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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite - Chapter 5. George Hotspur
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Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite - Chapter 5. George Hotspur Post by :pearsonbrown Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :812

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Sir Harry Hotspur Of Humblethwaite - Chapter 5. George Hotspur

CHAPTER V. GEORGE HOTSPUR

A little must now be told to the reader of Cousin George and the ways of his life. As Lady Elizabeth had said to her daughter, that question of admitting black sheep into society, or of refusing them admittance, is very difficult. In the first place, whose eyes are good enough to know whether in truth a sheep be black or not? And then is it not the fact that some little amount of shade in the fleece of male sheep is considered, if not absolutely desirable, at any rate quite pardonable? A male sheep with a fleece as white as that of a ewe-lamb,--is he not considered to be, among muttons, somewhat insipid? It was of this taste which Pope was conscious when he declared that every woman was at heart a rake. And so it comes to pass that very black sheep indeed are admitted into society, till at last anxious fathers and more anxious mothers begin to be aware that their young ones are turned out to graze among ravenous wolves. This, however, must be admitted, that lambs when so treated acquire a courage which tends to enable them to hold their own, even amidst wolfish dangers.

Cousin George, if not a ravenous wolf, was at any rate a very black sheep indeed. In our anxiety to know the truth of him it must not be said that he was absolutely a wolf,--not as yet,--because in his career he had not as yet made premeditated attempts to devour prey. But in the process of delivering himself up to be devoured by others, he had done things which if known of any sheep should prevent that sheep from being received into a decent flock. There had been that little trouble about his commission, in which, although he had not intended to cheat either Jew, he had done that which the world would have called cheating had the world known it. As for getting goods from tradesmen without any hope or thought of paying for them, that with him was so much a thing of custom,--as indeed it was also with them,--that he was almost to be excused for considering it the normal condition of life for a man in his position. To gamble and lose money had come to him quite naturally at a very early age. There had now come upon him an idea that he might turn the tables, that in all gambling transactions some one must win, and that as he had lost much, so possibly might he now win more. He had not quite yet reached that point in his education at which the gambler learns that the ready way to win much is to win unfairly;--not quite yet, but he was near it. The wolfhood was coming on him, unless some good fortune might save him. There might, however, be such good fortune in store for him. As Lady Elizabeth had said, a sheep that was very dark in colour might become white again. If it be not so, what is all this doctrine of repentance in which we believe?

Blackness in a male sheep in regard to the other sin is venial blackness. Whether the teller of such a tale as this should say so outright, may be matter of dispute; but, unless he say so, the teller of this tale does not know how to tell his tale truly. Blackness such as that will be all condoned, and the sheep received into almost any flock, on condition, not of repentance or humiliation or confession, but simply of change of practice. The change of practice in certain circumstances and at a certain period becomes expedient; and if it be made, as regards tints in the wool of that nature, the sheep becomes as white as he is needed to be. In this respect our sheep had been as black as any sheep, and at this present period of his life had need of much change before he would be fit for any decent social herding.

And then there are the shades of black which come from conviviality,--which we may call table blackness,--as to which there is an opinion constantly disseminated by the moral newspapers of the day, that there has come to be altogether an end of any such blackness among sheep who are gentlemen. To make up for this, indeed, there has been expressed by the piquant newspapers of the day an opinion that ladies are taking up the game which gentlemen no longer care to play. It may be doubted whether either expression has in it much of truth. We do not see ladies drunk, certainly, and we do not see gentlemen tumbling about as they used to do, because their fashion of drinking is not that of their grandfathers. But the love of wine has not gone out from among men; and men now are as prone as ever to indulge their loves. Our black sheep was very fond of wine,--and also of brandy, though he was wolf enough to hide his taste when occasion required it.

Very early in life he had come from France to live in England, and had been placed in a cavalry regiment, which had, unfortunately for him, been quartered either in London or its vicinity. And, perhaps equally unfortunate for him, he had in his own possession a small fortune of some L500 a year. This had not come to him from his father; and when his father had died in Paris, about two years before the date of our story, he had received no accession of regular income. Some couple of thousand of pounds had reached his hands from his father's effects, which had helped him through some of the immediately pressing difficulties of the day,--for his own income at that time had been altogether dissipated. And now he had received a much larger sum from his cousin, with an assurance, however, that the family property would not become his when he succeeded to the family title. He was so penniless at the time, so prone to live from hand to mouth, so little given to consideration of the future, that it may be doubted whether the sum given to him was not compensation in full for all that was to be withheld from him.

Still there was his chance with the heiress! In regarding this chance, he had very soon determined that he would marry his cousin if it might be within his power to do so. He knew, and fully appreciated, his own advantages. He was a handsome man,--tall for a Hotspur, but with the Hotspur fair hair and blue eyes, and well-cut features. There lacked, however, to him, that peculiar aspect of firmness about the temples which so strongly marked the countenance of Sir Harry and his daughter; and there had come upon him a _blase look, and certain outer signs of a bad life, which, however, did not mar his beauty, nor were they always apparent. The eye was not always bloodshot, nor was the hand constantly seen to shake. It may be said of him, both as to his moral and physical position, that he was on the edge of the precipice of degradation, but that there was yet a possibility of salvation.

He was living in a bachelor's set of rooms, at this time, in St. James's Street, for which, it must be presumed, that ready money was required. During the last winter he had horses in Northamptonshire, for the hire of which, it must be feared, that his prospects as heir to Humblethwaite had in some degree been pawned. At the present time he had a horse for Park riding, and he looked upon a good dinner, with good wine, as being due to him every day, as thoroughly as though he earned it. That he had never attempted to earn a shilling since the day on which he had ceased to be a soldier, now four years since, the reader will hardly require to be informed.

In spite of all his faults, this man enjoyed a certain social popularity for which many a rich man would have given a third of his income. Dukes and duchesses were fond of him; and certain persons, standing very high in the world, did not think certain parties were perfect without him. He knew how to talk enough, and yet not to talk too much. No one could say of him that he was witty, well-read, or given to much thinking; but he knew just what was wanted at this point of time or at that, and could give it. He could put himself forward, and could keep himself in the background. He could shoot well without wanting to shoot best. He could fetch and carry, but still do it always with an air of manly independence. He could subserve without an air of cringing. And then he looked like a gentleman.

Of all his well-to-do friends, perhaps he who really liked him best was the Earl of Altringham. George Hotspur was at this time something under thirty years of age, and the Earl was four years his senior. The Earl was a married man, with a family, a wife who also liked poor George, an enormous income, and a place in Scotland at which George always spent the three first weeks of grouse-shooting. The Earl was a kindly, good-humoured, liberal, but yet hard man of the world. He knew George Hotspur well, and would on no account lend him a shilling. He would not have given his friend money to extricate him from any difficulty. But he forgave the sinner all his sins, opened Castle Corry to him every year, provided him with the best of everything, and let him come and dine at Altringham House, in Carlton Gardens, as often almost as he chose during the London season. The Earl was very good to George, though he knew more about him than perhaps did any other man; but he would not bet with George, nor would he in any way allow George to make money out of him.

"Do you suppose that I want to win money of you?" he once said to our friend, in answer to a little proposition that was made to him at Newmarket. "I don't suppose you do," George had answered. "Then you may be sure that I don't want to lose any," the Earl had replied. And so the matter was ended, and George made no more propositions of the kind.

The two men were together at Tattersall's, looking at some horses which the Earl had sent up to be sold the day after the dinner in Bruton Street. "Sir Harry seems to be taking to you very kindly," said the Earl.

"Well,--yes; in a half-and-half sort of way."

"It isn't everybody that would give you L5,000, you know."

"I am not everybody's heir," said George.

"No; and you ain't his,--worse luck."

"I am,--in regard to the title."

"What good will that do you?"

"When he's gone, I shall be the head of the family. As far as I can understand these matters, he hasn't a right to leave the estates away from me."

"Power is right, my boy. Legal power is undoubtedly right."

"He should at any rate divide them. There are two distinct properties, and either of them would make me a rich man. I don't feel so very much obliged to him for his money,--though of course it was convenient."

"Very convenient, I should say, George. How do you get on with your cousin?"

"They watch me like a cat watches a mouse."

"Say a rat, rather, George. Don't you know they are right? Would not I do the same if she were my girl, knowing you as I do?"

"She might do worse, my Lord."

"I'll tell you what it is. He thinks that he might do worse. I don't doubt about that. All this matter of the family and the title, and the name, would make him ready to fling her to you,--if only you were a shade less dark a horse than you are."

"I don't know that I'm darker than others."

"Look here, old fellow; I don't often trouble you with advice, but I will now. If you'll set yourself steadily to work to live decently, if you'll tell Sir Harry the whole truth about your money matters, and really get into harness, I believe you may have her. Such a one as you never had such a chance before. But there's one thing you must do."

"What is the one thing?"

"Wash your hands altogether of Mrs. Morton. You'll have a difficulty, I know, and perhaps it will want more pluck than you've got. You haven't got pluck of that kind."

"You mean that I don't like to break a woman's heart?"

"Fiddlestick! Do you see that mare, there?"

"I was just looking at her. Why should you part with her?"

"She was the best animal in my stables, but she's given to eating the stable-boys; old Badger told me flat, that he wouldn't have her in the stables any longer. I pity the fellow who will buy her,--or rather his fellow. She killed a lad once in Brookborough's stables."

"Why don't you shoot her?"

"I can't afford to shoot horses, Captain Hotspur. I had my chance in buying her, and somebody else must have his chance now. That's the lot of them; one or two good ones, and the rest what I call rags. Do you think of what I've said; and be sure of this: Mrs. Morton and your cousin can't go on together. Ta, Ta!--I'm going across to my mother's."

George Hotspur, when he was left alone, did think a great deal about it. He was not a man prone to assure himself of a lady's favour without cause; and yet he did think that his cousin liked him. As to that terrible difficulty to which Lord Altringham had alluded, he knew that something must be done; but there were cruel embarrassments on that side of which even Altringham knew nothing. And then why should he do that which his friend had indicated to him, before he knew whether it would be necessary? As to taking Sir Harry altogether into his confidence about his money matters, that was clearly impossible. Heaven and earth! How could the one man speak such truths, or the other man listen to them? When money difficulties come of such nature as those which weighted the shoulders of poor George Hotspur, it is quite impossible that there should be any such confidence with any one. The sufferer cannot even make a confidant of himself, cannot even bring himself to look at his own troubles massed together. It was not the amount of his debts, but the nature of them, and the characters of the men with whom he had dealings, that were so terrible. Fifteen thousand pounds--less than one year's income from Sir Harry's property--would clear him of everything, as far as he could judge; but there could be no such clearing, otherwise than by money disbursed by himself, without a disclosure of dirt which he certainly would not dare to make to Sir Harry before his marriage.

But yet the prize to be won was so great, and there were so many reasons for thinking that it might possibly be within his grasp! If, after all, he might live to be Sir George Hotspur of Humblethwaite and Scarrowby! After thinking of it as well as he could, he determined that he would make the attempt; but as to those preliminaries to which Lord Altringham had referred, he would for the present leave them to chance.

Lord Altringham had been quite right when he told George Hotspur that he was deficient in a certain kind of pluck.

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