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some day, would allow. Mr. Petty was respectful, but there
was no help to be obtained from him.

" I have nothing to do with the Sunday-School, my lady,"

252



Church, and after 253

he said, in answer to a peremptory order to countermand the
instructions already given. " I do not even teach in it. The
Vicar is solely responsible."

" Oh ! " said Lady Wrotham. " But they are the same
children that come to your school, are they not, and it is held
in the same building ? "

M Yes, my lady."

" Could you not have stopped this, Mr. Petty ? "

M Certainly not, my lady."

" Perhaps you did not wish to stop it ? "

" I should not have wished to stop it, even if I had had the
power."

"But don't you think it a very terrible thing that the very
children who are under your care during the week should be
led away into this shocking and illegal — and illegal, Mr. Petty
— superstition on the Lord's Day ? "

" I do not regard it so, my lady."

" Do I understand that you are at one with Mr. Prentice
in desiring that the children should attend mass in a
Protestant church ? "

" I regard the church as Catholic and not Protestant, my
lady, and I am entirety at one with the Vicar in everything fee
does."

" Then you are not fit to have the care of the children
here, Mr. Petty, and I tell you so plainly. Oh, what a
nest of corruption it is ! But I have no time to talk to you
now. I must take steps to stop this last outrage at once. It
is done expressly to dety me. But I warn you, Mr. Petty,
that I have not done with yoa yet. I am shocked that you
should hold these views and be where you are. I did not
think it was possible. You must go now."

Mr. Petty said " Good-morning, my lady," and went, with
his private thoughts to keep him company. Lady Wrotham
rang the bell.

" I am ready for breakfast," she said, " but I am just going
to write a note which must be taken at once to Mrs. Pren-
tice."

Mrs. Prentice, scenting further trouble, answered the sum-
mons at once, and was shown into the library, v/hence Lady
Wrotham/ s breakfast-table was just being removed.

M Mrs. Prentice, what is this ? " cried Lady Wrotham.
!' Why did you not tell me of this new conspiracy ? "



254 Exton Manor

Mrs. Prentice blinked with apprehension. " I — er — what
is it you refer to, Lady Wrotham ? " she said.

" Oh, surely you know. I have just heard — only an hour
a g — that the Sunday-school children are to be dragged
to this travesty of a service this morning. Oh, it is wicked
— wicked I And it is all done to show contempt and defiance
of my wishes. Why was I not told ? You must have known it."

Mrs. Prentice breathed again. " I did," she said ; " but I
thought you knew it too, Lady Wrotham. It was decided —
oh, six weeks ago."

" I did not know it. It has been kept from me. Don't
you think I should have used every effort in my power to
stop it if I had been aware of what was on foot ? Don't
you know I should ? Shouldn't I have relied on you, at any
rate, after what you have told me of }^our change of con-
victions, to do all you could to stop it, and tell me the result ?
What have yon done to stop it ? "

Mrs. Prentice faltered. " To tell you the truth," she said,
" I have had so much to occupy my mind that I had forgotten
it, until my husband mentioned it just now at the breakfast-
table. Then I did say something, but, as you know, Lady
Wrotham, I have now so little influence over him, that it was
as good as saying nothing. He simply made no answer, and
left the room immediately afterwards." *>

" Of course. He has determined to act in defiance of me,
and to show me that he is determined so to act. It is
monstrous. But he will see that I can act too. I have been
patient too long. Now my patience is at an end. What is
the time ? Half-past nine. Messengers must be sent round
to the children's homes at once to forbid them to come."

" But the}' assemble at the school at half-past nine and the
service commences at a quarter to ten."

" Then a message must be sent to the school. Oh, why
did I not know of this in time to act ? Of course, Mr.
Prentice is in sole command at the school, as I have just
learnt from Mr. Petty. He would only defy me further. It
is too late to do anything now. The abomination must be
committed this once. But it never shall again. I pledge
myself to that. And this I say : until this apostasy is
stopped, as I will see that it is stopped, I will have nothing
to do with a church where such things are done. I will
not set foot in it. Mrs. Prentice, I shall drive over to Standon



Church, and After 255

this morning. The clergyman there is a God-fearing man,
and a friend of Mr. Dacre's. Will you show the reality
of your change, and come with me ? "

Surely, Lady Wrotham, if you had thought a moment, you
would not have demanded this final subservience. The
woman has striven so hard to propitiate you. She is on such
terms with her husband that the happiness of her home is
likely to be wrecked for ever unless she draws away from your
guidance and follows that to which she owes allegiance. Is
she to be compelled to put this crowning slight on one whom
she has hitherto supported in the poor way best known to her ?
Is the confidence of husband in wife and of wife in husband
nothing that it must be ruthlessly destroyed if you can gain
one unwilling convert more ? Are you so blind that you can-
not see the miserable scaffolding of vanity and self-deception
that upholds those professed convictions which you are proud
to have instilled into her, and how worthless those professions
are, compared with the wifely loyalty which you are pitilessly
breaking down ?

No, you cannot see. But perhaps she can. Her life is
troubled enough now, and your favour, for which she has
given up so much that she is only now beginning to value,
has not done much after all to brighten it. What if she
breaks away now, under this last weight crowded on to her
back, and takes courage to say that she has gone far enough
with you, and will go no farther ! What would she lose ?
Would she not rather gain something, at any rate, of her van-
ished peace of mind, even though you should cast her out for
ever from your august presence ?

She shrinks mentally, and considers, has a refusal on her
lips, considers again and gives in. The spell is too strong.
You have gained another victory, Lady Wrotham. You are
getting on famously in your endeavours to bring the solace of
a true religion to your new home.

Mrs. Prentice repaired to the vicarage to get ready for her
expedition. As she walked through the village she said to
herself that if the road to Standon from the Abbey had not
lain in the other direction, so that they would not have to
drive through the main street, she would not have gone ; on
such small considerations rest momentous decisions, and so
readily is the ostrich policy pursued by foreseeing humans.

Fred was at home, smoking and mooning in the garden.



250 Exton Manor

To him she briefly announced her intention of accompanying
Lady Wrotham to Standon church.

" I say, father won't like that, will he ? " he commented.

" I cannot help that," said Mrs. Prentice. " He will not
be guided by me, and now Lady Wrotham is so annoyed with
him — I think rightly— that she refuses to go to church here at
all. My duty is to do all I can to keep in with her and get
matters put on a better footing."

" You're taking a funny way of doing it," said Fred. " I
think you're making a great mistake, mother. Still, it's no
affair of mine." He turned away. He had other things to
think of, and his hopes just now were centred on that very
Exton church which his mother was forsaking, for there he
might seize opportunities otherwise denied to him.

Lady Wrotham's carriage rolled out of the Gate House and
up the hill on its three-mile drive. It was too early for it to
be met by the churchgoers coming down to the Abbey, for
which Mrs. Prentice was thankful. But of course there were
those who saw them and wondered, and even if it had not
been so, it is difficult to see v/hat she would have expected
to gain from a temporary ignorance of doings which would have
spread all over the parish as a matter of course in a few hours'
time.

It is not necessary to follow the conversation of the two
ladies on their drive to the queer little brick box of a church
whither they were bound. Their arrival made some stir and
rather put out the white-haired old clergyman, whose usual
congregation was not much more than a score in the body of
the building and half as many school children again in a little
gallery above it. He preached what Lady Wrotham called a
simple gospel sermon, with which she expressed herself edified
and uplifted, and, refusing a luncheon invitation from Mrs.
Firmin of Standon House, she and Mrs. Prentice drove back
to Exton again. One short passage of their conversation on
the homeward journey may be repeated.

Mrs. Prentice had made sundry attempts to discover what
the great lady's next move was to be, but without success, and
at length asked her the question point blank.

" I shall lose no time in writing to the bishop," said Lady
Wrotham. " I shall write this afternoon. I have a very
strong case, and I do not think it will be possible for him to
ignore it. If he does "



Church, and after 257

Mrs. Prentice waited with growing apprehension for what
should come next. But nothing came.

" If he does," she faltered.

" He will not. I have no doubt about that. I was think-
ing of what might happen after he had given his decision. Mr.
Prentice is so self-willed and so lawless that he might refuse
to listen even to his bishop. I should not be surprised to hear
it of him."

" Certain things that you — that we object to, Lady Wro-
tham, I am sure he would not alter, and from what I know T of
the decisions made even by evangelical bishops, he would not
be asked to alter."

" I am afraid you are right. I too know something of the
time-serving ways of bishops. Very well, then, if that hap-
pens, Mr. Prentice must go. I have put up with enough.
He has practically told me that I have no power to deprive
him of his living, and, literally speaking, that may be true.
But — well, I think he would go."

" But, Lady Wrotham, I should have to go with him."

" I am afraid that is so, and I should be sorry. But I sup-
pose there would be no help for it. You would have the con-
solation of knowing that you were suffering for righteousness'
sake."

Cold consolation this, perhaps, even if it were true, which
it certainly would not be from Lady Wrotham's point of view,
unless Mrs. Prentice was to suffer for Lady Wrotham's
righteousness. Mrs. Prentice sat aghast. Then, after all
that she had done and was still doing, after this last submis-
sion, which she was even now beginning to regret, this was all
the mercy that was to be dealt out to her. Her hard obedi-
ence was to be wrested from her, but the punishment for re-
bellion was to fall on her shoulders in the same way as if she
had not obeyed at all. A spirit of rebellion was wrung from
her now.

" I think that is rather hard," she said. " I as well as my
husband are to be ruined, because he follows his conscience —
for, after all, obstinate as he is, it is a matter of conscience
with him."

" A pretty sort of conscience ! " said Lady Wrotham.

" But there is no question of ruin, Mrs. Prentice. A living

could be found for him elsewhere where he would do less

harm. And in any case, I should see to it that you, after the

i (7)-



258 Exton Manor

way you have followed the light, should not suffer — more than
could be helped.' '

With this vague consolation Mrs. Prentice had to be con-
tent, and she thought that, perhaps, after all, it was a mistake
for her to have come to Standon church with Lady Wrotham.

Lady Wrotham wrote to the Bishop of Archester that after-
noon as she had threatened to do. She invited his lordship
to dine and sleep at Exton Abbey at any time that would be
convenient to him, and talk things over. She also hoped that
he would bring his wife with him. But in case his engage-
ments should prevent his accepting her invitation at an early
date, she begged him to look into certain matters without
delay. There followed a recital of these matters, and Lady
Wrotham could have wished when she had written them that
they looked more formidable, for she knew well that practices
such as she complained of were not only allowed but even
encouraged by some bishops, and she was doubtful whether
the chief cause of her annoyance on account of them — that
they were carried on in a parish in which her will should have
been paramount — would strike his lordship with the same
force as it struck her. If only Exton had been in the diocese
of Danesborough, whose bishop would have put down any-
thing and anybody in return for an invitation for himself and
his wife from Lady W T rotham ! But it was of no use to think
about that. She could only hope that the Bishop of Archester
and his wife might find it convenient to visit huer, and if not
that he would write something that she could take advantage
of. At any rate, she had done her duty in writing to him, and
if nothing came of it, well, there were still weapons left in her
armoury.

When he heard of his wife's last act of rebellion, which he
did in the vestry after the morning service, the Vicar was so
angry that he ran a grave risk of losing all the merit he had
acquired from the religious exercises of the morning ; but,
before he had the opportunity of giving vent to his displeasure,
he bethought himself, and with a self-discipline that did credit
alike to his head and his heart, determined to go on with his
method of treatment, and ignore the offence. So that, when
Mrs. Prentice arrived home, seriously perturbed as to what
should befall her, she was met with cold indifference, and
the retorts which she had prepared against reproach became
weapons of attack on herself and caused her considerable dis-

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Church, and after 259

comfort. Fred inquired of her over the vicarage dinner-table
whether she had enjoyed her outing, and her reply that she
had not anticipated enjoyment from going to church on
Sunday morning, caused him to express amusement, against
which she defended herself by accusing him of meaning
amusement when he had used the word enjoyment. The Vicar
sat silent through the little dispute and then turned the
conversation. " I thought you and I might have a walk
together this afternoon," he said to his son. " We would
start after school at four o'clock and we can get back to
tea at about half-past five."

" Lady Wrotham has very kindly asked me to take Fred to
tea with her this afternoon," said Mrs. Prentice. " I think,
perhaps, he had better come."

The Vicar was silent. Fred was silent too, for a moment.
He had plans for the afternoon which did not fit in with
either oS these suggested to him. u I said I would go to tea
with Mrs. O'Keefe this afternoon," he said boldly. It is true
that he had said it, but only to himself.

Mrs. Prentice proved singularly complacent over the down-
fall of her arrangements. " Well, to-morrow will do for the
Abbey," she said. " You are not going till Tuesday."

" Couldn't you call on Mrs. O'Keefe while I am at the
school ? " said the Vicar. " I shall be away for the whole day
to-morrow, and I should like a walk and a talk with you,
Fred."

Fred did not see his way to refuse this suggestion, and gave
way, not with the best of grace. His determination had
arisen from certain occurrences of the morning. He had gone
down to the church at about a quarter to eleven and waited
about in the churchyard until the bell finally ceased ringing.
When he had at last gone in he had seen Norah O'Keefe
in her seat just in front of the vicarage pew and Mrs. Red-
cliffe and Hilda with her. He supposed that all three had
been to the earlier service and remained to the latter, which
was the case. He had then sat and stood and knelt for an
hour with his eyes fixed upon the dark coils of Norah's hair,
neat in their careful twining under a most becoming hat, on
a little ear made for lyrical rhapsody, and on the soft bloom
of a sloping cheek. He had longed for larger fields of wonder
and delight to explore, but none had been opened out to him,
for the fair worshipper had turned neither to the right nor to

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260 Exton Manor

the left. He spent most of the time in which he should have
been listening to his father's sermon in calculations as to
which way the offertory bag might be expected to pass along
the seat in front of him. If various things happened, which
were not very likely to happen, she might turn round and
hand it to him, perhaps with a smile of recognition ; but
when the time came these things did not happen, and he gave
his shilling grudgingly and of necessity, without having gained
more than a mere glance at her profile as she handed the bag
to the churchwarden.

During the singing of the last hymn Hilda Redcliffe turned
and looked at him, without friendliness, and instantly with-
drew her gaze. His at that moment was fastened intently on
the point of the ear aforementioned, with an expression that
may have afforded her some enlightenment.

When church was over he suddenly relinquished his in-
tention of waiting till she left her seat and walking down the
aisle with her, and hurried out to stand by the porch. Then,
without waiting, he pushed on to the gate, and then further
on still to a point at which she and the Redciiffes would have
parted if both should be going straight back to their homes.
When he had reached this point he turned back again, be-
cause, if she should be going to walk through the park a little
way with her friends he would miss her altogether, and to
risk that would be wprse than to greet her under the eyes of
Mrs. Redcliffe and Hilda.

He raised his hat to the three ladies in common, but his
eyes were on Norah. She greeted him with some signs of
embarrassment, as if she would rather have been without the
necessity of greeting him at all. Mrs. Redcliffe said, " How
do you do, Fred ? " without a smile, and without offering to
shake hands. Hilda turned away without saying anything,
and the question now arose as to what he should do next.

It appeared that there was nothing to do but to go away,
for Norah turned with her friends along a field-path towards
the park, and it was not in his power to accompany them.

" It's that girl/' he said to himself angrily, as he walked
home. " She has given her some account of what happened
yesterday that has set her against me."

The hours were slipping away. He would be gone very
shortly ; half his time had gone already, and he had made no
headway — had gone back since that propitious and memor-

a)



Church, and after 26 1

able train journey. He made up his mind that he would go
again to see her that afternoon. He would need some
courage, because he had presented himself three times at her
house the day before and she had not apparently desired
greatly to see him, and now probably desired it still less.
Still, it was his only chance, and if he once got her alone
lie thought he would be able to throw off his diffidence and
raafcc his admiration understood. That was imperative, if
he were to go any farther, and of course he must go farther.
What lover could be content to stand still ?

So, then, matters stood, and after luncheon he escaped
from his mother, who would have liked to talk to him, and
indeed, to advise him upon the very matter he had in hand,
if she could have gained his confidence, and walked in the
outermost parts of the vicarage glebe until three o'clock,
when he went over to Street House.

Bridget, who was on duty that afternoon, received him
with no special marks of favour, but showed him straight
into Norah's drawing-room, where she was reading in a chair
by the open window. Neither did her look express pleasure
at his advent, but some surprise and perhaps a shade of
annoyance.

" You'll think I'm always turning up," he said. " But I
couldn't get a word with you yesterday."

Still some further explanation seemed necessary, and he
supplied what he could, not altogether pleased to be obliged
to advert to the affairs of the Redcliffes again.

" I went up to the White House yesterday morning, you
know," he began. Bui she struck in :

" Oh, I have heard all about that, Mr. Prentice. We
• needn't talk about it any more."

" Well, I wanted to tell you that I had done everything I
could."

" Please sit down," she said. " Mr. Prentice, I don't
think you were very successful in what you did. If I had
known that you were no longer a close friend of the Red-
cliffes I would not have asked you to go."

" But — but — I was their friend until they practically told
me that they didn't want my friendship."

" Because it v/as quite plain that they had already lost it.
I can quite believe that they didn't want the kind of luke-
warm support you offered them instead of it."

(3)



262 Exton Manor

" Oh, Mrs. O'Keefe, you can't have heard the true story
of what happened. I said that what had happened would
make absolutely no difference in — in me, and "

" You wouldn't have wanted to say that if it — if there had
been no difference. Can't you see that it isn't what you say
that your friends go by ? it is what you are to them ; and,
whatever you say, they know well enough whether you are
the same or — there is a difference. Hilda knew, of course,
that there was — a difference. Why, even I can see it,
although she has said very little to me and I didn't know
you before."

" I dare say you can see it," he said. " I hope you can,
for you are the cause of it."

" II V She drew herself in with a look of frank distaste.

" Yes. It's no use trying to hide it, and I don't want to
hide it. I shan't be here long, and I must tell you now. Of
course Hilda Redcliffe and I are friends and I liked her and
— and all that sort of thing. But that came to an end the
moment I saw you. You must know that I "

" Oh, please stop," she said, her face flaming and her
hands raised to her ears as if she would have shut out the
sound of his torrent of words. " You mustn't say such
things to me. It is absurd, and, really, Mr. Prentice, it is
rather impertinent. We are hardly more than complete
strangers, and you can't think that in any case I would
listen to you."

" Why not ? " he said. " What I say is as true as any-
thing can be. I don't care how long we have known each
other. I loved you the first moment I saw you, and I love
you now, better than anything in the world. It can't be
impertinent to say that." «

" It is. It is. And do you think that I would listen to
you, even if — if — oh, it is too absurd, but — if I wanted to,
when you have behaved so badly to Hilda ? You don't think
at all about her. Do you really think you can come straight
from her to me, and— say such things ? "

Why is it that a lover in the state of mind which had over-
taken this lover -can never see when his suit is quite hope-
less, but must go on urging it ? "I wouldn't have said
anything," Fred went on, " so soon — I didn't mean to say
a word when I came here — I hadn't an idea of it. But I
can't help it. This wretched business has come up and

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Church, and after 263

spoilt everything. If it hadn't been for that I should have
seen you while I am here, and — I'd have waited, although
I don't want to wait to know my own mind. That was made
up directly I saw you."

" Oh,, please stop," she said, holding her hand in front
of her as if to close his mouth actually ; " please stop. I
can't listen to you. I don't want to listen to you. It is all
so wild, and — so absurd."

" You keep on saying it is absurd," he interrupted her
again. " It isn't absurd for a man to fall in love with a
woman — with such a woman as you, the very first time he
sees her. And it is not absurd for him to tell her so."

" Very well, then," she said. " Now you have told me,
and I won't say that it is absurd any more, but I will say
that I hope you will go away and say no more about it."

She spoke with dawning anger, and as he looked at her
he felt himself beaten. But he made another effort. " I dare
say I have spoken too soon," he said, " but I couldn't help
myself. You won't send me away because of that, will you ?
You'll let me see you while I'm here, and — and "

" No," she said decisively. " I would very much rather
not."

" You are afraid 1 should worry you, I suppose."



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