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The man of the world, composed of native adaptability and careful
training, had given place to the pleading youth, who had need of her.
But she had no need of him, for the moment at least. "I _must_ think it
over, Francis," she said, almost pleading in her turn. "Don't let's be
in a hurry. We're both such sensible people."

"I don't know that I feel in a particularly sensible mood just at
present," he said with a wry smile. "But I'm not going to rush you, my
dear. I shall give you a week or two to think it over, and then I shall
come and ask you again. God knows, I want you badly enough."




CHAPTER IX

CAROLINE AND BEATRIX


All the guests departed on Tuesday morning with the exception of Sir
James and Lady Grafton. It was a surprising compliment on the part of
Sir James that he should have proposed to stay over another day. He
explained it by saying that he hadn't quite got the hang of the library
yet. The library was well furnished with old books in which nobody had
hitherto taken much interest. But Sir James did not, as a matter of
fact, spend a great deal of his time there on the extra day that he had
proposed to devote to it. He spent most of his time out of doors with
one or other of his nieces, and although he carried a calf-bound volume
of respectable size in either pocket of his coat he left them reposing
there as far as could be seen.

"The dear old thing!" said his young and sprightly wife. "What he really
likes is pottering about quietly with the children. They really are
dears, George. I wish we saw more of them; but you never will bring them
to Frayne. I suppose it's too dull for you."

"Well, it is rather dull," said Grafton, who was on the best of terms
with his sister-in-law. "If James and I didn't meet in the City I should
want to go and see him there sometimes, but - - "

"Well, that's a nice speech!" exclaimed her ladyship. "You don't meet
_me_ in the City. But I'll forgive you. After all, it isn't _you_ I want
to see at Frayne - it's the children. They're growing up so nicely,
George. You owe a lot to Miss Waterhouse. I've never seen two girls of
Caroline's and Beatrix's ages who can do as much to make all sorts and
ages of people enjoy themselves. James says the same. He didn't want to
come here much, to a big party, but now you see you can't get him away.
And dear little Barbara will be just the same. James adores Barbara, and
it's awfully pretty to see her taking him about with her arm in his, and
chattering about everything in earth and heaven. I wish we'd had some
girls. The boys are darlings, of course, but they're not peaceful when
they're growing up, and my dear old James loves peace."

"We all do," said Grafton. "That's why we love this place. It's quite
changed _me_ already. When one of your boys is ready to come into the
Bank I shall retire and become a country squire, of the kind that never
steps outside his own house."

"Oh, no, you won't, George. James retires before you. I wish the boys
were older. It's James's fault for not marrying at the proper age.
However, if he'd done that he wouldn't have married me, for I was in the
cradle at that time."

"They must have pretty big cradles where you come from," said Grafton.

She gave him a reproving pat on the sleeve; she liked that kind of
joke. "This is really a nicer place than Frayne," she said. "I don't
wonder you've taken to it. It's hardly fair that the younger brother
should have a nicer place than the elder. But I think now you've settled
down in a house of your own, George, you ought to think of marrying
again. I never thought you wanted it while you were a young man about
town, but if you're going to change all your tastes and settle down in
the country you will want a wife to look after things for you."

"I've got the children," he said shortly.

"My dear boy, you don't think you're going to keep them long, do you?
It's a marvel to me that Caroline hasn't married already. She's been one
of the prettiest of all the girls, and B is even prettier, if that's
possible. You'll lose 'em both pretty soon, if I'm not very much
mistaken."

He turned to her in some alarm. "What do you mean?" he asked. "There's
nothing going on, is there?"

She laughed. "How blind men are," she said. "M. de Lassigny is head over
ears in love with B."

"Oh, my dear Mary, what nonsense! Excuse my saying so, but it's such a
short time since you were in the cradle."

"Very well, George. You may call it nonsense if you like. But you'll
see."

"He's been a friend of Caroline's for the last two years. It was she who
asked him down here. It would be her if it were anybody, but I know it
isn't."

"You may know it isn't Caroline. I know it too. They're just friends.
You can't know it isn't B, because it is."

"What makes you say so? He's been just like all the rest of them here.
He's been with Caroline just as much as with B. Barbara too, I should
say, and the other girls as well."

"That's his artfulness, George. You can't hide these things from a
woman - at any rate if she has eyes in her head and knows how to use
them. I'm interested in your girls, not having any of my own, so I do
use my eyes. He may not be ready to declare himself yet, but he will,
sooner or later."

"I should hate that, you know. I don't believe B would take it on for a
moment either. Do you?"

"I don't know. If I thought I did I'd tell you so. But why should you
hate it? He's just like an Englishman. And he's rich, with an old
property and all that sort of thing. He isn't like an adventurer, with a
title that comes from nobody knows where. He'd be a very good match. Why
should you hate it?"

"I should hate one of the girls to marry a foreigner. I've never thought
of such a thing. I don't want either of them to marry yet - certainly not
my little B. I want them at home for a bit. I haven't had enough of them
yet. We're all going to enjoy ourselves together here for a year or two.
They like it as much as I do. Even B, who's enjoying herself in London,
likes to come here best, - bless her. She's having her fling. I like 'em
to do that; and they're not like other girls, always on the lookout for
men. They make friends of them but they like their old father best,
after all. It can't always be so, I know, but I'm not going to lose them
yet awhile, Mary."

"Well, George, you're very lucky in your girls, I will say that; and you
deserve some credit for it, too. You haven't left them to go their own
way while you went yours, as lots of men in your position would have
done. The consequence is they adore you. And they always will. But you
can't expect to be first with them when their time comes. You've had
Caroline now for two years since she's grown up, and - - "

"Well, what about her? There's nobody head over heels in love with
_her_, is there?"

"I don't know about head over heels. But Francis Parry is in love with
her, and you'll have him proposing very shortly, if he hasn't done it
already."

"Oh, my dear Mary, you're letting your matchmaking tendencies get the
better of you. Now you relieve my mind - about B I mean. If there's no
more in it than that!"

"Oh, I know what you think. They've been pals, and all that sort of
thing, for years. If there had been more than that it would have come
out long ago. Well, you'll see. _I_ say that it's coming out now. It
does happen like that, you know, sometimes."

Grafton was inclined to doubt it. He liked Francis Parry, who would be
just the right sort of match for Caroline besides, if it should take
them in that sort of way, later on. But that sort of way did not
include a sudden 'falling in love' at the end of some years' frank and
free companionship, during which neither of them had been in the least
inclined to pine at such times as they saw little of one another. They
were both of them much too sensible. Their liking for one another gave
the best sort of promise for happiness in married life, if they should,
by and by, decide to settle down together. They had been friends for
years and they would go on being friends, all their lives. The same
could not be said for all married couples, nor perhaps even for the
majority of them, who had begun by being violently in love with one
another. That, at any rate, could hardly have happened within the last
few days. Mary, who had certainly not fallen violently in love with
James, though she was undoubtedly fond of him, and made him a very good
wife, was over-sentimental in these matters, and had seen what she had
wanted to see.

He had a slight shock of surprise, however, not altogether agreeable,
when Caroline, during the course of the morning, told him of what had
happened to her.

She linked her arm affectionately in his. "Come for a stroll, darling,"
she said. "It's rather nice to have got rid of everybody, and be just
ourselves again, isn't it?"

She led him to the lily pond. Although everything was finished there
now, and neither the yews nor the newly laid turf could have been
expected to come together between their frequent visits, they went to
look at it several times a day, just to see how it was getting on. So
there was no difficulty in drawing him there; and, as other members of
the family were satisfied with less frequent inspection, they were not
likely to be disturbed.

"Come and sit down," she said, when they had stood for some time by the
pool, and discussed the various water-lilies that they had sunk there,
tied up between the orthodox turfs. "I want to talk to you."

They sat down on the stone seat. "Talk away!" he said, taking a
cigarette out of his case.

Caroline took cigarette and case away from him. "Darling," she said,
"you didn't select it. In books they always _select_ a cigarette,
usually with care. I'll do it for you."

She gave him a cigarette, took his matchbox out of his pocket, and lit
it for him. "I'm really only doing this to save time," she said. "I have
a confession to make. The last time I sat on this seat I was proposed
to."

"The devil!" exclaimed her father, staring at her.

"No, darling, not the devil. I'm not so bad as that. Don't be offensive
to your little daughter - or profane."

"Who was it? Francis Parry?"

"Yes, darling. You've got it in one. It was last night. The moon was
shining and the yews looked _almost_ like a real hedge. Rather a score
for our garden, I think."

He took a draw at his cigarette and inhaled it. "Well, if that's the way
you take it, I suppose you didn't accept him," he said.

Having taken the fence of introducing the subject, she became more
serious. "No, I didn't accept him," she said. "But I didn't refuse him
either. I wanted to talk to you about it first."

That pleased him. At this time of day one no longer expected to have the
disposal of one's daughter's hand, or to be asked for permission to pay
addresses to her, if the man who paid them was justified in doing so by
his social and financial position, and probably even less so if he
wasn't. But it was gratifying that his daughter should put his claims on
her so high that she would not give her answer until she had consulted
him about it first.

"Well, darling," he said, "I don't want you to marry anybody just yet.
But Francis Parry is a very nice fellow. I'd just as soon you married
him as anybody if you want to. Do you?"

"Perhaps I might," she said doubtfully. "I do like him. I think we
should get on all right together." There was a slight pause. "He likes
Dickens," she added.

Grafton did not smile. "Mary has just told me that you've suddenly
fallen in love with one another," he said. It was not exactly what Mary
had told him, but he was feeling a trifle sore with her for seeing
something that he hadn't, and for another reason which he hadn't
examined yet.

"Aunt Mary is too clever by half," said Caroline. "She couldn't have
seen anything in me that hasn't always been there. But Francis did say
he loved me. I suppose he had to, didn't he, Dad? No, I don't mean
that. I mean he'd expect one to begin with that, wouldn't he?"

He was touched; he couldn't have told why, unless it was from some waft
of memory from his own wooing, which had certainly begun with that. He
put his arm round her and kissed her. "Do you love him?" he asked her.

She returned his kiss warmly. "Not half as much as I love you, darling
old Daddy," she said. "I don't want to go away from you for a long time
yet. Supposing I tell Francis that I like him very much, but I don't
want to marry anybody yet. How would that do?"

"It seems to fit the bill," he said in a lighter tone. "No, don't get
married yet, Cara. We're going to have a lot of fun here. It would break
things up almost before they've begun. I say, is there anything between
Lassigny and B?"

She laughed. "Has Aunt Mary seen that too?" she asked.

"She says she has. Why! have _you_ seen it? Surely not!"

"To tell you the truth, I haven't looked very carefully. They like each
other, I suppose, just as he and I like each other. He hasn't been any
different to me; I think he's been as much with me as he has with her."

"Yes, but B herself, I mean. She wouldn't want to fall in love with a
foreigner, would she?"

"How British you are, darling! I never think about M. de Lassigny as a
foreigner."

"I do though. I should hate one of you girls to marry anybody not
English. B doesn't like him in that way, does she?"

"I don't think so, dear. I don't think she likes anybody in that way
yet. She's just like I was, when I first came out, enjoying herself
frightfully and making lots of friends. He was one of the people I liked
first of all. He's interesting to talk to. She likes lots of other men
too. In fact she has talked to me about lots of them, but I don't think
she's ever mentioned him - before he came here, I mean."

Whether that fact seemed quite convincing to Caroline or no, it relieved
her father. "Oh, I don't suppose there's anything in it," he said. "His
manners with women are a bit more elaborate than an Englishman's. I
suppose that's what Mary has got hold of. I must say, _I_ didn't notice
him paying any more attention to B than to you; or Barbara either, for
that matter. Of course B is an extraordinarily pretty girl. She's bound
to get a lot of notice. I hope she won't take up with anybody yet awhile
though. I don't want to lose her. I don't want to lose any of you.
Anyway, I should hate losing her to a Frenchman."

His fears were further reduced by Beatrix's treatment of him during that
day, and when they went up to London together the next morning. She was
very clinging and affectionate, and very amusing too. Surely no girl who
was not completely heart-whole would have been so light-hearted and
merry over all the little experiences of life that her entry into the
world was bringing her! And she hardly mentioned Lassigny's name at all,
though there was scarcely one of the numerous acquaintances she had made
whom she had not something to say about, and generally to make fun of.
Her fun was never ill-natured, but everybody and everything presented
itself to her in the light of her gay humour, and was presented to her
audience in that light. She was far the wittiest of the three of them,
and her bright audacities enchanted her father when she was in the mood
for them, when her eyes danced and sparkled with mischief and her laugh
rang out like music. He had never been able to think of Beatrix as quite
grown up; she was more of a child to him even than Barbara, whom nobody
could have thought of as grown up, or anywhere near it. It dismayed him
to think of losing her, even if it should be to a man of whom he should
fully approve. But, filling his eyes as she did with a sense of the
sweet perfection of girlhood, he was wondering if it were possible that
she of all the girls who would be married or affianced before the season
was over would escape, even if there was nothing to be feared as to the
particular attachment that had been put into his mind.

But though it might be impossible to think that she would tread her
first gay measure without having hearts laid at her feet, it was quite
possible to think of her as dancing through it without picking any of
them up. In fact, she as good as told him that that was her attitude
towards all the admiration she was receiving when she went up to fish
with him in the evening, and was as charmingly companionable and
confidential to him as even he could wish her to be.

She had a way with him that was sweeter to him even than Caroline's way.
Caroline treated him as her chosen companion among all men, as he always
had been so far, but she treated him as an equal, almost as a brother,
though with a devotion not often shown by sisters to brothers. But
Beatrix transformed herself into his little dog or slave. She behaved,
without a trace of affectation, as if she were about six years old. She
ran to fetch and carry for him, she tried to do things that he did, just
as Bunting did, and laughed at herself for trying. Caroline often put
her face up to his to be kissed, but Beatrix would take his hand,
half-furtively, and kiss it softly or lay it to her cheek, or snuggle up
to him with a little sigh of content, as if it were enough for her to be
with him and adore him. This evening, by the pool at the edge of the
park, where the grass was full of flowers and the grey aspens and heavy
elms threw their shadows across the water and were reflected in its
liquid depths, she was his gillie, and got so excited on the few
occasions on which she had an opportunity of using the landing-net, that
she got her skirt and shoes and stockings all covered with mud, just as
if she were a child with no thought of clothes, instead of a young woman
at the stage when they are of paramount importance.

He was so happy with this manifestation of her, which of all her moods
he loved the best, that the discomfort he had felt about her was
assuaged. He did not even want to ask her questions. A confiding active
child, behaving with the sexlessness of a small boy, she was so far
removed from all the absorptions of love-making that it would have
seemed almost unnatural to bring them to her mind.

They strolled home very slowly, she carrying for him all he would allow
her to carry and clinging to him closely, even making him put his arm
round her shoulder, as she had done when she was little, so that she
might put her arm around his waist.

"It's lovely being with you, my old Daddywad," she said. Then she sang a
little song which a nurse had taught her, and with the mistakes she had
made in her babyhood, and with the nurse's intonation:

"_I love Daddy,
My dear Daddy,
And I know vat 'e loves me;
'E's my blaymate,
Raim or shine,
Vere's not annover Daddy in er worl' like mine._"

She laughed softly, and gave his substantial waist a squeeze. "You do
like having me here, don't you, Daddy darling? You do miss me while I'm
away?"

"Of course I do," he said. "I should like you to be here always. But you
enjoy yourself in London, don't you?"

"Not half as much as I'm enjoying myself now," she said. It was just
what Caroline had said. There was nobody either of them liked to be with
so much as him. "When it's all over in July we'll stay here for a bit,
won't we, Dad? Don't let's go abroad this year. I like this much
better."

"I don't want to go abroad," he said. "I expect somebody will want to
take you to Cowes though."

"I don't want to miss Cowes. I mean after that. We'll be quiet here and
ask very few people, till it's time to go up to Scotland."

"Oh, you're going to Scotland, are you?"

"Yes, with the Ardrishaigs. I told you, darling. You don't love your
little daughter enough to remember what she's going to do with herself.
But you do like me to enjoy myself, don't you?"

"Of course I do. And you are enjoying yourself like anything, aren't
you?"

"Oh, yes. I'm having spiffing fun. I never thought I should like it half
so much. It makes everything so jolly. I've enjoyed being at home more
because of it, and I shall enjoy it more still when I go back because
I've loved being in the quiet country and having fun with you, my old
Daddy."

"You're not getting your head turned, with all the young fellows dancing
attendance on you?"

She laughed clearly. "That's the best fun of the lot," she said. "They
are so silly, a lot of them. I'm sure _you_ weren't like that. Did you
fall in love a lot when you first had your hair up?"

"Once or twice. It's the way of young fellows."

"I don't think it's the way of young girls, if they're nice. I'm not
going to fall in love yet, if I ever do. I think it spoils things. I'm
not sure that I don't rather like their falling in love with me though.
I should consider it rather a slight if some of them didn't. Besides,
they give me a lot of quiet fun."

"Well, as long as you don't fall in love yourself, just yet - - I don't
want to lose you yet awhile."

"And I don't want to lose you, my precious old Daddy. I can't be always
with you. I must have my fling, you know. But I love to feel you're just
round the corner somewhere. I never forget you, darling, even when I'm
enjoying myself most."

So that was all right. He was first, and the rest nowhere, with all his
girls. He knew more about them than Mary possibly could. He would have
to give them up to some confounded fellow some day, but even that
wouldn't be so bad if they took it as Caroline had taken Francis Parry's
proposal, and they married nice fellows such as he was, who wouldn't
really divide them from their father. As for Lassigny, there was
evidently no danger of anything of that sort happening. It would have
hurt his little B to suggest such a thing, by way of sounding her, and
he was glad he hadn't done it.




CHAPTER X

A DRIVE AND A DINNER


"I do love motoring," said Mrs. Mercer, "especially on a lovely summer
evening like this. I wish we had got a car of our own, Albert."

"My dear, when you married a poor country clergyman," said the Vicar,
"you renounced all that sort of thing. We must be content with our
one-hoss shay. Some day, perhaps, _all_ the clergy of the Church of
England will be properly paid for devoting their lives to the good of
the community, instead of only a few of them. The labourer is worthy of
his car. Ha! ha! But I'm afraid it won't happen in _our_ time, if it
ever happens at all. Too many Socialists and Radicals gnashing their
teeth at us. In the meantime let's take the little pleasures that come
in our way, and not envy those who are better off than we are. We must
never forget that there are some who might think they had a right to
envy us."

"Oh, yes, dear," said Mrs. Mercer. "We _are_ very well off, really. I'm
sure I don't envy anybody. And I really _am_ enjoying myself now, and am
going to, all the evening."

They were on their way to dine with the Pembertons at Grays. As the
Vicarage horse was getting a trifle too aged to be called upon to make
an effort of ten miles each way the Vicar had borrowed a car from the
Abbey, and was now being carried softly through the country, which was
at its most peaceful and soothing on a fine evening of early July, with
the hay scenting the air and the sun slanting its rays over the wide and
varied landscape.

"It _was_ kind of Caroline to let us have the car," said Mrs. Mercer,
reverting to the subject a little later. "It would have taken us hours
to get there with poor old Tiglath-Pilezer, and I shouldn't have liked
to _bicycle_ to dinner at a house like Grays. I'm glad she sent us an
open car. One sees the lovely country so much better."

"It's the smallest car they have," said the Vicar; "and I should have
preferred a closed one for coming home in. However, we mustn't grumble.
It's very kind, as you say, for his rich parishioners to lend their
clergyman a car at all."

"I wonder who will be there to-night," said Mrs. Mercer. "Do you think
it will be a big dinner-party, Albert? I really think I _must_ get a new
dress, if we are to begin dining out again. I am quite ashamed to appear
in this one at the Abbey. I've worn it so often there."

"Mrs. Pemberton asked us in quite an informal way," said the Vicar,
ignoring the latter part of his wife's speech. "There may be others
there, or there may be just ourselves. I must confess I should rather
like to meet a few people from the other side of the county. The
Pembertons are quite on the edge of our circle, and they're about the
only decent people in it."

"Except our own people at Abington," Mrs. Mercer corrected him. "We are
very lucky in the Graftons, I must say."

"Yes, I suppose we are, as things go," said the Vicar. "I would rather


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