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She hesitated a little. "It was unreasonable," she said, "but if you
hadn't sent him away, this wouldn't have happened."

He was silent for a time, and she was a little alarmed. He had been much
ruffled too; there were bristles to be smoothed away with him as well as
with Beatrix. But she was too honest not to want to tell him everything.

He relieved her immensely by laughing. "He's what she has found him out
to be," he said, "and she's well out of it. But if I hadn't done what I
did, she'd have been well in it by this time. Poor darling! She's been
hurt, and she wants to hit out all round. I dare say she didn't spare
you, did she?"

Caroline laughed in her turn. "I didn't know anything about it," she
said. "I didn't know what love meant. She has told me that before, you
know. Perhaps I don't know what that sort of love means, and that's why
I didn't think about it quite as you did, Dad. But she asked me to
forgive her for saying that, and other things, before I left her. She's
very sweet, poor darling. She hates hurting anybody."

They sat silent for a time. The fire of logs wheezed and glowed in the
open hearth. Round them was the deep stillness of the night and the
sleeping house - that stillness of the country which brings with it a
sense of security, so little likely is it to be disturbed, but also,
sometimes, almost a sense of terror, if solitary nerves are on edge.
To-night it was only peace that lapped them round, sitting there in full
companionship and affection.

Presently Grafton said, with a sigh of relief: "Thank God it's all over.
I'm only just beginning to feel it. We shall be all together again. It
has spoilt a lot of the pleasure of this place."

"We've been here a year now," she said. "And we've had some very happy
times. It's been better, even, than we thought it would."

"I wish we'd done it before. I think it was Aunt Mary who said once that
we ought to have done it ten years ago if we had wanted to get the full
benefit out of it."

"What did she mean by the full benefit?"

He thought for a moment, and then did not answer her question directly.
"It's the family life that takes hold of you," he said. "If it's a
happy one nothing else counts beside it. That's what this business of
B's has put in danger. Now it's over, I can see how great the danger has
been."

"But you must expect her to marry some time, darling."

"I know. But the right sort of fellow. It's got to be somebody you can
take in. I've thought it all over, while this has been going on, but I
didn't dare to look into it too closely because this wasn't the right
fellow. If she'd been in trouble, afterwards, she'd have come to me. But
I shouldn't have been able to do much to mend it for her. But the right
sort of marriage - I should have had my share in that. I shan't dread it,
when it comes, for any of you. You'll want me to know all about your
happiness. You'll want me to be with you sometimes, and you'll want to
write to me often, so as to keep up. I shan't be out of it, - if you
marry the right fellow."

"I can't imagine myself being happy away from you for long, Daddy," she
said softly.

"Ah, that's because you don't know what it is yet, darling. Oh, you'll
be happy right enough, when it comes. But you'll be thinking of me too,
and there'll always be the contact - visits or letters. Without it, it
would be too much - a man losing his daughter, if he loved her. That's
what I've feared about B. She'd go away. Perhaps she wouldn't even take
the trouble to write."

"Oh, yes, darling."

"I don't know. I couldn't tell how much I should be losing her. Oh,
well, it's over now. One needn't think about it any more. She won't
choose that sort of fellow again; and the right sort of fellow would
want her to keep up with her father."

There was another pause, and then he said: "It's given me a lot to think
about. When your children are growing up you're fairly young. Perhaps
you don't value your family life as much as you might. You hardly know
what they are to you. Then suddenly they're grown up, and begin to leave
you. You don't feel much older, but the past, when you had them all with
you, is gone. It's a big change. You've moved up a generation. If you
can't be certain of having something to put in the place of what you've
lost - - "

He left off. She understood that, now the danger was removed, he was
allowing himself to face all the troubles that he had hardly dared look
into, and so getting rid of them.

"You'll never grow old, darling," she said fondly. "Not to me, at any
rate. And if I ever do marry I shall always want you. At any rate, we
have each other now, for a long time, I hope. If B does marry - and of
course she will, some day - it isn't likely to be for some time now. And
as for me, I don't feel like it at all. I'm so happy as I am."

"Darling child," he said. "What about Francis, Cara? That all over?"

"I'm a little sorry for him, Dad. He's been awfully good about it. I do
like him as a friend, you know, and it's difficult for him to keep that
up, when he wants something more of me. But he writes me very nice
letters, and I like writing to him too."

"That's rather dangerous, darling, if you're not going to give him what
he wants."

"Is it, Daddy? Can't a man and a girl be friends - and nothing more?"

"He wants to be something more, doesn't he? You'd feel rather shocked
and hurt, wouldn't you - if he wrote and told you he was going to marry
somebody else."

She smiled. "I think I should feel rather relieved," she said.

"In that case," he said, after a moment's thought, "I don't suppose you
ever will marry him. I've thought that, perhaps, you might after a time.
I'm glad of it, darling. I've had enough lately. I want you all with
me - here chiefly - for a bit longer. I don't want to think of the
break-up yet awhile. We're going to enjoy Abington together, even more
than we have done. It's going to be a great success now."

"I love it," she said. "I've always loved home, but this is more of a
home than we have ever had. I love every day of my life here."

They talked a little longer of the pleasures they had had, and would
have, in their country home, of the friends they had made in it, of the
difference in outlook it had given to both of them. Caroline had seen
her father alter slightly during the past year, grow simpler in his
tastes, less dependent upon pleasures that had to be sought for, and, as
she knew now that he had realised himself, still more welded to the
life his children made for him. She saw something of what it would be to
him to lose it, and if she had felt any waverings in that matter of a
marriage that seemed to promise every known factor of happiness in
marriage, except the initial propulsion of love on both sides, she now
relinquished them. If love should come to her some day, and all the rest
should follow, she knew that her love for her father would not grow
less. But at present she wanted no one but him, and her sisters and
brother, and her dear Dragon. She looked forward with intense happiness
to the new year that was coming to them, in the life that was so
pleasant to her, yielding all sorts of delights that she had only tasted
of before, and making quiet and strong the spirit within her.

And he saw the change in her a little too, during that midnight hour, in
which they sat and talked together before the fire. She had based
herself upon this quiet country life in a way that went beyond anything
either of them had expected from it. The daily round of duties and
pleasures sufficed for her. Less than Beatrix, less probably than
Barbara would be, was she dependent upon the distractions which had
formed part of the woof and warf of the life in which she had been
brought up. How far they were from the ultimate simplicities of life
perhaps neither of them suspected, influenced and supported as they were
by wealth and habit. But at the roots, at least of Caroline's nature,
lay the quiet acceptance of love and duty as the best things that life
could afford, and they had put forth more vigorous shoots in this kind
settled country soil.

They sat on, watching the dying fire, talking sometimes, sometimes
silent, loth to break up this hour of contentment and felt
companionship, which held the seeds of so much more in the future. And
there we must leave them for the present, looking forward.



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