“Jack is here,” said Lord Rufford, as soon as the fuss of his late arrival had worn itself away.
“I shall be proud to renew my acquaintance.”
“Can you come to-morrow?”
“Oh yes,” said Arabella, rapturously.
“There are difficulties, and I ought to have written to you about them. I am going with the Fitzwilliam.” Now Mistletoe was in Lincolnshire, not very far from Peterborough, not very far from Stamford, not very far from Oakham. A regular hunting man like Lord Rufford knew how to compass the difficulties of distance in all hunting countries. Horses could go by one train or overnight, and he could follow by another. And a post chaise could meet him here or there. But when a lady is added, the difficulty is often increased fivefold.
“Is it very far?” asked Arabella.
“It is a little far. I wonder who are going from here?”
“Heaven only knows. I have passed my time in playing cat’s cradle with Sir Jeffrey Bunker for the amusement of the company, and in confidential communications with my aunt and Lady Drummond. I haven’t heard hunting mentioned.”
“Have you anything on wheels going across to Holcombe Cross to-morrow, Duke?” asked Lord Rufford. The Duke said that he did not know of anything on wheels going to Holcombe Cross. Then a hunting man who had heard the question said that he and another intended to travel by train to Oundle. Upon this Lord Rufford turned round and looked at Arabella mournfully.
“Cannot I go by train to Oundle?” she asked.
“Nothing on earth so jolly if your pastors and masters and all that will let you.”
“I haven’t got any pastors and masters.”
“The Duchess!” suggested Lord Rufford.
“I thought all that kind of nonsense was over,” said Arabella.
“I believe a great deal is over. You can do many things that your mother and grandmother couldn’t do; but absolute freedom — what you may call universal suffrage — hasn’t come yet, I fear. It’s twenty miles by road, and the Duchess would say something awful if I were to propose to take you in a post chaise.”
“But the railway!”
“I’m afraid that would be worse. We couldn’t ride back, you know, as we did at Rufford. At the best it would be rather a rough and tumble kind of arrangement. I’m afraid we must put it off. To tell you the truth I’m the least bit in the world afraid of the Duchess.”
“I am not at all,” said Arabella angrily.
Then Lord Rufford ate his dinner and seemed to think that that matter was settled. Arabella knew that he might have hunted elsewhere — that the Cottesmore would be out in their own county within twelve miles of them, and that the difficulty of that ride would be very much less. The Duke might have been persuaded to send a carriage that distance. But Lord Rufford cared more about the chance of a good run than her company! For a while she was sulky; — for a little while, till she remembered how ill she could afford to indulge in such a feeling. Then she said a demure word or two to the gentleman on the other side of her who happened to be a clergyman, and did not return to the hunting till Lord Rufford had eaten his cheese. “And is that to be the end of Jack as far as I’m concerned?”
“I have been thinking about it ever since. This is Thursday.”
“Not a doubt about it.”
“To-morrow will be Friday and the Duke has his great shooting on Saturday. There’s nothing within a hundred miles of us on Saturday. I shall go with the Pytchley if I don’t shoot, but I shall have to get up just when other people are going to bed. That wouldn’t suit you.”
“I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t go to bed at all.”
“At any rate it wouldn’t suit the Duchess. I had meant to go away on Sunday. I hate being anywhere on Sunday except in a railway carriage. But if I thought the Duke would keep me till Tuesday morning we might manage Peltry on Monday. I meant to have got back to Surbiton’s on Sunday and have gone from there.”
“Where is Peltry?”
“It’s a Cottesmore meet — about five miles this Side of Melton.”
“We could ride from here.”
“It’s rather far for that, but we could talk over the Duke to send a carriage. Ladies always like to see a meet, and perhaps we could make a party. If not we must put a good face on it and go in anything we can get. I shouldn’t fear the Duchess so much for twelve miles as I should for twenty.”
“I don’t mean to let the Duchess interfere with me,” said Arabella in a whisper.
That evening Lord Rufford was very good-natured and managed to arrange everything. Lady Chiltern and another lady said that they would be glad to go to the meet, and a carriage or carriages were organised. But nothing was said as to Arabella’s hunting because the question would immediately be raised as to her return to Mistletoe in the evening. It was, however, understood that she was to have a place in the carriage.
Arabella had gained two things. She would have her one day’s hunting, and she had secured the presence of Lord Rufford at Mistletoe for Sunday. With such a man as his lordship it was almost impossible to find a moment for confidential conversation. He worked so hard at his amusements that he was as bad a lover as a barrister who has to be in Court all day — almost as bad as a sailor who is always going round the world. On this evening it was ten o’clock before the gentlemen came into the drawing-room, and then Lord Rufford’s time was spent in arranging the party for the meet on Monday. When the ladies went up to bed Arabella had had no other opportunity than what Fortune had given her at dinner.
And even then she had been watched. That juxtaposition at the dinner-table had come of chance and had been caused by Lord Rufford’s late arrival. Old Sir Jeffrey should have been her neighbour, with the clergyman on the other side, an arrangement which Her Grace had thought safe with reference to the rights of the Minister to Patagonia. The Duchess, though she was at some distance down the table, had seen that her niece and Lord Rufford were intimate, and remembered immediately what had been said up-stairs. They could not have talked as they were then talking — sometimes whispering as the Duchess could perceive very well — unless there had been considerable former intimacy. She began gradually to understand various things; — why Arabella Trefoil had been so anxious to come to Mistletoe just at this time, why she had behaved so unlike her usual self before Lord Rufford’s arrival, and why she had been so unwilling to have Mr. Morton invited. The Duchess was in her way a clever woman and could see many things. She could see that though her niece might be very anxious to marry Lord Rufford, Lord Rufford might indulge himself in a close intimacy with the girl without any such intention on his part. And, as far as the family was concerned, she would have been quite contented with the Morton alliance. She would have asked Morton now only that it would be impossible that he should come in time to be of service. Had she been consulted in the first instance she would have put her veto on that drive to the meet: but she had heard nothing about it until Lady Chiltern had said that she would go. The Duchess of Omnium had since declared that she also would go, and there were to be two carriages. But still it never occurred to the Duchess that Arabella intended to hunt. Nor did Arabella intend that she should know it till the morning came.
The Friday was very dull. The hunting men of course had gone before Arabella came down to breakfast. She would willingly have got up at seven to pour out Lord Rufford’s tea, had that been possible; but, as it was, she strolled into the breakfast room at half-past ten. She could see by her aunt’s eye and hear in her voice that she was in part detected; and that she would do herself no further service by acting the good girl; and she therefore resolutely determined to listen to no more twaddle. She read a French novel which she had brought with her, and spent as much of the day as she could in her bedroom. She did not see Lord Rufford before dinner, and at dinner sat between Sir Jeffrey and an old gentleman out of Stamford who dined at Mistletoe that evening. “We’ve had no such luck to-night,” Lord Rufford said to her in the drawing-room.
“The old dragon took care of that,” replied Arabella.
“Why should the old dragon think that I’m dangerous?”
“Because —; I can’t very well tell you why, but I dare say you know.”
“And do you think I am dangerous?”
“You’re a sort of a five-barred gate,” said Arabella laughing. “Of course there is a little danger, but who is going to be stopped by that?”
He could make no reply to this because the Duchess called him away to give some account to Lady Chiltern about Goarly and the U.R.U., Lady Chiltern’s husband being a master of hounds and a great authority on all matters relating to hunting. “Nasty old dragon!” Arabella said to herself when she was thus left alone.
The Saturday was the day of the great shooting and at two o’clock the ladies went out to lunch with the gentlemen by the side of the wood. Lord Rufford had at last consented to be one of the party. With logs of trees, a few hurdles, and other field appliances, a rustic banqueting hall was prepared and everything was very nice. Tons of game had been killed, and tons more were to be killed after luncheon. The Duchess was not there and Arabella contrived so to place herself that she could be waited upon by Lord Rufford, or could wait upon him. Of course a great many eyes were upon her, but she knew how to sustain that. Nobody was present who could dare to interfere with her. When the eating and drinking were over she walked with him to his corner by the next covert, not heeding the other ladies; and she stood with him for some minutes after the slaughter had begun. She had come to feel that the time was slipping between her fingers and that she must say something effective. The fatal word upon which everything would depend must be spoken at the very latest on their return home on Monday, and she was aware that much must probably be said before that. “Do we hunt or shoot tomorrow?” she said.
“To-morrow is Sunday.”
“I am quite aware of that, but I didn’t know whether you could live a day without sport.”
“The country is so full of prejudice that I am driven to Sabbatical quiescence.”
“Take a walk with me to-morrow,” said Arabella.
“But the Duchess,” exclaimed Lord Rufford in a stage whisper. One of the beaters was so near that he could not but have heard; — but what does a beater signify?
“H’mh’m the Duchess! You be at the path behind the great conservatory at half-past three and we won’t mind the Duchess.” Lord Rufford was forced to ask for many other particulars as to the locality and then promised that he would be there at the time named.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55