Archibald Marshall.

Exton manor online

. (page 26 of 36)
Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 26 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

his requirements, which embrace birth and beauty as well as
large and unfettered wealth, are too exacting.

And lastly there is Sir Francis Redcliffe, who does not belong
to the smart set, spending most of his time as he does in the
management of his country estate, and in the pursuit of coun-
try sports and pastimes. He is the youngest of the party ; his
age is not more than eight and twenty. He is a tall healthy-
looking young man, rather solemn and rather slow, and seems
to be quite out of place at this particular picnic, as the life he
habitually lives includes very few of the interests which pro-


Arrivals 297

vide the rest of the picnickers with their subjects of conversa-
tion. But he makes himself at home all the same, and the lady
picnickers show a generous desire to put him at his ease, find-
ing his solemnity amusing and his slowness restful. Perhaps
they would not be so generous if he were not so good-looking,
not with the elaborate and cultivated good looks of a man of
fashion like Major Syde, who is so handsome and so well-
dressed that he would be noticed in any company, but good-
looking in the quiet unpretentious fashion of a healthy young
Englishman, who thinks nothing about his features and very
little about his clothes. He has a good pair of e} T es, and there
is a straightforward unafraid look in them which the lady pic-
nickers find attractive, and for which they forgive him a dis-
concerting disregard of their own obvious attractions.

Sir Francis Redcliffe is accustomed to ask for anything that
he wants if he thinks he is justified in asking for it, and he has
asked for this invitation from Mrs. Ferraby for reasons which
will be disclosed. Mrs. Ferraby's family are neighbours of Sir
Francis Redcliffe's in Worcestershire. She likes him, and is
always ready to do a kindness to anybody ; so here he is, making
one of his rare appearances in fashionable society, and ready,
lor all his solemnity, to take his part in whatever goes forward
to the best of his ability



Mr. and Mrs. Ferraby being accustomed to spend most of
their waking hours in the midst of a crowd, and being so un-
used to eating their dinner except in company that they would
hardly be able to eat it at all if condemned to a solitude of two,
it was only natural that Mrs. Ferraby should increase the
number at her dinner-table on the first evening of their arrival
by inviting Lord Wrotham and Norah O'Keefe and Browne and
Turner to take their seats at it. Eight people could be
dined in great comfort with as much elbow r room as could be
desired, and twelve could not, but possibly the picnic appear-
ance of the occasion, on which Mrs. Ferraby laid such stress,
was helped out by the crush, and at any rate there was no lack
of gaiety or noise when the diners did at last squeeze them-
selves into their places, at about nine o'clock, even if they
were a trifle too close to one another.

It was significant of that ready good nature and adapt-
ability which made the Ferrabys popular among their friends
that they should have been as ready to offer hospitality to their
quiet country neighbours as to their smart London acquaint-
ance. Lord Wrotham was invited not exactly as a country
neighbour, and Norah O'Keefe had gone about in London and
elsewhere before her husband's death, and would have been
welcome anywhere ; but Browne and Turner, the one a life-
long bucolic and the other a recluse, had no connections
whatever with any part of the life led by the Ferrabys, except
their occasional picnics, and were there as country neighbours
only. The fact that they both accepted all the invitations to
the Forest Lodge that were tendered them, and enjoyed them-
selves when they got there, may be taken as a proof that the


A Dinner -Party at Forest Lodge 299

hospitality of the Ferrabys was based upon a genuine liking
for their fellow-creatures, as all hospitality should be, and
that their general popularity was not undeserved.

Browne and Turner arrived punctually at half-past eight,
the hour at which they had been asked to arrive, and were
shown into an empty drawing-room.

" Not down yet," said Browne.

'* No, and won't be for another quarter of an hour," said
Turner. " Can't think what you were in such a hurry to get
off for."

" I'm hungry," said Browne simply. " I say, I wonder
why they haven't asked the Redcliffes. They gen'ly do."

" You said that coming along — three times. You always
do say everything three times. How should I know ? "

"I hope Mrs. Ferraby hasn't heard anything about this
business, and is standing off."

" You've said that three times too, if not four, and I told
you Mrs. Ferraby wasn't that sort."

Sir Francis Redcliffe came into the room at that moment,
and there was some hesitation as to whether he should be ac-
cepted at once as a man and a brother, or ignored until a due
introduction should render him so ex officio. He solved the
dimculty himself by remarking that it was a fine evening, and
having thus matriculated in approved fashion, was allowed to
proceed to the higher degrees without further loss of time.

" Do you know my cousins, the Redcliffes, who live here ? "
he asked presently, when he had discovered that Browne and
Turner were residentiary, and not migratory like himself.

Browne stared at him, and Turner said, " Yes. Particular
friends of ours — both of us. Thought they hadn't any rela-
tions in England, though."

" My name's Redcliffe," said Sir Francis. " George Red-
cliffe was a first cousin of my father's. I didn't know they
were in England until a week or two ago, or I should have
looked them up. Wrotham told me. I ran up against him
in town a week ago. I'm going to look them up to-morrow.
She's a nice woman, isn't she ? "

" One of the best that ever stepped," said Turner. " Very
glad you're going to see her."

Sir Francis seemed about to say something, but apparently
changed his mind.

" Mrs. Ferraby likes her, I think," said Browne tentatively.

300 Exton Manor

" Oh, yes. She likes her very much. She's asked them to
dine here to-morrow. Would have asked them to-night, but
I wanted to go and see her first/'

Again he appeared as if he had something else to say, but
he was interrupted by the entrance of Norah O'Keefe, look-
ing so beautiful that Browne and Turner both drew in their
breaths, and even Francis Redcliffe was impressed, and won-
dered who she could be.

Mr. Ferraby came in, genial and alert. " You know what
we are here/' he said by way of apology, " always behind
time. And how are you, Mrs. O'Keefe ? Not quite taken
root yet, eh ? We're going to take you all over the place
while we're here. How do, Browne ? How do, Turner ?
Browne, you're getting fat. Mrs. O'Keefe, let me introduce
Sir Francis Redcliffe. He's come here to dig out his long-lost
cousins. Mrs. Patrick O'Keefe. Well, Turner, not got
tired of the fish yet, eh ? "

Lord Bridgwater came in. He recognized Mrs. O'Keefe
and shook hands with her, but she soon hurried back to Francis
Redcliffe, with whom she had been in conversation. Lord
Bridgwater recognized Turner. " Hulloa, Diogenes," he
said, " who'd have thought of seeing you after all these years ?
I should have known your solemn old visage anywhere. Last
time we met — let's see "

" Was when you'd got more hair on your head than you
have now," said Turner. " You've become a big man since
then, Tubby. Thank you for not being too proud to know

" You old fraud ! " said Bridgwater, digging him in the ribs.
" Still as hard-headed and soft-hearted as ever, eh ? "

Prince Orvinski and Major Syde came in. "Is that Sidey
Syde ? " said Turner, u or do my eyes deceive me ? He was
my fag at Bourdon's." The prince was introduced to Mrs.
O'Keefe. Laurence Syde looked as if he would like to be,
but as the Russian was paying her stiff-backed compliments,
which would take him some time to bring to a successful issue,
he cast his eyes over the other men in the room and lighted
upon Turner. " Hulloa, Diogenes ! " he said coolly, run
you to earth at last. Thought you'd gone under altogether.
How are you ? "

" Fm very vfcll, thank you, Sidey," replied Turner. " Var-
nish factory still going strong ? "

A Dinner-Party at Forest Lodge 301

Laurence's reply was lost in a rustle of skirts as Mrs.
Ferraby and Lady Buttermere swept into the room. Mrs.
Ferraby went straight to Norah O'Keefe, greeted her warmly,
and then shook hands with Browne and Turner, smiling and
talking all the time. Lady Buttermere looked round for Mrs.
Lancing, and seemed disappointed to find that she herself was
not the last arrival, which she might very well have been, as it
was already ten minutes to nine. The room was full of talk
and laughter, when Lord Wrotham made his appearance, cool
and fresh, and grinning with sheer affability. He was very
soon talking and laughing as loudly as anyone, and had singled
out Norah O'Keefe as the most fitting recipient of his spirited
excursions, showing Prince Orvinski the shape of a British
shoulder, and quite eclipsing Francis Redcliffe, who stood in a
corner behind them and looked lost.

It was just upon half-an-hour past the appointed hour for
dinner, which had already been announced in a hopeless kind
of way by the butler, as who should say, " I mention this as it
is my duty to do so, but without the slightest expectation of
being attended to." All the ladies were still chattering gaily,
but the men had begun to ringer their waistcoats and look
round them, when the door opened to admit Mrs. Lancing,
who came in quietly, but with an air of complacence, as much
as to say, " I think I've done it this time." A moment's pause
in the torrent of chatter from all except Lady Buttermere, who
had her back turned to the door, and kept it there, was her re-
ward. Certainly Mrs. Lancing's get-up, if not eminently
suitable for a picnic, was worth the strenuous hour she iiG.d
spent over it. It drew a momentary appraising glance from
Mrs. Ferraby and Norah O'Keefe, and it performed the
curious operation of slightly opening the mouths of the men in
the room. It so impressed Lord Bridgwater that he was able
to describe it a few weeks later to Lady Bridgwater, when
they met unexpectedly under the beeches at Goodwood, and
had a few minutes' quiet chat. " Chiffon," he said, " of a sort
of green you never see. Just that and some pearls in her
hair ; you know her hair — sort of shining copper. But, by
Jove, ii was stunning ! "

They went into the dining-room, and. the butler stood by
the door, and looked at them with mournful eyes. " It is all
very well," he seemed to say, " but I have no illusions left
about you. You are nothing but froth, and I know a good

302 Exton Manor

deal more about you than you think/' But even he cast a
semi-approving glance at Mrs. Lancing, and seemed to correct
his judgment, and to be saying, " Well, perhaps you have
your uses as ornamental accessories to a dinner-table, arranged
as only I can arrange it."

There were only four ladies to eight men. Mrs. Ferraby
and Prince Orvinski sat side by side at the head of the table,
and Mr. Ferraby and Lady Buttermere at the foot. On the
prince's right was Mrs. Lancing, and then Lord Bridgwater,
Browne, and Francis Redcliffe. On Mrs. Ferraby' s left were
Lord Wrotham, who had Norah O'Keefe next to him, and
beyond her were Laurence Syde and Turner. Everybody
talked loudly except Francis Redcliffe and Browne and
Turner. The sad butler lost no time in inciting them to
further efforts, assisted by one of his satellites, and as he
whispered interrogatively, " Champagne ? " seemed to add,
" I ask you as a matter of form. You are nothing but froth,
and this is your fitting refreshment."

The talk swelled into a hurricane, which filled the room
and passed out through the open windows into the quiet
night, and seemed to stir the trees of the forest into uneasy
protest. Every now and then it subsided a little, as groups
of two or three withdrew themselves from the general con-
versation, like small bubbles breaking off from a cluster of
bubbles, and then coming back to it. Prince Orvinski and
Mrs. Lancing were periodically confidential, and sometimes
Prince Orvinski addressed himself to his hostess while Lord
Bridgwater and Mrs. Lancing talked together. Wrotham
and Laurence Syde, on either side of Norah O'Keefe, vied
with one another to monopolize her attention. Francis Red-
cliffe and Browne found one another stimulating on the subject
of estate management. Mr. Ferraby and Lady Buttermere
chaffed each other, and Turner threw in an occasional con-
tribution to their babble of wit, or insisted upon Laurence
Syde's attention, as he advised him to follow his own example
and settled dow r n in an out-of-the-way country place, where he
needn't trouble about his clothes or be bothered with women.
The Guardsman took this advice in good part, laughed at his
adviser, and gave him back as good as he received.

But these interludes were only momentary. The big group
of bubbles hung together for the most part, and if it is true
that laughter is the best possible aid to digestion, the Ferrabys'

A Dinner -Party at Forest Lodge 303

chef was justified in ignoring the possibilities of any ill-effects
resulting from a dinner that would have put to shame any
picnic caterer since the days of Lucullus,

When the ladies had left the room, Mr. Ferraby went to
the other end of the table, but by and by Lord Wrotham and
his cousin detached themselves from the group he had formed,
and talked together. It was easy to see that the younger
man, good-natured and simple, in spite of his position in the
world, and his numerous energies and pursuits, was under the
influence of ins brilliant and self-possessed elder, looked up to
him as a pattern of experienced manhood, and deferred to his
opinions. " I say, she's a topping little lady, Mrs. O'Keefe,"
he said, but he said it not in the way he would have said it to
a friend of his own age, but tentatively, with his eye on his
cousin's face, as if he was ready to defer to his opinion, even
in such matters as these, with which he was more than usually
competent to deal.

" Don't you go making a fool of yourself with her, Kern,"
said the other.

" Oh, lor', no/' said Wrotham, as if it was the last thing
that would have entered his mind. u But, I say, old chap,
you seemed a bit taken with her yourself, what ? "

Laurence turned his eyes calmly upon him. "You're talk-
ing through your hat," he said coldly, and Wrotham hastened
to apologize for his indiscretion.

Three Bridge-tables were brought into the drawing-room
after dinner, which was about as many as it would hold, but
only one of them was occupied until after the country neigh-
bours had left, and the rest sang songs round the piano, or
talked in corners. Laurence Syde, somewhat inconsistently,
devoted himself to the entertainment of Norah O'Keefe, in
the quietest corner that could be found, and that was not very
quiet. To judge by her frequent trills of laughter, he met
with considerable success in his undertaking, and Wrotham,
with his hands in his pockets, singing lustily, with frequent
glances in their direction, could neither dislodge them from
their stronghold to join in the music, nor insinuate himself
into their company.

He had his reward, however, later, when by what he con-
sidered a most fortunate interference of Providence, Norah's
coachman was discovered to have succumbed to the pervading
hospitality of the house while waiting for his mistress, and to

304 Exton Manor

be incapable of driving her home. He immediately offered
to do so in his mother's carriage, the charioteer of which was
proof, perhaps in his head, perhaps in his morals, against the
temptation, and drove off with her amidst a chorus of talk
and laughter from the assembled guests, among whom he
caught a glimpse of his cousin's face, dark and annoyed, as
he pushed up the window, and the dejected countenances of
Browne and Turner, whose offers at accommodation had been
put lightly aside.

The house party went back to their Bridge, which now
became a serious affair, and lasted until long after the average
picnicker would have been wrapt in slumber ; lasted, indeed,
until those most inveterate of picnickers, the birds, were begin-
ning to bestir themselves for another day in the open, and
Sir Francis Redcliffe was so sleepy that he revoked three
times in as many games, and lost his fina] rubber, and a good
deal of money besides.



It was with some surprise that Mrs. Redcliffe received the
next morning a letter from her husband's kinsman, written
from London the day before, in which he said that he had
only lately heard from Lord Wrotham of her being in Eng-
land, or he should have hoped to make her acquaintance
before, as she and her daughter must be the only relations he
had on his father's side. He was going down to stay with
the Ferrab3 r s for a few days that afternoon, and would like to
see her, and would come, if she had no objection, the next
morning about eleven o'clock.

" I only heard of him as a very small boy from your
father," said Mrs. Redcliffe to Hilda. M I think he must be
twenty-seven or eight now. It is a kind letter. I shall be
glad to see 11™."

Hilda was not so sure. She was inclined to be suspicious.
" Does he know ? " was in her thoughts, but she kept them
to herself, and decided to hold a watchful attitude when her
cousin did come. Lord Wrotham's name intrcduced into the
letter inclined her on the whole to leniency. Lord Wrotham
was kftidness and thoughtfulness itself, and had probably asked
this young man to do what he could to soften down the
unpleasantness which he knew she and her mother were
undergoing. Full credit must be given to Lord Wrotham, of
course, for his probable endeavours ; but it remained to be
seen whether Sir Francis Redcliffe had responded to them out
of mere complacency, or with a genuine desire to take his
stand by his relations against the world. If the former, she
was sure she would find him out very soon, and in that case
he would not be welcome. But his letter was a nice one.


so G Exton Manor

She could not deny that, and hoped on the whole that he
might acquit hiniself to her satisfaction.

He came about half-past eleven, in a motor-car, and
apologized for being late. " We, didn't breakfast much
before eleven/' he said, tf and I couldn't get away." He
seemed to think it of importance to have something definite
to say as he came in, and at first Hilda was doubtful of
him. He was awkward, or if not exactly awkward, nervous
and shy. He held himself very straight and did not smile
as he greeted them, and when he sat down in an easy-chair,
which he did upon Mrs. Redcliffe's invitation, he sat for-
ward with his elbows resting on his knees and played with
his cap as if he were not at his ease. But presently he
become more so, and it was quite plain that his nervousness
and slryness were only attributable to his doubt as to whether
his coming at all would be agreeable to them, and did not
arise from any doubt on his own behalf ; and by and by,
when he laughed, Hilda accepted him as a cousin at once,
for his laugh was honest and free and compelled liking.

" To tell you the truth," he said, " I didn't know I had any
relations on my father's side. He died when I was a baby
and my mother died when I was born. When Wrotham
told me about you I looked it up in the books, but they only
told me that my father had a hrst cousin, and his regiment,
and his being A.D.C., and so on, but there was nothing
more about him. I suppose there was nobody to fill up the
papers after my father died. He was the only Redcliffe
besides me."

"Your father was dead, I know," said Mrs. Redcliffe,
" when my husband was first married to my sister, and of
course when he married me a year later." She spoke in a
matter-of-fact tone, but with a slight change of colour, and
Hilda threw a searching glance at him.

" I know," he said in obvious allusion to Mrs. Redcliffe's
story rather than to her statement ; and that was the only
reference to it that passed his lips during his visit. But it
was enough. Hilda put away her suspicions once for all, and
became more and more kindlv disposed towards him as he

" I hope you and Miss Redcliffe," he said, throwing a
glance at Hilda as he mentioned her name, " will come and
pay me a visit at Riverslea. I'm there pretty nearly always.

A Visit and a Conversation 307

I don't use ail the house myself and I don't often have people
staying with me, except a few men to shoot occasionally ; but
I'll open it in your honour. To tell you the truth I'm rather
pleased to find some relations, and I feel inclined to make a
lot of them."

It was at this point that he laughed, and after that he leant
back in his chair, and talked altogether more easily.

Mrs. Redciiffe was touched by his kindness. " I should
much like to come," she said. " And I should like Hilda to
see the house. Hsr father spent many happy days of his
childhood there and often talked to me of it."

" It's a dear old place," said Sir Francis ; " not one of the
show places, yoii know, but rambling and comfortable, and
hardly anything has been altered in it for — oh, I don't know
how long — two or three hundred years, perhaps. All the old
furniture is there, and there's a beautiful garden. I don't
do much with the garden, I'm so busy on the land, but
I keep it up. You've got a very pretty garden here." He
looked out of the big bow-window on to the lawn and
the rose-beds, and the border of hardy flowers opposite to
the house, just beginning to put on its summer dress of

" Yes, it is our hobby, Hilda's and mine," said Mrs. Red-
ciiffe. " We don't know many big gardens, but we are great
readers of gardening books. Shall we go out and see it ? I
will just go and get a hat."

Hilda was left alone for a minute with her cousin. They
eyed one another. Sir Francis seemed to suffer from an
access of shyness, but recovered from it sufficiently to say, " I
hope you'll be able to come soon ; Warwickshire's very jolly
in the summer."

" I should love to come," said Hilda. M It is very kind of
you to ask us."

Sir Francis's shyness descended on him again. " No, it
isn't," he said. " Not a bit."

Mrs. Redciiffe came in from the hall, and they all went out
into the garden. " When we've had a look round," said Sir
Francis, " I thought perhaps you would both like to come
for a sail. Mr. Ferraby's boat is ready at Harben and I've
got it for the day, and that motor-car. All the rest of our
party have gone on the yacht. I thought we might take
Mr. Browne. They have put me up a luncheon basket.

308 Exton Manor

We could sail over to the Island and back. The wind is just

It would be delightful/' said Mrs. Redcliffe ; but Hilda
put in, slightly blushing, " Lord Wrotham said he was
coming after lunch, mother. He wanted us to go on the

Mrs. Redcliffe was silent. She had not been consulted as
to this arrangement.

" Wrotham ? " said Sir Francis. " He has gone on the
yacht. They won't be back till dinner-time."

" He only said he might come," said Hilda hastily. " Do
let us go, mother. I love sailing."

" Do you ? " said Sir Francis, looking at her with pleasure.
" So do I. Especially on the sea. Then you'll come ? "

Hilda was determined to go, and grew quite excited at the
prospect, but her determination and excitement did not seem
to spring from any pleasure in the prospect of the excursion,
although she said they did. Mrs. Redcliffe acquiesced in the

" I'll just run down to the village and see if I can get hold
of Browne, while you are getting ready," said Sir Francis.
" They told me he would be at his office."

Browne was duly got hold of. He had a lot of work to do,
but thought he might manage it. "I shall be glad to get out
for an hour or two and have a blow," he said. " I'm in-
fernally worried here. I say, do you think you'd have room
for Turner too ? He's just gone up to the post-office. I
know he likes a sail, and he likes your cousins."

Sir Francis thought there would be room for Turner. The
car was a six-seated one and the boat would hold them all.
So Turner was approached on the subject, and presently they
all went off together, picking up Mrs. Redcliffe and Hilda on
the way.

By the time they came home again, late in the afternoon,
they had quite taken Sir Francis into their bond of friendship.

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 26 of 36)