When Mr. Masters had gone across to the Bush his purpose had certainly been ignoble, but it had had no reference to brandy and water. And the allusion made by Mrs. Masters to the probable ruin which was to come from his tendencies in that direction had been calumnious, for she knew that the man was not given to excess in liquor. But as he approached his own house he bethought himself that it would not lead to domestic comfort if he were seen returning from his walk with Mary, and he had therefore made some excuse as to the expediency of saying a word to Runciman whom he espied at his own door. He said his word to Runciman, and so loitered away perhaps a quarter of an hour, and then went back to his office. But his wife had kept her anger at burning heat and pounced upon him before he had taken his seat. Sundown was there copying, sitting with his eyes intent on the board before him as though he were quite unaware of the sudden entrance of his master’s wife. She in her fury did not regard Sundown in the least, but at once commenced her attack. “What is all this, Mr. Masters,” she said, “about Lady Ushant and going to Cheltenham? I won’t have any going to Cheltenham and that’s flat” Now the attorney had altogether made up his mind that his daughter should go to Cheltenham if her friend would receive her. Whatever might be the consequences, they must be borne. But he thought it best to say nothing at the first moment of the attack, and simply turned his sorrowful round face in silence up to the partner of all his cares and the source of so many of them. “There have been letters,” continued the lady; —“letters which nobody has told me nothing about. That proud peacock from Hoppet Hall has been here, as though he had nothing to do but carry Mary away about the country just as he pleased. Mary won’t go to Cheltenham with him nor yet without him; — not if I am to remain here.”
“Where else should you remain, my dear?” asked the attorney.
“I’d sooner go into the workhouse than have all this turmoil. That’s where we are all likely to go if you pass your time between walking about with that minx and the public-house opposite.” Then the attorney was aware that he had been watched, and his spirit began to rise within him. He looked at Sundown, but the man went on copying quicker than ever.
“My dear,” said Mr. Masters, “you shouldn’t talk in that way before the clerk. I wanted to speak to Mr. Runciman, and, as to the workhouse, I don’t know that there is any more danger now than there has been for the last twenty years.”
“It’s alway’s off and on as far as I can see. Do you mean to send that girl to Cheltenham?”
“I rather think she had better go — for a time.”
“Then I shall leave this house and go with my girls to Norrington.” Now this threat, which had been made before, was quite without meaning. Mrs. Masters’ parents were both dead, and her brother, who had a large family, certainly would not receive her. “I won’t remain here, Mr. Masters, if I ain’t to be mistress of my own house. What is she to go to Cheltenham for, I should like to know?”
Then Sundown was desired by his wretched employer to go into the back settlement and the poor man prepared himself for the battle as well as he could. “She is not happy here,” he said.
“Whose fault is that? Why shouldn’t she be happy? Of course you know what it means. She has got round you because she wants to be a fine lady. What means have you to make her a fine lady? If you was to die to-morrow what would there be for any of ’em? My little bit of money is all gone. Let her stay here and be made to marry Lawrence Twentyman. That’s what I say.”
“She will never marry Mr. Twentyman.”
“Not if you go on like this she won’t. If you’d done your duty by her like a real father instead of being afraid of her when she puts on her tantrums; she’d have been at Chowton Farm by this time.”
It was clear to him that now was the time not to be afraid of his wife when she put on her tantrums — or at any rate, to appear not to be afraid. “She has been very unhappy of late.”
“Oh, unhappy! She’s been made more of than anybody else in this house.”
“And a change will do her good. She has my permission to go; — and go she shall!” Then the word had been spoken.
“It is very much for the best. While she is here the house is made wretched for us all.”
“It’ll be wretcheder yet; unless it would make you happy to see me dead on the threshold — which I believe it would. As for her, she’s an ungrateful, sly, wicked slut”
“She has done nothing wicked that I know of.”
“Not writing to that old woman behind my back?”
“She told me what she was doing and showed me the letter.”
“Yes; of course. The two of you were in it. Does that make it any better? I say it was sly and wicked; and you were sly and wicked as well as she. She has got the better of you, and now you are going to send her away from the only chance she’ll ever get of having a decent home of her own over her head.”
“There’s nothing more to be said about it, my dear. She’ll go to Lady Ushant” Having thus pronounced his dictum with all the marital authority he was able to assume he took his hat and sallied forth. Mrs. Masters, when she was left alone, stamped her foot and hit the desk with a ruler that was lying there. Then she went up-stairs and threw herself on her bed in a paroxysm of weeping and wailing.
Mr. Masters, when he closed his door, looked up the street and down the street and then again went across to the Bush. Mr. Runciman was still there, and was standing with a letter in his hand, while one of the grooms from Rufford Hall was holding a horse beside him. “Any answer, Mr. Runciman?” said the groom.
“Only to tell his lordship that everything will be ready for him. You’d better go through and give the horse a feed of corn, and get a bit of something to eat and a glass of beer yourself.” The man wasn’t slow to do as he was bid; — and in this way the Bush had become very popular with the servants of the gentry around the place. “His lordship is to be here from Friday to Sunday with a party, Mr. Masters.”
“For the end of the shooting. And who do you think he has asked to be one of the party?”
“Not Mr. Reginald?”
“I don’t think they ever spoke in their lives. Who but Larry Twentyman!”
“It’ll be the making of Larry. I only hope he won’t cock his beaver too high.”
“Is he coming?”
“I suppose so. He’ll be sure to come. His Lordship only tells me that there are to be six of ’em on Saturday and five on Friday night. But the lad there knew who they all were. There’s Mr. Surbiton and Captain Battersby and Sir George are to come over with his lordship from Rufford. And young Mr. Hampton is to join them here, and Larry Twentyman is to shoot with them on Saturday and dine afterwards. Won’t those two Botseys be jealous; that’s all?”
“It only shows what they think of Larry,” said the attorney.
“Larry Twentyman is a very good fellow,” said the landlord. “I don’t know a better fellow round Dillsborough, or one who is more always on the square. But he’s weak. You know him as well as I, Mr. Masters.”
“He’s not so weak but what he can keep what he’s got.”
“This’ll be the way to try him. He’d melt away like water into sand if he were to live for a few weeks with such men as his Lordship’s friends. I suppose there’s no chance of his taking a wife home to Chowton with him?” The attorney shook his head. “That’d be the making of him, Mr. Masters; a good girl like that who’d keep him at home. If he takes it to heart he’ll burst out somewhere and spend a lot of money.”
The attorney declined Mr. Runciman’s offer of a glass of beer and slowly made his way round the corner of the inn by Hobb’s gate to the front door of Hoppet Hall. Then he passed on to the churchyard, still thinking of the misery of his position. When he reached the church he turned back, still going very slowly, and knocked at the door of Hoppet Hall. He was shown at once by Reginald’s old housekeeper up to the library, and there in a few minutes he was joined by the master of the house. “I was over looking for you an hour or two ago,” said Reginald.
“I heard you were there, Mr. Morton, and so I thought I would come to you. You didn’t see Mary?”
“I just saw her — but could hardly say much. She had written to my aunt about going to Cheltenham.”
“I saw the letter before she sent it, Mr. Morton.”
“So she told me. My aunt would be delighted to have her, but it seems that Mrs. Masters does not wish her to go.”
“There is some trouble about it, Mr. Morton; — but I may as well tell you at once that I wish her to go. She would be better for awhile at Cheltenham with such a lady as your aunt than she can be at home. Her stepmother and she cannot agree on a certain point. I dare say you know what it is, Mr. Morton?”
“In regard, I suppose, to Mr. Twentyman?”
“Just that. Mrs. Masters thinks that Mr. Twentyman would make an excellent husband. And so do I. There’s nothing in the world against him, and as compared with me he’s a rich man. I couldn’t give the poor girl any fortune, and he wouldn’t want any. But money isn’t everything.”
“He’s an industrious steady young man too, and he has had my word with him all through. But I can’t compel my girl to marry him if she don’t like him. I can’t even try to compel her. She’s as good a girl as ever stirred about a house.”
“I can well believe that”
“And nothing would take such a load off me as to know that she was going to be well married. But as she don’t like the young man well enough, I won’t have her hardly used.”
“Mrs. Masters perhaps is hard to her.”
“God forbid I should say anything against my wife. I never did, and I won’t now. But Mary will be better away; and if Lady Ushant will be good enough to take her, she shall go.”
“When will she be ready, Mr. Masters?”
“I must ask her about that; — in a week perhaps, or ten days.”
“She is quite decided against the young man?”
“Quite. At the bidding of all of us she said she’d take two months to think of it. But before the time was up she wrote to him to say it could never be. It quite upset my wife; because it would have been such an excellent arrangement”
Reginald wished to learn more but hardly knew how to ask the father questions. Yet, as he had been trusted so far, he thought that he might be trusted altogether. “I must own,” he said, “that I think that Mr. Twentyman would hardly be a fit husband for your daughter.”
“He is a very good young man.”
“Very likely; — but she is something more than a very good young woman. A young lady with her gifts will be sure to settle well in life some day.” The attorney shook his head. He had lived long enough to see many young ladies with good gifts find it difficult to settle in life; and perhaps that mysterious poem which Reginald found in Mary’s eyes was neither visible nor audible to Mary’s father. “I did hear,” said Reginald, “that Mr. Surtees —”
“There’s nothing in that.”
“Oh, indeed. I thought that perhaps as she is so determined not to do as her friends would wish, that there might be something else.” He said this almost as a question, looking close into the attorney’s eyes as he spoke.
“It is always possible,” said Mr. Masters.
“But you don’t think there is anybody?”
“It is very hard to say, Mr. Morton.”
“You don’t expect anything of that sort?”
Then the attorney broke forth into sudden confidence. “To tell the truth then, Mr. Morton, I think there is somebody, though who it is I know as little as the baby unborn. She sees nobody here at Dillsborough to be intimate with. She isn’t one of those who would write letters or do anything on the sly.”
“But there is some one?”
“She told me as much herself. That is, when I asked her she would not deny it. Then I thought that perhaps it might be somebody at Cheltenham.”
“I think not. She was there so short a time, Mr. Morton; and Lady Ushant would be the last person in the world to let such a thing as that go on without telling her parents. I don’t think there was any one at Cheltenham. She was only there a month.”
“I did fancy that perhaps that was one reason why she should want to go back.”
“I don’t believe it. I don’t in the least believe it,” said Reginald enthusiastically. “My aunt would have been sure to have seen it. It would have been impossible without her knowledge. But there is somebody?”
“I think so, Mr. Masters; — and if she does go to Cheltenham perhaps Lady Ushant had better know.” To this Reginald agreed, or half agreed. It did not seem to him to be of much consequence what might be done at Cheltenham. He felt certain that the lover was not there. And yet who was there at Dillsborough? He had seen those young Botseys about. Could it possibly be one of them? And during the Christmas vacation the rector’s scamp of a son had been home from Oxford; to whom Mary Masters had barely spoken. Was it young Mainwaring? Or could it be possible that she had turned an eye of favour on Dr. Nupper’s elegantly-dressed assistant. There was nothing too monstrous for him to suggest to himself as soon as the attorney had left him.
But there was a young man in Dillsborough — one man at any rate young enough to be a lover — of whom Reginald did not think; as to whom, had his name been suggested as that of the young man to whom Mary’s heart had been given, he would have repudiated such a suggestion with astonishment and anger. But now, having heard this from the girl’s father, he was again vexed, and almost as much disgusted as when he had first become aware that Larry Twentyman was a suitor for her hand. Why should he trouble himself about a girl who was ready to fall in love with the first man that she saw about the place? He tried to pacify himself by some such question as this, but tried in vain.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01