Since it was Sunday, Pond put me into a dark suit instead of my riding togs, and I went down to breakfast to see who else would be observing the rites that morning. I was rather disappointed to discover that Lavinia did not intend to go to church, as I had lots of stage-business planned with carrying her prayer-book and handing her on and off the kneeler like a parfait gentil knight; but she was something a secularist, and only went to church on high holidays because it was expected of her as a member of the manor family.
In fact, very few people came down at all, most of the party breakfasted in bed, preferring a good lie-in on Sundays (as I did when I was in Town); I opted to go to church anyway, since I was already dressed for it and curious to see what the villagers were like. I was the only male who went to the village in Lady Levondale's car, though, and I felt rather conspicuous in a bevy of females, my hair burning bright in a row of demure hats, right up front in the Levondale pew of the Church of Saint Michael Archangel.
I can't say I enjoyed the sermon, which was read by a young and rather good-looking vicar in an unconvincing nasal monotone. I tend not to listen to sermons much, anyway, unless they're delivered with some theatrical pulpit-pounding and hallelujah-shouting, but I found this one kind of annoying—dull but obtrusive, like a fly buzzing around my ear. When I someday become Earl of Vere, patron of nine livings, I'm going to make sure my vicars know how to put on a show.
Still, I enjoyed sitting in the really beautiful eighteenth-century church, wedged in between the Duchess and Miss Beckett Haven, admiring the pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows (which, according to a banner wreathing Saint Michael wrestling a demon in the largest window behind the altar, were installed to commemorate the death of the eighth Earl of Vere in 1875) and reveling in the gorgeous music of a cathedral-worthy pipe organ (donated by the first Lord Levondale upon his arrival in 1876).
After church, I was deluged by farmers wanting to greet me: though the village and the home farm were let along with Verevale Court and the park to the Levondale family, the rest of the farming in the surrounding parish was done by tenants of the Earl of Vere (which was news to me, I'm sorry to say); so when word got around during the sermon that the red-headed boy up front was their landlord's heir, I became an instant celebrity.
It also transpired that the living at St. Michael's was one of the nine in the Earl of Vere's gift, which made the handsome vicar my new best friend, as well; he and his sister invited me to luncheon with such enthusiasm that it would be churlish not to accept, and I was borne off to the vicarage along with a clutch of village biddies representing the Altar Guild while Lady Levondale and the rest of her party returned to Verevale Court in the car.
The vicarage dining-room was a noble chamber, elegantly proportioned and furnished with excellent taste, but it was a little crowded with the Reverend Mr. Aylesford, Miss Aylesford, the five-member Altar Guild, several farmers who'd dropped in for a friendly chat and were encouraged to join the party, and me all crammed into it; but we had a pretty festive time, anyway, over the simple but plentiful board. Since I would of course be unable to converse on local matters, I was instead interrogated on my various appearances in the newspapers and society rags of late, including the murder at Foxbridge Castle; and even being careful to relate the heavily censored or downright fictional official versions of events, I held my audience spellbound, always gratifying to a dyed-in-the-wool showoff like me.
After spending an abnormally long time at the table, the good Rev. walked with me part of the way back to Verevale Court, telling me funny stories about various interesting characters in Verevale village that I should be sure to meet next time I came down. He was a really nice man, and a good storyteller despite his nasal voice; it seemed a shame that he should choose a profession that requires him to address a crowd on a regular basis.
I got back to the house in that doldrums hour before tea-time where there's absolutely nothing to do if you're not already doing something, so I went into the saloon and examined the platoons of Restoration aristocrats whose penurious descendants had been forced to flog the family portraits to stay afloat. It was a fascinating collection, and I found myself wondering if the aristocracy had really borne a distinct family resemblance those days, or if all those fishy eyes and sensuous mouths were just a fashionable convention.
Then there was tea, after which I went and shot some more skeet, after which I dressed for dinner, after which I flirted with Lavinia in the drawing-room, after which I scowled at Jingo across the dining-table, after which I turned the pages while Lavinia played the pianoforte, after which I played billiards with Rupert, after which I got ready for bed, after which I had a naughty interlude with Michael in his room, after which I went back to my own room and went to sleep. Life in a country-house can get rather repetitive. But then, I suppose, life in an office would be repetitive as well, so I shouldn't complain.
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