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'* I'm sure I hope not ; I shouldn't like
to," said the man. "My gun wouldn't


stop a poacher's ghost, would it ? By-
the-bye, some people by the name of Buller
had the Priory then, did they not ? "

"Kather so. The Devon Bnllers —
grand old historical sort of people. Very
different to the BroTrnes, of course."

" Not that everybody who knows them
does not very much like Mr. Browne and
Mr. James Browne and Miss Browne
too," said Marian, fearing that the man
might resent Minnie's rather disparaging
reference to the new people. '' I should
think he was a very kind master."

" Well, I don't grumble, there's plenty
of money for me," said the man.

" The proceeds of Dog Biscuit. I
suppose you didn't know that though ? "
proceeded Minnie.

The other laughed.

" Do the gentlefolks draw the line at
Dog Biscuit in Heatherbridge ? "

'' iS'ot they," declared the girl ; " why,
everybody thinks theBrownes the dearest
little people in the world. They are so
good and so anxious to please. I just
love that tiny Miss Xancy."

''So do all who have the luck to know


her, I should think," said Marian. " 1
hate to hear people scheming to get
friendly with them, and gushing to their
faces, and then sniggering about them
behind their backs. It makes me sick of
the whole community."

The remark was made to Minnie, and
she answered it.

" I don't laugh at them, my dear girl.
I respect them tremendously. And I
respect their judgment too. Why, they
are going to dine with us the day after
to-morrow. Mrs. Meadows is cut to the
heart. We are the first people they will
have dined with in the place."

The man ahead was smoking in silence,
but Minnie wanted information upon one
other most interesting point, and sus-
pected that he would be able to furnish it.

" D'you know young Mr. Browne,
keeper ? " she asked. " He's coming
home for the holidays, I believe. I
suppose he'll shoot, and all that sort of
thing, and dance very likely too."

" Yes, he's been poking about. Doesn't
look as if he could dance though,"
answered the man. ,


" Is he as little as his father ? "

" No ; there's a lot of him — rather too
much I should say."

" Dear me, how funny that such a small
man should have a big son. Six feet,
should you think ?

"Just about that."

" Is he nice, from your point of view,
keeper? "

" No ; don't think much of him my-

" Rather interfering, I dare say.
Thinks he knows everything — all young
men do."

It struck Marian about this time that
Minnie was taking rather too much upon
herself, and ceasing to talk quite like a
lady in short frocks. Anything approach-
ing familiarity with social inferiors rather
grated on the girl's nerves, and a shadow
of boldness in a woman, clouded her with
secret indignation and shame.

"You're getting quite out of breath,
Minnie," she said rather pointedly, and
her friend took the hint and subsided.
But Marian's remark to Minnie, and her
quiet suppression of that bouncing young


woman had been much too delicately
managed for a keeper to see through
them, and too quietly spoken for any but
exceptionally quick ears to have heard
at all.

For the remaining hundred yards of
their journey, nobody spoke. Then a
great oaken gate was reached, any
attempt to climb which would have been
far beyond even Minnie's powers. The
man unlocked it, held it open for them to
pass through, and then came out himself,
fastening it again after him. The Hill
Road was a steep, winding right of way,
ascending to Dartmoor, and cutting
through the centre of the Priory coverts.
Another gate, similar to that through
which the party had just passed, faced on
to the opposite side of the road ; and this
the man now prepared to enter.

" I suppose your day's work isn't nearly
done ? " asked Miss Bird, as they left

" JSTo, not yet. Any amount more to do.
Good-night, ladies."

" I'm sure we are very much obliged
to you. I began to think we should have


had to spend tHe night with Will Watt's
ghost," laughed Minnie.

" I'm glad I saved jou such an un-
pleasant experience," he answered, and
hesitated to see if the other girl were going
to bid him good-night.

She evidently meant to do so. Marian
had put down her basket, and appeared to
be fumbling in her pocket for some-

" Stop one moment, please, keeper,"
she said ; and then turning her back on
him peered into a small purse, and drew
out a shilling. " You won't mind accept-
ing a little Christmas present, will you ? "
she asked. " Good-night, and thank you
exceedingly for taking pity upon us."

" Thank you,'' he answered, holding
out his hand gravely. " Much obliged,
I'm sure. There was no occasion for
that — none really. Good-night to you."

He took the money, picked up his gun,
and vanished through the door he had
just opened.

"How refreshing and sharp he was,
after the stupid louts round these
parts, wasn't he ? " asked Minnie of her


friend, as the two took their steep way
down the hill to Heatherbridge. .

" There seemed to be nothing bucolic
about him, certainly," answered Marian.
" He was odd rather ; not exactly uncivil,
but — well, -I cannot explain it."

" A reduced gentle-person, very


" Then he wouldn't have taken my

shilling. I was rather frightened of

offering it."

" Perhaps he took it for a joke. Game-
keepers always get gold when they are
tipped, I believe," said Minnie.

And meantime, Mr. Fred Browne
strolled home, a shilling richer than when
he started on his afternoon's amusement.
He laughed quietly once or twice, but
there were long intervals between these
manifestations of amusement.



Though Major Bird had never seen a
shot fired in anger ; though, as it was
whispered at the Club, he did not even
volunteer for active strife when oppor-
tunity offered ; yet, despite his official
insignificance, he occupied a high position
in Heatherbridge society. For Mrs. Bird
was a born tactician and strategist. She
identified herself with no party, headed
no clique, but, by a happy admixture of
audacity and clear judgment, managed
to keep on fair terms with all her neigh-
bours. The Birds were poor, had a large
family, and yet preserved excellent style.
They sent their eldest son to college,
knew everybody that was known, and
enjoyed a prominence not achieved by


many ambitious persons with longer

Kathleen Bird could certainly make
a bunch of flowers, or a yard of art
muslin, go twice as far as most people,
and it was felt she must employ the same
magic power in handling her husband's
pension. Heatherbridge, of course, knew
the exact amount of it ; Heatherbridge
was also aware that Mrs. Bird had no
money of her own, and that one-third of
Tim Bird's college expenses were allowed
him by an uncle on his father's side ;
but the more widely these facts were
spread, the greater became the wonder
and admiration at Mrs. Bird's remarkable
abilities. Despite the afflictions of a long
family, and deafness, she enjoyed the
reputation of being a bright, and even
brilliant, woman. Her children were
always delightfully dressed ; her twins,
" Bunny " and " Dicky," had become
quite features of Heatherbridge society ;
and, as to her unfortunate deafness, she
made the ailment almost a source of
additional charm. Her little artistic
hearing-trumpet, fringed with old lace.


never frightened anybody's ideas away,
and her knack of holding her head upon
one side when using it, was held to add
a grace of manner to the lady, that some
people considered quite irresistible. In
person, she was a plump, pretty bru-
nette, Irish only in name. She had met
the Major in India, and married him
while in a passion with another man.
The other man sold out ; Kathleen settled
down very comfortably with her thick-
headed, well-meaning husband, made him
a splendid wife, and kept his head high,
despite his own inclination to hang it, and
loaf quietly in the background of every
picture he chanced to form a part of.

" Now we've got 'em," said the Major,
as he sat one afternoon with his wife ; " of
course we must go through with it."

He referred to the fact that the
Brownes were coming to dine.

" Go through with it ? I should think
so. This is their first dinner-party in
Heatherbridge. I don't fancy it often
occurs to you, Talbot, that your wife is
a very clever woman," answered Mrs.



"N'obody ever doubted that, my dear.
Of course, tlie point now is : who meet
them — the.Brownes, I mean? Have you
thought it out ? "

"Ten minutes after I received their
letter. There are four of them, and three
of us. Tim will be able to see more of
young Browne at college, when they both
go back again ; that is satisfactory.
Four and three make seven ; seven from
ten leaves three."

"Mrs. Meadows and the vicar, of
course ? "

" No, I think not. I have thought it
out, as I tell you. Mrs. Meadows has
been a little — well, say * sublime' lately.
I don't see why, but, of course, she must
know that I have noticed it ; she meant me
to do so. She will expect an invitation ;
in fact, she must have been very much
surprised that she did not receive one ;
but it will do her good. She knows I am
not afraid of her. I met Miss Browne's
brougham recently, and it happened Miss
Minnifie was in it. They are getting
rather thick, I learn from Mrs. Watford.
I don't much like Mercy Minnifie, and


she doesn't like me, since I said that
sharp thing about httle places thinking
themselves big ones ; but I have asked
her, because she does not quite believe
people who tell her the wav in which we
do things here ; besides, the Brownes seem
to like her. Then Mr. Sprigge-MarshaD
and Mrs. TTatford complete the party,
and a few safe people come in for an hour
after dinner. I am going to arrange for
Bunny and Dicky to escape from the
nursery just about dessert time. Minnie
might rush in to fetch them. They will
make a little diversion in their new
frocks. Vincent TVatford could not
come to dinner, fortunately, but he may
drop in afterwards, and, perhaps, recite.
Marian Deane also comes, to sing, if I
want her, and Miss Minnifie's niece."

'' All right ; it sounds like the usual
sort of thing," said the Major. ^' What
about the food ? "

" Everything is settled — sardines on
toast ; mock-turtle, four pints and a half,
six and sixpence ; a turbot ; some stu:ffed
tomatoes ; the pheasants which Colonel
Anderson sent you ; a sweet-bread, as I
K 2


hear from the butcher that Mr. Geoffrey
Browne is very much given to them ;
then odds and ends, and a Christmas
pudding with sauce that Miss Browne
gave me a recipe for. Don't forget to
take just a mouthful and praise it. You
will see to the wine, as usual ; there are
two bottles of the hock over from last

" All right. Are there any more
things you want me to look after ?
You'll have Pogson in to wait, I sup-
pose r

" Yes ; I booked him when T went about
the fruit. I've hired a lovely pine-apple
— not to eat ; it will be stuck up among
grapes and bananas. Don't offer it to
anybody, except Miss Browne ; she
doesn't take fruit. I must tell Tim not
to offer it, either ; people never ask for
pine-apple unless they are pressed to
have some. And mind about the birds,
Talbot. Just send me an odd bit from
somewhere underneath. See especially
after Miss Minnifie."

" All right," answered the Major,
whose mind was now occupied with


vintages. *' There must be good port
this time. The Brownes are port-
drinkers, I fancy."

" And another thing : the dinner nap-
kins. Don't roll yours up, and then look
round for your ring, like you did last
July. There's a pleasant fiction, that
nobody ever dreams of using a dinner
napkin twice. Just crumple it, and fling
it on the table or floor afterwards ; they
can be damped, and ironed again."

" All right.

Then, as to going in : you'll take
Miss Browne, as the guest of the evening ;
Mr. James Browne can take Miss Minni-
fie, and Mr. Geoffrey will take me. The
only question is about Mrs. Watford.
Shall young Browne or Sprigge-Marshall
take her ? The curate's the older man.
I think myself that Tim and young
Browne had better come in together be-
hind. What is- your idea ? "

" Let Tim and young Browne come in
together behind," said the Major, like
an echo. He was a slow speaker, and
slower thinker.

" Very well ; I'm sure you are right.


And would you use our coffee-essence
afterwards, or make a feature of the
coffee and have the beans ground hot ?
People always remember the coffee at a
dinner. I suppose it is because it comes
last. If the coffee's bad, everything's
always bad — that is, afterwards, when
the affair is talked over."

" Then buy beans and have them
ground hot," said the Major.

" Are the tobacco arrangements all
right?" she asked presently.

'^Yes. Tim understands cigarettes,
and I shall have a new box of the
Havannahs open — the ones that have
been drying on the kitchen dresser."

" Quite so. Tim must hand them round
and then put them somewhere off the
table where men will have to ask if they
want another. Let the Brownes decide
you as to the moment for joining us. If
they like the port, don't hurry them ; but
if they seem bored then make a move
more quickly."

" All right," he answered ; " I'll re-
collect." •

Mrs. Bird gave her husband a further


hint or two and kissed him and said he
was worth his weight in gold — which was
handsome praise enough. Then he went
down to the club, and she adjourned to
her nursery.

Here it may be noted that Miss Minni-
fie was rather astonished on being asked
to dine at the " Bungalow." The Birds
had never extended a similar invitation
to her before ; but they entertained very
rarely, and then only those who gave
dinners in return. However, as the
Meadows were not going, which circum-
stance in itself she felt to be a sort of
implicit compliment to her, she accepted
the invitation with good grace. She saw
much to admire in Mrs. Bird, as every-
body else did, but she also noted that
acute woman's failings.

'' She cannot afford to mix with the
best people, and she ought not to do it,"
said Miss Minnifie on one occasion, to her
father. " It is only managed by the
exercise of a great deal of unladylike
ingenuity. There is no solidity, no back-
bone. The house offends my sense of
propriety at every turn. I see poverty


peeping out of a thin, artistic disguise
wherever I look. The defiant fans and
bits of grass ; the Indian curiosities ;
her own water-colour sketches in his
home-made picture-frames ; the way they
dress the children ; the extraordinary
caps, with streamers, that they make the
servants wear — everything seems to ape
at a position which their means denies
to them."

" What does it matter so long as
they're happy ? " asked Wisdom. It was
a favourite question with him.

" It doesn't matter ; only it is idle to
shut the eyes to it. She's a good mother,
and that's a great deal. Heaven knows
I judge no woman. If they had birth,
then, by virtue of it, they might take
their place in society as I do myself.
]S[obody looks to me to entertain ; nobody
would require me to put my trust in
exteriors, or to flutter into prominence
on the edge of a Japanese fan, with
nothing to support me but elegant man-
ners. No. I am a poor woman ; but I
am a Minnifie — a Devon Minnifie; that
is an answer to any question. In her


case it is different. The Birds as Birds
are nothing. Besides, she has no de-
cision'; she tries to keep out of the im-
portant issues of the neighbourhood and
avoid identifying herself with anybody.
There is a lack of courage in that."

'' Maybe she's better employed," said

'* Possibly, father ; but nobody can live
for themselves alone."

Two days before the dinner-party,
Mercy Minnifie had occasion to visit
Pogson, the fruiterer and green-grocer.
He served her, then discussed the
weather, his wife, and the price of pro-
visions. From these topics he proceeded
to others of a more interesting nature,
and described an incident or two of
recent occurrence.

" Some beat cock-fighting for mean-
ness," he said. " A lady, who shall be
nameless, gives a dinner-party the day
after to-morrow. ' Pogson,' she says to
me, when buying fruit, ' there's a custom
you may not have met with, namely,
that of hiring out things for entertain-
ments.' ' I never have, not in my line,


ma'am/ I says. ' It's like this,' she ex-
plains ; ' I want a pine-apple for artistic
purposes, not to eat. Can you lend me
one for the dinner ? ' That's a new idea,
ain't it ? "

"You did not undertake to do so, I
imagine ? "

" Yes, I did, miss, for sixpence. But
it just shows what people do."

He bowed her out of his shop and
turned his attention to another customer.
The man was a gossip of the first water,
but even he would hardly have men-
tioned the pine-apple to Miss Minnifie
had he known that she herself was going
to the banquet in question.

As it fell out, however, the circum-
stance led to others of a far more im-
portant nature.

Indeed, it may be chronicled, before
the actual entertainment itself, that the
consequences of it were widespreading,
and, owing to sundry causes quite un-
foreseen, not wholly satisfactory. In the
first place, Mrs. Meadows did not accept
her omission in the right spirit. It
seemed strange that she should not be


asked to meet tlie Brownes, but tliat Miss
Minnifie should have been, was more than
strange — very mysterious in fact, if not
absolutely insulting.

The news came to Mrs. Meadows one
morning after breakfast, and she went
into the vicar's study with it and in-
terrupted him, and walked up and down
on his hearth-rug, cutting her finger-
nails and talking. She was untidy at
home, and even slovenly in the mornings.
She wore her dresses to rags behind the
scenes ; she looked old and jaded, and
worried about Christmas matters, and
she spoke with the tired, fretful air of a
woman who has to keep on the mask a
good deal, but is glad enough to take it
off sometimes.

"How d'you read it. Fuller?'' she
asked. " They invite the Brownes, and
this woman to meet them. Now I know
for a fact, that Mrs. Bird doesn't really
care a straw for her — Mercy Minnifie,
I mean. D'you think the Brownes are
letting it be understood that they are
taking her up ? Or d'you think she
fished for it, and Kathleen Bird had to


invite her against her will ? She does
jBsh fearfully. I've heard many people
say so. But why weren't we asked ? "

The vicar was deep in some investiga-
tions for the tableaux vivants ; but when
his wife came into the study and shut the
door after her, he knew it meant at least
temporary cessation of all literary labour,
He was an old, soft-hearted, blear-eyed
man ; nourished on dead languages and
obsolete mental food of every sort ;
deeply skilled in branches of human
knowledge that did not involve much
human nature; quite the old conven-
tional clergyman, whose interests are
rather mediaeval than parochial, whose
entire energies are devoted to the pro-
duction of discourses which suggest frag-
ments grubbed from the ruins of primitive
religious houses. He had the patience
and microscopical instincts of a scholar ;
he learned much worm-eaten stuff, and
taught little that was less than a thousand
years old ; he obeyed his wife, as a habit
of long duration ; he had neither more nor
less significance than an anchorite monk
who lets his life run to rot in a cave.


The old man put down certain books
and papers, took off his spectacles,
breathed on the glasses and polished
them with a pen-wiper ; then he sank
back in his black oak chair, and stroked
the arm of it, as he always did when
wanting an idea. " ^hy worry your-
self, Mary?" he asked. "I think it
lacks dignity to concern yourself so
greatly with this gentlewoman. Miss
Minnifie has one of those unrestful
natures that must be up and doing and
asserting itself in some direction. I
should suspect that she makes more to-
wards good than harm. As to the
Brownes — well, she evidently appeals to
them. That is in her favour, for they
strike me as being remarkably amiable
and sensible people."

" They're making some remarkably
stupid mistakes. To accept this invita-
tion and refuse mine, was clumsy to say
the least of it. Of course, you must
expect a pig to grunt, but still it was a
particularly clumsy grunt," answered his

" You wrong them," he replied.


'^They were engaged to dinner in
Plymoutli. They greatly regretted the
fact, but had to go. They design to
entertain us themselves at no distant
date — about the Feast of the Annuncia-
tion probably."

" Yes, yes, but Mercy Minnij&e. I
don't know how to show the woman she
takes too much upon herself," said Mary
Meadows. " I can't make it clear to
other people, let alone to her own under-

"Those who are not ranged against
us, must be regarded as with us," he
answered, longing for her to go.

" Of course ; I don't refer to her work
in the parish, though goodness knows
she's much too officious there. I'm
alluding to the social importance of the
woman. People seem blind. What is
she after all? Who is she? A no-

" Then why distress yourself ? Let
her go her way."

" She gains ground ; that's why I con-
descend to give the matter a moment's
thought. She is out of touch with us,


and she is out of toucTi wifh the Coopers
and the Blathwaits and Mr. Parkhouse,
and Mr. Sprigge-Marshall, and General
Somerset ; and yet she gains ground. A
step must be taken, and you are the man
to do it."

Mrs. Meadows viciously snipped off a
piece of thumb-nail as she spoke. It hit
her husband on the nose, and fell upon
the open page before him. He removed
it with mild irritation, and replied, —

" A step in what direction ? How can
I approach her ? You're not yourself
this morning, Mary."

"A clergyman can approach anybody.
She' is one of your flock, and should be as
much an object of your attention as any
other member of it. The woman is mis-
taken, and she is leading a certain limited
but increasing number after her. You
cannot address her personally, but you
can address her class ; the busy-body is
surely the subject of divine displeasure on
more than one occasion. Where's your
concordance ? It's in the Old Testament
if it isn't in the New."

'' You don't mean that I should preach


at her, I trust ? " lie asked, waiting for
an answer with his mouth open.

" Certainly not : I am not thinking of
her any more. I am only concerned with a
growing evil here — an evil which a vicar's
wife is more likely to understand and see
than the vicar himself. How could you
imagine I meant anything so vulgar ?
Yes, here are texts."

" I should be unwilling in the last
degree to do so at this blessed season,"
declared Mr. Meadows.

'' Keep it, then, for your New Year's
sermon," she said. '' It would come in
strongly there. As one not easily de-
ceived, I" tell you the thing is necessary."

" Very well, my love, it shall be done,"
he answered, knowing that the sermon
indicated would have to be preached,
now his wife had made up her mind.

" I am very thankful you agree so
readily," she replied, and then left him
in peace.

The idea of this sermon only came to
the lady while she talked, but it restored
her good temper in a great measure, and
filled her with further resolves. Mr.


Sprigge-Marshall might preacli some-
thing of a similar kind. He was easily
flattered, and did not like Miss Minnifie.
He and the vicar should discourse to the
same tune on the same day. Then there
would be no fear of certain people, who
stood in need of the coming warning,
missing it. After which determination,

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