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more. You've got rid of him now. Why can't you leave
me alone ? I don't want you. I never want to look on your
face again."

She poured out her words in a torrent of scorn and anger,
and then sunk into her seat and burst into hysterical tears.

"It is perhaps natural that you should look upon me as
an enemy," said Lady Wrotham ; " but death ought to do
away with enmity. There is none left in my thoughts. I
am deeply sorry for everything that has happened. I would
undo it if I could. Can you not forget what is past and let
me be a friend to you ? "

" No," said Mrs. Prentice. " I do not want your friend-
ship. You have behaved wickedly. You divided me from
my husband, and when I would have gone back to him it was
too late. Oh, too late, and I shall never be able to tell him
how sorry I am."

She broke down again, sobbing and moaning.

Mrs. Redcliffe rose from her seat. " I think," she said,
" it would be better to leave her now. I will stay with her."

The two women faced one another. Each had latterly
played a large part in the life of the other, but they had never
yet met face to face or had speech together.



400 Exton Manor

" I am very glad you are here/' said Lady Wrotham. " I
will go now ; but Mrs. Prentice must not think that I bear
any ill-will towards her for what she has said to me. I am
deeply grieved on her account, and if she will see me later on
I will come to her again."

She turned and went out of the room. -' I won't see her/'
cried Mrs. Prentice/ "You must not let her come again.
It was she who made the mischief. I should not have had
this terrible estrangement to reproach myself with if it had not
been for her."

Mrs. Redcliffe stayed with her all the morning. The poor
woman clung to her, and would not let her go. She took her
up to the darkened room where her husband lay, with all the
trouble and anxiety of life smoothed out of his face. She
relied on her for a decision as to all the wearying details that
had to be settled as the hours went on ; she drew on her strong
faith for consolation, and gained some patience and resigna-
tion in her trial.

Fred came about noon, dazed with horror and incredulity,
and then Mrs. Redcliffe went away and left the mother and son
to bewail their loss together.

Mrs. Redcliffe, when she reached home, was for a time
almost prostrated by the stress of emotion she had under-
gone. Hilda made much of her and drew from her an
account of what had passed, but she told her nothing of Lady
Wrotham's visit. It was of so little importance beside the
great fact of the Vicar's death and Mrs. Prentice's unhappy
state that she did not think of it.

" I am so glad you went, mother," Hilda said. " I know
you must have done the poor thing good. Norah has been
here, and she would have liked to go, but was afraid that she
wouldn't want her. And Mr. Browne. He is going to do
everything he can to relieve her of trouble. She will find
every one kind now. But you are the best of all."

Francis Redcliffe hung about the room with his hands in
his pockets, honestly solicitous, but feeling rather helpless.
Hilda induced her mother to go upstairs and lie down, and
then returned to him, her eyes glowing.

" Don't you think my mother is the most wonderful woman
you have ever known ? " she said. " Poor Mrs. Prentice —
she is in terrible trouble now and one tries to forget every-
thing she has done, but it isn't easy, even now. But mother



Reconciliation 401

has forgotten all about it. She was annoyed when I asked
her if it had been mentioned. Oh, Francis, I haven't got a
character like that."

He put his hands on her shoulders and looked into her
eyes. " You have," he said, " if you only knew it."

But Hilda turned away. " You don't know what you're
saying," she said. " Mother is a saint, and I'm anything but
that. But to live with her and know her makes you want to
be like her."

Mrs. Redcliffe was sitting in the parlour in the afternoon
and Francis and Hilda were in the garden. It was still golden
weather and the glass doors were wide open. Hilda came
through them in a hurry. " Mother," she said, " Lady
Wrotham is coming. Her carnage has just come through the
gate. What are you going to do ? "

Mrs. Redcliffe was flurried for a moment. " I forgot to
tell you," she said, " that Lady Wrotham came to the vicarage
while I was there this morning. She wants to see me. You
had better go out again. I will see her alone."

Hilda hesitated a moment, and then went out. Mrs.
Redcliffe rose from her seat and then resumed it. Lady
Wrotham was announced.

" Mrs. Redcliffe," she said, as the door was closed behind
her, " I hope you will not resent my coming to see you.
There have been misunderstandings between us for which I
take the blame. I hope that you wish them at an end as much
as I do."

u I am very glad you have come, Lady Wrotham," said
Mrs. Redcliffe. " As for what is past we need think of it no
more. It no longer troubles me, and I do not think that you
need take the blame for it."

The air of tension relaxed. Both ladies sat down, and
Lady Wrotham said, " I cannot blame myself for wantonly
spreading abroad gossip about you, for I never meant to do
that, and was greatly concerned when I found it was being
done. But I wish now that when I first knew I had done
you an injury I had seen you. I could have helped you to
meet it, and perhaps we might have been friends."

There was no trace of her usual haughty manner. There
was apology in her bearing as well as her speech. Mrs.
Redcliffe found herself drawn towards her.

" I wish we could have been friends, Lady Wrotham,"



402 Exton Manor

she said. '* But I shall leave Exton now with very different
feelings to what I should have done if I had never seen you
to talk to. And you must not think of me as having borne
you any ill-will, now for a long time past. I think it has
been as much our fault as yours that we have not come to-
gether before. Things have been said in the heat of the
moment that you must have found it difficult to forgive ; and
I can only thank you for overlooking them and coming to see
me now."

" I was coming before," said Lady Wrotham. " And I
was angry with your daughter, I confess, for putting it, as I
thought, out of my power to do so. But I will think of that
no more. I can understand that a high-spirited girl might
not weigh her expressions very carefully, if she thought that
her mother was being badly used. I should like to see her
presently and congratulate her on her engagement. And,
Mrs. Redcliffe, you understand how it was that I seemed to
have set on foot the trouble you underwent earlier in the year,
while I am really not entirely responsible for it, and you will
not let it stand between us now."

" Indeed, no," said Mrs. Redcliffe. " It is over, and troubles
me no more. And you must remember, too, that it has really
resulted in great happiness, for it brought Francis Redcliffe to
us, and I cannot see anything but happiness to come to my
daughter from her marriage with him."

"lam very glad that you can look upon it in that way, and
I am only sorry that we have not come together before, for I
think that perhaps we might have helped one another in many
ways. You may judge what a terrible shock poor Mr.
Prentice's death has been to me, after all that has happened
between us. I feel almost as if I were in some way respon-
sible for it, as that poor woman said this morning."

Her manner changed from the dignity and self-possession,
with which she had made her peace with Mrs. Redcliffe, to
one of acute distress. She seemed to shrink into herself, and
no longer sat erect in her chair. Her face plainly betokened
doubt and self-reproach, and Mrs. Redcliffe divined in a flash
of insight that the great lad}', thoroughly upset by what had
happened, had come to her for comfort and support, just as
Mrs. Prentice, after her first impulse of offence, had gone to
her. She drew her chair a little closer to Lady Wrotham's.

" I am quite sure," she said, " that you ought not to allow



Reconciliation 403

yourself to think that. Poor Mrs. Prentice hardly knew what
she was saying in her grief, and "

" Oh, it is not what she said," cried Lady Wrotham.
" Poor woman, I forgive her that freely. I think nothing
of it. It is what I feel myself. I did make his life hard
for him, and it is true, quite true, to say that I drove him
away. I meant to do so. I don't think I felt any enmity
towards him personally. I liked him, apart from what I
believed was his dangerous teaching. I respected him, and
according to his lights I am sure he was a good man. But
it seemed impossible to keep on anything like cordial terms
with him while I was doing all I could to get him removed,
and of course she made it quite impossible afterwards. But
his death seems to have altered everything* I have tried to
do v/hat I thought to be right in the position in which I am
placed, but I seem to have brought nothing but unhappiness
here. Oh, Mrs. Redcliffe, I feel it very deeply."

Probably no one had ever seen Lady Wrotham in tears,
but Mrs. Redcliffe was very nearly seeing it now. She was
no doubt in deep distress, and inclined, against every habit
she had formed during a long life, to blame herself severely
for what she had done. It was not easy to pour balm into
her wounds, for it was impossible to acquit her of overbearing
harshness towards the man whose death had brought her mis-
takes home to her, and it would have seemed to Mrs. Redcliffe
a disloyalty to his memory to do so.

" I think," she said, " that at a time like this it is natural
that we should blame ourselves severely for any unkindness we
may have committed. But it is certain that those who have
left us cannot join in the blame, and I think, if we regret it,
they may know of our altered feelings."

" Do you really believe that ? I hope it is so, for I cannot
deny that he had reason to think harshly of me."

" I don't think he did so. I think he gave you credit for
sincerity, as you have given him credit. It is possible to
respect those who differ from us honestly, and he respected
you. I am sure of it."

" Do you think he did ? " asked Lady Wrotham rather
weakly. " I should like to think so. But I must not dwell
on that. I see, quite plainly, that I have been wrong in
many ways. I have searched out my heart. Humility is
becoming to a Christian. Perhaps it has not been a virtue



404 Exton Manor

that I have followed very closely. This shock has brought
certain things clearly home to me, and it is a good thing to
know one's self thoroughly. No. I can see that with all
my desires to play my part well, I have not been successful.
I have brought strife where before there was peace and con-
tentment, and it grieves me deeply to be obliged to confess it.
Now everything is breaking up. Poor Mr. Prentice is dead
and his wife is going away. You are leaving, and others too,
and I shall be left alone here to remember what has come to
pass, and to regret it deeply. How 7 little I thought, only a few
months ago, that it would come to this ! "

Mrs. Redcliffe hardly knew what to reply to this outburst
of self-reproach, half grotesque, half pathetic. She realized
that she was witnessing a rare exhibition of feeling, one pro-
bably that few if any of Lady Wrotham's intimate friends
would have deemed her capable of. But she saw, too, that
alongside the hurt pride and the tardy conviction of error,
there lay the sense of isolation, the appeal for sympathy and
companionship. She responded to it generously.

" You will gather other friends round you," she said, " and
I am sure that with your desire to help them there will be
happiness both for yourself and for others w T ho come to live
here. I think, perhaps, we wanted stirring up a little. We
were so very pleased with ourselves. And so far as we are
concerned in this house we are happier now than we were
before. You must think of that, Lady Wrotham, and do not
reproach yourself for what no longer causes us any sorrow.
I am so glad that you have come to me, and that we shall not
leave Exton without making friends with you. There is
nothing that I should have regretted more than that."

" It is very kind of you to say so," replied Lady Wrotham,
with a return towards her more ordinary manner. '] I hope
you will all come and dine with me shortly — perhaps after
poor Mr. Prentice's funeral — and as far as I can I will try to
make up to you for the injustice you have experienced. But
you will come and see me before that, I hope. I am getting
old, and I confess I am lonely here. I shall be glad if we
can become friends."

The reconciliation was complete. The two ladies talked
together for some time with quiet friendliness, and then Lady
Wrotham took her leave. " I should like to see your daugh-
ter," she said, " before I go."



Reconciliation 405

They went out into the garden where Hilda and Francis
Redcliffe were walking together. They were summoned.
Hilda came up with an air half of distrust, half of pride.
Lady Wrotham looked up in her face. " Your mother has
made friends with me," she said. " I hope that you will do
the same."

Hilda stammered and blushed. " I'm afraid I was very rude
to you once," she said.

" You were," said Lady Wrotham. " But you had some
reason to be, and I have forgiven you. I am glad to hear
you are going to be married. Perhaps you will introduce me
to your cousin."

The introduction was made, commonplaces were inter-
changed, and Lady Wrotham got into her carriage and drove
away.

" Francis," said Hilda, " I have no enemies in the world
now."



CHAPTER XXXVIII

NEW YEAR'S EVE

It was New Year's Eve. The lamp outside the old gate
house of the Abbey, lit to welcome the guests expected by
her ladyship, threw its beams on a road hard with frost.
The night was clear and still, and the moon was showing a
bright rim over the wooded hill.

Browne's dog-cart came down the road and turned in under
the archway. The sharp impact of his horse's hoofs could be
heard long before the lights showed round the distant bend.
Mrs. O'Keefe's brougham followed it in a few minutes.
Then came a landau from the White House, and, finally,
Turner's cart from the dark wood. The two carriages came
out again and drove away. The light was put out and the
full disc of the moon swung clear of the horizon.

The old dining-hall, with its vaulted roof and great open
hearth, still wore its Christmas decorations of holly and ivy and
mistletoe, and the air of festivity suggested by those accessories
was repeated in the faces and manner of the diners. One
would have said that none of thern had a care in the world,
and it was probably true that care was as far from every one
of them this evening as it could be from nine people all of
whom had some experience of life and a few of them a long
one.

Lady Wrotham sat at the head of her table, doing the hon-
ours royalty. It was the last night of a j'ear which had
opened for her with sorrow and had gone on to disappointment
and loneliness. And now she was surrounded by her neigh-
bours, and there was no feeling between her and them but one
of good- will. On her right were Francis Redcliffe and Hilda,

406



New Year's Eve 407

and on her left Turner and Mrs. Redcliffe, and she had some-
thing to say to all of them. There was friendship and even
merriment and no shadow of past disagreement. Turner
seemed to be in specially high favour, and his dry witticisms
were received with gratifying appreciation. But of course it
was Wrotham who diffused the air of hilarity which was most
befitting the season. Francis Redcliffe occasionally dived be-
neath the lively surface for a moment or two of privacy with
Hilda ; but Wrotham's method was otherwise. His eye was
not infrequently on Norah, who sat at his left, and his conver-
sation always included her, but his homage was paid through
the high spirits which he brought to bear on the whole com-
pany, and his happiness w T as plain to see. Lady Syde, sitting
on his right hand, may have felt the warm glow of satisfaction
which she was en titled to feel at the remembrance of how she
had removed a threatened danger to that now consummated
happiness. She took her part in the talk and laughter and
looked years younger than her age as her eyes sparkled in the
keen face underneath the white hair. Browne, on her right,
was a little out of his depth with her, but under the cover of
the general conversation was able to eat his dinner comfort-
ably and chuckle contentedly at any sally which his rather
slowly pursuing brain succeeded in overtaking ; or he would
address himself to Mrs. Redcliffe, who sat on his other side,
and with whom he always felt at home.

Later in the evening, throwing back the window curtains
of the upstairs drawing-room and revealing the silvered
stretches of the park, lit by the most brilliant of moons,
Wrotham suddenly took it into his head that this was the time
of all others to visit the ruins of the Abbey, and rested not
until he had bundled the ladies into their furs and taken them
out into the bright still night. Lady Wrotham and Lady
Syde, their remonstrances overborne, sat on by the fire, but
Mrs. Redcliffe joined the party of adventure, probably guess-
ing that that party would inevitably break into fragments, and
willing to be the companion of the two who would not ar-
dently desire to snatch a few minutes' conversation with one
another under romantic circumstances.

" Sarah/' said Lady Syde, when the door had closed on the
talk and laughter and the two old ladies were left to the silence
of the big room, " this is a far happier state of things than was
the case a few months ago. It seems a pity that it should



408 Exton Manor

have come so late, and now it has come that it should so soon
be ending."

Lady Wrotham did not reply for a moment, but sat gazing
into the fire, with a look on her face that it was difficult to
interpret.

" Exton will not be so lively when the changes have come
about," she said. " But we are getting old, Henrietta, you
and I, and when you settle down at the White House, we
shall no doubt be able to amuse one another in a quiet way
without missing the liveliness."

" You say that because you want peace after all the disturb-
ances you have gone through," returned Lady Syde. " I also
want peace for the years I have left ; but you may have peace
without stagnation, and I own that the society of young
people is welcome to me. I could wish that all those who
are here now were not going to fly away from us."

" We shall have George and Nor ah here very often, I
hope," said Lady Wrotham. " They both know that I wish
that, and I think they are both anxious to meet my wishes."

'•- The}^ should be, Sarah. You have behaved generously
towards them. You must feel it a great relief to be at last on
terms of affection with George. You will admit now, I sup-
pose, that you have lost nothing by treating him with less
harshness than before."

" I admit nothing of the kind," said Lady Wrotham shortly.
" My treatment of George was always founded on justice. It
is only since he broke away from the disastrous influence of
Laurence that it has been possible to relax an attitude that
was called for by what was going on. If I had treated George
with the foolish indulgence with which you have treated
Laurence there would be nothing to choose between them.
One would have been as bad as the other. No, indeed ! I
have nothing to regret there."

" Well," said Lady Syde, in no wise upset by this turning
of the tables, " we are not likely to agree upon that point and
may as well leave it. Laurence is not so bad as he is painted.
He gave me a handsome jewel at Christmas, and I value it
because I know he is in money difficulties and it meant a sac-
rifice to him. But he shall not lose by his generosity. You
will not deny, I suppose, that you have made mistakes since
you have been here, and have now learnt better.

" I don't know why I should either deny or admit it, Hen-



New Year's Eve 409

rietta. It seems to me a little odd that you should show such
a desire to charge me with making mistakes. At all events
if I had taken your advice, I should have turned every soul in
the Manor off it. It is not for you to charge me with mis-
takes, which you do probably because you are annoyed with
what I said about Laurence."

" I am not in the least annoyed. Your unfairness to Lau-
rence has always been apparent, and I have always taken it
into account. And as for my advice to you, you must remem-
ber that I had only heard one side. If I had known what sort
of a woman Mrs. Redcliffe was I should never have suggested
your getting rid of her. I should have seen that she was more
likely to be right in any matter of dispute than yourself — I
say it in no spirit of offence."

Lady Wrotham displayed an unexpected meekness in face
of this direct statement. " We need not quarrel about Mrs.
Redcliffe, Henrietta," she said, quietly. " She is a noble-
hearted woman."

" I quite agree with you," replied Lady Syde. '' I wish I
were more like her myself. If I had had such an example be-
fore me in my youth I might have been ; but at my age it is
too late to begin. I am afraid, Sarah, that in having me at
the White House instead of her the exchange will not be al-
' together a better one."

" As to that," said Lady Wrotham uncompromisingly, " I
have no illusions. But we understand one another, and there
is no likelihood of our permanently falling out, although, no
doubt, we shall often disagree."

" I hope so," said Lady Syde. " Disagreement need not
destroy friendship, and ours is firmly fixed, I hope, whatever
we may say to one another."

" I think it is, Henrietta. I do not resent your brusque
speeches, though they are often quite uncalled for, and I should
certainly do so if they came from any one else."

" I speak my mind," said Lady Syde. "It is the better
way. Sometimes I am wrong, but more often I am right.
Sarah, I am glad we shall be together during the coming }^ear,
and I hope for some years to come, you in your big house and
I in my little one. The changes in Exton benefit me, if no
one else."

" They benefit me to that extent," replied Lady Wrotham,
mollified. ?' And, of course, although Mr. Prentice's sudden



410 Exton Manor

death was a great shock to me, and I have something to
regret in remembering what come before it, it is a relief to have
a man like Mr. Dacre here, with whom I see eye to eye on
religious matters, and who will help instead of hindering my
work/'

"Ah, well," said Lady Syde. "I won't say too much
about that. You might take exception to one of my brusque
speeches, as you call them, if I were to say that you probably
hindered Mr. Prentice's work as much as he hindered yours.
So I won't say it. It is a question for your own conscience,
and if that is at rest on the subject I am glad of it. I never
met Mr. Prentice, but I believe he was a good man. His wife,
of course, was a horror. You are well rid of her, at any rate."

■' Poor woman ! " said Lady Wrotham. " My anger against
her has departed. I could even wish to make friends with her,
but that she would not do. Perhaps it is not to be wondered
at."

" She has been well punished for her wickedness. She is
very poor, is she not ? "

" She has enough to live on. I — er — there was a fund. I
could not very well subscribe to it in my own name ; she might
not have accepted my help ; but I did so through George.
That must not be mentioned, Henrietta. And Mr. Prentice
left a little money. She can live without anxiety. I am glad
of it. And Mr. Ferraby was kind enough to find a position in
his business for her son, who was extravagant and brought
trouble to his father. That is all happily settled, and he has a
chance of doing well for himself."

" Mr. Ferraby ! Then you see, Sarah, the worldly people
you objected to so much, are not without their uses."

'■ Henrietta, do not let us spar any more I am fully alive
to the lessons that the past year has brought, but I do not wish
them thrown continually in my face. We are none of us too
old to learn, and I dare say both you and I are wiser now than
we were at the end of last year, and at the end of next year
let us hope we shall be v/iser still. Learn by the mistakes
you make, I say, but do not always be dwelling on them."

" Sarah," said Lady Syde, " I think in some ways you are
v/iser than I am."

The ruined cloisters of the old Abbey lay white and still
under the moon. For three hundred years they had echoed to



New Year's Eve 411



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