Esther seemed to have quite naturally accepted Woodview as a final stage. An_urther change in her life she did not seem to regard as possible o_esirable. One of these days her boy would get settled; he would come down no_nd again to see her. She did not want any more than that. No, she did no_ind the place lonely. A young girl might, but she was no longer a young girl;
she had her work to do, and when it was done she was glad to sit down to rest.
And, dressed in long cloaks, the women went for walks together; sometimes the_ent up the hill, sometimes into Southwick to make some little purchases. O_undays they walked to Beeding to attend meeting. And they came home along th_inter roads, the peace and happiness of prayer upon their faces, holdin_heir skirts out of the mud, unashamed of their common boots. They made n_cquaintances, seeming to find in each other all necessary companionship.
Their heads bent a little forward, they trudged home, talking of what the_ere in the habit of talking, that another tree had been blown down, that Jac_as now earning good money—ten shillings a week. Esther hoped it would last.
Or else Esther told her mistress that she had heard that one of Mr. Arthur'_orses had won a race. He lived in the North of England, where he had a smal_raining stable, and his mother never heard of him except through the sportin_apers. "He hasn't been here for four years," Mrs. Barfield said; "he hate_he place; he wouldn't care if I were to burn it down to-morrow…. However, _o the best I can, hoping that one day he'll marry and come and live here."
Mr. Arthur—that was how Mrs. Barfield and Esther spoke of him—did not draw an_ncome from the estate. The rents only sufficed to pay the charges and th_idow's jointure. All the land was let; the house he had tried to let, but i_ad been found impossible to find a tenant, unless Mr. Arthur would expen_ome considerable sum in putting the house and grounds into a state of prope_epair. This he did not care to do; he said that he found race-horses a mor_rofitable speculation. Besides, even the park had been let on lease; nothin_emained to him but the house and lawn and garden; he could no longer gallop _orse on the hill without somebody's leave, so he didn't care what became o_he place. His mother might go on living there, keeping things together as sh_alled it; he did not mind what she did as long as she didn't bother him. S_id he express himself regarding Woodview on the rare occasion of his visits,
and when he troubled to answer his mother's letters. Mrs. Barfield, whos_houghts were limited to the estate, was pained by his indifference; sh_radually ceased to consult him, and when Beeding was too far for her to wal_he had the furniture removed from the drawing-room and a long deal tabl_laced there instead. She had not asked herself if Arthur would object to he_nviting a few brethren of the neighbourhood to her house for meeting, o_ublishing the meetings by notices posted on the lodge gate.
One day Mrs. Barfield and Esther were walking in the avenue, when, to thei_urprise, they saw Mr. Arthur open the white gate and come through. The mothe_astened forward to meet her son, but paused, dismayed by the anger tha_ooked out of his eyes. He did not like the notices, and she was sorry that h_as annoyed. She didn't think that he would mind them, and she hastened by hi_ide, pleading her excuses. But to her great sorrow Arthur did not seem to b_ble to overcome his annoyance. He refused to listen, and continued hi_eproaches, saying the things that he knew would most pain her.
He did not care whether the trees stood or fell, whether the cement remaine_pon the walls or dropped from them; he didn't draw a penny of income from th_lace, and did not care a damn what became of it. He allowed her to liv_here, she got her jointure out of the property, and he didn't want t_nterfere with her, but what he could not stand was the snuffy little fol_rom the town coming round his house. The Barfields at least were county, an_e wished Woodview to remain county as long as the walls held together. H_asn't a bit ashamed of all this ruin. You could receive the Prince of Wale_n a ruin, but he wouldn't care to ask him into a dissenting chapel. Mrs.
Barfield answered that she didn't see how the mere assembling of a few friend_n prayer could disgrace a house. She did not know that he objected to he_sking them. She would not ask them any more. The only thing was that ther_as no place nearer than Beeding where they could meet, and she could n_onger walk so far. She would have to give up meeting.
"It seems to me a strange taste to want to kneel down with a lot of littl_hop-keepers…. Is this where you kneel?" he said, pointing to the long dea_able. "The place is a regular little Bethel."
"Our Lord said that when a number should gather together for prayer that H_ould be among them. Those are true words, and as we get old we feel more an_ore the want of this communion of spirit. It is only then that we feel tha_e're really with God…. The folk that you despise are equal in His sight. An_iving here alone, what should I be without prayer? and Esther, after her lif_f trouble and strife, what would she be without prayer?… It is ou_onsolation."
"I think one should choose one's company for prayer as for everything else.
Besides, what do you get out of it? Miracles don't happen nowadays."
"You're very young, Arthur, and you cannot feel the want of prayer as w_o—two old women living in this lonely house. As age and solitude overtake us,
the realities of life float away and we become more and more sensible to th_ystery which surrounds us. And our Lord Jesus Christ gave us love and praye_o that we might see a little further."
An expression of great beauty came upon her face, that unconscious resignatio_hich, like the twilight, hallows and transforms. In such moments the humbles_earts are at one with nature, and speaks out of the eternal wisdom of things.
So even this common racing man was touched, and he said—
"I'm sorry if I said anything to hurt your religious feelings."
Mrs. Barfield did not answer.
"Do you not accept my apologies, mother?"
"My dear boy, what do I care for your apologies; what are they to me? All _hink of now is your conversion to Christ. Nothing else matters. I shal_lways pray for that."
"You may have whom you like up here; I don't mind if it makes you happy. I'_shamed of myself. Don't let's say any more about it. I'm only down for th_ay. I'm going home to-morrow."
"Home, Arthur! this is your home. I can't bear to hear you speak of any othe_lace as your home."
"Well, mother, then I shall say that I'm going back to business to-morrow."