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them would come up sometimes to visit their quiet graves, to put flowers
on them, or just to walk about among the friends whom they had known,
now resting here. The names on many of the stones were alike, and
families of simple stay-at-home cottagers could be traced back for
generations. The churchyard was their book of honour; some personality
lingered about the most far-away name that was commemorated in it.
Caroline wished that her own mother could have been buried here. It
would have been sweet to have tended her grave, and to have cherished
the idea that she was not cut off from the warmth of their daily life.
That was how the villagers must feel about those who were buried here.
She felt it herself about an old man and a little child who had died
since she had come to live at Abington. They were still a part of the
great family.

She went on through the formal garden and across the grass to the
disused quarry which was the scene of her father's labours. It formed
an ideal opportunity for rock-gardening, and was big enough to provide
amusement for some time to come in gradual extension. He was half-way up
the rocky stair he had made, very busy with his trowel and his
watering-pot. As she came in sight of him he stood up to straighten his
back, and then stepped back to consider the effect he had already made.
This is one of the great pleasures of gardening, and working gardeners
should not be considered slack if they occasionally indulge in it.

He turned and saw her as she crossed the grass towards him. She was not
disappointed in the lightening of his face or the pleasure that her
coming gave him. "Why, my darling!" he said. "I thought you'd be
slumbering peacefully for another couple of hours. This _is_ jolly!"

He gave her a warm kiss of greeting. She rubbed her soft cheek. "It's
the first time I've ever known you to dress without shaving first," she
said.

"Oh, I'm going to have a bath and a shave later on," he said. "This is
the best time to garden. You don't mind how grubby you get, and you've
got the whole world to yourself. Besides, I was dying to get these
things in. How do you think it looks? Gives you an idea of what you're
aiming at, doesn't it?"

He stood at the foot of the stair and surveyed his handiwork critically,
with his head on one side. She had again that impulse of half-maternal
love towards him, and put her arm on his shoulder to give him another
kiss. "I think it's beautiful, darling," she said. "You're getting
awfully clever at it. I don't think you've given the poor things enough
water though. You really ought not to go planting without me."

"Well, it _is_ rather a grind to keep on fetching water," he confessed.
"I think we must get it laid on here. I'll tell you what we'll do this
morning, Cara; we'll get hold of Worthing and see if we can't find a
spring or a stream or something in the park that we can divert into this
hollow. I've been planning it out. We might get a little waterfall, and
cut out hollows in the rock for pools - have all sorts of luxuries. What
do you think about it? I shouldn't do it till we'd worked it all out
together."

In her mood of tenderness she was touched by his wanting her approval
and connivance in his plan. "I think it would be lovely, darling," she
said. "And it would give us lots to do for a long time to come."

They discussed the fascinating plan for some time, and then went on with
their planting, making occasional journeys together for water, or for
more pots from the cases. The sun climbed higher into the sky, and the
freshness of the early morning wore off towards a hot still day. But it
was still early when they had finished all that there was to be done,
and the elaborate preparations of servants indoors for the washings and
dressings and nibblings of uprising would not yet have begun.

"I'm going to sit down here and have a quiet pipe," said Grafton,
seating himself on a jutting ledge of rock. "Room for you too, darling.
We've had the best of the day. It's going to be devilish hot."

"I love the early morning," said Caroline. "But if we're going to do
this very often I must make arrangements for providing a little
sustenance. I'll get an electric kettle and make tea for us both. I
don't think you ought to smoke, dear, before you've had something to
eat."

"Oh, I've had some biscuits. Boned 'em out of the pantry. I say, old
Jarvis keeps a regular little store of dainties there. There's some
_pâté_, and all sorts of delicacies. Have some."

He took some biscuits out of his pocket, with toothsome pastes
sandwiched between them, and Caroline devoured them readily, first
delicately removing all traces of fluff that had attached itself to
them. She was hungry and rather sleepy now, but enjoying herself
exceedingly. It was almost an adventure to be awake and alive at a time
when she would usually be sleeping. And certainly they had stolen the
sweetest part of the day.

"Dad darling," she said, rather abruptly, after they had been silent for
a time. "You know what I told you about Francis? Well, it's gone on this
week, and he wants me to give him an answer now."

He came out of his reverie, which had had to do with the leading of
water, and frowned a little. "What a tiresome fellow he is!" he said.
"Why can't he wait?"

"He says he wouldn't mind waiting if there was anything to wait for. But
he's got plenty of money, he says, to give me everything I ought to
have, and he wants me. What he says is that he wants me damnably."

"Oh, it's got to that, has it? He hasn't wanted you so damnably up till
now. He's been hanging about you for years."

"He says he didn't know how much he loved me before," she said,
half-unwillingly. "He found it out when he saw me here. I'm much nicer
in the country than I was in London."

"I didn't see much difference. You've always been much the same to him."

"Oh, he didn't mean that. I'm a different person in the country. In
London I'm one of the crowd; here I'm myself. Well, I feel that, you
know. I am different. He thinks I'm much nicer. Do you think I'm much
nicer, Dad?"

He put his hand caressingly on her neck. "You're always just what I want
you," he said. "I'm not sure I don't want you damnably too. I should be
lost here without you, especially with B so much away."

"Would you, darling? Well then, that settles it. I don't want to be
married yet. I want to stay here with you."

As she was dressing, later on, she wondered exactly what it was that had
made her take this sudden decision, and feel a sense of freedom and
lightness in having taken it. She had not intended to refuse Francis
definitely when she had gone out to her father a couple of hours before;
but now she was going to do so. She liked him as much as ever - or
thought she did. But his importunities had troubled her a little during
her week in London. They had never been such as to have caused her to
reject advances for which she was not yet ready. He had made no claims
upon her, but only asked for the right to make claims. Other young men
from time to time in her two years' experience had not been so careful
in their treatment of her; that was why she liked Francis better than
any of those who had shown their admiration of her. And yet he had
troubled her, with his quiet direct speech and his obvious longing for
her, although she liked him so much, and had thought that in time she
might give him what he wanted. Yes, she had thought she liked him well
enough for that. She knew him; he was nice all through; they had much in
common; they would never quarrel; he would never let her down. All that
she had intended to ask her father was whether it was fair to Francis to
keep him waiting, say for another year; or whether, if she did that, it
was to be the engagement or the marriage that was to be thus postponed.
But the question had been answered without having been asked. She did
not want to marry him now, and she did not want to look forward to a
future in which she might want to marry him. There was still the idea in
her mind that if he asked her again, by and by, she might accept him;
but for the present all she wanted was to be free, and not to have it
hanging over her. So she would refuse him, definitely; what should
happen in the future could be left to itself.

Oh, how nice it was to live this quiet happy country life, and to know
that it would go on, at least as far as she cared to look ahead! She had
the companionship in it that she liked best in the world; she had
everything to make her happy. And she was completely happy as she
dressed herself, more carefully than before, though a trifle languid
from the early beginning she had made of the day.

A message was sent over to the Estate Office to ask Worthing if he could
come up as soon as possible in the morning. He came up at about
half-past ten, and brought with him a young man who had arrived the day
before to study land agency with him as his pupil.

"Maurice Bradby," he introduced him all round. "He's going to live with
me for a bit if we find we get on well together, and learn all I can
teach him. I thought I'd bring him up and introduce him. If I die
suddenly in the night - as long as I don't do it before he's learnt his
job - he'd be a useful man to take my place."

Bradby was a quiet-mannered rather shy young man of about five and
twenty. He was tall and somewhat loose-limbed, but with a look of
activity about him. He had a lot of dark hair, not very carefully
brushed, and was dressed in Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers,
conspicuous neither in style nor pattern. He fell to Barbara's lot to
entertain, as Caroline was too interested in the quest upon which they
set across the park to leave the company of her father and Worthing.
Barbara found him nice, but uninteresting. She had to support most of
the conversation herself, and had almost exhausted her topics before
they came to the stream in the woods which Worthing thought might be
diverted into the rock-garden. Thereafter the young man fell into the
background, but showed himself useful on the return journey in helping
to gauge the slopes down which the water could best be led, and made one
suggestion, rather diffidently, which Worthing accepted in preference to
his own. Grafton said a few friendly words to him, and asked him to come
and play lawn tennis in the afternoon, which invitation he gratefully
but diffidently accepted.

There were two tennis courts at the Abbey, but there were a good many
people to play on them that afternoon. Bradby played well, but when his
turn came to sit out he hardly seemed to belong to the party, which
included the Pemberton girls, and others who all knew one another, and
showed it. He sat silent and awkward, until Caroline said to Barbara:
"Do go and talk to Mr. Bradby; nobody's taking any trouble about him,
and he's too shy to join in with the rest."

"Darling, I think you might take him on a bit yourself," expostulated
Barbara. "I had him this morning, and he's frightfully dull. But I will
if you like."

Caroline, disarmed by this amiability, 'took him on' herself, and
finding him interested in flowers took him to see some. When she next
spoke to Barbara she said: "I don't know why you say Mr. Bradby is dull.
He's as keen as anything about gardening, and knows a lot too."

"Oh, of course if he likes _gardening_!" said Barbara. "Well, he'll be
a nice little friend for you, darling. I suppose we shall have to see a
good lot of him if he's going to live with Uncle Jimmy, and I dare say
we can make him useful when Bunting comes home. I think he's the sort
who likes to make himself useful. Otherwise, I think he's rather a
bore."

That being Barbara's opinion, it fell to Caroline's lot to entertain the
young man again when he came to dine, with Worthing. He was too
diffident to join in the general conversation, and was indeed somewhat
of a wet-blanket on the cheerful talkative company. Miss Waterhouse
exerted herself to talk to him during dinner, but stayed indoors
afterwards when the rest of them went out into the garden. Caroline was
too kind-natured and sweet-tempered to feel annoyance at having to
devote herself to him, instead of joining in a general conversation, but
she did think that if he were to be constantly at the house, as he could
hardly help being, she had better encourage him to make himself more at
home in their company. So she tried to draw him out about himself and
had her reward; for he told her all his life's history, and in such a
way as to make her like him, and to hope that he would be a welcome
addition to their more intimate circle, when he succeeded in throwing
off his shyness.

His story was simple enough. He was the youngest son of a clergyman, who
had three other sons and four daughters. They had been brought up in the
country, but when Maurice was fourteen his father had been given a
living in a large Midland town. His three elder brothers had obtained
scholarships at good schools and afterwards at Oxford or Cambridge, and
were doing well, one in the Woods and Forests Department, one as a
schoolmaster, and one in journalism. He was the dunce of the family, he
told Caroline, and after having been educated at the local Grammar
School, he had been given a clerkship, at the age of eighteen, in a
local bank. He had always hated it. He had wanted to emigrate and work
with his hands, on the land, but his mother had dissuaded him. He was
the only son at home, and two of the daughters had also gone out into
the world. Finally a legacy had fallen to his father, which had enabled
him to give his youngest son a new start in life. He was to learn land
agency for a year. If he succeeded in making a living out of it after
that time, he would stay in England. Otherwise, he was to be allowed his
own way at last, and go out to Canada or Australia.

That was all. But he was at the very beginning of his new life now, and
all ablaze, under his crust of shyness, with the joy of it. Caroline
felt a most friendly sympathy with him. "I'm sure you will get on well
if you are as keen as that," she said kindly. "I don't wonder at your
hating being tied to an office if you love the country so. I love it
too, and everything that goes on in it. And of all places in the world I
love Abington. I think you're very lucky to have found Mr. Worthing to
learn from, here."




CHAPTER XII

THE VICAR UNBURDENS HIMSELF


The Vicar was taking tea at Surley Rectory, after the afternoon service.
Old Mr. Cooper, the Rector of Surley, was over eighty, and getting
infirm. His daughters took all the responsibility for 'running the
parish' off his hands, but ecclesiastical law forbade their taking the
services in church, which otherwise they would have been quite willing
to do, and he had to call in help from among his colleagues for this
purpose, when he was laid up. There was no one more ready to help him
than the Vicar of Abington. His own service was in the evening, and he
was always willing to take that at Surley in the afternoon.

The living of Surley was a 'plum,' in the gift of the Bishop of the
diocese. It was worth, 'gross,' over a thousand a year, and although its
emoluments had shrunk to a considerably lower figure, 'net,' its rector
was still to be envied as being in possession of a good thing. There was
a large house and an ample acreage of glebe, all very pleasantly
situated, so that Surley Rectory had the appearance and all the
appanages of a respectable-sized squire's house, and was only less in
importance in the parish than Surley Park, which it somewhat resembled,
though on a smaller scale. Mr. Cooper had held it for close upon forty
years, and had done very well out of it. His daughters would be well
provided for, and if at any time he chose to retire he would have ample
means, with the pension he would get from his successor, to end his days
in the same sort of comfort as that in which he had lived there for so
long. But he had become a little 'near' in his old age. He would not
retire, although he was gradually getting past what little work he had
to do himself, and he would not keep a curate. What he ardently wished
was that his son, who had come to him late in life, should succeed him
as Rector of Surley. Denis would be ready to be ordained in the
following Advent, and would come to him as curate. If the old man
managed to hang on for a few years longer it was his hope that Denis
would so have established himself as the right man to carry on his work
that he would be presented to the living. It was a fond hope, little
likely of realisation. The Vicar of Abington was accustomed to throw
scorn upon it when discussing the old man's ambitions with his wife. "If
it were a question of private patronage," he said to her once after
returning from Surley, "I don't say that it might not happen. But there
would be an outcry if the Bishop were to give one of the best livings in
his diocese to a young man who had done nothing to deserve it. Quite
justifiably too. Livings like Surley ought to be given to incumbents in
the diocese, who have borne the burden and heat of the day in the poorer
livings. I'm quite sure the Bishop thinks the same. I was telling him
the other day how difficult it would be for a man to live here, and do
his work as it ought to be done, unless he had private means behind him;
and he said that men who took such livings ought to be rewarded. It's
true that there are other livings in the diocese even poorer than this,
but I was going through them the other day and I don't think there's a
man holds any of them who would be suitable for Surley. There's a
position to keep up there, and it could not be done, any more than this
can, without private means. I don't suppose Mr. Cooper will last much
longer. I fancy he's going a little soft in the head already. This idea
that there's any chance of Denis succeeding him seems to indicate it."

The Vicar, however, did nothing to discourage the old man's hopes when
he so kindly went over to take his duty for him. Nor did he even throw
cold water upon those which the Misses Cooper shared with their father
on their brother's behalf, but encouraged them to talk about the future,
and showed nothing but sympathy with them in their wishes.

They talked about it now over the tea-table, in the large comfortably
furnished drawing-room, which was so much better than the drawing-room
at Abington Vicarage, but would look even better than it did now if it
had the Abington Vicarage furniture in it, and a little money spent to
increase it. Perhaps the carpet, which was handsome, though somewhat
faded, and the curtains, which matched it well, might be taken over at a
valuation if it should so happen that - -

"I think dear father is a little easier," Rhoda was saying, as she
poured tea out of an old silver tea-pot into cups that had belonged to
her grandmother. "We shan't get him up yet awhile though, or let him out
till the weather turns fine again. Denis will be home next Sunday, and
he can take the sendees now, with his lay-reader's certificate."

"But I shall be delighted to come over in the afternoons until your
father is better," said the Vicar. "It has been a great pleasure to me
to help an old friend."

"I'm sure you've been _most_ kind, Mr. Mercer," said Ethel. "Later on,
when Denis has to go back for his last term, we may have to call on you
again. But it won't be for long now. When Denis is once ordained and
settled down here we shall breathe again."

"I believe father will be better altogether when that happens," said
Rhoda. "He can't get it out of his head that he may die before Denis is
ready to take his place. I don't think there's _any_ danger of it, but
naturally, it depresses him. I'm _afraid_, if anything so dreadful were
to happen, one could hardly expect the Bishop to keep the living open
for Denis until he's priested. Do you think so, Mr. Mercer?"

"I shouldn't let the old gentleman think it _couldn't_ happen, if I were
you," said the Vicar.

"Oh, no; we do all we can to keep up his hopes. If only we could get the
Bishop to make him some sort of a promise!"

"He won't do that, I'm afraid," said the Vicar.

"No, I'm afraid not. Did you know, Mr. Mercer, that Mrs. Carruthers was
the Bishop's niece?"

"No, I didn't know that. Are you sure?"

"Yes; he told us so himself when Ethel and I went to call at the Palace.
It was a little awkward for us, for, of course, they asked about her.
But we were able to say that she had been abroad for some months, which,
of course, they knew. So the subject passed off. But they are evidently
rather fond of her, and when she comes back I think it is quite likely
that they will come to stay with her."

This news wanted digesting. The Bishop of Med-Chester had only recently
been appointed, and it would be rather an advantage to the neighbouring
clergy for him to come amongst them more often than he would otherwise
have done. But there were certain difficulties to be anticipated, since
the lady who would attract him there had broken off relations with the
clergy of her own parish, and the next.

It seemed already, however, to have been digested by the Misses Cooper.
"We shall make friends with her again when she comes back," said Rhoda
calmly. "We _did_ make a mistake on the subject we quarrelled about, and
there's no good saying we didn't. She behaved in a very unladylike way
about it - I _must_ say that; but if _we_ can forgive it, and let bygones
be bygones, I suppose _she_ can. If she wished, she could probably do
something to influence the Bishop about Denis. Denis had nothing to do
with the cause of dispute, and used to be asked to the Park a good deal
before we left off going there altogether. She always liked him, and in
fact wanted to keep friends with him after she had been so rude to us;
just as she did with father. That, of course, we couldn't have; but if
we are all ready to make friends together again the objection will be
removed. I think it is likely that her relationship to the Bishop will
count for a good deal when it becomes necessary to appoint somebody to
succeed dear father."

It did, indeed, seem likely. The Bishop, who was well connected, and
thought to be a trifle worldly, had already, during his short term of
office, instituted one incumbent on the recommendation of the Squire of
the parish. The living was not a particularly good one, and the man was
suitable; but there was the precedent. The betting, if there had been
such a thing, on young Cooper's succeeding his father, would have gone
up several points, on the relationship of Mrs. Carruthers to the Bishop
becoming known.

"Personally," said the Vicar, "I was always inclined to like Mrs.
Carruthers. I confess I was disturbed - even offended - when she refused
to see me after her husband's death. But one can make excuses for a
woman at such a time. One must not bear malice."

"Oh, no," said Rhoda. "Let's all forgive and forget. She is coming back
in September, I believe. I should think you might see a good deal of her
over at Abington, Mr. Mercer. She is bound to make friends with the
Graftons. They're just her sort. Two very lively houses we have in our
parishes, haven't we? Always somebody coming and going! I can't say I
shall be sorry to be friends with Mrs. Carruthers again. It does cheer
one up to see people from outside occasionally."

"Personally, I don't much care for this modern habit of week-end
visiting in country houses," said Ethel. "It means that people are taken
up with guests from outside and don't see so much of their neighbours.
In old Mr. Carruthers's time, they had their parties, for shooting and
all that, but there were often people who stayed for a week or two, and
one got to know them. And, of course, when the family was here alone,
there was much more coming and going between our two houses. It was much
more friendly."

"I agree with you," said the Vicar. "And the clergyman of the parish
_ought_ to be the chief friend of his squire, if his squire is of the
right sort. Unfortunately, nowadays, he so often isn't."

"But _you_ haven't much to complain about, have you, Mr. Mercer?"
enquired Rhoda. "I have always thought you got on so extremely well with
the Graftons."

"We have often envied you having such a nice house to run in and out
of," said Ethel, "when you told us how welcome they made you. Especially
with those pretty girls there," she added archly.

"We've thought sometimes that you were rather inclined to forsake _old_
friends for their sake," said Rhoda.

The Vicar was dragged by two opposing forces. On the one hand he was


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