Summer-time at Under-edge compensated, in a measure, for the trials and severities of winter--for winter could be grim and cruel in the isolated little Cotswold village approached by roads that were almost perpendicular. Why such a spot should ever have been fixed upon for human habitation seemed difficult to comprehend, save that in old and dangerous days its very inaccessibility may have been its chief attraction; most of the villagers were descendants of gypsies, outlaws, and highwaymen. Now, at the close of the nineteenth century, no one, unless held by custom and tradition, or by lack of means, remained permanently at Under-edge; for communication with the world in the valley below was still conducted by carrier, postal arrangements were awkward and uncertain, water very often scarce, and existence during winter-time a long-drawn period of bleak and hard monotony. But when the vast fields, bounded by rough stone walls, grew green and luscious, and the oaks put forth new foliage the colour of a young pea-pod, and the elm trunks sprouted feathery sprays that likened the trees to gigantic Houdan fowls, life in Under-edge became at least endurable. Even the dilapidated vicarage looked charming, wistaria draping the old walls in mauve cascades, and white montana creeper heaped above the porch; roses and passion flower climbed and clung to broken trellis-work, and outside the dining-room window the magnolia tree, planted by a former vicar many years ago, filled the air with lemon scent from waxen cups. Though the garden was unkempt, the grass so seldom mown, and the path unweeded, hardy perennials brightened the neglected flower-beds, and lilac, syringa, laburnum, flourished in sweet luxuriance. It was a paradise for birds, whose trilling echoed clear from dawn to sunset in this safe retreat. Rafella Forte, the vicar's daughter, came out of the house this summer morning in a blue cotton frock that matched her eyes, wearing no hat on her yellow head. A coarse market basket was slung on her arm, and she carried a light pronged fork, since her object was not to cut flowers for the drawing-room vases, as would seem natural for a young lady, but to dig potatoes for the midday meal. The potato patch was perhaps the most useful portion of the vicarage garden, and it meant real disaster if the crop was scanty, since the living of Under-edge, though not quite so miserable as some, was yet poor enough to render the garden produce of infinite value, in support of one joint a week, an occasional hen that had ceased laying, and sometimes a rabbit presented by a farmer. Ella Forte was barely twenty-one, yet for years had she worked, and scraped, and saved, so that the little household--herself, her father, and a single-handed servant--might subsist in tolerable comfort; that there might be something still in hand for parish claims, for possible emergencies, for, at least, a passably respectable appearance. She gloried in her management, she knew no discontent, she was proud to fill the post surrendered by her mother, who lay beneath a shrinking mound in the churchyard just beyond the vicarage domain. She was complacently convinced of her father's dependence upon her, and of her influence in the village, where she had no rival, for the squire's house stood empty, closed, falling into disrepair, its owner dwelling out of England, crippled by a dwindling rent-roll and heavy charges on the property. This morning she sang blithely as she crossed the lawn that more nearly resembled a hay-field--sang one of the hymns she had selected for to-morrow's service, to be led by herself to her own strenuous accompaniment on the aged harmonium and the raucous voices of the village congregation.