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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesRalph The Heir - Chapter 27. The Moonbeam
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Ralph The Heir - Chapter 27. The Moonbeam Post by :BenKeim Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :1705

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Ralph The Heir - Chapter 27. The Moonbeam

CHAPTER XXVII. THE MOONBEAM

Ralph the heir had given his answer, and the thing was settled. He had abandoned his property for ever, and was to be put into immediate possession of a large sum of money,--of a sum so large that it would seem at once to make him a rich man. He knew, however, that if he should spend this money he would be a pauper for life; and he knew also how great was his facility for spending. There might, however, be at least a thousand a year for him and for his heirs after him, and surely it ought to be easy for him to live upon a thousand a year.

As he thought of this he tried to make the best of it. He had at any rate rescued himself out of the hands of Neefit, who had become intolerable to him. As for Polly, she had refused him twice. Polly was a very sweet girl, but he could not make it matter of regret to himself that he should have lost Polly. Had Polly been all alone in the world she would have been well enough,--but Polly with papa and mamma Neefit must have been a mistake. It was well for him, at any rate, that he was out of that trouble. As regarded the Neefits, it would be simply necessary that he should pay the breeches-maker the money that he owed them, and go no more either to Conduit Street or to Hendon.

And then what else should he do,--or leave undone? In what other direction should he be active or inactive? He was well aware that hitherto he had utterly wasted his life. Born with glorious prospects, he had now so dissipated them that there was nothing left for him but a quiet and very unambitious mode of life. Of means he had sufficient, if only he could keep that sufficiency. But he knew himself,--he feared that he knew himself too well to trust himself to keep that which he had unless he altogether changed his manner of living. To be a hybrid at the Moonbeam for life,--half hero and half dupe, among grooms and stable-keepers, was not satisfactory to him. He could see and could appreciate better things, and could long for them; but he could not attain to anything better unless he were to alter altogether his mode of life. Would it not be well for him to get a wife? He was rid of Polly, who had been an incubus to him, and now he could choose for himself.

He wrote to his brother Gregory, telling his brother what he had done. The writing of letters was ever a trouble to him, and on this occasion he told his tidings in a line or two. "Dear Greg., I have accepted my uncle's offer. It was better so. When I wrote to you before things were different. I need not tell you that my heart is sore for the old place. Had I stuck to it, however, I should have beggared you and disgraced myself. Yours affectionately, R. N." That was all. What more was to be said which, in the saying, could be serviceable to any one? The dear old place! He would never see it again. Nothing on earth should induce him to go there, now that it could under no circumstances be his own. It would still belong to a Newton, and he would try and take comfort in that. He might at any rate have done worse with it. He might have squandered his interest among the Jews, and so have treated his inheritance that it must have been sold among strangers.

He was very low in spirits for two or three days, thinking of all this. He had been with his lawyer, and his lawyer had told him that it must yet be some weeks before the sale would be perfected. "Now that it is done, the sooner the better," said Ralph. The lawyer told him that if he absolutely wanted ready money for his present needs he could have it; but that otherwise it would be better for him to wait patiently,--say for a month. He was not absolutely in want of money, having still funds which had been supplied to him by the breeches-maker. But he could not remain in town. Were he to remain in town, Neefit would be upon him; and, in truth, though he was quite clear in his conscience in regard to Polly, he did not wish to have to explain personally to Mr. Neefit that he had sold his interest in Newton Priory. The moment the money was in his hands he would pay Mr. Neefit; and then--; why then he thought that he would be entitled to have Mr. Neefit told that he was not at home should Mr. Neefit trouble him again.

He would marry and live somewhere very quietly;--perhaps take a small farm and keep one hunter. His means would be sufficient for that, even with a wife and family. Yes;--that would be the kind of life most suited for him. He would make a great change. He would be simple in his habits, domestic, and extravagant in nothing. To hunt once a week from his own little country house would be delightful. Who should be the mistress of that home? That of all questions was now the most important.

The reader may remember a certain trifling incident which took place some three or four months since on the lawn at Popham Villa. It was an incident which Clary Underwood had certainly never forgotten. It is hardly too much to say that she thought of it every hour. She thought of it as a great sin;--but as a sin which had been forgiven, and, though a grievous sin, as strong evidence of that which was not sinful, and which if true would be so full of joy. Clary had never forgotten this incident;--but Ralph had forgotten it nearly altogether. That he had accompanied the incident by any assurance of his love, by any mention of love intended to mean anything, he was altogether unaware. He would have been ready to swear that he had never so committed himself. Little tender passages of course there had been. Such are common,--so he thought,--when young ladies and young gentlemen know each other well and are fond of each other's company. But that he owed himself to Clarissa Underwood, and that he would sin grievously against her should he give himself to another, he had no idea. It merely occurred to him that there might be some slight preparatory embarrassment were he to offer his hand to Mary Bonner. Yet he thought that of all the girls in the world Mary Bonner was the one to whom he would best like to offer it. It might indeed be possible for him to marry some young woman with money; but in his present frame of mind he was opposed to any such effort. Hitherto things with him had been all worldly, empty, useless, and at the same time distasteful. He was to have married Polly Neefit for her money, and he had been wretched ever since he had entertained the idea. Love and a cottage were, he knew, things incompatible; but the love and the cottage implied in those words were synonymous with absolute poverty. Love with thirty thousand pounds, even though it should have a cottage joined with it, need not be a poverty-stricken love. He was sick of the world,--of the world such as he had made it for himself, and he would see if he could not do something better. He would first get Mary Bonner, and then he would get the farm. He was so much delighted with the scheme which he thus made for himself, that he went to his club and dined there pleasantly, allowing himself a bottle of champagne as a sort of reward for having made up his mind to so much virtue. He met a friend or two, and spent a pleasant evening, and as he walked home to his lodgings in the evening was quite in love with his prospects. It was well for him to have rid himself of the burden of an inheritance which might perhaps not have been his for the next five-and-twenty years. As he undressed himself he considered whether it would be well for him at once to throw himself at Mary Bonner's feet. There were two reasons for not doing this quite immediately. He had been told by his lawyer that he ought to wait for some form of assent or agreement from the Squire before he took any important step as consequent upon the new arrangement in regard to the property, and then Sir Thomas was still among the electors at Percycross. He wished to do everything that was proper, and would wait for the return of Sir Thomas. But he must do something at once. To remain in his lodgings and at his club was not in accord with that better path in life which he had chalked out for himself.

Of course he must go down to the Moonbeam. He had four horses there, and must sell at least three of them. One hunter he intended to allow himself. There were Brag, Banker, Buff, and Brewer; and he thought that he would keep Brag. Brag was only six years old, and might last him for the next seven years. In the meantime he could see a little cub-hunting, and live at the Moonbeam for a week at any rate as cheaply as he could in London. So he went down to the Moonbeam, and put himself under the charge of Mr. Horsball.

And here he found himself in luck. Lieutenant Cox was there, and with the lieutenant a certain Fred Pepper, who hunted habitually with the B. and B. Lieutenant Cox had soon told his little tale. He had sold out, and had promised his family that he would go to Australia. But he intended to "take one more winter out of himself," as he phrased it. He had made a bargain to that effect with his governor. His debts had been paid, his commission had been sold, and he was to be shipped for Queensland. But he was to have one more winter with the B. and B. An open, good-humoured, shrewd youth was Lieutenant Cox, who suffered nothing from false shame, and was intelligent enough to know that life at the rate of L1,200 a year, with L400 to spend, must come to an end. Fred Pepper was a young man of about forty-five, who had hunted with the B. and B., and lived at the Moonbeam from a time beyond which the memory of Mr. Horsball's present customers went not. He was the father of the Moonbeam, Mr. Horsball himself having come there since the days in which Fred Pepper first became familiar with its loose boxes. No one knew how he lived or how he got his horses. He had, however, a very pretty knack of selling them, and certainly paid Mr. Horsball regularly. He was wont to vanish in April, and would always turn up again in October. Some people called him the dormouse. He was good-humoured, good-looking after a horsey fashion, clever, agreeable, and quite willing to submit himself to any nickname that could be found for him. He liked a rubber of whist, and was supposed to make something out of bets with bad players. He rode very carefully, and was altogether averse to ostentation and bluster in the field. But he could make a horse do anything when he wanted to sell him, and could on an occasion give a lead as well as any man. Everybody liked him, and various things were constantly said in his praise. He was never known to borrow a sovereign. He had been known to lend a horse. He did not drink. He was a very safe man in the field. He did not lie outrageously in selling his horses. He did not cheat at cards. As long as he had a drop of drink left in his flask, he would share it with any friend. He never boasted. He was much given to chaff, but his chaff was good-humoured. He was generous with his cigars. Such were his virtues. That he had no adequate means of his own and that he never earned a penny, that he lived chiefly by gambling, that he had no pursuit in life but pleasure, that he never went inside a church, that he never gave away a shilling, that he was of no use to any human being, and that no one could believe a word he said of himself,--these were specks upon his character. Taken as a whole Fred Pepper was certainly very popular with the gentlemen and ladies of the B. and B.

Ralph Newton when he dropped down upon the Moonbeam was made loudly welcome. Mr. Horsball, whose bill for L500 had been honoured at its first day of maturity, not a little, perhaps, to his own surprise, treated Ralph almost as a hero. When Ralph made some reference to the remainder of the money due, Mr. Horsball expressed himself as quite shocked at the allusion. He had really had the greatest regret in asking Mr. Newton for his note of hand, and would not have done it, had not an unforeseen circumstance called upon him suddenly to make up a few thousands. He had felt very much obliged to Mr. Newton for his prompt kindness. There needn't be a word about the remainder, and if Mr. Newton wanted something specially good for the next season,--as of course he would,--Mr. Horsball had just the horse that would suit him. "You'll about want a couple more, Mr. Newton," said Mr. Horsball.

Then Ralph told something of his plans to this Master of the Studs,--something, but not much. He said nothing of the sale of his property, and nothing quite definite as to that one horse with which his hunting was to be done for the future. "I'm going to turn over a new leaf, Horsball," he said.

"Not going to be spliced, squire?"

"Well;--I can't say that I am, but I won't say that I ain't. But I'm certainly going to make a change which will take me away from your fatherly care."

"I'm sorry for that, squire. We think we've always taken great care of you here."

"The very best in the world;--but a man must settle down in the world some day, you know. I want a nice bit of land, a hundred and fifty acres, or something of that sort."

"To purchase, squire?"

"I don't care whether I buy it or take it on lease. But it mustn't be in this county. I am too well known here, and should always want to be out when I ought to be looking after the stock."

"You'll take the season out of yourself first, at any rate," said Mr. Horsball. Ralph shook his head, but Mr. Horsball felt nearly sure of his customer for the ensuing winter. It is not easy for a man to part with four horses, seven or eight saddles, an establishment of bridles, horsesheets, spurs, rollers, and bandages, a pet groom, a roomful of top boots, and leather breeches beyond the power of counting. This is a wealth which it is easy to increase, but of which it is very difficult to get quit.

"I think I shall sell," said Ralph.

"We'll talk about that in April," said Mr. Horsball.

He went out cub-hunting three or four times, and spent the intermediate days playing dummy whist with Fred Pepper and Cox,--who was no longer a lieutenant. Ralph felt that this was not the sort of beginning for his better life which would have been most appropriate; but then he hardly had an opportunity of beginning that better life quite at once. He must wait till something more definite had been done about the property,--and, above all things, till Sir Thomas should be back from canvassing. He did, however, so far begin his better life as to declare that the points at whist must be low,--shilling points, with half-a-crown on the rubber. "Quite enough for this kind of thing," said Fred Pepper. "We only want just something to do." And Ralph, when at the end of the week he had lost only a matter of fifteen pounds, congratulated himself on having begun his better life. Cox and Fred Pepper, who divided the trifle between them, laughed at the bagatelle.

But before he left the Moonbeam things had assumed a shape which, when looked at all round, was not altogether pleasant to him. Before he had been three days at the place he received a letter from his lawyer, telling him that his uncle had given his formal assent to the purchase, and had offered to pay the stipulated sum as soon as Ralph would be willing to receive it. As to any further sum that might be forthcoming, a valuer should be agreed upon at once. The actual deed of sale and transfer would be ready by the middle of November; and the lawyer advised Ralph to postpone his acceptance of the money till that deed should have been executed. It was evident from the letter that there was no need on his part to hurry back to town. This letter he found waiting for him on his return one day from hunting. There had been a pretty run, very fast, with a kill, as there will be sometimes in cub-hunting in October,--though as a rule, of all sports, cub-hunting is the sorriest. Ralph had ridden his favourite horse Brag, and Mr. Pepper had taken out,--just to try him,--a little animal of his that he had bought, as he said, quite at haphazard. He knew nothing about him, and was rather afraid that he had been done. But the little horse seemed to have a dash of pace about him, and in the evening there was some talk of the animal. Fred Pepper thought that the little horse was faster than Brag. Fred Pepper never praised his own horses loudly; and when Brag's merits were chaunted, said that perhaps Ralph was right. Would Ralph throw his leg over the little horse on Friday and try him? On the Friday Ralph did throw his leg over the little horse, and there was another burst. Ralph was obliged to confess, as they came home together in the afternoon, that he had never been better carried. "I can see what he is now," said Fred Pepper;--"he is one of those little horses that one don't get every day. He's up to a stone over my weight, too." Now Ralph and Fred Pepper each rode thirteen stone and a half.

On that day they dined together, and there was much talk as to the future prospects of the men. Not that Fred Pepper said anything of his future prospects. No one ever presumed him to have a prospect, or suggested to him to look for one. But Cox had been very communicative and confidential, and Ralph had been prompted to say something of himself. Fred Pepper, though he had no future of his own, could he pleasantly interested about the future of another, and had quite agreed with Ralph that he ought to settle himself. The only difficulty was in deciding the when. Cox intended to settle himself too, but Cox was quite clear as to the wisdom of taking another season out of himself. He was prepared to prove that it would be sheer waste of time and money not to do so. "Here I am," said Cox, "and a fellow always saves money by staying where he is." There was a sparkle of truth in this which Ralph Newton found himself unable to deny.

"You'll never have another chance," said Pepper.

"That's another thing," said Cox. "Of course I shan't. I've turned it round every side, and I know what I'm about. As for horses, I believe they sell better in April than they do in October. Men know what they are then." Fred Pepper would not exactly back this opinion, but he ventured to suggest that there was not so much difference as some men supposed.

"If you are to jump into the cold water," said Ralph, "you'd better take the plunge at once."

"I'd sooner do it in summer than winter," said Fred Pepper.

"Of course," said Cox. "If you must give up hunting, do it at the end of the season, not at the beginning. There's a time for all things. Ring the bell, Dormouse, and we'll have another bottle of claret before we go to dummy."

"If I stay here for the winter," said Ralph, "I should want another horse. Though I might, perhaps, get through with four."

"Of course you might," said Pepper, who never spoilt his own market by pressing.

"I'd rather give up altogether than do it in a scratch way," said Ralph. "I've got into a fashion of having a second horse, and I like it."

"It's the greatest luxury in the world," said Cox.

"I never tried it," said Pepper; "I'm only too happy to get one." It was admitted by all men that Fred Pepper had the art of riding his horses without tiring them.

They played their rubber of whist and had a little hot whisky and water. On this evening Mr. Horsball was admitted to their company and made a fourth. But he wouldn't bet. Shilling points, he said, were quite as much as he could afford. Through the whole evening they went on talking of the next season, of the absolute folly of giving up one thing before another was begun, and of the merits of Fred Pepper's little horse. "A clever little animal, Mr. Pepper," said the great man, "a very clever little animal; but I wish you wouldn't bring so many clever un's down here, Mr. Pepper."

"Why not, Horsball?" asked Cox.

"Because he interferes with my trade," said Mr. Horsball, laughing. It was supposed, nevertheless, that Mr. Horsball and Mr. Pepper quite understood each other. Before the evening was over, a price had been fixed, and Ralph had bought the little horse for L130. Why shouldn't he take another winter out of himself? He could not marry Mary Bonner and get into a farm all in a day,--nor yet all in a month. He would go to work honestly with the view of settling himself; but let him be as honest about it as he might, his winter's hunting would not interfere with him. So at last he assured himself. And then he had another argument strong in his favour. He might hunt all the winter and yet have this thirty thousand pounds,--nay, more than thirty thousand pounds at the end of it. In fact, imprudent and foolish as had been his hunting in all previous winters, there would not even be any imprudence in this winter's hunting. Fortified by all these unanswerable arguments he did buy Mr. Fred Pepper's little horse.

On the next morning, the morning of the day on which he was to return to town, the arguments did not seem to be so irresistible, and he almost regretted what he had done. It was not that he would be ruined by another six months' fling at life. Situated as he now was so much might be allowed to him almost without injury. But then how can a man trust in his own resolutions before he has begun to keep them,--when, at the very moment of beginning, he throws them to the winds for the present, postponing everything for another hour? He knew as well as any one could tell him that he was proving himself to be unfit for that new life which he was proposing to himself. When one man is wise and another foolish, the foolish man knows generally as well as does the wise man in what lies wisdom and in what folly. And the temptation often is very slight. Ralph Newton had hardly wished to buy Mr. Pepper's little horse. The balance of desire during the whole evening had lain altogether on the other side. But there had come a moment in which he had yielded, and that moment governed all the other minutes. We may almost say that a man is only as strong as his weakest moment.

But he returned to London very strong in his purpose. He would keep his establishment at the Moonbeam for this winter. He had it all laid out and planned in his mind. He would at once pay Mr. Horsball the balance of the old debt, and count on the value of his horses to defray the expense of the coming season. And he would, without a week's delay, make his offer to Mary Bonner. A dim idea of some feeling of disappointment on Clary's part did cross his brain,--a feeling which seemed to threaten some slight discomfort to himself as resulting from want of sympathy on her part; but he must assume sufficient courage to brave this. That he would in any degree be an evil-doer towards Clary,--that did not occur to him. Nor did it occur to him as at all probable that Mary Bonner would refuse his offer. In these days men never expect to be refused. It has gone forth among young men as a doctrine worthy of perfect faith, that young ladies are all wanting to get married,--looking out for lovers with an absorbing anxiety, and that few can dare to refuse any man who is justified in proposing to them.

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