Piers stooped impulsively in response, his hand on the old man’s shoulder, and kissed him on the forehead.
“Good-night, sir!” he said softly.
The action was purely boyish. It pleaded for tolerance. Sir Beverley jerked his head impatiently, but he did not repulse him.
“There! Be off with you!” he said. “Go to bed and behave yourself! Good-night, you scamp! Good-night!”
And Piers went from him lightfooted, a smile upon his lips. He knew that his tacit overture for peace had been accepted for the time at least.
It was growing very dark in the little church, almost too dark to see the carving of the choir-stalls, and Avery gave a short sigh of weariness.
She had so nearly finished her task that she had sent the children in to prepare for tea, declaring that she would follow them in five minutes, and then just at the last a whole mass of ivy and holly, upon which the boys had been at work, had slipped and strewn the chancel-floor. She was the only one left in the church, and it behooved her to remove the litter. It had been a hard day, and she was frankly tired of the very sight and smell of the evergreens.
There was no help for it, however. The chancel must be made tidy before she could go, and she went to the cupboard under the belfry for the dustpan and brush which the sexton’s wife kept there. She found a candle also, and thus armed she returned to the scene of her labours at the other end of the dim little church. She tried to put her customary energy into the task, but it would not rise to the occasion, and after a few strenuous seconds she paused to rest.
It was very still and peaceful, and she was glad of the solitude. All day long she had felt the need of it; and all day long it had been denied her. She had been decorating under Miss Whalley’s superintendence, and the task had been no light one. Save for the fact that she had gone in Mrs. Lorimer’s stead, she had scarcely undertaken it. For Miss Whalley was as exacting as though the church were her own private property. She deferred to the Vicar alone, and he was more than willing to leave the matter in her hands. “My capable assistant” was his pet name for this formidable member of his flock, and very conscientiously did Miss Whalley maintain her calling. She would have preferred to direct Mrs. Lorimer rather than the mother’s help, but since the latter had firmly determined to take the former’s place, she had accepted her with condescension and allotted to her all the hardest work.
Avery had laboured uncomplainingly in her quiet, methodical fashion, but now that the stress was over and Miss Whalley safely installed in the Vicarage drawing-room for tea, she found it impossible not to relax somewhat, and to make the most of those few exquisite moments of sanctuary.