When the ladies went up-stairs the afternoon was not half over and they did not dine till past seven. As Morton returned to the house in the dusk he thought that perhaps Arabella might make some attempt to throw herself in his way. She had often done so when they were not engaged, and surely she might do so now. There was nothing to prevent her coming down to the library when she had got rid of her travelling clothes, and in this hope he looked into the room. As soon as the door was open the Senator, who was preparing his lecture in his mind, at once asked whether no one in England had an apparatus for warming rooms such as was to be found in every well-built house in the States. The Paragon hardly vouchsafed him a word of reply, but escaped up-stairs trusting that he might meet Miss Trefoil on the way. He was a bold man and even ventured to knock at her door; — but there was no reply, and, fearing the Senator, he had to betake himself to his own privacy. Miss Trefoil had migrated to her mother’s room, and there, over the fire, was holding a little domestic conversation. “I never saw such a barrack in my life,” said Lady Augustus.
“Of course, mamma, we knew that we should find the house such as it was left a hundred years ago. He told us that himself.”
“He should have put something in it to make it at any rate decent before we came in.”
“What’s the use if he’s to live always at foreign courts?”
“He intends to come home sometimes, I suppose, and, if he didn’t, you would.” Lady Augustus was not going to let her daughter marry a man who could not give her a home for at any rate a part of the year. “Of course he must furnish the place and have an immense deal done before he can marry. I think it is a piece of impudence to bring one to such a place as this.”
“That’s nonsense, mamma, because he told us all about it”
“The more I see of it all, Arabella, the more sure I am that it won’t do.”
“It must do, mamma.”
“Twelve hundred a year is all that he offers, and his lawyer says that he will make no stipulation whatever as to an allowance.”
“Really, mamma, you might leave that to me.”
“I like to have everything fixed, my dear — and certain.”
“Nothing really ever is certain. While there is anything to get you may be sure that I shall have my share. As far as money goes I’m not a bit afraid of having the worst of it — only there will be so very little between us.”
“That’s just it.”
“There’s no doubt about the property, mamma.”
“A nasty beggarly place!”
“And from what everybody says he’s sure to be a minister or ambassador or something of that sort.”
“I’ve no doubt he will. And where’ll he have to go to? To Brazil, or the West Indies, or some British Colony,” said her ladyship showing her ignorance of the Foreign Office service. “That might be very well. You could stay at home. Only where would you live? He wouldn’t keep a house in town for you. Is this the sort of place you’d like?”
“I don’t think it makes any difference where one is,” said Arabella disgusted.
“But I do — a very great difference. It seems to me that he’s altogether under the control of that hideous old termagant. Arabella, I think you’d better make up your mind that it won’t do.”
“It must do,” said Arabella.
“You’re very fond of him it seems.”
“Mamma, how you do delight to torture me; — as if my life weren’t bad enough without your making it worse.”
“I tell you, my dear, what I’m bound to. tell you — as your mother. I have my duty to do whether it’s painful or not.”
“That’s nonsense, mamma. You know it is. That might have been all very well ten years ago.”
“You were almost in your cradle, my dear.”
“Psha! cradle! I’ll tell you what it is, mamma. I’ve been at it till I’m nearly broken down. I must settle somewhere; — or else die; — or else run away. I can’t stand this any longer and I won’t. Talk of work — men’s work! What man ever has to work as I do? I wonder which was the hardest part of that work, the hairdressing and painting and companionship of the lady’s maid or the continual smiling upon unmarried men to whom she had nothing to say and for whom she did not in the least care! I can’t do it any more, and I won’t. As for Mr. Morton, I don’t care that for him. You know I don’t. I never cared much for anybody, and shall never again care at all.”
“You’ll find that will come all right after you are married.”
“Like you and papa, I suppose.”
“My dear, I had no mother to take care of me, or I shouldn’t have married your father.”
“I wish you hadn’t, because then I shouldn’t be going to marry Mr. Morton. But, as I have got so far, for heaven’s sake let it go on. If you break with him I’ll tell him everything and throw myself into his hands.” Lady Augustus sighed deeply. “I will, mamma. It was you spotted this man, and when you said that you thought it would do, I gave way. He was the last man in the world I should have thought of myself.”
“We had heard so much about Bragton!”
“And Bragton is here. The estate is not out of elbows.”
“My dear, my opinion is that we’ve made a mistake. He’s not the sort of man I took him to be. He’s as hard as a file.”
“Leave that to me, mammal”
“You are determined then?”
“I think I am. At any rate let me look about me. Don’t give him an opportunity of breaking off till I have made up my mind. I can always break off if I like it. No one in London has heard of the engagement yet. Just leave me alone for this week to see what I think about it” Then Lady Augustus threw herself back in her chair and went to sleep, or pretended to do so.
A little after half-past seven she and her daughter, dressed for dinner, went down to the library together. The other guests were assembled there, and Mrs. Morton was already plainly expressing her anger at the tardiness of her son’s guests. The Senator had got hold of Mr. Mainwaring and was asking pressing questions as to church patronage — a subject not very agreeable to the rector of St. John’s, as his living had been bought for him with his wife’s money during the incumbency of an old gentleman of seventy-eight. Mr. Cooper, who was himself nearly that age and who was vicar of Mallingham, a parish which ran into Dillsborough and comprehended a part of its population, was listening to these queries with awe, and perhaps with some little gratification, as he had been presented to his living by the bishop after a curacy of many years. “This kind of things, I believe, can be bought and sold in the market,” said the Senator, speaking every word with absolute distinctness. But as he paused for an answer the two ladies came in and the conversation was changed. Both the clergymen were introduced to Lady Augustus and her daughter, and Mr. Mainwaring at once took refuge under the shadow of the ladies’ title.
Arabella did not sit down, so that Morton had an opportunity of standing near to his love. “I suppose you are very tired,” he said.
“Not in the least.” She smiled her sweetest as she answered him — but yet it was not very sweet. “Of course we were tired and cross when we got out of the train. People always are; aren’t they?”
“Perhaps ladies are.”
“We were. But all that about the carriages, Mr. Morton, wasn’t my doing. Mamma had been talking to me so much that I didn’t know whether I was on my head or my heels. It was very good of you to come and meet us, and I ought to have been more gracious.” In this way she made her peace, and as she was quite in earnest — doing a portion of the hard work of her life — she continued to smile as sweetly as she could. Perhaps he liked it; — but any man endowed with that power of appreciation which we call sympathy, would have felt it to be as cold as though it had come from a figure on a glass window.
The dinner was announced. Mr. Morton was honoured with the hand of Lady Augustus. The Senator handed the old lady into the dining-room and Mr. Mainwaring the younger lady — so that Arabella was sitting next to her lover. It had all been planned by Morton and acceded to by his grandmother. Mr. Gotobed throughout the dinner had the best of the conversation, though Lady Augustus had power enough to snub him on more than one occasion. “Suppose we were to allow at once,” she said, “that everything is better in the United States than anywhere else, shouldn’t we get along easier?”
“I don’t know that getting along easy is what we have particularly got in view,” said Mr. Gotobed, who was certainly in quest of information.
“But it is what I have in view, Mr. Gotobed; — so if you please we’ll take the pre-eminence of your country for granted.” Then she turned to Mr. Mainwaring on the other side. Upon this the Senator addressed himself for a while to the table at large and had soon forgotten altogether the expression of the lady’s wishes.
“I believe you have a good many churches about here,” said Lady Augustus trying to make conversation to her neighbour.
“One in every parish, I fancy,” said Mr. Mainwaring, who preferred all subjects to clerical subjects. “I suppose London is quite empty now.”
“We came direct from the Duke’s,” said Lady Augustus, “and did not even sleep in town; — but it is empty.” The Duke was the brother of Lord Augustus, and a compromise had been made with Lady Augustus, by which she and her daughter should be allowed a fortnight every year at the Duke’s place in the country, and a certain amount of entertainment in town.
“I remember the Duke at Christchurch,” said the parson. “He and I were of the same par. He was Lord Mistletoe then. Dear me, that was a long time ago. I wonder whether he remembers being upset out of a trap with me one day after dinner. I suppose we had dined in earnest. He has gone his way, and I have gone mine, and I’ve never seen him since. Pray remember me to him.” Lady Augustus said she would, and did entertain some little increased respect for the clergyman who could boast that he had been tipsy in company with her worthy brother-in-law.
Poor Mr. Cooper did not get on very well with Mrs. Morton. All his remembrances of the old squire were eulogistic and affectionate. Hers were just the reverse. He had a good word to say for Reginald Morton — to which she would not even listen. She was willing enough to ask questions about the Mallingham tenants; — but Mr. Cooper would revert back to the old days, and so conversation was at an end.
Morton tried to make himself agreeable to his left-hand neighbour, trying also very hard to make himself believe that he was happy in his immediate position. How often in the various amusements of the world is one tempted to pause a moment and ask oneself whether one really likes it! He was conscious that he was working hard, struggling to be happy, painfully anxious to be sure that he was enjoying the luxury of being in love. But he was not at all contented. There she was, and very beautiful she looked; and he thought that he could be proud of her if she sat at the end of his table; — and he knew that she was engaged to be his wife. But he doubted whether she was in love with him; and he almost doubted sometimes whether he was very much in love with her. He asked her in so many words what he should do to amuse her. Would she like to ride with him, as if so he would endeavour to get saddle-horses. Would she like to go out hunting? Would she be taken round to see the neighbouring towns, Rufford and Norrington? “Lord Rufford lives somewhere near Rufford?” she asked. Yes; he lived at Rufford Hall, three or four miles from the town. Did Lord Rufford hunt? Morton believed that he was greatly given to hunting. Then he asked Arabella whether she knew the young lord. She had just met him, she said, and had only asked the question because of the name. “He is one of my neighbours down here,” said Morton; —“but being always away of course I see nothing of him.” After that Arabella consented to be taken out on horseback to see a meet of the hounds although she could not hunt. “We must see what we can do about horses,” he said. She however professed her readiness to go in the carriage if a saddle-horse could not be found.
The dinner party I fear was very dull. Mr. Mainwaring perhaps liked it because he was fond of dining anywhere away from home. Mr. Cooper was glad once more to see his late old friend’s old dining-room. Mr. Gotobed perhaps obtained some information. But otherwise the affair was dull. “Are we to have a week of this?” said Lady Augustus when she found herself up-stairs.
“You must, mamma, if we are to stay till we go to the Gores. Lord Rufford is here in the neighbourhood.”
“But they don’t know each other.”
“Yes they do; — slightly. I am to go to the meet someday and he’ll be there.”
“It might be dangerous.”
“Nonsense, mamma! And after all you’ve been saying about dropping Mr. Morton!”
“But there is nothing so bad as a useless flirtation.”
“Do I ever flirt? Oh, mamma, that after so many years you shouldn’t know me! Did you ever see me yet making myself happy in any way? What nonsense you talk!” Then without waiting for, or making, any apology, she walked off to her own room.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14