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not altogether sorry that the way had been opened for a dis-

80 Exton Manor

cussion of intricacies. But she took the words out of his

" You have/' she said ; M and you do. It is not that I care
a snap whether you come here or stay away. But you seem
to think that you can come back whenever you please, and
find me waiting here for you to amuse yourself with, waiting,
and grateful for your notice, I suppose."

It was delicate ground, and she was nearly stumbling again,
but he was too much affected by her attitude to notice it.

" I thought we were friends, and should always be friends,' '
lie said disconsolately.

" So we were friends, but you did your best to spoil our
friendship. I'm quite ready to be friends, only I don't want
to listen to any more silliness."

This lame girlish conclusion had brought them to the gate.
They stood there as before, but Hilda was evidently in no
mind to linger, nor did she intend to renew her invitation to
him to come into the house. He had to wind up the dis-
cussion in a sentence, if he wanted her to listen to it.

■' Well, I won't worry you in that way again, then," he
said. " But you'll be the same as you were if I don't, won't
you, Hilda ? "

'■' Oh, yes, if you like," she replied indifferently, walking
away from him between the rhododendrons.

11 Good-bye, then, till to-morrow," he called after her.

" I shall be out all day to-morrow," she replied over her
shoulder. " But good-bye."



Exton Lodge was a house of medium size, standing in its
own few acres of garden and orchard and paddock. It stood
some way back from the road leading out of the village away
from the Abbey, and was approached by a drive curving up-
hill through trees and shrubs. It commanded much the same
view from the back windows as the vicarage, and the lawn
which enclosed it on two sides, was a pleasant place on which
to sit and watch the river and the woods beyond it. The
Lodge had stood empty for some years, which had been a
source of some vexation to Browne, for it was the sort of
house which he thought he ought easily to have been able to
let, surrounded as it was by all the beauties of forest, field and
river, and at no great distance from the sea. He was in anel
about it early on Saturday morning, causing blinds to be drawn
up and windows to be opened, doing what little he could, in
its empty state, to show off it3 attractions to advantage, for he
had a strong hope that he was at last about to remove its
reproach, and secure a tenant for the only letable and unlet
house on the Manor.

At eleven o'clock an open carriage, drawn by two horses,
passed through the village from the direction of Woodhurst,
and drove in at the gates of the Lodge. In it was seated a
stout middle-aged man, dressed, as far as could be seen of
him, in a blue overcoat with a velvet collar, and a high-
crowned felt hat. He leaned back in his seat, smoking a
cigar, and surveyed his surroundings with an air of contented
tolerance, which seemed to show a mind pleased with itself
and with the world. By his side sat a stout middle-aged lady,
in a black mantle with bead trimmings, and shady hat of black
straw, modestly decked with black ribbons. Her air was so
much the counterpart of her Husband's, with a becoming hint


82 Exton Manor

of deference added to it, as if she admired the same things
more because he admired them than of her own unaided powers
of appreciation, that it was plain that here was a couple
going through life in the most satisfactory way, smoothly and
happily, asking little of fate, because fate had already given
them all they could possibly want, including each other. The
couple were Mr. and Mrs. William Dale, who had gone
through forty years of married life together in a moderate-
sized house on the outskirts of Manchester, which they had
now made up their minds to exchange for a moderate-sized
house in the heart of the country.

Browne presented himself as they alighted at the front door.
" Mr. Dale/' he said, " I got your note, and have come up to
show you round the place. "

" Ah, Mr. Browne/' said Mr. Dale heartily, with a strong
Lancashire accent and intonation, of which no attempt at
reproduction shall be made here, or hereafter, " pleased to
meet you, Mr. Browne. Allow me to introduce you to my
wife, Mrs. Dale. Well, Mr.- — er — Browne, this is a charming
spot — a charming spot. I think we ought to be able to make
ourselves comfortable here. Eh, mother ? "

Mrs. Dale acquiesced, with a mental reservation that she
should wish to see the kitchens and offices before her acquies-
cence should take practical shape. There was a short con-
sultation as to whether the coachman should put up his
horses, or wait where he was, which resulted in instructions
to him to drive to the inn, and return in an hour's time.
Then the inspection of the house began. Mr. Dale took charge
of the proceedings.

" Now, Mr. — er — Browne," he said, as they went through
the hall into the drawing-room, " youli want to hear all about
us, first of all. Ah, this is a nice room, mother ; nice little
conservatory and all. And a window opening into the garden.
I've retired from business, Mr. — Browne — cotton, you know —
give you all the references you want— and the wife and I made
up our minds that when we did that we'd retire altogether, and
leave the young people to carry on things in their own way,
without any interference from us. I've got a son in the busi-
ness — hope you'll make his acquaintance some day — and a
very steady, capable young fellow he is, though I say it as
shouldn't ; and fond of a bit of sport, too — plays football, and
sometimes shoots a rabbit. See, mother ? Just a step down,

Easter Saturday and Sunday S3^

and you're in the garden. We'll have a good look round the,
garden afterwards. Well, this room's all right, Mr. — er —
Browne. Couldn't be better. Now for the dining-room. As
I was saying, we want to end our days in the country, as far
from Manchester as possible, see ? And we've always had a
fancy for this part of the world ever since we came to stay here
with poor young Joe Chapman — well, I say young ; but he
was forty then — just the same age as me. And now I'm
sixty. The years don't stand still, Mr. — er. Here's the
dining-room, mother. Just right, eh ? There was a time
when we sat down fourteen to dinner, Mr. Browne, family
and servants ; ten upstairs and four down ; but there won't be
so many of us here. Well, as I was saying, we came here on
a visit to old Sir Joseph, and I said to the wife, ' Mother,' I
said, ' this is the place we'll come to when Tom's ready to
step into my shoes.' She laughed, you know, bec^dse Tom
was a little nipper in knickerbockers then, but here we are, all
the same, eh, mother ? Who was right, eh ? "

Browne led the way into the morning-room. His face was
perturbed. How could he possibly tell this cheerful voluble
man that he was not at all the sort of tenant he had sought for
the Lodge, anol that for his own happiness he had much better
settle down amongst others of his kind, wherever such people
were wont to congregate, for he would be incongruously out
of place in this southern countryside. He postponed con-
sideration of the problem for the present. Perhaps he would
not like the house. But he knew that he would like the house.
Perhaps his references would not be satisfactory. But he
knew that he would not be able to refuse him on the score of
unsatisfactory references.

Mr. Dale's loud voice broke in on his ponderings. " Well,
here's the breakfast-room, mother. Nice room too, isn't it ?
French windows, you see, into another bit of garden. As I
was saying, Mr. — er, we don't want a large place. Nice
rooms, and a nice garden, and a nice neighb'rood — right in the
country. We've had enough of streets and houses, haven't
we, mother ? Not too many people, but just a few for a bit
of company. I suppose you've some nice company here,
Mr. — er — Browne ? "

He pronounced it " coompany," and Browne replied, in a
maze of bewilderment, that there were other inhabitants of

84 Exton Manor

ft Ay, that'll be nice for mother and nie, and the children.
There'll be six of 'em living with us, Mr. Browne. There's
Lotty — she was twenty-two last October ; but we shan't
have Lotty with us long. She's engaged, is Lotty, and we
shall be cheering you up with a wedding before we've been
here long. Then there's Ada "

" I'm sure Mr. Browne doesn't want to hear the names
of all the children, father," interrupted Mrs. Dale. " If we
come to live here, he will meet them all in good time himself."

" Eh, mother, have it your own way. At any rate, there's
six of them, Mr. — er ; Peter and Gladys is the youngest — just
thirteen, and there's Tom, and Mary, and Ada, and Lott}^ be-
sides. So now you know. Ay, this'll be father's room, where
he'll keep his papers, eh, mother? Very nice. Just what
we wanted."

The rest of the house also proved to be just what Mr. Dale
wanted. He praised everything, without exception, and, as
Mrs. Dale passed the kitchen premises with a certificate of
merit, there remained only the stables and the gardens to be
inspected. These had also been constructed in just such a
way as to satisfy Mr. Dale's requirements, and, when they had
made their round and returned to the house, Mr. Dale had
reached the position of treating every thing as his own.

The longer he talked, the more did Browne feel that he
would not do as a tenant. He did not object to him on his
own account. Allowing for the limits of his experience of
humankind, which had not hitherto included the frankly
bourgeois, but quite self-satisfied, wealthy townsman, his feei-
ing was not greatly biassed against him. He rather liked him.
But he did not suppose that anybody else in the place would
like him, or his troop of rough children ; and least of all would
Lady Wrotham, the shadow of whose prejudices was begin-
ning to lie heavy on his spirit, put up with such a neighbour in
one of the most important houses on the Manor.

The kitchen dresser was the only piece of furniture left in
the empty house, and Mr. Dale now took his seat on it, while
Mrs. Dale and Browne leant against it, and entered into a dis-
cussion of details. Browne nerved himself , against his ordi-
nary practice, to be adamant on the subject of repairs. The
estate was not prepared to spend money at the present time in
putting the house into order. If a tenant did not care to do
this for himself, they would have to leave the house empty.

Easter Saturday and Sunday 85

The rent was low — he named a figure considerably in excess
of what he had been prepared to ask — and it was low because
money would have to be spent on the place before it could be
lived in. And the lease must be a long one, not less than
twenty-one years.

Mr. Dale met him in the most generous spirit. If he had
been accustomed to carry on his ordinary business negotiations
in this spirit, it was surprising that he had become so rich a
man as he appeared to be. He had expected that the landlord
would do something, at least, towards putting the place into
order. It was customar}*. But, on the other hand, the rent
was a good deal lower than he had anticipated — here Browne
mentally kicked himself — and he was quite ready to spend
what was required in making himself and his family comfort-
able. As for the long lease, it was just what he wanted. He
should not have cared to spend so much money as he was pre-
pared to spend unless he could feel that the place was practi-
cally his own — at any rate, for his lifetime*

" If I or the wife live much over eighty, Mr. — er — Browne,
—well, I dare say you won't turn us out, eh ? u

Browne had the consolation of feeling that, as far as the
financial aspect of the negotiation was concerned, the estate
would have the most satisfactory of tenants.

11 I didn't tell you, Mr. Browne," pursued Mr. Dale, " that
I've already been in communication with your lawyers, Messrs.
Shepherd and Pain — I've done a bit of business with them in
days gone by — they were poor young Joe Chapman's lawyers,
too, and I was his executor. It was them as referred me to
you. I asked them if there was a house to let here. They
know all about me ; but I'll give you other references too."

He proceeded to do so, and Browne felt that his last hope
was cut off.

" Of course," he said, " I shall have to submit your pro-
posal to Lord Wrotham. I can't do anything on my own

" Oh, of course," said Mr. Dale. " But that won't take
long. I'm prepared to do everything that's wanted on my
side, and I'm capable of doing that and a good deal more, as
you'll have no difficulty in finding out. I don't think you'll
get a better tenant than William Dale, Mr. — er — Browne,
though I say it as shouldn't. Well, now, mother and me will
be staying at Woodhurst for another week.. If you'll kindly

se Exton Manor

put the preliminaries through as quickly as possible, we'll
get the work set in hand before we go north again, and well
come and settle in as soon as everything is ready for us. See ? "

Browne did see. He saw that Mr. Dale meant to come to
Exton, and that there was practically nothing he could do to
stop him. He resigned himself to the inevitable, and allowed
himself to meet bonhomie with cordiality. " Well, I hope
you'll like the place," he said. " We'll do our best to make
you at home here if you come. But you're deciding in rather
a hurry, aren't you ? "

" That's my way," returned Mr. Dale. " I know what I
want, and I've got it here. If there's anything more to talk
about, Mr. — er — Browne, you've only got to send me a line,
and I'll come over. Or perhaps you'll come over to Wood-
hurst and take a bit of lunch, or dinner, with us. We shall
always be pleased to see you, and I've no doubt we shall
know each other very w r ell by and by."

It seemed probable. Browne watched them drive away,
summoned a woman, who had been hanging about in the
background, to shut up the house, and made his way back to
his office, a prey to the liveliest apprehensions.

Hilda Redcliffe spent the whole of that day wandering in
the forest. She did this at all times of the year, taking her
luncheon, sketching materials and a book with her in a knap-
sack, and returning at dusk, sometimes happy, sometimes
pensive. Fred Prentice had shared these wanderings during
those Christmas holidays to which he had alluded with such
persistent iteration, but she was apparently determined to
give him no chance of doing so on this occasion, for she set
out immediately after an early breakfast, and gained the
forest aisles by way of the woods at the back of the White
House, instead of the more direct route in the open. She
returned only in time to dress for dinner. She was tired out,
disinclined for conversation, and asked her mother's permis-
sion to go to bed directly after dinner.

Fred had arrived at the White House about half-an-hour
after her departure, and learnt from Mrs. Redcliffe where she
had gone, whereupon he had immediately set out to find her.
But she was in none of the haunts which he knew to be her
favourites, and, after walking about for some hours from one
place to another, he had returned, thoroughly disgusted, to

Easter Saturday and Sunday 87

the vicarage. Filial piety disposed of his afternoon, which
was spent on the golf links with his father. He kept his eye
on the White House, whenever it was in view, rather than on
the ball, and got beaten. He inveigled his father into calling
on Mrs. Redcliffe at the close of the game, but Hilda had not
returned by the time they left the house, nor did they meet
her as they returned home. The evening was a dull one for
him, and he retired very early to bed, cursing his fate.

Mrs. Redcliffe and Hilda were in church at the early service
on Easter Day, but he was with his mother, and had no chance
of a word with them. And, after the eleven o'clock service,
although they did all meet at the church gate, the Red-
cliffes had a party of friends with them, people whom Fred
did not know, who were staying in the forest, and had driven
over to Exton to go to church and spend the rest of the day
at the White House. Hilda shook hands with him, and
immediately went off between a girl of about her own age
and a man rather older, who, to Fred's eye, possessed all the
attributes of interloping villainy. Mrs. Redcliffe hung
behind to say a few words to Mrs. Prentice about the picnic
on the following day, but she did not ask Fred to come and
see them on that afternoon ; made it, indeed, rather difficult
for him to do so if he wished, as her last words were, " Well,
then, we shall all meet at the bridge to-morrow at three

Nevertheless, he did go up in the afternoon, almost against
his own will. He could not support the idea of that most
offensive young man filling the place that ought to have been
his own, and no doubt using his contemptible arts to gain
a footing where he ought not to have dared so much as to
plant his eyes.

His visit was not a success. The whole party was sitting
at tea on the lawn, and, as he had expected, the young man
who had aroused his dislike was seated by Hilda's side, a
position which was apparently to his liking. Fred suspected
him of being a Cambridge man. He had always considered
Cambridge second-rate, but he had had no idea before how
offensive were the manners in vogue among the members of
that university. Why, the fellow had actually acknowledged
his introduction to him by a nod, and then returned to his
conversation with Hilda as if nothing further was due to a
man whom he ought to have known to be a somebody, if only

88 Exton Manor

from the perfection of his attire. There was some confusion
of thought here, because Fred did not actually claim to be a
somebody, but he was persuaded that he looked the part,
and the other ought to have recognized it. As for Hilda, she
seemed only to have ears for this Light Blue bounder, and it
seemed to him actually indelicate, the way she permitted him
to monopolize her. If that was the sort of girl she was, he
should certainly have nothing more to do with her.

He turned towards one of the girls to whom he had been
introduced, the other being engaged with her mother and
Mrs. Redcliffe, and began to make rather patronizing con-
versation with her. She was not a bad-looking girl, rather
better-looking than Hilda, really — at least, he would like
Hilda to know that he thought so — but, oh, horrors ! what
was this ?

V You look like a Cambridge man, Mr. Prentice/' she was
saying. Could words so base come from such pretty lips ?
" Are you up there ? "

" No," replied Fred, with dreadful calm. " I came down
from the university a year ago, but I was not at Cambridge."

" Oh, Oxford, I suppose. How horrid for you ! It isn't
half such a nice place, is it ? "

Was it possible that there existed any being on earth who
really thought this ? If so, what words could be used to bring
home the flagrancy of the error ?

" My brother came down a year ago, too," she went on,
without waiting for a reply. " My sister and I went up for
the May week. It was a perfectly heavenly time. We
never enjoyed ourselves so much anywhere. You don't have
anything like that at Oxford, do you ? "

Fred felt that the only possible attitude was one of bitter
irony. " Oh, no," he said ; " nothing in the least like it."

" I thought not. My brother was captain of his college
boat — he was at Jesus, and he was able to give us a splendid
time. He has promised to take us up again this year for a
few days, and we are trying to persuade Mrs. Redcliffe to
bring Hilda to join our party."

Hilda at Cambridge ! Oh, the profanation ! He had in-
tended some day to show her Oxford. It must not be allowed.
He must speak to her very seriously about it. But it did
not appear that he would have an opportunity of speaking
to her about this or anything else at present, for she was

Easter Saturday and Sunday so

quite taken up with this horrible creature from Jesus College,
and was at this moment laughing delightedly at some witless
pleasantry with which he was affronting her ears. Fred
could endure it no longer. He rose abruptly. " I must be
getting back/' he said. " I just came up to ask if mother
could bring anything for the picnic to-morrow, Mrs. Redcliffe."

Mrs. Redcliffe thanked him for the offer, and refused it,
which was, perhaps, fortunate, as Mrs. Prentice had expressed
no wish to bring anything but herself to the picnic, and would
have been annoyed if she had been asked to do so. He was
not asked to prolong his visit, which had only lasted about
ten minutes, and walked across the lawn to the gate, pursued
by a ringing peal of laughter from Hilda, whose appreciation of
the Jesus man's humour struck him as being in the worst
possible taste.

When he had walked a little way down the road, in high
dudgeon, he stopped suddenly, with a horrid fear knocking at
his heart. Would these friends of the Redcliffes join the
party on the following day ? Because, if so, he was quite
determined that he would not. He walked on again, more
slowly. No, it was not likely. Mrs. Redcliffe had named the
parly, and not included them. He breathed with more relief.
He would make sure of getting Hilda to herself at some stage
of the proceedings, and he would say many things to her,
giving her warning, amongst them, of the mistake she would
make if she took off the edge of her future introduction to
Oxford by a premature visit to Cambridge — especially in
such company. He would not make love to her ; she need
not be in the least afraid of that. The inclination to do so
had, as a matter of fact, entirely left him. But, for the sake
of their old intimacy, and out of his wider knowledge of the
world, he would take an admonitory line, and put himself
in a position to which she could for the future look up. She
was behaving badly. He would tell her so, ^ making her
understand, at the same time, that he only did so for her
good, and not because her behaviour affected him, except as
an old friend who wished her well. With this intention he
walked home, virtuous, but not hilariously happy, and
accompanied his mother to the evening service.

As they came out of church, Mrs. Redcliffe's friends passed
them, driving home. They were all laughing, and Fred
looked fixedly in another direction.



Easter Monday was as warm and cloudless as the previous
days had been. Mrs. Redcliffe's picnic party assembled at
the bridge at the time appointed. There were six of them —
for the Vicar had excused himself — a comfortable load for the
roomy boat, which had been the property of Sir Joseph
Chapman, but at the service of all who cared to ask for it,
and, since his death, having been overlooked at the dispersion
of his effects, had lain at the little wharf of the mill, tacitly
assigned to the use of those who had been in the habit of
borrowing it before.

It was not, at first sight, a party that gave great promise of
enjoyment. Hilda and Fred, the only two young people in it,
were, towards each other, as we have seen them. Mrs.
Prentice cherished cause of complaint, not yet brought to a
head, both against her hostess and against Browne. And as
for Turner, her whole being was in revolt against him. He
seldom or never went to church, which she took as a per-
sonal slight, and the weapons which she had sometimes
brought to bear against him were never used without being
turned back, by the man's shameless humour, against herself.

He came up to her at once, as she and Fred stood by the
bridge, Browne and the Redcliffes coming down the road
towards them, and said, in a manner which she afterwards
described as the height of impertinence, " How do you do,
Mrs. Prentice ? It must be months since we last met."

" How do you do, Captain Turner ? " replied Mrs. Prentice
coldly, ignoring his proffered hand. " Shall we go round
and get into the boat, Fred ? "

" Better wait till the others come," answered Fred. " Well,


A Picnic at Warren's Hard 91

Turner, I hope you're prepared to take your share of the
rowing.' '

" Oh, yes," said Turner. " Mrs. Prentice, I do hope I
haven't offended you in any way. I can't help feeling that
your manner is not very cordial to me."

Mrs. Prentice faced him. " Cordial ! " she echoed. " I
shall be cordial to you, Captain Turner, when I see you ful-

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