“Perhaps you will come down next year and help us again?” suggested Mrs. Goddard.
“Yes—well, I might come at Easter, for that matter,” answered the young man, who after finding it impossible to visit Billingsfield during two years and a half, now saw no difficulty whatever in the way of making two visits in the course of six months. “Do you still decorate at Easter?” he asked.
“Oh yes—do you think you can come?” she said pleasantly. “I thought you were to be very busy just then.”
“Yes, that is true,” answered John. “But of course I could come, you know, if it were necessary.”
“Hardly exactly necessary—” Mrs. Goddard laughed.
“The doctor told me some relaxation was absolutely indispensable for my health,” said John rather sententiously.
“You don’t really look very ill—are you?” She seemed incredulous.
“Oh no, of course not—only a little overworked sometimes.”
“In that case I have no doubt it would do you good,” said Mrs. Goddard.
“Do you really think so?” asked John, hopefully.
“Oh—that is a matter for your doctor to decide. I cannot possibly tell,” she answered.
“I think you would make a very good doctor, Mrs. Goddard,” said John venturing on a bolder flight.
“Really—I never thought of trying it,” she replied with a little laugh. “Good morning, Mr. Ambrose. Nellie wants to thank you for your beautiful present. It was really too good of you.”
The vicar came out of the vestry and joined the group in the path. Mrs. Ambrose, who had been asking Tom Judd’s wife about her baby, also came up, and the squire, who had been presenting Mr. Reid with ten shillings for his Christmas box and who looked singularly bereaved without the faithful Stamboul at his heels, sauntered up and began congratulating everybody. In the distance the last of the congregation, chiefly the old women and cripples who could not keep up with the rest, hobbled away through the white gate of the churchyard.
It had been previously agreed that if the ice would bear there should be skating in the afternoon and the squire was anxious to inform the party that the pond was in excellent condition.
“As black as your hat,” he said cheerfully. “Stamboul and I have been sliding all over it, so of course it would bear an ox. It did not crack anywhere.”
“Do you skate, Mrs. Goddard?” asked John.
“Not very well—not nearly so well as Nellie. But I am very fond of it.”
“Will you let me push you about in a chair, then? It is capital fun.”
“Very good fun for me, no doubt,” answered Mrs. Goddard, laughing.
“I would rather do it than anything else,” said John in a tone of conviction. “It is splendid exercise, pushing people about in chairs.”
“So it is,” said the squire, heartily. “We will take turns, Mr. Short.” The suggestion did not meet with any enthusiastic response from John, who wished Mr. Juxon were not able to skate.