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But you have done nothing but to give me a friendship which
I value highly, and hope to go on valuing. For I should be
very sorry if it was withdrawn from me now."

" I am very glad to hear you say that, Mrs. O'Keefe. I
can assure you that / shall never be any different, even if we
don't get any farther. But don't you think you could bring
yourself to it, Mrs. O'Keefe ? "

" No, I think not. I am very grateful for the honour you
have done me in asking me."

" Oh, don't mention that, please. It's the other way



Browne is precipitate 275

about — at least it would be. But, of course, if you can't — I
must put up with it. Still, you don't say that I'm so far be-
neath you that I ought to be ashamed of myself for thinking
of it."

" Good gracious, no. Surely, Lady Wrotham didn't tell
you that ? "

" As good as. I tell you what it is, Mrs. O'Keefe, if I
can't do my work here without putting myself in the position
of being hauled over the coals by her about things that have
nothing to do with the work I'm paid to do in the place, I
shall go and do the same work somewhere else where I'm not
interfered with."

" I think you would be quite justified in doing so. But I
hope you won't. Everybody would miss you here, tremen-
dously. You know that I should. I hope you told Lady
Wrotham what you thought of her interference ? "

''' Yes, I did. And I came straight off hereto — well, to try
my luck."

" I am not sorry that you did so, Mr. Browne, although I
am sorry that I can't give you the answer you want. If you
do want it, you know," she added with a smile at him.

" There's no doubt about that," said Browne. " But if you
say no, it must be no. Still, you won't let this make any dif-
ference, will you ? "

" No, I won't ; not the smallest difference."

" Thank you very much, Mrs. O'Keefe. You've taken a
great load off my mind. I'm afraid I must be getting back
now. I've a lot of things to see to at the office. Good-bye !
We must have a little dinner and a little Bridge again soon.
It's jolly to have you back here. I say ! I suppose you
won't say anything about — you know — what I asked you ? "

" Of course I won't. Don't you know me better than
that ? "

" Well, I don't really mind if you do. I'm not ashamed of
it. Good-bye, for the present, Mrs. O'Keefe. You've taken
a great weight off my mind."

Norah watched him go busily past her window on his way
to his work. " Nice old thing ! " she said, laughing to her-
self. " I'm glad to have taken a weight off his mind. I won-
der what sort of a weight I should have put on to it if I had
said yes. But really ! Yes, I shall certainly go and call on
Lady Wrotham."



CHAPTER XXV

NORAH'S ATTEMPT

Norah O'Keefe, looking as if some of the freshness and
beauty of the fair May month had transferred itself bodily to
her and was sparkling in her face and figure, walked down
through the village and presented herself at the Abbey. Lady
Wrotham had come in from her afternoon drive and was
sitting by her tea-table, a little figure of old-fashioned dignity
and homeliness combined, surrounded by the pictures and
books and fine furniture of the big room in which she lived
most of her life, as if it was the most natural of environments
for her, eating her tea-cake with as much enj.oyment as could
have been shown by her housekeeper and the invaluable
Riddell in the more homely regions devoted to their pursuits.
There was something in her, sitting alone in her black dress
and thus occupied, that touched Norah with compassion as
she entered the room, and the great little lady, rising not
without difficulty from her chair to greet her, was also affected
by the appearance of her visitor, so graceful and pretty, who
brought in with her a breath from the storehouse of eternal
youth, which revivifies the earth and renews contentment to
those who have lost it.

" How do you do ? " she said. '•' I am very pleased too
see you," and added, " my dear," as if she could not help
herself.

She talked of Norah's Irish visit, and of her husband's
relations, some of whom she knew, and asked her by and by
why she had settled herself at Exton.

" I felt as if I must get as far away from everybody as
possible," said Norah, " at that dreadful time — three years
ago. And he and I had been here, on our honeymoon, and
thought the place so beautiful and quiet and peaceful."

276



Norah's Attempt 277

A shadow came over her face, and it was repeated in Lady
Wrot ham's. " I am afraid it is not so peaceful as it looks,' '
she said. " The waywardness of mankind can spoil the most
beautiful of places."

" There are things that make it not quite perfect," said
Norah. " But I have been happy here — happier than I
thought I could ever be again. I have found the best of
friends."

Lady Wrot ham looked thoughtful. " Your chief friend, I
suppose, is Mrs. Redcliffe ? " she said.

" Mrs. Redcliffe and her daughter," Norah replied boldly.
" They would make any place — a far less beautiful place than
this — attractive to me."

" I hear good accounts of Mrs. Redcliffe from every
quarter," said Lady Wrotham slowly ; " except, perhaps,
one."

" I know the quarter from which the other opinion comes,"
said Norah, " and I hope you won't mind my saying that
I think it is a great pity that you should let a woman like
Mrs. Prentice influence you against a woman like Mrs. Red-
cliffe — especially as you have never seen Mrs. Redcliffe."

She felt a little frightened at her boldness, and would
probably have felt more frightened still if she had known
Lady Wrotham better. But Lady Wrotham did not stare at
her in surprised offence as she might have been expected to
do, but said quietly :

" My dear, how can I get to know Mrs. Redcliffe, if she
won't come and see me ? "

Norah was a little taken aback. She had hardly expected
this mildness, and had thought of Lady W T rotham as being
opposed to Mrs. Redcliffe in the same way as Mrs. Prentice
was opposed to her, if not quite so noisily. " I hardly think
she would care to do that," she said hesitatingly, " after what
has happened."

" Well, what has happened ? " asked Lady Wrotham, still
speaking with mild reasonableness. " At least, what has hap-
pened to set her against me personally ? I mentioned, I think
now unfortunately, what I quite thought everybody who knew
her was aware of. I may have had some slight prejudice
against her on account of her marriage, for I certainly don't
approve of marriage with a deceased wife's sister on general
principle. But, on the other hand, I should not necessarily



278 Exton Manor

refuse to know a lady who had contracted such a marriage
without hearing all the circumstances of the case, or seeing
for myself what kind of woman she was, and that is what I
have never had an opportunity of doing in this case. What
am I to do ? "

" I think there is one thing you might do, Lady Wro-
tham," said Norah, again taking her courage in both hands,
" and that is to stop Mrs. Prentice in the mischief she is
making. She is behaving outrageously. Mrs. Redcliffe has
always treated her with every possible kindness. None of us
love Mrs. Prentice much, here. She is not a lovable woman,
and it has often been difficult to — to be nice to her ; she is
so interfering, and so — well, so spiteful. But Mrs. Redcliffe
has never let us say a word against her, or against anybody
for that matter, and has always been sweet and good to her.
She is a wonderful woman — Mrs. Redcliffe ; you can't help
loving and admiring her. She is so gentle, and strong, and
good. And I say that it is a horrible thing that Mrs. Prentice's
tongue should be loosed against her ; yes, Lady Wrotham,
and I think that it is a great pity that you should make a
friend and a confidante of Mrs. Prentice, and give her your
support in the mischief she is doing."

She had worked herself into a state between tears and
indignation. All the wrongs of her friends rose up before her
as she spoke, and beside them was the picture of malice and
mischief stalking triumphant and unabashed through their
lives. She would not have minded now if Lady Wrotham
had risen in anger against the outspokenness of her attack,
and she would have been quite prepared to carry it still further.
But Lady Wrotham was still quiet and reasonable.

"It is not in the least my wish to support Mrs. Prentice
in the way you mention," she said. " I am annoyed with
her for putting the scandal about, and if what I constantly
hear, from others as well as you, is true, fomenting it, after
I expressly told her that I did not wish what I had told her to
go any farther."

" Did you tell her that ? " asked Norah, in surprise.

" Yes, I distinctly told her so, when I learnt that it was not
generally known ; and I consider that she has disobeyed me,
although she says that Mrs. Redcliffe and — and Miss Red-
cliffe — spoke to her first, before she had repeated it to a
soul."



Norafa's Attempt 279

" She had been so abominably rude to them," said Norah
hotly, ** that they could hardly help asking her for an expla-
nation of her behaviour. And, of course, that is what she
meant them to do. She wouldn't be able to keep a thing like
that to herself. It is not in her. She hates Mrs. Redcliffe,
because she is good, and she is only too pleased to have this
excuse for turning on her."

" That is a very harsh thing to say," said Lady Wrotham.
" I do not think Mrs. Prentice is a bad woman, although
I am afraid she is rather a tiresome one. She has been of
considerable use to me in — in rather difficult matters in con-
nection with religion since I have been here, and I think she
has undergone a genuine change of heart."

" Oh, Lady Wrotham, how can you think that ? " ex-
claimed Norah. " Can't you see that she is ready to do every-
thing she can to please you, simply because of the position you
hold here — and in the world ? If you were not what — who
you are, she would have opposed you bitterly in all these
things, as she opposed dear old Sir Joseph Chapman, before I
came here."

" I don't like to hear you say that," said Lady Wrotham.
" And I never heard that there was any unpleasantness with
Sir Joseph Chapman."

" Oh, there was, Lady Wrotham, though it was some years
ago. Miss Chapman, before she died, wanted to get the
people to come to some religious meetings here, and Sir Joseph
was quite willing and would have helped her, but Mrs. Pren-
tice made herself so unpleasant about it — she said it would do
a great deal of harm in the place — that she managed to stop
it. Sir Joseph gave in to her for the sake of peace. He
couldn't bear anything like strife in the place."

" Did not Mr. Prentice do what he could to stop these
meetings ? "

" I don't know. I don't suppose he would have cared for
them, but I have never heard him mentioned in connection
with them. It was Mrs. Prentice who bestirred herself."

" Well, of course it was wrong of her — if they were to be
simple Evangelical gatherings. But she has acted in a very
different way with my efforts in that direction."

" Because you are Lady Wrotham, and she would tremble
at the idea of opposing you in anything, and Sir Joseph was
so mild and unpretentious that "



280 Exton Manor

" You mean, I suppose, that she is what is usually called a
snob ? "

" Yes, I do mean that. Why, when I first came here,
although I am nobody particular apart from my husband's
family— but there is just the little handle to my name — she
showed it quite plainly. She did her best to keep me from
making friends with the Redcliffes, and I had quite a wrong
impression of them — taken from her — until I did get to know
them."

" That is reprehensible. I know that people do run after
titles. I dislike that sort of thing very much. I had not
observed it in Mrs. Prentice, but you say you have. She did
it to you, and in such a way that you could not help noticing
it. Your powers of observation are stronger than mine."

" No ; but, you see, Lad}' Wrotham, perhaps I don't bear
my little honour so naturally as anyone would who was born
with it.';

" I think you bear it very well, my dear."

M And I can't help noticing the difference in the way some
people — people like Mrs. Prentice — treat me now from the
way they treated me before. At any rate, I have not the
slightest doubt that she is an arrant snob, and that that is
the reason why you find her so meek and obedient, when none
of us who have known her well find her anything like that."

" I dare say you are right, though perhaps I have flattered
myself that I convinced her of her errors through other means.
However, I do think that you are right in one thing. I
cannot disguise from myself that every one but Mrs. Prentice
speaks well of Mrs. Redcliffe, and seems even prepared to
quarrel ferociously with me, who am innocent of offence in
the matter, on her behalf. I have been annoyed with her all
along about the trouble she has caused over that, and now
that it has been made clearer still to me, I shall lose no time
in telling her so."

The opportunity of doing so occurred sooner than Lady
Wrotham had anticipated, for the door opened at that moment
and Mrs. Prentice was announced.

She came forward with the air of a welcome habituee, but,
on seeing Norah, hesitated in her advance, and acquired a
pinched expression about the mouth. She shook hands with
Lady Wrotham, who did not rise from her seat to do so, nor
infuse any warmth into the action. Then she turned to



Norah's Attempt 28 1

Norah, and said with a smile that was both sweet and sour,
" How do you do, Mrs. O'Keefe ? I came to welcome you
home on Saturday, but, no doubt through some misunderstand-
ing of your servant's, I was not able to do so/'

" There was no misunderstanding, Mrs. Prentice," said
Norah in a clear voice, and withholding her hand ; "I told
all my servants to say I was not at home to you."

The sweetness of Mrs. Prentice's smile departed, and an
additional infusion of acidity took its place. " Oh, indeed,"
she said : "lam sorry you should have done that, because it
was a rude thing to do, and you need not fear that I should
go where I am not wanted. But there is no need to trouble
Lady Wrotham with our little disputes. We can settle them
amongst ourselves . ' ' She turned to wards Lad y Wrotham with
an air of being about to turn the conversation, and of leaving
Norah out of it as a troublesome child who has misbehaved
and had better be left to itself to come to its senses. But
Norah spoke again.

" There is no dispute between us, Mrs. Prentice, and I
have just been talking over these things with Lady Wrotham.
Mrs. Redcliffe is a dear friend of mine, and I simply refuse
to have in my house, or to have anything to do with, anyone
who has behaved to her as you have."

' Oh, but this is outrageous," said Mrs. Prentice. " Lady
Wrotham knows very well how this unfortunate affair about
Mrs. Redcliffe has arisen, and that I had nothing whatever to
do with it."

" I do not know that, Mrs. Prentice," struck in Lady
Wrotham. " I do not know that. There has been a great
deal of unnecessary talk and scandal about Mrs. Redcliffe,
and I have been very annoyed about it. If it had not been
for you I am quite sure it would not have happened."

Mrs. Prentice grew turkey-red. There was much dis-
pleasure in the great lady's tone, and, however much she
might have been prepared to make little of it and seek to
remove it by such wiles as she could use if she had been alone
with her, it annoyed her excessively to be spoken to in this
way before a third party.

" I really think, Lady Wrotham," she said, " that you are
doing me a great injustice. I told you distinctly, if you re-
member, that 1 did not put about the news of Mrs. Redcliffe's
marriage."



282 Exton Manor

" That is just a quibble/' began Norah, but Lady Wrotham
again struck in.

" Let me speak clearly, ,, she said, " once and for all. Mrs.
Prentice, I will say no more of how the news that I told only
to you got about. But I know from my own observation
since it did get about that you have done your best to make
the worst of it. I have been seriously displeased at it, and
have meant to say so, but did not, because I hoped that you
would come to see in what an un-Christian manner you were
behaving. I do so now. It ill becomes one who professes
the change of heart that you have recently undergone to act in
that way ; and if it goes on I shall begin to think that there
has been no change at all, and that you are still in a state of
darkness."

This was too much. To be talked to like a naughty school-
girl before Mrs. O'Keefe, whom she had designed to present
to her patroness, as one who was in a position to be able to do
that little service for her by reason of the close intimacy that
existed between her and Lady Wrotham — this was bad enough.
But to be held up before her as an example of a repentant
Low Church sinner, whose repentance was looked upon with
grave suspicion, was more than she could bear. The cords of
her allegiance snapped under the strain, and she threw com-
placency to the winds. " Pooh ! " she exclaimed. " I have
never professed any change of heart at all, not of that sort. I
don't believe in it, and I certainly don't require it. You have
made a mistake, Lady Wrotham. I think your ideas on re-
ligious matters are entirely wrong, and I have only given in to
them as much as I have to try and keep the peace, which you
have done your best to disturb since you have been here. I
shall do so no longer. What do I get by it ? Simply insults
and injustice."

Lady Wrotham stared at her with ever deepening displea-
sure. " Do you know what you are saying ? " she asked when
Mrs. Prentice had come to the end of her diatribe.

Mrs. Prentice was in for it now. She had burnt her boats
in a fit of pique, and although, confronted with Lady Wro-
tham's stern face and forbidding air, she had a moment's in-
clination to knuckle under and retreat, the presence of Norah
O'Keefe swept away that momentary impulse. She rose from
the chair in which she had seated herself. " Yes, I know very
well," she said. " I have been too patient, too conciliatory.



Norah's Attempt 283

You will have nothing more to do with me. Very well, I
can't help it. I have done all I can to meet your views, but
my conscience now bids me stop and take a firm line. I
walk out of this house, and I don't wish ever to enter it again
as long as you are here, Lady Wrotham."

" I think you had better do so," said Lady Wrotham, " be-
fore you forget yourself further.' '

So Mrs. Prentice walked out, in a towering rage which
turned to trembling as soon as she had crossed the threshold.
But this time no port, no biscuits could revive her. She went
home and threw herself on her bed to think over what she had
done, the unhappiest woman in Exton.

Lady Wrotham, left alone with Norah O'Keefe, turned her
head away from the door through which Mrs. Prentice had
disappeared, and said, " Well, I have had a lesson. I have no
doubt now that you are right, and that Mrs. Prentice has
merely pretended to agree with me on matters that I have at
heart, with a view to insinuating herself into my favour. I
am glad I have found her out. 1 am shocked at her vulgarity
and hypocrisy. We need not trouble ourselves with her any
longer, and, Mrs. O'Keefe, now that I find I have been mis-
taken in her, I must do my best to put right what has been
wrong with regard to Mrs. Red cliff e, through my agency, I
fear, in the first place, although not with my intention. And
you must help me. You must either bring Mrs. Redcliffe
here to see me, or I will go and see her, I do not mind which it
is. But if I go to see her she must be prepared for my
visit. I should not care to go and to be refused admit-
tance."

" I do not think that would happen, Lady Wrotham."

" It would not, of course, if she was prepared for my visit.
And perhaps you had better prepare her. It would perhaps be
more of a compliment if I waived ceremony and went to see
her. I should not like to appear to be in the position of send-
ing for her. You can see her between now and to-morrow
afternoon, I suppose, and can let me know how my visit
would be received. You must let her know that I should
come as a friend, and should like to have her as a friend, if she
will overlook the little mistake which has caused such trouble.
You can explain to her that the trouble has been none of my
doing."

This was very handsome, and Norah felt it was meant to be



284 Exton Manor

so. " I will do what I can," she said, " and I am sure they
will be glad."

A shade came over Lady Wrotham's face. " I had forgot-
ten the girl for the moment," she said. u Of course, she did
send a very impertinent message to me."

" She may have said something to Mrs. Prentice in her
anger," said Norah. " I don't know what it was, but I am
quite sure that whatever she did say Mrs. Prentice made the
most of."

" I dare say you are right. Well, I will overlook that, and
think no more about it. You had better come and tell me
what has passed at twelve o'clock to-morrow, and I will go
and see Mrs. Redcliffe about four o'clock in the afternoon.
And now, my dear, let me tell you how glad I am to have you
here. I am rather cut off from my old friends, and have not,
so far, cared to invite people to stay with me here. I shall do
so by and by, when I have a little recovered from my loss,
which still affects me, although I try to show it as little as
possible ; and I shall hope to have some young people in the
house, from time to time. But you must come and cheer me
up. I shall always be glad to see you."

Norah made suitable acknowledgments and took her leave.
" She really isn't half a bad old thing," she said to herself as
she walked away, " and she seems to have taken a fancy to
me. Nothing was said about my ' goings on,' and nothing
probably will be said now. Well, if she succeeds in putting
things right with Mrs. Redcliffe — and I must do my best to
bring that about — I will be friends with her. But not unless."

Norah went to see Mrs. Redcliffe the next morning and
explained the situation to her. " I have no objection to see-
ing Lady Wrotham," Mrs. Redcliffe said. " I do not know
that she can be blamed for her part in the trouble, and if she

is no longer under the influence of Mrs. Prentice But

I don't know what Hilda will say, Norah. She is far more
upset about it than I am, you know. Dear girl, it is all out
of pure loyalty to me."

" Where is Hilda ? " asked Norah. " Can't we talk to
her ? "

" I think you had better do so. She is painting in the
church. Tell her that Lady Wrotham is coming to see us this
afternoon, and that I hope she will lay aside her dislike and
help me to come to an understanding with her."



Norah's Attempt 285

So Norah went down to the church, and found Hilda Red-
cliffe in one of the pews, in the early stages of a painting of
the pulpit, an object of which the inhabitants of Exton were
justly proud.

She found her unexpectedly obdurate. She grew indignant
and distressed the moment the object of Norah's address to her
was mentioned. " How can mother think of it ? " she ex-
claimed. " And how can you advise her to do it, Norah ? I
dare say it is true that Lady Wrotham is not so bad as Mrs.
Prentice, but she has listened to Mrs. Prentice, she has not
lifted a finger to stop all the scandal she has put about, and she
has made a bosom friend of Mrs. Prentice, all the time she has
been doing everything she could to do harm to mother. I
think she has behaved disgracefully/'

" But, surely, Hilda dear, now that she has broken with Mrs.
Prentice, and on account of this very thing, and wants to see
Mrs. Redcliffe — and you — to say how 7 sorry she is about it all,
and for her share in it "

" How do you know she wants to say that ? Supposing she
just comes into the house — practically at our invitation — and
tries to lord it over mother, as seems to be her nature, from
everything we know about her Of course, it is awk-
ward for her having us here, who don't want to have any-
thing to do with her. It hurts her dignity, and she would
like to put herself in the right. No, Norah, I don't like Lady
Wrotham, and the less mother and I have to do with her the
better."

Whether Norah would have been able to make any im-
pression on this attitude, and peace and goodwill would have
been brought about by her efforts, cannot be known. It is
probable that they would. But it was not to be. Hilda was
sitting in the corner of one pew, and Norah standing behind



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