The triumph of Mary Masters was something more than a nine days’ wonder to the people of Dillsborough. They had all known Larry Twentyman’s intentions and aspirations, and had generally condemned the young lady’s obduracy, thinking, and not being slow to say, that she would live to repent her perversity. Runciman who had a thoroughly warm-hearted friendship for both the attorney and Larry had sometimes been very severe on Mary. “She wants a touch of hardship,” he would say, “to bring her to. If Larry would just give her a cold shoulder for six months, she’d be ready to jump into his arms.” And Dr. Nupper had been heard to remark that she might go farther and fare worse. “If it were my girl I’d let her know all about it,” Ribbs the butcher had said in the bosom of his own family. When it was found that Mr. Surtees the curate was not to be the fortunate man, the matter was more inexplicable than ever. Had it then been declared that the owner of Hoppet Hall had proposed to her, all these tongues would have been silenced, and the refusal even of Larry Twentyman would have been justified. But what was to be said and what was to be thought when it was known that she was to be the mistress of Bragton? For a day or two the prosperity of the attorney was hardly to be endured by his neighbours. When it was first known that the stewardship of the property was to go back into his hands, his rise in the world was for a time slightly prejudicial to his popularity; but this greater stroke of luck, this latter promotion which would place him so much higher in Dillsborough than even his father or his grandfather had ever been, was a great trial of friendship.
Mrs. Masters felt it all very keenly. All possibility for reproach against either her husband or her step-daughter was of course at an end. Even she did not pretend to say that Mary ought to refuse the squire. Nor, as far as Mary was concerned, could she have further recourse to the evils of Ushanting, and the peril of social intercourse with ladies and gentlemen. It was manifest that Mary was to be a lady with a big house, and many servants, and, no doubt, a carriage and horses. But still Mrs. Masters was not quite silenced. She had daughters of her own, and would solace herself by declaring to them, to her husband, and to her specially intimate friends, that of course they would see no more of Mary. It wasn’t for them to expect to be asked to Bragton, and as for herself she would much rather not. She knew her own place and what she was born to, and wasn’t going to let her own children spoil themselves and ruin their chances by dining at seven o’clock and being waited upon by servants at every turn. Thank God her girls could make their own beds, and she hoped they might continue to do so at any rate till they had houses of their own.
And there seemed to Dillsborough to be some justification for all this in the fact that Mary was now living at Bragton, and that she did not apparently intend to return to her father’s house. At this time Reginald Morton himself was still at Hoppet Hall, and had declared that he would remain there till after his marriage. Lady Ushant was living at the big house, which was henceforth to be her home. Mary was her visitor, and was to be married from Bragton as though Bragton were her residence rather than the squire’s. The plan had originated with Reginald, and when it had been hinted to him that Mary would in this way seem to slight her father’s home, he had proposed that all the Masters should come and stay at Bragton previous to the ceremony. Mrs. Masters yielded as to Mary’s residence, saying with mock humility that of course she had no room fit to give a marriage feast to the Squire of Bragton; but she was steadfast in saying to her husband, who made the proposition to her, that she would stay at home. Of course she would be present at the wedding; but she would not trouble the like of Lady Ushant by any prolonged visiting.
The wedding was to take place about the beginning of May, and all these things were being considered early in April. At this time one of the girls was always at Bragton, and Mary had done her best, but hitherto in vain, to induce her step-mother to come to her. When she heard that there was a doubt as to the accomplishment of the plan for the coming of the whole family, she drove herself into Dillsborough in the old phaeton and then pleaded her cause for herself. “Mamma,” she said, “won’t you come with the girls and papa on the 29th?”
“I think not, my dear. The girls can go — if they like it. But it will be more fitting for papa and me to come to the church on the morning.”
“Why more fitting, mamma?”
“Well, my dear; it will.”
“Dear mamma; — why — why?”
“Of course, my dear, I am very glad that you are going to get such a lift.”
“My lift is marrying the man I love.”
“That of course is all right. I have nothing on earth to say against it. And I will say that through it all you have behaved as a young woman should. I don’t think you meant to throw yourself at him.”
“But as it has turned up, you have to go one way and me another.”
“But it must be so. The Squire of Bragton is the Squire, and his wife must act accordingly. Of course you’ll be visiting at Rufford and Hampton Wick, and all the places. I know very well who I am, and what I came from. I’m not a bit ashamed of myself, but I’m not going to stick myself up with my betters.”
“Then mamma, I shall come and be married from here.”
“It’s too late for that now, my dear.”
“No; — it is not” And then a couple of tears began to roll down from her eyes. “I won’t be married without your coming in to see me the night before, and being with me in the morning when I dress. Haven’t I been a good child to you, mamma?” Then the step-mother began to cry also. “Haven’t I, mamma?”
“Yes, my dear,” whimpered the poor woman.
“And won’t you be my mamma to the last; — won’t you?” And she threw her arms round her step-mother’s neck and kissed her. “I won’t go one way, and you another. He doesn’t wish it. It is quite different from that. I don’t care a straw for Hampton Wick and Rufford; but I will never be separated from you and the girls and papa. Say you will come, mamma. I will not let you go till you say you will come.” Of course she had her own way, and Mrs. Masters had to feel with a sore heart that she also must go out Ushanting. She knew, that in spite of her domestic powers, she would be stricken dumb in the drawing-room at Bragton and was unhappy.
Mary had another scheme in which she was less fortunate. She took it into her head that Larry Twentyman might possibly be induced to come to her wedding. She had heard how he had ridden and gained honour for himself on the day that the hounds killed their fox at Norrington, and thought that perhaps her own message to him had induced him so far to return to his old habits. And now she longed to ask him, for her sake, to be happy once again. If any girl ever loved the man she was going to marry with all her heart, this girl loved Reginald Morton. He had been to her, when her love was hopeless, so completely the master of her heart that she could not realise the possibility of affection for another. But yet she was pervaded by a tenderness of feeling in regard to Larry which was love also, though love altogether of another kind. She thought of him daily. His future well-being was one of the cares of her life. That her husband might be able to call him a friend was among her prayers. Had anybody spoken ill of him in her presence she would have resented it hotly. Had she been told that another girl had consented to be his wife, she would have thought that girl to be happy in her destiny. When she heard that he was leading a wretched, moping, aimless life for her sake, her heart was sad within her. It was necessary to the completion of her happiness that Larry should recover his tone of mind and be her friend. “Reg,” she said, leaning on his arm out in the park, “I want you to do me a favour.”
“Watch and chain?”
“Don’t be an idiot. You know I’ve got a watch and chain.”
“Some girls like two. To have the wooden bridge pulled down and a stone one built.”
“If any one touched a morsel of that sacred timber he should be banished from Bragton for ever. I want you to ask Mr. Twentyman to come to our wedding.”
“Who’s to do it? Who’s to bell the cat?”
“I would sooner fight a Saracen, or ride such a horse as killed that poor major. Joking apart, I don’t see how it is to be done. Why do you wish it?”
“Because I am so fond of him.”
“Oh; — indeed!”
“If you’re a goose, I’ll hit you. I am fond of him. Next to you and my own people, and Lady Ushant, I like him best in all the world.”
“What a pity you couldn’t have put him up a little higher.”
“I used to think so too; — only I couldn’t. If anybody loved you as he did me — offered you everything he had in the world — thought that you were the best in the world, would have given his life for you, would not you be grateful?”
“I don’t know that I need wish to ask such a person to my wedding.”
“Yes, you would, if in that way you could build a bridge to bring him back to happiness. And, Reg, though you used to despise him —”
“I never despised him.”
“A little I think — before you knew him. But he is not despicable.”
“Not at all, my dear.”
“He is honest and good, and has a real heart of his own.”
“I am afraid he has parted with that”
“You know what I mean, and if you won’t be serious I shall think there is no seriousness in you. I want you to tell me how it can be done.”
Then he was serious, and tried to explain to her that he could not very well do what she wanted. “He is your friend you know rather than mine; — but if you like to write to him you can do so.”
This seemed to her to be very difficult, and, as she thought more of it, almost impossible. A written letter remains, and may be taken as evidence of so much more than it means. But a word sometimes may be spoken which, if it be well spoken — if assurance of its truth be given by the tone and by the eye of the speaker — shall do so much more than any letter, and shall yet only remain with the hearer as the remembrance of the scent of a flower remains! Nevertheless she did at last write the letter, and brought it to her husband. “Is it necessary that I should see it?” he asked.
“Not absolutely necessary.”
“Then send it without”
“But I should like you to see what I have said. You know about things, and if it is too much or too little, you can tell me.” Then he read her letter, which ran as follows:
Dear Mr. Twentyman,
Perhaps you have heard that we are to be married on Thursday, May 6th. I do so wish that you would come. It would make me so much happier on that day. We shall be very quiet; and if you would come to the house at eleven you could go across the park with them all to the church. I am to be taken in a carriage because of my finery. Then there will be a little breakfast. Papa and mamma and Dolly and Kate would be so glad; — and so would Mr. Morton. But none of them will be half so glad as your old, old, affectionate friend
“If that don’t fetch him,” said Reginald, “he is a poorer creature than I take him to be.”
“But I may send it?”
“Certainly you may send it” And so the letter was sent across to Chowton Farm.
But the letter did not “fetch” him; nor am I prepared to agree with Mr. Morton that he was a poor creature for not being “fetched.” There are things which the heart of a man should bear without whimpering, but which it cannot bear in public with that appearance of stoical indifference which the manliness of a man is supposed to require. Were he to go, should he be jovial before the wedding party or should he be sober and saturnine? Should he appear to have forgotten his love, or should he go about lovelorn among the wedding guests? It was impossible — at any rate impossible as yet — that he should fall into that state of almost brotherly regard which it was so natural that she should desire. But as he had determined to forgive her, he went across that afternoon to the house and was the bearer of his own answer. He asked Mrs. Hopkins who came to the door whether she were alone, and was then shown into an empty room where he waited for her. She came to him as quickly as she could, leaving Lady Ushant in the middle of the page she was reading, and feeling as she tripped downstairs that the colour was rushing to her face. “You will come, Larry,” she said.
“No, Miss Masters.”
“Let me be Mary till I am Mrs. Morton,” she said, trying to smile. “I was always Mary.” And then she burst into tears. “Why — why won’t you come?”
“I should only stalk about like a ghost. I couldn’t be merry as a man should be at a wedding. I don’t see how a man is to do such a thing.” She looked up into his face imploring him — not to come, for that she felt now to be impossible, but imploring him to express in some way forgiveness of the sin she had committed against him. “But I shall think of you and shall wish you well.”
“And after that we shall be friends?”
“By and bye — if he pleases.”
“He will please; — he does please. Of course he saw what I wrote to you. And now, Larry, if I have ever treated you badly, say that you pardon me.”
“If I had known it —” he said.
“How could I tell you — till he had spoken? And yet I knew it myself! It has been so — oh — ever so long! What could I do? You will say that you will forgive me.”
“Yes; I will say that.”
“And you will not go away from Chowton?”
“Oh, no! They tell me I ought to stay here, and I suppose I shall stay. I thought I’d just come over and say a word. I’m going away to-morrow for a month. There is a fellow has got some fishing in Ireland. Good-bye.”
“And I thought perhaps you’d take this now.” Then he brought out from his pocket at little ruby ring which he had carried often in his pocket to the attorney’s house, thinking that perhaps then might come the happy hour in which he could get her to accept it. But the hour had never come as yet, and the ring had remained in the little drawer beneath his looking-glass. It need hardly be said that she now accepted the gift.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01