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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite - Chapter 11. Mrs. Morton
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Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite - Chapter 11. Mrs. Morton Post by :pearsonbrown Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :1632

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Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite - Chapter 11. Mrs. Morton

CHAPTER XI. MRS. MORTON

Five hundred pounds before Saturday, and this was Tuesday! As Cousin George was taken westward from Red Lion Square in a cab, three or four different lines of conduct suggested themselves to him. In the first place, it would be a very good thing to murder Captain Stubber. In the present effeminate state of civilization and with the existing scruples as to the value of human life, he did not see his way clearly in this direction, but entertained the project rather as a beautiful castle in the air. The two next suggestions were to pay him the money demanded, or to pay him half of it. The second suggestion was the simpler, as the state of Cousin George's funds made it feasible; but then that brute would probably refuse to take the half in lieu of the whole when he found that his demand had absolutely produced a tender of ready cash. As for paying the whole, it might perhaps be done. It was still possible that, with such prospects before him as those he now possessed, he could raise a hundred or hundred and fifty pounds; but then he would be left penniless. The last course of action which he contemplated was, to take no further notice of Captain Stubber, and let him tell his story to Sir Harry if he chose to tell it. The man was such a blackguard that his entire story would probably not be believed; and then was it not almost necessary that Sir Harry should hear it? Of course there would be anger, and reproaches, and threats, and difficulty. But if Emily would be true to him, they might all by degrees be levelled down. This latter line of conduct would be practicable, and had this beautiful attraction,--that it would save for his own present use that charming balance of ready money which he still possessed. Had Altringham possessed any true backbone of friendship, he might now, he thought, have been triumphant over all his difficulties.

When he sat down to his solitary dinner at his club, he was very tired with his day's work. Attending to the affairs of such gentlemen as Mr. Hart and Captain Stubber,--who well know how to be masterful when their time for being masterful has come,--is fatiguing enough. But he had another task to perform before he went to bed, which he would fain have kept unperformed were it possible to do so. He had written to a third friend to make an appointment for the evening, and this appointment he was bound to keep. He would very much rather have stayed at his club and played billiards with the navy captain, even though he might again have lost his shillings. The third friend was that Mrs. Morton to whom Lord Altringham had once alluded. "I supposed that it was coming," said Mrs. Morton, when she had listened, without letting a word fall from her own lips, to the long rambling story which Cousin George told her,--a rambling story in which there were many lies, but in which there was the essential truth, that Cousin George intended, if other things could be made to fit, to marry his cousin Emily Hotspur. Mrs. Morton was a woman who had been handsome,--dark, thin, with great brown eyes and thin lips and a long well-formed nose; she was in truth three years younger than George Hotspur, but she looked to be older. She was a clever woman and well read too, and in every respect superior to the man whom she had condescended to love. She earned her bread by her profession as an actress, and had done so since her earliest years. What story there may be of a Mr. Morton who had years ago married, and ill-used, and deserted her, need not here be told. Her strongest passion at this moment was love for the cold-blooded reprobate who had now come to tell her of his intended marriage. She had indeed loved George Hotspur, and George had been sufficiently attached to her to condescend to take aid from her earnings.

"I supposed that it was coming," she said in a low voice when he brought to an end the rambling story which she had allowed him to tell without a word of interruption.

"What is a fellow to do?" said George.

"Is she handsome?"

George thought that he might mitigate the pain by making little of his cousin. "Well, no, not particularly. She looks like a lady."

"And I suppose I don't." For a moment there was a virulence in this which made poor George almost gasp. This woman was patient to a marvel, long-bearing, affectionate, imbued with that conviction so common to woman and the cause of so much delight to men,--that ill-usage and suffering are intended for woman; but George knew that she could turn upon him if goaded far enough, and rend him. He could depend upon her for very much, because she loved him; but he was afraid of her. "You didn't mean that, I know," she added, smiling.

"Of course I didn't."

"No; your cruelties don't lie in that line; do they, George?"

"I'm sure I never mean to be cruel to you, Lucy."

"I don't think you do. I hardly believe that you ever mean anything,--except just to get along and live."

"A fellow must live, you know," said George.

In ordinary society George Hotspur could be bright, and he was proud of being bright. With this woman he was always subdued, always made to play second fiddle, always talked like a boy; and he knew it. He had loved her once, if he was capable of loving anything; but her mastery over him wearied him, even though he was, after a fashion, proud of her cleverness, and he wished that she were,--well, dead, if the reader choose that mode of expressing what probably were George's wishes. But he had never told himself that he desired her death. He could build pleasant castles in the air as to the murder of Captain Stubber, but his thoughts did not travel that way in reference to Mrs. Morton.

"She is not pretty, then,--this rich bride of yours?"

"Not particularly; she's well enough, you know."

"And well enough is good enough for you;--is it? Do you love her, George?"

The woman's voice was very low and plaintive as she asked the question. Though from moment to moment she could use her little skill in pricking him with her satire, still she loved him; and she would vary her tone, and as at one minute she would make him uneasy by her raillery, so at the next she would quell him by her tenderness. She looked into his face for a reply, when he hesitated. "Tell me that you do not love her," she said, passionately.

"Not particularly," replied George.

"And yet you would marry her?"

"What's a fellow to do? You see how I am fixed about the title. These are kinds of things to which a man situated as I am is obliged to submit."

"Royal obligations, as one might call them."

"By George, yes," said George, altogether missing the satire. From any other lips he would have been sharp enough to catch it. "One can't see the whole thing go to the dogs after it has kept its head up so long! And then you know, a man can't live altogether without an income."

"You have done so, pretty well."

"I know that I owe you a lot of money, Lucy; and I know also that I mean to pay you."

"Don't talk about that. I don't know how at such a time as this you can bring yourself to mention it." Then she rose from her seat and flashed into wrath, carried on by the spirit of her own words. "Look here, George; if you send me any of that woman's money, by the living God I will send it back to herself. To buy me with her money! But it is so like a man."

"I didn't mean that. Sir Harry is to pay all my debts."

"And will not that be the same? Will it not be her money? Why is he to pay your debts? Because he loves you?"

"It is all a family arrangement. You don't quite understand."

"Of course I don't understand. Such a one as I cannot lift myself so high above the earth. Great families form a sort of heaven of their own, which poor broken, ill-conditioned, wretched, common creatures such as I am cannot hope to comprehend. But, by heaven, what a lot of the vilest clay goes to the making of that garden of Eden! Look here, George;--you have nothing of your own?"

"Not much, indeed."

"Nothing. Is not that so? You can answer me at any rate."

"You know all about it," he said,--truly enough, for she did know.

"And you cannot earn a penny."

"I don't know that I can. I never was very good at earning anything."

"It isn't gentlemanlike, is it? But I can earn money."

"By George! yes. I've often envied you. I have indeed."

"How flattering! As far as it went you should have had it all,--nearly all,--if you could have been true to me."

"But, Lucy,--about the family?"

"And about your debts? Of course I couldn't pay debts which were always increasing. And of course your promises for the future were false. We both knew that they were false when they were made. Did we not?" She paused for an answer, but he made none. "They meant nothing; did they? He is dead now."

"Morton is dead?"

"Yes; he died in San Francisco, months ago."

"I couldn't have known that, Lucy; could I?"

"Don't be a fool! What difference would it have made? Don't pretend anything so false. It would be disgusting on the very face of it. It mattered nothing to you whether he lived or died. When is it to be?"

"When is what to be?"

"Your marriage with this ill-looking young woman, who has got money, but whom you do not even pretend to love."

It struck even George that this was a way in which Emily Hotspur should not be described. She had been acknowledged to be the beauty of the last season, one of the finest girls that had ever been seen about London; and, as for loving her,--he did love her. A man might be fond of two dogs, or have two pet horses, and why shouldn't he love two women! Of course he loved his cousin. But his circumstances at the moment were difficult, and he didn't quite know how to explain all this.

"When is it to be?" she said, urging her question imperiously.

In answer to this he gave her to understand that there was still a good deal of difficulty. He told her something of his position with Captain Stubber, and defined,--not with absolute correctness,--the amount of consent which Sir Harry had given to the marriage.

"And what am I to do?" she asked.

He looked blankly into her face. She then rose again, and unlocking a desk with a key that hung at her girdle, she took from it a bundle of papers.

"There," she said; "there is the letter in which I have your promise to marry me when I am free;--as I am now. It could not be less injurious to you than when locked up there; but the remembrance of it might frighten you." She threw the letter to him across the table, but he did not touch it. "And here are others which might be taken to mean the same thing. There! I am not so injured as I might seem to be,--for I never believed them. How could I believe anything that you would say to me,--anything that you would write?"

"Don't be down on me too hard, Lucy."

"No, I will not be down upon you at all. If these things pained you, I would not say them. Shall I destroy the letters?" Then she took them, one after another, and tore them into small fragments. "You will be easier now, I know."

"Easy! I am not very easy, I can tell you."

"Captain Stubber will not let you off so gently as I do. Is that it?"

Then there was made between them a certain pecuniary arrangement, which if Mrs. Morton trusted at all the undertaking made to her, showed a most wonderful faith on her part. She would lend him L250 towards the present satisfaction of Captain Stubber; and this sum, to be lent for such a purpose, she would consent to receive back again out of Sir Harry's money. She must see a certain manager, she said; but she did not doubt but that her loan would be forthcoming on the Saturday morning. Captain George Hotspur accepted the offer, and was profuse in his thanks. After that, when he was going, her weakness was almost equal to his vileness.

"You will come and see me," she said, as she held his hand. Again he paused a moment. "George, you will come and see me?"

"Oh, of course I will."

"A great deal I can bear; a great deal I have borne; but do not be a coward. I knew you before she did, and have loved you better, and have treated you better than ever she will do. Of course you will come?"

He promised her that he would, and then went from her.

On the Saturday morning Captain Stubber was made temporarily happy by the most unexpected receipt of five hundred pounds.

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