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Produced by Al Haines










THE ELDEST SON



BY

ARCHIBALD MARSHALL

Author of "Exton Manor"




NEW YORK

DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY

1919




COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY

DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY

Published September, 1911




To

KATHLEEN




CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I The Squire Is Infernally Worried
II A Question of Matrimony
III Exit Miss Bird
IV The Dower-House
V Lady George
VI Blaythorn Rectory
VII The Squire Puts His Foot Down
VIII The Squire Feels Trouble Coming
IX Dick Pays a Sunday Visit
X The Meet at Apthorpe Common
XI Dick Leaves Kencote and Makes a Discovery
XII The House Party
XIII The Hunt Ball
XIV A Shoot
XV The Guns and the Ladies
XVI The Money Question
XVII Sunday and Monday
XVIII Mrs. Clinton Chooses a Governess
XIX Mrs. Clinton In Jermyn Street
XX Aunt Laura Intervenes
XXI An Engagement
XXII Dick Comes Home
XXIII Humphrey Counts His Chickens
XXIV Virginia Goes to Kencote
XXV A Lawn Meet
XXVI What Miss Phipp Saw
XXVII The Run of the Season
XXVIII Property
XXIX Brothers
XXX Miss Bird Hears All About It




CHAPTER I

THE SQUIRE IS INFERNALLY WORRIED

"Nina," said the Squire, "I'm most infernally worried." He was sitting
in his wife's morning-room, in a low chair by the fire. In front of
him was a table set for tea for one - himself. There were buttered
toast and dry toast and preserves, a massive silver teapot, milk jug,
cream jug, and sugar basin, a breakfast cup of China tea, and two
boiled eggs, one of which he was attacking, sitting forward in his
chair with his legs bent. He had come in from hunting a few minutes
before, at about six o'clock, and it was his habit thus to consume
viands which most men of his age and bulk might have been afraid of, as
likely to spoil their dinner. But he was an active man, in spite of
his fifty-nine years and his tendency to put on flesh, and it would
have taken more than a tea that was almost a meal to reduce his
appetite for dinner at eight, after a day in the saddle and a lunch off
sandwiches and a flask of sherry. When his tea was over he would
indulge himself in half an hour's nap, with the _Times_ open at the
leader page on his knee, and go up to dress, feeling every inch of him
a sportsman and an English country gentleman.

His tea was generally brought to him in his library. This evening a
footman had followed him into that room immediately upon his entering
the house, as usual, had unbuckled his spurs, pulled off his boots for
him, and put on in their place a pair of velvet slippers worked in
silk, which had been warming in front of the fire. Only when his coat
was wet or much splashed with mud did the Squire change that. He
considered smoking-jackets rather effeminate, and slippers, on ordinary
occasions, "sloppy." It was only in his dressing-room or on these
evenings after hunting that he wore them. Otherwise, if he had to
change his boots during the daytime he put on another pair. He was
particular on little points like this. All his rules were kept
precisely, by himself and those about him.

This evening he had told the footman, and the butler who had followed
him into the room with the tray, that he would have his tea in Mrs.
Clinton's room, and he had marched across the hall with a firm and
decisive step, in his red coat and buckskin breeches, between which and
his hand-knitted heather-mixture socks showed a white expanse of
under-drawers round a muscular calf.

Mrs. Clinton sat opposite to him in another low chair, at work on a
woollen waistcoat. He always wore waistcoats made by her, thick for
the winter, light for the summer, and she knitted his socks for him, of
which he required a large number, for he hated them to be darned. He
liked to see her working for him like this. He was a rich man, but a
woman ought to work with her hands for her husband, whether he was rich
or poor. It was her wifely duty, and incidentally it kept her out of
mischief. Mrs. Clinton, at the age of fifty-four, with her smooth
yellow-grey hair and her quiet and composed face, did not look as if
she would be up to serious mischief, even if this and other
restrictions were removed from her. She looked up when her husband
addressed her, and marked the furrow between his heavy eyebrows. Then
she looked down again at her work and waited for him to unbosom himself
further.

"How old is Dick?" asked the Squire, leaning forward to put a spoonful
of yolk of egg into his mouth with one hand, while he shielded his grey
beard with the other.

She knew then the subject upon which he had expressed himself as
infernally worried, for he was not accustomed to keep the first
stirrings of discontent to himself.

"He was thirty-four last April," she said.

"Thirty-four," he repeated. "Yes; and I was _twenty_-four when I
married you. That's early. I shouldn't advise any young man to marry
at that age, unless, perhaps, he was the only one to keep a name
going - as I was, of course - at least in my immediate family. But
thirty-four! It's really time Dick thought about it. He's the eldest
son. It's his duty. And as far as I can see he never gives the matter
a thought. Eh?"

"As far as I can see he is not thinking about it," said Mrs. Clinton.

"Well, if _I_ couldn't see _you_ couldn't see. I say it is time that
he did begin thinking about it. I'm getting on now - good for another
twenty years, I should hope, but I want to see the succession assured.
Walter is the only one of the boys that's married, and he's only got
two girls. Of course, he may have a son - they're coming pretty
quick - but I've never got over that doctoring business. I shouldn't
like the heir of Kencote to be brought up in a place like Melbury Park,
and I say so freely - to you."

This was the echo of an old disturbance. The Squire's third son had
refused to take Orders, with a view of occupying the family living, but
had studied medicine, and was now practising in a suburb of London, and
not one of the most genteel suburbs either. That furrow always
appeared faintly in the Squire's brow when he was forced to mention the
distasteful words Melbury Park.

"I think it would be a good thing if Dick were to marry," said Mrs.
Clinton.

"Good thing? Of course it would be a good thing. That's just what I'm
saying. There's Humphrey; he doesn't look much like marrying, either.
In fact, if he doesn't pick up a wife with a pot of money, I'd rather
he didn't. He spends quite enough as it is. I've no opinion of that
London life, except for a bit when a man's young and before he settles
down. Dick has been in the Guards now for - what? - twelve years. I
never meant that he should take up soldiering as a profession. Just a
few years spent with a good regiment - as I had myself, in the
Blues - that's all right for a young fellow who has a good property to
succeed to. But an eldest son ought to settle down, _on_ the property,
and get married, and have sons to succeed _him_."

"Dick comes here a good deal," said Mrs. Clinton, "and he takes an
interest in the property."

"Well, I should hope he did," responded the Squire. "The property will
belong to him when my time's over. What do you mean?"

"I only mean that Dick is not wrapped up in London life and all that
goes with it, as Humphrey seems to be."

"Oh, Humphrey! I've no patience with Humphrey. If Kencote isn't good
enough for him let him stay away. Only I won't pay any more bills for
him. He has a good allowance and he must keep within it. I've told
him so. Now if I'd put _him_ into the army, instead of the Foreign
Office, he might have stuck to it and made a profession of it. I wish
I had - into a working regiment. It would have done him all the good in
the world. However, I don't want to talk about Humphrey. I don't
expect an heir to come from him; and Frank is too young to marry yet.
Besides - a sailor! It's better for him to marry later. Dick _ought_
to marry, and there's an end of it. And when he comes down to-morrow I
shall tell him so."

Mrs. Clinton made no immediate reply, but after a pause, during which
the Squire came to the end of his eggs and began to attack the buttered
toast, she said, "I have to tell you something, Edward, which I am
afraid will disturb you."

"Besides," pursued the Squire in his loud, resolute voice, "there's the
dower-house standing empty now. If Dick were to get married soon I
need not bother about finding a tenant for it. I don't _want_ to let
it; it's too near here. If we got people there we didn't like it would
be an infernal nuisance. Eh, Nina? What were you saying?"

"I am sorry to say," said Mrs. Clinton, "that Miss Bird is going to
leave us."

The Squire was just about to put a piece of toast into his mouth, which
was half open for its reception. It remained half open while he looked
at his wife, the toast arrested halfway. "Miss Bird! Leave us!" he
exclaimed when he had found his voice. He could hardly have been more
astounded if his wife had announced that _she_ was going to leave him,
and indeed Miss Bird had lived at Kencote nearly as long as Mrs.
Clinton, and had initiated into the mysteries of learning all the young
Clintons, from Dick, who was now thirty-four, down to the twins, Joan
and Nancy, who were fifteen.

"She has talked about it for some time," said Mrs. Clinton. "She has
felt that the children were getting beyond her, and ought to have
better teaching than she can give them."

"Oh, stuff and nonsense!" exclaimed the Squire. "I don't want the
children turned into blue-stockings. I'm quite satisfied with what
Miss Bird is doing for them, and if she wants telling so, for goodness'
sake tell her, and let's have no more of such rubbish. Miss Bird
indeed! Who's she to upset the whole house?"

"I am afraid she has determined to go, Edward," said Mrs. Clinton in
her equable voice. "Her invalid sister, you know, has lost her
husband, and there is no one else to look after her."

The Squire grunted. "Well, if that's the reason," he said, rather
grudgingly, "I suppose we can't complain, although it's a most infernal
nuisance. I've got used to Miss Bird. She's a silly old creature in
some respects, but she's faithful and honest. Now we shall have to get
used to somebody else. Really, when one thing goes wrong, everything
goes wrong. Life is hardly worth living with all these worries. One
never seems to get a moment's peace. I'm going into my room now, Nina,
to read the paper for a bit."

"I should like to talk to you for a few minutes longer about the
children," said Mrs. Clinton. "As a change has to be made, I want to
make a thorough one. It is quite true that they are beyond Miss Bird,
even if she could have stayed. I should like to send them to a good
school for two or three years, and then to France or Germany for a
year."

The Squire bent his brows in an amazed frown. "What on earth can you
be thinking of, Nina?" he exclaimed. "France or Germany? Nice healthy
English girls - teach 'em to eat frogs and horse-sausage - pick up a lot
of affected nonsense! You can put that idea out of your head at once."

Mrs. Clinton's calm face flushed. "There is no need to talk of that
for two or three years," she said. "I should like them now - when Miss
Bird leaves us - to go to a really good school in England, where they
can learn something."

"Learn something? What do you mean - learn something? Haven't they
been learning something all their lives - at least since Miss Bird began
to teach them? What does a girl want to learn, except how to read and
write a good hand and add up accounts? I don't want any spectacled,
short-haired, flat-chested females in _my_ house, thank you. The
children are very well as they are. They're naughty sometimes, I've no
doubt, but they're good girls on the whole. Girls ought to be brought
up at home under their mother's eye. I can't think what you want to
send them away from you for, Nina. It isn't like you. I should have
thought you would have missed them. I know _I_ should, and they're not
going to school."

"I should miss them very much," said Mrs. Clinton.

"Very well, then, let them stop at home. It's quite simple."

Mrs. Clinton was silent, bending her head over her work.

"You would miss them and _I_ should miss them," pursued the Squire,
after a pause. "No, there's no sense in it."

There was another pause, and then the Squire asked, "Why do you want to
send them to school?"

Mrs. Clinton laid down her work and looked at him. "I should be
satisfied," she said, "if they could get the teaching they ought to
have at home. Perhaps I should prefer it. But it would mean a
first-class governess living here, and - - "

"Well, there's no objection to that," interrupted the Squire. "I dare
say old Miss Bird is a little out of date. Get a good governess by all
means; only not a blue-stocking, mind you."

Mrs. Clinton smiled. "I'm afraid she would have to be what you would
call a blue-stocking," she said. "But she needn't show it. Clever
girls don't wear spectacles and short hair necessarily nowadays."

"Oh, don't they?" said the Squire good-humouredly. He was leaning back
in his chair now, looking at the fire. "How are you going to set about
getting one?"

"I should ask Emmeline to help me." Emmeline was Lady Birkett, the
wife of Mrs. Clinton's brother, the judge.

"Not a bad idea," said the Squire. "But I won't have any of your
suffragettes. Herbert is a very good fellow, but he's a most pestilent
Radical."

"You would let me offer a good salary, I suppose."

"What do we pay Miss Bird?"

"Only thirty pounds a year. She has never asked for more."

"She's a good old creature. I'm sorry for her sister. Is she well
off, do you know?"

"I'm afraid very badly off."

"Then how will they get on? I suppose Miss Bird has saved a bit.
She's had no expenses here except her clothes for many years."

"She told me she had saved about four hundred pounds."

"_Has she_? Out of thirty pounds a year! It's extraordinary. Still,
that won't give her much, capitalised, poor old creature. I'll tell
you what, Nina, I'll talk it over with Dick and see if we can't fix up
a little annuity for her. She's served us well and faithfully all
these years, and we ought to do something for her."

"Oh, Edward, I am so glad," said Mrs. Clinton. "I hoped you might see
your way to helping her. She will be so very grateful."

The Squire lifted himself out of his chair. "Oh yes, we'll do
something or other," he said. "Well, get another governess then, Nina,
and pay her - what do you want to pay her? - forty?"

Mrs. Clinton hesitated a moment. "I want to get the best I can," she
said. "I want to pay her eighty at least."

The Squire, in his moods of good humour, was proof against all
annoyance over other people's follies. He laughed. "Oh, I should make
it a hundred if I were you," he said.

"When the boys had Mr. Blake in their holidays," said Mrs. Clinton, "he
had five pounds a week, and only had to teach them for an hour a day."

"That's a very different thing," said the Squire. "Blake was a
University man and a gentleman. You have to pay a private tutor well."

"I want to get a lady," said Mrs. Clinton, "and I should like one who
had been to a University."

"Oh, my dear girl," said the Squire, moving off down the room, "have it
your own way and pay her what you like. Now is there anything else I
can do for you before I go and write a few letters?"

"You are very kind, Edward, in letting me have my way about this.
There is one more thing. If the children went to school they would
have extra lessons for music and drawing or anything else that they
might show talent in. Joan and Nancy have both got talent. I want to
be able to have masters for them, from Bathgate - or perhaps even from
London - for anything special that their governess cannot teach them."

The Squire was at the door. "Well, upon my word!" he said, nodding his
head at her. Then he went out of the room.




CHAPTER II

A QUESTION OF MATRIMONY

Dick Clinton, the eldest son, arrived at Kencote at a quarter to eight,
and went straight up to his room to dress. This young man - for, with
his spare, upright frame, sleek head, and well-fitting clothes, he
looked less than his thirty-four years - was as well served as his
father, although he did not get his will by the same means; and the
little wrongs of life, each of which the Squire, as they came along,
dealt with as "a most infernal nuisance," he took more equably. He had
brought his own servant with him, but had no need of him for the time,
for his evening clothes were laid out for him, his shirt, with studs in
and a collar attached, was hung over the back of a chair in front of
the piled-up fire, and he had only to slip out of one suit and into
another as if he had been in the house all day instead of having just
reached the end of a journey of over three hours. These things were
all a matter of course to him. The warm bright room, red-curtained,
and quiet from the deep stillness of the country, gave him no
particular sensation of pleasure when he entered it, except that he was
cold from his journey and there was a good fire; nor, consciously, did
the fact that this was his home, which he liked better than any other
place, although he was more often than not away from it. He was
thinking, as he began immediately in his quick neat way to change his
clothes, that there was no apparent sign of the frost yielding, and
fighting off his annoyance - for he hated to feel annoyed - at the
stoppage of the morrow's hunting. He had very much wanted to hunt on
the morrow, more than he usually wanted anything.

And yet he was, though he hardly knew it, pleased to be at home, and in
this room, which had been his ever since he had left the nursery. The
little iron bedstead was the one on which he had slept as a boy; the
flat tin bath, standing against a wall with the bath-mat hung over it,
was only rather the worse for wear since those days; the worn carpet,
now more worn, was the same; and the nondescript paper on the walls,
which were hung with photographs of his "house" at Eton, showing him
amongst the rest in five stages, from the little fair-haired boy in his
broad collar sitting cross-legged on the grass, to the young man with
folded arms in a place of honour by his tutor. There were later
Cambridge groups too, exhibiting him as Master of the Drag, in the
eighteenth-century dress of the True Blue Club, and in other
conjunctures of pursuits and companions, but nothing to mark a later
date than his University days, unless it were the big photographs in
silver or tortoise-shell frames on the mantelpiece and writing-table.
Probably nothing had been added to the decoration of the room for a
dozen years, only a few things for use - a larger wardrobe and
dressing-table from another room in the house, a big easy-chair, a fur
rug by the bed. The room contained everything he needed in such a
room, and since he needed nothing there to please the eye, it had
received nothing all these years, and would receive nothing until he
should leave it for good, when he should be no longer the eldest son,
but in his turn the head of the house.

He had nearly finished dressing when there was a knock at the door, and
a voice, "Are you there, Dick? Can we come in?"

His rather expressionless face changed a little, pleasantly. "Yes,
come along," he called out, and his young sisters came in in their
fresh muslin frocks, their masses of fair hair tied back with big blue
ribbons. They had that prim air of being dressed, which is different
in the case of girls not quite grown up from that of their elder
sisters. They were remarkably alike and remarkably pretty, and Dick,
who stood at the dressing-table in his shirt sleeves tying his tie,
although he did not turn round to greet them, noticed their appearance
with approval through the glass.

"Well, Twankies," he said affably, as they went up to the mantelpiece
and stood one on either side of the fire, "what's the news with you?"

"We are to have a new preceptress," said Joan, the elder, "_vice_ the
old Starling, seconded for service elsewhere."

Dick turned and stared at her. "Old Miss Bird leaving!" he exclaimed.
"Surely not!"

"You can't be more surprised than we were," said Nancy - the twins
generally spoke alternately. "She broke it to us in floods of tears
this afternoon. Joan cried too."

"So did you," retorted Joan. "You blubbered like a seal."

"And it did me credit," said Nancy, accepting the charge with complete
equanimity.

"What is she going for?" asked Dick.

"She has to go and look after her sister, poor old thing!" said Joan.
"And she doesn't think she knows enough to take us on any further."

"We denied it hotly, to comfort her," continued Nancy. "But it's quite
true. We have the brains of the family, and are now going to leave
childish things behind us. I wish you'd make your watch ring, Dick."

Dick pressed the spring of his repeater, and the twins listened to its
tinkle in silence. Nancy sighed when he put it into his pocket. "Even
that isn't the treat that it used to be," she said. "We are getting
too old for these simple pleasures. Joan is beginning to take an
interest in dress, and I am often to be seen absorbed in a book. Dick,
shall you kiss Miss Bird when you say good-bye? There's nothing she
would love better."

"When is she going?" asked Dick, ignoring the question.

"In about a week," Joan replied. "Dick, I think you ought to kiss her,
if you possibly can. You are the eldest, and nearer her heart than any
of us. She told us so."

"I'll give you both a kiss and you can pass it on," said Dick, with an
arm round each. "Come along down."

They went down to the morning-room, and on the stroke of eight Dick led
his mother into dinner, the Squire following.

The twins settled themselves each in a corner of the big sofa in front
of the fire. They usually read during the half-hour before they were
summoned to dessert, but this evening they had something to talk about.

"I wonder what she'll be like," Nancy began.

"If Aunt Emmeline chooses her I should think she would be all right,"
said Joan.

Nancy considered this. "Yes," she said. "But she will have to be kept
in her place. Of course we have always been able to do exactly as we
like with the old Starling. Joan, we must conserve our liberties."

"Oh, I think we shall be able to do that," said Joan. "We must remain
calm and polite."

"And keep up our reputation for eccentricity," added Nancy. Then they
both giggled.

"You know, Joan, I think it's rather fun," Nancy proceeded. "I shan't
a bit mind learning things now. I should have hated it a year or two
ago. But you can't deny that it is rather slow at home."

"That's why Cicely ran away," said Joan. "She simply couldn't stand it
any longer. But it doesn't worry me like that. We have a pretty good
time on the whole."

"Yes, we see to that. But, of course, Cicely was much older. And
after all, she didn't run very far - only to London, to see Walter and
Muriel. And she soon came back."

"She had to. I believe there was more in that than we knew about."

Nancy looked up sharply. "Do you? Why?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't know. I believe it had something to do with her
engagement to Jim. She was married pretty soon after, anyhow, and
there was no talk of it at the time."

"I wonder if we could find out."

"What's the good? And it's over two years ago now. I wonder if Dick
would drive us over to Mountfield to see the babies to-morrow. He
won't be able to hunt."

"He won't want to see the babies. Men are so silly in that way. They
pretend they don't care for them."

"Father doesn't. He's just as silly about them as we are."

"It isn't silliness in us. We are women, and we understand. If a man
does like a baby it's just as a toy."

"All the same, I think it does father credit liking his grandchildren.
I should hardly have expected it of him."

"He's getting softer in his old age. Nancy, I wonder how mother
persuaded him to let us have a really good governess. He'd think it
quite absurd that girls should want to learn anything."

"My dear child, you could get anything you wanted out of father if you
tackled him in the right way."

"Only some things."

"Anything, I said."

"I'll bet you four weeks' pocket-money that you couldn't get him to let



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