On that Wednesday evening Mary Masters said nothing to any of her family as to the invitation from Lady Ushant. She very much wished to accept it. Latterly, for the last month or two, her distaste to the kind of life for which her stepmother was preparing her, had increased upon her greatly. There bad been days in which she had doubted whether it might not be expedient that she should accept Mr. Twentyman’s offer. She believed no ill of him. She thought him to be a fine manly young fellow with a good heart and high principles. She never asked herself whether he were or were not a gentleman. She had never even inquired of herself whether she herself were or were not especially a lady. But with all her efforts to like the man — because she thought that by doing so she would relieve and please her father — yet he was distasteful to her; and now, since that walk home with him from Bragton Bridge, he was more distasteful than ever. She did not tell herself that a short visit, say for a month, to Cheltenham, would prevent his further attentions, but she felt that there would be a temporary escape. I do not think that she dwelt much on the suggestion that Reginald Morton should be her companion on the journey, but the idea of such companionship, even for a short time, was pleasant to her. If he did this surely then he would forgive her for having left him at the bridge. She had much to think of before she could resolve how she should tell her tidings. Should she show the letter first to her stepmother or to her father? In the ordinary course of things in that house the former course would be expected. It was Mrs. Masters who managed everything affecting the family. It was she who gave permission or denied permission for every indulgence. She was generally fair to the three girls, taking special pride to herself for doing her duty by her stepdaughter; — but on this very account she was the more likely to be angry if Mary passed her by on such an occasion as this and went to her father. But should her stepmother have once refused her permission, then the matter would have been decided against her. It would be quite useless to appeal from her stepmother to her father; nor would such an appeal come within the scope of her own principles. The Mortons, and especially Lady Ushant, had been her father’s friends in old days and she thought that perhaps she might prevail in this case if she could speak to her father first. She knew well what would be the great, or rather the real objection. Her mother would not wish that she should be removed so long from Larry Twentyman. There might be difficulties about her clothes, but her father, she knew would be kind to her.
At last she made up her mind that she would ask her father. He was always at his office-desk for half an hour in the morning, before the clerks had come, and on the following day, a minute or two after he had taken his seat, she knocked at the door. He was busy reading a letter from Lord Rufford’s man of business, asking him certain questions about Goarly and almost employing him to get up the case on Lord Rufford’s behalf. There was a certain triumph to him in this. It was not by his means that tidings had reached Lord Rufford of his refusal to undertake Goarly’s case. But Runciman, who was often allowed by his lordship to say a few words to him in the hunting-field, had mentioned the circumstance. “A man like Mr. Masters is better without such a blackguard as that,” the Lord had said. Then Runciman had replied, “No doubt, my Lord; no doubt. But Dillsborough is a poor place, and business is business, my Lord.” Then Lord Rufford had remembered it, and the letter which the attorney was somewhat triumphantly reading had been the consequence.
“Is that you, Mary? What can I do for you, my love?”
“Papa, I want you to read this.” Then Mr. Masters read the letter. “I should so like to go.”
“Should you, my dear?”
“Oh yes! Lady Ushant has been so kind to me, all my life! And I do so love her!”
“What does mamma say?”
“I haven’t asked mamma.”
“Is there any reason why you shouldn’t go?”
Of that one reason — as to Larry Twentyman — of course she would say nothing. She must leave him to discuss that with her mother. “I should want some clothes, papa; a dress, and some boots, and a new hat, and there would be money for the journey and a few other things.” The attorney winced, but at the same time remembered that something was due to his eldest child in the way of garments and relaxation. “I never like to be an expense, papa.”
“You are very good about that, my dear. I don’t see why you shouldn’t go. It’s very kind of Lady Ushant. I’ll talk to mamma.” Then Mary went away to get the breakfast, fearing that before long there would be black looks in the house.
Mr. Masters at once went up to his wife, having given himself a minute or two to calculate that he would let Mary have twenty pounds for the occasion — and made his proposition. “I never heard of such nonsense in my life,” said Mrs. Masters.
“Nonsense — my dear! Why should it be nonsense?”
“Cocking her up with Lady Ushant! What good will Lady Ushant do her? She’s not going to live with ladies of quality all her life.”
“Why shouldn’t she live with ladies?”
“You know what I mean, Gregory. The Mortons have dropped you, for any use they were to you, long ago, and you may as well make up your mind to drop them. You’ll go on hankering after gentlefolks till you’ve about ruined yourself.”
When he remembered that he had that very morning received a commission from Lord Rufford he thought that this was a little too bad. But he was not now in a humour to make known to her this piece of good news. “I like to feel that she has got friends,” he said, going back to Mary’s proposed visit.
“Of course she has got friends, if she’ll only take up with them as she ought to do. Why does she go on shilly-shallying with that young man, instead of closing upon it at once? If she did that she wouldn’t want such friends as Lady Ushant. Why did the girl come to you with all this instead of asking me?”
“There would be a little money wanted.”
“Money! Yes, I dare say. It’s very easy to want money but very hard to get it. If you send clients away out of the office with a flea in their ear I don’t see how she’s to have all manner of luxuries. She ought to have come to me”
“I don’t see that at all, my dear.”
“If I’m to look after her she shall be said by me; — that’s all. I’ve done for her just as I have for my own and I’m not going to have her turn up her nose at me directly she wants anything for herself. I know what’s fit for Mary, and it ain’t fit that she should go trapesing away to Cheltenham, doing nothing in that old woman’s parlour, and losing her chances for life. Who is to suppose that Larry Twentyman will go on dangling after her in this way, month after month? The young man wants a wife, and of course he’ll get one.”
“You can’t make her marry the man if she don’t like him.”
“Like him! She ought to be made to like him. A young man well off as he is, and she without a shilling! All that comes from Ushanting.” It never occurred to Mrs. Masters that perhaps the very qualities that had made poor Larry so vehemently in love with Mary had come from her intercourse with Lady Ushant. “If I’m to have my way she won’t go a yard on the way to Cheltenham.”
“I’ve told her she may go,” said Mr. Masters, whose mind was wandering back to old days — to his first wife, and to the time when he used to be an occasional guest in the big parlour at Bragton. He was always ready to acknowledge to himself that his present wife was a good and helpful companion to him and a careful mother to his children; but there were moments in which he would remember with soft regret a different phase of his life. Just at present he was somewhat angry, and resolving in his own mind that in this case he would have his own way.
“Then I shall tell her she mayn’t,” said Mrs. Masters with a look of dogged determination.
“I hope you will do nothing of the kind, my dear. I’ve told her that she shall have a few pounds to get what she wants, and I won’t have her disappointed.” After that Mrs. Masters bounced out of the room, and made herself very disagreeable indeed over the tea-things.
The whole household was much disturbed that day. Mrs. Masters said nothing to Mary about Lady Ushant all the morning, but said a great deal about other things. Poor Mary was asked whether she was not ashamed to treat a young man as she was treating Mr. Twentyman. Then again it was demanded of her whether she thought it right that all the house should be knocked about for her. At dinner Mrs. Masters would hardly speak to her husband but addressed herself exclusively to Dolly and Kate. Mr. Masters was not a man who could, usually, stand this kind of thing very long and was accustomed to give up in despair and then take himself off to the solace of his office-chair. But on the present occasion he went through his meal like a Spartan, and retired from the room without a sign of surrender. In the afternoon about five o’clock Mary watched her opportunity and found him again alone. It was incumbent on her to reply to Lady Ushant. Would it not be better that she should write and say how sorry she was that she could not come? “But I want you to go,” said he.
“Oh, papa; — I cannot bear to cause trouble.”
“No, my dear; no; and I’m sure I don’t like trouble myself. But in this case I think you ought to go. What day has she named?” Then Mary declared that she could not possibly go so soon as Lady Ushant had suggested, but that she could be ready by the 18th of December. “Then write and tell her so, my dear, and I will let your mother know that it is fixed.” But Mary still hesitated, desiring to know whether she had not better speak to her mother first. “I think you had better write your letter first,”— and then he absolutely made her write it in the office and give it to him to be posted. After that he promised to communicate to Reginald Morton what had been done.
The household was very much disturbed the whole of that evening. Poor Mary never remembered such a state of things, and when there had been any difference of opinion, she had hitherto never been the cause of it. Now it was all owing to her! And things were said so terrible that she hardly knew how to bear them. Her father had promised her the twenty pounds, and it was insinuated that all the comforts of the family must be stopped because of this lavish extravagance. Her father sat still and bore it, almost without a word. Both Dolly and Kate were silent and wretched. Mrs. Masters every now and then gurgled in her throat, and three or four times wiped her eyes. “I’m better out of the way altogether,” she said at last, jumping up and walking towards the door as though she were going to leave the room — and the house, for ever.
“Mamma,” said Mary, rising from her seat, “I won’t go. I’ll write and tell Lady Ushant that I can’t do it.”
“You’re not to mind me,” said Mrs. Masters. “You’re to do what your papa tells you. Everything that I’ve been striving at is to be thrown away. I’m to be nobody, and it’s quite right that your papa should tell you so.”
“Dear mamma, don’t talk like that,” said Mary, clinging hold of her stepmother.
“Your papa sits there and won’t say a word,” said Mrs. Masters, stamping her foot.
“What’s the good of speaking when you go on like that before the children?” said Mr. Masters, getting up from his chair. “I say that it’s a proper thing that the girl should go to see the old friend who brought her up and has been always kind to her — and she shall go.” Mrs. Masters seated herself on the nearest chair and leaning her head against the wall, began to go into hysterics. “Your letter has already gone, Mary; and I desire you will write no other without letting me know.” Then he left the room and the house — and absolutely went over to the Bush. This latter proceeding was, however, hardly more than a bravado; for he merely took the opportunity of asking Mrs. Runciman a question at the bar, and then walked back to his own house, and shut himself up in the office.
On the next morning he called on Reginald Morton and told him that his daughter had accepted Lady Ushant’s invitation, but could not go till the 18th. “I shall be proud to take charge of her,” said Reginald. “And as for the change in the day it will suit me all the better.” So that was settled.
On the next day, Friday, Mrs. Masters did not come down to breakfast, but was waited upon up-stairs by her own daughters. This with her was a most unusual circumstance. The two maids were of opinion that such a thing had never occurred before, and that therefore Master must have been out half the night at the public-house although they had not known it. To Mary she would hardly speak a word. She appeared at dinner and called her husband Mr. Masters when she helped him to stew. All the afternoon she averred that her head was splitting, but managed to say many very bitter things about gentlemen in general, and expressed a vehement hope that that poor man Goarly would get at least a hundred pounds. It must be owned, however, that at this time she had heard nothing of Lord Rufford’s commission to her husband. In the evening Larry came in and was at once told the terrible news. “Larry,” said Kate, “Mary is going away for a month.”
“Where are you going, Mary?” asked the lover eagerly.
“To Lady Ushant’s, Mr. Twentyman.”
“For a month!”
“She has asked me for a month,” said Mary.
“It’s a regular fool’s errand,” said Mrs. Masters. “It’s not done with my consent, Mr. Twentyman. I don’t think she ought to stir from home till things are more settled.”
“They can be settled this moment as far as I am concerned,” said Larry standing up.
“There now,” said Mrs. Masters. At this time Mr. Masters was not in the room. “If you can make it straight with Mr. Twentyman I won’t say a word against your going away for a month.”
“Mamma, you shouldn’t!” exclaimed Mary.
“I hate such nonsense. Mr. Twentyman is behaving honest and genteel. What more would you have? Give him an answer like a sensible girl.”
“I have given him an answer and I cannot say anything more,” said Mary as she left the room.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14