It is Ascension Day in a village of the West. In the low panelled hall-sittingroom of the Burlacombe’s farmhouse on the village green, Michael Strangway, a clerical collar round his throat and a dark Norfolk jacket on his back, is playing the flute before a very large framed photograph of a woman, which is the only picture on the walls. His age is about thirty-five his figure thin and very upright and his clean-shorn face thin, upright, narrow, with long and rather pointed ears; his dark hair is brushed in a coxcomb off his forehead. A faint smile hovers about his lips that Nature has made rather full and he has made thin, as though keeping a hard secret; but his bright grey eyes, dark round the rim, look out and upwards almost as if he were being crucified. There is something about the whole of him that makes him seen not quite present. A gentle creature, burnt within.
A low broad window above a window-seat forms the background to his figure; and through its lattice panes are seen the outer gate and yew-trees of a churchyard and the porch of a church, bathed in May sunlight. The front door at right angles to the window-seat, leads to the village green, and a door on the left into the house.
It is the third movement of Veracini’s violin sonata that Strangway plays. His back is turned to the door into the house, and he does not hear when it is opened, and ivy Burlacombe, the farmer’s daughter, a girl of fourteen, small and quiet as a mouse, comes in, a prayer-book in one hand, and in the other a gloss of water, with wild orchis and a bit of deep pink hawthorn. She sits down on the window-seat, and having opened her book, sniffs at the flowers. Coming to the end of the movement Strangway stops, and looking up at the face on the wall, heaves a long sigh.
Ivy. [From the seat] I picked these for yu, Mr. Strangway.
Strangway. [Turning with a start] Ah! Ivy. Thank you. [He puts his flute down on a chair against the far wall] Where are the others?
As he speaks, Gladys Freman, a dark gipsyish girl, and Connie Trustaford, a fair, stolid, blue-eyed Saxon, both about sixteen, come in through the front door, behind which they have evidently been listening. They too have prayer-books in their hands. They sidle past Ivy, and also sit down under the window.
Gladys. Mercy’s comin’, Mr. Strangway.
Strangway. Good morning, Gladys; good morning, Connie.
He turns to a book-case on a table against the far wall, and taking out a book, finds his place in it. While he stands thus with his back to the girls, mercy Jarland comes in from the green. She also is about sixteen, with fair hair and china-blue eyes. She glides in quickly, hiding something behind her, and sits down on the seat next the door. And at once there is a whispering.
Strangway. [Turning to them] Good morning, Mercy.