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Chapter 9
I'll tell thee, Berthold, what men's hopes are like:
A silly child that, quivering with joy,
Would cast its little mimic fishing-line
Baited with loadstone for a bowl of toys
In the salt ocean.
Eight months after the arrival of the family at Offendene, that is to say in the end
of the following June, a rumor was spread in the neighborhood which to many
persons was matter of exciting interest. It had no reference to the results of the
American war, but it was one which touched all classes within a certain circuit
round Wanchester: the corn-factors, the brewers, the horse-dealers, and
saddlers, all held it a laudable thing, and one which was to be rejoiced in on
abstract grounds, as showing the value of an aristocracy in a free country like
England; the blacksmith in the hamlet of Diplow felt that a good time had come
round; the wives of laboring men hoped their nimble boys of ten or twelve would
be taken into employ by the gentlemen in livery; and the farmers about Diplow
admitted, with a tincture of bitterness and reserve that a man might now again
perhaps have an easier market or exchange for a rick of old hay or a wagon-load
of straw. If such were the hopes of low persons not in society, it may be easily
inferred that their betters had better reasons for satisfaction, probably connected
with the pleasures of life rather than its business. Marriage, however, must be
considered as coming under both heads; and just as when a visit of majesty is
announced, the dream of knighthood or a baronetcy is to be found under various
municipal nightcaps, so the news in question raised a floating indeterminate
vision of marriage in several well-bred imaginations.
The news was that Diplow Hall, Sir Hugo Mallinger's place, which had for a
couple of years turned its white window-shutters in a painfully wall-eyed manner
on its fine elms and beeches, its lilied pool and grassy acres specked with deer,
was being prepared for a tenant, and was for the rest of the summer and through
the hunting season to be inhabited in a fitting style both as to house and stable.
But not by Sir Hugo himself: by his nephew, Mr. Mallinger Grandcourt, who was
presumptive heir to the baronetcy, his uncle's marriage having produced nothing
but girls. Nor was this the only contingency with which fortune flattered young
Grandcourt, as he was pleasantly called; for while the chance of the baronetcy
came through his father, his mother had given a baronial streak to his blood, so
that if certain intervening persons slightly painted in the middle distance died, he
would become a baron and peer of this realm.
It is the uneven allotment of nature that the male bird alone has the tuft, but we
have not yet followed the advice of hasty philosophers who would have us copy
nature entirely in these matters; and if Mr. Mallinger Grandcourt became a