On that same Wednesday Reginald Morton had called at the attorney’s house, had asked for Miss Masters, and had found her alone. Mrs. Masters at the time had been out, picking up intelligence about the great case, and the two younger girls had been at school. Reginald, as he walked home from Bragton all alone on that occasion when Larry had returned with Mary, was quite sure that he would never willingly go into Mary’s presence again. Why should he disturb his mind about such a girl — one who could rush into the arms of such a man as Larry Twentyman? Or, indeed, why disturb his mind about any girl? That was not the manner of life which he planned for himself. After that he shut himself up for a few days and was not much seen by any of the Dillsborough folk. But on this Wednesday he received a letter, and — as he told himself, merely in consequence of that letter — he called at the attorney’s house and asked for Miss Masters.
He was shown up into the beautiful drawing-room, and in a few minutes Mary came to him. “I have brought you a letter from my aunt,” he said.
“From Lady Ushant? I am so glad.”
“She was writing to me and she put this under cover. I know what it contains. She wants you to go to her at Cheltenham for a month.”
“Oh, Mr. Morton!”
“Would you like to go?”
“How should I not like to go? Lady Ushant is my dearest, dearest friend. It is so very good of her to think of me.”
“She talks of the first week in December and wants you to be there for Christmas.”
“I don’t at all know that I can go, Mr. Morton”
“Why not go?”
“I’m afraid mamma will not spare me.” There were many reasons. She could hardly go on such a visit without some renewal of her scanty wardrobe, which perhaps the family funds would not permit. And, as she knew very well, Mrs. Masters was not at all favourable to Lady Ushant. If the old lady had altogether kept Mary it might have been very well; but she had not done so and Mrs. Masters had more than once said that that kind of thing must be all over; — meaning that Mary was to drop her intimacy with high-born people that were of no real use. And then there was Mr. Twentyman and his suit. Mary had for some time felt that her step-mother intended her to understand that her only escape from home would be by becoming Mrs. Twentyman. “I don’t think it will be possible, Mr. Morton.”
“My aunt will be very sorry.”
“Oh — how sorry shall I be! It is like having another little bit of heaven before me.”
Then he said what he certainly should not have said. “I thought, Miss Masters, that your heaven was all here.”
“What do you mean by that, Mr. Morton?” she asked blushing up to her hair. Of course she knew what he meant, and of course she was angry with him. Ever since that walk her mind had been troubled by ideas as to what he would think about her, and now he was telling her what he thought.
“I fancied that you were happy here without going to see an old woman who after all has not much amusement to offer to you.”
“I don’t want any amusement.”
“At any rate you will answer Lady Ushant?”
“Of course I shall answer her.”
“Perhaps you can let me know. She wishes me to take you to Cheltenham. I shall go for a couple of days, but I shall not stay longer. If you are going perhaps you would allow me to travel with you.”
“Of course it would be very kind; but I don’t suppose that I shall go. I am sure Lady Ushant won’t believe that I am kept away from her by any pleasure of my own here. I can explain it all to her and she will understand me.” She hardly meant to reproach him. She did not mean to assume an intimacy sufficient for reproach. But he felt that she had reproached him. “I love Lady Ushant so dearly that I would go anywhere to see her if I could.”
“Then I think it could be managed. Your father —”
“Papa does not attend much to us girls. It is mamma that manages all that. At any rate, I will write to Lady Ushant, and will ask papa to let you know”
Then it seemed as though there were nothing else for him but to go; — and yet he wanted to say some other word. If he had been cruel in throwing Mr. Twentyman in her teeth, surely he ought to apologize. “I did not mean to say anything to offend you.”
“You have not offended me at all, Mr. Morton.”
“If I did think that — that —”
“It does not signify in the least. I only want Lady Ushant to understand that if I could possibly go to her I would rather do that than anything else in the world. Because Lady Ushant is kind to me I needn’t expect other people to be so.” Reginald Morton was of course the “other people.”
Then he paused a moment. “I did so long,” he said, “to walk round the old place with you the other day before these people came there, and I was so disappointed when you would not come with me.”
“I was coming.”
“But you went back with — that other man”
“Of course I did when you showed so plainly that you didn’t want him to join you. What was I to do? I couldn’t send him away. Mr. Twentyman is a very intimate friend of ours, and very kind to Dolly and Kate.”
“I wished so much to talk to you about the old days.”
“And I wish to go for your aunt, Mr. Morton; but we can’t all of us have what we wish. Of course I saw that you were very angry, but I couldn’t help that. Perhaps it was wrong in Mr. Twentyman to offer to walk with you.”
“I didn’t say so at all.”
“You looked it at any rate, Mr. Morton. And as Mr. Twentyman is a friend of ours —”
“You were angry with me.”
“I don’t say that. But as you were too grand for our friend of course you were too grand for us.”
“That is a very unkind way of putting it. I don’t think I am grand. A man may wish to have a little conversation with a very old friend without being interrupted, and yet not be grand. I dare say Mr. Twentyman is just as good as I am.”
“You don’t think that, Mr. Morton”
“I believe him to be a great deal better, for he earns his bread, and takes care of his mother, and as far as I know does his duty thoroughly.”
“I know the difference, Mr. Morton, and of course I know how you feel it. I don’t suppose that Mr. Twentyman is a fit companion for any of the Mortons, but for all that he may be a fit companion for me — and my sisters.” Surely she must have said this with the express object of declaring to him that in spite of the advantages of her education she chose to put herself in the ranks of the Twentymans, Runcimans and such like. He had come there ardently wishing that she might be allowed to go to his aunt, and resolved that he would take her himself if it were possible. But now he almost thought that she had better not go. If she had made her election, she must be allowed to abide by it. If she meant to marry Mr. Twentyman what good could she get by associating with his aunt or with him? And had she not as good as told him that she meant to marry Mr. Twentyman? She had at any rate very plainly declared that she regarded Mr. Twentyman as her equal in rank. Then he took his leave without any further explanation. Even if she did go to Cheltenham he would not take her.
After that he walked straight out to Bragton. He was of course altogether unconscious what grand things his cousin John had intended to do by him, had not the Honourable old lady interfered; but he had made up his mind that duty required him to call at the house. So he walked by the path across the bridge and when he came out on the gravel road near the front door he found a gentleman smoking a cigar and looking around him. It was Mr. Gotobed who had just returned from a visit which he had made, the circumstances of which must be narrated in the next chapter. The Senator lifted his hat and remarked that it was a very fine afternoon. Reginald lifted his hat and assented. “Mr. Morton, Sir, I think is out with the ladies, taking a drive.”
“I will leave a card then.”
“The old lady is at home, sir, if you wish to see her,” continued the Senator following Reginald up to the door.
“Oh, Mr. Reginald, is that you?” said old Mrs. Hopkins taking the card. “They are all out — except herself.” As he certainly did not wish to see “herself,” he greeted the old woman and left his card.
“You live in these parts, sir?” asked the Senator.
“In the town yonder.”
“Because Mr. Morton’s housekeeper seems to know you.”
“She knows me very well as I was brought up in this house. Good morning to you.”
“Good afternoon to you, sir. Perhaps you can tell me who lives in that country residence — what you call a farm-house — on the other side of the road.” Reginald said that he presumed the gentleman was alluding to Mr. Twentyman’s house.
“Ah, yes — I dare say. That was the name I heard up there. You are not Mr. Twentyman, sir?”
“My name is Morton”
“Morton is it; — perhaps my friend’s; — ah — ah — yes.” He didn’t like to say uncle because Reginald didn’t look old enough, and he knew he ought not to say brother, because the elder brother in England would certainly have had the property.
“I am Mr. John Morton’s cousin.”
“Oh; — Mr. Morton’s cousin. I asked whether you were the owner of that farm-house because I intruded just now by passing through the yards, and I would have apologized. Good afternoon to you, sir.” Then Reginald having thus done his duty returned home.
Mary Masters when she was alone was again very angry with herself. She knew thoroughly how perverse she had been when she declared that Larry Twentyman was a fit companion for herself, and that she had said it on purpose to punish the man who was talking to her. Not a day passed, or hardly an hour of a day, in which she did not tell herself that the education she had received and the early associations of her life had made her unfit for the marriage which her friends were urging upon her. It was the one great sorrow of her life. She even repented of the good things of her early days because they had given her a distaste for what might have otherwise been happiness and good fortune. There had been moments in which she had told herself that she ought to marry Larry Twentyman and adapt herself to the surroundings of her life. Since she had seen Reginald Morton frequently, she had been less prone to tell herself so than before; and yet to this very man she had declared her fitness for Larry’s companionship!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01