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Good Friday go

n Oh, I'll get old Browne to give me lunch — or some-
body/' said Fred, and so it was settled. Mr. and Mrs.
Prentice went off to their duties, and he was left to his own
thoughts in the sunny quiet of the vicarage garden.

When the morning service was over, Fred and his mother
found themselves alongside Mrs. Redcliffe and Hilda as they
came out of church. There were greetings, cordial between
the Rcdcliffes and Fred, but perfunctory from Mrs. Prentice,
who wore an air of prim seclusion until they had cleared the
churchyard gates, when she still spoke as little as possible,
and in whispers, as one setting an example which she hoped,
though hardly expected, would be followed.

Browne joined them, a large pink and red figure in a straw-
hat and a premature flannel suit, shook hands warmly with
Fred, and lauded the weather.

" I'm coming to lunch with 3'ou, old man, if you'll have
me," Fred said. " Father and mother are going to church."

" Mr. Browne is going to lunch with me," said Mrs. Red-
cliffe. " You must come too, Fred."

' You are not going to the three hours' service ? " was
led from Mrs. Prentice.
* " Hilda is going," replied Mrs. Redcliffe. " I am not
very well, and it would be too great a tax upon me."

" It is a tax, of course, in one sense," said Mrs. Prentice.
" I am not very well, cither, but I would not miss it for any-
thing. I am glad, at any rate, that Hilda is coming."

" I have changed my mind," said Hilda. " I shall stay
with you, mother."

Mrs. Prentice closed her lips. She would have liked to
glare at the speaker, in response to the obvious challenge in
her tone, but refused herself the luxury. With a curt bow,
she departed on her homeward way, leaving Fred to walk
up the hill with the others.

11 Mother is rather tired," he said, half-apologetically.
" She has been doing a lot of fasting, and that kind of thing."

" It hasn't improved her temper," muttered Browne, who
had fallen behind with Hilda.

" Of course, she is interfering and impertinent," said Hilda,
in the same low tone. " But I think Fred is quite right to
defend his mother."

" Oh, rather ! " said Browne.

" I hope you are going to stay with us for some time,

CO



70 Exton Manor

Fred," Mrs. Redcliife was saying. " We don't see much of
you now."

" I'm going to stay till Tuesday/' said Fred. " Then I'm
going on to a friend."

Mrs. Redcliffe was silent for a moment, then she said,
" Your mother has been looking forward very much to having
you with her. It is rather a pity that you must pay another
visit so soon."

" Yes ; I rather wish I had put it off for a bit. Still, I
shall be able to come down again soon."

" That will be nice. It is rather a sad time for us mothers,
Fred, when our children begin to have more interests apart
from us than those we can share."

■' Yes ; I suppose so. Dear old mother ! I'll come down
for a week or ten days at Whitsuntide."

" In spite of all temptations. You must remember that
you have undertaken to do so. Home ties don't last for ever,
but we can replace them with others until we get on in years ;
then we become dependent. Now that we have got you here,
Fred, we must show our appreciation of your visit. Hilda
and I have been talking over a picnic at Warren's Hard on
Monday. The weather is so warm, and seems so settled, that
I think we might risk it. What do you say, you and Mr.
Browne, to rowing us down ? I hope your father and mother
will come. That will make six of us — just a boat-load. We
will lunch in the open if it is as warm as this, and ask Saunders
for a room if it becomes too cold."

" It will be jolly," said Fred. " Thanks very much, Mrs.
Redcliffe. I'll ask father and mother."

" I will write a note, which you can take down this after-
noon. I forgot Captain Turner. I must ask him ; but there
will still be room. Our little circle has become rather small,
with poor Sir Joseph gone, and the Lodge still unlet, and Mrs.
O'Keefe away."

" I hear that old Lady Wrotham intend^ to settle down
at Exton. Do you know when she is coming ? "

" Soon, I believe. Let us ask Mr. Browne."

Browne, appealed to, gave a date ten days or so ahead.
" The house is to be cleaned down a bit," he said. " We
begin on Monday. But there won't be much to do. By the
bye, I've another piece of news for you. I believe I've found
a tenant for the Lodge."

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Good Friday 71

" You have told us that so many times/' said Hilda.
" I'm afraid I shan't believe it till I see the house occupied."

" Well, I own it isn't quite settled yet. But the people
are coming to look over it to-morrow. And it seems to be
what they want."

" Who are they ? " inquired Fred.

"It is a man called Dale. He wrote to me from Wood-
hurst, where he is staying. I don't know anything about
him, except that he was a friend of Sir Joseph's son, the one
that died."

" Then he would be a middle-aged man ? V

" Oh, yes. He said he had a large family. He wants a
house with quite a lot of bedrooms."

" I hope some of them will be children," said Hilda. ' ' Both
Mrs. O'Keefe and I want some children to play with here."

" I don't suppose he will come," said Fred. " We know
our Maximilian's sanguine nature."

" I shall be able to tell you more after I've seen him," said
Browne.

They drank their after-luncheon coffee in the garden, in
front of the house. It was more like June than April. Hilda,
feeling a little bit ashamed of herself, and possibly prompted,
by her mother, had gone off to church again. Fred had
offered to walk across the park with her. They had ex-
changed very few words, and none but in the presence of
Mrs. Redcliffe and Browne. But she did not seem to desire
a tete-a-tete conversation as much as he, and had refused his
escort ; and as Browne had suggested that they should walk
up to the Fisheries together a little later, and there had been
no reason for demurring to the suggestion, he had seen her go-
off by herself. .

The two men took their leave of Mrs. Redcliffe shortly
afterwards, and, leaving the garden by an upper gate, walked
up the meadow and into the woods which lay behind the
house to the north. They walked along green rides for over
a mile. The woods on either side of them were bare except
for the fresh greenness of an occasional larch or thorn, and
the glistening depth of the hollies, but the primroses were
growing everywhere, in sheets and drifts and clumps of yellow,
and through the purpling network of the trees the April sky
showed blue.

After the interchange of some desultory conversation, the

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72 Exton Manor

pair of them fell silent for a time. Browne was no great talker ;
had, indeed, few topics of conversation outside the immediate
interests of his life, which were concerned chiefly with the
property he spent his time in administering. He was a faith-
ful servant, and his heart was in his work. The politics of
Exton Manor afforded him abundant food for reflection at this
time, and he retired into himself to consider them.

Fred Prentice, too, had something to think about. What
had his mother meant by saying that Hilda Redcliffe had —
what was it — ideas ? He was not puppy enough to think that
she had secretly fallen in love with him. So he told himself.
They had been good friends — comrades — since her early girl-
hood, and the last time he had been at home he had begun to
feel rather sentimental towards her. He had spent the Christ-
mas holidays at Exton. There had been dances in some of the
houses around, and more intimate gatherings at home. He had
played golf with her in the park, bicycled and walked through
the forest with her, taken her to meets of the hounds. She
had often stood with him while he shot, and he had taken it
for granted that she should prefer to stand by him, who was but
an indifferent shot, than watch the performances of some more
experienced gun. They had been the best of friends, had been
thrown very much together, and had enjoyed being together ;
and even when the vein of sentimentality had begun to show
itself in his attitude towards her, she had not withdrawn her
frank companionship, but had laughed at him, and, so to speak,
kept him in his place.

Then he had gone back to London, and — forgotten her ?
No ; but had had so many other interests that he had not made
an opportunity, as he might very well have done, of coming
down to Exton and renewing, for a few days, the pleasing in-
tercourse of those delightful Christmas holidays. For they had
been delightful. He had had very few cares at that time —
none to speak of, for the weeds of debt, from which the ground
of his life had before that been cleared, had not yet begun to
grow again, although he had been busy sowing a new crop ;
there had been more than the customary Christmas gaiety to
amuse him, and Hilda's constant companionship had made the
intervening time pass very pleasantly. He had often thought
over those days of Christmas and the New Year since, al-
though he had taken no trouble to renew them.

Now things had changed. He could put his finger on no



Good Friday 73

definite point in which he could have expected Hilda's be-
haviour to him during the last hour to have been different, but
he felt that she was not the same, that he would not be likely
to see so much of her during the days of this visit as on the
last, or, if he did, she would keep him at a greater distance.
He had not thought about her much since he had last seen her,
but the change disturbed him. He was in train for thinking a
good deal about her on account of it. What had caused it ?
She had certainly rejected the advances he had made to her in
the winter, but she had done so in such a way that it was im-
possible to think of her now resenting, and drawing into her
shell to avoid the repetition of them.

And yet she might, perhaps reasonably, feel hurt that he had
removed himself so long from her. His attentions had been
robbed of whatever value she might have put upon them, since
they had so evidently been caused by proximity. So she might
have argued to herself, and become annoyed with him for show-
ing so plainly how little he really cared for her. His heart
gave a flutter when he arrived at this point. Then she did
care for him — a little. It was the one thing that was wanted
to make a young man at the heart-fluttering age settle down
again to the pursuit. Of course, he, too, really did care for
her. And he would show it. He had four days before him.
Perhaps he could take another. It was not actually necessary
that he should spend a whole week with his friend Paridelle.
And it was not to be supposed that he would have much diffi-
culty in getting back to the terms on which he had been with
her three months ago. What a dear girl she was ! So frank
and loyal and kind — so pretty, too ! \es ; really pretty when
you knew her well, and had seen her in all her moods, and all
her charming youthful guises. Perhaps prettiest in that white
ball dress with the little pink roses — the dress she had worn at
the New Year's Eve ball which old Sir Joseph had given, and
at the little dance at Standon House.

Here his meditations were broken in upon by Browne,
who said, " I w T onder if Turner can have fixed it up on the
way to Greathampton ? Hardly have had time, I should
think/'

" Fixed what up ? " asked Fred.

Browne started, and laughed a little nervously. " I beg
your pardon," he said. " To tell you the truth, I had for-
gotten you were here/'



74 Exton Manor

" What has Turner been fixing up on/the way to Great-
hampton ? " asked Fred again.

" Well, I don't know why I shouldn't tell you. It is pretty
common talk. He's making love to Mrs. O'Keefe."

" What, the mysterious widow ? "

" I don't know that there is anything mysterious about her.
Her husband was a brother of "

" Oh, yes, I know. I'm tired of hearing that her husband

was a brother of . She's mysterious to me. People are

always talking of her here, and I've never set eyes on
her."

" Well, she's a deuced pretty woman. You'll say so when
you see her. I'm always advising Turner to go in and win,
but the fellow's got no pluck about it. He's desperately
smitten, but he doesn't ask her."

" W T ould she have him if he did ? "

" That I can't tell you. I should think not."

" Why don't you ask her yourself ? "

" What, me ? No, thank you. I'm well enough off as I
am. 'Sides, I'm not such a fool as Turner. I can keep my
head. I like talking to a pretty woman, and all that, when
I'm with her ; but as for going out of my way to get oppor-
tunities — why, I wouldn't walk across the road to do it."

" Did Turner go to Greathampton with her ? "

" Yes. Silly ass ! Fancy a fellow of his age ! He was
going to take some fish to Troutbridge on Wednesday, and he
went on Tuesday, just because he had heard that Mrs.
O'Keefe was going up to town then on her way to Ireland,
and he wanted to travel as far as Greathampton with her.
Perfectly silly, I call it. However, it's none of my business.
If he likes to make an ass of himself, he can."

" And that's when you think he may have done it ? Well,
we'll find out. It would be rather fun to see old Turner
married."

They had come out at the bottom of the chain of ponds
which stretched up the valley to the breeding-house, and the
spring which fed them. Higher up still was Turner's house,
rose- and clematis-covered, with a backing of pines, its win-
dows blinking in the sunshine across the flowers in its garden.
A narrow strip of ground, where the unconfined stream had
once run, had been cleared here between the trees, and tanks,
some puddled v/ith clay, others neatly cemented, succeeded



Good Friday 75

one another, and were linked together by narrow sluices, down
which the water ran cleanly. A thatch of dried reeds, sup-
ported on wire-netting fastened to tree trunks, was laid across
the middle of each tank to afford shelter for the fish, which
could be seen lurking in its shadow, their blunt brown heads
facing the incoming water, and their tails waving to and fro.

" This is where he keeps his three-year-olds/ ' said Browne,
bending down to get the light right for an inspection.
" They're a well-grown lot."

" There he is," said Fred. " Pottering about as usual."

Turner had just come out of one of the little galvanized
iron houses which were dotted about by the upper ponds. He
descried them coming up the valley, and waved a hand, walk-
ing slowly to meet them between his ponds. The arrange-
ment of these upper ponds was a marvel of ingenuity. They
had been made close together, and stretched across the wider
ground in three or four rows. There was a gentle fall of
water two ways, and the stream was led back and across to
feed them in such a way that both declivities were made use
of, and so that at any time a tank could be emptied, and the
water shut out from it, without interfering with the flow.
The ground had been planted here with azaleas and berberis
and bamboos, and there were beds dug in the fertile peaty soil
for hardy flowers, which were already pushing up their herald
clumps of green. Utility and ornament went hand in hand,
and no fairer spot for a hermitage could have been found than
that in which Turner lived solitary, raised his fish, and grew
his flowers.

Turner's welcome was expressed by a slight contraction of
the muscles of one side of his face. He had on a very old
tweed suit, and his hands in his pockets. " So you've come
down, have you ? " he said to Fred. " How long do you in-
tend to fascinate the ladies in these parts ? "

' You old misanthrope," said Fred, with a dig of the
knuckles among Turner's lean ribs. " I've been hearing
tales about you. Come out of your shell at last, have you ? "

" Browne's jealous," returned the other. " Can't bear to
see anybody else looking after a lady — a certain lady."

Browne spluttered. " Come, I like that," he said. " What
do you always want to be putting it on to me for ? Why
don't you behave like a man ? You'd ha' been married by
this time, if you'd had the pluck of a mouse."



76 Exton Manor

Turner threw at him a gadfly look. " Don't give yourself
away before young Fred/' he whispered loudly.

" Oh, you needn't mind me," said Fred. " So Maximilian
is in it too, is he ? "

" In it ? " echoed Turner. " He's head over ears in it.
Have you come up to get a drink, or to borrow a book ?
Come in."

He turned and led the way to the house.

" We have come for the pleasure of your society," said
Fred. " But, now we are here, we'll take both."

Browne said nothing, having no suitable words at com-
mand.

They went into the book-lined sitting-room. Browne and
Fred sat them down in two of the deep easy-chairs, while
Turner manipulated a mysterious table in the window, from
v/hose recesses, as he opened its leaves, sprang complete all the
apparatus for refreshment. Fred cast his eye on the walls.

" I suppose these shelves contain more rubbish than you
could find in the same space anywhere else," he said.

" Funny what a lot of people come and borrow* from them,"
said Turner.

" Oh, we all like to read a good novel sometimes. You're
the only man I know who reads all the bad ones, and keeps
'em by him. Why don't you hire your books from a
library ? "

" Why don't you hire your clothes from a pawnbroker ?
Here you are — mild for the youth, strong for the old toper."

They sipped and smoked and chatted. Browne spoke of his
expected tenant for the Lodge.

" Friend of Sir Joseph's son ? " said Turner. " But he
died twenty years ago."

" I don't know. I never heard."

" The old man told me so. And, mind you, old Sir Joseph
wasn't much in those days."

" He was very rich. He retired from business when he
came here."

" Yes. But he had spent all his life making his money.
He came from nothing at all. He had never lived in a big
house before he took the Abbey. He told me all about it."

" What are you driving at.?'"

" I'm thinking that if this man of yours was a friend of
Sir Joseph's son in those days, he might not — well, he might



Good Friday 77

not be of the sort that the old lady would want about her
when she comes here."

" You must be careful of that, Maximilian/' said Fred.
" Don't get any outsiders in."

41 Oh, I'll be careful/' said Browne. " If this man is no
worse than old Sir Joseph, there won't be much to com-
plain of."

" Old Sir Joseph was one in a thousand," said Turner.
" But his early friends who used to come down here weren't
exactly of the highest class. I don't care a hang w T hat a man
is for myself, 's long as he's a good fellow ; but you know
what the women are, Browne. At least, you ought to —
regular lady-killer. Don't let your soft heart run away with
you when this fellow comes."

Fred suddenly rose. " I must be getting back home," he
said.

" Getting back home ! " exclaimed Turner. " Why,
you've only just come. Sit down and have another drink."

" No, thanks. I must be off. The mater won't know
where I am."

" I'm not coming yet," said Browne. " I'm very com-
fortable where I am." He looked it, as he sat back in his
chair, his large frame bolstered about with the cushioned
back and sides.

" All right," said Fred. " Good-bye. See you both later
on," and he took up his hat and stick, and hurried out of the
room.

" Wants to see Hilda Redcliffe home from church," said
Browne as he left the room. " Only just thought of it."

" Never saw such a fellow for the petticoats," said Turner.
" He won't reach forty like us without being caught, eh ? "

Browne, with an unaccustomed perception, had put his
finger plumb on the reason for Fred's hurried departure. What
was he doing there on a fresh and sunny spring day, smoking,
and drinking whisky and soda with two elderly men, indoors,
when the world held delights of which to hear them speak
was an absurdity ? They might tickle each other's sides — the
fat sides of Browne, the lean sides of Turner — with talk of
their goddess ; their sober, mature goddess, who had already
given up her claim to Olympus, and must be wooed, if wooed
at all, by the light of her drab mortality. A widow, comfort-
ably off I A fitting object of devotion for substantial men,



78 Exton Manor

who had left the high sun-flooded clouds behind them, and
descended to earth, to walk henceforth by the yellow gas-
flame of expediency. There was no kinship between him and
them. Let them smoke and drink and gossip. For him there
was the Spring sunshine and the bursting earth, and a girl,
walking in the glamour of her untouched youth, inscrutable,
inviting.

Fred walked quickly down the road through the wood for
a mile or more, then turned into a ride which led him to
where the trees gave place to the open grass of the park.
He seated himself on a fence, from which he could command a
view of the church and the open ground across which Hilda
must walk to the White House, unless she went home by the
road. He would be able, directly he saw the people coming
out of the churchyard, to leave his post of observation, and
w r alk across to where he must meet her, in the most natural
way.

He had no time to wait. He had hardly taken his seat when
a little black rill of church-goers began to trickle out along the
path by the graves, and then swelled into a stream of respect-
able size, from which, as it flowed out of the churchyard gate,
a single figure detached itself and came towards the pond and
the gate which led into the wide expanse of the park. Fred
jumped off the rail, and walked quickly towards a point a-t
which he could intercept it.

He felt strangely ill at ease as Hilda looked up and saw
him approaching her. It was the first time he had known
such a sensation with regard to her ; but, then, it was the first
time he had ever schemed to meet her, or been doubtful of his
reception. He had always hitherto gone to her whenever he
wished to, and taken it for granted that she would be pleased
to see him. Now he was not so sure, and the little ruse, by
which he had almost deceived himself, became disconcertingly
patent.

Hilda lifted her eyes, dropped them, walked on a few paces,
and then stood still till he joined her.

" So we meet," he said, summoning frankness to hide his
diffidence. " I have just come down from the Fisheries, and
thought I would wait for you. What an age it seems since
we last met, Hilda."

She walked on, and he walked beside her. u Are you
coming back to tea ? " she asked.



Good Friday 79

*' It is rather early for that. No, I must go home. I will
just walk up with you. Do you remember the last time we
walked across the park together — the afternoon before I went
back to town, when we had had our last game of golf
together ? "

I can't say I do/' said Hilda shortly, but untruthfully,
for she well remembered that wintry sunset under which they
had walked slowly up to the little wicket gate which led from
the garden of the White House into the park, and had lin-
gered there before they went into the lamplight, while Fred
painted the loneliness of his life in town in colours of pathetic
exaggeration, and she had softened, and almost, but not quite,
relaxed the guard she had hitherto kept up against him. How
near she then had been to falling into the mood for indulging
which she had consistently laughed at him, Fred had never
known. She was not in the least likely to fall into it now, or
ever.

" I think those Christmas holidays were the best time I
ever spent/' said Fred. " And it was owing to you, Hilda,
that I enjoyed them as much as I did."

" Oh, my dear Fred," she said impatiently, " please don't
begin that nonsense again. It went a good way towards
spoiling whatever pleasure I may have had last Christmas.
I'm tired of it."

" It isn't nonsense at all," he replied. " It is perfectly
true. I did enjoy those holidays enormously, and it was
owing to you that I did so. You can't think how often I
have thought over them since, and wished myself back here."

" It didn't go much further than wishing, then," she said,
and bit her lip, recognizing instantly that she had made a
mistake.

" Then you have missed me ? " he said at once, and wiped
out her mistake by his own.

" Missed you ? Why should I have missed you ? " she
asked, in heightened tones. " I don't know which I dislike
most, the way you annoy me by — by pretending to make
love to me, or the way in which you coolly assume that I am
in love with you."

They were plain words, but Hilda was accustomed to ex-
press her meaning in the plainest words that were to hand.

" Oh, Hilda, I've never assumed such a thing," cried Fred,



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