’Please, sir, please, squire, mammy has ’sent me; grandfather has wakened up sudden, and mammy says he’s dying, and would you please come; she says he’d take it as a kind compliment, she’s sure.’
So they went to the cottage, the squire speaking never a word, but suddenly feeling as if lifted out of a whirlwind and set down in a still and awful place.
A PASSIVE COQUETTE
It is not to be supposed that such an encounter as Mr. Preston had just had with Roger Hamley sweetened the regards in which the two young men henceforward held each other. They had barely spoken to each other before, and but seldom met; for the land-agent’s employment had hitherto lain at Ashcombe, some sixteen or seventeen miles from Hamley. He was older than Roger by several years; but during the time he had been in the county Osborne and Roger had been at school and at college. Mr. Preston was prepared to dislike the Hamleys for many unreasonable reasons. Cynthia and Molly had both spoken of the brothers with familiar regard, implying considerable intimacy; their flowers had been preferred to his on the occasion of the ball; most people spoke well of them; and Mr. Preston had an animal’s instinctive jealousy and combativeness against all popular young men. Their ’position’—poor as the Hamleys might be—was far higher than his own in the county; and, moreover, he was agent to the great Whig lord, whose political interests were diametrically opposed to those of the old Tory squire. Not that Lord Cumnor troubled himself much about his political interests. His family had obtained property and title from the Whigs at the time of the Hanoverian succession; and so, traditionally, he was a Whig, and had belonged in his youth to Whig clubs, where he had lost considerable sums of money to Whig gamblers. All this was satisfactory and consistent enough. And if Lord Hollingford had not been returned for the county on the Whig interest—as his father had been before him, until he had succeeded to the title—it is quite probable Lord Cumnor would have considered the British constitution in danger, and the patriotism of his ancestors ungratefully ignored. But, excepting at elections, he had no notion of making Whig and Tory a party cry. He had lived too much in London, and was of too sociable a nature, to exclude any man who jumped with his humour, from the hospitality he was always ready to offer, be the agreeable acquaintance Whig, Tory, or Radical. But in the county of which he was lord-lieutenant, the old party distinction was still a shibboleth by which men were tested for their fitness for social intercourse, as well as on the hustings. If by any chance a Whig found himself at a Tory dinner-table—or vice-versa— the food was hard of digestion, and wine and viands were criticized rather than enjoyed. A marriage between the young people of the separate parties was