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Moth and Rust; Together with Geoffrey's Wife and The Pitfall By Mary Cholmondeley Characters: 7250

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal."

The Vicar gave out the text, and proceeded to expound it. The little congregation settled down peacefully to listen. Except four of their number, the "quality" in the carved Easthope pew, none of them had much treasure on earth. Their treasure for the greater part consisted of a pig, that was certainly being "laid up" to meet the rent at Christmas. But there would hardly be time for moth and rust to get into it before its secluded life should migrate into flitches and pork pies. Not that the poorest of Mr Long's parishioners had any fear of such an event, for they never associated his sermons with anything to do with themselves, except on one occasion when the good man had preached earnestly against drunkenness, and a respectable widow had ceased to attend divine service in consequence, because, as she observed, she was not going to be spoken against like that by any one, be they who they may, after all the years she had been "on the teetotal."

Perhaps the two farmers who had driven over resplendent wives in dog-carts had treasure on earth. They certainly had money in the bank at Mudbury, for they were to be seen striding in in gaiters on market-day to draw it out. But then it was well known that thieves did not break through into banks and steal. Banks sometimes broke of themselves, but not often.

On the whole, the congregation was at its ease. It felt that the text was well chosen, and that it applied exclusively to the four occupants of "the Squire's" pew.

The hard-worked Vicar certainly had no treasure on earth, if you excepted his principal possessions, namely, his pale wife and little flock of rosy children, and these, of course, were only encumbrances. Had they not proved to be so? For his cousin had promised him the family living, and would certainly have kept that promise when it became vacant, if the wife he had married in the interval had not held such strong views as to a celibate clergy.

The Vicar was a conscientious man, and the conscientious are seldom concise.

"He held with all his tedious might,

The mirror to the mind of God."

There was no doubt he was tedious, and it was to be hoped that the portion of the Divine mind not reflected in the clerical mirror would compensate somewhat for His more gloomy attributes as shown therein.

Mrs Trefusis, "Squire's" mother, an old woman with a thin, knotted face like worn-out elastic, sat erect throughout the service. She had the tight-lipped, bitter look of one who has coldly appropriated as her due all the good things of life, who has fiercely rebelled against every untoward event, and who now in old age offers a passive, impotent resistance to anything that suggests a change. She had had an easy, comfortable existence, but her life had gone hard with her, and her face showed it.

Near her were the two guests who were staying at Easthope. The villagers looked at the two girls with deep interest. They had made up their minds that "the old lady had got 'em in to see if Squire could fancy one of 'em."

Lady Anne Varney, who sat next to Mrs Trefusis, was a graceful, small-headed woman of seven-and-twenty, delicately featured, pale, exquisitely dressed, with the indefinable air of a finished woman of the world, and with the reserved, disciplined manner of a woman accustomed to conceal her feelings from a world in which she has lived too much, in which she has been knocked about too much, and which has not gone too well with her. If Anne attended to the

sermon-and she appeared to do so-she was the only person in the Easthope pew who did.

No; the other girl, Janet Black, was listening too now and then, catching disjointed sentences with no sense in them, as one hears a few shouted words in a high wind.

Ah me! Janet was beautiful. Even Mrs Trefusis was obliged to own it, though she did so grudgingly, and added bitterly that the girl had no breeding. It was true. Janet had none. But beauty rested upon her as it rests on a dove's neck, varying with every movement, every turn of the head. She was quite motionless now, her rather large, ill-gloved hands in her lap. Janet was a still woman. She had no nervous movements. She did not twine her muff-chain round her fingers as Anne did. Anne looked at her now and then, and wondered whether she-Anne-would have been more successful in life if she had entered the arena armed with such beauty as Janet's.

There was a portrait of Janet in the Academy several years later, which has made her beauty known to the world. We have all seen that celebrated picture of the calm Madonna face, with the mark of suffering so plainly stamped upon the white brow and in the unfathomable eyes. But the young girl sitting in the Easthope pew hardly resembled, except in feature, the portrait that, later on, took the artistic world by storm. Janet was perhaps even more beautiful in this her first youth than her picture proved her afterwards to be; but the beauty was expressionless, opaque. The soul had not yet illumined the fair face. She looked what she was-a little dull, without a grain of imagination. Was it the dulness of want of ability, or only the dulness of an uneducated mind, of powers unused, still dormant?

Without her transcendent beauty she would have appeared uninteresting and commonplace.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth."

The Vicar had a habit of repeating his text several times in the course of his sermon. Janet heard it the third time, and it forced the entrance of her mind.

Her treasure was certainly on earth. It consisted of the heavy, sleek-haired young man with the sunburnt complexion and the reddish moustache at the end of the pew-in short, "the Squire."

After a short and ardent courtship she had accepted him, and then she herself had been accepted, not without groans, by his family. The groans had not been audible, but she was vaguely aware that she was not received with enthusiasm by the family of her hero, her wonderful fairy prince who had ridden into her life on a golden chestnut. George Trefusis was heavily built, but in Janet's eyes he was slender. His taciturn dulness was in her eyes a most dignified and becoming reserve. His inveterate unsociability proved to her-not that it needed proving-his mental superiority. She could not be surprised at the coldness of her reception as his betrothed, for she acutely felt her own great unworthiness of being the consort of this resplendent personage, who could have married any one. Why had he honoured her among all women?

The answer was sufficiently obvious to every one except herself. The fairy prince had fallen heavily in love with her beauty; so heavily that, after a secret but stubborn resistance, he had been vanquished by it. Marry her he must and would, whatever his mother might say. And she had said a good deal. She had not kept silence.

And now Janet was staying for the first time at Easthope, which was one day to be her home-the old Tudor house standing among its terraced gardens, which had belonged to a Trefusis since a Trefusis built it in Henry the Seventh's time.

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