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Chapter 31

The Rufford Correspondence

It might be surmised from the description which Lord Rufford had given of his own position to his sister and his sister's two friends, when he pictured himself as falling over the edge of the precipice while they hung on behind to save him, that he was sufficiently aware of the inexpediency of the proposed intimacy with Miss Trefoil. Any one hearing him would have said that Miss Trefoil's chances in that direction were very poor,--that a man seeing his danger so plainly and so clearly understanding the nature of it would certainly avoid it. But what he had said was no more than Miss Trefoil knew that he would say,---or, at any rate would think. Of course she had against her not only all his friends,--but the man himself also and his own fixed intentions. Lord Rufford was not a marrying man,--which was supposed to signify that he intended to lead a life of pleasure till the necessity of providing an heir should be forced upon him, when he would take to himself a wife out of his own class in life twenty years younger than himself for whom he would not care a straw. The odds against Miss Trefoil were of course great;--but girls have won even against such odds as these. She knew her own powers, and was aware that Lord Rufford was fond of feminine beauty and feminine flutter and feminine flattery, though he was not prepared to marry. It was quite possible that she might be able to dig such a pit for him that it would be easier for him to marry her than to get out in any other way. Of course she must trust something to his own folly at first. Nor did she trust in vain. Before her week was over at Mrs. Gore's she received from him a letter, which, with the correspondence to which it immediately led, shall be given in this chapter.

Letter No. I.

Rufford, Sunday.

My Dear Miss Trefoil,

We have had a sad house since you left us. Poor Caneback got better and then worse and then better,--and at last died yesterday afternoon. And now; there is to be the funeral! The poor dear old boy seems to have had nobody belonging to him and very little in the way of possessions. I never knew anything of him except that he was, or had been, in the Blues, and that he was about the best man in England to hounds on a bad horse. It now turns out that his father made some money in India,--a sort of Commissary purveyor,-- and bought a commission for him twenty-five years ago. Everybody knew him but nobody knew anything about, him. Poor old Caneback! I wish he had managed to die anywhere else and I don't feel at all obliged to Purefoy for sending that brute of a mare here. He said something to me about that wretched ball;--not altogether so wretched! was it? But I didn't like what he said and told him a bit of my mind. Now we're two for a while; and I don't care for how long unless he comes round.

I cannot stand a funeral and I shall get away from this. I will pay the bill and Purefoy may do the rest. I'm going for Christmas to Surbiton's near Melton with a string of horses. Surbiton is a bachelor, and as there will be no young ladies to interfere with me I shall have the more time to think of you. We shall have a little play there instead. I don't know whether it isn't the better of the two, as if one does get sat upon, one doesn't feel so confoundedly sheep-faced. I have been out with the hounds two or three times since you went, as I could do no good staying with that poor fellow and there was a time when we thought he would have pulled through. I rode Jack one day, but he didn't carry me as well as he did you. I think he's more of a lady's horse. If I go to Mistletoe I shall have some horses somewhere in the neighbourhood and I'll make them take Jack, so that you may have a chance.

I never know how to sign myself to young ladies. Suppose I say that I am yours,

Anything you like best,

This was a much nicer letter than Arabella had expected, as there were one or two touches in it, apart from the dead man and the horses, which she thought might lead to something,--and there was a tone in the letter which seemed to show that he was given to correspondence. She took care to answer it so that he should get her letter on his arrival at Mr. Surbiton's house. She found out Mr. Surbiton's address, and then gave a great deal of time to her letter.

Letter No. 2.

Murray's Hotel, Green Street, Thursday.

My Dear Lord Rufford,

As we are passing through London on our way from one purgatory with the Gores to another purgatory with old Lady De Browne, and as mamma is asleep in her chair opposite, and as I have nothing else on earth to do, I think I might as well answer your letter. Poor old Major! I am sorry for him, because he rode so bravely. I shall never forget his face as he passed us, and again as he rose upon his knee when that horrid blow came! How very odd that he should have been like that, without any friends. What a terrible nuisance to you! I think you were quite wise to come away. I am sure I should have done so. I can't conceive what right Sir John Purefoy can have had to say anything, for after all it was his doing. Do you remember when you talked of my riding Jemima? When I think of it I can hardly hold myself for shuddering.

It is so kind of you to think of me about Jack. I am never very fond of Mistletoe. Don't you be mischievous now and tell the Duchess I said so. But with Jack in the neighbourhood I can stand even her Grace. I think I shall be there about the middle of January but it must depend on all those people mamma is going to. I shall have to make a great fight, for mamma thinks that ten days in the year at Mistletoe is all that duty requires. But I always stick up for my uncle, and mean in this instance to have a little of my own way. What are parental commands in opposition to Jack and all his glories? Besides mamma does not mean to go herself.

I shall leave it to you to say whether the ball was `altogether wretched.' Of course there must have been infinite vexation to you, and to us who knew of it all there was a feeling of deep sorrow. But perhaps we were able, some of us, to make it a little lighter for you. At any rate I shall never forget Rufford, whether the memory be more pleasant or more painful. There are moments which one never can forget!

Don't go and gamble away your money among a lot of men. Though I dare say you have got so much that it doesn't signify whether you lose some of it or not. I do think it is such a shame that a man like you should have such a quantity, and that a poor girl such as I am shouldn't have enough to pay for her hats and gloves. Why shouldn't I send a string of horses about just when I please? I believe I could make as good a use of them as you do, and then I could lend you Jack. I would be so good-natured. You should have Jack every day you wanted him.

You must write and tell me what day you will be at Mistletoe. It is you that have tempted me and I don't mean to be there without you,--or I suppose I ought to say, without the horse. But of course you will have understood that. No young lady ever is supposed to desire the presence of any young man. It would be very improper of course. But a young man's Jack is quite another thing.

So far her pen had flown with her, but then there came the necessity for a conclusion which must be worded in some peculiar way, as his had been so peculiar. How far might she dare to be affectionate without putting him on his guard? Or in what way might she be saucy so as best to please him? She tried two or three, and at last she ended her letter as follows.

I have not had much experience in signing myself to young gentlemen and am therefore quite in as great a difficulty as you were; but, though I can't swear that I am everything that you like best, I will protest that I am pretty nearly what you ought to like,--as far as young ladies go.

In the meantime I certainly am,
Yours truly,
A. T.

P.S. Mind you write--about Jack; and address to Lady Smijth-- Greenacres Manor--Hastings.

There was a great deal in this letter which was not true. But then such ladies as Miss Trefoil can never afford to tell the truth.

The letter was not written from Murray's Hotel, Lady Augustus having insisted on staying at certain lodgings in Orchard Street because her funds were low. But on previous occasions they had stayed at Murray's. And her mamma, instead of being asleep when the letter was written, was making up her accounts. And every word about Mistletoe had been false. She had not yet secured her invitation. She was hard at work on the attempt, having induced her father absolutely to beg the favour from his brother. But at the present moment she was altogether diffident of success. Should she fail she must only tell Lord Rufford that her mother's numerous engagements had at the last moment made her happiness impossible. That she was going to Lady Smijth's was true, and at Lady Smijth's house she received the following note from Lord Rufford. It was then January, and the great Mistletoe question was not as yet settled.

Letter No. 3.

December 31.

My Dear Miss Trefoil,

Here I am still at Surbiton's and we have had such good sport that I'm half inclined to give the Duke the slip. What a pity that you can't come here instead. Wouldn't it be nice for you and half a dozen more without any of the Dowagers or Duennas? You might win some of the money which I lose. I have been very unlucky and, if you had won it all, there would be plenty of room for hats and gloves,--and for sending two or three Jacks about all the winter into the bargain. I never did win yet. I don't care very much about it, but I don't know why I should always be so uncommonly unlucky.

We had such a day yesterday,--an hour and ten minutes all in the open, and then a kill just as the poor fellow was trying to make a drain under the high road. There were only five of us up. Surbiton broke his horse's back at a bank, and young De Canute came down on to a road and smashed his collar bone. Three or four of the hounds were so done that they couldn't be got home. I was riding Black Harry and he won't be out again for a fortnight. It was the best thing I've seen these two years. We never have it quite like that with the U.R.U.

If I don't go to Mistletoe I'll send Jack and a groom if you think the Duke would take them in and let you ride the horse. If so I shall stay here pretty nearly all January, unless there should be a frost. In that case I should go back to Rufford as I have a deal of shooting to do. I shall be so sorry not to see you;--but there is always a sort of sin in not sticking to hunting when it's good. It so seldom is just what it ought to be.

I rather think that after all we shall be down on that fellow who poisoned our fox, in spite of your friend the Senator.

Yours always faithfully,

There was a great deal in this letter which was quite terrible to Miss Trefoil. In the first place by the time she received it she had managed the matter with her uncle. Her father had altogether refused to mention Lord Rufford's name, though he had heard the very plain proposition which his daughter made to him with perfect serenity. But he had said to the Duke that it would be a great convenience if Bell could be received at Mistletoe for a few days, and the Duke had got the Duchess to assent. Lady Augustus, too, had been disposed of, and two very handsome new dresses had been acquired. Her habit had been altered with reckless disregard of the coming spring and she was fully prepared for her campaign. But what would Mistletoe be to her without Lord Rufford? In spite of all that had been done she would not go there. Unless she could turn him by her entreaties she would pack up everything and start for Patagonia, with the determination to throw herself overboard on the way there if she could find the courage.

She had to think very much of her next letter. Should she write in anger or should she write in love, or should she mingle both? There was no need for care now, as there had been at first. She must reach him at once, or everything would be over. She must say something that would bring him to Mistletoe, whatever that something might be. After much thought she determined that mingled anger and love would be the best. So she mingled them as follows:

Letter No. 4.

Greenacre Manor, Monday.

Your last letter which I have just got has killed me. You must know that I have altered my plans and done it at immense trouble for the sake of meeting you at Mistletoe. It will be most unkind,--I might say worse,--if you put me off. I don't think you can do it as a gentleman. I'm sure you would not if you knew what I have gone through with mamma and the whole set of them to arrange it. Of course I shan't go if you don't come. Your talk of sending the horse there is adding an insult to the injury. You must have meant to annoy me or you wouldn't have pretended to suppose that it was the horse I wanted to see. I didn't think I could have taken so violent a dislike to poor Jack as I did for a moment. Let me tell you that I think you are bound to go to Mistletoe though the hunting at Melton should be better than was ever known before. When the hunting is good in one place of course it is good in another. Even I am sportsman enough to know that. I suppose you have been losing a lot of money and are foolish enough to think you can win it back again.

Please, please come. It was to be the little cream of the year for me. It wasn't Jack. There! That ought to bring you. And yet, if you come, I will worship Jack. I have not said a word to mamma about altering my plans, nor shall I while there is a hope. But to Mistletoe I will not go, unless you are to be there. Pray answer this by return of post. If we have gone your letter will of course follow us. Pray come. Yours if you do come--; what shall I say? Fill it as you please.

A. T.

Lord Rufford when he received the above very ardent epistle was quite aware that he had better not go to Mistletoe. He understood the matter nearly as well as Arabella did herself. But there was a feeling with him that up to that stage of the affair he ought to do what he was asked by a young lady, even though there might be danger. Though there was danger there would still be amusement. He therefore wrote again as follows:

Letter No. 5.

Dear Miss Trefoil,

You shan't be disappointed whether it be Jack or any less useful animal that you wish to see. At any rate Jack,--and the other animal,--will be at Mistletoe on the 15th. I have written to the Duke by this post. I can only hope that you will be grateful. After all your abuse about my getting back my money I think you ought to be very grateful. I have got it back again, but I can assure you that has had nothing to do with it.

Yours ever,

P.S. We had two miserably abortive days last week.

Arabella felt that a great deal of the compliment was taken away by the postscript; but still she was grateful and contented.

Anthony Trollope