Gradually, too, as she and her little girl passed many peaceful days in the quiet cottage, the sad woman’s face grew less sorrowful. She spoke of herself more cheerfully and dwelt less upon the subject of her grief. She had at first been so miserable that she could hardly talk at all without referring to her unhappy situation though, after her first interview with Mrs. Ambrose, no one had ever heard her mention any details connected with her trouble. But now she never approached the subject at all. Her face lost none of its pathetic beauty, it is true, but it seemed to express sorrow past rather than present. Meanwhile little Nellie grew daily more lovely, and absorbed more and more of her mother’s attention.
Events of such stirring interest as the establishment of Mrs. Goddard in Billingsfield rarely come alone; for it seems to be in the nature of great changes to bring other changes with them, even when there is no apparent connection whatever between them. It took nearly two years for Billingsfield to recover from its astonishment at Mrs. Goddard’s arrival, and before the excitement had completely worn off the village was again taken off its feet by unexpected news of stupendous import, even as of old Pompeii was overthrown by a second earthquake before it had wholly recovered from the devastation caused by the first. The shock was indeed a severe one. The Juxon estate was reported to be out of Chancery, and a new squire was coming to take up his residence at the Hall.
It is not known exactly how the thing first became known, but there was soon no doubt whatever that it was true. Thomas Reid, the sexton, who remembered that the old squire died forty years ago come Michaelmas, and had been buried in a “wonderful heavy” coffin, Thomas Reid the stern censor of the vicar’s sermons, a melancholic and sober man, so far lost his head over the news as to ask Mr. Ambrose’s leave to ring the bells, Mr. Abraham Boosey having promised beer for the ringers. Even to the vicar’s enlightened mind it seemed fitting that there should be some festivity over so great an event and the bells were accordingly rung during one whole afternoon. Thomas Reid’s ringers never got beyond the first “bob” of a peal, for with the exception of the sexton himself and old William Speller the wheelwright, who pulled the treble bell, they were chiefly dull youths who with infinite difficulty had been taught what changes they knew by rote and had very little idea of ringing by scientific rule. Moreover Mr. Boosey was liberal in the matter of beer that day and the effect of each successive can that was taken up the stairs of the old tower was immediately apparent to every one within hearing, that is to say as far as five miles around.