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church, and his as representing it. His heart warmed to them as he
pointed out what there was of interest in the ancient well-preserved
building, and indicated now and then the part they would be expected to
play in the activities that lay within his province to direct.

"Those will be your pews," he said, pointing to the chancel. "I shall be
glad to see them filled again regularly. It will be a good example to
the villagers. And I shall have you under my own eye, you see, from my
reading-desk opposite."

This was said to Caroline, in a tone that meant a pleasantry, and
invited one in return. She again met his smile with a clear unconcerned
look, and wondered when the keys of the house would come, and they would
be relieved of this tiresome person.

The car was heard outside at that moment, and Grafton said: "Well, thank
you very much. We mustn't keep you any longer. Yes, it's a fine old
church; I hope we shall know it better by and by."

He never went to church in London, and seldom in the country, and had
not thought of becoming a regular churchgoer if he should buy Abington.
But the girls and Miss Waterhouse would go on Sunday mornings and he
would occupy the chancel pew with them occasionally. He meant no more
than that, but the Vicar put him down gratefully as probably 'a keen
churchman,' and his heart warmed to him still further. An incumbent's
path was made so much easier if his Squire backed him up, and it made
such a tie between them. It would be a most pleasant state of things if
there was real sympathy and community of interest between the Vicarage
and the great house. He knew of Rectories and Vicarages in which the
Squire of the parish was never seen, with the converse disadvantage that
the rector or vicar was never seen in the Squire's house. Evidently
nothing of the sort was to be feared here. He would do all he could to
create a good understanding at the outset. As for leaving these nice
people to make their way about the Abbey with only the lodge-keeper's
wife, now arrived breathless and apologetic on the scene, it was not to
be thought of. He would rather lose his lunch than forsake them at this
stage.

It was in fact nearly lunch time. Grafton, hitherto so amenable to
suggestion, exercised decision. "We have brought a luncheon-basket with
us," he said, standing before the door of the house, which the
lodge-keeper was unlocking. "We shall picnic somewhere here before we
look over the house. So I'll say good-bye, and thank you very much
indeed for all the trouble you've taken."

He held out his hand, but the Vicar was not ready to take it yet,
though dismissal, for the present, he would take, under the
circumstances. "Oh, but I can't say good-bye like this," he said. "I
feel I haven't done half enough for you. There's such a lot you may want
to know about things in general, your new neighbours and so on. Couldn't
you both come to tea at the Vicarage? I'm sure my wife would be very
pleased to make your acquaintance, and that of this young lady."

"It's very kind of you," said Grafton. "But it will take us some hours
to get back to London, and we don't want to get there much after dark.
We shall have to start fairly early."

But the Vicar would take no denial. Tea could be as early as they
liked - three o'clock, if that would suit them. Really, he must insist
upon their coming. So they had to promise, and at last he took himself
off.

The house was a joy to them both. They got rid of the lodge-keeper, who
was anxious to go home and prepare her husband's dinner. She was
apologetic at having been away from her lodge, but explained that she
had only been down to the Estate office to draw her money.

"Is there a regular Agent?" asked Grafton. "If so, I should like to see
him before I go."

She explained that Mr. Worthing was agent both for Abington and
Wilborough, Sir Alexander Mansergh's place, which adjoined it. He lived
at High Wood Farm about a mile away. He wasn't so often at Abington as
at Wilborough, but could be summoned by telephone if he was wanted.
Grafton asked her to get a message to him, and she left them alone.

Then they started their investigations, while the chauffeur laid out
lunch for them on a table in the hall.

The hall was large and stone-floored, and took up the middle part of the
later regular building. The sun streamed into it obliquely through tall
small-paned windows at this hour of the day; otherwise it had the air of
being rather sombre, with its cumbrous dark-coloured furniture. There
was a great fire-place at one end of it, with a dark almost
indecipherable canvas over it. It was not a hall to sit about in, except
perhaps in the height of summer, for the front door opened straight into
it, and the inner hall and staircase opened out of it without doors or
curtains. A massive oak table took up a lot of room in the middle, and
there were ancient oak chairs and presses and benches disposed stiffly
against the walls.

"Doesn't it smell good," said Caroline. "Rather like graves; but the
nicest sort of graves. It's rather dull, though. I suppose this
furniture is very valuable. It looks as if it ought to be."

Grafton looked a little doubtful. "I suppose we'd better have it, if
they don't want a terrific price," he said. "It's the right sort of
thing, no doubt; but I'd rather have a little less of it. Let's go and
see if there's another room big enough to get some fun out of. What
about the long gallery? I wonder where that is."

They found it on the side of the house opposite to that from which they
had first approached it - a delightful oak-panelled oak-floored room with
a long row of latticed windows looking out on to a delicious old-world
garden, all clipped yews and shaven turf and ordered beds, with a
backing of trees and an invitation to more delights beyond, in the lie
of the grass and flagged paths, and the arched and arcaded yews. It was
big enough to take the furniture of three or four good-sized rooms and
make separate groupings of it, although what furniture there was, was
disposed stiffly, as in the case of the hall.

"Oh, what a heavenly room!" Caroline exclaimed. "I can see it at a
glance, George darling. We'll keep nearly all this furniture, and add to
it chintzy sofas and easy chairs. A grand piano up at that end. Won't it
be jolly to have all the flowers we want? I suppose there are hot-houses
for the winter. You won't have any excuse for accusing me of
extravagance about flowers any longer, darling."

She babbled on delightedly. The sun threw the patterns of the latticed
windows on the dark and polished oak floor. She opened one of the
casements, and let in the soft sweet spring air. The birds were singing
gaily in the garden. "It's all heavenly," she said. "This room sums it
up. Oh, why does anybody live in a town?"

Her father was hardly less pleased than she. Except for the blow dealt
him fifteen years before by the death of his wife, the fates had been
very kind to him. The acuteness of that sorrow had long since passed
away, and the tenderness in his nature had diffused itself over the
children that her love had given him. The satisfaction of his life - his
successful work, his friendships, his pastimes, the numerous interests
which no lack of money or opportunity ever prevented his following
up - were all sweetened to him by the affection and devotion that was his
in his home. And his home was the best of all the good things in his
life. It came to him now, as he stood by the window with his
daughter, - the beautiful spacious room which they would adapt to their
happy life on one side of him, the peaceful sunlit bird-haunted charm of
the garden on the other, - that this new setting would heighten and
centralise the sweet intimacies of their home life. Abington Abbey would
be much more to them than an increase of opportunities for enjoyment. It
would be the warm nest of their love for one another, as no house in a
city could be. He was not a particularly demonstrative man, though he
had caresses for his children, and would greatly have missed their
pretty demonstrations of affection for him; but he loved them dearly,
and found no society as pleasant as theirs. There would be a great deal
of entertaining at Abington Abbey, but the happiest hours spent there
would be those of family life.

They lunched in the big hall, with the door wide open, the sun coming in
and the stillness of the country and the empty house all about them.
Then they made their detailed investigations. It was all just what they
wanted - some big rooms and many fascinating small ones. The furniture
was the usual mixture to be found in old-established, long-inhabited
houses. Some of it was very fine, some of it very ordinary. But there
was an air about the whole house that could not have been created by new
furnishing, however carefully it might be done. Caroline saw it. "I
think we'd better leave it alone as much as possible," she said. "We can
get what we want extra for comfort, and add to the good things here and
there. We don't want to make it look new, do we?"

"Just as you like, darling," said her father. "It's your show. We can
string it up a bit where it's shabby, and make it comfortable and
convenient. Otherwise it will do all right. I don't want it too smart.
We're going to be country people here, not Londoners in the country."

They wandered about the gardens. It was just that time of year, and just
the day, in which spring seems most visibly and blessedly coming. The
crocuses were in masses of purple and gold, violets and primroses and
hepaticas bloomed shyly in sheltered corners, daffodils were beginning
to lower their buds and show yellow at their tips. They took as much
interest in the garden as in the house. It was to be one of their
delights. They had the garden taste, and some knowledge, as many
Londoners of their sort have. They made plans, walking along the garden
paths, Caroline's arm slipped affectionately into her father's. This was
to be their garden to play with, which is a very different thing from
admiring other people's gardens, however beautiful and interesting they
may be.

"George darling, I don't think we _can_ miss all this in the spring and
early summer," said Caroline. "Let's get into the house as soon as we
can, and cut all the tiresome London parties altogether."




CHAPTER IV

NEIGHBOURS


They were standing by one of the old monks' fish stews, which made such
a charming feature of the yew-set formal garden, when a step was heard
on the path and they turned to see a cheerful-looking gentleman
approaching them, with a smile of welcome on his handsome features. He
was a tall man of middle-age, dressed in almost exaggerated country
fashion, in rough home-spun, very neat about the gaitered legs, and was
followed by a bull-dog of ferocious but endearing aspect. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, in a loud and breezy voice as he approached them, "I thought
it must be you when I saw your name on the order. If you've forgotten me
I shall never forgive you."

Grafton was at a loss for a moment. Then his face cleared. "Jimmy
Worthing," he said. "Of course. They did mention your name. Cara, this
is Mr. Worthing. We were at school together a hundred years or so ago.
My eldest daughter, Caroline."

Worthing was enchanted, and said so. He was one of those cheerful
voluble men who never do have any difficulty in saying so. With his full
but active figure and fresh clean-shaven face he was a pleasant object
of the countryside, and Caroline's heart warmed to him as he smiled his
commonplaces and showed himself so abundantly friendly. It appeared from
the conversation that followed that he had been a small boy in George
Grafton's house at Eton when Grafton had been a big one, that they had
not met since, except once, years before at Lord's, but were quite
pleased to meet now. Also that Worthing had been agent to the Abington
property for the past twelve years, and to the Wilborough property
adjoining it for about half that time. A good deal of this information
was addressed to Caroline with friendly familiarity. She was used to the
tone from well-preserved middle-aged men. It was frankly accepted in the
family that all three of the girls were particularly attractive to the
mature and even the over-ripe male, and the reason given was that they
made such a pal of their father that they knew the technique of making
themselves so. Caroline had even succeeded in making herself too
attractive to a widowed Admiral during her first season, and had had the
shock of her life in being asked to step up a generation and a half at
the end of it. She was inclined to be a trifle wary of the 'my dears' of
elderly gentlemen, but she had narrowly watched Worthing during the
process of his explanations and would not have objected if he had called
her 'my dear.' He did not do so, however, though his tone to her implied
it, and she answered him, where it was necessary, in the frank and
friendly fashion that was so attractive in her and her sisters.

They all went over the stables and outhouses together, and then
Worthing suggested a run round the estate in the car, with reference
chiefly to the rearing and eventual killing of game.

"We promised to go to tea at the Vicarage," said Caroline, as her father
warmly adopted the suggestion. "I suppose we ought to keep in with the
Vicar. I don't know his name, but he seems a very important person
here."

She had her eye on Worthing. She wanted an opinion of the Vicar, by word
or by sign.

She got none. "Oh, you've seen him already, have you?" he said. "I was
going to suggest you should come and have tea with me. We should be at
my house by about half-past three, and it's a mile further on your
road."

"We might look in on the Vicar - what's his name, by the by? - and excuse
ourselves," - said Grafton, "I want to see the coverts, and we haven't
too much time. I don't suppose he'll object, will he?"

"Oh, no, we'll go and put it right with him," said Worthing. "He won't
mind. His name is Mercer - a very decent fellow; does a lot of work and
reads a lot of books."

"What kind of books?" asked Caroline, who also read a good many of them.
She was a little disappointed that Worthing had not expressed himself
with more salt on the subject of the Vicar. She had that slight touch of
malice which relieves the female mind from insipidity, and she was quite
sure that a more critical attitude towards the Vicar would have been
justified, and might have provided amusement. But she thought that Mr.
Worthing must be either a person of no discrimination, or else one of
those rather tiresome people, a peacemaker. She reserved to herself full
right of criticism towards the Vicar, but would not be averse from the
discovery of alleviating points about him, as they would be living so
close together, and must meet occasionally.

"What kind of books?" echoed Worthing. "Oh, I don't know. Books." Which
seemed to show that Caroline would search in vain among his own amiable
qualities for sympathy in her literary tastes.

They all got into the big car and arrived at the Vicarage, where they
were introduced to Mrs. Mercer, and allowed to depart again after
apologies given and accepted, and the requisite number of minutes
devoted to polite conversation.

The Vicar and his wife stood at the front door as they packed themselves
again into the car. "Oh, what delightful people!" the little lady
exclaimed as they drove off, with valedictory waving of hands from all
three of them. "They _will_ be an acquisition to us, won't they? I have
never seen a prettier girl than Miss Grafton, and _such_ charming
manners, and _so_ nicely dressed. And _he_ is so nice too, and how
pretty it is to see father and daughter so fond of one another! Quite an
idyll, I call it. Aren't you pleased, Albert dear? _I_ am."

Albert dear was not pleased, as the face he turned upon her showed when
she had followed him into his study. "The way that Worthing takes it
upon himself to set aside my arrangements and affect a superiority over
me in the place where I should be chief is really beyond all bearing,"
he said angrily. "It has happened time and again before, and I am
determined that it shall not happen any further. The very next time I
see him I shall give him a piece of my mind. My patience is at an end. I
will not stand it any longer."

Mrs. Mercer drooped visibly. She had to recall exactly what had happened
before she could get at the causes of his displeasure, which was a
painful shock to her. He had given, for him, high praise to the
new-comers over the luncheon-table, and she had exulted in the prospect
of having people near at hand and able to add so much to the pleasures
of life with whom she could make friends and not feel that she was
disloyal to her husband in doing so. And her raptures over them after
she had met them in the flesh had not at all exaggerated her feelings.
She was of an enthusiastic disposition, apt to admire profusely where
she admired at all, and these new people had been so very much worthy of
admiration, with their good looks and their wealth and their charming
friendly manners. However, if it was only Mr. Worthing with whom her
husband was annoyed, that perhaps could be got out of the way, and he
would be ready to join her in praise of the Graftons.

"Well, of course, it was rather annoying that they should be whisked off
like that when we had hoped to have had them to talk to comfortably,"
she said. "But I thought you didn't mind, dear. Mr. Grafton only has a
few hours here, and I suppose it is natural that he should want to go
round the estate. We shall see plenty of them when they come here to
live."

"That is not what I am objecting to," said her husband. "Mr. Grafton
made his excuses in the way a gentleman should, and it would have been
absurd to have kept him to his engagement, though the girl might just as
well have stayed. It can't be of the least importance that _she_ should
see the places where the high birds may be expected to come over, or
whatever it is that they want to see. I don't care very much for the
girl. There's a freedom about her manners I don't like."

"She has no mother, poor dear," interrupted Mrs. Mercer. "And her father
evidently adores her. She _would_ be apt to be older than her years in
some respects. She was _very_ nice to me."

"As I say," proceeded the Vicar dogmatically, "I've no complaint against
the Graftons coming to apologise for not keeping their engagement. But I
_have_ a complaint when a man like Worthing comes into my house - who
hardly ever takes the trouble to ask me into his - and behaves as if he
had the right to over-ride me. I hate that detestable swaggering
high-handed way of his, carrying off everything as if nobody had a right
to exist except himself. He's no use to anybody here - hardly ever comes
to church, and takes his own way in scores of matters that he ought to
consult me about; even opposes my decisions if he sees fit, and seems
to think that an insincere word or smile when he meets me takes away all
the offence of it. It doesn't, and it shan't do so in this instance. I
shall have it out with Worthing once and for all. When these new people
come here I am not going to consent to be a cipher in my own parish, or
as a priest of the church take a lower place than Mr. Worthing's; who is
after all nothing more than a sort of gentleman bailiff."

"Well, he _has_ got a sort of way of taking matters into his own hands,"
said Mrs. Mercer, "that isn't always very agreeable, perhaps. But he is
nice in many ways, and I shouldn't like to quarrel with him."

She knew quite well, if she did not admit it to herself, that it would
be impossible to quarrel with Worthing. She herself was inclined to like
him, for he was always excessively friendly, and created the effect of
liking _her_. But she _did_ feel that he was inclined to belittle her
husband's dignity, in the way in which he took his own course, and, if
it conflicted with the Vicar's wishes, set his remonstrances aside with
a breezy carelessness that left them both where they were, and himself
on top. Also he was not regular in his attendance at church, though he
acted as churchwarden. She objected to this not so much on purely
religious grounds as because it was so uncomplimentary to her husband,
which were also the grounds of the Vicar's objections.

"I don't wish to quarrel with him either," said the Vicar. "I don't wish
to quarrel with anybody. I shall tell him plainly what I think, once
for all, and leave it there. It will give him a warning, too, that I am
not to be put aside with these new people. If handled properly I think
they may be valuable people to have in the parish. A man like Grafton is
likely to want to do the right thing when he comes to live in the
country, and he is quite disposed, I should say, to do his duty by the
church and the parish. I shall hope to show him what it is, and I shall
not allow myself to be interfered with by Mr. Worthing. I shall make it
my duty, too, to give Grafton some warning about the people around.
Worthing is a pastmaster in the art of keeping in with everybody, worthy
or unworthy, and if the Graftons are guided by him they may let
themselves in for friendships and intimacies which they may be sorry for
afterwards."

"You mean the Manserghs," suggested Mrs. Mercer.

"I wasn't thinking of them particularly, but of course they are _most_
undesirable people. They are rich and live in a big house, and therefore
everything is forgiven them. Worthing, of course, is hand in glove with
them - with a man with the manners of a boor and a woman who was
divorced, and an actress at that - a painted woman."

"Well, she is getting on in years now, and I suppose people have
forgotten a lot," said Mrs. Mercer. "And her first husband didn't
divorce her, did he? She divorced him."

"What difference does that make? You surely are not going to stand up
for her, are you? Especially after the way in which she behaved to you!"

"No," said Mrs. Mercer doubtfully. It was Lady Mansergh's behaviour to
her husband that had hitherto been the chief cause of offence, her
'past' having been ignored until the time of the quarrel, or as the
Vicar had since declared, unknown. "Oh, no, Albert, I think she is quite
undesirable, as you say. And it would be a thousand pities if that nice
girl, and her younger sisters, were to get mixed up with a woman like
that. I think you should give Mr. Grafton a warning. Wilborough is the
nearest big house to Abington, and I suppose it is natural that they
should be friendly."

"I shall certainly do that. Mr. Grafton and Sir Alexander can shoot
together and all that sort of thing, but it would be distinctly wrong
for him to allow young girls like his daughters to be intimate with
people like the Manserghs."

"The sons are nice, though. Fortunately Lady Mansergh is not their
mother."

"Richard is away at sea most of the time, and Geoffrey is _not_
particularly nice, begging your pardon. I saw him in the stalls of a
theatre last year with a woman whose hair I feel sure was dyed. He is
probably going the same way as his father. It would be an insult to a
young and pure girl like Miss Grafton to encourage anything like
intimacy between them."

"I expect they will make friends with the Pembertons. There are three
girls in their family and three in that."

"It would be a very bad thing if they did. Three girls with the tastes
of grooms, and the manners too. I shall never forget the insolent way in
which that youngest one asked me if I didn't know what a bit of ribbon
tied round a horse's tail meant when I was standing behind her at that
meet at Surley Green, and when I didn't move at once that young cub of a
brother who was with her said: 'Well, sir, if you _want_ to be kicked!'
And then they both laughed in the vulgarest fashion. Really the manners
of some of the people about here who _ought_ to know better are beyond
belief. The Pembertons have never had the politeness to call on
us - which is _something_ to be thankful for, anyhow, though it is, of
course, a slight on people in our position, and no doubt meant as such.
Of course they will call on the Graftons. They will expect to get
something out of them. But I shall warn Grafton to be careful. He won't
want his daughters to acquire their stable manners."

"No; that would be a pity. I wish Vera Beckley had been as nice as we
thought she was at first. She would have been a nice friend for these
girls. I never quite understood why she suddenly took to cutting us
dead, and Mrs. Beckley left off asking us to the house, when they had


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