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of life and we're in another, and no intentions to presume or
to get out of it. But if I do ever have the chance of a little
talk with her ladyship I'll make it quite plain that I don't
agree with her Church nor her politics, but that's no reason I
shouldn't go my way and she go hers, and neither think the
worse of the other."

" You'll find that the best way," said Turner. " I think I
must be going now."

Mr. Dale would have liked to sit and talk to him for an
hour, but Turner prepared decidedly to take his leave. Mrs.
Dale went upstairs, and Mr. Dale accompanied him to the
front door. As they stood there a carriage and pair, with
coachman and footman on the box, came in view round the
bend of the steep drive. " Lor', what's this ? " exclaimed
Mr. Dale.

" It's Lady Wrotham coming to see you," said Turner,



832 Exton Manor

bending down to fasten his clips, and possibly to hide his
face.

" Well, now, I take that very kind/ 1 said Mr. Dale, and
rushed back into the hall to get his coat, appearing again at
the porch in the act of putting it on as the carriage came to a
stop. Lad}/ Syde was the nearer to him, and he shook hands
with her warmly. " How do you do, Lady Wrotham ? u he
said heartily. " I take this as a great compliment, and so will
mother. Come in now, do, and bring your friend. If you'll
honour us by drinking a cup of tea "

Lady Wrotham managed to make herself heard. "/ am
Lady Wrotham," she said, with a cloud of annoyance on her
Olympian brow. " I have come to see Mrs. Dale. This is
Lady Syde."

Mr. Dale stared for a moment, and then slapped his thigh.
" Well, if I haven't put my foot in it and made a mistake
again ! " he cried. " Whatever mother 11 say to me, I don't
know. It was only just now, Mrs. — er — Lady — er — that I
took the Captain here for a tradesman come for orders, and
wanted to send him about his business." He had time to in-
dicate Turner before losing himself again in a paroxysm of
hearty laughter.

Turner took off his cap. . " It was only natural," he said.
" I told you my father was a shop-keeper, Lady Wrotham."

" Very amusing, no doubt," said Lady Wrotham. " Mr.
Dale, will you kindly tell Mrs. Dale that Lady Wrotham has
called, or shall my servant ring the bell ? "

Mr. Dale came to himself. " I'm forgetting my manners,
my lady," he said. " If you'll kindly step in, I'll tell the
wife. I expect she'll want a few minutes to smarten herself
up. Will you just step in and take a glass of port wine now ?
— you and your friend — I didn't catch her name."

" No, thank you," said Lady Wrotham shortly, becoming
more and more angry. " Will you let Mrs. Dale know I am
here ? "

" Yes ; but do take something— a glass of port, or sherry,
or a cup of tea — anything you like to name. This is Liberty
Hall. Step in now and make yourself at home, and I'll go
and tell mother."

Lady Wrotham lost patience. " Put this card on the table,"
she said to the footman, " and drive on. I cannot wait any
longer."



Visits 833

" Wait a minute, wait a minute," said Mr. Dale. " I
didn't know you were in such a hurry. I'll go and fetch the
wife at once," and he disappeared into the house.

" Put the card on the table," repeated Lady Wrotham;
" and drive on." Her face v/as a study in dark displeasure as
she sat upright in her carriage while her behest was obeyed.
Turner had taken himself off on his bicycle, chuckling, but
Peter and Gladys were standing in the drive devouring her and
her equipage with astonished eyes, Mary's garden hat could be
seen over a low bush behind them, Ada's face was only half
concealed by a window curtain, and, as they drove away,
Lotty looked up from a rose-bush in the open garden, and
Tom strolled innocently past them with his briar pipe in his
mouth.

" Did you ever hear of such a reception ? " said Lady Wro-
tham as the carriage rolled down the hill. " And those are
the sort of people I am supposed to live on equal terms with,
Henrietta. The man is no better than a savage."

"It is my belief," said Lady Syde, " that he was drunk.
You cannot put up with them, Sarah ; they must go."

The two ladies soothed their rasped feelings with a long
drive, and returned to the Abbey for tea. They had no sooner
taken their seats for another quiet chat, one of a continuous
series with which they entertained, each other whenever they
were in company, when Mrs. Ferraby was announced.

Mrs. Ferraby, beautifully dressed, and throwing the two
elder ladies quite into the shade by her appearance, came in,
graceful and smiling.

" My party has gone off on the yacht again," she said, " but
I thought I would stay behind and come and see you, Lady
Wrotham. Oh, Lady Syde, how do you do ? I heard you
were here. Laurence is an old friend of ours, and I have
heard so much of you."

" A good deal that you would not care to repeat, I dare say/'
responded Lady Syde, and Lady Wrotham added :

" Major Syde is no great favourite of mine, as I dare say
you know, Mrs. Ferraby. We will find some other topic of
conversation. I am glad to see you. I hope you are enjoy-
ing your holiday in the country."

" Very much, thank you," replied Mrs. Ferraby, rustling
her silks. " It has been such a rush in London that we are
glad to get away for a few days' rest."



SD4 Bxtoti Manor

" I suppose Mr. Ferraby works so hard at his business,"
said Lady Wrotham, " that he welcomes these holidays,
although to the rest of us they are rather tiresome.' '

Mrs. Ferraby looked at her and then laughed. " Yes/' she
said, " we generally spend the Bank Holiday on Hampstead
Heath, but this time business has been so good that we thought
we might manage a picnic down here."

Lady Wrotham looked at her with displeasure, but Lady
Syde suddenly laughed and said, u Very good ; you deserved
that, Sarah," which did not improve Lady Wrotham's temper.

" I hope you like Exton," said Mrs. Ferraby. " We are so
fond of the place that we would put up with any inconvenience
to be here. And, of course, the Forest Lodge is very incon-
venient."

" I am sure we shall be very pleased to relieve you of it,"
said Lady Wrotham. " There would be no difficulty in let-
ting it again to people who were prepared to live there quietly,
and see a few of their friends there quietly, from time to time."

" I am afraid you won't get rid of us so easily," said Mrs.
Ferrab} 7 , still smiling. ■ - We would rather picnic here than
live comfortably in a larger house. I wonder if you and Lady
Syde would care to dine with us one night. We shall be here
till Thursday or Friday, and we have some amusing people
staving with us."

' Thank you," replied Lady W r rotham. "I do not dine
out in the country now. And, to tell you the truth, Mrs.
Ferraby, I am not at all anxious to meet your amusing people,
nor, I expect, would they be very anxious to meet me. I am
afraid I should hardly add to their amusement."

" Oh, but I am sure you would, Lady Wrotham," said Mrs.
Ferraby brightly. " However, I won't press you against your
will. I only thought that you might be a little dull living here
in this big house alone, and we should like to do something
while we are down here to cheer you up a little."

" You would no doubt find it dull, living here alone, Mrs.
Ferraby," said Lady Wrotham. " But I am thankful to say
that I have resources, and that I am not dependent upon a
succession of noisy visitors to entertain me."

" That sounds a trifle rude," said Lady Syde ; " but I am
sure you do not mean to be so, Sarah."

" Certainly I do not wish to be rude," said Lady Wro-
tham. " But I am accustomed to say what I think. I never



Visits 385

mixed myself up with the sort of life that Mrs. Ferraby's
friends live, either in London or in the country, and in the
country especially I dislike it. I think it is thoroughly unsett-
ling. I am quite content to live quietly amongst the people
around me, whether they are what are called smart people or
not/'

Mrs. Ferraby had listened to this speech with attention.
" But I thought you did not get on well with the people
around you here, Lady Wrotham," she said. " I understand
that you were not pleased with them and saw nothing of any-
body."

Lady Wrotham, thus addressed, and the annoyance to which
she had been subjected earlier in the afternoon having not yet
entirely worn off, lost what little desire she may have had to
conceal her dislike for the kind of existence represented by
Mrs. Ferraby. " It is quite true," she said, "that the people
here are the most impossible that I could find to live quietly
amongst. But, tiresome and quarrelsome as they are, I would
rather take my chance of bringing them to a better state of
mind than be dependent for society on a set of fast London
people, most of whom are no better than they should be.
Nothing could be more disturbing than to introduce that sort
of life into a place like this. It sets a thoroughly bad ex-
ample, and it gives people who don't know any better the im-
pression that it is representative of the upper classes. It
is a very different kind of life to the one I wish to set before
them."

" Well," said Mrs. Ferraby, rising, and still smiling sweetly,
" I should have thought it was a better example than to quar-
rel with all your neighbours and live in solitary grandeur.
My husband and I have always been very good friends with
the people here, except perhaps with Mrs. Prentice, whom
neither of us like. It has been quite delightful to come here
and see something of such nice people. We come now and
find them all set by the ears. However, we shall not trouble
you again, Lady Wrotham. I can quite understand now why
Exton is no longer the quiet friendly little place it was a few
months ago." And with this parting shot she went away,
without further leave-taking, leaving Lady Wrotham and Lady
Syde alone once more.

. Lady Wrotham made a strong effort to master her wrath.
" Another annoyance," she said. " My life is made up of



336 Exton Manor

them now. The woman is innately vulgar. All these fast
people are so at heart/'

" Well, Sarah," said Lady Syde, " I must say that you were
not very conciliatory. You can hardly expect a woman in
Mrs. Ferraby's position to sit down quietly under the sort of
attack you made upon her."

" Her position ! " echoed Lady Wrotham. " What is her
position ? She shall listen to whatever I choose to say to
her."

If there was one thing that Mrs. Ferraby quite made up her
mind about as she motored back to the Forest Lodge, it was
that under no circumstances would she ever again give Lady
Wrotham an opportunity of speaking to her in the way she
-had done. She told her husband of what had passed between
them when he returned with his guests from their yachting
excursion. " I think I gave her as good as she gave me," she
said. " But I can't help feeling rather sorry for the poor old
thing, Hugh. She is awfully rude, but she is rather pathetic
too*, all alone there. Still, of course, one can't have anything
more to do with her. I'll never go near her again."

" No necessity to," said Mr. Ferraby. " She must be an old
terror. Lots of nice people in the world, without bothering
about the disagreeable ones. I don't wonder that George
Wrotham isn't very respectful when he talks about her. I
say, old girl, he and Syde are making the running pretty hot
with the little O'Keefe. Think there's anything in it ? "

" I don't know what to think," said Mrs. Ferraby. " I
don't see how Laurence can possibly marry her, but he seems
keener than I have ever seen him before. And as for George,
well, you expect it of him ; but I shouldn't wonder if the way
he and Laurence are fighting over her doesn't end in making
him really in earnest."

" There's no doubt about the fighting. Syde is a bigger
fool than I take him for if he's going to quarrel with Wrotham.
Which does she like best ? / can't make out."

" If she likes either of them, I believe it is Laurence."

11 Still, he wouldn't have much chance against Wrotham if
it really came to business."

This was the Ferraby point of view. But Mrs. Ferraby
said, " She is rather different from ordinary people. I think
she would take the one she liked best ; but I am not at all sure
she cares for either of them. She's a dear thing. I am glad



Visits 337

we are able to give her a good time. It must be pretty dull

for her here."

" Yes ; why don't you ask her to come up to town with

us,' and take her about a bit ? "

" She wouldn't come when I asked her last year."

" I think she would now. It's time she married again.

She's too good to be buried alive down here. Well, I know

which of those two would make her the best husband, if she

wants another. I say, we must go and dress. It's nearly

nine o'clock."



CHAPTER XXXI

THE PICNIC BREAKS UP

Motoring and yachting by day, Bridge-playing half the
night and sleeping the rest, and talking and laughing all the
time, except when their eyes were actually closed, the genial
company gathered together for the picnic at the Forest Lodge
got through the days very comfortably, and managed to escape
almost entirely the clutches of the Giant Boredom, whom it
was their constant endeavour to keep at bay until such time as
they should be forced to climb the last great beanstalk, at the
top of which they pictured him as reigning for evermore.
Lord Wrotham and Mrs. O'Keefe, having been elected
honorary members of the picnic, were with them every day,
and dined with them on most evenings, but Sir Francis
Redcliffe was a continual deserter. He liked sailing, he said,
better than any other amusement they had to offer him ; he
hated sitting still and doing nothing with his hands. And, as
nobody else during the days of that particular picnic happened
to want to sail, he had the entire use of Mr. Ferraby's boat at
Harben, and frequently persuaded his cousins at the White
House, as well as Mr. Browne and Captain Turner, to use it
with him. Thus there were two distinct parties enjoying
their Whitsuntide holidays at Exton, and the quieter of the
two probably enjoyed them as much as the noisier.

The Redcliffes had dined at the Forest Lodge on the
second evening of the picnic, but Mrs. Redcliffe, who liked
the Ferrabys, but liked them better in her own house than
in theirs, had refused further invitations ; Mrs. Ferraby had
accompanied Francis Redcliffe to the White House on
Sunday afternoon while her husband and the rest of the
guests were scouring the roads of the country in search of
Sabbath calm, but otherwise the two parties had not fused.
Neither had the Redcliffes seen Norah O'Keefe since they
had dined together at the Forest Lodge on Saturday.

338



The Picnic breaks up 339

Now the motor-cars had flitted away from the Forest Lodge,
each with its load of revivified picnickers. The yacht had
steamed back to Greathampton, prepared to put herself at
the disposal of anyone who was ready to pay two or three
hundred pounds a week for the privilege of amusing them-
selves with her, and the sailing boat had taken up her moor-
ings in the Wemble River, there to remain until the Ferrabys
should take it into their heads to order her out again. And
Exton Manor had settled down again to the discussion of its
internal politics.

But the Whitsuntide invasion had brought one or two new
factors into play, and the situation was not in all respects the
same as it had been before. The most disturbing of these,
perhaps, was a slight coolness that sprang up* between Hilda
Redcliffe and Norah O'Keefe. Norah came up to the White
House on the day that the Forest Lodge was left to its solitude
and Exton to its everyday ways. Her air was no less friendly
than usual ; perhaps it was rather more obviously friendly, as
if she wished to show that she was entirely unchanged.
" You must have thought that I had quite forsaken you/'
she said. " But I seem to have been caught up into such a
whirl of gaiety and amusement, that I have had no time to
see even my best friends. But you have been gay too, haven't
you ? I should have liked to come sailing with you, but the
Ferrabys wouldn't let me off for a single day, and, to tell you
the truth, Sir Francis never asked me."

" I expect you enjoyed yourself much more as it was/' said
Hilda. " But I thought you were going to town with Mrs.
Ferraby."

" They asked me to go back with them," said Norah.
" But I don't want to go just yet. I want to have a quiet
little time with you first after all this dashing about. Wc
are very happy together here, and too much excitement isn't
good for quiet people."

" We haven't been very happy here lately," said Hilda ;
" and we are going away ourselves in a week. We are going
to stay with my cousin, and we shall be very glad to get
away from Exton for a bit."

From this short conversation the coolness sprang. Each
of them felt herself aggrieved. Norah had been greatly
pressed by Mrs. Ferraby, and also by most of her guests, to
return to London with them, and there continue the various



340 Exton Manor

intimacies she had formed during the course of the picnic,
and would have done so but that she thought her older friends,
whom it was rather on her conscience that she had neglected
lately, might want her. Now she felt that her good intentions
had been thrown in her face, and it seemed to her that she had
been told that they could (Jo very well without her. She had
some reason in being aggrieved.

Hilda would have told herself, and did tell herself, that she
had no reason to be aggrieved, and was not aggrieved. The
last thing she would have been willing to acknowledge was
that it caused her the slightest disappointment that Lord
Wrotham, who, until Norah's superior charms had attracted
him, had certainly shown himself attracted by her, had taken
no steps to pursue his pleasantly-begun intimacy with her and
her mother. She had see him only twice since he had come
up to the White House directly after his arrival in Exton and
intimated his intention of coming up again pretty frequently
during his visit. The first time was at dinner at the Forest
Lodge, when his open friendly manner to herself and her
mother had not deteriorated in quality, but had in quantity, for
he had devoted himself to Norah throughout the evening and
had found no time to do more than say a few words to Hilda.
On Sunday morning he had been in church, sitting alone in
the pew which his mother had forsaken for another in Standon
church, and frequently looking behind him as if in search of
somebody. He had spoken to her and her mother in the
churchyard after the service, amiably cracking a joke, and had
then darted away. Norah O'Keefe had not put in an appear-
ance, and he had presumably gone to find out the reason.

Hilda told herself that nothing more than this could have
been expected of him, and that she certainly neither expected
nor wanted more of him. Also it was very natural that he
should prefer the society of Norah O'Keefe, who was far
more beautiful and attractive than she was, or professed to
be, to hers. Also, that he was welcome to take pleasure
in Norah' s society as far as she was concerned, that being
exactly what she would have expected and would have
wished. There was nothing at all in Lord Wrotham's be-
haviour that offended her in the least degree ; in fact, she
had not cared about his rather too pressing attentions, and
preferred things as they were. But, at the same time, she
could not help feeling a little disappointed in the behaviour of



The Picnic breaks up 341

her friend. It was not quite nice that Norah, who had only
been widowed a short time, and had often expressed in their
more confidential talks together her intention of remain-
ing a widow all her life, should wish, as apparently she did
wish, to have all the men around her at her feet. She would
say herself, no doubt, that she could not help it ; but there
was the fact that she did not discourage them. They had
often laughed together over the obvious infatuation of Cap-
tain Turner and Mr. Browne, who had both thrown them-
selves at her immediately upon her arrival in Exton, and
had behaved in the most absurd way ever since, although
they had been intimate at the White House years before.
She was quite welcome to the attentions of two middle-aged
bachelors, but most people would have found them rather
tiresome and put an end to them. She was also quite wel-
come to the devotion of Fred Prentice, who had behaved
very badly, and whom she herself never thought of without
indignation, and hoped never to see again. But would a
really nice woman have acted so as to call forth that devotion,
under the peculiar circumstances of the case ? Hilda was
obliged to think she would not. And now here was Lord
Wrotham, and if Hilda had eyes in her head, yet another
admirer, both apparently encouraged to pay her as much
attention as they cared to. No, it was not nice, it was not
what she would have expected of Norah. As far as she was
concerned, it made no difference at all. She had most
decidedly never been in love, or near to being in love, either
with Fred Prentice or Lord Wrotham, but she was inclined
to think that if she had been it would have made no differ-
ence ; they would have been lured away just the same. It
was really rather a wonder that Norah had not exercised her
fascination on Francis — as she now called her cousin. He
was, of course, a man of much stronger character than
either Fred Prentice or Lord Wrotham ; there was no com-
parison between them. She herself would not have objected
in the least if she had done so ; not for herself, that is, be-
cause she, at any rate, was not anxious to be surrounded by
men ; she did not care about that sort of thing ; but he was
her cousin, and now a very good friend both to her mother
and herself, and really, one might have supposed that that
was enough reason, to judge by what had happened before.
Thus Hilda, in the general soreness of her heart, brought



342 Exton Manor

about by various causes, and doing a good deal less than
justice to the friend whom she had hitherto valued next after
her mother. For the present the friendship was clouded, and
little pleasure was to be got out of it, and it was with a feel-
ing of relief on both sides that Norah O'Keefe went up to
London a few days later, and Hilda and her mother to pay a
long visit to Riverslea, the old home of their family, which
neither of them had ever expected to see.

Lady Syde also departed from the Abbey about this time,
and Browne and Turner set out together on a little Conti-
nental tour, Browne feeling the necessity of relieving his
mind for a time of the cares that oppressed it in connection
with the management of Exton Manor, if he was to con-
tinue to administer its affairs with anything of his former
capability, and Turner consenting to go with him to look
after him. So that of all the inhabitants of Exton with
whom we have had to do, there were now only left Lady
Wrotham, living in solitary state at the Abbey, and Mr. and
Mrs. Prentice at the vicarage. The Dales, it is true, were
at the Lodge, and at this time were probably the only
people who were thoroughly contented with their lot, for it
had never occurred either to Mr. or Mrs. Dale that their
place in life would entitle them, when they settled down at
Exton, to consider themselves on any sort of equality with
Lady Wrotham, and they were consequently not disturbed
when the great lady, the purport of whose first visit they
had not quite understood, intimated by her manner when
either of them passed her carriage that further intimacy with
them was not in her mind. So the Dales lived their life
apart, and what with their garden and their chickens, and their
boat and their pony carriage, and a succession of visitors from
Manchester and elsewhere, found that life came quite up to
their expectations.

It would have been well for Lady Wrotham in her beauti-
ful house and gardens, surrounded by everything that might
have made the most exigent of great ladies happy, if she
had been able to wake up in the morning with a tithe of the
pleasurable anticipations with which any member of the
despised Dale family hailed a fresh summer day. Encouraged
by Lady Syde, she had made an attempt to set her life on
a basis more satisfactory to herself, but the attempt had ended
in failure, and left her with an added sense of injury. It was



The Picnic breaks up 313

perhaps the bitterest feature of the failure she had so far met
with in her ruling of what she looked upon as her kingdom,
that the actual reigning monarch was her son, and that, al-



Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 29 of 36)