Archibald Marshall.

Abington abbey; a novel online

. (page 14 of 23)
Online LibraryArchibald MarshallAbington abbey; a novel → online text (page 14 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


for the first time. "You would not have refused him his chance, if he
had asked for it?"

"I don't know. I don't think I should. If he had said that his loving
Beatrix made things different to him - if he'd shown in any way that they
were different to him - I don't know what I should have done. It
certainly wouldn't have ended as it did."

"Well, Cara dear," said Miss Waterhouse, "I think the thing to say is
that M. de Lassigny was not prepared to satisfy your father that he even
wanted to be what he thought B's husband ought to be. If he had gone
ever such a little way he would have had his chance."

"It is he who has given her up. I know that," said Caroline. "You didn't
really send him away at all, did you? Oh, I'm sure you must have been
right about him. I liked him, you know; but - He can't love B very much,
I should think, if he was willing to give her up like that, at once."

That was the question upon which the unhappy clash of interests turned
during the days that followed. Beatrix knew that he loved her. How could
she make a mistake about that? She turned a little from Caroline, who
was very loving to her but would not put herself unreservedly on her
side, and poured out all her griefs to Barbara, and also to Mollie
Walter. Barbara, not feeling herself capable of pronouncing upon
anything on her own initiative, took frequent counsel of Miss
Waterhouse, who advised her to be as sweet to B as possible, but not to
admit that their father could have been wrong in the way he had acted.
"There is no need to say that M. de Lassigny was," she said. "Poor B
will see that for herself in time."

Poor B was quite incapable of seeing anything of the sort at present.
She was also deeply offended at any expression of the supposition that
she would 'get over it' - as if it were an attack of measles. She told
Mollie, who gave her actually more of the sympathy that she wanted than
any of her own family, that she couldn't understand her father taking
this light view of love. She would have thought he understood such
things better. She would never love anybody but René, even if they did
succeed in keeping them apart all their lives. And she knew he would
love her in the same way.

There was, however, no getting over the fact that René, when he had
walked out of the Bank parlour, in offence, had walked out of his
matrimonial intentions at the same time. The fashionable intelligence
department announced his intention of spending the autumn at his Château
in Picardy, and there was some reason to suppose that the announcement,
not usual in the way it was given, might be taken as indicating to those
who had thought of him as taking an English bride that his intentions in
that respect had been relinquished.

Grafton was rather surprised at having got rid of him so easily, and
inclined to question himself as to the way in which he had done it. He
told Worthing of all that had passed, and Worthing's uncomplicated
opinion was that the fellow must have been an out and out wrong 'un.

"I don't say that," Grafton said. "He was in love with B in the way that
a fellow of that sort falls in love. Probably she'd have been very happy
with him for a time. But she wouldn't have known how to hold
him - wouldn't have known that she had to, poor child. I'm precious glad
she's preserved from it. You know, Worthing, I couldn't have stopped it
if he'd said - like an English fellow might have done - a fellow who had
gone the pace - that all that was over for good; he wanted to make
himself fit for a girl like B - something of that sort. Many a fellow has
been made by loving a good innocent girl, and marrying. B could have
done that for him, if he'd been the right sort - and wanted it."

"I bet she could," said Worthing loyally. "It's hard luck she should
have set her heart on a wrong 'un. They can't tell the difference, I
suppose - girls, I mean. I don't know much about 'em, but I've learnt a
good deal since I've got to know yours. It makes you feel different
about all that sort of game. It's made me wish sometimes that I'd
married myself, before I got too old for it. What I can't quite
understand is its not affecting this fellow in the same sort of way. I
don't understand his not making a struggle for her."

"Well, I suppose it's as he said to me - what annoyed me so - that
marriage is a thing apart with him and his like. He's got plenty to
offer in marriage, and it would probably annoy him much more than it
would an Englishman in the same sort of position as his, to be turned
down. He may have been sorry that he'd cut it off himself so decisively,
but his pride wouldn't let him do anything to recover his ground. That's
what I think has happened."

"Well, but what about his being in love with her? That'd count a good
deal with a girl like her, I should say - Frenchman or no Frenchman."

"He's been in love plenty of times before. He knows how easy it is to
get over, if she doesn't - the sort of love _he's_ likely to have felt
for her. It might have turned into something more, if he'd known her
longer. Perhaps he didn't know that; they don't know everything about
love - the sensualists - though they think they do. She hadn't had time to
make much impression on him - just a very pretty bright child; I think
he'd have got tired of her in no time, sweet as she is. Oh, I'm thankful
we've got rid of him. I've never done a better thing in my life than
when I stopped it. But I'm not having a happy time about it at present,
Worthing. No more is my little B."




CHAPTER XVI

CLOUDS


The fact that Lassigny's proposal to Beatrix and her acceptance of it
had taken place in a houseful of people made it impossible to keep the
affair a family secret. Reminders of its being known soon began to
disturb the quietude of Abington Abbey.

Grafton went up to the Bank a few days after he had brought Beatrix
down, and his sister-in-law called upon him there and asked to be taken
out to luncheon. She had come up from the country on purpose and wanted
to hear all about it.

Grafton was seriously annoyed. "My dear Mary," he said politely, "it can
only be a pleasure to take you out to lunch at any time, and in half an
hour I shall be ready to take you to the Berkeley, or wherever you'd
like to go to. Will you make yourself comfortable with the paper in the
meantime?"

"Oh, I know you're furious with me for having come here, George," she
said, "and it's quite true I've never done it before. But I _must_ talk
to you, and when James said you were coming up to-day I knew it was the
only way of getting you. You'd have put me off politely - you're always
polite - if I'd telephoned. So please forgive me, and go back to your
work till you're ready. I'll write a letter or two. I shall love to do
it on the Bank paper."

He came back for her in less than the half-hour. She had her car
waiting, and directly they had settled themselves in it he said: "Now
look here, Mary, I'm glad you've come, after all. I'll tell you exactly
what has happened and you can tell other people. There's no mystery and
there's nothing to hide. Lassigny asked B to marry him in the way you've
heard of. When he came here to talk it over with me I put one or two
questions to him which offended him, and he withdrew. That's all there
is to it."

"I don't think it's quite enough, George," she replied at once. "People
are talking. I've had one or two letters already. It's hard on poor
little B too. She doesn't understand it, and it's making her very
miserable."

"Has she written to you about it?"

"Of course she has. You sent her to me while you were getting rid of her
lover for her, and she had to write and tell me what had happened. It
isn't like you to play the tyrant to your children, George; but really
you do seem to have done it here. She won't forgive you, you know."

That was Lady Grafton's attitude at the beginning of the hour or so they
spent together, and it was her attitude at the end of it. He had gone
further in self-defence than he had had any intention of going, but all
she had said was: "Well, I know you think you're right, but honestly I
don't, George. Constance Ardrishaig wrote to me about it and said that
they were perfectly delightful together. He thought the world of her,
and everybody knows that when a man does fall in love with a thoroughly
nice girl it alters him - if he's been what he ought to have been."

Travelling down in the train Grafton found himself embarked upon that
disturbing exercise of going over a discussion again and mending one's
own side of it. Mary ought to have been able to see it. She had used
some absurd arguments; if he had answered her in this way or that, she
would have been silenced. Or better still, if he had refused to discuss
the matter at all, and rested himself upon the final fact that it was
Lassigny who had withdrawn; and there was an end of it. She had,
actually, seemed to realise that there was an end of it. She didn't
suggest that anything should be done. He rather gathered that Lady
Ardrishaig had some intention of writing to Lassigny and trying to
'bring it on again.' Mary had seemed to hint at that, but had denied any
such idea when he had asked her if it was so. She had been cleverer at
holding him aloof than he had been in holding her. If there was anything
that could be done by these kind ladies who knew so much better what was
for his daughter's welfare than he did, it would be done behind his
back.

Beatrix met him at the station. When they were in the car together she
snuggled up to him and said: "Did you see Aunt Mary, darling?"

It was the first time she had used an endearing expression to him since
he had brought her home. He had experienced a great lift of spirit when
he had seen her waiting for him on the platform, looking once again like
her old self, and she had kissed him and taken his arm as they went out
to the car. But now his heart sank like lead. "Yes, I saw her," he said
shortly.

That was all. Beatrix gradually withdrew herself from her warm contact
with him, and spoke of surface matters in the lifeless voice she now
habitually used towards him. It was plain to him that Lady Grafton had
given her to understand that she was going to do something to help her.
He had not understood that there had been a correspondence between them.

He complained of it to Caroline. "I suppose she wrote and asked Aunt
Mary to see me," he said. "I don't like it at all. Hasn't she got any
love for me left? She was just like she always has been for a few
minutes, while she thought something might have happened. But it wasn't
really for me. It's all that fellow, - and he doesn't want her any more."

Caroline spoke to Beatrix. "You're making Dad awfully unhappy," she
said.

"Well, he's making me awfully unhappy," said Beatrix, without waiting
for anything further. "He wants me to love him, and of course I do. But
I simply can't make a fuss of him, when he's behaving so unfairly.
Everybody sympathises with me, except him. And nobody can see any reason
for his sending René away, as he did."

It was true that most people who knew about it did sympathise with
Beatrix. She received letters, and wrote letters. For the first time in
the history of the Grafton family letters that arrived were not common
property. No one asked Beatrix whom hers were from, if they came at
breakfast-time, nor did she volunteer the information, though sometimes
she showed them to Caroline afterwards.

The neighbours knew the story. It annoyed Grafton when he first realised
that it was a matter of common talk. The information came to him from
Lady Mansergh, of all people in the world.

Lady Mansergh was of an earlier generation of stage beauties than those
who now so admirably play their titled parts. She was obviously and
frankly 'common.' No one who knew her could have thrown doubt upon the
genuine gold of her heart, whatever they may have thought of that of her
head, but it had needed all of it to reconcile Grafton to seeing his
girls made much of by the stout affectionate lady, who had taken them
all to her ample bosom from the first. He had, as a matter of fact, been
nearer to the Vicar's opinion, that Lady Mansergh was not a person for
them to become intimate with, than to Worthing's, that she was
'perfectly all right, and couldn't possibly do them any harm.' He had
even talked to Miss Waterhouse about it, but somewhat to his surprise
she had not advised any standing off in whatever relationship the
proximity of the two houses might bring about. "Whatever is odd about
her they laugh at," she said. "It makes no more impression on them than
that. She is a good-hearted woman, and it is their innocence and
brightness that she loves in them. She would never do or say anything
that could offend them."

So Lady Mansergh drove over occasionally to the Abbey to see her pretty
bunch of girls, as she called them, and shook her fat sides with
merriment at the entertainment they afforded her. She had a married
step-daughter staying with her at this time, with a family of little
children, and the Grafton girls, especially Barbara, were baby
worshippers. So that took them to Wilborough. And there were the links
in the park, which Sir Alexander had handed over to an informal club,
with Worthing as its secretary. Grafton played on them frequently
himself, and whenever there was anybody there from the Abbey Lady
Mansergh was pretty sure to put in an appearance at some point or other
of the course, with a pressing invitation to lunch or tea. If it were
not accepted she would keep them company for a time, waddling along with
her dachshund and her pug, in a state of high good humour, and talking
most of the time, both at those stages of the game that admitted of
conversation and those that didn't.

Grafton's objections to her as an intimate of his children to this
friendly open extent had died down. There are some people who can be
taken purely on the basis of the heart, whatever other factors go to
their composition, and Lady Mansergh was one of them. But, friendly as
he felt towards her, he was by no means prepared to admit her into
confidence on such a matter as this of Beatrix's. A question of
marriage, or of love - Lady Mansergh's experiences on either might
include many points of interest; but the tacit understanding surely was
that such experiences on her part should be kept in the background. She
was what she was now, in this intimacy with his family, and nothing of
what she had been.

She got hold of him one afternoon after he had finished his round, and
was strolling up with the rest through the garden on their way to tea on
the terrace. Tea was not quite ready, and she took him off to her
rock-garden, with which his was now in hot competition. Caroline had
been coming with them, but Lady Mansergh sent her back. "I've got
something to say to your father, dear," she said. "You go and talk to
somebody else. You shall come along with me and look at the sempervivums
after tea if you want to."

She lost no time in coming to the point. "Now, Mr. Grafton," she said,
"I like you and you like me; there's no offence between friends. Can't
you do something for that poor dear little girl of yours? She's crying
her eyes out for the man she loves. _I_ can see it if _you_ can't. A
father's a father, but he hadn't ought to act harsh to his children.
You'll have her going into a decline if you don't do something."

Grafton stood still and faced her. "I didn't know it was that you wanted
to talk to me about," he said. "Really, Lady Mansergh, I can't discuss
it with you. Let's go back to the others."

She laid her fat hand on his sleeve. "Now don't cut up offended, there's
a dear man," she said in a pleading soothing voice. "I do so love those
girls of yours, that it isn't like interfering. Just let me talk to you
a bit about it. No harm'll be done if you can't see it as I do when
we've had our little chat."

He walked on again with her. "There's nothing to talk about," he said.
"I don't know what you know or from whom you know it, but the facts are
that the man asked for my permission to marry Beatrix and then withdrew
his request. He has now left England and - well, there's an end of it. He
is going, evidently, to forget all about her, and she must learn to
forget him. She'll do it quickly enough if her kind friends will leave
her alone, and not encourage her to think she's been hardly used. She
hasn't been hardly used by me, and to be perfectly straight with you I
don't like being told that I'm dealing harshly with my children. It
isn't true, and couldn't be true, loving all of them as I do."

"Oh, I know you're a _perfect_ father to them," said Lady Mansergh
enthusiastically. "And they simply adore you - every one of them. I'm
sure it does anybody good to see you together. But what _I_ think, you
know, Mr. Grafton, is that when fathers love their daughters as you love
those sweet girls of yours, and depend a lot on them, as, of course, you
do, with your wife gone, poor man! - well, you don't _like_ 'em falling
in love. It means somebody else being put first like, when you've always
been first yourself. But lor', Mr. Grafton, they won't love you any the
less when they take husbands. You'll always be second if you can't be
first; and first you can't always be, with human nature what it is, and
husbands counting for more than fathers."

"I think that's perfectly true," said Grafton, in an easy voice. "A
father can't hope to be first when his daughters marry, but he'll
generally remain second. Well, when my daughters do marry I shall be
content to take that position, and I shall always remember you warned me
that I should have to. Thank you very much."

"Ah, now you're laughing at me," she said, looking up in his face, "but
you're angry all the same. You ought not to be angry. I'm telling you
the woman's side. When a woman loves a man she loves him whatever he is,
and if he hasn't been quite what he ought, if she's a good woman she can
make him different. That's what she thinks, and she's right to think it.
The chance of trying ought not to be took from her."

"Perhaps not," said Grafton. "But in this case it has been taken from
her by the man himself. It comes down to that first and last, Lady
Mansergh. It's very kind of you to interest yourself in the matter, but
really there's nothing to be done, except to encourage Beatrix to forget
all about it. If you'll take your part in doing that, you'll be doing
her a good turn, and me too."

"There is something to be done, and you could do it," she said. "That's
to write and tell the Marquis that you spoke hurriedly. However, I know
you won't do it, so I shan't press you any more."

"No, I don't propose to do that," he said. "And now I think we'll talk
about something else."

It was difficult to be angry with the stout kind-hearted lady herself,
but Grafton was angry over the episode - more angry than he had been over
any other. He and Caroline had come over in the little car that he drove
himself, and he talked to her about it going back. "It's really
intolerable that a woman like that should be mixed up in it," he said.
"She's a good-hearted old thing, but she hasn't exactly the sort of
history that makes her a person to consult in an affair like this. If B
has so far forgotten herself as to make a confidant of Lady Mansergh
it's time I talked to her about it. I've just let it alone so far, and
hoped she'd recover herself by degrees. But she seems to be making her
grievance public property, and she must leave off doing that."

"I don't think she _can_ have said anything to Lady Mansergh," said
Caroline, rather doubtful about it, all the same. "I think Geoffrey
Mansergh must have told her. He knows a lot of people that we do."

"Oh, she talked about B crying her eyes out for him. She must have tried
to get sympathy from her. Besides, she does talk about it to other
people. There's that little Mollie Walter. And the Pemberton girls. They
look at me as if I were a sort of ogre. And the Beckley girl too.
Really, I'm not going to be put in that position. It's time B was
brought to her senses. If she's going to change the whole of her
attitude towards me because of this, I suppose I've got to put up with
it. But I'm not going to be held up here as a brutal tyrannical father,
and have the whole of our jolly family life spoilt, as she's spoiling it
now."

In this mood he talked to Beatrix immediately he reached home, summoning
her into the library in order to do so. He had never lectured one of his
children before. None of them had ever needed it. In the old days of
occasional childish naughtiness, when as a last resort his authority had
been called in, his way had been to take them on his knee and express
surprise and sorrow at what he had been told about them. Floods of
tears, embraces and promises of complete and fundamental change of
conduct had immediately followed, and carried off the remains of
whatever naughtiness had been complained of. To hold out against Miss
Waterhouse had sometimes been necessary to satisfy that spirit of
contrariety which represents the workings of original sin in the best
behaved of children. But to hold out against him had never been
possible. The melting had come immediately, and subsequent behaviour had
always been beautiful until the devil pricked again.

Perhaps if he had acted in some sort of way as would have represented
this parental regret, Beatrix might have succumbed to it, as she had
always done in the past. But he had shown her so plainly that his love
was there ready for her, and that he wanted hers in return, and she had
held aloof from him. He was hard with her, and she was hard in return,
with a hardness he had never suspected in her. His displeasure seemed
not to disturb her at all; she rejected its grounds, and expressed her
displeasure with him in return, not with any lack of filial respect, but
still as if they were two people on equal terms who had fallen out and
could not come together again unless one or the other of them gave way.
That he was her father did not appear to her to be reason why she should
be the one to give way. She was very sorry, but she couldn't see that
she had done anything wrong. She had not, as a matter of fact, said
anything to Lady Mansergh, who had heard what had happened from outside.
She had been very kind about it, and so had other people who knew.
Mollie Walter was her chief friend, and she had told her everything; she
didn't see how she could be blamed for that. If she had only told her
one side, it was because she couldn't see that there was more than one
side. She had never said a word about it to the Pembertons, nor they to
her. But they had been more than usually kind to her since, and she
supposed it was because they sympathised with her. She didn't see how
she could be blamed for that either.

"Well, darling," said Grafton, "perhaps I did you an injustice in
thinking that you had talked about it all too much. If so, I'm sorry.
But look here, B, we can't go on like this, you know. It's spoiling our
family life, and our happiness together. You've had nearly three weeks
now to get over it in. When are you going to begin to be what you've
always been again?"

"How can you expect me to be the same?" she asked. "I was very happy,
and now I'm very unhappy."

"But you're not going to be unhappy all your life, you know. You were as
happy here a month ago as all the rest of us. If you can't take so much
pleasure in it all just at present you might at least stop spoiling it
for us."

"How am I spoiling it for you?"

"Well, I think you know that. We've always been together, and since
we've lived here we've all been together in almost everything we've
done. Now we're not. You put yourself out of it. It affects us all, and,
of course, it affects me more than anybody, because I can't take
pleasure in anything that one of my children holds herself apart from,
as you're doing. It's more than that. You're almost at enmity with me."

"No, I'm not. But how can I forget what you've done? You've spoilt my
life for me. If you hadn't sent him away, I'd have loved you more than
ever. Of course I do love you; but I can't help its making a
difference."

"My dear child, I've not spoilt your life for you at all. What I've done
is to prevent somebody else spoiling it; or, at any rate, I've removed
the risk of that happening."

"There wasn't any risk of that happening. I know what he's like, and I
know how he loves me. And I love him more than ever now. I always shall
love him, whatever happens. You can't make me alter there."


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallAbington abbey; a novel → online text (page 14 of 23)