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have had regular country people, though, than rich Londoners. They get
absorbed in their friends whom they bring down, and aren't of so much
use to their country neighbours as they might be."

"Oh, but Albert, they so often ask us to dine. I'm sure they are very
hospitable."

"I don't know that they've asked us so very often. They've asked us very
seldom when they've had their smart parties. I suppose, as country
bumpkins, we're not good enough. There isn't the intimate air about the
house, either, that one might expect. There's a formality. They don't
seem to know what to do when one just drops in for a cup of tea, or
perhaps just to say something in the morning. They're not used to that
sort of thing in London; I know that perfectly well. But they ought to
know that it's usual in the country, and not make such a business of it.
I hate always being announced by that pompous old Jarvis. One ought to
be able to run in and out of the house, just as one does, for instance,
with the Walters. They never do it with us either. It's chiefly owing to
Miss Waterhouse. A governess, as I suppose she was, and been put into a
position that's been too much for her! There isn't the _friendliness_ I
like to see in young girls."

"Perhaps they're rather afraid of you, dear. They always give me quite a
nice welcome, if I happen to go there without you, which I don't very
often do. And they do run in and out of the cottage, and Mollie goes
there. I'm glad they have taken such a fancy to Mollie. She's come out
wonderfully since they made a friend of her."

"She has come out a little too much for my taste. I feared it would turn
her head to be taken notice of, and I ventured to give a friendly word
of warning, which was not received as it should have been - by Miss
Waterhouse, whom it really had nothing to do with. I'm sorry to have to
say it of Mollie, but I'm sadly afraid there's something of the snob in
her. More than once she has had an engagement at the Abbey when I wanted
her to do something for me. Of course people living in a big house come
before old friends. That's understood. But I didn't think Mollie would
turn out like that, I must confess."

"Oh, but Albert dear, I'm _sure_ she wouldn't neglect you for anybody.
You've been so kind to her, and it has meant such a lot to her, your
making a companion of her, and all. But, of course, it _is_ nice for
girls to have other girls to be friends with. I'm sure it would be just
the same if the Graftons lived in a small house instead of a big one."

"I beg leave to doubt it, Gertrude. But here we are. The drive is about
half a mile long. We shan't see the house for some distance yet."

They had turned in at some handsome lodge gates, and were going along a
winding road which ran between iron railings, with fields on either side
of it.

"It's not so nice as the park at Abington," said Mrs. Mercer; "more like
a farm road except for the lodge. Is Grays as big a house as the Abbey?"

"Bigger, I should say," said her husband. "The Pembertons are a very old
Meadshire family. I looked them up in a book in the library at the
Abbey. Except the Clintons, over the other side, they are the oldest.
They have often married into titled families. They are a good deal
better than the Graftons, I should say. Sir James Grafton is only the
third baronet, and his grandfather was a jeweller in Nottingham, the
book says. Of course, they've made money, which stands for everything in
these days. Oh, how that made me jump!"

Another car had come up behind them, of which the powerful horn had
given warning that room was asked for it. The smaller car had changed
gears at the beginning of the rise, and the larger one swung by it as it
made way. Three girls were sitting together on the back seat, and waved
as they were carried past. They were Caroline and Beatrix, with Mollie
sitting between them.

"Now what on earth does that mean!" exclaimed the Vicar, in a tone of
annoyance. "Mollie coming to dine here! But she doesn't even know them.
And why didn't Caroline tell me _they_ were coming, when I asked her
for the car? Why couldn't we all have come together?"

These questions were presently answered. Bertie Pemberton had come down
from London in the afternoon and brought a friend with him. A car had
been sent over to Abington to ask that _every_body who happened to be
there should come over and dine. Caroline was also particularly asked to
persuade little Miss Walter to come with them, and to take no denial. A
note would be taken to her, but perhaps she wouldn't come unless she
were pressed. This last piece of information, however, was not imparted
to the Vicar, and he was left wondering how on earth Mollie came to be
there, and with the full determination to find out later.

There was nothing lacking in the warmth of welcome accorded to their
guests by the whole Pemberton family, which could hardly have been more
loudly expressed if they had come to dine in an asylum for the deaf, and
were qualified for residence there. The Vicar had quite forgotten his
dislike of this noisy cheerful family. He had bicycled over on a hot day
to see Mrs. Pemberton, had found that she had forgotten who he was for
the moment, but by engaging her in conversation on the subjects of which
she had previously unbosomed herself had regained the interest she had
shown in him. He had been given his cup of tea, and shown the village
hall, and told that the next time he came over he must come to lunch.
Then Mrs. Pemberton had left cards at Abington Vicarage - the Vicar and
his wife being out, unfortunately, at the time, - and before they could
return the call had asked them to dine. It was an acquaintanceship,
begun under the happiest auspices, which the Vicar quite hoped would
ripen into a genuine friendship. He was inclined to like the
free-and-easy ways of real old-established country people. They were
apt, possibly, to think too much about horses and dogs, but that did not
prevent their taking a genuine interest in their fellow-creatures,
especially those who were dependent on them for a good deal of their
satisfaction in life. Mrs. Pemberton, although she didn't look it, was a
woman who did a great deal of good. She would have made an admirable
clergyman's wife.

Father Brill, the Vicar of Grays, was also dining, in a cassock. He had
only been in the place for three months, but had already established his
right to be called Father and to wear a cassock instead of a coat. He
was a tall spare man with a commanding nose and an agreeable smile. Old
Mr. Pemberton had taken a fancy to him, though he was very outspoken
with regard to his eccentricities. But he chaffed him just as freely to
his face as he criticised him to others. His attitude towards him was
rather like that of a fond father towards a mischievous child. "What do
you think that young rascal of mine has been doing now?" was the note on
which his references to Father Brill were based.

The Vicar, who was 'low' in doctrine, but inclined to be 'high' in
practice - where it didn't matter - had cautiously commiserated Mrs.
Pemberton on the extravagances of her pastor during his first visit. But
he had discovered that they caused her no anxiety. The only thing she
didn't care about was 'this confession' - auricular, she believed they
called it. But as long as she wasn't expected to confess herself, which
she should be very sorry to do, as it would be so awkward to ask Father
Brill to dinner after it, she wasn't going to make any fuss. It would
possibly do the young men of the place a lot of good to confess their
sins to Father Brill, if he could induce them to do so; she was pretty
certain it would do Bertie good, but, of course, he would never do it.
As for the women, if they wanted to go in for that sort of thing, well,
let 'em. Father Brill wasn't likely to do them any harm - with that nose.
What she _should_ have objected to would be to be interfered with in the
things she ran herself in the parish. But they got on all right together
there. In fact, she went her way and Father Brill went his, and neither
of them interfered with the other.

The two clergymen sat on either side of their hostess, and the Vicar was
rather inclined to envy the easy terms that Father Brill was on with
her. It had not occurred to him to treat a lady in Mrs. Pemberton's
position with anything but deference, to listen to her opinions
politely, and not to press his own when they differed from hers. But
here was Father Brill actually inviting her to discussion, and, while
listening politely to what she had to say, finding food for amusement in
it, and by no means hiding his amusement from her.

"I'm afraid you must be a good deal older than you admit to," he said.
"You must have gained your opinions in girlhood, and they are about
those that were held in the thirties and forties of the nineteenth
century. That would make you about ninety-three now, and I must admit
that you wear very well for your age."

Mrs. Pemberton seemed so to enjoy this kind of treatment that the Vicar
took a leaf out of Father Brill's book and became a good deal more
familiar, on the same lines, than he had ever thought of being in such a
house as that, or at least with the older inhabitants of such a house.
Perhaps he kept rather too much to the same lines. He asked Mrs.
Pemberton whether she wore a wig, which as a matter of fact she did,
though he was far from suspecting it; and as religious matters were
being treated in a light vein, to which he had no objection, as long as
anything like profanity was excluded, he begged her, if she should ever
change her mind about confession, to confess to him and not to Father
Brill. "I assure you, my dear lady," he said - Father Brill had once or
twice called her 'my dear lady' - "that I shan't breathe a word of what
you say to anybody - and I'm quite ready to be agreeably shocked."

Father Brill's eyebrows met ominously over his huge nose, and Mrs.
Pemberton looked in some surprise at the Vicar, and then took a glance
at his wine-glass. But at that moment Mr. Pemberton called out something
to her from the foot of the table, and Effie Pemberton who was sitting
on the right of the Vicar engaged him in talk. Otherwise he would have
exploited this vein still further, for he felt he was making rather a
success of it.

His wife, meantime, was enjoying herself immensely. The young people
were all laughing and talking gaily, and she was not left out of it. Old
Mr. Pemberton addressed long narratives to her, but occasionally broke
off to shout out: "Eh, what's that? I didn't hear that," if an extra
burst of laughter engaged his attention; and after such an interruption
he would usually address himself next to Caroline, who was sitting on
the other side of him. So Mrs. Mercer found that she need not devote
herself entirely to him, and laughed away as merrily as any of them, if
there was anything to laugh at, which there generally was.

They really were nice, these Pembertons, in spite of their loudness and
their horsey tastes. Kate sat next to her, and looked very handsome,
with her abundant hair beautifully dressed and her white firm flesh
liberally displayed. She was some years younger than her sisters, and
had not yet acquired that almost weather-beaten look which is apt to
overtake young country women who spend the greater part of their waking
hours out of doors, and was already beginning to show in Nora and Effie.
She had a great deal to say to Bertie's friend who sat on the other side
of her, but she by no means neglected Mrs. Mercer, and whenever
conversation was general brought her into it. She also occasionally
talked to her alone, when Mr. Pemberton was engaged with Caroline.

"I like that little Waters girl, or whatever her name is," she said on
one of these occasions, looking across to where Mollie was sitting
between Nora and Bertie Pemberton. "She's quiet, but she does know how
to laugh. Quite pretty too."

"Oh, she's a dear," said Mrs. Mercer enthusiastically. "We are _awfully_
fond of her. I don't know what my husband would do without her."

Kate laughed. "That's what Bertie seems to be feeling," she said. "He
spotted her when we went over to Abington the other day. We rather
chaffed him about it, as the Grafton girls are so _extraordinarily_
pretty, and we hadn't taken so much notice of her ourselves. But he
insisted upon her being sent for to-night, and made Nora write. I'm glad
she came. We all three make pals of men, but we like girls too. I hope
we shall see more of her. I expect we shall, if Bertie has anything to
do with it."

She turned to her other neighbour, and Mrs. Mercer looked across to
where Bertie Pemberton was entertaining Mollie with some vivacious
narrative that was making her laugh freely. It was quite true that she
_could_ laugh, and looked very pretty as she did so. Mrs. Mercer had had
no idea how pretty she really was. Her generous heart gave a jump of
pleasure as she saw how Bertie Pemberton was addressing himself to her.
Supposing - only supposing - that _that_ should happen! How perfectly
splendid for dear little Mollie, who had had such a dull life, but was
worth any sort of life that could be given her. And how pleased her
husband would be! They would have something to talk about when they went
home.

They played round games at a table in the drawing-room - all of them,
including Mr. Pemberton, who did not like to be left out of anything - to
an accompaniment of much shouting and laughter. The two cars were kept
waiting for half an hour before the guests departed, and they returned
as they had come. The Vicar had wanted Mollie to accompany him and his
wife, but as she had hesitated, with a glance at Beatrix, which plainly
showed her own wishes in the matter, Caroline had put in her claim and
settled it for her.

So the Vicar started on the homeward drive not in the best of humours,
especially as the other car was being kept back while the three girls
were still laughing and talking as if they were going to stay all night,
although he and his wife had been permitted to leave when they were
ready to do so.

"Really, Miss Caroline has a fairly abrupt way with her when it suits
her," he said. "If we hadn't been indebted to her for the loan of the
car, I should certainly have insisted that Mollie come with us. We live
nearly opposite, and the Pemberton's car will have to go out of the way
to take her home. Mollie ought to have had the sense to see it herself,
and the pluck to take matters into her own hands. She is allowing
herself to be led away by all the notice she is receiving. I have yet to
learn exactly how it was that she came to be here to-night. There's
something I don't understand, and I don't quite like it."

"Oh, I can tell you all about that, Albert dear," said Mrs. Mercer
eagerly. "I've been longing to tell you, and you'll be _so_ pleased. It
was Bertie Pemberton. He has taken an _immense_ fancy to Mollie, and it
was he who insisted that she should be sent for with the Grafton girls.
Kate told me so herself, and they like her so much, and they are going
to make Mrs. Pemberton call on Mrs. Walter, and have Mollie over there
often. Just _fancy_, if anything should come of it!"

"Well, I never!" said the Vicar in his coldest tones.

Mrs. Mercer felt the drop in the temperature. "But it would be such a
_splendid_ thing for Mollie, dear," she pleaded, "and she does so come
out in company. I thought she looked quite as pretty as the Grafton
girls to-night, and I was quite proud of her, the way she behaved,
enjoying herself, but never pushing herself forward, and everybody
liking her and all."

"If you've quite finished, Gertrude," said the Vicar, as coldly as
before, "I should like to say something. I'd no idea - no idea
whatever - that it was on that young man's invitation that Mollie was
there to-night and - - "

"Oh, but it wasn't, dear. It was Nora who wrote to her. Of course _he_
wouldn't have done it."

"Let me finish, please. Here is a young girl living, with her mother,
almost under our protection. Whatever friends they have made here they
have made through us. I was glad enough for Mollie to be taken up by the
Graftons, although she does not belong to their class by birth, and
there is some danger of her thinking herself their equal in a way which
_they_ may perhaps come not to like, if she pushes it too far. That is
why I wished her not to go to the Abbey too much, unless I, or you, were
with her. I feel a responsibility towards the girl."

"But, Albert dear, surely it has got past that now! She's their friend
just as much as we are. And they _love_ having her there."

"Please let me finish, Gertrude. I know she's their friend, and now see
what it has led to! By your own showing, Mrs. Pemberton doesn't even
know Mrs. Walter. She is only _going_ to call on her, because her
daughter is going to _make_ her. Yet, on the invitation of a young man,
who has taken a fancy to her, - well, on his sister's invitation then, if
you must be so particular, which _she_, this time, is _made_ to
_give_, - Mollie can so far forget herself as to go to the house of
perfect strangers and be entertained by them. Why, it's lending herself
to - to - I'd really rather not say what. To me it seems perfectly
outrageous. Have you, I should like to ask, really looked upon Mollie in
the light of a girl that any young man can throw down his glove to, and
she'll pick it up?"

"Oh, _no_, Albert dear," expostulated Mrs. Mercer, greatly distressed by
the suggestion. "It isn't like that at all. _She_ isn't like that, and
I'm sure _he_ isn't like that either. I was watching him at dinner, and
afterwards, and I believe he really is in - - "

"I don't want to hear any more," said the Vicar abruptly, throwing
himself back in his seat and folding his arms. "I shall call on Mrs.
Walter to-morrow and have it out with her - and with Mollie."

There was a toot of a big bass horn behind them, and the other car went
sliding past. The three girls were sitting together as before, and waved
gaily to them as they passed. Mrs. Mercer returned the greeting. The
Vicar took no notice of it at all, and remained obstinately silent for
the rest of the drive home.




CHAPTER XI

CAROLINE


Caroline awoke very early one morning in mid-July, disturbed perhaps by
the light and the soft stillness. She had been in London during the
week, where she had been wont to sleep late, in a darkened room. She had
enjoyed her dinners and her plays and her parties, but she had a great
sense of happiness and peace as she opened her eyes and realised that
she was in London no longer, but in her large airy room at Abington,
with the sweet fresh world of the country all about her, and no
engagements of any sort before her that would prevent her from enjoying
it.

The London season was over now; she had only spent the inside of three
weeks away from Abington since they had first come there, and the days
had seemed to go more quickly than at any time she had known. They had
been contented and peaceful; she had never known a dull moment, with all
the little tasks and pleasures she had found to her hand, not even when
she and Barbara and Miss Waterhouse had been alone in the house
together. The Saturdays and Sundays had been happy, with her father
there, who seemed to belong to her now more than he had ever done, for
many of her pleasures were his, and he shared her enjoyment of a life
far simpler in its essence than any she had known since she had grown
up, or than he had known at any time within her experience. It had been
quite exciting to look forward to the Friday evenings; and the guests
who sometimes came down with him had filled all her desire for society
other than that of her family, or the people she saw from the houses
around.

And now they were going to live the life of their home together, at
least for some weeks. Her father was giving himself one of his numerous
holidays, and was going to spend it entirely at Abington. Beatrix was
coming home after she had gone to Cowes and before she went to Scotland.
Bunting would be home for his summer holidays in a week or so. It was a
delightful prospect, and gave her more pleasure than she had gained from
the after-season enjoyments of previous years. She had refused an
invitation to Cowes, and another to Scotland. She might go up there
later, perhaps. At present she wanted nothing but Abington - to feel that
she belonged there, and her days would remain the same as long as she
cared to look forward.

She rose and went to the window, just to look out on the sweetness of
the early morning, and the flowers and the trees. As she stood there,
she saw her father come round the corner of the house. He was dressed,
untidily for him, in a grey flannel suit and a scarf round his neck
instead of a collar, and he carried in one hand a wooden trug full of
little pots and in the other a trowel. He was walking fast, as if he had
business on hand.

Something impelled her to keep silent, and she drew back a little to
watch him. He went down the broad central path of the formal garden on
to which her windows looked, on his way to the new rock-garden, which
had been another of their spring enterprises. He had brought down the
night before some big cases of rock-plants, and had evidently not been
able to wait to go out and play with them.

A very soft look came over Caroline's face as she watched him. She felt
maternal. Men were so like babies, with their toys. And this was such a
nice toy for the dear boy, and so different from the expensive grown-up
toys he had played with before. He looked so young too, with his active
straight-backed figure. At a back-view, with his hat hiding his hair, he
might have been taken for quite a young man. And in mind he was one,
especially when he was at home at Abington. There was none of all the
young men with whom Caroline had made friends whom she liked better to
be with, not only because she loved him, but because with none of them
could she talk so freely or receive so much in return. There was nothing
in her life about which she could not or did not talk to him. Francis
Parry's proposal - she had not been at ease until she had told him about
it and of all that was in her mind with regard to it. Surely they were
nearer together than most fathers and daughters, and always would be so.

She thought she would go down and help him with his plantings and
potterings. She loved him so much that she wanted to see that look of
pleasure on his face that she knew would come at the agreeable surprise
she would bring him. Perhaps she would be able to steal up behind him
without his seeing her, and then she would get this plain sign of his
love for her and his pleasure in her unexpected appearance brought out
of him suddenly. She had something more to tell him too.

She dressed and went down. She collected her garden gloves, a trowel and
a trug, and then went into the empty echoing back regions where the
cases of plants had been unpacked, and took out some more of the little
pots. They were mostly thymes, in every creeping variety. She knew what
he was going to do, then - furnish the rocky staircase, which he and two
of the gardeners had built themselves, after the main part of the
rock-garden had been finished and planted with professional assistance.
It was rather late to be planting anything, but garden novices take
little heed of seasons when they are once bitten with the planting and
moving mania, and if some of the plants should be lost they could
replace them before the next flowering season.

The clock in the church tower struck six as she let herself out into the
dewy freshness of the garden. She had to go across the little cloistered
court and all round the house, and she stood for a moment in front of it
to look over the gentle undulations of the park, where the deer were
feeding on the dew-drenched grass, and the bracken grew tall on the
slopes sentinelled by the great beeches. She had never been able to make
up her mind whether or not she liked the church and the churchyard
being so near the house. At first they had seemed to detract from its
privacy, and from the front windows they certainly interfered with the
view of the park hollows and glades, which were so beautiful in the
varied lights in which they were seen. But as the weeks had gone by she
had come to take in an added sense of the community of country life from
their proximity. The villagers, all of whom she now knew by sight, and
some of them intimately, came here every Sunday, and seemed to come more
as friends, with the church almost a part of her own home. And some of


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Online LibraryArchibald MarshallAbington abbey; a novel → online text (page 9 of 23)