Before the Monday came the party to Rufford Hall had become quite a settled thing and had been very much discussed. On the Saturday the Senator had been driven to the meet, a distance of about ten miles, on purpose that he might see Lord Rufford and explain his views about Goarly. Lord Rufford had bowed and stared, and laughed, and had then told the Senator that he thought he would “find himself in the wrong box.” “That’s quite possible, my Lord. I guess, it won’t be the first time I’ve been in the wrong box, my Lord. Sometimes I do get right. But I thought I would not enter your lordship’s house as a guest without telling you what I was doing.” Then Lord Rufford assured him that this little affair about Goarly would make no difference in that respect. Mr. Gotobed again scrutinised the hounds and Tony Tuppett, laughed in his sleeve because a fox wasn’t found in the first quarter of an hour, and after that was driven back to Bragton.
The Sunday was a day of preparation for the Trefoils. Of course they didn’t go to church. Arabella indeed was never up in time for church and Lady Augustus only went when her going would be duly registered among fashionable people. Mr. Gotobed laughed when he was invited and asked whether anybody was ever known to go to church two Sundays running at Bragton. “People have been known to refuse with less acrimony,” said Morton. “I always speak my mind, sir,” replied the Senator. Poor John Morton, therefore, went to his parish church alone.
There were many things to be considered by the Trefoils. There was the question of dress. If any good was to be done by Arabella at Rufford it must be done with great despatch. There would be the dinner on Monday, the hunting on Tuesday, the ball, and then the interesting moment of departure. No girl could make better use of her time; but then, think of her difficulties! All that she did would have to be done under the very eyes of the man to whom she was engaged, and to whom she wished to remain engaged — unless, as she said to herself, she could “pull off the other event.” A great deal must depend on appearance. As she and her mother were out on a lengthened cruise among long-suffering acquaintances, going to the De Brownes after the Gores, and the Smijthes after the De Brownes, with as many holes to run to afterwards as a four-year-old fox — though with the same probability of finding them stopped — of course she had her wardrobe with her. To see her night after night one would think that it was supplied with all that wealth would give. But there were deficiencies and there were make-shifts, very well known to herself and well understood by her maid. She could generally supply herself with gloves by bets, as to which she had never any scruple in taking either what she did win or did not, and in dunning any who might chance to be defaulters. On occasions too, when not afraid of the bystanders, she would venture on a hat, and though there was difficulty as to the payment, not being able to give her number as she did with gloves, so that the tradesmen could send the article, still she would manage to get the hat — and the trimmings. It was said of her that she once offered to lay an Ulster to a sealskin jacket, but that the young man had coolly said that a sealskin jacket was beyond a joke and had asked her whether she was ready to “put down” her Ulster. These were little difficulties from which she usually knew how to extricate herself without embarrassment; but she had not expected to have to marshal her forces against such an enemy as Lord Rufford, or to sit down for the besieging of such a city this campaign. There were little things which required to be done, and the lady’s-maid certainly had not time to go to church on Sunday.
But there were other things which troubled her even more than her clothes. She did not much like Bragton, and at Bragton, in his own house, she did not very much like her proposed husband. At Washington he had been somebody. She had met him everywhere then, and had heard him much talked about. At Washington he had been a popular man and had had the reputation of being a rich man also; but here, at home, in the country he seemed to her to fall off in importance, and he certainly had not made himself pleasant. Whether any man could be pleasant to her in the retirement of a country house — any man whom she would have no interest in running down — she did not ask herself. An engagement to her must under any circumstances be a humdrum thing — to be brightened only by wealth. But here she saw no signs of wealth. Nevertheless she was not prepared to shove away the plank from below her feet, till she was sure that she had a more substantial board on which to step. Her mother, who perhaps did not see in the character of Morton all the charms which she would wish to find in a son-in-law, was anxious to shake off the Bragton alliance; but Arabella, as she said so often both to herself and to her mother, was sick of the dust of the battle and conscious of fading strength. She would make this one more attempt, but must make it with great care. When last in town this young lord had whispered a word or two to her, which then had set her hoping for a couple of days; and now, when chance had brought her into his neighbourhood, he had gone out of his way — very much out of his way — to renew his acquaintance with her. She would be mad not to give herself the chance; but yet she could not afford to let the plank go from under her feet.
But the part she had to play was one which even she felt to be almost beyond her powers. She could perceive that Morton was beginning to be jealous — and that his jealousy was not of that nature which strengthens a tie but which is apt to break it altogether. His jealousy, if fairly aroused, would not be appeased by a final return to himself. She had already given him occasion to declare himself off, and if thoroughly angered he would no doubt use it. Day by day, and almost hour by hour, he was becoming more sombre and hard, and she was well aware that there was reason for it. It did not suit her to walk about alone with him through the shrubberies. It did not suit her to be seen with his arm round her waist. Of course the people of Bragton would talk of the engagement, but she would prefer that they should talk of it with doubt. Even her own maid had declared to Mrs. Hopkins that she did not know whether there was or was not an engagement — her own maid being at the time almost in her confidence. Very few of the comforts of a lover had been vouchsafed to John Morton during this sojourn at Bragton and very little had been done in accordance with his wishes. Even this visit to Rufford, as she well knew, was being made in opposition to him. She hoped that her lover would not attempt to ride to hounds on the Tuesday, so that she might be near the lord unseen by him — and that he would leave Rufford on the Wednesday before herself and her mother. At the ball of course she could dance with Lord Rufford, and could keep her eye on her lover at the same time.
She hardly saw Morton on the Sunday afternoon, and she was again closeted on the Monday till lunch. They were to start at four and there would not be much more than time after lunch for her to put on her travelling gear, Then, as they all felt, there was a difficulty about the carriages. Who was to go with whom? Arabella, after lunch, took the bull by the horns. “I suppose,” she said as Morton followed her out into the hall, “mamma and I had better go in the phaeton.”
“I was thinking that Lady Augustus might consent to travel with Mr. Gotobed and that you and I might have the phaeton.”
“Of course it would be very pleasant,” she answered smiling.
“Then why not let it be so?”
“There are convenances.”
“How would it be if you and I were going without anybody else? Do you mean to say that in that case we might not sit in the same carriage?”
“I mean to say that in that case I should not go at all. It isn’t done in England. You have beer in the States so long that you forget all our old-fashioned ways.”
“I do think that is nonsense.” She only smiled and shook her head. “Then the Senator shall go in the phaeton, and I will go with you and your mother.”
“Yes — and quarrel with mamma all the time as you always do. Let me have it my own way this time.”
“Upon my word I believe you are ashamed of me,” he said leaning back upon the hall table. He had shut the dining-room door and she was standing close to him.
“You have only got to say so, Arabella, and let there be an end of it all.”
“If you wish it, Mr. Morton.”
“You know I don’t wish it. You know I am ready to marry you to-morrow.”
“You have made ever so many difficulties as far as I can understand.”
“You have unreasonable people acting for you, Arabella, and of course I don’t mean to give way to them.”
“Pray don’t talk to me about money. I know nothing about it and have taken no part in the matter. I suppose there must be settlements?”
“Of course there must”
“And I can only do what other people tell me. You at any rate have something to do with it all, and I have absolutely nothing.”
“That is no reason you shouldn’t go in the same carriage with me to Rufford.”
“Are you coming back to that, just like a big child? Do let us consider that as settled. I’m sure you’ll let mamma and me have the use of the phaeton.” Of course the little contest was ended in the manner proposed by Arabella.
“I do think,” said Arabella, when she and her mother were seated in the carriage, “that we have treated him very badly.”
“Quite as well as he deserves! What a house to bring us to; and what people! Did you ever come across such an old woman before! And she has him completely under her thumb. Are you prepared to live with that harridan?”
“You may let me alone, mamma, for all that. She won’t be in my way after I’m married, I can tell you.”
“You’ll have something to do then.”
“I ain’t a bit afraid of her.”
“And to ask us to meet such people as this American!”
“He’s going back to Washington and it suited him to have him. I don’t quarrel with him for that. I wish I were married to him and back in the States.”
“You have given it all up about Lord Rufford then?”
“No; — that’s just where it is. I haven’t given it up, and I still see trouble upon trouble before me. But I know how it will be. He doesn’t mean anything. He’s only amusing himself.”
“If he’d once say the word he couldn’t get back again. The Duke would interfere then.”
“What would he care for the Duke? The Duke is no more than anybody else nowadays. I shall just fall to the ground between two stools. I know it as well as if it were done already. And then I shall have to begin again! If it comes to that I shall do something terrible. I know I shall.” Then they turned in at Lord Rufford’s gates; and as they were driven up beneath the oaks, through the gloom, both mother and daughter thought how charming it would be to be the mistress of such a park.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01