Reginald Morton, as he walked across the bridge towards the house, was thoroughly disgusted with all the world. He was very angry with himself, feeling that he had altogether made a fool of himself by his manner. He had shown himself to be offended, not only by Mr. Twentyman, but by Miss Masters also, and he was well aware, as he thought of it all, that neither of them had given him any cause of offence. If she chose to make an appointment for a walk with Mr. Lawrence Twentyman and to keep it, what was that to him? His anger was altogether irrational, and he knew that it was so. What right had he to have an opinion about it if Mary Masters should choose to like the society of Mr. Twentyman? It was an affair between her and her father and mother in which he could have no interest; and yet he had not only taken offence, but was well aware that he had shown his feeling.
Nevertheless, as to the girl herself, he could not argue himself out of his anger. It was grievous to him that he should have gone out of his way to ask her to walk with him just at the moment when she was expecting this vulgar lover — for that she had expected him he felt no doubt. Yet he had heard her disclaim any intention of walking with the man! But girls are sly, especially when their lovers are concerned. It made him sore at heart to feel that this girl should be sly, and doubly sore to think that she should have been able to love such a one as Lawrence Twentyman.
As he roamed about among the grounds this idea troubled him much. He assured himself that he was not in love with her himself, and that he had no idea of falling in love with her; but it sickened him to think that a girl who had been brought up by his aunt, who had been loved at Bragton, whom he had liked, who looked so like a lady, should put herself on a par with such a wretch as that. In all this he was most unjust to both of them. He was specially unjust to poor Larry, who was by no means a wretch. His costume was not that to which Morton had been accustomed in Germany, nor would it have passed without notice in Bond Street. But it was rational and clean. When he came to the bridge to meet his sweetheart he had on a dark-green shooting coat, a billicock hat, brown breeches, and gaiters nearly up to his knees. I don’t know that a young man in the country could wear more suitable attire. And he was a well-made man, just such a one as, in this dress, would take the eye of a country girl. There was a little bit of dash about him, just a touch of swagger, which better breeding might have prevented. But it was not enough to make him odious to an unprejudiced observer. I could fancy that an old lady from London, with an eye in her head for manly symmetry, would have liked to look at Larry, and would have thought that a girl in Mary’s position would be happy in having such a lover, providing that his character was good and his means adequate. But Reginald Morton was not an old woman, and to his eyes the smart young farmer with his billicock hat, not quite straight on his head, was an odious thing to behold. He exaggerated the swagger, and took no notice whatever of the well-made limbs. And then this man had proposed to accompany him, had wanted to join his party, had thought it possible that a flirtation might be carried on in his presence! He sincerely hated the man. But what was he to think of such a girl as Mary Masters when she could bring herself to like the attentions of such a lover?
He was very cross with himself because he knew how unreasonable was his anger. Of one thing only could he assure himself — that he would never again willingly put himself in Mary’s company. What was Dillsborough and the ways of its inhabitants to him? Why should he so far leave the old fashions of his life as to fret himself about an attorney’s daughter in a little English town? And yet he did fret himself, walking rapidly, and smoking his pipe a great deal quicker than was his custom.
When he was about to return home he passed the front of the house, and there, standing at the open door, he saw Mrs. Hopkins, the housekeeper, who had in truth been waiting for him. He said a good-natured word to her, intending to make his way on without stopping, but she called him back. “Have you heard the news, Mr. Reginald?” she said.
“I haven’t heard any news this twelvemonth,” he replied.
“Laws, that is so like you, Mr. Reginald. The young squire is to be here next week.”
“Who is the young squire? I didn’t know there was any squire now.”
“A squire as I take it, Mrs. Hopkins, is a country gentleman who lives on his own property. Since my grandfather’s time no such gentleman has lived at Bragton.”
“That’s true, too, Mr. Reginald. Any way Mr. Morton is coming down next week.”
“I thought he was in America.”
“He has come home, for a turn like — and is staying up in town with the old lady.” The old lady always meant the Honourable Mrs. Morton.
“And is the old lady coming down with him?”
“I fancy she is, Mr. Reginald. He didn’t say as much, but only that there would be three or four, a couple of ladies he said, and perhaps more. So I am getting the east bedroom, with the dressing-room, and the blue room for her ladyship.” People about Bragton had been accustomed to call Mrs. Morton her ladyship. “That’s where she always used to be. Would you come in and see, Mr. Reginald?”
“Certainly not, Mrs. Hopkins. If you were asking me into a house of your own, I would go in and see all the rooms and chat with you for an hour; but I don’t suppose I shall ever go into this house again unless things change very much indeed.”
“Then I’m sure I hope they will change, Mr. Reginald.” Mrs. Hopkins had known Reginald Morton as a boy growing up into manhood, had almost been present at his birth, and had renewed her friendship while he was staying with Lady Ushant; but of the present squire, as she called him, she had seen almost nothing, and what she had once remembered of him had now been obliterated by an absence of twenty years. Of course she was on Reginald’s side in the family quarrel, although she was the paid servant of the Foreign Office paragon.
“And they are to be here next week. What day next week, Mrs. Hopkins?” Mrs. Hopkins didn’t know on what day she was to expect the visitors, nor how long they intended to stay. Mr. John Morton had said in his letter that he would send his own man down two days before his arrival, and that was nearly all that he had said.
Then Morton started on his return walk to Dillsborough, again taking the path across the bridge. “Ah!” he said to himself with a shudder as he crossed the stile, thinking of his own softened feelings as he had held out his hand to help Mary Masters, and then of his revulsion of feeling when she declared her purpose of walking home with Mr. Twentyman. And he struck the rail of the bridge with his stick as though he were angry with the place altogether. And he thought to himself that he would never come there any more, that he hated the place, and that he would never cross that bridge again.
Then his mind reverted to the tidings he had heard from Mrs. Hopkins. What ought he to do when his cousin arrived? Though there had been a long lawsuit, there had been no actual declared quarrel between him and the heir. He had, indeed, never seen the heir for the last twenty years, nor had they ever interchanged letters. There had been no communication whatever between them, and therefore there could hardly be a quarrel. He disliked his cousin; nay, almost hated him; he was quite aware of that. And he was sure also that he hated that Honourable old woman worse than any one else in the world, and that he always would do so. He knew that the Honourable old woman had attempted to drive his own mother from Bragton, and of course he hated her. But that was no reason why he should not call on his cousin. He was anxious to do what was right. He was specially anxious that blame should not be attributed to him. What he would like best would be that he might call, might find nobody at home — and that then John Morton should not return the courtesy. He did not want to go to Bragton as a guest; he did not wish to be in the wrong himself; but he was by no means equally anxious that his cousin should keep himself free from reproach.
The bridge path came out on the Dillsborough road just two miles from the town, and Morton, as he got over the last stile, saw Lawrence Twentyman coming towards him on the road. The man, no doubt, had gone all the way into Dillsborough with the girls, and was now returning home. The parish of Bragton lies to the left of the high road as you go into the town from Rufford and the direction of London, whereas Chowton Farm, the property of Mr. Twentyman, is on the right of the road, but in the large parish of St. John’s, Dillsborough. Dillsborough Wood lies at the back of Larry Twentyman’s land, and joining on to Larry’s land and also to the wood is the patch of ground owned by “that scoundrel Goarly”. Chowton Farm gate opens on to the high road, so that Larry was now on his direct way home. As soon as he saw Morton he made up his mind to speak to him. He was quite sure from what had passed between him and the girls, on the road home, that he had done something wrong. He was convinced that he had interfered in some ill-bred way, though he did not at all know how. Of Reginald Morton he was not in the least jealous. He, too, was of a jealous temperament, but it had never occurred to him to join Reginald Morton and Mary Masters together. He was very much in love with Mary, but had no idea that she was in any way above the position which she might naturally hold as daughter of the Dillsborough attorney. But of Reginald Morton’s attributes and scholarship and general standing he had a mystified appreciation which saved him from the pain of thinking that such a man could be in love with his sweetheart. As he certainly did not wish to quarrel with Morton, having always taken Reginald’s side in the family disputes, he thought that he would say a civil word in passing, and, if possible, apologise. When Morton came up he raised his hand to his head and did open his mouth, though not pronouncing any word very clearly. Morton looked at him as grim as death, just raised his hand, and then passed on with a quick step. Larry was displeased; but the other was so thoroughly a gentleman — one of the Mortons, and a man of property in the county — that he didn’t even yet wish to quarrel with him. “What the deuce have I done?” said he to himself as he walked on —“I didn’t tell her not to go up to the house. If I offered to walk with her what was that to him?” It must be remembered that Lawrence Twentyman was twelve years younger than Reginald Morton, and that a man of twenty-eight is apt to regard a man of forty as very much too old for falling in love. It is a mistake which it will take him fully ten years to rectify, and then he will make a similar mistake as to men of fifty. With his awe for Morton’s combined learning and age, it never occurred to him to be jealous.
Morton passed on rapidly, almost feeling that he had been a brute. But what business had the objectionable man to address him? He tried to excuse himself, but yet he felt that he had been a brute, and had so demeaned himself in reference to the daughter of the Dillsborough attorney! He would teach himself to do all he could to promote the marriage. He would give sage advice to Mary Masters as to the wisdom of establishing herself — having not an hour since made up his mind that he would never see her again! He would congratulate the attorney and Mrs. Masters. He would conquer the absurd feeling which at present was making him wretched. He would cultivate some sort of acquaintance with the man, and make the happy pair a wedding present. But, yet, what “a beast” the man was, with that billicock hat on one side of his head, and those tight leather gaiters.
As he passed through the town towards his own house, he saw Mr. Runciman standing in front of the hotel. His road took him up Hobbs gate, by the corner of the Bush; but Runciman came a little out of the way to meet him. “You have heard the news?” said the innkeeper.
“I have heard one piece of news.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Come — you tell me yours first”
“The young squire is coming down to Bragton next week.”
“That’s my news too. It is not likely that there should be two matters of interest in Dillsborough on the same day.”
“I don’t know why Dillsborough should be worse off than any other place, Mr. Morton; but at any rate the squire’s coming.”
“So Mrs. Hopkins told me. Has he written to you?”
“His coachman or his groom has; or perhaps he keeps what they call an ekkery. He’s much too big a swell to write to the likes of me. Lord bless me — when I think of it, I wonder how many dozen of orders I’ve had from Lord Rufford under his own hand. ‘Dear Runcimam, dinner at eight; ten of us; won’t wait a moment. Yours R.’ I suppose Mr. Morton would think that his lordship had let himself down by anything of that sort?”
“What does my cousin want?”
“Two pair of horses — for a week certain, and perhaps longer, and two carriages. How am I to let anyone have two pair of horses for a week certain — and perhaps longer? What are other customers to do? I can supply a gentleman by the month and buy horses to suit; or I can supply him by the job. But I guess Mr. Morton don’t well know how things are managed in this country. He’ll have to learn.
“What day does he come?”
“They haven’t told me that yet, Mr. Morton.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01