Archibald Marshall.

Exton manor online

. (page 17 of 36)
Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 17 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" There's nothing to be said against working for other
people. You had to obey orders yourself when you were in
the Service. You're talking rot. I'm as free as you are."

" Well, then, go and lap up your milk out of the old lady's
saucer, if you like it, and leave me to myself."

" I shall take it as devilish unfriendly if you don't come,
Turner. Hang it, the old lady only wants to be civil to you.
She's a newcomer here — that's what she says herself — and
the ladies in the place will call on her, as if she was anybody
else. That's what she wants, only she says that bachelors
are rather different, and asked me to bring you to see her, and
I said I'd bring you to-day. It's me you're putting a slight
on if you don't come, not her. Well, it'll be her too, for I
shall have to give her some reasons."

" If you put it in that way, Maximilian, I don't know that
I can refuse you. Only I tell you this, I shan't kow-tow to
her. I'm as good as she is, for although my father kept a

shop — a d d big shop, or I shouldn't be where I am — I

don't want anything of anybody ; and you can't get higher
than that."

" She won't want you to kow-tow to her. She's a nice
friendly old lady. * Well, come along. It's nearly half-past

" I must change my clothes first. I'm not a parasite, but
I know what's due to a lady."

A quarter of an hour later {they drove down through the
wood together. They found Mrs. Prentice closeted with
Lady Wrotham, and both ladies looked as if they had been
discussing matters of import. Browne made the introduc-
tion, and Lady Wrotham threw off her preoccupation and
gave Turner a pleasant welcome.

" How do you do, Mrs. Prentice ? " said that gentleman
when he had shaken hands with his hostess. " I hope we
meet as friends."

" It is not my nature to bear enmity, Captain Turner,"
said Mrs. Prentice, shaking hands with him, unwilling to
enter into a skirmish in front of Lady Wrotham.

" I believe my son went up to look at your fish yesterday,
Captain Turner," said Lady Wrotham, as she poured out
the tea. " He talks of making a hatchery himself, in North-

196 Exton Manor

umbedand. I hope you did not encourage him. I know
Lord Wrotham spent a lot on this place and found it un-
satisfactory, though I hope you are doing better."

" I don't make much money," replied Turner, " but I pay
my rent and I've got something to do. I didn't hold out
hopes that more could be done with the business than

" I am glad to hear it. My son is full of energy, and
always starting something fresh. Still, the hatching must
be interesting to watch. Perhaps you will let me come and
see it some day."

" I shall be pleased," replied Turner. " If you would
kindly give me a day's notice I will see that everything is

This was not a very cordial invitation, and so Mrs. Prentice
must have thought, for she broke in, " I am sure, Captain
Turner, you will be more than delighted to show Lady
Wrotham everything that there is to be seen."

" I don't know what being more than delighted means,"
replied Turner ; " but I said I should be pleased."

Lady Wrotham threw a look at him. He was sitting
upright on a stiff chair, his tea-cup in his hand and a savoury
sandwich in his mouth. His face was expressionless. She
tried him again.

" It is rather lonely, is it not," she asked, " living up in the
woods by yourself ? "

" I don't find it so," he replied. " I've got plenty to do in
the day time, with my fishes and my flowers. I like garden-
ing. And at night I read a book."

" Ah, of course, books are a great stand-by. One has the
company of the greatest minds."

" I haven't. I only read novels. I read every novel that
comes out."

" Dear me ! But isn't that rather a waste of time ? "

" Some people think it so. Mr. Browne does. He says
if he read as many novels as I do his brain would run to
seed. He'd hate that. I'm not afraid for myself, because I
haven't got so large a brain as he has."

The unfortunate Browne swallowed a gulp of hot tea and
subsequently choked, which prevented him from defending
himself. Mrs. Prentice took a hand in the conversation.

" I do not object to novel-reading in moderation," she


Turner and Browne take sides 197

said ; " but I like to have a good solid book going at the
same time." w

" Some of my novels are very solid," said Turner. " You'd
be surprised to find how solid."

Lady Wrotham was again at a loss quite what to make of
this strange solemn person. " Of course you are not entirely
cut off from your neighbours," she said. " You are not quite
a hermit, Captain Turner ? "

" Oh, no. I see a good deal of Mr. Browne. I'm ignorant,
but he puts up with me. And I like Mrs. Redcliffe. She's
very kind to us bachelors. We have little games of Bridge.
And there's Mrs. O'Keefe, when she's here, and theFerrabys
— I've known Ferraby a good many years — and Mrs. Pren-
tice's son, he's kind to me. And the Vicar ; he's kind too,
though he doesn't quite approve of me."

" I think I should not mention that if I were you, Captain
Turner," said Mrs. Prentice stiffly, " or Lady Wrotham might
feel inclined to ask you the reason for our disapproval."

" I'm sorry you join in the disapproval, Mrs. Prentice,"
Turner proceeded, in an even voice. " I was afraid it might
be so. But if you think Lady Wrotham would like to know
the reason, perhaps you will tell her."

Mrs. Prentice grew a dusky red. " I think your behaviour
is not very seemly," she said. " I should not have expected
you to talk here in the extraordinary and objectionable way
you always do."

" It's his fun," cried Browne in an agonized voice. " It's
only his fun."

" It is not my idea of fun," said Mrs. Prentice.

Turner addressed himself to Lady Wrotham, who still eyed
him with a puzzled air. " I must confess," he said, " that
Mr. Prentice has reason for his disapproval, as a clergyman
who likes to see a large and happy congregation facing him.
I very seldom make one of them."

" Oh, indeed," said Lady Wrotham.

" Naturally he doesn't like that," pursued Turner. " No
clergyman would. I don't blame him."

" Perhaps you are too much occupied with your fish to
allow you to attend divine service," suggested Lady Wrotham.

" Oh, no, it isn't that at all. I could come perfectly well
if I liked."

Browne wiped his brow. " I don't fancy Lady Wrotham


198 Exton Manor

would be interested in your religious views, Turner/ ' he

" Oh, but I am," she said. " I am interested in every
one's religious views. Possibly the services as they have
been conducted at the church are too ritualistic for you,
Captain Turner."

Mrs. Prentice sniffed, but wished she had not done so
when she found the eye of her patroness fixed upon her.
" We have agreed, I think, Mrs. Prentice/' said Lady
Wrotham, " that it will be as well that changes should take
place there/'

"Oh, yes/' said the unfortunate woman. " I certainly
think it would be wiser."

Turner bent a reproachful look on her. " Why, I thought
you were trying to persuade the Vicar to have incense," he
said. " I thought you liked the smell. And confessional
boxes ? "

" That is an absolute and unblushing falsehood," replied
Mrs. Prentice angrily.

" I am not altogether surprised," said Lady Wrotham,
ignoring this little passage of arms, " that there should be
some who are inclined to keep away from public worship on
account of the way it has been conducted. I intend to hold
a weekly service here, Captain Turner, of Scripture reading
and prayers and simple hymns. I shall be very pleased if you
would care to be present. Mrs. Prentice and I have arranged
the first meeting for next Wednesday at five o'clock."

Browne opened his eyes and stared at each of the ladies in
turn. Lady Wrotham was serene, Mrs. Prentice apparently

" Thank you very much," said Turner ; " but I hope you
will excuse me."

Lady Wrotham looked at him. " There will certainly be
no ritual on this occasion," she said.

" I like ritual," replied Turner. " It is not that. I don't
care for religious services."

Lady Wrotham drew herself up. " Then in that case,"
she said, " I need say no more, except that I am sorry I mis-
understood you."

, " He — he reads sermons and things at home," said Browne

" No, never," said the inexorable Turner. " I read nothing
( 20 ) ■ ^

Turner and Browne take sides 199

but novels — except an occasional play by Shakespeare, and
that only out of a sense of duty. I don't pretend to like it.
I don't want Lady Wrotham to have a wrong opinion of me.
Hate sailing under false colours.' '

'* You are not likely to do that, Captain Turner," said Mrs.
Prentice. " Every one knows here that as far as religion
goes you are an open scoffer."

" No, that's not so," said Turner. " I never scoff at
religion. I may have something to say occasionally about
the people who profess it."

Lady Wrotham's brow unbent. She had placed him now.
He was no longer a gentleman living in a small way under
the shadow of the castle who had refused an invitation she
had vouchsafed to him. He was a soul, a brand, a sinner,
six lean feet of raw material sent to her to be manufactured
into the finished article beloved of the Women's Reformation
League. " I think it is honest of Captain Turner to confess
his unbeliefs," she said. " I would rather that than a per-
functory observance which has no reality underneath it.
Captain Turner, if you can spare half-an-hour from your
novel-reading, will you oblige me by reading these ? "
and she pressed upon him a hurriedly selected packet of

" Thank you," said Turner, taking them. " I wouldn't
think of saying no. But to tell you the honest truth, Lady
Wrotham, I don't think they'll do me the slightest good. I
was brought up on them, you know. It's rather like pouring
champagne down a man's throat for medicine. If he's never
drunk much it does him a world of good. If he's soaked
with it you might just as well give him water."

Lady Wrotham did not quite like the illustration, but she
was interested in her case. " You were brought up in a
godly home ? " she asked.

" Prayers night and morning, church twice and sometimes
three times on a Sunday. Meetings — just like you are going
to start here, 'cept that you're a lady of title and my father
was a shopkeeper."

" Oh ! " said Lady Wrotham, and Mrs. Prentice ex-
claimed :

" You never told us that piece of news before, Captain

" I thought you'd look down on me," replied Turner.

200 Exton Manor

" Rather snobbish of me, perhaps. But nobody wishes to be
thought low."

M His father was a chemical manufacturer," put in Browne,
perspiring at every pore. " I don't know why he should
want to make himself out different to what he is. And he
went to Eton, and into a good regiment."

" It's very kind of you, Browne, to try and soften it down,"
said Turner. " But there was a shop, I assure you. You
could have bought a sixpenny tooth-brush over the counter.
I'm very relieved to get it out. I've always felt that Mrs.
Prentice would not have been so cordial to me if she had
known it."

" Well, never mind the shop," said Lady Wrotham good-
humouredly. She was beginning to place her case as an
eccentric. " I should like to hear more about your religious
upbringing, and why it has not affected your later life."

" Too much of it," said Turner. " My father was a very
good man, but he didn't understand boys. We all had too
much of it — there were three of us. We used to see who
would make the best hand of labouring under a conviction of
sin. You don't want to labour under a conviction of sin at
twelve and thirteen. You want a swishing. My eldest
brother succeeded to the business, and when my father died
he went over to Rome. He'd have done it before, only he
didn't dare. The second — well, he wasn't a good fellow,
but he's dead. I was the third, and I'm what you see

What they saw was a man in danger of forgetting where he
was and bringing forth from beneath his cynic's cloak a set
of unorthodox opinions, strongly held.

" I suppose," said Lady Wrotham, " that every unbeliever
thinks that there is reason for his unbeliefs, and when he
looks round him and sees many people who profess religious
views acting unworthily, and others following a false religion
and playing with the truth, he may persuade himself that
there is no truth to be found anywhere. But indeed it is not
so, Captain Turner. There is truth in the Christian religion,
and if you seek it earnestly you will find it for yourself.
And you would hardly den}?, I suppose, that you do meet
Christian people, even in }^our retired life, who are a standing
example of goodness ? "

" No, I don't deny that," said Turner. " Women especially.


Turner and Browne take sides 201

There's Mrs. Redcliffe, now. She's a religious woman, and
she's one of the best I know. If they were all like her ! "

If he had thrown a bomb between Lady Wrotham and
Mrs. Prentice he could hardly have produced a greater effect.

" You hold her up as an example ! " exclaimed Lady
Wrotham ; and Mrs. Prentice, " Well, that is a nice thing to
hear ! "

Browne looked shocked and puzzled, Turner's eyes narrowed
and his lips shut down. " Do you know Mrs. Redcliffe ? "
he asked.

" I have not seen her," replied Lady Wrotham. " But
I have heard of her, and I do not approve of what I have

Turner turned to Mrs. Prentice with a look of contempt,
which he made no attempt to hide. He said nothing, but she
replied angrily to his look.

"I don't know why you should stare at me like that," she
said. " If you think I told Lady Wrotham what she knows
of Mrs. Redcliffe, you are mistaken."

" Well," said Lady Wrotham, " it was what you told me
of the way you were received yesterday that has given me
the impression I have formed of Mrs. Redcliffe. The other
fact that I knew — but I wish to say nothing about that."

" But, excuse me, Lady Wrotham," said Mrs. Prentice.
" I think it is hardly quite fair to me to put me in the position
of having turned you against Mrs. Redcliffe with no reason
at all. Captain Turner, and others too, I have no doubt, will
only be too ready to accuse me of making mischief. It is
their way, and I think a very mean way, of attacking me for
not hiding my disapproval of their godless habits. I hope
you will make it understood, at any rate, that there is some-
thing against Mrs. Redcliffe, even if you do not wish it to
become generally known."

Lady Wrotham was not pleased. " I will say this, since
you force me, Mrs. Prentice," she said stiffly, " that I knew
something of Mrs. Redcliffe before I came to live here, which
I should not have mentioned if l had not thought that it was
common propert}'. But my opinion of Mrs. Redcliffe is drawn
entirely from what you told me of her yesterday. If every-
thing you said was true, you have no reason to be ashamed of
your straightforwardness in telling me the kind of ladies I
have living practically in my park."

202 Exton Manor

Turner rose. " Mrs. Redcliffe is a friend of mine and a
friend of Mr. Browne's/' he said. " There is nobody I have
a higher respect for, and I think I may say the same of him.
I shouldn't believe anything I heard against her, and I think
it's a great pity, my lady, if you'll excuse my saying so, that
you should take your opinions about her from Mrs. Prentice,
who'd rather give people a bad character than not, instead of
judging for yourself. I'll leave these behind, with your leave,
and wish you good-evening."

He put down the packet of tracts on a table, made a bow
and went out of the room.

" It's outrageous ! " exclaimed Mrs. Prentice. " I told
you, Lady Wrotham, what sort of a man he was."

Lady Wrotham was too much surprised by the turn events
had taken to speak, but Browne, very red in -the face and
stuttering somewhat, rose and delivered himself thus :

" Captain Turner is independent, and not very polite, and
all that, but he's very sound, and what he says about Mrs.
Redcliffe is quite true. There's no better woman anywhere.
I think you will say so when you know her, Lady Wrotham."

" She sent a very impertinent message to me," replied the
great lady.

" What — Mrs. Redcliffe ? " exclaimed Browne. " That's a
thing she couldn't do if she tried."

" It was the girl who sent the message," explained Mrs.
Prentice. " Mrs. Redcliffe merely approved of it ; but that
was bad enough."

" Perhaps," said Lady Wrotham, " I have done her some
injustice in my thoughts. She seems to have made good
friends. When she comes to see me — I do not wish to see
the girl — I shall be able to judge for myself. We must leave
it there for the present. Captain Turner appears to be a
difficult person to make friends with, Mr. Browne. I can
forgive a certain amount of honest brusqueness, especially
in the case of one whose birth is not perhaps of the highest."

" His birth is all right, Lady Wrotham," said Browne.
" He comes of very good stock, and his education is better
than most people's. It's his way to pretend he's nobody."

" Well, 1 do not care altogether for his way. And if he
takes a pride in holding himself aloof from all religious in-
fluences, as seems to be the case, I don't know that he can be
called a very satisfactorv tenant. However, we can talk of

Turner and Browne take sides 203

that later. I hope you will be able to be present at our little
service next Wednesday, Mr. Browne/'

" Wednesday/' said Browne, in deep perturbation. " No,
I'm afraid I can't on Wednesday. It's a busy day."

" But your work is usually over by five o'clock, is it
.not? "

Browne hesitated. " Well, yes it is," he said with a burst.
"But to telLyou the truth, Lady Wrotham, I'd rather not
come. I go to church on Sundays, and I should do that any-
how to set an example, even if I didn't care about it. But
— well, it isn't quite in my line."

Lady Wrotham drew herself up. " I think in your posi-
tion," she said, " you ought to do everything you can to help
in what concerns the welfare of the tenantry."

"I do do everything I can, that lies in my way. But I
don't mix myself up in their religious affairs."

" Well, of course, I have no right to press you. But I am
disappointed. I am afraid there is a hard struggle before me
if those who might help are determined to stand aloof. Mrs.
Prentice, I think we had now better consult together as to

Browne took his dismissal. He shook hands with Lady
Wrotham, but not with Mrs. Prentice, and went out. His
cart was waiting at the door. He climbed up into it, gathered
up the reins and drove quickly out of the gate house. When
he was out of hearing of the groom who had been holding his
horse he exploded in a series of forcible ejaculations, which
gathered in vehemence as he drove up the road towards his
house. When he had got half way between the Abbey and
the White House he saw Turner on the road in front of him,
walking quickly with his head bent. He overtook him.
" Where are you off to ? " he asked.

Turner grumbled something indistinguishable, and walked

" Are you going up to Heath Gate ? " asked Browne again.
" 'Cos I'm not going home just yet."

"No," said Turner shortly.

" I'm going to see Mrs. Redcliffe," said Browne.

Turner faced him angrily. " What do you want to go
putting your oar in there for ? " he said. You've backed
up those two scandal-mongering women, and you ought to
have the decency to keep away. I'm going there myself."

204 Exton Manor

" Then we'll go together. It's nonsense to say I backed
them up. I did nothing of the sort." ^

M Well, you didn't speak out. Spiteful cats I It's that
Prentice woman chiefly, though your old woman's just as bad.
And you'd have told them so if you'd got any pluck. But
you haven't."

" I did tell 'em so, after you'd left. I'm as angry as you
are. And her ladyship actually had the nerve to tell me^that
it was my duty as a land agent to go to her precious prayer-
meetings. "

" So it is. You're a parasite, as I told you, and you've got
to kow-tow to your employers."

" She isn't my employer, and I'm not going to take on a lot
of tea-party work to please her. I do my duty by the pro-
perty, and that's all anyone has a right to ask of me."

u I don't care what you do, except that if you don't show
Mrs. Redcliffe that you'll stand by her through thick and thin
I'll have nothing more to do with you."

" I told you I was going in now, didn't I ? You cross-
grained fool ! What do you want to go for me for, when
we're both in the same boat ? "

" Thank goodness, I'm not in the same boat as you. I've
had all I can do with of that old woman. If she comes up to
see me she'll be shown the door. I pay my rent, don't I ?
She's no right to interfere with me in any way, and I'll tell
her so if she tries it on again. Fancy giving me a bundle of
tracts ! I suppose you've got a pocketful of them."

" No, I've not," replied Browne. " And I said I shouldn't
go to this meeting. Come now, Turner, what's the good of
quarrelling with me ? You've nothing against me. I haven't
said anything about the way you behaved to her. It was
devilish awkward for me. Anyone would have thought
you'd made up your mind to offend her."

" So I had. I'd heard rumours about some mischief hatch-
ing against Mrs. Redcliffe. New T s flies fast in this place, and
the village has got hold of it. Kitcher told me so. I watched
when I first brought in Mrs. Redcliffe 's name, and I saw her
face and that of the other cat go sour. I meant to give them
a piece of my mind then, and I did it. Well, I'm going in

They had come to the gate of the White House, Turner
on foot, Browne walking his horse beside him. " Just wait

Turner and Browne take sides 205

till I put the mare up," said Browne, " and we'll go in
together.' '

" I'm going in now," said Turner, and he walked up the

Mrs. Redcliffe and Hilda were in the parlour. Turner came
in with a more open friendliness than was his wont. " Thought
I'd look in and see if you wanted any more books to read," he
said. " I've got a new lot down. I'm very late, Mrs. Red-
cliffe, but if you could give me a cup of tea I should be
obliged." *

" Ring the bell, Hilda," said Mrs. Redcliffe. " Captain
Turner, I'm very pleased to see you. You have not been
near me for weeks."

" Expect you'll see a good lot of me for the future. I gener-
ally like to see a bit more company in the Spring. Wanted
to know whether you and Miss Hilda would come and dine
with me to-morrow. We'll have a rubber. Suppose I must
ask Browne, though I don't care for him."

Mrs. Redcliffe laughed. " What should you say if anybody
else said anything against him ? " she said. " Yes, thank
you, Captain Turner, we shall be pleased to come."

Hilda had said nothing since Turner arrived. She stood by
the fireplace watching him closely, as if she was trying to
make out from the side view of his face how far he could be
trusted as a loyal friend. She opened her mouth as if she had
something to say about her mother's acceptance of his invita-
tion, but at that moment Browne came into the room.

His greeting was as friendly as that of Turner, perhaps
rather more so. He threw himself into an easy-chair and
mopped his brow, according to his custom. " Yes, thanks,
I'd like another cup of tea, please," he said in answer to an
inquiry. " Mrs. Redcliffe, will you and Hilda come up and
dine with me to-morrow ? We haven't had a rubber of Bridge
for a long time. Turner's coming."

" No, he isn't," said Turner. " Mrs. Redcliffe and Miss
Hilda are coming to dine with me to-morrow. You can come
too if you like."

" Well, the next night, then," said Browne. " I've got
some new potatoes."

Mrs. Redcliffe accepted this invitation also, with a smile.

" Mother dear," Hilda broke in, " it is very kind of Captain
Turner, and Mr. Browne. But they ought to know, before

206 Exton Manor

we accept, that— that we will have nothing to do with Mrs.
Prentice's friends. It must be cither she or us."

" Hope you don't call me Mrs. Prentice's friend," said
Turner. " Can't abide the woman."

" She's no friend of mine," said Browne.

Mrs. Redcliffe grew serious. "Perhaps Hilda is right,"
she said. " Mrs. Prentice is at enmity with us, over a definite
cause, and I must say now that we are at enmity with her.
Our friends are bound to hear of what has caused the break,
and perhaps it will be better that they shaH hear it from us."

" Don't want to hear anything," said Turner. " I've heard
all I want already."

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 17 of 36)