“The little phaeton remained in Dillsborough to take Mary back to Bragton. As soon as she was gone the attorney went over to the Bush with the purpose of borrowing Runciman’s pony, so that he might ride over to Chowton Farm and at once execute his daughter’s last request. In the yard of the inn he saw Runciman himself, and was quite unable to keep his good news to himself. “My girl has just been with me,” he said, “and what do you think she tells me?”
“That she is going to take poor Larry after all. She might do worse, Mr. Masters.”
“Poor Larry! I am sorry for him. I have always liked Larry Twentyman. But that is all over now.”
“She’s not going to have that tweedledum young parson, surely?”
“Reginald Morton has made her a set offer.”
“The squire!” Mr. Masters nodded his head three times. “You don’t say so. Well, Mr. Masters, I don’t begrudge it you. He might do worse. She has taken her pigs well to market at last!”
“He is to come to me at four this afternoon.”
“Well done, Miss Mary! I suppose it’s been going on ever so long?”
“We fathers and mothers,” said the attorney, “never really know what the young ones are after. Don’t mention it just at present, Runciman. You are such an old friend that I couldn’t help telling you.”
“I can have the pony, Runciman?”
“Certainly you can, Mr. Masters. Tell him to come in and talk it all over with me. If we don’t look to it he’ll be taking to drink regular.” At that last meeting at the club, when the late squire’s will was discussed, at which, as the reader may perhaps remember, a little supper was also discussed in honour of the occasion, poor Larry had not only been present, but had drunk so pottle-deep that the landlord had been obliged to put him to bed at the inn, and he had not been at all as he ought to have been after Lord Rufford’s dinner. Such delinquencies were quite outside the young man’s accustomed way of his life. It had been one of his recognised virtues that, living as he did a good deal among sporting men and with a full command of means, he had never drank. But now he had twice sinned before the eyes of all Dillsborough, and Runciman thought that he knew how it would be with a young man in his own house who got drunk in public to drown his sorrow. “I wouldn’t see Larry go astray and spoil himself with liquor,” said the good-natured publican; “for more than I should like to name.” Mr. Masters promised to take the hint, and rode off on his mission.
The entrance to Chowton Farm and Bragton gate were nearly opposite, the latter being perhaps a furlong nearer to Dillsborough. The attorney when he got to the gate stopped a moment and looked up the avenue with pardonable pride. The great calamity of his life, the stunning blow which had almost unmanned him when he was young, and from which he had never quite been able to rouse himself, had been the loss of the management of the Bragton property. His grandfather and his father had been powerful at Bragton, and he had been brought up in the hope of walking in their paths. Then strangers had come in, and he had been dispossessed. But how was it with him now? It had almost made a young man of him again when Reginald Morton, stepping into his office, asked him as a favour to resume his old task. But what was that in comparison with this later triumph? His own child was to be made queen of the place! His grandson, should she be fortunate enough to be the mother of a son, would be the squire himself! His visits to the place for the last twenty years had been very rare indeed. He had been sent for lately by old Mrs. Morton — for a purpose which if carried out would have robbed him of all his good fortune — but he could not remember when, before that, he had even passed through the gateway. Now it would all become familiar to him again. That pony of Runciman’s was pleasant in his paces, and he began to calculate whether the innkeeper would part with the animal. He stood thus gazing at the place for some minutes till he saw Reginald Morton in the distance turning a corner of the road with Mary at his side. He had taken her from the phaeton and had then insisted on her coming out with him before she took off her hat. Mr. Masters as soon as he saw them trotted off to Chowton Farm.
Finding Larry lounging at the little garden gate Mr. Masters got off the pony and taking the young man’s arm, walked off with him towards Dillsborough Wood. He told all his news at once, almost annihilating poor Larry by the suddenness of the blow. “Larry, Mr. Reginald Morton has asked my girl to marry him, and she has accepted him.”
“The new squire!” said Larry, stopping himself on the path, and looking as though a gentle wind would suffice to blow him over.
“I suppose it has been that way all along, Larry, though we have not known it.”
“It was Mr. Morton then that she told me of?”
“She did tell you?”
“Of course there was no chance for me if he wanted her. But why didn’t they speak out, so that I could have gone away? Oh, Mr. Masters!”
“It was only yesterday she knew it herself.”
“She must have guessed it”
“No; — she knew nothing till he declared himself. And to-day, this very morning, she has bade me come to you and let you know it. And she sent you her love.”
“Her love!” said Larry, chucking the stick which he held in his hands down to the ground and then stooping to pick it up again.
“Yes; — her love. Those were her words, and I am to tell you from her — to be a man.”
“Did she say that?”
“Yes; — I was to come out to you at once, and bring you that as a message from her.”
“Be a man! I could have been a man right enough if she would have made me one; as good a man as Reginald Morton, though he is squire of Bragton. But of course I couldn’t have given her a house like that, nor a carriage, nor made her one of the county people. If it was to go in that way, what could I hope for?”
“Don’t be unjust to her, Larry.”
“Unjust to her! If giving her every blessed thing I had in the world at a moment’s notice was unjust, I was ready to be unjust any day of the week or any hour of the day.”
“What I mean is that her heart was fixed that way before Reginald Morton was squire of Bragton. What shall I say in answer to her message? You will wish her happiness; — will you not?”
“Wish her happiness! Oh, heavens!” He could not explain what was in his mind. Wish her happiness! yes; — the happiness of the angels. But not him, nor yet with him! And as there could be no arranging of this, he must leave his wishes unsettled. And yet there was a certain relief to him in the tidings he had heard. There was now no more doubt. He need not now remain at Chowton thinking it possible that the girl might even yet change her mind.
“And you will bear in that she wishes you to be a man.”
“Why did she not make me one? But that is all, all over. You tell her from me that I am not the man to whimper because I am hurt. What ought a man to do that I can’t do?”
“Let her know that you are going about your old pursuits. And, Larry, would you wish her to know how it was with you at the club last Saturday?”
“Did she hear of that?”
“I am sure she has not heard of it. But if that kind of thing becomes a habit, of course she will hear of it. All Dillsborough would hear of it, if that became common. At any rate it is not manly to drown it in drink.”
“Who says I do that? Nothing will drown it.”
“I wouldn’t speak if I had not known you so long, and loved you so well. What she means is that you should work.”
“I do work.”
“And hunt. Go out to-morrow and show yourself to everybody.”
“If I could break my neck I would.”
“Don’t let every farmer’s son in the county say that Lawrence Twentyman was so mastered by a girl that he couldn’t ride on horseback when she said him nay.”
“Everybody knows it, Mr. Masters.”
“Go among them as if nobody knew it. I’ll warrant that nobody will speak of it”
“I don’t think any one of ’em would dare to do that,” said Larry brandishing his stick.
“Where is it that the hounds are Larry?”
“Here; at the old kennel.”
“Go out and let her see that you have taken her advice. She is there at the house, and she will recognise you in the park. Remember that she sends her love to you, and bids you be a man. And, Larry, come in and see us sometimes. The time will come, I don’t doubt, when you and the squire will be fast friends.”
“You do not know what time can do. I’ll just go back now because he is to come to me this afternoon. Try and bear up and remember that it is she who bids you be a man.” The attorney got upon his pony and rode back to Dillsborough.
Larry who had come back to the yard to see his friend off, returned by the road into the fields, and went wandering about for a while in Dillsborough Wood. “Bid him be a man!” Wasn’t he a man? Was it disgraceful to him as a man to be broken-hearted, because a woman would not love him? If he were provoked he would fight — perhaps better than ever, because he would be reckless. Would he not be ready to fight Reginald Morton with any weapon which could be thought of for the possession of Mary Masters? If she were in danger would he not go down into the deep, or through fire to save her? Were not his old instincts of honesty and truth as strong in him as ever? Did manliness require that his heart should be invulnerable? If so he doubted whether he could ever be a man.
But what if she meant that manliness required him to hide the wound? Then there did come upon him a feeling of shame as he remembered how often he had spoken of his love to those who were little better than strangers to him, and thought that perhaps such loquacity was opposed to the manliness which she recommended. And his conscience smote him as it brought to his recollection the condition of his mind as he woke in Runciman’s bed at the Bush on last Sunday morning. That at any rate had not been manly. How would it be with him if he made up his mind never to speak again to her, and certainly not to him, and to take care that that should be the only sign left of his suffering? He would hunt, and be keener than ever; — he would work upon the land with increased diligence; he would give himself not a moment to think of anything. She should see and hear what he could do; — but he would never speak to her again. The hounds would be at the old kennels to-morrow. He would be there. The place no doubt was Morton’s property, but on hunting mornings all the lands of the county — and of the next counties if they can be reached — are the property of the hunt. Yes; he would be there; and she would see him in his scarlet coat, and smartest cravat, with his boots and breeches neat as those of Lord Rufford; and she should know that he was doing as she bade him. But he would never speak to her again!
As he was returning round the wood, whom should he see skulking round the corner of it but Goarly?
“What business have you in here?” he said, feeling half-inclined to take the man by the neck and drag him out of the copse.
“I saw you, Mr. Twentyman, and I wanted just to have a word with you.”
“You are the biggest rascal in all Rufford,” said Larry. “I wonder the lads have left you with a whole bone in your skin.”
“What have I done worse than any other poor man, Mr. Twentyman? When I took them herrings I didn’t know there was p’ison; and if I hadn’t took ’em, another would. I am going to cut it out of this, Mr. Twentyman.”
“May the — go along with you!” said Larry, wishing his neighbour a very unpleasant companion.
“And of course I must sell the place. Think what it would be to you! I shouldn’t like it to go into his Lordship’s hands. It’s all through Bean I know, but his Lordship has had a down on me ever since he came to the property. It’s as true as true about my old woman’s geese. There’s forty acres of it. What would you say to 40 pounds an acre?”
The idea of having the two extra fields made Larry’s mouth water, in spite of all his misfortunes. The desire for land among such as Larry Twentyman is almost a disease in England. With these two fields he would be able to walk almost round Dillsborough Wood without quitting his own property. He had been talking of selling Chowton within the last week or two. He had been thinking of selling it at the moment when Mr. Masters rode up to him. And yet now he was almost tempted to a new purchase by this man. But the man was too utterly a blackguard — was too odious to him.
“If it comes into the market, I may bid for it as well as another,” he said, “but I wouldn’t let myself down to have any dealings with you.”
“Then, Mr. Larry, you shall never have a sod of it,” said Goarly, dropping himself over the fence on to his own field.
A few minutes afterwards Larry met Bean, and told him that Goarly had been in the wood. “If I catch him, Mr. Twentyman, I’ll give him sore bones,” said Bean. “I wonder how he ever got back to his own place alive that day.” Then Bean asked Larry whether he meant to be at the meet to-morrow, and Larry said that he thought he should. “Tony’s almost afraid to bring them in even yet,” said Bean; “but if there’s a herring left in this wood, I’ll eat it myself — strychnine and all.”
After that Larry went and looked at his horses, and absolutely gave his mare “Bicycle” a gallop round the big grass field himself. Then those who were about the place knew that something had happened, and that he was in a way to be cured. “You’ll hunt to-morrow, won’t you, Larry?” said his mother affectionately.
“Who told you?”
“Nobody told me; — but you will, Larry; won’t you?”
“May be I will.” Then, as he was leaving the room, when he was in the door-way, so that she should not see his face, he told her the news. “She’s going to marry the squire, yonder.”
“I always hated him from the first moment I saw him. What do you expect from a fellow who never gets a-top of a horse?” Then he turned away, and was not seen again till long after teatime.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01