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- The American Senator - 30/115 -
"Miss Trefoil is quite welcome," said Sir John. "It isn't a bad idea. Perhaps she may carry a lady, because she has never been tried. I know that she objects strongly to carry a man."
"My dear," said Lady Augustus, "you shan't do anything of the kind." And Lady Augustus pretended to be frightened.
"Mamma, you don't suppose Lord Rufford wants to kill me at once."
"You shall either ride her, Miss Trefoil, or my little horse Jack. But I warn you beforehand that as Jack is the easiest ridden horse in the country, and can scramble over anything, and never came down in his life, you won't get any honour and glory; but on Jemima you might make a character that would stick to you till your dying day."
"But if I ride Jemima that dying day might be to-morrow. I think I'll take Jack, Lord Rufford, and let Major Caneback have the honour. Is Jack fast?" In this way the anger arising between the Senator and the Major was assuaged. The Senator still held his own, and, before the question was settled between Jack and Jemima, had told the company that no Englishman knew how to ride, and that the only seat fit for a man on horseback was that suited for the pacing horses of California and Mexico. Then he assured Sir John Purefoy that eighty miles a day was no great journey for a pacing horse, with a man of fourteen stone and a saddle and accoutrements weighing four more. The Major's countenance, when the Senator declared that no Englishman could ride, was a sight worth seeing.
That evening, even in the drawing-room, the conversation was chiefly about horses and hunting, and those terrible enemies Goarly and Scrobby. Lady Penwether and Miss Penge who didn't hunt were distantly civil to Lady Augustus of whom of course a woman so much in the world as Lady Penwether knew something. Lady Penwether had shrugged her shoulders when consulted as to these special guests and had expressed a hope that Rufford "wasn't going to make a goose of himself." But she was fond of her brother and as both Lady Purefoy and Miss Penge were special friends of hers, and as she had also been allowed to invite a couple of Godolphin's girls to whom she wished to be civil, she did as she was asked. The girl, she said to Miss Penge that evening, was handsome, but penniless and a flirt. The mother she declared to be a regular old soldier. As to Lady Augustus she was right; but she had perhaps failed to read Arabella's character correctly. Arabella Trefoil was certainly not a flirt. In all the horsey conversation Arabella joined, and her low, clear, slow voice could be heard now and then as though she were really animated with the subject. At Bragton she had never once spoken as though any matter had interested her. During this time Morton fell into conversation first with Lady Purefoy and then with the two Miss Godolphins, and afterwards for a few minutes with Lady Penwether who knew that he was a county gentleman and a respectable member of the diplomatic profession. But during the whole evening his ear was intent on the notes of Arabella's voice; and also, during the whole evening, her eye was watching him. She would not lose her chance with Lord Rufford for want of any effort on her own part. If aught were required from her in her present task that might be offensive to Mr. Morton,--anything that was peremptorily demanded for the effort,--she would not scruple to offend the man. But if it might be done without offence, so much the better. Once he came across the room and said a word to her as she was talking to Lord Rufford and the Purefoys. "You are really in earnest about riding to-morrow."
"Oh dear, yes. Why shouldn't I be in earnest?"
"You are coming out yourself I hope," said the Lord.
"I have no horses here of my own, but I have told that man Stubbings to send me something, and as I haven't been at Bragton for the last seven years I have nothing proper to wear. I shan't be called a Goarlyite I hope if I appear in trowsers."
"Not unless you have a basket of red herrings on your arm," said Lord Rufford. Then Morton retired back to the Miss Godolphins finding that he had nothing more to say to Arabella.
He was very angry,--though he hardly knew why or with whom. A girl when she is engaged is not supposed to talk to no one but her recognised lover in a mixed party of ladies and gentlemen, and she is especially absolved from such a duty when they chance to meet in the house of a comparative stranger. In such a house and among such people it was natural that the talk should be about hunting, and as the girl had accepted the loan of a horse it was natural that she should join in such conversation. She had never sat for a moment apart with Lord Rufford. It was impossible to say that she had flirted with the man,--and yet Morton felt that he was neglected, and felt also that he was only there because this pleasure-seeking young Lord had liked to have in his house the handsome girl whom he, Morton, intended to marry. He felt thoroughly ashamed of being there as it were in the train of Miss Trefoil. He was almost disposed to get up and declare that the girl was engaged to marry him. He thought that he could put an end to the engagement without breaking his heart; but if the engagement was an engagement he could not submit to treatment such as this, either from her or from others. He would see her for the last time in the country at the ball on the following evening,--as of course he would not be near her during the hunting,--and then he would make her understand that she must be altogether his or altogether cease to be his. And so resolving he went to bed, refusing to join the gentlemen in the smoking-room.
"Oh, mamma," Arabella said to her mother that evening, "I do so wish I could break my arm tomorrow."
"Break your arm, my dear!"
"Or my leg would be better. I wish I could have the courage to chuck myself off going over some gate. If I could be laid up here now with a broken limb I really think I could do it."
As the meet on the next morning was in the park the party at Rufford Hall was able to enjoy the luxury of an easy morning together with the pleasures of the field. There was no getting up at eight o'clock, no hurry and scurry to do twenty miles and yet be in time, no necessity for the tardy dressers to swallow their breakfasts while their more energetic companions were raving at them for compromising the chances of the day by their delay. There was a public breakfast down-stairs, at which all the hunting farmers of the country were to be seen, and some who, only pretended to be hunting farmers on such occasions. But up-stairs there was a private breakfast for the ladies and such of the gentlemen as preferred tea to champagne and cherry brandy. Lord Rufford was in and out of both rooms, making himself generally agreeable. In the public room there was a great deal said about Goarly, to all of which the Senator listened with eager ears,--for the Senator preferred the public breakfast as offering another institution to his notice. "He'll swing on a gallows afore he's dead," said one energetic farmer who was sitting next to Mr. Gotobed,--a fat man with a round head, and a bullock's neck, dressed in a black coat with breeches and top-boots. John Runce was not a riding man. He was too heavy and short-winded;--too fond of his beer and port wine; but he was a hunting man all over, one who always had a fox in the springs at the bottom of his big meadows, one to whom it was the very breath of his nostrils to shake hands with the hunting gentry and to be known as a staunch friend to the U.R.U. A man did not live in the county more respected than John Runce, or who was better able to pay his way. To his thinking an animal more injurious than Goarly to the best interests of civilisation could not have been produced by all the evil influences of the world combined. "Do you really think," said the Senator calmly, "that a man should be hanged for killing a fox?" John Runce, who was not very ready, turned round and stared at him. "I haven't heard of any other harm that he has done, and perhaps he had some provocation for that." Words were wanting to Mr. Runce, but not indignation. He collected together his plate and knife and fork and his two glasses and his lump of bread, and, looking the Senator full in the face, slowly pushed back his chair and, carrying his provisions with him, toddled off to the other end of the room. When he reached a spot where place was made for him he had hardly breath left to speak. "Well," he said, "I never--!" He sat a minute in silence shaking his head, and continued to shake his head and look round upon his neighbours as he devoured his food.
Up-stairs there was a very cosy party who came in by degrees. Lady Penwether was there soon after ten with Miss Penge and some of the gentlemen, including Morton, who was the only man seen in that room in black. Young Hampton, who vas intimate in the house, made his way up there and Sir John Purefoy joined the party. Sir John was a hunting man who lived in the county and was an old friend of the family. Lady Purefoy hunted also, and came in later. Arabella was the last,--not from laziness, but aware that in this way the effect might be the best. Lord Rufford was in the room when she entered it and of course she addressed herself to him. "Which is it to be, Lord Rufford, Jack or Jemima?"
"Which ever you like."
"I am quite indifferent. If you'll put me on the mare I'll ride her,--or try."
"Indeed you won't," said Lady Augustus.
"Mamma knows nothing about it, Lord Rufford. I believe I could do just as well as Major Caneback."
"She never had a lady on her in her life," said Sir John.
"Then it's time for her to begin. But at any rate I must have some breakfast first" Then Lord Rufford brought her a cup of tea and Sir John gave her a cutlet, and she felt herself to be happy. She was quite content with her hat, and though her habit was not exactly a hunting habit, it fitted her well. Morton had never before seen her in a riding dress and acknowledged that it became her. He struggled to think of something special to say to her, but there was nothing. He was not at home on such an occasion. His long trowsers weighed him down, and his ordinary morning coat cowed him. He knew in his heart that she thought no thing of him as he was now. But she said a word to him,--with that usual smile of hers. "Of course, Mr. Morton, you are coming with us."
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