John Short liked Mrs. Ambrose and the Honourable Cornelius behaved to her with well bred affability. She always said Cornelius had very nice manners, as indeed he had and had need to have. Occasionally, perhaps four or five times in the year, the Reverend Edward Pewlay, who had what he called a tenor voice, and his wife, who played the pianoforte very fairly, came over to assist at a Penny Reading. He lived “over Harlow way,” as the natives expressed it; he was what was called in those parts a rabid Anglican, because he preached in his surplice and had services on the Saints’ days, and the vicar of Billingsfield did not sympathise in his views. Nevertheless he was very useful at Penny Readings, and on one of these occasions produced a very ingenious ghost for the delectation of the rustics, by means of a piece of plate glass and a couple of lamps.
There had indeed been festivities at the vicarage to which as many as three clergymen’s wives had been invited, but these were rare indeed. For months at a time Mrs. Ambrose reigned in undisputed possession of the woman’s social rights in Billingsfield. She was an excellent person in every way. She had once been handsome and even now she was fine-looking, of goodly stature, if also of goodly weight; rosy, even rubicund, in complexion, and rotund of feature; looking at you rather severely out of her large grey eyes, but able to smile very cheerfully and to show an uncommonly good set of teeth; twisting her thick grey hair into a small knot at the back of her head and then covering it with a neatly made cap which she considered becoming to her time of life; dressed always with extreme simplicity and neatness, glorying in her good sense and in her stout shoes; speaking of things which she called “neat” with a devotional admiration and expressing the extremest height of her disapprobation when she said anything was “very untidy.” A motherly woman, a practical woman, a good housekeeper and a good wife, careful of small things because generally only small things came in her way, devotedly attached to her husband, whom she regarded with perfect justice as the best man of her acquaintance, adding, however, with somewhat precipitous rashness that he was the best man in the world. She took also a great interest in his pupils and busied herself mightily with their welfare. Since the arrival of the new doctor who was suspected of free-thinking, she had shown a strong leaning towards homoeopathy, and prescribed small pellets of belladonna for the Honourable Cornelius’s