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- The American Senator - 6/115 -


"It's the spirit of the thing," said Mr. Ribbs, from his place on the sofa. "It's a hodious spirit."

"That's just it, Mr. Ribbs," said Harry Stubbings. "It's all meant for opposition. Whether it's shooting or whether it's hunting, it's all one. Such a chap oughtn't to be allowed to have land. I'd take it away from him by Act of Parliament. It's such as him as is destroying the country."

"There ain't many of them hereabouts, thank God!" said the landlord.

"Now, Mr. Twentyman," said Stubbings, who was anxious to make friends with the gentleman-farmer, "you know what land can do, and what land has done, as well as any man. What would you say was the real damage done to them two wheat-fields by his lordship's game last autumn? You saw the crops as they were growing, and you know what came off the land."

"I wouldn't like to say."

"But if you were on your oath, Mr. Twentyman?

"Was there more than seven-and-sixpence an acre lost?"

"No, nor five shillings," said Runciman.

"I think Goarly ought to take his lordship's offer--if you mean that," said Twentyman.

Then there was a pause, during which more drink was brought in, and pipes were re-lighted. Everybody wished that Mr. Masters might be got to say that he would not take the case, but there was a delicacy about asking him. "If I remember right he was in Rufford Gaol once," said Runciman.

"He was let out on bail and then the matter was hushed up somehow," said the attorney.

"It was something about a woman," continued Runciman. "I know that on that occasion he came out an awful scoundrel."

"Don't you remember," asked Botsey, "how he used to walk up and down the covert-side with a gun, two years ago, swearing he would shoot the fox if he broke over his land?"

"I heard him say it, Botsey," said Twentyman. "It wouldn't have been the first fox he's murdered," said the doctor.

"Not by many," said the landlord.

"You remember that old woman near my place?" said Stubbings. "It was he that put her up to tell all them lies about her turkeys. I ran it home to him! A blackguard like that! Nobody ought to take him up."

"I hope you won't, Mr. Masters;" said the doctor. The doctor was as old as the attorney, and had known him for many years. No one else could dare to ask the question.

"I don't suppose I shall, Nupper," said the attorney from his chair. It was the first word he had spoken since he had put down young Botsey. "It wouldn't just suit me; but a man has to judge of those things for himself."

Then there was a general rejoicing, and Mr. Runciman stood broiled bones, and ham and eggs, and bottled stout for the entire club; one unfortunate effect of which unwonted conviviality was that Mr. Masters did not get home till near twelve o'clock. That was sure to cause discomfort; and then he had pledged himself to decline Goarly's business.

CHAPTER V

Reginald Morton

We will now go back to Hoppet Hall and its inhabitants. When the old squire died he left by his will Hoppet Hall and certain other houses in Dillsborough, which was all that he could leave, to his grandson Reginald Morton. Then there arose a question whether this property also was not entailed. The former Mr. Masters, and our friend of the present day, had been quite certain of the squire's power to do what he liked with it; but others had been equally certain on the other side, and there had been a lawsuit. During that time Reginald Morton had been forced to live on a very small allowance. His aunt, Lady Ushant, had done what little she could for him, but it had been felt to be impossible that he should remain at Bragton, which was the property of the cousin who was at law with him. From the moment of his birth the Honourable Mrs. Morton, who was also his aunt by marriage, had been his bitter enemy. He was the son of an innkeeper's daughter, and according to her theory of life, should never even have been noticed by the real Mortons. And this honourable old lady was almost equally adverse to Lady Ushant, whose husband had simply been a knight, and who had left nothing behind him. Thus Reginald Morton had been friendless since his grandfather died, and had lived in Germany, nobody quite knew how. During the entire period of this law-suit Hoppet Hall had remained untenanted.

When the property was finally declared to belong to Reginald Morton, the Hall, before it could be used, required considerable repair. But there was other property. The Bush Inn belonged to Reginald Morton, as did the house in which Mr. Masters lived, and sundry other smaller tenements in the vicinity. There was an income from these of about five hundred pounds a year. Reginald, who was then nearly thirty years of age, came over to England, and stayed for a month or two at Bragton with his aunt, to the infinite chagrin of the old dowager. The management of the town property was entrusted to Mr. Masters, and Hoppet Hall was repaired. At this period Mr. Mainwaring had just come to Dillsborough, and having a wife with some money and perhaps quite as much pretension, had found the rectory too small, and had taken the Hall on a lease for seven years. When this was arranged Reginald Morton again went to Germany, and did not return till the lease had run out. By that time Mr. Mainwaring, having spent a little money, found that the rectory would be large enough for his small family. Then the Hall was again untenanted for awhile, till, quite suddenly, Reginald Morton returned to Dillsborough, and took up his permanent residence in his own house.

It soon became known that the new-comer would not add much to the gaiety of the place. The only people whom he knew in Dillsborough were his own tenants, Mr. Runciman and Mr. Masters, and the attorney's eldest daughter. During those months which he had spent with Lady Ushant at Bragton, Mary had been living there, then a child of twelve years old; and, as a child, had become his fast friend. With his aunt he had, continually corresponded, and partly at her instigation, and partly from feelings of his own, he had at once gone to the attorney's house. This was now two years since, and he had found in his old playmate a beautiful young woman, in his opinion very unlike the people with whom she lived. For the first twelvemonths he saw her occasionally,--though not indeed very often. Once or twice he had drunk tea at the attorney's house, on which occasions the drawing-room upstairs had been almost as grand as it was uncomfortable. Then the attentions of Larry Twentyman began to make themselves visible, infinitely to Reginald Morton's disgust. Up to that time he had no idea of falling in love with the girl himself. Since he had begun to think on such subjects at all he had made up his mind that he would not marry. He was almost the more proud of his birth by his father's side, because he had been made to hear so much of his mother's low position. He had told himself a hundred times that under no circumstances could he marry any other than a lady of good birth. But his own fortune was small, and he knew himself well enough to be sure that he would not marry for money. He was now nearly forty years of age and had never yet been thrown into the society of any one that had attracted him. He was sure that he would not marry. And yet when he saw that Mr. Twentyman was made much of and flattered by the whole Masters family, apparently because he was regarded as an eligible husband for Mary, Reginald Morton was not only disgusted, but personally offended. Being a most unreasonable man he conceived a bitter dislike to poor Larry, who, at any rate, was truly in love, and was not looking too high in desiring to marry the portionless daughter of the attorney. But Morton thought that the man ought to be kicked and horsewhipped, or, at any rate, banished into some speechless exile for his presumption.

With Mr. Runciman he had dealings, and in some sort friendship. There were two meadows attached to Hoppet Hall, fields lying close to the town, which were very suitable for the landlord's purposes. Mr. Mainwaring had held them in his own hands, taking them up from Mr. Runciman, who had occupied them while the house was untenanted, in a manner which induced Mr. Runciman to feel that it was useless to go to church to hear such sermons as those preached by the rector. But Morton had restored the fields, giving them rent free, on condition that he should be supplied with milk and butter. Mr. Runciman, no doubt, had the best of the bargain, as he generally had in all bargains; but he was a man who liked to be generous when generously treated. Consequently he almost overdid his neighbour with butter and cream, and occasionally sent in quarters of lamb and sweetbreads to make up the weight. I don't know that the offerings were particularly valued; but friendship was engendered. Runciman, too, had his grounds for quarrelling with those who had taken up the management of the Bragton property after the squire's death, and had his own antipathy to the Honourable Mrs. Morton and her grandson, the Secretary of Legation. When the law-suit was going on he had been altogether on Reginald Morton's side. It was an affair of sides, and quite natural that Runciman and the attorney should be friendly with the new-comer at Hoppet Hall, though there were very few points of personal sympathy between them.

Reginald Morton was no sportsman, nor was he at all likely to become a member of the Dillsborough Club. It was currently reported of him in the town that he had never sat on a horse or fired off a gun. As he had been brought up as a boy by the old squire this was probably an exaggeration, but it is certain that at this period of his life he had given up any aptitudes in that direction for which his early training might have suited him. He had brought back with him to Hoppet Hall many cases of books which the ignorance of Dillsborough had magnified into an enormous library, and he was certainly a sedentary, reading man. There was already a report in the town that he was engaged in some stupendous literary work, and the men and women generally looked upon him as a disagreeable marvel of learning. Dillsborough of itself was not bookish, and would have regarded any one known to have written an article in a magazine almost as a phenomenon.


The American Senator - 6/115

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