On that same Wednesday afternoon when Morton returned with the ladies in the carriage he found that a mounted servant had arrived from Rufford Hall with a letter and had been instructed to wait for an answer. The man was now refreshing himself in the servants’ hall. Morton, when he had read the letter, found that it required some consideration before he could answer it. It was to the following purport. Lord Rufford had a party of ladies and gentlemen at Rufford Hall, as his sister, Lady Penwether, was staying with him. Would Mr. Morton and his guests come over to Rufford Hall on Monday and stay till Wednesday? On Tuesday there was to be a dance for the people of the neighbourhood. Then he specified, as the guests invited, Lady Augustus and her daughter and Mr. Gotobed — omitting the honourable Mrs. Morton of whose sojourn in the county he might have been ignorant. His Lordship went on to say that he trusted the abruptness of the invitation might be excused on account of the nearness of their neighbourhood and the old friendship which had existed between their families. He had had, he said, the pleasure of being acquainted with Lady Augustus and her daughter in London and would be proud to see Mr. Gotobed at his house during his sojourn in the county. Then he added in a postscript that the hounds met at Rufford Hall on Tuesday and that he had a horse that carried a lady well if Miss Trefoil would like to ride him. He could also put up a horse for Mr. Morton.
This was all very civil, but there was something in it that was almost too civil. There came upon Morton a suspicion, which he did not even define to himself, that the invitation was due to Arabella’s charms. There were many reasons why he did not wish to accept it. His grandmother was left out and he feared that she would be angry. He did not feel inclined to take the American Senator to the lord’s house, knowing as he did that the American Senator was interfering in a ridiculous manner on behalf of Goarly. And he did not particularly wish to be present at Rufford Hall with the Trefoil ladies. Hitherto he had received very little satisfaction from their visit to Bragton — so little that he had been more than once on the verge of asking Arabella whether she wished to be relieved from her engagement. She had never quite given him the opportunity. She had always been gracious to him in a cold, disagreeable, glassy manner — in a manner that irked his spirit but still did not justify him in expressing anger. Lady Augustus was almost uncivil to him, and from time to time said little things which were hard to bear; but he was not going to marry Lady Augustus, and could revenge himself against her by resolving in his own breast that he would have as little as possible to do with her after his marriage., That was the condition of his mind towards them, and in that condition he did not want to take them to Lord Rufford’s house. Their visit to him would be over on Monday, and it would he thought be better for him that they should then go on their way to the Gores as they had proposed.
But he did not like to answer the letter by a refusal without saying a word to his guests on the subject. He would not object to ignore the Senator, but he was afraid that if nothing were to be said to Arabella she would hear of it hereafter and would complain of such treatment. He therefore directed that the man might be kept waiting while he consulted the lady of his choice. It was with difficulty that he found himself alone with her — and then only by sending her maid in quest of her. He did get her at last into his own sitting-room and then, having placed her in a chair near the fire, gave her Lord Rufford’s letter to read. “What can it be,” said she looking up into his face with her great inexpressive eyes, “that has required all this solemnity?” She still looked up at him and did not even open the letter.
“I did not like to answer that without showing it to you. I don’t suppose you would care to go.”
“It is from Lord Rufford — for Monday.”
“From Lord Rufford!”
“It would break up all your plans and your mother’s, and would probably be a great bore.”
Then she did read the letter, very carefully and very slowly, weighing every word of it as she read it. Did it mean more than it said? But though she read it slowly and carefully and was long before she made him any answer, she had very quickly resolved that the invitation should be accepted. It would suit her very well to know Lady Penwether. It might possibly suit her still better to become intimate with Lord Rufford. She was delighted at the idea of riding Lord Rufford’s horse. As her eyes dwelt on the paper she, too, began to think that the invitation had been chiefly given on her account. At any rate she would go. She had understood perfectly well from the first tone of her lover’s voice that he did not wish to subject her to the allurements of Rufford Hall. She was clever enough, and could read it all. But she did not mean to throw away a chance for the sake of pleasing him. She must not at once displease him by declaring her purpose strongly, and therefore, as she slowly continued her reading, she resolved that she would throw the burden upon her mother. “Had I not better show this to mamma?” she said.
“You can if you please. You are going to the Gores on Monday.”
“We could not go earlier; but we might put it off for a couple of days if we pleased. Would it bore you?”
“I don’t mind about myself. I’m not a very great man for dances.”
“You’d sooner write a report — wouldn’t you — about the products of the country?”
“A great deal sooner,” said the Paragon.
“But you see we haven’t all of us got products to write about. I don’t care very much about it myself; — but if you don’t mind I’ll ask mamma.” Of course he was obliged to consent, and merely informed her as she went off with the letter that a servant was waiting for an answer.
“To go to Lord Rufford’s!” said Lady Augustus.
“From Monday till Wednesday, mamma. Of course we must go:”
“I promised poor Mrs. Gore.”
“Nonsense, mamma! The Gores can do very well without us. That was only to be a week and we can still stay out our time. Of course this has only been sent because we are here.”
“I should say so. I don’t suppose Lord Rufford would care to know Mr. Morton. Lady Penwether goes everywhere; doesn’t she?”
“Everywhere. It would suit me to a ‘t’ to get on to Lady Penwether’s books. But, mamma, of course it’s not that. If Lord Rufford should say a word it is so much easier to manage down in the country than up in London. He has 40,000 pounds a year, if he has a penny.”
“How many girls have tried the same thing with him! But I don’t mind. I’ve always said that John Morton and Bragton would not do?”
“No, mamma; you haven’t. You were the first to say they would do.”
“I only said that if there were nothing else —”
“Oh, mamma, how can you say such things! Nothing else — as if he were the last man! You said distinctly that Bragton was 7,000 pounds a year, and that it would do very well. You may change your mind if you like; but it’s no good trying to back out of your own doings.”
“Then I have changed my mind.”
“Yes — without thinking what I have to go through. I’m not going to throw myself at Lord Rufford’s head so as to lose my chance here; — but we’ll go and see how the land lies. Of course you’ll go, mamma.”
“If you think it is for your advantage, my dear.”
“My advantage! It’s part of the work to be done and we may as well do it. At any rate I’ll tell him to accept. We shall have this odious American with us, but that can’t be helped.”
“And the old woman?”
“Lord Rufford doesn’t say anything about her. I don’t suppose he’s such a muff but what he can leave his grandmother behind for a couple of days.” Then she went back to Morton and told him that her mother was particularly anxious to make the acquaintance of Lady Penwether and that she had decided upon going to Rufford Hall. “It will be a very nice opportunity,” said she, “for you to become acquainted with Lord Rufford.”
Then he was almost angry. “I can make plenty of such opportunities for myself, when I want them,” he said. “Of course if you and Lady Augustus like it, we will go. But let it stand on its right bottom.”
“It may stand on any bottom you please.”
“Do you mean to ride the man’s horse?”
“Certainly I do. I never refuse a good offer. Why shouldn’t I ride the man’s horse? Did you never hear before of a young lady borrowing a gentleman’s horse?”
“No lady belonging to me will ever do so, unless the gentleman be a very close friend indeed.”
“The lady in this case does not belong to you, Mr. Morton, and therefore, if you have no other objection, she will ride Lord Rufford’s horse. Perhaps you will not think it too much trouble to signify the lady’s acceptance of the mount in your letter.” Then she swam out of the room knowing that she left him in anger. After that he had to find Mr. Gotobed. The going was now decided on as far as he was concerned, and it would make very little difference whether the American went or not — except that his letter would have been easier to him in accepting the invitation for three persons than for four. But the Senator was of course willing. It was the Senator’s object to see England, and Lord Rufford’s house would be an additional bit of England. The Senator would be delighted to have an opportunity of saying what he thought about Goarly at Lord Rufford’s table. After that, before this weary letter could be written, he was compelled to see his grandmother and explain to her that she had been omitted.
“Of course, ma’am, they did not know that you were at Bragton, as you were not in the carriage at the ‘meet.’”
“That’s nonsense, John. Did Lord Rufford suppose that you were entertaining ladies here without some one to be mistress of the house? Of course he knew that I was here. I shouldn’t have gone; — you may be sure of that. I’m not in the habit of going to the houses of people I don’t know. Indeed I think it’s an impertinence in them to ask in that way. I’m surprised that you would go on such an invitation.”
“The Trefoils knew them.”
“If Lady Penwether knew them why could not Lady Penwether ask them independently of us? I don’t believe they ever spoke to Lady Penwether in their lives. Lord Rufford and Miss Trefoil may very likely be London acquaintances. He may admire her and therefore choose to have her at his ball. I know nothing about that. As far as I am concerned he’s quite welcome to keep her.”
All this was not very pleasant to John Morton. He knew already that his grandmother and Lady Augustus hated each other, and said spiteful things not only behind each other’s backs, but openly to each other’s faces. But now he had been told by the girl who was engaged to be his wife that she did not belong to him; and by his grandmother, who stood to him in the place of his mother, that she wished that this girl belonged to some one else! He was not quite sure that he did not wish it himself. But, even were it to be so, and should there be reason for him to be gratified at the escape, still he did not relish the idea of taking the girl himself to the other man’s house. He wrote the letter, however, and dispatched it. But even the writing of it was difficult and disagreeable. When various details of hospitality have been offered by a comparative stranger a man hardly likes to accept them all. But in this case he had to do it. He would be delighted, he said, to stay at Rufford Hall from the Monday to the Wednesday; — Lady Augustus and Miss Trefoil would also be delighted; and so also would Mr. Gotobed be delighted. And Miss Trefoil would be further delighted to accept Lord Rufford’s offer of a horse for the Tuesday. As for himself, if he rode at all, a horse would come for him to the meet. Then he wrote another note to Mr. Harry Stubbings, bespeaking a mount for the occasion.
On that evening the party at Bragton was not a very pleasant one. “No doubt you are intimate with Lady Penwether, Lady Augustus,” said Mrs. Morton. Now Lady Penwether was a very fashionable woman whom to know was considered an honour.
“What makes you ask, ma’am?” said Lady Augustus.
“Only as you were taking your daughter to her brother’s house, and as he is a bachelor.”
“My dear Mrs. Morton, really you may leave me to take care of myself and of my daughter too. You have lived so much out of the world for the last thirty years that it is quite amusing.”
“There are some persons’ worlds that it is a great deal better for a lady to be out of,” said Mrs. Morton. Then Lady Augustus put up her hands, and turned round, and affected to laugh, of all which things Mr. Gotobed, who was studying English society, made notes in his own mind.
“What sort of position does that man Goarly occupy here?” the Senator asked immediately after dinner.
“No position at all,” said Morton.
“Every man created holds some position as I take it. The land is his own.”
“He has I believe about fifty acres.”
“And yet he seems to be in the lowest depth of poverty and ignorance.”
“Of course he mismanages his property and probably drinks.”
“I dare say, Mr. Morton. He is proud of his rights, and talked of his father and his grandfather, and yet I doubt whether you would find a man so squalid and so ignorant in all the States. I suppose he is injured by having a lord so near him.”
“Quite the contrary if he would be amenable.”
“You mean if he would be a creature of the lord’s. And why was that other man so uncivil to me; — the man who was the lord’s gamekeeper?”
“Because you went there as a friend of Goarly.”
“And that’s his idea of English fair play?” asked the Senator with a jeer.
“The truth is, Mr. Gotobed,” said Morton endeavouring to explain it all, “you see a part only and not the whole. That man Goarly is a rascal.”
“So everybody says.”
“And why can’t you believe everybody?”
“So everybody says on the lord’s side. But before I’m done I’ll find out what people say on the other side. I can see that he is ignorant and squalid; but that very probably is the lord’s fault. It may be that he is a rascal and that the lord is to blame for that too. But if the lord’s pheasants have eaten up Goarly’s corn, the lord ought to pay for the corn whether Goarly be a rascal or not” Then John Morton made up his mind that he would never ask another American Senator to his house.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14