The American Senator, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXI

The Dinner at the Bush

Here is the letter which at his brother-in-law’s advice Lord Rufford wrote to Arabella:

Rufford, 3 February, 1875.

My Dear Miss Trefoil,

It is a great grief to me that I should have to answer your letter in a manner that will I fear not be satisfactory to you. I can only say that you have altogether mistaken me if you think that I have said anything which was intended as an offer of marriage. I cannot but be much flattered by your good opinion. I have had much pleasure from our acquaintance, and I should have been glad if it could have been continued. But I have had no thoughts of marriage. If I have said a word which has, unintentionally on my part, given rise to such an idea I can only beg your pardon heartily. If I were to add more after what I have now said perhaps you would take it as impertinence.

Yours most sincerely,

He had desired to make various additions and suggestions which however had all been disallowed by Sir George Penwether. He had proposed among other things to ask her whether he should keep Jack for her for the remainder of the season or whether he should send the horse elsewhere, but Sir George would not allow a word in the letter about Jack. “You did give her the horse then?” he asked.

“I had hardly any alternative as the things went. She would have been quite welcome to the horse if she would have let me alone afterwards.”

“No doubt; but when young gentlemen give young ladies horses —”

“I know all about it, my dear fellow. Pray don’t preach more than you can help. Of course I have been an infernal ass. I know all that. But as the horse is hers —”

“Say nothing about the horse. Were she to ask for it of course she could have it; but that is not likely.”

“And you think I had better say nothing else.”

“Not a word. Of course it will be shown to all her friends and may possibly find its way into print. I don’t know what steps such a young lady may be advised to take. Her uncle is a man of honour. Her father is an ass and careless about everything. Mistletoe will not improbably feel himself bound to act as though he were her brother. They will, of course, all think you to be a rascal — and will say so.”

“If Mistletoe says so I’ll horsewhip him.”

“No you won’t, Rufford. You will remember that this woman is a woman, and that a woman’s friends are bound to stand up for her. After all your hands are not quite clean in the matter.”

“I am heavy enough on myself Penwether. I have been a fool and I own it. But I have done nothing unbecoming a gentleman.” He was almost tempted to quarrel with his brother-in-law, but at last he allowed the letter to be sent just as Sir George had written it, and then tried to banish the affair from his mind for the present so that he might enjoy his life till the next hostile step should be taken by the Trefoil clan.

When Larry Twentyman received the lord’s note, which was left at Chowton Farm by Hampton’s groom, he was in the lowest depth of desolation. He had intended to hunt that day in compliance with John Morton’s advice, but had felt himself quite unable to make the effort. It was not only that he had been thrown over by Mary Masters, but that everybody knew that he had been thrown over. If he had kept the matter secret, perhaps he might have borne it; but it is so hard to bear a sorrow of which all one’s neighbours are conscious. When a man is reduced by poverty to the drinking of beer instead of wine, it is not the loss of the wine that is so heavy on him as the consciousness that those around him are aware of the reason. And he is apt to extend his idea of this consciousness to a circle that is altogether indifferent of the fact. That a man should fail in his love seems to him to be of all failures the most contemptible, and Larry thought that there would not be one in the field unaware of his miserable rejection. In spite of his mother’s prayers he had refused to go, and had hung about the farm all day.

Then there came to him Lord Rufford’s note. It had been quite unexpected, and a month or two before, when his hopes had still been high in regard to Mary Masters, would have filled him with delight. It was the foible of his life to be esteemed a gentleman, and his poor ambition to be allowed to live among men of higher social standing than himself. Those dinners of Lord Rufford’s at the Bush had been a special grief to him. The young lord had been always courteous to him in the field, and he had been able, as he thought, to requite such courtesy by little attentions in the way of game preserving. If pheasants from Dillsborough Wood ate Goarly’s wheat, so did they eat Larry Twentyman’s barley. He had a sportsman’s heart, above complaint as to such matters, and had always been neighbourly to the lord. No doubt pheasants and hares were left at his house whenever there was shooting in the neighbourhood, which to his mother afforded great consolation. But Larry did not care for the pheasants and hares. Had he so pleased he could have shot them on his own land; but he did not preserve, and, as a good neighbour, he regarded the pheasants and hares as Lord Rufford’s property. He felt that he was behaving as a gentleman as well as a neighbour, and that he should be treated as such. Fred Botsey had dined at the Bush with Lord Rufford, and Larry looked on Fred as in no way better than himself.

Now at last the invitation had come. He was asked to a day’s shooting and to dine with the lord and his party at the inn. How pleasant would it be to give a friendly nod to Runciman as he went into the room, and to assert afterwards in Botsey’s hearing something of the joviality of the evening. Of course Hampton would be there as Hampton’s servant had brought the note, and he was very anxious to be on friendly terms with Mr. Hampton. Next to the lord himself there was no one in the hunt who carried his head so high as young Hampton.

But there arose to him the question whether all this had not arrived too late! Of what good is it to open up the true delights of life to a man when you have so scotched and wounded him that he has no capability left of enjoying anything? As he sat lonely with his pipe in his mouth he thought for a while that he would decline the invitation. The idea of selling Chowton Farm and of establishing himself at some Antipodes in which the name of Mary Masters should never have been heard, was growing upon him. Of what use would the friendship of Lord Rufford be to him at the other side of the globe?

At last, however, the hope of giving that friendly nod to Runciman overcame him, and he determined to go. He wrote a note, which caused him no little thought, presenting his compliments to Lord Rufford and promising to meet his lordship’s party at Dillsborough Wood.

The shooting went off very well and Larry behaved himself with propriety. He wanted the party to come in and lunch, and had given sundry instructions to his mother on that head. But they did not remain near to his place throughout the day, and his efforts in that direction were not successful. Between five and six he went home, and at half-past seven appeared at the Bush attired in his best. He never yet had sat down with a lord, and his mind misgave him a little; but he had spirit enough to look about for Runciman — who, however, was not to be seen.

Sir George was not there, but the party had been made up, as regarded the dinner, by the addition of Captain Glomax, who had returned from hunting. Captain Glomax was in high glee, having had — as he declared — the run of the season. When a Master has been deserted on any day by the choice spirits of his hunt he is always apt to boast to them that he had on that occasion the run of the season. He had taken a fox from Impington right across to Hogsborough, which, as every one knows, is just on the borders of the U.R.U., had then run him for five miles into Lord Chiltern’s country, and had killed him in the centre of the Brake Hunt, after an hour and a half, almost without a check. “It was one of those straight things that one doesn’t often see now-a-days,” said Glomax.

“Any pace?” asked Lord Rufford.

“Very good, indeed, for the first forty minutes. I wish you had all been there. It was better fun I take it than shooting rabbits.”

Then Hampton put the Captain through his facings as to time and distance and exact places that had been passed, and ended by expressing an opinion that he could have kicked his hat as fast on foot. Whereupon the Captain begged him to try, and hinted that he did not know the country. In answer to which Hampton offered to bet a five-pound note that young Jack Runce would say that the pace had been slow. Jack was the son of the old farmer whom the Senator had so disgusted, and was supposed to know what he was about on a horse. But Glomax declined the bet saying that he did not care a — for Jack Runce. He knew as much about pace as any farmer, or for the matter of that any gentleman, in Ufford or Rufford, and the pace for forty minutes had been very good. Nevertheless all the party were convinced that the “thing” had been so slow that it had not been worth riding to; — a conviction which is not uncommon with gentlemen when they have missed a run. In all this discussion poor Larry took no great part though he knew the country as well as any one. Larry had not as yet got over the awe inspired by the lord in his black coat.

Perhaps Larry’s happiest moment in the evening was when Runciman himself brought in the soup, for at that moment Lord Rufford put his hand on his shoulder and desired him to sit down — and Runciman both heard and saw it. And at dinner, when the champagne had been twice round, he became more comfortable. The conversation got upon Goarly, and in reference to that matter he was quite at home. “It’s not my doing,” said Lord Rufford. “I have instructed no one to keep him locked up.”

“It’s a very good job from all that I can hear,” said Tom Surbiton.

“All I did was to get Mr. Masters here to take up the case for me, and I learned from him to-day that the rascal had already agreed to take the money I offered. He only bargains that it shall be paid into his own hands — no doubt desiring to sell the attorney he has employed.”

“Bearside has got his money from the American Senator, my Lord,” said Larry.

“They may fight it out among them. I don’t care who gets the money or who pays it as long as I’m not imposed upon.”

“We must proceed against that man Scrobby,” said Glomax with all the authority of a Master.

“You’ll never convict him on Goarly’s evidence,” said the Lord.

Then Larry could give them further information. Nickem had positively traced the purchase of the red herrings. An old woman in Rufford was ready to swear that she herself had sold them to Mrs. Scrobby. Tom Surbiton suggested that the possession of red herrings was not of itself a crime. Hampton thought that it was corroborative. Captain Batsby wanted to know whether any of the herrings were still in existence, so that they could be sworn to. Glomax was of opinion that villainy of so deep a dye could not have taken place in any other hunting country in England.

“There’s been strychnine put down in the Brake too,” said Hampton.

“But not in cartloads,” said the Master.

“I rather think,” said Larry, “that Nickem knows where the strychnine was bought. That’ll make a clear case of it. Hanging would be too good for such a scoundrel” This was said after the third glass of champagne, but the opinion was one which was well received by the whole company. After that the Senator’s conduct was discussed, and they all agreed that in the whole affair that was the most marvellous circumstance. “They must be queer people over there,” said Larry.

“Brutes!” said Glomax. “They once tried a pack of hounds somewhere in one of the States, but they never could run a yard.”

There was a good deal of wine drank, which was not unusual at Lord Rufford’s dinners. Most of the company were seasoned vessels, and none of them were much the worse for what they drank. But the generous wine got to Larry’s heart, and perhaps made his brain a little soft. Lord Rufford remembering what had been said about the young man’s misery tried to console him by attention; and as the evening wore on, and when the second cigars had been lit all round, the two were seated together in confidential conversation at a corner of the table: “Yes, my lord; I think I shall hook it,” said Larry. “Something has occurred that has made the place not quite so comfortable to me; and as it is all my own I think I shall sell it.”

“We should miss you immensely in the hunt,” said Lord Rufford, who of course knew what the something was.

“It’s very kind of you to say so, my lord. But there are things which may make a man go.”

“Nothing serious, I hope.”

“Just a young woman, my lord. I don’t want it talked about, but I don’t mind mentioning it to you.”

“You should never let those troubles touch you so closely,” said his lordship, whose own withers at this moment were by no means unwrung.

“I dare say not. But if you feel it, how are you to help it? I shall do very well when I get away. Chowton Farm is not the only spot in the world.”

“But a man so fond of hunting as you are!”

“Well; — yes. I shall miss the hunting, my lord — shan’t I? If Mr. Morton don’t buy the place I should like it to go to your lordship. I offered it to him first because it came from them.”

“Quite right. By-the-bye, I hear that Mr. Morton is very ill.”

“So I heard,” said Larry. “Nupper has been with him, I know, and I fancy they have sent for somebody from London. I don’t know that he cares much about the land. He thinks more of the foreign parts he’s always in. I don’t believe we should fall out about the price, my lord.” Then Lord Rufford explained that he would not go into that matter just at present, but that if the place were in the market he would certainly like to buy it. He, however, did as John Morton had done before, and endeavoured to persuade the poor fellow that he should not alter the whole tenor of his life because a young lady would not look at him.

“Good night, Mr. Runciman,” said Larry as he made his way down-stairs to the yard. “We’ve had an uncommon pleasant evening.”

“I’m glad you’ve enjoyed yourself, Larry.” Larry thought that his Christian name from the hotel keeper’s lips had never sounded so offensively as on the present occasion.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01