There was a great deal of trouble and some very genuine sorrow in the attorney’s house at Dillsborough during the first week in December. Mr. Masters had declared to his wife that Mary should go to Cheltenham and a letter was written to Lady Ushant accepting the invitation. The twenty pounds too was forthcoming and the dress and the boots and the hat were bought. But while this was going on Mrs. Masters took care that there should be no comfort whatever around them and made every meal a separate curse to the unfortunate lawyer. She told him ten times a day that she had been a mother to his daughter, but declared that such a position was no longer possible to her as the girl had been taken altogether out of her hands. To Mary she hardly spoke at all and made her thoroughly wish that Lady Ushant’s kindness had been declined. “Mamma,” she said one day, “I had rather write now and tell her that I cannot come.”
“After all the money has been wasted!”
“I have only got things that I must have had very soon.”
“If you have got anything to say you had better talk to your father. I know nothing about it”
“You break my heart when you say that, mamma.”
“You think nothing about breaking mine; — or that young man’s who is behaving so well to you. What makes me mad is to see you shilly-shallying with him.”
“Mamma, I haven’t shilly-shallied.”
“That’s what I call it. Why can’t you speak him fair and tell him you’ll have him and settle yourself down properly? You’ve got some idea into your silly head that what you call a gentleman will come after you.”
“Mamma, that isn’t fair.”
“Very well, miss. As your father takes your part of course you can say what you please to me. I say it is so.” Mary knew very well what her another meant and was safe at least from any allusion to Reginald Morton. There was an idea prevalent in the house, and not without some cause, that Mr. Surtees the curate had looked with an eye of favour on Mary Masters. Mr. Surtees was certainly a gentleman, but his income was strictly limited to the sum of 120 pounds per annum which he received from Mr. Mainwaring. Now Mrs. Masters disliked clergymen, disliked gentlemen, and especially disliked poverty; and therefore was not disposed to look upon Mr. Surtees as an eligible suitor for her stepdaughter. But as the curate’s courtship had hitherto been of the coldest kind and as it had received no encouragement from the young lady, Mary was certainly justified in declaring that the allusion was not fair. “What I want to know is this; — are you prepared to marry Lawrence Twentyman?” To this question, as Mary could not give a favourable answer, she thought it best to make none at all. “There is a man as has got a house fit for any woman, and means to keep it; who can give a young woman everything that she ought to want; — and a handsome fellow too, with some life in him; one who really dotes on you — as men don’t often do on young women now as far as I can see. I wonder what it is you would have?”
“I want nothing, mamma.”
“Yes you do. You have been reading books of poetry till you don’t know what it is you do want. You’ve got your head full of claptraps and tantrums till you haven’t a grain of sense belonging to you. I hate such ways. It’s a spurning of the gifts of Providence not to have such a man as Lawrence Twentyman when he comes in your way. Who are you, I wonder, that you shouldn’t be contented with such as him? He’ll go and take some one else and then you’ll be fit to break your heart, fretting after him, and I shan’t pity you a bit. It’ll serve you right and you’ll die an old maid, and what there will be for you to live upon God in heaven only knows. You’re breaking your father’s heart, as it is.” Then she sat down in a rocking-chair and throwing her apron over her eyes gave herself up to a deluge of hysterical tears.
This was very hard upon Mary for though she did not believe all the horrible things which her stepmother said to her she did believe some of them. She was not afraid of the fate of an old maid which was threatened, but she did think that her marriage with this man would be for the benefit of the family and a great relief to her father. And she knew too that he was respectable, and believed him to be thoroughly earnest in his love. For such love as that it is impossible that a girl should not be grateful. There was nothing to allure him, nothing to tempt him to such a marriage, but a simple appreciation of her personal merits. And in life he was at any rate her equal. She had told Reginald Morton that Larry Twentyman was a fit companion for her and for her sisters, and she owned as much to herself every day. When she acknowledged all this she was tempted to ask herself whether she ought not to accept the man, if not for her own sake at least for that of the family.
That same evening her father called her into the office after the clerks were gone and spoke to her thus. “Your mamma is very unhappy, my dear,” he said.
“I’m afraid I have made everybody unhappy by wanting to go to Cheltenham.”
“It is not only that. That is reasonable enough and you ought to go. Mamma would say nothing more about that — if you would make up your mind to one thing.”
“What thing, papa?” Of course she knew very well what the thing was.
“It is time for you to think of settling in life, Mary. I never would put it into a girl’s head that she ought to worry herself about getting a husband unless the opportunity seemed to come in her way. Young women should be quiet and wait till they’re sought after. But here is a young man seeking you whom we all like and approve. A good house is a very good thing when it’s fairly come by.”
“And so is a full house. A girl shouldn’t run after money, but plenty is a great comfort in this world when it can be had without blushing for.”
“And so is an honest man’s love. I don’t like to see any girl wearying after some fellow to be always fal-lalling with her. A good girl will be able to be happy and contented without that. But a lone life is a poor life, and a good husband is about the best blessing that a young woman can have.” To this proposition Mary perhaps agreed in her own mind but she gave no spoken assent. “Now this young man that is wanting to marry you has got all these things, and as far as I can judge with my experience in the world, is as likely to make a good husband as any one I know.” He paused for an answer but Mary could only lean close upon his arm and be silent. “Have you anything to say about it, my dear? You see it has been going on now a long time, and of course he’ll look to have it decided.” But still she could say nothing. “Well, now; — he has been with me to-day.”
“Yes — Mr. Twentyman. He knows you’re going to Cheltenham and of course he has nothing to say against that. No young man such as he would be sorry that his sweetheart should be entertained by such a lady as Lady Ushant. But he says that he wants to have an answer before you go.”
“I did answer him, papa.”
“Yes — you refused him. But he hopes that perhaps you may think better of it. He has been with me and I have told him that if he will come to-morrow you will see him. He is to be here after dinner and you had better just take him up-stairs and hear what he has to say. If you can make up your mind to like him you will please all your family. But if you can’t, I won’t quarrel with you, my dear.”
“Oh papa, you are always so good.”
“Of course I am anxious that you should have a home of your own; — but let it be how it may I will not quarrel with my child.”
All that evening, and almost all the night, and again on the following morning Mary turned it over in her mind. She was quite sure that she was not in love with Larry Twentyman; but she was by no means sure that it might not be her duty to accept him without being in love with him. Of course he must know the whole truth; but she could tell him the truth and then leave it for him to decide. What right had she to stand in the way of her friends, or to be a burden to them when such a mode of life was offered to her? She had nothing of her own, and regarded herself as being a dead weight on the family. And she was conscious in a certain degree of isolation in the household — as being her father’s only child by the first marriage. She would hardly know how to look her father in the face and tell him that she had again refused the man. But yet there was something awful to her in the idea of giving herself to a man without loving him — in becoming a man’s wife when she would fain remain away from him! Would it be possible that she should live with him while her feelings were of such a nature? And then she blushed as she lay in the dark, with her cheek on her pillow, when she found herself forced to inquire within her own heart whether she did not love some one else. She would not own it, and yet she blushed, and yet she thought of it. If there might be such a man it was not the young clergyman to whom her mother had alluded.
Through all that morning she was very quiet, very pale, and in truth very unhappy. Her father said no further word to her, and her stepmother had been implored to be equally reticent. “I shan’t speak another word,” said Mrs. Masters; “her fortune is in her own hands and if she don’t choose to take it I’ve done with her. One man may lead a horse to water but a hundred can’t make him drink. It’s just the same with an obstinate pig-headed young woman.”
At three o’clock Mr. Twentyman came and was at once desired to go up to Mary who was waiting for him in the drawing-room. Mrs. Masters smiled and was gracious as she spoke to him, having for the moment wreathed herself in good humour so that he might go to his wooing in better spirit. He had learned his lesson by heart as nearly as he was able and began to recite it as soon as he had closed the door. “So you’re going to Cheltenham on Thursday?” he said.
“Yes, Mr. Twentyman.”
“I hope you’ll enjoy your visit there. I remember Lady Ushant myself very well. I don’t suppose she will remember me, but you can give her my compliments.”
“I certainly will do that.”
“And now, Mary, what have you got to say to me?” He looked for a moment as though he expected she would say what she had to say at once — without further question from him; but he knew that it could not be so and he had prepared his lesson further than that. “I think you must believe that I really do love you with all my heart.”
“I know that you are very good to me, Mr. Twentyman.”
“I don’t say anything about being good; but I’m true:— that I am. I’d take you for my wife tomorrow if you hadn’t a friend in the world, just for downright love. I’ve got you so in my heart, Mary, that I couldn’t get rid of you if I tried ever so. You must know that it’s true.”
“I do know that it’s true.”
“Well! Don’t you think that a fellow like that deserves something from a girl?”
“Indeed I do.”
“He deserves a great deal too much for any girl to deceive him. You wouldn’t like a young woman to marry you without loving you. I think you deserve a great deal too well of me for that.”
He paused a moment before he replied. “I don’t know about that,” he said at last. “I believe I should be glad to take you just anyhow. I don’t think you can hate me.”
“Certainly not. I like you as well, Mr. Twentyman, as one friend can like another — without loving.”
“I’ll be content with that, Mary, and chance it for the rest. I’ll be that kind to you that I’ll make you love me before twelve months are over. You come and try. You shall be mistress of everything. Mother isn’t one that will want to be in the way.”
“It isn’t that, Larry,” she said.
She hadn’t called him Larry for a long time and the sound of his own name from her lips gave him infinite hope. “Come and try. Say you’ll try. If ever a man did his best to please a woman I’ll do it to please you.” Then he attempted to take her in his arms but she glided away from him round the table. “I won’t ask you not to go to Cheltenham, or anything of that. You shall have your own time. By George you shall have everything your own way.” Still she did not answer him but stood looking down upon the table. “Come; say a word to a fellow.”
Then at last she spoke —“Give me six months to think of it.”
“Six months! If you’d say six weeks.”
“It is such a serious thing to do.”
“It is serious, of course. I’m serious, I know. I shouldn’t hunt above half as often as I do now; and as for the club — I don’t suppose I should go near the place once a month. Say six weeks, and then, if you’ll let me have one kiss, I’ll not trouble you till you’re back from Cheltenham.”
Mary at once perceived that he had taken her doubt almost as a complete surrender, and had again to become obdurate. At last she promised to give him a final answer in two months, but declared as she said so that she was afraid she could not bring herself to do as he desired. She declined altogether to comply with that other request which he made, and then left him in the room declaring that at present she could say nothing further. As she did so she felt sure that she would not be able to accept him in two months’ time whatever she might bring herself to do when the vast abyss of six months should have passed by.
Larry made his way down into the parlour with hopes considerably raised. There he found Mrs. Masters and when he told her what had passed she assured him that the thing was as good as settled. Everybody knew, she said, that when a girl doubted she meant to yield. And what were two months? The time would have nearly gone by the end of her visit to Cheltenham. It was now early in December, and they might be married and settled at home before the end of April. Mrs. Masters, to give him courage, took out a bottle of currant wine and drank his health, and told him that in three months’ time she would give him a kiss and call him her son. And she believed what she said. This, she thought, was merely Mary’s way of letting herself down without a sudden fall.
Then the attorney came in and also congratulated him. When the attorney was told that Mary had taken two months for her decision he also felt that the matter was almost as good as settled. This at any rate was clear to him — that the existing misery of his household would for the present cease, and that Mary would be allowed to go upon her visit without further opposition. He at present did not think it wise to say another word to Mary about the young man; nor would Mrs. Masters condescend to do so. Mary would of course now accept her lover like any other girl, and had been such a fool — so thought Mrs. Masters — that she had thoroughly deserved to lose him.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14