On the next morning Mrs. Morton did not come down to breakfast, but sat alone upstairs nursing her wrath. During the night she had made up her mind to one or two things. She would never enter her grandson’s chambers when Lady Ushant was there. She would not speak to Reginald Morton, and should he come into her presence while she was at Bragton she would leave the room. She would do her best to make the house, in common parlance, “too hot” to hold that other woman. And she would make use of those words which John had spoken concerning Chowton Farm as a peg on which she might hang her discourse in reference to his will. If in doing all this she should receive that dutiful assistance which she thought that he owed her — then she should stand by his bed-side, and be tender to him, and nurse him to the last as a mother would nurse a child. But if, as she feared, he were headstrong in disobeying, then she would remember that her duty to her family, if done with a firm purpose, would have lasting results, while his life might probably be an affair of a few weeks — or even days.
At about eleven Lady Ushant was with her patient when a message was brought by Mrs. Hopkins. Mrs. Morton wished to see her grandson and desired to know whether it would suit him that she should come now. “Why not?” said the sick man, who was sitting up in his bed. Then Lady Ushant collected her knitting and was about to depart. “Must you go because she is coming?” Morton asked. Lady Ushant, shocked at the necessity of explaining to him the ill feeling that existed, said that perhaps it would be best. “Why should it be best?” Lady Ushant shook her head, and smiled, and put her hand upon the counterpane — and retired. As she passed the door of her rival’s room she could see the black silk dress moving behind the partly open door, and as she entered her own she heard Mrs. Morton’s steps upon the corridor. The place was already almost “too hot” for her. Anything would be better than scenes like this in the house of a dying man.
“Need my aunt have gone away?” he asked after the first greeting.
“I did not say so.”
“She seemed to think that she was not to stay.”
“Can I help what she thinks, John?” Of course she feels that she is —”
“An interloper — if I must say it”
“But I have sent for her, and I have begged her to stay.”
“Of course she can stay if she wishes. But, dear John, there must be much to be said between you and me which — which cannot interest her; or which, at least, she ought not to hear.” He did not contradict this in words, feeling himself to be too weak, for contest; but within his own mind he declared that it was not so. The things which interested him now were as likely to interest his great-aunt as his grandmother, and to be as fit for the ears of the one as for those of the other.
An hour had passed after this during which she tended him, giving him food and medicine, and he had slept before she ventured to allude to the subject which was nearest to her heart. “John,” she said at last, “I have been thinking about Chowton Farm.”
“It certainly should be bought”
“If the man resolves on selling it.”
“Of course; I mean that. How much would it be?” Then he mentioned the sum which Twentyman had named, saying that he had inquired and had been told that the price was reasonable. “It is a large sum of money, John.”
“There might be a mortgage for part of it”
“I don’t like mortgages. The property would not be yours at all if it were mortgaged, as soon as bought. You would pay 5 per cent. for the money and only get 3 per cent from the land.” The old lady understood all about it.
“I could pay it off in two years,” said the sick man.
“There need be no paying off, and no mortgage, if I did it I almost believe I have got enough to do it.” He knew very well that she had much more than enough. “I think more of this property than of anything in the world, my dear.”
“Chowton Farm could be yours, you know.”
“What should I do with Chowton Farm? I shall probably be in my grave before the slow lawyer would have executed the deeds.” And I in mine, thought he to himself, before the present owner has quite made up his mind to part with his land. “What would a little place like that do for me? But in my father-in-law’s time it was part of the Bragton property. He sold it to pay the debts of a younger son, forgetting, as I thought, what he owed to the estate; —“It had in truth been sold on behalf of the husband of this old woman who was now complaining. “And if it can be recovered it is our duty to get it back again. A property like this should never be lessened. It is in that way that the country is given over to shopkeepers and speculators and is made to be like France or Italy. I quite think that Chowton Farm should be bought. And though I might die before it was done, I would find the money.”
“I knew what your feeling would be.”
“Yes, John. You could not but know it well. But —” Then she paused a moment, looking into his face. “But I should wish to know what would become of it — eventually.”
“If it were yours you could do what you pleased with it.”
“But it would be yours.”
“Then it would go with the rest of the property.”
“To whom would it go? We have all to die, my dear, and who can say whom it may please the Almighty to take first?”
“In this house, ma’am, every one can give a shrewd guess. I know my own condition. If I die without children of my own every acre I possess will go to the proper heir. Thinking as you do, you ought to agree with me in that.”
“But who is the proper heir?”
“My cousin Reginald. Do not let us contest it, ma’am. As certainly as I lie here he will have Bragton when I am gone.”
“Will you not listen to me, John?”
“Not about that. How could I die in peace were I to rob him?”
“It is all your own — to do as you like with.”
“It is all my own, but not to do as I like with. With your feelings, with your ideas, how can you urge me to such an injustice?”
“Do I want it for myself? I do not even want it for any one belonging to me. There is your cousin Peter.”
“If he were the heir he should have it — though I know nothing of him and believe him to be but a poor creature and very unfit to have the custody of a family property.”
“But he is his father’s son.”
“I will believe nothing of that,” said the sick man raising himself in his bed. “It is a slander; it is based on no evidence whatsoever. No one even thought of it but you.”
“John, is that the way to speak to me?”
“It is the way to speak of an assertion so injurious.” Then he fell back again on his pillows and she sat by his bedside for a full half hour speechless, thinking of it all. At the end of that time she had resolved that she would not yet give it up. Should he regain his health and strength — and she would pray fervently night and day that God would be so good to him — then everything would be well. Then he would marry and have children, and Bragton would descend in the right line. But were it to be ordained otherwise, should it be God’s will that he must die, then, as he grew weaker, he would become more plastic in her hands, and she might still prevail. At present he was stubborn with the old stubbornness, and would not see with her eyes. She would bide her time and be careful to have a lawyer ready. She turned it all over in her mind, as she sat there watching him in his sleep. She knew of no one but Mr. Masters whom she distrusted as being connected with the other side of the family — whose father had made that will by which the property in Dillsborough had been dissevered from Bragton. But Mr. Masters would probably obey instructions if they were given to him definitely.
She thought of it all and then went down to lunch. She did not dare to refuse altogether to meet the other woman lest such resolve on her part might teach those in the house to think that Lady Ushant was the mistress. She took her place at the head of the table and interchanged a few words with her grandson’s guest — which of course had reference to his health. Lady Ushant was very ill able to carry on a battle of any sort and was willing to show her submission in everything — unless she were desired to leave the house. While they were still sitting at table, Reginald Morton walked into the room. It had been his habit to do so regularly for the last week. A daily visitor does not wait to have himself announced. Reginald had considered the matter and had determined that he would follow his practice just as though Mrs. Morton were not there. If she were civil to him then would he be very courteous to her. It had never occurred to him to expect conduct such as that with which she greeted him. The old woman got up and looked at him sternly. “My nephew, Reginald,” said Lady Ushant, supposing that some introduction might be necessary. Mrs. Morton gathered the folds of her dress together and without a word stalked out of the room. And yet she believed — she could not but believe — that her grandson was on his deathbed in the room, above!
“O Reginald, what are we to?” said Lady Ushant.
“Is she like that to you?”
“She told me last night that I was a stranger, and that I ought to leave the house.”
“And what did you say?”
“I told her I should stay while he wished me to stay. But it is all so terrible, that I think I had better go.”
“I would not stir a step — on her account.”
“But why should she be so bitter? I have done nothing to offend her. It is more than half of even my long lifetime since I saw her. She is nothing; but I have to think of his comfort. I suppose she is good to him; and though he may bid me stay such scenes as this in the house must be a trouble to him.” Nevertheless Reginald was strong in opinion that Lady Ushant ought not to allow herself to be driven away, and declared his own purpose of coming daily as had of late been his wont.
Soon after this Reginald was summoned to go upstairs and he again met the angry woman in the passage, passing her of course without a word. And then Mary came to see her friend, and she also encountered Mrs. Morton, who was determined that no one should come into that house without her knowledge. “Who is that young woman?” said Mrs. Morton to the old housekeeper.
“That is Miss Masters, my Lady.”
“And who is Miss Masters — and why does she come here at such a time as this?”
“She is the daughter of Attorney Masters, my Lady. It was she as was brought up here by Lady Ushant”
“Oh — that young person.”
“She’s come here generally of a day now to see her ladyship.”
“And is she taken up to my grandson?”
“Oh dear, no, my Lady. She sits with Lady Ushant for an hour or so and then goes back with Mr. Reginald.”
“Oh — that is it, is it? The house is made use of for such purposes as that!”
“I don’t think there is an purposes, my Lady,” said Mrs. Hopkins, almost roused to indignation, although she was talking to the acknowledged mistress of the house whom she always called “my lady.”
Lady Ushant told the whole story to her young friend, bitterly bewailing her position. “Reginald tells me not to go, but I do not think that I can stand it. I should not mind the quarrel so much — only that he is so ill.”
“She must be a very evil-minded person.”
“She was always arrogant and always hard. I can remember her just the same; but that was so many years ago. She left Bragton then because she could not banish his mother from the house. But to bear it all in her heart so long is not like a human being; — let alone a woman. What did he say to you going home yesterday?”
“Nothing, Lady Ushant”
“Does he know that it will all be his if that poor young man should die? He never speaks to me as if he thought of it”
“He would certainly not speak to me about it. I do not think he thinks of it. He is not like that.”
“Men do consider such things. And they are only cousins; and they have never known each other! Oh, Mary!”
“What are you thinking of, Lady Ushant?”
“Men ought not to care for money or position, but they do. If he comes here, all that I have will be yours.”
“Oh, Lady Ushant!”
“It is not much but it will be enough.”
“I do not want to hear about such things now.”
“But you ought to be told. Ah, dear; — if it could be as I wish!” The imprudent, weak-minded, loving old woman longed to hear a tale of mutual love — longed to do something which should cause such a tale to be true on both sides. And yet she could not quite bring herself to express her wish either to the man or to the woman.
Poor Mary almost understood it, but was not quite sure of her friend’s meaning. She was, however, quite sure that if such were the wish of Lady Ushant’s heart, Lady Ushant was wishing in vain. She had twice walked back to Dillsborough with Reginald Morton, and he had been more sedate, more middle-aged, less like a lover than ever. She knew now that she might safely walk with him, being sure that he was no more likely to talk of love than would have been old Dr. Nupper had she accepted the offer which he had made her of a cast in his gig. And now that Reginald would probably become Squire of Bragton it was more impossible than ever. As Squire of Bragton he would seek some highly born bride, quite out of her way, whom she could never know. And then she would see neither him — nor Bragton any more. Would it not have been better that she should have married Larry Twentyman and put an end to so many troubles beside her own?
Again. she walked back with him to Dillsborough, passing as they always did across the little bridge. He seemed to be very silent as he went, more so than usual — and as was her wont with him she only spoke to him when he addressed her. It was only when he got out on the road that he told her what was on his mind. “Mary,” he said, “how will it be with me if that poor fellow dies?”
“In what way, Mr. Morton?”
“All that place will be mine. He told me so just now.”
“But that would be of course.”
“Not at all. He might give it to you if he pleased. He could not have an heir who would care for it less. But it is right that it should be so. Whether it would suit my taste or not to live as Squire of Bragton — and I do not think it would suit my taste well — it ought to be so. I am the next, and it will be my duty.”
“I am sure you do not want him to die.”
“No, indeed. If I could save him by my right hand — if I could save him by my life, I would do it.”
“But of all lives it must surely be the best.”
“Do you think so? What is such a one likely to do? But then what do I do, as it is? It is the sort of life you would like — if you were a man.”
“Yes — if I were a man,” said Mary. Then he again relapsed into silence and hardly spoke again till he left her at her father’s door.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01