Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter II

Long, Long Ago

As Dr Thorne is our hero — or I should rather say my hero, a privilege of selecting for themselves in this respect being left to all my readers — and as Miss Mary Thorne is to be our heroine, a point on which no choice whatsoever is left to any one, it is necessary that they shall be introduced and explained and described in a proper, formal manner. I feel quite an apology is due for beginning a novel with two long dull chapters full of description. I am perfectly aware of the danger of such a course. In so doing I sin against the golden rule which requires us all to put our best foot foremost, the wisdom of which is fully recognized by novelists, myself among the number. It can hardly be expected that any one will consent to go through with a fiction that offers so little allurement in its first pages; but twist it as I will I cannot do otherwise. I find that I cannot make poor Mr Gresham hem and haw and turn himself uneasily in his arm-chair in a natural manner till I have said why he is uneasy. I cannot bring my doctor speaking his mind freely among the bigwigs till I have explained that it is in accordance with his usual character to do so. This is unartistic on my part, and shows want of imagination as well as want of skill. Whether or not I can atone for these faults by straightforward, simple, plain story-telling — that, indeed, is very doubtful.

Dr Thorne belonged to a family in one sense as good, and at any rate as old, as that of Mr Gresham; and much older, he was apt to boast, than that of the De Courcys. This trait in his character is mentioned first, as it was the weakness for which he was most conspicuous. He was second cousin to Mr Thorne of Ullathorne, a Barsetshire squire living in the neighbourhood of Barchester, and who boasted that his estate had remained in his family, descending from Thorne to Thorne, longer than had been the case with any other estate or any other family in the county.

But Dr Thorne was only a second cousin; and, therefore, though he was entitled to talk of the blood as belonging to some extent to himself, he had no right to lay claim to any position in the county other than such as he might win for himself if he chose to locate himself in it. This was a fact of which no one was more fully aware than our doctor himself.

His father, who had been first cousin of a former Squire Thorne, had been a clerical dignitary in Barchester, but had been dead now many years. He had had two sons; one he had educated as a medical man, but the other, and the younger, whom he had intended for the Bar, had not betaken himself in any satisfactory way to any calling. This son had been first rusticated from Oxford, and then expelled; and thence returning to Barchester, had been the cause to his father and brother of much suffering.

Old Dr Thorne, the clergyman, died when the two brothers were yet young men, and left behind him nothing but some household and other property of the value of about two thousand pounds, which he bequeathed to Thomas, the elder son, much more than that having been spent in liquidating debts contracted by the younger. Up to that time there had been close harmony between the Ullathorne family and that of the clergyman; but a month or two before the doctor’s death — the period of which we are speaking was about two-and-twenty years before the commencement of our story — the then Mr Thorne of Ullathorne had made it understood that he would no longer receive at his house his cousin Henry, whom he regarded as a disgrace to the family.

Fathers are apt to be more lenient to their sons than uncles to their nephews, or cousins to each other. Dr Thorne still hoped to reclaim his black sheep, and thought that the head of his family showed an unnecessary harshness in putting an obstacle in his way of doing so. And if the father was warm in support of his profligate son, the young medical aspirant was warmer in support of his profligate brother. Dr Thorne, junior, was no roue himself, but perhaps, as a young man, he had not sufficient abhorrence of his brother’s vices. At any rate, he stuck to him manfully; and when it was signified in the Close that Henry’s company was not considered desirable at Ullathorne, Dr Thomas Thorne sent word to the squire that under such circumstances his visits there would also cease.

This was not very prudent, as the young Galen had elected to establish himself in Barchester, very mainly in expectation for the help which his Ullathorne connexion would give him. This, however, in his anger he failed to consider; he was never known, either in early or in middle life, to consider in his anger those points which were probably best worth his consideration. This, perhaps, was of the less moment as his anger was of an unenduring kind, evaporating frequently with more celerity than he could get angry words out of his mouth. With the Ullathorne people, however, he did establish a quarrel sufficiently permanent to be of vital injury to his medical prospects.

And then the father died, and the two brothers were left living together with very little means between them. At this time there was living in Barchester, people of the name of Scatcherd. Of that family, as then existing, we have only to do with two, a brother and a sister. They were in a low rank of life, the one being a journeyman stone-mason, and the other an apprentice to a straw-bonnet maker; but they were, nevertheless, in some sort remarkable people. The sister was reputed in Barchester to be a model of female beauty of the strong and robuster cast, and had also a better reputation as being a girl of good character and honest, womanly conduct. Both of her beauty and of her reputation her brother was exceedingly proud, and he was the more so when he learnt that she had been asked in marriage by a decent master-tradesman in the city.

Roger Scatcherd had also a reputation, but not for beauty or propriety of conduct. He was known for the best stone-mason in the four counties, and as the man who could, on occasion, drink the most alcohol in a given time in the same localities. As a workman, indeed, he had higher reputation even than this: he was not only a good and very quick stone-mason, but he had also a capacity for turning other men into good stone-masons: he had a gift of knowing what a man could and should do; and, by degrees, he taught himself what five, and ten, and twenty — latterly, what a thousand and two thousand men might accomplish among them: this, also, he did with very little aid from pen and paper, with which he was not, and never became, very conversant. He had also other gifts and other propensities. He could talk in a manner dangerous to himself and to others; he could persuade without knowing that he did so; and being himself an extreme demagogue, in those noisy times just prior to the Reform Bill, he created a hubbub in Barchester of which he himself had had no previous conception.

Henry Thorne among his other bad qualities had one which his friends regarded as worse than all the others, and which perhaps justified the Ullathorne people in their severity. He loved to consort with low people. He not only drank in tap-rooms with vulgar drinkers; so said his friends, and so said his enemies. He denied the charge as being made in the plural number, and declared that his only low co-reveller was Roger Scatcherd. With Roger Scatcherd, at any rate, he associated, and became as democratic as Roger himself. Now the Thornes of Ullathorne were of the very highest order of Tory excellence.

Whether or not Mary Scatcherd at once accepted the offer of the respectable tradesman, I cannot say. After the occurrence of certain events which must here shortly be told, she declared that she had never done so. Her brother averred that she most positively had. The respectable tradesman himself refused to speak on the subject.

It is certain, however, that Scatcherd, who had hitherto been silent enough about his sister in those social hours which he passed with his gentleman friend, boasted of the engagement when it was, as he said, made; and then boasted also of the girl’s beauty. Scatcherd, in spite of his occasional intemperance, looked up in the world, and the coming marriage of his sister was, he thought, suitable to his own ambition for his family.

Henry Thorne had already heard of, and already seen, Mary Scatcherd; but hitherto she had not fallen in the way of his wickedness. Now, however, when he heard that she was to be decently married, the devil tempted him to tempt her. It boots not to tell all the tale. It came out clearly enough when all was told, that he made her most distinct promises of marriage; he even gave her such in writing; and having in this way obtained from her her company during some of her little holidays — her Sundays or summer evenings — he seduced her. Scatcherd accused him openly of having intoxicated her with drugs; and Thomas Thorne, who took up the case, ultimately believed the charge. It became known in Barchester that she was with child, and that the seducer was Henry Thorne.

Roger Scatcherd, when the news first reached him, filled himself with drink, and then swore that he would kill them both. With manly wrath, however, he set forth, first against the man, and that with manly weapons. He took nothing with him but his fists and a big stick as he went in search of Henry Thorne.

The two brothers were then lodging together at a farm-house close abutting on the town. This was not an eligible abode for a medical practitioner; but the young doctor had not been able to settle himself eligibly since his father’s death; and wishing to put what constraint he could upon his brother, had so located himself. To this farm-house came Roger Scatcherd one sultry summer evening, his anger gleaming from his bloodshot eyes, and his rage heightened to madness by the rapid pace at which he had run from the city, and by the ardent spirits which were fermenting within him.

At the very gate of the farm-yard, standing placidly with his cigar in his mouth, he encountered Henry Thorne. He had thought of searching for him through the whole premises, of demanding his victim with loud exclamations, and making his way to him through all obstacles. In lieu of that, there stood the man before him.

‘Well, Roger, what’s in the wind?’ said Henry Thorne.

They were the last words he ever spoke. He was answered by a blow from the blackthorn. A contest ensued; which ended in Scatcherd keeping his word — at any rate, as regarded the worst offender. How the fatal blow on the temple was struck was never exactly determined; one medical man said it might have been done in a fight with a heavy-headed stick; another thought that a stone had been used; a third suggested a stone-mason’s hammer. It seemed, however, to be proved subsequently that no hammer was taken out, and Scatcherd himself persisted in declaring that he had taken in his hand no weapon but the stick. Scatcherd, however, was drunk; and even though he intended to tell the truth, may have been mistaken. There were, however, the facts that Thorne was dead; that Scatcherd had sworn to kill him about an hour previously; and that he had without delay accomplished the threat. He was arrested and tried with murder, all the distressing circumstances of the case came out on the trial: he was found guilty of man-slaughter, and sentenced to be imprisoned for six months. Our readers will probably think that the punishment was too severe.

Thomas Thorne and the farmer were on the spot soon after Henry Thorne had fallen. The brother was at first furious for vengeance against his brother’s murderer; but, as the facts came out, as he learnt what had been the provocation given, what had been the feelings of Scatcherd when he left the city, determined to punish him who had ruined his sister, his heart was changed. Those were trying days for him. It behoved him to do what in him lay to cover his brother’s memory from the obloquy which it deserved; it behoved him also to save, or to assist to save, from undue punishment the unfortunate man who had shed his brother’s blood; and it behoved him also, at least so he thought, to look after that poor fallen one whose misfortunes were less merited than those either of his brother or of hers.

And he was not the man to get through these things lightly, or with as much ease as he perhaps might conscientiously have done. He would pay for the defence of the prisoner; he would pay for the defence of his brother’s memory; and he would pay for the poor girl’s comforts. He would do this, and he would allow no one to help him. He stood alone in the world, and insisted on so standing. Old Mr Thorne of Ullathorne offered again to open his arms to him; but he had conceived a foolish idea that his cousin’s severity had driven his brother on to his bad career, and he would consequently accept no kindness from Ullathorne. Miss Thorne, the old squire’s daughter — a cousin considerably older than himself, to whom he had at one time been much attached — sent him money; and he returned it to her under a blank cover. He had still enough for those unhappy purposes which he had in hand. As to what might happen afterwards, he was then mainly indifferent.

The affair made much noise in the county, and was inquired into closely by many of the county magistrates; by none more closely than by John Newbold Gresham, with the energy and justice shown by Dr Thorne on the occasion; and when the trial was over, he invited him to Greshamsbury. The visit ended in the doctor establishing himself in the village.

We must return for a moment to Mary Scatcherd. She was saved from the necessity of encountering her brother’s wrath, for that brother was under arrest for murder before he could get at her. Her immediate lot, however, was a cruel one. Deep as was her cause for anger against the man who had so inhumanly used her, still it was natural that she should turn to him with love rather than with aversion. To whom else could she in such plight look for love? When, therefore, she heard that he was slain, her heart sank within her; she turned her face to the wall, and laid herself down to die; to die a double death, for herself and the fatherless babe that was now quick within her.

But, in fact, life had still much to offer, both to her and her child. For her it was still destined that she should, in a distant land, be the worthy wife of a good husband, and the happy mother of many children. For that embryo one it was destined — but that may not be so quickly told: to describe her destiny this volume has yet to be written.

Even in those bitterest days God tempered the wind to the shorn lamb. Dr Thorne was by her bedside soon after the bloody tidings had reached her, and did for her more than either her lover or her brother could have done. When the baby was born, Scatcherd was still in prison, and had still three months’ more confinement to undergo. The story of her great wrongs and cruel usage as much talked of, and men said that one who had been so injured should be regarded as having in nowise sinned at all.

One man, at any rate, so thought. At twilight, one evening, Thorne was surprised by a visit from a demure Barchester hardware dealer, whom he did not remember ever to have addressed before. This was the former lover of the poor Mary Scatcherd. He had a proposal to make and it was this:— if Mary would consent to leave the country at once, to leave it without notice from her brother, or talk or eclat on the matter, he would sell all that he had, marry her, and emigrate. There was but one condition; she must leave her baby behind her. The hardware-man could find it in his heart to be generous, to be generous and true to his love; but he could not be generous enough to father the seducer’s child.

‘I could never abide it, sir, if I took it,’ said he; ‘and she — why in course she would always love it the best.’

In praising his generosity, who can mingle any censure for such manifest prudence? He would still make her the wife of his bosom, defiled in the eyes of the world as she had been; but she must be to him the mother of his own children, not the mother of another’s child.

And now again our doctor had a hard task to win through. He saw at once that it was his duty to use his utmost authority to induce the poor girl to accept such an offer. She liked the man; and here was opened to her a course which would have been most desirable, even before her misfortune. But it is hard to persuade a mother to part with her first babe; harder, perhaps, when the babe had been so fathered and so born than when the world has shone brightly on its earliest hours. She at first refused stoutly: she sent a thousand loves, a thousand thanks, profusest acknowledgements for his generosity to the man who showed her that he loved her so well; but Nature, she said, would not let her leave her child.

‘And what will you do for her here, Mary?’ said the doctor. Poor Mary replied to him with a deluge of tears.

‘She is my niece,‘said the doctor, taking up the tiny infant in his huge hands; ‘she is already the nearest thing, the only thing that I have in the world. I am her uncle, Mary. If you will go with this man I will be father to her and mother to her. Of what bread I eat, she shall eat; of what cup I drink, she shall drink. See, Mary, here is the Bible;’ and he covered the book with his hand, ‘Leave her to me, and by this word she shall be my child.’

The mother consented at last; left her baby with the doctor, married, and went to America. All this was consummated before Roger Scatcherd was liberated from jail. Some conditions the doctor made. The first was, that Scatcherd should not know his sister’s child was thus disposed of. Dr Thorne, in undertaking to bring up the baby, did not choose to encounter any girl’s relations on the other side. Relations she would undoubtedly have had none had she been left to live or die as a workhouse bastard; but should the doctor succeed in life, should he ultimately be able to make this girl the darling of his own house, and then the darling of some other house, should she live and win the heart of some man whom the doctor might delight to call his friend and nephew; then relations might spring up whose ties would not advantageous.

No man plumed himself on good blood more than Dr Thorne; no man had greater pride in his genealogical tree, and his hundred and thirty clearly descendant from MacAdam; no man had a stronger theory as to the advantage held by men who have grandfathers over those who have none, or have none worth talking about. Let it not be thought that our doctor was a perfect character. No, indeed; most far from perfect. He had within him an inner, stubborn, self-admiring pride, which made him believe himself to be better and higher than those around him, and this from some unknown cause which he could hardly explain to himself. He had a pride in being a poor man of a high family; he had a pride in repudiating the very family of which he was proud; and he had a special pride in keeping his pride silently to himself. His father had been a Thorne, his mother a Thorold. There was no better blood to be had in England. It was in the possession of such properties as these that he condescended to rejoice; this man, with a man’s heart, a man’s courage, and a man’s humanity! Other doctors round the county had ditch-water in their veins; he could boast of a pure ichor, to which that of the great Omnium family was but a muddy puddle. It was thus that he loved to excel his brother practitioners, he who might have indulged in the pride of excelling them both in talent and in energy! We speak now of his early days; but even in his maturer life, the man, though mellowed, was the same.

This was the man who now promised to take to his bosom as his own child a poor bastard whose father was already dead, and whose mother’s family was such as the Scatcherds! It was necessary that the child’s history should be known to none. Except to the mother’s brother it was an object of interest to no one. The mother had for some short time been talked of; but now that the nine-days’ wonder was a wonder no longer. She went off to her far-away home; her husband’s generosity was duly chronicled in the papers, and the babe was left untalked of and unknown.

It was easy to explain to Scatcherd that the child had not lived. There was a parting interview between the brother and sister in the jail, during which with real tears and unaffected sorrow, the mother thus accounted for the offspring of her shame. Then she started, fortunate in her coming fortunes; and the doctor took with him his charge to the new country in which they were both to live. There he found for her a fitting home till she should be old enough to sit at his table and live in his bachelor house; and no one but old Mr Gresham knew who she was, or whence she had come.

Then Roger Scatcherd, having completed his six months’ confinement, came out of prison.

Roger Scatcherd, though his hands were now red with blood, was to be pitied. A short time before the days of Henry Thorne’s death he had married a young wife in his own class of life, and had made many resolves that henceforward his conduct should be such as might become a married man, and might not disgrace the respectable brother-inlaw he was about to have given him such was his condition when he first heard of his sister’s plight. As has been said, he filled himself with drink and started off on the scent of blood.

During his prison days his wife had to support herself as she might. The decent articles of furniture which they had put together were sold; she gave up their little house, and, bowed down by misery, she also was brought near to death. When he was liberated he at once got work; but those who have watched the lives of such people know how hard it is for them to recover lost ground. She became a mother immediately after his liberation, and when her child was born they were in direst want; for Scatcherd was again drinking, and his resolves were blown to the wind.

The doctor was then living at Greshamsbury. He had gone over there before the day on which he undertook the charge of poor Mary’s baby, and soon found himself settled as the Greshamsbury doctor. This occurred very soon after the birth of the young heir. His predecessor in this career had ‘bettered’ himself, or endeavoured to do so, by seeking the practice of some large town, and Lady Arabella, at a very critical time, was absolutely left with no other advice than that of a stranger, picked up, as she declared to Lady de Courcy, somewhere between Barchester jail, or Barchester court-house, she did not know which.

Of course Lady Arabella could not suckle the young heir herself. Ladies Arabella never can. They are gifted with the powers of being mothers, but not nursing-mothers. Nature gives them bosoms for show, but not for use. So Lady Arabella had a wet-nurse. At the end of six months the new doctor found Master Frank was not doing quite so well as he should do; and after a little trouble it was discovered that the very excellent young woman who had been sent express from Courcy Castle to Greshamsbury — a supply being kept up on the lord’s demesne for the family use — was fond of brandy. She was at once sent back to the castle, of course; and, as Lady de Courcy was too much in dudgeon to send another, Dr Thorne was allowed to procure one. He thought of the misery of Roger Scatcherd’s wife, though also of her health and strength, and active habits; and thus Mrs Scatcherd became the foster-mother to young Gresham.

One other episode we must tell of past times. Previous to his father’s death, Dr Thorne was in love. Nor had he altogether sighed and pleaded in vain; though it had not quite come to that, the young lady’s friends, or even the young lady herself, had actually accepted his suit. At that time his name stood well in Barchester. His father was a prebendary; his cousins and his best friends were the Thornes of Ullathorne, and the lady, who shall be nameless, was not thought to be injudicious in listening to the young doctor. But when Henry Thorne went so far astray, when the old doctor died, when the young doctor quarrelled with Ullathorne, when the brother was killed in a disgraceful quarrel, and it turned out that the physician had nothing but his profession and no settled locality in which to exercise it; then, indeed, the young lady’s friends thought that she was injudicious, and the young lady herself had not spirit enough, or love enough, to be disobedient. In those stormy days of the trial she told Dr Thorne, that perhaps it would be wise that they should not see each other any more.

Dr Thorne, so counselled, at such a moment — so informed then, when he most required comfort from his love, at once swore loudly that he agreed with her. He rushed forth with a bursting heart, and said to himself that the world was bad, all bad. He saw the lady no more; and, if I am rightly informed, never again made matrimonial overtures to any one.

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