"Neither your advice nor your money, my lord."
"Ah,—I was so sorry about that! But, indeed, indeed,—the fault was not mine."
"They were your figures that I saw upon the paper, and by your orders, no doubt, that the lawyer acted. But I have not come to say much of that. You meant I suppose to be gracious."
"I meant to be—good-natured."
"I daresay. You were willing enough to give away what you did not want. But there must be more between us than any question of money. Lord Rufford you have treated me most shamefully."
"I hope not. I think not."
"And you yourself must be well aware of it,—quite as well aware of it as I am. You have thrown me over and absolutely destroyed me;— and why?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Because you have been afraid of others; because your sister has told you that you were mistaken in your choice. The women around you have been too many for you, and have not allowed you to dispose of your hand, and your name, and your property as you pleased. I defy you to say that this was not your sister's doing." He was too much astounded to contradict her rapidly, and then she passed on, not choosing to give him time for contradiction. "Will you have the hardihood to say that you did not love me?" Then she paused thinking that he would not dare to contradict her then, feeling that in that she was on strong ground. "Were you lying when you told me that you did? What did you mean when I was in your arms up in the house there? What did you intend me to think that you meant?" Then she stopped, standing well in front of him, and looking fixedly into his face.
This was the very thing that he had feared. Lord Augustus had been a trouble. The Duke's letter had been a trouble. Lady Augustus had been a trouble; and Sir George's sermons had been troublesome. But what were they all when compared to this? How is it possible that a man should tell a girl that he has not loved her, when he has embraced her again and again? He may know it, and she may know it;—and each may know that the other knows it;—but to say that he does not and did not then love her is beyond the scope of his audacity,—unless he be a heartless Nero. "No one can grieve about this so much as I do," he said weakly.
"Cannot I grieve more, do you think,—I who told all my relatives that I was to become your wife, and was justified in so telling them? Was I not justified?"
"I think not."
"You think not! What did you mean then? What were you thinking of when we were coming back in the carriage from Stamford,—when with your arms round me you swore that you loved me better than all the world? Is that true? Did you so swear?" What a question for a man to have to answer! It was becoming clear to him that there was nothing for him but to endure and be silent. Even to this interview the gods would at last give an end. The hour would pass, though, alas, so slowly, and she could not expect that he should stand there to be rated much after the accustomed time for feeding. "You acknowledge that, and do you dare to say that I had no right to tell my friends?"
There was a moment in which he thought it was almost a pity that he had not married her. She was very beautiful in her present form,— more beautiful he thought than ever. She was the niece of a Duke, and certainly a very clever woman. He had not wanted money and why shouldn't he have married her? As for hunting him,—that was a matter of course. He was as much born and bred to be hunted as a fox. He could not do it now as he had put too much power into the hands of the Penwethers, but he almost wished that he had. "I never intended it," he said.
"What did you intend? After what has occurred I suppose I have a right to ask such a question. I have made a somewhat unpleasant journey to-day, all alone, on purpose to ask that question. What did you intend?" In his great annoyance he struck his shovel angrily against the ground. "And I will not leave you till I get an answer to the question. What did you intend, Lord Rufford?" There was nothing for him but silence and a gradual progress back towards the house.
But from the latter resource she cut him off for a time. "You will do me the favour to remain with me here till this conversation is ended. You cannot refuse me so slight a request as that, seeing the trouble to which you have put me. I never saw a man so forgetful of words. You cannot speak. Have you no excuse to offer, not a word to say in explanation—of conduct so black that I don't think here in England I ever heard a case to equal it? If your sister had been treated so!"
"It would have been impossible"
"I believe it. Her cautious nature would have trusted no man as I trusted you. Her lips, doubtless, were never unfrozen till the settlements had been signed. With her it was a matter of bargain, not of love. I can well believe that."
"I will not talk about my sister."
"It seems to me, Lord Rufford, that you object to talk about anything. You certainly have been very uncommunicative with reference to yourself. Were you lying when you told me that you loved me?"
"Did I lie when I told the Duchess that you had promised me your love? Did I lie when I told my mother that in these days a man does not always mention marriage when he asks a girl to be his wife? You said you loved me, and I believed you, and the rest was a thing of course. And you meant it. You know you meant it. When you held me in your arms in the carriage you know you meant me to suppose that it would always be so. Then the fear of your sister came upon you, and of your sister's husband,—and you ran away! I wonder whether you think yourself a man!" And yet she felt that she had not hit him yet. He was wretched enough; and she could see that he was wretched; but the wretchedness would pass away as soon as she was gone. How could she stab him so that the wound would remain? With what virus could she poison her arrow, so that the agony might be prolonged. "And such a coward too! I began to suspect it when you started that night from Mistletoe,—though I did not think then that you could be all mean, all cowardly. From that day to this, you have not dared to speak a word of truth. Every word has been a falsehood."
"By heavens, no."
"Every word a falsehood! and I, a lady,—a lady whom you have so deeply injured, whose cruel injury even you have not the face to deny,—am forced by your cowardice to come to you here, because you have not dared to come out to meet me. Is that true!"
"What good can it do?"
"None to me, God knows. You are such a thing that I would not have you now I know you, though you were twice Lord Rufford. But I have chosen to speak my mind to you and to tell you what I think. Did you suppose that when I said I would meet you face to face I was to be deterred by such girl's excuses as you made? I chose to tell you to your face that you are false, a coward, and no gentleman, and though you had hidden yourself under the very earth I would have found you." Then she turned round and saw Sir George Penwether standing close to them.
Lord Rufford had seen him approaching for some time, and had made one or two futile attempts to meet him. Arabella's back had been turned to the house, and she had not heard the steps or observed the direction of her companion's eyes. He came so near before he was seen that he heard her concluding words. Then Lord Rufford with a ghastly attempt at pleasantry introduced them. "George," he said, "I do not think you know Miss Trefoil. Sir George Penwether; Miss Trefoil."
The interview had been watched from the house and the husband had been sent down by his wife to mitigate the purgatory which she knew that her brother must be enduring. "My wife," said Sir George, "has sent me to ask Miss Trefoil whether she will not come into lunch."
"I believe it is Lord Rufford's house," said Arabella.
"If Miss Trefoil's frame of mind will allow her to sit at table with me I shall be proud to see her," said Lord Rufford.
"Miss Trefoil's frame of mind will not allow her to eat or to drink with such a dastard," said she turning away in the direction of the park gates. "Perhaps, Sir George, you will be kind enough to direct the man who brought me here to pick me up at the lodge." And so she walked away—a mile across the park,—neither of them caring to follow her.
It seemed to her as she stood at the lodge gate, having obstinately refused to enter the house, to be an eternity before the fly came to her. When it did come she felt as though her strength would barely enable her to climb into it. And when she was there she wept, with bitter throbbing woe, all the way to Rufford. It was over now at any rate. Now there was not a possible chance on which a gleam of hope might be made to settle. And how handsome he was, and how beautiful the place, and how perfect would have been the triumph could she have achieved it! One more word,—one other pressure of the hand in the post-chaise might have done it! Had he really promised her marriage she did not even now think that he would have gone back from his word. If that heavy stupid duke would have spoken to him that night at Mistletoe, all would have been well! But now,—now there was nothing for her but weeping and gnashing of teeth. He was gone, and poor Morton was gone; and all those others, whose memories rose like ghosts before her;—they were all gone. And she wept as she thought that she might perhaps have made a better use of the gifts which Providence had put in her way.
When Mounser Green met her at the station she was beyond measure weary. Through the whole journey she had been struggling to restrain her sobs so that her maid should neither hear nor see them. "Don't mind me, Mr. Green; I am only tired,—so tired," she said as she got into the carriage which he had brought.
He had with him a long, formal-looking letter addressed to herself. But she was too weary to open it that night. It was the letter conveying the tidings of the legacy which Morton had made in her favour.
Lord Rufford's Model Farm
At this time Senator Gotobed was paying a second visit to Rufford Hall. In the matter of Goarly and Scrobby he had never given way an inch. He was still strongly of opinion that a gentleman's pheasants had no right to eat his neighbour's corn, and that if damage were admitted, the person committing the injury should not take upon himself to assess the damage. He also thought,—and very often declared his thoughts,—that Goarly was justified in shooting not only foxes but hounds also when they came upon his property, and in moments of excitement had gone so far as to say that not even horses should be held sacred. He had, however, lately been driven to admit that Goarly himself was not all that a man should be, and that Mrs. Goarly's goose was an impostor. It was the theory,—the principle for which he combated, declaring that the evil condition of the man himself was due to the evil institutions among which he had been reared. By degrees evidence had been obtained of Scrobby's guilt in the matter of the red herrings, and he was to be tried for the offence of putting down poison. Goarly was to be the principal witness against his brother conspirator. Lord Rufford, instigated by his brother-in-law, and liking the spirit of the man, had invited the Senator to stay at the Hall while the case was being tried at the Rufford Quarter Sessions. I am afraid the invitation was given in a spirit of triumph over the Senator rather than with genuine hospitality. It was thought well that the American should be made to see in public the degradation of the abject creature with whom he had sympathised. Perhaps there were some who thought that in this way they would get the Senator's neck under their heels. If there were such they were likely to be mistaken, as the Senator was not a man prone to submit himself to such treatment.
He was seated at table with Lady Penwether and Miss Penge when Lord Rufford and his brother-in-law came into the room, after parting with Miss Trefoil in the manner described in the last chapter. Lady Penwether had watched their unwelcome visitor as she took her way across the park and had whispered something to Miss Penge. Miss Penge understood the matter thoroughly, and would not herself have made the slightest allusion to the other young lady. Had the Senator not been there the two gentlemen would have been allowed to take their places without a word on the subject. But the Senator had a marvellous gift of saying awkward things and would never be reticent. He stood for a while at the window in the drawing-room before he went across the hall, and even took up a pair of field-glasses to scrutinise the lady; and when they were all present he asked whether that was not Miss Trefoil whom he had seen down by the new fence. Lady Penwether, without seeming to look about her, did look about her for a few seconds to see whether the question might be allowed to die away unanswered. She perceived, from the Senator's face, that he intended to have an answer.
"Yes," she said, "that was Miss Trefoil. I am very glad that she is not coming in to disturb us."
"A great blessing," said Miss Penge.
"Where is she staying?" asked the Senator.
"I think she drove over from Rufford," said the elder lady.
"Poor young lady! She was engaged to marry my friend, Mr. John Morton. She must have felt his death very bitterly. He was an excellent young man; rather opinionated and perhaps too much wedded to the traditions of his own country; but, nevertheless, a painstaking, excellent young man. I had hoped to welcome her as Mrs. Morton in America."
"He was to have gone to Patagonia," said Lord Rufford, endeavouring to come to himself after the sufferings of the morning.
"We should have seen him back in Washington, Sir. Whenever you have anything good in diplomacy you generally send him to us. Poor young lady! Was she talking about him?"
"Not particularly," said his lordship.
"She must have remembered that when she was last here he was of the party, and it was but a few weeks ago,—only a little before Christmas. He struck me as being cold in his manner as an affianced lover. Was not that your idea, Lady Penwether?"
"I don't think I observed him especially."
"I have reason to believe that he was much attached to her. She could be sprightly enough; but at times there seemed to come a cold melancholy upon her too. It is I fancy so with most of your English ladies. Miss Trefoil always gave me the idea of being a good type of the English aristocracy." Lady Penwether and Miss Penge drew themselves up very stiffly. "You admired her, I think, my Lord."
"Very much indeed," said Lord Rufford, filling his mouth with pigeon-pie as he spoke, and not lifting his eyes from his plate.
"Will she be back to dinner?"
"Oh dear no," said Lady Penwether. There was something in her tone which at last startled the Senator into perceiving that Miss Trefoil was not popular at Rufford Hall.
"She only came for a morning call," said Lord Rufford.
"Poor young woman. She has lost her husband, and, I am afraid, now has lost her friends also. I am told that she is not well off;—and from what I see and hear, I fancy that here in England a young lady without a dowry cannot easily replace a lover. I suppose, too, Miss Trefoil is not quite in her first youth."
"If you have done, Caroline," said Lady Penwether to Miss Penge, "I think we'll go into the other room."
That afternoon Sir George asked the Senator to accompany him for a walk. Sir George was held to be responsible for the Senator's presence, and was told by the ladies that he must do something with him. The next day, which was Friday, would be occupied by the affairs of Scrobby and Goarly, and on the Saturday he was to return to town. The two started about three with the object of walking round the park and the home farm—the Senator intent on his duty of examining the ways of English life to the very bottom. "I hope I did not say anything amiss about Miss Trefoil," he remarked, as they passed through a shrubbery gate into the park.
"No; I think not"
"I thought your good lady looked as though she did not like the subject"
"I am not sure that Miss Trefoil is very popular with the ladies up there."
"She's a handsome young woman and clever, though, as I said before, given to melancholy, and sometimes fastidious. When we were all here I thought that Lord Rufford admired her, and that poor Mr. Morton was a little jealous."
"I wasn't at Rufford then. Here we get out of the park on to the home farm. Rufford does it very well,—very well indeed."
"Looks after it altogether himself?"
"I cannot quite say that. He has a land-bailiff who lives in the house there."
"With a salary?"
"Oh yes; 120 pounds a year I think the man has:"
"And that house?" asked the Senator. "Why, the house and garden are worth 50 pounds a year."
"I dare say they are. Of course it costs money. It's near the park and had to be made ornamental."
"And does it pay?"
"Well, no; I should think not. In point of fact I know it does not. He loses about the value of the ground."
The Senator asked a great many more questions and then began his lecture. "A man who goes into trade and loses by it, cannot be doing good to himself or to others. You say, Sir George, that it is a model farm;—but it's a model of ruin. If you want to teach a man any other business, you don't specially select an example in which the proprietors are spending all their capital without any return. And if you would not do this in shoemaking, why in farming?"
"The neighbours are able to see how work should be done."
"Excuse me, Sir George, but it seems to me that they are enabled to see how work should not be done. If his lordship would stick up over his gate a notice to the effect that everything seen there was to be avoided, he might do some service. If he would publish his accounts half-yearly in the village newspaper—"
"There isn't a village newspaper."
"In the Rufford Gazette. There is a Rufford Gazette, and Rufford isn't much more than a village. If he would publish his accounts half-yearly in the Rufford Gazette, honestly showing how much he had lost by his system, how much capital had been misapplied, and how much labour wasted, he might serve as an example, like the pictures of 'The Idle Apprentice.' I don't see that he can do any other good,—unless it be to the estimable gentleman who is allowed to occupy the pretty house. I don't think you'd see anything like that model farm in our country, Sir."
"Your views, Mr. Gotobed, are utilitarian rather than picturesque."
"Oh!—if you say that it is done for the picturesque, that is another thing. Lord Rufford is a wealthy lord, and can afford to be picturesque. A green sward I should have thought handsomer, as well as less expensive, than a ploughed field, but that is a matter of taste. Only why call a pretty toy a model farm? You might mislead the British rustics."
They had by this time passed through a couple of fields which formed part of the model farm, and had come to a stile leading into a large meadow. "This I take it," said the Senator looking about him, "is beyond the limits of my Lord's plaything."
"This is Shugborough," said Sir George, "and there is John Runce, the occupier, on his pony. He at any rate is a model farmer." As he spoke Mr. Runce slowly trotted up to them touching his hat, and Mr. Gotobed recognized the man who had declined to sit next to him at the hunting breakfast. Runce also thought that he knew the gentleman. "Do you hunt to-morrow, Mr. Runce?" asked Sir George.
"Well, Sir George, no; I think not. I b'lieve I must go to Rufford and hear that fellow Scrobby get it hot and heavy."
"We seem all to be going that way. You think he'll be convicted, Sir."
"If there's a juryman left in the country worth his salt, he'll be convicted," said Mr. Runce, almost enraged at the doubt. "But that other fellow; he's to get off. That's what kills me, Sir George."
"You're alluding to Mr. Goarly, Sir," said the Senator.
"That's about it, certainly," said Runce, still looking very suspiciously at his companion.
"I almost think he is the bigger rogue of the two," said the Senator.
"Well," said Runce; "well! I don't know as he ain't. Six of one and half a dozen of the other! That's about it" But he was evidently pacified by the opinion.
"Goarly is certainly a rascal all round," continued the Senator. Runce looked at him to make sure whether he was the man who had uttered such fearful blasphemies at the breakfast-table. "I think we had a little discussion about this before, Mr. Runce."
"I am very glad to see you have changed your principles, Sir."
"Not a bit of it. I am too old to change my principles, Mr. Runce. And much as I admire this country I don't think it's the place in which I should be induced to do so." Runce looked at him again with a scowl on his face and with a falling mouth. "Mr. Goarly is certainly a blackguard."
"Well;—I rather think he is."
"But a blackguard may have a good cause. Put it in your own case, Mr. Runce. If his Lordship's pheasants ate up your wheat—"
"They're welcome;—they're welcome! The more the merrier. But they don't. Pheasants know when they're well off."
"Or if a crowd of horsemen rode over your fences, don't you think—"
"My fences! They'd be welcome in my wife's bedroom if the fox took that way. My fences! It's what I has fences for,—to be ridden over."
"You didn't exactly hear what I have to say, Mr. Runce."
"And I don't want. No offence, sir, if you be a friend of my Lord's; but if his Lordship was to say himself that Goarly was right, I wouldn't listen to him. A good cause,—and he going about at dead o' night with his pockets full of p'ison! Hounds and foxes all one!—or little childer either for the matter o' that, if they happened on the herrings!"
"I have not said his cause was good, Mr. Runce."
"I'll wish you good evening, Sir George," said the farmer, reining his pony round. "Good evening to you, sir." And Mr. Runce trotted or rather ambled off, unable to endure another word.
"An honest man, I dare say," said the Senator.
"Certainly; and not a bad specimen of a British farmer."
"Not a bad specimen of a Briton generally;—but still, perhaps, a little unreasonable." After that Sir George said as little as he could, till he had brought the Senator back to the hall.
"I think it's all over now," said Lady Penwether to Miss Penge, when the gentlemen had left them alone in the afternoon.
"I'm sure I hope so,—for his sake. What a woman to come here by herself, in that way!"
"I don't think he ever cared for her in the least."
"I can't say that I have troubled myself much about that," replied Miss Penge. "For the sake of the family generally, and the property, and all that, I should be very very sorry to think that he was going to make her Lady Rufford. I dare say he has amused himself with her."
"There was very little of that, as far as I can learn;—very little encouragement indeed! What we saw here was the worst of it. He was hardly with her at all at Mistletoe."
"I hope it will make him more cautious;—that's all," said Miss Penge. Miss Penge was now a great heiress, having had her lawsuit respecting certain shares in a Welsh coal-mine settled since we last saw her. As all the world knows she came from one of the oldest Commoner's families in the West of England, and is, moreover, a handsome young woman, only twenty-seven years of age. Lady Penwether thinks that she is the very woman to be mistress of Rufford, and I do not know that Miss Penge herself is averse to the idea. Lord Rufford has been too lately wounded to rise at the bait quite immediately; but his sister knows that her brother is impressionable and that a little patience will go a long way. They have, however, all agreed at the hall that Arabella's name shall not again be mentioned.
Rufford was a good deal moved as to the trial of Mr Scrobby. Mr. Scrobby was a man who not long since had held his head up in Rufford and had the reputation of a well-to-do tradesman. Enemies had perhaps doubted his probity; but he had gone on and prospered, and, two or three years before the events which are now chronicled, had retired on a competence. He had then taken a house with a few acres of land, lying between Rufford and Rufford Hall, the property of Lord Rufford, and had commenced genteel life. Many in the neighbourhood had been astonished that such a man should have been accepted as a tenant in such a house; and it was generally understood that Lord Rufford himself had been very angry with his agent. Mr. Scrobby did not prosper greatly in his new career. He became a guardian of the poor and quarrelled with all the Board. He tried to become a municipal counsellor in the borough, but failed. Then he quarrelled with his landlord, insisted on making changes in the grounds which were not authorised by the terms of his holding, would not pay his rent, and was at last ejected,—having caused some considerable amount of trouble. Then he occupied a portion of his leisure with spreading calumnies as to his Lordship and was generally understood to have made up his mind to be disagreeable. As Lord Rufford was a sportsman rather than anything else Scrobby studied how he might best give annoyance in that direction, and some time before the Goarly affair had succeeded in creating considerable disturbance. When a man will do this pertinaciously, and when his selected enemy is wealthy and of high standing, he will generally succeed in getting a party round him. In Rufford there were not a few who thought that Lord Rufford's pheasants and foxes were a nuisance,—though probably these persons had never suffered in any way themselves. It was a grand thing to fight a lord,—and so Scrobby had a party.
When the action against his Lordship was first threatened by Goarly, and when it was understood that Scrobby had backed him with money there was a feeling that Scrobby was doing rather a fine thing. He had not, indeed, used his money openly, as the Senator had afterwards done; but that was not Scrobby's way. If Goarly had been ill-used any help was legitimate, and the party as a party was proud of their man. But when it came to pass that poison had been laid down, "wholesale" as the hunting men said, in Dillsborough Wood, in the close vicinity of Goarly's house, then the party hesitated. Such strategy as that was disgusting;—but was there reason to think that Scrobby had been concerned in the matter? Scrobby still had an income, and ate roast meat or boiled every day for his dinner. Was it likely that such a man should deal in herrings and strychnine?
Nickem had been at work for the last three months, backed up by funds which had latterly been provided by the Lord's agent, and had in truth run the matter down. Nickem had found out all about it, and in his pride had resigned his stool in Mr. Master's office. But the Scrobby party in Rufford could not bring itself to believe that Nickem was correct. That Goarly's hand had actually placed the herrings no man either at Rufford or Dillsborough had doubted. Such was now Nickem's story. But of what avail would be the evidence of such a man as Goarly against such a man as Scrobby? It would be utterly worthless unless corroborated, and the Scrobby party was not yet aware how clever Nickem had been. Thus all Rufford was interested in the case.
Lord Rufford, Sir George Penwether, his Lordship's agent, and Mr. Gotobed, had been summoned as witnesses,—the expenditure of money by the Senator having by this time become notorious; and on the morning of the trial they all went into the town in his Lordship's drag. The Senator, as the guest, was on the box-seat with his Lordship, and as they passed old Runce trotting into Rufford on his nag, Mr. Gotobed began to tell the story of yesterday's meeting, complaining of the absurdity of the old farmer's anger.
"Penwether told me about it," said the Lord.
"I suppose your tenant is a little crazy."
"By no means. I thought he was right in what he said, if I understood Penwether."
"He couldn't have been right. He turned from me in disgust simply because I tried to explain to him that a rogue has as much right to be defended by the law as an honest man."
"Runce looks upon these men as vermin which ought to be hunted down."
"But they are not vermin. They are men; and till they have been found guilty they are innocent men."
"If a man had murdered your child, would he be innocent in your eyes till he was convicted?"
"I hope so;—but I should be very anxious to bring home the crime against him. And should he be found guilty even then he should not be made subject to other punishment than that the law awards. Mr. Runce is angry with me because I do not think that Goarly should be crushed under the heels of all his neighbours. Take care, my Lord. Didn't we come round that corner rather sharp?"
Then Lord Rufford emphatically declared that such men as Scrobby and Goarly should be crushed, and the Senator, with an inward sigh declared that between landlord and tenant, between peer and farmer, between legislator and rustic, there was, in capacity for logical inference, no difference whatever. The British heart might be all right; but the British head was,—ah, hopelessly wooden! It would be his duty to say so in his lecture, and perhaps some good might be done to so gracious but so stolid a people, if only they could be got to listen.
Scrobby had got down a barrister from London, and therefore the case was allowed to drag itself out through the whole day. Lord Rufford, as a magistrate, went on to the bench himself, though he explained that he only took his seat there as a spectator. Sir George and Mr. Gotobed were also allowed to sit in the high place,—though the Senator complained even of this. Goarly and Scrobby were not allowed to be there, and Lord Rufford, in his opinion, should also have been debarred from such a privilege. A long time was occupied before even a jury could be sworn, the barrister earning his money by browbeating the provincial bench and putting various obstacles in the way of the trial. As he was used to practice at the assizes of course he was able to domineer. This juror would not do, nor that. The chairman was all wrong in his law. The officers of the Court knew nothing about it. At first there was quite a triumph for the Scrobbyites, and even Nickem himself was frightened. But at last the real case was allowed to begin, and Goarly was soon in the witness-box. Goarly did not seem to enjoy the day, and was with difficulty got to tell his own story even on his own side. But the story when it was told was simple enough. He had met Mr. Scrobby accidentally in Rufford and they two had together discussed the affairs of the young Lord. They came to an agreement that the young Lord was a tyrant and ought to be put down, and Scrobby showed how it was to be done. Scrobby instigated the action about the pheasants, and undertook to pay the expenses if Goarly would act in the other little matter. But, when he found that the Senator's money was forthcoming, he had been anything but as good as his word. Goarly swore that in hard cash he had never seen more than four shillings of Scrobby's money. As to the poison, Goarly declared that he knew nothing about it; but he certainly had received a parcel of herrings from Scrobby's own hands, and in obedience to Scrobby's directions, had laid them down in Dillsborough Wood the very morning on which the hounds had come there. He owned that he supposed that there might be something in the herrings, something that would probably be deleterious to hounds as well as foxes,—or to children should the herrings happen to fall into children's hands; but he assured the Court that he had no knowledge of poison,—none whatever. Then he was made by the other side to give a complete and a somewhat prolonged account of his own life up to the present time, this information being of course required by the learned barrister on the other side; in listening to which the Senator did become thoroughly ashamed of the Briton whom he had assisted with his generosity.
But all this would have been nothing had not Nickem secured the old woman who had sold the herrings,—and also the chemist, from whom the strychnine had been purchased as much as three years previously. This latter feat was Nickem's great triumph, the feeling of the glory of which induced him to throw up his employment in Mr. Masters' office, and thus brought him and his family to absolute ruin within a few months in spite of the liberal answers which were made by Lord Rufford to many of his numerous appeals. Away in Norrington the poison had been purchased as much as three years ago, and yet Nickem had had the luck to find it out. When the Scrobbyites heard that Scrobby had gone all the way to Norrington to buy strychnine to kill rats they were Scrobbyites no longer. "I hope they'll hang 'un. I do hope they'll hang 'un," said Mr. Runce quite out loud from his crowded seat just behind the attorney's bench.
The barrister of course struggled hard to earn his money. Though he could not save his client he might annoy the other side. He insisted therefore on bringing the whole affair of the pheasants before the Court, and examined the Senator at great length. He asked the Senator whether he had not found himself compelled to sympathise with the wrongs he had witnessed. The Senator declared that he had witnessed no wrongs. Why then had he interfered? Because he had thought that there might be wrong, and because he wished to see what power a poor man in this country would have against a rich one. He was induced still to think that Goarly had been ill-treated about the pheasants;—but he could not take upon himself to say that he had witnessed any wrong done. But he was quite sure that the system on which such things were managed in England was at variance with that even justice which prevailed in his own country! Yes;—by his own country he did mean Mickewa. He could tell that learned gentleman in spite of his sneers, and in spite of his evident ignorance of geography, that nowhere on the earth's surface was justice more purely administered than in the great Western State of Mickewa. It was felt by everybody that the Senator had the best of it. Mr. Scrobby was sent into durance for twelve months with hard labour, and Goarly was conveyed away in the custody of the police lest he should be torn to pieces by the rough lovers of hunting who were congregated outside. When the sentence had reached Mr. Runce's ears, and had been twice explained to him, first by one neighbour and then by another, his face assumed the very look which it had worn when he carried away his victuals from the Senator's side at Rufford Hall, and when he had turned his pony round on his own land on the previous evening. The man had killed a fox and might have killed a dozen hounds, and was to be locked up only for twelve months! He indignantly asked his neighbour what had come of Van Diemen's land, and what was the use of Botany Bay.
On their way back to Rufford Hall, Lord Rufford would have been triumphant, had not the Senator checked him. "It's a bad state of things altogether," he said. "Of course the promiscuous use of strychnine is objectionable."
"Rather," said his Lordship.
"But is it odd that an utterly uneducated man, one whom his country has left to grow up in the ignorance of a brute, should have recourse to any measure, however objectionable, when the law will absolutely give him no redress against the trespass made by a couple of hundred horsemen?" Lord Rufford gave it up, feeling the Senator to be a man with whom he could not argue.
When once Mrs. Morton had taken her departure for London, on the day after her grandson's death, nothing further was heard of her at Bragton. She locked up everything and took all the keys away, as though still hoping,—against hope,—that the will might turn out to be other than she expected. But when the lawyer came down to read the document he brought the keys back with him, and no further tidings reached Dillsborough respecting the old woman. She still drew her income as she had done for half a century, but never even came to look at the stone which Reginald put up on the walls of Bragton church to perpetuate the memory of his cousin. What moans she made she made in silent obscurity, and devoted the remainder of her years to putting together money for members of her own family who took no notice of her.
After the funeral, Lady Ushant returned to the house at the request of her nephew, who declared his purpose of remaining at Hoppet Hall for the present. She expostulated with him and received from him an assurance that he would take up his residence as squire at Bragton as soon as he married a wife,—should he ever do so. In the meantime he could, he thought, perform his duties from Hoppet Hall as well as on the spot. As a residence for a bachelor he preferred, he said, Hoppet Hall to the park. Lady Ushant yielded and returned once again to her old home, the house in which she had been born,— and gave up her lodgings at Cheltenham. The word that he said about his possible marriage set her mind at work, and induced her to put sundry questions to him. "Of course you will marry?" she said.
"Men who have property to leave behind them usually do marry, and as I am not wiser than others, I probably may do so. But I will not admit that it is a matter of course. I may escape yet"
"I do hope you will marry. I hope it may be before I die, so that I may see her."
"And disapprove of her, ten to one."
"Certainly I shall not if you tell me that you love her."
"Then I will tell you so, to prevent disagreeable results."
"I am quite sure there must be somebody that you like, Reginald," she said after a pause.
"Are you? I don't know that I have shown any very strong preference. I am not disposed to praise myself for many things, but I really do think that I have been as undemonstrative as most men of my age."
"Still I did hope—"
"What did you hope?"
"I won't mention any name. I don't think it is right. I have observed that more harm than good comes of such talking, and I have determined always to avoid it. But—" Then there was another pause. "Remember how old I am, Reginald, and when it is to be done give me at any rate the pleasure of knowing it" Of course he knew to whom she alluded, and of course he laughed at her feeble caution. But he would not say a word to encourage her to mention the name of Mary Masters. He thought that he was sure that were the girl free he would now ask her to be his wife. If he loved any one it was her. If he had ever known a woman with whom he thought it would be pleasant to share the joy and labours of life, it was Mary Masters. If he could imagine that any one constant companion would be a joy to him, she would be that person. But he had been distinctly informed that she was in love with some one, and not for worlds would he ask for that which had been given to another. And not for worlds would he hazard the chance of a refusal. He thought that he could understand the delight, that he could thoroughly enjoy the rapture, of hearing her whisper with downcast eyes, that she could love him. He had imagination enough to build castles in the air in which she reigned as princess, in which she would lie with her head upon his bosom and tell him that he was her chosen prince. But he would, hardly know how to bear himself should he ask in vain. He believed he could love as well as Lawrence Twentyman, but he was sure that he could not continue his quest as that young man had done.
When Lady Ushant had been a day or two at the house she asked him whether she might invite Mary there as her guest;—as her perpetual guest. "I have no objection in life," he said; "but take care that you don't interfere with her happiness."
"Because of her father and sisters?" suggested the innocent old lady.
"'Has she a father, has she a mother; Or has she a dearer one still than all other?'"
said Reginald laughing.
"Perhaps she has."
"Then don't interfere with her happiness in that direction. How is she to have a lover come to see her out here?"
"Why not? I don't see why she shouldn't have a lover here as well as in Dillsborough. I don't object to lovers, if they are of the proper sort; and I am sure Mary wouldn't have anything else." Reginald told her she might do as she pleased and made no further inquiry as to Mary's lovers.
A few days afterwards Mary went with her boxes to Bragton,—Mrs. Masters repeating her objections, but repeating them with but little energy. Just at this time a stroke of good fortune befell the Masters family generally which greatly reduced her power over her husband. Reginald Morton had spent an hour in the attorney's office, and had declared his purpose of restoring Mr. Masters to his old family position in regard to the Bragton estate. When she heard it she felt at once that her dominion was gone. She had based everything on the growing inferiority of her husband's position, and now he was about to have all his glory back again! She had inveighed against gentlemen from the day of her marriage,—and here he was, again to be immersed up to his eyes in the affairs of a gentleman. And then she had been so wrong about Goarly, and Lord Rufford had been so much better a client! And ready money had been so much more plentiful of late, owing to poor John Morton's ready-handed honesty! She had very little to say about it when Mary packed her boxes and was taken in Mr. Runciman's fly to Bragton.
Since the old days, the old days of all, since the days to which Reginald had referred when he asked her to pass over the bridge with him, she had never yet walked about the Bragton grounds. She had often been to the house, visiting Lady Ushant; but she had simply gone thither and returned. And indeed, when the house had been empty, the walk from Dillsborough to the bridge and back had been sufficient exercise for herself and her sisters. But now she could go whither she listed and bring her memory to all the old spots. With the tenacity as to household matters which characterised the ladies of the country some years since, Lady Ushant employed all her mornings and those of her young friend in making inventories of everything that was found in the house; but her afternoons were her own, and she wandered about with a freedom she had never known before. At this time Reginald Morton was up in London and had been away nearly a week. He had gone intending to be absent for some undefined time, so that Lady Ushant and Mrs. Hopkins were free from all interruption. It was as yet only the middle of March and the lion had not altogether disappeared; but still Mary could get out. She did not care much for the wind; and she roamed about among the leafless shrubberies, thinking,— probably not of many things,—meaning always to think of the past, but unable to keep her mind from the future, the future which would so soon be the present. How long would it be before the coming of that stately dame? Was he in quest of her now? Had he perhaps postponed his demand upon her till fortune had made him rich? Of course she had no right to be sorry that he had inherited the property which had been his almost of right; but yet, had it been otherwise, might she not have had some chance? But, oh, if he had said a word to her, only a word more than he had spoken already,—a word that might have sounded like encouragement to others beside herself, and then have been obliged to draw back because of the duty which he owed to the property, how much worse would that have been! She did own to herself that the squire of Bragton should not look for his wife in the house of a Dillsborough attorney. As she thought of this a tear ran down her cheek and trickled down on to the wooden rail of the little bridge.
"There's no one to give you an excuse now, and you must come and walk round with me," said a voice, close to her ear.
"Oh, Mr. Morton, how you have startled me!"
"Is there anything the matter, Mary?" said he, looking up into her face.
"Only you have startled me so."
"Has that brought tears into your eyes."
"Well,—I suppose so," she said trying to smile. "You were so very quiet and I thought you were in London."
"So I was this morning, and now I am here. But something else has made you unhappy."
"I wish we could be friends, Mary. I wish I could know your secret. You have a secret."
"No," she said boldly.
"Is there nothing?"
"What should there be, Mr. Morton!"
"Tell me why you were crying."
"I was not crying. Just a tear is not crying. Sometimes one does get melancholy. One can't cry when there is any one to look, and so one does it alone. I'd have been laughing if I knew that you were coming."
"Come round by the kennels. You can get over the wall;—can't you?"
"And we'll go down the old orchard, and get out by the corner of the park fence." Then he walked and she followed him, hardly keeping close by his side, and thinking as she went how foolish she had been not to have avoided the perils and fresh troubles of such a walk. When he was helping her over the wall he held her hands for a moment and she was aware of unusual pressure. It was the pressure of love,—or of that pretence of love which young men, and perhaps old men, sometimes permit themselves to affect. In an ordinary way Mary would have thought as little of it as another girl. She might feel dislike to the man, but the affair would be too light for resentment. With this man it was different. He certainly was not justified in making the slightest expression of factitious affection. He at any rate should have felt himself bound to abstain from any touch of peculiar tenderness. She would not say a word. She would not even look at him with angry eyes. But she twitched both her hands away from him as she sprang to the ground. Then there was a passage across the orchard,—not more than a hundred yards, and after that a stile. At the stile she insisted on using her own hand for the custody of her dress. She would not even touch his outstretched arm. "You are very independent," he said.
"I have to be so."
"I cannot make you out, Mary. I wonder whether there is still anything rankling in your bosom against me."
"Oh dear no. What should rankle with me?"
"What indeed;—unless you resent my—regard."
"I am not so rich in friends as to do that, Mr. Morton."
"I don't suppose there can be many people who have the same sort of feeling for you that I have."
"There are not many who have known me so long, certainly."
"You have some friend, I know," he said.
"More than one I hope."
"Some special friend. Who is he, Mary?"
"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Morton" She then thought that he was still alluding to Lawrence Twentyman.
"Tell me, Mary."
"What am I to tell you?"
"Your father says that there is some one."
Then she remembered it all;—how she had been driven into a half confession to her father. She could not say there was nobody. She certainly could not say who that some one was. She could not be silent, for by silence she would be confessing a passion for some other man,—a passion which certainly had no existence. "I don't know why papa should talk about me," she said, "and I certainly don't know why you should repeat what he said."
"But there is some one?" She clenched her fist, and hit out at the air with her parasol, and knit her brows as she looked up at him with a glance of fire in her eye which he had never seen there before. "Believe me, Mary," he said; "if ever a girl had a sincere friend, you have one in me. I would not tease you by impertinence in such a matter. I will be as faithful to you as the sun. Do you love any one?"
"Yes," she said turning round at him with ferocity and shouting out her answer as she pressed on.
"Who is he, Mary?"
"What right have you to ask me? What right can any one have? Even your aunt would not press me as you are doing."
"My aunt could not have the same interest. Who is he, Mary?"
"I will not tell you."
He paused a few moments and walked on a step or two before he spoke again. "I would it were I," he said.
"What!" she ejaculated.
"I would it were I," he repeated.
One glance of her eye stole itself round into his face, and then her face was turned quickly to the ground. Her parasol which had been raised drooped listless from her hand. All unconsciously she hastened her steps and became aware that the tears were streaming from her eyes. For a moment or two it seemed to her that all was still hopeless. If he had no more to say than that, certainly she had not a word. He had made her no tender of his love. He had not told her that in very truth she was his chosen one. After all she was not sure that she understood the meaning of those words "I would it were I" But the tears were coming so quick that she could see nothing of the things around her, and she did not dare even to put her hand up to her eyes. If he wanted her love,—if it was possible that he really wished for it,—why did he not ask for it? She felt his footsteps close to hers, and she was tempted to walk on quicker even than before. Then there came the fingers of a hand round her waist, stealing gradually on till she felt the pressure of his body on her shoulders. She put her hand up weakly, to push back the intruding fingers,—only to leave it tight in his grasp. Then,—then was the first moment in which she realized the truth. After all he did love her. Surely he would not hold her there unless he meant her to know that he loved her. "Mary," he said. To speak was impossible, but she turned round and looked at him with imploring eyes. "Mary,—say that you will be my wife."
"My own, own Husband"
Yes;—it had come at last. As one may imagine to be the certainty of paradise to the doubting, fearful, all but despairing soul when it has passed through the gates of death and found in new worlds a reality of assured bliss, so was the assurance to her, conveyed by that simple request, "Mary, say that you will be my wife." It did not seem to her that any answer was necessary. Will it be required that the spirit shall assent to its entrance into Elysium? Was there room for doubt? He would never go back from his word now. He would not have spoken the word had he not been quite, quite certain. And he had loved her all that time, when she was so hard to him! It must have been so. He had loved her, this bright one, even when he thought that she was to be given to that clay-bound rustic lover! Perhaps that was the sweetest of it all, though in draining the sweet draught she had to accuse herself of hardness, blindness and injustice. Could it be real? Was it true that she had her foot firmly placed in Paradise? He was there, close to her, with his arm still round her, and her fingers grasped within his. The word wife was still in her ears,—surely the sweetest word in all the language! What protestation of love could have been so eloquent as that question? "Will you be my wife?" No true man, she thought, ever ought to ask the question in any other form. But her eyes were still full of tears, and as she went she knew not where she was going. She had forgotten all her surroundings, being only aware that he was with her, and that no other eyes were on them.
Then there was another stile on reaching which he withdrew his arm and stood facing her with his back leaning against it. "Why do you weep?" he said;—"and, Mary, why do you not answer my question? If there be anybody else you must tell me now."
"There is nobody else," she said almost angrily. "There never was. There never could be."
"And yet there was somebody!" She pouted her lips at him, glancing up into his face for half a second, and then again hung her head down. "Mary, do not grudge me my delight"
"But you do."
"No. If there can be delight to you in so poor a thing, have it all."
"Then you must kiss me, dear." She gently came to him,—oh so gently,—and with her head still hanging, creeping towards his shoulder, thinking perhaps that the motion should have been his, but still obeying him, and then, leaning against him, seemed as though she would stoop with her lips to his hand. But this he did not endure. Seizing her quickly in his arms he drew her up, till her not unwilling face was close to his, and there he kept her till she was almost frightened by his violence. "And now, Mary, what do you say to my question? It has to be answered."
"But that will not do, I will have it in words. I will not be shorn of my delight"
That it should be a delight to him, was the very essence of her heaven. "Tell me what to say," she answered. "How may I say it best?"
"Reginald Morton," he began.
"Reginald," she repeated it after him, but went no farther in naming him.
"Because I love you better than in the world—"
"Ah, but say it"
"Because I love you, oh, so much better than all the world besides."
"Therefore, my own, own husband—"
"Therefore, my own, own—," Then she paused.
"Say the word"
"My own, own husband."
"I will be your true wife"
"I will be your own true loving wife." Then he kissed her again.
"That," he said, "is our little marriage ceremony under God's sky, and no other can be more binding. As soon as you, in the plentitude of your maiden power, will fix a day for the other one, and when we can get that over, then we will begin our little journey together."
"You haven't said anything."
"Haven't I? I thought I had said it all."
"But you haven't said it for yourself!"
"You say what you want,—and I'll repeat it quite as well as you did."
"I can't do that. Say it yourself."
"I will be your true husband for the rest of the journey;—by which I mean it to be understood that I take you into partnership on equal terms, but that I am to be allowed to manage the business just as I please."
"Yes;—that you shall," she said, quite in earnest.
"Only as you are practical and I am vague, I don't doubt that everything will fall into your hands before five years are over, and that I shall have to be told whether I can afford to buy a new book, and when I am to ask all the gentry to dinner."
"Now you are laughing at me because I shall know so little about anything."
"Come, dear; let us get over the stile and go on for another field, or we shall never get round the park." Then she jumped over after him, just touching his hand. "I was not laughing at you at all. I don't in the least doubt that in a very little time you will know everything about everything."
"I am so much afraid."
"You needn't be. I know you well enough for that. But suppose I had taken such a one as that young woman who was here with my poor cousin. Oh, heavens!"
"Perhaps you ought to have done so."
"I thank the Lord that hath delivered me."
"You ought,—you ought to have chosen some lady of high standing," said Mary, thinking with ineffable joy of the stately dame who was not to come to Bragton. "Do you know what I was thinking only the other day about it?—that you had gone up to London to look for some proper sort of person."
"And how did you mean to receive her?"
"I shouldn't have received her at all. I should have gone away. You can't do it now."
"What were you thanking the Lord for so heartily?"
"Were you? That is the sweetest thing you have said yet. My own;— my darling;—my dearest! If only I can so live that you may be able to thank the Lord for me in years to come!"
I will not trouble the reader with all that was said at every stile. No doubt very much of what has been told was repeated again and again so that the walk round the park was abnormally long. At last, however, they reached the house, and as they entered the hall, Mary whispered to him, "Who is to tell your aunt?" she said.
"Come along," he replied striding upstairs to his aunt's bedroom, where he knew she would be at this time. He opened the door without any notice and, having waited till Mary had joined him, led her forcibly into the middle of the room. "Here she is," he said; "my wife elect"
"We have managed it all, and there needn't be any more said about it except to settle the day. Mary has been looking about the house and learning her duty already. She'll be able to have every bedstead and every chair by heart, which is an advantage ladies seldom possess. Then Mary rushed forward and was received into the old woman's arms.
When Reginald left them, which he did very soon after the announcement was made, Lady Ushant had a great deal to say. "I have been thinking of it, my dear,—oh,—for years;—ever since he came to Hoppet Hall. But I am sure the best way is never to say anything. If I had interfered there is no knowing how it might have been."
"Then, dear Lady Ushant, I am so glad you didn't," said Mary,— being tolerably sure at the same time within her own bosom that her loving old friend could have done no harm in that direction. "I wouldn't say a word though I was always thinking of it. But then he is so odd, and no one can know what he means sometimes. That's what made me think when Mr. Twentyman was so very pressing—"
"That couldn't—couldn't have been possible."
"Poor young man!"
"But I always told him it was impossible."
"I wonder whether you cared about Reginald all that time." In answer to this Mary only hid her face in the old woman's lap. "Dear me! I suppose you did all along. But I am sure it was better not to say anything, and now what will your papa and mamma say?"
"They'll hardly believe it at first"
"I hope they'll be glad."
"Glad! Why what do you suppose they would want me to do? Dear papa! And dear mamma too, because she has really been good to me. I wonder when it must be?" Then that question was discussed at great length, and Lady Ushant had a great deal of very good advice to bestow. She didn't like long engagements, and it was very essential for Reginald's welfare that he should settle himself at Bragton as soon as possible. Mary's pleas for a long day were not very urgent.
That evening at Bragton was rather long and rather dull. It was almost the first that she had ever passed in company with Reginald, and there now seemed to be a necessity of doing something peculiar, whereas there was nothing peculiar to be done. It was his custom to betake himself to his books after dinner; but he could hardly do so with ease in company with the girl who had just promised him to be his wife. Lady Ushant too wished to show her extreme joy, and made flattering but vain attempts to be ecstatic. Mary, to tell the truth, was longing for solitude, feeling that she could not yet realise her happiness.
Not even when she was in bed could she reduce her mind to order. It would have been all but impossible even had he remained the comparative humble lord of Hoppet Hall;—but that the squire of Bragton should be her promised husband was a marvel so great that from every short slumber, she waked with fear of treacherous dreams. A minute's sleep might rob her of her joy and declare to her in the moment of waking that it was all an hallucination. It was not that he was dearer to her, or that her condition was the happier, because of his position and wealth; but that the chance of his inheritance had lifted him so infinitely above her! She thought of the little room at home which she generally shared with one of her sisters, of her all too scanty wardrobe, of her daily tasks about the house, of her stepmother's late severity, and of her father's cares. Surely he would not hinder her from being good to them; surely he would let the young girls come to her from time to time! What an added happiness it would be if he would allow her to pass on to them some sparks of the prosperity which he was bestowing on her. And then her thoughts travelled on to poor Larry. Would he not be more contented now;—now, when he would be certain that no further frantic efforts could avail him anything. Poor Larry! Would Reginald permit her to regard him as a friend? And would he submit to friendly treatment? She could look forward and see him happy with his wife, the best loved of their neighbours;— for who was there in the world better than Larry? But she did not know how two men who had both been her lovers, would allow themselves to be brought together. But, oh, what peril had been there! It was but the other day she had striven so hard to give the lie to her love and to become Larry's wife. She shuddered beneath the bedclothes as she thought of the danger she had run. One word would have changed all her Paradise into a perpetual wail of tears and waste of desolation. When she woke in the morning from her long sleep an effort was wanting to tell her that it was all true. Oh, if it had slipped from her then;—if she had waked after such a dream to find herself loving in despair with a sore bosom and angry heart!
She met him downstairs, early, in the study, having her first request to make to him. Might she go in at once after breakfast and tell them all? "I suppose I ought to go to your father," he said. "Let me go first," she pleaded, hanging on his arm. "I would not think that I was not mindful of them from the very beginning." So she was driven into Dillsborough in the pony carriage which had been provided for old Mrs. Morton's use, and told her own story. "Papa," she said, going to the office door. "Come into the house;— come at once." And then, within her father's arms, while her stepmother listened, she told them of her triumph. "Mr. Reginald Morton wants me to be his wife, and he is coming here to ask you."
"The Lord in heaven be good to us," said Mrs. Masters, holding up both her hands. "Is it true, child?"
"It is true, papa,—and,—and-"
"And what, my love?"
"When he comes to you, you must say I will be."
There was not much danger on that score. "Was it he that you told me of?" said the attorney. To this she only nodded her assent. "It was Reginald Morton all the time? Well!"
"Why shouldn't it be he?"
"Oh no, my dear! You are a most fortunate girl,—most fortunate! But somehow I never thought of it, that a child of mine should come to live at Bragton and have it, one may say, partly as her own! It is odd after all that has come and gone. God bless you, my dear, and make you happy. You are a very fortunate child."
Mrs. Masters was quite overpowered. She had thrown herself on to the old family sofa, and was fanning herself with her handkerchief. She had been wrong throughout, and was now completely humiliated by the family success; and yet she was delighted, though she did not dare to be triumphant. She had so often asked both father and daughter what good gentlemen would do to either of them; and now the girl was engaged to marry the richest gentleman in the neighbourhood! In any expression of joy she would be driven to confess how wrong she had always been. How often had she asked what would come of Ushanting. This it was that had come of Ushanting. The girl had been made fit to be the companion of such a one as Reginald Morton, and had now fallen into the position which was suited to her. "Of course we shall see nothing of you now," she said in a whimpering voice. It was not a gracious speech, but it was almost justified by disappointments.
"Mamma, you know that I shall never separate myself from you and the girls."
"Poor Larry!" said the woman sobbing. "Of course it is all for the best; but I don't know what he'll do now."
"You must tell him, papa," said Mary; "and give him my love and bid him be a man."
"Bid him be a Man"
"The little phaeton remained in Dillsborough to take Mary back to Bragton. As soon as she was gone the attorney went over to the Bush with the purpose of borrowing Runciman's pony, so that he might ride over to Chowton Farm and at once execute his daughter's last request. In the yard of the inn he saw Runciman himself, and was quite unable to keep his good news to himself. "My girl has just been with me," he said, "and what do you think she tells me?"
"That she is going to take poor Larry after all. She might do worse, Mr. Masters."
"Poor Larry! I am sorry for him. I have always liked Larry Twentyman. But that is all over now."
"She's not going to have that tweedledum young parson, surely?"
"Reginald Morton has made her a set offer."
"The squire!" Mr. Masters nodded his head three times. "You don't say so. Well, Mr. Masters, I don't begrudge it you. He might do worse. She has taken her pigs well to market at last!"
"He is to come to me at four this afternoon."
"Well done, Miss Mary! I suppose it's been going on ever so long?"
"We fathers and mothers," said the attorney, "never really know what the young ones are after. Don't mention it just at present, Runciman. You are such an old friend that I couldn't help telling you."
"I can have the pony, Runciman?"
"Certainly you can, Mr. Masters. Tell him to come in and talk it all over with me. If we don't look to it he'll be taking to drink regular." At that last meeting at the club, when the late squire's will was discussed, at which, as the reader may perhaps remember, a little supper was also discussed in honour of the occasion, poor Larry had not only been present, but had drunk so pottle-deep that the landlord had been obliged to put him to bed at the inn, and he had not been at all as he ought to have been after Lord Rufford's dinner. Such delinquencies were quite outside the young man's accustomed way of his life. It had been one of his recognised virtues that, living as he did a good deal among sporting men and with a full command of means, he had never drank. But now he had twice sinned before the eyes of all Dillsborough, and Runciman thought that he knew how it would be with a young man in his own house who got drunk in public to drown his sorrow. "I wouldn't see Larry go astray and spoil himself with liquor," said the good-natured publican; "for more than I should like to name." Mr. Masters promised to take the hint, and rode off on his mission.
The entrance to Chowton Farm and Bragton gate were nearly opposite, the latter being perhaps a furlong nearer to Dillsborough. The attorney when he got to the gate stopped a moment and looked up the avenue with pardonable pride. The great calamity of his life, the stunning blow which had almost unmanned him when he was young, and from which he had never quite been able to rouse himself, had been the loss of the management of the Bragton property. His grandfather and his father had been powerful at Bragton, and he had been brought up in the hope of walking in their paths. Then strangers had come in, and he had been dispossessed. But how was it with him now? It had almost made a young man of him again when Reginald Morton, stepping into his office, asked him as a favour to resume his old task. But what was that in comparison with this later triumph? His own child was to be made queen of the place! His grandson, should she be fortunate enough to be the mother of a son, would be the squire himself! His visits to the place for the last twenty years had been very rare indeed. He had been sent for lately by old Mrs. Morton,—for a purpose which if carried out would have robbed him of all his good fortune,—but he could not remember when, before that, he had even passed through the gateway. Now it would all become familiar to him again. That pony of Runciman's was pleasant in his paces, and he began to calculate whether the innkeeper would part with the animal. He stood thus gazing at the place for some minutes till he saw Reginald Morton in the distance turning a corner of the road with Mary at his side. He had taken her from the phaeton and had then insisted on her coming out with him before she took off her hat. Mr. Masters as soon as he saw them trotted off to Chowton Farm.
Finding Larry lounging at the little garden gate Mr. Masters got off the pony and taking the young man's arm, walked off with him towards Dillsborough Wood. He told all his news at once, almost annihilating poor Larry by the suddenness of the blow. "Larry, Mr. Reginald Morton has asked my girl to marry him, and she has accepted him."
"The new squire!" said Larry, stopping himself on the path, and looking as though a gentle wind would suffice to blow him over.
"I suppose it has been that way all along, Larry, though we have not known it."
"It was Mr. Morton then that she told me of?"
"She did tell you?"
"Of course there was no chance for me if he wanted her. But why didn't they speak out, so that I could have gone away? Oh, Mr. Masters!"
"It was only yesterday she knew it herself."
"She must have guessed it"
"No;—she knew nothing till he declared himself. And to-day, this very morning, she has bade me come to you and let you know it. And she sent you her love."
"Her love!" said Larry, chucking the stick which he held in his hands down to the ground and then stooping to pick it up again.
"Yes;—her love. Those were her words, and I am to tell you from her—to be a man."
"Did she say that?"
"Yes;—I was to come out to you at once, and bring you that as a message from her."
"Be a man! I could have been a man right enough if she would have made me one; as good a man as Reginald Morton, though he is squire of Bragton. But of course I couldn't have given her a house like that, nor a carriage, nor made her one of the county people. If it was to go in that way, what could I hope for?"
"Don't be unjust to her, Larry."
"Unjust to her! If giving her every blessed thing I had in the world at a moment's notice was unjust, I was ready to be unjust any day of the week or any hour of the day."
"What I mean is that her heart was fixed that way before Reginald Morton was squire of Bragton. What shall I say in answer to her message? You will wish her happiness;—will you not?"
"Wish her happiness! Oh, heavens!" He could not explain what was in his mind. Wish her happiness! yes;—the happiness of the angels. But not him, nor yet with him! And as there could be no arranging of this, he must leave his wishes unsettled. And yet there was a certain relief to him in the tidings he had heard. There was now no more doubt. He need not now remain at Chowton thinking it possible that the girl might even yet change her mind.
"And you will bear in that she wishes you to be a man."
"Why did she not make me one? But that is all, all over. You tell her from me that I am not the man to whimper because I am hurt. What ought a man to do that I can't do?"
"Let her know that you are going about your old pursuits. And, Larry, would you wish her to know how it was with you at the club last Saturday?"
"Did she hear of that?"
"I am sure she has not heard of it. But if that kind of thing becomes a habit, of course she will hear of it. All Dillsborough would hear of it, if that became common. At any rate it is not manly to drown it in drink."
"Who says I do that? Nothing will drown it."
"I wouldn't speak if I had not known you so long, and loved you so well. What she means is that you should work."
"I do work."
"And hunt. Go out to-morrow and show yourself to everybody."
"If I could break my neck I would."
"Don't let every farmer's son in the county say that Lawrence Twentyman was so mastered by a girl that he couldn't ride on horseback when she said him nay."
"Everybody knows it, Mr. Masters."
"Go among them as if nobody knew it. I'll warrant that nobody will speak of it"
"I don't think any one of 'em would dare to do that," said Larry brandishing his stick.
"Where is it that the hounds are Larry?"
"Here; at the old kennel."
"Go out and let her see that you have taken her advice. She is there at the house, and she will recognise you in the park. Remember that she sends her love to you, and bids you be a man. And, Larry, come in and see us sometimes. The time will come, I don't doubt, when you and the squire will be fast friends."
"You do not know what time can do. I'll just go back now because he is to come to me this afternoon. Try and bear up and remember that it is she who bids you be a man." The attorney got upon his pony and rode back to Dillsborough.
Larry who had come back to the yard to see his friend off, returned by the road into the fields, and went wandering about for a while in Dillsborough Wood. "Bid him be a man!" Wasn't he a man? Was it disgraceful to him as a man to be broken-hearted, because a woman would not love him? If he were provoked he would fight,—perhaps better than ever, because he would be reckless. Would he not be ready to fight Reginald Morton with any weapon which could be thought of for the possession of Mary Masters? If she were in danger would he not go down into the deep, or through fire to save her? Were not his old instincts of honesty and truth as strong in him as ever? Did manliness require that his heart should be invulnerable? If so he doubted whether he could ever be a man.
But what if she meant that manliness required him to hide the wound? Then there did come upon him a feeling of shame as he remembered how often he had spoken of his love to those who were little better than strangers to him, and thought that perhaps such loquacity was opposed to the manliness which she recommended. And his conscience smote him as it brought to his recollection the condition of his mind as he woke in Runciman's bed at the Bush on last Sunday morning. That at any rate had not been manly. How would it be with him if he made up his mind never to speak again to her, and certainly not to him, and to take care that that should be the only sign left of his suffering? He would hunt, and be keener than ever;—he would work upon the land with increased diligence; he would give himself not a moment to think of anything. She should see and hear what he could do;—but he would never speak to her again. The hounds would be at the old kennels to-morrow. He would be there. The place no doubt was Morton's property, but on hunting mornings all the lands of the county,—and of the next counties if they can be reached,—are the property of the hunt. Yes; he would be there; and she would see him in his scarlet coat, and smartest cravat, with his boots and breeches neat as those of Lord Rufford; and she should know that he was doing as she bade him. But he would never speak to her again!
As he was returning round the wood, whom should he see skulking round the corner of it but Goarly?
"What business have you in here?" he said, feeling half-inclined to take the man by the neck and drag him out of the copse.
"I saw you, Mr. Twentyman, and I wanted just to have a word with you."
"You are the biggest rascal in all Rufford," said Larry. "I wonder the lads have left you with a whole bone in your skin."
"What have I done worse than any other poor man, Mr. Twentyman? When I took them herrings I didn't know there was p'ison; and if I hadn't took 'em, another would. I am going to cut it out of this, Mr. Twentyman."
"May the — go along with you!" said Larry, wishing his neighbour a very unpleasant companion.
"And of course I must sell the place. Think what it would be to you! I shouldn't like it to go into his Lordship's hands. It's all through Bean I know, but his Lordship has had a down on me ever since he came to the property. It's as true as true about my old woman's geese. There's forty acres of it. What would you say to 40 pounds an acre?"
The idea of having the two extra fields made Larry's mouth water, in spite of all his misfortunes. The desire for land among such as Larry Twentyman is almost a disease in England. With these two fields he would be able to walk almost round Dillsborough Wood without quitting his own property. He had been talking of selling Chowton within the last week or two. He had been thinking of selling it at the moment when Mr. Masters rode up to him. And yet now he was almost tempted to a new purchase by this man. But the man was too utterly a blackguard,—was too odious to him.
"If it comes into the market, I may bid for it as well as another," he said, "but I wouldn't let myself down to have any dealings with you."
"Then, Mr. Larry, you shall never have a sod of it," said Goarly, dropping himself over the fence on to his own field.
A few minutes afterwards Larry met Bean, and told him that Goarly had been in the wood. "If I catch him, Mr. Twentyman, I'll give him sore bones," said Bean. "I wonder how he ever got back to his own place alive that day." Then Bean asked Larry whether he meant to be at the meet to-morrow, and Larry said that he thought he should. "Tony's almost afraid to bring them in even yet," said Bean; "but if there's a herring left in this wood, I'll eat it myself— strychnine and all."
After that Larry went and looked at his horses, and absolutely gave his mare "Bicycle" a gallop round the big grass field himself. Then those who were about the place knew that something had happened, and that he was in a way to be cured. "You'll hunt to-morrow, won't you, Larry?" said his mother affectionately.
"Who told you?"
"Nobody told me;—but you will, Larry; won't you?"
"May be I will." Then, as he was leaving the room, when he was in the door-way, so that she should not see his face, he told her the news. "She's going to marry the squire, yonder."
"I always hated him from the first moment I saw him. What do you expect from a fellow who never gets a-top of a horse?" Then he turned away, and was not seen again till long after teatime.
"Is it tanti?"
Reginald Morton entertained serious thoughts of cleansing himself from the reproach which Larry cast upon him when describing his character to his mother. "I think I shall take to hunting," he said to Mary.
"But you'll tumble off, dear."
"No doubt I shall, and I must try to begin in soft places. I don't see why I shouldn't do it gradually in a small way. I shouldn't ever become a Nimrod, like Lord Rufford or your particular friend Mr. Twentyman."
"He is my particular friend."
"So I perceive. I couldn't shine as he shines, but I might gradually learn to ride after him at a respectful distance. A man at Rome ought to do as the Romans do."
"Why wasn't Hoppet Hall Rome as much as Bragton?"
"Well;—it wasn't. While fortune enabled me to be happy at Hoppet Hall—"
"That is unkind, Reg."
"While fortune oppressed me with celibate misery at Hoppet Hall, nobody hated me for not hunting;—and as I could not very well afford it, I was not considered to be entering a protest against the amusement. As it is now I find that unless I consent to risk my neck at any rate five or six times every winter, I shall be regarded in that light"
"I wouldn't be frightened into doing anything I didn't like," said Mary.
"How do you know that I shan't like it? The truth is I have had a letter this morning from a benevolent philosopher which has almost settled the question for me. He wants me to join a society for the suppression of British sports as being barbarous and antipathetic to the intellectual pursuits of an educated man. I would immediately shoot, fish, hunt and go out ratting, if I could hope for the least success. I know I should never shoot anything but the dog and the gamekeepers, and that I should catch every weed in the river; but I think that in the process of seasons I might jump over a hedge."
"Kate will show you the way to do that"
"With Kate and Mr. Twentyman to help me, and a judicious system of liberal tips to Tony Tuppett, I could make my way about on a quiet old nag, and live respected by my neighbours. The fact is I hate with my whole heart the trash of the philanimalist."
"What is a-a—I didn't quite catch the thing you hate?"
"The thing is a small knot of self-anxious people who think that they possess among them all the bowels of the world."
"Possess all the what, Reginald?"
"I said bowels,—using an ordinary but very ill-expressed metaphor. The ladies and gentlemen to whom I allude, not looking very clearly into the systems of pains and pleasures in accordance with which we have to live, put their splay feet down now upon this ordinary operation and now upon that, and call upon the world to curse the cruelty of those who will not agree with them. A lady whose tippet is made from the skins of twenty animals who have been wired in the snow and then left to die of starvation—"
"That is the way of it. I am not now saying whether it is right or wrong. The lady with the tippet will justify the wires and the starvation because, as she will say, she uses the fur. An honest blanket would keep her just as warm. But the fox who suffers perhaps ten minutes of agony should he not succeed as he usually does in getting away,—is hunted only for amusement! It is true that the one fox gives amusement for hours to perhaps some hundred; but it is only for amusement. What riles me most is that these would-be philosophers do not or will not see that recreation is as necessary to the world as clothes or food, and the providing of the one is as legitimate a business as the purveying of the other."
"People must eat and wear clothes."
"And practically they must be amused. They ignore the great doctrine of 'tanti.'"
"I never heard of it"
"You shall, dear, some day. It is the doctrine by which you should regulate everything you do and every word you utter. Now do you and Kate put on your hats and we'll walk to the bridge."
This preaching of a sermon took place after breakfast at Bragton on the morning of Saturday, and the last order had reference to a scheme they had on foot to see the meet at the old kennels. On the previous afternoon Reginald Morton had come into Dillsborough and had very quietly settled everything with the attorney. Having made up his mind to do the thing he was very quick in the doing of it. He hated the idea of secrecy in such an affair, and when Mrs. Masters asked him whether he had any objection to have the marriage talked about, expressed his willingness that she should employ the town crier to make it public if she thought it expedient. "Oh, Mr. Morton, how very funny you are," said the lady. "Quite in earnest, Mrs. Masters," he replied. Then he kissed the two girls who were to be his sisters, and finished the visit by carrying off the younger to spend a day or two with her sister at Bragton. "I know," he said, whispering to Mary as he left the front door, "that I ought not to go out hunting so soon after my poor cousin's death; but as he was a cousin once removed, I believe I may walk as far as the bridge without giving offence."
When they were there they saw all the arrivals just as they were seen on the same spot a few months earlier by a very different party. Mary and Kate stood on the bridge together, while he remained a little behind leaning on the style. She, poor girl, had felt some shame in showing herself, knowing that some who were present would have heard of her engagement, and that others would be told of it as soon as she was seen. "Are you ashamed of what you are going to do?" he asked.
"Ashamed! I don't suppose that there is a girl in England so proud as I am at this minute."
"I don't know that there is anything to be proud of, but if you are not ashamed, why shouldn't you show yourself? Marriage is an honourable state!" She could only pinch his arm, and do as he bade her.
Glomax in his tandem, and Lord Rufford in his drag, were rather late. First there came one or two hunting men out of the town, Runciman, Dr. Nupper, and the hunting saddler. Then there arrived Henry Stubbings with a string of horses, mounted by little boys, ready for his customers, and full of wailing to his friend Runciman. Here was nearly the end of March and the money he had seen since Christmas was little more, as he declared, than what he could put into his eye and see none the worse. "Charge 'em ten per cent interest," said Runciman. "Then they thinks they can carry on for another year," said Stubbings despondingly. While this was going on, Larry walked his favourite mare "Bicycle" on to the ground, dressed with the utmost care, but looking very moody, almost fierce, as though he did not wish anybody to speak to him. Tony Tuppett, who had known him since a boy, nodded at him affectionately, and said how glad he was to see him;—but even this was displeasing to Larry. He did not see the girls on the bridge, but took up his place near them. He was thinking so much of his own unhappiness and of what he believed others would say of him, that he saw almost nothing. There he sat on his mare, carrying out the purpose to which he had been led by Mary's message, but wishing with all his heart that he was back again, hidden within his own house at the other side of the wood.
Mary, as soon as she saw him, blushed up to her eyes, then turning round looked with wistful eyes into the face of the man she was engaged to marry, and with rapid step walked across the bridge up to the side of Larry's horse, and spoke to him with her sweet low voice. "Larry," she said. He turned round to her very quickly, showing how much he was startled. Then she put up her hand to him, and of course he took it. "Larry, I am so glad to see you. Did papa give you a message?"
"Yes, Miss Masters. He told me, I know it all."
"Say a kind word to me, Larry."
"I—I—I—You know very well what's in my mind. Though it were to kill me, I should wish you well"
"I hope you'll have a good hunt, Larry." Then she retired back to the bridge and again looked to her lover to know whether he would approve. There were so few there, and Larry had been so far apart from the others, that she was sure no one had heard the few words which had passed between them; nor could anyone have observed what she had done, unless it were old Nupper, or Mr. Runciman, or Tony Tuppett. But yet she thought that it perhaps was bold, and that he would be angry. But he came up to her, and placing himself between her and Kate, whispered into her ear, "Bravely done, my girl. After a little I will try to be as brave, but I could never do it as well." Larry in the meantime had moved his mare away, and before the Master had arrived, was walking slowly up his own road to Chowton Farm.
The Captain was soon there, and Lord Rufford with his friends, and Harry Stubbings' string, and Tony were set in motion. But before they stirred there was a consultation, to which Bean the gamekeeper was called,—as to the safety of Dillsborough Wood. Dillsborough Wood had not been drawn yet since Scrobby's poison had taken effect on the old fox, and there were some few who affected to think that there still might be danger. Among these was the Master himself, who asked Fred Botsey with a sneer whether he thought that such hounds as those were to be picked up at every corner. But Bean again offered to eat any herring that might be there, poison included, and Lord Rufford laughed at the danger. "It's no use my having foxes, Glomax, if you won't draw the cover." This the Lord said with a touch of anger, and the Lord's anger, if really roused, might be injurious. It was therefore decided that the hounds should again be put through the Bragton shrubberies,—just for compliment to the new squire; and that then they should go off to Dillsborough Wood as rapidly as might be.
Larry walked his beast all the way up home very slowly, and getting off her, put her into the stable and went into the house.
"Is anything wrong?" asked the mother.
"Everything is wrong." Then he stood with his back to the kitchen fire for nearly half an hour without speaking a word. He was trying to force himself to follow out her idea of manliness, and telling himself that it was impossible. The first tone of her voice, the first glance at her face, had driven him home. Why had she called him Larry again and again, so tenderly, in that short moment, and looked at him with those loving eyes? Then he declared to himself, without uttering a word, that she did not understand anything about it; she did not comprehend the fashion of his love when she thought, as she did think, that a soft word would be compensation. He looked round to see if his mother or the servant were there, and when he found that the coast was clear, he dashed his hands to his eyes and knocked away the tears. He threw up both his arms and groaned, and then he remembered her message, "Bid him be a man."
At that moment he heard the sound of horses, and going near the window, so as to be hidden from curious eyes as they passed, he saw the first whip trot on, with the hounds after him, and Tony Tuppett among them. Then there was a long string of horsemen, all moving up to the wood, and a carriage or two, and after them the stragglers of the field. He let them all go by, and then he repeated the words again, "Bid him be a man."
He took up his hat, jammed it on his head, and went out into the yard. As he crossed to the stables Runciman came up alone. "Why, Larry, you'll be late," he said.
"Go on, Mr. Runciman, I'll follow."
"I'll wait till you are mounted. You'll be better for somebody with you. You've got the mare, have you? You'll show some of them your heels if they get away from here. Is she as fast as she was last year, do you think?"
"Upon my word I don't know," said Larry, as he dragged himself into the saddle.
"Shake yourself, old fellow, and don't carry on like that. What is she after all but a girl?" The poor fellow looked at his intending comforter, but couldn't speak a word. "A man shouldn't let himself be put upon by circumstances so as to be only half himself. Hang it, man, cheer up, and don't let 'em see you going about like that. It ain't what a fellow of your kidney ought to be. If they haven't found I'm a nigger,—and by the holy he's away. Come along Larry and forget the petticoats for half an hour." So saying, Runciman broke into a gallop, and Larry's mare doing the same, he soon passed the innkeeper and was up at the covert side just as Tony Tuppett with half a score of hounds round him, was forcing his way through the bushes, out of the coverts into the open field. "There ain't no poison this time, Mr. Twentyman," said the huntsman, as, setting his eye on a gap in the further fence, he made his way across the field.
The fox headed away for a couple of miles towards Impington, as was the custom with the Dillsborough foxes, and then turning to the left was soon over the country borders into Ufford. The pace from the first starting was very good. Larry, under such provocation as that of course would ride, and he did ride. Up as far as the country brook, many were well up. The land was no longer deep; and as the field had not been scattered at the starting, all the men who usually rode were fairly well placed as they came to the brook; but it was acknowledged afterwards that Larry was over it the first. Glomax got into it,—as he always does into brooks, and young Runce hurt his horse's shoulder at the opposite bank. Lord Rufford's horse balked it, to the Lord's disgust; but took it afterwards, not losing very much ground. Tony went in and out, the crafty old dog knowing the one bit of hard ground. Then they crossed Purbeck field, as it is still called—which twenty years since was a wide waste of land, but is now divided by new fences, very grievous to half-blown horses. Sir John Purefoy got a nasty fall over some stiff timber, and here many a half-hearted rider turned to the right into the lane. Hampton and his Lordship, and Battersby, with Fred Botsey and Larry, took it all as it came, but through it all not one of them could give Larry a lead. Then there was manoeuvring into a wood and out of it again, and that saddest of all sights to the riding man, a cloud of horsemen on the road as well placed as though they had ridden the line throughout. In getting out of the road Hampton's horse slipped up with him, and, though he saw it all, he was never able again to compete for a place. The fox went through the Hampton Wick coverts without hanging a moment, just throwing the hounds for two minutes off their scent at the gravel pits. The check was very useful to Tony, who had got his second horse and came up sputtering, begging the field for G—'s sake to be,—in short to be anywhere but where they were. Then they were off again down the hill to the left, through Mappy springs and along the top of Ilveston copse, every yard of which is grass, till the number began to be select. At last in a turnip field, three yards from the fence, they turned him over, and Tony, as he jumped off his horse among the hounds, acknowledged to himself that Larry might have had his hand first upon the animal had he cared to do so.