The news that young Mr. Wingfield had come not only into possession of the property which he had inherited, after the interval made compulsory by the will, but into residence at the Manor House as well, did not take long to spread round Framsby. Framsby was ready to receive him to her great motherly heart. The fact of his being a prodigal did not interfere in the least with the warmth of the maternal embrace which Framsby was preparing for him; nay, it actually increased the enthusiasm with which the sentiment of his coming was hailed. Is it not well known that the prodigal son is the nearest to the mother’s heart of all her family?

Now, nothing was known of the details of Jack Wingfield’s prodigality; but the terms of his grandfather’s will had assumed that his prodigality would be a matter of course, and all Framsby were ready to stand by the inference of so interesting a legal document. If there was any doubt in the matter, they were quite ready to give him the benefit of it by assuming that the piquancy of prodigality was attached to him. He would make the money fly, no fear! was the prediction of the men who winked at one another in the evening over the pewter measures of the “Field and Furrow”; and the tradesmen of Framsby hoped with all their heart and soul that he would. A prodigal during the first few years of his career is the idol of the tradesmen; later on they think of Jeroboam the son of Nebat first, and of the fate that befell his house, and of Pharaoh the monarch of Egypt afterwards. They turn away from the worship of idols and harden their hearts at the suggestion of credit.

But of course it was the representatives of the right set at Framsby who were most interested in the news that Jack Wingfield had come to the Manor House. The truth was that eligible men were not numerous in Framsby or the neighbourhood; and this was, socially speaking, rather a pity, considering what a number of eligible women there were. The worst of a country society, or, for the matter of that, the society in any community, is that every woman is “eligible,” but only a man here and there. Every girl in Framsby considered herself eligible, and her mother agreed with her; but there the matter began and ended. The select set was not the set from which eligible men made their selection, and the consequence was that the number of unmarried young women of various ages between twenty and forty-six became oppressive to any statistician who was thinking with interest, increased by alarm, of the future generation.

But none of them gave up all hope. Some of them hunted a little and got themselves splashed thoroughly with the mud of many ditches, and torn woefully with the briars of many gaps, and the barbarities of numerous fences—they made themselves blowsy at hockey and brown at golf, hoping that they would be taken for young women still; but they would not have minded being taken for middle-aged women or elderly women, if only they would be taken. It seemed, however, as if no man would take them at any estimate. Their devotion to sport was keen, but, unhappily, keenness does not invariably mean proficiency. It means talk, and there was consequently plenty of talk at Framsby about golf and hockey and lawn tennis and croquet, but the examples of play given by the exponents of every one of these games were deplorable. The Tennis and Croquet Club, however, absorbed practically the whole time of the members of the right set throughout the summer; but when it became known that the Manor House was occupied by Mr. Wingfield and his mother, the civility of these representatives of Framsby society caused them to steal some hours from the courts to pay their respects to the newcomers; and within a week Mrs. Wingfield and her son received twenty-five visitors, and an equal number of offers to propose them as members of the Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Unfortunately, Mr. Wingfield had not an opportunity of making the acquaintance of any of those visitors, the fact being that he had slipped out upon that convenient terrace which went round the front and the side of the house, the moment that the approach of the visitors became imminent. In two cases he was just half a minute too late to be absolutely free from any charge of impoliteness: the French window of the drawing-room, by which he was escaping, was stiff and jerky in one case, and in the other the edge of one wing got caught in the curtains, thereby detaining him most awkwardly for several seconds. The back view of him which the callers obtained did not afford them sufficient data for a detailed description of young Mr. Wingfield, but they made the most of it in conversation with their less fortunate associates the next day.

“Have you called on the Manor people yet? What, not yet? We were there yesterday. My husband knew old Mr. Wingfield very well, you know. Mrs. Wingfield is a charming person—quite handsome still. She had been looking forward to seeing us. She feared that there were no families with whom she could make real friends in this neighbourhood.”

“Was the son there? Did you see the son?”

“Ah, yes, we saw him—only for a short time, however; he had to hurry off to keep an appointment. What is he like? Oh, quite nice—rather retiring, I should say.”

“We heard some rather dreadful stories about him. Did he seem wild?”

“Oh, nothing to speak of. It doesn’t do to believe all that one hears about young men like that. I hear that the property, even allowing for the unlet farms, amounts to something close upon twenty thousand a year.”

And then the audience raised interested eyebrows and smiled complete acquiescence in the obvious truth that one should be slow to believe anything to the discredit of an eligible bachelor with an income approaching twenty thousand pounds a year.

It so happened, however, that Jack Wingfield was something of a lawn tennis player, and he had already entered for an open tournament to be held on the Framsby ground the first week in June; and he was glad when his mother told him that she had accepted the offer of Mrs. Bowlby-Sutherst to put up his name and her own for the club. Jack Wingfield belonged to Ranelagh and Hurlingham and a couple of lawn tennis clubs, and he had snatched a second-class prize now and again at Cannes and Mentone. He had been told encouragingly by the men who had beaten him that he had in him the making of a first-class player; and perhaps he had, but he had also in him an inherited trait of self-depreciation which prevented him from working hard to attain anything. He thought very poorly of himself all round; and when urged by competent advisers to give himself a chance, he had invariably given his shrug, saying, “What’s the good? I’ll never be anything but a plater or an ‘also ran.’ I get some fun out of it as it is, but I’ll never do more than I have done.”

So it was with cricket and polo. He never took every ounce out of himself in fighting for anything.

Framsby’s lawn tennis week begins on the first Monday in June, and the tournament being an open one, and several champions and ex-champions coming to take part in it, some good play was certain to be seen when the Framsby folk were got rid of, which was usually during the first day’s play. Moreover, there was a “gate” during this week, so that the ground, sacred for the rest of the year to the members, was invaded by outsiders with shillings in their hands—five shillings for the week.

And that was how it came that Priscilla Wadhurst contrived to put in an appearance at the club from the membership of which she was excluded by the engineering of the select and the elect.

This was the first time she was seen by the Framsby people since her name had appeared in the local papers in brackets at the foot of the account of the loss of the barque Kingsdale; and there was a consensus of opinion in the pavilion that she showed rather more than doubtful taste in exhibiting herself to the public—the phrase was Mrs. Gifford’s. Mrs. Gifford was the senior member of the select, the wife of the colonial gentleman with a pension. “But it was just what might be expected from her,” another of the set whispered to her when Priscilla passed in front of the pavilion. The pair took good care to be so engrossed in conversation together that even an ambitious young woman like Priscilla could hardly have looked for a recognition from them. (She was on nodding terms with the most exclusive ladies in Framsby, but only when they met her in the street—not upon special occasions when important strangers were present, who might go away with the notion that they were intimate with her.)

But whatever bad taste Priscilla showed in appearing in a public place so soon after the death of the man who had tried to wreck her life, no one could suggest that any detail of her dress was not tasteful. All that people might have found fault with was her dress as a whole. And a good many of her own sex availed themselves of such a chance. She was undoubtedly a widow, and yet she bore no token of widowhood in her dress; and so the right set either turned their eyes toward each others’ faces as she passed, or gazed at some point in space a considerable distance above her head. Thus they avoided hurting her feelings by letting her see how shocked they were.

But all the same she knew that they wished it to be known that they were shocked; and she also knew that they would not have been so greatly shocked if her dress had not fitted so extremely well. A chastened spirit and a misfit invariably go together in some people’s minds.

Priscilla knew what it was to dress well, and she was quite aware of the difference there is between a garden party and a lawn tennis meeting. She wore the simplest hat and the simplest frock; both white, and neither relieved by the least touch of colour. But the hat and the frock and the shoes and the gloves and the sunshade were the best that money could buy. They were the sort of things that owed their distinction to the wearer, and only when she had served them in this way did they show their generosity by conferring distinction upon her.

“Who is that exquisite creature?” said one of the strangers in the front row of the pavilion seats, as Priscilla moved past without so much as casting a glance at the occupants of any of the seats.

“An exquisite creature, indeed!” said the one to whom the remark was addressed. “She walks like a goddess; and what hair!”

The two of the right set smiled each in the other’s face, with the corners of their lips turned down. They could hardly resist giving the strangers the information that she was not an exquisite creature, but only a farmer’s daughter.

But before they had straightened their lips once more the ladies in front of them, who had followed Priscilla with their eyes, were becoming excited.

“Dear me!” cried one. “Cynthia is speaking to her. I hope she will bring her here.”

“How nice of Cynthia!” said the other.

The Framsby people, by putting their heads slightly forward, saw that a big girl in tennis costume and with a racket in her hand had sprung up from a seat where she had been resting between games, and flung herself upon Priscilla, kissing her impetuously and then roaring with laughter. Priscilla had received her onslaught only a trifle more sedately, and they stood together on the turf beside one of the courts, chatting like old friends who have not met for years.

And now the Framsby people saw that the young girl was pointing with her racket to the pavilion, and then leading Priscilla back by the way she had come. She led her, still chatting briskly, until they were both beside the two strangers in the front row.

“Mother,” said the girl, “your chance has come at last;—this is Priscilla the Puritan maiden.”

The lady got upon her feet.

“Not Miss Wadhurst?” she said. “But of course you are Miss Wadhurst. I should have known you from Cynthia’s photograph, only you are older now—more—what shall I say?—no, not more—less, yes, you are less of a girl.”

“That is charmingly put, Lady Gainsforth,” said Priscilla.

The Framsby ones gasped. So that was the Countess of Gainsforth, and that girl was her daughter, Lady Cynthia Brooks, the great tennis player, who was waiting for the mixed doubles. They gasped together; and then each tried to outdo the other in an attempt to catch Priscilla’s eye. One of them succeeded, but somehow Priscilla missed seeing her even with the eye that she caught, and the next moment Priscilla was being presented to the second lady, whose name was Mrs. Marlowe.

And then the four began to chat of matters far beyond the horizon of Framsby folk—of the old school where it seemed the girls had been together—of Lady Gainsforth’s kindness in asking Priscilla to stay at Gainsforth Towers during the Cowes week, which Priscilla so greatly appreciated, only regretting that she had promised to go with the Von Hochmans to their villa at Honnef-on-Rhine; and after all the Count had been ill, so that they had nothing of him or his opera. Oh, yes, the opera was produced at Frankfort and afterwards at Nice.

“Why, did they not sing your old English song in it?” asked Lady Gainsforth.

“Oh, yes,” replied Priscilla. “It was highly praised too in one of the papers. This is what they said about it”—here followed half-a-dozen phrases in French, which might have been Sanscrit to the listening Framsby folk—and Priscilla went on:

“Vanity, was it not, committing the criticism to memory?”

“Shocking vanity!” laughed Lady Cynthia, and when Lady Cynthia laughed the people in the furthest court looked round, and then they laughed also.

But the Framsby folk did not laugh, although they were closer to the cyclonic centre. They were, however, ready to smile should Priscilla give them the chance. But Priscilla was a hard woman; she could so easily have spoken to them; and after that it would have been a simple matter introducing them to Lady Gainsforth and Mrs. Marlowe as the leaders of society in Framsby; but Priscilla would not do it, just because they had taken some pains to cut her a quarter of an hour earlier. Oh, she was a hard woman for one so young!

Lady Cynthia had, however, betrayed her whereabouts by her laugh, and one of the officials of the Association sent her a message to the effect that the second of the Mixed Doubles would be played when the court would be vacant at the end of the Gentlemen’s Singles.

“I must rush,” she cried. “I have a good fighting chance for the M.D.s., though not a ghost of one for the L.S.s. Come round with me, Prissy.”

Priscilla said au revoir to Lady Gainsforth and Mrs. Marlowe and strolled away with Lady Cynthia’s arm through hers; but before she had turned the corner of the pavilion she found herself face to face with Mr. Wingfield, and he took off his cap and greeted her also as if he was an old friend—it seemed that he had been talking to Lady Cynthia earlier in the day.

Framsby gaped and then gasped.

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