Archibald Marshall.

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Barbara looked at him fondly. "Not very good, Bunting dear," she said.
"He does much better than that sometimes, Ella. He's quite a bright
lad."

Caroline and Beatrix had no lack of society, seated in their saddles
outside. Richard Mansergh, after vainly trying to get them to let him
fetch them something to keep out the draught, went off elsewhere, but
his place was taken by others. Bertie Pemberton came up with two of his
sisters, all three of them conspicuous examples of the decorative value
of hard cloth, and it was as if the loud pedal had suddenly been jammed
down on a piano. Bertie himself, however, was not so vociferous as
usual, and when his sisters suggested going inside said that he was
quite happy where he was. This was on the further side of Beatrix, of
whom he had already enquired whether anybody had brought over Mollie
Walter. Nobody had, and he said it was a pity on such a day as this, but
he hoped they'd have some fun after all. Nora and Kate, however, were
not to go unaccompanied to their refreshment. Jimmy Beckley, perched on
a tall horse, with an increased air of maturity in consequence, offered
to squire them, and they went off with him, engaging him in loud chaff,
to which he responded with consummate ease and assurance.

It was evident that Bertie Pemberton had something particular to say to
Beatrix. His horse fidgeted and he made tentative efforts to get her to
follow him in a walk. But Beatrix's mare was of the lazy sort, quite
contented to stand still as long as it should be permitted her, and she
refused to put her in motion, though she was not altogether incurious as
to what the young man wished to disclose. She thought it probable,
however, that he would make his attempt later on, if there should be any
period of hanging about the covert side, and under those less
conspicuous circumstances she should not refuse to listen to him.

Among the few hardy spirits who had come prepared to follow the hounds
on foot was Maurice Bradby. Worthing had driven him over in his dog-cart
and after a few cheery words with Caroline and Beatrix had gone inside.
Bradby had not followed him, but as the girls were just then surrounded
by a little group of people he had hung about on its skirts, evidently
wishing to talk to them, but being too shy to do so.

This young man's diffidence had begun to arouse comment at the Abbey.
They all liked him, and had shown him that they did. There were times
when he seemed thoroughly at home with them, and showed qualities which
endeared him to the active laughter-loving family. Young George frankly
adored him, finding in him all he wanted for companionship, and with him
he was at his ease, and even took the undisputed lead. But on the other
hand Grafton found him hang heavy, on the few occasions when they had to
be alone together. He was deferential, not in any way that showed lack
of manly spirit, but so as to throw all the burden of conversation on
his host. Grafton found it rather tiresome to sit with him alone after
dinner. It was only when they were occupied together, in the garden or
elsewhere, that Bradby seemed to take up exactly the right attitude
towards him.

The girls came between their father and their brother. Barbara had
altered her first opinion of him. There was still something of the boy
in her; she shared as far as she was permitted in the pursuits of Bradby
and Bunting, and all three got on well together. The two other girls
found his diffidence something of a brake on the frank friendship they
were ready to accord to their companions among young men. Beatrix was
most outspoken about it. Of course he was not, in his upbringing or
experience, like other young men whom they had known. In London,
perhaps, they would not have wanted to make a particular friend of him.
But here in the country he fitted in. Why couldn't he take the place
they were ready to accord him, and not be always behaving as if he
feared to be in the way?

Caroline was softer. She agreed that his shyness was rather tiresome,
but thought it would wear off in time. It was better, after all, to have
a young man who did not think too much of himself than one who would
always have to be kept in his place. She found his love for nature
refreshing and interesting, and something fine and genuine in him that
made it worth while to cultivate him, and have patience. Beatrix would
say, in answer to this, that she hadn't got enough patience, and doubted
whether the results would make it worth while to exercise it. But
Beatrix was a little oversharp in these days, and what she said needed
not to be taken too seriously.

She saw Maurice Bradby standing at a little distance off, casting shy
glances at them as if he wanted to make one of the group around them,
but lacked the boldness to introduce himself into it, and felt a spurt
of irritation against him. Caroline saw him too, and presently, when the
group had thinned, walked her horse to where he was standing. He
received her with a grateful smile, and they talked about the day's
prospects and his chances of seeing the sport on foot, and hers of a
good run.

The people who had been refreshing themselves indoors came out, mounted
their horses or took to their carriages, cars and carts, while the
huntsman led his bunched and trotting hounds down the drive, and the gay
cavalcade followed them to the scene of their sport. The soft grey
winter sky breathed mild moisture, the tree twigs were purple against
it, and seemed already to be giving promise of spring, though the year
was only just on the turn. No one there would have exchanged this mood
of England's much abused climate for the flowery deceptions of the
South, or even for the frosty sparkle of Alpine winters. It was a fine
hunting morning, and they were all out to enjoy themselves, in the way
that their forbears had enjoyed themselves for generations.




CHAPTER XXII

ANOTHER AFFAIR


Bertie Pemberton stuck close by Beatrix's side as they trotted easily
with the crowd up to the wood which was first to be drawn.

"They won't find anything here," he said; "they never do. They'll draw
Beeching Copse next. Let's go off there, shall we? Lots of others will."

In her ignorance and his assurance of what was likely to happen, she
allowed herself to follow his lead. The 'lots of others' proved to be
those of the runners who were knowing enough to run risks so as to spare
themselves, and a few experienced horsemen who shared Bertie's opinion;
but there were enough of them to make the move not too conspicuous.
Bertie found the occasion he wanted, and made use of it at once.

"I say, I know you're a pal of Mollie Walter's," he said. "Is there any
chance for me?"

Beatrix was rather taken aback by this directness, having anticipated
nothing more than veiled enquiries from which she would gain some
amusement and interest in divining exactly how far he had gone upon the
road which she thought Mollie was also traversing.

"Why do you ask me that?" she said, after a slight pause. "Why don't you
ask her?"

"Well, because I don't want to make a fool of myself. I believe she
likes me, but I don't know."

"Do you want me to find out for you, then?" she asked, after another
pause.

"I thought you'd give me a tip," he said. "I know you're a pal of hers.
I suppose she talks about things to you."

"Of course she talks about things to me."

"Yes? Well!"

She kept silence.

"Is it any good?" he asked again.

"How should I know?" asked Beatrix. "You don't suppose she's confided in
me that she's dying for love of you!"

He turned to look at her. Her pretty face was pink, and a trifle
scornful. "Oh, I say!" he exclaimed. "What have I said to put you in a
bait?"

"Are _you_ in love with her?" asked Beatrix.

"I should think you could see that, can't you?" he said, with a slight
droop. "I don't know that I've taken particular pains to hide it."

"Well then, why don't you tell her so? It's the usual thing to do, isn't
it?"

He laughed. "Which brings us back to where we were before," he said.

"I'm not going to give you any encouragement," said Beatrix. "If you
really love her, and don't ask her without wanting to know beforehand
what she'll say - well, of course, you _can't_ really love her."

Somewhat to her surprise, and a little to her dismay, he seemed to be
considering this. "Well, I don't want to make a mistake," he said. "I'll
tell you how it is. I never seem to get beyond a certain point with her.
I know this, that if she'd just give me a little something, I should be
head over ears. Then I shouldn't want to ask you or anybody. I should go
straight in. That's how it is."

Beatrix was interested in this disclosure. It threw a light upon the
mysterious nature of man's love, as inflammable material which needs a
spark to set it ablaze. In a rapid review of her own case she saw
exactly where she had provided the spark, and the hint of a question
came to her, which there was no time to examine into, as to which of the
two really comes to a decision first, the man or the woman.

She would not, however, admit to him that it was to be expected of a
girl that she should indicate the answer she would give to a question
before it had been asked. She also wanted to find out if there was any
feeling in his mind that he would not be doing well for himself and his
family if he should marry Mollie. On her behalf she was prepared to
resent such an idea, and to tell him quite frankly what she thought
about it.

"Don't you think she's worth taking a little risk about?" she asked.

"She's worth anything," he said simply, and she liked him for the
speech, but stuck to her exploratory purpose.

"If you've made it so plain that you want her," she said, "I suppose
your people know about it. What do they say?"

"Say? They don't say anything. I've paid attentions to young women
before, you know. It's supposed to be rather a habit of mine."

She liked this speech much less. "Perhaps that's why Mollie doesn't
accept them with the gratitude you seem to expect of her," she said. "I
don't like your way of talking about her."

"Talking about her? What do you mean? I've said nothing about her at
all, except that I think she's the sweetest thing in the world. At least
I haven't said that, but I've implied it, haven't I? Anyhow, that's what
I do think."

"Haven't you thought that about the others you're so proud of having
paid attention to?"

"I didn't say I was proud of it. How you do take a fellow up. Yes,
perhaps I have thought it once or twice. I don't want to make myself out
what I'm not."

He was dead honest, she thought, but still wasn't quite sure that he was
worthy of her dear Mollie; or even that he was enough in love with her
to make it desirable that he should marry her. But Beatrix, innocent and
childish as she was in many ways, had yet seen too much of the world not
to have her ideas touched by the worldly aspects of marriage, for
others, at least, if not for herself. Bertie Pemberton would be a very
good 'match' for Mollie; and she knew already that Mollie 'liked' him,
though she had no intention of telling him so.

"Will your people like your marrying Mollie - if you do?" she asked.

"Like it! Of course they'll like it They're devilish fond of her, the
whole lot of them. Why shouldn't they like it?"

She didn't answer, and he repeated the question, "Why shouldn't they
like it?"

"I thought perhaps they might want you to marry somebody with money, or
something of that sort," she said, forced to answer, but feeling as if
she had fixed herself with the unworthy ideas she had sought to find in
him.

He added to her confusion by saying: "I shouldn't have thought that sort
of thing would have come into _your_ head. I suppose what you really
mean is that there'd be an idea of my marrying out of my beat, so to
speak, if I took Mollie."

"If you _took_ Mollie!" she echoed, angry with herself and therefore
more angry with him. "What a way to talk! I think Mollie's far too good
for you. Too good in every way, and I mean that. It's only that I know
how people of your sort _do_ look at things - and because she lives in a
little cottage and you in a - Oh, you make me angry."

He laughed at her. There was no doubt about his easy temper. "Look
here," he said. "Let's get it straight. I'm not a snob, and my people
aren't snobs. As for money - well, I suppose it's always useful, if it's
there; but if it isn't - well, it's going to be all the more my show.
There'll be enough to get along on. If I could have the luck to get
that girl for my own, I should settle down here, and look after the
place, and be as happy as a king. The old governor would like that, and
so would the girls. And they'd all make a lot of her. Everybody about
here who knows her likes her, and I should be as proud as Punch of her.
You know what she's like yourself. There's nobody to beat her. She's a
bit shy now, because she hasn't been about as much as people like you
have; but I like her all the better for that. She's like something - I
hope you won't laugh at me - it's like finding a jewel where you didn't
expect it. She's never been touched - well, I suppose I mean she's
unspotted by the world, as they read out in church the other day. I
thought to myself, Yes, that's Mollie. She isn't like other girls one
may have taken a fancy to at some time or another."

Beatrix liked him again now. They had reached the copse where the next
draw would be made, and were standing in a corner at its edge. She stole
a glance at him sitting easily on his tall horse and found him a proper
sort of man, in spite of his lack of the finer qualities. Perhaps he did
not lack them so much as his very ordinary speech and behaviour had
seemed to indicate. She had pictured him taking a fancy to Mollie, and
willing to gratify it in passing over the obvious differences between
his situation in the world and hers. But his last speech had shown him
to have found an added attraction in her not having been brought up in
his world, and it did him credit, for it meant to him something good
and quiet towards which his thoughts were turned, and not at all the
unsuitability which many men of his sort would have seen in it.

There was a look on his ordinary, rather unmeaning face which touched
Beatrix. "I like you for saying that," she said frankly. "It's what
anybody who can see things ought to think about darling Mollie. I'm
sorry I said just now that you weren't really good enough for her."

He looked up and laughed again, the gravity passing from his face.
"Well, it _was_ rather rough," he said, "though it's what I feel myself,
you know. Makes you ashamed of having knocked about - you know what I
mean. Or perhaps you don't. But men aren't as good as girls. But when
you fall in love with a girl like Mollie - well, you want to chuck it
all, and make yourself something different - more suitable, if you know
what I mean. That's the way it takes you; or ought to when you're really
in love with somebody who's worth it."

She liked him better every moment. A dim sense of realities came to her,
together with the faintest breath of discomfort, as her own case, always
present with her while she was discussing that of another, presented
itself from this angle. She had been very scornful of Bertie's frank
admission that there had been others before Mollie. But weren't there
always others, with men? If a true love wiped them out, and made the man
wish he had brought his first love to the girl, as he so much revered
her for bringing hers to him, then the past should be forgiven him; he
was washed clean of it. It was the New Birth in the religion of Love.
Mollie represented purity and innocence to this ordinary unreflective
young man, and something good in him went out to meet it, and sloughed
off the unworthiness in him. His chance of regeneration had been given
him.

"If you feel like that about her," she said, "I don't know what you
meant when you said she hadn't given you enough encouragement to make
you take the risk with her."

His face took on its graver look again. "I don't know that I quite know
what I meant myself," he said. "I suppose - in a way - it's two sorts of
love. At least, one is mixed up with the other. Oh, I don't know. I
can't explain things like that."

But Beatrix, without experience to guide her, but with her keen feminine
sense for the bases of things, had a glimmering. The lighter love, which
was all this young man had known hitherto, would need response to set it
aflame. He was tangled in his own past. The finer love that had come to
him was shrinking and fearful, set its object on a pedestal to which it
hardly dared to raise its eyes. It was this sort of love that raised a
man above himself and above his past. Again a question insinuated itself
into her mind. Had it been given in her own case? But again there was no
time to answer it.

There was no time, indeed, for more conversation. A hulloa and a bustle
at the further edge of the wood from which they had come showed it to
have contained a prize after all. The stream set that way, and they
followed it with the hope of making up for the ground they had lost.

For a time they galloped together, and then there came a fence which
Bertie took easily enough, but which to Beatrix was somewhat of an
ordeal. She went at it, but her mare, having her own ideas as to how
much should be asked of her, refused; and at the beginning of the day,
with her blood not yet warmed, Beatrix did not put her at it again.
There was a gate a few yards off which had already been opened, and she
went through it with others. In the meantime Bertie, to whom it had not
occurred that she would not take a fence that any of his sisters would
have larked over without thinking about it, had got on well ahead of
her, and she did not see him again.

But although their conversation had been cut short, all, probably, had
been said that he could have expected to be said. Beatrix thought that
there was little doubt now of his proposing to Mollie, and perhaps as
soon as he should find an opportunity.

Beatrix, of all three of the girls, was the least interested in hunting.
When she realised that the day had opened with a good straight run, and
that her bad start had left her hopelessly behind, she gave it up, and
was quite content to do so. A little piece of original thinking on her
part had led her to take a different line from that followed by most of
those who had started late with her, but it had not given her the
advantage she had hoped from it. Presently she found herself quite
alone, in a country of wide grass fields and willow-bordered brooks
which was actually the pick of the South Meadshire country, if only the
fox had been accommodating enough to take to it.

Recognising, after a time, that she was hopelessly lost, and being even
without the country lore that would have given her direction by the
softly blowing west wind, she gave it up with a laugh and decided to
return slowly home. She would anyhow have had a nice long ride, and the
feminine spirit in her turned gratefully towards a cosy afternoon
indoors with a book, which would be none the less pleasant because it
had hardly been earned.

She followed tracks across the fields until she came to a lane and then
to a road, followed that till she found crossroads and a signpost, and
then discovered that she was going in the opposite direction to that of
Abington. So she turned back about a mile, and going a little farther
found herself in familiar country and reached home in time for a bath
before luncheon.

That was Beatrix's day with the hounds, but she had plenty to think
about as she walked and trotted along the quiet lanes.

She felt rather soft with regard to Bertie and Mollie. He had shown
himself in a light that touched her, and the conviction, which at one
period of their conversation she had quite sincerely expressed to him,
that he was not nearly good enough for her chosen friend, she found
herself to have relinquished. As the young man with some reputation for
love-making, who had seemed to be uncertain whether he would or he
wouldn't, he had certainly not been good enough, nor on that side of him
would he ever be good enough. But there had been something revealed that
went a good deal deeper than that. Beatrix thought that his love for
Mollie was after all of the right sort, and was honouring to her friend.
She also thought that she herself might perhaps do something to further
it.

As for Mollie, she had found herself somewhat impressed by the young
man's statement that she had given him little encouragement. She had
seen for herself, watching the pair of them when they had been together,
how she had been invited to it. Here again her own experience that had
been so sweet to her came in. The man shows himself attracted. He makes
little appeals and advances. An aura begins to form round him; he is not
as other men. But the girl shrinks instinctively from those advances at
first, holding her maiden stronghold. Then, as instinctively, she begins
to invite them, and greatly daring makes some fluttering return, to be
followed perhaps by a more determined closing up. The round repeats
itself, and she is led always further along the path that she half fears
to tread, until at last she is taken by storm, and then treads it with
no fear at all, but with complete capitulation and high joy.

So it had been with her, and she thought that it should have been so
with Mollie, until the tiresome figure of the Vicar, spoiling the
delicate poise with his crude accusations, presented itself to her. It
was that that had made Mollie so careful that she had shut herself off
in irresponsiveness, wary and intended, instead of following the fresh
pure impulses of her girlhood. She was sure of it, and half wished she
had said as much to Bertie, but on consideration was glad that she
hadn't. He would have been very angry, and awkwardness might have come
of it, for those who were forced to live in proximity to this official
upholder of righteousness. He would be sufficiently confounded when what
he had shown himself so eager to spoil in the making should result in
happiness and accord. If Beatrix, in her loyalty towards youth as
against interfering middle-age, also looked forward with pleasure to
exhibitions of annoyance at the defeat that was coming to him, she may
perhaps be forgiven.

It may be supposed, however, that during that long slow ride home her
thoughts were more taken up with her own affair than with that of her
friends, which indeed seemed in train to be happily settled in a way
that hers was not.

For the first time in all these months, she examined it from a
standpoint a little outside herself. She did not know that she was
enabled to do this by the fact that her devotion to Lassigny's memory
had begun to loosen its hold on her. Her time of love-making had been so
short, and her knowledge of her lover so slight, that it was now the
memory to which she clung, and was obliged to cling if her love was not
to die down altogether. None of this, however, would she have admitted.
She had given her love, and in her own view of it she had given it for
life.

What she found herself able to examine, in the light of Bertie
Pemberton's revelation of himself, was the figure of her own lover, not
altogether deprived of the halo with which she had crowned it, but for
the first time somewhat as others might see it, and especially her
father.

He distrusted Lassigny. Why? She had never admitted the question before,
and only did so now on the first breath of discomfort that blew chill on
her own heart. Those two sorts of love of which Mollie's lover had dimly
seen his own to be compounded - had they both been offered to her? There
had been no such shrinking on Lassigny's part as the more ordinary young
man had confessed to. He had wooed her boldly, irresistibly, with the
sure confidence of a man who knows his power, and what he may expect to
get for himself from it. He had desired her, and she had fallen a
willing captive to him. She knew that he had found her very sweet, and
he had laid at her feet so much that she had never questioned his having
laid all. All would have included his own man's past, the full tide of
the years and experiences of youth, spent lavishly while she had been a
little child, and beginning now to poise its wings for departure. It was
the careless waste of youth and of love that Mollie's lover had felt to
have been disloyalty to the finer love that had come to him, and turned
him from his loud self-confidence to diffidence and doubt. There had


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Online LibraryArchibald MarshallAbington abbey; a novel → online text (page 19 of 23)