Archibald Marshall.

Exton manor online

. (page 4 of 36)
Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 4 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the station.

He arrived in time to see a young man who had just alighted
standing on the platform and looking about him. He was
not particularly distinguished in appearance, except for a
look of pleasant good-nature, agreeable enough. He was
not above the middle height, but had a slim, active figure,
which made him appear tall. He wore a loose tweed over-
coat, and was smoking a briar pipe.

" Ah, here you are," he said, as Browne came panting on
to the platform. " How are you ? Air's nice and fresh down
here. Ticket ? Here you are, sonny. I'll keep the other
half. Jove ! this seems an out-of-the-way place for a station.
That's a nice-looking nag of yours, Browne. Want to be
off, eh, old girl ? Well, we shan't keep you long."

They drove out of the station yard and across the brown
heath. " About four miles, isn't it ? " inquired Lord Wrotham.

Lord Wrotham 47

M Just under four to the Abbey gates," said Browne. " But
you've been here before, haven't you ? "

" Not since I was a kiddy. I hardly remember the place
at all. Quite exciting to have a look at it again. Jolly
pretty place, isn't it ? Everybody says so."

" It's the prettiest place I've ever seen," replied Browne.
" I was only saying to myself as I came along, I'd rather
have Exton than Hurstbury and Shelbraith put together."

" Would you now ? Well, of course there's plenty to do
here. Still, with the shooting let, I don't know."

" You could get the shooting back if you wanted it.
Ferraby only holds it on a yearly tenancy."

" Yes. Weil, of course, I did think of it. I'm not deadly
keen on Hurstbury. Too big a house for a bachelor to keep
up. But her ladyship had the choice, and she seemed to
think she could make herself fairly comfortable down here."

" She ought to be able to. The house is in tip-top order.
Old Sir Joseph didn't care what he spent on it. He's im-
proved it a lot."

" Any people about for her to boss ? "

Browne had known Lord Wrotham since his schooldays,
and was not so much startled at this speech as otherwise he
might have been.

" There are some big houses round," he said. " None
very near."

" Oh, I don't mean them. I mean the people in the village.
What's the parson like ? Is he low ? "

"'No. I believe not. I'm not much on those questions,
myself ; but a pal told me he was high."

" Well, then, he won't suit her ladyship. If he's got any
fight in him you'll have some sport. We might have a bet
on it. I haven't seen the parson, but I'm willing to risk it,
and lay you two to one on the Mater."

Browne laughed. " I expect you would win," he said.
" But look here, Kemsing — Lord Wrotham, I "

" Oh, for goodness' sake don't begin my lording me,"
interrupted the young man. " I get quite enough of that."

" You're my employer," said Browne, with a comfortable

" Yes ; and I'll sack you if you don't do what you're told.
Well ? "

" I wish you'd see if you could manage to give her ladyship

48 Exton Manor

a hint — you know, just in the ordinary course of conversation
— I tried to do it myself, but I couldn't see my way — don't
let her think it comes from me "

" Go on. What sort of a hint ? "

" Well, we're rather a happy little family down here. I'm
jolly glad of it. I've been careful of the tenants I've got
here, and they're a nice lot, taking them all round. If she
could — w T ell, of course, I don't want her to inconvenience
herself — I mean, if she waited a bit — you know, just till she
saw what sort of people they were on the Manor, before —
before "

" Before she begins to ramp around ? My stout friend,
there's a parable somewhere, although I dare say you have
never heard of it, about the leopard changing his spots."

" I have heard of it. It's in the Bible."

" Very well, then. Your happy family must either set its
back up — in which case there'll be trouble — or it must knock
under from the first."

" That might save the trouble, but — —"

" Oh, no, it wouldn't. There'll be trouble in any case."

" I was going to say that I don't think all of them would
do it."

" You've got a few fighters, have you ? It will make all
the better sport. Who are the people living here ? Tell me
about 'em. There's the Vicar. He's high. Will he come
off his perch, or stay up there to be shot at ? "

" He's a nice fellow, Prentice. He'll hate being interfered
with, though. And Mrs. Prentice will hate it worse. Don't
care for her much. She's the only woman hereabouts that
tries to make mischief."

" Well, that's two of 'em. Who else ? "

" There's— er— Mrs. Redcliffe at the White House. We
enlarged it for her. One of the best. Quiet, but pretty firm.
I should think her ladyship might like her — but, by the bye,
she said she knew all about her. Do you know how ? "

" Never heard of her. Widow ? "

" Yes ; with one daughter." $

" Nice girl ? "

" Charming girl. Then there's Turner, who has the
Fisheries — Captain Turner ; he was in the Buffs. Queer stick,
but a good fellow. He don't go to church much, though."

" He'll have to alter that. Who else ? "

Lord Wrotham 49

M There's a very nice lady, Mrs. O'Keefe, at Street House."

" O'Keefe ! What O'Keefe ? "

" Her husband was a brother of Lord Bally shannon. He
was killed in South Africa."

'• What, poor old Paddy O'Keefe ? In the Grenadiers ?
I was at Eton with him. She's quite young then ? "

" Oh, yes. Lady Wrotham did hint to me that I had let
the place to her cheap on that account."

" Oh, no she didn't, old man. That isn't her way. She
taxed you with it outright."

" Well, yes, she did. But I need scarcely tell you, Kern-
sing, that such a thing never entered my head."

" Of course not, old boy. You'd much rather have had
an old lady, wouldn't you ? "

" I don't know about that. At any rate, there she is, and
she's a great acquisition to the placet"

" Pretty, eh ? "

" Yc-cs. She's certainly good-looking, and very charming,
and all that. I don't know when I've met a nicer woman.
'Course, there's nothing in what Lady Wrotham hinted at,
far as I'm concerned. Too old for that sort of tiling now.
Still, I suppose I'm not too old to take pleasure in the society
of a charming woman."

" By Jove, no, old man ! You're as young as the rest of
Do other people take pleasure in her society — Turner,
for instance ? "

" Oh, he's a perfect fool about her. Rather ridiculous in a
man of his age — and appearance. Bores her to death, too.
Always hanging about her."

" Ho, ho", my young friend ! I think I see daylight."

" Eh— what ? "

" Rivals, and a touch of the green-eyed one."

" I don't know what you mean, Kemsing. She hasn't got
green eyes. They are violet, and one of the best things
about her. And as for rivals, Turner's welcome, as far as
I'm concerned. I've told him that if he marries her I'll be
his best man. That shows that I've got no plans of the sort
for myself ; I think you'll acknowledge that. For goodness'
sake, don't put that idea into Lady Wrotham 's head, or we
shall have no end of a bother."

" Don't you fear me, Browne. I won't make mischief.
You'll have quite enough as it is. What's this place ? "

50 Exton Manor

They were approaching the gate which divided the forest
from the Manor. On a gentle rise to the right, facing a
sloping meadow, and backed by a great bank of trees, stood
a house of no great pretensions to beauty, but of some im-
portance, with its well-kept flower garden and spacious

" That's Forest Lodge. Ferraby rents it."

" Oh, that's Ferraby 's place, is it. I suppose they are not
here much ? "

" Only two or three months in the year. They 'liven us
up a bit when they do come. But I'm not at all sure that
they will hit it off with Lady Wrotham."

" Probably not. They are of the earth, earthy. How far
are we from Exton now ? "

" Getting on for two miles. This is Forest Farm. It goes
with the Lodge. Of course, you know, we're in the Manor

The rest of the drive along a winding, hedge-bordered lane,
with grass and arable fields on either side, here and there a
farmhouse with a group of cottages, and to the left a slow
stream meandering through water meadows, was taken up
with subjects having to do with Wrotham's ownership of the
estate, and Browne's management of it, also with questions of
sport. When they approached the broad sheet of water, on
the other side of which the house and the village faced them,
Wrotham gave vent to an involuntary expression of surprise
and pleasure. " By Jove ! " he said. " I didn't remember
it was half as jolly as this."

Browne's round, red face showed gratification. " Ah ! I
thought you'd be pleased," he said. " To tell you the truth,
I did hope you would have settled down here yourself. It
wouldn't cost half as much to keep up as Hurstbury, and
there's more fun to be got out of it. However, it's too late
to think about that now. You'll be down here occasionally,
I dare say ? "

": Oh, I expect I shall spend most of my time here," replied
the young man flippantly. " Can't bear to be parted from
my mother, you know.'"

" I say, Kemsing, you'll have to be careful how you speak
about Lady Wrotham down here," said Browne seriously.
" I haven't breathed a word about the difficulties that may
crop up — jolly careful not to. Don't let anybody hear you

Lord Wrotham 51

say anything — er — disrespectful. It 'ud create a devilish
bad impression.' '

The young man laughed. " It's an impression that has
been created in a good many places," he said. " Her lady-
ship and I don't get on, as they say. She's never hidden
the fact, and why should I ? However, I don't suppose our
disturbances will have much effect on your collection of
innocents, for this will probably be my last visit to Exton for
some considerable time. Ah, this is the Gate House. I
remember this."

Then followed the inspection of house and gardens. Browne
suggested that the adjacent ruins of the old Abbey should
also receive notice. Lord Wrotham demurred.

"Let's leave them for the present, and get through the
papers," he said, and they adjourned for an hour to the estate

The news had meantime got about that the new Earl was
on view for a strictly limited period, and, when he and Browne
emerged from the office and climbed again into the dog-cart,
there was a fair proportion of the inhabitants of Exton
gathered together on the pavements, or in the village street,
for the purpose of viewing the portent. What malign fate
was it that brought the Vicar's wife down the road with a
warm invitation to luncheon just one minute too late ? She
had received the news only half-an-hour before, had spent
the intervening time in strenuous efforts to raise the tone of
her establishment to the necessary altitude, and, changing
her attire, had borne down on the Manor office to deliver the
invitation herself, her husband being out for the day. Now
she had the mortification of seeing Browne's dog-cart swing-
down the road and round the corner of the inn while she was
yet a hundred yards away from the point at which it had been
standing for the past hour. Should she call out ? Instinc-
tively, in her distress, she opened her mouth to do so. But
her voice would not carry so far. Should she shout to the
bystanders to stop the cart ? The force of lusty male lungs
would have the effect that she could not produce by herself.
" Stop them, stop them," she cried shrilly. A few heads
of the score or so turned towards the disappearing cart,
faced round slowly, and remained fixed, their eyes regarding
her with bovine blankness. Mrs. Prentice anathematized
the stupidity of their owners in language which, in a calmer

52 Exton Manor

moment, she would have been the first to deprecate — especially
in Lent. But, fortunately, she used it inaudibly, and con-
gratulated herself later that her influence for good over
her husband's flock had not suffered serious damage from her
moment of pardonable irritation. When she succeeded in
making it understood what it was she wanted, the cart had

But Mrs. Prentice was not yet beaten. She seized upon
the recipient of her last discarded hat — a young girl of
eighteen, whom she had thought it was most likely to suit — •
and sent her speeding off with a message. Gratitude, com-
bined with hope, lent the damsel wings. She ran off in the
track of the departing wheels, conning her lesson as she went.
She was not to forget to say this, she was to be sure and
remember to say that. She clung to the two words, " com-
pliments " and " honour," upon which her instructions were
peremptory 7 . Mrs. Prentice's compliments, and would his
lordship do her the honour ? Compliments first. " G "
comes before " h." And she was to be sure and say " my
lord/' as was only fitting. By the time she had tracked
the pair to the home-farm she had her lesson, and delivered
it jerkily with what breath remained to her. But she de-
livered it to Browne, not being able, when the time came,
to support the effulgence of the titled stranger. " Mrs.
Prentice's compliments, and will she do you the honour
of my lord's lunch at one o'clock ? " Browne disentangled
the kernel of the message from the husk.

" Thank Mrs. Prentice, and say that his lordship is lunching
with me," he said, and the damsel departed.

" Who is Mrs. Prentice ? " asked Wrotham.

" Oh, the Vicar's wife. You don't want to be bothered
with her." And they turned afresh to their inspection of
various live-stock.

The White House, with its sweep of lawn, flanked by big-
trees, and backed by a grassy rise, faced them as they came
out again into the road. Mrs. RedclifTe and Hilda were at
work on one of the flower beds. The trees and shrubs which
had been planted as a screen from the road had not yet grown
up, and t«he whole garden lay open to view from the seat of
Browne's dog-cart.

" By Jove, that's a pretty place," said Wrotham.

" Yes, It was a carter's cottage," said Browne, with some

Lord Wrotham 53

pride. " We altered it ourselves. Made a good job of it,
haven't we ? " He waved his hat to the ladies, who had
turned towards them at the sound of wheels. They were,
too far off for their faces to be seen, but Hilda stood, a young
erect figure, regarding them with a frank curiosity. " Mrs.
Redcliffe and her daughter,'' said Browne in a low voice.

" Nice-looking girl," said Wrotham, whose gaze had also
been direct. " I should rather like to have a look at that
place. Couldn't we pay them a friendly call ? "

" We'll go in on our way down, after lunch, if you like.
I should like you to see what we've done to the place. I
believe if we were to put up a few more houses of that sort, on
different parts of the estate, we should let them without any
difficulty. I'd like to talk it over with you."

They talked that and other matters over during their
drive up the hill to Browne's house, and during the progress
of luncheon. Then they inspected Browne's live-stock, and
stables, and garden, and afterwards walked down the hill
through the woods to the White House, having ordered the
cart to follow them by road.

. Redcliffe received her new landlord with her cus-
tomary placidity. The young man chatted to her and Hilda
with impartial good-humour. He had that agreeable gift of
never being at a loss for something to say, and could put the
most diffident at their ease without exertion. His little
jokes and pleasantries, although not exactly scintillating with
wit, were so evidently the expression of a kindly light-hearted
nature, that it was impossible not to enjoy them as heartily
as did their inventor. He also had the gift of making himself
completely at home, in whatever company he might find
himself. His visit to the White House lasted about ten
minutes, but by the time he and Browne set off again on their
drive to the outlying parts of the Manor, he had been con-
ducted all over the house, and admired everything in it. And
he had managed during that short period to laugh and chat
himself into the good graces of the younger of his two hostesses
to such an extent that she became quite enthusiastic about
him, as she and her mother stood by the door and watched
them down the drive and out of the gate.

" He really is a delightful person, isn't he, mother ? " she said.

" He has very pleasant manners," replied Mrs. Redcliffe.

" I have never met an earl at close quarters before. I am

54 Exton Manor

quite sure now that earls must be the most attractive body of
people in the kingdom. My admiration for the House of
Lords, which I never thought much of before, has increased
enormously. If Lady Wrotham is half as nice as her son, I
am sure we shall all like her immensely."

"I am afraid she will hardly become so immediately

" At any rate, I shall not stand so much in awe of her
now. Mother dear, don't you think we might go and have
tea with Mrs. Prentice this afternoon ? I don't think Lord
Wrotham will have time to call on her, and I am sure she
would like to hear what we think of him."

Mrs. Redcliffe laughed. " I am afraid she will be very
displeased with us," she said. " I think we will leave her to
find out for herself the honour that has been done to us."

Mrs. Prentice found it out very shortly, and she was dis-
pleased ; seriously displeased. " It is my belief," she said to
her husband, " that Hilda made eyes at him from the garden.
She and Mrs. Redcliffe, who might have known better, had
planted themselves where they could be seen from the road,
when he and Mr. Browne drove up. Martha Jellicot saw
them. Otherwise, why should he have gone out of his way
to call at the White House, for which there was absolutely no
reason, when he was too pressed for time to pay me the
ordinary courtesy of a short visit ? It is as I told you,
William. There is a direct conspiracy on foot to treat you
and your holy office with contempt — through me ; and the
Redcliffes and Mr. Browne are in it. I shall not lower my
dignity by making a complaint, but when Lady Wrotham
settles down here, I shall take very good care to warn her of
what is going on."

" I have no doubt you will make a good deal of mischief
when Lady Wrotham settles down here," retorted the Vicar
in a resigned tone. He had had a tiring day, and was not
feeling equal to an active disputation. " It will be very
disagreeable, and may do an infinity of harm to my work in
the parish. But I suppose I must put up with it. I ought to
have learnt to do so by this time."

Mrs. Prentice was too full of a sense of outraged dignity
even to give ear to this speech.

*' As for Mr. Browne," she said, u I shall tell hifn what I
think of him."



Ox the day following Lord Wrotham's visit, Mrs. Prentice
drove into the station to meet her son, who was to bestow the
light of his presence on the paternal vicarage for the Easter
holidays, and for as long afterwards as he could be induced
to do so. Mrs. Prentice was accustomed in her excursions
abroad to seat herself on the front seat of her wagonette, and
to beguile the tediousness of a drive behind the incompetent
vicarage horse by a conversation with the vicarage factotum,
in which she endeavoured to instil into that somewhat slow-
witted functionary a just view of the claims of the Church of
England on the adherence of all and sundry. For Tom Pillie,
as his name was, had been rescued from a family of Metho-
dists in a neighbouring village, and still had unaccountable
leanings towards the faith in which he had been brought up.
He had been caught young, in the boot-and-knife boy stage,
and had consented to undergo the rite of confirmation during
a temporary stupor induced by the profusion of arguments
brought to bear on him by Mrs. Prentice ; but on awakening
from his trance he had shown signs of backsliding. Mrs.
Prentice still had to work hard to preserve the effect of her
original success, and to extend it, but she felt that, if she
could once induce Tom Pillie to undertake not to accompany
his family to chapel when he paid them his fortnightly Sunday
visit, she would have accomplished a glorious work, and repaid
herself for the suppressed irritation which she had to choke
down whenever her convincing statements were met by the
obstinate stupidity of her convert. M Whoever shall leave
father and mother, Mrs. Prentice had quoted, with the rest
of the passage, and it is no wonder that she had hardly been


50 Exton Manor

able to conceal her impatience when Tom Pillie had countered
with," It du say, ' Honour thy father and mother/ and they
be good Christian people, a sight better than most." It was
only the happily remembered in junction to suffer fools gladly
that kept Mrs. Prentice from venting her sense of his obstinate
blindness to the truth, in a manner that might have lost hei
this wayward lamb, so carefully folded.

On this occasion, however, Mrs. Prentice sat in the back
part of the wagonette, and, leaving Tom Pillie to the enjoy-
ment of his own reflections, sat immersed in her own. That
these were not altogether pleasant might have been gathered
from her face, which was usually expressive of her inmosi
thoughts. She had suffered what she considered a gross
slight on the previous day, and it was not to be expected that
that she should forget it in a hurry. But there was a genuine
pleasure ahead of her, which tempered the bitterness of hei
thoughts, for Mrs. Prentice was devoted to her only child,
and she was about to enjoy the gratification of his society
for the first time for some months.

When Fred Prentice alighted from the third-class carriage
in which he had travelled from Greathampton — he had
enjoyed the luxury of a Pullman for the greater part of his
journey — and found his mother waiting for him on the plat-
form, it is not surprising that he greeted her warmly, for her
face was suffused with affection, and a young man who has
certain delinquencies on his conscience, which make him not
altogether at ease in the prospect of a parental interview, can
hardly help being touched by a reception in which there is
no trace of anything but genuine welcome.

Fred Prentice was a good-looking young man, tall and well
set up, with dark, slightly waving hair. He had for the most
part his mother's correct features, which were vastly improved
by the substitution of his father's mouth, and the brown eyes
of some ancestor. The resultant face was agreeable both in
contour and expression, but it would have been improved still
further if it had possessed more signs of strength of character.
It was almost too young a face to show marks of dissipation,
unless of an exaggerated nature, but it looked tired, and as if
a quiet holiday in the country would be beneficial to its

The young man's luggage, from the extent of which Mrs.
Prentice was pleased to conjecture that his stay was not

Fred Prentice 57

intended to be a short one, was accommodated by the side
Oj Tom Pillie in the fore part of the carriage, and he and his
mother took their seats facing one another, where they could
talk in subdued tones without being overheard. Mrs. Prentice
put her shabbily gloved hand upon one of his, resplendcntly
covered with new washleather. " I am so glad to see you
home, Freddy dear," she said. " You won't be leaving us
for some time, will you ? "

" Afraid I must go on Tuesday, mother," he replied cheer-
full}'. " I promised to go on into Dorsetshire to stay a few
days with an old friend. He's asked me so often, and I've
never been able to go before."

Mrs. Prentice looked woefully disappointed. " I did hope
you would have come home for a good long stay," she said.
" We have not seen anything of you since Christmas. And
now you are no sooner here than you are off again."

" Paridelle, my friend, only gets home for the recess — he's
in Parliament. If I didn't go to him now, I couldn't go at
all. And you know I'm tied to town at other times, mother."

It was on the tip of her tongue to say that he w r as not so
much tied but that he could go off visiting at other houses
than his father's, but she would not spoil his home-coming by
.complaints. If he had decided to stay with her for only four
days, she would make the best of the time, and so treat him
that perhaps in the future he would want to come more often.
She reflected humbly that, compared with the many fine
houses that were open to him, Exton vicarage presented few
attractions. It was enough for her to have him within
hearing and within sight. It was not enough for him.
Children were like that when they grew up and went out
into the world. Their parents had to fall into line and be

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 4 of 36)