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asked us so often and we seemed real _friends_. I have sometimes thought
of asking her. I am sure there is a misunderstanding, which could be
cleared up."

The Vicar grew a trifle red. "You will not do anything of the sort," he
said. "If the Beckleys can do without us we can do very well without
them."

"You used to be so fond of Vera, Albert," said Mrs. Mercer reflectively,
"and she of you. You often used to say it was like having a daughter of
your own. I wonder what it _was_ that made her turn like that."

"We were deceived in her, that was all," said Albert, who had recovered
his equanimity. "She is not a nice girl. A clergyman has opportunities
of finding out these things, and - - "

"Oh, then there _was_ something that you knew about, and that you
haven't told me."

"I don't wish to be cross-examined, Gertrude. You must be content to
leave alone the things that belong to my office. None of the Beckleys
shall ever darken my doors again. Let that be enough. If we have to meet
them sometimes at the Abbey we can be polite to them without letting it
go any further. There are really very few people hereabouts whom I
should like to see the Graftons make friends with, and scarcely any
young ones. Denis Cooper is a thoughtful well-conducted young fellow,
but he is to be ordained at Advent and I suppose he will not be here
much. Rhoda and Ethel are nice girls too. I think a friendship might
well be encouraged there. It would be pleasant for them to have a nice
house like Abington to go to, and their seriousness might be a good
thing for the Grafton girls, who I should think would be likely to be
affected by their father's evident wealth. It is a temptation I should
like to see them preserved from."

"Rhoda and Ethel are a little old for them."

"So much the better. Yes; that is a friendship that I think might be
helpful to both parties, and I shall do my best to encourage it. I
should like to see the Grafton girls thoroughly intimate at Surley
Rectory before Mrs. Carruthers comes back. She has behaved so badly to
the Coopers that she would be quite likely to prevent it if she were
here, out of spite."

"Well, I must stand up a _little_ for Mrs. Carruthers," said Mrs.
Mercer. "Rhoda and Ethel are good girls, I know, and do a lot of useful
work in the parish, but they do like to dominate everything and
everybody, and it was hardly to be expected that Mrs. Carruthers in her
position would stand it."

"I don't agree with you at all," said her husband. "She was a mere girl
when she married and came to live at Surley Park; she is hardly more
than a girl now. She ought to have been thankful to have their help and
advice, as they had practically run the parish for years. Actually to
tell them to mind their own business, and practically to turn them out
of her house, over that affair of her laundry maid - well, I don't say
what I think about it, but I am _entirely_ on the side of Rhoda and
Ethel; and so ought you to be."

"Well, I know they acted for the best; but after all they _had_ made a
mistake. The young man hadn't come after the laundry maid at all."

"So it was said; but we needn't discuss it. They were most forgiving,
and prepared to be all that was kind and sympathetic when Mrs.
Carruthers lost her husband; and how did she return it? Refused to see
them, just as she refused to see me when I called on Cooper's
behalf - and in my priestly capacity too. No, Gertrude, there is nothing
to be said on behalf of Mrs. Carruthers. She is a selfish worldly young
woman, and her bereavement, instead of inclining her towards a quiet and
sober life, seems to have had just the opposite effect. A widow of
hardly more than two years, she goes gadding about all over the place,
and behaves just as if her husband's death were a release to her instead
of - - "

"Well, I must say that I think it _was_ rather a release, Albert. Mr.
Carruthers had everything to make life happy, as you have often said,
but drink was his curse, and if he had not been killed he might have
spoilt her life for her. You said that too, you know, at the time."

"Perhaps I did. I was terribly upset at the time of the accident. It
seemed so dreadful for a mere girl to be left widowed in that way, and I
was ready to give her all the sympathy and help I could. But she would
have none of it, and turned out hard and unfeeling, instead of being
softened by the blow that had been dealt her, as a good woman would have
been. She might have reformed her husband, but she did nothing of the
sort; and now, as I say, she behaves as if there was nothing to do in
the world except spend money and enjoy one's self. She would be a bad
influence for these young girls that are coming here, and I hope they
will not have too much to do with her. If we can get them interested in
good things instead of amusements, we shall only be doing our duty. Not
that healthy amusement is to be deprecated by any means. It isn't our
part to be kill-joys. But with ourselves as their nearest neighbours,
and nice active girls like the Coopers not far off, and one or two more,
they will have a very pleasant little society, and in fact we ought all
to be very happy together."

"Yes. It _is_ nice looking forward to having neighbours that we can be
friends with. I do hope nothing will happen to make it awkward."

"Why should anything happen to make it awkward? We don't know much about
the Graftons yet, but they seem to be nice people. At any rate we can
assume that they are, until it is proved to the contrary. That is only
Christian. Just because so many of the people round us are not what they
should be is no reason why these new-comers shouldn't be."

"Oh, I am sure they are nice. I think I should rather like to go and
tell Mrs. Walter and Mollie about them, Albert. It will be delightful
for _them_ to have people at the Abbey - especially for Mollie, who has
so few girl friends."

"We might go over together," said the Vicar. "There are one or two
little things I want Mollie to do for me. Yes, it will be nice for her,
if the Grafton girls turn out what they should be. We shall have to
give the Walters a little advice. They haven't been used to the life of
large houses. I think they ought to go rather slow at first."

"Oh, Mollie is such a dear girl, and has been well brought up. I don't
think she would be likely to make any mistakes."

"I don't know that she would. But I shall talk to her about it. She is a
dear girl, as you say. I look upon her almost as a daughter, though she
has been here such a short time. I should like her to acquit herself
well. She will, I'm sure, if she realises that this new chance for
making friends comes through us. Yes, let us go over to the cottage,
Gertrude. It is early yet. We can ask Mrs. Walter for a cup of tea."




CHAPTER V

SETTLING IN


The Abbey was ready for occupation early in April. Caroline, Barbara,
and Miss Waterhouse went down on Monday. Grafton followed on Friday for
the week-end and took Beatrix with him. She had announced that the dear
boy couldn't be left by himself in London, or he'd probably get into
mischief, and she was going to stay and look after him. As she had
thought of it first, she had her way. Beatrix generally did get her way,
though she never made herself unpleasant about it. Nor did she ever
wheedle, when a decision went against her, though she could wheedle
beautifully.

If any one of the three girls could be said to be spoilt, it was
Beatrix. She had been frail as a child, with a delicate loveliness that
had put even Caroline's beauty into the shade, although Caroline, with
her sweet grey eyes and her glowing health, had been a child of whom any
parents might have been inordinately proud. The young mother had never
quite admitted her second child to share in the adoration she felt for
her first-born, but Beatrix had twined herself round her father's heart,
and had always kept first place in it, though not so much as to make his
slight preference apparent. As a small child, she was more clinging
than the other two, and flattered his love and sense of protection. As
she grew older she developed an unlooked-for capriciousness. When she
was inclined to be sweet and loving she was more so than ever; but
sometimes she would hardly suffer even a kiss, and had no caresses for
anybody. She often hurt her father in this way, especially in the early
days of his bereavement, but he was so equable by nature that he would
dismiss her contrariety with a smile, and turn to Caroline, who always
gave him what he wanted. As the children grew older he learnt to protect
himself against Beatrix's inequalities of behaviour by a less caressing
manner with them. It was for them to come to him for the signs and
tokens of love, and it was all the sweeter to him when they did so. Even
now, when she was grown up, it thrilled him when Beatrix was in one of
her affectionate moods. She was not the constant invariable companion to
him that Caroline was, and their minds did not flow together as his and
Caroline's did. But he loved her approaches, and felt more pleased when
she offered him companionship than with any other of his children. Thus,
those who advance and withdraw have an unfair advantage over those who
never change.

Caroline and Barbara met them in the big car which had been bought for
station work at Abington. It was a wild wet evening, but they were snug
enough inside, Caroline and Barbara sitting on either side of their
father, and Beatrix on one of the let-down seats. Beatrix was never
selfish; although she liked to have her own way she seldom took it at
the expense of others. She had had her father's sole companionship, and
it was only fair that she should yield her place to her younger sister.
So she did so of her own accord.

Caroline and Barbara were full of news. "Everything is ready for you,
darling," said Caroline, her arm tucked into his. "You'll feel quite at
home directly you get into the house; and there are very few more
arrangements to make. We've been working like slaves, and all the
servants too."

"The Dragon has had a headache, but she has done more than anybody,"
said Barbara. "It's all perfectly lovely, Daddy. We do like being
country people awfully. We went down to the village in the rain this
afternoon - the Dragon and all. That made me feel it, you know."

"It made us feel it, when you stepped into a puddle and splashed us all
over," said Caroline. "George dear, we've had callers already."

"That ought to have cheered you up," said Grafton. "Who were they?"

"All clerical. I think Lord Salisbury put them on to us. He wants us to
be in with the clergy."

"What do you mean? Lord Salisbury!"

"The Reverend Salisbury Mercer. I called him that first," said Barbara.
"He likes us. He's been in and out, and given us a lot of advice. He
likes me especially. He looked at me with a loving smile and said I was
a sunbeam."

"We had Mr. Cooper, Rector of Surley, and his two daughters," said
Caroline. "He is a dear old thing and keeps bees. The two daughters look
rather as if they had been stung by them. They are very officious, but
sweeter than honey and the honeycomb at present. They said it was nice
to have girls living in a house near them again; they hadn't had any for
some years - I should think it must be about thirty, but they didn't say
that. They said they hoped we should see a good deal of one another."

"I _don't_ think," said Beatrix. "Who were the others?"

"Mr. and Mrs. Williams, Vicar and Vicaress of I've forgotten what. They
were quite nice. Genial variety."

"The Breezy Bills we called them," said Barbara. "They almost blew us
out of the house. He carpenters, and she breeds Airedales, and shows
them. She brought one with her - a darling of a thing. They've promised
us a puppy and a kennel to put it in already."

"You didn't ask her for one, did you?" asked Grafton. "If she breeds
them for show we ought to offer to pay for it."

"Oh, you're going to _pay_ for it all right, darling. You needn't worry
about that. The kennel too. But you're going to get that for the cost of
the wood and the paint. He isn't going to charge anything for his time.
He laughed heartily when he said that. I like the Breezy Bills. They're
going to take us out otter hunting when the time comes."

"A Mrs. Walter and her daughter came," said Caroline. "At least they
were brought by the Mercers. They live in a little house at the top of
the village. Rather a pretty girl, and nice, but shy. I wanted to talk
to her and see what she was like, but Lord Salisbury wouldn't let me - at
least not without him. George darling, I'm afraid you'll have to cope
with Lord Salisbury. He's screwing in frightfully. I think he has an
idea of being the man about the house when you're up in London. He asked
how often you'd be down, and said we could always go and consult him
when you were away. He came directly after breakfast yesterday with a
hammer and some nails, to hang pictures."

"The Dragon sent him away," said Barbara. "She was rather
splendid - extremely polite to him, but a little surprised. She doesn't
like him. She won't say so, but I know it by her manner. I went in with
her, and it was then that he called me a sunbeam. He said he did so want
to make himself useful, and wasn't there _anything_ he could do. I said
he might dust the drawing-room if he liked."

"Barbara!"

"Well, I said it to myself."

"What is Mrs. Mercer like?" asked Beatrix.

"Oh, a nice little thing," said Caroline. "But very much under the thumb
of Lord Salisbury. I think he leads her a dance. If we have to keep him
off a little, we must be careful not to offend her. I think she must
have rather a dull time of it. She's quite harmless, and wants to be
friends."

"We mustn't quarrel with the fellow," said Grafton. "Haven't you seen
Worthing?"

"_Have_ we seen Worthing!" exclaimed Barbara. "He's a lamb. He's been
away, but he came back yesterday afternoon, and rolled up directly. The
Dragon likes him. He was awfully sweet to her. He's going to buy us some
horses. You don't mind, do you, Daddy? I know you've got lots of money."

"That's where you make the mistake," said Grafton, "but of course we
must have a gee or two. I want to talk to Worthing about that. Did you
ask him to dine to-night, Cara?"

"Yes. He grinned all over. He said we were a boon and a blessing to men.
He really loves us."

"And we love him," said Barbara. "We were wondering when the time would
come to call him Jimmy. We feel like that towards him. Or, Dad darling,
it _is_ topping living in the country. Don't let's ever go back to
London."

All the circumstances of life had been so much at Grafton's disposal to
make what he liked out of them that he had become rather difficult to
move to special pleasure by his surroundings. But he felt a keen sense
of satisfaction as he entered this beautiful house that he had bought,
and the door was shut on the wild and windy weather. That sensation, of
a house as a refuge, is only to be gained in full measure in the
country, whether it is because the house stands alone against the
elements, or that the human factor in it counts for more than in a town.
There was the quiet old stone-built hall cheered by the fire of logs on
the great hearth, the spacious soft-carpeted staircase and corridors,
the long gallery transformed by innumerable adjustments into the very
shrine of companionable home life, and all around the sense of
completeness and fitness and beauty which taste and a sufficiency of
wealth can give to a house built in the days when building was the
expression of ideas and aspirations, and an art as creative and
interpretative as any.

He felt positively happy as he dressed in the large comfortable, but not
over luxurious room that Caroline had chosen for him. He had expressed
no preferences on the subject when they had gone over the house
together, but remembered now that he had rather liked this particular
room out of the score or so of bedrooms they had gone through. It looked
out on to the quiet little space of lawn and the trees beyond from three
windows, and would get the first of the sun. He loved the sun, and
Caroline knew that. She knew all his minor tastes, perhaps better than
he knew them himself. He would have been contented with a sunny room and
all his conveniences around him, or so he would have thought. But she
had seen that he had much more than that. The old furniture which had
struck him pleasantly on their first visit was there - the big bed with
its chintz tester, the chintz-covered sofa, the great wardrobe of
polished mahogany - everything that had given the room its air of solid
old-fashioned comfort, and restful, rather faded charm. But the charm
and the comfort seemed to have been heightened. The slightly faded air
had given place to one of freshness. The change was not so great as to
bring a sense of modernity to unbalance the effect of the whole, but
only to make it more real. Caroline was a genius at this sort of
expression, and her love and devotion towards him had stimulated her.
The freshness had come from the fact that she had changed all the
chintzes, and the carpet and curtains, ransacking the house for the best
she could find for the purpose. She had changed some of the furniture
too, and added to it. Also the prints. He did recognise that change, as
he looked around him, and took it all in. He was fond of old prints, and
had noticed those that were of any value as he had gone through the
rooms. There had been rubbish mixed with the good things in this room;
but there was none left. "Good child!" he said to himself with
satisfaction as he saw what she had done in this way.

He thought of her and his other children as he dressed, and he thought
of his young wife. A charming crayon portrait of her hung in the place
of honour above the mantelpiece, on which there were also photographs of
her, and of the children, in all stages of their growth. Caroline had
collected them from all over the London house. The crayon portrait had
been one of two done by a very clever young artist, now a famous one,
whom they had met on their honeymoon. This had been the first, and
Grafton had thought it had not done justice to his wife's beauty; so the
artist, with a smiling shrug of the shoulders, had offered to do another
one, which had pleased him much better, and had hung ever since in his
bedroom in London. Now, as he looked at this portrait, which had hung in
a room he seldom went into, he wondered how he could have been so blind.
The beauty, with which he had fallen in love, was there, but the artist
had seen much more than the beauty that was on the surface. It told
immeasurably more about the sweet young bride than the picture he had
made of her afterwards. It told something of what she would be when the
beauty of form and feature and colouring should have waned, of what she
would have been to-day more than twenty years later.

Grafton was not a man who dwelt on the past, and his life had been too
prosperous and contented to lead him to look forward very often to the
future. He took it as it came, and enjoyed it, without hugging himself
too much on the causes of his enjoyment. The only unhappiness he had
ever known had been in the loss of his wife, but the wound had healed
gradually, and had now ceased to pain him.

But it throbbed a little now as he looked at the portrait with new eyes.
He and she had talked together of a country house some time in the
future of their long lives together - some such house as this, if they
should wait until there was enough money. It was just what she would
have delighted in. She had been brought up in a beautiful country house,
and loved it. Caroline inherited her fine perceptions and many of her
tastes from her. It would have been very sweet to have had her
companionship now, in this pleasant and even exciting life that was
opening up before them. They would all have been intensely happy
together.

He turned away with a faint frown of perplexity. She would have been a
middle-aged woman now, the mother of grown-up daughters. To think of her
like that was to think of a stranger. His old wound had throbbed because
he had caught a fresh glimpse of her as the young girl he had so loved,
and loved still, for she had hardly been more than a girl when she had
died. He supposed he would have gone on loving her just the same; his
love for her had grown no less during the short years of their married
life; he had never wanted anybody else, and had never wanted anybody
else since, remembering what she had been. But it was an undoubted fact
that husbands and wives in middle-age had usually shed a good deal of
their early love, or so it seemed to him, from his experience of married
men of his own age. Would it have been so with him? He couldn't think
it, but he couldn't tell. To him she would always be what she had been,
even when he grew old. It was perplexing to think of her as growing old
too; and there was no need to do so.

The years had passed very quickly. Caroline had been only five when she
had died, Beatrix three, and Barbara a baby. And now the two elder were
grown up, and Barbara nearly so. It came home to him, as he looked at
their photographs on the mantelpiece, how pleasant they had made life
for him, and how much he still had in his home in spite of the blank
that his wife's death had made. This puzzled him a little too. He
thought he ought to have missed her more, and be missing her more now.
But introspection was not his habit, and the hands of the clock on the
mantelpiece were progressing towards the dinner hour. He dressed
quickly, with nothing in his mind but pleasurable anticipation of the
evening before him.

Worthing was in the morning-room talking to Caroline when he went
downstairs. He looked large and beaming and well washed and brushed. The
greeting between the two men was cordial. Each had struck a chord in the
other, and it was plain that before long they would be cronies. Worthing
was outspoken in his admiration of what had been done with the house.

"I've been telling this young lady," he said, "that I wouldn't have
believed it possible. Nothing seems to be changed, and yet everything
seems to be changed. Look at this room now! It's the one that Brett used
to occupy, and it used to give me a sort of depressed feeling whenever I
came into it. Now it's a jolly room to come into. You _know_, somehow,
that when you go out of it, you're going to get a good dinner."

He laughed with a full throat. Caroline smiled and looked round the
room, which had been transformed by her art from the dull abode of a man
who cared nothing for his surroundings into something that expressed
home and contentment and welcome.

Grafton put his arm around her as they stood before the fire. "She's a
wonder at it," he said. "She's done all sorts of things to my room
upstairs. I felt at home in it at once."

She smiled up at him and looked very pleased. He did not always notice
the things she did out of love for him.

The other two girls came in with Miss Waterhouse. Beatrix looked
enchanting in a black frock which showed up the loveliness of her
delicate colouring and scarcely yet matured contours. Worthing almost
gasped as he looked at her, and then shook hands, but recovered himself
to look at the three of them standing before him. "Now how long do you
suppose you're going to keep these three young women at home?" he asked
genially, as old Jarvis came in to announce dinner.

They were all as merry as possible over the dinner-table. Beatrix made
them laugh with her account of the house in London as run by herself
with a depleted staff. She was known not to be domestically inclined and
made the most of her own deficiencies, while not sparing the servants
who had been left behind. But she dealt with them in such a way that old
Jarvis grinned indulgently at her recital, and the two new footmen who
had been engaged for the Abbey each hoped that it might fall to his lot
some day to take the place of their colleague who had been left behind.

Worthing enjoyed himself immensely. All three of the girls talked gaily
and freely, and seemed bubbling over with laughter and good spirits.
Their father seemed almost as young as they were, in the way he laughed
and talked with them. Miss Waterhouse took little part in the
conversation, but smiled appreciatively on each in turn, and was never
left out of it. As for himself, he was accepted as one of themselves,
and initiated into all sorts of cryptic allusions and humours, such as a
laughter-loving united and observant family gathers round about its


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