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of it expressed admiration that had to be fenced with, but never went
beyond the point at which it would have been necessary for his
satisfaction that a third party should not have been present. As
Beatrix, with her arm in Mollie's, took pains to include her in the
conversation, he couldn't ignore Mollie; nor did he appear to wish to
do so. She was a pretty girl too, and he was only using his ordinary
methods with a pretty girl. If she would have found a difficulty in
fencing with him in the manner he would have expected of her had they
been alone together, she was spared the exercise, as Beatrix lightly
took her defence on her own shoulders.

As Bertie Pemberton did not lower his voice below the family pitch,
Mollie was a little anxious lest some of his speeches should come to the
ear of the Vicar, who was not far removed from them as they started on
their tour of investigation. He seemed, however, to have found an
unexpected satisfaction in the society of Mrs. Pemberton, on whom he was
in close attendance, with a back the contour of which expressed
deference. She appeared to be giving him advice upon certain matters in
connection with his own parish, and drawing upon his sympathy in matters
connected with her own. Just before Bertie Pemberton managed to let the
rest of the party get a room or two ahead, by showing great interest in
the old books with which the library was furnished, Mollie heard her say
to him in her carrying voice: "Well, you must come over and see it for
yourself. I don't know why we've never met you; but Abington is rather
beyond our beat, unless there's something or somebody to come for. It's
such a pleasure to meet a sensible clergyman. I wish there were more of
them."

Mollie was glad that her friend had impressed the loud-speaking rather
formidable lady in this way, but was inclined to wonder what he would do
with the invitation, for he knew what he thought of the Pembertons; and
he had so often announced that he would have nothing whatever to do with
such people, and was glad that they were so far away. She had heard the
story of Bertie Pemberton's rudeness to him, but saw now how it might
have been. Bertie's free manner might easily be taken for rudeness by
somebody who did not know him. No doubt there had been 'faults on both
sides.' She hoped that the Vicar's objections to the Pemberton family
would not lead him to refuse them another chance. If there was no more
harm in the Pemberton girls than there apparently was in their brother
he would find that he had misjudged them.

The Pemberton girls - Nora, Effie and Kate - were cut out of the
corresponding female pattern to their brother's. They were good-natured
and well satisfied with themselves. But their self-satisfaction did not
prevent them from taking a lively interest in other people, and their
good-nature made them known to a large circle of acquaintances as 'good
pals.' This reputation, though leading to much pleasant intercourse with
members of either sex, is not the most favourable to matrimonial
adjustments, and the youngest of them had already reached the middle
twenties. But the shadow of spinsterhood had hardly yet begun to throw
itself across their breezy path. With their horses and their golf, their
visits to other country houses and sometimes to London, their father's
large house, seldom entirely without guests in it, and above all their
always increasing friendships, they had all that they wanted at present.
Out of all their 'pals' there would be some day one for each of them in
whose company they would continue the lives that they now found so
pleasant. Almost anybody would do, if he was a good pal and had enough
money. Falling in love was outside their beat. But it was probable that
if one of them ever did fall in love, the other two would follow her
suit. They were human enough in their primitive instincts.

Barbara accompanied Nora and Kate. She took a keen interest in them as
types new to her, and they thought her a bright and modest child whose
tastes for a country life were worth cultivating. "You must hack about
as much as you can till next season, and get used to it," said Kate.
"Then we'll take you out cubbing, and by the time regular hunting begins
you ought to be able to sit as tight as any of us. It isn't a tiptop
country, but you can get a lot of fun out of it."

"Better than jogging about in the Park, anyhow," said Nora. "I wouldn't
live in London if you paid me."

Effie Pemberton and Bertie's friend Francis Parry were conducted by
Caroline. Francis was of the same type as Bertie - smooth-haired,
well-dressed and self-confident, but on a quieter plane. He had been one
of Caroline's regular dancing partners, had dined sometimes at the house
in London, and stayed sometimes in the same houses in the country. She
liked him, and had found him more interesting than most of the young men
in whose company she had disported herself. He had tastes somewhat
similar to hers, and it was a pleasure to point out to him what she had
done to the house, and to receive his commendation. Effie Pemberton, who
would much rather have been looking over the stables, found herself
rather _de trop_, and presently allied herself to Worthing, to whom she
said with a jerk of the thumb: "I think it's a case there."

But it was not a case, at least as far as Caroline was concerned.




CHAPTER VII

YOUNG GEORGE


Young George, commonly called Bunting, arrived home in the week before
Easter. He was full of excitement at the new state of affairs, from
which he anticipated a more enjoyable life than had hitherto fallen to
his lot, though he had spent the greater part of his holidays either in
the country houses of relations or in the country with his own family.
But to have a home of one's own in the country, to which one could
invite chosen friends, with a horse of one's own, kennel facilities,
games to be found or invented immediately outside the premises, and all
the sport that the country afforded ready to hand - this was far better
than staying in other people's houses in the country, pleasant as that
had been, and certainly far better than being confined to a house in
London, which presented no attractions whatever except in the one item
of plays to be seen.

He arrived just in time for lunch, and could hardly give himself time to
eat it, so anxious was he to explore. He disappeared immediately
afterwards, with Barbara, and was seen at intervals hurrying here and
there during the afternoon, an active eager figure in his grey flannel
suit and straw hat, and one upon which his elder sisters looked with
pride and pleasure.

"It _is_ jolly to have him," said Caroline, as he ran past them, sitting
out in the garden, on his way towards the fish ponds, carrying a net for
some purpose that seemed to him of the utmost importance for the moment,
and accompanied by Barbara and four dogs.

"The darling!" said Beatrix affectionately. She and Caroline had done
their best to spoil him since his earliest years, and were inclined to
look upon him now as a pet and a plaything, though his independence of
mind and habit somewhat discouraged the attitude.

He and Barbara put in an appearance at tea-time, rather warm, rather
dishevelled, but entirely happy. They were going through one of those
spells of weather which sometimes seem to have strayed from June into
April, when leaf and bud are expanding almost visibly under the
influence of the hot sun, and promise and fulfilment are so mixed that
to turn from one to the other is to get one of the happiest sensations
that nature affords. A broad gravel path ran alongside the southeast
corner of the house, ending in a yew-enclosed space furnished with
white-painted seats round a large table. Here tea was set in shelter
from sun and wind, and within sight of some of the quiet beauty of the
formal garden, which the gay-coloured flowers of spring were already
turning into a place of delight. Even Young George, not yet of an age to
be satisfied with horticultural beauty, said that it was jolly, as he
looked round him after satisfying the first pangs of appetite, and did
not immediately rush away to more active pleasures when he had
satisfied the remainder of them.

There was, indeed, a great deal to talk about, in the time that could be
spared for talk. A great deal had to be told to this sympathetic bunch
of sisters about his own experiences, and amusement to be extracted from
them as to theirs.

Every family has its own chosen method of intercourse. That of the
Graftons was to encourage one another to humour of observation and
expression. When one or another of them was 'in form' they had as
appreciative an audience among the rest as they could have gained from
their warmest admirers outside. Young George occasionally gave bright
examples of the sort of speech that was encouraged among them, and was
generously applauded when he did so, not only because his sisters loved
and admired him so much, but because it was gratifying to see him
expanding to the pains they had taken with his education.

"There's a bloke near here who came last half," he said, when he had
given them various pieces of intelligence which he thought might
interest them. "His name's Beckley. I didn't know him very well till we
came down in the train together, but he's rather a sportsman; he asked a
ticket collector at Westhampton Junction to telegraph to his people that
the train was late, but he hoped to be in time for his uncle's funeral.
Do you know his people?"

"The Beckleys! Oh, yes, they live at Feltham Hall," said Caroline. "Mrs.
Beckley and Vera called last week, and the Dragon and I called back.
Vera told me about Jimmy. They find him difficult to cope with. They
don't adore him as much as we do you, Bunting."

"He doesn't adore _them_ much," said Young George. "He told me that it
was a bore having a lot of sisters, and he'd swop the lot for a twin
brother."

"Odious little beast!" said Beatrix. "Why a _twin_ brother?"

"Oh, because he says he's the nicest fellow himself that he knows, and
he'd like to have somebody of the same sort to do things with. He's
really a comic bloke. I'm sure you'll like him. I expect he'll be over
here pretty often. I don't suppose he really meant it about his
sisters."

"Then he oughtn't to have said it, just for the sake of being funny,"
said Caroline. "I hope you weren't led into saying that yours were a
bore, Bunting."

"No," said Young George. "I said you weren't bad sorts, and I thought
he'd like you all right when he saw you. He said he'd come over some
time and make an inspection."

"We'll inspect _him_ when he does come," said Barbara. "The Beckley
girls are rather bread and buttery. They've got pigtails and a
Mademoiselle, and go for walks in the country. The Dragon and I met them
once, and we had a little polite conversation before they agreed to go
their way and we went ours."

"Barbara dear, I don't think you should get into the way of criticising
everybody," said Miss Waterhouse. "I thought they were particularly
nice girls."

"Yes, darling, you would," said Barbara. "If I wore a pigtail and said
_au revoir_ instead of good-bye, you'd think I was a particularly nice
girl. But I'm sure you wouldn't love me as much as you do."

"Vera isn't bread and buttery," said Caroline, "though she's rather
quiet. Jimmy seems to have all the high spirits of the family. I told
her we'd deal with him if she sent him over here. We'd broken Bunting
in, and we'd break him in for her."

"Any other nice people about to play with?" asked Bunting. "I suppose
you've got to know them all now."

"I wrote to you about the Breezy Bills and the Zebras, and Lord
Salisbury," said Barbara. "I wonder Lord Salisbury isn't here. He
generally looks in about tea-time, - or lunch-time, or dinner-time."

"Barbara darling, you mustn't get into the way of exaggerating," said
Miss Waterhouse.

"And I told you about Francis Parry bringing the Pembertons over," said
Caroline, "and about Bertie taking a fancy to B."

"Beautiful bountiful Bertie!" said Young George, by way of comment.

"He came over again," said Beatrix, "and wanted to lay out golf links
for us. He said he should be down for a week at Easter and it would give
him something to do. I am sure he is an admirer - the first I've had.
Bunting darling, I'm really grown up at last."

"You'll have lots more, old girl," said Young George loyally. "Now I'm
getting on a bit myself, and see other fellows' sisters, I can tell you
you're a good-looking crowd. Barbara's the most plain-headed, but she's
better than the average. She only wants a bit of furnishing out. Who
else have you seen?"

"Lady Mansergh from Wilborough," said Caroline. "We think she must have
a past, because her hair is so very golden, and she speaks with a slight
Cockney accent."

"And because Lord Salisbury disapproves of her," added Beatrix.

"Lord Salisbury disapproves of everybody," said Barbara. "He wants to
keep us to himself. I'm his little sunbeam, you know, Bunting. I'm going
to help decorate the church for Easter."

"We are all going to do that," said Miss Waterhouse, "and Mr. Mercer is
quite justified in asking for that sort of help from us. You should not
get into the way of criticising everything he does, Barbara darling."

"She always sticks up for him, because she can't abide him," said
Barbara. "I liked Lady Mansergh. She was very affectionate. She patted
my cheek and said it did her good to see such nice pretty girls about
the place. She said it to me, so you see, Bunting, I'm not so
plain-headed as you think. If ever Caroline and B are removed, by
marriage or death, you'll see how I shall shine."

"Barbara dear, don't talk about death in that unfeeling way," said Miss
Waterhouse. "It is not pretty at all."

Old Jarvis came out of the house at that moment followed by the Vicar,
whom he announced by name as solemnly as if he had never seen him
before. Jarvis did not like the Vicar, and adopted towards him an air of
impregnable respect, refusing to be treated as a fellow human being, and
giving monosyllabic answers to his attempts at conversation as he
preceded him in stately fashion on his numerous calls to the
morning-room, which was seldom used except just before dinner, or the
drawing-room, which was never used at all. From the first he had never
permitted him "just to run up and find the young ladies," or to dispense
with any formality that he could bind him to, though Worthing he always
received with a smiling welcome, accepted and returned his words of
greeting, and took him straight up to the long gallery if the family was
there, or told him if they were in the garden. The morning-room opened
into the garden, and the Vicar, hearing voices outside, had followed him
out. Jarvis was extremely annoyed with himself that he had not shown him
into the drawing-room, which was on the other side of the house, but did
not allow his feelings to appear.

The Vicar came forward with an air of proprietary friendship. "Tea out
of doors in April!" he said. "What an original family you are, to be
sure! Ah, my young friend, I think I can guess who _you_ are."

"Young George, commonly known as Bunting," said Barbara by way of
introduction. None of them ever showed him what desolation his visits
brought them, and in spite of signs to the contrary that would not have
escaped a man of less self-sufficiency he still considered himself as
receiving a warm welcome at the Abbey whenever he chose to put in an
appearance.

Young George blinked at his method of address, but rose and shook hands
with him politely. The Vicar put his hand on his shoulder and gave him a
little shake. "We must be friends, you and I," he said. "I like boys,
and it isn't so very long since I was one myself, though I dare say I
seem a very old sort of person to all you young people."

Young George blinked again. "What an appalling creature!" was the
comment he made up for later use. But he did not even meet Barbara's
significant look, and stood aside for the visitor to enter the circle
round the table.

"Now, young lady, if I'm not too late for a cup of tea," said the Vicar,
seating himself by Caroline, after he had shaken hands all round with
appropriate comment, "I shall be glad of it. You always have such
delicious teas here. I'm afraid I'm sometimes tempted to look in more
often than I should otherwise on that account alone."

"Why didn't you bring Mrs. Mercer?" asked Miss Waterhouse. "We haven't
seen her for some days."

Miss Waterhouse hardly ever failed to suggest Mrs. Mercer as his
expected companion when he put in his appearances at tea-time. It was
beginning to occur to him that Miss Waterhouse was something of the
Dragon that he had heard his young friends call her, and had once
playfully called her himself, though without the success that he had
anticipated from his pleasantry. He was inclined to resent her presence
in the family circle of which she seemed to him so unsuitable a member.
He prided himself upon getting on so well with young people, and these
young Graftons were so easy to get on with, up to a point. The point
would have been passed and that intimacy which he always just seemed to
miss with them would have been his if it had not always been for this
stiff unsympathetic governess. She was always there and always took part
in the conversation, and always spoilt it, when he could have made it so
intimate and entertaining. Miss Waterhouse had to be treated with
respect, though. He had tried ignoring her, as the governess, who would
be grateful for an occasional kindly word; but it had not worked. She
refused to be ignored, and he could hardly ever get hold of the girls,
really to make friends, without her.

"Well, I was on my way home," he said. "I have been visiting since
lunch-time. I have been right to the far end of the parish to see a poor
old woman who is bedridden, but so good and patient that she is a lesson
to us all." He turned to Caroline. "I wonder if you would walk up to
Burnt Green with me some afternoon and see her. I was telling her about
you, and I know what pleasure it would give her to see a bright young
face like yours. I'm sure, if you only sat by her bedside and talked to
her it would do her good. She is _so_ lonely, poor old soul!"

He spoke very earnestly. Caroline looked at him with dislike tingeing
her expression, though she was not aware of it. But Miss Waterhouse
replied, before she could do so. "If you will tell us her name and where
to find her, Mr. Mercer, we shall be glad to go and see her sometimes."

He gave the required information, half-unwillingly, as it seemed; but
this lady was so very insistent in her quiet way. "Mollie Walter comes
visiting with me sometimes," he said. "I don't say, you know, that sick
people are not pleased to see their clergyman when he calls, but I am
not too proud to say that a sympathetic young girl often does more good
at a bedside than even the clergyman."

"I should think anybody would be pleased to see Mollie," said Beatrix.
"If I were ill she is just the sort of person I should like to see."

"Better than the clergyman?" enquired the Vicar archly. "Now be careful
how you answer."

Beatrix turned her head away indifferently. Young George, who was
afflicted to the depths of his soul by the idea of this proffered
intimacy, said, awkwardly enough but with intense meaning: "My sisters
are not used to go visiting with clergymen, sir. I don't think my father
would like it for them."

The Vicar showed himself completely disconcerted, and stared at Young
George with open eyes and half-open mouth. The boy was cramming himself
with bread and butter, and his face was red. With his tangled hair, and
clothes that his late exertions had made untidy, he looked a mere child.
But there was no mistaking his hostility, nor the awkward fact that here
was another obstacle to desired intimacy with this agreeable family.

It was so very unexpected. The Vicar had thought himself quite
successful, with his hand on his shoulder, and his few kindly words, in
impressing himself upon this latest and very youthful member of it as a
desirable friend of the family. And behold! he had made an enemy. For
Young George's objection to his sisters' visiting with clergymen in
general was so obviously intended to be taken as an objection to their
visiting with this one. That was made plain by his attitude.

Miss Waterhouse solved the awkward situation. "Visiting sick people in
the country is not like visiting people in the slums of London, Bunting
dear. Mr. Mercer would let us know if there were any danger of
infection. It would be better, though, I think, if we were to pay our
visits separately."

There was to be no doubt about that, at any rate. Miss Waterhouse was
hardly less annoyed than Young George at the invitation that had been
given, and its impertinence was not to be salved over however much it
was to be desired that dislike should not be too openly expressed.

Nor did Caroline or Beatrix wish to be made the subject of discussion.
They were quite capable of staving off inconvenient advances, and
preferred to do it by lighter methods than those used by Young George,
and to get some amusement out of it besides. Caroline laughed, and said:
"My darling infant, if we get measles or chicken-pox _you_ might catch
them too, and then you wouldn't have to go back to school so soon."

Young George had made his protest, and it had cost him something to do
it. His traditions included politeness towards a guest, and he would
only have broken them under strong provocation. So, although he was
still feeling a blind hatred against this one, he did not reply that his
objection was not influenced by the fear of infectious disease, but
mumbled instead that he did not want to miss the first days of the
summer half.

The Vicar had somewhat recovered himself. His self-conceit made it
difficult for him to accept a snub, however directly administered, if it
could be made to appear in any way not meant for a snub. "Well, it is
true that one has to be a little careful about infection sometimes," he
said. "But I know of none anywhere about at present. I have to risk it
myself in the course of my duty, but I am always careful about it for
others. I had to warn Mollie off certain cottages, when she first came
here. She has been such a willing little helper to me since the
beginning, and one has to look after one's helpers, you know."

He had quite recovered himself now. Mollie, who had been so pleased to
be asked to do what he would like these girls to do, and was obviously
not to be criticised, in his position, for asking them to do, was a
great stand-by. "I really don't know how I got on before Mollie came,"
he said. "And Mrs. Mercer feels just the same about her. She has been
like a daughter to us."

"She's a dear," said Beatrix. "She has half promised to come and see us
in London, when we go up. She has actually hardly ever been to London at
all."

"It's _most_ kind of you to take such an interest in her," said the
Vicar. "But you mustn't spoil her, you know. I'm not sure that she
wouldn't be rather out of place in the sort of life that _you_ lead in
London. She isn't used to going about, and hasn't been brought up to it.
If you are kind to her when you are down here, and ask her to come and
see you now and then, but don't let her make herself a burden on you,
you will be doing her a great kindness, and all that can be required of
you."

There was a slight pause. "We look upon Mollie as our friend," said Miss
Waterhouse, "and one does not find one's friends a burden."

They sat on round the tea-table, and conversation languished. The Vicar
made tentative advances towards a stroll round the garden, but they were
not taken up. Young George was dying to get away to his activities, but
did not like to make a move, so sat and fidgeted instead, his distaste
for the Vicar growing apace.

At last the Vicar got up to take his leave. Young George accompanied him
to the gate which led from the garden into the road, and opened it for
him. "Well good-bye, my young friend," said the Vicar, his hand again
on the boy's shoulder. "I hope you'll have an enjoyable holiday here. We
must do all we can to make it amusing for you."

"Thank you, sir," said young George, looking down on the ground, and the
Vicar took himself off, vaguely dissatisfied, but not blaming himself at
all for any awkwardness that had peeped through during his visit.

Young George went back to the tea-table, his cheeks flaming. "What a


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