Archibald Marshall.

Abington abbey; a novel online

. (page 16 of 23)
Online LibraryArchibald MarshallAbington abbey; a novel → online text (page 16 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


would not object to him as a husband for one of the girls. No man could
think anything else after he had been treated as you treated him, and
his position is good enough for him to consider himself likely to be
welcomed as a suitor. He would be, by almost every parent in England.
You can't be surprised at his having taken offence. It would be just as
difficult for him to recede from the position you forced him into as for
you."

He was silent. "I really don't think it's fair on B to leave it like
this," she said. "She will get over it, of course; but she will always
think that you hastily decided something for her that she ought to have
decided for herself."

"Perhaps it was decided too hastily," he said unwillingly. "I should
have been satisfied, I think, to have had a delay. I should always have
hated the idea, but - - "

"Would you consent now to a delay, if he were to come forward again?"

"Oh, my dear Katherine, what are you plotting? Why not let the child get
over it, as she will in a few months?"

"You don't yourself think that she'll get over it in a few months, so as
to bring her back to you what she was before. I've plotted nothing,
George. I should have left it altogether alone, but I have been asked
to talk to you. Mme. de Lassigny is in England. She wants to see you
about it. That was why I asked you to come up. She is at Claridge's. She
would like you to go and see her there this afternoon. Or she would come
here."

"Do you know her?"

"No. But Lady Ardrishaig does. They have met. She wrote to me. I think
you ought to see her, George. You have admitted that it was all done too
hastily, with him. If your objections to him are reasonable you ought to
be able to state them so that others can accept them."

"It will be a very disagreeable interview, Katherine."

"It need not be. And you ought not to shirk it on that account."

"I don't want to shirk anything. Very well, I will go and see this good
lady. Oh, what a nuisance it all is! I wish we'd never seen the fellow."

The telephone was put into operation, and Grafton went immediately to
Claridge's. The Marquise received him in a room full of the flowers and
toys with which rich travelling Americans transform their temporary
habitations into a semblance of permanence. She was of that American
type which coalesces so well with the French aristocracy. Tall and
upright, wonderfully preserved as to face and figure; grey hair
beautifully dressed; gowned in a way that even a man could recognise as
exceptional; rather more jewelled than an Englishwoman would be in the
day-time, but not excessively so for essential suitability; vivacious
in speech and manner, but with a good deal of the _grande dame_ about
her too. The interview was not likely to be a disagreeable one, if she
were allowed to conduct it in her own fashion.

She thanked Grafton pleasantly for coming to see her, and then plunged
immediately into the middle of things. "You and my son hardly finished
your conversation," she said. "I think you slightly annoyed one another,
and it was broken off. I hope you will allow me to carry it on a little
further on his behalf. And I must tell you, to begin with, Mr. Grafton,
that he has not asked me to do so. But we mothers in France love our
sons - I am quite French in that respect - and I know he is very unhappy.
You must forgive an old woman if she intervenes."

She could not long since have passed sixty, and but for her nearly white
hair would not have looked older than Grafton himself. He made some
deprecatory murmur, and she proceeded.

"I have long wanted René to range himself," she said. "He will make a
good husband to a girl whom he loves - I can assure you of that, for I
know him very well. He loves your little daughter devotedly, Mr.
Grafton. Fortunately, I have seen her for myself, once or twice here in
London, though I have never spoken to her. I think she is the sweetest
thing. I should adore him to marry her. Won't you think better of it,
Mr. Grafton? I wouldn't dare to ask you - I have really come to London
on purpose to do it - if I weren't sure that you were mistaken about
him."

"How am I mistaken about him?" asked Grafton. "I am very English, you
know. We have our own ideas about married life. I needn't defend them,
but I think they're the best there are. They're different from the
French ideas. They're different from your son's ideas. He made that
plain, or we shouldn't have parted as we did."

"Well, I am glad you have put it in that direct way," she said. "I have
a great deal of sympathy with your ideas; they're not so different from
those in which I was brought up. I wasn't brought to Europe to marry a
title, as some of our girls are. It was a chance I did so. I was in love
with my husband, and my married life was all I could wish for, as long
as it lasted. It would be the same, I feel sure, with your daughter."

Grafton smiled at her. "If we are to talk quite directly," he said
" - and it's no good talking at all if we don't - I must say that, as far
as I can judge, American women are more adaptable than English. They
adapt themselves here to our ideas, when they marry Englishmen, and they
adapt themselves to Frenchmen, whose ways are different from ours. I
don't think an English girl could adapt herself to certain things that
are taken for granted in France. I don't think that a girl like mine
should be asked to. She wouldn't be prepared for it. It would be a great
shock to her if it happened. She would certainly have a right to blame
her father if she were made unhappy by it. I don't want my daughters to
blame me for anything."

She had kept her eyes steadily fixed on him. "Well, Mr. Grafton," she
said, "we won't run away from anything. Can you say of any man, French
or English or American, who is rich and lives a life chiefly to amuse
himself, that he is always going to remain faithful to his wife? How
many young Englishmen of the type that you would be pleased to marry
your daughter to could you say it of, for certain?"

"Of a good many. And I should say there wasn't one who wouldn't intend
to keep absolutely straight when he fell in love with a girl and wanted
to marry her. If he wasn't like that, I think one would know, and feel
exactly the same objection as I must admit I feel towards your son."

"Oh, but you do mistake him. It was because you doubted him that he took
such offence. As he said to me, it was like saying that your own
daughter was not worthy to be loved for all her life."

Grafton felt a sudden spurt of resentment. His voice was not so level as
usual as he said: "It's easy enough to put it in that way. He said much
the same to me. Of course she's worthy to be loved all her life. Would
you guarantee that she always would be?"

There was the merest flicker of her eyelids before she replied: "How
could one guarantee any such thing for any man, even for one's own son?
All I can tell you is that he will make her a devoted husband, and her
chances of happiness are as great with him as if he were an Englishman.
I won't say that he has never loved another woman. That would be absurd.
What I can say is that he does love no one else, and that he loves her
in such a way as to put the thought of other women out of his mind. That
is exactly what love that leads to marriage should be, in my opinion.
Don't you agree with me, Mr. Grafton?"

"Yes," he said. "It ought to do that."

"And if it does, what more have you a right to ask? Our men are
chivalrous. The very fact of his marrying an innocent English girl, who
would be hurt by what she had had no experience of would act with my
son - or I should think with any gentleman."

"Frenchmen generally marry innocent girls, don't they, Madame?"

"You mean that it doesn't prevent them leaving them afterwards. Well,
perhaps not always. But surely, Mr. Grafton, you do ask too much, don't
you? If he loves her and she loves him, it isn't reasonable to keep them
apart, is it?"

He paused for a moment before asking: "How am I keeping them apart?"

"Would you allow them to come together again?" she asked in her turn.

He stirred uneasily in his chair. The thought of his little B once more
living with him moved him. "I think it would be better if they didn't,"
he said. "But if - after a time - - "

"Oh, I don't mean now at once," she said. "Indeed that would be
impossible, for I have persuaded him to go to America. He is to start
very shortly, and won't be in England again before he goes."

Grafton felt a considerable sense of relief at this statement. "How long
is he to be away?" he asked.

"Oh, I hope for the winter, if he amuses himself. But he may want to
hunt in England."

"If you told him that he might see her again wouldn't he want to come
back? Perhaps he wouldn't want to go. I think I should stipulate,
anyhow, that he did go - or at least that he shouldn't see her again, or
write to her, say for six months. I think, perhaps, I haven't the right
to reject him altogether, on the ground of my objections. But I do feel
them strongly. It will be a grief to me if my daughter makes this
marriage. I have a right, I think, to make sure that her feeling for him
is at least strong enough to stand six months of being parted. If she is
the same at the end of it, then perhaps I couldn't hold out. I think the
same test might apply to him. It would relieve my fears somewhat for the
future, if he still wants to marry her at the end of that time."

"Perhaps he won't, Mr. Grafton," she said, with a slight change of
manner. "You may have asked yourself why I should have pleaded with you,
as I have done, for permission for my son to pay addresses to your
daughter. Though I should be proud of her, and should love her too, it
would not be a brilliant match for my son. I might prefer another sort
of match for him. As you have said, Americans make good wives for
French husbands - perhaps better than English girls. They do not demand
so much."

He gathered that she was feeling uneasy at being in the position of
asking for what she would have preferred to concede as a favour, and was
rather amused at it. "I should have thought it would have suited you
much better," he said, with a smile. "Why is it that you should not be
satisfied with the unreasonable objections of an Englishman who ought to
be pleased at the idea of his daughter marrying your son?"

"Because I don't hold rank to be the chief thing in marriage, any more
than you do, Mr. Grafton," she answered him directly. "And money isn't
wanted in this case, though more money is always useful in our world. It
is just because I want for my son in marriage what you want for your
daughter that I should like to see him marry her. It is that and because
he loves her in the way that should make a happy marriage, and is very
unhappy about her. I did think at first that it would be best that he
should get over it, because to tell you the truth I was offended by the
way in which you had received him, and didn't see how that could be got
over. But I have put my pride in my pocket. Let him go to America, as it
has been arranged, and stipulate, if you like, that nothing further
shall be done or said, until he comes back again - or for six months.
Then, if they are both of the same mind, let us make the best of it, Mr.
Grafton, and acknowledge that they are two people who are meant to
marry. Won't you have it that way?"

"I won't say no," said Grafton. "But, you know, Madame, you have brought
another consideration into the situation. He is to be free, I take it,
to pay his addresses to somebody else, if he feels inclined, and that, I
suppose, was what you had in your mind when you persuaded him to go to
America. It's only because I hate seeing my little daughter unhappy that
I am giving way. If he changes his mind, during the next six months, and
she doesn't - - "

"She will be more unhappy than ever, I suppose. Yes, there is that risk.
It happens always when two people are kept apart in the hope of one of
them changing their mind."

He laughed, and rose to take his farewell. "What I shall tell my
daughter is that she must consider it over for the present," he said.
"But if he makes an offer for her again next year, I shall reconsider
it."

"I don't think you need do more, Mr. Grafton," she said.

* * * * *

Caroline, only, met her father at the station. He was disappointed that
Beatrix hadn't come. His mind had been lighter about her than for some
time, as he had travelled down. It had been greatly disturbing him to be
at issue with this much-loved child of his, and to lose from her all the
pretty ways of affection that had so sweetened his life. He knew that
he had given way chiefly because the results of his holding out against
her were hardly supportable to himself. She had the 'pull' over him, as
the one who loves least always has in such a contest. His weapons were
weak in his hands. But he did not mind much; for there was the prospect
of getting back again to happy relations, and that counted for more than
anything. She would be grateful to him, and give him her love again.

He could not have felt quite like this about it if he had given in
entirely because he wanted to please Beatrix. It was necessary that he
should find some other justification for himself; and it was not
difficult to find. If Lassigny still wanted to marry her after six
months' parting and she wanted it too, it would be unreasonable to
object on the grounds that he had taken. His dislike of Lassigny, which
had not existed at all before, had died down. Seen in the light of his
mother's faith in him, he was a figure more allied to the suitor that
Grafton would have accepted without such questionings as his foreign
nationality had evoked. For the time being he could think of an eventual
marriage without shrinking. But this state of mind was probably helped
by the consideration that anything might happen in six months. It was at
least a respite. There was no need to worry now about what should come
after.

He told Caroline what had happened as they drove home together. He had
said nothing beforehand of his going up to see Lady Handsworth. He had
not wanted again to have Beatrix's hopes raised, and to suffer the chill
of her disappointment.

"Everybody seems to think that I'm most unreasonable," he said. "I'm
half-beginning to think so myself. I suppose B will forget all about
what's been happening lately when I tell her, won't she?"

"Oh, yes, darling," said Caroline. "She loves you awfully. She'll be
just what she always has been to you."

"Oh well, that's all right then. I shall be precious glad to go back to
the old state of things. I may have been unfair to her in one or two
points, but I'm sure I've been right in the main. If there's to be
nothing settled for six months that's all I can ask. I think I should
have been satisfied with that at first. At least I should have accepted
it."

"So would B. She said so."

"Yes, I know. You told me. How jolly it is to get down here after
London! We're all going to enjoy ourselves at Abington again now. Let's
get up early to-morrow, shall we?"

The early risings had been given up of late. The edge of pleasure in the
new life and the new place had become blunted. But it all seemed bright
again now, and the country was enchanting in the yellow evening light.

So was the house when they reached it. September was half-way through,
and though the days were warm and sunny, there was a chill when the sun
had gone down. A wood fire was lit in the long gallery, which with
curtains closed, lamps and candles lit, and masses of autumn flowers
everywhere about it, was even more welcoming than in its summer state.

Grafton sat there with Beatrix on a sofa before the fire. Her head was
on his shoulder and his arm was round her. She cried a little when he
told her, but she was very happy. She was also very merry throughout the
evening, but alternated her bursts of merriment with the clinging
tenderness towards him which he had so missed of late. It was only when
he was alone in his room that a cold waft came over his new-found
contentment. He had forgotten all about Lassigny for the time being.
Could he ever accept Lassigny as part of all this happy intimate family
life? He would have to, if Beatrix were to get what she wanted, and were
still to remain allied to it. But Lassigny hardly seemed to fit in, even
at his best. He was all very well as a guest; but when they were alone
together, as they had been this evening - - Oh, if only B could see her
mistake!




CHAPTER XIX

MOLLIE WALTER


It was a wet windy morning. Mollie Walter sat with her needlework in the
little drawing-room of Stone Cottage, and looked disconsolately through
the French window at the havoc that was being wrought among the late
summer flowers in the garden. It was a bright little tight little
garden, with flower borders round a square lawn, and ground for
vegetables beyond a privet hedge. A great walnut tree overshadowed it,
and the grass was already littered with twigs and leaves. Such a garden
had to be kept 'tidy' at all costs, and Mollie was wondering how she
should be able to manage it, when the autumn fall of leaves should begin
in earnest. Her mother was in bed upstairs with one of her mild
ailments, which never amounted to actual illness. Mollie had left her to
sleep for an hour, and was hoping for a visit from Beatrix, to relieve
her loneliness. She had not minded being much alone until lately, but
now that she had more real friends than she had ever had in her life she
wanted them constantly.

There was a ring at the bell, and Mollie went out to open the door. Yes,
it was her dear Beatrix, looking more beautiful than ever, though her
long raincoat was buttoned up beneath her chin, and only her
flower-like face could be seen. But it was shining with happiness and
laughter, as she struggled with the wind to get her umbrella down,
before entering the little hall.

"Oh, what weather!" she exclaimed, as the door was shut behind her. "But
I had to come to tell you, Moll. It's all right. My darling old Daddy
has come to his senses. I'm not angry with him any more."

The two girls embraced warmly. "I knew you'd be pleased," said Beatrix,
laughing out of pure lightness of heart, as she took off her coat. "I
had to come and tell you. Oh, I'm as happy as a queen."

Presently they were sitting together by the window, and Beatrix was
telling her story. "I don't mind the six months a bit," she said when
she had finished. "I should have, at first, but I don't now. It's
getting out of all the horridness at home that I'm so glad of. I hated
not being friends with Dad; I hated it much more than he thought I did."

"But he _was_ unreasonable," said Mollie, who had not seen much of this
disinclination during the past weeks.

"Oh, I don't know. Well, perhaps he was, but there were excuses for him.
He does love me, and hated the idea of losing me. I believe he'd have
been the same about anybody. Anyhow, it's all over now, and I've
forgiven him. I'm going to reward him by being very good. I shan't talk
about René at all, except sometimes to you, my dear. When the six months
are over and he comes again, Dad will have got used to the idea. He
_must_ like him, you know, really. He is so nice, and so good. The idea
of _him_ being like a Frenchman in a horrid novel! Men are rather like
babies in what they can believe about each other, aren't they? I know a
lot about men now, having two such nice ones to love as René and Daddy.
Oh, I'm awfully happy now, Moll."

"I'm so glad," said Mollie sympathetically. "And six months isn't such
an awful time to wait. But don't you think that if you say nothing about
him Mr. Grafton will think you've forgotten him, and be very
disappointed when he finds you haven't?"

Beatrix laughed. "I expect that's what he wants, poor darling!" she
said. "Perhaps I shall say a little word now and then. And Caroline will
know that I love him just as much as ever. Daddy will find out about it
from her. He always does talk over everything with her."

"Is she very glad?"

"Oh, yes. She has to take Dad's part, but she's awfully sympathetic,
really, and I don't think she has ever really understood what all the
fuss was about. Nobody could, of course, because there isn't anything to
make a fuss about. The dear old Dragon thinks Dad must be right, but
then she's old, and I suppose she has never loved anybody very much and
doesn't know what it's like. Caroline doesn't either, though she thinks
she does. But _we_ know, don't we, Mollie?"

Mollie suddenly took up the work that had been lying on her lap, and her
face went red as she looked down at it. "I ought to know, by the amount
I've listened to about it from you," she said.

Beatrix laughed at her mischievously. "I don't think you'll hear very
much more," she said. "I'm contented now. I feel comfortable all over
me. I am going to begin to enjoy myself again. I shall go away on some
visits soon, but I don't want to just yet, because I love being here,
now that everything is all right at home."

Mollie's blush had died down. She left off using her needle and looked
at Beatrix. "Are you sure you love him just as much as ever you did?"
she asked.

"Oh, yes, I do. Of course I do," said Beatrix. "It doesn't leave off
like that, you know. But I know how to wait. I'm much wiser than people
think I am. I'm thinking of him all the time, and loving him, and I know
he's thinking of me. He'll be so happy when his mother tells him that he
may come and ask for me again. And then he'll be allowed to have me, and
we shall both be as happy as happy all the rest of our lives. It's
lovely to look forward to. It's what makes me not mind waiting a bit - or
only a very little bit - now and then."

Mollie took up her work again. "If it were me, I think I should want to
hear from him sometimes," she said, "or to see him. And you did feel
like that at first."

"I know I did. Daddy not understanding, and putting everything wrong,
made me sore and hurt all over, and with everybody. I was horrid even to
Caroline, who is always so sweet. I think I was with you too, a
little - just at first."

"No, you never were with me. But you were with him, though you tried not
to show it. I never said so before, because I didn't want to trouble
you."

"Did it seem to you like that?" Beatrix said thoughtfully. "I'm so happy
now that I've forgotten. Well, I suppose at first I was hurt with him
too. I couldn't understand his giving me up so easily. It seemed to me
like that. But, of course, it wasn't. I ought to have trusted him. I
think you _must_ trust the people you love, even if you don't
understand. You see he's been dying for me all the time. Mme. de
Lassigny coming to Dad like that, and telling him - it's like having a
window opened. I can see him now, wanting me, just as I want him.
Perhaps I was a little doubtful about it, but I ought not to have been.
I shan't be any more. Oh, I do trust him, and love him."

There had been another ring at the front door bell while she had been
talking, and now Mrs. Mercer was shown into the room.

The little lady's manner was combined of effusiveness and nervousness.
She had come to see Mrs. Walter, if she was well enough, but wouldn't
hear of her being disturbed if she was resting. She could easily come at
another time. She was so pleased to see Beatrix looking so well. But
what a horrid change in the weather! It did look as if the summer had
come to an end at last. She had really thought of lighting a fire this
morning. No, she wouldn't sit down. She had heaps of things to do. If
Mrs. Walter couldn't see her she would come in later.

Mollie thought her mother would be pleased to see her, and went
upstairs. Mrs. Mercer did consent to sit down until she returned, but
her manner was as jerky as before. Beatrix liked her and would have been
ready to tell her the news that was filling her mind. But there was no
opportunity before Mollie came back. Mrs. Mercer went upstairs with her,
after shaking hands warmly with Beatrix, and saying that she supposed
she would have gone before she came down again.

Mollie looked rather disturbed when she came back into the room and shut
the door after her. Beatrix looked at her as she took her seat again,
and said: "Tell me about it, Moll. You know we're friends, and I've told
you everything about myself, and about René."

"Oh, well," said Mollie, with an intonation of relief. "I've told you
everything so far. I'm afraid she has come to make trouble."

"And her husband has sent her, I suppose. I don't think she'd want to


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryArchibald MarshallAbington abbey; a novel → online text (page 16 of 23)