While the correspondence given in the last chapter was going on Miss Trefoil had other troubles besides those there narrated, and other letters to answer. Soon after her departure from Rufford she received a very serious but still an affectionate epistle from John Morton in which he asked her if it was her intention to become his wife or not. The letter was very long as well as very serious and need not be given here at length. But that was the gist of it; and he went on to say that in regard to money he had made the most liberal proposition in his power, that he must decline to have any further communication with lawyers, and that he must ask her to let him know at once — quite at once — whether she did or did not regard herself as engaged to him. It was a manly letter and ended by a declaration that as far as he himself was concerned his feelings were not at all altered. This she received while staying at the Gores’, but, in accordance with her predetermined strategy, did not at once send any answer to it. Before she heard again from Morton she had received that pleasant first letter from Lord Rufford, and was certainly then in no frame of mind to assure Mr. Morton that she was ready to declare herself his affianced wife before all the world. Then, after ten days, he had written to her again and had written much more severely. It wanted at that time but a few days to Christmas, and she was waiting for a second letter from Lord Rufford. Let what might come of it she could not now give up the Rufford chance. As she sat thinking of it, giving the very best of her mind to it, she remembered the warmth of that embrace in the little room behind the drawing-room, and those halcyon minutes in which her head had been on his shoulder, and his arm round her waist. Not that they were made halcyon to her by any of the joys of love. In giving the girl her due it must be owned that she rarely allowed herself to indulge in simple pleasures. If Lord Rufford, with the same rank and property, had been personally disagreeable to her it would have been the same. Business to her had for many years been business, and her business had been so very hard that she had never allowed lighter things to interfere with it. She had had justice on her side when she rebuked her mother for accusing her of flirtations. But could such a man as Lord Rufford — with his hands so free — venture to tell himself that such tokens of affection with such a girl would mean nothing? If she might contrive to meet him again of course they would be repeated; and then he should be forced to say that they did mean something. When therefore the severe letter came from Morton — severe and pressing, telling her that she was bound to answer him at once and that were she still silent he must in regard to his own honour take that as an indication of her intention to break off the match — she felt that she must answer it. The answer must, however, still be ambiguous. She would not if possible throw away that stool quite as yet, though her mind was intent on ascending to the throne which it might be within her power to reach. She wrote to him an ambiguous letter, but a letter which certainly was not intended to liberate him. “He ought,” she said, “to understand that a girl situated as she was could not ultimately dispose of herself till her friends had told her that she was free to do so. She herself did not pretend to have any interest in the affairs as to which her father and his lawyers were making themselves busy. They had never even condescended to tell her what it was they wanted on her behalf; — nor, for the matter of that, had he, Morton, ever told her what it was that he refused to do. Of course she could not throw herself into his arms till these things were settled.”— By that expression she had meant a metaphorical throwing of herself, and not such a flesh and blood embracing as she had permitted to the lord in the little room at Rufford. Then she suggested that he should appeal again to her father. It need hardly be said that her father knew very little about it, and that the lawyers had long since written to Lady Augustus to say that better terms as to settlement could not be had from Mr. John Morton.
Morton, when he wrote his second letter, had received the offer of the mission to Patagonia and had asked for a few days to think of it. After much consideration he had determined that, he would say nothing to Arabella of the offer. Her treatment of him gave her no right to be consulted. Should she at once write back declaring her readiness to become his wife, then he would consult her — and would not only consult her but would be prepared to abandon the mission at the expression of her lightest wish. Indeed in that case he thought that he would himself advise that it should be abandoned. Why should he expatriate himself to such a place with such a wife as Arabella Trefoil? He received her answer and at once accepted the offer. He accepted it, though he by no means assured himself that the engagement was irrevocably annulled. But now, if she came to him, she must take her chance. She must be told that he at any rate was going to Patagonia, and that unless she could make up her mind to do so too, she must remain Arabella Trefoil for him. He would not even tell her of his appointment. He had done all that in him lay and would prepare himself for his journey as a single man. A minister going out to Patagonia would of course have some little leave of absence allowed him, and he arranged with his friend Mounser Green that he should not start till April.
But when Lord Rufford’s second letter reached Miss Trefoil down at Greenacre Manor, where she had learned by common report that Mr. Morton was to be the new minister at Patagonia — when she believed as she then did that the lord was escaping her, that, seeing and feeling his danger, he had determined not to jump into the lion’s mouth by meeting her at Mistletoe, that her chance there was all over; then she remembered her age, her many seasons, the hard work of her toilet, those tedious long and bitter quarrels with her mother, the ever-renewed trouble of her smiles, the hopelessness of her future should she smile in vain to the last, and the countless miseries of her endless visitings; and she remembered too the 1200 pounds a year that Morton had offered to settle on her and the assurance of a home of her own though that home should be at Bragton. For an hour or two she had almost given up the hope of Rufford and had meditated some letter to her other lover which might at any rate secure him. But she had collected her courage sufficiently to make that last appeal to the lord, which had been successful. Three weeks now might settle all that and for three weeks it might still be possible so to manage her affairs that she might fall back upon Patagonia as her last resource.
About this time Morton returned to Bragton, waiting however till he was assured that the Senator had completed his visit to Dillsborough. He had been a little ashamed of the Senator in regard to the great Goarly conflict and was not desirous of relieving his solitude by the presence of the American. On this occasion he went quite alone and ordered no carriages from the Bush and no increased establishment of servants. He certainly was not happy in his mind. The mission to Patagonia was well paid, being worth with house and etceteras nearly 3000 pounds a year; and it was great and quick promotion for one so young as himself. For one neither a lord nor connected with a Cabinet Minister Patagonia was a great place at which to begin his career as Plenipotentiary on his own bottom; — but it is a long way off and has its drawbacks. He could not look to be there for less than four years; and there was hardly reason why a man in his position should expatriate himself to such a place for so long a time. He felt that he should not have gone but for his engagement to Arabella Trefoil, and that neither would he have gone had his engagement been solid and permanent. He was going in order that he might be rid of that trouble, and a man’s feelings in such circumstances cannot be satisfactory to himself. However he had said that he would go, and he knew enough of himself to be certain that having said so he would not alter his mind. But he was very melancholy and Mrs. Hopkins declared to old Mrs. Twentyman that the young squire was “hipped,”—“along of his lady love,” as she thought.
His hands had been so full of his visitors when at Bragton before, and he had been carried off so suddenly to Rufford, and then had hurried up to London in such misery, that he had hardly had time to attend to his own business. Mr. Masters had made a claim upon him since he had been in England for £127 8s. 4d in reference to certain long-gone affairs in which the attorney declared he had been badly treated by those who had administered the Morton estate. John Morton had promised to look into the matter and to see Mr. Masters. He had partially looked into it and now felt ashamed that he had not fully kept his promise. The old attorney had not had much hope of getting his money. It was doubtful to himself whether he could make good his claim against the Squire at law, and it was his settled purpose to make no such attempt although he was quite sure that the money was his due. Indeed if Mr. Morton would not do anything further in the matter, neither would he. He was almost too mild a man to be a successful lawyer, and had a dislike to asking for money. Mr. Morton had promised to see him, but Mr. Morton had probably — forgotten it. Some gentlemen seem apt to forget such promises.
Mr. Masters was somewhat surprised therefore when he was told one morning in his office that Mr. Morton from Bragton wished to see him. He thought that it must be Reginald Morton, having not heard that the Squire had returned to the country. But John Morton was shown into the office, and the old attorney immediately arose from his arm-chair. Sundown was there, and was at once sent out of the room. Sundown on such occasions was accustomed to retire to some settlement seldom visited by the public which was called the back office. Nickem was away intent on unravelling the Goarly mystery, and the attorney could ask his visitor to take a confidential seat. Mr. Morton however had very little to say. He was full of apologies and at once handed out a cheque for the sum demanded. The money was so much to the attorney that he was flurried by his own success. “Perhaps,” said Morton, “I ought in fairness to add interest”
“Not at all; — by no means. Lawyers never expect that. Really, Mr. Morton, I am very much obliged. It was so long ago that I thought that perhaps you might think —”
“I do not doubt that it’s all right”
“Yes, Mr. Morton — it is all right. It is quite right. But your coming in this way is quite a compliment. I am so proud to see the owner of Bragton once more in this house. I respect the family as I always did; and as for the money —”
“I am only sorry that it has been delayed so long. Good morning, Mr. Masters.”
The attorney’s affairs were in such a condition that an unexpected cheque for £127 8s. 4d. sufficed to exhilarate him. It was as though the money had come down to him from the very skies. As it happened Mary returned from Cheltenham on that same evening and the attorney felt that if she had brought back with her an intention to be Mrs. Twentyman he could still be a happy and contented man.
And there had been another trouble on John Morton’s mind. He had received his cousin’s card but had not returned the visit while his grandmother had been at Bragton. Now he walked on to Hoppet Hall and knocked at the door. — Yes; — Mr. Morton was at home, and then he was shown into the presence of his cousin whom he had not seen since he was a boy. “I ought to have come sooner,” said the Squire, who was hardly at his ease.
“I heard you had a house full of people at Bragton.”
“Just that — and then I went off rather suddenly to the other side of the country; and then I had to go up to London. Now I’m going to Patagonia.”
“Patagonia! That’s a long way off.”
“We Foreign Office slaves have to be sent a long way off.”
“But we heard, John,” said Reginald, who did not feel it to be his duty to stand on any ceremony with his younger cousin, “we heard that you were going to be married to Miss Trefoil. Are you going to take a wife out to Patagonia?”
This was a question which he certainly had not expected. “I don’t know how that may be,” he said frowning.
“We were told here in Dillsborough that it was all settled. I hope I haven’t asked an improper question.”
“Of course people will talk.”
“If it’s only talk I beg pardon. Whatever concerns Bragton is interesting to me, and from the way in which I heard this I thought it was a certainty. Patagonia; — well! You don’t want an assistant private secretary I suppose? I should like to see Patagonia.”
“We are not allowed to appoint those gentlemen ourselves.”
“And I suppose I should be too old to get in at the bottom. It seems a long way off for a man who is the owner of Bragton.”
“It is a long way.”
“And what will you do with the old place?”
“There’s no one to live there. If you were married you might perhaps take it” This was of course said in joke, as old Mrs. Morton would have thought Bragton to be disgraced for ever, even by such a proposition.
“You might let it.”
“Who would take such a place for five years? I suppose old Mrs. Hopkins will remain, and that it will become more and more desolate every year. I mustn’t let the old house tumble down; that’s all.” Then the Minister Plenipotentiary to Patagonia took his departure and walked back to Bragton thinking of the publicity of his engagement. All Dillsborough had heard that he was to be married to Miss Trefoil, and this cousin of his had been so sure of the fact that he had not hesitated to ask a question about it in the first moment of their first interview. Under such circumstances it would be better for him to go to Patagonia than to remain in England.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01