CHAPTER ONE

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

'JESSIE!' 'Well, grandmother?' 'Come here, love, and read this to me; I always think it adds a bit to the pleasure of a hymn, or a chapter of the Bible to hear you read it, darling.'

' What am I to read, grandmother?' asked Jessie Allen, bending her head over a large volume, in old-fashioned type, which lay open before Mrs. Allen on the table.

The old woman only pointed with her spectacles to a spot on the page before her. And Jessie, stooping over the book, read:
Before that synne tamed flesh to stone,
And all our lump to leaven;
A fervent sigh might well have blowne
Our innocent earth to heaven.

For sure when Adam did not know
To synne, or synne to smother;
He might to Heaven from Eden goe,
As from one room t' another.

Thou hast restored us to this ease,
By this Thy heav'nly blood,
Which I can goe to, when I please,
And leave th' earth to their food.'
'It's rather crooked rhyme, Jessie, is old George Herbert's, but there's a sweet spirit through it all. Oh! what a time that was when a man might have gone as easily from Eden to heaven as from one room to another, and how different it is with us now. It would take a good many fervent sighs and prayers to make this earth a heaven now.'

'I don't think it's quite so bad, grandmother,' said Jessie, looking out through the open part of the latticed window, through which the afternoon breeze bore in a faint odour of mignonette, and from which could be seen stretching miles and miles of green pasture land, the fairest in all England. 'While that beautiful world is left I will never agree with you that we are so very far from heaven as you say.'

Mrs. Allen was not inclined to argue the disputed question with her favourite grandchild just now. Her mind was too full for such a controversy. She measured the world by another standard, and she could not believe in a heaven upon earth, while she saw all around her, in this her native parish, souls dying without hope, while their appointed pastor occupied himself with his garden and his farm. But Mrs. Allen was at this time full of hope that the state of neglect in which they had long been left was to be ended at last. An event of singular importance, both to the parish and to the simple household of Millside, was to take place that evening.

'Run, Jessie, and see, is that the fly?'

Jessie, smiling at her grandmother's impatience, but conscious of a little private impatience of her own, ran for the ninth time down the garden walk, and looked out, upon the road by which any carriage from the railway-station must come. And this time it was the fly. She tripped back as quickly as ever she could, brushing the blooming carnations with her dress as she ran up the walk, and, breathlessly entering the little parlour, she announced the long expected fact to the old woman - 'The curate is coming!'

'Now, my dear child, I will receive Mr. Madden myself. You may look out of the window if you wish. But stay, did you see that everything was straight up in his room ? Take one more look, like a darling. First impressions are so lasting.'

'Indeed, there's no need, grandmother. If Mr. Madden finds a hair on the carpet that has not been laid straight, he will have quicker eyes than mine.' And then Jessie had but time to run and place herself behind the muslin curtain, and take her first look at their new lodger, and new curate.

Mrs. Allen, with her cap of snowy whiteness, and her handkerchief pinned neatly across her bosom, breathed one more prayer for a blessing on this all-important event in the parish, and, standing on the door-step, welcomed her lodger with a hearty good-will. She was so very much older than he, a fair stripling almost, that there was little place for awkwardness in her manner. She received him, as she had prayed for him, as a messenger of God; and, curtseying as he came to the door, said, 'You're welcome to this house and parish, Sir, and may the blessing of the Lord rest on your head from this day forward.'

Arthur Madden made a gesture of impatience, which she did not fail to see, and then asked to be shown his room, civilly, but without any show of responsive cordiality. His portmanteau, hat-box, and two good sized boxes of books, which had earned for him already several railway-porters' ill-will, were carried upstairs by Mrs Allen's yard and farm man, and as the old woman closed the door of the pretty sitting-room, half-way up in the roof, the young curate threw himself down upon the sofa, very tired, and felt thankful to be so soon left alone.

His little room was the picture of neatness and simplicity. Two windows, facing south, opened out on the same boundless landscape of pasture land which I have already spoken of. And there was perfect rest for the eye in the varied tints of green which presented themselves, and in the network of hedgerows parting the meadows and overshadowing rural lanes, where the shade suggested the essence of coolness and refreshment.

But Arthur Madden, whose first sermon had yet to be written, and whose first clerical coat had the gloss on it untarnished still, scarcely saw the fields, and trees, and shadowy lanes. In point of fact his eyes soon wandered from the window, and taking no notice of the bouquet on the table, or of the simple curtains, the polished black walnut furniture, or the oaken wainscot and floor, that shone as if fresh varnished, rested instead on the two massive boxes which held his books, the only friends he had brought, with him to this lonely region. It was his first step into individual life, and at that opening hour of it all his high and ardent theories could do little to enable him to forget that he was but a solitary young deacon in a strange parish.

Meanwhile Mrs. Allen had returned to Jessie and informed her that Mr. Madden would not be pleased to take any dinner that day. And then she sat down in her customary' arm-chair and put on her spectacles, and began deliberately to read her Bible.

Jessie knew her grandmother too well to disturb her at her reading ; but she saw clearly that something was not right. Mrs. Allen had been particularly disposed to converse ten minutes before, and according to all the laws of experience she ought to have been now full of the all-absorbing topic the new curate; than whom there is probably no more vigorously discussed individual in any parish in the land. But Mrs. Allen was silent, and Jessie looked out of the window and waited.

When three or four pages had been silently read and turned over, the old woman raised her head, laid her finger on the verse she had stopped at, and said 'Jessie!'

'Well, grandmother.'

'I have been disappointed, darling. I prayed the good Lord to send us one who would be of one mind with me and mine, and who would spend his life for the Lord. How I longed for one who was not too grand for our ways, and who was full of the love of God, and who would come down to us and pray with us night and morning. That was why I consented to take the curate as a lodger at all. I thought to have had an angel in the house; but it was too good a dream to be true.'

'Why, grandmother, what do you know to the contrary? I see you are making up your mind already about Mr. Madden, and you know you never change your mind, once it is fixed. How do you know he is not humble, and good, and all that?'

'Leave me alone, Jessie, to learn that of a young man in a moment. I could tell by the way he passed me to go upstairs that he did not want to speak a word to me, and I did not mind that But I'll tell you what I did mind; when I asked the blessing of the Lord on his coming here, he looked just as if he thought I had said something profane. I tell thee, Jessie, my heart sank at that, and I took the Bible before I spoke, lest I should give way to words that I might be sorry for. For I cannot bear that my Lord should not have all His honour. Ah! it would take a good many fervent sighs to make this earth a heaven!'

Jessie threw her arms round her grandmother's neck as she had done when she was a child, and bid her wait just a little bit before she came to too adverse a conclusion about poor Mr. Madden. And then she went out to the yard to see the cows milked, and to set the pans for cream.