Copyright
Archibald Marshall.

Exton manor online

. (page 8 of 36)
Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 8 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


filling your duties as a Christian and a Churchman. The
greatest festival of the Christian year has come and gone,
and you have held aloof from all the duties and privileges
connected with it. Cordial, no."

" It has not quite gone yet, has it ? " inquired Turner
meekly. " We are still celebrating the octave, you know,
Mrs. Prentice."

" We are celebrating is hardly the way to put it," said
Mrs. Prentice. " I think you ought to be ashamed of your-
self, Captain Turner, not coming near a church either on
Good Friday or Easter Day."

" I say, mother ! " Fred interpolated.

" I shall speak my mind, Fred," she replied. " When I
see sin — shameless sin, and vice confronting me, I shall
rebuke them fearlessly."

" Well, then, shut up, Turner," said Fred. " The mater
is quite right. You're a shameless old heathen, and a disgrace
to the place."

" I know I am a sinner," said Turner ; " a miserable sinner.
You must try and make me a better man, Fred. If you came
here more often, and talked to me, I might improve."

The arrival of the rest of the party put a stop to a further
charge of amenities, but Mrs. Prentice was greatly ruffled,
and showed it in the way she received Mrs. Redcliffe's greeting,
and the more watchful handshakes of Hilda and Browne.

11 Why did mother ask that woman ? " Hilda inquired of
Browne, as they all turned into the garden of the Mill House
on their way to where the boat was lying. " She is going
to make herself thoroughly disagreeable and spoil everything.
She is getting on my nerves."

" Oh, don't talk like that," pleaded Browne. " Let's
keep the peace, whatever w r e do. We must all hang
together."

Hilda laughed at him. " It strikes me," she said, " that
that friendliness which you are so proud of in Exton isn't so



92 Exton Manor

very apparent when we all meet. I think we are really rather
an ill-assorted lot of people."

" I don't think so/' said honest Browne. " You've only
got to make a* few allowances."

The baskets had already been brought down and stowed
away in the boat. The voyagers disposed themselves,
Browne rowing stroke, Fred bow, and Hilda steering. The
two ladies were on either side of her, and Turner in the prow
of the boat.

They rowed out on to the broad, shining water, which at
high tide formed a noble river between its wooded banks, and
at low tide was a stretch of brown mud, with a meagre stream
running down a narrow channel. The tide was nearly at its
height now, and its flow almost imperceptible. They moved
steadily down in the shallower water. It would be harder
work rowing up again later on.

Fred had his own thoughts to attend to. He could see
Hilda above Browne's broad shoulder as he swung forward,
sitting intent on her task. Her eye refused to be caught by
his. There were not many signs as yet of the friendliness
she had undertaken not to withdraw from him, he said to
himself, half-bitterly, half -ruefully. And somehow, as he sat
silent, rowing regularly, taking a glance at her face at the
beginning of each stroke, and mentally digesting what he saw
there as he pulled it through, he did not feel quite so sure of
being able to sustain the part he had assigned to himself
the day before. He would give that up ; he was not in the
temper for it. At all costs, he must get back into her friend-
ship. He wanted her. Enforced abstinence from her society,
when he had thought that he would be able to enjoy it to the
fullest extent, had bred a new tenderness in him. Of a sudden
his mind relented towards her. He forgave her coldness,
and leapt into a lover-like state of mind, humble and appre-
ciative of her charms. But he must be careful, and gain
her sympathy by playing on that string of friendship which
was the only one left whole in his lover's lyre.

Mrs. Prentice, her soul rasped to roughness by Turner's
veiled impertinence, was in the mood to make herself un-
pleasant, and essayed to do so, but found her armoury defec-
tive against Mrs. Redcliffe's equable courtesy and Browne's
preoccupation in his task, which beaded his forehead and
monopolized his attention.



A Picnic at Warren's Hard 93

" I hear," she said, " that Lord Wrotham found tune to
pay you a visit on Thursday, although he was too busy to do
me and the Vicar the same honour."

" He came in for five minutes to look at the house," Mrs.
Rcdcliffe replied. " Mr. Browne is very proud of his altera-
tions, although I often tell him that if it were not for the
furniture we have put into the cottage it would not be nearly
so attractive."

Browne grunted. He had no mental energy to spare for find-
ing or expressing ideas. Mrs. Prentice returned to the attack.

" It does not do to make too much of a visit from a young
man like Lord Wrotham/ 1 she said. " He has the reputation
of being very wild. Freddy hears about him in London. He
does not happen to have met him, but they have many
mutual friends. One is obliged, of course, to treat the patron
of one's living with courtesy, but it would be impossible to
approve of all Lord Wrotham's goings on."

Mrs. Redcliffe made no reply, but Hilda said, " I think he
is awfully nice. It is a pity that Fred should run him down
here, especially if he does not know him."

Mrs. Prentice had an impulse of malevolence. It was as
she had expected. These people had inveigled themselves
into an intimacy with the young lord, and were even prepared
to give themselves airs on the strength of it. But that she
would stop.

" Of course, you know Lord Wrotham so intimately,
Hilda," she said, " that it must seem very impertinent to you
my venturing to discuss him at all."

" Oh, no, we don't know him intimately, ■•' returned Hilda.
" But he was very nice, and I don't like to hear people run
down behind their backs."

Mrs. Redcliffe, anxious to keep the peace, said, " Lord
Wrotham did not come to see us ; Mr. Browne brought him
to see the house. Do not be so hasty, Hilda. Mrs. Prentice
was not running Lord Wrotham down."

But Mrs. Prentice could speak for herself. " I shall cer-
tainly say what I please about Lord Wrotham, or anybody
else," she said heatedly. " And if you like to say that I am
annoyed that he was not brought to see me and the Vicar, it
is quite true. He ought to have been brought. It was owing
to us." And she glanced at the unfortunate Browne, who
did not improve matters by saying :



94» Exton Manor

" I'd no idea of taking him to see anybody. There wasn't
time. We just went into the White House on our way down,
because, as Mrs. Redcliffe says, he wanted to see the altera-
tions. He suggested it himself."

Even Mrs. Prentice could hardly say, " He suggested it
because Hilda made eyes at him from the garden," but that
is what she thought, and saved the retort to be used on
another occasion in an amended form.

The conversation had not carried further than where
Browne was labouring at his oar, but Turner here struck in
opportunely from the bows, " Mrs. Redcliffe, I haven't been
to a picnic since I was in India. Very good idea of yours.
You deserve the thanks of the party."

" Hear, hear," said Fred and Brow r ne, and Mrs. Prentice
came in a late third with a bitter-sweet —

" Yes. Don't let us spoil our pleasure by wrangling.
There is nothing I hate more."

Warren's Hard, where they presently disembarked, after
a row of two or three miles down the river, was a place of
considerable interest. A hundred years before its name had
been on men's lips. Great three-deckers and smaller ships of
the line had been built here and launched from the slips, some
of them to gain glory and a name on the deep waters, others
to meet an obscurer fate, but all of them to carry on the story
of England's greatness in the seas of the world. There were
traditions of great festivals, when a monster of the deep
decked with fluttering flags, had slid from the dry land of
its strenuous birth into the waters of the estuary, amid the
plaudits of a crowd that had gathered from all sides to see
the sight. A king of England had turned aside on. his way
to the delights of his favourite watering-place, and the woods
had echoed to a salute of guns fired in his honour from a
battleship still in the bonds of her making. Great admirals,
their names in history, had walked by the w r ater and heard
the din of carpenters' hammers on the stout forest timbers,
raid perhaps the mightiest of them all had watched for an
hour, out of many that went to her building, one of the great
ships that was to bear his flag to victory.

Now, ail that was left of the place that had seen so much
activity in the brave years of a past century was a little sleepy
hamlet, two rows of red-brick cottages on either side of a
broad, grass-grown street, one of them flanked by the house



A Picnic at Warren's Hard 95

of the master-builder, solid and unpretentious, but reminis-
cent within and without of the spacious Georgian days.
Bathed in sunshine, it sloped down from the agricultural and
pastoral land above it to a riverside slip of grass-land, once
trodden to bareness by many feet, and lumbered with the
accessories of industry. The slips, which had been the centre
of all the work which went on in and around it, were shallow
declivities, silted up with river mud, or narrow basins to hold
a few boats and a river yacht. The remote stillness of woods
and fields had closed in on all sides, and thrown a green veil
of forgetfulness over the busy memories of the past.

The place was familiar enough to the party which now
landed at it. They paid no tribute to its tale of years, beyond
praising its beauty, peaceful in the Spring sunshine. They
chose a spot on the grass by the river, and set out the con-
tents of the baskets. The men dispersed to collect sticks for
the fire, while the ladies spread a cloth, set cups and filled
plates. Hilda went across to the old house of the master-
builder to borrow a big kettle from its present inhabitant,
who carried on some riverside occupation there, and used the
large upstairs room, in which the master-builder had enter-
tained guests at his launchings, for miscellaneous lumber.
Fred had been on the lookout for this, and left his stick-
gathering to join her.

" I will carry the kettle for you," he said.

She turned no very gracious look on him. " Saunders
would have brought it," she said.

" I know," he replied. " But I want to speak to you.
Will you come for a stroll with me after we have had tea ? "

" We shall be going back almost directly," she said.

" Not for half-an-hour or so. Hilda, do say yes. I am
going away to-morrow, and I've hardly had a word with you
since I came down. You said you'd be friends, but you have
kept carefully out of my way all the time."
No, I haven't," she said hurriedly.

" Well, at any rate I haven't seen you at all. You must
come. You needn't be afraid of my playing the fool."

She did not want to be pleaded with in this earnest style,
or to give occasion for pleading. " I'm not, in the least
afraid," she said, with a little laugh. " Very well, we will
have a little walk. I want to hear what you know about Lord
Wrotham. Mrs. Prentice says that you disapprove of him."



96 Exton Manor

" I disapprove of Wrotham ! " he exclaimed, but at this
point the amphibious master of the house appeared with a
huge and heavy kettle, and insisted on carrying it to the
picnicking ground, also on taking part in whatever conver-
sation should beguile the way, so that nothing more was said
between them for the time being.

Mrs. Prentice, under the influence of the sunshine and the
tea, relaxed her resentful attitude, and became even friendly,
and half-an-hour passed amicably. Then they strolled along
the bank, and it was not difficult for Fred to walk on ahead
with Hilda, rather faster than the rest, and to continue walk-
ing while the rest went back to pack up the baskets.

" Now tell me about Lord Wrotham," Hilda began. " Mr.
Browne brought him to see us, and he was so nice and friendly,
that it was quite a shock to me to hear that you think him
wild, or something of that sort."

" I don't know why mother should repeat things I say in
that way," said Fred. " I told her what every one knows
who goes about a bit in London— that he has got rid of a
tremendous lot of money, racing and so on. I don't want to
be quoted as giving him a bad name down here."

" Oh, you needn't be afraid of our talking — mother and
me. We are very discreet. Besides, we liked Lord Wrotham
so much that we shouldn't want to repeat anything against
him."

" I'm glad you liked him," said Fred dryly.

" Why ? "

" Oh, I don't know. Look here, Hilda, I didn't ask you
to come for a walk to talk about Wrotham. I wanted to talk
of something about myself."

" I shall be interested to hear it."

" I hope you will. You know I have been beastly extrava-
gant, and all that sort of thing."

" I have heard something of the kind."

" You have heard it from me. I told you a lot last
Christmas."

u Yes. And you said you were going to turn over a new
leaf last Christmas."

" I did say so. And I haven't. But I'm going to now."

" Well, I'm glad of that. Now shall we go back ? "

"No; we won't go back. Hilda, you might say something
to encourage a fellow a bit. It's jolly difficult to draw in



A Picnic at Warren's Hard 97

one's horns and live on a very small income in London, when
one has been accustomed to live in quite a different way.''

" I dare say it is. It would be difficult anywhere ; at least,
it would be unpleasant. But, after all, it only seems to be
common honesty."

" I hope you don't think I have behaved dishonestly.
You must remember that it is my own money that I am
spending. If I was expecting somebody else to pay my
debts it would be different."

"lam not so sure that it would be different. But, at any
rate, it is not my affair."

11 I wish you would make it your affair, then. You can't
think how it would help me to — to pull up and work hard
at something if I thought you cared at all about what I did.
We have been friends, and you said we would remain friends.
Friends ought to sympathize with each other in their
difficulties."

" Well, I am your friend to that extent, Fred. I do care.
I should like to think of you working hard in London, and
not getting into any more of the difficulties you told me
about."

She turned a frank gaze of friendliness on him, her warm
and constant nature triumphing over the pique which she
had allowed to sway her. He felt as if the sun had shone
out of the cold clouds, and was melted to tenderness. " It
is like you to say that," he said, " and it wasn't like you to
say my difficulties were no affair of yours. Well, father and
I had it out together again. W r e are going to clear up every-
thing — it doesn't amount to much this time, just over two
hundred — and start clear for the second time."

"That is splendid. I hate. the very idea of debt. And
you are going to work hard now, aren't you ? You know
you told me how you had been slacking it, as you said."

" Yes," said Fred, rather more dubiously. " But, you
know, there isn't really much to work at until I'm called.
Just reading in chambers, and preparing for the bar examina-
tion. I shall get through that all right. But I was going to
tell you, Hilda. I'm going to keep my eyes wide open for
an opportunity of getting into something better than the
bar — something in which I can use the money I've got. And
when I've found it, I'm going to work like a nigger at it."

" H'm ! " commented Hilda. " I think it is rather a pity

D (16)



98 Exton Manor

.o be going in for one thing, and thinking of another all the
time."

" I should never do very much at the bar, you know. But
I think I could do very well in some business that suited me.
You'll wish me luck, won't you ? "

" Oh, yes, Fred ; the best of luck in whatever you take
up. But, come, we must be going back."

They turned, and Hilda went on, with a didactic kindness
which consorted, as Fred thought, most charmingly with the
fresh bloom of her youth. " I don't think it matters much
what a man works at, as long as he does work, and doesn't
live for pleasure, especially selfish extravagant pleasure.
You know, you are quite content with simple pleasures down
here, and then you go back to London and forget about
everything but amusing yourself. It is that I was annoyed
about — for, of course, I was annoyed ; I don't mind saying
so now it's all over."

" I shouldn't be content with simple pleasures down here
if it wasn't for you, Hilda. I haven't been very content the
last few days."

" You weren't to say that sort of thing ; but I'll let it pass
for once. At any rate, the simple pleasures, with me or
without me, didn't count for much when you got back to
London again."

" Yes, they did. But I am a fool. Now I'm going to be
a fool no longer. And I shall come down here very soon
again."

" Come down at Whitsuntide, as you said you would.
Test your new resolution by sticking to work for the next
six weeks."

" You help and encourage a fellow when you are like that,
Hilda. It is something to work for — your approbation."

" You'll have my approbation as long as you behave your-
self, Fred. It seems to me I'm talking very much like a
schoolmistress. Goodness knows, I've got plenty of faults
myself."

" I can't see them. I think you're the best girl in the
world, as well as the nicest. I say, I don't think I need go
on to Dorsetshire until Wednesday. Will you come for a
long walk in the forest to-morrow, and talk to me further
for my good ? "

" No. Keep your engagement ; and if you can knock a

(32)



A Picnic at Warren's Hard 99

day off it, go back to London and set to work. It is quite
time you did."

They had now got hack to Warren's Hard. The baskets
were already packed, and the rest of the party ready to start.
Fred and Turner rowed them back to Exton. Fred felt that
he could have pulled twice as far against a still stronger
tide. Hilda was splendid, and how kind ! She knew how
to get the best out of a fellow, and it made you feel worth
something when a girl like that took the trouble to advise
you, and show that she cared about what you did with your
life. He was very much in love with her, far more than he
had ever thought it possible that he could be with a girl whom
he had known since her childhood, and gone about with as
if she were his sister. By Jove, he would show her that
he was worthy of her interest, and when he came back to
Exton, in six weeks' time — perhaps a little sooner — well, he
would see ; there was no telling how far his feelings would
take him.



(26)



CHAPTER IX

LADY WROTHAM

Lady Wroth am arrived at Ex ton early on a wet and windy
Saturday afternoon, and drove from the station in a closed
carriage. The few wayfarers who were passed on the road
between the station and the village, and those who braved
the downpour to linger in the stretch of road between the
village and the Abbey to catch an early glimpse of her lady-
ship, saw a face, framed in black, peering out through the
wet glass, and nothing more, except an elderly maid seated
opposite. An autocratic old woman, coming to dominate
from a big house the lives of the lesser ones of the earth
whose dwellings clustered round it ; or, perhaps, a rather sad
old woman, coming to live alone in the place where the first
happy days of her married life had been spent ; she was
to these gazers merely an unknown, but interesting, factor
in their own lives, and drove in beneath the gateway of the
Abbey, watched by curious eyes.

Mrs. Prentice would have liked to line the road from the
bridge to the gate house with school children, herself at the
head of them, with perhaps a flag or two, and a few words of
respectful welcome. Mrs. Prentice had broached the subject
to her husband, who had demurred to the suggestion.

u She is a recently-made widow," said the Vicar, " coming
here to end her days quietly. It is no time for display and
rejoicing."

" Perhaps you are right, William," said Mrs. Prentice.
" It will be better for you and me to go to the Abbey in the
afternoon — about tea-time. I should not like Lady Wrotham
to come here and feel that there is no one who is pleased to
see her."

ioo

(15)



Lady Wroth am 101

" I don't know that I am very pjeased to see her," replied
the Vicar. u She is a member of the Women's Reformation
League, and may feel inclined to interfere in my work."

" There is nothing she could object to here/' said Mrs.
Prentice ; "no extreme practices. The Catholic faith is
taught, of course, or as much of it as is desirable ; but the
ritual is moderate, and could offend nobody."

" I don't know so much about that. The Women's Re-
formation League is offended very easily, and if Lady
Wrotham is an active member of it, as I am told is the case,
there will probably be trouble. At any rate, I would rather
wait until after Sunday before I pay my respects to her.
Then she will know the best, or worst, of me — if she comes to
church, as I suppose she will — and I shall know where I stand.
But you might as well go by yourself."

Mrs. Prentice was quite ready to go by herself, and rang
for admittance at the Abbey shortly before five o'clock. She
was shown, after a short wait in the hall, into a large room,
half library, half morning-room, where Lady Wrotham was
seated comfortably in an easy-chair by her tea-table.

" I hope you will excuse my getting up," she said, as her
visitor walked across the room. " I have an attack of rheu-
matism, and I have only just settled myself down here."

Mrs. Prentice said, " Oh, pray do not move," and murmured
her condolence for the temporary affliction.

" Thank you," said Lady Wrotham. " It is such a common
thing with me that I don't worry about it, but just take it as
it comes. Please sit down, Mrs. Prentice. I am very glad
to see you. If you had not come so kindly of your own
accord, I should have written a note to beg you to do so. I
wished to have a conversation with you."

Mrs. Prentice congratulated herself on the promptitude of
her visit, and, during the foregoing speech, took into her
mind as much as she was able of the speaker's appearance and
manner.

Lady Wrotham sat upright in her low chair. She was short,
and, but for her exalted rank, might have been called dumpy.
But there was something commanding about her presence
which neither dumpiness nor lack of height could extinguish.
She wore a plain black dress, with a cameo brooch at the neck,
and a widow's cap ; but if there was something old-fashioned
about her attire, she wore it with dignity and it seemed to

(12)



102 -Extern Manor

suit her. Her eye was clear and searching, and her mouth
firm. She did not smile as she addressed Mrs. Prentice,
apologizing for her disablement, but her manner was
courteous.

Mrs. Prentice was all smiles. " I thought I should like to
be the first to welcome you to Exton," she said. " My
husband would have accompanied me, but, as you know,
Lady Wrotham — or, perhaps you do not know, Saturday
afternoon is a busy time with a clergyman."

M I know it ought to be," replied Lady Wrotham, " and I
am glad that it is so with your husband. A minister cannot
prepare too carefully for his preaching of the Word."

Mrs. Prentice did not quite like this, and thought the word
"minister" out of place. She was accustomed to use the
word " priest," but had compromised on " clergyman," in
deference to the views that might be supposed to be held by
a member of the Women's Reformation League. " Minister "
was quite another affair. But she was anxious, at all costs,
to avoid controversy, so she said, " My husband is very con-
scientious about his preaching. He does not believe, as some
do, that it is of no use at all."

" I should hope not," said Lady Wrotham.

':' He preaches two sermons every Sunday here — two fresh
sermons — and one at the Marsh, and another one on Wednes-
day evening at Warren's Hard. It takes him a long time to
prepare them, and, of course, he has all his visiting and other
parish work to do as well."

" It is too much for one man."

11 So I tell him. The Marsh is five miles off, and Warren's
Hard over two. But he is so earnest about his work. He
will do it."

" Of course the work must be done. But in so large and
scattered a parish there ought to be a curate."

" I wish my husband could afford to keep one ; but, what
with a man and a boy for the stables and garden, which must
be kept up to a certain extent "

" Well, we must talk about that another time. I should
like to ask you a few questions now, Mrs. Prentice, about



Online LibraryArchibald MarshallExton manor → online text (page 8 of 36)