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all you have said in the pulpit and elsewhere about the duties
of Lent, it is a little too bad that she should set your opinions
at defiance so far as to choose a Friday night for her enter-
tainment."

" A dinner party ? " repeated the Vicar. " It was hardly
that, was it ? Mrs. O'Keefe told me that she was going to
dine at the White House. I did not gather that it was to be
a dinner part}*-."

" You might have known, I think, that wherever Mrs.
O'Keefe went, Mr. Browne would be hanging on her skirts,
,jpA, of course, that odious Captain Turner as well. I cer-
tainly call a party of five a dinner party, and I have no doubt
that they played cards afterwards — for money. How can you
possibly expect the villagers to take to heart what 3/ou say, and
to learn something of the duties which the Church teaches,
when such an example is set them ? I do think, William,
that it is your duty to see Mrs. Redcliffe and to remonstrate
with her on the subject,"

" I hardly think I should like to do that, Agatha," said the
Vicar quietly.

" And pray why not ? I do all that I can to help you in
these matters, for I think them of the greatest importance.
How can I ask the children to give up sugar during Lent, and
the women gossiping, and the men tobacco, when those who
ought to set them an example are allowed to act as they please
with impunity ? It is most uphill work as it is. Try as I
may to set an example in these things myself, a mere handful
follows me, and out of those that do, or say they do, I could
not put my finger on one who does not expect to get some
substantial return for it. I think Mrs. Redcliffe deserves
remonstrance, and ought to get it."

M Well/ perhaps you had better remonstrate with her your-
self," said the Vicar pleasantly ; and Mrs. Prentice resolved
that she would, but did not publish her intention.

She set out on her errand an hour later, after attending to
various household duties, and took the road to the White
House, with a sense of expectation, not wholly allied to
religious aspiration.

Mrs. Redcliffe was wandering round her flower borders in
company with her daughter. The wind of the previous night
had died away, and the day was warm and sunny. The
reviving life of Spring seemed to be making growth that was



36 Exton Manor

almost visible in the mild air. The daffodils, planted in great
drifts of gold under the trees of the wilder parts of the garden,
made it bright with colour, and the early flowers in the bor-
ders were already ushering in that long procession of bloom
which would only end with the far-off days of late autumn.
|The birds sang lustily on this fine spring morning, and Mrs.
1 RedcliftVs garden was a pleasant place for a stroll of inspection.

Mrs. Prentice walked across the grass towards them. " She
has come to be unpleasant," whispered Hilda, regarding her
approach, but Mrs. Redcliffe went forward to meet her with a
smile of welcome.

" Isn't this a delightful little burst of Spring ? " she said.
" We were just going up into the shrub garden. Do come
with lis/'

But Mrs. Prentice was not to be moved from her purpose.
" I should like to say a few words to you," she said primly.

Hilda's face grew antagonistic, and she kept her hold on her
mother's arm as Mrs. Redcliffe replied, " Then let us go in
and sit down. We can come out again afterwards."

The doors of the pleasant sitting-room were wide open to
the garden. Hilda showed no signs of leaving the two elder
women to themselves as they went across the lawn towards the
house, but Mrs. Redcliffe gently disengaged her arm. " Go
and pick me a big bunch of daffodils," she said — " the Hors-
feldii " ; and Hilda left them.

Mrs. Prentice showed slight signs of nervousness as she
seated herself facing Mrs. Redcliffe, who waited quietly for
her to begin. " I called to see you in a friendly wa3 r ," she
began, with some hesitation — " I hope you will not misunder-
stand me ; it is so important that those of us in a position to
exercise influence should see eye to eye in matters of Church
discipline, and — well, my husband has been preaching about
the duties of Lent, and I thought I would ask if you could see
your way to — to uphold me and the Vicar in — in our endeav-
ours to " She tailed off into ineffective silence. It

was not at all the opening she had intended to use as she had
walked up to the White House, but, confronted by Mrs. Red-
cliffe's calm steady eyes, she had felt impelled to dispense with
her intended air of remonstrance.

" In your endeavours to — what ? " asked Mrs. Redcliffe.

" To set an example in the way of Lenten observance," said
Mrs. Prentice, gathering courage.



The Vicarage 37

A slight smile was apparent in Mrs. Redcliffe's face.
M What particular example of Lenten observance do you al-
lude to ? " she asked.

Mrs. Prentice was nettled by the smile, and recovered her
assurance. " I refer/' she said, " to the practice of giving din-
ner parties on a Friday. It is one of the things that, in my
own house, I am very particular about. For years I have
made it a practice never to dine out, or to ask people to
dinner on a Friday throughout the year. I do not say that I
make a strict rule of it except in Lent. Then I make it the
strictest rule."

" Well, Mrs. Prentice," said the other lad} T , " your rules for
your own household are no concern of mine, and you will for-
give me for saying plainly that my rules for my household are
no concern of yours — or of the Vicar's. We shall be none the
worse friends, I hope, if we recognize that our views upon ail
matters are not quite the same, and leave one another to act as
each thinks best. Shall we go into the garden now ? "

She rose from the sofa on which she had been sitting, but
Mrs. Prentice kept her seat. " But surely," she cried, leaning
forward, " you do not deny the right of the Church to lay down
rules for our guidance ! "

'■ I deny the right of another woman to make rules for my
guidance," replied Mrs. Redcliffe. " Come, Mrs. Prentice,
let us go into the garden."

She spoke evenly, her grey eyes fixed upon her visitor with
no unkindness, no resentment, but steadily regarding her.
The words were said in a manner that made it possible to
ignore the rebuke which they contained, or, at any rate, not
actively to resent it. Mrs. Prentice decided so to take them.
She would willingly have said more, but found it impossible to
do so with the other standing calmly before her, waiting for her
to rise. She got up from her chair, and Mrs. Redcliffe turned
to the open door. " You have heard the great news, I sup-
pose," she said as they went out together, " the news that has
come to Exton ? "

Mrs. Prentice did not like to acknowledge that any news of
importance which had to do with Exton was unknown to her,
but she was feeling a trifle shaken by the way her remonstrance
had been returned to her, and said, without fencing, " No ;
what is that ? "

" Lady W r rotham is coming to settle down at the Abbey."

(ii)



38 Exton Manor

V Lady Wrotham ? The Abbey ? " exclaimed Mrs. Prentice.
"Oh, but are you sure that is the case ? I have heard
nothing of it."

" Very likely not," returned Mrs. Redcliffe. " Mr. "

" And surely I should have heard of it," interrupted Mrs.
Prentice ; " I or the Vicar, if it had been likely, I think there
must be some mistake."

Hilda Redcliffe came across the lawn and joined them.
She had a great sheaf of daffodils in the basket on her arm.

" Thank you, darling," said her mother. " Put them down
by the door. Mrs. Prentice quite refuses to believe Mr.
Browne's news about Lady Wrotham."

" Oh ? " said Hilda, regarding that lady with no great favour.
"Mr. Browne? Does the information come from him?"
risked Mrs. Prentice.

" Yes. He dined with us last night, you know. He had
just come back from Hurstbury."

Mrs. Prentice blinked at the calm mention of the Friday
evening dinner.

" That accounts, then, for our not being the first to hear
of it," she said. " I have no doubt that Lady Wrotham will
write to me — or to the Vicar, if she has not already done so."

" Do you know Lady Wrotham ? " asked Hilda, with clear,
antagonistic eyes.

" My dear Hilda," returned Mrs. Prentice, " Lord Wro-
tham presented the Vicar to this living. He would hardly
have been likely to have done so to a stranger."

" Oh," said Hilda again.

" Have you ever been to Hurstbury Court ? " asked Mrs.
Redcliffe. There was no hint of malice in her tone, but she
must have known that had Mrs. Prentice ever been at
Hurstbury Court she would have heard of it.

" Well — not exactly," said Mrs. Prentice hesitatingly.
M I have never been able to leave home at the time Lady
Wrotham asked — might have ask^d — us there. Of course,
we should have gone to the funeral if it had been at Hurst-
bury ; but up in Northumberland — it is such a long journey ;
and, what with Lent coming, and one thing and another, the
Vicar and I could hardly spare the time. I do not think that
Lady Wrotham minded."

" I shouldn't think she would in the least," said Hilda.
" What is she like, Mrs. Prentice ? Is she tall or short,

CS7)



The Vicarage 39

stout or thin, stately or meek ? We want to know all about
her now she is coming to live' here."

" I think you had better wait and form your own judg-
ment, Hilda," replied Mrs. Prentice. "It is possible that
Lady Wrotham may wish to live in absolute retirement here,
so soon after her loss. But in time no doubt she will hope
to know something of the people on the Manor."

" But, of course, you will be going to the Abbey from the
first," said Hilda, " as you are a friend of Lady Wrotham's."

" The Vicar and I will naturally be seeing her," said Mrs.
Prentice. " But I did not say I was a friend of Lady Wro-
tham's, Hilda. I can hardly claim to be that. She very
seldom comes to Ext on, -and "

" Mr. Browne said she had not been here for five and
twenty years," said Hilda.

" Is it as long as that ? Did — did Mr. Brown say when
she intended to come here •? "

" He did not say," replied Mrs. Redcliffe. " But I gath-
ered that it would be before long."

" Ah ! Well, of course, we shall be hearing all her plans.
Now I am afraid I must be going off. Good-bye, Mrs. Red-
cliffe. The garden is getting to look lovely. Good-bye,
Hilda. By the bye, you will be pleased to hear that Fred is
coming down for Easter."

Hilda looked away for a moment across the park.

" Oh," she said again, coldly, but her cheeks were a little red.

They had reached the gate, and Mrs. Prentice took herself
off down the road, while the mother and daughter turned to
continue their stroll.

" What did she want, mother ? " asked Hilda. " I am sure
it was something disagreeable by her face."

" It was not very agreeable," said Mrs. Redcliffe. " She
made a mistake in coming, but she was actuated by a sense of
duty."

" She is one of those people whose sense of duty always
makes them impertinent," said Hilda, out of her twenty
years' experience. " I think she is an odious woman, mother.
How snobbish of her to pretend she is a friend of Lady
Wrotham's, when it was quite plain that she had never set
eyes on her."

" You must not talk in that way, dear. She did not say
she was a friend. She said she was not."

(29)



40 Exton Manor

" She meant that we should think it. Where can she have
met Lady Wrotham ? She has never been to Hurstbury, and
she has not seen her here. She is a snob, mother, and you
cannot say she is not. And she is impertinent and interfering
too. What did she want to see you about ? "

" We won't go into that, dear/' said Mrs. Redcliffe. " And
I don't want you to become hostile to Mrs. Prentice. She is
a good woman according to her lights, and if they are not quite
the same as ours we must make allowances. It would be
very disagreeable in a small place like this if we were to take
to quarrelling ."

" I can't pretend to like Mrs. Prentice, mother, and it is
difficult to have ordinary patience with her."

" I do not find it difficult."

The girl turned and put her arms round her mother's neck.
" Darling mother," she said, " you are sweet and good to
everybody, and yet I know you can see their bad points as
well as I can. I will take a lesson from you."

Mrs. Prentice went down the road, turning over in her
mind the important piece of news she had just heard. It quite
eclipsed the remembrance, which would otherwise have filled
her thoughts, of the purpose of her visit to the White House,
and its result. When she reached the vicarage she went
straight into her husband's study. He was at work on his
sermons for the next day, and was not usually interrupted on
a Saturday morning, even by his wife. He looked up, with a
shade of annoyance on his face, which changed into a look of
interest as she disclosed her news.

" I do think," she said, " that we — that you ought to have
been the first to hear of this."

" I don't know why," said the Vicar. " Neither you nor I
have ever met Lady Wrotham in our lives, and it seems to
me quite natural that Browne should have been told of her
decision."

" Then I think Mr. Browne ought to have told us first.
One hardly likes to have to acknowledge to Mrs. Redcliffe
that one has heard nothing of an important change of this
sort, which, of course, affects us more than anybody. It was
probably all over the village this morning, and it would have
been a pretty thing if one of the tradespeople, for instance,
had mentioned it to me, and I had known nothing of it."



The Vicarage 41

" I really don't think I should worry about a little thing
like that, Agatha, if I were you. It is small-minded/'

" I don't agree with you, William. You know how very
ready people are here to belittle us, if they get the slightest
chance."

" If it is so, it must be something in ourselves that causes
them to do it. As a priest, I ought to be the servant of my
parishioners. I have no wish to set myself up as their leader
— except, of course, in matters of religion."

" And it is just in those matters that they slight your claims.
Would you believe it, that Mrs. Redcliffe had the effrontery
to tell me that, in matters of Church discipline, she acted
entirely by her own rule ? "

" How did you manage to get on to such a subject as that
with her ? You — surely, Agatha, you did not go up to the
White House to tax her with having one or two people to dine
with her last night ? "

" That is just what I did do, William. You suggested that
I should do so yourself."

The Vicar rose from his chair with an exclamation of im-
patience. " It is really too bad," he said, pacing to and fro
along the room. " How could you take it upon yourself to
do a thing like that ? You know perfectly well that I made
no such suggestion."

" Excuse me, William, but you did. You refused to do it
yourself, as I think you ought to have done, and you said,
distinctly, ' You had better go up to the White House your-
self.' "

/' Perhaps I did, and it must have been quite obvious that
I said so in the way of — what shall I say ? — sarcasm — chaff.
You know it was the last thing I should have countenanced.
I suppose the fact is that Mrs. Redcliffe told you to mind
your own business, and I must say I'm not surprised at it.
You make my position very difficult with such interference as
that ; which, in any case, would be quite unwarrant-
able."

" I am very sorry you view the matter in that light, Wil-
liam. I think you.are grossly unfair to me. I do all I pos-
sibly can to support you in the village, and I did not tax Mrs.
Redcliffe, as you call it. I talked to her as one woman can to
another, or, at any rate, ought to be able to do. You have no
cause to be annoyed with me. I own I might as well have



42 Exton Manor

saved my breath. Mrs. Redcliffe is not a good Churchwoman.
Her views I consider most lax on many matters of great im-
portance, and I might have known that she would not have
listened to reason on a question of this sort/'

" Mrs. Redcliffe is a very good woman — most charitable
and kind-hearted in every way "

" Kind-hearted ! If you think that is a substitute for Chris-
tianity — however, we had better say no more about it. I
shall certainly never open my mouth again to Mrs. Redcliffe
on such matters/'

" Nor to any one else, I hope. If I thought it to be my
duty to speak to any of the people living about here upon a
serious matter, I should not shrink from it. But it is not pos-
sible — you ought to know it is not possible — to interfere with
the way people choose to conduct their lives in minor points.
They only resent it, and no good is done. I preach what I
conceive to be the better way. The responsibility rests with
them whether they take it or no. You must promise me not
to interfere in this way again."

" I don't want to go against you, William. I only want to
assist you in your endeavours to make the people better. If I
have made a mistake, I am sorry for it. You do not object,
of course, to my giving advice to the poor people ? "

The corners of the Vicar's mouth curled into a smile.
" You know pretty well what I object to," he said.



CHAPTER IV

LORD WROTHAM

The fine weather which came in with the great winds of
March continued without intermission until after Easter.
The air was warm, and sweet with the scent of fertile soil,
exuding odours of Spring. Only the bare branches of the
trees gave warning that the time of the good days had not
yet arrived, and that there was cold dull weather to come,
before this pleasant heat and sunshine could be looked for
of right.

One morning just before Easter, Maximilian Browne, with
an open telegram on the breakfast-table before him, was
giving anxious instructions to the servant who stood by his
side.

" And tell Mrs. Mitten to be sure to be punctual," he was
saying. " We shall not have much time for lunch. His
lordship will want to drive round the Manor, and he goes
back at five o'clock. Tell her to have everything as nice as
possible."

" Very good, sir," said Mitten. " You will want the cart
at half-past nine, I suppose."

" Er — no — nine o'clock. I — there may be something to
see to at the office."

There was nothing to see to at the office, or if there was
Browne changed his mind about seeing to it on his way to
the station, for he drove through the village without stopping.
Above the bridge and the mill-sluice the tidal river widened
into a great stretch of water, fringed with brown reeds.
Across it the grey pile of the Abbey could be seen through
and above the trees, a fine house, modernized, but with great
care. Its many windows w r ere blind, and the flag-staff stood
naked on the tower. To the right were the houses and



4^ Exton Manor

cottages of the village, with red lichen-covered roofs and
chimney-stacks, picturesque in their irregularity. Browne,
whose waking thoughts were mostly concerned with Exton
Manor, reflected as he drove along the road by the lake that
its owners had hitherto showed little interest in this portion
of their heritage. " I would rather have Exton than Hurst-
bury and Shelbraith put together/' he said to himself as he
looked across the shining water.

He drove on for a mile or more along a country road, until
a steep dip brought him to a gate, at which Exton Manor
ended and the forest began. Then his road lay between great
trees and stretching forest glades, across a clear stream and
out on to an open heath, again under trees, and finally across a
wide expanse of moor, bounded by blue hills and purple
woodlands. At a distance of a mile across the moor huddled
the little group of new red-brick buildings which marked the
railway station, dumped down in the middle of the heather.

The road was straight, with one or two steep dips. Reach-
ing the top of one of these, Browne saw far away in front of
him a black spot, which looked like a closed carriage, Hearing
the station. He quickened the pace of his horse, and, before
he reached the end of the straight stretch of road, met an
empty brougham being driven back in the direction of Exton.
He gave the reins to his groom, and went through the book-
ing-office, and out on to the platform. On the other side of
the line Norah O'Keefe, in travelling costume, was walking
up and down. Her maid stood by a little pile of luggage, but
the mistress was not left alone on that account, for pacing up
and down with her was Captain Thomas Turner.

Browne's face fell perceptibly, but he made his way across
the line and joined the pair. " Lord Wrotham is coming down
by the 10.15 train," he said with some haste, when he had
shaken hands with both of them. " I've come to meet him."

" It's only half-past nine," said Turner. " You'll have a
long time to wait."

" Where are you off to ? " inquired Browne, regarding him
with an eye of suspicion.

" Taking some fish to Troutbridge," replied Turner
promptly.

' Thought you weren't going till to-morrow ? "

" No, I'm going to-day."

" Captain Turner is going to keep me company as far as



Lord Wrotham 45

Greathampton," said Norah, anxious to avoid a bickering
match.

" Very kind of him," said Browne. " I suppose you don't
mind travelling third-smoking. That's what he generally goes."

" Are your clocks fast ? " inquired Turner. " Seems a
funny thing allowing an hour and a quarter for a five-mile
drive."

" Is Lord Wrotham coming to stay here ? " interrupted
Norah.

'■' No. Just coming for the day to have a look round,"
replied Browne grumpily.

" I'm glad of that," she said. " I shouldn't like to have
missed him. Tell him how excited we all are at the prospect
of seeing him."

" I don't suppose we shall see much of him when Lady
Wrotham comes here," said Browne. " He is giving the
place over to her entirely as long as she lives here."

" And I shall be away when she comes, I suppose. I am
not coming back for a month, you know. I'm such a
wretched sailor that when I do make up my mind to cross
to Ireland I like to stay there."

" Well, we shall all miss you very much, Mrs. O'Keefe,"
said Browne earnestly. " The days will be long enough till
you come back again."

" Very well put," commented Turner. " I say, Browne/
if you've got any business to look after here, don't let's keep
you. I can see that Mrs. O'Keefe's all right."

" I haven't got anything to do, thanks," replied Browne
shortly. " Are you sure your beastly fish woa't drown, left
on a truck like that ? I should go and jog them up if I were
you."

He pointed to where two rows of curiously-shaped closed
cans were arranged on a station trolley at the end of the
platform. It may be explained for the benefit of the un-
initiated that, unless the water in these cans were kept aerated
by the jolting of wagon or train during their journey, the fish
would die before they got to the end of it.

" The train will be here in a minute," said Turner. "It's
signalled. They'll be all right till then, thanks. If you think
they want it, you might give the truck a run down to the
other end. I'll time you."

" I never saw anything like you two for quarrelling," said



46 Exton Manor

Norah, as Browne turned his back on this ribald suggestion
without deigning a reply. " And yet I know you are the
very best of friends — David and Jonathan, in fact."

" Exton is a small place," said Turner. " It don't do to
be too particular."

The train arriving cut short a further interchange of com-
pliments. Turner handed Mrs. O'Keefe into a first-class
carriage, and busied himself mightily with her comfort. The
train went off again, and Browne raised his cap, as a lair
face framed in furs, and a thin sardonic one opposite to it,
were borne out of his sight. He turned away with an angry
exclamation. " Can't make out how I stand that fellow,'
he said to himself, as he walked down the platform. " Fact
is, he's knocked ail of a heap when he's with the lady — any
lady. Don't know how to behave himself decently. Most
offensive trait in a fellow's character. Silly ass ! "

He crossed over to the down platform. There were still
three-quarters of an hour to wait, and Browne was not a
good waiter. He got through the time somehow. He had
a conversation with the station-master, who was sowing
seeds in his vegetable garden, and another with a chicken-
raising porter. Then he went across to the station hotel
and talked to the landlord, becoming so interested in a dis-
cussion on the advisability of starting a society for improving
the breed of forest ponies, that the train he was awaiting
came in as he was still talking, and he had to run across to



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