The American Senator, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter III

At Cheltenham

The month at Cheltenham was passed very quietly and would have been a very happy month with Mary Masters but that there grew upon her from day to day increasing fears of what she would have to undergo when she returned to Dillsborough. At the moment when she was hesitating with Larry Twentyman, when she begged him to wait six months and then at last promised to give him an answer at the end of two, she had worked herself up to think that it might possibly be her duty to accept her lover for the sake of her family. At any rate she had at that moment thought that the question of duty ought to be further considered, and therefore she had vacillated. When the two months’ delay was accorded to her, and within that period the privilege of a long absence from Dillsborough, she put the trouble aside for a while with the common feeling that the chapter of accidents might do something for her. Before she had reached Cheltenham the chapter of accidents had done much. When Reginald Morton told her that he could not have congratulated her on such prospects, and had explained to her why in truth he had been angry at the bridge — how he had been anxious to be alone with her that he might learn whether she were really engaged to this man — then she had known that her answer to Larry Twentyman at the end of the two months must be a positive refusal.

But as she became aware of this a new trouble arose and harassed her very soul. When she had asked for the six months she had not at the moment been aware, she had not then felt, that a girl who asks for time is supposed to have already surrendered. But since she had made that unhappy request the conviction had grown upon her. She had read it in every word her stepmother said to her and in her father’s manner. The very winks and hints and little jokes which fell from her younger sisters told her that it was so. She could see around her the satisfaction which had come from the settlement of that difficult question — a satisfaction which was perhaps more apparent with her father than even with the others. Then she knew what she had done, and remembered to have heard that a girl who expresses a doubt is supposed to have gone beyond doubting. While she was still at Dillsborough there was a feeling that no evil would arise from this if she could at last make up her mind to be Mrs. Twentyman; but when the settled conviction came upon her, after hearing Reginald Morton’s words, then she was much troubled.

He stayed only a couple of days at Cheltenham and during that time said very little to her. He certainly spoke no word which would give her a right to think that he himself was attached to her. He had been interested about her, as was his aunt, Lady Ushant, because she had been known and her mother had been known by the old Mortons. But there was nothing of love in all that. She had never supposed that there would be; and yet there was a vague feeling in her bosom that as he had been strong in expressing his objection to Mr. Twentyman there might have been something more to stir him than the memory of those old days at Bragton!

“To my thinking there is a sweetness about her which I have never seen equalled in any young woman.” This was said by Lady Ushant to her nephew after Mary had gone to bed on the night before he left.

“One would suppose,” he answered, “that you wanted me to ask her to be my wife.”

“I never want anything of that kind, Reg. I never make in such matters — or mar if I can help it.”

“There is a man at Dillsborough wants to marry her.”

“I can easily believe that there should be two or three. Who is the man?”

“Do you remember old Twentyman of Chowton?”

“He was our near neighbour. Of course I remember him. I can remember well when they bought the land.”

“It is his son.”

“Surely he can hardly be worthy of her, Reg”

“And yet they say he is very worthy. I have asked about him, and he is not a bad fellow. He keeps his money and has ideas of living decently. He doesn’t drink or gamble. But he’s not a gentleman or anything like one. I should think he never opens a book. Of course it would be a degradation.”

“And what does Mary say herself?”

“I fancy she has refused him.” Then he added after a pause, “Indeed I know she has.”

“How should you know? Has she told you?” In answer to this he only nodded his head at the old lady. “There must have been close friendship, Reg, between you two when she told you that. I hope you have not made her give up one suitor by leading her to love another who does not mean to ask her.”

“I certainly have not done that,” said Reg. Men may often do much without knowing that they do anything, and such probably had been the case with Reginald Morton during the journey from Dillsborough to Cheltenham.

“What would her father wish?”

“They all want her to take the man.”

“How can she do better?”

“Would you have her marry a man who is not a gentleman, whose wife will never be visited by other ladies; in marrying whom she would go altogether down into another and a lower world?”

This was a matter on which Lady Ushant and her nephew had conversed often, and he thought he knew her to be thoroughly wedded to the privileges which she believed to be attached to her birth. With him the same feeling was almost the stronger because he was so well aware of the blot upon himself caused by the lowness of his own father’s marriage. But a man, he held, could raise a woman to his own rank, whereas a woman must accept the level of her husband.

“Bread and meat and chairs and tables are very serious things, Reg.”

“You would then recommend her to take this man, and pass altogether out of your own sphere?”

“What can I do for her? I am an old woman who will be dead probably before the first five years of her married life have passed over her. And as for recommending, I do not know enough to recommend anything. Does she like the man?”

“I am sure she would feel herself degraded by marrying him.”

“I trust she will never live to feel herself degraded. I do not believe that she could do anything that she thought would degrade her. But I think that you and I had better leave her to herself in this matter.” Further on in the same evening, or rather late in the night — for they had then sat talking together for hours over the fire — she made a direct statement to him. “When I die, Reg, I have but 5,000 pounds to leave behind me, and this I have divided between you and her. I shall not tell her because I might do more harm than good. But you may know.”

“That would make no difference to me,” he said.

“Very likely not, but I wish you to know it. What troubles me is that she will have to pay so much out of it for legacy duty. I might leave it all to you and you could give it her.” An honester or more religious or better woman than old Lady Ushant there was not in Cheltenham, but it never crossed her conscience that it would be wrong to cheat the revenue. It may be doubted whether any woman has ever been brought to such honesty as that.

On the next morning Morton went away without saying another word in private to Mary Masters and she was left to her quiet life with the old lady. To an ordinary visitor nothing could have been less exciting, for Lady Ushant very seldom went out and never entertained company. She was a tall thin old lady with bright eyes and grey hair and a face that was still pretty in spite of sunken eyes and sunken cheeks and wrinkled brow. There was ever present with her an air of melancholy which told a whole tale of the sadness of a long life. Her chief excitement was in her two visits to church on Sunday and in the letter which she wrote every week to her nephew at Dillsborough. Now she had her young friend with her, and that too was an excitement to her — and the more so since she had heard the tidings of Larry Twentyman’s courtship.

She made up her mind that she would not speak on the subject to her young friend unless her young friend should speak to her. In the first three weeks nothing was said; but four or five days before Mary’s departure there came up a conversation about Dillsborough and Bragton. There had been many conversations about Dillsborough and Bragton, but in all of them the name of Lawrence Twentyman had been scrupulously avoided. Each had longed to name him, and yet each had determined not to do so. But at length it was avoided no longer. Lady Ushant had spoken of Chowton Farm and the widow. Then Mary had spoken of the place and its inhabitants. “Mr. Twentyman comes a great deal to our house now,” she said.

“Has he any reason, my dear?”

“He goes with papa once a week to the club; and he sometimes lends my sister Kate a pony. Kate is very fond of riding.”

“There is nothing else?”

“He has got to be intimate and I think mamma likes him.”

“He is a good young man then?”

“Very good,” said Mary with an emphasis.

“And Chowton belongs to him.”

“Oh yes; — it belongs to him.”

“Some young men make such ducks and drakes of their property when they get it”

“They say that he’s not like that at all. People say that he understands farming very well and that he minds everything himself.”

“What an excellent young man! There is no other reason for his coming to your house, Mary?” Then the sluice-gates were opened and the whole story was told. Sitting there late into the night Mary told it all as well as she knew how — all of it except in regard to any spark of love which might have fallen upon her in respect of Reginald Morton. Of Reginald Morton in her story of course she did not speak; but all the rest she declared. She did not love the man. She was quite sure of that. Though she thought so well of him there was, she was quite sure, no feeling in her heart akin to love. She had promised to take time because she had thought that she might perhaps be able to bring herself to marry him without loving him — to marry him because her father wished it, and because her going from home would be a relief to her stepmother and sisters, because it would be well for them all that she should be settled out of the way. But since that she had made up her mind — she thought that she had quite made up her mind — that it would be impossible.

“There is nobody else, Mary?” said Lady Ushant putting her hand on to Mary’s lap. Mary protested that there was nobody else without any consciousness that she was telling a falsehood. “And you are quite sure that you cannot do it?”

“Do you think that I ought, Lady Ushant?”

“I should be very sorry to say that, my dear. A young woman in such a matter must be governed by her feelings. Only he seems to be a deserving young man!” Mary looked askance at her friend, remembering at the moment Reginald Morton’s assurance that his aunt would have disapproved of such an engagement. “But I never would persuade a girl to marry a man she did not love. I think it would be wicked. I always thought so.”

There was nothing about degradation in all this. It was quite clear to Mary that had she been able to tell Lady Ushant that she was head over ears in love with this young man and that therefore she was going to marry him, her old friend would have found no reason to lament such an arrangement. Her old friend would have congratulated her. Lady Ushant evidently thought Larry Twentyman to be good enough as soon as she heard what Mary found herself compelled to say in the young man’s favour. Mary was almost disappointed; but reconciled herself to it very quickly, telling herself that there was yet time for her to decide in favour of her lover if she could bring herself to do so.

And she did try that night and all the next day, thinking that if she could so make up her mind she would declare her purpose to Lady Ushant before she left Cheltenham. But she could not do it, and in the struggle with herself at last she learned something of the truth. Lady Ushant saw nothing but what was right and proper in a marriage with Lawrence Twentyman, but Reginald Morton had declared it to be improper, and therefore it was out of her reach. She could not do it. She could not bring herself, after what he had said, to look him in the face and tell him that she was going to become the wife of Larry Twentyman. Then she asked herself the fatal question; — was she in love with Reginald Morton? I do not think that she answered it in the affirmative, but she became more and more sure that she could never marry Larry Twentyman.

Lady Ushant declared herself to have been more than satisfied with the visit and expressed a hope that it might be repeated in the next year. “I would ask you to come and make your home here while I have a home to offer you, only that you would be so much more buried here than at Dillsborough: And you have duties there which perhaps you ought not to leave. But come again when your papa will spare you.”

On her journey back she certainly was not very happy. There were yet three weeks wanting to the time at which she would be bound to give her answer to Larry Twentyman; but why should she keep the man waiting for three weeks when her answer was ready? Her stepmother she knew would soon force her answer from her, and her father would be anxious to know what had been the result of her meditations. The real period of her reprieve had been that of her absence at Cheltenham, and that period was now come to an, end. At each station as she passed them she remembered what Reginald Morton had been saying to her, and how their conversation had been interrupted — and perhaps occasionally aided — by the absurdities of the bird. How sweet it had been to be near him and to listen to his whispered voice! How great was the difference between him and that other young man, the smartness of whose apparel was now becoming peculiarly distasteful to her! Certainly it would have been better for her not to have gone to Cheltenham if it was to be her fate to become Mrs. Twentyman. She was quite sure of that now.

She came up from the Dillsborough Station alone in the Bush omnibus. She had not expected any one to meet her. Why should any one meet her? The porter put up her box and the omnibus left her at the door. But she remembered well how she had gone down with Reginald Morton, and how delightful had been every little incident of the journey. Even to walk with him up and down the platform while waiting for the train had been a privilege. She thought of it as she got out of the carriage and remembered that she had felt that the train had come too soon.

At her own door her father met her and took her into the parlour where the tea-things were spread, and where her sisters were already seated. Her stepmother soon came in and kissed her kindly. She was asked how she had enjoyed herself, and no disagreeable questions were put to her that night. No questions, at least, were asked which she felt herself bound to answer. After she was in bed Kate came to her and did say a word. “Well, Mary, do tell me. I won’t tell any one.” But Mary refused to speak a word.

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