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Archibald Marshall.

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the busy life of praise and work that had been carried on in
them day and night to the glory of the Lord, and for nearly
four hundred they had lain desolate and destroyed, while the
life of the world had passed them by, and work and praise had
fulfilled themselves in other ways. The grass had grown
green over the graves of the old abbots and churchmen of the
long distant past, and ivy and the scented growth of myrtle
and fig and magnolia had thrown a veil over the scarred walls
and pointed arches, as beautiful now in their decay as they had
been in the days of their pride ; and never more beautiful than
on this still winter night, when every leaf and twig was im-
movable, as if carved in stone, with sharp white lights and
inky shadows, bound in the grip of the rimeless frost.

It was a scene of romantic beauty, and no doubt enhanced
the delight of the two pairs of lovers for whom there were
shadowed arches and doorways under which to whisper
renewal of vows already many times declared. It was as Mrs.
Redcliffe had foreseen. Wrotham and Norah, and Francis
and Hilda had paired themselves, and she was left to pace the
paths of the cloister garth with Browne and Turner.

" Capital idea this," said Turner, burying his hands in the
depths of his ulster pockets and hunching his shoulders.
" Much better than sitting over a stuffy fire on a night like
this. Might have picnicked out here if we'd thought of it."

" Always grousing ! " said Browne. " I'm glad we came.
Never seen the cloisters look more beautiful, with the moon
and all that. Some people would give a lot to see this."

" You're such a romantic young fellow," said Turner.

" Don't quarrel," Mrs. Redcliffe interrupted. " It is the
last night of the year. I am glad we came, too, Mr. Browne.
When you think of all the centuries that this quiet place has
seen, it helps you to make little of the troubles that life brings
you. They are soon over, and then time buries them."

" They're pretty real while they last," said Turner. " We've
had a dooce of a lot of 'em this year, here. If you can forget
yours, Mrs. Redcliffe, it does you credit. But it's no more
than I should have expected of you."

" By Jove, no," corroborated Browne.

" I don't want to talk of that," said Mrs. Redcliffe. " It is
all nothing now. I was thinking of poor Mrs. Prentice.
This spot must be much in her thoughts now. It is a sad
time for her, but even her troubles will pass away. And as



412 Exton Manor

for him, he is lying here with his life's work done, where so
many others before him were laid. They are dead, but their
work goes on. Perhaps not one of them could have been
spared, and their failures went to make them what they were
as well as their success."

Turner threw back his head. " Life's a queer business,"
he said, and nodded towards the hidden shadows. " They've
got the best of it. They're young."

Mrs. Redcliffe smiled. " I think we have the best of it,"
she said, " we who are older, because we know the worst as
well as the best. And the worst is not so bad, after all.



THE END



Printed at The Chapel River Press, Kingston, Surrey,



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