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The battle was carried on very fiercely in Mr. Masters' house in Dillsborough, to the misery of all within it; but the conviction gained ground with every one there that Mary was to be sent to Cheltenham for some indefinite time. Dolly and Kate seemed to think that she was to go, never to return. Six months, which had been vaguely mentioned as the proposed period of her sojourn, was to them almost as indefinite as eternity. The two girls had been intensely anxious for the marriage, wishing to have Larry for a brother, looking forward with delight to their share in the unrestricted plenteousness of Chowton Farm, longing to be allowed to consider themselves at home among the ricks and barns and wide fields; but at this moment things had become so tragic that they were cowed and unhappy,--not that Mary should still refuse Larry Twentyman, but that she should be going away for so long a time. They could quarrel with their elder sister while the assurance was still with them that she would be there to forgive them;--but now that she was going away and that it had come to be believed by both of them that poor Lawrence had no chance, they were sad and downhearted. In all that misery the poor attorney had the worst of it. Mary was free from her stepmother's zeal and her stepmother's persecution at any rate at night; but the poor father was hardly allowed to sleep. For Mrs. Masters never gave up her game as altogether lost. Though she might be driven alternately into towering passion and prostrate hysterics, she would still come again to the battle. A word of encouragement would, she said, bring Larry Twentyman back to his courtship, and that word might be spoken, if Mary's visit to Cheltenham were forbidden. What did the letter signify, or all the girl's protestations? Did not everybody know how self-willed young women were; but how they could be brought round by proper usage? Let Mary once be made to understand that she would not be allowed to be a fine lady, and then she would marry Mr. Twentyman quick enough. But this "Ushanting," this journeying to Cheltenham in order that nothing might be done, was the very way to promote the disease! This Mrs. Masters said in season and out of season, night and day, till the poor husband longed for his daughter's departure, in order that that point might at any rate be settled. In all these disputes he never quite yielded. Though his heart sank within him he was still firm. He would turn his back to his wife and let her run on with her arguments without a word of answer,--till at last he would bounce out of bed and swear that if she did not leave him alone he would go and lock himself into the office and sleep with his head on the office desk.
Mrs. Masters was almost driven to despair;--but at last there came to her a gleam of hope, most unexpectedly. It had been settled that Mary should make her journey on Friday the 12th February and that Reginald Morton was again to accompany her. This in itself was to Mrs. Masters an aggravation of the evil which was being done. She was not in the least afraid of Reginald Morton; but this attendance on Mary was in the eyes of her stepmother a cockering of her up, a making a fine lady of her, which was in itself of all things the most pernicious. If Mary must go to Cheltenham, why could she not go by herself, second class, like any other young woman? "Nobody would eat her,"--Mrs. Masters declared. But Reginald was firm in his purpose of accompanying her. He had no objection whatever to the second class if Mr. Masters preferred it. But as he meant to make the journey on the same day of course they would go together. Mr. Masters said that he was very much obliged. Mrs. Masters protested that it was all trash from beginning to the end.
Then there came a sudden disruption to all these plans, and a sudden renewal of her hopes to Mrs. Masters which for one half day nearly restored her to good humour. Lady Ushant wrote to postpone the visit because she herself had been summoned to Bragton. Her letter to Mary, though affectionate, was very short. Her grand-nephew John, the head of the family, had expressed a desire to see her, and with that wish she was bound to comply. Of course, she said, she would see Mary at Bragton; or if that were not possible, she herself would come into Dillsborough. She did not know what might be the length of her visit, but when it was over she hoped that Mary would return with her to Cheltenham. The old lady's letter to Reginald was much longer; because in that she had to speak of the state of John Morton's health,--and of her surprise that she should be summoned to his bedside. Of course she would go,--though she could not look forward with satisfaction to a meeting with the Honble. Mrs. Morton. Then she could not refrain from alluding to the fact that if "anything were to happen" to John Morton, Reginald himself would be the Squire of Bragton. Reginald when he received this at once went over to the attorney's house, but he did not succeed in seeing Mary. He learned, however, that they were all aware that the journey had been postponed.
To Mrs. Masters it seemed that all this had been a dispensation of Providence. Lady Ushant's letter had been received on the Thursday and Mrs. Masters at once found it expedient to communicate with Larry Twentyman. She was not excellent herself at the writing of letters, and therefore she got Dolly to be the scribe. Before the Thursday evening the following note was sent to Chowton Farm;
Pray come and go to the club with father on Saturday. We haven't seen you for so long! Mother has got something to tell you.
Your affectionate friend,
When this was received the poor man was smoking his moody pipe in silence as he roamed about his own farmyard in the darkness of the night. He had not as yet known any comfort and was still firm in his purpose of selling the farm. He had been out hunting once or twice but fancied that people looked at him with peculiar eyes. He could not ride, though he made one or two forlorn attempts to break his neck. He did not care in the least whether they found or not; and when Captain Glomax was held to have disgraced himself thoroughly by wasting an hour in digging out and then killing a vixen, he had not a word to say about it. But, as he read Dolly's note, there came back something of life into his eyes. He had forsworn the club, but would certainly go when thus invited. He wrote a scrawl to Dolly, "I'll come," and, having sent it off by the messenger, tried to trust that there might yet be ground for hope. Mrs. Masters would not have allowed Dolly to send such a message without good reason.
On the Friday Mrs. Masters could not abstain from proposing that Mary's visit to Cheltenham should be regarded as altogether out of the question. She had no new argument to offer,--except this last interposition of Providence in her favour. Mr. Masters said that he did not see why Mary should not return with Lady Ushant. Various things, however, might happen. John Morton might die, and then who could tell whether Lady Ushant would ever return to Cheltenham? In this way the short-lived peace soon came to an end, especially as Mrs. Masters endeavoured to utilize for general family purposes certain articles which had been purchased with a view to Mary's prolonged residence away from home. This was resented by the attorney, and the peace was short-lived.
On the Saturday Larry came, to the astonishment of Mr. Masters, who was still in his office at half-past seven. Mrs. Masters at once got hold of him and conveyed him away into the sacred drawing-room. "Mary is not going," she said.
"Not going to Cheltenham!"
"It has all been put off. She shan't go at all if I can help it."
"But why has it been put off, Mrs. Masters?"
"Lady Ushant is coming to Bragton. I suppose that poor man is dying."
"He is very ill certainly."
"And if anything happens there who can say what may happen anywhere else? Lady Ushant will have something else except Mary to think of, if her own nephew comes into all the property."
"I didn't know she was such friends with the Squire as that"
"Well;--there it is. Lady Ushant is coming to Bragton and Mary is not going to Cheltenham." This she said as though the news must be of vital importance to Larry Twentyman. He stood for awhile scratching his head as he thought of it. At last it appeared to him that Mary's continual residence in Dillsborough would of itself hardly assist him. "I don't see, Mrs. Masters, that that will make her a bit kinder to me."
"Larry, don't you be a coward,--nor yet soft."
"As for coward, Mrs. Masters, I don't know--"
"I suppose you really do love the girl."
"I do;--I think I've shown that."
"And you haven't changed your mind?"
"Not a bit"
"That's why I speak open to you. Don't you be afraid of her. What's the letter which a girl like that writes? When she gets tantrums into her head of course she'll write a letter."
"But there's somebody else, Mrs. Masters.
"Who says so? I say there ain't nobody;--nobody. If anybody tells you that it's only just to put you off. It's just poetry and books and rubbish. She wants to be a fine lady."
"I'll make her a lady."
"You make her Mrs. Twentyman, and don't you be made by any one to give it up. Go to the club with Mr. Masters now, and come here just the same as usual. Come to-morrow and have a gossip with the girls together and show that you can keep your pluck up. That's the way to win her." Larry did go to the club and did think very much of it as he walked home. He had promised to come on the Sunday afternoon, but he could not bring himself to believe in that theory of books and poetry put forward by Mrs. Masters. Books and poetry would not teach a girl like Mary to reject her suitor if she really loved him.
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