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- The American Senator - 3/115 -
the meantime he went to Germany for his education, instead of to Oxford, and remained abroad even after the matter was decided,-- living, no one but Lady Ushant knew where, or after what fashion.
When the old squire died the children were taken away, and Bragton was nearly deserted. The young heir was brought up with every caution, and, under the auspices of his grandmother and her family, behaved himself very unlike the old Mortons. He was educated at Eton, after leaving which he was at once examined for Foreign Office employment, and commenced his career with great eclat. He had been made to understand clearly that it would be better that he should not enter in upon his squirearchy early in life. The estate when he came of age had already had some years to recover itself, and as he went from capital to capital, he was quite content to draw from it an income which enabled him to shine with peculiar brilliance among his brethren. He had visited Bragton once since the old squire's death, and had found the place very dull and uninviting. He had no ambition whatever to be master of the U.R.U.; but did look forward to a time when he might be Minister Plenipotentiary at some foreign court.
For many years after the old man's death, Lady Ushant, who was then a widow, was allowed to live at Bragton. She was herself childless, and being now robbed of her great-nephews and nieces, took a little girl to live with her, named Mary Masters. It was a very desolate house in those days, but the old lady was careful as to the education of the child, and did her best to make the home happy for her. Some two or three years before the commencement of this story there arose a difference between the manager of the property and Lady Ushant, and she was made to understand, after some half-courteous manner, that Bragton house and park would do better without her. There would be no longer any cows kept, and painters must come into the house, and there were difficulties about fuel. She was not turned out exactly; but she went and established herself in lonely lodgings at Cheltenham. Then Mary Masters, who had lived for more than a dozen years at Bragton, went back to her father's house in Dillsborough.
Any reader with an aptitude for family pedigrees will now understand that Reginald, Master of Hoppet Hall, was first cousin to the father of the Foreign Office paragon, and that he is therefore the paragon's first cousin once removed. The relationship is not very distant, but the two men, one of whom was a dozen years older than the other, had not seen each other for more than twenty years,--at a time when one of them was a big boy, and the other a very little one; and during the greater part of that time a lawsuit had been carried on between them in a very rigorous manner. It had done much to injure both, and had created such a feeling of hostility that no intercourse of any kind now existed between them.
It does not much concern us to know how far back should be dated the beginning of the connection between the Morton family and that of Mr. Masters, the attorney; but it is certain that the first attorney of that name in Dillsborough became learned in the law through the patronage of some former Morton. The father of the present Gregory Masters, and the grandfather, had been thoroughly trusted and employed by old Reginald Morton, and the former of the two had made his will. Very much of the stewardship and management of the property had been in their hands, and they had thriven as honest men, but as men with a tolerably sharp eye to their own interests. The late Mr. Masters had died a few years before the squire, and the present attorney had seemed to succeed to these family blessings. But the whole order of things became changed. Within a few weeks of the squire's death Mr. Masters found that he was to be entrusted no further with the affairs of the property, but that, in lieu of such care, was thrown upon him the task of defending the will which he had made against the owner of the estate. His father and grandfather had contrived between them to establish a fairly good business, independently of Bragton, which business, of course, was now his. As far as reading went, and knowledge, he was probably a better lawyer than either of them; but he lacked their enterprise and special genius, and the thing had dwindled with him. It seemed to him, perhaps not unnaturally, that he had been robbed of an inheritance. He had no title deeds, as had the owners of the property; but his ancestors before him, from generation to generation, had lived by managing the Bragton property. They had drawn the leases, and made the wills, and collected the rents, and had taught themselves to believe that a Morton could not live on his land without a Masters. Now there was a Morton who did not live on his land, but spent his rents elsewhere without the aid of any Masters, and it seemed to the old lawyer that all the good things of the world had passed away. He had married twice, his first wife having, before her marriage, been well known at Bragton Park. When she had died, and Mr. Masters had brought a second wife home, Lady Ushant took the only child of the mother, whom she had known as a girl, into her own keeping, till she also had been compelled to leave Bragton. Then Mary Masters had returned to her father and stepmother.
The Bragton Park residence is a large, old-fashioned, comfortable house, but by no means a magnificent mansion. The greater part of it was built one hundred and fifty years ago, and the rooms are small and low. In the palmy days of his reign, which is now more than half a century since, the old squire made alterations, and built new stables and kennels, and put up a conservatory; but what he did then has already become almost old-fashioned now. What he added he added in stone, but the old house was brick. He was much abused at the time for his want of taste, and heard a good deal about putting new cloth as patches on old rents; but, as the shrubs and ivy have grown up, a certain picturesqueness has come upon the place, which is greatly due to the difference of material. The place is somewhat sombre, as there is no garden close to the house. There is a lawn, at the back, with gravel walks round it; but it is only a small lawn; and then divided from the lawn by a ha-ha fence, is the park. The place, too, has that sad look which always comes to a house from the want of a tenant. Poor Lady Ushant, when she was there, could do little or nothing. A gardener was kept, but there should have been three or four gardeners. The man grew cabbages and onions, which he sold, but cared nothing for the walks or borders. Whatever it may have been in the old time, Bragton Park was certainly not a cheerful place when Lady Ushant lived there. In the squire's time the park itself had always been occupied by deer. Even when distress came he would not allow the deer to be sold. But after his death they went very soon, and from that day to the time of which I am writing, the park has been leased to some butchers or graziers from Dillsborough.
The ground hereabouts is nearly level, but it falls away a little and becomes broken and pretty where the river Dill runs through the park, about half a mile from the house. There is a walk called the Pleasance, passing down through shrubs to the river, and then crossing the stream by a foot-bridge, and leading across the fields towards Dillsborough. This bridge is, perhaps, the prettiest spot in Bragton, or, for that matter, anywhere in the county round; but. even here there is not much of beauty to be praised. It is here, on the side of the river away from the house, that the home meet of the hounds used to be held; and still the meet at Bragton Bridge is popular in the county.
The Masters Family
At six o'clock one November morning, Mr. Masters, the attorney, was sitting at home with his family in the large parlour of his house, his office being on the other side of the passage which cut the house in two and was formally called the hall. Upstairs, over the parlour, was a drawing-room; but this chamber, which was supposed to be elegantly furnished, was very rarely used. Mr. and Mrs. Masters did not see much company, and for family purposes the elegance of the drawing-room made it unfit. It added, however, not a little to the glory of Mrs. Masters' life. The house itself was a low brick building in the High Street, at the corner where the High Street runs into the market-place, and therefore, nearly opposite to the Bush. It had none of the elaborate grandeur of the inn nor of the simple stateliness of Hoppet Hall, but, nevertheless, it maintained the character of the town and was old, substantial, respectable, and dark.
"I think it a very spirited thing of him to do, then," said Mrs. Masters.
"I don't know, my dear. Perhaps it is only revenge."
"What have you to do with that? What can it matter to a lawyer whether it's revenge or anything else? He's got the means, I suppose?"
"I don't know, my dear."
"What does Nickem say?"
"I suppose he has the means," said Mr. Masters, who was aware that if he told his wife a fib on the matter, she would learn the truth from his senior clerk, Mr. Samuel Nickem. Among the professional gifts which Mr. Masters possessed, had not been that great gift of being able to keep his office and his family distinct from each other. His wife always knew what was going on, and was very free with her advice; generally tendering it on that side on which money was to be made, and doing so with much feminine darkness as to right or wrong. His Clerk, Nickem, who was afflicted with no such darkness, but who ridiculed the idea of scruple in an attorney, often took part against him. It was the wish of his heart to get rid of Nickem; but Nickem would have carried business with him and gone over to some enemy, or, perhaps have set up in some irregular manner on his own bottom; and his wife would have given him no peace had he done so, for she regarded Nickem as the mainstay of the house.
"What is Lord Rufford to you?" asked Mrs. Masters.
"He has always been very friendly."
"I don't see it at all. You have never had any of his money. I don't know that you are a pound richer by him."
"I have always gone with the gentry of the county."
"Fiddlesticks! Gentry! Gentry are very well as long as you can make a living out of them. You could afford to stick up for gentry till you lost the Bragton property." This was a subject that was always sore between Mr. Masters and his wife. The former Mrs. Masters had been a lady--the daughter of a neighbouring clergyman; and had been much considered by the family at Bragton. The present Mrs. Masters was the daughter of an ironmonger at Norrington, who had brought a thousand pounds with her, which had been very useful. No doubt Mr. Masters' practice had been considerably affected by the lowliness
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