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SIR HARRY HOTSPUR
Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite was a mighty person in Cumberland, and one who well understood of what nature were the duties, and of what sort the magnificence, which his position as a great English commoner required of him. He had twenty thousand a year derived from land. His forefathers had owned the same property in Cumberland for nearly four centuries, and an estate nearly as large in Durham for more than a century and a half He had married an earl's daughter, and had always lived among men and women not only of high rank, but also of high character. He had kept race- horses when he was young, as noblemen and gentlemen then did keep them, with no view to profit, calculating fairly their cost as a part of his annual outlay, and thinking that it was the proper thing to do for the improvement of horses and for the amusement of the people. He had been in Parliament, but had made no figure there, and had given it up. He still kept his house in Bruton Street, and always spent a month or two in London. But the life that he led was led at Humblethwaite, and there he was a great man, with a great domain around him,—with many tenants, with a world of dependants among whom he spent his wealth freely, saving little, but lavishing nothing that was not his own to lavish,—understanding that his enjoyment was to come from the comfort and respect of others, for whose welfare, as he understood it, the good things of this world had been bestowed upon him. He was a proud man, with but few intimacies,—with a few dear friendships which were the solace of his life,—altogether gracious in his speech, if it were not for an apparent bashfulness among strangers ; never assuming aught, deferring much to others outwardly, and showing his pride chiefly by a certain impalpable noli me tangere, which just sufficed to make itself felt and obeyed at the first approach of any personal freedom. He was a handsome man,—if an old man near to seventy maybe handsome,—with grey hair, and bright, keen eyes, and arched eyebrows, with a well-cut eagle nose, and a small mouth, and a short dimpled chin. He was under the middle height, but nevertheless commanded attention by his appearance. He wore no beard save a slight grey whisker, which was cut away before it reached his chin. He was strongly made, but not stout, and was hale and active for his age.
Such was Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite. The account of Lady Elizabeth, his wife, may be much shorter. She was known,—where she was known,—simply as Sir Harry's wife. He indeed was one of those men of whom it may be said that everything appertaining to them takes its importance from the fact of its being theirs. Lady Elizabeth was a good woman, a good wife, and a good mother, and was twenty years younger than her husband. He had been forty-five years old when he had married her, and she, even yet, had not forgotten the deference which was due to his age.
Two years before the time at which our story will begin, a great sorrow, an absolutely crushing grief, had fallen upon the House of Humblethwaite. An only son had died just as he had reached his majority. When the day came on which all Humblethwaite and the surrounding villages were to have been told to rejoice and make merry because another man of the Hotspurs was ready to take the reins of the house as soon as his father should have been gathered to his fathers, the poor lad lay a-dying, while his mother ministered by his bedside, and the Baronet was told by the physician —who had been brought from London—that there was no longer for him any hope that he should leave a male heir at Humblethwaite to inherit his name and his honours.
For months it was thought that Lady Elizabeth would follow her boy. Sir Harry bore the blow bravely, though none who do not understand the system well can conceive how the natural grief of the father was increased by the disappointment which had fallen upon the head of the house. But the old man bore it well, making but few audible moans, shedding no tears, altering in very little the habits of life; still spending money, because it was good for others that it should be spent, and only speaking of his son when it was necessary for him to allude to those altered arrangements as to the family property which it was necessary that he should make. But still he was a changed man, as those perceived who watched him closest. Cloudesdale the butler knew well in what he was changed, as did old Hesketh the groom, and Gilsby the gamekeeper. He had never been given to much talk, but was now more silent than of yore. Of horses, dogs, and game there was no longer any mention whatever made by the Baronet. He was still constant with Mr. Lanesby, the steward, because it was his duty to know everything that was done on the property ; but even Mr. Lanesby would acknowledge that, as to actual improvements,—the commencement of new work in the hope of future returns, the Baronet was not at all the man he had been. How was it possible that he should be the man he had been when his life was so nearly gone, and that other life had gone also, which was to have been the renewal and continuation of his own ?
When the blow fell, it became Sir Harry's imperative duty to make up his mind what he would do with his property. As regarded the two estates, they were now absolutely, every acre of them, at his own disposal. He had one child left him, a daughter,—in whom, it is hoped, the reader may be induced to take some interest, and with her to feel some sympathy, for she will be the person with whom the details of this little story must most be concerned ; and he had a male heir, who must needs inherit the title of the family, one George Hotspur,—not a nephew, for Sir Harry had never had a brother, but the son of a first cousin who had not himself been much esteemed at Humblethwaite.
Now Sir Harry was a man who, in such a condition as this in which he was now placed, would mainly be guided by his ideas of duty. For a month or two he said not a word to any one, not even to his own lawyer, though he himself had made a will, a temporary will, duly witnessed by Mr. Lanesby and another, so that the ownership of the property should not be adjusted simply by the chance direction of law in the event of his own sudden demise ; but his mind was doubtless much burdened with the subject. How should he discharge this fresh responsibility which now rested on him ? While his boy had lived, the responsibility of his property had had nothing for him but charms. All was to go to the young Harry,—all, as a matter of course ; and it was only necessary for him to take care that every acre should descend to his heir not only unimpaired by him in value, but also somewhat increased. Provision for his widow and for his girl had already been made before he had ventured on matrimony, —provision sufficient for many girls had Fortune so far favoured him. But that an eldest son should have all the family land,—one, though as many sons should have been given to him as to Priam,—and that that one should have it unencumbered, as he had had it from his father,—this was to him the very law of his being. And he would have taught that son, had already begun to teach him when the great blow came, that all this was to be given to him, not that he might put it into his own belly, or wear it on his own back, or even spend it as he might list himself, but that he might so live as to do his part in maintaining that order of gentlehood in England, by which England had become —so thought Sir Harry—the proudest and the greatest and the justest of nations.
But now he had no son, and yet the duty remained to him of maintaining his order. It would perhaps have been better for him, it would certainly have been easier, had some settlement or family entail fixed all things for him. Those who knew him well personally, but did not know the affairs of his family, declared among themselves that Sir Harry would take care that the property went with the title. A marriage might be arranged. There could be nothing to object to a marriage between second cousins. At any rate Sir Harry Hotspur was certainly not the man to separate the property from the title. But they who knew the family, and especially that branch of the family from which George Hotspur came, declared that Sir Harry would never give his daughter to such a one as was this cousin. And if not his daughter, then neither would he give to such a scapegrace either Humblethwaite in Cumberland or Scarrowby in Durham. There did exist a party who said that Sir Harry would divide the property, but they who held such an opinion certainly knew very little of Sir Harry's social or political tenets. Any such division was the one thing which he surely would not effect.
When twelve months had passed after the death of Sir Harry's son, George Hotspur had been at Humblethwaite and had gone, and Sir Harry's will had been made. He had left everything to his daughter, and had only stipulated that her husband, should she marry, should take the name of Hotspur. He had decided, that should his daughter, as was probable, marry within his lifetime, he could then make what settlements he pleased, even to the changing of the tenor of his will, should he think fit to change it. Should he die and leave her still a spinster, he would trust to her in everything. Not being a man of mystery, he told his wife and his daughter what he had done,—and what he still thought that he possibly might do ; and being also a man to whom any suspicion of injustice was odious, he desired his attorney to make known to George Hotspur what had been settled. And in order that this blow to Cousin George might be lightened,—Cousin George having in conversation acknowledged to a few debts,—an immediate present was made to him of four thousand pounds, and double that amount was assured to him at the Baronet's death.
The reader may be sure that the Baronet had heard many things respecting Cousin George which he did not like. To him personally it would have been infinitely preferable that the title and the estates should have gone together, than that his own daughter should be a great heiress. That her outlook into the world was fair and full of promise of prosperity either way, was clear enough. Twenty thousand a year would not be necessary to make her a happy woman. And then it was to him a manifest and a sacred religion that to no man or to no woman were appointed the high pinnacles of fortune simply that that man or that woman might enjoy them. They were to be held as thrones are held, for the benefit of the many. And in the disposition of this throne, the necessity of making which had fallen upon him from the loss of his own darling, he had brought himself to think—not of his daughter's happiness, or to the balance of which, in her possessing or not possessing the property, he could venture on no prophecy,—but of the welfare of all those who might measure their weal or woe from the manner in which the duties of this high place were administered. He would fain that there should still have been a Sir Harry or a Sir George Hotspur of Humblethwaite ; but he found that his duty required him to make the other arrangement.
And yet he had liked the cousin, who indeed had many gifts to win liking both from men and women. Previously to the visit very little had been known personally of young George Hotspur at Humblethwaite. His father, also a George, had in early life quarrelled with the elder branch of the family, and had gone off with what money belonged to him, and had lived and died in Paris. The younger George had been educated abroad, and then had purchased a commission in a regiment of English cavalry. At the time when young Harry died it was only known of him at Humblethwaite that he had achieved a certain reputation in London, and that he had sold out of the army. He was talked of as a man who shot birds with precision. Pigeons he could shoot with wonderful dexterity,—which art was at Humblethwaite supposed to be much against him. But then he was equally successful with partridges and pheasants ; and partly on account of such success, and partly probably because his manner was pleasant, he was known to be a welcome guest at houses in which men congregate to slaughter game. In this way he had a reputation, and one that was not altogether cause for reproach ; but it had not previously recommended him to the notice of his cousin.
Just ten months after poor Harry's death he was asked, and went, to Humblethwaite. Probably at that moment the Baronet's mind was still somewhat in doubt. The wish of Lady Elizabeth had been clearly expressed to her husband to the effect that encouragement should be given to the young people to fall in love with each other. To this Sir Harry never assented; though there was a time,—and that time had not yet passed when George Hotspur reached Humblethwaite, —in which the Baronet was not altogether averse to the idea of the marriage. But when George left Humblethwaite the Baronet had made up his mind. Tidings had reached him, and he was afraid of the cousin. And other tidings had reached him also ; or rather perhaps it would be truer to him to say that another idea had come to him. Of all the young men now rising in England there was no young man who more approved himself to Sir Harry's choice than did Lord Alfred Gresley, the second son of his old friend and political leader the Marquis of Milnthorp. Lord Alfred had but scanty fortune of his own, but was in Parliament and in office, and was doing well. All men said all good things of him. Then there was a word or two spoken between the Marquis and the Baronet, and just a word also with Lord Alfred himself. Lord Alfred had no objection to the name of Hotspur. This was in October, while George Hotspur was still declaring that Gilsby knew nothing of getting up a head of game ; and then Lord Alfred promised to come to Humblethwaite at Christmas. It was after this that George owned to a few debts. His confession on that score did him no harm. Sir Harry had made up his mind that day. Sir Harry had at that time learned a good deal of his cousin George's mode of life in London, and had already decided that this young man was not one whom it would be well to set upon the pinnacle.
And yet he had liked the young man, as did everybody. Lady Elizabeth had liked him much, and for a fortnight had gone on hoping that all difficulties might have solved themselves by the young man's marriage with her daughter. It need hardly be said that, not a word one way or the other was spoken to Emily Hotspur ; but it seemed to the mother that the young people, though there was no love-making, yet liked each other. Sir Harry at this time was up in London for a month or two, hearing tidings, seeing Lord Alfred, who was at his office ; and on his return, that solution by family marriage was ordered to be for ever banished from the maternal bosom. Sir Harry said that it would not do.
Nevertheless, he was good to the young cousin, and when the time was drawing nigh for the young man's departure he spoke of a further visit. The coverts at Humblethwaite, such as they were, would always be at his service. This was a week before the cousin went ; but by the coming of the day on which the cousin took his departure Sir Harry regretted that he had made that offer of future hospitality.
Excerpted from Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope. Copyright © 1985 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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