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Eve twenty years gone. She went out to a party, she and her father and mother and sister; mother and sister now dead. Somebody walked home with her that clear, frosty night. Strange! Miss Toller, Brighton lodging-house keeper, always in black gown -no speck of colour even on Sundayswhose life was spent before sinks and stoves, through whose barred kitchen windows the sun never shone, had wandered in the land of romance; in her heart also Juliet's flame had burned. A succession of vivid pictures of her girlhood passed before her: of the garden, of the farmyard and the cattle in it, of the river, of the pollard willows sloping over it, of Barton Sluice covered with snow -how still it was at that moment-the dog has been brought inside because of the cold, and is asleep in the living-room-her father, is he awake? the tall clock is ticking by the window, she could hear its slow beats, and as she listened she fell asleep, but was presently awakened by the bells proclaiming the birth in a manger. She remembered that Mrs. Poulter had to be called at seven that she might go to an early service. She hastily put on her clothes and knocked at the door, but Mrs. Poulter decided that, as it was freezing, it
would not be safe to venture, and having ordered a cup of tea in her bedroom at halfpast eight, turned round and fell asleep again.
It was a busy day. The lodgers, excepting Miss Everard, went to church in the morning, but Miss Toller and Helen had their hands full. In the afternoon Miss Toller was obliged to tell Helen the unpleasant news.
'I don't want to go, but I must not offend them.'
'But you are going?'
'I can't get out of it.'
Helen did not speak another word. About half-past six Miss Toller put on her best clothes and appeared in the dining-room. Helen punctually served the dinner. A seat was allotted to Miss Toller at the bottom of the table opposite Miss Everard and next to Mr. Goacher, who faced Mrs. Poulter. Mrs. Mudge's wine was produced, and Mr. Goacher graciously poured out a glass for Miss Toller.
'At this festive season, ma'am.'
A second glass was not offered, although Mrs. Mudge's supply was liberal. Goacher did not stint himself.
'There are beautiful churches in North
amptonshire, I believe, Miss Toller?' said the reverend gentleman after the third glass.
'Yes, very beautiful.'
'Ah! that is delightful. To whatever school in the Establishment we belong, we cannot be insensible to the harmony between it and our dear old ivy-clad towers and the ancient gravestones. I love old country churches. I often wish my lot had been cast in a simple rural parish.'
Miss E. 'Why do you not go?'
Mr. G. 'My unfortunate throat; and besides, I believe I am really better fitted for an urban population.'
Miss E. In what way?'
Mr. G. 'Well, you see, Miss Everard, questions present themselves to our hearers in towns which do not naturally occur to the rustic mind-questions with which, if I may say so, I am perhaps fitted to deal. The rustic mind needs nothing more than a simple presentation of the Gospel.'
Miss E. 'What kind of questions?'
Mr. G. 'You must be aware that our friend Mrs. Poulter, for instance, accustomed as she is to the mental stimulus of Southsea and Brighton, takes an interest in topics unfamiliar to an honest agriculturist who is
immersed all the week in beeves and ploughs and swine.'
Mr. Goacher had intended that Mrs. Poulter should hear that her name was mentioned.
Mrs. P. 'What are you saying about me?'
Miss E. 'Nothing to your discredit. We were talking about town and country parishes, and Mr. Goacher maintains that in a town parish a clergyman of superior intellect is indispensable.'
Mrs. P. 'But what has that to do with me?'
Miss E. 'Oh, we merely brought you forward as an example. You have moved in cultured society, and he is of opinion that he is better fitted to preach to people like you than to farmers.'
Mrs. M. 'Culture, fiddle-de-dee! Afore I was married, I lived in the country. Fiveand-twenty years I lived in it. Don't tell me. A farmer with five hundred acres of land, or even a cowman who has to keep a dozen cows in order and look after his own garden, wants more brains than any of your fine town-folk. Ah, and our old parson had a good bit more than any one of these half-witted curates such as you see here in
Brighton playing their popish antics in coloured clothes.'
Mrs. Poulter was very angry.
'Mrs. Mudge,' she said, speaking to nobody in particular, and looking straight before her, 'has chosen to-day of all days on which to insult, I will not call it my faith, but the faith of the Catholic Church.' Mr. Goacher at once intervened with his oil-can.
'My leanings, Mrs. Poulter, have latterly at any rate been in your direction-without excesses, of course; but both you and I admit that the Church is ample enough to embrace the other great parties so long as there is agreement in essentials. Unity, unity! Mrs. Mudge's ardour, we must confess, proves her sincerity.'
Mr. Goacher took another glass of Mrs. Mudge's wine. After the dessert of almonds and raisins, figs, apples, and oranges-also supplied by Mrs. Mudge-Miss Toller rose and said she hoped she might be excused, but Mr. Goacher pressed her to stay. He had offered to entertain the company with a trifling humorous composition of his own. She consented, and he recited a parody on 'To be or not to be,' descriptive of a young lady's perplexity at having re