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quite well is not the case, that I am in entire agreement with
your views, and you must forgive me for saying that it does
not seem to me to be honest."

Mr. Dacre looked genuinely grieved. " An accusation of
dishonesty ought not to be lightly made," he said.

" I do not make it lightly. Would you think it honest of
me in a like position to take it for granted that you held the
Catholic view of the Church — were, if you like to put it so, a
High Churchman — knowing all the time that you were not ?
I am sure you would have protested at once."

" Certainly I should. And, my dear friend, if I have un-
wittingly caused you offence, I sincerely ask your pardon.



218 Exton Manor

But we are both working for God, according to the light
He gives us, and His grace is wide enough to cover all our
differences/'

" I think it is," said the Vicar, " if we rely on it, instead of
fighting one another/ 1

" I think/' said Mr. Dacre, with a sweet smile, " that it
is only you who want to fight/' And then they joined the
ladies.

The Vicar and his wife left shortly afterwards, much to
Lady Wrotham's relief, as she would not have been willing
to forego her usual family prayers, nor put one of her guests
to the discomfort of being obliged to N take part in a service of
which he had expressed his disapproval.

Mrs. Prentice, on the walk home, warmed by the good
cheer of which she had partaken and the memory of an inti-
mate chat with the great lady, of which her own share had
been most successfully carried through, had an impulse, rather
pathetic, of affection towards her husband. She tried to take
his arm, and said, " Mr. Dacre is a very earnest man. Don't
you think so, William ? "

The Vicar uncrooked his elbow, and let his wife's hand
fall to her side. " I think a good many things about Mr.
Dacre," he said coldly. " But they would hardly interest you
at present, Agatha."

Mrs. Prentice drew herself into her shell, and sporke no
more.



CHAPTER XX

A RAILWAY JOURNEY, AND WHAT FOLLOWED

Mr. Frederick Prentice, in pursuance of his promise to
pay a week-end visit to his home at no distant date, had him-
self conveyed to Waterloo Station one Friday afternoon about
a month after Easter, and presented himself at the first-class
booking-office. He found himself forestalled there by a lady
of more than usual personal attractions, who was asking for a
ticket to Exton as he came up. Behind her stood her maid
holding, amongst other travelling effects, a dressing-bag with
the initials N. O'K. embossed on it. Fred Prentice grasped
the situation immediately and experienced the pleasureablo
sensation which is felt by young men of an admiring and
susceptible nature when confronted with female charms of a
high order. He congratulated himself on at last coming face
to face with Mrs.-O'Keefe, of whose good looks he had heard
much, but not, as he now thought, more than enough, and he
instantly decided that he would not wait for an introduction
until he reached home, but would deny himself indulgence in
the smoking of tobacco during the coming journey, and travel
in Mrs. O'Keefe's company.

The way was made unexpectedly easy for him, for when
the lady came to pay for her ticket she discovered that she
had just enough money in her purse to enable her to do so,
but none over for a ticket for her maid. She must have
given a sovereign in mistake for a shilling to her cabman, it
was decided in hurried consultation between the two of them ;
she remembered that he had driven off quickly without thank-
ing her, which she had thought odd at the time, because she
had doubted whether the three shillings she thought she had

219



220 Exton Manor

given him was really enough for all that distance and all that
luggage. And, of course, she had not taken his number, and
even if she had, there would not be time to — and what on
earth were they to do now ? Fred came forward at this point
and introduced himself, and put the matter straight. Mrs.
O'Keefe was profusely grateful to him. She could not
think what she should have done without him. He, of
course, made light of his services, but as they walked to the
train together, she explaining and he sympathizing, diffidence
on either side was completely washed away, and it seemed
only natural that they should settle themselves in the same
carriage for the journey, and even admit some anxiety as to the
intrusion of a third party.

They had the carriage to themselves as far as Archest er,
and drank straw-coloured tea in entire amity out of the basket
Fred had ordered, talking all the time. Fred asked permis-
sion to light a cigarette, and received it ; and the evening
papers with which they had both provided themselves re- ,
mained folded on the seats beside them. Never was a more
agreeable opening of friendship between a good-looking pleas-
ant-spoken young man and a beautiful young woman — if only
a looker-on, sympathetic on the point of such openings, had
not known what we as onlookers do know.

After the subject of the substituted sovereign had been dis-
cussed in all its bearings, the conversation turned to Exton
and its inhabitants.

" So much has happened there since I have left," said
Norah O'Keefe. " I suppose Lady Wrotham is fully installed
now, and has begun to lead everything and everybody. I
am dying to see her/'

" I think she has already begun to be rather tiresome about
the church services," said Fred. " I had a letter from my
father. He didn't say much, but I gathered that she objected
to a good deal and had told him so."

" I haven't heard from anybody while I have been away,
except one letter from Hilda Redcliffe just after I left, and
that was before Lady Wrotham came. I have written to
her once or twice but she hasn't answered. I can't think
why. Have you seen anything of the Redcliffes lately ? "

" I saw them when I was down at Exton."

" I hope you like them as much as I do. Mrs. Redcliffe
is the dearest woman, and Hilda is just as good, only rather



A Railway Journey 221

impetuous, because she is young and hasn't seen much of
the world yet."

" Not as much as you have," suggested Fred, with a con-
quering smile.

" Well, that is hardly to be expected/' she said, more
seriously, " although I am not much older than she. But
don't you think she is a delightful girl ? M

Fred said he did think so, and turned the conversation again
towards the personality of his companion, in whom he exhi-
bited a sympathetic interest skilfully adapted to make her
talk about herself. And yet he had set out on his journey an
hour before hugging himself at the thought of seeing Hilda
Redcliffe so soon, and if he had been told that he should
travel to Exton in the company of a lady who wished to talk
about her and praise her, would have thought himself happy.
Norah O'Keefe brought in her name again shortly after, and
again met with a perfunctory agreement and an apparent
unwillingness to pursue the subject further. She looked at
him with some measure of appraisement in her eyes. She was
Hilda Redcliffe's intimate friend and must have heard some-
thing of her doings during those Christmas holidays, which
Fred had described regretfully as the best of vanished seasons.
She said no more about Hilda, but told him a good deal about
herself, rather more, perhaps, than she might have done had
he not betrayed such a keen interest in all she did tell him.
And when the train reached Greathampton at the end of an
hour and a half's run, Fred ventured to say that he never
remembered the journey passing so quickly, and she did not
contradict him.

They walked up and down the platform while they waited
for the slow train by which they were to finish their journey.
The sea-smell attacked their nostrils freshly, and the closing
dusk gave a tender turn to brisk thoughts of Spring and
pleasure. The sweet face of the girl, for she was nothing more
than a girl, framed in the waves of her bright hair and the furs
about her neck, her pretty clothes, and her air of frank com-
radeship, heightened by the mysterious feminine charms of her
youth and beauty, went to Fred's brain like wine. Episodes
in his life, in which he had experienced something of these
same sensations, prepared him to give a welcome to an intoxi-
cation which transcended them all. His feelings towards Hilda
had rested on other influences, although he told himself after-



222 Exton Manor

wards that he had tried to impart to them this same glamour,
and failed. His love for her, such as it was, went out without
the flicker of an effort to hold its own, and he gave himself
over entirely to this new influence, was indeed swept off his
feet by it and swam in deep waters without a struggle to re-
gain the shore. By the time the train had dropped them at
the wayside station which served Exton and its neighbourhood,
and Norah had driven off in her brougham and he in the vicar-
age cart, he told himself that he had come to the crisis of his
life, and sat lapped in a fervour of sweet thoughts as he drove
home across the twilit heath and through the verdurous glooms
of the forest, looking back every now and then at the twin
lamps of the carriage following him, and picturing to himself
the wonderful creature who sat within it enshrined in the
dusk.

One may pause a moment to consider the first glamorous
steps of such a passion, tending of itself to no baseness, and
wonder how far the self-absorption it engenders will avail to
muffle the call of honour. Pity, that the summons which
brings the deeper natures to harbour, wafts the lighter to no
sure anchorage.

Fred was not sorry that his mother had not come to the
station to meet him, as was her wont, but he was a little sur-
prised, although he did not give the matter much thought
until he reached home. There he was soon informed about
the affairs which were disturbing the peace of Exton. His
father was away attending a meeting at Oakhurst, and would
not be back until nine o'clock supper, and his mother was
glad to have the hour which intervened clear for a talk with
him. She told him that she had intended to come to the
station to meet him, but had had to go and see Lady Wrotham
about something of importance.

" How do you get on with Lady Wrotham, mother ? " he
asked. " You have told me nothing about her in your letters.
In fact, you have hardly written to me since I was here last."

" I have been very much occupied/' said Mrs. Prentice.
" But there is a great deal to tell you, Fred. We are passing
through a very anxious time here, and I didn't want to
write about things that we could talk over when you came
down."

" Lady Wrotham is making a fuss about the services, isn't
she ? '•



A Railway Journey 223

" Well, I don't know that she is doing that exactly. She
is quite out of sympathy with ritualism of any kind, but she is
a very religious woman and very anxious that the people
should — should be religious too. I find it a great help ta
have her advice and encouragement on what I try to do
myself."

41 And what about father ? Where does he come in ? "

" I am sorry to say that your father has not been like him-
self lately. He never talks to me about things, and he holds
himself aloof from all the efforts Lady Wrotham and I are
making."

" Well, I don't wonder, mother, if she is trying to dictate
to him as to how he shall conduct his own services. He
told me that. But how does it suit you ? Surely you are
keener on what I call the frills than father is ! "

" I have come to believe, Fred, that you are right in think-
ing them excrescences ; I do not care for the word frills.
There is none of that at Hurstbury, and Lady Wrotham draws,
a very attractive picture of the way all the people go to church
there and attend any services and meetings got up for their
benefit. I think that if the same sort of spirit existed here it
would be a good thing for the parish."

" Well, that is a change of face, mother ! "

Mrs. Prentice was offended. " That is not at all the way ta
look at it, Fred," she said. " It is very distressing to me to
have to go against your father in these or any other matters,
but I must follow my conscience, even when it is difficult to
do so, and even in the short experience I have had I can see
that there is more vital religion among the evangelicals than
the ritualists. I don't want to say anything against your
father — it would not be right to do so, to you — but really he is
so obstinate in his ideas, and so incapable of judging where the
right is, that — that it is most difficult for me at present."

She put her handkerchief to her eyes. She felt herself
sorely tried, and it was a relief to her to pour out her trouble
to her son. Fred, his mind filled with other thoughts, gave,
but slight attention to the disclosures that were being made
to him. He knew his mother very well, and could form a
pretty clear idea of the reasons that lay behind her various
actions. If she was on awkward terms with his father for
the time being, she would come round, as she had done before ;
and, anyhow, the affairs on which they were at issue were not



224 Exton Manor

of much importance. But her next words effectually gained
his attention.

" I didn't know he had written to you," she said. " He
tells me nothing now. But, if he has, he will probably have
told you of this disgraceful business about Mrs. Redcliffe. He
takes a most unchristian line there, and* one that I cannot for-
give him for, considering all the circumstances, and how I
have been mixed up in it."

Fred stared at her. " Mrs. Redcliffe ! Disgraceful busi-
ness ! " he exclaimed. " What on earth do you rnean,
mother ? No, he told me nothing of that." „

" Well, it turns out that Mrs. Redcliffe has been living here
all this time on false pretences. She is not Mrs. Redcliffe at
all. I don't know what she is, but she has no right to that
name. I will go on protesting as long as I have breath that
she is not properly married."

" Good heavens ! " exclaimed Fred. " Mrs. Redcliffe of
all people ! "

" Oh, I don't want to convey anything worse than the
reality, if anything could be worse. Goodness knows I have
suffered enough for daring to hold the opinions that I do. She
is a deceased wife's sister. Mr. Redcliffe married her elder
sister and then went through a form of marriage with her."

" Oh, is that all ? " said Fred.

" ALL ! " repeated his mother passionately. " And is it
not enough ? The Church will have nothing to do with such
a wicked travesty of marriage as that, and I will havenothing
to do with it either. And do you think that if Mrs. Redcliffe
had not been thoroughly ashamed of it, she would have hidden
it, as she has, from those who have allowed themselves to
make friends with her ? Of course she would not."

" I don't know. But surely, mother, you are not going to
quarrel with Mrs. Redcliffe because of this ! How did you
find it out ? "

" Lady Wrotham knew of it and was of course naturally
annoyed to come here and find the woman sitting on her very
door-step, so to speak. She is very charitable, a good deal
more so than I should be in her case, but she has been upset
by the insolence of that girl, and I could see she .would give a
lot to have them out of the place. And she coming down
here, an old lady, to end her days in peace, to be treated like
that ! It is too bad."



A Railway Journey 225

M Why, what has — has Hilda done ? "

V She was extremely insolent to me, and so was Mrs. Red-
cliffe when they found out that I knew about it, and the girl
had the impudence to shout after me a rude message to give
to Lady Wrotham."

" Which you gave ? M

" She dragged it out of me. But I have done with them for
ever, and so have a good many other people in the neighbour-
hood, though, as might be expected, Captain Turner — a pretty
captain he is — and Mr. Browne, who is about as stupid as he
can be, and always follows the other man's lead, have turned
themselves into her champions and are always at the White
House, as thick as thieves. And, as I say, your father for
some unaccountable reason, chooses to put all his convictions
behind his back and say that nothing has happened to make
any difference in his friendship with the Redcliffes. He has
the sense, though, not to go there very often, and I suppose
we must be thankful for that small mercy. I do hope, Fred,
that you will not make it more difficult for me by being seen
at the White House, and about with the Redcliffes. There is
no reason at all why you should, for the short time you will
be here."

Fred thought for a moment. He did not want to go to
the White House. He would hardly have known what to do
or to say when he got there. At the same time, he did not
want to appear to be keeping away because of what had come
out about Mrs. Redcliffe. He thought that his mother
absurdly overrated the significance of her discovery, and that
it was hard on Mrs. Redcliffe to treat her with such hostility.
He ought to show her that he was far from being in sympathy
with that hostility. And he would do so, if occasion served.
In the meantime he had something of far greater import to
concern him.

" There is nothing particular to take me to the White
House," he said. " I say, mother, I came down from London
with Mrs. O'Keefe. She really is charming, and just as
beautiful as you said." He had not the art to stop a blush as
he introduced the name of the fair one, but Mrs. Prentice was
too occupied to notice it.

" Oh, she has come home, has she ? " she said. " That
will complicate matters, for the Redcliffes have managed to
worm themselves in there — I suppose because she has a

H (16)



228 Exton Manor

handle to her name. Really, the snobbishness of some people
is past all belief. I should like to tell her how matters stand
before she hears a garbled account from her precious friends/*

" Why don't you go in and see her to-night after supper ?
I'd go with you."

A pang of shame struck him as he spoke. He was willing
that Hilda and her mother should be vilified, if that would
gain him an hour in the company he desired. But the pang
was instantly swallowed up in the eagerness of his wish.

" I think perhaps we might do that," said Mrs. Prentice.
" She has been away for a month, and could hardly take it
amiss."

" Well, I must go and unpack my clothes, and dress," said
Fred. " I suppose father will be home soon ? "

" Not for half-an-hour," said his mother. " Don't go yet,
Fred. I have such a lot to talk to you about. And you
needn't dress to-night. It is only supper."

-' I think I'll dress. I bhall be more comfortable," he said,
and he rose from his chair. He was not going to present
himself to the object of his desire late in the evening in a
tweed suit. And he wanted to get away from his mother, and
think. She insisted upon coming up to his room to unpack
for him, but he got rid of her in ten minutes and arrayed him-
self in his finest, to the accompaniment of tumultuous thoughts,
in which the troubles of the Redcliffes, his once desired friends,
found no place.

The Vicar gave his son an affectionate welcome when he
reached home, but he looked worried and anxious. The talk
over the supper table dragged. Mrs. Prentice and her hus-
band were hardly on speaking terms, and the remarks they
addressed to one another were perfunctory. And Fred was
in that early stage of passion in which a blissful reverie is
constantly demanded by the situation that it is apt to be
indulged in even when the presence of others would seem
to require some effort to throw off for a time the delightful
incubus. The meal did not take very long, and as Mrs.
Prentice rose from the table, she said, " If we are going down
to see Mrs. O'Keefe, Fred, I think we ought to go directly .
It is half -past nine."

Fred needed no second bidding, and sprang up from his seat.
But the Vicar stopped him. " Wait a minute/' he said.
" Has Mrs. O'Keefe come back yet ? "

(32)



A Railway Journey 227

" Yes, I came down with her this evening,' ' said Fred.

" Why should you want to go and see her at this time of
the evening ? "

" She has been away for a month/' said Mrs. Prentice,
" and I thought it would be kind just to go over and see how
she is."

" I won't have it," said the Vicar. " You may leave
Mrs. O'Keefe to find out for herself what is happening
here."

" Indeed, William," began Mrs. Prentice indignantly, but
he broke in on her hotly : "I tell you, I won't have it,
Agatha. I have left you alone to take your own way so far,
but this is too much. You are not to go to Mrs. O'Keefe
to-night."

"Well, really "

" I definitely forbid you to go. Sit down, Fred, and drink
your wine."

The Vicar was not to be disobeyed by wife or son when in
this mood. Fred sat down obediently, in deep depression, and
Mrs. Prentice left the room w 7 ith as close an appearance of
dignified offence as she could effect.

14 I suppose you have been told of what has been discovered
about Mrs. Redcliffe," said the Vicar, when she had shut the
door behind her. " She is in no way to blame, and it dis-
tresses me beyond measure that your mother should take the
view she does of what has happened. A good woman like
that, who has made a mistake in her life — from the strictest
point of view it was nothing more than that — ought to be
treated with extra sympathy if she is in trouble about it, and
not persecuted. I won't say more, but I am greatly disturbed
over what is happening."

" I don't see what she can be blamed for," said Fred, and
there was silence for a time.

The Vicar roused himself. " Well, my boy," he said, " I
am glad to see you home again. And how are you getting on ?
Getting through a lot of work, I hope."

"Oh, yes, father ; I wanted to talk to you — I've got hold of
something. If I can go in for it it ought to be a jolly good
thing for me — it isn't a chance you'd get every day."

" Well, what is it, Fred ? I suppose you mean you want to
put money into something. I don't think you ought to do
that, you know, till you get called."

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228 Exton Manor

" If I waited till then I should lose this chance. And it's
one in a thousand. A fellow I know well is going in for it
and he gave me the opportunity. He could easily have got
somebody else."

"Well, what is it? "

" It's the rights in a patent. My friend has got hold of
a German inventor who has discovered colour photography."

" Oh, my dear Fred ! "

" But, father, I've seen it. It is the most wonderful work.
There's no doubt about it. There's an enormous fortune in
it. I said a patent, but it isn't exactly that. If it was
patented the secret would be given away. This German
found it out by chance, and he says the chances are a million
to one against anybody else hitting on it. We just want two
thousand pounds. My friend — Salter his name is — he was at
Oxford with me- — will put in one thousand and I should have
to put in the other. Then we should work the thing and take
a third share each. The German hasn't got any money."

" I don't think it sounds the sort of thing, Fred, that you
ought to sink almost every penny you have in. Supposing
this German is a fraud."

" But he isn't. He's done what he says he can do. I've
seen it. It's wonderful. There's nothing like it. There are
all the colours, perfect ; it is like looking at a real scene."

" Have you got one of his pictures here ? "

"No. I meant to bring one down to show you. But he
only has three of them. It's an expensive process — at least
it costs as much to do one as to do hundreds, and his money
gave out. He can't begin again till he gets it all settled up."

" H'm. Well, of course it may be all right. If he has
really discovered proper colour photography, there ought to be
a lot in it, as you say. We will talk about it again, Fred — I
must go into my study now — and see what can be done. I
shall have more time to-morrow."

Fred sat a little longer at the table. With a certain fortune
awaiting him, and love smiling on his path, he felt himself one
of the most favoured of mortals.

If Mrs. Prentice had succeeded in her intention of calling
on Mrs. O'Keefe that evening, she would not have found her.
Norah had learnt of what had befallen her friends before she
had been long in her house, and immediately after dinner she

(10)



A Railway Journey 229

had attired herself and summoned her maid to accompany
her to the White House. There had been no occasion for
explanations or discussions. The three women had fallen on
one another's necks and shed a few tears together. Then
she had told them of her visits and adventures, sitting with her



Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 19 of 36)