John Morton had returned to town soon after his walk into Dillsborough and had there learned from different sources that both Arabella Trefoil and Lord Rufford had gone or were going to Mistletoe. He had seen Lord Augustus who, though he could tell him nothing else about his daughter, had not been slow to inform him that she was going to the house of her noble uncle. When Morton had spoken to him very seriously about the engagement he declared that he knew nothing about it — except that he had given his consent if the settlements were all right. Lady Augustus managed all that. Morton had then said that under those circumstances he feared he must regard the honour which he had hoped to enjoy as being beyond his reach. Lord Augustus had shrugged his shoulders and had gone back to his whist, this interview having taken place in the strangers’ room of his club. That Lord Rufford was also going to Mistletoe he heard from young Glossop at the Foreign Office. It was quite possible that Glossop had been instructed to make this known to Morton by his sister Lady Penwether. Then Morton declared that the thing was over and that he would trouble himself no more about it. But this resolution did not make him at all contented, and in his misery he went again down to his solitude at Bragton.
And now when he might fairly consider himself to be free, and when he should surely have congratulated himself on a most lucky escape from the great danger into which he had fallen, his love and admiration for the girl returned to him in a most wonderful manner. He thought of her beauty and her grace, and the manner in which she would sit at the head of his table when the time should come for him to be promoted to some great capital. To him she had fascinations which the reader, who perhaps knows her better than he ever did, will not share. He could forgive the coldness of her conduct to himself — he himself not being by nature demonstrative or impassioned — if only she were not more kind to any rival. It was the fact that she should be visiting at the same house with Lord Rufford after what he had seen at Rufford Hall which had angered him. But now in his solitude he thought that he might have been wrong at Rufford Hall. If it were the case that the girl feared that her marriage might be prevented by the operations of lawyers and family friends, of course she would be right not to throw herself into his arms — even metaphorically. He was a cold, just man who, when he had loved, could not easily get rid of his love, and now he would ask himself whether he was not hard upon the girl. It was natural that she should be at Mistletoe; but then why should Lord Rufford be there with her?
His prospects at Patagonia did not console him much. No doubt it was a handsome mission for a man of his age and there were sundry Patagonian questions of importance at the present moment which would give him a certain weight. Patagonia was repudiating a loan, and it was hoped that he might induce a better feeling in the Patagonian Parliament. There was the Patagonian railway for joining the Straits to the Cape the details of which he was now studying with great diligence. And then there was the vital question of boundary between Patagonia and the Argentine Republic by settling which, should he be happy enough to succeed in doing so, he would prevent the horrors of warfare. He endeavoured to fix his mind with satisfaction on these great objects as he pored over the reports and papers which had been heaped upon him since. he had accepted the mission. But there was present to him always a feeling that the men at the Foreign Office had been glad to get any respectable diplomate to go to Patagonia, and that his brethren in the profession had marvelled at his acceptance of such a mission. One never likes to be thanked over much for doing anything. It creates a feeling that one has given more than was expedient. He knew that he must now go to Patagonia, but he repented the alacrity with which he had acceded to the proposition. Whether he did marry Arabella Trefoil or whether he did not, there was no adequate reason for such a banishment. And yet he could not now escape it!
It was on a Monday morning that Larry Twentyman had found himself unable to go hunting. On the Tuesday he gave his workmen about the farm such a routing as they had not received for many a month. There had not been a dung heap or a cowshed which he had not visited, nor a fence about the place with which he had not found fault. He was at it all day, trying thus to console himself, but in vain; and when his mother in the evening said some word of her misery in regard to the turkeys he had told her that as far as he was concerned Goarly might poison every fox in the county. Then the poor woman knew that matters were going badly with her son. On the Wednesday, when the hounds met within two miles of Chowton, he again stayed at home; but in the afternoon he rode into Dillsborough and contrived to see the attorney without being seen by any of the ladies of the family. The interview did not seem to do him any good. On the Thursday morning he walked across to Bragton and with a firm voice asked to see the Squire. Morton who was deep in the boundary question put aside his papers and welcomed his neighbour.
Now it must be explained that when, in former years, his son’s debts had accumulated on old Mr. Reginald Morton, so that he had been obliged to part with some portion of his unentailed property, he had sold that which lay in the parish of St. John’s, Dillsborough. The lands in Bragton and Mallingham he could not sell; but Chowton Farm which was in St. John’s had been bought by Larry Twentyman’s grandfather. For a time there had been some bitterness of feeling; but the Twentymans had been well-to-do respectable people, most anxious to be good neighbours, and had gradually made themselves liked by the owner of Bragton. The present Squire had of course known nothing of Chowton as a part of the Morton property, and had no more desire for it than for any of Lord Rufford’s acres which were contiguous to his own. He shook hands cordially with his neighbour, as though this visit were the most natural thing in the world, and asked some questions about Goarly and the hunt.
“I believe that’ll all come square, Mr. Morton. I’m not interesting myself much about it now.” Larry was not dressed like himself. He had on a dark brown coat, and dark pantaloons and a chimney-pot hat. He was conspicuous generally for light-coloured close-fitting garments and for a billycock hat. He was very unlike his usual self on the present occasion.
“I thought you were just the man who did interest himself about those things.”
“Well; yes; once it was so, Mr. Morton. What I’ve got to say now, Mr. Morton, is this. Chowton Farm is in the market! But I wouldn’t say a word to any one about it till you had had the offer.”
“You going to sell Chowton!”
“Yes, Mr. Morton, I am.”
“From all I have heard of you I wouldn’t have believed it if anybody else had told me.”
“It’s a fact, Mr. Morton. There are three hundred and twenty acres. I put the rental at 30s. an acre. You know what you get, Mr. Morton, for the land that lies next to it. And I think twenty-eight years’ purchase isn’t more than it’s worth. Those are my ideas as to price, Mr. Morton. There isn’t a halfpenny owing on it — not in the way of mortgage.”
“I dare say it’s worth that”
“Up at auction I might get a turn more, Mr. Morton; — but those are my ideas at present”
John Morton who was a man of business went to work at once with his pencil and in two minutes had made out a total. “I don’t know that I could put my hand on 14,000 pounds even if I were minded to make the purchase.”
“That needn’t stand in the way, sir. Any part you please could lie on mortgage at 4.5 per cent” Larry in the midst of his distress had certain clear ideas about business.
“This is a very serious proposition, Mr. Twentyman.”
“Yes, indeed, sir.”
“Have you any other views in life?”
“I can’t say as I have any fixed. I shan’t be idle, Mr. Morton. I never was idle. I was thinking perhaps of New Zealand.”
“A very fine colony for a young man, no doubt. But, seeing how well you are established here —.”
“I can’t stay here, Mr. Morton. I’ve made up my mind about that. There are things which a man can’t bear — not and live quiet. As for hunting, I don’t care about it any more than — nothing.”
“I am sorry that anything should have made you so unhappy.”
“Well; — I am unhappy. That’s about the truth of it. And I always shall be unhappy here. There’s nothing else for it but going away.”
“If it’s anything sudden, Mr. Twentyman, allow me to say that you ought not to sell your property without grave consideration.”
“I have considered it — very grave, Mr. Morton.”
“Ah — but I mean long consideration. Take a year to think of it. You can’t buy such a place back in a year. I don’t know you well enough to be justified in inquiring into the circumstances of your trouble; — but unless it be something which makes it altogether inexpedient, or almost impossible that you should remain in the neighbourhood, you should not sell Chowton.”
“I’ll tell you, Mr. Morton,” said Larry almost weeping. Poor Larry whether in his triumph or his sorrow had no gift of reticence and now told his neighbour the whole story of his love. He was certain it had become quite hopeless. He was sure that she would never have written him a letter if there had been any smallest chance left. According to his ideas a girl might say “no” half-a-dozen times and yet not mean much; but when she had committed herself to a letter she could not go back from it.
“Is there anybody else?” asked Morton.
“Not as I know. I never saw anything like — like lightness with her, with any man. They said something about the curate but I don’t believe a word of it.”
“And the family approve of it?”
“Every one of them — father and stepmother and sisters and all. My own mother too! There ain’t a ha’porth against it. I don’t want any one to give me sixpence in money. And she should live just like a lady. I can keep a servant for her to cook and do every mortal thing. But it ain’t nothing of all that, Mr. Morton.”
“What is it then?”
The poor man paused before he made his answer; but when he did, he made it plain enough. “I ain’t good enough for her! Nor more I ain’t, Mr. Morton. She was brought up in this house, Mr. Morton, by your own grand-aunt.”
“So I have heard, Mr. Twentyman.”
“And there’s more of Bragton than there is of Dillsborough about her; that’s just where it is. I know what I am and I know what she is, and I ain’t good enough for her. It should be somebody that can talk books to her. I can tell her how to plant a field of wheat or how to run a foal; — but I can’t sit and read poetry, nor yet be read to. There’s plenty of ’em would sell themselves because the land’s all there, and the house, and the things in it. What makes me mad is that I should love her all the better because she won’t. My belief is, Mr. Morton, they’re as poor as job. That makes no difference to me because I don’t want it; but it makes no difference to her neither! She’s right, Mr. Morton. I’m not good enough, and so I’ll just cut it as far as Dillsborough is concerned. You’ll think of what I said of taking the land?”
Mr. Morton said much more to him, walking with him to the gate of Chowton Farm. He assured him that the young lady might yet be won. He had only, Morton said, to plead his case to her as well as he had pleaded up at Bragton and he thought that she would be won. “I couldn’t speak out free to her — not if it was to save the whole place,” said the unfortunate lover. But Morton still continued his advice. As to leaving Chowton because a young lady refused him, that would be unmanly —“There isn’t a bit of a man left about me,” said Larry weeping. Morton nevertheless went on. Time would cure these wounds; but no time would give him back Chowton should he once part with it. If he must leave the place for a time let him put a caretaker on the farm, even though by doing so the loss might be great. He should do anything rather than surrender his house. As to buying the land himself, Morton would not talk about it in the present circumstances. Then they parted at Chowton gate with many expressions of friendship on each side.
John Morton, as he returned home, could not help thinking that the young farmer’s condition was after all better than his own. There was an honesty about both the persons concerned of which at any rate they might be proud. There was real love — and though that love was not at present happy it was of a nature to inspire perfect respect. But in his own case he was sure of nothing.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14