On that Saturday the club met at Dillsborough — even though the Squire of Bragton had died on Friday morning. Through the whole of that Saturday the town had been much exercised in its belief and expressions, as to the disposition of the property. The town knew very well that Mr. Masters, the attorney, had been sent for to Bragton on the previous Wednesday — whence the deduction as to a new will, made of course under the auspices of Mrs. Morton, would have been quite plain to the town, had not a portion of the town heard that the attorney had not been for a moment with the dying man during his visit. This latter piece of information had come through Lady Ushant, who had been in her nephew’s bedroom the whole time; — but Lady Ushant had not much personal communication with the town generally, and would probably have said nothing on this subject had not Mr. Runciman walked up to Hoppet Hall behind the fly, after Mr. Masters had left it; and, while helping her ladyship out, made inquiry as to the condition of things at Bragton generally. “I was sorry to hear of their sending for any lawyer,” said Mr. Runciman. Then Lady Ushant protested that the lawyer had not been sent for by her nephew, and that her nephew had not even seen him. “Oh, indeed,” said Mr. Runciman, who immediately took a walk round his own paddock with the object of putting two and two together. Mr. Runciman was a discreet man, and did not allow this piece of information to spread itself generally. He told Dr. Nupper, and Mr. Hampton, and Lord Rufford — for the hounds went out on Friday, though the Squire of Bragton was lying dead; — but he did not tell Mr. Mainwaring, whom he encountered in the street of the town as he was coming home early, and who was very keen to learn whatever news there was.
Reginald Morton on Friday did not go near Bragton. That of course was palpable to all, and was a great sign that he himself did not regard himself as the heir. He had for awhile been very intimate at the house, visiting it daily — and during a part of that time the grandmother had been altogether absent. Then she had come back, and he had discontinued his visits. And now he did not even go over to seal up the drawers and to make arrangements as to the funeral. He did not at any rate go on the Friday — nor on the Saturday. And on the Saturday Mr. Wobytrade, the undertaker, had received orders from Mrs. Morton to go at once to Bragton. All this was felt to be strong against Reginald. But when it was discovered that on the Saturday afternoon Mrs. Morton herself had gone up to London, not waiting even for the coming of any one else to take possession of the house — and that she had again carried all her own personal luggage with her, then opinion in Dillsborough again veered. Upon the whole the betting was a point or two in favour of Reginald, when the club met.
Mrs. Masters, who had been much quelled of late, had been urgent with her husband to go over to the Bush; but he was unwilling, he said, to be making jolly while the Squire of Bragton was lying unburied. “He was nothing to you, Gregory,” said his wife, who had in vain endeavoured to learn from him why he had been summoned to Bragton —“You will hear something over there, and it will relieve your spirits.” So instigated he did go across, and found all the accustomed members of the club congregated in the room. Even Larry Twentyman was present, who of late had kept himself aloof from all such meetings. Both the Botseys were there, and Nupper and Harry Stubbings, and Ribbs the butcher. Runciman himself of course was in the room, and he had introduced on this occasion Captain Glomax, the master of the hunt, who was staying at his house that night — perhaps with a view to hunting duties on the Monday, perhaps in order that he might hear something as to the Bragton property. It had already been suggested to him that he might possibly hire the house for a year or two at little more than a nominal rent, that the old kennels might be resuscitated, and that such arrangements would be in all respects convenient. He was the master of the hunt, and of course there was no difficulty as to introducing him to the club.
Captain Glomax was speaking in a somewhat dictatorial voice — as becomes a Master of Hounds when in the field, though perhaps it should be dropped afterwards — when the Attorney entered. There was a sudden rise of voices striving to interrupt the Captain, as it was felt by them all that Mr. Masters must be in possession of information; but the Captain himself went on. “Of course it is the place for the hounds. Nobody can doubt that who knows the country and understands the working of it. The hunt ought to have subscribed and hired the kennels and stables permanently.”
“There would have wanted two to that bargain, Captain,” said Mr. Runciman.
“Of course there would, but what would you think of a man who would refuse such a proposition when he didn’t want the place himself? Do you think if I’d been there foxes would have been poisoned in Dillsborough wood? I’d have had that fellow Goarly under my thumb.”
“Then you’d have had an awful blackguard under your thumb, Captain Glomax,” said Larry, who could not restrain his wrath when Goarly’s name was mentioned.
“What does that matter, if you get foxes?” continued the Master. “But the fact is, gentlemen in a county like this always want to have everything done for them, and never to do anything for themselves. I’m sick of it, I know. Nobody is fonder of hunting a country than I am, and I think I know what I’m about.”
“That you do,” said Fred Botsey, who, like most men, was always ready to flatter the Master.
“And I don’t care how hard I work. From the first of August till the end of May I never have a day to myself, what with cubbing and then the season, and entering the young hounds, and buying and selling horses, by George I’m at it the whole year.”
“A Master of Hounds looks for that, Captain,” said the innkeeper.
“Looks for it! Yes; he must look for it. But I wouldn’t mind that, if I could get gentlemen to pull a little with me. I can’t stand being out of pocket as I have been, and so I must let them know. If the country would get the kennels and the stables, and lay out a few pounds so that horses and hounds and men could go into them, I wouldn’t mind having a shot for the house. It’s killing work where I am now, the other side of Rufford, you may say.” Then he stopped; — but no one would undertake to answer him. The meaning of it was that Captain Glomax wanted 500 pounds a year more than he received, and every one there knew that there was not 500 pounds a year more to be got out of the country — unless Lord Rufford would put his hand into his pocket. Now the present stables and the present kennels had been “made comfortable” by Lord Rufford, and it was not thought probable that he would pay for the move to Bragton.
“When’s the funeral to be, Mr. Masters?” asked Runciman — who knew very well the day fixed, but who thought it well to get back to the subject of real interest in the town.
“Next Thursday, I’m told.”
“There’s no hurry with weather like this,” said Nupper professionally.
“They can’t open the will till the late squire is buried,” continued the innkeeper, “and there will be one or two very anxious to know what is in it”
“I suppose it will all go to the man who lives up here at Hoppet Hall,” said the Captain — “a man that was never outside a horse in his life!”
“He’s not a bad fellow,” said Runciman.
“He is a very good fellow,” said the Attorney, “and I trust he may have the property. If it be left away from him, I for one shall think that a great injustice has been done.” This was listened to with attention, as every one there thought that Mr. Masters must know.
“I can’t understand,” said Glomax, “how any man can be considered a good fellow as a country gentleman who does not care for sport. Just look at it all round. Suppose others were like him what would become of us all?”
“Yes indeed, what would become of us?” asked the two Botseys in a breath.
“Ho’d ‘ire our ‘orses, Runciman?” suggested Harry Stubbings with a laugh.
“Think what England would be!” said the Captain. “When I hear of a country gentleman sticking to books and all that, I feel that the glory is departing from the land. Where are the sinews of war to come from? That’s what I want to know.”
“Who will it be, Mr. Masters, if the gent don’t get it?” asked Ribbs from his corner on the sofa. This was felt to be a pushing question. “How am I to know, Mr. Ribbs?” said the Attorney. “I didn’t make the late squire’s will; and if I did you don’t suppose I should tell you.”
“I’m told that the next is Peter Morton,” said Fred Botsey. “He’s something in a public office up in London.”
“It won’t go to him,” said Fred’s brother. “That old lady has relations of her own who have had their mouths open for the last forty years”
“Away from the Mortons altogether!” said Harry. “That would be an awful shame!”
“I don’t see what good the Mortons have done this last half century,” said the Captain.
“You don’t remember the old squire, Captain,” said the innkeeper, “and I don’t remember him well. Indeed I was only a little chap when they buried him. But there’s that feeling left behind him to this day, that not a poor man in the country wouldn’t be sorry to think that there wasn’t a Morton left among ’em. Of course a hunting gentleman is a good thing.”
“About the best thing out,” said the Captain.
“But a hunting gentleman isn’t everything. I know nothing of the old lady’s people — only this that none of their money ever came into Dillsborough. I’m all for Reginald Morton. He’s my landlord as it is, and he’s a gentleman.”
“I hate foreigners coming,” said Ribbs.
“‘E ain’t too old to take it yet,” said Harry. Fred Botsey declared that he didn’t believe in men hunting unless they began young. Whereupon Dr. Nupper declared that he had never ridden over a fence till he was forty-five, and that he was ready now to ride Fred across country for a new hat. Larry suggested that a man might be a good friend to sport though he didn’t ride much himself; and Runciman again asserted that hunting wasn’t everything. Upon the whole Reginald was the favourite. But the occasion was so special that a little supper was ordered, and I fear the attorney did not get home till after twelve.
Till the news reached Hoppet Hall that Mrs. Morton had taken herself off to London, there was great doubt there as to what ought to be done, and even then the difficulty was not altogether over. Till she was gone neither Lady Ushant nor her nephew would go there, and he could only declare his purpose of attending the funeral whether he were asked or not. When his aunt again spoke of the will he desired her with much emphasis not to allude to the subject. “If the property is to come to me,” he said, “anything of good that may be in it cannot be much sweeter by anticipation. And if it is not I shall only encourage disappointment by thinking of it.”
“But it would be such a shame.”
“That I deny altogether. It was his own to do as he liked with it. Had he married I should not have expected it because I am the heir. But, if you please, aunt, do not say a word more about it.”
THE AMERICAN SENATOR.
On the Sunday morning he heard that Mrs. Morton was gone to London, and then he walked over to Bragton. He found that she had locked and sealed up everything with so much precision that she must have worked hard at the task from the hour of his death almost to that of her departure. “She never rested herself all day,” said Mrs. Hopkins, “till I thought she would sink from very weariness.” She had gone into every room and opened every drawer, and had had every piece of plate through her fingers, and then Mrs. Hopkins told him that just as she was departing she had said that the keys would be given to the lawyer. After that he wandered about the place, thinking what his life would be should he find himself the owner of Bragton. At this moment he almost felt that he disliked the place, though there had been times in which he had thought that he loved it too well. Of one thing he was conscious — that if Bragton should become his, it would be his duty to live there. He must move his books, and pipes, and other household gods from Hoppet Hall and become an English Squire. Would it be too late for him to learn to ride to hounds? Would it be possible that he should ever succeed in shooting a pheasant, if he were to study the art patiently? Could he interest himself as to the prevalence or decadence of ground game? And what must he do with his neighbours? Of course he would have to entertain Mr. Mainwaring and the other parsons, and perhaps once in the year to ask Lord Rufford to dine with him. If Lord Rufford came, what on earth would he say to him?
And then there arose another question. Would it not be his duty to marry — and, if so, whom? He had been distinctly told that Mary Morton had given her heart to some one, and he certainly was not the man to ask for the hand of a girl who had not a heart to give. And yet thought that it would be impossible that he should marry any other person. He spent hours in walking about the grounds, looking at the garden and belongings which would so probably be his own within a week, and thinking whether it would be possible that he should bring a mistress to preside over them. Before he reached home he had made up his mind that only one mistress would be possible, and that she was beyond his reach.
On the Tuesday he received a scrawl from Mrs. Hopkins with a letter from the lawyer — addressed to her. The lawyer wrote to say that he would be down on Wednesday evening, would attend the funeral, and read his client’s will after they had performed the ceremony. He went on to add that in obedience to Mrs. Morton’s directions he had invited Mr. Peter Morton to be present on the occasion. On the Wednesday Reginald again went over, but left before the arrival of the two gentlemen. On the Thursday he was there early, and of course took upon himself the duty of chief mourner. Peter Morton was there and showed, in a bewildered way, that he had been summoned rather to the opening of the will than to the funeral of a man he had never seen.
Then the will was read. There were only two names mentioned in it. John Morton left 5,000 pounds and his watch and chain and rings to Arabella Trefoil, and everything else of which he was possessed to his cousin Reginald Morton.
“Upon my word I don’t know why they sent for me,” said the other cousin, Peter.
“Mrs. Morton seemed to think that you would like to pay a tribute of respect,” said the lawyer. Peter looked at him and went upstairs and packed his portmanteau. The lawyer handed over the keys to the new squire, and then everything was done.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01