I ........................................................................................................................................... 4
1. Dillsborough ........................................................................................................... 4
2. The Morton Family................................................................................................. 9
3. The Masters Family............................................................................................. 14
4. The Dillsborough Club....................................................................................... 19
5. Reginald Morton................................................................................................... 23
6. Not in Love............................................................................................................ 28
7. The Walk Home.................................................................................................... 33
8. The Paragon's Party at Bragton ...................................................................... 37
9. The Old Kennels................................................................................................... 42
10. Goarly's Revenge.............................................................................................. 47
11. From Impington Gorse..................................................................................... 52
12. Arabella Trefoil................................................................................................... 57
13. At Bragton........................................................................................................... 62
14. The Dillsborough Feud.................................................................................... 67
15. A Fit Companion,--For Me And My Sisters................................................. 72
16. Mr. Gotobed's Philanthropy............................................................................ 76
17. Lord Rufford's Invitation ................................................................................. 81
18. The Attorney's Family Is Disturbed.............................................................. 86
19. Who Valued The Geese?................................................................................. 91
20. There are Convenances................................................................................... 96
21. The First Evening At Rufford Hall............................................................... 100
22. Jemima............................................................................................................... 105
23. Poor Caneback................................................................................................. 110
24. The Ball.............................................................................................................. 114
25. The Last Morning At Rufford Hall............................................................... 119
26. Give Me Six Months........................................................................................ 124
27. Wonderful Bird!................................................................................................ 129
II ..................................................................................................................................... 134
1. Mounser Green................................................................................................... 134
II.2. The Senator's Letter ......................................................................................... 138
II.3. At Cheltenham .................................................................................................. 144
II.4. The Rufford Correspondence .......................................................................... 150
II.5. It Is A Long Way............................................................................................... 156
II.6. The Beginning of Persecution .......................................................................... 161
II.7. Mary's Letter..................................................................................................... 167
II.8. Chowton Farm for Sale. ................................................................................... 171
II.9. Mistletoe............................................................................................................. 176
II.10. How Things Were Arranged.......................................................................... 181
II.11. You Are So Severe .......................................................................................... 186
II.12. The Day At Peltry ........................................................................................... 193
II.13. Lord Rufford Wants To See A Horse ........................................................... 199
II.14. The Senator Is Badly Treated........................................................................ 205
II.15. Mr. Mainwaring's Little Dinner.................................................................... 211
II.16. Persecution ...................................................................................................... 216
II.17. Particularly Proud Of You............................................................................. 222
II.18. Lord Rufford Makes Up His Mind ............................................................... 228
II.19. It Cannot Be Arranged................................................................................... 234
II.20. But There Is Some One .................................................................................. 238
II.21. The Dinner At The Bush ................................................................................ 244
II.22. Miss Trefoil's Decision.................................................................................... 250
II.23. In These Days One Can't Make A Man Marry............................................ 256
II.24. The Senator's Second Letter.......................................................................... 262
II.25. Providence Interferes ..................................................................................... 269
II.26. Lady Ushant at Bragton................................................................................. 273
II.27. Arabella Again At Bragton ............................................................................ 277
III.1. I Have Told Him Everything.......................................................................... 283
III.2. Now What Have You Got To Say? ................................................................ 289
III.3. Mrs. Morton Returns...................................................................................... 295
III.4. The Two Old Ladies........................................................................................ 300
III.5. The Last Effort ................................................................................................ 307
III.6. Again At Mistletoe........................................................................................... 313
III.7. The Success of Lady Augustus ....................................................................... 317
III.8. We Shall Kill Each Other ............................................................................... 323
III.9. Changes At Bragton........................................................................................ 329
III.10. The Will.......................................................................................................... 335
III.11. The New Minister .......................................................................................... 341
III.12. I Must Go ....................................................................................................... 346
III.13. In The Park.................................................................................................... 351
III.14. Lord Rufford's Model Farm ........................................................................ 357
III.15. Scrobby's Trial .............................................................................................. 363
III.16. At Last ............................................................................................................ 367
III.17. My Own, Own Husband ............................................................................... 373
III.18. Bid Him Be A Man........................................................................................ 380
III.19. Is It Tanti? ..................................................................................................... 386
III.20. Benedict.......................................................................................................... 392
III.21. Arabella's Success ......................................................................................... 397
III.22. The Wedding.................................................................................................. 402
III.23. The Senator's Lecture.--No. I....................................................................... 407
III.24. The Senator's Lecture.--No. II ..................................................................... 412
III.25. The Last Days of Mary Masters................................................................... 417
III.26. Conclusion...................................................................................................... 423
I never could understand why anybody should ever have begun to live at Dillsborough, or why the population there should have been at any time recruited by new comers. That a man with a family should cling to a house in which he has once established himself is intelligible. The butcher who supplied Dillsborough, or the baker, or the ironmonger, though he might not drive what is called a roaring trade, nevertheless found himself probably able to live, and might well hesitate before he would encounter the dangers of a more energetic locality. But how it came to pass that he first got himself to Dillsborough, or his father, or his grandfather before him, has always been a mystery to me. The town has no attractions, and never had any. It does not stand on a bed of coal and has no connection with iron. It has no water peculiarly adapted for beer, or for dyeing, or for the cure of maladies. It is not surrounded by beauty of scenery strong enough to bring tourists and holiday travellers. There is no cathedral there to form, with its bishops, prebendaries, and minor canons, the nucleus of a clerical circle. It manufactures nothing specially. It has no great horse fair, or cattle fair, or even pig market of special notoriety. Every Saturday farmers and graziers and buyers of corn and sheep do congregate in a sleepy fashion about the streets, but Dillsborough has no character of its own, even as a market town. Its chief glory is its parish church, which is ancient and inconvenient, having not as yet received any of those modern improvements which have of late become common throughout England; but its parish church, though remarkable, is hardly celebrated. The town consists chiefly of one street which is over a mile long, with a square or market-place in the middle, round which a few lanes with queer old names are congregated, and a second small open space among these lanes, in which the church stands. As you pass along the street north-west, away from the railway station and from London, there is a steep hill, beginning to rise just beyond the market-place. Up to that point it is the High Street, thence it is called Bullock's Hill. Beyond that you come to Norrington Road,--Norrington being the next town, distant from Dillsborough about twelve miles. Dillsborough, however, stands in the county of Rufford, whereas at the top of Bullock's Hill you enter the county of Ufford, of which Norrington is the assize town. The Dillsborough people are therefore divided, some two thousand five hundred of them belonging to Rufford, and the remaining five hundred to the neighbouring county. This accident has given rise to not a few feuds, Ufford being a large county, with pottery, and ribbons, and watches going on in the farther confines; whereas Rufford is small and thoroughly agricultural. The men at the top of Bullock's Hill are therefore disposed to think themselves better than their fellow-townsfolks, though they are small in number and not specially thriving in their circumstances. At every interval of ten years, when the census is taken, the population of Dillsborough is always found to have fallen off in some slight degree. For a few months after the publication of the figures a slight tinge of melancholy comes upon the town. The landlord of the Bush Inn, who is really an enterprising man in his way and who has looked about in every direction for new sources of business, becomes taciturn for a while and forgets to smile upon comers; Mr. Ribbs, the butcher, tells his wife that it is out of the question that she and the children should take that long-talked-of journey to the sea-coast; and Mr. Gregory Masters, the well-known old-established attorney of Dillsborough, whispers to some confidential friend that he might as well take down his plate and shut up his house. But in a month or two all that is forgotten, and new hopes spring up even in Dillsborough; Mr. Runciman at the Bush is putting up new stables for huntinghorses, that being the special trade for which he now finds that there is an opening; Mrs. Ribbs is again allowed to suggest Mare-Slocumb; and Mr. Masters goes on as he has done for the last forty years, making the best he can of a decreasing business.
Dillsborough is built chiefly of brick, and is, in its own way, solid enough. The Bush, which in the time of the present landlord's father was one of the best posting inns on the road, is not only substantial, but almost handsome. A broad coach way, cut through the middle of the house, leads into a spacious, well-kept, clean yard, and on each side of the coach way there are bay windows looking into the street,--the one belonging to the commercial parlour, and the other to the so-called coffee-room. But the coffee-room has in truth fallen away from its former purposes, and is now used for a farmer's ordinary on market days, and other similar purposes. Travellers who require the use of a public sitting-room must all congregate in the commercial parlour at the Bush. So far the interior of the house has fallen from its past greatness. But the exterior is maintained with much care. The brickwork up to the eaves is well pointed, fresh, and comfortable to look at. In front of the carriage-way swings on two massive supports the old sign of the Bush, as to which it may be doubted whether even Mr. Runciman himself knows that it has swung there, or been displayed in some fashion, since it was the custom for the landlord to beat up wine to freshen it before it was given to the customers to drink. The church, too, is of brick--though the tower and chancel are of stone. The attorney's house is of brick, which shall not be more particularly described now as many of the scenes which these pages will have to describe were acted there; and almost the entire High Street in the centre of the town was brick also.
But the most remarkable house in Dillsborough was one standing in a short thoroughfare called Hobbs Gate, leading down by the side of the Bush Inn from the market-place to Church Square, as it is called. As you pass down towards the church this house is on the right hand, and it occupies with its garden the whole space between the market-place and Church Square. But though the house enjoys the privilege of a large garden,--so large that the land being in the middle of a town would be of great value were it not that Dillsborough is in its decadence,--still it stands flush up to the street upon which the front door opens. It has an imposing flight of stone steps guarded by iron rails leading up to it, and on each side of the door there is a row of three windows, and on the two upper stories rows of seven windows. Over the door there is a covering, on which there are grotesquely-formed, carved wooden faces; and over the centre of each window, let into the brickwork, is a carved stone. There are also numerous underground windows, sunk below the earth and protected by iron railings. Altogether the house is one which cannot fail to attract attention; and in the brickwork is clearly marked the date, 1701,--not the very best period for English architecture as regards beauty, but one in which walls and roofs, ceilings and buttresses, were built more substantially than they are to-day. This was the only house in Dillsborough which had a name of its own, and it was called Hoppet Hall, the Dillsborough chronicles telling that it had been originally built for and inhabited by the Hoppet family. The only Hoppet now left in Dillsborough is old Joe Hoppet, the ostler at the Bush; and the house, as was well known, had belonged to some member of the Morton family for the last hundred years at least. The garden and ground it stands upon comprise three acres, all of which are surrounded by a high brick wall, which is supposed to be coeval with the house. The best Ribston pippins,--some people say the only real Ribston pippins,--in all Rufford are to be found here, and its Burgundy pears and walnuts are almost equally celebrated. There are rumours also that its roses beat everything in the way of roses for ten miles round. But in these days very few strangers are admitted to see the Hoppet Hall roses. The pears and apples do make their way out, and are distributed either by Mrs. Masters, the attorney's wife, or Mr. Runciman, the innkeeper. The present occupier of the house is a certain Mr. Reginald Morton, with whom we shall also be much concerned in these pages, but whose introduction to the reader shall be postponed for awhile. The land around Dillsborough is chiefly owned by two landlords, of whom the greatest and richest is Lord Rufford. He, however, does not live near the town, but away at the other side of the county, and is not much seen in these parts unless when the hounds bring him here, or when, with two or three friends, he will sometimes stay for a few days at the Bush Inn for the sake of shooting the coverts. He is much liked by all sporting men, but is not otherwise very popular with the people round Dillsborough. A landlord if he wishes to be popular should be seen frequently. If he lives among his farmers they will swear by him, even though he raises his rental every ten or twelve years and never puts a new roof to a barn for them. Lord Rufford is a rich man who thinks of nothing but sport in all its various shapes, from pigeon-shooting at Hurlingham to the slaughter of elephants in Africa; and though he is lenient in all his dealings, is not much thought of in the Dillsborough side of the county, except by those who go out with the hounds. At Rufford, where he generally has a full house for three months in the year and spends a vast amount of money, he is more highly considered. The other extensive landlord is Mr. John Morton, a young man, who, in spite of his position as squire of Bragton, owner of Bragton Park, and landlord of the entire parishes of Bragton and Mallingham, the latter of which comes close up to the confines of Dillsborough,--was at the time at which our story begins, Secretary of Legation at Washington. As he had been an absentee since he came of age, soon after which time he inherited the property, he had been almost less liked in the neighbourhood than the lord. Indeed, no one in Dillsborough knew much about him, although Bragton Hall was but four miles from the town, and the Mortons had possessed the property and lived on it for the last three centuries. But there had been extravagance, as will hereafter have to be told, and there had been no continuous residence at Bragton since the death of old Reginald Morton, who had been the best known and the best loved of all the squires in Rufford, and had for many years been master of the Rufford hounds. He had lived to a very great age, and, though the great-grandfather of the present man, had not been dead above twenty years. He was the man of whom the older inhabitants of Dillsborough and the neighbourhood still thought and still spoke when they gave vent to their feelings in favour of gentlemen. And yet the old squire in his latter days had been able to do little or nothing for them,--being sometimes backward as to the payment of money he owed among them. But he had lived all his days at Bragton Park, and his figure had been familiar to all eyes in the High Street of Dillsborough and at the front entrance of the Bush. People still spoke of old Mr. Reginald Morton as though his death had been a sore loss to the neighbourhood.
And there were in the country round sundry yeomen, as they ought to be called,-gentlemen-farmers as they now like to style themselves,--men who owned some acres of land, and farmed these acres themselves. Of these we may specially mention Mr. Lawrence Twentyman, who was quite the gentleman-farmer. He possessed over three hundred acres of land, on which his father had built an excellent house. The present Mr. Twentyman, Lawrence Twentyman, Esquire, as he was called by everybody, was by no means unpopular in the neighbourhood. He not only rode well to hounds but paid twenty-five pounds annually to the hunt, which entitled him to feel quite at home in his red coat. He generally owned a racing colt or two, and attended meetings; but was supposed to know what he was about, and to have kept safely the five or six thousand pounds which his father had left him. And his farming was well done; for though he was, out-andout, a gentleman-farmer, he knew how to get the full worth in work done for the fourteen shillings a week which he paid to his labourers,--a deficiency in which knowledge is the cause why gentlemen in general find farming so expensive an amusement. He was a handsome, good-looking man of about thirty, and would have been a happy man had he not been too ambitious in his aspirations after gentry. He had been at school for three years at Cheltenham College, which, together with his money and appearance and undoubted freehold property, should, he thought, have made his position quite secure to him; but, though he sometimes called young Hampton of Hampton Wick "Hampton," and the son of the rector of Dillsborough "Mainwaring," and always called the rich young brewers from Norrington "Botsey,"--partners in the well-known firm of Billbrook & Botsey; and though they in return called him "Larry" and admitted the intimacy, still he did not get into their houses. And Lord Rufford, when he came into the neighbourhood, never asked him to dine at the Bush. And--worst of all,--some of the sporting men and others in the neighbourhood, who decidedly were not gentlemen, also called him "Larry." Mr. Runciman always did so. Twenty or twenty-five years ago Runciman had been his father's special friend, before the house had been built and before the days at Cheltenham College. Remembering this Lawrence was too good a fellow to rebuke Runciman; but to younger men of that class he would sometimes make himself objectionable. There was another keeper of hunting stables, a younger man, named Stubbings, living at Stanton Corner, a great hunting rendezvous about four miles from Dillsborough; and not long since Twentyman had threatened to lay his whip across Stubbings' shoulders if Stubbings ever called him "Larry" again. Stubbings, who was a little man and rode races, only laughed at Mr. Twentyman who was six feet high, and told the story round to all the hunt. Mr. Twentyman was more laughed at than perhaps he deserved. A man should not have his Christian name used by every Tom and Dick without his sanction. But the difficulty is one to which men in the position of Mr. Lawrence Twentyman are often subject.
Those whom I have named, together with Mr. Mainwaring the rector, and Mr. Surtees his curate, made up the very sparse aristocracy of Dillsborough. The Hamptons of Hampton Wick were Ufford men, and belonged, rather to Norrington than Dillsborough. The Botseys, also from Norrington, were members of the U.R.U., or Ufford and Rufford United Hunt Club; but they did not much affect Dillsborough as a town. Mr. Mainwaring, who has been mentioned, lived in another brick house behind the church, the old parsonage of St. John's. There was also a Mrs. Mainwaring, but she was an invalid. Their family consisted of one son, who was at Brasenose at this time. He always had a horse during the Christmas vacation, and if rumour did not belie him, kept two or three up at Oxford. Mr. Surtees, the curate, lived in lodgings in the town. He was a painstaking, clever, young man, with aspirations in church matters, which were always being checked by his rector. Quieta non movere was the motto by which the rector governed his life, and he certainly was not at all the man to allow his curate to drive him into activity.
Such, at the time of our story, was the little town of Dillsborough.
I can hardly describe accurately the exact position of the Masters family without first telling all that I know about the Morton family; and it is absolutely essential that the reader should know all the Masters family intimately. Mr. Masters, as I have said in the last chapter, was the attorney in Dillsborough, and the Mortons had been for centuries past the squires of Bragton.
I need not take the reader back farther than old Reginald Morton. He had come to the throne of his family as a young man, and had sat upon it for more than half a century. He had been a squire of the old times, having no inclination for London seasons, never wishing to keep up a second house, quite content with his position as quire of Bragton, but with considerable pride about him as to that position. He had always liked to have his house full, and had hated petty oeconomies. He had for many years hunted the county at his own expense, the amusement at first not having been so expensive as it afterwards became. When he began the work, it had been considered sufficient to hunt twice a week. Now the Rufford and Ufford hounds have four days, and sometimes a bye. It went much against Mr. Reginald Morton's pride when he was first driven to take a subscription.
But the temporary distress into which the family fell was caused not so much by his own extravagance as by that of two sons, and by his indulgence in regard to them. He had three children, none of whom were very fortunate in life. The eldest, John, married the daughter of a peer, stood for Parliament, had one son, and died before he was forty, owing something over 20,000 pounds. The estate was then worth 7,000 pounds a year. Certain lands not lying either in Bragton or Mallingham were sold, and that difficulty was surmounted, not without a considerable diminution of income. In process of time the grandson, who was a second John Morton, grew up and married, and became the father of a third John Morton, the young man who afterwards became owner of the property and Secretary of Legation at Washington. But the old squire outlived his son and his grandson, and when he died had three or four great-grand-children playing about the lawns of Bragton Park. The peer's daughter had lived, and had for many years drawn a dower from the Bragton property, and had been altogether a very heavy incumbrance.
But the great trial of the old man's life, as also the great romance, had arisen from the career of his second son, Reginald. Of all his children, Reginald had been the dearest to him. He went to Oxford, and had there spent much money; not as young men now spend money, but still to an extent that had been grievous to the old squire. But everything was always paid for Reginald. It was necessary, of course, that he should have a profession, and he took a commission in the army. As a young man he went to Canada. This was in 1829, when all the world was at peace, and his only achievement in Canada was to marry a young woman who is reported to have been pretty and good, but who had no advantages either of fortune or birth. She was, indeed, the daughter of a bankrupt innkeeper in Montreal. Soon after this he sold out and brought his wife home to Bragton. It was at this period of the squire's life that the romance spoken of occurred. John Morton, the brother with the aristocratic wife, was ten or twelve years older than Reginald, and at this time lived chiefly at Bragton when he was not in town. He was, perhaps, justified in regarding Bragton as almost belonging to him, knowing as he did that it must belong to him after his father's lifetime, and to his son after him. His anger against his brother was hot, and that of his wife still hotter. He himself had squandered thousands, but then he was the heir. Reginald, who was only a younger brother, had sold his commission. And then he had done so much more than this! He had married a woman who was not a lady! John was clearly of opinion that at any rate the wife should not be admitted into Bragton House. The old squire in those days was not a happy man; he had never been very strongminded, but now he was strong enough to declare that his house-door should not be shut against a son of his,--or a son's wife, as long as she was honest. Hereupon the Honourable Mrs. Morton took her departure, and was never seen at Bragton again in the old squire's time. Reginald Morton came to the house, and soon afterwards another little Reginald was born at Bragton Park. This happened as long ago as 1835, twenty years before the death of the old squire. But there had been another child, a daughter, who had come between the two sons, still living in these days, who will become known to any reader who will have patience to follow these pages to the end. She married, not very early in life, a certain Sir William Ushant, who was employed by his country in India and elsewhere, but who found, soon after his marriage, that the service of his country required that he should generally leave his wife at Bragton. As her father had been for many years a widower, Lady Ushant became the mistress of the house. But death was very busy with the Mortons. Almost every one died, except the squire himself and his daughter, and that honourable dowager, with her income and her pride who could certainly very well have been spared. When at last, in 1855, the old squire went, full of years, full of respect, but laden also with debts and money troubles, not only had his son John, and his grandson John, gone before him, but Reginald and his wife were both lying in Bragton Churchyard. The elder branch of the family, John the great-grandson, and his little sisters, were at once taken away from Bragton by the honourable grandmother. John, who was then about seven years old, was of course the young squire, and was the owner of the property. The dowager, therefore, did not undertake an altogether unprofitable burden. Lady Ushant was left at the house, and with Lady Ushant, or rather immediately subject to her care, young Reginald Morton, who was then nineteen years of age, and who was about to go to Oxford. But there immediately sprang up family lawsuits, instigated by the honourable lady on behalf of her grandchildren, of which Reginald Morton was the object. The old man had left certain outlying properties to his grandson Reginald, of which Hoppet Hall was a part. For eight or ten years the lawsuit was continued, and much money was expended. Reginald was at last successful, and became the undoubted owner of Hoppet Hall; but in the meantime he went to Germany for his education, instead of to Oxford, and remained abroad even after the matter was decided,-- living, no one but Lady Ushant knew where, or after what fashion. When the old squire died the children were taken away, and Bragton was nearly deserted. The young heir was brought up with every caution, and, under the auspices of his grandmother and her family, behaved himself very unlike the old Mortons. He was educated at Eton, after leaving which he was at once examined for Foreign Office employment, and commenced his career with great eclat. He had been made to understand clearly that it would be better that he should not enter in upon his squirearchy early in life. The estate when he came of age had already had some years to recover itself, and as he went from capital to capital, he was quite content to draw from it an income which enabled him to shine with peculiar brilliance among his brethren. He had visited Bragton once since the old squire's death, and had found the place very dull and uninviting. He had no ambition whatever to be master of the U.R.U.; but did look forward to a time when he might be Minister Plenipotentiary at some foreign court.
For many years after the old man's death, Lady Ushant, who was then a widow, was allowed to live at Bragton. She was herself childless, and being now robbed of her great-nephews and nieces, took a little girl to live with her, named Mary Masters. It was a very desolate house in those days, but the old lady was careful as to the education of the child, and did her best to make the home happy for her. Some two or three years before the commencement of this story there arose a difference between the manager of the property and Lady Ushant, and she was made to understand, after some half-courteous manner, that Bragton house and park would do better without her. There would be no longer any cows kept, and painters must come into the house, and there were difficulties about fuel. She was not turned out exactly; but she went and established herself in lonely lodgings at Cheltenham. Then Mary Masters, who had lived for more than a dozen years at Bragton, went back to her father's house in Dillsborough. Any reader with an aptitude for family pedigrees will now understand that Reginald, Master of Hoppet Hall, was first cousin to the father of the Foreign Office paragon, and that he is therefore the paragon's first cousin once removed. The relationship is not very distant, but the two men, one of whom was a dozen years older than the other, had not seen each other for more than twenty years,-at a time when one of them was a big boy, and the other a very little one; and during the greater part of that time a lawsuit had been carried on between them in a very rigorous manner. It had done much to injure both, and had created such a feeling of hostility that no intercourse of any kind now existed between them. It does not much concern us to know how far back should be dated the beginning of the connection between the Morton family and that of Mr. Masters, the attorney; but it is certain that the first attorney of that name in Dillsborough became learned in the law through the patronage of some former Morton. The father of the present Gregory Masters, and the grandfather, had been thoroughly trusted and employed by old Reginald Morton, and the former of the two had made his will. Very much of the stewardship and management of the property had been in their hands, and they had thriven as honest men, but as men with a tolerably sharp eye to their own interests. The late Mr. Masters had died a few years before the squire, and the present attorney had seemed to succeed to these family blessings. But the whole order of things became changed. Within a few weeks of the squire's death Mr. Masters found that he was to be entrusted no further with the affairs of the property, but that, in lieu of such care, was thrown upon him the task of defending the will which he had made against the owner of the estate. His father and grandfather had contrived between them to establish a fairly good business, independently of Bragton, which business, of course, was now his. As far as reading went, and knowledge, he was probably a better lawyer than either of them; but he lacked their enterprise and special genius, and the thing had dwindled with him. It seemed to him, perhaps not unnaturally, that he had been robbed of an inheritance. He had no title deeds, as had the owners of the property; but his ancestors before him, from generation to generation, had lived by managing the Bragton property. They had drawn the leases, and made the wills, and collected the rents, and had taught themselves to believe that a Morton could not live on his land without a Masters. Now there was a Morton who did not live on his land, but spent his rents elsewhere without the aid of any Masters, and it seemed to the old lawyer that all the good things of the world had passed away. He had married twice, his first wife having, before her marriage, been well known at Bragton Park. When she had died, and Mr. Masters had brought a second wife home, Lady Ushant took the only child of the mother, whom she had known as a girl, into her own keeping, till she also had been compelled to leave Bragton. Then Mary Masters had returned to her father and stepmother.
The Bragton Park residence is a large, old-fashioned, comfortable house, but by no means a magnificent mansion. The greater part of it was built one hundred and fifty years ago, and the rooms are small and low. In the palmy days of his reign, which is now more than half a century since, the old squire made alterations, and built new stables and kennels, and put up a conservatory; but what he did then has already become almost old-fashioned now. What he added he added in stone, but the old house was brick. He was much abused at the time for his want of taste, and heard a good deal about putting new cloth as patches on old rents; but, as the shrubs and ivy have grown up, a certain picturesqueness has come upon the place, which is greatly due to the difference of material. The place is somewhat sombre, as there is no garden close to the house. There is a lawn, at the back, with gravel walks round it; but it is only a small lawn; and then divided from the lawn by a ha-ha fence, is the park. The place, too, has that sad look which always comes to a house from the want of a tenant. Poor Lady Ushant, when she was there, could do little or nothing. A gardener was kept, but there should have been three or four gardeners. The man grew cabbages and onions, which he sold, but cared nothing for the walks or borders. Whatever it may have been in the old time, Bragton Park was certainly not a cheerful place when Lady Ushant lived there. In the squire's time the park itself had always been occupied by deer. Even when distress came he would not allow the deer to be sold. But after his death they went very soon, and from that day to the time of which I am writing, the park has been leased to some butchers or graziers from Dillsborough.
The ground hereabouts is nearly level, but it falls away a little and becomes broken and pretty where the river Dill runs through the park, about half a mile from the house. There is a walk called the Pleasance, passing down through shrubs to the river, and then crossing the stream by a foot-bridge, and leading across the fields towards Dillsborough. This bridge is, perhaps, the prettiest spot in Bragton, or, for that matter, anywhere in the county round; but. even here there is not much of beauty to be praised. It is here, on the side of the river away from the house, that the home meet of the hounds used to be held; and still the meet at Bragton Bridge is popular in the county.
At six o'clock one November morning, Mr. Masters, the attorney, was sitting at home with his family in the large parlour of his house, his office being on the other side of the passage which cut the house in two and was formally called the hall. Upstairs, over the parlour, was a drawing-room; but this chamber, which was supposed to be elegantly furnished, was very rarely used. Mr. and Mrs. Masters did not see much company, and for family purposes the elegance of the drawing-room made it unfit. It added, however, not a little to the glory of Mrs. Masters' life. The house itself was a low brick building in the High Street, at the corner where the High Street runs into the market-place, and therefore, nearly opposite to the Bush. It had none of the elaborate grandeur of the inn nor of the simple stateliness of Hoppet Hall, but, nevertheless, it maintained the character of the town and was old, substantial, respectable, and dark.
"I think it a very spirited thing of him to do, then," said Mrs. Masters. "I don't know, my dear. Perhaps it is only revenge."
"What have you to do with that? What can it matter to a lawyer whether it's revenge or anything else? He's got the means, I suppose?"
"I don't know, my dear."
"What does Nickem say?"
"I suppose he has the means," said Mr. Masters, who was aware that if he told his wife a fib on the matter, she would learn the truth from his senior clerk, Mr. Samuel Nickem. Among the professional gifts which Mr. Masters possessed, had not been that great gift of being able to keep his office and his family distinct from each other. His wife always knew what was going on, and was very free with her advice; generally tendering it on that side on which money was to be made, and doing so with much feminine darkness as to right or wrong. His Clerk, Nickem, who was afflicted with no such darkness, but who ridiculed the idea of scruple in an attorney, often took part against him. It was the wish of his heart to get rid of Nickem; but Nickem would have carried business with him and gone over to some enemy, or, perhaps have set up in some irregular manner on his own bottom; and his wife would have given him no peace had he done so, for she regarded Nickem as the mainstay of the house.
"What is Lord Rufford to you?" asked Mrs. Masters.
"He has always been very friendly."
"I don't see it at all. You have never had any of his money. I don't know that you are a pound richer by him."
"I have always gone with the gentry of the county."
"Fiddlesticks! Gentry! Gentry are very well as long as you can make a living out of them. You could afford to stick up for gentry till you lost the Bragton property." This was a subject that was always sore between Mr. Masters and his wife. The former Mrs. Masters had been a lady--the daughter of a neighbouring clergyman; and had been much considered by the family at Bragton. The present Mrs. Masters was the daughter of an ironmonger at Norrington, who had brought a thousand pounds with her, which had been very useful. No doubt Mr. Masters' practice had been considerably affected by the lowliness of his second marriage. People who used to know the first Mrs. Masters, such as Mrs. Mainwaring, and the doctor's wife, and old Mrs. Cooper, the wife of the vicar of Mallingham, would not call on the second Mrs. Masters. As Mrs. Masters was too high-spirited to run after people who did not want her, she took to hating gentry instead. "We have always been on the other side," said the old attorney, "I and my father and grandfather before me."
"They lived on it and you can't. If you are going to say that you won't have any client that isn't a gentleman, you might as well put up your shutters at once." "I haven't said so. Isn't Runciman my client?" "He always goes with the gentry. He a'most thinks he's one of them himself."
"And old Nobbs, the greengrocer. But it's all nonsense. Any man is my client, or any woman, Who can come and pay me for business that is fit for me to do." "Why isn't this fit to be done? If the man's been damaged, why shouldn't he be paid?"
"He's had money offered him."
"If he thinks it ain't enough, who's to say that it is,--unless a jury?" said Mrs. Masters, becoming quite eloquent. "And how's a poor man to get a jury to say that, unless he comes to a lawyer? Of course, if you won't have it, he'll go to Bearside. Bearside won't turn him away." Bearside was another attorney, an interloper of about ten years' standing, whose name was odious to Mr. Masters. "You don't know anything about it, my dear," said he, aroused at last to anger. "I know you're letting anybody who likes take the bread out of the children's mouths." The children, so called, were sitting round the table and could not but take an interest in the matter. The eldest was that Mary Masters, the daughter of the former wife, whom Lady Ushant had befriended, a tall girl, with dark brown hair, so dark as almost to be black, and large, soft, thoughtful grey eyes. We shall have much to say of Mary Masters, and can hardly stop to give an adequate description of her here. The others were Dolly and Kate, two girls aged sixteen and fifteen. The two younger "children" were eating bread and butter and jam in a very healthy manner, but still had their ears wide open to the conversation that was being held. The two younger girls sympathised strongly with their mother. Mary, who had known much about the Mortons, and was old enough to understand the position which her grandfather had held in reference to the family, of course leaned in her heart to her father's side. But she was wiser than her father, and knew that in such discussions her mother often showed a worldly wisdom which, in their present circumstances, they could hardly afford to disregard, unpalatable through it might be.
Mr. Masters disliked these discussions altogether, but he disliked them most of all in presence of his children. He looked round upon them in a deprecatory manner, making a slight motion with his hand and bringing his head down on one side, and then he gave a long sigh. If it was his intention to convey some subtle warning to his wife, some caution that she alone should understand, he was deceived. The "children" all knew what he meant quite as well as did their mother.
"Shall we go out, mamma?" asked Dolly. "Finish your teas, my dears," said Mr. Masters, who wished to stop the discussion rather than to carry it on before a more select audience.
"You've got to make up your mind to-night," said Mrs. Masters, "and you'll be going over to the Bush at eight"
"No, I needn't. He is to come on Monday. I told Nickem I wouldn't see him tonight; nor, of course, to-morrow."
"Then he'll go to Bearside."
"He may go to Bearside and be --! Oh, Lord! I do wish you'd let me drop the business for a few minutes when I am in here. You don't know anything about it. How should you?"
"I know that if I didn't speak you'd let everything slip through your fingers. There's Mr. Twentyman. Kate, open the door."
Kate, who was fond of Mr. Twentyman, rushed up, and opened the front door at once. In saying so much of Kate, I do not mean it to be understood that any precocious ideas of love were troubling that young lady's bosom. Kate Masters was a jolly bouncing schoolgirl of fifteen, who was not too proud to eat toffy, and thought herself still a child. But she was very fond of Lawrence Twentyman, who had a pony that she could ride, and who was always good-natured to her. All the family liked Mr. Twentyman,--unless it might be Mary, who was the one that he specially liked himself. And Mary was not altogether averse to him, knowing him to be good-natured, manly, and straightforward. But Mr. Twentyman had proposed to her, and she had certainly not accepted him. This, however, had broken none of the family friendship. Every one in the house, unless it might be Mary herself, hoped that Mr. Twentyman might prevail at last. The man was worth six or seven hundred a year, and had a good house, and owed no one a shilling. He was handsome, and about the best-tempered fellow known. Of course they all desired that he should prevail with Mary. "I wish that I were old enough, Larry, that's all!" Kate had said to him once, laughing. "I wouldn't have you, if you were ever laughing." "I wouldn't have you, if you were ever so old," Larry had replied; "you'd want to be out hunting every day." That will show the sort of terms that Larry was on with his friend Kate. He called at the house every Saturday with the declared object of going over to the club that was held that evening in the parlour at the Bush, whither Mr. Masters also always went. It was understood at home that Mr. Masters should attend this club every Saturday from eight till eleven, but that he was not at any other time to give way to the fascinations of the Bush. On this occasion, and we may say on almost every Saturday night, Mr. Twentyman arrived a full hour before the appointed time. The reason of his doing so was of course well understood, and was quite approved by Mrs. Masters. She was not, at any rate as yet, a cruel stepmother; but still, if the girl could be transferred to so eligible a home as that which Mr. Twentyman could give her, it would be well for all parties.
When he took his seat he did not address himself specially to the lady of his love. I don't know how a gentleman is to do so in the presence of her father, and mother, and sisters. Saturday after Saturday he probably thought that some occasion would arise; but, if his words could have been counted, it would have been found that he addressed fewer to her than to any one in the room. "Larry," said his special friend Kate, "am I to have the pony at the Bridge meet?" "How very free you are, Miss!" said her mother.
"I don't know about that," said Larry. "When is there to be a meet at the Bridge? I haven't heard."
"But I have. Tony Tuppett told me that they would be there this day fortnight." Tony Tuppett was the huntsman of the U.R.U.
"That's more than Tony can know. He may have guessed it."
"Shall I have the pony if he has guessed right?"
Then the pony was promised; and Kate, trusting in Tony Tuppett's sagacity, was happy.
"Have you heard of all this about Dillsborough Wood?" asked Mrs. Masters. The attorney shrank at the question, and shook himself uneasily in his chair. "Yes; I've heard about it," said Larry.
"And what do you think about it? I don't see why Lord Rufford is to ride over everybody because he's a lord." Mr. Twentyman scratched his head. Though a keen sportsman himself, he did not specially like Lord Rufford,--a fact which had been very well known to Mrs. Masters. But, nevertheless, this threatened action against the nobleman was distasteful to him. It was not a hunting affair, or Mr. Twentyman could not have doubted for a moment. It was a shooting difficulty, and as Mr. Twentyman had never been asked to fire a gun on the Rufford preserves, it was no great sorrow to him that there should be such a difficulty. But the thing threatened was an attack upon the country gentry and their amusements, and Mr. Twentyman was a country gentleman who followed sport. Upon the whole his sympathies were with Lord Rufford.
"The man is an utter blackguard, you know," said Larry. "Last year he threatened to shoot the foxes in Dillsborough Wood."
"No!" said Kate, quite horrified.
"I'm afraid he's a bad sort of fellow all round," said the attorney.
"I don't see why he shouldn't claim what he thinks due to him," said Mrs. Masters. "I'm told that his lordship offered him seven-and-six an acre for the whole of the two fields," said the gentleman-farmer.
"Goarly declares," said Mrs. Masters, "that the pheasants didn't leave him four bushels of wheat to the acre."
Goarly was the man who had proposed himself as a client to Mr. Masters, and who was desirous of claiming damages to the amount of forty shillings an acre for injury, done to the crops on two fields belonging to himself which lay adjacent to Dillsborough Wood, a covert belonging to Lord Rufford, about four miles from the town, in which both pheasants and foxes were preserved with great care. "Has Goarly been to you?" asked Twentyman.
Mr. Masters nodded his head. "That's just it," said Mrs. Masters. "I don't see why a man isn't to go to law if he pleases--that is, if he can afford to pay for it. I have nothing to say against gentlemen's sport; but I do say that they should run the same chance as others. And I say it's a shame if they're to band themselves together and make the county too hot to hold any one as doesn't like to have his things ridden over, and his crops devoured, and his fences knocked to Jericho. I think there's a deal of selfishness in sport and a deal of tyranny."
"Oh, Mrs. Masters!" exclaimed Larry.
"Well, I do. And if a poor man,--or a man whether he's poor or no," added Mrs. Masters, correcting herself, as she thought of the money which this man ought to have in order that he might pay for his lawsuit,--"thinks himself injured, it's nonsense to tell me that nobody should take up his case. It's just as though the butcher wouldn't sell a man a leg of mutton because Lord Rufford had a spite against him. Who's Lord Rufford?"
"Everybody knows that I care very little for his lordship," said' Mr. Twentyman. "Nor I; and I don't see why Gregory should. If Goarly isn't entitled to what he wants he won't get it; that's all. But let it be tried fairly."
Hereupon Mr. Masters took up his hat and left the room, and Mr. Twentyman followed him, not having yet expressed any positive opinion on the delicate matter submitted to his judgment. Of course, Goarly was a brute. Had he not threatened to shoot foxes? But, then, an attorney must live by lawsuits, and it seemed to Mr. Twentyman that an attorney should not stop to inquire whether a new client is a brute or not.
The club, so called at Dillsborough, was held every Saturday evening in a back parlour at the Bush, and was attended generally by seven or eight members. It was a very easy club. There was no balloting, and no other expense attending it other than that of paying for the liquor which each man chose to drink. Sometimes, about ten o'clock, there was a little supper, the cost of which was defrayed by subscription among those who partook of it. It was one rule of the club, or a habit, rather, which had grown to be a rule, that Mr. Runciman might introduce into it any one he pleased. I do not know that a similar privilege was denied to any one else; but as Mr. Runciman had a direct pecuniary advantage in promoting the club, the new-comers were generally ushered in by him. When the attorney and Twentyman entered the room Mr. Runciman was seated as usual in an arm-chair at the corner of the fire nearest to the door, with the bell at his right hand. He was a hale, good-looking man about fifty, with black hair, now turning grey at the edges, and a clean-shorn chin. He had a pronounced strong face of his own, one capable of evincing anger and determination when necessary, but equally apt for smiles or, on occasion, for genuine laughter. He was a masterful but a pleasant man, very civil to customers and to his friends generally while they took him the right way; but one who could be a Tartar if he were offended, holding an opinion that his position as landlord of an inn was one requiring masterdom. And his wife was like him in everything,--except in this, that she always submitted to him. He was a temperate man in the main; but on Saturday nights he would become jovial, and sometimes a little quarrelsome. When this occurred the club would generally break itself up and go home to bed, not in the least offended. Indeed Mr. Runciman was the tyrant of the club, though it was held at his house expressly with the view of putting money into his pocket. Opposite to his seat was another arm-chair,--not so big as Mr. Runciman's, but still a soft and easy chair, which was always left for the attorney. For Mr. Masters was a man much respected through all Dillsborough, partly on his own account, but more perhaps for the sake of his father and grandfather. He was a roundfaced, clean-shorn man, with straggling grey hair, who always wore black clothes and a white cravat. There was something in his appearance which recommended him among his neighbours, who were disposed to say he "looked the gentleman;" but a stranger might have thought his cheeks to be flabby and his mouth to be weak.
Making a circle, or the beginning of a circle, round the fire, were Nupper, the doctor,--a sporting old bachelor doctor who had the reputation of riding after the hounds in order that he might be ready for broken bones and minor accidents; next to him, in another arm-chair, facing the fire, was Ned Botsey, the younger of the two brewers from Norrington, who was in the habit during the hunting season of stopping from Saturday to Monday at the Bush, partly because the Rufford hounds hunted on Saturday and Monday and on those days seldom met in the Norrington direction, and partly because he liked the sporting conversation of the Dillsborough Club. He was a little man, very neat in his attire, who liked to be above his company, and fancied that he was so in Mr. Runciman's parlour. Between him and the attorney's chair was Harry Stubbings, from Stanton Corner, the man who let out hunters, and whom Twentyman had threatened to thrash. His introduction to the club had taken place lately, not without some opposition; but Runciman had set his foot upon that, saying that it was "all d-- nonsense." He had prevailed, and Twentyman had consented to meet the man; but there was no great friendship between them. Seated back on the sofa was Mr. Ribbs, the butcher, who was allowed into the society as being a specially modest man. His modesty, perhaps, did not hinder him in an affair of sheep or bullocks, nor yet in the collection of his debts; but at the club he understood his position, and rarely opened his mouth to speak. When Twentyman followed the attorney into the room there was a vacant chair between Mr. Botsey and Harry Stubbings; but he would not get into it, preferring to seat himself on the table at Botsey's right hand. "So Goarly was with you, Mr. Masters," Mr. Runciman began as soon as the attorney was seated. It was clear that they had all been talking about Goarly and his law-suit, and that Goarly and the law-suit would be talked about very generally in Dillsborough.
"He was over at my place this evening," said the attorney.
"You are not going to take his case up for him, Mr. Masters?" said young Botsey. "We expect something better from you than that."
Now Ned Botsey was rather an impudent young man, and Mr. Masters, though he was mild enough at home, did not like impudence from the world at large. "I suppose, Mr. Botsey," said he, "that if Goarly were to go to you for a barrel of beer you'd sell it to him?"
"I don't know whether I should or not. I dare say my people would. But that's a different thing."
"I don't see any difference at all. You're not very particular as to your customers, and I don't ask you any questions about them. Ring the bell, Runciman, please." The bell was rung, and the two newcomers ordered their liquor.
It was quite right that Ned Botsey should be put down. Every one in the room felt that. But there was something in the attorney's tone which made the assembled company feel that he had undertaken Goarly's case; whereas, in the opinion of the company, Goarly was a scoundrel with whom Mr. Masters should have had nothing to do. The attorney had never been a sporting man himself, but he had always been, as it were, on that side.
"Goarly is a great fool for his pains," said the doctor. "He has had a very fair offer made him, and, first or last, it'll cost him forty pounds."
"He has got it into his head," said the landlord, "that he can sue Lord Rufford for his fences. Lord Rufford is not answerable for his fences."
"It's the loss of crop he's going for," said Twentyman.
"How can there be pheasants to that amount in Dillsborough Wood," continued the landlord, "when everybody knows that foxes breed there every year? There isn't a surer find for a fox in the whole county. Everybody knows that Lord Rufford never lets his game stand in the way of foxes."
Lord Rufford was Mr. Runciman's great friend and patron and best customer, and not a word against Lord Rufford was allowed in that room, though elsewhere in Dillsborough ill-natured things were sometimes said of his lordship. Then there came on that well-worn dispute among sportsmen, whether foxes and pheasants are or are not pleasant companions to each other. Every one was agreed that, if not, then the pheasants should suffer, and that any country gentleman who allowed his gamekeeper to entrench on the privileges of foxes in order that pheasants might be more abundant, was a "brute" and a "beast," and altogether unworthy to live in England. Larry Twentyman and Ned Botsey expressed an opinion that pheasants were predominant in Dillsborough Wood, while Mr. Runciman, the doctor, and Harry Stubbings declared loudly that everything that foxes could desire was done for them in that Elysium of sport.
"We drew the wood blank last time we were there," said Larry. "Don't you remember, Mr. Runciman, about the end of last March?"
"Of course I remember," said the landlord. "Just the end of the season, when two vixens had litters in the wood! You don't suppose Bean was going to let that old butcher, Tony, find a fox in Dillsborough at that time." Bean was his lordship's head gamekeeper in that part of the country. "How many foxes had we found there during the season?"
"Two or three," suggested Botsey.
"Seven!" said the energetic landlord; "seven, including cub-hunting,--and killed four! If you kill four foxes out of an eighty-acre wood, and have two litters at the end of the season, I don't think you have much to complain of."
"If they all did as well as Lord Rufford, you'd have more foxes than you'd know what to do with," said the doctor.
Then this branch of the conversation was ended by a bet of a new hat between Botsey and the landlord as to the finding of a fox in Dillsborough Wood when it should next be drawn; as to which, when the speculation was completed, Harry Stubbings offered Mr. Runciman ten shillings down for his side of the bargain. But all this did not divert the general attention from the important matter of Goarly's attack. "Let it be how it will," said Mr. Runciman, "a fellow like that should be put down." He did not address himself specially to Mr. Masters, but that gentleman felt that he was being talked at.
"Certainly he ought," said Dr. Nupper. "If he didn't feel satisfied with what his lordship offered him, why couldn't he ask his lordship to refer the matter to a couple of farmers who understood it?"
"It's the spirit of the thing," said Mr. Ribbs, from his place on the sofa. "It's a hodious spirit."
"That's just it, Mr. Ribbs," said Harry Stubbings. "It's all meant for opposition. Whether it's shooting or whether it's hunting, it's all one. Such a chap oughtn't to be allowed to have land. I'd take it away from him by Act of Parliament. It's such as him as is destroying the country."
"There ain't many of them hereabouts, thank God!" said the landlord. "Now, Mr. Twentyman," said Stubbings, who was anxious to make friends with the gentleman-farmer, "you know what land can do, and what land has done, as well as any man. What would you say was the real damage done to them two wheat-fields by his lordship's game last autumn? You saw the crops as they were growing, and you know what came off the land."
"I wouldn't like to say."
"But if you were on your oath, Mr. Twentyman?
"Was there more than seven-and-sixpence an acre lost?"
"No, nor five shillings," said Runciman.
"I think Goarly ought to take his lordship's offer--if you mean that," said Twentyman.
Then there was a pause, during which more drink was brought in, and pipes were re-lighted. Everybody wished that Mr. Masters might be got to say that he would not take the case, but there was a delicacy about asking him. "If I remember right he was in Rufford Gaol once," said Runciman.
"He was let out on bail and then the matter was hushed up somehow," said the attorney.
"It was something about a woman," continued Runciman. "I know that on that occasion he came out an awful scoundrel."
"Don't you remember," asked Botsey, "how he used to walk up and down the covert-side with a gun, two years ago, swearing he would shoot the fox if he broke over his land?"
"I heard him say it, Botsey," said Twentyman. "It wouldn't have been the first fox he's murdered," said the doctor.
"Not by many," said the landlord.
"You remember that old woman near my place?" said Stubbings. "It was he that put her up to tell all them lies about her turkeys. I ran it home to him! A blackguard like that! Nobody ought to take him up."
"I hope you won't, Mr. Masters;" said the doctor. The doctor was as old as the attorney, and had known him for many years. No one else could dare to ask the question.
"I don't suppose I shall, Nupper," said the attorney from his chair. It was the first word he had spoken since he had put down young Botsey. "It wouldn't just suit me; but a man has to judge of those things for himself."
Then there was a general rejoicing, and Mr. Runciman stood broiled bones, and ham and eggs, and bottled stout for the entire club; one unfortunate effect of which unwonted conviviality was that Mr. Masters did not get home till near twelve o'clock. That was sure to cause discomfort; and then he had pledged himself to decline Goarly's business.
We will now go back to Hoppet Hall and its inhabitants. When the old squire died he left by his will Hoppet Hall and certain other houses in Dillsborough, which was all that he could leave, to his grandson Reginald Morton. Then there arose a question whether this property also was not entailed. The former Mr. Masters, and our friend of the present day, had been quite certain of the squire's power to do what he liked with it; but others had been equally certain on the other side, and there had been a lawsuit. During that time Reginald Morton had been forced to live on a very small allowance. His aunt, Lady Ushant, had done what little she could for him, but it had been felt to be impossible that he should remain at Bragton, which was the property of the cousin who was at law with him. From the moment of his birth the Honourable Mrs. Morton, who was also his aunt by marriage, had been his bitter enemy. He was the son of an innkeeper's daughter, and according to her theory of life, should never even have been noticed by the real Mortons. And this honourable old lady was almost equally adverse to Lady Ushant, whose husband had simply been a knight, and who had left nothing behind him. Thus Reginald Morton had been friendless since his grandfather died, and had lived in Germany, nobody quite knew how. During the entire period of this law-suit Hoppet Hall had remained untenanted.
When the property was finally declared to belong to Reginald Morton, the Hall, before it could be used, required considerable repair. But there was other property. The Bush Inn belonged to Reginald Morton, as did the house in which Mr. Masters lived, and sundry other smaller tenements in the vicinity. There was an income from these of about five hundred pounds a year. Reginald, who was then nearly thirty years of age, came over to England, and stayed for a month or two at Bragton with his aunt, to the infinite chagrin of the old dowager. The management of the town property was entrusted to Mr. Masters, and Hoppet Hall was repaired. At this period Mr. Mainwaring had just come to Dillsborough, and having a wife with some money and perhaps quite as much pretension, had found the rectory too small, and had taken the Hall on a lease for seven years. When this was arranged Reginald Morton again went to Germany, and did not return till the lease had run out. By that time Mr. Mainwaring, having spent a little money, found that the rectory would be large enough for his small family. Then the Hall was again untenanted for awhile, till, quite suddenly, Reginald Morton returned to Dillsborough, and took up his permanent residence in his own house. It soon became known that the new-comer would not add much to the gaiety of the place. The only people whom he knew in Dillsborough were his own tenants, Mr. Runciman and Mr. Masters, and the attorney's eldest daughter. During those months which he had spent with Lady Ushant at Bragton, Mary had been living there, then a child of twelve years old; and, as a child, had become his fast friend. With his aunt he had, continually corresponded, and partly at her instigation, and partly from feelings of his own, he had at once gone to the attorney's house. This was now two years since, and he had found in his old playmate a beautiful young woman, in his opinion very unlike the people with whom she lived. For the first twelvemonths he saw her occasionally,--though not indeed very often. Once or twice he had drunk tea at the attorney's house, on which occasions the drawing-room upstairs had been almost as grand as it was uncomfortable. Then the attentions of Larry Twentyman began to make themselves visible, infinitely to Reginald Morton's disgust. Up to that time he had no idea of falling in love with the girl himself. Since he had begun to think on such subjects at all he had made up his mind that he would not marry. He was almost the more proud of his birth by his father's side, because he had been made to hear so much of his mother's low position. He had told himself a hundred times that under no circumstances could he marry any other than a lady of good birth. But his own fortune was small, and he knew himself well enough to be sure that he would not marry for money. He was now nearly forty years of age and had never yet been thrown into the society of any one that had attracted him. He was sure that he would not marry. And yet when he saw that Mr. Twentyman was made much of and flattered by the whole Masters family, apparently because he was regarded as an eligible husband for Mary, Reginald Morton was not only disgusted, but personally offended. Being a most unreasonable man he conceived a bitter dislike to poor Larry, who, at any rate, was truly in love, and was not looking too high in desiring to marry the portionless daughter of the attorney. But Morton thought that the man ought to be kicked and horsewhipped, or, at any rate, banished into some speechless exile for his presumption. With Mr. Runciman he had dealings, and in some sort friendship. There were two meadows attached to Hoppet Hall, fields lying close to the town, which were very suitable for the landlord's purposes. Mr. Mainwaring had held them in his own hands, taking them up from Mr. Runciman, who had occupied them while the house was untenanted, in a manner which induced Mr. Runciman to feel that it was useless to go to church to hear such sermons as those preached by the rector. But Morton had restored the fields, giving them rent free, on condition that he should be supplied with milk and butter. Mr. Runciman, no doubt, had the best of the bargain, as he generally had in all bargains; but he was a man who liked to be generous when generously treated. Consequently he almost overdid his neighbour with butter and cream, and occasionally sent in quarters of lamb and sweetbreads to make up the weight. I don't know that the offerings were particularly valued; but friendship was engendered. Runciman, too, had his grounds for quarrelling with those who had taken up the management of the Bragton property after the squire's death, and had his own antipathy to the Honourable Mrs. Morton and her grandson, the Secretary of Legation. When the law-suit was going on he had been altogether on Reginald Morton's side. It was an affair of sides, and quite natural that Runciman and the attorney should be friendly with the new-comer at Hoppet Hall, though there were very few points of personal sympathy between them.
Reginald Morton was no sportsman, nor was he at all likely to become a member of the Dillsborough Club. It was currently reported of him in the town that he had never sat on a horse or fired off a gun. As he had been brought up as a boy by the old squire this was probably an exaggeration, but it is certain that at this period of his life he had given up any aptitudes in that direction for which his early training might have suited him. He had brought back with him to Hoppet Hall many cases of books which the ignorance of Dillsborough had magnified into an enormous library, and he was certainly a sedentary, reading man. There was already a report in the town that he was engaged in some stupendous literary work, and the men and women generally looked upon him as a disagreeable marvel of learning. Dillsborough of itself was not bookish, and would have regarded any one known to have written an article in a magazine almost as a phenomenon.
He seldom went to church, much to the sorrow of Mr. Surtees, who ventured to call at the house and remonstrate with him. He never called again. And though it was the habit of Mr. Surtees' life to speak as little ill as possible of any one, he was not able to say any good of Mr. Morton. Mr. Mainwaring, who would never have troubled himself though his parishioner had not entered a place of worship once in a twelvemonth, did say many severe things against his former landlord. He hated people who were unsocial and averse to dining out, and who departed from the ways of living common among English country gentlemen. Mr. Mainwaring was, upon the whole, prepared to take the other side. Reginald Morton, though he was now nearly forty, was a young looking handsome man, with fair hair, cut short, and a light beard, which was always clipped. Though his mother had been an innkeeper's daughter in Montreal he had the Morton blue eyes and the handsome well-cut Morton nose. He was nearly six feet high, and strongly made, and was known to be a much finer man than the Secretary of Legation, who was rather small, and supposed to be not very robust.
Our lonely man was a great walker, and had investigated every lane and pathway, and almost every hedge within ten miles of Dillsborough before he had resided there two years; but his favourite rambles were all in the neighbourhood of Bragton. As there was no one living in the house,--no one but the old housekeeper who had lived there always,--he was able to wander about the place as he pleased. On the Tuesday afternoon, after the meeting of the Dillsborough Club which has been recorded, he was seated, about three o'clock, on the rail of the foot-bridge over the Dil, with a long German pipe hanging from his mouth. He was noted throughout the whole country for this pipe, or for others like it, such a one usually being in his mouth as he wandered about. The amount of tobacco which he had smoked since his return to these parts, exactly in that spot, was considerable, for there he might have been found at some period of the afternoon at least three times a week. He would sit on this rail for half an hour looking down at the sluggish waters of the little river, rolling the smoke out of his mouth at long intervals, and thinking perhaps of the great book which he was supposed to be writing. As he sat there now, he suddenly heard voices and laughter, and presently three girls came round the corner of the hedge, which, at this spot, hid the Dillsborough path,--and he saw the attorney's three daughters. "It's Mr. Morton," said Dolly in a whisper.
"He's always walking about Bragton," said Kate in another whisper. "Tony Tuppett says that he's the Bragton ghost"
"Kate," said Mary, also in a low voice, "you shouldn't talk so much about what you hear from Tony Tuppett."
"Bosh!" said Kate, who knew that she could not be scolded in the presence of Mr. Morton.
He came forward and shook hands with them all, and took off his hat to Mary. "You've walked a long way, Miss Masters," he said.
"We don't think it far. I like sometimes to come and look at the old place." "And so do I. I wonder whether you remember how often I've sat you on this rail and threatened to throw you into the river?"
"I remember very well that you did threaten me once, and that I almost believed that you would throw me in."
"What had she done that was naughty, Mr. Morton?" asked Kate.
"I don't think she ever did anything naughty in those days. I don't know whether she has changed for the worse since."
"Mary is never naughty now," said Dolly. "Kate and I are naughty, and it's very much better fun than being good."
"The world has found out that long ago, Miss Dolly; only the world is not quite so candid in owning it as you are. Will you come and walk round the house, Miss Masters? I never go in, but I have no scruples about the paths and park." At the end of the bridge leading into the shrubbery there was a stile, high indeed, but made commodiously with steps, almost like a double stair case, so that ladies could pass it without trouble. Mary had given her assent to the proposed walk, and was in the act of putting out her hand to be helped over the stile, when Mr. Twentyman appeared at the other side of it.
"If here isn't Larry!" said Kate.
Morton's face turned as black as thunder, but he immediately went back across the bridge, leading Mary with him. The other girls, who had followed him on to the bridge, had of course to go back also.
Mary was made very unhappy by the meeting. Mr. Morton would of course think that it had been planned, whereas by Mary herself it had been altogether unexpected. Kate, when the bridge was free, rushed over it and whispered something to Larry. The meeting had indeed been planned between her and Dolly and the lover, and this special walk had been taken at the request of the two younger girls.
Morton stood stock still, as though he expected that Twentyman would pass by. Larry hurried over the bridge, feeling sure that the meeting with Morton had been accidental and thinking that he would pass on towards the house. Larry was not at all ashamed of his purpose, nor was he inclined to give way and pass on. He came up boldly to his love, and shook hands with her with a pleasant smile. "If you are walking back to Dillsborough," he said, "maybe you'll let me go a little way with you?"
"I was going round the house with Mr. Morton," she said timidly.
"Perhaps I can join you?" said he, bobbing his head at the other man. "If you intended to walk back with Mr. Twentyman--," began Morton. "But I didn't," said the poor girl, who in truth understood more of it all than did either of the two men. "I didn't expect him, and I didn't expect you. It's a pity I can't go both ways, isn't it?" she added, attempting to appear cheerful. "Come back, Mary," said Kate; "we've had walking enough, and shall be awfully tired before we get home."
Mary had thought that she would like extremely to go round the house with her old friend and have a hundred incidents of her early life called to her memory. The meeting with Reginald Morton had been altogether pleasant to her. She had often felt how much she would have liked it had the chance of her life enabled her to see more frequently one whom as a child she had so intimately known. But at the moment she lacked the courage to walk boldly across the bridge, and thus to rid herself of Lawrence Twentyman. She had already perceived that Morton's manner had rendered it impossible that her lover should follow them. "I am afraid I must go home," she said. It was the very thing she did not want to do,--this going home with Lawrence Twentyman; and yet she herself said that she must do it,--driven to say so by a nervous dread of showing herself to be fond of the other man's company.
"Good afternoon to you," said Morton very gloomily, waving his hat and stalking across the bridge.
Reginald Morton, as he walked across the bridge towards the house, was thoroughly disgusted with all the world. He was very angry with himself, feeling that he had altogether made a fool of himself by his manner. He had shown himself to be offended, not only by Mr. Twentyman, but by Miss Masters also, and he was well aware, as he thought of it all, that neither of them had given him any cause of offence. If she chose to make an appointment for a walk with Mr. Lawrence Twentyman and to keep it, what was that to him? His anger was altogether irrational, and he knew that it was so. What right had he to have an opinion about it if Mary Masters should choose to like the society of Mr. Twentyman? It was an affair between her and her father and mother in which he could have no interest; and yet he had not only taken offence, but was well aware that he had shown his feeling.
Nevertheless, as to the girl herself, he could not argue himself out of his anger. It was grievous to him that he should have gone out of his way to ask her to walk with him just at the moment when she was expecting this vulgar lover,--for that she had expected him he felt no doubt. Yet he had heard her disclaim any intention of walking with the man! But girls are sly, especially when their lovers are concerned. It made him sore at heart to feel that this girl should be sly, and doubly sore to think that she should have been able to love such a one as Lawrence Twentyman.
As he roamed about among the grounds this idea troubled him much. He assured himself that he was not in love with her himself, and that he had no idea of falling in love with her; but it sickened him to think that a girl who had been brought up by his aunt, who had been loved at Bragton, whom he had liked, who looked so like a lady, should put herself on a par with such a wretch as that. In all this he was most unjust to both of them. He was specially unjust to poor Larry, who was by no means a wretch. His costume was not that to which Morton had been accustomed in Germany, nor would it have passed without notice in Bond Street. But it was rational and clean. When he came to the bridge to meet his sweetheart he had on a dark-green shooting coat, a billicock hat, brown breeches, and gaiters nearly up to his knees. I don't know that a young man in the country could wear more suitable attire. And he was a well-made man, just such a one as, in this dress, would take the eye of a country girl. There was a little bit of dash about him, just a touch of swagger, which better breeding might have prevented. But it was not enough to make him odious to an unprejudiced observer. I could fancy that an old lady from London, with an eye in her head for manly symmetry, would have liked to look at Larry, and would have thought that a girl in Mary's position would be happy in having such a lover, providing that his character was good and his means adequate. But Reginald Morton was not an old woman, and to his eyes the smart young farmer with his billicock hat, not quite straight on his head, was an odious thing to behold. He exaggerated the swagger, and took no notice whatever of the well-made limbs. And then this man had proposed to accompany him, had wanted to join his party, had thought it possible that a flirtation might be carried on in his presence! He sincerely hated the man. But what was he to think of such a girl as Mary Masters when she could bring herself to like the attentions of such a lover?
He was very cross with himself because he knew how unreasonable was his anger. Of one thing only could he assure himself,--that he would never again willingly put himself in Mary's company. What was Dillsborough and the ways of its inhabitants to him? Why should he so far leave the old fashions of his life as to fret himself about an attorney's daughter in a little English town? And yet he did fret himself, walking rapidly, and smoking his pipe a great deal quicker than was his custom.
When he was about to return home he passed the front of the house, and there, standing at the open door, he saw Mrs. Hopkins, the housekeeper, who had in truth been waiting for him. He said a good-natured word to her, intending to make his way on without stopping, but she called him back. "Have you heard the news, Mr. Reginald?" she said.
"I haven't heard any news this twelvemonth," he replied.
"Laws, that is so like you, Mr. Reginald. The young squire is to be here next week."
"Who is the young squire? I didn't know there was any squire now." "Mr. Reginald!"
"A squire as I take it, Mrs. Hopkins, is a country gentleman who lives on his own property. Since my grandfather's time no such gentleman has lived at Bragton." "That's true, too, Mr. Reginald. Any way Mr. Morton is coming down next week." "I thought he was in America."
"He has come home, for a turn like,--and is staying up in town with the old lady." The old lady always meant the Honourable Mrs. Morton.
"And is the old lady coming down with him?"
"I fancy she is, Mr. Reginald. He didn't say as much, but only that there would be three or four, a couple of ladies he said, and perhaps more. So I am getting the east bedroom, with the dressing-room, and the blue room for her ladyship." People about Bragton had been accustomed to call Mrs. Morton her ladyship. "That's where she always used to be. Would you come in and see, Mr. Reginald?"
"Certainly not, Mrs. Hopkins. If you were asking me into a house of your own, I would go in and see all the rooms and chat with you for an hour; but I don't suppose I shall ever go into this house again unless things change very much indeed."
"Then I'm sure I hope they will change, Mr. Reginald." Mrs. Hopkins had known Reginald Morton as a boy growing up into manhood, had almost been present at his birth, and had renewed her friendship while he was staying with Lady Ushant; but of the present squire, as she called him, she had seen almost nothing, and what she had once remembered of him had now been obliterated by an absence of twenty years. Of course she was on Reginald's side in the family quarrel, although she was the paid servant of the Foreign Office paragon. "And they are to be here next week. What day next week, Mrs. Hopkins?" Mrs. Hopkins didn't know on what day she was to expect the visitors, nor how long they intended to stay. Mr. John Morton had said in his letter that he would send his own man down two days before his arrival, and that was nearly all that he had said.
Then Morton started on his return walk to Dillsborough, again taking the path across the bridge. "Ah!" he said to himself with a shudder as he crossed the stile, thinking of his own softened feelings as he had held out his hand to help Mary Masters, and then of his revulsion of feeling when she declared her purpose of walking home with Mr. Twentyman. And he struck the rail of the bridge with his stick as though he were angry with the place altogether. And he thought to himself that he would never come there any more, that he hated the place, and that he would never cross that bridge again.
Then his mind reverted to the tidings he had heard from Mrs. Hopkins. What ought he to do when his cousin arrived? Though there had been a long lawsuit, there had been no actual declared quarrel between him and the heir. He had, indeed, never seen the heir for the last twenty years, nor had they ever interchanged letters. There had been no communication whatever between them, and therefore there could hardly be a quarrel. He disliked his cousin; nay, almost hated him; he was quite aware of that. And he was sure also that he hated that Honourable old woman worse than any one else in the world, and that he always would do so. He knew that the Honourable old woman had attempted to drive his own mother from Bragton, and of course he hated her. But that was no reason why he should not call on his cousin. He was anxious to do what was right. He was specially anxious that blame should not be attributed to him. What he would like best would be that he might call, might find nobody at home,--and that then John Morton should not return the courtesy. He did not want to go to Bragton as a guest; he did not wish to be in the wrong himself; but he was by no means equally anxious that his cousin should keep himself free from reproach. The bridge path came out on the Dillsborough road just two miles from the town, and Morton, as he got over the last stile, saw Lawrence Twentyman coming towards him on the road. The man, no doubt, had gone all the way into Dillsborough with the girls, and was now returning home. The parish of Bragton lies to the left of the high road as you go into the town from Rufford and the direction of London, whereas Chowton Farm, the property of Mr. Twentyman, is on the right of the road, but in the large parish of St. John's, Dillsborough. Dillsborough Wood lies at the back of Larry Twentyman's land, and joining on to Larry's land and also to the wood is the patch of ground owned by "that scoundrel Goarly". Chowton Farm gate opens on to the high road, so that Larry was now on his direct way home. As soon as he saw Morton he made up his mind to speak to him. He was quite sure from what had passed between him and the girls, on the road home, that he had done something wrong. He was convinced that he had interfered in some ill-bred way, though he did not at all know how. Of Reginald Morton he was not in the least jealous. He, too, was of a jealous temperament, but it had never occurred to him to join Reginald Morton and Mary Masters together. He was very much in love with Mary, but had no idea that she was in any way above the position which she might naturally hold as daughter of the Dillsborough attorney. But of Reginald Morton's attributes and scholarship and general standing he had a mystified appreciation which saved him from the pain of thinking that such a man could be in love with his sweetheart. As he certainly did not wish to quarrel with Morton, having always taken Reginald's side in the family disputes, he thought that he would say a civil word in passing, and, if possible, apologise. When Morton came up he raised his hand to his head and did open his mouth, though not pronouncing any word very clearly. Morton looked at him as grim as death, just raised his hand, and then passed on with a quick step. Larry was displeased; but the other was so thoroughly a gentleman,--one of the Mortons, and a man of property in the county,--that he didn't even yet wish to quarrel with him. "What the deuce have I done?" said he to himself as he walked on--"I didn't tell her not to go up to the house. If I offered to walk with her what was that to him?" It must be remembered that Lawrence Twentyman was twelve years younger than Reginald Morton, and that a man of twenty-eight is apt to regard a man of forty as very much too old for falling in love. It is a mistake which it will take him fully ten years to rectify, and then he will make a similar mistake as to men of fifty. With his awe for Morton's combined learning and age, it never occurred to him to be jealous. Morton passed on rapidly, almost feeling that he had been a brute. But what business had the objectionable man to address him? He tried to excuse himself, but yet he felt that he had been a brute, and had so demeaned himself in reference to the daughter of the Dillsborough attorney! He would teach himself to do all he could to promote the marriage. He would give sage advice to Mary Masters as to the wisdom of establishing herself,--having not an hour since made up his mind that he would never see her again! He would congratulate the attorney and Mrs. Masters. He would conquer the absurd feeling which at present was making him wretched. He would cultivate some sort of acquaintance with the man, and make the happy pair a wedding present. But, yet, what "a beast" the man was, with that billicock hat on one side of his head, and those tight leather gaiters.
As he passed through the town towards his own house, he saw Mr. Runciman standing in front of the hotel. His road took him up Hobbs gate, by the corner of the Bush; but Runciman came a little out of the way to meet him. "You have heard the news?" said the innkeeper.
"I have heard one piece of news."
"What's that, sir?"
"Come,--you tell me yours first"
"The young squire is coming down to Bragton next week."
"That's my news too. It is not likely that there should be two matters of interest in Dillsborough on the same day."
"I don't know why Dillsborough should be worse off than any other place, Mr. Morton; but at any rate the squire's coming."
"So Mrs. Hopkins told me. Has he written to you?"
"His coachman or his groom has; or perhaps he keeps what they call an ekkery. He's much too big a swell to write to the likes of me. Lord bless me,--when I think of it, I wonder how many dozen of orders I've had from Lord Rufford under his own hand. 'Dear Runcimam, dinner at eight; ten of us; won't wait a moment. Yours R.' I suppose Mr. Morton would think that his lordship had let himself down by anything of that sort?"
"What does my cousin want?"
"Two pair of horses,--for a week certain, and perhaps longer, and two carriages. How am I to let anyone have two pair of horses for a week certain,--and perhaps longer? What are other customers to do? I can supply a gentleman by the month and buy horses to suit; or I can supply him by the job. But I guess Mr. Morton don't well know how things are managed in this country. He'll have to learn. "What day does he come?"
"They haven't told me that yet, Mr. Morton."
Mary Masters, when Reginald Morton had turned his back upon her at the bridge, was angry with herself and with him, which was reasonable; and very angry also with Larry Twentyman, which was unreasonable. As she had at once acceded to Morton's proposal that they should walk round the house together, surely he should not have deserted her so soon. It had not been her fault that the other man had come up. She had not wanted him. But she was aware that when the option had in some sort been left to herself, she had elected to walk back with Larry. She knew her own motives and her own feelings, but neither of the men would understand them. Because she preferred the company of Mr. Morton, and had at the moment feared that her sisters would have deserted her had she followed him, therefore she had declared her purpose of going back to Dillsborough, in doing which she knew that Larry and the girls would accompany her. But of course Mr, Morton would think that she had preferred the company of her recognised admirer. It was pretty well known in Dillsborough that Larry was her lover. Her stepmother had spoken of it very freely; and Larry himself was a man who did not keep his lights hidden under a bushel. "I hope I've not been in the way, Mary," said Mr. Twentyman, as soon as Morton was out of hearing. "In the way of what?"
"I didn't think there was any harm in offering to go up to the house with you if you were going."
"Who has said there was any harm?" The path was only broad enough for one and she was walking first. Larry was following her and the girls were behind him. "I think that Mr. Morton is a very stuck-up fellow," said Kate, who was the last. "Hold your tongue, Kate," said Mary. "You don't know what you are talking about" "I know as well as any one when a person is good-natured. What made him go off in that hoity-toity fashion? Nobody had said anything to him."
"He always looks as though he were going to eat somebody," said Dolly. "He shan't eat me," said Kate.
Then there was a pause, during which they all went along quickly, Mary leading the way. Larry felt that he was wasting his opportunity; and yet hardly knew how to use it, feeling that the girl was angry with him.
"I wish you'd say, Mary, whether you think that I did anything wrong?" "Nothing wrong to me, Mr. Twentyman."
"Did I do anything wrong to him?"
"I don't know how far you may be acquainted with him. He was proposing to go somewhere, and you offered to go with him."
"I offered to go with you," said Larry, sturdily. "I suppose I'm sufficiently acquainted with you."
"Quite so," said Mary.
"Why should he be so proud? I never said an uncivil word to him. He's nothing to me. If he can do without me, I'm sure that I can do without him."
"Very well indeed, I should think."
"The truth is, Mary--"
"There has been quite enough said about it, Mr. Twentyman."
"The truth is, Mary, I came on purpose to have a word with you." Hearing this, Kate rushed on and pulled Larry by the tail of his coat.
"How did you know I was to be there?" demanded Mary sharply.
"I didn't know. I had reason to think you perhaps might be there. The girls I knew had been asking you to come as far as the bridge. At any rate I took my chance. I'd seen him some time before, and then I saw you."
"If I'm to be watched about in that way," said Mary angrily, "I won't go out at all." "Of course I want to see you. Why shouldn't I? I'm all fair and above board;--ain't I? Your father and mother know all about it. It isn't as though I were doing anything clandestine." He paused for a reply, but Mary walked on in silence. She knew quite well that he was warranted in seeking her, and that nothing but a very positive decision on her part could put an end to his courtship. At the present moment she was inclined to be very positive, but he had hardly as yet given her an opportunity of speaking out. "I think you know, Mary, what it is that I want." They were now at a rough stile which enabled him to come close up to her and help her. She tripped over the stile with a light step and again walked on rapidly. The field they were in enabled him to get up to her side, and now if ever was his opportunity. It was a long straggling meadow which he knew well, with the Dill running by it all the way,--or rather two meadows with an open space where there had once been a gate. He had ridden through the gap a score of times, and knew that at the further side of the second meadow they would come upon the high road. The fields were certainly much better for his purpose than the road. "Don't you think, Mary, you could say a kind word to me?"
"I never said anything unkind."
"You can't think ill of me for loving you better than all the world."
"I don't think ill of you at all. I think very well of you."
"So I do. How can I help thinking well of you, when I've never heard anything but good of you?"
"Then why shouldn't you say at once that you'll have me, and make me the happiest man in all the county?"
"I told you before, Mr. Twentyman, and that ought to have been enough. A young woman doesn't fall in love with every man that she thinks well of. I should like you as well as all the rest of the family if you would only marry some other girl," "I shall never do that."
"Yes you will;--some day."
"Never. I've set my heart upon it, and I mean to stick to it. I'm not the fellow to turn about from one girl to another. What I want is the girl I love. I've money enough and all that kind of thing of my own."
"I'm sure you're disinterested, Mr. Twentyman."
"Yes, I am. Ever since you've been home from Bragton it has been the same thing, and when I felt that it was so, I spoke up to your father honestly. I haven't been beating about the bush, and I haven't done anything that wasn't honourable." They were very near the last stile now. "Come, Mary, if you won't make me a promise, say that you'll think of it"
"I have thought of it, Mr. Twentyman, and I can't make you any other answer. I dare say I'm very foolish."
"I wish you were more foolish. Perhaps then you wouldn't be so hard to please." "Whether I'm wise or foolish, indeed, indeed, it's no good your going on. Now we're on the road. Pray go back home, Mr. Twentyman."
"It'll be getting dark in a little time."
"Not before we're in Dillsborough. If it were ever so dark we could find our way home by ourselves. Come along, Dolly."
Over the last stile he had stayed a moment to help the younger girl, and as he did so Kate whispered a word in his ear. "She's angry because she couldn't go up to the house with that stuck-up fellow." It was a foolish word; but then Kate Masters had not had much experience in the world. Whether overcome by Mary's resolute mode of speaking, or aware that the high road would not suit his purpose, he did turn back as soon as he had seen them a little way on their return towards the town. He had not gone half a mile before he met Morton, and had been half-minded to make some apology to him. But Morton had denied him the opportunity, and he had walked on to his own house,--low in spirits indeed, but still with none of that sorest of agony which comes to a lover from the feeling that his love loves some one else. Mary had been very decided with him,--more so he feared than before; but still he saw no reason why he should not succeed at last. Mrs. Masters had told him that Mary would certainly give a little trouble in winning, but would be the more worth the winner's trouble when won. And she had certainly shown no preference for any other young man about the town. There had been a moment when he had much dreaded Mr. Surtees. Young clergymen are apt to be formidable rivals, and Mr. Surtees had certainly made some overtures of friendship to Mary Masters. But Larry had thought that he had seen that these overtures had not led to much, and then that fear had gone from him. He did believe that Mary was now angry because she had not been allowed to walk about Bragton with her old friend Mr. Morton. It had been natural that she should like to do so. It was the pride of Mary's life that she had been befriended by the Mortons and Lady Ushant. But it did not occur to him that he ought to be jealous of Mr. Morton,--though it had occurred to Kate Masters.
There was very little said between the sisters on their way back to the town. Mary was pretty sure now that the two girls had made the appointment with Larry, but she was unwilling to question them on the subject. Immediately on their arrival at home they heard the great news. John Morton was coming to Bragton with a party of ladies and gentlemen. Mrs. Hopkins had spoken of four persons. Mrs. Masters told Mary that there were to be a dozen at least, and that four or five pairs of horses and half a dozen carriages had been ordered from Mr. Runciman. "He means to cut a dash when he does begin," said Mrs. Masters. "Is he going to stay, mother?"
"He wouldn't come down in that way if it was only for a few days I suppose. But what they will do for furniture I don't know."
"There's plenty of furniture, mother."
"A thousand years old. Or for wine, or fruit, or plate."
"The old plate was there when Lady Ushant left."
"People do things now in a very different way from what they used. A couple of dozen silver forks made quite a show on the old squire's table. Now they change the things so often that ten dozen is nothing. I don't suppose there's a bottle of wine in the cellar."
"They can get wine from Cobbold, mother."
"Cobbold's wine won't go down with them I fancy. I wonder what servants they're bringing."
When Mr. Masters came in from his office the news was corroborated. Mr. John Morton was certainly coming to Bragton. The attorney had still a small unsettled and disputed claim against the owner of the property, and he had now received by the day mail an answer to a letter which he had written to Mr. Morton, saying that that gentleman would see him in the course of the next fortnight.
There was certainly a great deal of fuss made about John Morton's return to the home of his ancestors,--made altogether by himself and those about him, and not by those who were to receive him. On the Thursday in the week following that of which we have been speaking, two carriages from the Bush met the party at the Railway Station and took them to Bragton. Mr. Runciman, after due consideration, put up with the inconsiderate nature of the order given, and supplied the coaches and horses as required,--consoling himself no doubt with the reflection that he could charge for the unreasonableness of the demand in the bill. The coachman and butler had come down two days before their master, so that things might be in order. Mrs. Hopkins learned from the butler that though the party would at first consist only of three, two other very august persons were to follow on the Saturday,--no less than Lady Augustus Trefoil and her daughter Arabella. And Mrs. Hopkins was soon led to imagine, though no positive information was given to her on the subject, that Miss Trefoil was engaged to be married to their Master. "Will he live here altogether, Mr, Tankard?" Mrs. Hopkins asked. To this question Mr. Tankard was able to give a very definite answer. He was quite sure that Mr. Morton would not live anywhere altogether. According to Mr. Tankard's ideas, the whole foreign policy of England depended on Mr. John Morton's presence in some capital, either in Europe, Asia, or America,--upon Mr. Morton's presence, and of course upon his own also. Mr. Tankard thought it not improbable that they might soon be wanted at Hong Kong, or some very distant place, but in the meantime they were bound to be back at Washington very shortly. Tankard had himself been at Washington, and also before that at Lisbon, and could tell Mrs. Hopkins how utterly unimportant had been the actual ministers at those places, and how the welfare of England had depended altogether on the discretion and general omniscience of his young master,--and of himself. He, Tankard, had been the only person in Washington who had really known in what order Americans should go out to dinner one after another. Mr. Elias Gotobed, who was coming, was perhaps the most distinguished American of the day, and was Senator for Mickewa.
"Mickey war!" said poor Mrs. Hopkins,--"that's been one of them terrible American wars we used to hear of." Then Tankard explained to her that Mickewa was one of the Western States and Mr. Elias Gotobed was a great Republican, who had very advanced opinions of his own respecting government, liberty, and public institutions in general. With Mr. Morton and the Senator was coming the Honourable Mrs. Morton. The lady had her lady's maid,--and Mr, Morton had his own man; so that there would be a great influx of persons.
Of course there was very much perturbation of spirit. Mrs. Hopkins, after that first letter, the contents of which she had communicated to Reginald Morton, had received various despatches and been asked various questions. Could she find a cook? Could she find two housemaids? And all these were only wanted for a time. In her distress she went to Mrs. Runciman, and did get assistance. "I suppose he thinks he's to have the cook out of my kitchen?" Runciman had said. Somebody, however, was found who said she could cook, and two girls who professed that they knew how to make beds. And in this way an establishment was ready before the arrival of the Secretary of Legation and the great American Senator. Those other. questions of wine and plate and vegetables had, no doubt, settled themselves after some fashion.
John Morton had come over to England on leave of absence for four months, and had brought with him the Senator from Mickewa. The Senator had never been in England before, and was especially anxious to study the British Constitution and to see the ways of Britons with his own eyes. He had only been a fortnight in London before this journey down to the county had been planned. Mr. Gotobed wished to see English country life and thought that he could not on his first arrival have a better opportunity. It must be explained also that there was another motive, for this English rural sojourn. Lady Augustus Trefoil, who was an adventurous lady, had been travelling in the United States with her daughter, and had there fallen in with Mr. John Morton. Arabella Trefoil was a beauty, and a woman of fashion, and had captivated the Paragon. An engagement had been made, subject to various stipulations; the consent of Lord Augustus in the first place,--as to which John Morton who only understood foreign affairs was not aware, as he would have been had he lived in England, that Lord Augustus was nobody. Lady Augustus had spoken freely as to settlements, value of property, life insurance and such matters; and had spoken firmly, as well as freely, expressing doubt as to the expediency of such an engagement;--all of which had surprised Mr. Morton considerably, for the young lady had at first been left in his hands with almost American freedom. And now Lady Augustus and her daughter were coming down on a visit of inspection. They had been told, as had the Senator, that things would be in the rough. The house had not been properly inhabited for nearly a quarter of a century. The Senator had expressed himself quite contented. Lady Augustus had only hoped that everything would be made as comfortable as possible for her daughter. I don't know what more could have been done at so short a notice than to order two carriages, two housemaids, and a cook.
A word or two must also be said of the old lady who made one of the party. The Honourable Mrs. Morton was now seventy, but no old lady ever showed less signs of advanced age. It is not to be understood from this that she was beautiful;---but that she was very strong. What might be the colour of her hair, or whether she had any, no man had known for many years. But she wore so perfect a front that some people were absolutely deluded. She was very much wrinkled;-- but as there are wrinkles which seem to come from the decay of those muscles which should uphold the skin, so are there others which seem to denote that the owner has simply got rid of the watery weaknesses of juvenility. Mrs. Morton's wrinkles were strong wrinkles. She was thin, but always carried herself bolt upright, and would never even lean back in her chair. She had a great idea of her duty, and hated everybody who differed from her with her whole heart. She was the daughter of a Viscount, a fact which she never forgot for a single moment, and which she thought gave her positive superiority to all women who were not the daughters of Dukes or Marquises, or of Earls. Therefore, as she did not live much in the fashionable world, she rarely met any one above herself. Her own fortune on her marriage had been small, but now she was a rich woman. Her husband had been dead nearly half a century and during the whole of that time she had been saving money. To two charities she gave annually five pounds per annum each. Duty demanded it, and the money was given. Beyond that she had never been known to spend a penny in charity. Duty, she had said more than once, required of her that she do something to repair the ravages made on the Morton property by the preposterous extravagance of the old squire in regard to the younger son, and that son's--child. In her anger she had not hesitated on different occasions to call the present Reginald a bastard, though the expression was a wicked calumny for which there was no excuse. Without any aid of hers the Morton property had repaired itself. There had been a minority of thirteen or fourteen years, and since that time the present owner had not spent his income. But John Morton was not himself averse to money, and had always been careful to maintain good relations with his grandmother. She had now been asked down to Bragton in order that she might approve, if possible, of the proposed wife. It was not likely that she should approve absolutely of anything; but to have married without an appeal to her would have been to have sent the money flying into the hands of some of her poor paternal cousins. Arabella Trefoil was the granddaughter of a duke, and a step had so far been made in the right direction. But Mrs. Morton knew that Lord Augustus was nobody, that there would be no money, and that Lady Augustus had been the daughter of a banker, and that her fortune had been nearly squandered.
The Paragon was not in the least afraid of his American visitor, nor, as far as the comforts of his house were concerned, of his grandmother. Of the beauty, and her mother he did stand in awe;-- but he had two days in which to look to things before they would come. The train reached the Dillsborough Station at half-past three, and the two carriages were there to meet them. "You will understand, Mr. Gotobed," said the old lady, "that my grandson has nothing of his own established here as yet." This little excuse was produced by certain patches and tears in the cushions and linings of the carriages. Mr. Gotobed smiled and bowed and declared that everything was "fixed convenient" Then the Senator followed the old lady into one carriage; Mr. Morton followed alone into the other; and they were driven away to Bragton.
When Mrs. Hopkins had taken the old lady up to her room Mr. Morton asked the Senator to walk round the grounds. Mr. Gotobed, lighting an enormous cigar of which he put half down his throat for more commodious and quick consumption, walked on to the middle of the drive, and turning back looked up at the house, "Quite a pile," he said, observing that the offices and outhouses extended a long way to the left till they almost joined other buildings in which were the stables and coach-house.
"It's a good-sized house;"--said the owner; "nothing very particular, as houses are built now-a-days."
"Damp; I should say?"
"I think not. I have never lived here much myself; but I have not heard that it is considered so."
"I guess it's damp. Very lonely;--isn't it?"
"We like to have our society inside, among ourselves, in the country." "Keep a sort of hotel-like?" suggested Mr. Gotobed. "Well, I don't dislike hotel life, especially when there are no charges. How many servants do you want to keep up such a house as that?"
Mr. Morton explained that at present he knew very little about it himself, then led him away by the path over the bridge, and turning to the left showed him the building which had once been the kennels of the Rufford hounds, "All that for dogs!" exclaimed Mr. Gotobed.
"All for dogs," said Morton. "Hounds, we generally call them."
"Hounds are they? Well; I'll remember; though 'dogs' seems to me more civil. How many used there to be?"
"About fifty couple, I think."
"A hundred dogs! No wonder your country gentlemen burst up so often. Wouldn't half-a-dozen do as well,--except for the show of the thing?"
"Half-a-dozen hounds couldn't hunt a fox, Mr. Gotobed."
"I guess half-a-dozen would do just as well, only for the show. What strikes me, Mr. Morton, on visiting this old country is that so much is done for show." "What do you say to New York, Mr. Gotobed?"
"There certainly are a couple of hundred fools in New York, who, having more money than brains, amuse themselves by imitating European follies. But you won't find that through the country, Mr. Morton. You won't find a hundred dogs at an American planter's house when ten or twelve would do as well." "Hunting is not one of your amusements."
"Yes it is. I've been a hunter myself. I've had nothing to eat but what I killed for a month together. That's more than any of your hunters can say. A hundred dogs to kill one fox!"
"Not all at the same time, Mr. Gotobed."
"And you have got none now?"
"I don't hunt myself."
"And does nobody hunt the foxes about here at present?" Then Morton explained that on the Saturday following the U.R.U. hounds, under the mastership of that celebrated sportsman Captain Glomax, would meet at eleven o'clock exactly at the spot on which they were then standing, and that if Mr. Gotobed would walk out after breakfast he should see the whole paraphernalia, including about half a hundred "dogs," and perhaps a couple of hundred men on horseback. "I shall be delighted to see any institution of this great country," said Mr. Gotobed, "however much opposed it may be to my opinion either of utility or rational recreation." Then, having nearly eaten up one cigar, he lit another preparatory to eating it, and sauntered back to the house.
Before dinner that evening there were a few words between the Paragon and his grandmother. "I'm afraid you won't like my American friend," he said. "He is all very well, John. Of course an American member of Congress can't be an English gentleman. You, in your position, have to be civil to such people. I dare say I shall get on very well with Mr. Gotobed."
"I must get somebody to meet him."
"Lady Augustus and her daughter are coming."
"They knew each other in Washington. And there will be so many ladies." "You could ask the Coopers from Mallingham," suggested the lady. "I don't think they would dine out. He's getting very old."
"And I'm told the Mainwarings at Dillsborough are very nice people," said Mrs. Morton, who knew that Mr. Mainwaring at any rate came from a good family. "I suppose they ought to call first. I never saw them in my life. Reginald Morton, you know, is living at Hoppet Hall in Dillsborough."
"You don't mean to say you wish to ask him to this house?"
"I think I ought. Why should I take upon myself to quarrel with a man I have not seen since I was a child, and who certainly is my cousin?"
"I do not know that he is your cousin; nor do you."
John Morton passed by the calumny which he had heard before, and which he knew that it was no good for him to attempt to subvert. "He was received here as one of the family, ma'am."
"I know he was; and with what result?"
"I don't think that I ought to turn my back upon him because my great-grandfather left property away from me to him. It would give me a bad name in the county. It would be against me when I settle down to live here. I think quarrelling is the most foolish thing a man can do,--especially with his own relations." "I can only say this, John;--let me know if he is coming, so that I may not be called upon to meet him. I will not eat at table with Reginald Morton." So saying the old lady, in a stately fashion, stalked out of the room.
On the next morning Mrs. Morton asked her grandson what he meant to do with reference to his suggested invitation to Reginald. "As you will not meet him of course I have given up the idea," he said. The "of course" had been far from true. He had debated the matter very much with himself. He was an obstinate man, with something of independence in his spirit. He liked money, but he liked having his own way too. The old lady looked as though she might live to be a hundred,-and though she might last only for ten years longer, was it worth his while to be a slave for that time? And he was by no means sure of her money, though he should be a slave. He almost made up his mind that he would ask Reginald Morton. But then the old lady would be in her tantrums, and there would be the disagreeable necessity of making an explanation to that inquisitive gentleman Mr. Elias Gotobed.
"I couldn't have met him, John; I couldn't indeed. I remember so well all that occurred when your poor infatuated great-grandfather would have that woman into the house! I was forced to have my meals in my bedroom, and to get myself taken away as soon as I could get a carriage and horses. After all that I ought not to be asked to meet the child."
"I was thinking of asking old Mr. Cooper on Monday. I know she doesn't go out. And perhaps Mr. Mainwaring wouldn't take it amiss. Mr. Puttock, I know, isn't at home; but if he were, he couldn't come." Mr. Puttock was the rector of Bragton, a very rich living, but was unfortunately afflicted with asthma.
"Poor man. I heard of that; and he's only been here about six years. I don't see why Mr. Mainwaring should take it amiss at all. You can explain that you are only here a few days. I like to meet clergymen. I think that it is the duty of a country gentleman to ask them to his house. It shows a proper regard for religion. By-thebye, John, I hope that you'll see that they have a fire in the church on Sunday." The Honourable Mrs. Morton always went to church, and had no doubt of her own sincerity when she reiterated her prayer that as she forgave others their trespasses, so might she be forgiven hers. As Reginald Morton had certainly never trespassed against her perhaps there was no reason why her thoughts should be carried to the necessity of forgiving him.
The Paragon wrote two very diplomatic notes, explaining his temporary residence and expressing his great desire to become acquainted with his neighbours. Neither of the two clergymen were offended, and both of them promised to eat his dinner on Monday. Mr. Mainwaring was very fond of dining out, and would have gone almost to any gentleman's house. Mr. Cooper had been enough in the neighbourhood to have known the old squire, and wrote an affectionate note expressing his gratification at the prospect of renewing his acquaintance with the little boy whom he remembered. So the party was made up for Monday. John Morton was very nervous on the matter, fearing that Lady Augustus would think the land to be barren.
The Friday passed by without much difficulty. The Senator was driven about, and everything was inquired into. One or two farm houses were visited, and the farmers' wives were much disturbed by the questions asked them. "I don't think they'd get a living in the States," was the Senator's remark after leaving one of the homesteads in which neither the farmer nor his wife had shown much power of conversation. "Then they're right to stay where they are," replied Mr. Morton, who in spite of his diplomacy could not save himself from being nettled. "They seem to get a very good living here, and they pay their rent punctually." On the Saturday morning the hounds met at the "Old Kennels," as the meet was always called, and here was an excellent opportunity of showing to Mr. Gotobed one of the great institutions of the country. It was close to the house and therefore could be reached without any trouble, and as it was held on Morton's own ground, he could do more towards making his visitor understand the thing than might have been possible elsewhere. When the hounds moved the carriage would be ready to take them about the roads, and show them as much as could be seen on wheels.
Punctually at eleven John Morton and his American guest were on the bridge, and Tony Tuppett was already occupying his wonted place, seated on a strong grey mare that had done a great deal of work, but would live,--as Tony used to say,--to do a great deal more. Round him the hounds were clustered,--twentythree couple in all,-- some seated on their haunches, some standing obediently still, while a few moved about restlessly, subject to the voices and on one or two occasions to a gentle administration of thong from the attendant whips. Four or five horsemen were clustering round, most of them farmers, and were talking to Tony. Our friend Mr. Twentyman was the only man in a red coat who had yet arrived, and with him, on her brown pony, was Kate Masters, who was listening with all her ears to every word that Tony said.
"That, I guess, is the Captain you spoke of," said the Senator pointing to Tony Tuppett.
"Oh no;--that's the huntsman. Those three men in caps are the servants who do the work."
"The dogs can't be brought out without servants to mind them! They're what you call gamekeepers." Morton was explaining that the men were not gamekeepers when Captain Glomax himself arrived, driving a tandem. There was no road up to the spot, but on hunt mornings,--or at any rate when the meet was at the old kennels,-- the park-gates were open so that vehicles could come up on the green sward.
"That's Captain Glomax, I suppose," said Morton. "I don't know him, but from the way he's talking to the huntsman you may be sure of it"
"He is the great man, is he? All these dogs belong to him?"
"Either to him or the hunt"
"And he pays for those servants?"
"He is a very rich man, I suppose." Then Mr. Morton endeavoured to explain the position of Captain Glomax. He was not rich. He was no one in particular--except that he was Captain Glomax; and his one attribute was a knowledge of hunting. He didn't keep the "dogs" out of his own pocket. He received 2,000 pounds a year from the gentlemen of the county, and he himself only paid anything which the hounds and horses might cost over that. "He's a sort of upper servant then?" asked the Senator.
"Not at all. He's the greatest man in the county on hunting days."
"Does he live out of it?"
"I should think not."
"It's a deal of trouble, isn't it?"
"Full work for an active man's time, I should say." A great many more questions were asked and answered, at the end of which the Senator declared that he did not quite understand it, but that as far as he saw he did not think very much of Captain Glomax.
"If he could make a living out of it I should respect him," said the Senator;--" though it's like knife-grinding or handling arsenic, an unwholesome sort of profession."
"I think they look very nice," said Morton, as one or two well-turned-out young men rode up to the place.
"They seem to me to have thought more about their breeches than anything else," said the Senator. "But if they're going to hunt why don't they hunt? Have they got a fox with them?" Then there was a further explanation.
At this moment there was a murmur as of a great coming arrival, and then an open carriage with four post-horses was brought at a quick trot into the open space. There were four men dressed for hunting inside, and two others on the box. They were all smoking, and all talking. It was easy to see that they did not consider themselves the least among those who were gathered together on this occasion. The carriage was immediately surrounded by grooms and horses, and the ceremony of disencumbering themselves of great coats and aprons, of putting on spurs and fastening hat-strings was commenced. Then there were whispered communications from the grooms, and long faces under some of the hats. This horse hadn't been fit since last Monday's run, and that man's hack wasn't as it should be. A muttered curse might have been heard from one gentleman as he was told, on jumping from the box, that Harry Stubbings hadn't sent him any second horse to ride. "I didn't hear nothing about it till yesterday, Captain," said Harry Stubbings, "and every foot I had fit to come out was bespoke." The groom, however, who heard this was quite aware that Mr. Stubbings did not wish to give unlimited credit to the Captain, and he knew also that the second horse was to have carried his master the whole day, as the animal which was brought to the meet had been ridden hard on the previous Wednesday. At all this the Senator looked with curious eyes, thinking that he had never in his life seen brought together a set of more useless human beings. "That is Lord Rufford," said Morton, pointing to a stout, ruddy-faced, handsome man of about thirty, who was the owner of the carriage.
"Oh, a lord. Do the lords hunt, generally?"
"That's as they like it."
"Senators with us wouldn't have time for that," said the Senator.
"But you are paid to do your work."
"Everybody from whom work is expected should be paid. Then the work will be done, or those who pay will know the reason why."
"I must speak to Lord Rufford," said Morton. "If you'll come with me, I'll introduce you." The Senator followed willingly enough and the introduction was made while his lordship was still standing by his horse. The two men had known each other in London, and it was natural that Morton, as owner of the ground, should come out and speak to the only man who knew him. It soon was spread about that the gentleman talking to Lord Rufford was John Morton, and many who lived in the county came up to shake hands with him, To some of these the Senator was introduced and the conversation for a few minutes seemed to interrupt the business on hand. "I am sorry you should be on foot, Mr. Gotobed," said the lord. "And I am sorry that I cannot mount him," said Mr. Morton.
"We can soon get over that difficulty if he will allow me to offer him a horse." The Senator looked as though he would almost like it, but he didn't quite like it. "Perhaps your horse might kick me off, my lord."
"I can't answer for that; but he isn't given to kicking, and there he is, if you'll get on him." But the Senator felt that the exhibition would suit neither his age nor position, and refused.
"We'd better be moving," said Captain Glomax. "I suppose, Lord Rufford, we might as well trot over to Dillsborough Wood at once. I saw Bean as I came along and he seemed to wish we should draw the wood first." Then there was a little whispering between his lordship and the Master and Tony Tuppett. His lordship thought that as Mr. Morton was there the hounds might as well be run through the Bragton spinnies. Tony made a wry face and shook his head. He knew that though the Old Kennels might be a very good place for meeting there was no chance of finding a fox at Bragton. And Captain Glomax, who, being an itinerary master, had no respect whatever for a country gentleman who didn't preserve, also made a long face and also shook his head. But Lord Rufford, who knew the wisdom of reconciling a newcomer in the county to foxhunting, prevailed and the hounds and men were taken round a part of Bragton Park.
"What if t' old squire 've said if he'd 've known there hadn't been a fox at Bragton for more nor ten year?" This remark was made by Tuppett to Mr. Runciman who was riding by him. Mr. Runciman replied that there was a great difference in people. "You may say that, Mr. Runciman. It's all changes. His lordship's father couldn't bear the sight of a hound nor a horse and saddle. Well;--I suppose I needn't gammon any furder. We'll just trot across to the wood at once" "They haven't begun yet as far as I can see," said Mr. Gotobed standing up in the carriage.
"They haven't found as yet," replied Morton.
"They must go on till they find a fox? They never bring him with them?" Then there was an explanation as to bagged foxes, Morton not being very conversant with the subject he had to explain. "And if they shouldn't find one all day?" "Then it'll be a blank."
"And these hundred gentlemen will go home quite satisfied with themselves?" "No; they'll go home quite dissatisfied."
"And have paid their money and given their time for nothing? Do you know it doesn't seem to me the most heart-stirring thing in the world. Don't they ride faster than that?" At this moment Tony with the hounds at his heels was trotting across the park at a huntsman's usual pace from covert to covert. The Senator was certainly ungracious. Nothing that he saw produced from him a single word expressive of satisfaction.
Less than a mile brought them to the gate and road leading up to Chowton Farm. They passed close by Larry Twentyman's door, and not a few, though it was not yet more than half-past eleven, stopped to have a glass of Larry's beer. When the hounds were in the neighbourhood Larry's beer was always ready. But Tony and his attendants trotted by with eyes averted, as though no thought of beer was in their minds. Nothing had been done, and a huntsman is not entitled to beer till he has found a fox. Captain Glomax followed with Lord Rufford and a host of others. There was plenty of way here for carriages, and half a dozen vehicles passed through Larry's farmyard. Immediately behind the house was a meadow, and at the bottom of the meadow a stubble field, next to which was the ditch and bank which formed the bounds of Dillsborough Wood. Just at this side of the gate leading into the stubble-field there was already a concourse of people when Tony arrived near it with the hounds, and immediately there was a holloaing and loud screeching of directions, which was soon understood to mean that the hounds were at once to be taken away! The Captain rode on rapidly, and then sharply gave his orders. Tony was to take the hounds back to Mr. Twentyman's farmyard as fast as he could, and shut them up in a barn. The whips were put into violent commotion. Tony was eagerly at work. Not a hound was to be allowed near the gate. And then, as the crowd of horsemen and carriages came on, the word "poison" was passed among them from mouth to mouth!
"What does all this mean?" said the Senator.
"I don't at all know. I'm afraid there's something wrong," replied Morton. "I heard that man say `poison'. They have taken the dogs back again." Then the Senator and Morton got out of the carriage and made their way into the crowd. The riders who had grooms on second horses were soon on foot, and a circle was made, inside which there was some object of intense interest. In the meantime the hounds had been secured in one of Mr. Twentyman's barns. What was that object of interest shall be told in the next chapter.
The Senator and Morton followed close on the steps of Lord Rufford and Captain Glomax and were thus able to make their way into the centre of the crowd. There, on a clean sward of grass, laid out as carefully as though he were a royal child prepared for burial, was--a dead fox. "It's pi'son, my lord; it's pi'son to a moral," said Bean, who as keeper of the wood was bound to vindicate himself, and his master, and the wood. "Feel of him, how stiff he is." A good many did feel, but Lord Rufford stood still and looked at the poor victim in silence. "It's easy knowing how he come by it," said Bean.
The men around gazed into each other's faces with a sad tragic air, as though the occasion were one which at the first blush was too melancholy for many words. There was whispering here and there and one young farmer's son gave a deep sigh, like a steam-engine beginning to work, and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. "There ain't nothin' too bad,--nothin," said another,--leaving his audience to imagine whether he were alluding to the wretchedness of the world in general or to the punishment which was due to the perpetrator of this nefarious act. The dreadful word "vulpecide" was heard from various lips with an oath or two before it. "It makes me sick of my own land, to think it should be done so near," said Larry Twentyman, who had just come up. Mr. Runciman declared that they must set their wits to work not only to find the criminal but to prove the crime against him, and offered to subscribe a couple of sovereigns on the spot to a common fund to be raised for the purpose. "I don't know what is to be done with a country like this," said Captain Glomax, who, as an itinerant, was not averse to cast a slur upon the land of his present sojourn.
"I don't remember anything like it on my property before," said the lord, standing up for his own estate and the county at large.
"Nor in the hunt," said young Hampton. "Of course such a thing may happen anywhere. They had foxes poisoned in the Pytchley last year."
"It shows a d-- bad feeling somewhere," said the Master.
"We know very well where the feeling is," said Bean who had by this time taken up the fox, determined not to allow it to pass into any hands less careful than his own.
"It's that scoundrel, Goarly," said one of the Botseys. Then there was an indignant murmur heard, first of all from two or three and then running among the whole crowd. Everybody knew as well as though he had seen it that Goarly had baited meat with strychnine and put it down in the wood. "Might have pi'soned half the pack!" said Tony Tuppett, who had come up on foot from the barn where the hounds were still imprisoned, and had caught hold in an affectionate manner of a fore pad of the fox which Bean had clutched by the two hind legs. Poor Tony Tuppett almost shed tears as he looked at the dead animal, and thought what might have been the fate of the pack. "It's him, my lord," he said, "as we run through Littleton gorse Monday after Christmas last, and up to Impington Park where he got away from us in a hollow tree. He's four year old," added Tony, looking at the animal's mouth, "and there warn't a finer dog fox in the county." "Do they know all the foxes?" asked the Senator. In answer to this, Morton only shook his head, not feeling quite sure himself how far a huntsman's acquaintance in that line might go, and being also too much impressed by the occasion for speculative conversation.
"It's that scoundrel Goarly" had been repeated again and again; and then on a sudden Goarly himself was seen standing on the further hedge of Larry's field with a gun in his hand. He was not at this time above two hundred yards from them, and was declared by one of the young farmers to be grinning with delight. The next field was Goarly's, but the hedge and ditch belonged to Twentyman. Larry rushed forward as though determined to thrash the man, and two or three followed him. But Lord Rufford galloped on and stopped them. "Don't get into a row with a fellow like that," he said to Twentyman.
"He's on my land, my lord," said Larry impatiently.
"I'm on my own now, and let me see who'll dare to touch me," said Goarly jumping down.
"You've put poison down in that wood," said Larry.
"No I didn't; but I knows who did. It ain't I as am afeard for my young turkeys" Now it was well known that old Mrs. Twentyman, Larry's mother, was fond of young turkeys, and that her poultry-yard had suffered. Larry, in his determination to be a gentleman, had always laughed at his mother's losses. But now to be accused in this way was terrible to his feelings! He made a rush as though to jump over the hedge, but Lord Rufford again intercepted him. "I didn't think, Mr. Twentyman, that you'd care for what such a fellow as that might say." By this time Lord Rufford was off his horse, and had taken hold of Larry.
"I'll tell you all what it is," screamed Goarly, standing just at the edge of his own field,--"if a hound comes out of the wood on to my land, I'll shoot him. I don't know nothing about p'isoning, though I dare say Mr. Twentyman does. But if a hound comes on my land, I'll shoot him,--open, before you all" There was, however, no danger of such a threat being executed on this day, as of course no hound would be allowed to go into Dillsborough Wood.
Twentyman was reluctantly brought back into the meadow where the horses were standing, and then a consultation was held as to what they should do next. There were some who thought that the hounds should be taken home for the day. It was as though some special friend of the U.R.U. had died that morning, and that the spirits of the sportsmen were too dejected for their sport. Others, with prudent foresight, suggested that the hounds might run back from some distant covert to Dillsborough, and that there should be no hunting till the wood had been thoroughly searched. But the strangers, especially those who had hired horses, would not hear of this; and after considerable delay it was arranged that the hounds should be trotted off as quickly as possible to Impington Gorse, which was on the other side of Impington Park, and fully five miles distant. And so they started, leaving the dead fox in the hands of Bean the gamekeeper. "Is this the sort of thing that occurs every day?" asked the Senator as he got back into the carriage.
"I should fancy not," answered Morton. "Somebody has poisoned a fox, and I don't think that that is very often done about here."
"Why did he poison him?"
"To save his fowls I suppose."
"Why shouldn't he poison him if the fox takes his fowls? Fowls are better than foxes."
"Not in this country," said Morton.
"Then I'm very glad I don't live here," said Mr. Gotobed. "These friends of yours are dressed very nicely and look very well,--but a fox is a nasty animal. It was that man standing up on the bank;-- wasn't it?" continued the Senator, who was determined to understand it all to the very bottom, in reference to certain lectures which he intended to give on his return to the States,--and perhaps also in the old country before he left it.
"They suspect him."
"That man with the gun! One man against two hundred! Now I respect that man;-I do with all my heart."
"You'd better not say so here, Mr. Gotobed."
"I know how full of prejudice you all air',--but I do respect him. If I comprehend the matter rightly, he was on his own land when we saw him."
"Yes;--that was his own field."
"And they meant to ride across it whether he liked it or no?"
"Everybody rides across everybody's land out hunting."
"Would they ride across your park, Mr. Morton, if you didn't let them?" "Certainly they would,--and break down all my gates if I had them locked, and pull down my park palings to let the hounds through."
"And you could get no compensation?"
"Practically I could get none. And certainly I should not try. The greatest enemy to hunting in the whole county would not be foolish enough to make the attempt" "Why so?"
"He would get no satisfaction, and everybody would hate him."
"Then I respect that man the more. What is that man's name?" Morton hadn't heard the name, or had forgotten it. "I shall find that man out, and have some conversation with him, Mr. Morton. I respect that man, Mr. Morton. He's one against two hundred, and he insists upon his rights. Those men standing round and wiping their eyes, and stifled with grief because a fox had been poisoned, as though some great patriot had died among them in the service of his country, formed one of the most remarkable phenomena, Sir, that ever I beheld in any country. When I get among my own people in Mickewa and tell them that, they won't believe me, sir."
In the meantime the cavalcade was hurrying away to Impington Gorse, and John Morton, feeling that he had not had an opportunity as yet of showing his American friend the best side of hunting, went with them. The five miles were five long miles, and as the pace was not above seven miles an hour, nearly an hour was occupied. There was therefore plenty of opportunity for the Senator to inquire whether the gentlemen around him were as yet enjoying their sport. There was an air of triumph about him as to the misfortunes of the day, joined to a battery of continued raillery, which made it almost impossible for Morton to keep his temper. He asked whether it was not at any rate better than trotting a pair of horses backwards and forwards over the same mile of road for half the day, as is the custom in the States. But the Senator, though he did not quite approve of trotting matches, argued that there was infinitely more of skill and ingenuity in the American pastime. "Everybody is so gloomy," said the Senator, lighting his third cigar. "I've been watching that young man in pink boots for the last half hour, and he hasn't spoken a word to any one."
"Perhaps he's a stranger," said Morton.
"And that's the way you treat him!"
It was past two when the hounds were put into the gorse, and certainly no one was in a very good humour. A trot of five miles is disagreeable, and two o'clock in November is late for finding a first fox; and then poisoning is a vice that may grow into a habit! There was a general feeling that Goarly ought to be extinguished, but an idea that it might be difficult to extinguish him. The whips, nevertheless, cantered on to the corner of the covert, and Tony put in his hounds with a cheery voice. The Senator remarked that the gorse was a very little place,--for as they were on the side of an opposite hill they could see it all. Lord Rufford, who was standing by the carriage, explained to him that it was a favourite resort of foxes, and difficult to draw as being very close. "Perhaps they've poisoned him too," said the Senator. It was evident from his voice that had such been the case, he would not have been among the mourners. "The blackguards are not yet thick enough in our country for that," said Lord Rufford, meaning to be sarcastic. Then a whimper was heard from a hound,--at first very low, and then growing into a fuller sound. "There he is," said young Hampton. "For heaven's sake get those fellows away from that side, Glomax." This was uttered with so much vehemence that the Senator looked up in surprise. Then the Captain galloped round the side of the covert, and, making use of some strong language, stopped the ardour of certain gentlemen who were in a hurry to get away on what they considered good terms. Lord Rufford, Hampton, Larry Twentyman and others sat stock-still on their horses, watching the gorse. Ned Botsey urged himself a little forward down the hill, and was creeping on when Captain Glomax asked him whether he would be so-- --obliging kind as to remain where he was for half a minute. Fred took the observations in good part and stopped his horse. "Does he do all that cursing and swearing for the 2,000 pounds?" asked the Senator.
The fox traversed the gorse back from side to side and from corner to corner again and again. There were two sides certainly at which he might break, but though he came out more than once he could not be got to go away. "They'll kill him now before he breaks," said the elder Botsey.
"Brute!" exclaimed his brother.
"They're hot on him now," said Hampton. At this time the whole side of the hill was ringing with the music of the hounds.
"He was out then, but Dick turned him," said Larry. Dick was one of the whips. "Will you be so kind, Mr. Morton," asked the Senator, "as to tell me whether they're hunting yet? They've been at it for three hours and a half, and I should like to know when they begin to amuse themselves."
Just as he had spoken there came from Dick a cry that he was away. Tony, who had been down at the side of the gorse, at once jumped into it, knowing the passage through. Lord Rufford, who for the last five or six minutes had sat perfectly still on his horse, started down the hill as though he had been thrown from a catapult. There was a little hand-gate through which it was expedient to pass, and in a minute a score of men were jostling for the way, among whom were the two Botseys, our friend Runciman, and Larry Twentyman, with Kate Masters on the pony close behind him. Young Hampton jumped a very nasty fence by the side of the wicket, and Lord Rufford followed him. A score of elderly men, with some young men among them too, turned back into a lane behind them, having watched long enough to see that they were to take the lane to the left, and not the lane to the right. After all there was time enough, for when the men had got through the hand-gate the hounds were hardly free of the covert, and Tony, riding up the side of the hill opposite, was still blowing his horn. But they were off at last, and the bulk of the field got away on good terms with the hounds. "Now they are hunting," said Mr. Morton to the Senator.
"They all seemed to be very angry with each other at that narrow gate" "They were in a hurry, I suppose."
"Two of them jumped over the hedge. Why didn't they all jump? How long will it be now before they catch him?"
"Very probably they may not catch him at all."
"Not catch him after all that! Then the man was certainly right to poison that other fox in the wood. How long will they go on?"
"Half an hour perhaps."
"And you call that hunting! Is it worth the while of all those men to expend all that energy for such a result? Upon the whole, Mr. Morton, I should say that it is one of the most incomprehensible things that I have ever seen in the course of a rather long and varied life. Shooting I can understand, for you have your birds. Fishing I can understand, as you have your fish. Here you get a fox to begin with, and are all broken-hearted. Then you come across another, after riding about all day, and the chances are you can't catch him!"
"I suppose," said Mr. Morton angrily, "the habits of one country are incomprehensible to the people of another. When I see Americans loafing about in the bar-room of an hotel, I am lost in amazement."
"There is not a man you see who couldn't give a reason for his being there. He has an object in view, though perhaps it may be no better than to rob his neighbour. But here there seems to be no possible motive."
The fox ran straight from the covert through his well-known haunts to Impington Park, and as the hounds were astray there for two or three minutes there was a general idea that he too had got up into a tree,--which would have amused the Senator very much had the Senator been there. But neither had the country nor the pace been adapted to wheels, and the Senator and the Paragon were now returning along the road towards Bragton. The fox had tried his old earths at Impington High wood, and had then skulked back along the outside of the covert. Had not one of the whips seen him he would have been troubled no further on that day, a fact, which if it could have been explained to the Senator in all its bearings, would greatly have added to his delight. But Dick viewed him; and with many holloas and much blowing of horns, and prayers from Captain Glomax that gentlemen would only be so good as to hold their tongues, and a full-tongued volley of abuse from half the field against an unfortunate gentleman who rode after the escaping fox before a hound was out of the covert, they settled again to their business. It was pretty to see the quiet ease and apparent nonchalance and almost affected absence of bustle of those who knew their work,--among whom were especially to be named young Hampton, and the elder Botsey, and Lord Rufford, and, above all, a dark-visaged, long-whiskered, sombre, military man who had been in the carriage with Lord Rufford, and who had hardly spoken a word to any one the whole day. This was the celebrated Major Caneback, known to all the world as one of the dullest men and best riders across country that England had ever produced. But he was not so dull but that he knew how to make use of his accomplishment, so as always to be able to get a mount on a friend's horses. If a man wanted to make a horse, or to try a horse, or to sell a horse, or to buy a horse, he delighted to put Major Caneback up. The Major was sympathetic and made his friend's horses, and tried them, and sold them. Then he would take his two bottles of wine,--of course from his friend's cellar,--and when asked about the day's sport would be oracular in two words, "Rather slow," "Quick spurt," "Goodish thing," "Regularly mulled," and such like. Nevertheless it was a great thing to have Major Caneback with you. To the list of those who rode well and quietly must in justice be added our friend Larry Twentyman, who was in truth a good horseman. And he had three things to do which it was difficult enough to combine. He had a young horse which he would have liked to sell; he had to coach Kate Masters on his pony; and he desired to ride like Major Caneback.
From Impington Park they went in a straight line to Littleton Gorse skirting certain small woods which the fox disdained to enter. Here the pace was very good, and the country was all grass. It was the very cream of the U.R.U; and could the Senator have read the feelings of the dozen leading men in the run, he would have owned that they were for the time satisfied with their amusement. Could he have read Kate Master's feelings he would have had to own that she was in an earthly Paradise. When the pony paused at the big brook, brought his four legs steadily down on the brink as though he were going to bathe, then with a bend of his back leaped to the other side, dropping his hind legs in and instantly recovering them, and when she saw that Larry had waited just a moment for her, watching to see what might be her fate, she was in heaven. "Wasn't it a big one, Larry?" she asked in her triumph. "He did go in behind!" "Those cats of things always do it somehow," Larry replied darting forward again and keeping the Major well in his eye. The brook had stopped one or two, and tidings came up that Ned Botsey had broken his horse's back. The knowledge of the brook had sent some round by the road,--steady riding men such as Mr. Runciman and Doctor Nupper. Captain Glomax had got into it and came up afterwards wet through, with temper by no means improved. But the glory of the day had been the way in which Lord Rufford's young bay mare, who had never seen a brook before, had flown over it with the Major on her back, taking it, as Larry afterwards described, "just in her stride, without condescending to look at it. I was just behind the Major, and saw her do it" Larry understood that a man should never talk of his own place in a run, but he didn't quite understand that neither should he talk of having been close to another man who was supposed to have had the best of it. Lord Rufford, who didn't talk much of these things, quite understood that he had received full value for his billet and mount in the improved character of his mare.
Then there, was a little difficulty at the boundary fence of Impington Hall Farm. The Major who didn't know the ground, tried it at an impracticable place, and brought his mare down. But she fell at the right side, and he was quick enough in getting away from her, not to fall under her in the ditch. Tony Tuppet, who knew every foot of that double ditch and bank, and every foot in the hedge above, kept well to the left and crept through a spot where one ditch ran into the other, intersecting of the fence. Tony, like a knowing huntsman as he was, rode always for the finish and not for immediate glory. Both Lord Rufford and Hampton, who in spite of their affected nonchalance were in truth rather riding against one another, took it all in a fly, choosing a lighter spot than that which the Major had encountered. Larry had longed to follow them, or rather to take it alongside of them, but was mindful at last of Kate and hurried down the ditch to the spot which Tony had chosen and which was now crowded by horsemen. "He would have done it as well as the best of them," said Kate, panting for breath. "We're all right," said Larry. "Follow me. Don't let them hustle you out. Now, Mat, can't you make way for a lady half a minute?" Mat growled, quite understanding the use which was being made of Kate Masters; but he did give way and was rewarded with a gracious smile. "You are going uncommon well, Miss Kate," said Mat, "and I won't stop you." "I am so much obliged to you, Mr. Ruggles," said Kate, not scrupling for a moment to take the advantage offered her. The fox had turned a little to the left, which was in Larry's favour, and the Major was now close to him, covered on one side with mud, but still looking as though the mud were all right. There are some men who can crush their hats, have their boots and breeches full of water, and be covered with dirt from their faces downwards, and yet look as though nothing were amiss, while, with others, the marks of a fall are always provocative either of pity or ridicule. "I hope you're not hurt, Major Caneback," said Larry, glad of the occasion to speak to so distinguished an individual. The Major grunted as he rode on, finding no necessity here even for his customary two words. Little accidents, such as that, were the price he paid for his day's entertainment.
As they got within view of Littleton Gorse Hampton, Lord Rufford, and Tony had the best of it, though two or three farmers were very close to them. At this moment Tony's mind was much disturbed, and he looked round more than once for Captain Glomax. Captain Glomax had got into the brook, and had then ridden down to the high road which ran here near to them and which, as he knew, ran within one field of the gorse. He had lost his place and had got a ducking and was a little out of humour with things in general. It had not been his purpose to go to Impington on this day, and he was still, in his mind, saying evil things of the U.R.U. respecting that poisoned fox. Perhaps he was thinking, as itinerant masters often must think, that it was very hard to have to bear so many unpleasant things for a poor 2,000 pounds a year, and meditating, as he had done for the last two seasons, a threat that unless the money were increased, he wouldn't hunt the country more than three times a week. As Tony got near to the gorse and also near to the road he managed with infinite skill to get the hounds off the scent, and to make a fictitious cast to the left as though he thought the fox had traversed that way. Tony knew well enough that the fox was at that moment in Littleton Gorse;--but he knew also that the gorse was only six acres, that such a fox as he had before him wouldn't stay there two minutes after the first hound was in it, and that Dillsborough Wood, which to his imagination was full of poison,-- would then be only a mile and a half before him. Tony, whose fault was a tendency to mystery,--as is the fault of most huntsmen,-- having accomplished his object in stopping the hounds, pretended to cast about with great diligence. He crossed the road and was down one side of a field and along another, looking anxiously for the Captain. "The fox has gone on to the gorse," said the elder Botsey; "what a stupid old pig he is;"--meaning that Tony Tuppet was the pig. "He was seen going on," said Larry, who had come across a man mending a drain.
"It would be his run of course," said Hampton, who was generally up to Tony's wiles, but who was now as much in the dark as others. Then four or five rode up to the huntsman and told him that the fox had been seen heading for the gorse. Tony said not a word but bit his lips and scratched his head and bethought himself what fools men might be even though they did ride well to hounds. One word of explanation would have settled it all, but he would not speak that word till he whispered it to Captain Glomax.
In the meantime there was a crowd in the road waiting to see the result of Tony's manoeuvres. And then, as is usual on such occasions, a little mild repartee went about,--what the sportsmen themselves would have called "chaff." Ned Botsey came up, not having broken his horse's back as had been rumoured, but having had to drag the brute out of the brook with the help of two countrymen, and the Major was asked about his fall till he was forced to open his mouth. "Double ditch; mare fell; matter of course." And then he got himself out of the crowd, disgusted with the littleness of mankind. Lord Rufford had been riding a very big chestnut horse, and had watched the anxious struggles of Kate Masters to hold her place. Kate, though fifteen, and quite up to that age in intelligence and impudence, was small and looked almost a child. "That's a nice pony of yours, my dear," said the Lord. Kate, who didn't quite like being called "my dear," but who knew that a lord has privileges, said that it was a very good pony. "Suppose we change," said his lordship. "Could you ride my horse?" "He's very big," said Kate. "You'd look like a tom-tit on a haystack," said his lordship. "And if you got on my pony, you'd look like a haystack on a tom-tit," said Kate. Then it was felt that Kate Masters had had the best of that little encounter. "Yes;--I got one there," said Lord Rufford, while his friends were laughing at him.
At length Captain Glomax was seen in the road and Tony was with him at once, whispering in his ear that the hounds if allowed to go on would certainly run into Dillsborough Wood. "D-- the hounds," muttered the Captain; but he knew too well what he was about to face so terrible a danger. "They're going home," he said as soon as he had joined Lord Rufford and the crowd.
"Going home!" exclaimed a pink-coated young rider of a hired horse which had been going well with him; and as he said so he looked at his watch. "Unless you particularly wish me to take the hounds to some covert twenty miles off," answered the sarcastic Master.
"The fox certainly went on to Littleton," said the elder Botsey.
"My dear fellow," said the Captain, "I can tell you where the fox went quite as well as you can tell me. Do allow a man to know what he's about some times." "It isn't generally the custom here to take the hounds off a running fox," continued Botsey, who subscribed 50 pounds, and did not like being snubbed. "And it isn't generally the custom to have fox-coverts poisoned," said the Captain, assuming to himself the credit due to Tony's sagacity. "If you wish to be Master of these hounds I haven't the slightest objection, but while I'm responsible you must allow me to do my work according to my own judgment" Then the thing was understood and Captain Glomax was allowed to carry off the hounds and his illhumour without another word.
But just at that moment, while the hounds and the master, and Lord Rufford and his friends, were turning back in their own direction, John Morton came up with his carriage and the Senator. "Is it all over?" asked the Senator.
"All over for to-day," said Lord Rufford. "Did you catch the animal?" "No, Mr. Gotobed; we couldn't catch him. To tell the truth we didn't try; but we had a nice little skurry for four or five miles."
"Some of you look very wet" Captain Glomax and Ned Botsey were standing near the carriage; but the Captain as soon as he heard this, broke into a trot and followed the hounds.
"Some of us are very wet," said Ned. "That's part of the fun."
"Oh;--that's part of the fun. You found one fox dead and you didn't kill another because you didn't try. Well; Mr. Morton, I don't think I shall take to fox hunting even though they should introduce it in Mickewa. "What's become of the rest of the men?"
"Most of them are in the brook," said Ned Botsey as he rode on towards Dillsborough.
Mr. Runciman was also there and trotted on homewards with Botsey, Larry, and Kate Masters. "I think I've won my bet," said the hotel-keeper.
"I don't see that at all. We didn't find in Dillsborough Wood."
"I say we did find in Dillsborough Wood. We found a fox though unfortunately the poor brute was dead."
"The bet's off I should say. What do you say, Larry?"
Then Runciman argued his case at great length and with much ability. It had been intended that the bet should be governed by the fact whether Dillsborough Wood did or did not contain a fox on that morning. He himself had backed the wood, and Botsey had been strong in his opinion against the wood. Which of them had been practically right? Had not the presence of the poisoned fox shown that he was right? "I think you ought to pay," said Larry.
"All right," said Botsey riding on, and telling himself that that was what came from making a bet with a man who was not a gentleman.
"He's as unhappy about that hat," said Runciman, "as though beer had gone down a penny a gallon."
On the Sunday the party from Bragton went to the parish church,-- and found it very cold. The duty was done by a young curate who lived in Dillsborough, there being no house in Bragton for him. The rector himself had not been in the church for the last six months, being an invalid. At present he and his wife were away in London, but the vicarage was kept up for his use. The service was certainly not alluring. It was a very wet morning and the curate had ridden over from Dillsborough on a little pony which the rector kept for him in addition to the 100 pounds per annum paid for his services. That he should have got over his service quickly was not a matter of surprise,--nor was it wonderful that there should have been no soul-stirring matter in his discourse as he had two sermons to preach every week and to perform single-handed all the other clerical duties of a parish lying four miles distant from his lodgings. Perhaps had he expected the presence of so distinguished a critic as the Senator from Mickewa he might have done better. As it was, being nearly wet through and muddy up to his knees, he did not do the work very well. When Morton and his friends left the church and got into the carriage for their half-mile drive home across the park, Mrs. Morton was the first to speak. "John," she said, "that church is enough to give any woman her death. I won't go there any more."
"They don't understand warming a church in the country," said John apologetically.
"Is it not a little too large for the congregation?" asked the Senator. The church was large and straggling and ill arranged, and on this particular Sunday had been almost empty. There was in it an harmonium which Mrs. Puttock played when she was at home, but in her absence the attempt made by a few rustics to sing the hymns had not been a musical success. The whole affair had been very sad, and so the Paragon had felt it who knew,--and was remembering through the whole service, how these things are done in transatlantic cities.
"The weather kept the people away I suppose," said Morton.
"Does that gentleman generally draw large congregations?" asked the persistent Senator.
"We don't go in for drawing congregations here." Under the cross-examination of his guest the Secretary of Legation almost lost his diplomatic good temper. "We have a church in every parish for those who choose to attend it"
"And very few do choose," said the Senator. "I can't say that they're wrong." There seemed at the moment to be no necessity to carry the disagreeable conversation any further as they had now reached the house. Mrs. Morton immediately went up-stairs, and the two gentlemen took themselves to the fire in the so-called library, which room was being used as more commodious than the big drawing-room. Mr. Gotobed placed himself on the rug with his back to the fire and immediately reverted to the Church. "That gentleman is paid by tithes I suppose."
"He's not the rector. He's a curate."
"Ah;--just so. He looked like a curate. Doesn't the rector do anything?" Then Morton, who was by this time heartily sick of explaining, explained the unfortunate state of Mr. Puttock's health, and the conversation was carried on till gradually the Senator learned that Mr. Puttock received 800 pounds a year and a house for doing nothing, and that he paid his deputy 100 pounds a year with the use of a pony. "And how long will that be allowed to go on, Mr. Morton?" asked the Senator.
To all these inquiries Morton found himself compelled not only to answer, but to answer the truth. Any prevarication or attempt at mystification fell to the ground at once under the Senator's tremendous powers of inquiry. It had been going on for four years, and would probably go on now till Mr. Puttock died. "A man of his age with the asthma may live for twenty years," said the Senator who had already learned that Mr. Puttock was only fifty. Then he ascertained that Mr. Puttock had not been presented to, or selected for the living on account of any peculiar fitness;--but that he had been a fellow of Rufford at Oxford till he was forty-five, when he had thought it well to marry and take a living. "But he must have been asthmatic then?" said the Senator.
"He may have had all the ailments endured by the human race for anything I know," said the unhappy host.
"And for anything the bishop cared as far as I can see," said the Senator. "Well now, I guess, that couldn't occur in our country. A minister may turn out badly with us as well as with you. But we don't appoint a man without inquiry as to his fitness,--and if a man can't do his duty he has to give way to some one who can. If the sick man took the small portion of the stipend and the working man the larger, would not better justice be done, and the people better served?" "Mr. Puttock has a freehold in the parish."
"A freehold possession of men's souls! The fact is, Mr. Morton, that the spirit of conservatism in this country is so strong that you cannot bear to part with a shred of the barbarism of the middle ages. And when a rag is sent to the winds you shriek with agony at the disruption, and think that the wound will be mortal." As Mr. Gotobed said this he extended his right hand and laid his left on his breast as though he were addressing the Senate from his own chair. Morton, who had offered to entertain the gentleman for ten days, sincerely wished that he were doing so.
On the Monday afternoon the Trefoils arrived. Mr. Morton, with his mother and both the carriages, went down to receive them,--with a cart also for luggage, which was fortunate, as Arabella Trefoil's big box was very big indeed, and Lady Augustus, though she was economical in most things, had brought a comfortable amount of clothes. Each of them had her own lady's maid, so that the two carriages were necessary. How it was that these ladies lived so luxuriously was a mystery to their friends, as for some time past they had enjoyed no particular income of their own. Lord Augustus had spent everything that came to his hand, and the family owned no house at all. Nevertheless Arabella Trefoil was to be seen at all parties magnificently dressed, and never stirred anywhere without her own maid. It would have been as grievous to her to be called on to live without food as to go without this necessary appendage. She was a big, fair girl whose copious hair was managed after such a fashion that no one could guess what was her own and what was purchased. She certainly had fine eyes, though I could never imagine how any one could look at them and think it possible that she should be in love. They were very large, beautifully blue, but never bright; and the eyebrows over them were perfect. Her cheeks were somewhat too long and the distance from her well-formed nose, to her upper lip too great. Her mouth was small and her teeth excellent. But the charm of which men spoke the most was the brilliance of her complexion. If, as the ladies said, it was all paint, she, or her maid, must have been a great artist. It never betrayed itself to be paint. But the beauty on which she prided herself was the grace of her motion. Though she was tall and big she never allowed an awkward movement to escape from her. She certainly did it very well. No young woman could walk across an archery ground with a finer step, or manage a train with more perfect ease, or sit upon her horse with a more complete look of being at home there. No doubt she was slow, but though slow she never seemed to drag. Now she was, after a certain fashion, engaged to marry John Morton and perhaps she was one of the most unhappy young persons in England.
She had long known that it was her duty to marry, and especially her duty to marry well. Between her and her mother there had been no reticence on this subject. With worldly people in general, though the worldliness is manifest enough and is taught by plain lessons from parents to their children, yet there is generally some thin veil even among themselves, some transparent tissue of lies, which, though they never quite hope to deceive each other, does produce among them something of the comfort of deceit. But between Lady Augustus and her daughter there had for many years been nothing of the kind. The daughter herself had been too honest for it. "As for caring about him, mamma," she had once said, speaking of a suitor, "of course I don't. He is nasty, and odious in every way. But I have got to do the best I can, and what is the use of talking about such trash as that?" Then there had been no more trash between them. It was not John Morton whom Arabella Trefoil had called nasty and odious. She had had many lovers, and had been engaged to not a few, and perhaps she liked John Morton as well as any of them, except one. He was quiet, and looked like a gentleman, and was reputed for no vices. Nor did she quarrel with her fate in that he himself was not addicted to any pleasures. She herself did not care much for pleasure. But she did care to be a great lady,--one who would be allowed to swim out of rooms before others, one who could snub others, one who could show real diamonds when others wore paste, one who might be sure to be asked everywhere even by the people who hated her. She rather liked being hated by women and did not want any man to be in love with her,--except as far as might be sufficient for the purpose of marriage. The real diamonds and the high rank would not be hers with John Morton. She would have to be content with such rank as is accorded to Ministers at the Courts at which they are employed. The fall would be great from what she had once expected,--and therefore she was miserable. There had been a young man, of immense wealth, of great rank, whom at one time she really had fancied that she had loved; but just as she was landing her prey, the prey had been rescued from her by powerful friends, and she had been all but broken-hearted. Mr. Morton's fortune was in her eyes small, and she was beginning to learn that he knew how to take care of his own money. Already there had been difficulties as to settlements, difficulties as to pin-money, difficulties as to residence, Lady Augustus having been very urgent. John Morton, who had really been captivated by the beauty of Arabella, was quite in earnest; but there were subjects on which he would not give way. He was anxious to put his best leg foremost so that the beauty might be satisfied and might become his own, but there was a limit beyond which he would not go. Lady Augustus had more than once said to her daughter that it would not do; and then there would be all the weary work to do again!
Nobody seeing the meeting on the platform would have imagined that Mr. Morton and Miss Trefoil were lovers,--and as for Lady Augustus it would have been thought that she was in some special degree offended with the gentleman who had come to meet her. She just gave him the tip of her fingers and then turned away to her maid and called for the porters and made herself particular and disagreeable. Arabella vouchsafed a cold smile, but then her smiles were always cold. After that she stood still and shivered. "Are you cold?" asked Morton. She shook her head and shivered again. "Perhaps you are tired?" Then she nodded her head. When her maid came to her in some trouble about the luggage, she begged that she "might not be bothered;" saying that no doubt her mother knew all about it. "Can I do anything?" asked Morton. "Nothing at all I should think," said Miss Trefoil. In the meantime old Mrs. Morton was standing by as black as thunder--for the Trefoil ladies had hardly noticed her.
The luggage turned up all right at last,--as luggage always does, and was stowed away in the cart. Then came the carriage arrangement. Morton had intended that the two elder ladies should go together with one of the maids, and that he should put his love into the other, which having a seat behind could accommodate the second girl without disturbing them in the carriage. But Lady Augustus had made some exception to this and had begged that her daughter might be seated with herself. It was a point which Morton could not contest out there among the porters and drivers, so that at last he and his grandmother had the phaeton together with the two maids in the rumble. "I never saw such manners in all my life," said the Honourable Mrs. Morton, almost bursting with passion. "They are cold and tired, ma'am."
"No lady should be too cold or too tired to conduct herself with propriety. No real lady is ever so."
"The place is strange to them, you know."
"I hope with all my heart that it may never be otherwise than strange to them." When they arrived at the house the strangers were carried into the library and tea was of course brought to them. The American Senator was there, but the greetings were very cold. Mrs. Morton took her place and offered her hospitality in the most frigid manner. There had not been the smallest spark of love's flame shown as yet, nor did the girl as she sat sipping her tea seem to think that any such spark was wanted. Morton did get a seat beside her and managed to take away her muff and one of her shawls, but she gave them to him almost as she might have done to a servant. She smiled indeed, but she smiled as some women smile at everybody who has any intercourse with them. "I think perhaps Mrs. Morton will let us go up-stairs," said Lady Augustus. Mrs. Morton immediately rang the bell and prepared to precede the ladies to their chambers. Let them be as insolent as they would she would do what she conceived to be her duty. Then Lady Augustus stalked out of the room and her daughter swum after her. "They don't seem to be quite the same as they were in Washington," said the Senator.
John Morton got up and left the room without making any reply. He was thoroughly unhappy. What was he to do for a week with such a houseful of people? And then, what was he to do for all his life if the presiding spirit of the house was to be such a one as this? She was very beautiful--certainly. So he told himself; and yet as he walked round the park he almost repented of what he had done. But after twenty minutes fast walking he was able to convince himself that all the fault on this occasion lay with the mother. Lady Augustus had been fatigued with her journey and had therefore made everybody near her miserable.
When the ladies went up-stairs the afternoon was not half over and they did not dine till past seven. As Morton returned to the house in the dusk he thought that perhaps Arabella might make some attempt to throw herself in his way. She had often done so when they were not engaged, and surely she might do so now. There was nothing to prevent her coming down to the library when she had got rid of her travelling clothes, and in this hope he looked into the room. As soon as the door was open the Senator, who was preparing his lecture in his mind, at once asked whether no one in England had an apparatus for warming rooms such as was to be found in every well-built house in the States. The Paragon hardly vouchsafed him a word of reply, but escaped up-stairs trusting that he might meet Miss Trefoil on the way. He was a bold man and even ventured to knock at her door;--but there was no reply, and, fearing the Senator, he had to betake himself to his own privacy. Miss Trefoil had migrated to her mother's room, and there, over the fire, was holding a little domestic conversation. "I never saw such a barrack in my life," said Lady Augustus.
"Of course, mamma, we knew that we should find the house such as it was left a hundred years ago. He told us that himself."
"He should have put something in it to make it at any rate decent before we came in."
"What's the use if he's to live always at foreign courts?"
"He intends to come home sometimes, I suppose, and, if he didn't, you would." Lady Augustus was not going to let her daughter marry a man who could not give her a home for at any rate a part of the year. "Of course he must furnish the place and have an immense deal done before he can marry. I think it is a piece of impudence to bring one to such a place as this."
"That's nonsense, mamma, because he told us all about it"
"The more I see of it all, Arabella, the more sure I am that it won't do." "It must do, mamma."
"Twelve hundred a year is all that he offers, and his lawyer says that he will make no stipulation whatever as to an allowance."
"Really, mamma, you might leave that to me."
"I like to have everything fixed, my dear,--and certain."
"Nothing really ever is certain. While there is anything to get you may be sure that I shall have my share. As far as money goes I'm not a bit afraid of having the worst of it,--only there will be so very little between us."
"That's just it."
"There's no doubt about the property, mamma."
"A nasty beggarly place!"
"And from what everybody says he's sure to be a minister or ambassador or something of that sort."
"I've no doubt he will. And where'll he have to go to? To Brazil, or the West Indies, or some British Colony," said her ladyship showing her ignorance of the Foreign Office service. "That might be very well. You could stay at home. Only where would you live? He wouldn't keep a house in town for you. Is this the sort of place you'd like?"
"I don't think it makes any difference where one is," said Arabella disgusted. "But I do,--a very great difference. It seems to me that he's altogether under the control of that hideous old termagant. Arabella, I think you'd better make up your mind that it won't do."
"It must do," said Arabella.
"You're very fond of him it seems."
"Mamma, how you do delight to torture me;--as if my life weren't bad enough without your making it worse."
"I tell you, my dear, what I'm bound to. tell you--as your mother. I have my duty to do whether it's painful or not."
"That's nonsense, mamma. You know it is. That might have been all very well ten years ago."
"You were almost in your cradle, my dear."
"Psha! cradle! I'll tell you what it is, mamma. I've been at it till I'm nearly broken down. I must settle somewhere;--or else die;--or else run away. I can't stand this any longer and I won't. Talk of work,--men's work! What man ever has to work as I do? I wonder which was the hardest part of that work, the hairdressing and painting and companionship of the lady's maid or the continual smiling upon unmarried men to whom she had nothing to say and for whom she did not in the least care! I can't do it any more, and I won't. As for Mr. Morton, I don't care that for him. You know I don't. I never cared much for anybody, and shall never again care at all."
"You'll find that will come all right after you are married."
"Like you and papa, I suppose."
"My dear, I had no mother to take care of me, or I shouldn't have married your father."
"I wish you hadn't, because then I shouldn't be going to marry Mr. Morton. But, as I have got so far, for heaven's sake let it go on. If you break with him I'll tell him everything and throw myself into his hands." Lady Augustus sighed deeply. "I will, mamma. It was you spotted this man, and when you said that you thought it would do, I gave way. He was the last man in the world I should have thought of myself."
"We had heard so much about Bragton!"
"And Bragton is here. The estate is not out of elbows."
"My dear, my opinion is that we've made a mistake. He's not the sort of man I took him to be. He's as hard as a file."
"Leave that to me, mammal"
"You are determined then?"
"I think I am. At any rate let me look about me. Don't give him an opportunity of breaking off till I have made up my mind. I can always break off if I like it. No one in London has heard of the engagement yet. Just leave me alone for this week to see what I think about it" Then Lady Augustus threw herself back in her chair and went to sleep, or pretended to do so.
A little after half-past seven she and her daughter, dressed for dinner, went down to the library together. The other guests were assembled there, and Mrs. Morton was already plainly expressing her anger at the tardiness of her son's guests. The Senator had got hold of Mr. Mainwaring and was asking pressing questions as to church patronage,--a subject not very agreeable to the rector of St. John's, as his living had been bought for him with his wife's money during the incumbency of an old gentleman of seventy-eight. Mr. Cooper, who was himself nearly that age and who was vicar of Mallingham, a parish which ran into Dillsborough and comprehended a part of its population, was listening to these queries with awe, and perhaps with some little gratification, as he had been presented to his living by the bishop after a curacy of many years. "This kind of things, I believe, can be bought and sold in the market," said the Senator, speaking every word with absolute distinctness. But as he paused for an answer the two ladies came in and the conversation was changed. Both the clergymen were introduced to Lady Augustus and her daughter, and Mr. Mainwaring at once took refuge under the shadow of the ladies' title.
Arabella did not sit down, so that Morton had an opportunity of standing near to his love. "I suppose you are very tired," he said.
"Not in the least." She smiled her sweetest as she answered him,-- but yet it was not very sweet. "Of course we were tired and cross when we got out of the train. People always are; aren't they?"
"Perhaps ladies are."
"We were. But all that about the carriages, Mr. Morton, wasn't my doing. Mamma had been talking to me so much that I didn't know whether I was on my head or my heels. It was very good of you to come and meet us, and I ought to have been more gracious." In this way she made her peace, and as she was quite in earnest,--doing a portion of the hard work of her life,--she continued to smile as sweetly as she could. Perhaps he liked it;--but any man endowed with that power of appreciation which we call sympathy, would have felt it to be as cold as though it had come from a figure on a glass window.
The dinner was announced. Mr. Morton was honoured with the hand of Lady Augustus. The Senator handed the old lady into the dining-room and Mr. Mainwaring the younger lady,--so that Arabella was sitting next to her lover. It had all been planned by Morton and acceded to by his grandmother. Mr. Gotobed throughout the dinner had the best of the conversation, though Lady Augustus had power enough to snub him on more than one occasion. "Suppose we were to allow at once," she said, "that everything is better in the United States than anywhere else, shouldn't we get along easier?"
"I don't know that getting along easy is what we have particularly got in view," said Mr. Gotobed, who was certainly in quest of information.
"But it is what I have in view, Mr. Gotobed;--so if you please we'll take the preeminence of your country for granted." Then she turned to Mr. Mainwaring on the other side. Upon this the Senator addressed himself for a while to the table at large and had soon forgotten altogether the expression of the lady's wishes. "I believe you have a good many churches about here," said Lady Augustus trying to make conversation to her neighbour.
"One in every parish, I fancy," said Mr. Mainwaring, who preferred all subjects to clerical subjects. "I suppose London is quite empty now."
"We came direct from the Duke's," said Lady Augustus, "and did not even sleep in town;--but it is empty." The Duke was the brother of Lord Augustus, and a compromise had been made with Lady Augustus, by which she and her daughter should be allowed a fortnight every year at the Duke's place in the country, and a certain amount of entertainment in town.
"I remember the Duke at Christchurch," said the parson. "He and I were of the same par. He was Lord Mistletoe then. Dear me, that was a long time ago. I wonder whether he remembers being upset out of a trap with me one day after dinner. I suppose we had dined in earnest. He has gone his way, and I have gone mine, and I've never seen him since. Pray remember me to him." Lady Augustus said she would, and did entertain some little increased respect for the clergyman who could boast that he had been tipsy in company with her worthy brother-in-law.
Poor Mr. Cooper did not get on very well with Mrs. Morton. All his remembrances of the old squire were eulogistic and affectionate. Hers were just the reverse. He had a good word to say for Reginald Morton,--to which she would not even listen. She was willing enough to ask questions about the Mallingham tenants;--but Mr. Cooper would revert back to the old days, and so conversation was at an end. Morton tried to make himself agreeable to his left-hand neighbour, trying also very hard to make himself believe that he was happy in his immediate position. How often in the various amusements of the world is one tempted to pause a moment and ask oneself whether one really likes it! He was conscious that he was working hard, struggling to be happy, painfully anxious to be sure that he was enjoying the luxury of being in love. But he was not at all contented. There she was, and very beautiful she looked; and he thought that he could be proud of her if she sat at the end of his table;--and he knew that she was engaged to be his wife. But he doubted whether she was in love with him; and he almost doubted sometimes whether he was very much in love with her. He asked her in so many words what he should do to amuse her. Would she like to ride with him, as if so he would endeavour to get saddle-horses. Would she like to go out hunting? Would she be taken round to see the neighbouring towns, Rufford and Norrington? "Lord Rufford lives somewhere near Rufford?" she asked. Yes; he lived at Rufford Hall, three or four miles from the town. Did Lord Rufford hunt? Morton believed that he was greatly given to hunting. Then he asked Arabella whether she knew the young lord. She had just met him, she said, and had only asked the question because of the name. "He is one of my neighbours down here," said Morton;--"but being always away of course I see nothing of him." After that Arabella consented to be taken out on horseback to see a meet of the hounds although she could not hunt. "We must see what we can do about horses," he said. She however professed her readiness to go in the carriage if a saddle-horse could not be found.
The dinner party I fear was very dull. Mr. Mainwaring perhaps liked it because he was fond of dining anywhere away from home. Mr. Cooper was glad once more to see his late old friend's old dining-room. Mr. Gotobed perhaps obtained some information. But otherwise the affair was dull. "Are we to have a week of this?" said Lady Augustus when she found herself up-stairs.
"You must, mamma, if we are to stay till we go to the Gores. Lord Rufford is here in the neighbourhood."
"But they don't know each other."
"Yes they do;--slightly. I am to go to the meet someday and he'll be there." "It might be dangerous."
"Nonsense, mamma! And after all you've been saying about dropping Mr. Morton!"
"But there is nothing so bad as a useless flirtation."
"Do I ever flirt? Oh, mamma, that after so many years you shouldn't know me! Did you ever see me yet making myself happy in any way? What nonsense you talk!" Then without waiting for, or making, any apology, she walked off to her own room.