oger Carbury, of Carbury Hall, the owner of a small property in Suffolk, was the head of the Carbury family. The Carburys had been in Suffolk a great many years,—certainly from the time of the War of the Roses,—and had always held up their heads. But they had never held them very high. It was not known that any had risen ever to the honour of knighthood before Sir Patrick, going higher than that, had been made a baronet. They had, however, been true to their acres and their acres true to them through the perils of civil wars, Reformation, Commonwealth, and Revolution, and the head Carbury of the day had always owned, and had always lived at, Carbury Hall. At the beginning of the present century the squire of Carbury had been a considerable man, if not in his county, at any rate in his part of the county. The income of the estate had sufficed to enable him to live plenteously and hospitably, to drink port wine, to ride a stout hunter, and to keep an old lumbering coach for his wife's use when she went avisiting. He had an old butler who had never lived anywhere else, and a boy from the village who was in a way apprenticed to the butler. There was a cook, not too proud to wash up her own dishes, and a couple of young women;—while the house was kept by Mrs. Carbury herself, who marked and gave out her own linen, made her own preserves, and looked to the curing of her own hams. In the year 1800 the Carbury property was sufficient for the Carbury house. Since that time the Carbury property has considerably increased in value, and the rents have been raised. Even the acreage has been extended by the enclosure of commons. But the income is no longer comfortably adequate to the wants of an English gentleman's household. If a moderate estate in land be left to a man now, there arises the question whether he is not damaged unless an income also be left to him wherewith to keep up the estate. Land is a luxury, and of all luxuries is the most costly. Now the Carburys never had anything but land. Suffolk has not been made rich and great either by coal or iron. No great town had sprung up on the confines of the Carbury property. No eldest son had gone into trade or risen high in a profession so as to add to the Carbury wealth. No great heiress had been married. There had been no ruin,—no misfortune. But in the days of which we write the Squire of Carbury Hall had become a poor man simply through the wealth of others. His estate was supposed to bring him in £2,000 a year. Had he been content to let the Manor House, to live abroad, and to have an agent at home to deal with the tenants, he would undoubtedly have had enough to live luxuriously. But he lived on his own land among his own people, as all the Carburys before him had done, and was poor because he was surrounded by rich neighbours. The Longestaffes of Caversham,—of which family Dolly Longestaffe was the eldest son and hope,—had the name of great wealth, but the founder of the family had been a Lord Mayor of London and a chandler as lately as in the reign of Queen Anne. The Hepworths, who could boast good blood enough on their own side, had married into new money. The Primeros,—though the good nature of the country folk had accorded to the head of them the title of Squire Primero,—had been trading Spaniards fifty years ago, and had bought the Bundlesham property from a great duke. The estates of those three gentlemen, with the domain of the Bishop of Elmham, lay all around the Carbury property, and in regard to wealth enabled their owners altogether to overshadow our squire. The superior wealth of a bishop was nothing to him. He desired that bishops should be rich, and was among those who thought that the country had been injured when the territorial possessions of our prelates had been converted into stipends by Act of Parliament. But the grandeur of the Longestaffes and the too apparent wealth of the Primeros did oppress him, though he was a man who would never breathe a word of such oppression into the ear even of his dearest friend. It was his opinion,—which he did not care to declare loudly, but which was fully understood to be his opinion by those with whom he lived intimately,—that a man's standing in the world should not depend at all upon his wealth. The Primeros were undoubtedly beneath him in the social scale, although the young Primeros had three horses apiece, and killed legions of pheasants annually at about 10s. a head. Hepworth of Eardly was a very good fellow, who gave himself no airs and understood his duties as a country gentleman; but he could not be more than on a par with Carbury of Carbury, though he was supposed to enjoy £7,000 a year. The Longestaffes were altogether oppressive. Their footmen, even in the country, had powdered hair. They had a house in town,—a house of their own,—and lived altogether as magnates. The lady was Lady Pomona Longestaffe. The daughters, who certainly were handsome, had been destined to marry peers. The only son, Dolly, had, or had had, a fortune of his own. They were an oppressive people in a country neighbourhood. And to make the matter worse, rich as they were, they never were able to pay anybody anything that they owed. They continued to live with all the appurtenances of wealth. The girls always had horses to ride, both in town and country. The acquaintance of Dolly the reader has already made. Dolly, who certainly was a poor creature though good natured, had energy in one direction. He would quarrel perseveringly with his father, who only had a life interest in the estate. The house at Caversham Park was during six or seven months, of the year full of servants, if not of guests, and all the tradesmen in the little towns around, Bungay, Beccles, and Harlestone, were aware that the Longestaffes were the great people of that country. Though occasionally much distressed for money, they would always execute the Longestaffe orders with submissive punctuality, because there was an idea that the Longestaffe property was sound at the bottom. And, then, the owner of a property so managed cannot scrutinise bills very closely.
Carbury of Carbury had never owed a shilling that he could not pay, or his father before him. His orders to the tradesmen at Beccles were not extensive, and care was used to see that the goods supplied were neither overcharged nor unnecessary. The tradesmen, consequently, of Beccles did not care much for Carbury of Carbury;—though perhaps one or two of the elders among them entertained some ancient reverence for the family. Roger Carbury, Esq., was Carbury of Carbury,—a distinction of itself, which, from its nature, could not belong to the Longestaffes and Primeros, which did not even belong to the Hepworths of Eardly. The very parish in which Carbury Hall stood,—or Carbury Manor House, as it was more properly called,—was Carbury parish. And there was Carbury Chase, partly in Carbury parish and partly in Bundlesham,—but belonging, unfortunately, in its entirety to the Bundlesham estate.
Roger Carbury himself was all alone in the world. His nearest relatives of the name were Sir Felix and Henrietta, but they were no more than second cousins. He had sisters, but they had long since been married and had gone away into the world with their husbands, one to India, and another to the far west of the United States. At present he was not much short of forty years of age, and was still unmarried. He was a stout, good-looking man, with a firmly set square face, with features finely cut, a small mouth, good teeth, and well-formed chin. His hair was red, curling round his head, which was now partly bald at the top. He wore no other beard than small, almost unnoticeable whiskers. His eyes were small, but bright, and very cheery when his humour was good. He was about five feet nine in height, having the appearance of great strength and perfect health. A more manly man to the eye was never seen. And he was one with whom you would instinctively wish at first sight to be on good terms,—partly because in looking at him there would come on you an unconscious conviction that he would be very stout in holding his own against his opponents; partly also from a conviction equally strong, that he would be very pleasant to his friends.
When Sir Patrick had come home from India as an invalid, Roger Carbury had hurried up to see him in London, and had proffered him all kindness. Would Sir Patrick and his wife and children like to go down to the old place in the country? Sir Patrick did not care a straw for the old place in the country, and so told his cousin in almost those very words. There had not, therefore, been much friendship during Sir Patrick's life. But when the violent ill-conditioned old man was dead, Roger paid a second visit, and again offered hospitality to the widow and her daughter,—and to the young baronet. The young baronet had just joined his regiment and did not care to visit his cousin in Suffolk; but Lady Carbury and Henrietta had spent a month there, and everything had been done to make them happy. The effort as regarded Henrietta had been altogether successful. As regarded the widow, it must be acknowledged that Carbury Hall had not quite suited her tastes. She had already begun to sigh for the glories of a literary career. A career of some kind,—sufficient to repay her for the sufferings of her early life,—she certainly desired. "Dear cousin Roger," as she called him, had not seemed to her to have much power of assisting her in these views. She was a woman who did not care much for country charms. She had endeavoured to get up some mild excitement with the bishop, but the bishop had been too plain spoken and sincere for her. The Primeros had been odious; the Hepworths stupid; the Longestaffes,—she had endeavoured to make up a little friendship with Lady Pomona,—insufferably supercilious. She had declared to Henrietta "that Carbury Hall was very dull."
But then there had come a circumstance which altogether changed her opinions as to Carbury Hall, and its proprietor. The proprietor after a few weeks followed them up to London, and made a most matter-of-fact offer to the mother for the daughter's hand. He was at that time thirty-six, and Henrietta was not yet twenty. He was very cool;—some might have thought him phlegmatic in his love-making. Henrietta declared to her mother that she had not in the least expected it. But he was very urgent, and very persistent. Lady Carbury was eager on his side. Though the Carbury Manor House did not exactly suit her, it would do admirably for Henrietta. And as for age, to her thinking, she being then over forty, a man of thirty-six was young enough for any girl. But Henrietta had an opinion of her own. She liked her cousin, but did not love him. She was amazed, and even annoyed by the offer. She had praised him and praised the house so loudly to her mother,—having in her innocence never dreamed of such a proposition as this,—so that now she found it difficult to give an adequate reason for her refusal. Yes;—she had undoubtedly said that her cousin was charming, but she had not meant charming in that way. She did refuse the offer very plainly, but still with some apparent lack of persistency. When Roger suggested that she should take a few months to think of it, and her mother supported Roger's suggestion, she could say nothing stronger than that she was afraid that thinking about it would not do any good. Their first visit to Carbury had been made in September. In the following February she went there again,—much against the grain as far as her own wishes were concerned; and when there had been cold, constrained, almost dumb in the presence of her cousin. Before they left the offer was renewed, but Henrietta declared that she could not do as they would have her. She could give no reason, only she did not love her cousin in that way. But Roger declared that he by no means intended to abandon his suit. In truth he verily loved the girl, and love with him was a serious thing. All this happened a full year before the beginning of our present story.
But something else happened also. While that second visit was being made at Carbury there came to the hall a young man of whom Roger Carbury had said much to his cousins,—one Paul Montague, of whom some short account shall be given in this chapter. The squire,—Roger Carbury was always called the squire about his own place,—had anticipated no evil when he so timed this second visit of his cousins to his house that they must of necessity meet Paul Montague there. But great harm had come of it. Paul Montague had fallen into love with his cousin's guest, and there had sprung up much unhappiness.
Lady Carbury and Henrietta had been nearly a month at Carbury, and Paul Montague had been there barely a week, when Roger Carbury thus spoke to the guest who had last arrived. "I've got to tell you something, Paul."
"Very serious to me. I may say so serious that nothing in my own life can approach it in importance." He had unconsciously assumed that look, which his friend so thoroughly understood, indicating his resolve to hold to what he believed to be his own, and to fight if fighting be necessary. Montague knew him well, and became half aware that he had done something, he knew not what, militating against this serious resolve of his friend. He looked up, but said nothing. "I have offered my hand in marriage to my cousin Henrietta," said Roger very gravely.
"Yes; to Henrietta Carbury. She has not accepted it. She has refused me twice. But I still have hopes of success. Perhaps I have no right to hope, but I do. I tell it you just as it is. Everything in life to me depends upon it. I think I may count upon your sympathy."
"Why did you not tell me before?" said Paul Montague in a hoarse voice.
Then there had come a sudden and rapid interchange of quick speaking between the men, each of them speaking the truth exactly, each of them declaring himself to be in the right and to be ill-used by the other, each of them equally hot, equally generous, and equally unreasonable. Montague at once asserted that he also loved Henrietta Carbury. He blurted out his assurance in the baldest and most incomplete manner, but still in such words as to leave no doubt. No;—he had not said a word to her. He had intended to consult Roger Carbury himself,—should have done so in a day or two,—perhaps on that very day had not Roger spoken to him. "You have neither of you a shilling in the world," said Roger; "and now you know what my feelings are you must abandon it." Then Montague declared that he had a right to speak to Miss Carbury. He did not suppose that Miss Carbury cared a straw about him. He had not the least reason to think that she did. It was altogether impossible. But he had a right to his chance. That chance was all the world to him. As to money,—he would not admit that he was a pauper, and, moreover, he might earn an income as well as other men. Had Carbury told him that the young lady had shown the slightest intention to receive his, Carbury's, addresses, he, Paul, would at once have disappeared from the scene. But as it was not so, he would not say that he would abandon his hope.
The scene lasted for above an hour. When it was ended, Paul Montague packed up all his clothes and was driven away to the railway station by Roger himself, without seeing either of the ladies. There had been very hot words between the men, but the last words which Roger spoke to the other on the railway platform were not quarrelsome in their nature. "God bless you, old fellow," he said, pressing Paul's hands. Paul's eyes were full of tears, and he replied only by returning the pressure.
Paul Montague's father and mother had long been dead. The father had been a barrister in London, having perhaps some small fortune of his own. He had, at any rate, left to this son, who was one among others, a sufficiency with which to begin the world. Paul when he had come of age had found himself possessed of about £6,000. He was then at Oxford, and was intended for the bar. An uncle of his, a younger brother of his father, had married a Carbury, the younger sister of two, though older than her brother Roger. This uncle many years since had taken his wife out to California, and had there become an American. He had a large tract of land, growing wool, and wheat, and fruit; but whether he prospered or whether he did not, had not always been plain to the Montagues and Carburys at home. The intercourse between the two families had in the quite early days of Paul Montague's life, created an affection between him and Roger, who, as will be understood by those who have carefully followed the above family history, were not in any degree related to each other. Roger, when quite a young man, had had the charge of the boy's education, and had sent him to Oxford. But the Oxford scheme, to be followed by the bar, and to end on some one of the many judicial benches of the country, had not succeeded. Paul had got into a "row" at Balliol, and had been rusticated,—had then got into another row, and was sent down. Indeed he had a talent for rows,—though, as Roger Carbury always declared, there was nothing really wrong about any of them. Paul was then twenty-one, and he took himself and his money out to California, and joined his uncle. He had perhaps an idea,—based on very insufficient grounds,—that rows are popular in California. At the end of three years he found that he did not like farming life in California,—and he found also that he did not like his uncle. So he returned to England, but on returning was altogether unable to get his £6,000 out of the Californian farm. Indeed he had been compelled to come away without any of it, with funds insufficient even to take him home, accepting with much dissatisfaction an assurance from his uncle that an income amounting to ten per cent. upon his capital should be remitted to him with the regularity of clockwork. The clock alluded to must have been one of Sam Slick's. It had gone very badly. At the end of the first quarter there came the proper remittance;—then half the amount;—then there was a long interval without anything; then some dropping payments now and again;—and then a twelvemonth without anything. At the end of that twelvemonth he paid a second visit to California, having borrowed money from Roger for his journey. He had now again returned, with some little cash in hand, and with the additional security of a deed executed in his favour by one Hamilton K. Fisker, who had gone into partnership with his uncle, and who had added a vast flour-mill to his uncle's concerns. In accordance with this deed he was to get twelve per cent. on his capital, and had enjoyed the gratification of seeing his name put up as one of the firm, which now stood as Fisker, Montague, and Montague. A business declared by the two elder partners to be most promising had been opened at Fiskerville, about two hundred and fifty miles from San Francisco, and the hearts of Fisker and the elder Montague were very high. Paul hated Fisker horribly, did not love his uncle much, and would willingly have got back his £6,000 had he been able. But he was not able, and returned as one of Fisker, Montague, and Montague, not altogether unhappy, as he had succeeded in obtaining enough of his back income to pay what he owed to Roger, and to live for a few months. He was intent on considering how he should bestow himself, consulting daily with Roger on the subject, when suddenly Roger had perceived that the young man was becoming attached to the girl whom he himself loved. What then occurred has been told.
Not a word was said to Lady Carbury or her daughter of the real cause of Paul's sudden disappearance. It had been necessary that he should go to London. Each of the ladies probably guessed something of the truth, but neither spoke a word to the other on the subject. Before they left the Manor the squire again pleaded his cause with Henrietta, but he pleaded it in vain. Henrietta was colder than ever,—but she made use of one unfortunate phrase which destroyed all the effect which her coldness might have had. She said that she was too young to think of marrying yet. She had meant to imply that the difference in their ages was too great, but had not known how to say it. It was easy to tell her that in a twelvemonth she would be older;—but it was impossible to convince her that any number of twelvemonths would alter the disparity between her and her cousin. But even that disparity was not now her strongest reason for feeling sure that she could not marry Roger Carbury.
Within a week of the departure of Lady Carbury from the Manor House, Paul Montague returned, and returned as a still dear friend. He had promised before he went that he would not see Henrietta again for three months, but he would promise nothing further. "If she won't take you, there is no reason why I shouldn't try." That had been his argument. Roger would not accede to the justice even of this. It seemed to him that Paul was bound to retire altogether, partly because he had got no income, partly because of Roger's previous claim,—partly no doubt in gratitude, but of this last reason Roger never said a word. If Paul did not see this himself, Paul was not such a man as his friend had taken him to be.
Paul did see it himself, and had many scruples. But why should his friend be a dog in the manger? He would yield at once to Roger Carbury's older claims if Roger could make anything of them. Indeed he could have no chance if the girl were disposed to take Roger for her husband. Roger had all the advantage of Carbury Manor at his back, whereas he had nothing but his share in the doubtful business of Fisker, Montague, and Montague, in a wretched little town 250 miles further off than San Francisco! But if, with all this, Roger could not prevail, why should he not try? What Roger said about want of money was mere nonsense. Paul was sure that his friend would have created no such difficulty had not he himself been interested. Paul declared to himself that he had money, though doubtful money, and that he certainly would not give up Henrietta on that score.
He came up to London at various times in search of certain employment which had been half promised him, and, after the expiration of the three months, constantly saw Lady Carbury and her daughter. But from time to time he had given renewed promises to Roger Carbury that he would not declare his passion,—now for two months, then for six weeks, then for a month. In the meantime the two men were fast friends,—so fast that Montague spent by far the greater part of his time as his friend's guest,—and all this was done with the understanding that Roger Carbury was to blaze up into hostile wrath should Paul ever receive the privilege to call himself Henrietta Carbury's favoured lover, but that everything was to be smooth between them should Henrietta be persuaded to become the mistress of Carbury Hall. So things went on up to the night at which Montague met Henrietta at Madame Melmotte's ball. The reader should also be informed that there had been already a former love affair in the young life of Paul Montague. There had been, and indeed there still was, a widow, one Mrs. Hurtle, whom he had been desperately anxious to marry before his second journey to California;—but the marriage had been prevented by the interference of Roger Carbury.
Last modified 22 September 2014