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to Mrs. Redcliffe or anyone else, if I had not been attacked
in the most unmannerly way by — by the girl — and in the
open road, where anybody might have been passing and heard
what happened."

" The girl ! But how did she attack you ? "

" She stopped me in the road, as I say, as I was going up
the hill, and first of all charged me with cutting her, as she
expressed it."

" Well, had you cut her ? "

" Certainly not. But I confess that I should not have
stopped to speak to her owing to what occurred yesterday.
I was annoyed, I own, I think justly annoyed, and I did not
feel inclined to take the trouble to hide it."

" What did occur yesterday ? "

" I did not know, when Lord Wrotham announced his in-
tention of going up to the Fisheries with Mr. Browne, that
Mrs. and Miss Redcliffe were to be of the party."

" I did not know either," Lady Wrotham interrupted her
grimly ; " but from what you have told me, I am not sur-
prised to hear it."

" Well, I confess I was surprised. I met them coming
back through the park. Mr. Browne was driving them in
his trap, with Mrs. Redcliffe sitting by him in front, and Lord
Wrotham and the girl together on the back seat."

" That is where I should have expected them to be," in-
terrupted Lady Wrotham again.

" I turned round to look at them as I passed, and the girl
nudged Lord Wrotham rudely and burst out laughing at me,
without the slightest attempt to conceal her rudeness.

" Pretty manners ! " commented Lady Wrotham. V Did
my son laugh too ? "



Mrs. Prentice tastes Success 173

" Oh, no. His lordship looked quite shocked at her be-
haviour. Well, there it was. You can hardly be surprised,
Lady Wrotham, that I should not have felt inclined to be
exactly friendly when I met her this morning/'

"No. If you have made no mistake in her attitude to you,
it was certainly, as you say, outrageous. But why should she
behave like that to you ? Why should she laugh ? "

" I think it was pretty plain. She knew quite well that I
knew she was trying to get hold of Lord Wrotham — if I may
use the expression — and her laugh was evidently one of
triumph over me. I have no doubt that she had said some-
thing about me to Lord Wrotham, and had some understand-
ing with him on the subject."

I can hardly understand a respectably brought up girl
behaving in that way. Still, if you say so M

" Oh, that is nothing to what happened this morning. I
assure you, Lady Wrotham, that I really thought once or
twice that she was about to offer me bodily violence. She so
lost control of herself that nothing was too bad for her to say.
She showed her essentially vulgar nature in a way that was
positively shocking."

" Did she ? Well, how was the subject of Mrs. Redcliffe's
marriage introduced ? Does the girl know of the circum-
stances ? "

11 To my surprise I found that she does. I can only
suppose that Mrs. Redcliffe, seeing that it was bound to come
out, told her, for I am pretty certain she knew nothing be-
fore."

"Well?"

" She stormed at me like a — like a tiger for — well, as far
as I can remember, for I was so taken aback that I hardly
knew exactly what she did say — for — for "

" For telling people her mother's story ? "

" No, I had not done that. Pray believe me, Lady Wro-
tham, I had told my husband, but had not breathed a word to
another soul — and I am sure he would not have done so."

" Well, then, for what ? "

"For knowing it myself, I suppose. That is the only
thing I can think of. She was so furious at my knowing it
that she could hardly contain herself."

" But how did she know that you knew it, if you had told
no one ? "



174 Exton Manor

" I can only suppose that Lord Wrotham had said some-
thing yesterday/'

" Oh, no, he would not have done that."

" I do not mean, of course, that he" told her, or Mrs. Red-
cliffe, in so many words, but he may have mentioned that
you knew of them when you were in Australia. And they
could put two and two together."

" That is quite possible. But how should they connect
you with the matter ? "

" I — I don't know. But Mrs. Redcliffe took it for granted
that you had told me, and I did not contradict her."

" Was Mrs. Redcliffe with the girl when she spoke to you ? "

" No. She came down the road immediately afterwards,
and insisted upon my going into the house, where she imme-
diately set upon me and tried her utmost to get me to say that
I approved of the circumstances of her marriage. I could
not and would not say it, Lady Wrotham. I do not approve
of such so-called marriages, and nothing would induce me,
not death or martyrdom, to contract one myself."

" She wanted you to hold your tongue, I suppose," said
Lady Wrotham. " And I do not altogether wonder at it.
If the circumstances of her marriage were not known before,
she would naturally be annoyed at their becoming known. I
cannot think that you have behaved altogether wisely in the
matter, Mrs. Prentice. Something must have been said or
done to connect you in her mind with what she very likely
may have gathered that I know. You betrayed no reticence
at all in alluding to the matter before my son yesterday. I
must judge a little by that."

" Oh, Lady Wrotham," said Mrs. Prentice, almost in tears.
" Indeed I have said nothing-^-nothing at all."

" Well, the cat is out of the bag now, af any rate, and per-
haps it is useless to inquire further how it got out. Then
what happened to put you in the state in which you came
here ? "

Mrs. Prentice hastened to get to safer ground. "Mrs.
Redcliffe talked quietly at first," she said. " I will do her
that justice. She did her best, as I say, to defend herself, but
she could not move me. When she found that, she threw
off the mask completely, and became as violent and abusive
as her daughter had been all along. The girl insulted me
most grossly, and she made no attempt to stop her, except at



Mrs. Prentice tastes Success 175

first. She denounced me as a wicked and irreligious woman
— those were her very words — not for disclosing her secret,
which she could not accuse me of, but for sticking to my
convictions. I told her that whatever might be the case in
Australia, marriage with a deceased wife's sister was not
recognized either by the Church or by the law in this country/ '

" That was surely a little strong to a woman in her position."

" Oh, I did not put it in that way, of course. I tried to
wrap it up as much as possible, consistently with keeping to
my principles. But I assure you that neither she nor her
daughter made the slightest attempt to wrap up anything that
they saw fit to say to me. Anyone would have thought that
it was I who was in the equivocal position and not Mrs.
Redcliffe. You could hardly believe the things that I was
forced to listen to. It put me all of a tremble, as you saw.
And it was not only me that was attacked. The girl, who
was almost foaming at the mouth with anger and spite, shouted
out after me, when at last I succeeded in getting away, a
message to be given to you which I should not soil my lips by
repeating."

" Oh, indeed ! So I was brought into it, was I ? "

" Most impertinently, Lady Wrotham. I should not think
of offending you by repeating what was said."

" Nevertheless I should like to hear. it. I could hardly be
offended with you for whatever it was."

Mrs. Prentice hesitated. She had, in truth, forgotten exactly
what it was that had been said, but made up for her lapse of
memory by a liberal draft on her imagination.

" I was to tell you," she said, " that you were no better
than I was."

14 That is pleasant hearing," said Lady Wrotham, uncon-
scious of irony. " Was there anything else ? "

" Oh, yes. More impertinence, but I cannot remember the
exact words. I was too anxious to get away, as I felt I could
not go through any more, but it was to the effect that neither
.she — Miss Redcliffe — nor her mother wished to have any-
thing to do with you. You must forgive me for repeating it."

" Oh, certainly. And I shall try to oblige them. Well,
of course, I can feel to a certain extent for a woman in Mrs.
Redcliffe's circumstances, but she seems to have behaved with
great lack of dignity, to say the least of it, and whatever
sympathy one might have felt if she had behaved herself,



176 Exton Manor

is largely done away with by what you tell me. I make
nothing, of course, of the rudeness to me, personal!} 7 . I shall
not think twice about it."

" And the rudeness of both of them to me," said Mrs.
Prentice, " was past all bearing. I am not a nervous woman
but you saw, Lady Wrotham, the state I was in when I came
here, and, upon my word, I don't think I could have walked
another step."

" No, I don't think you could. Did Mrs. Redcliffe herself
charge you with any kind messages to me, or was it only the
girl ? "

M Mrs. Redcliffe did say something. But I cannot remem-
ber what it was."

" You need not be afraid of telling me what it was. I shall
try to bear it."

" She said — no, I cannot remember. By that time I was so
flustered that — but she certainly made no attempt to restrain
the girl in her impudence. She more or less backed her up in
what she said."

" Well, it is all very painful. But, at any rate, you have
done no wrong, Mrs. Prentice. You may be quite at ease
about that. You rebuked the girl I suppose for what she said
— about me, I mean — not that it matters, of course."

" Indeed I did, Lady Wrotham. I was most indignant.
Just as much on your behalf as on my own. It is only your
kindness that has enabled me to get over the scene. I shall
hope never to have to go through such another."

" I hope you never may. If you have lost a friend in Mrs.
Redcliffe, you have gained one in me. I hope the exchange
will not be altogether to your disadvantage."

Mrs. Prentice wriggled with amiability and gratitude, but
found no coherent words to express her sense of obligation.

M We must work together for the good of the people here,"
pursued Lady Wrotham. " I am sure you will support me in
my efforts to enlighten them. I don't wish you to go against
your husband, Mrs. Prentice. I need scarcely say that. At
the same time, I am determined to oppose him where I think
he is wrong, and I would rather have you on my side than as
an enemy."

Mrs. Prentice shuddered at the thought of being at enmity
with Lady Wrotham — especially now that she was getting on
so well. She waited for further enlightment as to how she



Mrs. Prentice tastes Success 177

was expected to be on Lady Wrotham's side in opposing her
husband without going against him.

" You could do so much," pursued her ladyship, "to get
him to see these things in the proper light. A wife can al-
ways do so much. It would be a grievous thing for me to
have to complain to the bishop about what has been going
on here, and I do not wish to do so, although I told him I
would, until all other means have been tried. I cannot think
that you will not do all that you can."

Mrs. Prentice swallowed the dose. " I will," she said.
" Perhaps it is true that we have been going too fast."

" The mistake does not lie in going too fast along the path
to Rome, Mrs. Prentice, but in going at all. You do not see
as clearly yet as I should like. I don't suppose it is your
fault. Of course there is religion, a measure of true religion,
even mixed up with the errors of the High Church party. I
am a broad-minded woman, and I have never denied it, as
some do. And perhaps that is the only religion you have ha.d
an opportunity of learning. I do not blame you. But oh,
my dear Mrs. Prentice, if }*ou only knew the comfort and
satisfaction to be got out of the purer, simpler form of belief !
It lias upheld me in many trials and many dark hours. I can
speak from plentiful experience. I would not be without my
simple faith, were it ever so. I have proved it. Let me give
you some papers, and a little book. I do not wish to pros-
elytize, but I do wish to turn those whose minds are open to
good influences from the wrong path into the right one. You
cannot refuse to test the question. I do not ask more. Read
with an open, prayerful mind, and I have no doubt that you
will see your way."

Lady Wrotham took a small gloth-bound book and a few
selected tracts from a pile of religious ammunition that lay
reaxry at her elbow, and pressed them on her visitor. Mrs.
Prentice was honestly moved by her appeal. Perhaps there
might be something in it after all. Her grazed spirit craved
for comfort ; and when a lady of such high birth was not afraid
to take what presented itself to her as the unpopular side,
she herself would probably not lose much if she came to
be convinced that she had hitherto been on the wrong
tack.

" Thank you very *nuch for your kind interest in me, Lady
Wrotham," she said gratefully. " I will certainly think over



178 Exton Manor

the question most carefully. It is true that I have been
brought up as a Churchwoman with rather high views, but I
am not infallible, and my views may have been mistaken."

" I think you will find that it is so," said Lady Wrotham.
" I am sure you Will, if you do not shut up your mind against
the truth. I will pray for you, and the prayers of an old
woman who perhaps has not very long to live, and must
sooner or later stand before her Maker, even though stripped
of whatever advantages her position may have given her in this
world, may be worth having. One can never tell."

Mrs. Prentice murmured something to the effect that Lady '
Wrotham 's petitions must undoubtedly carry considerable
weight, and took her leave, hugging her bundle of literature.
As she walked away from the Abbey she found herself in a
far more equable frame of mind than she had been when she
arrived there, and felt genuinely grateful to Lady Wrotham
for her share in bringing about this improvement. She was
quite honestly ready to find some sort of hitherto unexpected
magic in militant Protestantism, and experienced a pleasant
glow in anticipating her own possible conversion to that form
of belief. She was determined, at all events, to look into it
with what she called an open mind, and congratulated herself
not a little upon a heart so unbound by prejudice as to be ready
to follow the call of the spirit — at all costs.

Well, she had put a spoke in Mrs. Redcliffe's wheel. That
lady would perhaps be sorry that she had not addressed her
with rather more deference when she came to think over it,
and found that by her own action she had cut herself off from
the sweets of such high society as were now being enjoyed in
Exton. It was true that Lady Wrotham, by her kindness and
advocacy of Mrs. Prentice's cause, had withdrawn most of the
sting left by the memory of what had passed at the White
House. Perhaps it might now be possible to enjoy the
superiority that would be gained by applying the spirit of for-
giveness and pity to Mrs. Redcliffe. That spirit would cer-
tainly stand her in good stead in the coming interview with
her husband. But no. There was too much at stake.
Though the sting had been drawn most of the irritation still
remained. Mrs. Redcliffe must be brought low and kept low.
Virtuous indignation was still the card to play, and if she had
to play it against her husband as well as against Mrs. Redcliffe,
the partnership of herself and Lady Wrotham in the



Mrs. Prentice tastes Success 179

game would still be strong enough to make the victory
assured.

Such, in rough paraphrase, were the thoughts that passed
through Mrs. Prentice's mind as she made her way home-
wards, though not perhaps in a form that she would either
have accepted or recognized. She sought her husband the
moment she got into the house, judging that it would be
better to go through her ordeal at once rather than wait until
the wine of Lady Wrotham's approval had less power to buoy
her up.

" William," she said, " I dare say you will blame me, but I
cannot help it. I feel that I have acted rightly, and that must
sustain me."

The Vicar looked at her quizzically, marking the book and
papers she held in her hand. " I hope it will," he said. " It
is well to have the support of one's own conscience. I sup-
pose you have undertaken to help Lady Wrotham in her en-
deavours to upset my influence here ? "

" Indeed, I have done nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Pren-
tice indignantly. " Though I am not at all sure that you are
not doing Lady Wrotham an injustice in your mind. She is
at heart a truly religious woman, though she does not believe
in all the excrescences that have grown up round the Chris-
tian Faith."

" Oh, it has come to that, has it ? " remarked the Vicar
dryly. " The doctrines and practices which the Church has
taught since the earliest times are excrescences. I should like
to have seen your face, Agatha, if anyone had ventured to
make that assertion a week ago."

' You may sneer at me if you like, William, though I think
sneers are hardly becoming to a Christian. But even you will
hardly deny that the tree is known by its fruit, and that "

" No, I do not deny that," interrupted the Vicar. " If you
can show better by forsaking the beliefs which you have
held, perhaps even more strongly than I, and going over to
those which Lady Wrotham holds, by all means do so. If
that is what you have to tell me I would rather not say any-
thing more about it — at present," and he made as if to return
to his writing.

" That is not what I have to tell you," said Mrs. Prentice,
laying down her papers on the table at her elbow. " It is
about this unfortunate discovery that has been made about



180 Exton Manor

Mrs. Redcliffe. Lady Wrotham agrees with me that it can-
not possibly go on."

The Vicar's calm and somewhat contemptuous attitude dis-
appeared. His face became dark. " What cannot possibly go
on ? " he asked impatiently. " Have you and Lady Wrotham
been consulting together as to how that poor lady's life can be
made a burden to her, now that her secret has been wormed
out ? A pretty display of the Christian spirit that you talk
about, upon my word ! "

" Really,- William, you are very foolish. And why you
should constitute yourself Mrs. Redcliffe's champion when
she has certainly broken a law that you profess to believe in,
and get angry whenever her name is mentioned, passes my
comprehension/'

" Does it ? Then I can't say much for your comprehen-
sion. Here is a woman with whom we have lived for the last
five years on terms of intimate friendship. She is a woman
of the most admirable character, and her life here has been a
lesson to all of us. The more one knows her the more one
finds to respect and admire. There is no one of whom I
have a higher opinion. She has been a real help in every-
thing that we try to do here for the good of the people ; and
now "

" I don't agree with you in that," interrupted Mrs. Pren-
tice. " She is not a good Churchwoman — naturally, she
couldn't be, under the circumstances — and it was only the
other day that she went directly against your teaching in the
proper observance of Lent."

" One of the things that I thought Lady Wrotham had per-
suaded you to regard as excrescences. You know perfectly
well that Lady Wrotham, with her peculiar views, would
laugh at the idea of not asking her friends to dine with her on
any day in the year she lelt inclined ; and I very much doubt
whether you would have the slightest hesitation in dining with
her if she asked you. It won't do, Agatha. Your attitude to
Mrs. Redcliffe is not dictated by the disinterested love of
righteousness that you are hugging yourself over, but b}^ a very
unworthy feeling indeed. I never inquired exactly what
passed between you and her when you took it upon yourself
to remonstrate with her about her doings the other day, but I
have no doubt you received the rebuke you deserved, and now
that another weapon has been put into your hands against her



Mrs. Prentice tastes Success isi

you are only too ready to use it. It causes me the deepest
distress to see how you are behaving in this matter. 7 '

" Really, William, I have no patience with you," exclaimed
Mrs. Prentice. " You lecture me as if I were a malefactor,
and you know nothing whatever of what has happened. You
won't let me get in a word edgeways, and are altogether most
violent and unreasonable."

" Well, what has happened ? I suppose you will hardly
have gone to Mrs. Redcliffe and lectured her about this new
cause of offence, as you did about the old ? "

" No, I have not. It was Mrs. Redcliffe herself, who in-
sisted upon speaking to me about it, though I had no sort of
wish to do so, or indeed to speak to her about anything."

" Then you have seen Mrs. Redcliffe ! Well, I suppose it
is of no use to be impatient. The harm, whatever it is, has
been done, and I had better hear the worst at once, and then
see if I can undo some of it."

" I shall tell you nothing," said Mrs. Prentice, outraged,
" if you talk to me in that tone. It is monstrous. You take
it for granted that whatever I do must be wrong, and put down
to me the most shocking motives, when I have only tried to do
what is right, and when, as I say, you have heard nothing of
what has happened."

" I am waiting to hear what has happened."

" Then I will tell you. But I will not listen to any more
abuse, and I tell you so candidly, William."

The Vicar made no reply, and Mrs. Prentice began her
story. She opened in much the same way as she had done to
Lady Wrotham, but her husband saw more clearly what lay
behind her statement than that lady had done.

" Hilda is young and impulsive," he said, " but she would
never have approached you in that way if there had not been
come cause. I suppose the fact is that you had shown her and
her mother so clearly that you disapproved of them and wished
to have nothing more to do with them, although you had
actually said nothing, that the girl took offence, and naturally
wanted to know why you should have treated them in that
way."

This was so clearly the fact that Mrs. Prentice could not
deny it. She could only say that it was not to be expected
that she should treat Mrs. Redcliffe, under the circumstances
that had arisen, exactly as she had done before.



182 Exton Manor

" You had no right to do anything else," said the Vicar,
'- unless you were determined to spread her story. The truth
is that you took the very means to bring about what happened.
You must have known, if you had thought about it, that Mrs.
Redcliffe, or Hilda on her behalf, would sooner or later ask
you the reason of your change of attitude, and I'm afraid that
I don't find it very difficult to believe that you had acted
towards them in such a way as to make a high-spirited girl
like Hilda put the question in such a way as to show her
resentment."

" No, of course you don't find it difficult to believe anything
disagreeable about your wife," said Mrs. Prentice acidly.
" As a matter of fact there was something that had nothing to
do with Mrs. Redcliffe's story which would have caused me
to be very careful not to have anything more to do than I
could help with the girl." She then recounted her meeting
with the party in Browne's cart the day before.

" I don't believe it," said the Vicar. " If she laughed it
was not at you. She is not an ill-mannered girl. And what
on earth has it to do with you if Lord Wrotham likes to make
friends with the Redcliffes ? You seem to want to keep the
Wrothams as your own special property. You will make
yourself very ridiculous about the place if you give occasion
for that to be said against you."

Mrs. Prentice was beginning to be borne down by the weight
of her husband's displeasure. It was of no use to repeat her
threat of leaving him unadvised of what had taken place. He
would only have told her impatiently to go on with her story, and
she would not have been able to disobey him. She put aside
his warning with a high word, and proceeded with her narra-
tive, laying great stress on Hilda's outrageous violence, as she
called it, and on Mrs. Redcliffe's denunciation of her, but very 1
little on the quieter passages of the interview, and forgetting
altogether to mention the extenuating circumstances that Mrs.
Redcliffe had urged against the strictest view of her marriage.

" It makes a very pretty story," said the Vicar when she had
finished, " but if you ask me to believe that Mrs. Redcliffe
spoke to you in that way without receiving a great deal more
provocation than you have admitted, I must decline to do so.
I dare say the story was good enough for Lady Wrotham, who
does not know her, but it is not good enough for me. There



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