There were but two days between the scenes described in the last chapter and the day fixed for Mary’s departure, and during these two days Larry Twentyman’s name was not mentioned in the house. Mrs. Masters did not make herself quite pleasant to her stepdaughter, having still some grudge against her as to the twenty pounds. Nor, though she had submitted to the visit to Cheltenham, did she approve of it. It wasn’t the way, she said, to make such a girl as Mary like her life at Chowton Farm, going and sitting and doing nothing in old Lady Ushant’s drawing-room. It was cocking her up with gimcrack notions about ladies till she’d be ashamed to look at her own hands after she had done a day’s work with them. There was no doubt some truth in this. The woman understood the world and was able to measure Larry Twentyman and Lady Ushant and the rest of them. Books and pretty needlework and easy conversation would consume the time at Cheltenham, whereas at Chowton Farm there would be a dairy and a poultry yard — under difficulties on account of the foxes — with a prospect of baby linen and children’s shoes and stockings. It was all that question of gentlemen and ladies, and of non-gentlemen and non-ladies! They ought, Mrs. Masters thought, to be kept distinct. She had never, she said, wanted to put her finger into a pie that didn’t belong to her. She had never tried to be a grand lady. But Mary was perilously near the brink on either side, and as it was to be her lucky fate at last to sit down to a plentiful but work-a-day life at Chowton Farm she ought to have been kept away from the maundering idleness of Lady Ushant’s lodgings at Cheltenham. But Mary heard nothing of this during these two days, Mrs. Masters bestowing the load of her wisdom upon her unfortunate husband.
Reginald Morton had been twice over at Mrs. Masters’ house with reference to the proposed journey. Mrs. Masters was hardly civil to him, as he was supposed to be among the enemies; — but she had no suspicion that he himself was the enemy of enemies. Had she entertained such an idea she might have reconciled herself to it, as the man was able to support a wife, and by such a marriage she would have been at once relieved from all further charge. In her own mind she would have felt very strongly that Mary had chosen the wrong man, and thrown herself into the inferior mode of life. But her own difficulties in the matter would have been solved. There was, however, no dream of such a kind entertained by any of the family. Reginald Morton was hardly regarded as a young man, and was supposed to be gloomy, misanthropic, and bookish. Mrs. Masters was not at all averse to the companionship for the journey, and Mr. Masters was really grateful to one of the old family for being kind to his girl.
Nor must it be supposed that Mary herself had any expectations or even any hopes. With juvenile aptness to make much of the little things which had interested her, and prone to think more than was reasonable of any intercourse with a man who seemed to her to be so superior to others as Reginald Morton, she was anxious for an opportunity to set herself right with him about that scene at the bridge. She still thought that he was offended and that she had given him cause for offence. He had condescended to make her a request to which she had acceded — and she had then not done as she had promised. She thought she was sure that this was all she had to say to him, and yet she was aware that she was unnaturally excited at the idea of spending three or four hours alone with him. The fly which was to take him to the railway station called for Mary at the attorney’s door at ten o’clock, and the attorney handed her in. “It is very good of you indeed, Mr. Morton, to take so much trouble with my girl,” said the attorney, really feeling what he said. “It is very good of you to trust her to me,” said Reginald, also sincerely. Mary was still to him the girl who had been brought up by his aunt at Bragton, and not the fit companion for Larry Twentyman.
Reginald Morton had certainly not made up his mind to ask Mary Masters to be his wife. Thinking of Mary Masters very often as he had done during the last two months, he was quite sure that he did not mean to marry at all. He did acknowledge to himself that were he to allow himself to fall in love with any one it would be with Mary Masters — but for not doing so there were many reasons. He had lived so long alone that a married life would not suit him; as a married man he would be a poor man; he himself was averse to company, whereas most women prefer society. And then, as to this special girl, had he not reason for supposing that she preferred another man to him, and a man of such a class that the very preference showed her to be unfit to mate with him? He also cozened himself with an idea that it was well that he should have the opportunity which the journey would give him of apologising for his previous rudeness to her.
In the carriage they had the compartment to themselves with the exception of an old lady at the further end who had a parrot in a cage for which she had taken a first-class ticket. “I can’t offer you this seat,” said the old lady, “because it has been booked and paid for my bird.” As neither of the new passengers had shown the slightest wish for the seat the communication was perhaps unnecessary. Neither of the two had any idea of separating from the other for the sake of the old lady’s company.
They had before them a journey of thirty miles on one railway, then a stop of half an hour at the Hinxton junction; and then another journey of about equal length. In the first hour very little was said that might not have been said in the presence of Lady Ushant — or even of Mrs. Masters. There might be a question whether, upon the whole, the parrot had not the best of the conversation, as the bird, which the old lady declared to be the wonder of his species, repeated the last word of nearly every sentence spoken either by our friends or by the old lady herself. “Don’t you think you’d be less liable to cold with that window closed?” the old lady said to Mary. “Cosed — cosed — cosed,” said the bird, and Morton was of course constrained to shut the window. “He is a wonderful bird,” said the old lady. “Wonderful bird; — wonderful bird; — wonderful bird,” said the parrot, who was quite at home with this expression. “We shall be able to get some lunch at Hinxton,” said Reginald. “Inxton,” screamed the bird —“Caw — caw — caw.” “He’s worth a deal of money,” said the old lady. “Deal o’ money, Deal o’ money,” repeated the bird as he scrambled round the wire cage with a tremendous noise, to the great triumph of the old lady.
No doubt the close attention which the bird paid to everything that passed, and the presence of the old lady as well, did for a time interfere with their conversation. But, after awhile, the old lady was asleep, and the bird, having once or twice attempted to imitate the somnolent sounds which his mistress was making, seemed also to go to sleep himself. Then Reginald, beginning with Lady Ushant and the old Morton family generally, gradually got the conversation round to Bragton and the little bridge. He had been very stern when he had left her there, and he knew also that at that subsequent interview, when he had brought Lady Ushant’s note to her at her father’s house, he had not been cordially kind to her. Now they were thrown together for an hour or so in the closest companionship, and he wished to make her comfortable and happy. “I suppose you remember Bragton?” he said.
“Every path and almost every tree about the place.”
“So do I. I called there the other day. Family quarrels are so silly, you know.”
“Did you see Mr. Morton?”
“No; — and he hasn’t returned my visit yet. I don’t know whether he will — and I don’t much mind whether he does or not. That old woman is there, and she is very bitter against me. I don’t care about the people, but I am sorry that I cannot see the place.”
“I ought to have walked with you that day,” she said in a very low tone. The parrot opened his eyes and looked at them as though he were striving to catch his cue.
“Of course you ought.” But as he said this he smiled and there was no offence in his voice. “I dare say you didn’t guess how much I thought of it. And then I was a bear to you. I always am a bear when I am not pleased.”
“Peas, peas, peas,” said the parrot.
“I shall be a bear to that brute of a bird before long.”
“What a very queer bird he is.”
“He is a public nuisance — and so is the old lady who brought him here,” This was said quite in a whisper. “It is very odd, Miss Masters, but you are literally the only person in all Dillsborough in regard to whom I have any genuine feeling of old friendship.”
“You must remember a great many.”
“But I did not know any well enough. I was too young to have seen much of your father. But when I came back at that time you and I were always together.”
“Gedder, gedder, gedder,” said the parrot.
“If that bird goes on like that I’ll speak to the guard,” said Mr. Morton with affected anger. “Polly mustn’t talk,” said the old lady waking up.
“Tok, tok, tok, tok,” screamed the parrot. Then the old lady threw a shawl over him and again went to sleep.
“If I behaved badly I beg your pardon,” said Mary.
“That’s just what I wanted to say to you, Miss Masters — only a man never can do those things as well as a lady. I did behave badly, and I do beg your pardon. Of course I ought to have asked Mr. Twentyman to come with us. I know that he is a very good fellow.”
“Indeed he is,” said Mary Masters, with all the emphasis in her power. “Deedy is, deedy is, deedy is, deedy is,” repeated the parrot in a very angry voice about a dozen times under his shawl, and while the old lady was remonstrating with her too talkative companion their tickets were taken and they ran into the Hinxton Station. “If the old lady is going on to Cheltenham we’ll travel third class before we’ll sit in the same carriage again with that bird,” said Morton laughing as he took Mary into the refreshment-room. But the old lady did not get into the same compartment as they started, and the last that was heard of the parrot at Hinxton was a quarrel between him and the guard as to certain railway privileges.
When they had got back into the railway carriage Morton was very anxious to ask whether she was in truth engaged to marry the young man as to whose good fellowship she and the parrot had spoken up so emphatically, but he hardly knew how to put the question. And were she to declare that she was engaged to him, what should he say then? Would he not be bound to congratulate her? And yet it would be impossible that any word of such congratulation should pass his lips? “You will stay a month at Cheltenham?” he said.
“Your aunt was kind enough to ask me for so long.”
“I shall go back on Saturday. If I were to stay longer I should feel myself to be in her way. And I have come to live a sort of hermit’s life. I hardly know how to sit down and eat my dinner in company, and have no idea of seeing a human being before two o’clock.”
“What do you do with yourself?”
“I rush in and out of the garden and spend my time between my books and my flowers and my tobacco pipes.”
“Do you mean to live always like that?” she asked, in perfect innocency.
“I think so. Sometimes I doubt whether it’s wise.”
“I don’t think it wise at all,” said Mary.
“People should live together, I think.”
“You mean that I ought to have a wife?”
“No; — I didn’t mean that. Of course that must be just as you might come to like any one well enough. But a person need not shut himself up and be a hermit because he is not married. Lord Rufford is not married and he goes everywhere.”
“He has money and property and is a man of pleasure.”
“And your cousin, Mr. John Morton.”
“He is essentially a man of business, which I never could have been. And they say he is going to be married to that Miss Trefoil who has been staying there. Unfortunately I have never had anything that I need do in all my life, and therefore I have shut myself up as you call it. I wonder what your life will be.” Mary blushed and said nothing. “If there were anything to tell I wish I knew it”
“There is nothing to tell.”
She thought a moment before she answered him and then she said, “Nothing. What should I have to tell?” she added trying to laugh.
He remained for a few minutes silent, and then put his head out towards her as he spoke. “I was afraid that you might have to tell that you were engaged to marry Mr. Twentyman.”
“I am not”
“Oh! — I am so glad to hear it”
“I don’t know why you should be glad. If I had said I was, it would have been very uncivil if you hadn’t declared yourself glad to hear that”
“Then I must have been uncivil for I couldn’t have done it. Knowing how my aunt loves you, knowing what she thinks of you and what she would think of such a match, remembering myself what I do of you, I could not have congratulated you on your engagement to a man whom I think so much inferior to yourself in every respect. Now you know it all — why I was angry at the bridge, why I was hardly civil to you at your father’s house; and, to tell the truth, why I have been so anxious to be alone with you for half an hour. If you think it an offence that I should take so much interest in you, I will beg your pardon for that also.”
“I have never spoken to my aunt about it, but I do not think that she would have been contented to hear that you were to become the wife of Mr. Twentyman.”
What answer she was to make to this or whether she was to make any she had not decided when they were interrupted by the reappearance of the old lady and the bird. She was declaring to the guard at the window, that as she had paid for a first-class seat for her parrot she would get into any carriage she liked in which there were two empty seats. Her bird had been ill-treated by some scurrilous ill-conditioned travellers and she had therefore returned to the comparative kindness of her former companions. “They threatened to put him out of the window, sir,” said the old woman to Morton as she was forcing her way in. “Windersir, windersir,” said the parrot.
“I hope he’ll behave himself here, ma’am,” said Morton.
“Heremam, heremam, heremam,” said the parrot.
“Now go to bed like a good bird,” said the old lady putting her shawl over the cage — whereupon the parrot made a more diabolical noise than ever under the curtain.
Mary felt that there was no more to be said about Mr. Twentyman and her hopes and prospects, and for the moment she was glad to be left in peace. The old lady and the parrot continued their conversation till they had all arrived in Cheltenham; — and Mary as she sat alone thinking of it afterwards might perhaps feel a soft regret that Reginald Morton had been interrupted by the talkative animal.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01