"I believe I've got the very house, Cara."
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8 works of Archibald Marshall English author, publisher and journalist (1866-1934)This ebook presents a collection of 8 works of Archibald Marshall. A dynamic table of contents allows you to jump directly to the work selected.Table of Contents: Abington Abbey Peter Binney-A Novel The Eldest Son The Graftons-A Novel
"Have you, darling? It's the fifty-third."
"Ah, but you wait till you see. Abington Abbey. What do you think of that for a name? Just come into the market. There are cloisters, and a chapel. Stew ponds. A yew walk. Three thousand acres, and a good head of game. More can be had by arrangement, and we'll arrange it. Presentation to living. We'll make Bunting a parson, and present him to it. Oh, it's the very thing. I haven't told you half. Come and have a look at it."
George Grafton spread out papers and photographs on a table. His daughter, Caroline, roused herself from her book and her easy chair in front of the fire to come and look at them. He put his arm around her slim waist and gave her a kiss, which she returned with a smile. "Darling old George," she said, settling his tie more to her liking, "I sometimes wish you weren't quite so young. You let yourself in for so many disappointments."
George Grafton did look rather younger than his fifty years, in spite of his grey hair. He had a fresh complexion and a pair of dark, amused, alert eyes.[Pg 2] His figure was that of a young man, and his daughter had only settled his tie out of affection, for it and the rest of his clothes were perfect, with that perfection which comes from Bond Street and Savile Row, the expenditure of considerable sums of money, and exact knowledge and taste in such matters. He was, in fact, as agreeable to the eye as any man of his age could be, unless you were to demand evidences of unusual intellectual power, which he hadn't got, and did very well without.
As for his eldest daughter Caroline, her appeal to the eye needed no qualification whatever, for she had, in addition to her attractions of feature and colouring, that adorable gift of youth, which, in the case of some fortunate beings, seems to emanate grace. It was so with her. At the age of twenty there might have been some doubt as to whether she could be called beautiful or only very pretty, and the doubt would not be resolved for some few years to come. She had delicate, regular features, sweet eyes, a kind smiling mouth, a peach-like soft-tinted skin, nut-coloured hair with a wave in it, a slender column of a neck, with deliciously modulated curves of breast and shoulders. She looked thorough-bred, was fine at the extremities, clean-boned and long in the flank, and moved with natural grace and freedom. Half of these qualities belonged to her youth, which was so living and palpitating in her as to be a quality of beauty in itself.
She was charmingly dressed, and her clothes, like her father's, meant money, as well as perfect taste; or[Pg 3] perhaps, rather, taste perfectly aware of the needs and fashions of the moment. They were both of them people of the sort whom wealth adorns, who are physically perfected and mentally expanded by it: whom it is a pleasure to think of as rich. The room in which we first meet them gave the same sense of satisfaction as their clothes and general air of prosperity, and expressed them in the same way. It was a large room, half library, half morning-room. There was a dark carpet, deep chairs and sofas covered with bright chintzes, many books, pictures, flowers, some ornaments of beauty and value, but few that were not also for use, all the expensive accessories of the mechanism of life in silver, tortoise-shell, morocco. It was as quiet and homelike as if it had been in the heart of the country, though it was actually in the heart of London. A great fire of logs leapt and glowed in the open hearth, the numerous electric globes were reduced in their main effect to a warm glow, though they gave their light just at the points at which it was wanted. It was a delightful room for ease of mind and ease of body—or for family life, which was a state of being enjoyed and appreciated by the fortunate family which inhabited it.
There were five of them, without counting the Dragon, who yet counted for a great deal. George Grafton was a banker, by inheritance and to some extent by acquirement. His business cares sat lightly on him, and interfered in no way with his pleasures. But he liked his work, as he liked most of the things[Pg 4] that he did, and was clever at it. He spent a good many days in the year shooting and playing golf, and went away for long holidays, generally with his family. But his enjoyments were enhanced by not being made the business of his life, and his business was almost an enjoyment in itself. It was certainly an interest, and one that he would not have been without.
He had married young, and his wife had died at the birth of his only son, fifteen years before. He had missed her greatly, which had prevented him from marrying again when his children were all small; and now they were grown up, or growing up, their companionship was enough for him. But he still missed her, and her memory was kept alive among his children, only the eldest of whom, however, had any clear recollection of her.
Beatrix, the second girl, was eighteen, Barbara, the third, sixteen. Young George, commonly known as Bunting in this family of nicknames, was fourteen. He was now enjoying himself excessively at Eton, would presently enjoy himself equally at Cambridge, and in due time would be introduced to his life work at the bank, under circumstances which would enable him to enjoy himself just as much as ever, and with hardly less time at his disposal than the fortunate young men among his contemporaries whose opportunities for so doing came from wealth inherited and not acquired. Or if he chose to take up a profession, which in his case could only be that of arms, he might do so, with his[Pg 5] future comfort assured, the only difference being that he could not expect to be quite so rich.
This is business on the higher scale as it is understood and for the most part practised in England, that country where life is more than money, and money, although it is a large factor in gaining prizes sought for, is not the only one. It may be necessary to 'go right through the mill' for those who have to make their own way entirely, though it is difficult to see how the purposes of high finance can be better served by some one who knows how to sweep out an office floor than by some one who has left that duty to a charwoman. The mysteries of a copying-press are not beyond the power of a person of ordinary intelligence to learn in a few minutes, and sticking stamps on letters is an art which has been mastered by most people in early youth. If it has not, it may be safely left to subordinates. George Grafton was as well dressed as any man in London, but he had probably never brushed or folded his own clothes. Nor had he served behind the counter of his own bank, nor often filled up with his own hand the numerous documents which he so effectively signed.
It is to be supposed that the pure mechanism of business, which is not, after all, more difficult to master than the mechanism of Latin prose, is not the only thing sought to be learnt in this vaunted going through of the mill. But it is doubtful whether the young Englishman who is introduced for the first time into a family business at the age of twenty-two or three, and has had the ordinary experience of public school[Pg 6] and university life, is not at least as capable of judging and dealing with men as his less fortunate fellow who has spent his youth and early manhood doing the work of a clerk. His opportunities, at least, have been wider of knowing them, and he has had his training in obedience and discipline, and, if he has made use of his opportunities, in responsibility. At any rate, many of the old-established firms of world-wide reputation in the City of London are directed by men who have had the ordinary education of the English leisured classes, and may be said to belong to the leisured classes themselves, inasmuch as their work is not allowed to absorb all their energies, and they live much the same lives as their neighbours who are not engaged in business. George Grafton was one of them, and Bunting would be another when his time came.
The Dragon was Miss Waterhouse, who had come to the house in Cadogan Place to teach Caroline fifteen years before, and had remained there ever since. She was the mildest, softest-hearted, most devoted and affectionate creature that was ever put into a position of authority; and the least authoritative. Yet her word 'went' through all the household.
"It is a jolly house, you know, dear," said Caroline, after she had fully examined pictures and papers. "I'm not sure that it isn't the very one, at last. But are you sure you can afford it, darling? It seems a great deal of money."
"It's rather cheap, really. They've stuck on a lot for the furniture and things. But they say that it's[Pg 7] not nearly what they're worth. They'll sell the place without them if I like, and have a sale of them. They say they'd fetch much more than they're asking me."
"Well, then, why don't they do it?"
"Oh, I don't know. But we could go and have a look and see what they are worth—to us, I mean. After all, we should buy just that sort of thing, and it would take us a lot of time and trouble. We should probably have to pay more in the long run, too."
"I had rather looked forward to furnishing. I should like the trouble, and I've got plenty of time. And you've got plenty of money, darling, unless you've been deceiving us all this time."
"Well, shall we go and have a look at it together? What about to-morrow? Have you got anything to do?"
"Yes, lots. But I don't think there's anything I can't put off. How far is it from London? Shall we motor down?"
"Yes, if it's fine. We'd better, in any case, as it's five miles from a station, and we might not be able to get a car there. I don't think I could stand five miles in a horse fly."
"You're always so impatient, darling. Having your own way so much has spoiled you. I expect B will want to come."
"Well, she can if she likes."
"I think I'd rather it was just you and me. We always have a lot of fun together."
He gave her a hug and a kiss. The butler came in[Pg 8] at that moment with the tea-tray, and smiled paternally. The footman who followed him looked abashed.
"Look, Jarvis, we've found the very house," said Caroline, exhibiting a large photograph of Abington Abbey.
"Lor, miss!" said the butler indulgently.
Beatrix and Barbara came in, accompanied by the Dragon.
Beatrix was even prettier than Caroline, with a frail ethereal loveliness that made her appear almost too good for this sinful world, which she wasn't at all, though she was a very charming creature. She was very fair, with a delicious complexion of cream and roses, and a figure of extreme slimness. She was still supposed to be in the schoolroom, and occasionally was so. She was only just eighteen, and wore her hair looped and tied with a big bow; but she would be presented in the spring and would then blossom fully.
Barbara was very fair too,—a pretty girl with a smiling good-humoured face, but not so pretty as her sisters. She had her arm in that of the Dragon.
Miss Waterhouse was tall and straight, with plentiful grey hair, and handsome regular features. Her age was given in the Grafton family as 'fifty if a day,' but she was not quite so old as that. She was one of those women who seem to be cut out for motherhood, and to have missed their vocation by not marrying, just as a born artist would have missed his if he had never handled a brush or a pen. Fortunately, such women usually find somebody else's children round whom[Pg 9] to throw their all-embracing tenderness. Miss Waterhouse had found the engaging family of Grafton, and loved them just as if they had been her own. It was probably a good deal owing to her that George Grafton had not made a second marriage. Men whose wives die young, leaving them with a family of small children, sometimes do so for their sake. But the young Graftons had missed nothing in the way of feminine care; their father had had no anxiety on their account during their childhood, and they had grown into companions to him, in a way that they might not have done if they had had a step-mother. He owed more than he knew to the Dragon, though he knew that he owed her a great deal. She was of importance in the house, but she was self-effacing. He was the centre round which everything moved. He received a great deal from his children that they would have given to their mother if she had been alive. He was a fortunate man, at the age of fifty; for family affection is one of the greatest gifts of life, and he had it in full measure.
"We've found the very house, boys," he said, as the three of them came in. "Abington Abbey, in Meadshire. Here you are. Replete with every modern comfort and convenience. Cara and I are going to take a day off to-morrow and go down to have a look at it."
Beatrix took up the photographs. "Yes, I like that house," she said. "I think you've struck it this time, darling. I'm sorry I can't come with you. I'm going to fence. But I trust to you both entirely."
"Do you think Uncle Jim will like you taking a[Pg 10] day off, George, dear?" asked Barbara. "You had two last week, you know. You mustn't neglect your work. I don't. The Dragon won't let me."
"Barbara, darling," said Miss Waterhouse in a voice of gentle expostulation, "I don't think you should call your father George. It isn't respectful."
Barbara kissed her. "You don't mind, do you, Daddy?" she asked.
"Yes, I do, from you," he said. "You're my infant in arms. 'Daddy' is much prettier from little girls."
"Darling old thing!" she said. "You shall have it your own way. But we do spoil you. Now about this Abington Abbey. Are there rats? If so, I won't go there."
"Is there a nice clergyman?" asked Beatrix. "You and Caroline must call on the clergyman, and tell me what he's like when you come home; and how many children he has; and all about the neighbours. A nice house is all very well, but you want nice people too. Somebody you can make fun of."
"B darling," expostulated the Dragon again. "I don't think you should set out by making fun of people. You will want to make friends of your neighbours, not fun of them."
"We can do both," said Beatrix. "Will you be the Squire, dear? I should like you to be a little Squire. You'd do it awfully well, better than Uncle Jim."
Sir James Grafton was George's elder brother, and head of the bank. He was a good banker, but a better chemist. He had fitted himself up a laboratory in his[Pg 11] country house, and spent as much of his time in it as possible, somewhat to the detriment of his duties as a landowner.
"It will be great fun being Squire's daughters," said Caroline. "I'm glad we are going to have a house of our very own. When you only take them for a month or two you feel like a Londoner all the time. B, you and I will become dewy English girls. I believe it will suit us."
"I don't want to become a dewy English girl just yet," said Beatrix. "It's all very well for you. You've had two seasons. Still, I shan't mind living in the country a good part of the year. There's always plenty to do there. But I do hope there'll be a nice lot of people about. Is it what they call a good residential neighbourhood, Daddy? They always make such a lot of that."
"I don't know much about Meadshire," said Grafton. "I think it's a trifle stuffy. People one never sees, who give themselves airs. Still, if we don't like them we needn't bother ourselves about them. We can get our own friends down."
"I'm not sure that's the right spirit," said Caroline. "I want to do the thing thoroughly. The church is very near the house, isn't it? I hope we're not right in the middle of the village too. You want to be a little by yourself in the country."
The photographs, indeed, showed the church—a fine square-towered Early English structure—directly opposite the front door of the house, the main part, of[Pg 12] which was late Jacobean. The cloisters and the old rambling mediæval buildings of the Abbey were around the corner, and other photographs showed them delightfully irregular and convincing. But the gardens and the park enclosed it all. The village was a quarter of a mile away, just outside one of the Lodge gates. "I asked all about that," said Grafton, explaining it to them.
They gathered round the tea-table in their comfortable luxurious room,—a happy affectionate family party. Their talk was all of the new departure that was at last to be made, for all of them took it for granted that they really had found the very house at last, and the preliminary visit and enquiries and negotiations were not likely to reveal any objections or difficulties.
George Grafton had been looking for a country house in a leisurely kind of way for the past ten years, and with rather more determination for about two. He belonged to the class of business man to whom it is as natural to have a country house as to have a London house, not only for convenience in respect of his work, but also for his social pleasures. He had been brought up chiefly in the country, at Frayne, in the opulent Sevenoaks region, which his brother now inhabited. He had usually taken a country house furnished during some part of the year, sometimes on the river for the summer months, sometimes for the winter, with a shoot attached to it. His pleasures were largely country pleasures. And his children liked what they had had[Pg 13] of country life, of which they had skimmed the cream, in the periods they had spent in the houses that he had taken, and in frequent short visits to those of friends and relations. In the dead times of the year they had come back to London, to their occupations and amusements there. One would have said that they had had the best of both. If they had been pure Londoners by birth and descent no doubt they would have had, and been well content. But it was in their blood on both sides to want that mental hold over a country home, which houses hired for a few months at a time cannot give. None of the houses their father had taken could be regarded as their home. Nor could a house in London, however spacious and homelike.
They talked about this now, over the tea-table. "It will be jolly to have all that space round you and to feel that it belongs to you," said Caroline. "I shall love to go out in the morning and stroll about, without a hat, and pick flowers."
"And watch them coming up," said Barbara. "That's what I shall like. And not having always to go out with the Dragon. Of course, I shall generally want you to come with me, darling, and I should always behave exactly as if you were there—naturally, as I'm a good girl. But I expect you will like to go out by yourself sometimes too, without one of the Graftons always hanging to you."
"You'll like the country, won't you, dear?" asked Beatrix. "I think you must go about with a key-basket, and feed the sparrows after breakfast."[Pg 14]
"I was brought up in the country," said Miss Waterhouse. "I shall feel more at home there than you will."
"Your mother would have loved the garden," said Grafton. "She always missed her garden."
"Grandfather showed me the corner she had at Frampton when she was little," said Caroline. "There's an oak there where she planted an acorn. It takes up nearly the whole of it now."
"Where is it?" asked her father. "I never knew that. I should like to see it."
Caroline described the spot to him. "Ah, yes," he said, "I do remember now; she showed it me herself when we were engaged."
"Grandfather showed it to me too," said Beatrix.
"Yes, I know," said Caroline quickly. "You were there."
Their mother was often spoken of in this way, naturally, and not with any sadness or regret. Caroline remembered her. Beatrix said she did, and was inclined to be a little jealous of Caroline's memories.
"I think I'll come with you after all, to-morrow," said Beatrix. "I can put off my fencing for once."
"Yes, do, darling," said Caroline. "You and I and Dad will have a jolly day together."[Pg 15]