Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter X

Sir Roger’s Will

Dr Thorne left the room and went downstairs, being fully aware that he could not leave the house without having some communication with Lady Scatcherd. He was not sooner within the passage than he heard the sick man’s bell ring violently; and then the servant, passing him on the staircase, received orders to send a mounted messenger immediately to Barchester. Dr Fillgrave was to be summoned to come as quickly as possible to the sick man’s room, and Mr Winterbones was to be sent up to write the note.

Sir Roger was quite right in supposing that there would be some words between the doctor and her ladyship. How, indeed, was the doctor to get out of the house without such, let him wish it ever so much? There were words; and these were protracted, while the doctor’s cob was being ordered round, till very many were uttered which the contractor would probably have regarded as nonsense.

Lady Scatcherd was no fit associate for the wives of English baronets; — was no doubt by education and manners much better fitted to sit in their servants’ halls; but not on that account was she a bad wife or a bad woman. She was painfully, fearfully, anxious for that husband of hers, whom she honoured and worshipped, as it behoved her to do, above all other men. She was fearfully anxious as to his life, and faithfully believed, that if any man could prolong it, it was that old and faithful friend whom she had known to be true to her lord since their early married troubles.

When, therefore, she found that she had been dismissed, and that a stranger was to be sent for in his place, her heart sank below within her.

‘But, doctor,’ she said, with her apron up to her eyes, ‘you ain’t going to leave him, are you?’

Dr Thorne did not find it easy to explain to her ladyship that medical etiquette would not permit him to remain in attendance on her husband after he had been dismissed and another physician called in his place.

‘Etiquette!’ said she, crying. ‘What’s etiquette to do with it when a man is a-killing hisself with brandy?’

‘Fillgrave will forbid that quite as strongly as I can do.’

‘Fillgrave!’ said she. ‘Fiddlesticks! Fillgrave, indeed!’

Dr Thorne could almost have embraced her for the strong feeling of thorough confidence on the one side, and thorough distrust on the other, which she contrived to throw into those few words.

‘I’ll tell you what, doctor; I won’t let that messenger go. I’ll bear the brunt of it. He can’t do much now he ain’t up, you know. I’ll stop the boy; we won’t have no Fillgrave here.’

This, however, was a step to which Dr Thorne would not assent. He endeavoured to explain to the anxious wife, that after what had passed he could not tender his medical services till they were again asked for.

‘But you can slip in as a friend, you know; and then by degrees you can come round him, eh? can’t you now, doctor? And as to payment —’

All that Dr Thorne said on the subject may easily be imagined. And in this way, and in partaking of the lunch which was forced upon him, an hour had nearly passed between his leaving Sir Roger’s bedroom and putting his foot in the stirrup. But no sooner had the cob begun to move on the gravel-sweep before the house than one of the upper windows opened, and the doctor was summoned to another conference with the sick man.

‘He says you are to come back, whether or no,’ said Mr Winterbones, screeching out of the window, and putting all his emphasis on the last words.

‘Thorne! Thorne! Thorne!’ shouted the sick man from his sick-bed, so loudly that the doctor heard him, seated as he was on horseback out before the house.

‘You’re to come back, whether or no,’ repeated Winterbones, with more emphasis, evidently conceiving that there was a strength of injunction in that ‘whether or no’ which would be found quite invincible.

Whether actuated by these magic words, or by some internal process of thought, we will not say; but the doctor did slowly, and as though unwillingly, dismount again from his steed, and slowly retrace his steps into the house.

‘It is no use,’ he said to himself, ‘for that messenger has already gone to Barchester.’

‘I have sent for Dr Fillgrave,’ were the first words which the contractor said to him when he again found himself by the bedside.

‘Did you call me back to tell me that?’ said Thorne, who now felt really angry at the impertinent petulance of the man before him: ‘you should consider, Scatcherd, that my time may be of value to others, if not to you.’

‘Now don’t be angry, old fellow,’ said Scatcherd, turning to him, and looking at him with a countenance quite different from any that he had shown that day; a countenance in which there was a show of manhood — some show also of affection. ‘You ain’t angry now because I’ve sent for Fillgrave?’

‘Not in the least,’ said the doctor very complacently. ‘Not in the least. Fillgrave will do as much good as I can do.’

‘And that’s none at all, I suppose; eh, Thorne?’

‘That depends on yourself. He will do you good if you will tell him the truth, and will then be guided by him. Your wife, your servant, any one can be as good a doctor to you as either he or I; as good, that is, in the main point. But you have sent for Fillgrave now; and of course you must see him. I have much to do, and you must let me go.’

Scatcherd, however, would not let him go, but held his hand fast. ‘Thorne,’ said he, ‘if you like it, I’ll make them put Fillgrave under the pump directly he comes here. I will indeed, and pay all the damage myself.’

This was another proposition to which the doctor could not consent; but he was utterly unable to refrain from laughing. There was an earnest look of entreaty about Sir Roger’s face as he made the suggestion; and, joined to this, there was a gleam of comic satisfaction in his eye which seemed to promise, that if he received the least encouragement he would put his threat into execution. Now our doctor was not inclined to taking any steps towards subjecting his learned brother to pump discipline; but he could not but admit to himself that the idea was not a bad one.

‘I’ll have it done, I will, by heavens! if you’ll only say the word,’ protested Sir Roger.

But the doctor did not say the word, and so the idea was passed off.

‘You shouldn’t be so testy with a man when he is ill,’ said Scatcherd, still holding the doctor’s hand, of which he had again got possession; ‘specially not an old friend; and specially again when you’re been a-blowing him up.’

It was not worth the doctor’s while to aver that the testiness had all been on the other side, and that he had never lost his good-humour; so he merely smiled, and asked Sir Roger if he could do anything further for him.

‘Indeed you can, doctor; and that’s why I sent for you — why I sent for you yesterday. Get out of the room, Winterbones,’ he then said gruffly, as though he were dismissing from his chamber a dirty dog. Winterbones, not a whit offended, again hid his cup under his coat-tail and vanished.

‘Sit down, Thorne, sit down,’ said the contractor, speaking in quite a different manner from any that he had yet assumed. ‘I know you’re in a hurry, but you must give me half an hour. I may be dead before you can give me another; who knows?’

The doctor of course declared that he hoped to have many a half-hour’s chat with him for many a year to come.

‘Well, that’s as may be. You must stop now, at any rate. You can make the cob pay for it, you know.’

The doctor took a chair and sat down. Thus entreated to stop, he had hardly any alternative but to do so.

‘It wasn’t because I’m ill that I sent for you, or rather let her ladyship send for you. Lord bless you, Thorne; do you think I don’t know what it is that makes me like this? When I see that poor wretch Winterbones, killing himself with gin, do you think I don’t know what’s coming to myself as well as him?

‘Why do you take it then? Why do you do it? Your life is not like his. Oh, Scatcherd! Scatcherd!’ and the doctor prepared to pour out the flood of his eloquence in beseeching this singular man to abstain from his well-known poison.

‘Is that all you know of human nature, doctor? Abstain. Can you abstain from breathing, and live like a fish does under water?’

‘But Nature has not ordered you to drink, Scatcherd.’

‘Habit is second nature, man; and a stronger nature than the first. And why should I not drink? What else has the world given me for all that I have done for it? What other resource have I? What other gratification?’

‘Oh, my God! Have you not unbounded wealth? Can you not do anything you wish? be anything you choose?’

‘No,’ and the sick man shrieked with an energy that made him audible all through the house. ‘I can do nothing that I would choose to do; be nothing that I would wish to be! What can I do? What can I be? What gratification can I have except the brandy bottle? If I go among gentlemen, can I talk to them? If they have anything to say about a railway, they will ask me a question: if they speak to me beyond that, I must be dumb. If I go among my workmen, can they talk to me? No; I am their master, and a stern master. They bob their heads and shake in their shoes when they see me. Where are my friends? Here!’ said he, and he dragged a bottle from under his very pillow. ‘Where are my amusements? Here!’ and he brandished the bottle almost in the doctor’s face. ‘Where is my one resource, my one gratification, my only comfort after all my toils. Here, doctor; here, here, here!’ and, so saying, he replaced his treasure beneath his pillow.

There was something so horrifying in this, that Dr Thorne shrank back amazed, and was for a moment unable to speak.

‘But, Scatcherd,’ he said at last; ‘surely you would not die for such a passion as that?’ ‘Die for it? Aye, would I. Live for it while I can live; and die for it when I can live no longer. Die for it! What is that for a man to do? What is a man the worse for dying? What can I be the worse for dying? A man can die but once, you said just now. I’d die ten times for this.’

‘You are speaking now either in madness, or else in folly, to startle me.’

‘Folly enough, perhaps, and madness enough, also. Such a life as mine makes a man a fool, and makes him mad too. What have about me that I should be afraid to die? I’m worth three hundred thousand pounds; and I’d give it all to be able to go to work tomorrow with a hod and mortar, and have a fellow clap his hand upon my shoulder, and say: “Well, Roger, shall us have that ’ere other half-pint this morning?” I’ll tell you what, Thorne, when a man has made three hundred thousand pounds, there’s nothing left for him but to die. It’s all he’s good for then. When money’s been made, the next thing is to spend it. Now the man who makes it has not the heart to do that.’

The doctor, of course, in hearing all this, said something of a tendency to comfort and console the mind of his patient. Not that anything he could say would comfort or console the man; but that it was impossible to sit there and hear such fearful truths — for as regarded Scatcherd they were truths — without making some answer.’

‘This is as good as a play, isn’t, doctor?’ said the baronet. ‘You didn’t know how I could come out like one of those actor fellows. Well, now, come; at last I’ll tell you why I have sent for you. Before that last burst of mine I made my will.’

‘You had made a will before that.’

‘Yes, I had. That will is destroyed. I burnt it with my own hand, so that there should be no mistake about it. In that will I had named two executors, you and Jackson. I was then partner with Jackson in the York and Yeovil Grand Central. I thought a deal of Jackson then. He’s not worth a shilling now.’

‘Well, I’m exactly in the same category.’

‘No, you’re not. Jackson is nothing without money; but money’ll never make you.’

‘No, nor I shan’t make money,’ said the doctor.

‘No, you never will. Nevertheless, there’s my other will, there, under that desk there; and I’ve put you in as sole executor.’

‘You must alter that, Scatcherd; you must indeed; with three hundred thousand pounds to be disposed of, the trust is far too much for any one man: besides you must name a younger man; you and I are of the same age, and I may die first.’

‘Now, doctor, no humbug; let’s have no humbug from you. Remember this; if you’re not true, you’re nothing.’

‘Well, but, Scatcherd —’

‘Well, but doctor, there’s the will, it’s already made. I don’t want to consult you about that. You are named as executor, and if you have the heart to refuse to act when I’m dead, why, of course, you can do so.’

The doctor was not lawyer, and hardly knew whether he had any means of extricating himself from this position in which his friend was determined to place him.

‘You’ll have to see that will carried out, Thorne. Now I’ll tell you what I have done.’

‘You’re not going to tell me how you have disposed of your property?’

‘Not exactly; at least not all of it. One hundred thousand I’ve in legacies, including, you know, what Lady Scatcherd will have.’

‘Have you not left the house to Lady Scatcherd?’

‘No; what the devil would she do with a house like this? She doesn’t know how to live in it now she has got it. I have provided for her; it matters not how. The house and the estate, and the remainder of my money I have left to Louis Philippe.’

‘What! two hundred thousand pounds?’ said the doctor.

‘And why shouldn’t I leave two hundred thousand pounds to my son, even to my eldest son if I have more than one? Does not Mr Gresham leave all his property to his heir? Why should not I make an eldest son as well as Lord de Courcy or the Duke of Omnium? I suppose a railway contractor ought not to be allowed an eldest son by Act of Parliament! Won’t my son have a title to keep up? And that’s more than the Greshams have among them.’

The doctor explained away what he said as well as he could. He could not explain that what he had really meant was this, that Sir Roger Scatcherd’s son was not a man fit to be trusted with the entire control of an enormous fortune.

Sir Roger Scatcherd had but one child; that child which had been born in the days of his early troubles, and had been dismissed from his mother’s breast in order that the mother’s milk might nourish the young heir of Greshamsbury. The boy had grown up, but had become strong neither in mind nor body. His father had determined to make a gentleman of him, and had sent to Eton and Cambridge. But even this receipt, generally as it is recognized, will not make a gentleman. It is hard, indeed, to define what receipt will do so, though people do have in their own minds some certain undefined, but yet tolerably correct ideas on the subject. Be that as it may, two years at Eton, and three terms at Cambridge, did not make a gentleman of Louis Philippe Scatcherd.

Yes; he was christened Louis Philippe, after the King of the French. If one wishes to look out in the world for royal nomenclature, to find children who have been christened after kings and queens, or the uncles and aunts of kings and queens, the search should be made in the families of democrats. None have so servile a deference for the very nail-parings of royalty; none feel so wondering an awe at the exaltation of a crowned head; none are so anxious to secure themselves some shred or fragment that has been consecrated by the royal touch. It is the distance which they feel to exist between themselves, and the throne which makes them covet the crumbs of majesty, the odds and ends and chance splinters of royalty.

There was nothing royal about Louis Philippe Scatcherd but his name. He had now come to man’s estate, and his father, finding the Cambridge receipt to be inefficacious, had sent him abroad to travel with a tutor. The doctor had from time to time heard tidings of this youth; he knew that he had already shown symptoms of his father’s vices, but no symptoms of his father’s talents; he knew that he had begun life by being dissipated, without being generous; and that at the age of twenty-one he had already suffered from delirium tremens.

It was on this account that he had expressed disapprobation, rather than surprise, when he heard that his father intended to bequeath the bulk of his large fortune to the uncontrolled will of this unfortunate boy.

‘I have toiled for my money hard, and I have a right to do as I like with it. What other satisfaction can it give me?’

The doctor assured him that he did not at all mean to dispute this.

‘Louis Philippe will do well enough, you’ll find,’ continued the baronet, understanding what was passing within his companion’s breast. ‘Let a young fellow sow his wild oats while he is young, and he’ll be steady enough when he grows old.’

‘But what if he never lives to get through the sowing?’ thought the doctor to himself. ‘What if the wild-oats operation is carried on in so violent a manner as to leave no strength in the soil for the product of a more valuable crop?’ It was of no use saying this, however, so he allowed Scatcherd to continue.

‘If I’d had a free fling when I was a youngster, I shouldn’t have been so fond of the brandy bottle now. But any way, my son shall be my heir. I’ve had the gumption to make the money, but I haven’t the gumption to spend it. My son, however, shall be able to ruffle it with the best of them. I’ll go bail he shall hold his head higher than ever young Gresham will be able to hold his. They are much of the same age, as well I have cause to remember; — and so has her ladyship here.’

Now the fact was, that Sir Roger Scatcherd felt in his heart no special love for young Gresham; but with her ladyship it might almost be a question whether she did not love the youth whom she had nursed almost as well as that other one who was her own proper offspring.

‘And will you not put any check on thoughtless expenditure? If you live ten or twenty years, as we hope you may, it will become unnecessary; but in making a will, a man should always remember he may go off suddenly.’

‘Especially if he goes to bed with a brandy bottle under his head; eh, doctor? But, mind, that’s a medical secret, you know; not a word of that out of the bedroom.’

Dr Thorne could but sigh. What could he say on such a subject to such a man as this?

‘Yes, I have put a check on his expenditure. I will not let his daily bread depend on any man; I have therefore let him five hundred a year at his own disposal, from the day of my death. Let him make what ducks and drakes of that he can.’

‘Five hundred a year is certainly not much,‘said the doctor.

‘No; nor do I want to keep him to that. Let him have whatever he wants if he sets about spending it properly. But the bulk of the property — this estate of Boxall Hill, and the Greshamsbury mortgage, and those other mortgages — I have tied up in this way: they shall be all his at twenty-five; and up to that age it shall be in your power to give him what he wants. If he shall die without children before he shall be twenty-five years of age, they are all to go to Mary’s eldest child.’

Now Mary was Sir Roger’s sister, the mother, therefore, of Miss Thorne, and, consequently, the wife of the respectable ironmonger who went to America, and the mother of a family there.

‘Mary’s eldest child!’ said the doctor, feeling that the perspiration had nearly broken out on his forehead, and that he could hardly control his feelings. ‘Mary’s eldest child! Scatcherd, you should be more particular in your description, or you will leave your best legacy to the lawyers.’

‘I don’t know, and never heard the name of one of them.’

‘But do you mean a boy or a girl?’

‘They may be all girls for what I know, or all boys; besides, I don’t care which it is. A girl would probably do best with it. Only you’d have to see that she married some decent fellow; you’d be her guardian.’

‘Pooh, nonsense,’ said the doctor. ‘Louis will be five-and-twenty in a year or two.’

‘In about four years.’

‘And for all that’s come and gone yet, Scatcherd, you are not going to leave us yourself quite so soon as all that.’

‘Not if I can help it; but that’s as may be.’

‘The chances are ten to one that such a clause in your will will never come to bear.’

‘Quite so, quite so. If I die, Louis Philippe won’t, but I thought it right to put in something to prevent his squandering it all before he comes to his senses.’

‘Oh! quite right, quite right. I think I would have named a later age than twenty-five.’

‘So would not I. Louis Philippe will be all right by that time. That’s my lookout. And now, doctor, you know my will; and if I die tomorrow, you will know what I want you to do for me.’

‘You have merely said the eldest child, Scatcherd?’

‘That’s all; give it here; and I’ll read it to you.’

‘No; no; never mind. The eldest child! You should be more particular, Scatcherd; you should, indeed. Consider what an enormous interest may have to depend on those words.’

‘Why, what the devil could I say? I don’t know their names; never even heard them. But the eldest is the eldest, all the world over. Perhaps I ought to say the youngest, seeing that I am only a railway contractor.’

Scatcherd began to think that the doctor might now as well go away and leave him to the society of Winterbones and the brandy; but, much as our friend had before expressed himself in a hurry, he now seemed inclined to move very leisurely. He sat there by the bedside, resting his hands on his knees and gazing unconsciously at the counterpane. At last he gave a deep sigh, and then he said, ‘Scatcherd, you must be more particular in this. If I am to have anything to do with it, you must, indeed, be more explicit.’

‘Why, how the deuce can I be more explicit? Isn’t her eldest living child plain enough, whether he be Jack, or she be Gill?’

‘What did your lawyer say to this, Scatcherd?’

‘Lawyer! You don’t suppose I let my lawyer know what I was putting. No; I got the form and the paper, and all that from him, and I did it in another. It’s all right enough. Though Winterbones wrote it, he did it in such a way he did not know what he was writing.’

The doctor sat a while longer, still looking at the counter-pane, and then got up to depart. ‘I’ll see you again soon,’ said he; ‘tomorrow, probably.’

‘To-morrow!’ said Sir Roger, not at all understanding why Dr Thorne should talk of returning so soon. ‘To-morrow! why I ain’t so bad as that, man, am I? If you come so often as that you will ruin me.’

‘Oh, not as a medical man; not as that; but about this will, Scatcherd. I must think if over; I must, indeed.’

‘You need not give yourself the least trouble in the world about my will till I’m dead; not the least. And who knows — may be, I may be settling your affairs yet; eh, doctor? looking after your niece when you’re dead and gone, and getting a husband for her, eh? Ha! ha! ha!’

And then, without further speech, the doctor went his way.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43