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" I — I shouldn't have let her say anything against Mrs.

Hilda turned away. " I've got nothing more to say to
you," she said, and then turned round again quickly and
added, " and I hope I never shall have." Then she went into
the inner room.

Mrs. Redcliffe rose. " Good-bye, Fred," she said, holding
out her hand. " I am sure you meant kincfiy in coming, but
I don't quite understand why you came."

Fred stammered something inaudible and went out. He

Two Visits 241

struck the gravel with his stick as he went down the dri^e.
" Why on earth did I go ? " he said angrily. " That girl is
turning into a vixen. It's a lucky escape."

Mrs. Redcliffe went in to her daughter. " That's all over,"
said Hilda, turning to her. " Mother, I would never have
said one friendly word to Fred Prentice if I had known w T hat
he really was. I did know he was idle and selfish, but I
never thought he was so mean and poor-spirited as he has
shown himself. He is worse than his mother, for she has got
the excuse of her horrid nature. Oh, mother, when will it
all end ? "

She broke into a passion of tears and threw herself into
her mother's arms. Mrs. Redcliffe soothed her, but it was
not till long after that she was calm again. There^was that
in the minds of both of them that could not be put into
words, but as she sobbed out her distress at her mother's
knee, both of them knew that a line had been drawn across
a chapter' of her life in which much more might have been

Fred Prentice walked quickly down to the village, throwing
off the unpleasant memories of his late performance as he
went, and rang again at the porch of Street House. But he
was told that Mrs. O'Keefe had driven out and would not be
back before luncheon, and went home once more a prey to
acute discomfort of mind.



Maximilian Browne rose early on that Saturday morning
and took a cold bath, after a steady half-hour's manipulation
of an elastic exerciser. He went down to breakfast as the
clock struck eight, feeling himself every inch a man. After
breakfast he lit a pipe and inspected his stables and garden.
"That's the way to live, Sally," he said to the fox-terrier that
accompanied him, and showed the liveliest interest in his con-
fidences. " I've been getting slack lately. Hot baths and
cigarettes before breakfast, and breakfast at nine o'clock or
later — it pla}^s the deuce and all. If I keep this up, as I
mean to, I shall take off a stone in no time. And by George,
it makes you feel fit, don't it ? "

He stretched his arms and yawned. " Come and sit down
on a seat, Sally," he went on. " We've got an hour before
we need go to the office. We'll see how we stand."

It was a sunny May morning, and Browne brought out a
comfortable basket-chair and ensconced h\mself under a
blossoming apple tree on the lawn. Sally jumped upon his

" Now then, little dog, we've made up our minds, haven't
we ? " he said, caressing her shoulders with a large hand and
jerking his face away from her tongue. " Chuck it, Sally.
If you don't keep quiet I shan't talk of anything. Well,
we're not going to play the fool any longer. We don't want
to get married. We've very well off as we are. And if we
don't want to get married, Sally, what's the good of hanging
about — you know what I mean — and spoiling the chances of
people who do ? Of course she's a very pretty lady, Sally.
You know that as well as I do. Still, we've done very well


Three Men and a Lady 243

without her for the last month, and we'll go on doing without
her, eh ? Nothing simpler, Sally. We'll get up early every
morning and do a good day's work — get down to the office at
half-past nine sharp, hack about and sweat the weight off in
the afternoon all through the summer, read some'ing pretty
stiff for an hour after dinner, so's to rub up our brains a bit.
Not the sort of rubbish Turner reads. We'll have a go at
Horace, I think, Sally — with a crib. Used to be pretty good
at Horace at school. Jupiter and Maecenas, Sally, and all
those old fellows. Then we'll go to bed early and sleep like
tops. We'll save a bit of money ; perhaps we might look out
for a pupil or two, and buy a good weight carrier for the

winter. It ain't a bad life, Sally, and Hulloa ! going

to sleep ? Well, you're a nice sort o' girl to tell things to.
What's the time ? Quarter to nine. Now, yesterday we
were only just thinking of getting up. Makes you feel a bit
slack at first, getting up early, doesn't it ? "

There was silence for an hour while man and dog slum-
bered peacefully. The flickering shadows played over them,
and the breeze stroked them lightly, scattering pink blossoms.

Browne awoke with a start and dropped the dog from his
lap. M By Jove, a quarter to ten ? " he exclaimed. " What
the deuce ! " He hurried round to the stable and ordered
out his cart. " Meant to walk," he said, " but I'm a bit

He drove down to his office and busied himself in affairs.
About eleven o'clock his clerk came in with a note. " From
Mrs. O'Keefe," he said. Browne's pink face grew a shade
pinker as he opened it. " Oh, she's come back, has she ? "
he said, in elaborate innocence.

The note enclosed a cheque for a quarter's rent, and apolo-
gized for its being overdue. Browne endorsed the cheque and
handed it over.

" Shall I send the receipt round ? " asked the clerk.

" Yes. No, I may as well take it myself. I'm going that
way — to the Lodge. Get it ready and I'll sign it."

A little later Browne knocked at the door of Street House,
and learnt that Mrs. O'Keefe had driven out and would not
be back before luncheon. " Well, I'll leave this," he said.
" And you might tell Mrs. O'Keefe that I'll drop in and see
her about tea-time." Then he made his way to the Lodge,
where sundry repairs were in progress. The estate foreman

244 Exton Manor

said afterwards that he must have got out of bed the wrong
side that morning.

Captain Thomas Turner was lying in bed at that very time,
not feeling at all well. He had sat up until long past daylight
deeply absorbed in a masterpiece by one of his favourite nov-
elists, who carried his romances to unusual lengths, and had
demanded the incense of nearly two ounces of tobacco and a
corresponding libation of whisky before he finally extricated
his characters from the appalling vicissitudes through which he
had led them. Captain Turner felt that he had passed through
a great strain, and groaned frequently as he crept out of bed
and went through a slow but incomplete toilet.

" Shave when I feel a little better," he said to himself, and
went downstairs in a Norfolk jacket and with a scarf round
his neck. He sat out in the sunshine while his breakfast was
being prepared, gathering strength as the cool breezes played
round his forehead.

" This won't do, you know," he said aloud to himself.
" It's a rotten life. Nobody to talk to and take you out of
yourself, and sitting up all night smoking and drinking and
using your brain when you ought to be in bed. It's all very
well, but you begin to feel it as you grow older. A man
oughtn't to live alone when he gets past forty. Never felt
that so strongly before."

He sat immersed in thought for some time. Then he raised
his eyes and looked down the pleasant valley, but without see-
ing anything that lay before him. " I've a jolly good mind to
try my luck," he said.

M I beg your pardon, sir ? " said the neat maid who came
out of the house at this moment. " Oh, beg pardon. Break-
fast is ready, sir."

Turner ate his breakfast, thinking hard the while. Dis-
jointed sentences fell from his lips from time to time. " Why
shouldn't I ? . . . I've got plenty of money, and I'd alter
the house if she wanted it. . . . Have to keep that old fool,
Browne, out of the way. . . . S'pose he'd laugh, but I
shouldn't mind that."

When he had finished breakfast he stood for a time beside
the window. " Have to see her," he said. " Couldn't do it
in writing. . . . Might send a note and say I'm coming
this afternoon. . . . Matter of importance — to see you on
a question of great importance — question of — matter of great

Three Men and a Lady 245

importance. . . . H'm ! Perhaps better leave it alone.
... No ; I'll go through with it. . . . Can only say no.
. . . Can't bite me. . . . Don't be a funk, Turner."

He sat down at a writing-table with determination and
scribbled a note, re-read it and fastened it up in an envelope.
Then with the same resolute bearing went out to where
Robert Kitcher was working in the garden.

"Take this down at once to Mrs. O'Keefe," he said,
" and wait for an answer." And, as he turned away, in the
same tone, " Well, I've done it. Can't get out of it now."

Robert Kitcher, as he rode down to the village, had some-
thing to think about. " Well, she's a nice lady," was the end
of his cogitation. " But blowed if I ever thought he'd 'a' had
the pluck. Bring her own man up to look arter the haarses,
I s'pose. And a good job too. I hate the dratted things.
Hold up, can't yer ! Give me cabbages."

The note having been despatched, Turner fell a prey to
dreadful misgivings, and would have liked to recall it.
When the messenger came back and told him that the lady
would not be back before luncheon-time, he felt relief, and his
resolution tottered. But, reflecting that he was a man of
honour, and his word was as good as pledged, he braced him-
self anew to his ordeal and went through the rest of the morn-
ing and early afternoon in alternate fits of determination and
dull apathy ; his headache had gone by four o'clock, and he
dressed himself carefully and set out, watched with respectful
interest by his two women servants from an upper window,
for whose benefit Robert Kitcher from the back seat of the
cart made motions expressive of throwing rice, which caused
them some amusement at the time, although it was not until
lie had explained his action later that they really laughed.

It is possible, although not probable, that Norah O'Keefe
had not divined from Turner's preparatory note what the
matter of importance, on which he wished to address her,
was. And it is possible that she may have made up her mind
to get it over and have done with it. It is also possible that
she may have wished to escape it for the time by running
away, but had been prevented from doing so. At any rate,
when Turner applied for admission, his knees knocking to-
gether and an earnest determination sitting on his mind to
take " no " for an answer to the question he had rashly
pledged himself to ask as soon as it was offered to him, he was

24 g Exton Manor

admitted to the lady's presence. But — and this may have
been the reason why Mrs. O'Keefe was not drinking tea else-
where that afternoon — sitting by the side of her table and
consuming a crumpet sat Maximilian Browne.

The sight of the object of his morning's reflections, more .
fresh and blooming even than his imagination had pictured
her, and his rival in such close juxtaposition, instantly
changed the current of his thoughts again, and he glared at
the intruder malevolently as he shook hands with his hostess.

" Might have known I should find you here," he said,
when he had taken a chair. " Regular tea-table fellow, you

" What about you, then ? " retorted Browne. " Here you
are at Mrs. O'Keefe's tea-table, and a very good tea-table
it is."

" Thank you, Mr. Browne," said Norah, laughing. " Now
you are not to begin to quarrel the moment you come here.
You never do it anywhere else, and it is no compliment to

" He's such a jealous fellow," said Turner. " Can't bear
anybody to have a look in anywhere but himself."

14 You're a fool," said Browne brilliantly. " Well, as I was
saying, Mrs. O'Keefe, I think you'd better call on Lady Wro-
tham as soon as possible. Then perhaps you'll be able to put
things straight a bit."

" Don't you call on her, Mrs. O'Keefe," put in Turner.
" She's a domineering scandal-mongering old busybody. I
suppose Browne has been keeping dark what has happened
since you've been away."

"Oh, no," said Norah. "I know everything, and I am
very angry about it. Most angry, of course, with Mrs.

" There's nothing to be said for her," said Browne.

" And there's nothing to be said for Lady Wrotham,"
added Turner. " She first put it about."

"That's what I think," said Norah. "And really, Mr.
Browne, I don't feel inclined to go and see her."

Browne grew pinker. " But look here," he said. " It'll
be perfectly awful if there's going to be trouble all round.
You must meet Lady Wrotham some time or other, Mrs.
O'Keefe. You can't live a hundred yards off her without, and
it will be frightfully awkward for everybody if — — "

Three Men and a Lady 247

" Rot and rubbish ! " exclaimed Turner. " If she comes
down here and starts setting everybody by the ears, she's got
to put up with the awkwardness. Fact is, you're so doosid
afraid o' getting a wigging from her that you want everybody
to go and tumble down at her feet. You got me to go,
and — ; — "

" And a lot of tumbling at her feet you did L She won't
want to see you again."

" She wouldn't if she did. I've had enough of her to last
me my lifetime, or till the end of my lease, when I dare say
she'll order you to turn me out, and you'll do it. I'm not
going to sit in a lady's drawing-room and hear her going for
my friends without telling her what I think of it. Mrs. Red-
cliff e's worth a hundred of her, and you'd have told her so your-
self if you'd had the pluck of a mouse."

" I did as good as tell her so. You know that as well as I
do. I'm just as much for Mrs. Redcliffe as you are."

" There is not the slightest need to quarrel about that," said
-Norah hastily, anxious to forestall further reprisals. " You
both of you behaved just as one would have expected you to
behave. But I tell you candidly, Mr. Bfowne, that if I did
call on Lady Wrotham, I should tell her, just as Captain
Turner did, what I think of this persecution of dear Mrs.

" You wouldn't be as rude as he was," said Browne.
" And there'd be no necessity. I believe, if you told her what
everybody thinks of Mrs. Redcliffe, she'd listen to you, and
you might do a lot of good. It's all very well, but if she only
gets her ideas from Mrs. Prentice — well, I think it's hardly
fair on Mrs. Redcliffe. And Turner and I didn't do much.
He was too rude, and I was "

" Too much of a funk," put in Turner. " Don't you go,
Mrs. O'Keefe. We don't want the old lady. We got on
very well without her, and now we've no need to pretend to
put up with the Prentice woman any longer, we'll get on
better still."

" I think I will go," said Norah thoughtfully. " I'll see
what I can do. I'm not afraid of her, at any rate."

" Browne is," said Turner. " Oh, good heavens, why
couldn't we have been left alone ? "

When tea was over Turner sat on and looked vindictively
at Browne, and Browne sat on and looked suspiciously at

248 Exton Manor

Turner, while Norah tried to keep the ball of conversation
rolling, but without any great success.

At last Browne made a move. " Well, I suppose I must be
off," he said. " Coming up with me, Turner ? "

" No," replied Turner. " Good-bye, if you must be

Browne sat on. Norah sprang up, unable to support the
tension any longer. " Let us go into the garden," she said.
" There is nothing to see, but it is a lovely evening/'

She led the way through the open French windows.
Browne made as if to follow her. " Why the devil can't you
go, if you want to ? " said Turner in a fierce whisper.

Browne looked at him with intelligence. " I'll go when
you do," he said, also in a whisper.

Just at that moment the door opened and Mr. Frederick
Prentice was announced.

He came in with a look that might have been described as
sheepish, and when he saw the other two men that epithet
fitted his appearance still more accurately. Norah came back
from the window blushing, although she was angry with her-
self when she felt her face growing warm. Browne stared,
and Turner muttered something short and expressive of his

Fred and Norah shook hands, both in some confusion, and
then she offered him some tea, which he accepted and drank,
striving to talk and appear at his ease, in which he was not
very successful, and the other two resumed their seats and sat

Norah's spirits revived and she suddenly laughed. " I for-
got to introduce you," she said. u Captain Turner and Mr.
Browne, Mr. Prentice."

Fred laughed too, awkwardly. " Knew them both before
Browne went bald and Turner grey," he said, not very happily.
" And they knew me "

" When you were only a cub and not a puppy," interrupted
Turner. " Look here, we've been talking about Mrs. Red-
cliffe. We're all her friends here. How do you stand ?
That's what I'd like to know."

His roughness acted like a tonic on Fred. He eyed him
coolly. " I've come to talk to Mrs. O'Keefe about that,"
he said ; " but I don't know that I've got anything to say to

Three Men and a Lady 249

" You went up to see Mrs. Redcliffe this morning, didn't
you, Mr. Prentice ? " Nor ah struck in.

u Yes, I did. I'll tell you about it — afterwards/'

His implied intention of sitting out Browne and Turner
caused Norah to say hurriedly, " Oh, tell me now, please. I
haven't got much time to spare. I have a lot of letters to

" I went," he said, after a reluctant pause. '■ But — but
— well, Mrs. Redcliffe thanked me for coming, but Hilda — ■
I didn't get on so well with her. She seemed really to want
to make an enemy of me. I don't know why, because —
because— it was rather a difficult thing to do — I wanted to
let them see that I didn't agree with my mother, but — I
think unless I had been prepared to call her all sorts of
names, which I'm really not quite prepared to do — to an out-
sider — I mean that nothing less than that would have satisfied

" Quite right too," said* Turner. " She's a trump, that girt"

Fred looked at him. " I dare say it seems quite natural
to you, Turner," he said, " that a man should be ready to hear
his mother called names, and even to call her names himself.
It seems to me that when he has said he thinks she is in the
wrong, and he's sorry for it, it ought to be enough. I hope
Mrs. O'Keefe .thinks so too."

He spoke with some dignity, and Norah O'Keefe felt a
quick sympathy for him. " Oh, yes," she said. " You
couldn't do more than that. And of course }'our position is
a difficult one."

" Jolly difficult," said Turner. " Hunting with the hounds
and running with the hare always is. I'm quite content to
take Hilda's view. If you couldn't satisfy her, after making
eyes at her for years, you won't satisfy the rest of us."

" I can't see why you shouldn't keep out of it altogether,"
said Browne. " You are hardly ever here, and it isn't your

" It's just as much mine as yours," said Fred angrily, " only
it's moire difficult for me."

" Of course it is difficult," said Norah.

Turner was not to be suppressed. " The thing's perfectly
simple," he said. " There are two parties in Exton now.
One of them is Mrs. Prentice and Lady Wrotham, and the
other is all the rest of us. There's no getting over that. If

250 Exton Manor

you think your place is by your mother, as I dare say it is —
well, stick to it."

Fred shrugged his shoulders impatiently. " I've nothing
more to say," he said.

" I'm afraid our quarrelling among ourselves won't help
dear Mrs. Redcliffe," said Norah.

" I don't want to quarrel," said Fred, " only Turner seems
determined to make me. 1 came to talk to you, Mrs.
O'Keefe. Perhaps I had better come to-morrow."

Browne got up from his chair. V Good-bye, Mrs. O'Keefe,"
he said, shook hands and went out.

"I'd got something to say to you too," said Turner ; " but
I suppose I must make a move now this conquering hero has
come on to the scene."

" I am afraid you must both make a move," said Norah.
" I have a great many letters that I must write for to-night's
post, and unless I begin now I shan't get them done." She
stood up behind her table, and there was nothing for her two
remaining visitors but to take their leave. Fred had not been
in the room ten minutes, and was not pleased at being thus
dismissed. His displeasure vented itself upon Turner when
they found themselves out in the road together. " The
cheek," he said, " of two old fogies like you and Browne worry-
ing a woman like that with your ridiculous attentions."

Turner looked at him. '• You're not only a conceited
puppy," he said ; " you're a cur," and got up into his cart,
leaving Fred with the uncomfortable conviction that his
defection had already become known to the world, and that
his new pursuit would also now provide food for gossip.

" Young cad ! " said Turner, driving off. " Chucked off
a girl in a thousand like an old glove and poking his nose in
here where he's not wanted. Think 111 go up and see
Browne. He's a fool, but he's an honest fool."

It was significant of the understanding existing between
these two queer characters that they should meet again now
without the slightest awkwardness arising out of their late
encounter. They talked over the new development in the
general situation, and w r ere united in their strictures on Fred
Prentice, agreeing that he had behaved atrociously, and
should get the punishment he deserved if they could by any
means bring it about. That he should have fallen in love
with Norah O'Keefe, as it was plain to both of them that he

Three Men and a Lady 251

had done, was characterized as a piece of infernal impudence,
and roused them both to fury. But both of them expressed
the conviction that she wouldn't have anything to say to him,
and when she found it out, would send him about his business
pretty quick. It did not occur to them that what was per-
fectly plain to them might possibly have been already divined
by her, but they agreed that she would certainly have nothing
to do with him.

" By the bye," said Browne, " why were you so anxious to
get her alone this afternoon ? Had you made up your mind to
get it out at last ? "

" Look here, Maximilian Browne," replied Turner impress-
ively, " when I propose to Mrs. O'Keefe — for I suppose that's
what you're driving at, though you never say anything straight
— you may ask me to go down on my hands and knees in
front of Lady Wrotham and I'll do it. I like Mrs. O'Keefe,
and I'm quite ready to have a little quiet talk with her
occasionally — when you'll let me ; but as for marrying her,
I've no more idea of marrying her than I have of marrying — er
— anybody, and never have had. So let's have an end of this

Then they played Picquet together, and Turner stayed to
dinner. He got home about eleven o'clock, read a novel and
went to bed at three. As he laid his head on the pillow he
said, " If I hadn't been very careful and kept a strong hold
over myself to-day, I should have been in the soup."



The Sunday which followed Mrs. Prentice's rejection at
the door of Mrs. O'Keefe produced a crisis in the religious
feud set on foot by Lady Wrotham.

It fell in thfs wise. The Vicar had decreed some time
before that on this particular Sunday the congregation at
the choral mass would be enlarged by the presence of such
of the school children whose parents should not object.
Somehow, this intelligence had escaped Lady Wrotham, prob-
ably because no parents had objected, the villagers on the
whole taking their spiritual sustenance without questioning
the form in which it was offered them, and confining their
parental duties to instructing their children to do as they
were told ; and those who were willing to follow Lady
Wrotham's lead and harry the Vicar not having grasped the
fact that this particular service would come under her ban.
She heard of it only on rising on the day on which this
great insult to her opinions and authority was to be offered,
and she was furious.

" I will not have it, / will not have it," she said to her
maid, who had given her the information. " Send at once to
Mr. Petty, Riddell, and ask him to be good enough to come
and see me at nine o'clock punctually.' '

Mr. Petty, the schoolmaster, presented himself at the time
appointed. He was also the organist, and one of the Vicar's
staunchest adherents, agreeing with everything he did, and
only anxious that he should go to the utmost limits that the
Church, in which he himself secretly aspired to be a vicar

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 21 of 36)