When Mary Masters got up on the morning after her arrival she knew that she would have to endure much on that day. Everybody had smiled on her the preceding evening, but the smiles were of a nature which declared themselves to be preparatory to some coming event. The people around her were gracious on the presumption that she was going to do as they wished, and would be quite prepared to withdraw their smiles should she prove to be contumacious. Mary, as she crept down in the morning, understood all this perfectly. She found her stepmother alone in the parlour and was at once attacked with the all important question. “My dear, I hope you have made up your mind about Mr. Twentyman.”
“There were to be two months, mamma.”
“That’s nonsense, Mary. Of course you must know what you mean to tell him.” Mary thought that she did know, but was not at the present moment disposed to make known her knowledge and therefore remained silent. “You should remember how much this is to your papa and me and should speak out at once. Of course you need not tell Mr. Twentyman till the end of the time unless you like it”
“I thought I was to be left alone for two months.”
“Mary, that is wicked. When your papa has so many things to think of and so much to provide for, you should be more thoughtful of him. Of course he will want to be prepared to give you what things will be necessary.” Mrs. Masters had not as yet heard of Mr. Morton’s cheque, and perhaps would not hear of it till her husband’s bank book fell into her hands. The attorney had lately found it necessary to keep such matters to himself when it was possible, as otherwise he was asked for explanations which it was not always easy for him to give. “You know,” continued Mrs. Masters, “how hard your father finds it to get money as it is wanted.”
“I don’t want anything, mamma.”
“You must want things if you are to be married in March or April.”
“But I shan’t be married in March or April. Oh, mamma, pray don’t.”
“In a week’s time or so you must tell Larry. After all that has passed of course he won’t expect to have to wait long, and you can’t ask him. Kate my dear,”— Kate had just entered the room, “go into the office and tell your father to come into breakfast in five minutes. You must know, Mary, and I insist on your telling me.”
“When I said two months — only it was he said two months —”
“What difference does it make, my dear?”
“It was only because he asked me to put it off. I knew it could make no difference.”
“Do you mean to tell me, Mary, that you are going to refuse him after all?”
“I can’t help it,” said Mary, bursting out into tears.
“Can’t help it! Did anybody ever see such an idiot since girls were first created? Not help it, after having given him as good as a promise! You must help it. You must be made to help it”
There was an injustice in this which nearly killed poor Mary. She had been persuaded among them to put off her final decision, not because she had any doubt in her own mind, but at their request, and now she was told that in granting this delay she had “given as good as a promise!” And her stepmother also had declared that she “must be made to help it,”— or in other words be made to marry Mr. Twentyman in opposition to her own wishes! She was quite sure that no human being could have such right of compulsion over her. Her father would not attempt it, and it was, after all, to her father alone, that she was bound by duty. At the moment she could make no reply, and then her father with the two girls came in from the office.
The attorney was still a little radiant with his triumph about the cheque and was also pleased with his own discernment in the matter of Goarly. He had learned that morning from Nickem that Goarly had consented to take 7s. 6d. an acre from Lord Rufford and was prepared to act “quite the honourable part” on behalf of his lordship. Nickem had seemed to think that the triumph would not end here, but had declined to make any very definite statements. Nickem clearly fancied that he had been doing great things himself, and that he might be allowed to have a little mystery. But the attorney took great credit to himself in that he had rejected Goarly’s case, and had been employed by Lord Rufford in lieu of Goarly. When he entered the parlour he had for the moment forgotten Larry Twentyman, and was disposed to greet his girl lovingly; — but he found her dissolved in bitter tears. “Mary, my darling, what is it ails you?” he said.
“Never mind about your darling now, but come to breakfast. She is giving, herself airs — as usual.”
But Mary never did give herself airs and her father could not endure the accusation. “She would not be crying,” he said, “unless she had something to cry for.”
“Pray don’t make a fuss about things you don’t understand,” said his wife. “Mary, are you coming to the table? If not you had better go up-stairs. I hate such ways, and I won’t have them. This comes of Ushanting! I knew what it would be. The place for girls is to stay at home and mind their work — till they have got houses of their own to look after. That’s what I intend my girls to do. There’s nothing on earth so bad for girls as that twiddle-your-thumbs visiting about when they think they’ve nothing to do but to show what sort of ribbons and gloves they’ve got. Now, Dolly, if you’ve got any hands will you cut the bread for your father? Mary’s a deal too fine a lady to do anything but sit there and rub her eyes.” After that the breakfast was eaten in silence.
When the meal was over Mary followed her father into the office and said that she wanted to speak to him. When Sundown had disappeared she told her tale. “Papa,” she said, “I am so sorry, but I can’t do what you want about Mr. Twentyman.”
“Is it so, Mary?”
“Don’t be angry with me, papa.”
“Angry! No; — I won’t be angry. I should be very sorry to be angry with my girl. But what you tell me will make us all very unhappy; — very unhappy indeed. What will you say to Lawrence Twentyman?”
“What I said before, papa.”
“But he is quite certain now that you mean to take him. Of course we were all certain when you only wanted a few more days to think of it.” Mary felt this to be the cruellest thing of all. “When he asked me I said I wouldn’t pledge you, but I certainly had no doubt. What is the matter, Mary?”
She could understand that a girl might be asked why she wanted to marry a man, and that in such a condition she ought to be able to give a reason; but it was she thought very hard that she should be asked why she didn’t want to marry a man. “I suppose, papa,” she said after a pause, “I don’t like him in that way.”
“Your mamma will be sure to say that it is because you went to Lady Ushant’s.”
And so in part it was — as Mary herself very well knew; though Lady Ushant herself had had nothing to do with it. “Lady Ushant,” she said, “would be very well pleased — if she thought that I liked him well enough.”
“Did you tell Lady Ushant?”
“Yes; I told her all about it — and how you would all be pleased. And I did try to bring myself to it. Papa — pray, pray don’t want to send me away from you.”
“You would be so near to us all at Chowton Farm!”
“I am nearer here, papa.” Then she embraced him, and he in a manner yielded to her. He yielded to her so far as to part with her at the present moment with soft loving words.
Mrs. Masters had a long conversation with her husband on the subject that same day, and condescended even to say a few words to the two girls. She had her own theory and her own plan in the present emergency. According to her theory girls shouldn’t be indulged in any vagaries, and this rejecting of a highly valuable suitor was a most inexcusable vagary. And, if her plan were followed, a considerable amount of wholesome coercion would at once be exercised towards this refractory young woman. There was in fact more than a fortnight wanting to the expiration of Larry’s two months, and Mrs. Masters was strongly of opinion that if Mary were put into a sort of domestic “coventry” during this period, if she were debarred from friendly intercourse with the family and made to feel that such wickedness as hers, if continued, would make her an outcast, then she would come round and accept Larry Twentyman before the end of the time. But this plan could not be carried out without her husband’s co-operation. Were she to attempt it single-handed, Mary would take refuge in her father’s softness of heart and there would simply be two parties in the household. “If you would leave her to me and not speak to her, it would be all right,” Mrs. Masters said to her husband.
“Not speak to her!”
“Not cosset her and spoil her for the next week or two. Just leave her to herself and let her feel what she’s doing. Think what Chowton Farm would be, and you with your business all slipping through your fingers.”
“I don’t know that it’s slipping through my fingers at all,” said the attorney mindful of his recent successes.
“If you mean to say you don’t care about it —!”
“I do care about it very much. You know I do. You ought not to talk to me in that way.”
“Then why won’t you be said by me? Of course if you cocker her up, she’ll think she’s to have her own way like a grand lady. She don’t like him because he works for his bread — that’s what it is; and because she’s been taught by that old woman to read poetry. I never knew that stuff do any good to anybody. I hate them fandangled lines that are all cut up short to make pretence. If she wants to read why can’t she take the cookery book and learn something useful? It just comes to this; — if you want her to marry Larry Twentyman you had better not notice her for the next fortnight. Let her go and come and say nothing to her. She’ll think about it, if she’s left to herself.”
The attorney did want his daughter to marry the man and was half convinced by his wife. He could not bring himself to be cruel and felt that his heart would bleed every hour of the day that he separated himself from his girl; — but still he thought that he might perhaps best in this way bring about a result which would be so manifestly for her advantage. It might be that the books of poetry and the modes of thought which his wife described as “Ushanting” were of a nature to pervert his girl’s mind from the material necessities of life and that a little hardship would bring her round to a more rational condition. With a very heavy heart he consented to do his part — which was to consist mainly of silence. Any words which might be considered expedient were to come from his wife.
Three or four days went on in this way, which were days of absolute misery to Mary. She soon perceived and partly understood her father’s silence. She knew at any rate that for the present she was debarred from his confidence. Her mother did not say much, but what she did say was all founded on the theory that Ushanting and softness in general are very bad for young women. Even Dolly and Kate were hard to her — each having some dim idea that Mary was to be coerced towards Larry Twentyman and her own good. At the end of that time, when Mary had been at home nearly a week, Larry came as usual on the Saturday evening. She, well knowing his habit, took care to be out of the way. Larry, with a pleasant face, asked after her, and expressed a hope that she had enjoyed herself at Cheltenham.
“A nasty idle place where nobody does anything as I believe,” said Mrs. Masters. Larry received a shock from the tone of the lady’s voice. He had allowed himself to think that all his troubles were now nearly over, but the words and the voice frightened him. He had told himself that he was not to speak of his love again till the two months were over, and like an honourable man he was prepared to wait the full time. He would not now have come to the attorney’s house but that he knew the attorney would wait for him before going over to the club. He had no right to draw deductions till the time should be up. But he could not help his own feelings and was aware that his heart sank within him when he was told that Cheltenham was a nasty idle place. Abuse of Cheltenham at the present moment was in fact abuse of Mary; — and the one sin which Mary could commit was persistence in her rejection of his suit. But he determined to be a man as he walked across the street with his old friend, and said not a word about his love. “They tell me that Goarly has taken his 7s. 6d., Mr. Masters.”
“Of course he has taken it, Larry. The worse luck for me. If he had gone on I might have had a bill against his Lordship as long as my arm. Now it won’t be worth looking after.”
“I’m sure you’re very glad, Mr. Masters.”
“Well; yes; I am glad. I do hate to see a fellow like that who hasn’t got a farthing of his own, propped up from behind just to annoy his betters.”
“They say that Bearside got a lot of money out of that American.”
“I suppose he got something.”
“What an idiot that man must be. Can you understand it, Mr. Masters?”
They now entered the club and Goarly and Nickem and Scrobby were of course being discussed. “Is it true, Mr. Masters, that Scrobby is to be arrested?” asked Fred Botsey at once.
“Upon my word I can’t say, Mr. Botsey; but if you tell me it is so I shan’t cry my eyes out”
“I thought you would have known”
“A gentleman may know a thing, Mr. Botsey,” said the landlord, “and not exactly choose to tell it.”
“I didn’t suppose there was any secret,” said the brewer. As Mr. Masters made no further remark it was of course conceived that he knew all about it and he was therefore treated with some increased deference. But there was on that night great triumph in the club as it was known as a fact that Goarly had withdrawn his claim, and that the American Senator had paid his money for nothing. It was moreover very generally believed that Goarly was going to turn evidence against Scrobby in reference to the poison.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01