The vicar knew perfectly well that his sister was relieved. It was that which had secretly affected a naturally sweet temper. He was suffering besides from a haunting sense of contrast between these rainy November days, and the glowing harvest weeks in which he had worked like a navvy for and with Rachel Henderson. It was over, of course. None of the nice things of life ever came his way for long. But he did feel rather sorely that during his short spell of favour with her, Miss Henderson had encouraged him a good deal. She had raised him up—only to cast him down. He thought of her smiles, and her sudden softness, of the warm grip of her hand, and the half mocking, half inviting look in her eyes, with the feeling of a child shut out from a garden where he well knows the ripe apples are hanging; only not for him. The atmosphere of sex which environed her—was it not that which had beguiled the vicar, while it had repelled his sister? And yet Eleanor Shenstone did most honestly wish her brother to marry—only not—not anything so tempting, troubling, and absorbing as Rachel Henderson.
“Haven’t we a tiresome meeting to-night?” said the vicar with an impatient sigh, as he sat languidly down to the couple of sardines which were all his sister had allowed him for breakfast.
“Yes—Miss Hall is coming to speak.”
Miss Hall was a lady who spoke prodigiously on infant welfare, and had a way of producing a great, but merely temporary effect on the mothers of the village. They would listen in a frightened silence while she showed them on a blackboard the terrifying creatures that had their dwelling in milk, and what a fly looks like when it is hideously—and in the mothers’ opinion most unnecessarily—magnified. But when she was gone came reaction. “How can she know aught about it—havin’ none of her own?” said the village contemptuously. None the less the village ways were yielding, insensibly, little by little; and the Miss Halls were after all building better than they knew.
The vicar, however, always had to take the chair at Miss Hall’s meetings, and he was secretly sick and tired of babies, their weights, their foods, their feeding-bottles, and everything concerned with them. His sister considered him and like a wise woman, offered him something sweet to make up for the bitter.