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 It would not have been possible for Miss Vanderpoel to remain long in social seclusion1 in London, and, before many days had passed, Stornham village was enlivened by the knowledge that her ladyship and her sister had returned to the Court. It was also evident that their visit to London had not been made to no purpose. The stagnation2 of the waters of village life threatened to become a whirlpool. A respectable person, who was to be her ladyship's maid, had come with them, and her ladyship had not been served by a personal attendant for years. Her ladyship had also appeared at the dinner-table in new garments, and with her hair done as other ladies wore theirs. She looked like a different woman, and actually had a bit of colour, and was beginning to lose her frightened way. Now it dawned upon even the dullest and least active mind that something had begun to stir.  
It had been felt vaguely3 when the new young lady from “Meriker” had walked through the village street, and had drawn4 people to doors and windows by her mere5 passing. After the return from London the signs of activity were such as made the villagers catch their breaths in uttering uncertain exclamations6, and caused the feminine element to catch up offspring or, dragging it by its hand, run into neighbours' cottages and stand talking the incredible thing over in lowered and rather breathless voices. Yet the incredible thing in question was—had it been seen from the standpoint of more prosperous villagers—anything but extraordinary. In entirely7 rural places the Castle, the Hall or the Manor8, the Great House—in short—still retains somewhat of the old feudal9 power to bestow10 benefits or withhold11 them. Wealth and good will at the Manor supply work and resultant comfort in the village and its surrounding holdings. Patronised by the Great House the two or three small village shops bestir themselves and awaken12 to activity. The blacksmith swings his hammer with renewed spirit over the numerous jobs the gentry13's stables, carriage houses, garden tools, and household repairs give to him. The carpenter mends and makes, the vicarage feels at ease, realising that its church and its charities do not stand unsupported. Small farmers and larger ones, under a rich and interested landlord, thrive and are able to hold their own even against the tricks of wind and weather. Farm labourers being, as a result, certain of steady and decent wage, trudge14 to and fro, with stolid15 cheerfulness, knowing that the pot boils and the children's feet are shod. Superannuated16 old men and women are sure of their broth17 and Sunday dinner, and their dread18 of the impending19 “union” fades away. The squire20 or my lord or my lady can be depended upon to care for their old bones until they are laid under the sod in the green churchyard. With wealth and good will at the Great House, life warms and offers prospects21. There are Christmas feasts and gifts and village treats, and the big carriage or the smaller ones stop at cottage doors and at once confer exciting distinction and carry good cheer.
But Stornham village had scarcely a remote memory of any period of such prosperity. It had not existed even in the older Sir Nigel's time, and certainly the present Sir Nigel's reign22 had been marked only by neglect, ill-temper, indifference23, and a falling into disorder24 and decay. Farms were poorly worked, labourers were unemployed25, there was no trade from the manor household, no carriages, no horses, no company, no spending of money. Cottages leaked, floors were damp, the church roof itself was falling to pieces, and the vicar had nothing to give. The helpless and old cottagers were carried to the “union” and, dying there, were buried by the stinted26 parish in parish coffins27.
Her ladyship had not visited the cottages since her child's birth. And now such inspiriting events as were everyday happenings in lucky places like Westerbridge and Wratcham and Yangford, showed signs of being about to occur in Stornham itself.
To begin with, even before the journey to London, Kedgers had made two or three visits to The Clock, and had been in a communicative mood. He had related the story of the morning when he had looked up from his work and had found the strange young lady standing28 before him, with the result that he had been “struck all of a heap.” And then he had given a detailed29 account of their walk round the place, and of the way in which she had looked at things and asked questions, such as would have done credit to a man “with a 'ead on 'im.”
Nay30! Nay!” commented Kedgers, shaking his own head doubtfully, even while with admiration31. “I've never seen the like before—in young women—neither in lady young women nor in them that's otherwise.”
Afterwards had transpired32 the story of Mrs. Noakes, and the kitchen grate, Mrs. Noakes having a friend in Miss Lupin, the village dressmaker.
“I'd not put it past her,” was Mrs. Noakes' summing up, “to order a new one, I wouldn't.”
The footman in the shabby livery had been a little wild in his statements, being rendered so by the admiring and excited state of his mind. He dwelt upon the matter of her “looks,” and the way she lighted up the dingy33 dining-room, and so conversed34 that a man found himself listening and glancing when it was his business to be an unhearing, unseeing piece of mechanism35.
Such simple records of servitors' impressions were quite enough for Stornham village, and produced in it a sense of being roused a little from sleep to listen to distant and uncomprehended, but not unagreeable, sounds.
One morning Buttle, the carpenter, looked up as Kedgers had done, and saw standing on the threshold of his shop the tall young woman, who was a sensation and an event in herself.
“You are the master of this shop?” she asked.
Buttle came forward, touching36 his brow in hasty salute37.
“Yes, my lady,” he answered. “Joseph Buttle, your ladyship.”
“I am Miss Vanderpoel,” dismissing the suddenly bestowed38 title with easy directness. “Are you busy? I want to talk to you.”
No one had any reason to be “busy” at any time in Stornham village, no such luck; but Buttle did not smile as he replied that he was at liberty and placed himself at his visitor's disposal. The tall young lady came into the little shop, and took the chair respectfully offered to her. Buttle saw her eyes sweep the place as if taking in its resources.
“I want to talk to you about some work which must be done at the Court,” she explained at once. “I want to know how much can be done by workmen of the village. How many men have you?”
“How many men had he?” Buttle wavered between gratification at its being supposed that he had “men” under him and grumpy depression because the illusion must be dispelled39.
“There's me and Sim Soames, miss,” he answered. “No more, an' no less.”
“Where can you get more?” asked Miss Vanderpoel.
It could not be denied that Buttle received a mental shock which verged40 in its suddenness on being almost a physical one. The promptness and decision of such a query41 swept him off his feet. That Sim Soames and himself should be an insufficient42 force to combat with such repairs as the Court could afford was an idea presenting an aspect of unheard-of novelty, but that methods as coolly radical43 as those this questioning implied, should be resorted to, was staggering.
“Me and Sim has always done what work was done,” he stammered44. “It hasn't been much.”
Miss Vanderpoel neither assented45 to nor dissented46 from this last palpa............
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