Archibald Marshall.

Exton manor online

. (page 31 of 36)
Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 31 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" No, she has not got that power," said the Vicar grimly,
" although she would very much like to have it."

" What — the bishop, then, I suppose ? "

" No, no one has the power to remove an incumbent — at
least not for any cause that I should be likely to give them.
A living is the incumbent's freehold."

Well, that seems a funny thing. However "

" I don't say that I should consider myself justified in keep-
ing to my legal rights and staying on in a place where my use-
fulness had departed. I would not do it. And I have begun
to think that I may have to leave Exton. I have been bitterly
disappointed to find that the impression I thought I had made
U . 06)

354 Exton Manor

on my parishioners, many of whom have grown up around
me, is not so lasting as I had thought. If I find that I can no
longer influence them for good, I shall go/'

" I hope you won't do that, Mr. — er — Prentice. You've
got friends here. I wish I could do more myself. I don't
like being in a position where I can't make myself felt. I've
been accustomed to have my say in these matters. But there
don't seem to be anybody to say it to here. Of course, Lady
Wrotham — well, she's Lady Wrotham. We didn't expect to
be treated on equal terms with her or people like her when we
came here. We just wanted to live quietly, mother and me
and the young ones, without pushing ourselves forward. Her
ladyship did come up to see mother and left her a card. Mary
said it was a friendly call, just as it might be you or me, and
mother ought to go and return it. But I don't know. We
never had much to do with ladies of title and don't want to
specially, being quite contented as we are ; but I've been a
public man, and shouldn't hesitate to put myself against Lady
Wrotham or anybody if I saw occasion for it — in a public
way, you know, not private."

'* I don't think you could do much good in these circum-
stances, Mr. Dale," said the Vicar ; " but I like to come and
talk things over with you occasionally."

" Ay, and you're welcome, Mr. — er. You're welcome to
come here just whenever you like and as often as you like.
You can't come too often for me. And the wife would say
the same if she was here. There's just one thing, talking of
the wife, that perhaps you won't mind my saying. I don't
think your good lady, from what I've heard, is doing much to
help you amongst the people here, though she's working hard,
and I'm sure she'd be shocked to hear that she was doing
harm. But she's too much against her ladyship. You see,
Mr. — er — Prentice, even if her ladyship is wrong, it — well,
you know what I mean, let her alone, and go on with what
you've got to do. I believe that's the ticket. You'll get on
better that way."

11 I quite agree with you," said the Vicar.

" You don't mind my mentioning it, do you ? If you were
just to give her a hint."

"lam afraid that a hint from me would not be effective,
Mr. Dale. My eyes are fully opened to what you say, but
my wife and I unfortunately are not agreed on this subject.

(32) •

Troubles at the Vicarage 355

I hope some day that we may be. And now I must really be

Mr. Dale, a little later in the evening, took counsel with
Mrs. Dale.

" It's my belief, mother," he said, " that our good friend
must have a lot to put up with. That managing lady of his
will manage him out of the place if she's not careful. I don't
think they get on together. That's my idea from something
he let fall."

Mrs* Dale smiled at him. " Why, father," she said, " it's
the common talk of the place. She won't have a word to say
to him, and if she could smother Lady Wrotham under a
feather bed she'd do it. She is a terrible woman."

" Why, mother ! I've never heard you speak like that of
anyone before."

" I dare say not ; but it's true all the same, and very glad
I am that Mrs. Prentice didn't take to us, for if she was, to
come in and see me now, I should take and show her the

" Would you, mother ? " said Mr. Dale admiringly. " Well,
I don't know but what you'd be right. But, lor', we seem to
have come and settled down in a nest of hornets."




High Summer settled down upon Exton. The roses bloomed
and faded, the trees lost the freshness of Spring and put
on a cloak of monotonous green, the hay-fields, shorn of
their luxuriant growth, grew sunburnt. The moons filled and
waned, and twice a day the river flowed into its broad channel
and ebbed again to the sea. The many dials of nature regis-
tered the steady march of time and the passing of men's lives,
so active and anxious in the minutes, flowing and ebbing to
quick joy or sorrow, so level in the months, with recurrent
crises welded into an even progression, and individual life itself
of little account when merged in the long tale of years, or
thrown into the aggregate of lives with which it intermixes.
What mattered the little problems and upheavals that troubled
the few souls with which we have concerned ourselves to
those who lived around them ? , The Manor of Exton sup-
ported some hundreds of people, who tilled the ground and
reaped the harvests, bought and sold, laughed and wept, loved
and hated, lived their lives and were swept away at the end of
them, with nothing left behind of all their thoughts and activ-
ities that could keep their memory green ^or more than a few
short years. Perhaps the chief effect upon them of the dis-
turbances which had followed Lady Wrotham's arrival in Ex-
ton was that it gave them something to talk about which inter-
ested them, and so the pleasures of the many balanced Uie
difficulties of the few and the compensating pendulum of com-
mon life swung as truly as before.

And so in a smaller way the absorbing business of each
day smoothed over the difficulties that were exercising the
chief characters in our story. Even Mrs. Prentice, obsessed



Lady Syde intervenes 357

with a devouring passion, had to eat and drink, sleep and
wake and clothe herself, manage her household and engage
in various outside duties that were not all directed to the
end she chiefly had in view at this time ; and there were
times in which her husband, in spite of the growing dis-
comfort of his life, forgot his troubles in a book, took pleasure
in his garden or in the summer woods and fields, was up-
lifted in his religious duties, or lost sight of his own diffi-
culties in dealing with those of his parishioners. And so
with Lady Wrotham, living alone in her great house, and not
at all pleased with the way things were going on around
her, applying herself as far as she could, and day after day,
to bend circumstances to her own will, the days and weeks
passed and she endured them, living through a great pro-
portion of her hours in the way she had always lived them.
At the end of her life this troubled year would not stand
out conspicuously different from the rest of her years. The
common everyday duties and occupations would smooth
down the roughness, as light persistent sea ripples wash
smooth the children's sand castles, even before the heavy tide
covers them.

But Certainly, at this time, she could not have called
herself happy. The difference between what her life was at
Exton and what she had hoped it would be was sufficiently
marked. During those few weeks after Whitsuntide, when
she was left to herself, she would drive out in the afternoon,
past the White House, its windows curtained and the wealth
of roses in its garden wasting their fragrance, past the
closed house in the village which Norah O'Keefe had for-
saken for the excitements of London, past the gate of the
vicarage which she had never entered, and the Lodge which
she never intended to enter again. She would drive into
the forest and see the Forest Lodge standing silent and empty
against its background of trees, or up through the woods
behind the Abbey where the smoke of Turner's house rose
into the air, two other houses which she also told herself
she would never enter, but gained no satisfaction from the
telling. And sometimes she would meet Mrs. Prentice in
the village or on the country roads, and that lady would
stare at her rudely with the corners of her mouth drawn
down and her nostrils breathing defiance ; or the Vicar
would pass her and raise his hat gravely and without a


Exton Manor

numerous Dale family, very obviously
themselves as if the pi. ice belonged to them. She
could Dot escape these small annoyanc
spirits and darkened her thoughts.
rurner and Browne came back after a fortnight, and
wne to dine with her. But he m
he did I him again. The Redeliffes prolonged

Warwickshire and Norah O'Keefe stayed in
until the end of July, Summer holiday-mak
and bicycles and ra
filled the luncheon-room of the inn on most days, hung
Ige and u I the ruins of the Abbey. But

all the i ana going and the life in the \

on the land, there w desertion in the

to those who knew it. Ladv Wrotham had relal

friends - i lier from time \ but

r life undoubtedly was a dull one,

and she for a woman with such activity of mind, had cause

the beginning of August the tide of affairs once more
vs came down to the F
th another | whose obje< I

ich amusem ble out oi

I'Keefe came back with them, and the Redeliffes
same time to the White House. At a
. too. Lord Wrotham came to pay his
she supposed, for the sole pleasure
rded him to be with her.

bout half-an-hour before dinner-time. " I sup-

d when she had greeted him, " that I am not

honour of s< ry much of you, George.

I dining here to-night ? "

Yes. mother," he said. " I want to have a talk with

He was lounging in an easy-chair opposite to her own,

but got up and began to pace the floor, with his hands in

He could never sit still for very long in one

and this was his usual habit. But there was some-

in his manner th :ot usual. She threw a quick

glance at him and saw him disturbed, a look of anxiet

>ung pleasar which was generally so eh

and alert. " I must go upstairs now," she said. " But

Lady Syde intervenes

He accompanied h (
>m and opened it He was usually cz:

ns. She wondered what he could have

She was a little surprised when the object of his visit

disclosed to her later in the evening- He was in anxiety

as to money- Her own income was a large one, and she had

already helped him in difficulties that had arisen during the

adjustment of his own and his father's affairs. But he had

approached her with the diffidence which sat on him

He had asked her airily for money, and taken it with

no more than perfunctory thanks.

" You ought not to be in difficulties again so soon,

George," she said. " I made things perfectly easy for you

onths ago. You cannot expect io spend just as much

as you wish to while the duties are being paid off. You

ought to adjust your expenditure/'

now, mother," he said. " But I want io get straight,
quietly and pay you back what you lend me."
ou know I should not ask you io do that. I will give
/hat you ask for. But I should like to know why you
are obliged to ask me for such a large sum."

" I suppose yx>u know pretty weU," he said* " Racing,
chiefly. And I've lent a lot of money which I can't get

He spoke so dejectedly that the reproaches which were
on her lips were not uttered. "To whom have you
money ? " she asked. " And why cannot you get it bar
I suppose you know that pretty well too, ' he replied.

Her face became angry. Is it Laurence ? " she asked

He nodded.

" George ! " she exclaimed. " Why will you make a friend
of Laurence ? Surely you must have found out his- selfish-
ness and badness by this time ! I have implored you time
and again not to do so. He will be the ruin of you, as it is
well known he has been the ruin of other younger men than
himself whom he sponges on. He is no fit companion for
you. He makes what use he can of you and thinks only
of himself all the time. He would throw you over to-morrow
if he thought it was to his advantage to do so. Why cannot
you make up your mind io break with him ? You must do

s go Extoii Manor

so once and for all. I will not help 3^011 now unless you
give me your promise. "

" I've done that already," he said. " I don't want to have
anything more to do with the fellow, confound him ! "

Lady Wrotham showed her astonishment. " You have
quarrelled with him!" she exclaimed. "Is it about this
money that he owes you ? "

": No. He's welcome to the money. I shall never see it
again, and I never expected that I should."

" Well, what is it about, then ? "

He sprang up and began to pace the room. " It doesn't
matter what it is about," he said. " I won't have anything
more to do with him."

She looked at him irresolutely, uncertain whether to ques-
tion him further. Something in his appearance aroused her
solicitude. He looked worried and anxious. " If there is
anything that troubles you," she said, " I wish you would tell
me. I should like to help you, if I can."

He walked up and down the room with his eyes on the
ground. Some surviving instinct of his boyhood urged him to
confide in his mother, to whom he had had no intention of
telling what was in his mind.

" I don't know whether you'll be pleased or annoyed," he
said jerkily. " I've met the woman I want to marry. You've
said for the last few years that you would like to see me

She was taken aback, and an uneasy memory rose to her

" It is not — not anyone living here ? " she asked.

" Yes it is. I expect you know. And Laurence — con-
found him — he's doing all he can against me — I don't believe
he wants her himself. I'm hanged if I believe he wants her,
though I did think he did at first. He's not the sort of chap
to marry where there isn't a lot of money. He's told me he
wouldn't, dozens of times. Then why* can't he leave her
alone and let me have my chance ? I believe it would be a
good one if it wasn't for him."

Lady Wrotham had listened to this speech with mixed
feelings, surprise in the end overcoming disappointment.
" Who are you talking of ? " she aslced. " I thought you
meant Miss Redcliffe."

He laughed a little ruefully. " No, I don't mean Miss


Lady Syde intervenes 361

Redcliffe," he said. " She's a charming girl, but I believe
she's booked already. I mean No rah O'Keefe."

Lady Wrotham was unfeignedly surprised. She hardly
knew whether to be encouraging or antagonistic. But the
feeling which Norah had aroused in her mind when she had
first seen her renewed itself and brought pleasure with it

" You surprise me very much, George," she said. " I did
not know that you had seen much of Mrs. O'Keefe. You
did not know her before I came here, did you ? "

" No. But I saw a lot of her when I came down here at
Whitsuntide, and she has been in town ever since. I tell you,
mother it's serious this time. Really, sometimes I feel des-
perate about it. I can't do anything for thinking of her. And
you've no idea what she's like. I'm sure you'd love her like
anything, yourself, if I was fortunate enough to marry her,
and she'd make a jolly good wife and do everything she ought
to wherever we settled down. I wish to goodness things
would go right."

" I do know her a little," said Lady Wrotham. " It is not
the sort of marriage I have ever had in my mind for you,
George, and I must take a little time to get used to the idea.
But I will not say anything against it, if you are really in
earnest. I should be very displeased, for her sake, if I thought
that you were simply amusing yourself with her."

Her tone said more than her words. He had an impulse
of gratitude towards her. " Oh, mother ! " he said, " you
needn't talk about my being in earnest. I'm in deadly earnest.
I wish you could do something to help me."

" I don't know that I am prepared to do anything to help
yon. I must think it over. Certainly I have nothing against
her ; but unfortunately she does think that she has something
against me, and if I would I don't know that I could help

" But surely you wouldn't let these little local squabbles
stand in the way, when there's so much at stake."

•■ That is hardly the way to describe what has been going
on here. And, as far as the affair with Mrs. Redcliffe goes,
I have tried to put an end to it, and without success. I can
make no further efforts in that direction. My overtures have
been rejected. I can only hope that Mrs. Redcliffe and her
daughter, since they will not make friends with me, will sec

362 Exton Manor

the advisability of going elsewhere. Then I do not know that
there would be anything against my making friends with Mrs.
O'Keefe, which, for my part, I should be pleased to do. But
what did you mean just now when you mentioned Miss Red-
cliffe ? "

" Oh, I think Frankie Redcliffe, her cousin, wants to marry
her. He'll have a jolly good wife, if she'll take him."

" Oh ! Have you heard if there is an engagement ? "

" No, not definitely."

" I believe they have come back here."

" Have they ? Well, look here, mother, what am I to do ?
She came down here yesterday, and I thought I'd come down
too and see how I got on. But the Ferrabys are here, and
hanged if Laurence hasn't invited himself there and come
down with them. I'm sick of it. I can't get rid of him. I
had it out with him a week ago. Hang it, I've done a good
deal for him, one way and another, and he ought to clear out
and leave the field open. I told him so."

" What did he say ? "

" He was infernally offensive. I don't know any fellow
that can make himself more pleasant than he can, or as dis-'
agreeable either. He told me to clear out myself and that I
was annoying him by getting in his way. I lost my temper
at that, because he spoke just as if — Well, at any rate, I want
to marry her, and I don't believe he wants anything of the
sort, and the way he spoke — I don't know, it simply put me
in a rage — for her sake, I mean. Good heavens ! When I
think of her just as if she was an angel, or something of that
sort — and to know that he's running after her just to amuse
himself. I hate the fellow, and I've done with him."

" He is a wicked man, selfish and bad through and through.
I am glad that you have been brought to see it at last. But
what about her, George ? Cannot she see it too ? "

" No. To do the beast justice he can be as fascinating as
it is possible for a fellow to be. Even men feel it ; I've felt
it myself, as you know ; and as for women, I don't believe
there's one of them could resist him if he set his mind to it."

Lady Wrotham snorted ; there is no other word that would
indicate the noise she produced. " Indeed," she said, " I
think you exaggerate his attractions. There must he very-
many women who would see through him at once and only
be repelled by him."

Lady Syde intervenes 863

" I don't think so, mother ; not young women. Why
should they ? She doesn't for one.' I don't believe she really
cares for him, but I think she's fascinated. It don't believe
there's a chance for me till he's out of the way."

" I think, George, if you are really in earnest, you should
try your chance. If she can prefer Laurence to yon she is
not what I take her to be. You might find — I hope you would
— that you were quite mistaken."

" No, mother. It's no good. She's very friendly and all
that, but there's nothing more. I should only look a fool.
She'd have nothing to say to me now. I know that as well as
anything. Well, it's of no use grousing about it. I must
wait my time. She'll be here now for some time and he can't
always be here. Only I'm afraid of what will happen. Upon
my word I am afraid."

Lady Wrotham became thoughtful. " I think perhaps,"
she said presently, " that something may be done. I will
think over it, George. You must leave me to think over it.
What you have said has surprised me, and I must collect my
thoughts. But I think on the whole I am glad to hear your
news. I cannot say more than that now. But we will talk of
it again, and I do not think that you need lose heart."

" What can you do, mother ? " he asked. " I don't see
what you can do."

" I cannot tell you that yet. But you may believe that I
will do what I can to help you."

" But you'll do something. You have got an idea in you
mind. You'll try to do something."

' Yes, I will. And now we must go into the hall for
prayers. It is ten o'clock."

The invaluable Riddell found her mistress disinclined for
conversation as she prepared her that evening for her nightly
slumbers. She had collected various scraps of information
during the day with which to regale those august ears. She
had heard that Mrs. O'Keefe- had returned to her little house
at Exton and expressed herself immediately as dissatisfied with
its dimensions, and had said further that she still liked living
in the country occasionally but was no longer sure that she
cared to bury herself completely from one end of the year to
the other ; also that Miss Redcliffe had regained the high
spirits for which she had been noted before the late troubles

364 Exton Manor

had subdued them, and had let fall something which might
reasonably be interpreted as meaning that she and her mother
would not remain much longer at the White House ; also that
young Mr. Prentice had come into a large fortune and was
already beginning to spend it, that Mrs. Prentice had gone up
to London to stay a night with him, as he refused under exist-
ing circumstances to come to Exton to stay a night with her ;
also that the Vicar had told Mr. Browne that he should have
to leave Exton, and that Mr. Browne had said that he should
probably have to leave too*; with various other scraps con-
cerning the party at Forest Lodge, the sayings of the Dale
family, and a few sifted fragments of village gossip which
altogether made a more than usually rich feast. But the great
lady had retired into her own thoughts, and her ears were
closed to Riddell's tentative offerings, and Riddell was far
too wise to set forth a banquet for which her mistress had
no appetite.

Lady Wrotham had much to think about. Perhaps one of
her chief desires was to see her son married and to hold his
children on her knees. She was ambitious for her husband's
family. She had married not very early in life and her only
child had not been born until ten years after her marriage, at a
time when the birth of an heir had almost begun to be de-
spaired of. He had been delicate in the early years, and
although he had now outgrown his childish weakness, the fears
and anxieties of thirty years before had left their mark upon
her. And, to strengthen her natural desire to see his children
growing up to continue the long line of his ancestors, was the
ever present and growing dislike of Laurence Syde, who would
succeed him if he did not marry and beget a son. She hated
Laurence Syde with all her powers of hatred, and would
almost have welcomed any marriage, however unsuitable, if it
held out the hope of offspring.

She had told herself, when he had disclosed his desires to
her, that it would need careful thought on her part before she
could make up her mind to accept Norah O'Keefe as a possible
bride for her son. It was not the sort of marriage she had
looked forward to for him. She would have liked hirn to
marry a young girl, of high birth, and preferably with a big
dower, not a widow with a small income of her own, which
for all she knew might not even continue if she married again.
But now she found, when she set herself to consider the

Lady Sycle Intervenes 365

question, that it had already decided itself in her mind. When
Norah O'Keefe had walked into her room a month or two
before, she had w T alked straight into her heart, and the
estrangement which had immediately followed had not
sufficed to depose her image. She found her heart throwing
out strong tentacles to draw the girl to her. The lover's desire
of her son reflected itself in her own feelings, and aroused an
excitement in her mind which was something more than the
shadow of his. That question had settled itself and need
not be discussed. It would give her keen pleasure to receive
Norah as her daughter-in-law and to yield up what rights
she still retained to her. Then she must think of how she
could help him to gain his happiness and hers. Her mother's
heart, which beat warmly for him underneath all the friction
and disappointment that had overlaid their relationship,
was stirred by his appeal to her. He had thrown off her in-
fluence and derided her authority ; she had been nothing in

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 31 of 36)