Lady Marion awoke from a deep sleep, and found herself lying on the soft grass under a hedge. How did she get there? For a while she could not remember; then it all came back to her.
She had been out hunting on that chestnut horse of hers, an awkward creature at best. She had only just flicked him with her riding stock because he wouldn't take that low hedge, and he had - well, he must have thrown her. "The brute!" she thought, "I hope they shot him!" Yet she didn't feel at all bruised - never better in her life. Where exactly was she? And where were the others? Why didn't someone come and pick her up?
She heard a movement. A handsome young man was striding towards her. He was a stranger; she must speak to him.
"Oh, good afternoon!" she said, in her most charming manner. "Have you seen my horse anywhere? I think he must have thrown me. And perhaps you can tell me exactly where I am? I feel rather bewildered. I'm Lady Marion, you know - from the Manor."
The young man smiled reassuringly. "Of course I know who you are! I've been sent to help you. Don't worry at all. Everything is all right."
"You are quite right, you were thrown off your horse. The hunt had to finish because your body was so badly damaged. In fact, you won't be able to use it again. Your friends are carrying it home. They are rather upset about it, because they think you are dead."
"Dead?" she repeated, slightly alarmed.
"Yes; but of course you are not. Do you feel particularly dead?" He smiled most delightfully. "Don't worry. You will understand everything in time. Let's go to the city together, and I'll explain things as we walk."
She got to her feet perfectly easily, and they climbed down a bank into a road, along which they walked in the direction of an attractive-looking town. Soon houses began to close in on them, and eventually they were immersed in buildings, squares and alleyways. The young man explained everything to her. At first she had been unable to believe it, but in the end she was forced to acknowledge that she had indeed left the Natural World and had entered the World of Spirits. Nor did it worry her at all to think that the Manor would be in utter chaos without her guiding hand, as all the people there, including her aged husband, were fools. All she wanted now was to be introduced to her new home.
"Will you please take me at once to see the new house where I am to live?" she asked. "I hope it is in a better condition than the old Manor, which is just about ready to fall down and probably will do, now I'm not there! Tell me about my new home; is it ready for me?"
"Yes, it is quite ready," smiled her guide, rather enigmatically. "You'll see it in due course."
They were walking through one of the finest suburbs of the city, where the houses were like palaces set in flower gardens, and where the people seemed very busy and very happy.
"Do you see that new house over there?" he asked. "Ah!" she exclaimed enthusiastically, "so that is for me!"
"No. The tenant has just moved in. I think you knew him. He was your steward. You used to call him your bailiff."
Lady Marion stared at her guide with blank amazement. "Spruggins, you mean? Here? We'll soon get rid of him! He is a dolt and an idiot. To be frank with you, I was glad when he died, though I bought him a wreath and gave a small pension to his widow. I hate incompetency; and, though I never speak ill of the dead, Spruggins was an incompetent fool."
"On the contrary," said her guide, "he was a very able and conscientious worker, but you never gave him any scope. You would interfere. You countered his plans as quickly as he made them. All his life he had longed to serve his fellow-men in a big way, but you never gave him a chance. Well, he has got his opportunity now. He has been given a very responsible office. He is our new Town Clerk, and we are very proud of him."
"Well," snorted Lady Marion," if Mr. Albert Spruggins is Town Clerk, it must be a pretty crazy town ! Let me see; my head cook died soon after Spruggins. Is she here? I suppose you have made her your Lady Mayoress?" and she laughed rather harshly.
"Yes, she is here, and is actually occupying a higher function still," responded the guide quite seriously. "If you feel you can climb the hill, we will find her house. She may be willing to speak to you."
They climbed some steps and several steep lanes, until there was quite a view behind them. The guide strode easily up the incline, but Lady Marion was soon puffed, and found it difficult to breathe the hillside air. She noticed with some satisfaction that the houses were smaller here, and were built of wood instead of stone. Also, there were fewer flower-gardens, the buildings being surrounded by trees loaded with mellow ripe fruit.
Up a side-street, at almost the highest point in the neighborhood, they came to an exquisite bungalow built of polished golden olive wood. Two men dressed in livery approached from among the trees, and spoke to the guide in a courteous but authoritative manner. "Our mistress is busy; she must not be disturbed."
"Oh, very well," he answered, "then we won't go any further. Your mistress was this lady's cook in the former life; I thought it might have been useful for them to meet again. But I see now that it is too late. We must be getting back to the valley."
Lady Marion, who was feeling sick from the climb, suddenly found herself hating her late cook! Turning to one of the servants, she said, with a sarcasm which surprised even herself: "May I ask how this precious mistress of yours employs her valuable time? I suppose you have to eat all the dishes she spoils?"
"She doesn't do any cooking now, ma'am," answered the man in livery. "She just sits in a room full of sunlight, and meditates on the wonders of creation. I don't rightly understand it myself, but I'm told that, as she does this, everybody in heaven and on earth feels an urge to meditate and worship along with her. She must not be disturbed."
The guide explained that this one-time cook had been a deeply religious woman. All her life she had longed to pour out the love of her heart in adoration and worship to her Lord and God. She had His image before her mind as she worked in the kitchen, and she did the cooking for His sake. But she had never had the opportunity to devote herself to Him openly. "Now," said the guide, "she can help the whole world, and heaven too, to draw closer to the Creator, and receive more life and light from Him. But I see you are finding it uncomfortable up here. We must go."
The road back was easy - down-hill all the way. Soon they entered the poorer quarters of the city. Lady Marion bit her lips.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked anxiously. "To your house, of course."
"In this filthy district? I refuse to come any further. Remember who I am. I am accustomed to luxury and servants, and if you are all crazy here, I am not. I demand a palace, like those we saw at the beginning."
"What would you do with a palace if you had one?"
"I entertain, you know - everyone loves my parties. Besides, I need comfort, so that I can do my work. There are the estates to run, and the poor to care for. I am on various Social Welfare Committees. I spend all my time, from morning till night, alleviating distress and spreading happiness around me."
"Don't be silly!" laughed the guide, rather disconcertingly. "Come, tell me honestly, have you ever, in all your previous life, done a single unselfish act for another human being?"
Lady Marion felt uncomfortable. Some sort of change had taken place in her. What she intended to say was, "Of course I have". But her lips wouldn't move that way. In spite of herself, she heard herself saying, "No, never!"
"Do you want to do anything now, except sit and hug your own little soul, as if it were the one important thing in God's creation?'
She was angry at this, but found she could no longer say anything except the honest truth. "That is all I really want," she murmured.
"Well, here is a little house exactly suited to your needs. Small and dirty perhaps, but furnished to your liking, with a mirror on every wall. You can be yourself here, with nobody around to make you indignant. Come, be honest and tell me whether you don't like it!"
As she looked at him, all her old pretence fell away, and she knew that this ramshackle hovel was a perfect expression of her inner self. It was HOME. Without another word she turned her back on her guide, walked across to the door, lifted the latch and went inside.