The American Senator, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXI

The first Evening at Rufford Hall

The phaeton arrived the first, the driver having been especially told by Arabella that he need not delay on the road for the other carriage. She had calculated that she might make her entrance with better effect alone with her mother than in company with Morton and the Senator. It would have been worth the while of any one who had witnessed her troubles on that morning to watch the bland serenity and happy ease with which she entered the room. Her mother was fond of a prominent place but was quite contented on this occasion to play a second fiddle for her daughter. She had seen at a glance that Rufford Hall was a delightful house. Oh — if it might become the home of her child and her grandchildren — and possibly a retreat for herself! Arabella was certainly very handsome at this moment. Never did she look better than when got up with care for travelling, especially as seen by an evening light. Her slow motions were adapted to heavy wraps, and however she might procure her large sealskin jacket she graced it well when she had it. Lord Rufford came to the door to meet them and immediately introduced them to his sister. There were six or seven people in the room, mostly ladies, and tea was offered to the new-comers. Lady Penwether was largely made, like her brother; but was a languidly lovely woman, not altogether unlike Arabella herself in her figure and movements, but with a more expressive face, with less colour, and much more positive assurance of high breeding. Lady Penwether was said to be haughty, but it was admitted by all people that when Lady Penwether had said a thing or had done a thing, it might be taken for granted that the way in which she had done or said that thing was the right way. The only other gentleman there was Major Caneback, who had just come in from hunting with some distant pack and who had been brought into the room by Lord Rufford that he might give some account of the doings of the day. According to Caneback, they had been talking in the Brake country about nothing but Goarly and the enormities which had been perpetrated to the U.R.U. “By-the-bye, Miss Trefoil,” said Lord Rufford, “what have you done with your Senator?”

“He’s on the road, Lord Rufford, examining English institutions as he comes along. He’ll be here by midnight.”

“Imagine the man coming to me and telling me that he was a friend of Goarly’s. I rather liked him for it. There was a thorough pluck about it. They say he’s going to find all the money.”

“I thought Mr. Scrobby was to do that?” said Lady Penwether.

“Mr. Scrobby will not have the slightest objection to have that part of the work done for him. If all we hear is true Miss Trefoil’s Senator may have to defend both Scrobby and Goarly.”

“My Senator as you call him will be quite up to the occasion.”

“You knew him in America, Miss Trefoil?” asked Lady Penwether.

“Oh yes. We used to meet him and Mrs. Gotobed everywhere. But we didn’t exactly bring him over with us; — though our party down to Bragton was made up in Washington,” she added, feeling that she might in this way account in some degree for her own presence in John Morton’s house. “It was mamma and Mr. Morton arranged it all.”

“Oh my dear it was you and the Senator,” said Lady Augustus, ready for the occasion.

“Miss Trefoil,” said the lord, “let us have it all out at once. Are you taking Goarly’s part?”

“Taking Goarly’s part!” ejaculated the Major. Arabella affected to give a little start, as though frightened by the Major’s enthusiasm. “For heaven’s. sake let us know our foes,” continued Lord Rufford. “You see the effect such an announcement had upon Major Caneback. Have you made an appointment before dawn with Mr. Scrobby under the elms? Now I look at you I believe in my heart you’re a Goarlyite — only without the Senator’s courage to tell me the truth beforehand.”

“I really am very much obliged to Goarly,” said Arabella, “because it is so nice to have something to talk about.”

“That’s just what I think, Miss Trefoil,” declared a young lady, Miss Penge, who was a friend of Lady Penwether. “The gentlemen have so much to say about hunting which nobody can understand! But now this delightful man has scattered poison all over the country there is something that comes home to our understanding. I declare myself a Goarlyite at once, Lord Rufford, and shall put myself under the Senator’s leading directly he comes.”

During all this time not a word had been said of John Morton, the master of Bragton, the man to whose party these new-comers belonged. Lady Augustus and Arabella clearly understood that John Morton was only a peg on which the invitation to them had been hung. The feeling that it was so grew upon them with every word that was spoken — and also the conviction that he must be treated like a peg at Rufford. The sight of the hangings of the room, so different to the old-fashioned dingy curtains at Bragton, the brilliancy of the mirrors, all the decorations of the place, the very blaze from the big grate, forced upon the girl’s feelings a conviction that this was her proper sphere. Here she was, being made much of as a new-comer, and here if possible she must remain. Everything smiled on her with gilded dimples, and these were the smiles she valued. As the softness of the cushions sank into her heart, and mellow nothingnesses from well-trained voices greeted her ears, and the air of wealth and idleness floated about her cheeks, her imagination rose within her and assured her that she could secure something better than Bragton. The cautions with which she had armed herself faded away. This, this was the kind of thing for which she had been striving. As a girl of spirit was it not worth her while to make another effort even though there might be danger? Aut Caesar aut nihil. She knew nothing about Caesar; but before the tardy wheels which brought the Senator and Mr. Morton had stopped at the door she had declared to herself that she would be Lady Rufford. The fresh party was of course brought into the drawing-room and tea was offered; but Arabella hardly spoke to them, and Lady Augustus did not speak to them at all, and they were shown up to their bedrooms with very little preliminary conversation.

It was very hard to put Mr. Gotobed down; — or it might be more correctly said, as there was no effort to put him down — that it was not often that he failed in coming to the surface. He took Lady Penwether out to dinner and was soon explaining to her that this little experiment of his in regard to Goarly was being tried simply with the view of examining the institutions of the country. “We don’t mind it from you,” said Lady Penwether, “because you are in a certain degree a foreigner.” The Senator declared himself flattered by being regarded as a foreigner only “in a certain degree.” “You see you speak our language, Mr. Gotobed, and we can’t help thinking you are half-English.”

“We are two-thirds English, my lady,” said Mr. Gotobed; “but then we think the other third is an improvement.”

“Very likely.”

“We have nothing so nice as this;” as he spoke he waved his right hand to the different corners of the room. “Such a dinner-table as I am sitting down to now couldn’t be fixed in all the United States though a man might spend three times as many dollars on it as his lordship does.”

“That is very often done, I should think.”

“But then as we have nothing so well done as a house like this, so also have we nothing so ill done as the houses of your poor people.”

“Wages are higher with you, Mr. Gotobed”

“And public spirit, and the philanthropy of the age, and the enlightenment of the people, and the institutions of the country all round. They are all higher.”

“Canvas-back ducks,” said the Major, who was sitting two or three off on the other side.

“Yes, sir, we have canvas-back ducks.”

“Make up for a great many faults,” said the Major.

“Of course, sir, when a man’s stomach rises above his intelligence he’ll have to argue accordingly,” said the Senator.

“Caneback, what are you going to ride to-morrow?” asked the lord who saw the necessity of changing the conversation, as far at least as the Major was concerned.

“Jemima; — mare of Purefoy’s; have my neck broken, they tell me.”

“It’s not improbable,” said Sir John Purefoy who was sitting at Lady Penwether’s left hand. “Nobody ever could ride her yet.”

“I was thinking of asking you to let Miss Trefoil try her,” said Lord Rufford. Arabella was sitting between Sir John Purefoy and the Major.

“Miss Trefoil is quite welcome,” said Sir John. “It isn’t a bad idea. Perhaps she may carry a lady, because she has never been tried. I know that she objects strongly to carry a man.”

“My dear,” said Lady Augustus, “you shan’t do anything of the kind.” And Lady Augustus pretended to be frightened.

“Mamma, you don’t suppose Lord Rufford wants to kill me at once.”

“You shall either ride her, Miss Trefoil, or my little horse Jack. But I warn you beforehand that as Jack is the easiest ridden horse in the country, and can scramble over anything, and never came down in his life, you won’t get any honour and glory; but on Jemima you might make a character that would stick to you till your dying day.”

“But if I ride Jemima that dying day might be to-morrow. I think I’ll take Jack, Lord Rufford, and let Major Caneback have the honour. Is Jack fast?” In this way the anger arising between the Senator and the Major was assuaged. The Senator still held his own, and, before the question was settled between Jack and Jemima, had told the company that no Englishman knew how to ride, and that the only seat fit for a man on horseback was that suited for the pacing horses of California and Mexico. Then he assured Sir John Purefoy that eighty miles a day was no great journey for a pacing horse, with a man of fourteen stone and a saddle and accoutrements weighing four more. The Major’s countenance, when the Senator declared that no Englishman could ride, was a sight worth seeing.

That evening, even in the drawing-room, the conversation was chiefly about horses and hunting, and those terrible enemies Goarly and Scrobby. Lady Penwether and Miss Penge who didn’t hunt were distantly civil to Lady Augustus of whom of course a woman so much in the world as Lady Penwether knew something. Lady Penwether had shrugged her shoulders when consulted as to these special guests and had expressed a hope that Rufford “wasn’t going to make a goose of himself.” But she was fond of her brother and as both Lady Purefoy and Miss Penge were special friends of hers, and as she had also been allowed to invite a couple of Godolphin’s girls to whom she wished to be civil, she did as she was asked. The girl, she said to Miss Penge that evening, was handsome, but penniless and a flirt. The mother she declared to be a regular old soldier. As to Lady Augustus she was right; but she had perhaps failed to read Arabella’s character correctly. Arabella Trefoil was certainly not a flirt. In all the horsey conversation Arabella joined, and her low, clear, slow voice could be heard now and then as though she were really animated with the subject. At Bragton she had never once spoken as though any matter had interested her. During this time Morton fell into conversation first with Lady Purefoy and then with the two Miss Godolphins, and afterwards for a few minutes with Lady Penwether who knew that he was a county gentleman and a respectable member of the diplomatic profession. But during the whole evening his ear was intent on the notes of Arabella’s voice; and also, during the whole evening, her eye was watching him. She would not lose her chance with Lord Rufford for want of any effort on her own part. If aught were required from her in her present task that might be offensive to Mr. Morton — anything that was peremptorily demanded for the effort — she would not scruple to offend the man. But if it might be done without offence, so much the better. Once he came across the room and said a word to her as she was talking to Lord Rufford and the Purefoys. “You are really in earnest about riding to-morrow.”

“Oh dear, yes. Why shouldn’t I be in earnest?”

“You are coming out yourself I hope,” said the Lord.

“I have no horses here of my own, but I have told that man Stubbings to send me something, and as I haven’t been at Bragton for the last seven years I have nothing proper to wear. I shan’t be called a Goarlyite I hope if I appear in trowsers.”

“Not unless you have a basket of red herrings on your arm,” said Lord Rufford. Then Morton retired back to the Miss Godolphins finding that he had nothing more to say to Arabella.

He was very angry — though he hardly knew why or with whom. A girl when she is engaged is not supposed to talk to no one but her recognised lover in a mixed party of ladies and gentlemen, and she is especially absolved from such a duty when they chance to meet in the house of a comparative stranger. In such a house and among such people it was natural that the talk should be about hunting, and as the girl had accepted the loan of a horse it was natural that she should join in such conversation. She had never sat for a moment apart with Lord Rufford. It was impossible to say that she had flirted with the man — and yet Morton felt that he was neglected, and felt also that he was only there because this pleasure-seeking young Lord had liked to have in his house the handsome girl whom he, Morton, intended to marry. He felt thoroughly ashamed of being there as it were in the train of Miss Trefoil. He was almost disposed to get up and declare that the girl was engaged to marry him. He thought that he could put an end to the engagement without breaking his heart; but if the engagement was an engagement he could not submit to treatment such as this, either from her or from others. He would see her for the last time in the country at the ball on the following evening — as of course he would not be near her during the hunting — and then he would make her understand that she must be altogether his or altogether cease to be his. And so resolving he went to bed, refusing to join the gentlemen in the smoking-room.

“Oh, mamma,” Arabella said to her mother that evening, “I do so wish I could break my arm tomorrow.”

“Break your arm, my dear!”

“Or my leg would be better. I wish I could have the courage to chuck myself off going over some gate. If I could be laid up here now with a broken limb I really think I could do it.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43