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huffy, Mr. Prentice."

He gave a short laugh. " You saw for yourself what the
Morning Service was like," he said. " It would be difficult
for the most Protestant to find cause of complaint in that.
And the Evening Service is the same."

" There was that great cross."

" Yes, there was the cross, the sign of our redemption. I
had forgotten that you might object to that. I wear coloured
stoles to mark the different seasons of the Church's year. I
celebrate Saints' days."

" Do you include the Virgin Mary in those celebrations ? "

" Yes."

126 Exton Manor

" Then that is Catholic, and not Protestant."

" Thank you, Lady Wrotham. Then the English Church
is Catholic, and not Protestant, in that respect, at least/'

" What do you mean ? "

94 The Church has appointed a day for celebrating the An-
nunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

" Oh, the Annunciation ! Well, what else ? "

" I celebrate the Holy Communion at eight o'clock every
Sunday morning, and at ten o'clock on Thursdays."

" Do you ever have it in the evening ? "

44 No, certainly not."

" But it was held first of all in the evening."

94 It has not been so held for nearly two thousand

" Ah, the more reason for getting back to it now. Is
that all you have to tell me ? "

" I see nothing to be gained by telling you of anything
more. It is very painful to me to do so, and to hear all that
I hold dear scoffed at. You take an active part in Church
controversies, and you know pretty well what men who
hold my views do."

" Yes, I do know, Mr. Prentice, and also what they do not
do. Do they hold meetings for Bible-reading and prayer ?
Do they seek to bring about true conversions of soul ? Do
they preach the doctrine that no priest can come between the
soul and its Maker ? Do they encourage their flock to keep
the sabbath ? I very much fear not."

99 Lady Wrotham, would you not be happier among the
Methodists than in the Church of England ? "

If he had asked her whether she would not be happier in a
corps de ballet, she could hardly have been more startled.

" Mr. Prentice ! " she exclaimed.

" It seems to me that you lay stress on all the things that
the Nonconformists value most, and ignore the distinctive doc-
trines of the Church. You would find yourself in perfect
agreement with any devout Wesleyan. You will find very
few Churchmen who agree with you."

" I beg leave to tell you that there are very many. But it is
useless to carry on the discussion further on these lines. I am
deeply grieved that it is so. But on one point, Mr. Prentice,
I have made up my mind. You must discard your Popish

A Preliminary Skirmish 127

" So you said before, Lady Wrotham, and I answered that
I do not recognize the authority of your * must.' "

" Then, deeply as it will pain me, I must report the matter
to our good bishop/'

" I shall be ready to abide by his decision. Until he gives
it I hope you will see the advisability of leaving the matter
alone. I think you are entering very lightly on a struggle
that must create unhappiness, and destroy the peace of a
contented, and, on the whole, God-fearing community. It
is a great responsibility."

" There would be no necessity for it if you were deter-
mined to uphold the Protestant character of the Church of

And so ignore what the Prayer-book teaches. I cannot
do that. I hope that you wall wait, at any rate, before taking
any steps, until you have gone about a little among the
parishioners, as 1 understand it is your intention to do, and
see if they have not been helped and uplifted by the agencies
you so despise."

" I shall certainly make it my business to inquire how far
their religious tendencies have been warped. Mr. Prentice,
you have caused me real sorrow. I thought I should come
down to this quiet place, and spend my days here in prepa-
ration for the end which you warned us very properly yester-
day is not far from any of us. I hoped that I should be
helped and encouraged in that, as well as in trying to do what
I could to teach those whom God has put under my charge to
live a higher life, by the minister my dear husband instituted
to this living to do that very thing. I am an old woman, and
have borne my part in the battle, and I looked for peace. But
if I am not to have it, I will gird on my armour again to work
for the truth. I have still got the strength for it, and I shall
not shrink from my duty."

But for the last sentences, the Vicar would have been
affected by this speech. As it was, it gave him the word.
M And I shall not shrink from mine, Lady Wrotham," he
said. " I want peace, too, but I too have a duty to perform.
Let us, at least, recognize that each of us is sincere in our

"It is very difficult to believe it of one who is bent on
Romanizing the Church."

"I am not doing that ; and it ought not to be difficult

128 Exton Manor

to believe that those who hold different religious views to
our own are sincere. It is a serious thing to doubt it to their

" Well, perhaps it is, Mr. Prentice ; I am not so angry
with you as I thought I should be — as I ought to be. Mis-
taken as you are, I believe that you do believe what you
preach. At the same time, your views are so entirely mis-
guided and dangerous, that, if persisted in, they cannot but
do harm to your own soul, as well as the souls of others.' '

The Vicar rose again. " I will not prolong the discussion
further," he said. " There is one thing I made up my mind
to say to you as I came here, Lady Wrotham. If you should
ask me again to conduct prayers in your household, I must
ask you to excuse me from using the book you put before
me last night. It is "

!< You need not take the trouble to criticize it, Mr. Pren-
tice," interrupted Lady Wrotham. " I shall not ask you
to conduct prayers in my household again."



Now see of what paramount importance it is, where a
difference of opinion divides two downright souls, that they
should not remain apart, and suffer the poison of remembered
words to work in the blood, unchecked by the mutual con-
viction of honesty of purpose, which is encouraged among
controversialists only by propinquity.

There was once a man with a yacht — he was a newspaper
proprietor — who invited a mosquito-tongued archdeacon to
accompany him on a cruise. As the archdeacon climbed up
the ship's side, he saw looking down upon him the features,
petrified with astonishment, of a spectacled sparse-bearded
Baptist, whom he had called Simon Magus in cold print, the
Baptist retorting with Antichrist. He was for returning to
the shore at once, and the Baptist, after the first horrified
glimpse, had already rushed below to repack his hair-brush
and his book of press-cuttings, which were all he had had
time to take out of his bag. The premature departure of
both was prevented by some means or other, and the yacht
steamed off to the Mediterranean.

Now each of these men hated each other with a con-
suming hatred, in the full belief that his opponent was in-
spired by the devil. But at Gibraltar they went ashore
together, and the archdeacon sent a postcard to the Baptist's
son, who was five years old that very day, and the Baptist
sent a postcard to the archdeacon's daughter, who was exactly
a year younger. They still fought nightly over their tobacco,
and their host kept the ring, but they fought as men with
a common aim, at issue over the means to attain it, and their
fury was dissolved in kindness.


130 Exton Manor

The moral is that no man is a mere walking bundle of
opinions, mistaken or otherwise. Every man has a soul, and
something lovely to inspire it ; but how can you find out
what that something is if you only know him in print, and
make of his soul whatever disagreeable thing fits in most
neatly with your argument ?

Lady Wrotham, confronted in the flesh with a man who
held all the opinions she most abominated, had not been so
angry as she thought she would have been in such circum-
stances. She had seen through to honest convictions, per-
haps rather against her own will, and had found something
to respect in her opponent. But when she was alone once
more the effect of these unexpected revelations began to
wear . thin. Mr. Prentice, dressed in priestly vestments,
burning candles, muttering incantations, bowing and
crossing himself, his longing eye cast Romewards, stood
in her mind for the incarnation of her detestations, stripped
of all righteousness.

Then her indignation began to work upon the way in
which he had flouted her authority. It was disgraceful,
unheard of. Her cheekbones flamed. She had fought many
such men, and overcome some of them. But here was a
man who was setting up a grove, an altar of Baal, so she
expressed herself with picturesque metaphor, in those very
sacred fields of which she was the responsible ruler. If she
could not have peace and her own way here, what was the
world coming to ?

Oh, religious England, led by the nose to kiss that baleful
Roman toe, twitching arrogantly across the water, you must
be saved at any cost. Canterbury will hardly hold you back.
Canterbury has gone half-way with you, protesting sleepily
that your pilgrimage is elsewhither. Geneva, that saved you
once, is impotent. From whence is the prophet, the leader,
to come ? Well, if no Luther, no Calvin, is at hand to turn
you, there are still mothers in Israel, high-born, influential,
some of them, " doing themselves well," with tongues in their
heads, and pens and treasure at their disposal, who will make
it their business to see that you do not make your journey
unwarned of its monstrous goal. Feudal, some of them, who
will undertake that those dependent on their purses and their
pleasure do not join you, whoever else may do so. And here
is one of the feudalists, determined to give no quarter. Away


Pourparlers 131

with human weakness ! In such a fight as this, husband may
find himself opposed to wife, and son to mother. If duty
demands that even households shall be broken up in the cause
of right, and domestic ties sternly severed, how much more
does it behove one set on a pinnacle of responsibility to use
all arts to crush a renegade, who rears a hostile banner under
the very shadow of the castle ? The rebel must not be allowed
to creep in under a flag of truce, and paralyze the arm that
should strike without mercy. He must be annihilated. He
has drawn his sword against the truth, and at the same time
defied the authority of his over-lord. It is not necessary to
inquire too closely for which fault he is to be most severely
punished, since annihilation will account for both together.

Lady Wrotham determined to invoke the fulminations of
the Bishop of Archester without delay. It was, perhaps,
doubtful if he could be induced to fulminate as heartily as she
could wish. She had, in truth, no very great opinion of him.
There were bishops whom the Women's Reformation League,
boasting cautiously over their tea-cups, reckoned to have in
their pockets. This was not one of them. He was an aris-
tocrat himself, and not amenable to Mayfair blandishments ;
was, indeed, rather impatient of interference from religious
petticoated Mayfair, and had said so with a plainness that
could only have been put up with from his late father's son.
But, on the other hand, he was one of the cautious prelates
who hate extremes, whose names are alike anathematized at
patronal festival luncheons, and greeted with head-shakings in
Protestant committee rooms. He might be induced to put
his foot down in an extreme case, if there was evidence of
general parochial antagonism. In other circumstances, such
as a difference of opinion between a great lad}' and a hard-
working incumbent, he would almost certainly chain back his
thunders. Lady Wrotham recognized this, with an added
sense of injury, and saw that her first step must be to collect
evidence of dissatisfaction.

She lost no time. That very afternoon she drove out and
paid visits to such of the farm-houses as lay within a two
hours' circuit. She went armed with a bundle of literature
from the Women's Reformation League, with which she had
fortunately provided herself. Her success was less than she
had hoped for. She found the Exton farmers' wives more
independent than those she had been accustomed to direct


132 Exton Manor

spiritually in her former home. She forgave them this, on
considering that Exton had for so many years been without
adequate social leading, Sir Joseph Chapman, a very good
man in his way, having amounted to nothing at all, viewed
from the feudal standpoint. And she found very little dis-
satisfaction. " No, my lady," said old Mrs. Witherspoon,
voicing the attitude of most of her sisters, " we've no com-
plaint to make of our good Vicar. He comes to see us
regular, and don't worrit us with views. Me and my good
man, we don't hold wi' these new-fangled ways ; but there,
it's live and let live all through the chapter, isn't it ? And
's long as he doesn't alter the services we do go to, he's
welcome, for us, to hold the others for them as likes

" But surely," said Lady Wrotham, " you have read in the
papers of the rapid spread of false doctrine in the Church of
England, and of the danger it is becoming ! Surely, it is the
duty of all of us, who believe in the old religion, to do all we
can to stop this terrible national apostasy."

Mrs. Witherspoon could not see that it was her duty. Her
duty was to make good butter and induce her hens to lay,
and not interfere in matters which were the affairs of wiser
heads than that of an old-fashioned farmer's wife, or a farmer
either, who knew their place and didn't set up to be gentle-
folk like others she could name, who were, after all, no better
than she was, although they made a deal more show.

Lady Wrotham, scenting a village rivalry, in which, at any
other time, she would willingly have taken a hand in defence
of the unpretentious, turned the conversation, having no leisure
at present but for her rigorous campaign, and presently took
her leave, not too well satisfied either with Mrs. Witherspoon
or herself. Did it quite consort with her dignity to be going
round to the wives of the tenantry stirring up religious strife ?
If she had found acute dissatisfaction, no murmur would have
been heard from within. She would have taken her proper
place as leader of the rising, and would have known very well
how to act in the capacity. But it galled her to feel that she
might be presenting herself to these shrewd-headed, pleasant-
spoken women as a rebellious maker of strife. Somehow,
she had not been quite successful in imposing her religious
views on Mrs. Witherspoon, and others whom she had visited,
as of unquestionable authority. They seemed to hold views

Pourparlers 133

of their own, without even a concomitant desire to adapt
them, as far as possible, to those she herself expressed. She
made one conquest, but it was not one that she greatly valued.
Mrs. Capper, a youngish woman with airs, obviously the lady
to whom Mrs. Witherspoon had alluded, saw which way the
wind blew, and instantly trimmed her sails accordingly.

u I own," she said, " that I have been rather led away by
what has been going on, but I can't say that my conscience
is quite easy about it. I don't really like it, and never have.
But the truth is that Mrs. Prentice is so very anxious to
get everybody to follow her, and it has been difficult to hold

" Mrs. Prentice ! " echoed Lady Wrotham. " But what
has it got to do with Mrs. Prentice ? "

Mrs. Capper simpered, with intention. " I think that when
3'ou have been in Exton a little longer, my lad}/," she said,
" you will find that it has a good deal to do with Mrs. Prentice.
Of course, / am not nearly good enough for her, and I don't
complain about that, as long as she simply lets me alone. I
have no wish at all to put myself forward ; I couldn't do it ;
it is not in my nature to."

" No, of course not," interrupted Lady Wrotham. " We
all have our places in the world, and it is our duty to keep

" Quite so, my lady," replied Mrs. Capper, without con-
viction. " But I am not to be recognized as fit to appear
in Mrs. Prentice's drawing-room — which, no doubt, I am not
— I do consider that I have a right to object to her coming
here and laying down the law to me as if she was a bishop at
the least. I never have liked it, nor what we have been asked
to give way to, and I am very glad indeed that your ladyship
does not approve of it either. I hope now that things may
be different, as of course they will be, now we have got some-
body- to look up to."

" Well, of course, I intend that there shall be no paltering
with Rome," replied Lady Wrotham. " Protestant the
Church of England is, and Protestant it shall remain if I have
anything to do with it. But, at the same time, you must
understand, Mrs. Capper, that I have no wish to underrate,
or to encourage any one in the parish to underrate, the
authority of the Vicar."

" Oh, no, my lady," said Mrs. Capper. " And I'm sure the


134 Exton Manor

Vicar, if he is High Church, is beloved by all. Still, you
must have things your own way. I quite see that."

"It is not so much my way," Lady Wrotham corrected
her, " as the way of the law. You must not understand me
to mean more by what I have said to you than that I think
possibly Mr. Prentice may have, inadvertently, made a few
mistakes, as so many clergymen, unfortunately, do nowa-

Oh, yes, and I'm sure he will alter things directly he
knows your ladyship objects — in spite of Mrs. Prentice.
And I'm sure too that all of — of the more educated people in
Exton will be only too glad to do anything that you think
advisable. I know I can speak for myself, and my husband

"Well," said Lady Wrotham, rising, " you will perhaps be
good enough to read these few papers that I will leave with
you. They will show you, more plainly than I can do, what
a real danger the Church is running, under the guidance of
misled people, of becoming Romanized. We must all of us
do what we can, in our different spheres, to stop it, and I see
no reason why Exton should not take its part in the struggle
that must be carried on from day to day. It can only do so
by putting the true religion in place of the false ; and I hope
to have some meetings at the Abbey, to which all will be
invited, which may help us in our work."

" Oh, that will indeed be a blessing, my lady," said Mrs.
Capper. " And I'm sure if I can do anything to help, such
as handing round hymn-books or providing my share of a tea,
as we used to do in the last parish where we lived, I shall only
be too pleased."

" Thank you," replied Lady Wrotham. " My servants
will hand round the hymn-books, and I shall provide any
refreshment that will be necessary myself. But I shall expect
you to be present, and your husband too, and when the time
comes I hope you will do what you can to make it known
that everyone in the parish will be welcome. Now I will
wish you good-afternoon."

Lady Wrotham was rather disturbed by what she had been
told of Mrs. Prentice, although she was not inclined to put
too much credence in Mrs. Capper's vapourings. When she
reached home she sent a note to the Vicar's wife summoning
her to her presence, and Mrs. Prentice came flying on the


Pourparlers 135

wings of a westerly gale, glad enough to have an opportunity
jf putting matters straight, if by any art of hers she could
do so.

There was no yielding in Lady Wrotham's attitude. She
dispensed her hospitality with a certain grimness, and re-
sponded without excessive amiability to Mrs. Prentice's efforts
towards intimate chat.

" You will probably have heard from your husband," she
said, coming quickly to the point, " that we did not unfor-
tunately find ourselves in agreement this morning over some
most important points. I thought I should like to hear from
yourself how far you go with him in his ritual extravagances,
so that I may know ^vho are my friends and who are my
enemies in the battle that lies before us."

This was direct enough, far more direct than suited Mrs.
Prentice, anxious by vague handling of debatable subjects to
stave off warfare. " I — er — as far as ritual goes," she said,
" I do not consider it of great importance."

" I think it is of very great importance," replied Lady
Wrotham severely. "It is by these foolish and unmanly
dressings up, and fiddling with Roman playthings, that weak
people are led to give up their sturdy Protestantism. If it
was not intended to lead in that direction it would not be used.
I object to it most strongly for that reason, as well as because
I think it contemptible and silly."

" I like a plain service myself," said Mrs. Prentice, already
at her wits' end to know how she could preserve the peace
without belying her convictions. " I think, perhaps, I prefer
it. But—"

" I am glad to hear that, at any rate," said Lady Wrotham.
" You will be able, I hope, to persuade your husband to mend
his ways in that respect. For I tell you, very plainly, Mrs.
Prentice, that I am thoroughly shocked with the state of
things I find here, and am determined to use every means in
my power to stop it. I should like to have you on my side,
if you are open to conviction ; but if not "

The pause was significant. How much, too, would Mrs.
Prentice have liked to be on the same side as this formidable
great lady ; but was it possible ? She made another effort.

" It would grieve me dreadfully -if you saw fit to withdraw
your help from us in the spiritual work of the parish," she
said piteously. " I had formed such high hopes of an


136 Exton Manor

increase of godliness all round from what you told me of
your interest in religious matters. It would be dreadful if
the people were to find those in a special position of responsi-
bility towards them disagreeing among themselves."

" I think it would," replied Lady Wrotham. " And I sin-
cerely hope that nothing of the sort may be necessary. But,
taking the rather prominent position that I have in these ques-
tions, even if I did not regard them with the utmost serious-
ness, as I do, you can see that it is not possible for me to give
way in the slightest degree. In any church or parish with
which I have to do there must be a direct and unflinching
Protestantism. The slightest paltering with Rome is not to
be thought of."

" I can speak quite confidently on that point, at any rate,"
said Mrs. Prentice. " Both my husband and I detest Rome
and Roman doctrine as much as anybody."

" I am very glad to hear it, though I cannot say that I see
many signs of it as far as he is concerned."

" Oh, but, Lady Wrotham, indeed you are doing him an
injustice. He speaks and preaches most strongly against
Roman error."

" Every High Churchman does that, until he goes over.
You do not deny that your husband is a pronounced High
Churchman, I suppose ? "

" Er — no. Of course he is what is called a High Church-
man, although I do not like the expression."

" Very possibly not. Well, Mrs. Prentice, to tell you the
truth, after our conversation of this morning, I have very little
hope of being able to influence your husband, and if he forces
me to it I shall have no hesitation at all in fighting him openly.
But, of course, if you are able to influence him for his good,
%,ai^ have the desire to do so, which I sincerely hope you have,
the great unpleasantness of a complaint to the bishop, and the
consequent scandal in the parish, may be obviated. Now, is
it your desire to assist me in my endeavour to put things on a
more satisfactory basis ? "

The nauseous medicine was held to her lips. There was
one quiver of disgust and then she took a large gulp. ■[ I will
do what I can," she said. " We must save a breach."

Lady Wrotham inexorably tendered the dregs of the

" There must be no paltering," she said. " I do not wish


Pourparlers 137

for agreement on the surface and disloyalty underneath.
There must be active Protestantism.' '

It was too bitter. " But, Lady Wrotham," protested the
unhappy woman, " you cannot expect my husband to give
up everything he conscientiously believes in and turn com-
pletely over to the other side."

" I am afraid I have no hope of any such thing. The
question now is whether you are on my side."

<f In all your efforts towards goodness — oh, yes. Indeed I
am. I shall assist you most willingly."

Had she swallowed the whole dose or poured it surrep-

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 11 of 36)