There was great consternation in the attorney’s house after the writing of the letter to Lawrence Twentyman. For twenty-four hours Mrs. Masters did not speak to Mary, not at all intending to let her sin pass with such moderate punishment as that, but thinking during that period that as she might perhaps induce Larry to ignore the letter and look upon it as though it were not written, it would be best to say nothing till the time should come in which the lover might again urge his suit. But when she found on the evening of the second day that Larry did not come near the place she could control herself no longer, and accused her step-daughter of ruining herself, her father, and the whole family. “That is very unfair, mamma,” Mary said. “I have done nothing. I have only not done that which nobody had a right to ask me to do.”
“Right indeed! And who are you with your rights? A decent well-behaved young man with five or six hundred a year has no right to ask you to be his wife! All this comes of you staying with an old woman with a handle to her name.”
It was in vain that Mary endeavoured to explain that she had not alluded to Larry when she declared that no one had a right to ask her to do it. She had, she said, always thanked him for his good opinion of her, and had spoken well of him whenever his name was mentioned. But it was a matter on which a young woman was entitled to judge for herself, and no one had a right to scold her because she could not love him. Mrs. Masters hated such arguments, despised this rodomontade about love, and would have crushed the girl into obedience could it have been possible. “You are an idiot,” she said, “an ungrateful idiot; and unless you think better of it you’ll repent your folly to your dying day. Who do you think is to come running after a moping slut like you?” Then Mary gathered herself up and left the room, feeling that she could not live in the house if she were to be called a slut.
Soon after this Larry came to the attorney and got him to come out into the street and to walk with him round the churchyard. It was the spot in Dillsborough in which they would most certainly be left undisturbed. This took place on the day before his proposition for the sale of Chowton Farm. When he got the attorney into the churchyard he took out Mary’s letter and in speechless agony handed it to the attorney. “I saw it before it went,” said Masters putting it back with his hand:
“I suppose she means it?” asked Larry.
“I can’t say to you but what she does, Twentyman. As far as I know her she isn’t a girl that would ever say anything that she didn’t mean.”
“I was sure of that. When I got it and read it, it was just as though some one had come behind me and hit me over the head with a wheel-spoke. I couldn’t have ate a morsel of breakfast if I knew I wasn’t to see another bit of food for four-and-twenty hours.”
“I knew you would feel it, Larry.”
“Feel it! Till it came to this I didn’t think of myself but what I had more strength. It has knocked me about till I feel all over like drinking.”
“Don’t do that, Larry.”
“I won’t answer for myself what I’ll do. A man sets his heart on a thing — just on one thing — and has grit enough in him to be sure of himself that if he can get that nothing shall knock him over. When that thoroughbred mare of mine slipped her foal who can say I ever whimpered. When I got pleuro among the cattle I killed a’most the lot of ’em out of hand, and never laid awake a night about it. But I’ve got it so heavy this time I can’t stand it. You don’t think I have any chance, Mr. Masters?”
“You can try of course. You’re welcome to the house.”
“But what do you think? You must know her.”
“Girls do change their minds.”
“But she isn’t like other girls. Is she now? I come to you because I sometimes think Mrs. Masters is a little hard on her. Mrs. Masters is about the best friend I have. There isn’t anybody more on my side than she is. But I feel sure of this; — Mary will never be drove.”
“I don’t think she will, Larry.”
“She’s got a will of her own as well as another.”
“No man alive ever had a better daughter.”
“I’m sure of that, Mr. Masters; and no man alive ‘ll ever have a better wife. But she won’t be drove. I might ask her again, you think?”
“You certainly have my leave.”
“But would it be any good? I’d rather cut my throat and have done with it than go about teasing her because her parents let me come to her.” Then there was a pause during which they walked on, the attorney feeling that he had nothing more to say. “What I want to know,” said Larry, “is this. Is there anybody else?”
That was just the point on which the attorney himself was perplexed. He had asked Mary that question, and her silence had assured him that it was so. Then he had suggested to her the name of the only probable suitor that occurred to him; and she had repelled the idea in a manner that had convinced him at once. There was some one, but Mr. Surtees was not the man. There was some one, he was sure, but he had not been able to cross-examine her on the subject. He had, since that, cudgelled his brain to think who that some one might be, but had not succeeded in suggesting a name even to himself. That of Reginald Morton, who hardly ever came to the house and whom he regarded as a silent, severe, unapproachable man, did not come into his mind. Among the young ladies of Dillsborough Reginald Morton was never regarded as even a possible lover. And yet there was assuredly some one. “If there is any one else I think you ought to tell me,” continued Larry.
“It is quite possible.”
“Young Surtees, I suppose.”
“I do not say there is anybody; but if there be anybody I do not think it is Surtees.”
“Who else then?”
“I cannot say, Larry. I know nothing about it.”
“But there is some one?”
“I do not say so. You ask me and I tell you all I know.”
Again they walked round the churchyard in silence and the attorney began to be anxious that the interview might be over. He hardly liked to be interrogated about the state of his daughter’s heart, and yet he had felt himself bound to tell what he knew to the man who had in all respects behaved well to him. When they had returned for the third or fourth time to the gate by which they had entered Larry spoke again. “I suppose I may as well give it up.”
“What can I say?”
“You have been fair enough, Mr. Masters. And so has she. And so has everybody. I shall just get away as quick as I can, and go and hang myself. I feel above bothering her any more. When she sat down to write a letter like that she must have been in earnest”
“She certainly was in earnest, Larry.”
“What’s the use of going on after that? Only it is so hard for a fellow to feel that everything is gone. It is just as though the house was burnt down, or I was to wake in the morning and find that the land didn’t belong to me.”
“Not so bad as that, Larry.”
“Not so bad, Mr. Masters! Then you don’t know what it is I’m feeling. I’d let his lordship or Squire Morton have it all, and go in upon it as a tenant at 30s. an acre, so that I could take her along with me. I would, and sell the horses and set to and work in my shirt-sleeves. A man could stand that. Nobody wouldn’t laugh at me then. But there’s an emptiness now here that makes me sick all through, as though I hadn’t got stomach left for anything.” Then poor Larry put his hand upon his heart and hid his face upon the churchyard wall. The attorney made some attempt to say a kind word to him, and then, leaving him there, slowly made his way back to his office.
We already know what first step Larry took with the intention of running away from his cares. In the house at Dillsborough things were almost as bad as they were with him. Over and over again Mrs. Masters told her husband that it was all his fault, and that if he had torn the letter when it was showed to him, everything would have been right by the end of the two months. This he bore with what equanimity he could, shutting himself up very much in his office, occasionally escaping for a quarter of an hour of ease to his friends at the Bush, and eating his meals in silence. But when he became aware that his girl was being treated with cruelty — that she was never spoken to by her stepmother without harsh words, and that her sisters were encouraged to be disdainful to her, then his heart rose within him and he rebelled. He declared aloud that Mary should not be persecuted, and if this kind of thing were continued he would defend his girl let the consequences be what they might.
“What are you going to defend her against?” asked his wife.
“I won’t have her ill-used because she refuses to marry at your bidding.”
“Bah! You know as much how to manage a girl as though you were an old maid yourself. Cocker her up and make her think that nothing is good enough for her! Break her spirit, and make her come round, and teach her to know what it is to have an honest man’s house offered to her. If she don’t take Larry Twentyman’s she’s like to have none of her own before long.” But Mr. Masters would not assent to this plan of breaking his girl’s spirit, and so there was continual war in the place and every one there was miserable.
Mary herself was so unhappy that she convinced herself that it was necessary that some change should be made. Then she remembered Lady Ushant’s offer of a home, and not only the offer, but the old lady’s assurance that to herself such an arrangement, if possible, would be very comfortable. She did not suggest to herself that she would leave her father’s home for ever and always; but it might be that an absence of some months might relieve the absolute misery of their present mode of living. The effect on her father was so sad that she was almost driven to regret that he should have taken her own part. Her stepmother was not a bad woman; nor did Mary even now think her to be had. She was a hardworking, painstaking wife, with a good general idea of justice. In the division of puddings and pies and other material comforts of the household she would deal evenly between her own children and her step-daughter. She had not desired to send Mary away to an inadequate home, or with a worthless husband. But when the proper home and the proper man were there she was prepared to use any amount of hardship to secure these good things to the family generally. This hardship Mary could not endure, nor could Mary’s father on her behalf, and therefore Mary prepared a letter to Lady Ushant in which, at great length, she told her old friend the whole story. She spoke as tenderly as was possible of all concerned, but declared that her stepmother’s feelings on the subject were so strong that every one in the house was made wretched. Under these circumstances — for her father’s sake if only for that — she thought herself bound to leave the house. “It is quite impossible,” she said, “that I should do as they wish me. That is a matter on which a young woman must judge for herself. If you could have me for a few months it would perhaps all pass by. I should not dare to ask this but for what you said yourself; and, dear Lady Ushant, pray remember that I do not want to be idle. There are a great many things I can do; and though I know that nothing can pay for kindness, I might perhaps be able not to be a burden.” Then she added in a postscript —“Papa is everything that is kind; — but then all this makes him so miserable!”
When she had kept the letter by her for a day she showed it to her father, and by his consent it was sent. After much consultation it was agreed between them that nothing should be said about it to Mrs. Masters till the answer should come; and that, should the answer be favourable, the plan should be carved out in spite of any domestic opposition. In this letter Mary told as accurately as she could the whole story of Larry’s courtship, and was very clear in declaring that under no possible circumstances could she encourage any hope. But of course she said not a word as to any other man or as to any love on her side. “Have you told her everything?” said her father as he closed the letter.
“Yes, papa; — everything that there is to be told.” Then there arose within his own bosom an immense desire to know that secret, so that if possible he might do something to relieve her pain; — but he could not bring himself to ask further questions.
Lady Ushant on receiving the letter much doubted what she ought to do. She acknowledged at once Mary’s right to appeal to her; and assured herself that the girl’s presence would be a comfort and a happiness to herself. If Mary were quite alone in the world Lady Ushant would have been at once prepared to give her a home. But she doubted as to the propriety of taking the girl from her own family. She doubted even whether it would not be better that Mary should be left within the influence of Larry Twentyman’s charms. A settlement, an income, and assured comforts for life are very serious things to all people who have reached Lady Ushant’s age. And then she had a doubt within her own mind whether Mary might not be debarred from accepting this young man by some unfortunate preference for Reginald Morton. She had seen them together and had suspected something of the truth before it had glimmered before the eyes of any one in Dillsborough. Had Reginald been so inclined Lady Morton would have been very glad to see him marry Mary Masters. For both their sakes she would have preferred such a match to one with the owner of Chowton Farm. But she did not think that Reginald himself was that way minded, and she fancied that poor Mary might be throwing away her prosperity in life were she to wait for Reginald’s love. Larry Twentyman was at any rate sure; — and perhaps it might be unwise to separate the girl from her lover.
In her doubt she determined to refer the case to Reginald himself, and instead of writing to Mary she wrote to him. She did not send him Mary’s letter — which would, she felt, have been a breach of faith; nor did she mention the name of Larry Twentyman. But she told him that Mary had proposed to come to Cheltenham for a long visit because there were disturbances at home — which disturbances had arisen from her rejection of a certain suitor. Lady Ushant said a great deal as to the inexpediency of fostering family quarrels, and suggested that Mary might perhaps have been a little impetuous. The presence of this lover could hardly do her much injury. These were not days in which young women were forced to marry men. What did he, Reginald Morton, think about it? He was to remember that as far as she herself was concerned, she dearly loved Mary Masters and would be delighted to have her at Cheltenham; and, so remembering, he was to see the attorney, and Mary herself, and if necessary Mrs. Masters; — and then to report his opinion to Cheltenham.
Then, fearing that her nephew might be away for a day or two, or that he might not be able to perform his commission instantly, and thinking that Mary might be unhappy if she received no immediate reply to such a request as hers had been, Lady Ushant by the same post wrote to her young friend as follows; —
Reginald will go over and see your father about your proposition. As far as I myself am concerned nothing would give me so much pleasure. This is quite sincere. But the matter is in other respects very important. Of course I have kept your letter all to myself, and in writing to Reginald I have mentioned no names.
Your affectionate friend,
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01