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his life for many years, except an annoyance, and he had
shown her that it was so. But now he had come to her for
help, just as he had come to her believing in her power to
disperse his childish troubles and relying on her to do so, and if
she could she would show that he had done right to come to
her. She would give him what he wanted, and when he had
attained his happiness he would owe it to her, and there would
be peace and affection between them as in the old days. So
the future pictured itself to her and refreshed her present
loneliness.

Could she go to Norah and open out her heart to her and
plead for her son ? How would she be received ? She made
light of what had already passed between them. She had an
idea, gained she scarcely knew whence, though it had actually
come to her through Riddell's gossip, that Norah was not
quite so friendly as she had been with the Redcliffes. She
did not think that that obstacle to intimacy would prove
insurmountable, and it did not trouble her in her softer mood
that she would have to give up something of her autocratic
habit by taking such a step. But she felt that the time was
not ripe for it. She might destroy George's chances^ alto-
gether. He had said that he could not approach her himself
now with any hope of success, and he would not be diffident
in such matters unless with strong reason. No, she could not
do that. It was Laurence, the hated Laurence who stood in



366 Exton Manor

the way, and she burned to confound his knavish tricks and
destroy him utterly.

She thought long over the question, made plans and rejected
them, and touched the dark waters of impotence more than
once in her gropings. She hated him, but she was powerless
to affect him by her hatred. Then suddenly the light shone.
She could do nothing to hamper his movements herself, but
there was some one else who could. He was dependent on
his stepmother, and Lady Syde could, if she would, influence
him by the cold power of the purse. Could she be persuaded
to do so ? Lady Wrotham thought that she might, and she
determined to use every effort to induce her to use her power. '
It was fortunate that Lady Syde at this time was staying with
her nephew, Richard Baldock, at Beechhurst, not many miles
away. She would send her a telegram and drive over to see
her the next day. It would be a very long drive there and
back, but she could manage it by starting early and resting for
some hours in the middle of the day, and she would not shrink
from the fatigue.

Her mind lightened. She had a plan and could yet show
that George had done well to consult her. She threw off the
weight of anxious thought and turned an ear to Riddell, who
was enabled to ply her with the more important dishes of her
banquet before she finally retired to rest.

Fortune smiled on her the next morning, for she had a note
from Lady Syde announcing her intention of motoring over to
Exton to luncheon. Wrotham was away yachting with the
Ferrabys, and the two ladies were alone together. Lady
Wrotham disclosed her news after luncheon, but waited to
know what her sister-in-law had to say before making the
request, that she had determined to make.

•■ That is indeed rather startling news," said Lady Syde.
" And you are not displeased, Sarah ? You would like him to
marry her ? "

" Yes, I should," said Lady Wrotham. " I was not sure
at first. But she is in every way worthy of the position."

" You — er — have not got on very well with her so far, have
you ? "

" Matters stand much as they did when I told you of all
that had happened here ; but I believe the Redcliffe girl is
going to be married, and the Redciiffes will not be here much
longer, and "



Lady Syde intervenes 367

" You will be pleased at that. Who is she going to
marry ? " •

" They have been staying with Sir Francis Redcliffe in
Warwickshire, and I believe she is engaged to him. That is
what I hear. It will be a good match for her. I wish that I
had been able to be on friendly terms with them. I should
have taken an interest in the affair. However, that is not to
be thought of, and I hope it is true that they are both going.
I think there is rather less intimacy between them and Mrs.
O'Keefe than there used to be. I own I was very much
afraid that it was this Miss Redclifle whom George had been
attracted by. There were indications that it was so, and I
dare say if he paid her attentions, which he did do, and then
left her for the other, that might account for their not being
such good friends. At any rate I do not think she would
refuse me if I approached her now, but I do not think it would
be of any use at present because — and this is what I want to
tell you, Henrietta — Laurence is pursuing her, for what reason
I would rather not ask myself — I do not think it can be a good
one — and from what George told me, I believe he has suc-
ceeded in captivating her attention, if not more than that."

" Laurence ! But she is not rich, is she ? "

" She can hardly be rich from the way in which she lives.
Two thousand a year at the very outside. Probably much
less."

" But Laurence could not possibly marry anyone with only
two thousand a year. At least he would not."

Lady Wrotham's eyes burned. " I do not think he has the
least intention of marrying her. He v/ould be very glad, no
doubt, to prevent George from marrying her, or from marry-
ing at all, if he could. And there are other reasons why a
man like Laurence might pursue a beautiful woman. We
need not go into that. He and George have quarrelled, and
I am unfeignedly glad of it. But "

" Do you mean to say that she prefers Laurence to
George ? Very few women would, with all George has to
offer."

" She might not consider that, if Laurence had thrown her
off her balance. She is very young and has not seen much
of the world. We know — I don't like to acknowledge it, but it
i s so — that Laurence has the power to attract women. He has
proved it, to their hurt, before this. But I do say, Henrietta,



868* Exton Manor

that it is a shocking thing that this should be going on.
George is in earnest about it. He is very much in love with
her, and she would make him a good wife. And if Laurence
were out of the way, I have no doubt that she would accept
him. I can hardly doubt it. George is very attractive too,
of course in a quite different way, and he has, as you say,
much to offer. And think of what the end may be if Laurence
does not want to marry her, but still lays siege to her. It is
dreadful to think of, and we know what has happened
before."

" That shall not happen again if I can prevent it," said
Lady Syde. " The story to which you allude was what finally
destroyed all the affection I had at one time for him. I will
prevent it, Sarah. I have a hold over him, although unfor-
tunately it is no more than the power of denying him monejr.
But still, that is what he cares more about than anything, and
I will take very strong measures indeed to prevent his inter-
fering any further. I promise you that."

Lady Wrotham was touched to gratitude. " I thank you
very much, Henrietta," she said. " I hoped you would be
able to do something, and I am glad you see with me in what
must be done. It is the only way."

" I will stop every penny of his allowance unless he gives
me his word not to see her or communicate with her. I will
not have it. I am determined to stop it. I have the power
to do so and I will use it."

Whether her reiterated assurances were derived from a con-
sciousness of her power or were prompted by some doubt as
to its efficacy, they brought a sense of reliance and comfort to
Lady Wrotham. And in the end they justified themselves,
for a few days later Lady Wrotham received the following
letter from her —

" My dear Sarah,

" I have done what I said I would do. I sent for
Laurence to come and see me. He said he was engaged
every day, but I insisted and he came. There was a scene !
But I was firm. I do not fear his violence in the least, and
I reproached him with ingratitude. That had very little
effect, but my threats he could not afford to ignore. He
leaves Exton to-day — I insisted upon that, and will not go
there again or see her or write to her. I am glad I have



Lady Syde intervenes 809

been able, to do this for you, and hope everything will now
go well.

" In haste, yours affectionately,

" Henrietta Syde.

f. P.S. — I have undertaken to pay Laurence's debts jor the
last time, and to increase his allowance to fifteen hundred a
year. * It will leave me a poor woman, but do not tell any-
body. "

Henrietta had behaved nobly. Lady Wrotham felt that,
and George felt it too when she imparted her news to him.

'< The way that fellow has sponged on Aunt Henrietta is
beyond everything," he said. " And, mind you, mother,
Uncle Franklin was just as bad, though he had the grace to
do it without making himself unpleasant. Laurence has
made a hard bargain with her ; that's quite plain. And she's
acted like a trump. Well, I do believe I've got a chance now,
and if I have I owe it all to her."

And with this expression of gratitude Lady Wrotham had
to be content.



CHAPTER XXXIV

LORD WROTHAM PROPOSES

If Mrs. Ferraby had been asked the direct question whether
she would prefer that a friend of hers should marry George
Wrotham, or his cousin Laurence Syde, she would certainly
have given her decision in favour of Wrotham. She knew
very well that Laurence, in spite of his birth and his assured
position in the world of fashion, was an adventurer, and that
a woman who should give her life and happiness into his
keeping would run a grave risk of rueing her bargain. And
yet, when he told her, as he did, with cynical frankness, the
reason why he was obliged to cut short his visit to her, she
w r as greatly samoyed on his behalf.

" Surely/' she said, " George can't know of this. He
would never consent to take advantage of you in that under-
hand way. Why, it is bribery."

"Quite' so," replied Laurence; " and I have taken the
bribe. I can't afford not to. That old lady is in a position
to ruin me if I don't do what she tells me,, and she'd do it.
I dare say it would be very noble of me to tell her to go to
the deuce, and set about earning my living by the sweat of
my brow. But as there isn't a soul in the world who would
have the smallest use for the sweat of my brow, that course
isn't open to me."

" I don't see how you could help yourself," said Mrs.
Ferraby. " But I do think it is mean of Lady Syde to use
her power over you in that way, and if George knows of it,
I can only say that my opinion of him is not what it
was."

■■ Of course he knows of it," said Laurence. " He put
her up to it. You don't know that young gentleman as well

370



Lord Wrotham proposes 371

as I dp. Well, I hope he'll pull it off. If I can't marry
her myself, I'd just as soon he married her as anybody."

" Did you really want to marry her ? " asked Mrs. Ferraby,
in some surprise.

He looked at her with cool impudence. " What else do
you suppose I wanted ? " he asked ; and Mrs. Ferraby had
nothing to reply.

Laurence took his departure, and Mrs. Ferraby took the
first opportunity of repeating the information he had given
her to Norah O'Keefe, which, as he was bebarred by the
terms of his agreement with Lady Syde from communicating
with her herself, might possibly have been the reason of his
disclosure. Norah was incensed by what she heard, but it
gave her a considerable amount of food for thought, and she
was more than usually quiet during the following day's
expedition on the water. It certainly did not incline her
towards Wrotham, and to that extent Lady Syde's diplomacy
seemed to have been a complete failure, for she showed quite
plainly that his attentions were distasteful to her. He went
home to the Abbey a prey to acute depression of spirits.
The true reason of her change of attitude did not occur to
him. He knew that Laurence had promised not to communi-
cate with her again in any way, and it never crossed his
mind that he might have taken steps, without actually break-
ing his word, to cause the reason of his abrupt withdrawal
to be conveyed to her. If he had thought of this he might
have considered whether, after all, he had been justified in
taking advantage of the removal of a rival after this fashion.
As it was he thought only of the change, on her part, from
frank friendliness to a rather marked disinclination for his
society, and put it down to a stronger attraction towards
Laurence than he had suspected. This caused him grave
disquiet, and his eager impatient nature impelled him to an
issue. The next day was Sunday. He would go to her and
declare himself. He could hold back no longer. He must
put his fortunes to the test without further delay.

He went to church on Sunday morning. Norah was not
there, and he braved the talk of the village and went straight
to her house. She was reading in her drawing-room, and
blushed, as he thought with annoyance, when he was shown
in to her.

" How do you do ? " she said. " I had a headache and



372 Exton Manor

didn't go to church." She stood up and looked at him with
a shade of defiance in her blue eyes.

" Poor lady ! " he said cheerfully. " I hope it isn't very
bad. The sun was very hot yesterday. Look here, wouldn't
you like this blind down a little ? It will be striking in on
you directly."

He lowered the blind without waiting for her reply, and
she resumed her seat with the momentary tension past. He
sat down opposite to her. " I say," he said, " why were
you so huffy with me yesterday ? You'd hardly speak to me.
I've not done anything to offend you, have I ? "

He looked at her with friendly eyes, taking his stand on his
open cheerful nature, which it was difficult to repulse. If he
had shown the flouted lover's melancholy diffidence he would
have given her very little trouble.

She bent her eyes. " I don't know that I was," she said.

" Oh, but I assure you you made me feel quite dismal," he
said with the same light air. " I'd have jumped overboard
for twopence. We've always been good friends, haven't we ?
Come now, tell me what has happened."

Her instinct was to keep away from the unpleasant topic
and return to the easy state of good comradeship which had
always been the note of their intercourse. But there was
something beneath his airy manner which told her that he
would not allow her to keep away from it. She thought for a
moment.

" I have heard something that has annoyed me very much,"
she said ; " but I certainly don't want to discuss it with you."

His face grew a shade graver. " Is it about Laurence
Syde ? " he asked.

" Why do you press me ? " she said. " Surely you don't
expect me to talk to you about it ? "

" Why not ? It concerns me more than anybody."

" Very well, then, if you insist upon it, I will tell you what
I think. I think it is disgraceful that you should make a
bargain about me behind my back as you have done. What
right have I given you to treat me in that way ? "

She was going on, beginning to be agitated, but he held up
his hand. " Wait a minute," he said ; " I didn't know that
you knew what had happened. I suppose he told you before
he went away.

" No, he told me nothing. He wouldn't have dared to do



Lord Wrotfaam proposes 373

so. The meanness of his action ! But I won't have you
think that I mind for my own sake. He is nothing to me
and never has been. I ought not to have to say this, but
when you force me to say anything about it at all, I "

" I know exactly what you feel," he interrupted again,
" and you needn't be afraid of my misunderstanding you. It
all came as a surprise to you, but you can't help knowing now
that he didn't want to go ; that's about it, isn't it ? There's
nothing you can blame yourself for there."

She was insensibly relieved, but her indignation held. " If
he didn't want to go," she said, " he went because he was
bribed to go. That is what Mrs. Ferraby says, and it is
true."

" Oh, Mrs. Ferraby told you, did she ? and he told her. I
might have known that he would have taken some step of
that sort. Well now, look here, dear lady, let's clear this up.
I'll tell you what you are thinking, though it's difficult for
you to put it into words yourself. You think that he and I
were both in love with you, and that's true enough as far as
I'm concerned. I've come here to say so. And you think
that I wanted him out of the way ; and that's true. But if
you think I pulled the strings to get him removed in that
particular way — well, you're mistaken. I didn't."

" Oh ! " she said doubtfully. The even matter-of-fact
tone in which he had spoken saved her from the confusion
certain of his words might have brought.

" No," he went on in the same tone, " my mother arranged
that. I told her how things stood, and — well, she hasn't got
much of an opinion of Major Syde, and she talked over the
question with my aunt — I didn't know of it, you know, till
afterwards — and they put their heads together, and you know
what happened. I'm not sorry for it, you know. I'm glad.
But at the same time I shouldn't quite have liked to say, ' Go
in and do your best/ if they'd told me exactly what it was
they were going to do."

Norah considered this frank statement perplexedly. She
felt that there was a good deal more to be said, but she did not
quite see how she was to say it. Wrotham again came to her
rescue. " I'll be as honest with you as I possibly can," he
said ; " even at the risk of upsetting you. I shouldn't like to
come to you in any other way. Laurence is a very fascinat-
ing fellow ; I know that well enough, and I thought he was



374 Exton Manor

making an impression on you. I knew that couldn't lead to
any good, and my mother knew it too, and Lady Syde knew
it, and I give you my word that if there had been no question
of what I wanted in the matter, they would have acted just
the same. My mother thinks a great deal of you ; I've
never known her to take to anyone in the same way
before."

" Me ! " she exclaimed in surprise. " Why, I have hardly
ever spoken to her."

" Quite enough. What I say is true. She would give
anything to be on friendly terms with you, and she deplores
this row with the Redcliffes more for that than anything. It's
a difficult thing to say, but Laurence isn't a good chap, and
you're well rid of him."

She looked at him with a shade of contempt. " Why,
every one says that you and he were the greatest friends/' she
said.

" Perhaps we were in a way," he said ; " and it's quite true
that I shouldn't have taken sides against him a month or two
ago. But my eyes have been opened. I'm a different fellow
to what 1 was ; you've made me different. I've got an object
now, and that's what I've never had before. Do you know
what that object is ? "

" No — yes — Lor 6. Wrotham, you are not fair to me. I
won't answer your questions." •

" Well, I'll tell you. It's to marry you, and when I've
married you to spend all my time in making you happy ; and,
by Jove, I'll do it too. I'll think of nothing else. Let me
try, won't you ? You won't be sorry for it."

She was deeply distressed ; she felt him to be plying her
relentlessly, but she could not be unaware of the honest
fervour and sincerity that underlay the evenness of his speech.
" Oh, how can you ? " she cried. " You are cruel — no, I
don't mean that — I ought to thank you, I suppose, but, you
know you have no right to ask me. I have given you no
right. I have not thought of it at all. I have been friendly
with you, and with Major Syde too — nothing more — and I find
myself in this coil — intrigued against — and "

" Oh, come now, let's get that out of the way," he said,
still holding the advantage of self-control over her. " You
don't care for Laurence really, do you ? "

Her distress changed to indignation. " You know I don't,"



Lord Wrotham proposes 875

she said ; " and after the way he has behaved you ought not to
ask that. It is an insult. "

" Of course I don't mean it as an insult ; but you must
have seen that both he and I were — well, how shall I put it ?
— trying to get into your good graces. You have discovered
that after all he wasn't very keen about it. Very well, then,
there's me left, and I'm as keen as ever I can be, and I've
never been anything else."

It was perhaps hardly to be expected that he could continue
walking on this very delicate ground without a slip. He had
escaped the dangerous places in a wonderful way, but per-
haps more by good fortune than from the tactful knowledge
of what to avoid. Nov/ he had slipped badly. He had told
her that she had known all along that he and Laurence were
both making love to her, but that Laurence's love-making was
insincere, and she had only just found it out. What if it
was all true ? No woman would own to such a thing. And
the clumsy downright male mind had missed the point that
it might be all true and yet present itself in such a light to a
woman as to be as good as untrue. His mother, perhaps,
might have told him that it was quite possible that Norah had
received the somewhat pressing attentions of himself and an-
other man for some weeks without having once asked herself
whither they tended, and that a spoken word which would
seem to a man simply the inevitable timely seal of all that had
gone before, might still to a woman come as a confusing
sudden thunderclap, although it brought with it the flash of
light which made clear all the past ; he did not know it of
himself, and he was staggered at the reception his words met
with. She sprang up, her eyes blazing.

" How can you say such wicked things ? " she cried.
" What can you think of me ? To say that I knew this and
took part in it ! It is absolutely untrue. How dare you come
and say such a thing to me ? "

He was quick to see his mistake, and, fortunately for him,
did not lose his head. " I put it clumsily," he said.

" You'd no right to say it at all," she cried. " And it isn't
true. I was friendly with you and Major Syde — and w r ith
others — but that w<*J all, and it is odious and — and cowardly
to tell me that I meant anything more than to be friendly
in your case, and to lead you both on — that is what it comes
to."



376 Ext on Manor

" No, it doesn't/' he said quietly. " Sit down ; I didn't
mean to offend you, and you must listen to what I say."

She sat down, .rat her meekly, dominated by his coolness of
manner.

"Nobody knows better * than I do," he said, "that you
never took me very seriously. But we can put all that aside
now. I've been serious all along in my own mind, and now
I've come to tell you so, and to ask you to give me a chance.
I love every hair of your head, and everything you say or
do. I'll love you as long as I live, whether you say yes or
no, and I'll wait for you as long as you like if you think
I've spoken too soon. But I couldn't put it off any longer.
You don't know what I feel for you. It has made quite
a different man of me. You won't send me away now, will
you ? "

The calm putting aside of the cause of offence would
hardly have sufficed for her if it had not been washed out by
the tide of his passion. It was impossible to ignore the pas-
sion in his speech, although his voice was not raised above its
previously level tone. It shook her, although it awoke no
answering thrill of its own quality.

" I ought to be grateful to you for telling me this," she said.
" I am grateful. But you must know that it is of no use. I
don't want to marry again, and I have no feeling for you but
one of friendliness."

" Well," he said, " I don't know that I thought it possible
that you could have. At an}/ rate, you won't withdraw that
friendliness from me, will you? I shall see you when I'm
down here ; you won't want to keep me away from you ? "

Oh, admirable young man ! What instinct guides you to-
wards that difficult path which alone can lead you to your
goal ? It would be useless to plead ; you would only arouse
opposition. Put yourself in the position of a languishing re-
jected lover, and you would weary her to active dislike of you.
Withdraw to the safe ground of friendship, and you keep alive
that one little spark which your declaration has aroused. An
ill-considered word will shake it into darkness. But it can be
made to grow, if you give everything and ask for nothing in
return. You must tread a thorny path. Your friendliness
must be cheerful, whatever your feelings may be. It will
receive a prompt return in cheerful friendliness, but if you are



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