Read CHAPTER XII - MR. CARLYON’S TEA-PARTY of Herb of Grace, free online book, by Rosa Nouchette Carey, on ReadCentral.com.

If there be a smile on our lips, those around us will
soon smile; and our happiness will become the truer and
deeper as we see that these others are happy. 

                                                               Maeterlinck.

Smiles are as catching as tears. 
Maeterlinck.

What a sudden change in the atmosphere!  If a fresh moorland breeze had swept through the little sitting-room at the White Cottage it could not have effected a more beneficial change.

A few words from a brisk, cheerful young woman had acted like magic; Mr. Carlyon lost his harassed look, Malcolm’s bored expression had vanished, while Cedric’s fervent “Thank goodness!  Bet, we shall get along now,” was inwardly echoed by his friends.

Malcolm’s good-humour returned, and he gave his undivided attention to the flower-borders, and enlarged in his poetical way on the beauties of the Iceland and Shirley poppies.

“They are like fine court ladies,” he observed to Cedric, “they are so smart and dainty and graceful.  What a charming combination of colour!  Your friend Carlyon must have an artistic eye.”

“I expect it was Elizabeth’s idea,” returned Cedric lazily; “she is quite gone on poppies.  She and David are rival gardeners, and have no end of discussions.  My word, to listen to them one would think they were a later edition of Adam and Eve.”

Now, why did Malcolm frown at this boyish speech, and drop the subject hastily?  But Cedric only stretched himself with a yawn and went on

“It is my private opinion that David knows very little about it, except what he gets from gardening books.  But he is so full of hobbies, and so energetic, and so determined not to be beaten, and takes such a lot of trouble, that even Elizabeth is astonished at the results.  She comes down here and gives him ideas, and then he works them out, or he potters about our place and talks to Johnson, and gets hints that way.”

“I never saw such a fellow for picking other people’s brains,” continued Cedric enthusiastically.  “Why, he got a splendid degree at Oxford; I remember how surprised his own father was.”

“Carlyon has a father then?” Though Malcolm was so lukewarm on the subject of the young curate’s merits, he felt some degree of curiosity about him.

“To be sure he has,” replied Cedric.  “Carlyon senior is a dry, chippy sort of little man, as meek as a mouse and as good as gold.  He is curate-in-charge of an iron church at Stokeley; it is in the Black Country, you know a regular inferno of a place nothing but tall chimneys and blasting furnaces, heaps of slag and rows of miners’ cottages.  Stokeley town is a mile or two farther on; it is a beastly sort of hole.”

“It does not sound an inviting spot certainly.”

“Well, it is not exactly a Garden of Eden,” returned Cedric with a grin.  “But, as David says, it has its advantages, for one can wear out one’s old clothes quite comfortably.  I believe there is really beautiful country two or three miles away.”

“I suppose Mr. Carlyon’s mother is living too?” But here Cedric shook his head.

“No, she died when David was a youngster consumption, I believe and two or three of the children died too.  But there is one daughter, Theo they call her for Theodora, I expect and a precious uncomfortable piece of goods she is.”

Malcolm raised his eyebrows in a questioning manner, but Cedric needed no encouragement to rattle on.

“She is a young woman with a mission a sort of female Moody and Sankey rolled in one and she calls herself the Miner’s Friend.  She is so full of good works, don’t you know, that she has not time for domestic duties; and so Carlyon pere and Carlyon frère have a roughish time of it.”

Malcolm’s thoughts instinctively reverted to his mother.  With all her work and philanthropic schemes, she was never too busy to see to her household.  She might neglect her own personal comfort and overtask her willing helper Anna, but her servants did their duty, and were well fed and well managed; and they worked all the better for the knowledge that their mistress’s keen eyes would detect the slightest laxity.  “My mother is a good woman,” he said to himself; “she is true and just in all her dealings,” and he felt with a sudden pang of remorse as though he had never valued her enough.

“Is Miss Carlyon like her brother in appearance?” he asked the next minute.

“Not a bit; she would make two of David.  She is a big, red-haired woman, not exactly bad-looking if she would only set herself off.  But the Carlyons have a family failing, they cling to their old clothes and eschew fashion.  Hush, here comes Mother Pratt with the tea-tray.  Look at her well, Herrick.  She is a good imitation of the immortal Mrs. Gummidge, and bears a mortified exterior, out of compliment to the late Samuel Pratt, sexton and grave-digger and parochial Jack-of-all-trades.”

The bumping sounds in the distance that Cedric had heard had drawn nearer, and the next moment a tall, angular woman in a black hat, and a suspicion of soap-suds freshly dried about her bare arms, entered the room and set down the tea-tray with a heavy sigh, as though the burden of life were too hard to bear.

Mr. Carlyon followed her with a crusty loaf and the butter, while Elizabeth brought up the rear triumphantly with a plate of raspberries and a little brown jug of cream.

“Is there anything more you’ll be needing, sir?” asked Mrs. Pratt lugubriously she spoke in an injured manner.  “If it had not been washing-day I would have baked you a currant-loaf, or some scones; but having only two hands, and no chick or child to help me, and ”

“Oh, we shall do very nicely,” returned Elizabeth cheerfully.  “Please do not let us hinder you, Mrs. Pratt; if you will keep the water boiling we can easily replenish the teapot.  Mr. Carlyon,” looking at him severely, “you have left the sifted sugar on the kitchen table; please go and fetch it.  Mr. Herrick, are you fond of raspberries?  These are from our own garden Johnson gathered them this morning.”

“They are just prime!” exclaimed Cedric “food for the Olympian gods, ambrosia and nectar too.  Come along, David, or there will be none left for you.  Sit down, man, no one wants you to be waiting on us.”  “Yes, do sit down, please,” observed Elizabeth softly; and Mr. Carlyon slipped at once into the empty chair beside her.

It really was a pleasant little tea-party, and Malcolm quite forgot his longing to be back in the drawing-room at the Wood House.  Indeed, he was in high good-humour, and told his best stories, quite convulsing Mr. Carlyon with his comic ones; indeed, he made himself so agreeable and entertaining he so threw himself into the spirit of their informal picnic that Elizabeth’s bright eyes rested on his dark face more than once with marked approval.  And when they went out into the front garden to wait for the dog-cart, Mr. Carlyon said to her confidentially, “Your friend improves on acquaintance; I thought him a bit stand-offish and highty-tighty yesterday, but I see now it was only mannerism.”

“Some people are difficult to know at first,” returned Elizabeth thoughtfully, but she also spoke in a lowered tone.  “Mr. Herrick is not one of those people who keep all their goods in their shop window; there is plenty more of good stuff inside, if you only take the trouble to search for it.  Dinah likes him immensely; she is getting an empty pedestal ready for him you know my dear old Dinah’s way, bless her.”  And as David knew it well, his answer was a merry laugh.

Never had Malcolm enjoyed himself more; never had he felt less disposed to criticise and find fault; and yet Miss Elizabeth Templeton wore the very striped blouse that had excited his ire on the previous evening; and her hat was certainly bent in the brim, perhaps in her frantic efforts to put up a straggling lock of brown hair that had escaped from the coil, and which would perpetually get loose again.  Malcolm noticed at once the ripe, rich tint of the brown.  “It is the real thing,” he said to himself, “it is the burnished brown of the horse-chestnut; one seldom sees it, it is quite out of the common.”  And then he told himself that he had never seen a face so capable of expression.  Perhaps this was why he watched her so closely when she talked to Mr. Carlyon.

It was arranged that Elizabeth should drive back with them in the dog-cart.  And as Malcolm took the reins, which Cedric had relinquished in his favour, she mounted to the place beside him, while Cedric clambered up behind.  Mr. Carlyon looked after them regretfully as Elizabeth waved gaily to him.  The next moment she was pointing out the vicarage to Malcolm, a gray, picturesque-looking house, standing in a pleasant garden.

“It is not really the vicarage,” she explained, “although it goes by the name.  It used to belong to old Colonel Trelawney; but when he died and Mrs. Trelawney left Rotherwood, Mr. Charrington took it.  It is not large, but quite the right size for an old bachelor.  He has really a grand library, and a very good dining-room, though the drawing-room is rather a dull room.  Ah, there is the vicar,” and Elizabeth smiled and bowed to a tall, gray-haired man who was just letting himself in at the gate.

“Wait a moment, please, Mr. Herrick,” she exclaimed hurriedly.  “I quite forgot I had a message from Dinah;” and then, as she sprang lightly to the ground, Mr. Charrington turned back to meet her, and they stood talking for a few minutes.

“Hurry up, Bet, or we shall be late for dinner,” called out Cedric, impatient at this delay.  Then Elizabeth looked up and nodded.

“Just one moment more,” she said breathlessly.  “Dinah will not mind our being late.”

Malcolm did not mind it either.  He sat contentedly flicking the flies from Brown Becky’s glossy sides and listening to the distant cawing of rooks.

What a peaceful, drowsy sort of place Rotherwood was!  The wide village street seemed empty, with the exception of a black collie lying asleep in the middle of the road, and a patient donkey belonging to a travelling tinker.  The clean, sleek country sparrows were enjoying a dust bath, and a long-legged chicken evidently a straggler from the brood was pecking fitfully at a cabbage stalk, unmindful of the alarmed clucking of the maternal hen.

When Elizabeth rejoined them the vicar was with her, and she introduced him to Malcolm.

Mr. Charrington had been a handsome man in his youth; but a sedentary life and a somewhat injudicious burning of the midnight oil had tried his constitution.  He had grown pale and thin, and his shoulders were slightly round, so that he looked older than his years.  Malcolm thought Cedric’s name of Dr. Dryasdust was not an inapt title.  His eyes were a little sunken, though very bright and keen, and his manner was extremely courteous.  He spoke very civilly to Malcolm.

“Mr. Charrington is hardly my idea of a country vicar,” he observed as they drove away.

“Perhaps not,” returned Elizabeth quickly, “but he is a very conscientious clergyman, and his people’s welfare is very near his heart.  He is a great etymologist and archaeologist, and at times he is so immersed in his studies that but for the care of his excellent housekeeper, Mrs. Finch, he would often forget to eat his dinner.  Mr. Carlyon often tells us amusing stories of the vicar’s absence of mind.”

“Could you not remember one of them, Betty?” suggested Cedric.  But Elizabeth was not to be cajoled into repeating them.  She respected Mr. Charrington far too highly, she remarked, to make merry at his expense.

“My friends’ oddities are always sacred to me,” she said quite seriously.  “Most people have their own little failings and idiosyncrasies, but one need not make copy out of them.  Don’t you agree with me, Mr. Herrick, that there is too little sense of honour in these matters?  To raise a laugh, or to sharpen their own wit, many people will expose their best friend to ridicule.”

“Oh, shut up, Betty,” remonstrated her brother, “it is too bad to moralise; and after all old Dr. Dryasdust is a capital subject for sport.”

“Perhaps so, but all the same your sister is right,” returned Malcolm.  “We are a little thoughtless, as she says.  We ought to refuse to give our tongue such licence when a friend’s crochets and whimsies are in question.  It is the easiest thing in the world to satirise and caricature.  You could poke fun at Milton or Shakespeare if you liked, and make them utterly ridiculous.  Don’t you hate parodies, Miss Templeton?  To me they are utterly profane and detestable, and the cleverer they are the more I abhor them.”

“We think alike there,” returned Elizabeth eagerly.  “I remember that Cedric read such capital parodies once on ‘Excelsior’ and ’Locksley Hall,’ and I have never been able to enjoy those poems since.  I have utterly refused to listen to any more.  Oh,” interrupting herself, “there is Dinah on the look-out for us.”

They caught sight of the trim little figure in gray silk waiting for them in the porch.  But if they had been an hour late Dinah would have greeted them with the same kind smile, and hoped that they were not tired.

That evening they sat out on the terrace again; but to Malcolm’s chagrin and disappointment, Elizabeth declared that her long day at Rotherwood had deprived her of all voice for singing.  “I have been shouting to the children all the morning,” she observed, “and reading to deaf old women all the afternoon, and my vocal chord has suffered,” and then she challenged Cedric to take a stroll with her; but to Malcolm’s vexation the invitation was not extended to him.  “Dinah has been alone, we must not all leave her,” she said so pointedly that he had no choice in the matter.  But he was secretly chafed by this treatment, for Malcolm was one of those men who object to be managed.  “I wonder, if Carlyon had been in my place, if my Lady Elizabeth would have ordered him to remain behind,” he thought.  But Dinah’s first words healed this soreness.

“My sister has kindly made this opportunity for me by taking Cedric off our hands,” she said gently.  “She knew that I wanted a little talk with you about him.”  Then Malcolm’s brief sullenness vanished.

“You shall talk to me as much as you like,” he said in the most cordial manner, and indeed he felt very kindly towards this gentle, simple-minded creature.  “I am ready for any amount of conversation on any subject from ‘cabbages to kings.’” Then she smiled well pleased at his little joke.

“I wanted to ask you about these new friends of Cedric’s,” she began.  “He seems so full of them, and neither Elizabeth nor I know anything about them.  My sister, who is certainly not at all a narrow-minded person, has taken a most singular prejudice against them.”

“Do you mean the Jacobis?  My dear Miss Templeton, I am sorry to say that I have never met them.”  Then Dinah’s face fell.  “It is not surprising, of course, that many of Cedric’s friends are unknown to me, for we move in very different circles.  He has been raving about the Jacobis all the afternoon; but all the same I don’t seem to focus them properly.”

“Cedric is going to stay with them next month,” observed Dinah.  “They have taken a house at Henley for some weeks.  He is very much excited about it; he is so fond of boating.  And he declares they will have such a pleasant house-party; but,” rather anxiously, “I do wish we could find some one who knew them.”

“I should not be surprised if Mrs. Godfrey had come across them.  She knows everybody.”  Dinah looked at him in surprise.

“Do you mean Mrs. Godfrey of the Manor House, near Cookham?” she asked “Colonel Godfrey’s wife?” Malcolm nodded assent.

“Do you know her too?  What a small world this is after all!  Mrs. Godfrey is a great friend of mine.  We hit it off capitally on most subjects.  In my opinion she is the cleverest and pleasantest woman in London.”  Then Dinah fairly beamed.

“I am so glad you like her.  She is a great favourite of ours.  Elizabeth often stays at the Manor House.  They get on splendidly together.  And the Colonel is so charming.  Oh, Mr. Herrick, I am relieved that you mentioned them.  Henley is not far from Cookham, and I should think they must know something of the Jacobis.”

“I will ask Mrs. Godfrey directly I see her,” he returned.  “I am going to the Manor House next week.”

“Next week!” in surprise; “I hoped you would have stayed with us for ten days at least.”

“You are very kind,” in a tone of regret, “but, my dear lady, I fear it is utterly impossible.  My engagement with the Godfreys is of long standing, but I shall only remain at the Manor House three or four days.  My regular holiday comes later.”

“I suppose you have already made your plans?” in a friendly tone.

“Yes, I have decided not to go abroad this year.  I have some literary work I do not wish to lay aside, and I think of taking up my quarters at the Crow’s Nest, where I can combine country air and work.”

“Then you will be our neighbour,” and Dinah’s voice expressed such satisfaction at the prospect that Malcolm felt quite pleased.  “What a pity Cedric will be away most of August the dear boy has so many engagements.”  But Malcolm, who was extremely truthful, did not endorse this regret.  Cedric was a nice enough fellow, he thought, but he did not always know when he was not wanted, and at times his lively chatter was a weariness to the flesh.

“I expect I shall see something of him,” was all he could bring himself to say.  “But you may depend on me for getting information about the Jacobis.  I am a little curious myself on the subject,” he added with the frankness that was natural to him; and then, as the sound of approaching footsteps reached them, they mutually dropped the subject.