As it happened, Lord Rufford got the two letters together, the cause of which was as follows.
When he ran away from Mistletoe, as he certainly did, he had thought much about that journey home in the carriage, and was quite aware that he had made an ass of himself. As he sat at dinner on that day at Mistletoe his neighbour had said some word to him in joke as to his attachment to Miss Trefoil, and after the ladies had left the room another neighbour of the other sex had hoped that he had had a pleasant time on the road. Again, in the drawing-room it had seemed to him that he was observed. He could not refrain from saying a few words to Arabella as she lay on the sofa. Not to do so after what had occurred would have been in itself peculiar. But when he did so, some other man who was near her made way for him, as though she were acknowledged to be altogether his property. And then the Duchess had striven to catch him, and lead him into special conversation. When this attempt was made he decided that he must at once retreat — or else make up his mind to marry the young lady. And therefore he retreated.
He breakfasted that morning at the inn at Stamford, and as he smoked his cigar afterwards, he positively resolved that he would under no circumstances marry Arabella Trefoil. He was being hunted and run down, and, with the instinct of all animals that are hunted, he prepared himself for escape. It might be said, no doubt would be said, that he behaved badly. That would be said because it would not be open to him to tell the truth. The lady in such a case can always tell her story, with what exaggeration she may please to give, and can complain. The man never can do so. When inquired into, he cannot say that he has been pursued. He cannot tell her friends that she began it, and in point of fact did it all. “She would fall into my arms; she would embrace me; she persisted in asking me whether I loved her!” Though a man have to be shot for it, or kicked for it, or even though he have to endure perpetual scorn for it, he cannot say that, let it be ever so true. And yet is a man to be forced into a marriage which he despises? He would not be forced into the marriage — and the sooner he retreated the less would be the metaphorical shooting and kicking and the real scorn. He must get out of it as best he could; — but that he would get out of it he was quite determined.
That afternoon he reached Mr. Surbiton’s house, as did also Captain Battersby, and his horses, grooms, and other belongings. When there he received a lot of letters, and among others one from Mr. Runciman, of the Bush, inquiring as to a certain hiring of rooms and preparation for a dinner or dinners which had been spoken of in reference to a final shooting decreed to take place in the neighbourhood of Dillsborough in the last week of January. Such things were often planned by Lord Rufford, and afterwards forgotten or neglected. When he declared his purpose to Runciman, he had not intended to go to Mistletoe, nor to stay so long with his friend Surbiton. But now he almost thought that it would be better for him to be back at Rufford Hall, where at present his sister was staying with her husband, Sir George Penwether.
In the evening of the second or third day his old friend Tom Surbiton said a few words to him which had the effect of sending him back to Rufford. They had sat out the rest of the men who formed the party and were alone in the smoking-room. “So you’re going to marry Miss Trefoil,” said Tom Surbiton, who perhaps of all his friends was the most intimate.
“Who says so?”
“I am saying so at present”
“You are not saying it on your own authority. You have never seen me and Miss Trefoil in a room together.”
“Everybody says so. of course such a thing cannot be arranged without being talked about”
“It has not been arranged.”
“If you don’t mean to have it arranged, you had better look to it. I am speaking in earnest, Rufford. I am not going to give up authorities. Indeed if I did I might give up everybody. The very servants suppose that they know it, and there isn’t a groom or horseboy about who isn’t in his heart congratulating the young lady on her promotion.”
“I’ll tell you what it is, Tom.”
“Well; — what is it?”
“If this had come from any other man than yourself I should quarrel with him. I am not engaged to the young lady, nor have I done anything to warrant anybody in saying so.”
“Then I may contradict it.”
“I don’t want you either to contradict it or affirm it. It would be an impertinence to the young lady if I were to instruct any one to contradict such a report. But as a fact I am not engaged to marry Miss Trefoil, nor is there the slightest chance that I ever shall be so engaged.” So saying he took up his candlestick and walked off.
Early on the next morning he saw his friend and made some sort of laughing apology for his heat on the previous evening. “It is so d — hard when these kind of things are said because a man has lent a young lady a horse. However, Tom, between you and me the thing is a lie.”
“I am very glad to hear it,” said Tom.
“And now I want you to come over to Rufford on the twenty-eighth.” Then he explained the details of his proposed party, and got his friend to promise that he would come. He also made it understood that he was going home at once. There were a hundred things, he said, which made it necessary. So the horses and grooms and servant and portmanteaus were again made to move, and Lord Rufford left his friend on that day and went up to London on his road to Rufford.
He was certainly disturbed in his mind, foreseeing that there might be much difficulty in his way. He remembered with fair accuracy all that had occurred during the journey from Stamford to Mistletoe. He felt assured that up to that time he had said nothing which could be taken to mean a real declaration of love. All that at Rufford had been nothing. He had never said a word which could justify the girl in a hope. In the carriage she had asked him whether he loved her, and he had said that he did. He had also declared that he would do anything in his power to make her happy. Was a man to be bound to marry a girl because of such a scene as that? There was, however, nothing for him to do except to keep out of the girl’s way. If she took any steps, then he must act. But as he thought of it, he swore to himself that nothing should induce him to marry her.
He remained a couple of days in town and reached Rufford Hall on the Monday, just a week from the day of that fatal meet at Peltry. There he found Sir George and his sister and Miss Penge, and spent his first evening in quiet. On the Tuesday he hunted with the U.R.U., and made his arrangements with Runciman. He invited Hampton to shoot with him. Surbiton and Battersby were coming, and his brother-in-law. Not wishing to have less than six guns he asked Hampton how he could make up his party. “Morton doesn’t shoot,” he said, “and is as stiff as a post.” Then he was told that John Morton was supposed to be very ill at Bragton. “I’m sick of both the Botseys,” continued the lord, thinking more of his party than of Mr. Morton’s health. “Purefoy is still sulky with me because he killed poor old Caneback.” Then Hampton suggested that if he would ask Lawrence Twentyman it might be the means of saving that unfortunate young man’s life. The story of his unrequited love was known to every one at Dillsborough and it was now told to Lord Rufford. “He is not half a bad fellow,” said Hampton, “and quite as much like a gentleman as either of the Botseys.”
“I shall be delighted to save the life of so good a man on such easy terms,” said the lord. Then and there, with a pencil, on the back of an old letter, he wrote a line to Larry asking him to shoot on next Saturday and to dine with him afterwards at the Bush.
That evening on his return home he found both the letters from Arabella. As it happened he read them in the order in which they had been written, first the laughing letter, and then the one that was declared to be serious. The earlier of the two did not annoy him much. It contained hardly more than those former letters which had induced him to go to Mistletoe. But the second letter opened up her entire strategy. She had told the Duchess that she was engaged to him, and the Duchess of course would have told the Duke. And now she wrote to him asking him to acknowledge the engagement in black and white. The first letter he might have ignored. He might have left it unanswered without gross misconduct. But the second letter, which she herself had declared to be a serious epistle, was one which he could not neglect. Now had come his difficulty. What must he do? How should he answer it? Was it imperative on him to write the words with his own hand? Would it be possible that he should get his sister to undertake the commission? He said nothing about it to any one for four and twenty hours; but he passed those hours in much discomfort. It did seem so hard to him that because he had been forced to carry a lady home from hunting in a post chaise, that he should be driven to such straits as this? The girl was evidently prepared to make a fight of it. There would be the Duke and the Duchess and that prig Mistletoe, and that idle ass Lord Augustus, and that venomous old woman her mother, all at him. He almost doubted whether a shooting excursion in Central Africa or a visit to the Pampas would not be the best thing for him. But still, though he should resolve to pass five years among the Andes, he must answer the lady’s letter before he went.
Then he made up his mind that he would tell everything to his brother-in-law, as far as everything can be told in such a matter. Sir George was near fifty, full fifteen years older than his wife, who was again older than her brother. He was a man of moderate wealth, very much respected, and supposed to be possessed of almost infinite wisdom. He was one of those few human beings who seem never to make a mistake. Whatever he put his hand to came out well; — and yet everybody liked him. His brother-in-law was a little afraid of him, but yet was always glad to see him. He kept an excellent house in London, but having no country house of his own passed much of his time at Rufford Hall when the owner was not there. In spite of the young peer’s numerous faults Sir George was much attached to him, and always ready to help him in his difficulties. “Penwether,” said the Lord, “I have got myself into an awful scrape.”
“I am sorry to hear it. A woman, I suppose,”
“Oh, yes. I never gamble, and therefore no other scrape can be awful. A young lady wants to marry me”
“That is not unnatural.”
“But I am quite determined, let the result be what it may, that I won’t marry the young lady.”
“That will be unfortunate for her, and the more so if she has a right to expect it. Is the young lady Miss Trefoil?”
“I did not mean to mention any name, till I was sure it might be necessary. But it is Miss Trefoil.”
“Eleanor had told me something of it”
“Eleanor knows nothing about this, and I do not ask you to tell her. The young lady was here with her mother — and for the matter of that with a gentleman to whom she was certainly engaged; but nothing particular occurred here. That unfortunate ball was going on when poor Caneback was dying. But I met her since that at Mistletoe.”
“I can hardly advise, you know, unless you tell me everything.”
Then Lord Rufford began. “These kind of things are sometimes deuced hard upon a man. Of course if a man were a saint or a philosopher or a Joseph he wouldn’t get into such scrapes — and perhaps every man ought to be something of that sort. But I don’t know how a man is to do it, unless it’s born with him.”
“A little prudence I should say.”
“You might as well tell a fellow that it is his duty to be six feet high”
“But what have you said to the young lady — or what has she said to you?”
“There has been a great deal more of the latter than the former. I say so to you, but of course it is not to be said that I have said so. I cannot go forth to the world complaining of a young lady’s conduct to me. It is a matter in which a man must not tell the truth.”
“But what is the truth?”
“She writes me word to say that she has told all her friends that I am engaged to her, and kindly presses me to make good her assurances by becoming so.”
“And what has passed between you?”
“A fainting fit in a carriage and half-a-dozen kisses.”
“Nothing more that is material. Of course one cannot tell it all down to each mawkish word of humbugging sentiment. There are her letters, and what I want you to remember is that I never asked her to be my wife, and that no consideration on earth shall induce me to become her husband. Though all the duchesses in England were to persecute me to the death I mean to stick to that.”
Then Sir George read the letters and handed them back. “She seems to me,” said he, “to have more wit about her than any of the family that I have had the honour of meeting.”
“She has wit enough — and pluck too.”
“You have never said a word to her to encourage these hopes”
“My dear Penwether, don’t you know that if a man with a large income says to a girl like that that the sun shines he encourages hope. I understand that well enough. I am a rich man with a title, and a big house, and a great command of luxuries. There are so many young ladies who would also like to be rich, and to have a title, and a big house, and a command of luxuries! One sometimes feels oneself like a carcase in the midst of vultures.”
“Marry after a proper fashion, and you’ll get rid of all that.”
“I’ll think about it, but in the meantime what can I say to this young woman? When I acknowledge that I kissed ham, of course I encouraged hopes.”
“But St. Anthony would have had to kiss this young woman if she had made her attack upon him as she did on me; and after all a kiss doesn’t go for everything. These are things, Penwether, that must not be inquired into too curiously. But I won’t marry her though it were a score of kisses. And now what must I do?” Sir George said that he would take till the next morning to think about it — meaning to make a draft of the reply which he thought his brother-in-law might best send to the lady.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01