speak. "I am-" she began.
"Miss Penelope!" shouted the boys behind him; and the girl's face broke into a smile.
"Yes," she said. "They've introduced me. We got back last night."
The Rector murmured somethingwhat he could never remember-about being glad to hear that the Squire had returned. Meanwhile, Miss Penelope had crossed over, and, drawing off a pair of white doeskin gloves, she deposited them and a dainty chiffon parasol on the chair he had just vacated.
"Our clocks must be wrong," she remarked. "You seem to have had prayers."
It was the first scent of battle, and the Rector recovered from his momentary bewilderment.
"I have altered the hour to a quarter before nine," he said gravely.
"Oh!" said Miss Penelope; but nothing more, and taking up her parasol, she sat down and faced the class.
"Now, boys," she cried, in her fresh, girlish voice, "before we get to collects, let me hear what you have been doing."
There was a babel instantly, but Mr. Hardinge was incapable of quelling it. He walked out into the porch, closing the door softly behind him. There, as he stood with the delicious morning breeze fanning his brow, and the sound of the church-bells making music in his ears, he was a prey, for a few moments, to the most unenviable feelings. No Amazon of his imagination could have routed him more effectually than this pretty, soft-voiced, gaily dressed girl had done. He only trusted that the boys had not perceived that he in
tended to take the class himself. There was little deference and scant courtesy, he told himself, in her greeting. Her coming had been the signal for an instant uproar.
What was to be done?
He thought it out for quite a quarter of an hour, but came to no definite conclusion, and, on returning to the room, busied himself as best he might at the book-cupboard. He glanced at the elder boys. The collects appeared to have been already disposed of, and the Squire's daughter was talking to an enthralled audience. They listened with open eyes and ears, and you might have heard a pin drop. "Did he get drownded, miss?" he heard one eager voice say, and, wondering considerably, he contrived to get within earshot. What could the discourse be about? The lesson for the day had nothing to do with the sea.
Miss Penelope was evidently telling them of her adventures while awayof an exciting row against wind and tide which she and some friends had had on Ulleswater. She was, no doubt, using her experience to illustrate some point in the lesson she was teaching, and he waited for the moral. It came at last: "And so, boys, you must all learn to swim!"
In spite of himself the Rector almost laughed aloud, then decided that it was only what he might have expected. This dressed-up doll added ignorance to her officiousness.
Miss Penelope, however, looked in no wise dissatisfied with her capabilities as a teacher when she approached him after school was over.
"My father wishes me to say that he and mother are too tired after their journey to come to church to-day, but they hope you will dine with us tomorrow night," was the substance of the message she had to deliver.
"And what do you think of your new