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I. — Two Bachelors and some Ladies
II. — At the White House
III. — The Vicarage
IV.— Lord Wrotiiam .
V. — Fred Prentice .
VI. — Good Friday

VII. — Easter Saturday and Sunday
VIII. — A Picnic at Warren's Hard
IX. — Lady Wrotiiam .
X. — A Service and a Dinner .
XL — A Preliminary Skirmish
XII. — Pourparlers
XIII. — An Unexpected Visit .
XIV. — A Disclosure
XV. — Discord ....
XVI. — Mrs. Prentice tastes Success
XVII.— The Vicar ....
XVIII. — Turner and Browne take Sides
XIX. — Rumour, and a Meeting
XX. — A Railway Journey, and whai

XXL — Two Visits .



NXII. — Three Men and a Lady , , 242

XNIII. — Church, and after .... 252
XXIV. — Browne is precipitate , . . 266

XXV. — Norah's Attempt 276

XXVI.— Arrivals . . . . .288

XXVII. — A Dinner-Party at Forest Lodge . 298

XXVIII. — A Visit and a Conversation . . 305

XXIX. — Lady Syde hears and advises . .314

XXX.— Visits 329

XXXI. — The Picnic breaks up. . . . 338

XXXII. — Troubles at the Vicarage . . . 346

XXXIII. — Lady Syde intervenes . . . 356

XXXIV. — Lord Wrotham proposes . . . 370

XXXV. — The Shadow of Change . . . 379

XXXVI. — The Substance of the Shadow . . 388

XXXVII. — Reconciliation 397

XXXVIII. — New Year's Eve . . . .. 406



The lights of Captain Thomas Turner's dog-cart shone be-
tween the trees of the woodland ride, stood still for a mo-
ment at the gate, advanced a pace or two, stood still again
as the gate banged to, and then came slowly bumping across
the rutty grass track between the gorse bushes until they
reached the high road. Here they faced to the right, and
were borne evenly along the straight quarter mile which lay
between the point at which they had emerged from the wood
and the Upper Heath gate.

Captain Turner, owing to the number of years he had lived
alone and busied himself with the absorbing, but hardly
sociable, occupation of breeding trout, had contracted the
habit of thinking aloud, and was so far aware of his infirmity
that he had permanently relegated his groom to the back seat
of his cart, when it would often have been more convenient
to have him seated by his side; This precaution did not com-
pletely fulfil its object, and Robert Kitcher, the groom, was
well posted up in the various currents of thought that, from
time to time, passed through his master's mind. But he was
a middle-aged bachelor himself, and, while turning over with
interest the information he acquired as to his master's ideas
and intentions, he imparted it to no one, and would, indeed,
have considered it a breach of confidence to do so.

The detached sentences that came to his ears during this
half-mile drive, cut short occasionally by cautious mutterings,
lost, too, sometimes in the gusts of March wind that blew
across the open heath to their left, were somewhat as follows :
" Now, Thomas Turner, be careful to-night. Don't make
a fool of yourself. You don't want her. You're very well
as you are. Let Browne ... if he's fool enough to want

14 Ex* on Manor

it . . . don't kuf.w when he's well off. You're forty-one,
Tom Turnf] Here followed a subdued mutter, and

after that a sweep of wind, which lasted for some time.
When it had died down again the current of thought seemed
to have set in another direction, for the next sentence that
came to the groom's ears was, " Funny thing, the two old
men dying together. There'll be. . . . Hate changes.
Wonder what Browne has heard from the old lady."

They arrived at the Upper Heath gate, which Kitcher got
down to open, and drove a little way along the road to the
right, and again to the right into the drive which led to the
house of Turner's friend, Maximilian Browne, agent to the
ten thousand acres or so of farm and forest land which made
up the estate of Exton Manor.

That this house was not his ultimate objective became
apparent from the fact that, when he drew up at the front
door, Kitcher got down from behind and rang the bell, while
Turner sat still w r ith the reins in his hand, and addressed
to his horse's ears the remark, ct Bound to keep me waiting.
Confound the fellow ! "

The door was opened almost immediately by an elderly
manservant, who said, " Mr. Brow r ne has only just got back,
sir. He told me to ask you if you would go up to him."

Turner alighted, and went into the house, and upstairs to
his friend's bedroom, where he found that gentleman in the
very early stages of dressing for dinner.

'• Now, don't swear, old man," said Browne, the instant he
appeared inside the door. " It's all right. I sent a wire to
Mrs. Redcliffe, asking her to make dinner a quarter past
eight. We've got plenty of time."

Turner gave a grunt, and stationed himself in front of
the fire. He was a tall thin man, dark, with somewhat pro-
nounced features, and an expression that bordered on melan-
choly. This first impression, caused perhaps by a droop of
the eyes and of the corners of the mouth, was lessened by
a closer inspection of the face, and disappeared when the
mouth opened to emit a voice that was gruff, but crisp and
decisive in speech, and anything but melancholy. The high
shoulders were slightly bent, but the spare frame was active
and well-knit. The hands were nervous, the fingers long
and pointed. The forehead was high and narrow, the head,
covered with straight dark hair, long.

Two Bachelors and some Ladies 15

Maximilian Browne had also reached the age of forty ; that
age at which life ceases to be lived in the future, and, if less
ambitious than before, becomes a quite tolerable affair of the
present. He was in appearance almost the complete opposite
of his friend. He was of about the middle height, and in-
clined to corpulency ; would, indeed, have been stout, had
not a life of incessant open-air activity exercised a restraining
influence on the natural tendency of his body. His face was
large and round and red, and his thick neck, now exposed to
the gaze of the beholder, was weathered to the colour of brick-
dust by sun and wind, and displayed an astonishing contrast
of colour to the white skin below it. His straw-coloured hair
was beginning to ebb away from his brow and the top of his
head. His moustache was red, his eyes blue and mild.

Turner, from his vantage ground on the hearthrug, bent a
searching gaze on him as he struggled into a white starched
shirt. " Any news ? " he asked curtly.

" News ? Yes," replied the other. " Plenty of news.
I've had the deuce of a time with her ladyship. She's been
hauling me over the coals most confoundedly. She's — well,
I don't know that I need keep it to myself ; she didn't tell
me to — she's coming to live here."

" Coming to live here ? What, at the Abbey ? M

" Yes. At the Abbey."

Turner gave vent to a long whistle of surprise. " Who
would have thought of that ? " he said.

u I'm bound to say I never did. In one way it's a relief.
Ever since old Sir Joseph died I've been worrying over a
tenant for the place, wondering whether I should get anybody
to take it without the shooting. It's deuced hard to let a
house of that size without the shooting, and Sir Joseph Chap-
mans don't grow on every tree. That difficulty's over. She's
quite content to let the Ferrabys go on as they are at present.
But — well, Turner, it's no use disguising the fact that her
ladyship's going to upset us. Oh, good Lord ! why can't I
be allowed to live a quiet life ? "

He threw up his hands in a comic gesture of despair, which
seemed to relieve his overwrought feelings.

" What has she been hauling you over the coals for ? "
asked Turner.

" It isn't that so much. My position's all right. I never
took a tenant without consulting the old lord, and, as far as I

16 Exton Manor

know, she never showed the slightest interest in anybody or
anything to do with this place as long as he was alive. But
now she's got her nose into everything, and nothing and
nobody's right. Mind, this don't go any further. I'm only
telling you.''

" Of course. It's the tenants who are wrong, is it ? I
don't think we're such a bad lot. What's the matter with
this particular tenant ? "

" We hardly mentioned you. Of course you're doing some-
thing on the place. In a way you go in with the farming
tenants, and she don't complain of them. She knows nothing
about them. It's the residents she's got her knife into."

14 What's the matter with 'em ? What's the matter with
the Ferrabys ? " ,.*

Browne paused in the act of fastening his braces on to an
ample waistbelt, and composed his features to as near as pos-
sible an imitation of an elderly lady delivering a judgment.
" Worldly people ! " he said, with pursed-up lips. " Cannot
possibly give a good tone to the place."

" They give jolly good dinners," commented Turner.
" Does she want you to get rid of them ? "

" No. I made her understand that they didn't give any
tone to the place at all, either good or bad. They come down
for a month in August, and off and on in the winter to shoot.
They bring their own friends with them, they are two miles
away from the village, and hardly anybody sees them here at

' You and I see a good deal of them when they're here."

" Yes. I didn't tell her that. Anyway, they don't spoil
our tone much. So we left it at that. Then she began about
Prentice. Was he high or low ? I said he was high. I sup-
pose he is, isn't he ? "

•' As high as he dares be."

" Yes ; quite so. Well, I had an idea she was high herself,
but it appears I was wrong. She's low. So that didn't suit
her, and Master Prentice may look out for squalls."

" How about — about our friend ? "

" Mrs. Redcliffe ? "

" Well, Mrs. Redcliffe."

" She was rather odd about Mrs. Redcliffe. Shut her mouth
up tight, and gave me to understand she knew all about Mrs.

Two Bachelors and some Ladies 17

" She couldn't know anything about her that isn't all right."

" From her manner you would have said she did."

" Did you tell her she was an Australian ? Some people
object to Australians/ '

"She knew it. So I suppose she does know something
about her. You know the old lord was governor of a colony
out there years ago."

" Yes. Western Australia. But Mrs. Redcliffe comes
from Queensland. It's as far as from here to Egypt. Still,
people do know each other all over the continent out there
if they are anybody, and Redcliffe had some sort of a govern-
ment appointment. I dare say she would have heard of them.
Still, I refuse to believe that she heard anything that wasn't
all right."

" So do I. Still, it didn't look as if she was going to open
her arms to her. Then there was Mrs. O'Keefe."

" Ah ! Well, what about Mrs. O'Keefe ? "

11 I got really annoyed with her over that." Browne was
now buttoning his waistcoat, and pausing again to draw him-
self up into an attitude of inquiry, his large round head poised
ludicrously aslant, and his red lips pursed. " ' And who may
Mrs. O'Keefe be ? ' I told her who she was. ' Her hus-
band was a brother of Lord Ballyshannon,' I said. ' He died
about a year ago, and she took Street House soon afterwards/
' Lord Ballyshannon/ she said. ' Never heard of him/ I
hadn't cither, till Mrs. O'Keefe came here, so I didn't say
anything. Then sne snapped out, ' How old is she ? ' I said,
1 I should think about. twenty-five/ "

*■■ She isn't," interpolated Turner, with a trace of indigna-
tion. " She's only just twenty-three."

" Well, I didn't want to give her away. Her ladyship
looked at me with a sort of searching eye. ' A young
widow/ she said. ' A beautiful young widow, I suppose, Mr.
Browne/ "

Got you there, Maximilian," chuckled Turner. " I sup-
pose you blushed beetroot."

" I didn't do anything of the sort. I was very annoyed."

" Well, what did you say ? "

" I didn't say anything."

■' Then of course you blushed."

" I tell you I didn't. Why should I ? Then she had the
cheek to say, ' I believe you let the Street House for ten

18 Exton Manor

pounds a year less than you got from the last tenant, Mr.
Browne ? ' ' Yes, Lady Wrotham/ I said ; ' I did. I
exercised my discretion, and Lord Wrotham approved of
what Fd done/ "

Turner chuckled again in acute enjoyment. " Virtuous in-
dignation," he said. " The old lady's got sharp eyes. You'll
have to go slow in your wooing, Maximilian, when she comes
on the scene."

" My wooing ! What nonsense are you up to ? You
know very well who's doing the wooing in that quarter. I
should be ashamed of myself if I had any idea of a woman
twenty years younger than myself. Not that I blame you for
it. I was only saying to myself as I drove up, I hoped you'd
fix it up pretty soon, as you seem bent on it. You needn't
have any fear of my cutting in."

'■ Ah, it's all very well to talk like that. The old lady
knew what she was about when she put that leading ques-
tion. No, Maximilian ; you don't work it off on me. I'm
a great admirer of the lady. I don't deny it. But as for
wanting to be anything closer, it has never so much as
entered my mind. I'll be your best man if you'll have me,
and give you a silver tea-service, the best that money can buy.
Only have the wedding at some time when I'm not busy with
the fish. That's all I ask."

" You're talking through your hat, Turner, and no one
knows that better than you. It is my pocket the money will
come out of for the silver tea-service, and you'll be welcome
to it. I'm ready. Go on first, and I'll turn out the


The two friends, in the best of humours with one another
in spite of their sparring, got into the cart and drove out
through the gate and down the hill between the leafless trees
on either side of the road, whose branches were tossing in the
March wind under the light of a struggling moon. At the
bottom of the hill they came to another white gate, which
opened into a short drive leading to the door of a low white
house, standing in a large garden, where they alighted, and
were presently admitted into the warm interior.

The house was an enlarged cottage, delightfully trans-
formed. They w r ent from a red-tiled hall into a low oak-
raftered sitting-room, full of unexpected corners, with a large
bay window and half -glazed doors opening into the garden.

Two Bachelors and some Ladies 19

The gay chintzes of the chairs and window curtains gave
brightness to the room, and the many books interest. A deep
sofa faced the fire burning in a grate of brick surmounted by
oak panelling. The glow of the lamp and the many candles
with which the room was lighted fell softly on china, silver, and
old brass, and. gave an air of warmth and comfort to a charm-
ing interior. It was a woman's room in which a man could
feel at home, and Browne and Turner came into it, out of the
cold March night, with a sense of gratification. They were
alone for a minute or two, and then a door leading out of the
room straight on to a little cottage staircase opened, and their
hostess came in, followed by her daughter.

Mrs. Redcliffe was a woman of perhaps five and forty, of a
square middle-sized figure. Her hair was plentiful, but con-
spicuously grey, with white locks springing from her temples.
Her face was pleasant and intelligent, quite free from care,
and the grip of her plump white hand gave an impression o'
firmness, and not a little warmth of character. The greeting
between her and the two men was that of old friends, cordial,
but without effusion.

It is not so easy to convey an impression of Hilda Redcliffe.
She was at this time a few months short of twenty-one, and
had all the grace and charm of fresh girlhood. But she had
something more. She had, if not actual beauty, for her
features were perhaps too irregular for that, a face that would
have attracted attention anywhere. If you looked first at the
great masses of brown hair which shaded her brow, and then
at her brown honest eyes, fringed with long lashes, you said
to yourself that she was certainly beautiful. Then when you
took in the rest of the face, the short nose without special
feature, the mouth too irregular for perfect symmetry, the
decisively jutting chin, you were not quite so sure. But if
she smiled, away flew your doubts again, for the two little
rows of teeth were entrancing, and the smile revealed some
of the charm of her frank and loyal nature. It was a face
whose attractions would grow upon you, and, if you were of
an age and condition to fall in love with its owner, might very
well come to be considered beautiful, and something more.
For the rest, she was half a head taller than her mother, and
held herself straight, walking with the grace and ease of a
young girl whose activities are concerned with the life of the
open air, summer or winter, rain or shine. She also received

20 Exton Manor

the two men with an air of comradeship, and unconsciously
emphasized the number of years that had passed over their
bachelorhood by the freshness of her slim youth.

There was no time for more than a few words of greeting,
for immediately after the entrance of mother and daughter
the door by which the two men had entered the room opened,
and Mrs. O'Keefe was announced.

Whatever doubt might have been felt at first sight as to
the beauty of Hilda Rcdcliffe, there could be none about that
of Norah O'Keefe. She stood for a moment in the white-
panelled and balustraded recess which gave entrance to the
room, and was raised a step above it, and the eyes of the
four were drawn towards her in irresistible admiration. All
the grace of early womanhood seemed to be gathered up in
her tall black-gowned form, to which the whiteness of her
throat and neck formed a contrast almost startling, unre-
lieved as her dress was by a touch of white. Her dark eyes
were deep-set in a face of perfect oval, and her head, crowned
with waving masses of dark hair, was poised lightly on the
slender column of her neck. She wore a jewel in her hair,
and a necklace of uncut emeralds. It is difficult to describe
actual beauty. As compared with that of Hilda Redcliffe,
although she was but little older, Norah O'Keefe's was the
charm of a woman, and not of a girl. When it has been said
that her charm lay not wholly in her beauty, and that it was
as apparent to women as to men, perhaps more has been told
than could be conveyed in pages of analysis and description.

" My dear Norah/' said Mrs. Redcliffe, going forward
to greet her. " I am so pleased to see you. I hope you
didn't mind being put off for a quarter of an hour. How did
you come up ? "

" I walked, of course," she replied, shaking hands with
Browne and Turner, and smiling impartially upon each of
them. " There is a moon, and I didn't have to bring a
lantern. My faithful Bridget will come and fetch me at
half-past ten, and I shall walk back again."

" No, I shall drive you down," said Turner gallantly.
" You and Bridget too. There will be room for all four."

" A walk on a night like this is very pleasant," put in
Browne. " Let me take you home, Mrs. O'Keefe."

She laughed gaily. " I shouldn't think of taking you
quite in the opposite direction from that in which you have

Two Bachelors and some Ladies 21

to go," she said. " And how would you like to walk between
me and Bridget ? Thank you very much all the same, Mr. ■

" Indeed, I don't mind a walk on a night like this. I like
it," he replied, with an eager expression on his round red

" Then you won't mind walking up to Upper Heath,"
said Turner. " I'll drive Mrs. O'Keefe down, and go home
through the wood."

" Well, we needn't settle about going home yet awhile,"
said Mrs. Redcliffe. " Let us go in. Dinner is ready."



They went in singly to the little square dining-room, and
arranged themselves at a round table. A subsurface and
quite seemly struggle between Browne and Turner as to
which of them should sit next to Norah O'Keefe was decided
by superior strategy in favour of the former, but the small-
ness of the company robbed Turner's defeat of most of its

" You have been to Hurstbury Court/' said Mrs. Redclifte
to Browne, when they had settled themselves in their places.
" Have you any interesting news to tell us ? How is Lady
Wrotham bearing her loss ? "

" Wonderful woman ! " said Browne, with a side glance
at the parlourmaid. '* Simply full of energy, and beginning
her life all over again as if she thoroughly enjoyed it."

" Of course," said Mrs. Redcliffe, " she was nearly twenty
years younger than Lord Wrotham, and an energetic woman
always. So one heard, for I have never seen her."

A remembrance came to Browne's mind. *" Didn't you
ever see her when the old lord was Governor of Western
Australia ? " he asked.

"No, never," she replied. " That was many years ago,
and I was quite a girl. Besides, Queensland and Western
Australia are a very long distance apart. I was never in
Western Australia, and I do not think that Lord and Lady
Wrotham were ever in Queensland; I have no recollection
of it if they were."

She spoke in her usual placid, rather deliberate manner.
Browne glanced at her quiet sensible face, unclouded by a
hint of disturbance, and decided that he must have mistaken


At the White House 23

Lady Wrotham's meaning when she told him that she knew
all about Mrs. Redcliffe. It was impossible to connect her
with the remotest shadow of a scandal — a scandal, that is, in
which she could have been in the least to blame.

" You have been here five years, haven't you, Mrs. Red-
cliffe ? " asked Norah O'Keefe. " Hasn't Lady Wrotham
ever been to Exton in that time ? "

" No," said Mrs. Redcliffe, and Browne added, " She told
me that she had not been here for five and twenty years.
That was just after Sir Joseph had practically rebuilt the
Abbey. She said that she thought he had completely spoilt
it, and she had never had the slightest wish to see it again."

" Spoilt it ! " exclaimed Hilda. " Why, it is perfectly
beautiful ! "

" Yes," said Browne. " But, you see, she came when it
was only just finished. Everything was new and staring.
I really hardly recognized the description she gave me of it,
but I can see it to a certain extent with her eyes. The
garden was brand new ; twelve acres, or more, just planted.
We know it after five and twenty years' growth, but in
those days it can't have been very interesting. And the new
part of the house hadn't toned down to look of a piece with
the old, as it has now. She spent her honeymoon there.
The house must have been very uncomfortable, only half-
furnished ; but there it was, with all its surroundings, just as
it had been built after the Reformation, when most of the
monastery had been pulled down. She will find it very
different now."

" Is she coming to see it, then ? " asked Mrs. Redcliffe.

" H'm, ha ! " muttered Browne, recollecting the parlour-
maid. " I expect she and Kemsing — I mean Lord\Vrotham
— will be down to have a look at us before long."

" Poor old Sir Joseph ! " said Mrs. Redcliffe. " What a
pride he took in the place ! It was a delight to go pottering
round with him. I am sure he never thought of it as other-
wise than his own."

" I really don't think he did," said Browne. " He spent
money on it just as if it belonged to him, and, in a way, he
has made it."

" Sir Joseph Chapman made the house, and Maximilian
Browne made the estate," said Turner. " Honour where
honour is due."

24 Exton Manor

Browne's round face was suffused with a deprecatory smile.
" I have pulled it round a bit," he said. " It's quite true.
All the farms are let now, and as for the private houses —
well, I'm quite satisfied with the tenants we've got." He
looked round the table with a congratulatory air, finishing up
with a side look at the tenant of the Street House, just long
enough to turn a general compliment into a particular one.

No rah O'Keefe, however, seemed blissfully unconscious of
it. "I hope the new Lord Wrotham is pleased w T ith the

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