“The less wit a man has, the less he knows that he wants it.”
Hester always took charge of the three elder children and Fraeulein of the baby during the six-o’clock service, so that the nurse might go to church. On this particular Sunday afternoon Hester and the children were waiting in the little hall till the bell stopped, before which moment they were forbidden to leave the house. Mr. and Mrs. Gresley had just started for the church, Mr. Gresley looking worn and harassed, for since luncheon he had received what he called “a perfectly unaccountable letter” from one of his principal parishioners, a Dissenter, who had been present at the morning service, and who Mr. Gresley had confidently hoped might have been struck by the sermon. This hope had been justified, but not in the manner Mr. Gresley had expected. Mr. Walsh opined, in a large round hand, that as worms (twice under-dashed) did not usually pay voluntary church and school rates he no longer felt himself under an obligation to do so, etc. The letter was a great, an unexpected blow. Who could have foreseen such a result of the morning’s eloquence.
“The truth is,” said Mr. Gresley, tremulously, “that they can’t and won’t hear reason. They can’t controvert what I say, so they take refuge in petty spite like this. I must own I am disappointed in Walsh. He is a man of some education, and liberal as regards money. I had thought he was better than most of them, and now he turns on me like this.”
“It’s a way worms have,” said Hester.
“Oh, don’t run a simile to death, Hester,” said Mr. Gresley, impatiently. “If you had listened to what I tried to say this morning you would have seen I only used the word worm figuratively. I never meant it literally, as any one could see who was not determined to misunderstand me. Worms pay school-rates! Such folly is positively sickening, if it were not malicious.”
Hester had remained silent. She had been deeply vexed for her brother at the incident.
As the church-bell stopped the swing-door opened, and Boulou hurried in, like a great personage, conscious that others have waited, and bearing with him an aroma of Irish stew and onions, which showed that he had been exchanging affabilities with the cook. For the truth must be owned. No spinster over forty could look unmoved on Boulou. Alas! for the Vicarage cook, who “had kept herself to herself” for nearly fifty years, only to fall the victim of a “grande passion” for Boulou.
The little Lovelace bounded in, and the expedition started. It was Regie’s turn to choose where they should go, and he decided on the “shrubbery,” a little wood through which ran the private path to Wilderleigh. Doll Loftus had given the Gresleys leave to take the children there.
“Oh, Regie, we always go there,” said Mary, plaintively, who invariably chose the Pratts’ park, with its rustic bridges and chalets, which Mr. Pratt, in a gracious moment, had “thrown open” to the Gresleys on Sundays, because, as he expressed it, “they must feel so cramped in their little garden.”