He told himself that from the very first moment of consulting him he had dreaded that the Archdeacon would counsel exactly as he had done. Mr. Gresley stood a long time in silent prayer by his study window. If his prayers took the same bias as his recent statements to his friend, was that his fault? If he silenced, as a sign of cowardice, a voice within him which entreated for delay, was that his fault? If he had never educated himself to see any connection between a seed and a plant, a cause and a result, was that his fault? The first seedling impulse to destroy the book was buried and forgotten. If he mistook this towering, full-grown determination which had sprung from it for the will of God, the direct answer to prayer, was that his fault?
As his painful duty became clear to him, a thin veil of smoke drifted across the little lawn.
Regie came dancing and caracoling round the corner.
“Father!” he cried, rushing to the window, “Abel has made such a bonfire in the back-yard, and he is burning weeds and all kinds of things, and he has given us each a ‘’tato’ to bake, and Fraeulein has given us a band-box she did not want, and we’ve filled it quite full of dry leaves. And do you think if we wait a little Auntie Hester will be back in time to see it burn?”
It was a splendid bonfire. It leaped. It rose and fell. It was replenished. Something alive in the heart of it died hard. The children danced round it.
“Oh, if only Auntie Hester was here!” said Regie, clapping his hands as the flame soared.
But “Auntie Hester” was too late to see it.
And we are punished for our purest deeds,
And chasten’d for our holiest thoughts; alas!
There is no reason found in all the creeds,
Why these things are, nor whence they come to pass.
It was while Hester was at the Palace that Lord Newhaven died. She had perhaps hardly realized, till he was gone, how much his loyal friendship had been to her. Yet she had hardly seen him for the last year, partly because she was absorbed in her book, and partly because, to her astonishment, she found that her brother and his wife looked coldly upon “an unmarried woman receiving calls from a married man.”
For in the country individuality has not yet emerged. People are married or they are unmarried—that is all. Just as in London they are agreeable or dull—that is all.
“Since I have been at Warpington,” Hester said to Lord Newhaven one day, the last time he found her in, “I have realized that I am unmarried. I never thought of it all the years I lived in London, but when I visit among the country people here, as I drive through the park, I remember, with a qualm, that I am a spinster, no doubt because I can’t help it. As I enter the hall I recall, with a pang, that I am eight-and-twenty. By the time I am in the drawing-room I am an old maid.”