to-day to Leigh Priory, which they say is pretty; and we shall pick primroses and wood anemones on the way. Will you come?’
‘No, I have business.’
‘Thou there will be only three of us—tricolor. Lady Grace, Cousin Lucy, and myself. Saltcombe has something to detain him.’
Beavis nodded. He was ruffled by what Charles had said, and the swell in his temper would not allay itself at once. Charles walked through the park and joined the ladies.
Leigh is an old priory converted into a farmhouse; it is almost as left by the monks when expelled three hundred years ago, with scarce an alteration save the destruction of the church. It stands in a wooded valley, with rich green meadows occupying the bottom. A sweet, sheltered nook, basking in the sun—a place in which to dream life away.
The walk was pleasant, the air soft, the sun bright, the buds of the honeysuckle had burst into leaf, an occasional white butterfly flickered in the way. The woods were speckled with starry wind-flowers, and the edges full of yellow primroses. Here and there the blue periwinkle was spread as a mat. It had escaped originally from the priory garden, as had the snowdrops, and had become wild, like the virtues—simple virtues—of the old monks, which lingered on in the congenial soil of the simple rustic souls of that part of Devon.
‘I wonder whether there is truth in Sir Henry Spelman’s doctrine that Church property carries with it a curse that consumes the lay impropriators,’ said Lady Grace, partly to Lucy, partly to herself. ‘Leigh has belonged to the Eveleighs since the dissolution.’
‘No, Lady Grace,’ answered Charles; ‘the cause of decay is generally to be found nearer at hand than in a theft of three centuries.’
‘Yes,’ she answered, with a sad smile, ‘no doubt you are right. We throw back the blame on our remote forefathers, that we may shut our eyes to our own faults. We Eveleighs have but our own improvidence to look to as the cause of our fall. We have not taken warning in time. We let occasion slip, till occasion came no more.’
‘There is no immediate anxiety, I hope,’ said the young man.
‘Yes, before the year is out, our doom will be sealed, our ruin published to the whole world.’