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"You're talking very foolishly, B. You're eighteen years old, and you've
fallen in love for the first time in life with a man who at the best
wouldn't be a particularly suitable life companion for you. Whatever you
may feel about it now, you're not going to spend the rest of your days
in mourning for him. In six months' time you'll be wondering how you can
have felt about him as you do now. I can assure you of that."

She sat looking down upon her hands lying on her lap, with an expression
that meant she was not going to answer a statement so absurd as that.
Her look of obstinacy stiffened him still further against her, and he
proceeded to develop his thesis, not realising that by so doing he was
bound to produce just the opposite effect from what he wished.

"Love of this sort is like an illness," he said. "You get over it in
that form even if it leads to marriage. If it's the right sort of
marriage the love turns into something else that lasts, and no doubt
it's the right way to begin. If it doesn't lead to marriage, well, you
simply get over it. It's time you began to try."

Still no answer. If he _would_ talk in this way, so incredibly
misunderstanding the most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world, it
was her duty to listen to him as long as he went on.

He didn't go on any more. He was irritated by her silence. "Oh, well,"
he said, rising from his chair, "there's no use in saying any more. If
you're determined to be love-sick, you must be so, as long as you can
keep it up. I should have thought, though, that you'd have had more
pride than to show yourself pining for a man who, after all, has given
you up. I've nothing more to say about it."

When she had left him, as she did immediately, as one released from an
unpleasant and undesired interview, he greatly reproached himself for
the unkindness of his last speech. It had been dictated partly by that
inexplicable perversity which impels to the hurting of those who are
loved, but such an impulsion was not likely to be strong in one of
Grafton's equable kindly nature. It was beastly to have talked to the
poor child in that way. She was suffering, and she couldn't know that
her suffering was capable of quick cure. He ought to have been tender of
her inexperience, and spared her illusions until time should have shown
her what they were. Besides, he wanted her love; it was beginning to
distress him greatly that she had so much withdrawn it from him. In his
reaction from a mood of hard irritation to one of tenderness his
attitude towards the whole question relaxed, and he asked himself again
whether he had been entirely right in what he had done.

What had he done? His dislike of Lassigny as a husband for Beatrix had
been merely instinctive. If Lassigny had pressed his suit, even without
satisfying him that he was not what he seemed to him to be, he could
scarcely have held out. There would have been no grounds for his
rejection of him that his world could have seen; and he was influenced
by the opinion of his world, and, if it had been a question of any one
but his own daughter, would most likely have shared it. Even now, in his
greatly softened moods towards her, he would almost have welcomed a
state of things in which she would not quite be cut off from hope.
Perhaps it would have turned out all right. She was sweet enough to keep
any man devoted to her. Her own love was pure enough, even if it was at
the stage at which it hardly represented more than physical attraction;
and she had a right to her own desires; he could not exercise his
parental veto in the last resort on any but very definite grounds, such
as could hardly be said to exist here. If only he could have given her
what she wanted, and made her happy again, and loving towards himself,
it would have lifted a great and increasing trouble from him! The
present state of feeling between him and his dearly loved child seemed
as if it might part them permanently. He could not look forward to that
without a desperate sinking of heart.

But what could he do? It did, after all, come down, as he had said, to
the fact that he had not actually sent Lassigny away. Lassigny had
withdrawn his suit. That was the leading factor in the situation.

He went to find Beatrix. He wanted to put this to her, once more, with
all the affection that he felt towards her, and to reason with her still
further, but not in the same spirit as just now. And he wanted still
more to make it up with her. She was beginning to wear him down. She
could do without him, but he couldn't do without her.

But Beatrix had gone out, to talk to Mollie Walter, and when she came
in again, at tea-time, and brought Mollie with her, she kissed him, and
was rather brighter than she had been. There was a great lift in his
spirits, and although she did not respond to any appreciable extent to
his further affectionate approaches and the gleam of sunshine faded
again, he thought he had better let her alone. Perhaps she was beginning
to get over it, and the clouds would break again, and finally roll away
altogether.




CHAPTER XVII

BUNTING TAKES ADVICE


Jimmy Beckley had come over to spend the day at Abington. He had brought
his sister Vera with him, not altogether without protest. The Grafton
girls, he had explained to her, were always jolly pleased to see him,
and he got on well with all of them; in fact they were topping girls,
and he didn't yet know which of the three he liked best. If he went over
alone he could take his pick, but if she went over with him, one, or
perhaps two of them, would have to do the polite to her. He betted that
they'd rather have him without her. Vera, however, had said that he was
a conceited little monkey, and she was coming. So he had made the best
of it, and being of less adamantine stuff than he liked to represent
himself, he had driven her over in a pony cart, instead of riding, as he
would have done if he had gone alone.

Grafton was in London for the day. Caroline and Vera wanted to talk
together, and the other four played lawn tennis. But after a couple of
sets Beatrix said it was too hot to play any more and went indoors.
Jimmy looked after her with regret. For the moment he judged her to be
the most attractive of all the Grafton girls, and had invented some
amusing things to say to her. It seemed a pity to waste them on
Barbara. He liked her, and she and he and Bunting had had a good deal of
fun together at one time or another. But it had been boy's fun, in which
she had naturally taken a subordinate part, as became one of her sex.
She was hardly old enough to awaken a more tender emotion in his breast.
He was beginning to feel that towards Caroline and Beatrix both, but was
not yet sure which of them he should choose when he came to man's
estate. Beatrix was the prettier of the two, but they were both very
pretty, and Caroline responded rather more to his advances.

Barbara suggested a tournament between the three of them, but the boys
didn't care about that, nor for a three-handed set. Eventually, after a
short rest, and some agreeable conversation, Barbara found herself
shelved, she did not quite know how, and Jimmy and Bunting went off to
the gooseberry bushes; not without advice from Barbara not to make
little pigs of themselves.

"It's a rummy thing," said Jimmy, "that girls of Barbara's age never
quite know how to behave themselves. They think it's funny to be merely
rude. Now neither of us would make a mistake of that sort. I suppose
it's because they haven't knocked about as much as we have. They don't
get their corners rubbed off."

"Oh, Barbara's all right," said Bunting, who respected Jimmy's opinions
but did not like to hear his sisters criticised. "We say things like
that to each other. She didn't mean anything by it. You didn't take it
quite in the right way."

"My dear chap," said Jimmy, "you needn't make excuses. They're not
wanted here. I know how to take a girl of Barbara's age all right. I'm
not saying anything against her either. She's young; that's all that's
the matter with her. In a few years' time any fellow will be pleased to
talk to her, and I shouldn't wonder if she didn't turn out as well worth
taking notice of as Caroline and Beatrix. I say, old chap, I'm sorry to
hear about this business of B's. She seems rather under the weather
about it. But she'll get over it in time, you'll see. There are lots of
fellows left in the world. You won't have her long on your hands, unless
I'm a Dutchman."

"It's rather a bore," said Bunting shortly. He had not known that Jimmy
knew anything about this business of B's, and had not intended to refer
to it. But as he did know, there would be no harm in discussing it with
him. He rather wanted the opinion of another man on the subject. "I
never saw the chap myself," he added. "But if the pater doesn't think
it's good enough, that's enough for me."

"I say, old chap, you must get out of the way of calling your governor
pater," said Jimmy. "It was all right at your private school, but it's a
bit infantile for fellows of our age."

"Well, the Governor then," said Bunting, blushing hotly. "He saw the
chap at the Bank, and told him he wasn't taking any. So the chap went
away."

"What are they like on that bush?" asked Jimmy. "I don't care for this
lot. Was there anything against the fellow? Ah, these are better. Not
enough boodle, or something of that sort?"

"I don't think so," replied Bunting. "He's a rich chap, I think, and a
sort of peer in his own country. 'Course I shouldn't care for one of the
girls to marry a Frenchman myself."

"I haven't got that sort of feeling," said Jimmy. "It's rather _vieux
jeu_. One of my aunts married a Frenchman; they've got a topping villa
at Biarritz and I stayed with them last year. He's plus two at golf, and
hunts and all that sort of thing. Just like one of us."

"I believe this chap is too," said Bunting. "Still if the Governor
didn't care about it, it's enough for me."

"You said that before. You should get out of the way of repeating
yourself, Grafton. It's the girl I'm thinking of. Rather hard luck on
her, if she's in love with the fellow. However, there are lots of other
fellows who'll be quite ready to take it on."

"You said that before. You should get out of the way of repeating
yourself, Beckley."

"One up," admitted Jimmy. "I shouldn't let her mope if I were you. When
girls are in that state they want amusing. She was quite lively at first
this morning, and I was going to try and buck her up a bit after we'd
played a set or two. But she went in before I could get to work. It
comes over them sometimes, you know. I shouldn't wonder if she weren't
having a good blub at this very moment. It takes 'em like that."

"You seem to know a lot about it for a man of your age."

"Well, I do know a bit. I don't mind telling you, Grafton, as we're
pals, and I know it won't go any further, that I was jolly well struck
on a girl last winter. Used to meet her in the hunting-field and all
that. I'm not sure I didn't save her life once. She was going straight
for a fence where there was a harrow lying in the field just the other
side that she couldn't see. I shouted out to her just in time."

"How did you know the harrow was there?"

"'Cos it happened to be on our own place, fortunately, and I remembered
it. 'Course it was nothing that I did, really, but she'd have taken a
nasty toss, I expect, even if she hadn't killed herself. She went quite
white, and thanked me in a way that - well it showed what she thought of
it. I believe if I'd said something then - she - I don't think she'd have
minded."

"Why didn't you?"

"Oh, I don't know. I suppose I wasn't quite ready."

"You're generally ready enough."

"Ah, you don't know how it takes you, Grafton. You wait till your time
comes. That girl could have done anything with me, as long as it kept
on. She came to a ball we had that night, and I'd picked up a bit then.
I'd made up my mind that if I'd done her a good turn I'd get something
for it."

"What did you get?"

"Ah, you want to know too much. But I don't mind telling you that I
danced with her four times, and she chucked over a fellow in his third
year at Oxford for me."

"Was that all you got?"

"No, it wasn't. But I shan't tell you any more. It wouldn't be fair to
the girl. It's all come to an end now, but I'm not going to give her
away."

"Do I know her?"

"I can't tell you that either. You might spot who it was, and that
wouldn't be quite fair to her. Fact of the matter is I rather fancy I
left off before she did. That's the sort of thing girls don't like
having known."

"Why did you leave off?"

"Oh, I don't know. She promised to write to me when I went back to
Eton, - there, I've let that out - and she didn't do it for I don't know
how long. I was rather sick about it, and when she did write I answered
her rather coldly. I thought she'd write again and want to know what the
matter was. But she didn't. That cooled me off, I suppose, and when I
came back this time - well, I found there were other girls I liked
better."

"Oh then you've seen her; so she must live about here. Is it Maggie
Williams? I thought she was rather a pretty kid when she was at your
house the other day."

"Maggie Williams! My dear chap, what are you thinking about? She's an
infant in arms. How could she have come to a dance at our house, and
given me a carnation - there I've let that out. Maggie Williams! Why she
gets ink on her fingers."

"I know she's thirteen because she told me so; and she's your parson's
daughter; I don't see why she shouldn't have come to your ball."

"Well, she didn't anyhow; and I don't go in for baby-snatching. If I
take to a girl she's got to know a bit."

"I don't know all the people about here yet. You might tell me whether
I've seen her."

"No, my son. She wouldn't like it."

"I believe it's all swank. If she's grown up, and she let you kiss her,
I expect it was just because she thought you were only a little boy, and
it didn't matter."

"I never said I did kiss her."

"Well, you must have been an ass if you didn't."

"I didn't say I didn't either. But I don't mind telling you that I'd
arranged a sitting-out place with a bit of mistletoe beforehand."

"You might tell me who it was."

"She's a very fine girl. Rides like a good 'un, and sticks at nothing. I
don't say it's absolutely all over yet. I shall see what I feel about it
next season. I like her best on a horse."

"Is it one of the Pembertons?"

"I've told you I shouldn't tell you who it was."

"Oh then it must be, or you'd have said no. They're all a bit too
ancient for my taste."

"There's a lot of the kid in you still, Grafton. If you call Kate
Pemberton ancient, I pity your taste. Still, if you're inclined to be
gone on Maggie Williams, I dare say you _would_ think Kate Pemberton
ancient."

"You're an ass. I'm not gone on Maggie Williams. I only thought she was
rather a nice kid. Was it really Kate Pemberton, Beckley? She is rather
a topper, now you come to mention it."

"I don't say it is and I don't say it isn't. I say, I think we've made
this bush look rather foolish. I vote we knock off now. How would it be
if we went and routed B out and tried to cheer her up a bit?"

Bunting was doubtful about the expediency of this step, though he
thanked his friend for the kind thought. "I'm leaving her alone a bit
just now," he said. "To tell you the truth I'm not very pleased with
her. She's not behaving very decently to the Governor."

"Well, I must say I rather sympathise with her there," said Jimmy, as
they strolled across the lawn together. "I should always be inclined to
take the girl's side in an affair of this sort. If one of my sisters
ever comes across my Governor in that way, I think I shall back her up.
But they're not so taking as yours; I expect I shall have the whole lot
of them on my hands by and by."

"Oh, I don't think you will," said Bunting politely. "Of course your
Governor is a good deal older than mine. He doesn't make a pal of you
like ours does of us. That's why I don't like the way B is going on. It
worries him. Of course he wouldn't have stopped it at all if he hadn't
a jolly good reason. She ought to see that."

"My dear chap, you can't expect a girl to see anything when she's in
that state. I know what I'm talking about. Give her her head and she'll
come round all right in time."

"Do you think she will?"

"I'm sure of it. You tell your Governor to leave her alone, and pretend
not to notice."

"All right, I will. Shall I say that's the advice of James Beckley,
Esquire? I say, what about a round with a mashie?"

"I'm game," said Jimmy. "Don't you think it would do B good to fish her
out and have a foursome? I'm sorry for that little girl."

"Oh, leave her alone," said Bunting. "Perhaps she'll play after lunch."

"Just as you like, old man. I only thought I might do something to make
her forget her troubles for a bit. My advice to you is to go gently with
her. I'll give you two strokes in eighteen holes and play you for a
bob."




CHAPTER XVIII

TWO CONVERSATIONS


The reason for Grafton's going up to London that day was that another of
his sisters-in-law had taken a hand in the affair. Lady Handsworth,
under whose wing Beatrix had enjoyed her London gaieties, had written to
him to say that it was very important that she should see him. She
should be passing through on such and such a day, and would he please
come and lunch with her without fail. She had something very important,
underlined, to say, which she couldn't write. She didn't want merely to
expostulate with him, or to give him advice, which she knew he wouldn't
take. As he had allowed her to look after Beatrix, and take a mother's
place towards her, she felt that she had a right to a say in the matter
of her marriage; so she hoped he wouldn't disappoint her; she didn't
want to act in any way apart from him.

There was a veiled threat in this paragraph. There was always that
feeling in his mind that something might be done behind his back by some
kind sympathiser with Beatrix. Besides, he did owe something to Lady
Handsworth. She played in some sort a mother's part towards Beatrix. To
her, if to anybody, he had relegated the duty of watching any movement
in the marriage mart of Mayfair, and it was due to her that he should
justify himself in his objections to a match that she evidently thought
to be a suitable one. They all thought that. Unless he could justify
himself he would remain to them as a mere figure of prejudice and
unreason.

Lady Handsworth was a good deal older than Lady Grafton, and her manners
were not so unbending. But she had a kind heart beneath her stately
exterior, and had shown it to Beatrix. She had daughters of her own, and
it was to be supposed that she wished to marry them off. They were not
nearly so attractive as the Grafton girls whom she had successively
chaperoned. But she had made no differences between them, and both
Caroline and Beatrix were fond of her.

Part of the big house in Hill Street had been opened up for a few days.
Lord Handsworth was in London, and two of the girls were with their
mother, but Grafton lunched alone with his sister-in-law, and the
servants only came in at the necessary intervals.

She wanted, of course, to know the whys and wherefores of what she
evidently considered an unreasonable action on his part, and he resigned
himself to going over the ground again. "I can't think why you and Mary
don't see it as I do," he said when he had done so. "You're neither of
you women who think that money and position are the only things that
would matter, and you, at any rate, can't think that it's going to spoil
B's life not to marry a man she's fallen in love with at eighteen."

"I'm not sure that that isn't more important than you think, George,"
she said. "Of course she'll get over it, and, of course, she'll marry
somebody else, if she doesn't marry him. But there's nothing quite like
the first love, for a girl, especially when she's like B, who has never
thought about it, as most girls do, and it has come as a sort of
revelation to her."

Grafton felt some surprise at the expression of this view from her.
"Yes, if she had fallen in love with the right sort of fellow," he said.
"I wish she had, if she has to marry young. Margaret married like that,
and she and I were as happy together as two people could be. But a
fellow of Lassigny's age, with all that sort of life as his
background - taking a sudden fancy to her, and she to him - you're not
going to found the happiness Margaret and I had on that, my dear
Katherine."

"No two people are alike," said Lady Handsworth; "and you can't tell how
any marriage will turn out from that point of view. All that one can say
is that a girl ought to have a right to work it out for herself, unless
there's a very obvious objection to the man. There isn't here. And you
have three daughters, George. You won't be able to pick husbands for all
of them that exactly suit your views. You've given me some
responsibility in the matter, you know. I own I didn't see this coming
on, but if I had I should have thought it was just the right thing. It
is as good a match as you could want for any of the girls."

"Oh, a good match! You know I don't care much about that, if it's the
right sort of fellow."

"Well, you knew Lassigny. At one time I thought it was quite likely that
he would propose for Caroline. You had seen him with her yourself
constantly, and never made any objections to him. He had dined with you,
and you even asked him down to Abington with us. One would have said
that you would have welcomed it. I, at least, would never have supposed
that you would treat it as if it were a thing quite out of the
question."

"Well, there _is_ something in all that, Katherine. But I suppose the
fact is that a woman - especially a woman in the position you've been
towards B - is always on the lookout for something to happen between a
man and a girl who make friends. I can only tell you that I wasn't. I
wouldn't have expected it to come on suddenly like that. I've known all
about Caroline and her friendships. I suppose you know that Francis
Parry wants to marry her. She told me all about it. She's told me about
other proposals she's had. That seems to me the normal course with girls
who can tell everything to their father, as mine can to me."

She laughed at him quietly. "Caroline has never been in love," she said,
"or anywhere near it. Of course she tells you everything, because she
wants an excuse for not doing what she thinks perhaps she ought to do.
She puts the responsibility on you. When she does fall in love you will
very likely know nothing about it until she tells you just as B did."

He laughed in his turn. "I know Caroline better than you do," he said.
"And I thought B was like her. I'm very distressed about the way she's
taking this, Katherine. She's a different child altogether. A day or two
ago I thought she was beginning to get over it; but she mopes about and
is getting thin. She doesn't want to go away either, though there are
plenty of people who want her. And between her and me, instead of being
what it always has been, - well, she's like a different person. I hardly
know her. There has been no time in my life when things have gone so
wrong - except when Margaret died. And until this happened we were
enjoying ourselves more than ever. You saw how we'd got ourselves into
the right sort of life when you came to Abington. It's all changed now."

"Poor George!" she said. "You couldn't expect it to last quite like that
at Abington, you know. You should have bought your country house ten
years ago, when the girls were only growing up. You can't keep them
there indefinitely. As for B, you can change all that trouble for
yourself easily enough. I think, in spite of what you say, you must see
that there was not a good enough reason for refusing Lassigny for her.
Let it come on again and she'll be happy enough; and she'll be to you
what she always has been."

"Oh, my dear Katherine, you, and Mary, and everybody else, quite ignore
the fact that it is Lassigny who has withdrawn himself. If I wanted him
for B, which I certainly don't, how could I get him? You don't propose,
I should think, that I should write to him and ask him to reconsider his
withdrawal."

"No, but there are other ways. If you were to withdraw your opposition,
and it were known to him that you had done so! I think you ought not to
make too much of his withdrawal. He had every right to suppose that you


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