On the Sunday the party from Bragton went to the parish church — and found it very cold. The duty was done by a young curate who lived in Dillsborough, there being no house in Bragton for him. The rector himself had not been in the church for the last six months, being an invalid. At present he and his wife were away in London, but the vicarage was kept up for his use. The service was certainly not alluring. It was a very wet morning and the curate had ridden over from Dillsborough on a little pony which the rector kept for him in addition to the 100 pounds per annum paid for his services. That he should have got over his service quickly was not a matter of surprise — nor was it wonderful that there should have been no soul-stirring matter in his discourse as he had two sermons to preach every week and to perform single-handed all the other clerical duties of a parish lying four miles distant from his lodgings. Perhaps had he expected the presence of so distinguished a critic as the Senator from Mickewa he might have done better. As it was, being nearly wet through and muddy up to his knees, he did not do the work very well. When Morton and his friends left the church and got into the carriage for their half-mile drive home across the park, Mrs. Morton was the first to speak. “John,” she said, “that church is enough to give any woman her death. I won’t go there any more.”
“They don’t understand warming a church in the country,” said John apologetically.
“Is it not a little too large for the congregation?” asked the Senator.
The church was large and straggling and ill arranged, and on this particular Sunday had been almost empty. There was in it an harmonium which Mrs. Puttock played when she was at home, but in her absence the attempt made by a few rustics to sing the hymns had not been a musical success. The whole affair had been very sad, and so the Paragon had felt it who knew — and was remembering through the whole service, how these things are done in transatlantic cities.
“The weather kept the people away I suppose,” said Morton.
“Does that gentleman generally draw large congregations?” asked the persistent Senator.
“We don’t go in for drawing congregations here.” Under the cross-examination of his guest the Secretary of Legation almost lost his diplomatic good temper. “We have a church in every parish for those who choose to attend it”
“And very few do choose,” said the Senator. “I can’t say that they’re wrong.” There seemed at the moment to be no necessity to carry the disagreeable conversation any further as they had now reached the house. Mrs. Morton immediately went up-stairs, and the two gentlemen took themselves to the fire in the so-called library, which room was being used as more commodious than the big drawing-room. Mr. Gotobed placed himself on the rug with his back to the fire and immediately reverted to the Church. “That gentleman is paid by tithes I suppose.”
“He’s not the rector. He’s a curate.”
“Ah; — just so. He looked like a curate. Doesn’t the rector do anything?”
Then Morton, who was by this time heartily sick of explaining, explained the unfortunate state of Mr. Puttock’s health, and the conversation was carried on till gradually the Senator learned that Mr. Puttock received 800 pounds a year and a house for doing nothing, and that he paid his deputy 100 pounds a year with the use of a pony. “And how long will that be allowed to go on, Mr. Morton?” asked the Senator.
To all these inquiries Morton found himself compelled not only to answer, but to answer the truth. Any prevarication or attempt at mystification fell to the ground at once under the Senator’s tremendous powers of inquiry. It had been going on for four years, and would probably go on now till Mr. Puttock died. “A man of his age with the asthma may live for twenty years,” said the Senator who had already learned that Mr. Puttock was only fifty. Then he ascertained that Mr. Puttock had not been presented to, or selected for the living on account of any peculiar fitness; — but that he had been a fellow of Rufford at Oxford till he was forty-five, when he had thought it well to marry and take a living. “But he must have been asthmatic then?” said the Senator.
“He may have had all the ailments endured by the human race for anything I know,” said the unhappy host.
“And for anything the bishop cared as far as I can see,” said the Senator. “Well now, I guess, that couldn’t occur in our country. A minister may turn out badly with us as well as with you. But we don’t appoint a man without inquiry as to his fitness — and if a man can’t do his duty he has to give way to some one who can. If the sick man took the small portion of the stipend and the working man the larger, would not better justice be done, and the people better served?”
“Mr. Puttock has a freehold in the parish.”
“A freehold possession of men’s souls! The fact is, Mr. Morton, that the spirit of conservatism in this country is so strong that you cannot bear to part with a shred of the barbarism of the middle ages. And when a rag is sent to the winds you shriek with agony at the disruption, and think that the wound will be mortal.” As Mr. Gotobed said this he extended his right hand and laid his left on his breast as though he were addressing the Senate from his own chair. Morton, who had offered to entertain the gentleman for ten days, sincerely wished that he were doing so.
On the Monday afternoon the Trefoils arrived. Mr. Morton, with his mother and both the carriages, went down to receive them — with a cart also for luggage, which was fortunate, as Arabella Trefoil’s big box was very big indeed, and Lady Augustus, though she was economical in most things, had brought a comfortable amount of clothes. Each of them had her own lady’s maid, so that the two carriages were necessary. How it was that these ladies lived so luxuriously was a mystery to their friends, as for some time past they had enjoyed no particular income of their own. Lord Augustus had spent everything that came to his hand, and the family owned no house at all. Nevertheless Arabella Trefoil was to be seen at all parties magnificently dressed, and never stirred anywhere without her own maid. It would have been as grievous to her to be called on to live without food as to go without this necessary appendage. She was a big, fair girl whose copious hair was managed after such a fashion that no one could guess what was her own and what was purchased. She certainly had fine eyes, though I could never imagine how any one could look at them and think it possible that she should be in love. They were very large, beautifully blue, but never bright; and the eyebrows over them were perfect. Her cheeks were somewhat too long and the distance from her well-formed nose, to her upper lip too great. Her mouth was small and her teeth excellent. But the charm of which men spoke the most was the brilliance of her complexion. If, as the ladies said, it was all paint, she, or her maid, must have been a great artist. It never betrayed itself to be paint. But the beauty on which she prided herself was the grace of her motion. Though she was tall and big she never allowed an awkward movement to escape from her. She certainly did it very well. No young woman could walk across an archery ground with a finer step, or manage a train with more perfect ease, or sit upon her horse with a more complete look of being at home there. No doubt she was slow, but though slow she never seemed to drag. Now she was, after a certain fashion, engaged to marry John Morton and perhaps she was one of the most unhappy young persons in England.
She had long known that it was her duty to marry, and especially her duty to marry well. Between her and her mother there had been no reticence on this subject. With worldly people in general, though the worldliness is manifest enough and is taught by plain lessons from parents to their children, yet there is generally some thin veil even among themselves, some transparent tissue of lies, which, though they never quite hope to deceive each other, does produce among them something of the comfort of deceit. But between Lady Augustus and her daughter there had for many years been nothing of the kind. The daughter herself had been too honest for it. “As for caring about him, mamma,” she had once said, speaking of a suitor, “of course I don’t. He is nasty, and odious in every way. But I have got to do the best I can, and what is the use of talking about such trash as that?” Then there had been no more trash between them.
It was not John Morton whom Arabella Trefoil had called nasty and odious. She had had many lovers, and had been engaged to not a few, and perhaps she liked John Morton as well as any of them, except one. He was quiet, and looked like a gentleman, and was reputed for no vices. Nor did she quarrel with her fate in that he himself was not addicted to any pleasures. She herself did not care much for pleasure. But she did care to be a great lady — one who would be allowed to swim out of rooms before others, one who could snub others, one who could show real diamonds when others wore paste, one who might be sure to be asked everywhere even by the people who hated her. She rather liked being hated by women and did not want any man to be in love with her — except as far as might be sufficient for the purpose of marriage. The real diamonds and the high rank would not be hers with John Morton. She would have to be content with such rank as is accorded to Ministers at the Courts at which they are employed. The fall would be great from what she had once expected — and therefore she was miserable. There had been a young man, of immense wealth, of great rank, whom at one time she really had fancied that she had loved; but just as she was landing her prey, the prey had been rescued from her by powerful friends, and she had been all but broken-hearted. Mr. Morton’s fortune was in her eyes small, and she was beginning to learn that he knew how to take care of his own money. Already there had been difficulties as to settlements, difficulties as to pin-money, difficulties as to residence, Lady Augustus having been very urgent. John Morton, who had really been captivated by the beauty of Arabella, was quite in earnest; but there were subjects on which he would not give way. He was anxious to put his best leg foremost so that the beauty might be satisfied and might become his own, but there was a limit beyond which he would not go. Lady Augustus had more than once said to her daughter that it would not do; and then there would be all the weary work to do again!
Nobody seeing the meeting on the platform would have imagined that Mr. Morton and Miss Trefoil were lovers — and as for Lady Augustus it would have been thought that she was in some special degree offended with the gentleman who had come to meet her. She just gave him the tip of her fingers and then turned away to her maid and called for the porters and made herself particular and disagreeable. Arabella vouchsafed a cold smile, but then her smiles were always cold. After that she stood still and shivered. “Are you cold?” asked Morton. She shook her head and shivered again. “Perhaps you are tired?” Then she nodded her head. When her maid came to her in some trouble about the luggage, she begged that she “might not be bothered;” saying that no doubt her mother knew all about it. “Can I do anything?” asked Morton. “Nothing at all I should think,” said Miss Trefoil. In the meantime old Mrs. Morton was standing by as black as thunder — for the Trefoil ladies had hardly noticed her.
The luggage turned up all right at last — as luggage always does, and was stowed away in the cart. Then came the carriage arrangement. Morton had intended that the two elder ladies should go together with one of the maids, and that he should put his love into the other, which having a seat behind could accommodate the second girl without disturbing them in the carriage. But Lady Augustus had made some exception to this and had begged that her daughter might be seated with herself. It was a point which Morton could not contest out there among the porters and drivers, so that at last he and his grandmother had the phaeton together with the two maids in the rumble. “I never saw such manners in all my life,” said the Honourable Mrs. Morton, almost bursting with passion.
“They are cold and tired, ma’am.”
“No lady should be too cold or too tired to conduct herself with propriety. No real lady is ever so.”
“The place is strange to them, you know.”
“I hope with all my heart that it may never be otherwise than strange to them.”
When they arrived at the house the strangers were carried into the library and tea was of course brought to them. The American Senator was there, but the greetings were very cold. Mrs. Morton took her place and offered her hospitality in the most frigid manner. There had not been the smallest spark of love’s flame shown as yet, nor did the girl as she sat sipping her tea seem to think that any such spark was wanted. Morton did get a seat beside her and managed to take away her muff and one of her shawls, but she gave them to him almost as she might have done to a servant. She smiled indeed, but she smiled as some women smile at everybody who has any intercourse with them. “I think perhaps Mrs. Morton will let us go up-stairs,” said Lady Augustus. Mrs. Morton immediately rang the bell and prepared to precede the ladies to their chambers. Let them be as insolent as they would she would do what she conceived to be her duty. Then Lady Augustus stalked out of the room and her daughter swum after her. “They don’t seem to be quite the same as they were in Washington,” said the Senator.
John Morton got up and left the room without making any reply. He was thoroughly unhappy. What was he to do for a week with such a houseful of people? And then, what was he to do for all his life if the presiding spirit of the house was to be such a one as this? She was very beautiful — certainly. So he told himself; and yet as he walked round the park he almost repented of what he had done. But after twenty minutes fast walking he was able to convince himself that all the fault on this occasion lay with the mother. Lady Augustus had been fatigued with her journey and had therefore made everybody near her miserable.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14