Archibald Marshall.

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thing for the moment was to show the Vicar how matters stood, and would
continue to stand, and to get rid of him once and for all.

Mollie answered to his sudden impulse as a boat answers at once to its
helm. "Yes," she said simply. "I'll do what you want. Mr. Mercer, I
think you have been making mistakes. I'll ask you to leave us now."

She had moved to Bertie's side. He put his hand on her shoulder, and
they stood there together facing the astonished Vicar. Something fixed
and sure in their conjunction penetrated the noxious mists of his mind,
and he saw that he had made one hideous mistake after another. Shame
overtook him, and he made one last effort to catch at the vanishing
skirts of his dignity.

"Oh, if it's like that," he said with a gulp, "I should like to be the
first to congratulate you."

He held out his hand. Neither of them made any motion to take it, but
stood there together looking at him until he had turned and left the
room.

Then at last they were alone together.




CHAPTER XXIV

SUNDAY


Grafton got up on Sunday morning and carried his cup of tea along the
corridor towards Caroline's room, but met the girls' maid who told him
that Miss Beatrix wanted him to go and see her.

He felt a little glow of pleasure at the message. The evening before
Beatrix had been very gay and loving with him. They had spent a family
evening, talking over the events of the day, and playing a rubber of
bridge, which had not been succeeded by another because their talk had
so amused them. There had been no shadow of the trouble that had of late
overcast their happy family intimacy. Lassigny was as far removed from
them in spirit as he was in body. Beatrix had been her old-time self,
and in high, untroubled spirits, which kept them all going, as she most
of all of them could do if she were in one of her merry extravagant
moods. She had said "Good-night, my darling old Daddy," with her arm
thrown round his neck, when they had parted at a comparatively early
hour, owing to the fatigues of the day. She had not bid him good-night
like that for months past, though there had been times when her attitude
almost of hostility towards him had relaxed. But for the closing down
again that had followed those relaxations he might have comforted
himself with the reflection that the trouble between them was over. But
he had become wary. Her exhibition of affection had sent him to bed
happy, but on rising in the morning he had set out for Caroline's room
and not for hers. He had jibbed at the thought of that photograph of
Lassigny, propped for her opening eye.

The summons, however, seemed to show that the respite had not yet run
its course, and he went to her gladly.

She was sitting up in bed with a letter in her hand. Her tea-tray was on
the table by her side, and Lassigny's photograph was not. But perhaps
she had put it under her pillow. She looked a very child, in her blue
silk pyjamas, with her pretty fair hair tumbling over her shoulders.

"Such an excitement, Dad," she said, holding up the letter. "I have sent
for the others, but I wanted to tell you first. It's Mollie."

The momentary alarm he had felt as to what a letter that brought
excitement to Beatrix could portend was dispersed.

"Mollie and Bertie Pemberton," she said by way of further elucidation as
he kissed her.

"Oh, they've fixed it up, have they?" he said as he took the letter and
sat on the bed to read it. Caroline and Barbara came in as he was doing
so. Young George, who had also received a summons, was too deep in the
realms of sleep to obey it.

The letter ran:

"Darling B, -

"I am so happy. Bertie came here this afternoon, and we are
engaged. I should have come to tell you all about it but
Mother isn't well, and I can't leave her. He is coming here
to-morrow morning and we should both like to come and see
you all after church time. So we will if Mother is well
enough for me to leave her.

"Ever your loving
"MOLLIE."

There was a chatter of delight mixed with some surprise, and then
Beatrix told them, which she had not done before, of Bertie's
preparatory investigations in the hunting-field. "It is really I who
have brought it on," she said, "and I am very proud of myself. She is a
darling, and he is much better than any one would give him credit for."

"I have always given him credit for being a good sort," said Barbara.
"It's only that he makes more noise in being a good sort than most
people. I wonder how Lord Salisbury will take it."

"Perhaps they will break it to him after church," said Caroline.

"I don't imagine that Master Bertie is coming over here to go to
church," said Grafton. "He will have something better to do. Can't you
ask them all to lunch, B?"

Beatrix said she must go and have a word with Mollie directly after
breakfast. At this point Young George came in, rubbing his eyes, and
with all the signs on him of acute fatigue. He received the news calmly
and said: "I wonder what Jimmy will say. You know he's coming over here
to lunch, to talk about the show."

"The blessed infant!" said Beatrix. "He will give them his blessing,
like a solemn old grandfather."

"It's rather an important thing for him, you know," said Young George
seriously. "He's rather interested in the Pembertons. I can't say more
than that at present."

This speech was received with whoops of delight, and Young George was
embraced for having made it, but struggled free, and said: "No, but I
say you know, you must be careful what you say to Jimmy. It's pretty
serious with him, and I shouldn't wonder if something didn't come of it
before long."

"They might have the two marriages at the same time," suggested Barbara.
"Jimmy could carry Mollie's train as a page in white satin, and then
step into his own place as bridegroom."

Young George expostulated at this disrespectful treatment of his friend.
"Jimmy isn't a fool," he said, "and he knows it couldn't come off yet.
But I'll tell you this, just to show you, though you mustn't let it go
any further. He's chucked the idea of going to Oxford. He says directly
he leaves Eton he must begin to make money."

"Well that shows he's in earnest," said Grafton. "I admire a fellow who
can make sacrifices for the girl he loves."

The Grafton family went to church. On their way across they met the
Vicar and Mrs. Mercer. The little lady was full of smiles. "I know you
must have heard our great news," she said, "for I saw Beatrix coming
from Stone Cottage half an hour ago. We are so pleased about it. It's a
great thing for dear Mollie, though, of course, we shall hate losing
her."

The Vicar, if not all smiles like his wife, also expressed his pleasure
over the affair, rather as if it had been of his own making. Beatrix had
heard something of what had happened the evening before from Mollie, but
by no means all. Mollie had also spoken of a note of congratulation that
had come from the Vicarage that morning, so she took it that he had
swallowed his chagrin, and that matters were to be on the same footing
between the Vicarage and Stone Cottage as before.

The Vicar's letter, indeed, had been a masterpiece of capitulation.
Going home the night before, he had seen that it was necessary to cover
up his mistakes by whatever art he could summon, unless he was prepared
for an open breach with the Walters, which if it came would react on his
own position in a way that would make it almost impossible. In view of
his behaviour towards Bertie it was not certain that this could be done,
but he had at least to make his effort. He had first of all set the mind
of his wife at ease by giving her a garbled account of what had taken
place in the drawing-room of Stone Cottage, from which she had drawn the
conclusion that he had felt it his duty to ask young Pemberton what his
intentions were towards the girl whom he looked upon as being in some
sense under his protection, and that his intervention had brought about
an immediate proposal of marriage. This had, of course, set his own mind
at rest, and had indeed brought him considerable pleasure. She was not,
however, to say a word outside about his part in the affair.

It had been enough for her to have those fears under which she had made
her escape from Stone Cottage set at rest, and she had not examined too
closely into the story, though she had asked a few questions as to the
somewhat remarkable fact of the proposal having been made in his
presence and accepted within the quarter of an hour that had elapsed
between her home-coming and his. If she had known that he had left Stone
Cottage within about three minutes, and had spent the rest of the time
calming himself by a walk up the village street, she might have found
it, in fact, still more remarkable. She was so relieved, however, at
finding her husband prepared to accept Mollie's engagement, and to act
in a fatherly way towards the young couple, that she rested herself upon
that, and let her own pleasure in the happiness that had come to the
girl she loved have its full flow.

Mrs. Mercer having been satisfied, and her mouth incidentally closed, by
order, the more difficult task remained to placate Mollie and Pemberton.
On thinking it over carefully, with wits sharpened by a real and
increasing alarm, the Vicar had decided that neither of those two would
wish an open breach, and would welcome an assumption upon which they
could avoid it. This enabled him to put a little more dignity into his
letter than the facts entitled him to. He had, he wrote, entirely
misjudged the situation. Nothing, naturally, could please him better
than that the girl in whom he had taken so warm an interest should find
happiness in a suitable marriage. He had no hesitation in saying that
this struck him as an eminently suitable marriage, and he asked her to
believe that he was sincere in wishing her all joy and blessing from it.
Anything that he may have said in the heat of the moment to Mr.
Pemberton, under the impression that his attentions had not been
serious, he should wish unreservedly to apologise for. When one had made
a mistake, it was the part of an honest man to acknowledge it frankly,
and make an end of it. He thought that it might be more agreeable to Mr.
Pemberton that this acknowledgment should be conveyed to him through
Mollie. He did not, therefore, propose to write to him himself, but
trusted that no more would be thought or said of what had passed.

The letter ended tentatively on the note of his old intercourse with
Mollie, and the last sentences gave him more trouble than all the rest
put together. He knew well enough that if his overtures were not
accepted this claim to something special in the way of affection on both
sides could only be contemptuously rejected, and that in any case he had
no right left upon which to found it.

It was gall and bitterness to him to recall her standing up to confront
him with her clear quiet eyes fixed upon him, searching out his
meanness, and of her lover with his hand resting on her shoulder to show
that it was he in whom she could place her confidence to protect her
against the claims of an unworthy jealousy. And he touched the bottom of
the cup when he figured them reading his letter together and accepting
his compact because he was not worth while their making trouble about,
his sting once drawn; and not at all because they believed in its
sincerity. They would know well enough why he had written it, especially
in the light of his wife's ignorance of what had happened, which he
would not be able to prevent her showing them. That ignorant
loud-mannered young man who had to be apologised to, in such a way that
he could hardly accept the apology without feeling if not showing
contempt! It shook him with passion to think of his degradation before
him, and of what was being given to him so beautifully and freely. There
was not in his thoughts a vestige of the feeling that he would have to
act before the world - of pleasure that the girl towards whom he claimed
to have given nothing but protecting affection should have found her
happiness in a promising love. It was all black jealousy and resentment
on his own behalf, and resentment against her as well as against the man
whom she had chosen for herself.

And yet by the next morning he had persuaded himself that some of those
feelings which he would have to act were really his. Perhaps in some
sense they were, for right feelings can be induced where the necessity
for them is recognised, and his affection for Mollie had actually
included those elements which he had so steadfastly kept in the
foreground. Also, his arrogance and self-satisfaction had prevented him
in his bitterest moments from recognising all the baseness in himself,
and gave him a poor support in thinking that, after all, his letter
showed manliness and generosity, and might be accepted so. He had, at
any rate, to keep up his front before the world, and by the time he met
and talked to the Graftons between their house and the church his good
opinion of himself had begun to revive. He was still troubled with fears
as to how his overtures would be received. Mollie would have received
his letter early that morning, and might have come over with her answer;
but she had evidently waited to consult over it with her lover. He had
prevented his wife running over to the Cottage, saying that they would
meet Mollie either before or after church. And so it had to be left,
with tremors and deceptions that, one would have thought, must have
disturbed him greatly in the duties he would have to fulfil before his
parishioners. Yet he preached a sermon about the approaching festival of
the church, which denoted in his view, amongst other things, that the
evil passions under which mankind had laboured since the creation of the
world had in the fulness of time found their remedy, and told his
hearers, with the air of one who knew what he was talking about, that
there was no excuse for them if they gave way to any evil passion
whatsoever, since the remedy was always to their hand. And in this
connection he wished to point out to them, as he had done constantly
throughout his ministry, that the highest means of grace were there at
their very doors in that place in which they were gathered together. He
himself was always to be found at his post, and woe betide any of them
who neglected to take advantage of what he as a priest of the church was
there to give them. The sermon, delivered with his usual confidence, not
to say pomposity, did him good. He felt small doubt after it of being
able to control the situation in support of his own dignity, whatever
attitude towards him Mollie and Bertie Pemberton should decide to adopt.

In the meantime those young lovers were spending an hour of bliss
together. They talked over all that had led up to their present happy
agreement, and found each other more exactly what they wanted every
minute that passed. A very short time was devoted to consideration of
the Vicar's letter. "Oh, tear it up and forget all about the blighter,"
said Bertie, handing it back to her. But there was a little more to be
settled than that. Mrs. Mercer must be considered, for her own sake as
well as for Mrs. Walter's. "Well then, you can say 'how do you do' to
the fellow and leave it at that," said Bertie. "If he's got any decency
in him he won't want to push himself, and if he does you let me know,
and I'll deal with him. I'm letting him off cheap, but we don't want to
bother our heads with him. You needn't answer his letter. Tear it up."

So Mollie tore it up and put it in the fire, and the Vicar was
forgotten until they met him and Mrs. Mercer on their way to the Abbey.

The meeting passed off with less awkwardness than might have been
expected, as such reparatory meetings generally do, where both sides are
willing to ignore the past. Mrs. Walter was with them, having been
persuaded to lunch at the Abbey. The Vicar addressed himself chiefly to
her, while his wife gushed happily over Mollie, and included Bertie in
her address in a way which gave him a good opinion of her, and enabled
him to accept the Vicar's stiff word of congratulation with one of
thanks before he turned his back upon him. It was over in a very short
time, and Mr. and Mrs. Mercer pursued their way homewards, the lady
chattering freely, the lord holding his head on high and accepting with
patronising affability the salutations of such of his parishioners as he
passed on the way. He was already reinstated in his good opinion of
himself, and said to his wife as they let themselves into their house:
"We must think about a present for Mollie. We ought to be the first. We
shall see her often, I hope, after she's married, as she won't be living
very far away."

The greetings and congratulations at the Abbey were such as to reduce
Mollie almost to tears of emotion, and to give Bertie a higher opinion
of his new neighbours than he had had before, though his opinion of them
had always been high. They were among warm personal friends, and they
were Mollie's friends, knitted to her by what she had shown herself to
be. As country neighbours they would have as much to offer as any
within reach of the place where these two would live out their lives,
but Bertie Pemberton would never have enjoyed the fullest intimacy with
them apart from Mollie. She wanted no exaltation in his eyes, but it
gave him an added pride in her to see how she was valued by these people
so thoroughly worth knowing, and of pleasure that they should be so
ready to take him into their friendship as the chosen of their dear
Mollie.

There were no guests from outside staying at the Abbey, but Worthing,
Maurice Bradby and Jimmy Beckley were lunching there. Worthing's
congratulations were hearty, Bradby's shy, and Jimmy's solemn and
weighty. "My dear chap," he said with a tight grip of Bertie's hand, and
looking straight into his eyes, "I congratulate you on taking the
plunge. It's the best thing a man can do. I'm sure you've chosen well
for yourself, and I don't believe you'll ever regret it."

"Thanks, old boy," said Bertie, "I hope I shall be able to say the same
to you some day."

"It may be sooner than you think," said Barbara, who was a trifle
annoyed with Jimmy at the moment for having given himself airs over her
in these matters. "The little man is only waiting till he grows up - say
in about ten years' time."

Jimmy turned a wrathful face upon her, and Young George frowned his
displeasure at this tactless humour. "You're inclined to let your tongue
run away with you, Barbara," said Jimmy, with great dignity. "I need
only point out that I shall be leaving school in three years, to show
how absurd your speech is."

"You really do overdo it, Barbara!" expostulated Young George.

"He got a swishing last half for trying to smoke," said Barbara
remorselessly. "I don't suppose he succeeded, because it would have made
him sick."

Jimmy and Young George then withdrew, to concoct plans for bringing
Barbara to a right sense of what was due to men of their age, and
Barbara, to consolidate her victory, called out after them, "You'll find
cigarettes in Dad's room, if you'd like to try again."

"Barbara darling," said Miss Waterhouse, "I don't think you should tease
Jimmy so unmercifully as you do. Children of that age are apt to be
sensitive."

The whole of the Pemberton family motored over in the afternoon, and
Mollie's acceptance into the bosom of it left nothing to be desired in
heartiness or goodwill. Old Mr. Pemberton kissed her, and said that
though he'd never been more surprised in his life, he had never been
more pleased. He thought that the sooner they were married the better,
and he should see about getting a house ready for them the next day.
Mrs. Pemberton said she had never credited Bertie with so much sense. He
wasn't all that Mollie probably thought he was, but they would all be
there to keep him in order if she found the task too much for her. A
slight moisture of the eyes, as she warmly embraced the girl, belied the
sharpness of her speech, and she talked afterwards to Mrs. Walter in a
way that showed she had already taken Mollie into a heart that was full
of warmth and kindness. There was no doubt about the genuineness of the
pleasure expressed by Nora, Effie and Kate, who were loud and tender at
the same time, and amply supported their widespread reputation as real
good sorts.

Beatrix was rather ashamed of herself for the doubts she had felt as to
whether the Pemberton family would think that the heir to its dignities
and estates was doing well enough for himself in marrying, as they might
have put it from their standpoint and in their lingo, out of their beat.
But they made it plain that their beat took in all that Mollie
represented in sweet and desirable girlhood as of chief account, and
were rejoiced that she should tread it with them.

Mrs. Walter was almost overcome by the suddenness of the occurrence, and
the strong flood of kindness and happiness that it had set in motion.
She was a woman with a meek habit of mind, which her long years of
servitude had not lessened. She had accepted the insinuation that had
run all through the Vicar's addresses on the subject of Mollie and
Bertie Pemberton - that the Pembertons were in a social position much
superior to her own, though not, as it had always been implied, to his,
and that in any attentions that the young man might give to her daughter
there could be no design of ultimate marriage. Her dignity had not been
wounded by the presentation of the Pemberton superiority, and had only
asserted itself when he had seemed to hint that she might be anxious to
bridge the gulf between them. But here were these people, whom she had
been invited to look upon in that way, welcoming not only her daughter
as a particular treasure that she was to be thanked for giving up to
them, but including herself in their welcome. Old Mr. Pemberton told her
that if she would like to live nearer to her daughter after her marriage
he would find a little house for her too; and Mrs. Pemberton seemed
anxious to assure her that they did not want to take Mollie away from
her altogether, but wished her to share in all that the marriage would
bring to them. Bertie was admirable with her. It was a sign of the
rightness of his love for Mollie, which had changed him in so many
respects, that he should be able to present himself to this mild faded
elderly woman, to whom he would certainly not have troubled to commend
himself before, as a considerate and affectionate son. He had already
embarked upon a way of treating her - with a sort of protecting humour,
compounded of mild chaff and little careful attentions - which gave her
the sensation of being looked after and made much of in a way that no
man had done since the death of her husband. So she was to be looked
after for the rest of her life, not to be parted from her daughter, but
to have a son given her in addition. She had begun the day with fears
and tremors. She ended it in deep thankfulness, and happiness such as
she had never thought would be hers again.

Bertie found opportunity for a little word alone with Beatrix in the
course of the afternoon.

"Well, I've fixed it up, you see," he said, with a happy grin, "thanks
to you."

"I saw you going to do it," said Beatrix. "You looked very determined.
Was there much difficulty?"

"Seemed to come about quite natural somehow," he said. "But I haven't
got used to my luck yet, all the same. You were right when you said I
wasn't good enough for that angel."

"I don't say it now," said Beatrix. "I think you'll do very well. But
she _is_ an angel, and you're never to forget it."

"Not likely to," said Bertie.




CHAPTER XXV

NEWS


The whole Grafton family and Miss Waterhouse, as the Vicar had
discovered through one of those channels open to Vicars who take an
interest in the intimate doings of their flock, had been asked to dine
at Surley Park on that Sunday evening. It was not, of course, a
dinner-party, to which the Bishop might have objected, but considering
the number of guests staying in the house it was near enough to give
pleasure on that account to Barbara and Young George. Their view of the
entertainment was satisfied by the costumes, the setting of the table,
and the sparkling but decorous conversation, in which both of them were
encouraged to take a due share; the Bishop's by the fact that there was
no soup and the joint was cold, which might almost have justified its
being regarded as Sunday supper, if one were of the religious school


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