There was certainly a great deal of fuss made about John Morton’s return to the home of his ancestors — made altogether by himself and those about him, and not by those who were to receive him. On the Thursday in the week following that of which we have been speaking, two carriages from the Bush met the party at the Railway Station and took them to Bragton. Mr. Runciman, after due consideration, put up with the inconsiderate nature of the order given, and supplied the coaches and horses as required — consoling himself no doubt with the reflection that he could charge for the unreasonableness of the demand in the bill. The coachman and butler had come down two days before their master, so that things might be in order. Mrs. Hopkins learned from the butler that though the party would at first consist only of three, two other very august persons were to follow on the Saturday — no less than Lady Augustus Trefoil and her daughter Arabella. And Mrs. Hopkins was soon led to imagine, though no positive information was given to her on the subject, that Miss Trefoil was engaged to be married to their Master. “Will he live here altogether, Mr, Tankard?” Mrs. Hopkins asked. To this question Mr. Tankard was able to give a very definite answer. He was quite sure that Mr. Morton would not live anywhere altogether. According to Mr. Tankard’s ideas, the whole foreign policy of England depended on Mr. John Morton’s presence in some capital, either in Europe, Asia, or America — upon Mr. Morton’s presence, and of course upon his own also. Mr. Tankard thought it not improbable that they might soon be wanted at Hong Kong, or some very distant place, but in the meantime they were bound to be back at Washington very shortly. Tankard had himself been at Washington, and also before that at Lisbon, and could tell Mrs. Hopkins how utterly unimportant had been the actual ministers at those places, and how the welfare of England had depended altogether on the discretion and general omniscience of his young master — and of himself. He, Tankard, had been the only person in Washington who had really known in what order Americans should go out to dinner one after another. Mr. Elias Gotobed, who was coming, was perhaps the most distinguished American of the day, and was Senator for Mickewa.
“Mickey war!” said poor Mrs. Hopkins — “that’s been one of them terrible American wars we used to hear of.” Then Tankard explained to her that Mickewa was one of the Western States and Mr. Elias Gotobed was a great Republican, who had very advanced opinions of his own respecting government, liberty, and public institutions in general. With Mr. Morton and the Senator was coming the Honourable Mrs. Morton. The lady had her lady’s maid — and Mr, Morton had his own man; so that there would be a great influx of persons.
Of course there was very much perturbation of spirit. Mrs. Hopkins, after that first letter, the contents of which she had communicated to Reginald Morton, had received various despatches and been asked various questions. Could she find a cook? Could she find two housemaids? And all these were only wanted for a time. In her distress she went to Mrs. Runciman, and did get assistance. “I suppose he thinks he’s to have the cook out of my kitchen?” Runciman had said. Somebody, however, was found who said she could cook, and two girls who professed that they knew how to make beds. And in this way an establishment was ready before the arrival of the Secretary of Legation and the great American Senator. Those other. questions of wine and plate and vegetables had, no doubt, settled themselves after some fashion.
John Morton had come over to England on leave of absence for four months, and had brought with him the Senator from Mickewa. The Senator had never been in England before, and was especially anxious to study the British Constitution and to see the ways of Britons with his own eyes. He had only been a fortnight in London before this journey down to the county had been planned. Mr. Gotobed wished to see English country life and thought that he could not on his first arrival have a better opportunity. It must be explained also that there was another motive, for this English rural sojourn. Lady Augustus Trefoil, who was an adventurous lady, had been travelling in the United States with her daughter, and had there fallen in with Mr. John Morton. Arabella Trefoil was a beauty, and a woman of fashion, and had captivated the Paragon. An engagement had been made, subject to various stipulations; the consent of Lord Augustus in the first place — as to which John Morton who only understood foreign affairs was not aware, as he would have been had he lived in England, that Lord Augustus was nobody. Lady Augustus had spoken freely as to settlements, value of property, life insurance and such matters; and had spoken firmly, as well as freely, expressing doubt as to the expediency of such an engagement; — all of which had surprised Mr. Morton considerably, for the young lady had at first been left in his hands with almost American freedom. And now Lady Augustus and her daughter were coming down on a visit of inspection. They had been told, as had the Senator, that things would be in the rough. The house had not been properly inhabited for nearly a quarter of a century. The Senator had expressed himself quite contented. Lady Augustus had only hoped that everything would be made as comfortable as possible for her daughter. I don’t know what more could have been done at so short a notice than to order two carriages, two housemaids, and a cook.
A word or two must also be said of the old lady who made one of the party. The Honourable Mrs. Morton was now seventy, but no old lady ever showed less signs of advanced age. It is not to be understood from this that she was beautiful; — but that she was very strong. What might be the colour of her hair, or whether she had any, no man had known for many years. But she wore so perfect a front that some people were absolutely deluded. She was very much wrinkled; — but as there are wrinkles which seem to come from the decay of those muscles which should uphold the skin, so are there others which seem to denote that the owner has simply got rid of the watery weaknesses of juvenility. Mrs. Morton’s wrinkles were strong wrinkles. She was thin, but always carried herself bolt upright, and would never even lean back in her chair. She had a great idea of her duty, and hated everybody who differed from her with her whole heart. She was the daughter of a Viscount, a fact which she never forgot for a single moment, and which she thought gave her positive superiority to all women who were not the daughters of Dukes or Marquises, or of Earls. Therefore, as she did not live much in the fashionable world, she rarely met any one above herself. Her own fortune on her marriage had been small, but now she was a rich woman. Her husband had been dead nearly half a century and during the whole of that time she had been saving money. To two charities she gave annually five pounds per annum each. Duty demanded it, and the money was given. Beyond that she had never been known to spend a penny in charity. Duty, she had said more than once, required of her that she do something to repair the ravages made on the Morton property by the preposterous extravagance of the old squire in regard to the younger son, and that son’s — child. In her anger she had not hesitated on different occasions to call the present Reginald a bastard, though the expression was a wicked calumny for which there was no excuse. Without any aid of hers the Morton property had repaired itself. There had been a minority of thirteen or fourteen years, and since that time the present owner had not spent his income. But John Morton was not himself averse to money, and had always been careful to maintain good relations with his grandmother. She had now been asked down to Bragton in order that she might approve, if possible, of the proposed wife. It was not likely that she should approve absolutely of anything; but to have married without an appeal to her would have been to have sent the money flying into the hands of some of her poor paternal cousins. Arabella Trefoil was the granddaughter of a duke, and a step had so far been made in the right direction. But Mrs. Morton knew that Lord Augustus was nobody, that there would be no money, and that Lady Augustus had been the daughter of a banker, and that her fortune had been nearly squandered.
The Paragon was not in the least afraid of his American visitor, nor, as far as the comforts of his house were concerned, of his grandmother. Of the beauty, and her mother he did stand in awe; — but he had two days in which to look to things before they would come. The train reached the Dillsborough Station at half-past three, and the two carriages were there to meet them. “You will understand, Mr. Gotobed,” said the old lady, “that my grandson has nothing of his own established here as yet.” This little excuse was produced by certain patches and tears in the cushions and linings of the carriages. Mr. Gotobed smiled and bowed and declared that everything was “fixed convenient” Then the Senator followed the old lady into one carriage; Mr. Morton followed alone into the other; and they were driven away to Bragton.
When Mrs. Hopkins had taken the old lady up to her room Mr. Morton asked the Senator to walk round the grounds. Mr. Gotobed, lighting an enormous cigar of which he put half down his throat for more commodious and quick consumption, walked on to the middle of the drive, and turning back looked up at the house, “Quite a pile,” he said, observing that the offices and outhouses extended a long way to the left till they almost joined other buildings in which were the stables and coach-house.
“It’s a good-sized house;”— said the owner; “nothing very particular, as houses are built now-a-days.”
“Damp; I should say?”
“I think not. I have never lived here much myself; but I have not heard that it is considered so.”
“I guess it’s damp. Very lonely; — isn’t it?”
“We like to have our society inside, among ourselves, in the country.”
“Keep a sort of hotel-like?” suggested Mr. Gotobed. “Well, I don’t dislike hotel life, especially when there are no charges. How many servants do you want to keep up such a house as that?”
Mr. Morton explained that at present he knew very little about it himself, then led him away by the path over the bridge, and turning to the left showed him the building which had once been the kennels of the Rufford hounds, “All that for dogs!” exclaimed Mr. Gotobed.
“All for dogs,” said Morton. “Hounds, we generally call them.”
“Hounds are they? Well; I’ll remember; though ‘dogs’ seems to me more civil. How many used there to be?”
“About fifty couple, I think.”
“A hundred dogs! No wonder your country gentlemen burst up so often. Wouldn’t half-a-dozen do as well — except for the show of the thing?”
“Half-a-dozen hounds couldn’t hunt a fox, Mr. Gotobed.”
“I guess half-a-dozen would do just as well, only for the show. What strikes me, Mr. Morton, on visiting this old country is that so much is done for show.”
“What do you say to New York, Mr. Gotobed?”
“There certainly are a couple of hundred fools in New York, who, having more money than brains, amuse themselves by imitating European follies. But you won’t find that through the country, Mr. Morton. You won’t find a hundred dogs at an American planter’s house when ten or twelve would do as well.”
“Hunting is not one of your amusements.”
“Yes it is. I’ve been a hunter myself. I’ve had nothing to eat but what I killed for a month together. That’s more than any of your hunters can say. A hundred dogs to kill one fox!”
“Not all at the same time, Mr. Gotobed.”
“And you have got none now?”
“I don’t hunt myself.”
“And does nobody hunt the foxes about here at present?” Then Morton explained that on the Saturday following the U.R.U. hounds, under the mastership of that celebrated sportsman Captain Glomax, would meet at eleven o’clock exactly at the spot on which they were then standing, and that if Mr. Gotobed would walk out after breakfast he should see the whole paraphernalia, including about half a hundred “dogs,” and perhaps a couple of hundred men on horseback. “I shall be delighted to see any institution of this great country,” said Mr. Gotobed, “however much opposed it may be to my opinion either of utility or rational recreation.” Then, having nearly eaten up one cigar, he lit another preparatory to eating it, and sauntered back to the house.
Before dinner that evening there were a few words between the Paragon and his grandmother. “I’m afraid you won’t like my American friend,” he said.
“He is all very well, John. Of course an American member of Congress can’t be an English gentleman. You, in your position, have to be civil to such people. I dare say I shall get on very well with Mr. Gotobed.”
“I must get somebody to meet him.”
“Lady Augustus and her daughter are coming.”
“They knew each other in Washington. And there will be so many ladies.”
“You could ask the Coopers from Mallingham,” suggested the lady.
“I don’t think they would dine out. He’s getting very old.”
“And I’m told the Mainwarings at Dillsborough are very nice people,” said Mrs. Morton, who knew that Mr. Mainwaring at any rate came from a good family.
“I suppose they ought to call first. I never saw them in my life. Reginald Morton, you know, is living at Hoppet Hall in Dillsborough.”
“You don’t mean to say you wish to ask him to this house?”
“I think I ought. Why should I take upon myself to quarrel with a man I have not seen since I was a child, and who certainly is my cousin?”
“I do not know that he is your cousin; nor do you.”
John Morton passed by the calumny which he had heard before, and which he knew that it was no good for him to attempt to subvert. “He was received here as one of the family, ma’am.”
“I know he was; and with what result?”
“I don’t think that I ought to turn my back upon him because my great-grandfather left property away from me to him. It would give me a bad name in the county. It would be against me when I settle down to live here. I think quarrelling is the most foolish thing a man can do — especially with his own relations.”
“I can only say this, John; — let me know if he is coming, so that I may not be called upon to meet him. I will not eat at table with Reginald Morton.” So saying the old lady, in a stately fashion, stalked out of the room.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01