The Walk Home
Mary Masters, when Reginald Morton had turned his back upon her at the bridge, was angry with herself and with him, which was reasonable; and very angry also with Larry Twentyman, which was unreasonable. As she had at once acceded to Morton's proposal that they should walk round the house together, surely he should not have deserted her so soon. It had not been her fault that the other man had come up. She had not wanted him. But she was aware that when the option had in some sort been left to herself, she had elected to walk back with Larry. She knew her own motives and her own feelings, but neither of the men would understand them. Because she preferred the company of Mr. Morton, and had at the moment feared that her sisters would have deserted her had she followed him, therefore she had declared her purpose of going back to Dillsborough, in doing which she knew that Larry and the girls would accompany her. But of course Mr, Morton would think that she had preferred the company of her recognised admirer. It was pretty well known in Dillsborough that Larry was her lover. Her stepmother had spoken of it very freely; and Larry himself was a man who did not keep his lights hidden under a bushel. "I hope I've not been in the way, Mary," said Mr. Twentyman, as soon as Morton was out of hearing.
"In the way of what?"
"I didn't think there was any harm in offering to go up to the house with you if you were going."
"Who has said there was any harm?" The path was only broad enough for one and she was walking first. Larry was following her and the girls were behind him.
"I think that Mr. Morton is a very stuck-up fellow," said Kate, who was the last.
"Hold your tongue, Kate," said Mary. "You don't know what you are talking about"
"I know as well as any one when a person is good-natured. What made him go off in that hoity-toity fashion? Nobody had said anything to him."
"He always looks as though he were going to eat somebody," said Dolly.
"He shan't eat me," said Kate.
Then there was a pause, during which they all went along quickly, Mary leading the way. Larry felt that he was wasting his opportunity; and yet hardly knew how to use it, feeling that the girl was angry with him.
"I wish you'd say, Mary, whether you think that I did anything wrong?"
"Nothing wrong to me, Mr. Twentyman."
"Did I do anything wrong to him?"
"I don't know how far you may be acquainted with him. He was proposing to go somewhere, and you offered to go with him."
"I offered to go with you," said Larry, sturdily. "I suppose I'm sufficiently acquainted with you."
"Quite so," said Mary.
"Why should he be so proud? I never said an uncivil word to him. He's nothing to me. If he can do without me, I'm sure that I can do without him."
"Very well indeed, I should think."
"The truth is, Mary--"
"There has been quite enough said about it, Mr. Twentyman."
"The truth is, Mary, I came on purpose to have a word with you." Hearing this, Kate rushed on and pulled Larry by the tail of his coat.
"How did you know I was to be there?" demanded Mary sharply.
"I didn't know. I had reason to think you perhaps might be there. The girls I knew had been asking you to come as far as the bridge. At any rate I took my chance. I'd seen him some time before, and then I saw you."
"If I'm to be watched about in that way," said Mary angrily, "I won't go out at all."
"Of course I want to see you. Why shouldn't I? I'm all fair and above board;--ain't I? Your father and mother know all about it. It isn't as though I were doing anything clandestine." He paused for a reply, but Mary walked on in silence. She knew quite well that he was warranted in seeking her, and that nothing but a very positive decision on her part could put an end to his courtship. At the present moment she was inclined to be very positive, but he had hardly as yet given her an opportunity of speaking out. "I think you know, Mary, what it is that I want." They were now at a rough stile which enabled him to come close up to her and help her. She tripped over the stile with a light step and again walked on rapidly. The field they were in enabled him to get up to her side, and now if ever was his opportunity. It was a long straggling meadow which he knew well, with the Dill running by it all the way,--or rather two meadows with an open space where there had once been a gate. He had ridden through the gap a score of times, and knew that at the further side of the second meadow they would come upon the high road. The fields were certainly much better for his purpose than the road. "Don't you think, Mary, you could say a kind word to me?"
"I never said anything unkind."
"You can't think ill of me for loving you better than all the world."
"I don't think ill of you at all. I think very well of you."
"So I do. How can I help thinking well of you, when I've never heard anything but good of you?"
"Then why shouldn't you say at once that you'll have me, and make me the happiest man in all the county?"
"I told you before, Mr. Twentyman, and that ought to have been enough. A young woman doesn't fall in love with every man that she thinks well of. I should like you as well as all the rest of the family if you would only marry some other girl,"
"I shall never do that."
"Yes you will;--some day."
"Never. I've set my heart upon it, and I mean to stick to it. I'm not the fellow to turn about from one girl to another. What I want is the girl I love. I've money enough and all that kind of thing of my own."
"I'm sure you're disinterested, Mr. Twentyman."
"Yes, I am. Ever since you've been home from Bragton it has been the same thing, and when I felt that it was so, I spoke up to your father honestly. I haven't been beating about the bush, and I haven't done anything that wasn't honourable." They were very near the last stile now. "Come, Mary, if you won't make me a promise, say that you'll think of it"
"I have thought of it, Mr. Twentyman, and I can't make you any other answer. I dare say I'm very foolish."
"I wish you were more foolish. Perhaps then you wouldn't be so hard to please."
"Whether I'm wise or foolish, indeed, indeed, it's no good your going on. Now we're on the road. Pray go back home, Mr. Twentyman."
"It'll be getting dark in a little time."
"Not before we're in Dillsborough. If it were ever so dark we could find our way home by ourselves. Come along, Dolly."
Over the last stile he had stayed a moment to help the younger girl, and as he did so Kate whispered a word in his ear. "She's angry because she couldn't go up to the house with that stuck-up fellow." It was a foolish word; but then Kate Masters had not had much experience in the world. Whether overcome by Mary's resolute mode of speaking, or aware that the high road would not suit his purpose, he did turn back as soon as he had seen them a little way on their return towards the town. He had not gone half a mile before he met Morton, and had been half-minded to make some apology to him. But Morton had denied him the opportunity, and he had walked on to his own house,--low in spirits indeed, but still with none of that sorest of agony which comes to a lover from the feeling that his love loves some one else. Mary had been very decided with him,--more so he feared than before; but still he saw no reason why he should not succeed at last. Mrs. Masters had told him that Mary would certainly give a little trouble in winning, but would be the more worth the winner's trouble when won. And she had certainly shown no preference for any other young man about the town. There had been a moment when he had much dreaded Mr. Surtees. Young clergymen are apt to be formidable rivals, and Mr. Surtees had certainly made some overtures of friendship to Mary Masters. But Larry had thought that he had seen that these overtures had not led to much, and then that fear had gone from him. He did believe that Mary was now angry because she had not been allowed to walk about Bragton with her old friend Mr. Morton. It had been natural that she should like to do so. It was the pride of Mary's life that she had been befriended by the Mortons and Lady Ushant. But it did not occur to him that he ought to be jealous of Mr. Morton,--though it had occurred to Kate Masters.
There was very little said between the sisters on their way back to the town. Mary was pretty sure now that the two girls had made the appointment with Larry, but she was unwilling to question them on the subject. Immediately on their arrival at home they heard the great news. John Morton was coming to Bragton with a party of ladies and gentlemen. Mrs. Hopkins had spoken of four persons. Mrs. Masters told Mary that there were to be a dozen at least, and that four or five pairs of horses and half a dozen carriages had been ordered from Mr. Runciman. "He means to cut a dash when he does begin," said Mrs. Masters.
"Is he going to stay, mother?"
"He wouldn't come down in that way if it was only for a few days I suppose. But what they will do for furniture I don't know."
"There's plenty of furniture, mother."
"A thousand years old. Or for wine, or fruit, or plate."
"The old plate was there when Lady Ushant left."
"People do things now in a very different way from what they used. A couple of dozen silver forks made quite a show on the old squire's table. Now they change the things so often that ten dozen is nothing. I don't suppose there's a bottle of wine in the cellar."
"They can get wine from Cobbold, mother."
"Cobbold's wine won't go down with them I fancy. I wonder what servants they're bringing."
When Mr. Masters came in from his office the news was corroborated. Mr. John Morton was certainly coming to Bragton. The attorney had still a small unsettled and disputed claim against the owner of the property, and he had now received by the day mail an answer to a letter which he had written to Mr. Morton, saying that that gentleman would see him in the course of the next fortnight.
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