But even so secluded a place as Cheasing Eyebright could not rest for long in the theory of Hypertrophy— Contagious or not— in view of the growing hubbub about the Food. In a little while there were painful explanations for Mrs. Skinner— explanations that reduced her to speechless mumblings of her remaining tooth—explanations that probed her and ransacked her and exposed her— until at last she was driven to take refuge from a universal convergence of blame in the dignity of inconsolable widowhood. She turned her eye— which she constrained to be watery— upon the angry Lady of the Manor, and wiped suds from her hands.
“You forget, my lady, what I’m bearing up under.”
And she followed up this warning note with a slightly defiant:
“It’s ’IM I think of, my lady, night and day.”
She compressed her lips, and her voice flattened and faltered: “Bein’ et, my lady.”
And having established herself on these grounds, she repeated the affirmation her ladyship had refused before. “I ’ad no more idea what I was giving the child, my lady, than any one could ’ave… .”
Her ladyship turned her mind in more hopeful directions, wigging Caddles of course tremendously by the way. Emissaries, full of diplomatic threatenings, entered the whirling lives of Bensington and Redwood. They presented themselves as Parish Councillors, stolid and clinging phonographically to prearranged statements. “We hold you responsible, Mister Bensington, for the injury inflicted upon our parish, Sir. We hold you responsible.”
A firm of solicitors, with a snake of a style— Banghurst, Brown, Flapp, Codlin, Brown, Tedder, and Snoxton, they called themselves, and appeared invariably in the form of a small rufous cunning-looking gentleman with a pointed nose— said vague things about damages, and there was a polished personage, her ladyship’s agent, who came in suddenly upon Redwood one day and asked, “Well, Sir, and what do you propose to do?”
To which Redwood answered that he proposed to discontinue supplying the food for the child, if he or Bensington were bothered any further about the matter. “I give it for nothing as it is,” he said, “and the child will yell your village to ruins before it dies if you don’t let it have the stuff. The child’s on your hands, and you have to keep it. Lady Wondershoot can’t always be Lady Bountiful and Earthly Providence of her parish without sometimes meeting a responsibility, you know.”
“The mischief’s done,” Lady Wondershoot decided when they told her— with expurgations— what Redwood had said.
“The mischief’s done,” echoed the Vicar.
Though indeed as a matter of fact the mischief was only beginning.