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deceived by that to a renewal of love-making, out goes the



Lord Wrotham proposes 377

spark at once. Keep yourself well in hand, and she will
begin to wonder whether the friendliness conceals anything
after all. Then she will try to find out, and this will be hard*
to resist. Tell her nothing, but continue with your devoted,
always cheerful friendliness. Then the spark may begin to
grow. Curiosity may nourish it ; pique may fan it ; and one
day the friendliness which you have invoked, in return for
yours may smoulder into flame. In the meantime you have
shown her what you are. She will no longer be afraid of your
passion, for she has learned to like you, and has come to like
you so much that it will not disturb her to be told that your
liking for her has been ardent love all the time. Then you
may pick the thorns out of your feet, and crown your brow
with laurel.

" Oh, no," said Nor ah. " I hope we shall always be
friends when we meet ; but you must never talk to me of this
again/'

" I shan't worry you," he said ; " I can take 'no ' for an
answer. But there's one thing I should like to ask you.
Can't you make it up with my mother ? She's lonely here.
I don't say it isn't her fault that she's managed to set every-
body against her ; that's her way ; but she doesn't mean it.
She'd be awfully glad to see you sometimes. It would be a
real kindness to her."

Norah hesitated.

" You needn't be afraid that you'll hear anything you don't
want to hear, about me or — or Laurence," he said. " I'll tell
her that's all over, and she won't mention it."

" I wasn't thinking of that," she said with a blush. " I

should like to see her sometimes, but Well, I'll see.

If I can, without being disloyal to my old friends, I
will."

" Thank you. I say, is it true that Miss Redcliffe is en-
gaged to her cousin ? "

" No ; I should have heard of it if it were. But — I don't
know that I ought to say this, but you won't repeat it, will
you ? — I shouldn't wonder if it did come about. He is com-
ing down here next month ; and she seems so much happier
than she used to be. I am so glad. Both she and Mrs. Red-
cliffe were made dreadfully unhappy by what happened to
them — and now I think they have thrown it off. Naturally
they don't mind so much what people say here, now that he—



378 Exton Manor

Sir Francis, I mean — has shown them that he cares nothing
about it. In a way it has brought them together."

"Yes, he's a good chap, old Frankie Redcliffe ; and she's a
nice girl. If it comes off I'll give them a jolly handsome
wedding present."

She looked at him with the hint of a mischievous smile.
■ I thought you thought she was a nice girl," she said.

He trod unflinchingly on the first thorn. " Ah, well ! " he
said with resigned cheerfulness ; " Frank Redcliffe thought so
too."

Then he took his leave on a note of amiable bustle, shocked
to discover that it was already luncheon-time, and left not
a trace of awkwardness behind him, which, considering what
had passed between them, was no small achievement.

Norah sat for some minutes looking out of the window.
She was relieved that the crisis had come and gone, but she
was a little puzzled by it all, too. He had seemed very much
in earnest until she had definitely told him that she did not
want his earnestness. Then he had withdrawn instantly.
It did not look as if he was so much in earnest after all.
Well, it was best so. She certainly did not want to marry
him, or anybody. But he was very nice ; that could not be
denied ; and very good company. She was glad that he had
taken her refusal so sensibly. There would be no awkward-
ness in meeting him again, and it would be possible — and
pleasant — to meet him on friendly terms.

Then she went in to luncheon, and wondered what he
would say and do when she met him again, and when the 1
next meeting would take place.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE SHADOW OF CHANGE

It was a Sunday in late September. Summer, as if loth
to depart, had left her sunny skirt trailing over the country,
and Autumn had not yet summoned up courage to soil it with
rain and wind. The cottage gardens were still gay with
flowers, and the trees were in full leaf, with the added beauty
of a thousand varied tints of green and gold and russet. The
grass was wringing wet at dawn, but by midday the sun had
licked up the moisture, and only the grateful freshness of the
warm air was unlike the noons of high Summer.

The Vicar walked down from his house to the church,
sad at heart, in spite of the mild beauty of the September
morning, which seemed to envelop the familiar scenes through
which he passed, the red-roofed houses, the cottage gardens,
the river, the old Abbey buildings and the grassy stretch of
park land near the church, in a golden haze. The beauty of
the season added to the perennial charm of a place which he
had grown to love more and more as the years had passed
quietly over his head, but it only increased his sadness, for he
was going to leave it all, the scenes among which he had
worked for over twenty years, the fair home in which he had
hoped to end his days, the people whom he had grown to
love. He was going away to begin his work over again in
new and strange surroundings, and he would end this long
spell of his life, unable to feel that his work had been crowned
with success, conscious only, at the last, of ruin and failure.
Lady Wrotham had had her way. Most of his parishioners
had turned against him. There was open strife where there
had been peace and contented progress, and there was no
chance that by staying on and continuing the struggle the
strife would grow less. So he had taken the plunge^ and

379



880 Exton Manor

resigned his living, and now lie was about to conduct his last
Sunday services in Exton Abbey church, and preach his fare-
well sermons.

The church was full. Ever since it had become known,
about a fortnight before, that Mr. Prentice w r as leaving, public
opinion had been veering round in his favour, and now set in
a strong tide of respect for him and regret for his departure.
Those who had taken a prominent part in helping to drive
him out of the place w T ere severely blamed by those who had
only omitted to stand up for him when their support might
have been of value, and these in their turn were apologetic to
the small remnant that had never wavered in their allegiance.
There had been some talk of a testimonial, but there had
been nobody to take the lead. Browne had been approached
on the subject and Browne had delivered himself as follows.
" What ! Do all you can to make his life here a burden to him
until he's obliged to go, and then give him a twopenny-half-
penny address badly illuminated, and a plated coffee service
which he doesn't want ! I'll have nothing to do with it."
And the project had dropped. But there had been some
consolation in the change of attitude that had come over the
people during the past fortnight, and the Vicar felt, when he
took his place at the reading desk, that the large congregation
had not been drawn to the church merely out of curiosity,
but contained many sympathetic and some regretful hearts.

Lord Wrotham sat alone in the Abbey pew. Lady Wro-
tham, now that she had gained the end for which she had
worked so persistently, would have liked to bury the hatchet
and revert at least to her first state of neutrality. But that
was not possible, with Mrs. Prentice more than ever con-
sumed with bitterness against her ; nor had the Vicar been
able to bring himself to ignore his defeat at her hands and
respond to her tentative advances. She had not considered it
advisable to attend Exton Abbey church on this last Sunday
of his ministrations, as she would have been quite ready to
do, but she had compromised by staying at home instead of
driving to Standon, as she had done every Sunday for some
months past, and the Abbey servants were there in full force.
Mrs. Prentice, also, had elected to stay at home. She had
reached the stage of being without a single friend on the
Manor, and to face the collected hostility and dislike of the
whole parish on such an occasion as this had been beyond



The Shadow of Change 381

her. But every one else of our Exton acquaintances was
there, Mrs. Redclifte and Hilda, with Francis RedclirTe,
Norah O'Keefe, the Dales, Browne and Turner, and even
the Eerrabys, with one or two of the party then filling their
house.

If Mr. Prentice had lost a good deal of what had hitherto
made life pleasant to him, he had at any rate gained to this ex-
tent from the trouble and anxiety he had gone through, that his
beliefs had become articulate-. His sermon was a short one,
and he made no reference in it to his approaching departure,
but it affected his hearers as very few sermons of his had done
during the years he had preached to them. The trite glib
sentences that had fallen so easily from his lips had vanished,
and in their place was utterance, not remarkably well-fash-
ioned, nor expressive of ideas at all out of the common, but
sincere and heartfelt. He preached on charity, and where be-
fore he would have found nothing to say on the greatest of
Christian themes that was not rubbed thin and smooth by con-
stant and easy repetition, it was impossible now not to feel
that everything he did say was minted from his own experi-
ence and deep conviction. He told his hearers that while it
was possible to find causes of disagreement among Christians
in every doctrine and religious practice they might uphold, this
gift alone brought them ail together. It was the only sure
hall-mark. There was no one, not even among non-Chris-
tians, who did not recognize it and do it honour. Where it
was present, there was a good man or a good woman, and the
grace of God could be plainly seen here by those who were
blind to every other manifestation. Where it was absent
nothing else was of any avail. The soul was still groping in
darkness, although to outward appearance religion was its
guiding light. And so, with solemn warning, and exhorta-
tion, he gave his message, and there was no one in his con-
gregation who would not have said that he ^ himself, during
the 3'ears ne na -d lived among them, had practised what he
preached, and, in spite of mistakes and human weakness and
perhaps some follies, had set them an example that they well
might follow.

Norah O'Keefe and Browne and Turner lunched at the
White House on that Sunday, and their talk was naturally of
the coming change in the life of the Manor. Change w r as in
the air. It was indicated by the presence there of Francis



382 Exton Manor

Redcliffe, and the looks which he could not prevent himself
from casting at his cousin whenever he was in her presence ;
by Hilda's spasmodically high spirits, frequent laughter, and
the warmth which she threw into her manner towards her
mother, and to Norah, for by this time the cloud that had
arisen to obscure their friendship had disappeared; by the
treatment which Norah herself underwent at the hands of her
two old admirers, in whose manner towards her there was a
shade more deference than before, and a chivalry no less
marked but rather less eager. But coming changes, though
they cast their shadow, were not yet ripe for discussion.
Only in discussing the Vicar's departure there was always this
feeling underlying the talk, that it was the first change of others
to follow.

" I hope the old lady's satisfied now," said Turner. " She
has got her own way, and that's what very few of us get. I
suppose we shall have some snuffling psalrn-singing fellow here
instead of Prentice, who'll show us the whites of his eyes and
be in and out of the Abbey all day long, eh, Browne ? I sup-
pose you know all about it."

" Dacre is coming here," said Browne. " Wrotham told me
so this morning. Her ladyship asked that he should be ap-
pointed."

There was a chorus of exclamation and inquiry, and Browne
explained that Mr. Dacre was vicar of the church in London
that Lady Wrotham affected, and had already once made an
appearance at Exton.

" Well, he'll be a nice companion for you, Browne," said
Turner. " You want looking after."

" I shan't be here," said Browne phlegmatically. "I'm
going to move to Hurstbury and look after things from there.
We fixed that up this morning too. But don't say anything
outside yet."

The chorus was renewed. " I couldn't stand it any
longer," said Browne. " I've had enough worry since Lady
Wrotham came here to turn my hair grey, and if I hadn't
been able to make some arrangement of this sort I should
have gone altogether. I made up my mind a month and more
ago."

Turner looked at him. " Suppose all the rest of us don't,
count for anything," he said.

" You needn't pretend any longer that you didn't know it,"



The Shadow of Change 383

replied Browne. " And I've fixed up that little business of
yours too. You can have the land at the rent you proposed."

Eyes were bent upon Turner, who showed unwonted con-
fusion of manner. " Surely you are not going too, Captain
Turner ? " said Mrs. Redcliffe.

" He's going to chuck his fishes and grow fruit," said
Browne. " We've let him a farm at Hurstbury."

" Then you'll both be together," said Hilda. " Did any-
body think that Mr. Browne and Captain Turner could bear
to be parted ? " said Norah.

" I didn't give him leave to say anything about it," said
Turner. " But he can't keep anything to himself. His
tongue will be the ruin of him yet. But I made an offer for this
other place before he took it into his head to le'ave. That's
what first gave him the idea. There never was a fellow with
less originality."

" It seems to me that I^ady Wrotham will be left alone in
her glory here," said Francis Redcliffe.

Nobody contradicted this, although no word had been said
of the Redcliffes or Norah leaving.

" That will suit her very well," said Turner, " as she can't get
on with anybody in the place. Been much simpler if she'd
gone away herself ; then Prentice might have stayed on. It's
hardest on him. You could see the poor fellow felt it this
morning."

" It is very sad," said Mrs. Redcliffe. " And I feel so sorry
that we cannot be with him at all now to let him see that his
going is a great loss to us."

" Alone with that woman ! " said Turner. " And taking
her with him wherever he goes ! Yes. That's his real
tragedy."

" I would go to her," said Mrs. Redcliffe, " if I thought
she would receive me. I think I must, before they leave. It
is terrible to think of them going with no one to bid them a
friendly good-bye, after the years we have known them." It
was plain that she felt acute distress at the thought. All that
she had suffered at the hands of Mrs. Prentice was forgotten.
She could only see a poor mistaken woman leaving the home
in which she had lived so long, at enmity with all her little
world.

But Hilda said quietly, " You can't go to her, mother. And
she wouldn't see you, if you did. But I am sorry for her too."



884 Ext on Manor

There was a change here. It was not long since Hilda
would have flamed out into bitter words against Mrs. Prentice,
and held that she had got nothing worse than her deserts.

" I see her sometimes," said Browne. " I've never actually
quarrelled with her."

u Hadn't got enough pluck to," interpolated Turner.

" I don't think she's particularly sorry for herself. She'd
still like to put a knife into the lot of us. I wouldn't advise
anybody to go near her, unless they want their heads bitten
off."

The picture of the beaten woman still nursing her insane
rancour, although all the foundations of her life had fallen
around her, was almost terrible to contemplate. " Isn't there
a son ? " asked Francis. " What's become of him ? "

" He's a cub," said Turner. " But he's fallen on his feet.
He put all he hadn't spent of a bit of money that was left to
him in some syndicate and he's making thousands a year. At
least he's spending it."

No one cared to pursue the subject of Fred Prentice's
doings any further, and presently the .ladies left the table.

Hilda and Norah O'Keefe walked arm in arm in the
garden. '; Norah, I've got something to tell you," said Hilda
shyly.

Norah looked at her quickly. " Oh, Hilda," she ex-
claimed, " I am so glad. Of course I know what it is,"

Hilda smiled. " I suppose you do," she said. " I'm not
very good at hiding things, and dear old Frank isn't either."

" He's a very lucky man," said Norah.

" It's I who am lucky. I always liked him from the very
first. He's so honest and straightforward. I don't think he
could hide anything if he wanted to. And I simply loved
him when he came down here on purpose to make friends
with us when we were going through all that trouble in the
Spring. I can hardly believe that that is all over now. I
don't think about it any more. He has blown it all a. way."

Norah responded generously. She may have remembered
that she had done something too to soften that trouble to her
friends. But it was not a time to insist upon sharing the
credit. They talked together happily of all that Hilda's news
meant to her. " Riverslea is such a lovely place," she said.
" And the garden, Norah ! You never saw such a garden. I
am to do exactly as I like in it."



The Shadow of Change 885

" It will be rather sad leaving this garden that you and Mrs.
Redcliffe have made," said Norah.

" I shan't mind," Hilda iaid. " All the pleasure has gone
out of this place, somehow. I hope I shall never see it again,

unless Norah, you won't be living here much longer,

shall you ? "

It was like Hilda to fling out a question of this sort without
warning, and Norah may have prepared herself for it, or some-
thing like it. But when it came she was taken unawares and
blushed red. " Yes, of course I shall," she said hurriedly.
" But tell me about Mrs. Redcliffe's house."

Hilda looked at her and saw that she was to ask nothing
more concerning Norah's plans. She told her of a little old
dower house on Francis Redcliffe's estate, in which her mother
was to live, and Norah listened and made comments, thinking
all the time of something else.

Then the men came out into the garden with Mrs. Red-
cliffe. Francis had told them the news, diffidently, and in the
baldest language, as he poured himself out a glass of port.
They all stood together in a little group, and were very
friendly. Francis even ventured to put his arm round Hilda's
waist with an air of proprietorship as they talked. She was
his property now, and he was going to take care of her and
give her everything in the world she wanted. There were con-
gratulations and a little chaff, and some mention of the time
when Exton would be deserted. But no one seemed to re-
member that Norah would still be left behind, and she had not
the courage to remind them of the fact, which she would have
done if she had known how to meet the look with which they
would have greeted the reminder.

The pleasant stir of interest and anticipation with which
these coming departures were announced and received was so
different from the blank depression which lay over the vicarage
on this September Sunday, that it is painful to have to turn
from them to that home of melancholy. There were count-
less little preparations to make even in the intervals of Sunday
services, and no time could be spent in leisure when the
shadow of disruption hung over everything. Perhaps the com-
plete absence of confidence which had now come to be the
everyday note of the intercourse between the Vicar and his
wife made it easier for both of them to adapt themselves to the
wrench. It had come to be a natural thing for each to guard



386 Exton Manor

against impulses towards the other, and this self-restraint could
now be used as a defence against the appeal of inanimate ob-
jects. When both together might have mourned as they went
steadily forward with the disintegration of their home, pride
kept them from giving way apart, and they kept a callous face
to one another, never soothing themselves with an expression
of sentiment or regret. Active antagonism had died down.
They had to be much together, to discuss plans and arrange-
ments, to agree to this or that, to help each other frequently
in matters where help was necessary. They met now with-
out awkwardness, and anything like angry speech between
them would have been as unlikely to happen as if they had
been in perfect accord. But the gulf had not narrowed.
They were as far apart in sympathy as ever, and as little likely
to come together again, less likely, for custom had begun to
salve over their estrangement, and the impulse to end it at any
cost was no longer imperative. There were times when each
of them felt this impulse, and might have acted on it if the
other had felt it concurrently. But when one had been soft
the other had been hard, and it seemed as if they might settle
down permanently to an unhappy existence of mutual indiffer-
ence, almost mutual dislike, unless something should happen
suddenly to break up the crust that was hardening over their
hearts.

And to add to the troubles of both of them at this trouble-
some time a letter had been received at the vicarage the morn-
ing before from Fred, which dispersed finally all the hopes of
an opulent future that had seemed to be within his grasp.
His father had handed over to him the remnant of his legacy
some months before, and he had embarked it in the undertak-
ing which he had described. The money had gone, chiefry
into the pocket of the German who had victimized him and
his friend, and the swindler had vanished, leaving behind him
a few scores of photographs wonderfully coloured by hand to
represent the remains of Fred's little fortune.

The Vicar and his wife talked it over as they drank a cup
of tea in the half dismantled dining-room.

" I blame myself for giving way," said the Vicar. " I ought
never to have let him have the money."

" It was foolish, certainly," said Mrs. Prentice, who had
begged him at the time to do so, " but it seemed such a good
thing. I wish I could see that German for a few minutes.



The Shadow of Change 887

He would remember it. There is one thing — such wicked
dishonesty cannot prosper. But no pains must be spared to
bring him to justice."

" I doubt," said the Vicar, " whether it will be worth while
to throw good money after bad in pressing him. You would
probably not find him easy to catch. However, I shall hea i
about it from Fred to-morrow. Poor boy, he writes in great
dejection. It has been a rude awakening for him. I hope
that in the end it will not be a bad thing. Now, he will have
to work hard and make his own way by himself. I am afraid
that he must be in difficulties. I have no doubt that he has
anticipated the money he thought he would get, and has run
into debt again. We must get to the bottom of that."

" I do hope that you will not be harsh with him. He has
had quite enough disappointment, and not through his own
fault, already."

" I shall not be harsh to him. I only want to help him,
and I will do so to the limit of my power. I shall go up by
the early train. I should have liked to bring him back with
me, but I suppose that is impossible in the present state of the
house. However, we shall all be together for a time when we
go to London, and we must all start our work afresh. None
of us have been very successful this }'ear."

" The fault is not with us," said Mrs. Prentice. " It is
the wickedness of others that has hindered us."



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE SUBSTANCE OF THE SHADOW

Mr. Prentice went up to town early the next morning and
came down again by the five o'clock train. As he sat in a
corner of a third-class carriage looking out on the falling dusk,
and afterwards into the darkness, he went over in his mind all
that had passed between him and his son during that trying
day, and gained little satisfaction from what he had learnt, or
from the thought of what was to be done in the immediate
*future. Fred had disclosed to him, without reservation, a tale
of monstrous folly and credulity. From his admissions it
would have seemed that suspicion of the swindler who had
duped him and his friend ought to have occurred to any level-
headed man very soon after their taking up his supposed in-
vention. But Fred had declared that he had had no suspicions
of the pretended inventor, although he had never liked him,
until the money had disappeared and the inventor with it. He
had gone on in blind credulity. He had even borrowed more
money from his friends to put into the syndicate, when he was
told that more money was required, and owed some hundreds



Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 33 of 36)