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he had announced, but, although she was on terms of such equality with
him, she had never yet questioned a decision of his when he had
announced one. His authority, so loosely exercised over his children,
was yet paramount.

They rode into the village without exchanging more words, and he
dismounted at the Post-Office, while she held his horse.

Worthing came out of the Estate Office, which was nearly opposite, to
speak to her. She found it difficult to chat to him about nothing, and
to keep a bright face, but he relieved her of much of the difficulty,
for he never had any himself in finding words to pass the time with.

"And how's Beatrix getting on?" he asked. "Heard from her since she's
been up on the moors?"

"Father had a letter from her this morning," she said. "He wants her
home." This, at least, would prepare the way for the unexpected
appearance of Beatrix.

"Oh, we all want her home," he said.

Grafton came out of the office, still with the dark look on his face,
which was usually so smiling and contented. It cleared for a moment as
he greeted Worthing, who had a word or two to say to him about estate
matters. Suddenly Grafton said: "I should like to talk to you about
something. Give me some lunch, will you? We shall be back about one.
Send young Bradby down to us. I'll eat what's prepared for him."

When he had mounted again he said to Caroline, "I'm going to talk it
over with Worthing. One wants a man's opinion on these matters, and his
is sound enough."

She felt a trifle hurt, without quite knowing why. "If you find it's all
right, you're not going to stop it, are you?" she asked.

"How can it be all right?" he asked with some impatience, which hurt her
still more, for he never used that tone with her.

"I mean, if they love each other."

"Oh, love each other!" he exclaimed. "She's hardly out of the nursery. A
fellow like that - years older than she is, but young enough to make
himself attractive - _he_ knows how to make love to a young girl, if he
wants to. Had plenty of practice, I dare say."

It was an unhappy ride for Caroline. His mood was one of bitterness,
chiefly against Lassigny, but also against Beatrix - though with regard
to her it was shot with streaks of tenderness. At one time, he ought not
to have let her go away without seeing that there was somebody to look
after her and prevent her from getting into mischief - but he had trusted
her, and never thought she'd do this sort of thing; at another, she was
so young and so pretty that she couldn't be expected to know what men
were like. Poor little B! If only he'd kept her at home a bit longer!
She was always happy enough at home.

To Caroline, with her orderly mind, it seemed that there were only two
questions worth discussing at all - whether there was any tangible
objection to Lassigny as a husband for Beatrix, and, if her father's
objections to her marrying him were so strong, what he proposed to do.
She had inherited this orderliness of mind from him. As a general rule
he went straight to the heart of a subject, and all subsidiary
considerations fell into their proper place. But she could not get an
answer to either of these questions, though with regard to the latter he
seemed to consider it of great importance to get Beatrix home and talk
to her. This would have been very well if it had simply meant that he
wanted to find out whether she had pledged herself lightly, and, if he
thought she had, do all he could to dissuade her. Or if there had been
anything he could have brought up against Lassigny, which might have
affected her, other than his being a foreigner, which certainly
wouldn't. He never said that he would forbid the marriage, nor even that
he would postpone it for a certain period, both of which he could have
done until Beatrix should come of age.

Longing as she did to put herself in line with him whenever she could,
she allowed his feelings against Lassigny to affect her. There was
nothing tangible. He knew nothing against him - hardly anything about
him, indeed, except what all the world of his friends knew. With an
Englishman in the same position it would have been quite enough. From a
worldly point of view the match would be unexceptionable. There was
wealth as well as station, and the station was of the sort that would be
recognised in England, under the circumstances of Lassigny's English
tastes and English sojourns. But that side of it was never mentioned.
She had the impression of Lassigny as something different from what she
had ever known him - with something dark and secret in his background,
something that would soil Beatrix, or at least bring her unhappiness in
marriage. And yet it was nothing definite. When she asked him directly
if he knew anything against him, he answered her impatiently again. Oh,
no. The fellow was a Frenchman. That was all he needed to know.

They were no nearer to anything, and she was no nearer to him, when they
arrived at Feltham Hall. When they had passed through the lodge gates he
suddenly said that he would ride back alone. She would be all right with
Barbara and Bunting.

He turned and rode off, with hardly a good-bye to her.

Worthing lived in comfortable style in an old-fashioned farmhouse, which
had been adapted to the use of a gentleman of quality. The great kitchen
had been converted into a sitting-room, the parlour made a convenient
dining-room, and there were four or five oak-raftered lattice-windowed
bedrooms, with a wider view over the surrounding country than was gained
from any window of the Abbey, which lay rather in a hollow. As Grafton
waited for his host, walking about his comfortable bachelor's room, or
sitting dejectedly by the open window looking out on to the rain, which
had again begun to come down heavily, he was half-inclined to envy
Worthing his well-placed congenial existence. A bachelor - if he were a
bachelor by temperament - lived a life free of care. Such troubles as
this that had so suddenly come to disturb his own more elaborate life he
was at least immune from.

He was glad to have Worthing to consult with. Among all his numerous
friends there was none to whom he would have preferred to unburden
himself. Sometimes a man of middle-age, whose friendships are for the
most part founded on old associations, comes across another man with
whom it is as easy to become intimate as it used to be with all and
sundry in youth: and when that happens barriers fall even more easily
than in youthful friendships. Grafton had found such a man in Worthing.
He was impatient for his arrival. He was so unused to bearing mental
burdens, and wanted to share this one. Caroline had brought him little
comfort. He did not think of her, as he waited for Worthing to come in;
while she, riding home with Barbara and Bunting, and exerting herself to
keep them from suspecting that there was anything wrong with her, was
thinking of nobody but him.

He told Worthing what he had come to tell him the moment he came in. He
remembered that fellow Lassigny who had stayed with them at Whitsuntide.
Well, he had had a letter from Beatrix to say that she was engaged to
him. He was very much upset about it. He had wired to Beatrix to come
home at once.

Worthing disposed his cheerful face to an expression of concern, and
said, "Dear, dear!" in a tone of deep sympathy. But it was plain that he
did not quite understand why his friend should be so upset.

"I never expected anything of the sort," said Grafton. "He ought to have
come to me first; or at least she ought to have asked my permission
before announcing that she'd engaged herself to him. I suppose she's
told everybody up there. I'm going to have her home."

"She's very young," said Worthing tentatively.

"I wouldn't have minded that if he had been the right sort of fellow.
How can I let a girl of mine marry a Frenchman, Worthing?"

Lunch was announced at that moment. Worthing took Grafton up to his room
to wash his hands, and he expressed his disturbance of mind and the
reasons for it still further until they came downstairs again, without
Worthing saying much in reply, or indeed being given an opportunity of
doing so. It was not until they were seated at lunch and the maid had
left the room that Worthing spoke to any purpose.

"Well, of course, you'd rather she married an Englishman," he said. "And
I suppose it's a bit of a shock to you to find that she wants to marry
anybody, as young as she is. But do you know anything against this chap?
He isn't a wrong 'un, is he? You rather talk as if he were. But you had
him down here to stay. You let him be just as friendly with the girls as
anybody else."

He spoke with some decision, as if he had offered enough sympathy with a
vague grievance, and wanted it specified if he was to help or advise as
to a course to be taken. It was what Caroline had been trying to get at,
and had not been able to.

"Can't you understand?" asked Grafton, also with more decision in his
speech than he had used before. "You don't go abroad much, I know. But I
suppose you've read a few French novels."

Worthing looked genuinely puzzled. "I can't say I have," he said.
"Jorrocks is more in my line. But what are you driving at?"

"Don't you know how men in France are brought up to look at women? They
don't marry like we do, and they don't lead the same lives after they're
married. At least men of Lassigny's sort don't."

Worthing considered this. "You mean you don't think he's fit for her?"
he said judicially.

Grafton did not reply to his question in direct terms. "He's three or
four and thirty," he said. "He's lived the life of his sort, in Paris,
and elsewhere. It's been so natural to him that he wouldn't affect to
hide it if I asked him about it. It wouldn't be any good if he did. If I
liked to go over to Paris and get among the people who know him, there'd
be all sorts of stories I could pick up for the asking. Nobody would
think there was any disgrace in them - for him. What does a fellow like
that - a fellow of that age, with all those experiences behind him - what
does he want with my little B? Damn him!"

This was very different from the rather pointless complaints that had
gone before. Worthing did not reply immediately. His honest simple mind
inclined him towards speech that should not be a mere shirking of the
question. But it was difficult. "I don't suppose there are many
fellows, either French or English, you'd want to marry your daughters
to, if you judged them in that way," he said quietly.

Grafton looked at him. "I shouldn't have thought _you'd_ have taken that
line," he said.

"I don't know much about the French," Worthing went on. "I've heard
fellows say that they do openly what we do in the dark. Far as I'm
concerned, it's outside my line of life altogether. I've had all I
wanted with sport, and a country life, and being on friendly terms with
a lot of people. Still, you don't get to forty-five without having
looked about you a bit. I believe there are more fellows like me than
you'd think to hear a lot of 'em talk; but you know there are plenty who
aren't. They do marry nice girls, and make 'em good husbands too."

Grafton looked down on his plate, with a frown on his face. Then he
looked up again. "That doesn't corner me," he said. "The right sort of
man makes a new start when he marries - with us. Fellows like that don't
pretend to, except just for a time perhaps - until - Oh, I can't talk
about it. It's all too beastly - to think of her being looked upon in
that way. I'm going to stop it. I've made up my mind. I won't consent;
and she can't marry without my consent."




CHAPTER XIV

LASSIGNY


Beatrix's answer to his telegram came that afternoon.

"Don't want to come home yet. Please let me stay. Am writing much love."

This angered him. It was a defiance; or so it struck him. He went down
to the Post-Office himself, and sent another wire.

"Come up by morning train will meet you in London."

The rain had ceased. As he walked back over the muddy path that led
through the park, the evening sun shone through a rift in the clouds,
and most of the sky was already clear again. How he would have enjoyed
this renewal of life and sunshine the evening before! But his mind was
as dark now as the sky had been all day, and the relenting of nature
brought it no relief.

Barbara and Bunting were out in the park with their mashies and putters,
on the little practice course he had laid out. He kept the church
between himself and them as he neared the house. They already knew that
there was something amiss, and were puzzled and disturbed about it. In
his life that had gone so smoothly there had never been anything to make
him shun the company of his children, or to spoil their pleasure in his
society, because of annoyance that he could not hide from them. He must
tell them something - or perhaps Caroline had better - or Miss Waterhouse.
He didn't want to tell them himself. It would make too much of it.
Beatrix was going to be brought home; but not in disgrace. He didn't
want that. She would be disappointed at first; but she would get over
it, and they would all be as happy together as before. His thoughts did
lighten a little as they dwelt for a moment on that.

He called for Caroline when he got into the house. He felt some
compunction about her. He had taken her into his confidence, and then he
had seemed to withdraw it, though he had not meant to do so. Of course
he couldn't have told her the grounds of his objections to Lassigny as
he had told them to Worthing, but he owed it to her to say at least what
he was going to do. She had been very sweet to him at tea-time, trying
her best to keep up the usual bright conversation, and to hide from the
children that there was anything wrong with him, which he had not taken
much trouble to hide himself. And she had put her hand on his knee under
the table, to show him that she loved him and had sympathy with him. He
had been immersed in his dark thoughts and had not returned her soft
caress; and this troubled him a little, though he knew he could make it
all right.

She came out to him at once from the morning-room, with some needlework
in her hand. He took her face between his hands and kissed it. "I've
sent B another wire to say she must come to London to-morrow," he said,
"and I'll meet her."

She smiled up at him, with her eyes moist. "That will be the best way,
Daddy," she said. "It will be all right when you talk to one another."

He put his arm round her, and they went into the morning-room. Miss
Waterhouse was there, also with needlework in her hands. "I've told the
Dragon," said Caroline in a lighter tone. "You didn't tell me not to
tell anybody, Dad."

He sat down by the window and lit a cigarette. "You'd better tell
Barbara and Bunting too," he said. "B ought not to have engaged herself
without asking me first. Anyhow, she's much too young yet. I can't allow
any engagement, for at least a year. I shall bring her down here, and
we'll all be happy together."

Caroline felt an immense lightening of the tension. He had spoken in his
usual equable untroubled voice, announcing a decision in the way that
had always made his word law in the family, though he had never before
announced a decision of such importance. Responsibility was lifted from
her shoulders. It had seemed to be her part to help him in uncertainty
of mind, and she had felt herself inadequate to the task. But now he had
made up his mind, and she had only to accept his decision. Beatrix also,
though it might be harder for her. But she would accept her father's
ruling. They had always obeyed him, and he had made obedience so easy.
After all, he did know best.

Miss Waterhouse laid down her work on her lap. "I'm sure it will be the
best thing just to say that there can be no engagement for a certain
fixed time," she said. It was seldom that she offered any advice without
being directly asked for it. But she said this with some earnestness,
her eyes fixed upon his face.

"Yes, that will be the best way," he said, and she took up her work
again.

He did not revert again to his gloomy state that evening. He and
Caroline presently went out and joined Barbara and Bunting. They played
golf till it was time to dress for dinner, and played bridge after
dinner. He was his usual self, except that he occasionally lapsed into
silence and did not respond to what was said. Beatrix's name was not
mentioned.

He went up to London early the next morning, spent the greater part of
the day at the Bank, and dined at one of his clubs. He played bridge
afterwards until it was time to go to the station to meet the train by
which Beatrix would come. So far he had successively staved off
unpleasant thoughts. He had not been alone all day, for he had found
acquaintances in the train going up to London. He had wanted not to be
alone. He had wanted to keep up that mood of lightly poised but
unquestioned authority, in which he would tell Beatrix, without putting
blame on her for what she had done, that it couldn't be, and then
dismiss the matter as far as possible from his mind, and leave her to
get over her disappointment, which he thought she would do quickly. He
was not quite pleased with her, which prevented him from sympathising
much beforehand with whatever disappointment she might feel; but his
annoyance had largely subsided, and he was actually looking forward with
pleasure to seeing her dear face again and getting her loving greeting.

Unfortunately the train was late, and he had to pace the platform for
five and twenty minutes, during which time this lighter mood in its turn
gave way to one of trouble almost as great as he had felt at first.

He had had no reply to his second telegram, although he had given
instructions that if one came it was to be wired on to him at the Bank.
Supposing she didn't come!

He had not yet heard from Lassigny; but if he had missed a post after
Beatrix had written, his letter would not have reached Abington until
the second post. But suppose Lassigny was travelling down with her!

What he had been staving off all day, instinctively, was the ugly
possibility of Beatrix defying his authority. It would mean a fight
between them, and he would win the fight. But it would be the upsetting
of all contentment in life, as long as it lasted, and it would so alter
the relations between him and the child he loved that they would
probably never be the same again.

This possibility of Lassigny being with her now - of _his_ undertaking
her defence against her father, and of her putting herself into his
hands to act for her - had not actually occurred to him before. The idea
of it angered him greatly, and stiffened him against her. There was no
pleasure now in his anticipation of seeing her again.

But he melted completely when he did see her. She and her maid were
alone in their compartment, and she was standing at the door looking out
eagerly for him. She jumped out at once and ran to him. "My darling old
Daddy!" she said, with her arm round his neck. "You're an angel to come
up and meet me, and I'm so pleased to see you. I suppose we're going to
Cadogan Place to-night, aren't we?"

Not a word was said between them of what they had come together for
until they were sitting in the dining-room over a light supper. The
maid, who was the children's old nurse, had been in the car with them.
Beatrix had asked many questions about Abington, and had chattered about
the moors, but had not mentioned Lassigny's name. If she had chattered
even rather more than she would have done normally upon a similar
meeting, it was the only sign of something else that was filling her
mind. She had not been in the least nervous in manner, and her affection
towards him was abundantly shown, and obviously not strained to please
him. If his thoughts of her had been tinged with bitterness, she seemed
to have escaped that feeling towards him.

He supposed she had not understood his hostility towards her engagement.
His telegram had only summoned her. It would make his task rather more
difficult. But the relief of finding her still his loving child was
greater than any other consideration. If he had taken refuge in bitter
thoughts against her, he knew now how unsatisfying they were. He only
wanted her love, and that had not been affected. He also wanted her
happiness, and if it was to be his part to safeguard it for the future,
by refusing her what she wanted in the present, it touched him now to
think that his refusal must wound her. He had not allowed that
consideration to affect him hitherto.

"Well, darling," he said, "you've given me a shock. These affairs aren't
settled quite in that way, you know."

She looked up at him with a smile and a flush. "I was so happy," she
said, "that I forgot all about that. But I came when you wanted me,
Daddy."

Yes, it was going to be very difficult. But he must not allow his
tenderness to take charge of him, though he could use it to soften the
breaking of his decision to her.

"Why didn't he write to me?" he said.

"He did," she said. "Didn't you get his letter?"

"I haven't had it yet. If he wrote, I shall get it to-morrow, forwarded
from Abington. He ought not to have asked you to engage yourself to him
without asking my permission first."

"Well, you see, darling, it seemed to come about naturally. I suppose
everybody was expecting it, - everybody but me, that is," she laughed
gently - "and when it did come, of course everybody knew. He said he must
write to you at once. He did think of coming down at once to see you,
but I didn't want him to. Still, when your second telegram came, he said
you'd expect it of him; so he's coming down to-night, to see you
to-morrow."

Lassigny, then, seemed to have acted with correctness. But that he
should have done so did not remove any objection to him as a husband for
Beatrix. It only made it rather more difficult to meet him; for
Beatrix's father would not be upheld by justifiable annoyance at having
been treated with disrespect.

"I'm glad he didn't come down with you," he said.

"I wanted him to," she said simply. "But he wouldn't. He said you might
not like it. He _is_ such a dear, Daddy. He thinks of everything. I do
love him." She got up and stood over him and kissed him. "I love you
too, darling," she said, "more than ever. It makes you love everybody
you do love more, when this happens to you."

He couldn't face it, with his arm round her, and her soft cheek resting
confidently against his. He couldn't break up her happiness and her
trust there and then. Better see the fellow first. By some miracle he
might show himself worthy of her. His dislike of him for the moment was
in abeyance. It rested on nothing that he knew of him - only on what he
had divined.

"Well," he said; "we'd better go to bed and think it all over. I'll see
him to-morrow."

"He's coming here about twelve," she said, releasing herself as he stood
up. "If you are in the City I can tell him to go down and see you at the
Bank."

"No," he said, "I will see him here. And I don't want you to see him
before I do, B. We've got to begin it all over again, in the proper
way. That's why I made you come here."

His slight change of tone caused her to look up at him. "You're not
going to ask him to wait for me, are you, darling?" she asked. "We do
want to get married soon. We do love each other awfully."

He kissed her. "Run along to bed," he said. "I'll tell you what I have
decided when I've seen him to-morrow."

When they met at breakfast the next morning the atmosphere had hardened
a little. Beatrix was not so affectionate to him in her manner as she
had been; it was plain that she was not thinking of him much, except in
his connection with her lover; and as the love she had shown him the
night before had softened him towards the whole question, so now the
absence of its signs hardened him. Of course her love for him was
nothing in comparison with this new love of hers! He was a fool to have
let it influence him. If he had been weak enough to let her go to bed
thinking that he would make no objection to her eventual engagement, and
only formalities stood in the way, it would be all the harder for her
when she knew the truth.

"Have you had a letter from René?" was the first question she asked him
when she had kissed him good-morning, with a perfunctory kiss that meant
she was not in one of those affectionate moods which he found it so
impossible to resist.

"Yes," he said shortly. "I'm going down to the Bank this morning, B.
I'll see him there. I've told William to ask him to come on to the City


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