Under Mrs Climoe’s onslaught of accusation she wheeled about in bewilderment, at the sound of hammering, to perceive Nicky-Nan at the end of the passage, driving a staple into his doorpost with blows of a poker.
“There now! What did I tell you?” persisted Mrs Climoe, attempting to thrust herself past.
“This is my house,” retorted Mrs Penhaligon, bravely heading her off. “If my children—but I could take my oath, here afore th’ Almighty—”
“You ask Mr Nanjivell! Why d’ee reckon he’s puttin’ a lock on his doorway, ’nless ‘tis to prevent what I’m tellin’ you from happenin’ again?”
Mrs Penhaligon stared about her. She went to the kitchen, she passed through the kitchen to the inner room. . . . No children! She came down the passage and close behind Nicky-Nan (who continued to hammer hypocritically), she gazed up the stairway and called “’Bert!” “’Beida!” “You naughty children—come down this moment!” Still no answer.
She turned upon Nicky-Nan. “If they’re really here and have been breakin’ your glass—”
“You never heard no complaint from me, ma’am,” answered Nicky-Nan, still intent on fixing his staple.
“Oh!” interposed Mrs Climoe viciously, “if you two are colleaguin’ already to hush something up, the affair lies between you, of course. It seems odd to me, Maria Penhaligon, an’ your proper husband not two days gone to the wars. But if Nicholas Nanjivell, here, chooses to play father to the fatherless an’ cover up the sins of the children that go an’ break his parlour windows afore my very eyes, well, ’tisn’t for me to say more than I hope no harm’ll come of it.”
She was preparing to say more. If she said more, Nicky-Nan did not hear it. For at this moment the three Penhaligon children broke in at the porch, burst past Mrs Climoe, and clung to their mother, clamouring for dinner.
In the hubbub Nicky-Nan meanly slipped back to his den, closed the door, and dragged two chairs against it. Then he took a worn tea-tray and propped it against the window, blocking the broken panes. It seemed to him that the world had suddenly grown full of eyes, peering upon him from every side.
THE VICAR’S MISGIVINGS.
Mrs Steele, the Vicar’s wife—a refined, shy little woman, somewhat austere in self-discipline and her own devotional exercises, but incapable of harsh judgment upon any other living soul—had spent Bank Holiday in writing letters and addressing them (from a list drawn up in long consultation with her husband) to “women-workers” of all denominations in the parish, inviting them to meet in the Vicarage drawing-room at 3.30 P.M. on Wednesday, to discuss “what steps (if any) could be taken to form sewing-parties, ambulance classes, &c.,” and later to partake of afternoon tea.