Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIII

The Two Uncles

‘Ha! ha! ha! Ha! ha! ha!’ laughed Sir Roger, lustily, as Dr Thorne entered the room. ‘Well, if that ain’t rich, I don’t know what is. Ha! ha! ha! But why didn’t they put him under the pump, doctor?’

The doctor, however, had too much tact, and too many things of importance to say, to allow of his giving up much time to the discussion of Dr Fillgrave’s wrath. He had come determined to open the baronet’s eyes as to what would be the real effect of his will, and he had also to negotiate a loan for Mr Gresham, if that might be possible. Dr Thorne therefore began about the loan, that being the easier subject, and found that Sir Roger was quite clear-headed as to his many money concerns, in spite of his illness. Sir Roger was willing enough to lend Mr Gresham more money — six, eight, ten, twenty thousand; but then, in doing so, he should insist on possession of the title-deeds.

‘What! the title-deeds of Greshamsbury for a few thousand pounds?’ said the doctor.

‘I don’t know whether you call ninety thousand pounds a few thousands; but the debt will about amount to that.’

‘Ah! that’s the old debt.’

‘Old and new together, of course; every shilling I lend more weakens my security for what I have lent before.’

‘But you have the first claim, Sir Roger.’

‘It ought to be first and last to cover such a debt as that. If he wants further accommodation, he must part with his deeds, doctor.’

The point was argued backwards and forwards for some time without avail, and the doctor then thought it well to introduce the other subject.

‘Sir Roger, you’re a hard man.’

‘No I ain’t,’ said Sir Roger; ‘not a bit hard; that is, not a bit too hard. Money is always hard. I know I found it hard to come by; and there is no reason why Squire Gresham should expect to find me so very soft.’

‘Very well; there is an end of that. I thought you would have done as much to oblige me, that is all.’

‘What! take bad security too oblige you?’

‘Well, there’s an end of that.’

‘I’ll tell you what; I’ll do as much to oblige a friend as any one. I’ll lend you five thousand pounds, you yourself, without security at all, if you want it.’

‘But you know I don’t want it; or, at any rate, shan’t take it.’

‘But to ask me to go on lending money to a third party, and he over head and ears in debt, by way of obliging you, why, it’s a little too much.’

‘Well, there’s and end of it. Now I’ve something to say to you about that will of yours.’

‘Oh! that’s settled.’

‘No, Scatcherd; it isn’t settled. It must be a great deal more settled before we have done with it, as you’ll find when you hear what I have to tell you.’

‘What you have to tell me!’ said Sir Roger, sitting up in bed; ‘and what have you to tell me?’

‘Your will says you sister’s eldest child.’

‘Yes; but that’s only in the event of Louis Philippe dying before he is twenty-five.’

‘Exactly; and now I know something about your sister’s eldest child, and, therefore, I have come to tell you.’

‘You know something about Mary’s eldest child?’

‘I do, Scatcherd; it is a strange story, and maybe it will make you angry. I cannot help it if it does so. I should not tell you this if I could avoid it; but as I do tell you, for your sake, as you will see, and not for my own, I must implore you not to tell my secret to others.’

Sir Roger now looked at him with an altered countenance. There was something in his voice of the authoritative tone of other days, something in the doctor’s look which had on the baronet the same effect which in former days it had sometimes had on the stone-mason.

‘Can you give me a promise, Scatcherd, that what I am about to tell you shall not be repeated?’

‘A promise! Well, I don’t know what it’s about, you know. I don’t like promises in the dark.’

‘Then I must leave it to your honour; for what I have to say must be said. You remember my brother, Scatcherd?’

Remember his brother! thought the rich man to himself. The name of the doctor’s brother had not been alluded to between them since the days of that trial; but still it was impossible but that Scatcherd should well remember him.

‘Yes, yes; certainly. I remember your brother,’ said he. ‘I remember him well; there’s no doubt about that.’

‘Well, Scatcherd,’ and, as he spoke, the doctor laid his hand with kindness on the other’s arm. ‘Mary’s eldest child was my brother’s child as well.

‘But there is no such child living,’ said Sir Roger; and, in his violence, as he spoke he threw from off him the bedclothes, and tried to stand up on the floor. He found, however, that he had no strength for such an effort, and was obliged to remain leaning on the bed and resting on the doctor’s arm.

‘There was no such child ever lived,’ said he. ‘What do you mean by this?’

Dr Thorne would say nothing further till he had got the man into bed again. This he at last affected, and then he went on with the story in his own way.

‘Yes, Scatcherd, that child is alive; and for fear that you should unintentionally make her your heir, I have thought it right to tell you this.’

‘A girl, is it?’

‘Yes, a girl.’

‘And why should you want to spite her? If she is Mary’s child, she is your brother’s child also. If she is my niece, she must be your niece also. Why should you want to spite her? Why should you try to do her such a terrible injury?’

‘I do not want to spite her.’

‘Where is she? Who is she? What is she called? Where does she live?’

The doctor did not at once answer all these questions. He had made up his mind that he would tell Sir Roger that this child was living, but he had not as yet resolved to make known all the circumstances of her history. He was not even yet quite aware whether it would be necessary to say that this foundling orphan was the cherished darling of his own house.

‘Such a child, is, at any rate, living,’ said he; ‘of that I give you my assurance; and under your will, as now worded, it might come to pass that that child should be your heir. I do not want to spite her, but I should be wrong to let you make your will without such knowledge, seeing that I am in possession of it myself.’

‘But where is the girl?’

‘I do not know that that signifies.’

‘Signifies! Yes; it does signify, a great deal. But, Thorne, Thorne, now that I remember it, now that I can think of things, it was — was it not you yourself who told me that the baby did not live?’

‘Very possibly.’

‘And was it a lie that you told me?’

‘If so, yes. But it is no lie that I tell you now.’

‘I believed you then, Thorne; then, when I was a poor, broken-down day-labourer, lying in jail, rotting there; but I tell you fairly, I do not believe you now. You have some scheme in this.’

‘Whatever scheme I may have, you can frustrate by making another will. What can I gain by telling you this? I only do so to induce you to be more explicit in naming your heir.’

They both remained silent for a while, during which the baronet poured out from his hidden resource a glass of brandy and swallowed it.

‘When a man is taken aback suddenly by such tidings as these, he must take a drop of something, eh, doctor?’

Dr Thorne did not see the necessity; but the present, he felt, was no time for arguing the point.

‘Come, Thorne, where is the girl? You must tell me that. She is my niece, and I have a right to know. She shall come here, and I will do something for her. By the Lord! I would as soon she had the money as anyone else, if she’s anything of a good ’un; — some of it, that is. Is she a good ’un?’

‘Good!’ said the doctor, turning away his face. ‘Yes; she is good enough.’

‘She must be grown up by now. None of your light skirts, eh?’

‘She is a good girl,’ said the doctor somewhat loudly and sternly. He could hardly trust himself to say much on this point.

‘Mary was a good girl, a very good girl, till’— and Sir Roger raised himself up in his bed with his fist clenched, as though he were again about to strike that fatal blow at the farm-yard gate. ‘But come, it’s no good thinking of that; you behaved well and manly, always. And so poor Mary’s child is alive; at least, you say so.’

‘I say so, and you may believe it. Why should I deceive you?’

‘No, no; I don’t see why. But then why did you deceive me before?’

To this the doctor chose to make no answer, and again there was silence for a while.

‘What do you call her, doctor?’

‘Her name is Mary.’

‘The prettiest women’s name going; there’s no name like it,’ said the contractor, with an unusual tenderness in his voice. ‘Mary — yes; but Mary what? What other name does she go by?’

Here the doctor hesitated.

‘Mary Scatcherd — eh?’

‘No. Not Mary Scatcherd.’

‘Not Mary Scatcherd! Mary what, then? you, with your d —— pride, wouldn’t let her be called Mary Thorne, I know.’

This was too much for the doctor. He felt that there were tears in his eyes, so he walked away to the window to dry them, unseen. He had fifty names, each more sacred than the other, the most sacred of them all would hardly have been good enough for her.

‘Mary what, doctor? Come, if the girl is to belong to me, if I am to provide for her, I must know what to call her, and where to look for her.’

‘Who talked of your providing for her?,’ said the doctor, turning round at the rival uncle. ‘Who said that she was to belong to you? She will be no burden to you; you are only told of this that you may not leave your money to her without knowing it. She is provided for — that is, she wants nothing; she will do well enough; you need not trouble yourself about her.’

‘But is she’s Mary’s child, Mary’s child in real truth, I will trouble myself about her. Who else should do so? For the matter of that, I’d soon say her as any of those others in America. What do I care about blood? I shan’t mind her being a bastard. That is to say, of course, if she’s decently good. Did she ever get any kind of teaching; book-learning, or anything of that sort?’

Dr Thorne at this moment hated his friend the baronet with almost a deadly hatred; that he, rough brute as he was — for he was a rough brute — that he should speak in such language of the angel who gave to that home in Greshamsbury so many of the joys of Paradise — that he should speak of her as in some degree his own, that he should inquire doubtingly as to her attributes and her virtues. And then the doctor thought of her Italian and French readings, of her music, of her nice books, and sweet lady ways, of her happy companionship with Patience Oriel, and her dear, bosom friendship with Beatrice Gresham. He thought of her grace, and winning manners, and soft, polished feminine beauty; and, as he did so, he hated Sir Roger Scatcherd, and regarded him with loathing, as he might have regarded a wallowing-hog.

At last a light seemed to break in upon Sir Roger’s mind. Dr Thorne, he perceived, did not answer his last question. He perceived, also, that the doctor was affected with some more than ordinary emotion. Why should it be that this subject of Mary Scatcherd’s child moved him so deeply? Sir Roger had never been at the doctor’s house at Greshamsbury, had never seen Mary Thorne, but he had heard that there lived with the doctor some young female relative; and thus a glimmering light seemed to come in upon Sir Roger’s bed.

He had twitted the doctor with his pride; had said that it was impossible that the girl should be called Mary Thorne. What if she were so called? What if she were now warming herself at the doctor’s hearth?

‘Well, come, Thorne, what is it you call her? Tell it out, man. And, look you, if it’s your name she bears, I shall think more of you, a deal more than ever I did yet. Come, Thorne, I’m her uncle too. I have a right to know. She is Mary Thorne, isn’t she?’

The doctor had not the hardihood nor the resolution to deny it. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘that is her name; she lives with me.’

‘Yes, and lives with all those grand folks at Greshamsbury too. I have heard of that.’

‘She lives with me, and belongs to me, and is as my daughter.’

‘She shall come over here. Lady Scatcherd shall have her to stay with her. She shall come to us. And as for my will, I’ll make another. I’ll —’

‘Yes, make another will — or else alter that one. But as to Miss Thorne coming here —’

‘What! Mary —’

‘Well, Mary. As to Mary Thorne coming here, that I fear will not be possible. She cannot have two homes. She has cast her lot with one of her uncles, and she must remain with him now.’

‘Do you mean to say that she must have any relation but one?’

‘But one such as I am. She would not be happy over here. She does not like new faces. You have enough depending on you; I have but her.’

‘Enough! why, I have only Louis Philippe. I could provide for a dozen girls.’

‘Well, well, well, we will not talk about that.’

‘Ah! but, Thorne, you have told me of this girl now, and I cannot but talk of her. If you wished to keep the matter dark, you should have said nothing about it. She is my niece as much as yours. And, Thorne, I loved my sister Mary quite as well as you loved your brother; quite as well.’

Any one who might have heard and seen the contractor would have hardly thought him to be the same man who, a few hours before, was urging that the Barchester physician should be put under the pump.

‘You have your son, Scatcherd. I have no one but that girl.’

‘I don’t want to take her from you. I don’t want to take her; but surely there can be no harm in her coming here to see us? I can provide for her, Thorne, remember that. I can provide for her without reference to Louis Philippe. What are ten or fifteen thousand pounds to me? Remember that, Thorne.’

Dr Thorne did remember it. In that interview he remembered many things, and much passed through his mind on which he felt himself compelled to resolve somewhat too suddenly. Would he be justified in rejecting, on behalf of Mary, the offer of pecuniary provision which this rich relative would be so well inclined to make? Or, if he accepted ti, would be in truth be studying her interests? Scatcherd was a self-willed, obstinate man — now indeed touched by unwonted tenderness; but he was one of those whose lasting tenderness Dr Thorne would be very unwilling to trust his darling. He did resolve, that on the whole he should best discharge his duty, even to her, by keeping her to himself, and rejecting, on her behalf, any participation in the baronet’s wealth. As Mary herself had said, ‘some people must be bound together;’ and their destiny, that of himself and his niece, seemed to have so bound them. She had found her place at Greshamsbury, her place in the world; and it would be better for her now to keep it, than to go forth and seek another that would be richer, but at the same time less suited to her.

‘No, Scatcherd,’ he said at last, ‘she cannot come here; she would not be happy here, and, to tell the truth I do not wish her to know that she has other relatives.’

‘Ah! she would be ashamed of her mother, you mean, and of her mother’s brother too, eh? She’s too fine a lady, I suppose, to take me by the hand and give me a kiss, and call me her uncle? I and Lady Scatcherd would not be grand enough for her, eh?’

‘You may say what you please, Scatcherd: I of course cannot stop you.’

‘But I don’t know how you’ll reconcile what you are doing with your conscience. What right can you have to throw away the girl’s chance, now that she has a chance? What fortune can you give her?’

‘I have done what little I could,’ said Thorne, proudly.

‘Well, well, well, well, I never heard such a thing in my life; never. Mary’s child, my own Mary’s child, and I’m not to see her! But, Thorne, I tell you what; I will see her. I’ll go over to her, I’ll go to Greshamsbury, and tell her who I am, and what I can do for her. I tell you fairly I will. You shall not keep her away from those who belong to her, and can do her a good turn. Mary’s daughter; another Mary Scatcherd! I almost wish she were called Mary Scatcherd. Is she like her, Thorne? Come tell me that; is she like her mother.’

‘I do not remember her mother; at least not in health.’

‘Not remember her! ah, well. She was the handsomest girl in Barchester, anyhow. That was given up to her. Well, I didn’t think to be talking of her again. Thorne, you cannot but expect that I shall go over and see Mary’s child?’

‘Now, Scatcherd, look here,’ and the doctor, coming away from the window, where he had been standing, sat himself down by the bedside, ‘you must not come over to Greshamsbury.’

‘Oh! but I shall.’

‘Listen to me, Scatcherd. I do not want to praise myself in any way; but when that girl was an infant, six months old, she was like to be a thorough obstacle to her mother’s fortune in life. Tomlinson was willing to marry your sister, but he would not marry the child too. Then I took the baby, and I promised her mother that I would be to her as a father. I have kept my word as fairly as I have been able. She has sat at my hearth, and drunk of my cup, and been to me as my own child. After that, I have the right to judge what is best for her. Her life is not like your life, and her ways are not as your ways —’

‘Ah, that is just it; we are too vulgar for her.’

‘You may take it as you will,’ said the doctor, who was too much in earnest to be in the least afraid of offending his companion. ‘I have not said so; but I do say that you and she are unlike in the way of living.’

‘She wouldn’t like an uncle with a brandy bottle under his head, eh?’

‘You could not see her without letting her know what is the connexion between you; of that I wish to keep her in ignorance.’

‘I never knew any one yet who is ashamed of a rich connexion. How do you mean to get a husband for her, eh?’

‘I have told you of her existence,’ continued the doctor, not appearing to notice what the baronet had last said, ‘because I found it necessary that you should know the fact of your sister having left a child behind her; you would otherwise have made a will different from that intended, and there might have been a lawsuit, and mischief, and misery when we are gone. You must perceive that I have done this in honesty to you; and you yourself are too honest to repay me by taking advantage of this knowledge to make me unhappy.’

‘Oh, very well, doctor. At any rate, you are a brick, I will say that. But I’ll think of this, I’ll think of it; but it does startle me to find that poor Mary has a child living so near to me.’

‘And now, Scatcherd, I will say good-bye. We part as friends, don’t we?’

‘Oh, but doctor, you ain’t going to leave me so. What am I to do? What doses shall I take? How much brandy may I drink? May I have a grill for dinner? D—— me, doctor, you have turned Fillgrave out of the house. You mustn’t go and desert me.’

Dr Thorne laughed, and then, sitting himself down to write medically, gave such prescriptions and ordinances as he found to be necessary. They announced but to this: that the man was to drink, if possible, no brandy; and if that were not possible, then as little as might be.

This having been done, the doctor again proceeded to take his leave; but when he got to the door he was called back. ‘Thorne! Thorne! About that money for Mr Gresham; do what you like, do just what you like. Ten thousand is it? Well, he shall have it. I’ll make Winterbones write about it at once. Five per cent., isn’t it? No, four and a half. Well, he shall have ten thousand more.’

‘Thank you, Scatcherd, thank you, I am really very much obliged to you, I am indeed. I wouldn’t ask it if I was not sure your money is safe. Good-bye, old fellow, and get rid of that bedfellow of yours,’ and again he was at the door.

‘Thorne,’ said Sir Roger once more. ‘Thorne, just come back for a minute. You wouldn’t let me send a present would you — fifty pounds or so — just to buy a few flounces?’

The doctor contrived to escape without giving a definite answer to this question; and then, having paid his compliments to Lady Scatcherd, remounted his cob and rode back to Greshamsbury.

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