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ABINGTON ABBEY

* * * * *

BY THE SAME AUTHOR


THE HOUSE OF MERRILEES
EXTON MANOR
THE ELDEST SON
THE SQUIRE'S DAUGHTER
THE HONOUR OF THE CLINTONS
THE GREATEST OF THESE
THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH
WATERMEADS
UPSIDONIA
ABINGTON ABBEY
THE GRAFTONS
RICHARD BALDOCK
THE CLINTONS AND OTHERS

* * * * *


ABINGTON ABBEY

A Novel

by

ARCHIBALD MARSHALL







[Illustration]

New York
Dodd, Mead and Company
1919

Copyright, 1917
By Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc.




TO
MY DEAR LITTLE ELIZABETH




CONTENTS


CHAPTER PAGE
I THE VERY HOUSE 1
II THE VICAR 15
III THE FIRST VISIT 27
IV NEIGHBOURS 41
V SETTLING IN 56
VI VISITORS 72
VII YOUNG GEORGE 90
VIII WHITSUNTIDE 104
IX CAROLINE AND BEATRIX 121
X A DRIVE AND A DINNER 136
XI CAROLINE 151
XII THE VICAR UNBURDENS HIMSELF 165
XIII A LETTER 181
XIV LASSIGNY 197
XV BEATRIX COMES HOME 214
XVI CLOUDS 228
XVII BUNTING TAKES ADVICE 245
XVIII TWO CONVERSATIONS 254
XIX MOLLIE WALTER 271
XX A MEET AT WILBOROUGH 287
XXI A FINE HUNTING MORNING 301
XXII ANOTHER AFFAIR 316
XXIII BERTIE AND MOLLIE 332
XXIV SUNDAY 348
XXV NEWS 364
XXVI THE LAST 378




ABINGTON ABBEY




CHAPTER I

THE VERY HOUSE


"I believe I've got the very house, Cara."

"Have you, darling? It's the fifty-third."

"Ah, but you wait till you see. Abington Abbey. What do you think of
that for a name? Just come into the market. There are cloisters, and a
chapel. Stew ponds. A yew walk. Three thousand acres, and a good head of
game. More can be had by arrangement, and we'll arrange it. Presentation
to living. We'll make Bunting a parson, and present him to it. Oh, it's
the very thing. I haven't told you half. Come and have a look at it."

George Grafton spread out papers and photographs on a table. His
daughter, Caroline, roused herself from her book and her easy chair in
front of the fire to come and look at them. He put his arm around her
slim waist and gave her a kiss, which she returned with a smile.
"Darling old George," she said, settling his tie more to her liking, "I
sometimes wish you weren't quite so young. You let yourself in for so
many disappointments."

George Grafton did look rather younger than his fifty years, in spite of
his grey hair. He had a fresh complexion and a pair of dark, amused,
alert eyes. His figure was that of a young man, and his daughter had
only settled his tie out of affection, for it and the rest of his
clothes were perfect, with that perfection which comes from Bond Street
and Savile Row, the expenditure of considerable sums of money, and exact
knowledge and taste in such matters. He was, in fact, as agreeable to
the eye as any man of his age could be, unless you were to demand
evidences of unusual intellectual power, which he hadn't got, and did
very well without.

As for his eldest daughter Caroline, her appeal to the eye needed no
qualification whatever, for she had, in addition to her attractions of
feature and colouring, that adorable gift of youth, which, in the case
of some fortunate beings, seems to emanate grace. It was so with her. At
the age of twenty there might have been some doubt as to whether she
could be called beautiful or only very pretty, and the doubt would not
be resolved for some few years to come. She had delicate, regular
features, sweet eyes, a kind smiling mouth, a peach-like soft-tinted
skin, nut-coloured hair with a wave in it, a slender column of a neck,
with deliciously modulated curves of breast and shoulders. She looked
thorough-bred, was fine at the extremities, clean-boned and long in the
flank, and moved with natural grace and freedom. Half of these qualities
belonged to her youth, which was so living and palpitating in her as to
be a quality of beauty in itself.

She was charmingly dressed, and her clothes, like her father's, meant
money, as well as perfect taste; or perhaps, rather, taste perfectly
aware of the needs and fashions of the moment. They were both of them
people of the sort whom wealth adorns, who are physically perfected and
mentally expanded by it: whom it is a pleasure to think of as rich. The
room in which we first meet them gave the same sense of satisfaction as
their clothes and general air of prosperity, and expressed them in the
same way. It was a large room, half library, half morning-room. There
was a dark carpet, deep chairs and sofas covered with bright chintzes,
many books, pictures, flowers, some ornaments of beauty and value, but
few that were not also for use, all the expensive accessories of the
mechanism of life in silver, tortoise-shell, morocco. It was as quiet
and homelike as if it had been in the heart of the country, though it
was actually in the heart of London. A great fire of logs leapt and
glowed in the open hearth, the numerous electric globes were reduced in
their main effect to a warm glow, though they gave their light just at
the points at which it was wanted. It was a delightful room for ease of
mind and ease of body - or for family life, which was a state of being
enjoyed and appreciated by the fortunate family which inhabited it.

There were five of them, without counting the Dragon, who yet counted
for a great deal. George Grafton was a banker, by inheritance and to
some extent by acquirement. His business cares sat lightly on him, and
interfered in no way with his pleasures. But he liked his work, as he
liked most of the things that he did, and was clever at it. He spent a
good many days in the year shooting and playing golf, and went away for
long holidays, generally with his family. But his enjoyments were
enhanced by not being made the business of his life, and his business
was almost an enjoyment in itself. It was certainly an interest, and one
that he would not have been without.

He had married young, and his wife had died at the birth of his only
son, fifteen years before. He had missed her greatly, which had
prevented him from marrying again when his children were all small; and
now they were grown up, or growing up, their companionship was enough
for him. But he still missed her, and her memory was kept alive among
his children, only the eldest of whom, however, had any clear
recollection of her.

Beatrix, the second girl, was eighteen, Barbara, the third, sixteen.
Young George, commonly known as Bunting in this family of nicknames, was
fourteen. He was now enjoying himself excessively at Eton, would
presently enjoy himself equally at Cambridge, and in due time would be
introduced to his life work at the bank, under circumstances which would
enable him to enjoy himself just as much as ever, and with hardly less
time at his disposal than the fortunate young men among his
contemporaries whose opportunities for so doing came from wealth
inherited and not acquired. Or if he chose to take up a profession,
which in his case could only be that of arms, he might do so, with his
future comfort assured, the only difference being that he could not
expect to be quite so rich.

This is business on the higher scale as it is understood and for the
most part practised in England, that country where life is more than
money, and money, although it is a large factor in gaining prizes sought
for, is not the only one. It may be necessary to 'go right through the
mill' for those who have to make their own way entirely, though it is
difficult to see how the purposes of high finance can be better served
by some one who knows how to sweep out an office floor than by some one
who has left that duty to a charwoman. The mysteries of a copying-press
are not beyond the power of a person of ordinary intelligence to learn
in a few minutes, and sticking stamps on letters is an art which has
been mastered by most people in early youth. If it has not, it may be
safely left to subordinates. George Grafton was as well dressed as any
man in London, but he had probably never brushed or folded his own
clothes. Nor had he served behind the counter of his own bank, nor often
filled up with his own hand the numerous documents which he so
effectively signed.

It is to be supposed that the pure mechanism of business, which is not,
after all, more difficult to master than the mechanism of Latin prose,
is not the only thing sought to be learnt in this vaunted going through
of the mill. But it is doubtful whether the young Englishman who is
introduced for the first time into a family business at the age of
twenty-two or three, and has had the ordinary experience of public
school and university life, is not at least as capable of judging and
dealing with men as his less fortunate fellow who has spent his youth
and early manhood doing the work of a clerk. His opportunities, at
least, have been wider of knowing them, and he has had his training in
obedience and discipline, and, if he has made use of his opportunities,
in responsibility. At any rate, many of the old-established firms of
world-wide reputation in the City of London are directed by men who have
had the ordinary education of the English leisured classes, and may be
said to belong to the leisured classes themselves, inasmuch as their
work is not allowed to absorb all their energies, and they live much the
same lives as their neighbours who are not engaged in business. George
Grafton was one of them, and Bunting would be another when his time
came.

The Dragon was Miss Waterhouse, who had come to the house in Cadogan
Place to teach Caroline fifteen years before, and had remained there
ever since. She was the mildest, softest-hearted, most devoted and
affectionate creature that was ever put into a position of authority;
and the least authoritative. Yet her word 'went' through all the
household.

"It _is_ a jolly house, you know, dear," said Caroline, after she had
fully examined pictures and papers. "I'm not sure that it isn't the very
one, at last. But are you sure you can afford it, darling? It seems a
great deal of money."

"It's rather cheap, really. They've stuck on a lot for the furniture and
things. But they say that it's not nearly what they're worth. They'll
sell the place without them if I like, and have a sale of them. They say
they'd fetch much more than they're asking me."

"Well, then, why don't they do it?"

"Oh, I don't know. But we could go and have a look and see what they are
worth - to us, I mean. After all, we should buy just that sort of thing,
and it would take us a lot of time and trouble. We should probably have
to pay more in the long run, too."

"I had rather looked forward to furnishing. I should like the trouble,
and I've got plenty of time. And you've got plenty of money, darling,
unless you've been deceiving us all this time."

"Well, shall we go and have a look at it together? What about to-morrow?
Have you got anything to do?"

"Yes, lots. But I don't think there's anything I can't put off. How far
is it from London? Shall we motor down?"

"Yes, if it's fine. We'd better, in any case, as it's five miles from a
station, and we might not be able to get a car there. I don't think I
could stand five miles in a horse fly."

"You're always so impatient, darling. Having your own way so much has
spoiled you. I expect B will want to come."

"Well, she can if she likes."

"I think I'd rather it was just you and me. We always have a lot of fun
together."

He gave her a hug and a kiss. The butler came in at that moment with
the tea-tray, and smiled paternally. The footman who followed him looked
abashed.

"Look, Jarvis, we've found the very house," said Caroline, exhibiting a
large photograph of Abington Abbey.

"Lor, miss!" said the butler indulgently.

Beatrix and Barbara came in, accompanied by the Dragon.

Beatrix was even prettier than Caroline, with a frail ethereal
loveliness that made her appear almost too good for this sinful world,
which she wasn't at all, though she was a very charming creature. She
was very fair, with a delicious complexion of cream and roses, and a
figure of extreme slimness. She was still supposed to be in the
schoolroom, and occasionally was so. She was only just eighteen, and
wore her hair looped and tied with a big bow; but she would be presented
in the spring and would then blossom fully.

Barbara was very fair too, - a pretty girl with a smiling good-humoured
face, but not so pretty as her sisters. She had her arm in that of the
Dragon.

Miss Waterhouse was tall and straight, with plentiful grey hair, and
handsome regular features. Her age was given in the Grafton family as
'fifty if a day,' but she was not quite so old as that. She was one of
those women who seem to be cut out for motherhood, and to have missed
their vocation by not marrying, just as a born artist would have missed
his if he had never handled a brush or a pen. Fortunately, such women
usually find somebody else's children round whom to throw their
all-embracing tenderness. Miss Waterhouse had found the engaging family
of Grafton, and loved them just as if they had been her own. It was
probably a good deal owing to her that George Grafton had not made a
second marriage. Men whose wives die young, leaving them with a family
of small children, sometimes do so for their sake. But the young
Graftons had missed nothing in the way of feminine care; their father
had had no anxiety on their account during their childhood, and they had
grown into companions to him, in a way that they might not have done if
they had had a step-mother. He owed more than he knew to the Dragon,
though he knew that he owed her a great deal. She was of importance in
the house, but she was self-effacing. He was the centre round which
everything moved. He received a great deal from his children that they
would have given to their mother if she had been alive. He was a
fortunate man, at the age of fifty; for family affection is one of the
greatest gifts of life, and he had it in full measure.

"We've found the very house, boys," he said, as the three of them came
in. "Abington Abbey, in Meadshire. Here you are. Replete with every
modern comfort and convenience. Cara and I are going to take a day off
to-morrow and go down to have a look at it."

Beatrix took up the photographs. "Yes, I like that house," she said. "I
think you've struck it this time, darling. I'm sorry I can't come with
you. I'm going to fence. But I trust to you both entirely."

"Do you think Uncle Jim will like you taking a day off, George, dear?"
asked Barbara. "You had two last week, you know. You mustn't neglect
your work. I don't. The Dragon won't let me."

"Barbara, darling," said Miss Waterhouse in a voice of gentle
expostulation, "I don't think you should call your father George. It
isn't respectful."

Barbara kissed her. "You don't mind, do you, Daddy?" she asked.

"Yes, I do, from you," he said. "You're my infant in arms. 'Daddy' is
much prettier from little girls."

"Darling old thing!" she said. "You shall have it your own way. But we
do spoil you. Now about this Abington Abbey. Are there rats? If so, I
won't go there."

"Is there a nice clergyman?" asked Beatrix. "You and Caroline must call
on the clergyman, and tell me what he's like when you come home; and how
many children he has; and all about the neighbours. A nice house is all
very well, but you want nice people too. Somebody you can make fun of."

"B darling," expostulated the Dragon again. "I don't think you should
set out by making fun of people. You will want to make friends of your
neighbours, not fun of them."

"We can do both," said Beatrix. "Will you be the Squire, dear? I should
like you to be a little Squire. You'd do it awfully well, better than
Uncle Jim."

Sir James Grafton was George's elder brother, and head of the bank. He
was a good banker, but a better chemist. He had fitted himself up a
laboratory in his country house, and spent as much of his time in it as
possible, somewhat to the detriment of his duties as a landowner.

"It will be great fun being Squire's daughters," said Caroline. "I'm
glad we are going to have a house of our very own. When you only take
them for a month or two you feel like a Londoner all the time. B, you
and I will become dewy English girls. I believe it will suit us."

"I don't want to become a dewy English girl just yet," said Beatrix.
"It's all very well for you. You've had two seasons. Still, I shan't
mind living in the country a good part of the year. There's always
plenty to do there. But I do hope there'll be a nice lot of people
about. Is it what they call a good residential neighbourhood, Daddy?
They always make such a lot of that."

"I don't know much about Meadshire," said Grafton. "I think it's a
trifle stuffy. People one never sees, who give themselves airs. Still,
if we don't like them we needn't bother ourselves about them. We can get
our own friends down."

"I'm not sure that's the right spirit," said Caroline. "I want to do the
thing thoroughly. The church is very near the house, isn't it? I hope
we're not right in the middle of the village too. You want to be a
little by yourself in the country."

The photographs, indeed, showed the church - a fine square-towered Early
English structure - directly opposite the front door of the house, the
main part, of which was late Jacobean. The cloisters and the old
rambling mediƦval buildings of the Abbey were around the corner, and
other photographs showed them delightfully irregular and convincing. But
the gardens and the park enclosed it all. The village was a quarter of a
mile away, just outside one of the Lodge gates. "I asked all about
that," said Grafton, explaining it to them.

They gathered round the tea-table in their comfortable luxurious
room, - a happy affectionate family party. Their talk was all of the new
departure that was at last to be made, for all of them took it for
granted that they really had found the very house at last, and the
preliminary visit and enquiries and negotiations were not likely to
reveal any objections or difficulties.

George Grafton had been looking for a country house in a leisurely kind
of way for the past ten years, and with rather more determination for
about two. He belonged to the class of business man to whom it is as
natural to have a country house as to have a London house, not only for
convenience in respect of his work, but also for his social pleasures.
He had been brought up chiefly in the country, at Frayne, in the opulent
Sevenoaks region, which his brother now inhabited. He had usually taken
a country house furnished during some part of the year, sometimes on the
river for the summer months, sometimes for the winter, with a shoot
attached to it. His pleasures were largely country pleasures. And his
children liked what they had had of country life, of which they had
skimmed the cream, in the periods they had spent in the houses that he
had taken, and in frequent short visits to those of friends and
relations. In the dead times of the year they had come back to London,
to their occupations and amusements there. One would have said that they
had had the best of both. If they had been pure Londoners by birth and
descent no doubt they would have had, and been well content. But it was
in their blood on both sides to want that mental hold over a country
home, which houses hired for a few months at a time cannot give. None of
the houses their father had taken could be regarded as their home. Nor
could a house in London, however spacious and homelike.

They talked about this now, over the tea-table. "It will be jolly to
have all that space round you and to feel that it belongs to you," said
Caroline. "I shall love to go out in the morning and stroll about,
without a hat, and pick flowers."

"And watch them coming up," said Barbara. "That's what I shall like. And
not having _always_ to go out with the Dragon. Of course, I shall
generally want you to come with me, darling, and I should always behave
exactly as if you were there - naturally, as I'm a good girl. But I
expect you will like to go out by yourself sometimes too, without one of
the Graftons always hanging to you."

"You'll like the country, won't you, dear?" asked Beatrix. "I think you
must go about with a key-basket, and feed the sparrows after
breakfast."

"I was brought up in the country," said Miss Waterhouse. "I shall feel
more at home there than you will."

"Your mother would have loved the garden," said Grafton. "She always
missed her garden."

"Grandfather showed me the corner she had at Frampton when she was
little," said Caroline. "There's an oak there where she planted an
acorn. It takes up nearly the whole of it now."

"Where is it?" asked her father. "I never knew that. I should like to
see it."

Caroline described the spot to him. "Ah, yes," he said, "I do remember
now; she showed it me herself when we were engaged."

"Grandfather showed it to me too," said Beatrix.

"Yes, I know," said Caroline quickly. "You were there."

Their mother was often spoken of in this way, naturally, and not with
any sadness or regret. Caroline remembered her. Beatrix said she did,
and was inclined to be a little jealous of Caroline's memories.

"I think I'll come with you after all, to-morrow," said Beatrix. "I can
put off my fencing for once."

"Yes, do, darling," said Caroline. "You and I and Dad will have a jolly
day together."




CHAPTER II

THE VICAR


The Vicar of Abington was the Reverend A. Salisbury Mercer, M.A., with a
tendency towards hyphenation of the two names, though the more
resounding of them had been given to him at baptism in token of his
father's admiration for a great statesman. He was middle-sized, but held
himself in such a way as to give the impression of height, or at least
of dignity. His dignity was, indeed, dear to him, and his chief quarrel
with the world, in which he had otherwise made himself very comfortable,
was that there were so many people who failed to recognise it. His wife,
however, was not one of them. She thought him the noblest of men, and
more often in the right than not. He was somewhere in the early fifties,
and she about ten years younger. She was a nice good-tempered little
lady, inclined to easy laughter, but not getting much occasion for it in
her home, for the Reverend A. Salisbury Mercer took life seriously, as
became a man of his profession. She had brought him money - not a great
deal of money, but enough to give him a well-appointed comfortable home,
which the emoluments of Abington Vicarage would not have given him of
themselves. In clerical and clerically-minded society he was accustomed
to complain of the inequalities of such emoluments in the Church of
England. "Look at Abington," he would say, some time in the course of
the discussion. "There's a fine church, which wants a good deal of
keeping up, and there's a good house; but the value of the living has


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