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titiously away ? Lady Wrotham believed that it had taken
its proper channel and administered the subsequent sweet-
meat.

" That is very good hearing," she said. " I can scarcely
say how much I shall welcome your help. I shall be glad to
consult with you frequently. I have some important letters to
write for the post this evening, but perhaps you will be kind
enough to lunch with me to-morrow, and then we can go into
matters together for an hour or so and drive out afterwards."

Mrs. Prentice took her leave, cheered somewhat by the
proffer of intimacy, but not otherwise in the most equable
state of mind. She found her husband engaged in mowing
the tennis lawn, going at his task with such vigour that beads
of perspiration stood on his brow, although the air of the
Spring evening was not exactly sultr}'.

' Do put your coat on, William," said Mrs. Prentice as
she joined him. " You will catch your death of cold."

The Vicar stopped and wiped his brow. " I will put it on
when I have finished," he said. " I am rather worried by the
old lady's interference, and hard work helps me to throw off
my annoyance. Well, have you been hauled over the coals
too ? "

" I will tell you all about it when you have put on your
coat," said Mrs. Prentice. " You will certainly catch cold if
you stand there talking in that state."

The Vicar with a sigh resumed his black jacket. " Well ? "
he said.

" I have had a talk wkji Lady Wrotham," said Mrs.
Prentice. " William, I am sure she means well."

" I dare say she does," replied the Vicar. u Most busy-
bodies do mean well. The question is, have you succeeded



138 Exton Manor

in conveying to her that it will be better for her to keep from
interfering with me in my work ? "

Mrs. Prentice thought that on the whole she had succeeded
in conveying that impression. At least she said so. " But*
I think, just for the sake of peace," she added, " that it will
be wiser, for a time at any rate, to make the services as plain
as possible, so as not to give her a handle for further inter-
ference. She talks about complaining to the bishop."

" She may complain as much as she likes. The bishop is
a trimmer, and has given some very unfair decisions. But
there is nothing that goes on here that he can object to. We
are not extremists."

" But, William, think of the scandal it will create if she
really makes up her mind to have her own way — or to take
steps to have it. Whether she succeeds or not the state of
strife would do so much harm."

"lam afraid it would, but I am not going to alter things
for the sake of preventing it. And how can you ask me to
do so, Agatha ? You have been continually urging me to go
faster. Have you forgotten how you pressed me to celebrate
a choral mass every Sunday at eleven o'clock so that the
people should be compelled to come to it ; and when I said
that they were not ready for it you called me, if you remem-
ber, a renegade priest ? "

" You should not recall everything I say in the heat of
argument."

Quite so ; but what would you feel if I had done what
you wished, and Lady Wrotham had come in on Sunday
morning at the beginning of the service instead of the end ?
And what would she have done, I wonder ? "

The picture was too painful. Mrs. Prentice shuddered.
" I acknowledge that you were wiser than I," she said.
" But if you used expediency there, as you did, why not carry-
it a little further ? You need not give up any of your con-
victions."

" I do not intend to, nor anything that I have set on foot
after mature consideration. What do you propose that I
shall alter ? Wliat are her ladyship's minimum demands ? "

" She did not make any definite demands. But it is the
ritual she objects to. Of course, you know, William, ritual is
not necessary as long as the faith is taught."

" Then you propose that I shall give up the small amount



Pourparlers 139

of ritual we have here, and go on teaching the faith ? And
you think that Lady Wrotham will be content with that ? I
don't. If I know anything about the school of which she is
one of the chief ornaments, she will object just as strongly to
the doctrines of baptismal regeneration and sacramental grace
as to eucharistic vestments. No. Peace does not lie in that
direction."

" Well, I do think for the present it will be well to give in
to her a little. I am sure she is a religious woman, and if she
is not upset now she will gradually come round to see that you
have done good here, and she will withdraw her opposition."

" Oh, Agatha, Agatha ! You can't do it, you know."

" Can't do what, pray ? "

" Serve God and mammon. It would be very pleasant, no
doubt, to be the bosom friend of Lady Wrotham. But you
can't be that and keep true to your convictions as well. You
had better make your choice now, for you will have to make
it sooner or later."

Mrs. Prentice drew herself up. " I think you are making a
great mistake in identifying Lady Wrotham with mammon,"
she said. " That is not the way to win mistaken souls to your
side. And in some ways I am not certain that she is mistaken.
I am sure, at any rate, that in her heart of hearts she desires
the right. And as long as I can I will remain her friend and
endeavour to guide her."

The Vicar laughed, and seized the handle of his mowing-
machine. M You will do that," he said, " when this machine
guides me. I shall just have time to finish this before dinner."



CHAPTER XIII

AN UNEXPECTED VISIT

There was a surprise in store for Mrs. Prentice the next
morning, for as she walked down the village on her way to
keep her appointment at the Abbey, she was overtaken by
Lady Wrotham's carriage, and in it was seated, very much at
his ease, the young man whom she had made such earnest
efforts to entertain a fortnight or so before. Lord Wrotham
favoured her with an inquiring stare, and drove on ahead of
her.

" Dear me," said Mrs. Prentice to herself, " I did not know
he was expected."

No one knew when to expect Lord Wrotham at any time.
He was a restless being, and would take the longest journey
at the shortest notice whenever the spirit moved him. His
mother had received a telegram early in the morning to say
that he was about to pay her a visit, and was to be met at
such and such a train. Why he had come, and the length of
time he intended to stay, she knew no more than Mrs. Pren-
tice. That lady, fired by curiosity, hurried her footsteps,
and arrived at the Abbey in time to share in the disclosure
of his lordship's purpose.

" Ah, how do you do, Mrs. Prentice," said the young man
cordially, when he was introduced to her. " Very sorry I
couldn't accept your kind invitation the other day, but Browne
and I were driven off our legs. So much to see to, you know.
I was just telling my mother that I've come down to have a
look at the Fisheries. We hadn't time to go up there the
other day."

Lady Wrotham did not appear to be entirely satisfied with
this explanation, or indeed overjoyed at the visit. She sat

140



An Unexpected Visit 141

stiffly in her chair, her eyes fixed upon the pleasant alert
face of her son, with no very marked expression of maternal
pride or pleasure. But Mrs. Prentice could find no fault with
the young man's attitude to his mother, and wondered what
there was behind the scenes to have created the antagonism
which Lady Wrotham had practically admitted to her as exist-
ing between herself and her son.

•' I'm thinking of starting a fish hatchery up at Shelbraith,
you know, mother," he said. " It's always been an idea of
mine."

" This is the first I have heard of it," replied Lady Wro-
tham. " I think you should go very carefully into the matter
before you start such an undertaking. I know that your
father spent a great deal of money rather unsatisfactorily
here, and was glad enough when this Captain — what is his
name ? — Captain Turner rented them from him."

" Oh, I've gone into it like anything. It'll pay hand over
fist, and won't cost much to start."

' That was not your father's experience."

" Father never had any experience at all. Old Tetheradge,
who was here before Browne, persuaded him into it and made
a mess of it, as he did of everything else. Turner is making
it pay, so Browne says. I'm going to get Browne to take me
up after lunch"! Well, mother, how do you find Exton agree
with you ? Feeling pretty buckish, eh ? "

" I wish you would not use those expressions to me.
George," replied Lady Wrotham. " I am not one of your
companions of the race-course. I have no doubt I shall be
very well here when I have settled down. At present I am
not quite myself. Mrs. Prentice, I am afraid I must ask you
to excuse my driving with you this afternoon. I had a sleep-
less night ; I must rest."

It was plain that she was unwell, and that only her strength
of will enabled her to get through the meal which followed,
and take her part in the conversation. Mrs. Prentice was full
of sympathy, but was not altogether sorry to be relieved of the
ordeal of a further cross-examination, which, for all her
anxiety to please, might have ended in an open breach. Lord
Wrotham, beyond a perfunctory expression of sorrow, did not
display much solicitude for his mother's indisposition, but
chatted gaily to both the ladies.

" Have you got to know the inhabitants yet, mother ? " he



142 Exton Manor

asked, when they had been some time at table. " Seen
Turner yet ? "

" No. I shall be glad, George, if you will ask Mr. Browne
to bring Captain Turner to drink tea with me. The ladies
living in the place will, of course, call upon me. But a
bachelor may, perhaps, require an invitation."

" I'll tell him, mother. Seen Mrs. Redcliffe yet ? "

" Not yet," replied Lady Wrotham, and Mrs. Prentice set
her lips together.

" Very nice lady," pursued Wrotham ; " you're sure to like
her, and her daughter's a very charming girl. You're lucky
to have such people in the place, Mrs. Prentice."

Mrs. Prentice did not look as if she thought herself lucky,
but she felt bound to make some reply to the observation.
" The White House has been made very attractive since it
was enlarged," she said.

Wrotham threw a quizzical look at her. " Charming little
cottage," he said. " Then you don't care about the people
who live in it, eh, Mrs. Prentice ? "

" I did not say so, Lord Wrotham," she replied.

" No, but it's quite plain," he persisted. " Little quarrel,
eh ? The ladies, bless 'em, they're never quite happy unless
there's a trifle of an upset going on, are they ? But they are
just as good friends to each other in spite of it. We men
can't equal them there. If we quarrel we quarrel, and there's
an end of it."

Lady Wrotham interposed. " I think you are letting your
tongue run away with you, George," she said, as if she were
correcting a small, troublesome boy. " Mrs. Prentice has
given you no reason to assume that she has quarrelled with
anybody."

"lam not of a quarrelsome mood, Lord Wrotham," said
Mrs. Prentice sweetly.

" And I'm sure Mrs. Redcliffe isn't," said Wrotham.
" Don't know when I've met a lady I like better. I expect
you will get on with her like anything, mother."

' You will perhaps leave me to make my own friends in
my own way, George," said Lady Wrotham.

" Why, certainly, mother. Do you know if Mrs. Redcliffe
has anything to do with Francis Redcliffe who lives at
Riverslea in Worcestershire ? He was at Eton with me."

" I believe her husband was Sir Francis's uncle, but, as



An Unexpected Visit 143

I tell you, I do not know Mrs. Redcliffe. Mrs. Prentice wiU
tell you anything you wish to know about her, though I
cannot see why you should betray such a lively interest in
a lady you have only met once, and are not likely to meet
again."

" Oh, I like to know all about everybody, especially people
living on one's own place. "

Mrs. Prentice, believing that she now had permission to
imply a secret reason for her attitude, said, " You will find,
I think, Lord Wrotham, that Mrs. Redcliffe has reasons for
not putting forward any claim on her relations. She is
living at Exton as quietly as possible — one might almost say
hidden."

But Lady Wrotham stopped her at once. u I thought it
was understood,'' she said severely, " that we were not to
discuss what we know of Mrs. Redcliffe. I certainly thought
it was understood, Mrs. Prentice."

Mrs. Prentice quailed under the stony glance of displeasure
and was beginning to quaver apologies, but Lady Wrotham
proceeded : " Since so much has been said, I may as well
tell you, George, that Mrs. Redcliffe 's husband married his
deceased wife's sister. Apparently the fact was not known
here, but I was not aware of that when I mentioned it to
Mrs. Prentice the other day. She comes from Australia, and
I heard of the marriage when your father and I were out
there. I should not have divulged her secret if I had known
it was a secret."

" Of course not, mother. You needn't be afraid of me.
I won't say a word to anybody. And anyhow, if it was in
Australia, it was all right. So it will be here before long.
Well, I must be off. I'll come in again to say good-bye.
I've told 'em to be ready to take me back to the station about
five o'clock."

He was out of the room and the house within two minutes,
somewhat to the astonishment of Mrs. Prentice, who had
not quite finished her glass of port. Lady Wrotham ex-
pressed no astonishment. " I must see this Miss Redcliffe,"
she remarked oracularly. " There is one thing ; it will not
last very long."

Lord Wrotham walked quickly out of the gate house and
up the road. When he reached the gate of the White House
he turned in and went up the drive, and, ringing at the door



144 Exton Manor

and inquiring for Mrs. Redcliffe, presently found himself in
that lady's parlour, where she and Hilda were sitting.

" I thought I would just look in on my way up to Browne/'
he said. " And how are you, Mrs. Redcliffe ? "

Mrs. Redcliffe said that she was well, and Hilda, next
interrogated, gave a satisfactory account of her health.

" Well, I've just been lunching with my mother," he said,
seating himself in an easy-chair in the window. " By the
bye, I must keep a lookout for old Browne, in case he goes
down before I get to him. He doesn't know I'm here. I've
come to have a look at the Fisheries. I say, Mrs. Redcliffe,
can't you and Miss Redcliffe come up with us ? You know
Turner, of course. There'll be room for four of us in
Browne's cart."

"I think not, thank you, Lord Wrotham," said Mrs.
Redcliffe. " Hilda and I were thinking of driving over to
Oakhurst this afternoon."

" Can't you do that another afternoon ? I've just snatched
to-day to come down. Let's make a little expedition of it.
It's up in the woods, isn't it ? Do let's all go together. I'm
a bit shy, you know. I want backing up."

He laughed agreeably, and Mrs. Redcliffe and Hilda
laughed too. " We could go to Oakhurst to-morrow,
mother," Hilda said.

Just at that moment Wrotham espied Browne's burly figure
walking down the road past the garden, and dashed out to
intercept him. Hilda laughed again. " Do let us go
mother," she said. " He is such fun — not in the least like
anybody else. And I'm sure he likes us both."

" We will see what Mr. Browne says," answered her
mother, which was as good as a surrender.

So presently they were walking up through the woods to
Browne's house, Wrotham on ahead with Hilda, and the
older pair following more sedately.

" Now that's what I call a nice-looking pair," said round
forty-year-old Browne, without prejudice, and indeed the
slim youthful-looking couple, with their springy active walk,
might have evoked some such expression of opinion from any
one who saw them together.

Lord Wrotham possessed in an eminent degree that
faculty not rare amongst the lively-natured self-assured, of
ingratiating himself at a pace a good deal quicker than the



An Unexpected Visit 145

ordinary speed-limit with the more comely of the opposite
sex. He could do more than ingratiate himself. He could,
by delicately shaded but always advancing degrees, and with-
out laying himself open to rebuff even from the most timor-
ous, drive a colloquy on to that plane where admiration may
be openly tendered without offence, and at least a reciprocal
interest implied, if not expressed. Many of the numerous
fair ones whom he honoured by his attentions would have
resented with offended sincerity the charge of flirtation, so
dexterously were they led into the winding maze ; but the
incense burnt at the shrine of beauty by this agreeable young
man demanded a return of favour, and its light fumes were
so searching that they usually attained their reward. Hilda
Redcliffe was the least consciously coquettish of her sex,
but she was so gay and bright, and so pretty, that she in-
vited a more than usually ardent attack from a lover of those
special qualities, and replied to it by a still more sparkling
display of them. The walk through the woods from the
White House to Upper Heath gate was a matter of ten
minutes at the most, but by the time they had reached
Browne's house she had been told that if Lord Wrotham had
made her acquaintance before the arrangement was entered
into by which his mother occupied Exton Abbey for her life-
time, he would not have consented to it, but taken up resi-
dence there himself. And she had parried the statement
with a laughing reply, instead of showing surprise at its
boldness. To this point had the expert in intimacy pushed
his way.

They drove up to the Fisheries through the woods in
Browne's dog-cart, Mrs. Redcliffe and Browne in front, Hilda
and Wrotham clinging on behind as the wheels bumped
slowly over the soft, uneven rides. Wrotham, with his elbow
over the back of the seat, engaged the company in general
conversation. " You'll go and call on my mother as soon as
possible, now, I hope," he said to Mrs. Redcliffe. " She is
ready and anxious to make your acquaintance."

Mrs. Redcliffe s&jj nothing, and he went on.

" I know Frankie Redcliffe. He was at school with me —
and at Cambridge too. But he seems to have buried himself
lately. Model country landlord, and all that sort of thing.
Dear old fellow, though. I should like to see him again."

" I do not know Sir Francis," Mrs. Redcliffe made haste to



14G Exton Manor

reply. " My husband was in Australia for the last years of
his life, and I came to Engliand for the first time after his
death."

" Capital place Australia. I was out there for a year as
a small boy. You weren't near Western Australia, were
you ? "

11 No. I am a Queenslander."

" Then you never met my father and mother when they
were playing at royalty out there. No, her ladyship said you
hadn't, although she knew your name. Well, you'll have
something to talk about together, at any rate. I say, Browne,
Mrs. Prentice doesn't seem to be a very amiable lady. Got
her knife into everybody, apparently."

" Oh, she's all right," said Browne, " if you take her in her
own way."

u She isn't all right," said Hilda. " She is an interfering
mischief-maker, and as for her manners !"

Mrs. Redcliffe did not come to the rescue of criticized
humanity, as was her wont. She sat silent, looking forward
along the purple vista of tree trunks and interlacing branches,
as though she did not even hear what was being said.

But Wrotham turned to Hilda with a quizzical smile. " I
say ! " he exclaimed. " You're very severe. I'm afraid the
lady isn't a great friend of yours."

" No, she isn't," Hilda replied. " Although, sometimes, if
there is anything to be gained by it, she pretends to be."

"Well, I don't blame }'ou for keeping her at arm's length.
I've got an eye for character, and I think she's a bit of a pussy
cat. But she seems to be very thick with my mother at
present. There's nothing they don't tell each other. Pro-
bably it won't last long. She doesn't know her ladyship yet."

Browne cleared his throat with determination. " This is
the road up from the village," he said, as they turned into a
broad gravelled track. " We shall get to the rhododendron
ring soon. It's worth looking at." Mrs. Prentice's name
was then dropped out of the conversation.

They came to Turner's house, looking down the narrow
valley, and alighted. " I say, this is a jolly place," said
Wrotham. " That's Turner, I suppose. Let's go down to
see what he's doing."

A tall home-spun clad figure could be seen with its back
towards them, gazing into one of the tanks some little way



An Unexpected Visit 147

down the stream, while a man by his side was engaged in
some hidden operation. Wrotham led the way at a quick
pace along a grass garden path. He was now all eagerness to
see what was going on, and had no apparent use for the
moment for ladies' society. Browne tied his horse to a post
and followed him, with Mrs. Redcliffe and Hilda.

" What is the matter, mother darling ? " asked Hilda.
" You don't look well."

Mrs. Redcliffe was pale, but she gathered herself together.
" I am quite well," she said. " But I think I will sit here for
a bit, while you go and see what there is to be seen."

She sat down on a garden seat, and Hilda, after being
assured again that there was nothing the matter with her,
went on with Browne to the ponds.

Wrotham had already introduced himself to Turner, and
was putting numerous inquiries to him by the time they came
up. " Look here, Miss Redcliffe," he said. '* This is jolly.
See all these little beggars coming up to be fed ? "

Turner's man had in his hand an inverted cone of per-
forated zinc, fastened to the end of a stick. It was full of
finely-chopped food, the component parts of which need not
be inquired into too closely. Every now and then he dipped
it into the water and shook it gently. Tiny fragments
escaped and were carried down the gentle stream, and scores
of little whisking tails would dart out from under the shelter
of the reed thatching to intercept them.

They watched the feeding for some time, and then Turner
took them further down the chain of ponds. Wrotham plied
him with questions, and seemed to get a complete grasp of all
the many complicated and debatable details of the hatchery,
with very little trouble. But he did not forget Hilda as he
did so, passing on explanations and pointing out to her what
had just been pointed out to him, as if it was of as much im-
portance that she should know how to construct a fish hatchery
on the most approved principles as that he should.

" The mistake in making this place," said Turner, " was in
digging the big ponds at the top and the tanks below. The
w r ater is poor and thin when it comes out of the spring, all
right for the fry, but it's a lot of trouble to get enough life into
it for the bigger fish.* Then by the time it gets down here it
is richer, and the sun has been at it. This is the proper place
for the yearlings and the two-year-olds, but I've got to keep



148 Exton Manor

them up higher and the fry here. It would cost too much
to alter it, but it ought never to have been made in that way."

" See, Miss Redcliffe ? " said Wrotham. " You've got to
be precious careful when you start a place like this. No good
making mistakes that you can't put right afterwards."

" I see," said Hilda. " I'll be careful not to do it."

Browne and Turner were out of hearing as they walked
back to the upper ponds. " That looks like a case," said
Turner. " His lordship don't seem to have lost much time."

" Pooh ! " said Browne. " He's like that with every pretty
girl he meets. Doesn't mean anything. I say, I've been told
to take you to tea with the old lady. Wants to make your
acquaintance."

" Much rather leave her alone. Quite happy here by my-
self."

" Well, you'll have to come and be inspected. She insists
on it. You needn't worry yourself after that."

Turner suddenly became excited. " That's the curse of
English life," he said. " Why should I have to go and show
myself to an old woman I don't care twopence about, because
she lives in a big house and I live in a small one ? I pay my
rent regularly enough, and my rates and taxes too. Why
can't I be let alone ? "

Browne laughed. " I'll take you down and trot you out
to-morrow afternoon," he said. " Then you can get back to
your shell."

There followed further inspection and technical discussion,
abruptly cut short by a demand for instant departure by Lord
Wrotham. " I must get back," he said. " I shan't have
much more than time to catch my train, and her ladyship's
horses aren't accustomed to be bustled." So they got into the
cart again rather hurriedly and drove away.

Lord Wrotham had apparently gained everything for which



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