Archibald Marshall.

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_beast_!" he said hotly. "What a _cad_! Why do you have a creature like
that here?"

"Darling old boy!" said Caroline soothingly. "He's not worth making a
fuss about. We can deal with him all right. He won't come here so much
when he finds out we don't want him. But we must be polite as long as he
does come."

"Fancy him having the cheek to ask you to go visiting with him!" said
Young George. "I'm jolly glad I let him know I wouldn't stand it. I know
Dad wouldn't, and when he's not here I'm the man who has to look after
you."

Beatrix caught hold of him and kissed him. "We love being looked after
by you, Bunting," she said. "It's jolly to have a brother old enough to
do it. But don't fash yourself about Lord Salisbury, dear. We get a lot
of fun out of his efforts."

"You mustn't quarrel with him, Bunting," said Barbara. "If you do, he'll
leave off calling me a sunbeam."

"If I hear him doing that," said Bunting, "I shall tell him what I
_really_ think of him."




CHAPTER VIII

WHITSUNTIDE


Whitsuntide, which fell in June that year, found a large party assembled
at the Abbey. Grafton had brought down a few friends every Friday since
Easter, but this was the first time that the house had been full.

He had enjoyed those week-ends at Abington more consciously than he had
enjoyed anything for years. And yet there was 'nothing to do,' as he was
careful to inform everybody whom he asked down. He would have hesitated
himself, before he had bought Abington, over spending two and sometimes
three and four days in the week in a country house, in late spring and
early summer, with no very good golf links near, no river or sea,
nothing, specially interesting in the way of guests, or elaborate in the
preparations made to entertain them. While the children had been growing
up he had paid occasional visits to quiet country houses, in this way,
and since Caroline had left the schoolroom they had sometimes paid them
together. But once or twice in the year, outside the shooting season,
had been quite enough. There were more amusing things to be done, and he
had been so accustomed to skimming the cream off every social pleasure
that he had always been on the lookout for amusing things to be done,
though he had not cared for them when he did them much more than he
enjoyed other parts of his easy life.

It was all too much on the same level. Special enjoyment only comes by
contrast. Grafton's work interested him, and he did not do enough of it
ever to make him want a holiday for the sake of a holiday, and seldom
enough on any given day to make him particularly glad to leave it and go
home. He liked leaving it, to go home or to his club for a rubber. But
then he also rather liked leaving his home to go down to the City, in
the mornings. When he had been to the City for four or five days
running, he liked to wake up and feel he was not going there. If he had
been away for some time, he was pleased to go back to it, though perhaps
he would have been equally pleased to do something else, as long as it
was quite different from what he had been doing. He liked dining out; he
also liked dining at home. If he had dined alone with his family two or
three times running, he liked having guests; if he had dined in company
four or five times running, he preferred to dine alone with his family.
It was the same all through. The tune to which his life was played was
change: constant little variations of the same sort of tune. He would
never have said that he was not satisfied with it; it was the life he
would have chosen to go back to at any time, if he had been cut off from
it, and there was indeed no other kind of life that he could not have
had if he had chosen to change it. But it held no great zest. The little
changes were too frequent, and had become in course of time no more
than a series of crepitations in a course of essential sameness.

His buying of Abington Abbey had presented itself to him at first as no
more than one of these small changes which made up his life. Although he
had had it in his mind to buy a country house for some years past, he
had not exerted himself to find one, partly for fear that it would
reduce the necessary amount of change. The London house was never a tie.
You could leave it whenever you wished to. But a country house would
make claims. It might come to be irksome to have to go to it, instead of
going here, there, and everywhere, and if you forsook it too much it
might reproach you. Other people's country houses would never do that.

But ownership had had an effect upon him that he would never have
suspected. The feeling of home, which had hitherto centred entirely in
his family, still centred there, but gained enormously in richness from
the surroundings in which he had placed them. The thousand little
interests of the place itself, and of the country around it, were
beginning to close in on them and to colour them afresh; they stood out
of it more, and gained value from their setting. His own interests in
it, too, were increasing, and included many things in which he had never
thought of himself as taking any keen interest. He did not, as yet, care
much for details of estate management, and left all that to Worthing,
who was a little disappointed that a man who filled a big position in
the financial world was not prepared to make something of a hobby of
what to him was the difficult part of his work, and ease his frequent
anxieties about it by his more penetrating insight. But Grafton did not
leave his bank parlour in Lombard Street on Friday afternoon in order to
spend Saturday morning in his Estate Office in Abington. Nor did he go
far afield for his pleasures. The nearest golf links worth his playing
over, who was used to the best, were ten miles away, which was nothing
in a car, but he preferred to send his guests there, if any of them
wanted to play golf, and stay at home himself, or play a round on the
nine-hole park course at Wilborough. He took interest in the rearing of
game, but that was about the only thing that took him even about his own
property. For the present, at least, in the spring and early summer the
house and the garden were enough for him, and a cast or two in the
lengthening evenings over one or other of the pools into which the river
that meandered through the park widened here and there.

Nothing to do! But there was an infinity of little things to do, which
filled his days like an idle but yet active and happy dream. The
contrasts of the quiet country life were only more minute than those
which made the wider more varied life blend into a somewhat monotonous
whole. They were there, to give it interest and charm, but they seemed
to relieve it of all monotony. The very sameness _was_ its charm. It was
enough to wake up in this quiet spacious beautiful house lapped in the
peace of its sylvan remoteness, and to feel that the day was to be
spent there, it mattered not how. When the time came to leave it, he
left it with regret, and when he came back to it, it was to take up its
life at the point at which he had left it. He had thought of it only as
a holiday house - only as a very occasional holiday house until the
autumn should make it something more, - and that a succession of guests
would be almost a necessity on his week-end visits, if they were to get
the pleasant flavour out of it. But he had arranged for no big party of
them during two months of regular visits, and on the whole had enjoyed
it more on the days when he had been alone with the family.

He had never liked his family so much as in these days when they were
his constant and sometimes sole companions. Hitherto, in London, except
for their occasional quiet evenings together, it had always meant going
out to do something, and until lately, since Caroline had grown up, it
had generally meant inventing something to go out for. In the main, his
pursuits had been other than theirs. With Young George, especially, it
had been sometimes almost irksome to take the responsibility of finding
amusement for him. And yet he loved his little son, and wanted to have
him grow up as his companion.

Well, Young George wanted no better one; there was no necessity to find
amusement for him at Abington. Abington, with all that went with it,
_was_ amusement for both of them, every hour of the day. Young George
would follow him about everywhere, chattering effusively all the time,
completely happy and at ease with him. He had reached the age at which a
boy wants his play to be the play of a man, and wants a man to play it
with. When Grafton was up in London he immersed himself in more childish
pursuits, with Barbara as his companion, or Jimmy Beckley, who was a
constant visitor during the Easter holidays. But his best days were
those on which his father was there, and on those days he would hardly
let him out of his sight. Grafton felt quite sad when he went back to
school. Previously he had felt a trifle of relief when the end of the
holidays came.

Miss Waterhouse and Barbara had stayed at Abington ever since they had
moved down there. Caroline had only been up to London once for the
inside of the week, although the season was now in full swing, and it
had never been intended that they should not be chiefly in London until
the end of it. The time for moving up had been put off and put off. The
country was so delightful in the late spring and early summer. After
Whitsuntide perhaps they would move up to London. But it had never been
definitely settled that they should do so, and hitherto Caroline had
seemed quite content to miss all her parties, and to enjoy her days in
the garden and in the country, and her evenings in the quiet house.

Beatrix had been presented, and had been hard at it in London, staying
with her aunt, Lady Handsworth, and enjoying herself exceedingly. But
she had come down to Abington twice with her father. Abington was home
now, and weighed even against the pleasures of a first London season.

The Whitsuntide guests were Lord Handsworth, Grafton's brother-in-law,
with his wife and daughter, a girl of about Caroline's age, Sir James
and Lady Grafton, the Marquis de Clermont-Lassigny, the Honourable
Francis Parry, and one or two more out of that army of Londoners who are
to be found scattered all over the country houses of England on certain
days of the week at certain times of the year.

Lassigny was one of those men who appear very English when they are in
England and very French when they are in France. He was a handsome man,
getting on in the thirties. He had been attached to the French Embassy
in London, but had inherited wealth from an American mother, and had
relinquished a diplomatic career to enjoy himself, now in Paris, now in
London, and sometimes even in his fine ch√Ґteau in Picardy, which had
been saved for him by his mother's dollars. It was supposed that he was
looking out for an English wife, if he could find one to his taste, but
his pursuit during many visits to England spread over some years had not
been very arduous. He had danced a good deal with Caroline during her
two seasons; and her aunt, who had taken her about, as she now took
Beatrix, had rather expected that something might come of it. Caroline
had always thought she knew better. Her virginal indifference to the
approaches of men had not prevented her from appreciating the signs of
special devotion, and she had seen none in Lassigny. He had been very
friendly, and she liked the friendship of men. It would hardly have been
too much to say of her, at the age of twenty-one, and after two full
seasons and the months of country house visiting that had passed with
them, that she was still in the schoolgirl state of thinking that
anything approaching love-making 'spoilt things.' She was rather too
experienced to hold that view in its entirety, but it was hers in
essence; she had never wanted the signs of attraction in any man to go
beyond the point at which they made agreeable the friendship. It was the
friendship she liked; the love that might be lurking beneath it she was
not ready for, though it might add a spice to the friendship if it were
suspected but did not obtrude itself.

It had been so with Francis Parry. They were very good friends, and he
admired her; that she knew well enough. But she did not want him to make
it too plain. If he had done so she would have had to bethink herself,
and she did not want to do that. With Lassigny she had not felt like
that. He was older than Francis, and more interesting. Young men of
Francis's age and upbringing were so much alike; you knew exactly what
to talk to them about, and it was always the same. But Lassigny, in
spite of his English appearance and English tastes, had other
experiences, and to talk to him was to feel them even if they were not
expressed. He had his own way of behaving too, which was not quite the
same as that of a young Englishman. It was a trifle more formal and
ceremonious. Caroline had the idea that he was watching her, and as it
were experimenting with her, under the guise of the pleasant intimacy
that had grown up between them. If she proved to be what he wanted he
might offer her marriage, perhaps before he should have taken any steps
towards wooing her. It was interesting, even a little thrilling, to be
on the edge of that unknown. But, unless he was quite unlike other men
who had come within her experience, the impulsion from within had not
come to him, after two years. She would have known if it had, or thought
she would.

The Whitsuntide party mixed well. There were bridges in this family
between youth and age, or middle-age; for Sir James Grafton, who was the
oldest of them all, was not much over fifty, though he looked older. He
was fond of his nieces, and they of him, and he did not feel the loss of
his laboratory so acutely when he was in their company. Lord Handsworth
was also a banker - a busy bustling man who put as much energy into his
amusements as into his work. He was the only one of the party for whom
it was quite necessary to provide outside occupation. Fortunately that
was to be found on the Sandthorpe links, and he spent his three days
there, with whoever was willing to accompany him. The rest 'sat about'
in the gorgeous summer weather, played lawn games, went for walks and
rides and drives, and enjoyed themselves in a lotus-eating manner. And
in the evenings they assembled in the long gallery, played bridge and
music, talked and laughed, and even read; for there was room enough in
it for Sir James to get away with a book, and enjoy seclusion at the
same time as company.

Such parties as these make for intimacy. On Monday evening there was
scarcely a member of it who did not feel some faint regret at the
breaking up that was to come on the next morning, unless it was Lord
Handsworth, who had exhausted the novelty of the Sandthorpe links.
Worthing had come to dine, but the only other outside guest had been
Bertie Pemberton. It was near midsummer, for Easter had been late that
year. Most of them were in the garden, sitting in the yew arbour, or
strolling about under a sky of spangled velvet.

Francis Parry was with Caroline. He had been with her a good deal during
the last three days, and their friendship had taken a deeper tinge. She
was a little troubled about it, and it was not by her wish that he and
she found themselves detached from the group with which they had set out
to stroll through the gardens.

They had all gone together as far as the lily pond. This was a new bit
of garden-planning on a somewhat extensive scale; for Grafton had lost
no time in taking up this fascinating country pursuit, and Caroline had
busied herself over its carrying out. It was actually an entirely new
garden of considerable size carved out of the park. The stone-built lily
pond was finished, the turf laid, the borders dug and filled, the yews
planted. It had been a fascinating work to carry out, but it had had to
be done in a hurry at that time of the year, and hardly as yet gave any
of the impression that even a winter's passing would have foreshadowed.
It was led up to by a broad flagged path, and when the company had
reached the pond most of them turned back and left it again.

But Francis Parry seemed more interested in it than the rest, and stayed
where he was, asking questions of Caroline, who had answered most of
them during earlier visits.

"I suppose this is really what has kept you down here, isn't it," he
asked, "when you ought to have been amusing yourself in London?"

She laughed, and said: "I amuse myself better down here. I love being in
the country. I don't miss London a bit?'

"I like the country too," he said, "even in the summer."

Caroline laughed again. "'_Even_ in the summer'!" she repeated. "It's
the best of all times."

"Oh, well, I know," he said. "It's more beautiful, and that's what you
like about it, isn't it? It's what I like too. A night like this is
heavenly. Let's stop here a few minutes and take it in. I suppose your
beautiful stone seats are meant to be sat on, aren't they? We ought to
do justice to your new garden."

"I'm afraid you're laughing at my new garden," said Caroline. "But
perhaps it will do the poor thing good to be treated as if it were
really grown up. It _will_ be lovely in a year or two, you know."

She moved across the grass, which even the light of the moon showed not
yet to have settled into smooth unbroken turf, and sat down on a stone
bench in a niche of yew. The separate trees of which it was composed
were as large as could have been safely transplanted, but they had not
yet come together, and were not tall enough to create the effect of
seclusion, except in the eye of faith. Caroline laughed again. "It
_ought_ to be rather romantic," she said, "but I'm afraid it isn't quite
yet."

"I should think any garden romantic with you in it," said the young man,
taking his seat by her side.

"Thanks," she said lightly. "I do feel that I fit in. But I think you
had better wait a year or two to see how all this is going to fit _me_.
Come down for Whitsuntide in three years' time, when the hedges have
grown up. Then I will sit here and make a real picture for you."

She made an entrancing picture as it was, her white frock revealing the
grace of her slim body, the moon silvering her pretty fair hair and
resting on the delicate curves of her cheek and her neck. The yews were
tall enough to give her their sombre background, and a group of big
trees behind them helped out the unfinished garden picture.

"It has altered you, you know, already," said Francis, rather
unexpectedly.

"What has altered me? Living in a garden? That's what I've been doing
for the last few weeks."

"Yes. Living in a garden. Living in the country. You're awfully sweet as
a country girl, Caroline."

"A dewy English girl. That's what B and I said we should be when we
came down here. I'm awfully glad you've seen it so soon. Thanks ever so
much, Francis."

There was a slight pause. Then the young man said in his quiet well-bred
voice: "I've never been quite sure whether I was in love with you or
not. Now I know I am, and have been all along."

Now that it had come - what she had felt coming for the last three days,
and had instinctively warded off - she felt quite calm and collected. She
approved of this quiet way of introducing a serious subject. There had
been one or two attempted introductions of the same subject which had
been more difficult to handle. But it ought to be talked over quietly,
between two sensible people, who liked one another, and understood one
another. They might possibly come to an agreement, or they might not. If
they didn't, they could still go on being friends. That it was somewhat
lacking in romance did not trouble her. The less romance had to do with
the business of marriage the more likely it was to turn out
satisfactorily; provided always that there was genuine liking and some
community of taste. That was Caroline's view of marriage, come to after
a good deal of observation. Since her first season she had always
intended to choose with her head. Her heart, she thought, would approve
of her choice if she put her head first. The head, she had noticed, did
not always approve afterwards when the heart had been allowed to decide.
But love, of course, must not be left out of account in marriage. With
the girl it could be safely left to spring out of liking; with the man
it might do the same, but he must attain to it before he made his
proposal. Francis seemed to have done that, and she knew him very well,
and liked him. If she must be proposed to, she would prefer it to be in
exactly this way - perhaps with the yew hedges grown a little more, and
the squares of turf come closer together. But it would do very well as
it was, with the fountain splashing in the lily pond, and the moonlight
falling on the roofs and windows of the old house, which could be seen
through the broad vista of the formal garden.

"I hadn't meant to marry just yet," Francis made his confession, as she
did not immediately reply to him. "But for some time I've thought that
when I did I should want to marry you - if you'd have me. Do you think
you could, Caroline?"

"I don't know yet," said Caroline directly. "Why hadn't you meant to
marry just yet?"

"Oh, well; I'm only twenty-seven, you know. I shouldn't want to marry
yet for the _sake_ of being married. Still, everything's changed when
you're really in love with a girl. Then you _do_ want to get married.
You begin to see there's nothing like it. If I'd felt about you as I
feel about you now, when I first knew you, I should have wanted to marry
you then."

"I think I was only fifteen when we first knew each other."

"Was that all? Yes, it was when I'd just come down from Oxford. Well, I
liked you then, and I've gone on liking you ever since. You were awfully
attractive when you were fifteen. I believe I did fall in love with you
then. You liked me too rather, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did. It was that day up the river. I was rather shy, as B and I
were the only girls who weren't grown up. But you talked to us both, and
were very nice. Oh, yes, Francis, I've always liked you."

"Well then, won't you try and love me a bit? I do love you, you know. If
I've kept a cool head about it, it's because I think that's the best
way, with a girl you're going to spend your life with - if you have the
luck - until you're quite certain she _is_ the girl you want. As a matter
of fact there's never been another with me. If I haven't come forward,
as they say in books, it hasn't been because I've ever thought about
anybody else."

It was all exactly as it should have been. _He_ had chosen with his head
too, and now his heart had stepped in just at the right time, to
corroborate his choice. And she did like him; there had never been
anything in him that she hadn't liked, since that first day when in all
his Leander smartness, among all the young men who had devoted
themselves to the young women of the party, he had been the one who had
made himself agreeable to the two half-fledged girls. She liked too his
saying that there had never been anybody else. The first statement that
he hadn't intended to marry just yet had chilled her a trifle, though
there had been nothing in it to conflict with her well-thought-out
theory.

"It's very nice of you to say that," she said. "I haven't thought about
anybody else either. We should both be glad of that afterwards, if we
did marry."

"Then you will say yes," he said eagerly, drawing suddenly a little
nearer to her.

She drew away quickly and instinctively, and rose from the seat. "Oh, I
haven't said so yet," she said. "I must think a lot about it first. But
thank you very much for asking me, Francis. It's very sweet of you. Now
I think we'd better be going in."

He rose too. She looked lovely standing there in the moonlight, in all
her virginal youth and grace. If he had put his arm round her, and
pleaded for his answer! His senses bade him take her, and keep her for
his own - the sweetest thing to him on God's earth at that moment. But he
wouldn't frighten her; he must wait until she was ready. Then, if she'd
give herself to him, he would be completely happy. By the use of his
brains he was becoming a very good financier, though still young. But it
is doubtful whether his brains guided him aright in this crisis of his
life.

"I'm very disappointed that you can't say yes now," he said, his voice
trembling a little. "I do love you, Caroline - awfully."

She liked him better at that moment than she had ever liked him before.


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