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- The American Senator - 20/115 -
matured his plans at dinner time and was obliged to be reticent, till at six o'clock Sundown took himself off. Mr. Masters was, at the moment, locking his own desk, when Nickem winked at him to stay. Mr. Masters did stay, and Sundown did at last leave the office.
"You couldn't let me leave home for three days?" said Nickem. "There ain't much a doing."
"What do you want it for?"
"That Goarly is a great blackguard, Mr. Masters."
"Very likely. Do you know anything about him?"
Nickem scratched his head and rubbed his chin. "I think I could manage to know something."
"In what way?"
"I don't think I'm quite prepared to say, sir. I shouldn't use your name of course. But they're down upon Lord Rufford, and if you could lend me a trifle of 30s., sir, I think I could get to the bottom of it. His lordship would be awful obliged to any one who could hit it off"
Mr. Masters did give his clerk leave for three days, and did advance him the required money. And when he suggested in a whisper that perhaps the circumstance need not be mentioned to Mrs. Masters, Nickem winked again and put his fore-finger to the side of his big carbuncled nose.
That evening Larry Twentyman came in, but was not received with any great favour by Mrs. Masters. There was growing up at this moment in Dillsborough the bitterness of real warfare between the friends and enemies of sport in general, and Mrs. Masters was ranking herself thereby among the enemies. Larry was of course one of the friends. But unhappily there was a slight difference of sentiment even in Larry's own house, and on this very morning old Mrs. Twentyman had expressed to Mrs. Masters a feeling of wrong which had gradually risen from the annual demolition of her pet broods of turkeys. She declared that for the last three years every turkey poult had gone, and that at last she was beginning to feel it. "It's over a hundred of 'em they've had, and it is wearing," said the old woman. Larry had twenty times begged her to give up the rearing turkeys, but her heart had been too high for that. "I don't know why Lord Rufford's foxes are to be thought of always, and nobody is to think about your poor mother's poultry," said Mrs. Masters, lugging the subject in neck and heels.
"Has she been talking to you, Mrs. Masters, about her turkeys?"
"Your mother may speak to me I suppose if she likes it, without offence to Lord Rufford."
"Lord Rufford has got nothing to do with it"
"The wood belongs to him," said Mrs. Masters.
"Foxes are much better than turkeys anyway," said Kate Masters.
"If you don't hold your tongue, miss, you'll be sent to bed. The wood belongs to his lordship, and the foxes are a nuisance."
"He keeps the foxes for the county, and where would the county be without them?" began Larry. "What is it brings money into such a place as this?"
"To Runciman's stables and Harry Stubbings and the like of them. What money does it bring in to steady honest people?"
"Look at all the grooms," said Larry.
"The impudentest set of young vipers about the place," said the lady.
"Look at Grice's business." Grice was the saddler.
"Grice indeed! What's Grice?"
"And the price of horses?"
"Yes;--making everything dear that ought to be cheap. I don't see and I never shall see and I never will see any good in extravagant idleness. As for Kate she shall never go out hunting again. She has torn Mary's habit to pieces. And shooting is worse. Why is a man to have a flock of voracious cormorants come down upon his corn fields? I'm The American Senator, all in favour of Goarly, and so, I tell you, Mr. Twentyman." After this poor Larry went away, finding that he had no opportunity for saying a word to Mary Masters.
A fit Companion,--for me and my Sisters
On that same Wednesday Reginald Morton had called at the attorney's house, had asked for Miss Masters, and had found her alone. Mrs. Masters at the time had been out, picking up intelligence about the great case, and the two younger girls had been at school. Reginald, as he walked home from Bragton all alone on that occasion when Larry had returned with Mary, was quite sure that he would never willingly go into Mary's presence again. Why should he disturb his mind about such a girl,--one who could rush into the arms of such a man as Larry Twentyman? Or, indeed, why disturb his mind about any girl? That was not the manner of life which he planned for himself. After that he shut himself up for a few days and was not much seen by any of the Dillsborough folk. But on this Wednesday he received a letter, and,--as he told himself, merely in consequence of that letter,--he called at the attorney's house and asked for Miss Masters.
He was shown up into the beautiful drawing-room, and in a few minutes Mary came to him. "I have brought you a letter from my aunt," he said.
"From Lady Ushant? I am so glad."
"She was writing to me and she put this under cover. I know what it contains. She wants you to go to her at Cheltenham for a month."
"Oh, Mr. Morton!"
"Would you like to go?"
"How should I not like to go? Lady Ushant is my dearest, dearest friend. It is so very good of her to think of me."
"She talks of the first week in December and wants you to be there for Christmas."
"I don't at all know that I can go, Mr. Morton"
"Why not go?"
"I'm afraid mamma will not spare me." There were many reasons. She could hardly go on such a visit without some renewal of her scanty wardrobe, which perhaps the family funds would not permit. And, as she knew very well, Mrs. Masters was not at all favourable to Lady Ushant. If the old lady had altogether kept Mary it might have been very well; but she had not done so and Mrs. Masters had more than once said that that kind of thing must be all over;--meaning that Mary was to drop her intimacy with high-born people that were of no real use. And then there was Mr. Twentyman and his suit. Mary had for some time felt that her step-mother intended her to understand that her only escape from home would be by becoming Mrs. Twentyman. "I don't think it will be possible, Mr. Morton."
"My aunt will be very sorry."
"Oh,--how sorry shall I be! It is like having another little bit of heaven before me."
Then he said what he certainly should not have said. "I thought, Miss Masters, that your heaven was all here."
"What do you mean by that, Mr. Morton?" she asked blushing up to her hair. Of course she knew what he meant, and of course she was angry with him. Ever since that walk her mind had been troubled by ideas as to what he would think about her, and now he was telling her what he thought.
"I fancied that you were happy here without going to see an old woman who after all has not much amusement to offer to you."
"I don't want any amusement."
"At any rate you will answer Lady Ushant?"
"Of course I shall answer her."
"Perhaps you can let me know. She wishes me to take you to Cheltenham. I shall go for a couple of days, but I shall not stay longer. If you are going perhaps you would allow me to travel with you."
"Of course it would be very kind; but I don't suppose that I shall go. I am sure Lady Ushant won't believe that I am kept away from her by any pleasure of my own here. I can explain it all to her and she will understand me." She hardly meant to reproach him. She did not mean to assume an intimacy sufficient for reproach. But he felt that she had reproached him. "I love Lady Ushant so dearly that I would go anywhere to see her if I could."
"Then I think it could be managed. Your father----"
"Papa does not attend much to us girls. It is mamma that manages all that. At any rate, I will write to Lady Ushant, and will ask papa to let you know"
Then it seemed as though there were nothing else for him but to go;--and yet he wanted to say some other word. If he had been cruel in throwing Mr. Twentyman in her teeth, surely he ought to apologize. "I did not mean to say anything to offend you."
"You have not offended me at all, Mr. Morton."
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