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though he could easily have put things straight for her by
leaving her to act as she thought fit, and officially endorsing
her actions, he had refused to do so ; and here she was, a
dowager queen with a throne but no sceptre, and even the
glory of her throne of no avail, since the eyes of her subjects
seemed to be blind to it. Much could be written of the woes
of the dowager and the passing of power — instruments tuned
for the tragic muse.

The one attempt to break the bonds may be recorded.

11 You must have a serious talk with George," said Lady
Syde, after the subject had been threshed out between the two
ladies for the twentieth time.

Lady Wrotham intimated her willingness, but the difficulty
at that time was to get hold of George. He was staying with
his mother, but for all she saw of him he might have been
staying anywhere. " He has not dined here once since he
came," she said. " He flies out of the house the moment he
has breakfasted, and comes back long after I am in bed. I
hear him, for I do not sleep well. I cannot very well say that
I do not want to have him here, but, really, if the Ferrabys are
such an attraction to him, he might just as well have joined
their party altogether. This house, at any rate, is not his
under the arrangement, and I have no mind to have him
using it merely as an hotel, and not paying his mother the very
smallest attention."

" Young men will behave in that way," said Lady Syde.
"I am too used to it' myself to care very much. But you
must tell him that you wish to speak to him. If breakfast
is the only meal he takes here I should breakfast with him
and insist upon a conversation before he leaves the house."

" His breakfast takes him about five minutes. He would
say he must be going, and rush out of the house."

" Then write him a note and say you must speak to him
before he goes. I cannot think that he will refuse to do so."

The note was written and the interview took place in the
half-hour before Lord Wrotham drove off to join the Ferrabys
and their party at the station. Lady Syde was present by re-
quest. Lady Wrotham in her anxiety to get to the point,
omitted all reference to his undutifuj behaviour, and was at



844 Exton Manor

first even a little flurried, as he walked about the room with
his hands in his pockets and looked from time to time at his
watch.

" My dear mother/' he said, in answer to her statement that
affairs were not progressing as she had hoped at Exton and that
changes must be made, " if you insist upon quarrelling with
everybody in the place, you can't expect to be comfortable
anywhere. I don't know what changes you want made.
The only change I can suggest is that you should recognize
that you are living in the twentieth century."

" I am quite at a loss to know what you can mean by that
piece of advice, George," she said.

"Well, I suppose a thousand years ago you might have
lived in a house like this and expected everybody all round you
to knuckle under and do exactly what you told them. You
certainly can't expect it now. You let your houses to people,
and you leave 'em to lead their own lives in their own way.
If you didn't, you wouldn't let your houses. It's quite sim-
ple. Nobody's going to be bossed now by people like us, and
I don't blame 'em."

" Your remarks are quite beside the point, George, as well
as being rather offensive," said Lady Wrotham.

" Mr. Moggeridge used to say that it was the age of democ-
racy," said Lady Syde. " But there are limits."

" I think it's too bad, mother, the way you've behaved about
Mrs. Redcliffe," continued Wrotham. " There's a woman
you might have made a real pal of. One of the best. And
what's the poor lady done ? Nothing, but what any of us
mightn't do to-morrow."

" I, for one, should never have thought of doing it,
George," said Lady Syde. " But that is not the point. The
Redcliffes refuse to behave with ordinary courtesy to your
mother, and it is very awkward their being here at all. They
ought to go. There would be no difficulty in letting the house.
Under certain circumstances I might even take it myself."

u If they are driven out of the place you shall have the first
offer, Aunt Henrietta," said Wrotham. " But it's no use ask-
ing me to drive them out, because I'm not going to do it.
Then there are the Ferrabys, mother. You told Mrs. Fer-
raby the other day that they weren't wanted here. Really,
you know, that's a bit thick to anybody, and a nice woman
like that, too, of all people ! If they'd taken offence — only,



The Picnic breaks up 345

of course, they were sensible and only laughed at it — I might
have had the shooting thrown on my hands. You oughtn't to
do it, you know."

" I didn't ask you to speak to me in order that I might
listen to your strictures on my conduct, George," said Lady
Wrotham. " I am aware that the rent of the shooting is a
consideration, and I suppose I must put up with the Ferrabys,
and be thankful that they are not always here and that when
they are I need see nothing of them and their noisy friends.
What I wanted to speak to you about particularly was the
Vicar."

" Well, what's wrong with the Vicar ? I shook hands with
him going into church the other day and I thought he seemed a
very nice fellow. Everybody else seems to think so, too. Of
course, he's a bit higher than you like — I know that — but
you've got to take these parsons as they come. You can t
turn 'em out. Nobody can turn 'em out. I don't like that
sanctimonious old Dr. Blimey that you got father to put in at
Hurstbury, but I put up with him. You must make up year
mind to put up with Prentice."

" The cases are entirely different. Dr. Blimey knows what
true religion is, and "

" He knows what good port is. But it's waste of time talking
about Prentice, because, if I wanted to, I couldn't shift him."

" I have an idea," said Lady Syde. " My brother-in-law
who is a clergyman exchanged livings. That can be done.
Why not get Mr, Prentice and Dr. — whatever his name is, to
exchange livings ? "

" And have Mrs. Prentice down at Hurstbury. No, thank
you, Aunt Henrietta. I'm not taking any. Now, there's a
disagreeable woman, if you like ! I don't wonder at your
quarrelling with her, mother. Well, I must be off. Good-
bye, mother ; good-bye, Aunt Henrietta. See you again
pretty soon, I hope."

" Stop," cried Lady Wrotham. " George, I have not said
Jialf I want to say. There is Mr. Browne, and Captain
Turner, and those vulgar people at the Lodge. I really can-
not consent "

" Can't stay now, mother. Make it up with 'em all, and
you'll be twice as comfortable. Good-bye." And he was gone.

Lady Wrotham looked at Lady Syde. .," I might as well
have saved my breath/' she said angrily."



CHAPTER XXXII

TROUBLES AT THE VICARAGE

Mrs. Prentice, after her brief experiment in unfamiliar
theology, had returned with increased zest to her lifelong
opinions, but her return had not brought peace to the vicar-
age, nor to herself. When she had eased herself of the im-
mediate effects of her rupture with Lady Wrofham by an
almost hysterical outburst of tears, which had more of pas-
sion and resentment in them than of grief, she went in to her
husband with the air of a proud, but much-injured, woman,
and said, " William, I have done with my Lady Wrotham.
I will never darken her doors again, and I wish never to have
her name mentioned. I can now see plainly that I might
have spared myself all the pains I have taken to influence
her. She is infatuated with her own importance. Hence-
forth she may go her way and I will go mine ; but for one
thing you may rely upon me — I will use every effort in my
power to oppose her in her upsetting of everything we hold
sacred. I will spare myself no trouble. By night and by
day I will "

" Oh, please stop," broke in the Vicar impatiently. " What
has happened ? "

" I was going to tell you what has happened. Lady Wro-
tham has had the face to take me to task — in the most offen-
sive way, and with Mrs. O'Keefe sitting there and listening
to it all, and very pleased to be listening to it too^ — she has
wormed herself into her confidence, and after behaving as she
has done to me, must needs in the most underhand way make
mischief behind my back. But fortunately I arrived un-
expectedly. I have always been suspicious of Mrs. O'Keefe.

She "

34<5



Troubles at the Vicarage 347

" Perhaps you will leave Mrs. O'Keefe alone for the time,
and tell me, if you want to tell me, what it was that Lady
Wrotham took you to task about.' '

" I do not want to tell you. It was a mere nothing, but it
was the last straw. I am not to be domineered over by Lady
Wrotham, or Lady anybody else. I hope I know my posi-
tion better. After all I have done to keep in with Lady

Wrotham for the good of the place and all of us in it

She is very unpopular ; nobody likes her, and I promise her
that they shall like her still less for the future — after all I
have given up '■■

" You have no doubt given up a great deal ; most of your
self-respect, I should think, amongst other things, and all
your convictions, and your duty to me, if that counts for any-
thing."

Mrs. Prentice turned her attack. " Do you think it is be-
coming in you, William/' she asked, " to receive me in this
way, when I come expressly to tell you that we are now again
at one in all these questions, that I will use every nerve and
muscle I possess to fight with you, that "

" Oh, Agatha, what transparent nonsense it all is ! " cried
her husband, interrupting her. He rose from his seat and
began to pace the floor. " Do you take me for a fool, that
I can't see tlirough it ? You have given up everything, as
you very rightly say, to keep in with Lady Wrotham ; every-
thing that as a self-respecting woman you ought not to have
given up. Now you have found that your trouble is wasted,
and that even you cannot pay the price that she wants for
her favour, you turn completely round, and propose to do
what you can to make her life a burden to her, just as you
have made mine a burden to me. There is no more honesty
or Christianity now than there was before. You are simply
following the dictates of malice and spite. I have no wish to
receive you back as an ally. I won't do it. Your spirit is.
doing more harm to my work than all Lady Wrotham's fool-
ish opposition."

" Well, that is a pleasant thing to hear ! " exclaimed Mrs.
Prentice, deeply offended.

" Look here ! " He stopped at his writing-table and took
up a letter. " I have just received this from Mrs. Ripton.
■ Mrs. Prentice told me yesterday that Lady Wrotham was
angry with me for sending the children to church on



34 s Exton Manor

Sundays, and that I had better not do it, or my share of the
servants' laundry work would be taken away from me. I
hopes, sir, you will understand that I don't hold with her
lad3^ship, but can't afford to quarrel with her 1 ' " He threw
the letter on the table again. "It is all very petty and
absurd, of course. But when I received a reminder of that
sort oi" the way you have been behaving, and then }^ou come
in immediately full of righteous wrath against the person
whose errands 5^ou have been running — -~"

'■ Ah, that is over," interrupted Mrs. Prentice, who had not

been able to prevent the rising of a hot flush on her face as

the contents of Mrs. Ripton's missive were being divulged to

>her. " Of course, I was mistaken. I see it now. With

the best of intentions, I was mistaken."

" Mistaken in what ? "

" In allowing myself to be persuaded that Catholic doctrine
and practices were wrong. Of course it is not so. I made
the mistake, and I have suffered for it."

" Then what becomes of your foolish pretence that you
have given in to Lady V/rotharn for the sake of influencing
her ? By your own showing you have not attempted to
do so, and of course nobody ever supposed that you had."

" I think we might make an end of these recriminations,
William ; "they are not dignified. We will let Lady Wro-
tharn go her own way, and we will go ours, as before."

" No," said her husband decidedly. " If you think that
I can completely overlook all that has happened lately, and
that we can go on, as you say, as before, you are mistaken.
It is not possible. If you had come to me with any signs of
contrition for your behaviour, I might have forgiven you, and
tried to help you to get right. You do no such thing. The
ideas you have in your mind now are just as mean and base
as they were. You have simply turned them in another direc-
tion. Listen to me, and don't speak until I have done. I
will tell }^ou now, once ior all, what I think of your be-
haviour. In all the troubles we have been going through
here, in the trouble that has come to Mrs. Redcliffe, and the
way it has destroyed the peace and the friendship of years, in
the misguided zeal of Lady Wrotham and the un-Christian
strife she has brought into this place, it is your actions and
your attitude that have most shocked and grieved me. The
other disturbances, serious as they are, are nothing to them.



Troubles at the Vicarage 349

You have always had great infirmities of temper. I have
told you so frequently, and in your better moods you have not
denied it. You have always been liable to be actuated by
malice and resentment, and other unworthy feelings. But
lately you have gone beyond all bounds. I have hardly known
you. It has almost seemed as if you were taken possession
of by some evil spirit. And "

But Mrs. Prentice could bear no more. She rose and con-
fronted him, quivering with rage. " How dare you talk to
me in that way ? " she said. " To say that I — your wife — ■
am in possession of an evil spirit ! How dare you ! It is
the wickedness around me that I have been trying to fight,
which you are too blind to see, and which you — yes, you, a
priest — are taking part in. That is where the evil spirit is.
Oh, how dare you say that it is in me ? "

The Vicar sat down at his table and buried his head in his
hands. I - I can only hope/' he said quietly, " that you will
come to see your faults in their true light. There can be no
confidence between us till you do, and no peace or satisfaction
in this house."

" Very well, then," said Mrs. Prentice spitefully, " we must
go on in the absurd way in which we have been going on
lately. A delightful state of things, upon my word ! A
husband and wife, in a position in which they ought to be
looked up to, hardly speaking to one another. And who
started that state of things, I should like to know ? I, who
am politely told that I am possessed of a devil ? Oh, no, not
at all."

" No, you did not start it," replied the Vicar, " but you
might have stopped it at any time you pleased. You may
stop it now if you will bethink yourself and put away all the
evil thoughts to which you have given yourself over. Oh,
Agatha, you were not always like this. Can't you see how
wrong you are ? Can't you see how you are despising the
spirit of that religion of which you are always talking ?
Have you never heard of humility, and penitence, and love,
and "

" You may keep that for your next sermon," interrupted
Mrs. Prentice rudely. " I am not here to be preached at.
All I have to say is that until you apologize to me for the
disgraceful language you have used to me, and the abom-
inable charge you have brought against me, I will have nothing



850 Exton Manor

more to do with you. Goodness knows, there won't be
much difficulty. You have hardly spoken a civil word to
me for the last two months. I am getting used to it. I have
tried once or twice to bring you to a better frame, of mind.
But I shall try no more ; it is useless. You must come to
your senses by yourself/' And with that she left him, sus-
tained presumably by her own integrity, for it is difficult to
see what else she had to sustain her. Her husband sat
on, with his head in his hands, and his heart as heavy as
lead.

It grew little lighter as the weeks went by. Mrs. Prentice
was as good as her word, and made no further effort to bridge
the gulf that now gaped between them. She took up once
more, and with renewed effort, her work of directing such of
the parishioners of Exton as would listen to her in the ecclesi-
astical paths she would have them follow. She worked furi-
ously to this end, and in all she said and did, going from
house to house in the village, and tramping along the dusty
roads to whatever point she judged she might find material to
be manipulated, she showed, as plainly as if she had cried it
aloud, the spirit that led her. Lady Wrotham and Lady
Wrotham, and always Lady Wrotham was in her mind, and
often on her tongue. She would have walked the roads with
bare feet to induce one poor woman to refuse a summons to
Lady Wrotham' s weekly meetings, and judged no pains too
great to get the refusal made in a way that would offend the
great lady. In her wilful and determined spite, she even
openly bribed some of the mothers to defy Lady Wrotham in
the matter of sending their children to the services to which
she objected. In these matters she may have persuaded her-
self that she was actuated by religious motives, but she per-
suaded no one else. She had never been a favourite at the
best of times, and her ministrations had been accepted, if at
all, because of the temporal advantages by which they were
accompanied, for she had been to considerable extent the dis-
penser of Sir Joseph Chapman's local charities. This fact
had stood her in better stead than she had been aware of
during her temporary alliance with Lady Wrotham. But
now that she was no longer the most important lady in the
village, and there was little to be gained by concealing indi-
vidual dislike to her, and little to be lost by indulging in its
expression, opposition burnt fiercely against her. Among the



Troubles at the Vicarage 35 1

better class of people her treatment of Mrs. Redcliffe, and her
toadying to Lady Wrotham, which was quite clearly under-
stood and remorselessly commented on, had gained her a very
unenviable reputation, and not a few doors were shut upon
her by the farmers and tradespeople. Old Mrs. Witherspoon,
and some others, before closing their doors, told her exactly
what they thought of her, and it was not pleasant hearing.
Among the cottagers her success was very little greater, and
the fact that she was known to object strongly to their attend-
ing the ministrations of Lady Wrotham did more to crowd
the weekly meetings at the Abbey than the requests of Lady
Wrotham herself.

But still she held on in her insensate spite and bitterness,
disliked by most of her neighbours, and despised by not a f ew ;
a miserable woman, if ever there was one, but determined to
drink her cup of rancour to the dregs.

It is possible to pity her, but far more to be pitied was her
husband, a good ordinary man, over whose head the years
had passed easily, for he had adapted himself to the corners
of his wife's temper before they had acquired their recent
sharpness, and had plodded on with his daily work, meeting
with few drawbacks that could disturb him ; a man with some
depths of truth and insight in him, although those depths had
been somewhat overlaid by the conventions of his profession.
Now he began to lose heart. His wife's hot advocacy of the
religious views he had spent his life in inculcating did him far
more harm than Lady Wrotham 's open opposition ; but that
opposition was tireless, although it worked chiefly beneath the
surface. Lady Wrotham had been beaten in her attempt to
browbeat him, she had been beaten in the matter of her
complaint to the bishop, but she was beating him none the
less, slowly taking the life out of all his work among the
people over whom she exercised a greater authority than his,
although he had ministered to them for as many years as she
had lived among them for weeks. He saw men and women
on whose minds he thought he had made an indelible mark
turning against him ; he saw active opposition growing steadily
in matters where before there had been nothing worse than
indifference ; he was met with argument by those who had
listened obediently to instruction. He was no longer the
accepted teacher of his parishioners ; in some quarters his
teaching was flouted and himself hardly treated with tolera-



352 Extern Manor

tion. And he had no ease, no refreshment in his home. He
shared it with an obstinate jealous woman, whose determined
attitude through many weeks was of acid hostility, which at
times seemed to him more than he could bear. He was
tempted more than once to give in to her on her own terms
and gain a little of the contentment which had gone out of
his life by an ignominious surrender. He might have done so
if her attitude had been a little less uncompromisingly offensive,
for he was not formed by nature to fight without any help or
sympathy against overwhelming odds, but her contemptuous
self-satisfied manner would have made it difficult to approach
her in any case, and to do so would certainly have meant the
giving up of all that was left to him to fight for.

For a few weeks after Whitsuntide the only people of his
own class in Exton with whom he could associate on friendly
terms were the Dales. It is possible that under other circum-
stances he would not have seen much of Mr. Dale, whose
views were opposed to his own upon most subjects, and with
whom he had little in common. And Mrs. Prentice's treat-
ment of the newcomers had earned her a feeling of frank dis-
like on their part, so that anything like friendly intercourse
between the two houses was out of the question. But when
the Vicar had called at the Lodge, Mr. Dale, after the first
few minutes, during which he had been watchful and a trifle
suspicious, had thawed into his usual state of blustering geni-
ality, and the Vicar had gone again to see him, and then
again, until it became a habit with him to smoke a pipe with
Mr. Dale for half-an-hour or so every afternoon or evening.
The man was loud and vulgar, do doubt, but he was sure of
himself, and breathed an air of bluff honesty and kindliness
which the poor, harassed Vicar found grateful. Dependent as
he was upon sympathy, he came in time to confide more of
his troubles to Mr. Dale than he would at first have thought
possible, considering how far apart they were in their views
and their training ; and Mr. Dale rose to the occasion and
gave him much sound advice, and, what was more to the
point, treated him with unfailing friendliness.

" I don't understand much about your Church," he said on
one occasion as they were sitting out on the lawn, smoking
two of the special brand of waistcoated cigars. " And of
course I needn't tell you, Mr. — er, that what I believe is
nearer to what her ladyship believes than what you believe.



Trouljles at the Vicarage 853

Still, it don't seem to me to matter so much what you teach
people as the example you set them, and it can't do anybody
any good to see these upsets going on round thern in the
name of religion. It ain't religion at all ; it's the other
thing."

" I teach them what. I believe to be the truth," said the
Vicar, '■ and I have been here for over twenty years, and have
seen — I am sure I have seen — that it has affected the people
for good. Surely that is the test. Lady Wrotham thinks
that anybody who holds the views that I hold is going straight
to perdition, and she says so to everybody who will listen to
her. But any one who takes note of the spirit there is in the
place now, and compares it with what there was a few months'
ago, must see the difference, and how much for the worse it
is. It does not look as if her religion were right and mine
were wrong. It is my only encouragement that my teaching
has borne so much better fruit."

" What's good in her religion is the same as what's good in
yours," returned Mr. Dale. " If you had held her views
you'd have done just as well, perhaps better, and there
wouldn't have been this upset. Still, I don't hold with the
way she's working against you, whether she's right or wrong in
her doctrines. I've seen a lot of harm come of that in my
Church — people who have got the money and the power,
setting themselves against a minister. I've always backed up
the minister myself, and I've been able to smooth things over
in that way, once or twice, as I've had a say in what takes place.
They wouldn't go against me if they could help it. Too
much money behind me. I suppose her ladyship has got the
power to give you notice if she likes to exercise it, eh ? "



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