“Why, there’s the vicar!” said Janet Leighton, perceiving the tall and willowy figure of Mr. Shenstone, as its owner stopped to speak to one of the boys with the guns who were watching the game.
Rachel looked round with a look of annoyance.
“Oh, dear, what a bore,” she said wearily. “I suppose I must go and tidy up. Nobody ought to be allowed to pay visits after five o’clock.”
“You asked him something about a village woman to help, didn’t you?”
“I did, worse luck!” sighed Rachel, gathering up her sunbonnet and disappearing from the window. Janet heard her go upstairs, and a hasty opening of cupboards overhead. She herself had come back an hour earlier from the fields than Rachel in order to get supper ready, and had slipped a skirt over the khaki tunic and knickerbockers which were her dress—and her partner’s—when at work on the farm. She wondered mischievously what Rachel would put on. That her character included an average dose of vanity, the natural vanity of a handsome woman, Rachel’s new friend was well aware. But Janet, Rachel’s elder by five years, was only tenderly amused by it. All Rachel’s foibles, as far as she knew them, were pleasant to her. They were in that early stage of a new friendship when all is glamour.
Yet Janet did sometimes reflect, “How little I really know about her. She is a darling—but a mystery!”
They had met at college, taken their farm training together, and fallen in love with each other. Janet had scarcely a relation in the world. Rachel possessed, it seemed, a brother in Canada, another in South Africa, and some cousins whom she scarcely knew, children of the uncle who had left her three thousand pounds. Each had been attracted by the loneliness of the other, and on leaving college nothing was more natural than they should agree to set up together. Rachel, as the capitalist, was to choose the farm and take command. Janet went to a Cheshire dairy farm for a time to get some further training in practical work; and she was now responsible for the dairy at Great End, with the housekeeping and the poultry thrown in. She was a thin, tall woman with spectacles, and had just seen her thirty-second birthday. Her eyes were honest and clear, her mouth humorous. She never grudged other women their beauty or their success. It always seemed to her she had what she deserved.
Meanwhile the vicar approached, and Miss Leighton descended the steps and went to meet him at the gate. His aspect showed him apologetic.
“I have come at an unearthly hour, Miss Leighton. But I thought I should have no chance of finding Miss Henderson free till the evening, and I came to tell you that I think I have found a woman to do your work.”
Janet bade him come in, and assured him that Rachel would soon be visible. She ushered him into the sitting-room, which he entered on a note of wonderment.
“How nice you have made it all,” he said, looking round him. “When I think what a deserted hole this has been for years. You know, the village people firmly believe it is haunted? Old Wellin never could get anybody to sleep here. But tramps often used it, I’m certain. They got in through the windows. Hastings told me he had several times found a smouldering fire in the kitchen.”