Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXI

Mr Moffat Falls into Trouble

We will now, with the reader’s kind permission, skip over some months in our narrative. Frank returned from Courcy Castle to Greshamsbury, and having communicated to his mother — much in the same manner as he had to the countess — the fact that his mission had been unsuccessful, he went up after a day or two to Cambridge. During his short stay at Greshamsbury he did not even catch a glimpse of Mary. He asked for her, of course, and was told that it was not likely that she would be at the house just at present. He called at the doctor’s, but she was denied to him there; ‘she was out,’ Janet said — ‘probably with Miss Oriel.’ He went to the parsonage and found Miss Oriel at home; but Mary had not been seen that morning. He then returned to the house; and, having come to the conclusion that she had not thus vanished into air, otherwise than by preconcerted arrangement, he boldly taxed Beatrice on the subject.

Beatrice looked very demure; declared that no one in the house had quarrelled with Mary; confessed that it had been thought prudent that she should for a while stay away from Greshamsbury; and, of course, ended by telling her brother everything, including all the scenes that had passed between Mary and herself.

‘It is out of the question your thinking of marrying her, Frank,’ said she. ‘You must know that nobody feels it more strongly than poor Mary herself;’ and Beatrice looked the very personification of domestic prudence.

‘I know nothing of the kind,’ said he, with the headlong imperative air that was usual with him in discussing matters with his sisters. ‘I know nothing of the kind. Of course I cannot say what Mary’s feelings may be: a pretty life she must have had of it among you. But you may be sure of this, Beatrice, and so may my mother, that nothing on earth shall make me give her up — nothing.’ And Frank, as he made this protestation, strengthened his own resolution by thinking of all the counsel that Miss Dunstable had given him.

The brother and sister could hardly agree, as Beatrice was dead against the match. Not that she would not have liked Mary Thorne for a sister-inlaw, but that she shared to a certain degree the feeling which was now common to all the Greshams — that Frank must marry money. It seemed, at any rate, to be imperative that he should either do that or not marry at all. Poor Beatrice was not very mercenary in her views: she had no wish to sacrifice her brother to any Miss Dunstable; but yet she felt, as they all felt — Mary Thorne included — that such as a match as that, of the young heir with the doctor’s niece, was not to be thought of; — not to be spoken of as a thing that was in any way possible. Therefore, Beatrice, though she was Mary’s great friend, though she was her brother’s favourite sister, could give Frank no encouragement. Poor Frank! circumstances had made but one bride possible to him: he must marry money.

His mother said nothing to him on the subject: when she learnt that the affair with Miss Dunstable was not to come off, she merely remarked that it would perhaps be best for him to return to Cambridge as soon as possible. Had she spoken her mind out, she would probably have also advised him to remain there as long as possible. The countess had not omitted to write to her when Frank had left Courcy Castle; and the countess’s letter certainly made the anxious mother think that her son’s education had hardly yet been completed. With this secondary object, but with that of keeping him out of the way of Mary Thorne in the first place, Lady Arabella was now quite satisfied that her son should enjoy such advantages as an education completed at the university might give him.

With his father Frank had a long conversation; but, alas! the gist of his father’s conversation was this, that it behoved him, Frank, to marry money. The father, however, did not put it to him in the cold, callous way in which his lady-aunt had done, and his lady-mother. He did not bid him go and sell himself to the first female he could find possessed of wealth. It was with inward self-reproaches, and true grief of spirit, that the father told the son that it was not possible for him to do as those who may do who are born really rich, or really poor.

‘If you marry a girl without a fortune, Frank, how are you to live?’ the father asked, after having confessed how deep he himself had injured his own heir.

‘I don’t care about money, sir,’ said Frank. ‘I shall be just as happy if Boxall Hill had never been sold. I don’t care a straw about that sort of thing.’

‘Ah! my boy; but you will care: you will soon find that you do care.’

‘Let me go into some profession. Let me go to the Bar. I am sure I could earn my own living. Earn it! of course I could, why not I as well as others? I should like of all things to be a barrister.’

There was much more of the same kind, in which Frank said all that he could think of to lessen his father’s regrets. In their conversation not a word was spoken about Mary Thorne. Frank was not aware whether or no his father had been told of the great family danger which was dreaded in that quarter. That he had been told, we may surmise, as Lady Arabella was not wont to confine the family dangers to her own bosom. Moreover, Mary’s presence had, of course, been missed. The truth was, that the squire had been told, with great bitterness, of what had come to pass, and all the evil had been laid at his door. He it had been who hand encouraged Mary to be regarded almost as a daughter of the house of Greshamsbury: he it was who taught that odious doctor — odious on all but his aptitude for good doctoring — to think himself a fit match for the aristocracy of the county. It had been his fault, this great necessity that Frank should marry money; and now it was his fault that Frank was absolutely talking of marrying a pauper.

By no means in quiescence did the squire hear these charges brought against him. The Lady Arabella, in each attack, got quite as much as she gave, and, at last, was driven to retreat in a state of headache, which she declared to be chronic; and which, so she assured her daughter Augusta, must prevent her from having any more lengthened conversations with her lord — at any rate for the next three months. But though the squire may be said to have come off on the whole as the victor in these combats, they did not perhaps have, on that account, the less effect upon him. He knew it was true that he had done much towards ruining his son; and he also could think of no other remedy than matrimony. It was Frank’s doom, pronounced even by the voice of his father, that he must marry money.

And so, Frank went off again to Cambridge, feeling himself, as he went, to be a much lesser man in Greshamsbury estimation than he had been some two months earlier, when his birthday had been celebrated. Once during his short stay at Greshamsbury he had seen the doctor; but the meeting had been anything but pleasant. He had been afraid to ask after Mary; and the doctor had been too diffident of himself to speak of her. They had met casually on the road, and, though each in his heart loved the other, the meeting had been anything but pleasant.

And so Frank went to Cambridge; and, as he did so, he stoutly resolved that nothing should make him untrue to Mary Thorne. ‘Beatrice,’ said he, on the morning he went away, when she came into his room to superintend his packing —‘Beatrice, if she ever talks about me —’

‘Oh, Frank, my darling Frank, don’t think of it — it is madness; she knows it is madness.’

‘Never mind; if she ever talks about me, tell her that the last word I said was, that I would never forget her. She can do as she likes.’

Beatrice made no promise, never hinted that she would give the message; but it may be taken for granted that she had not been long in company with Mary Thorne before she did give it.

And then there were other troubles at Greshamsbury. It had been decided that Augusta’s marriage was to take place in September; but Mr Moffat had, unfortunately, been obliged to postpone the happy day. He himself had told Augusta — not, of course, without protestations as to his regret — and had written to this effect to Mr Gresham, ‘Electioneering matters, and other troubles had,’ he said, ‘made this peculiarly painful postponement absolutely necessary.’

Augusta seemed to bear her misfortune with more equanimity than is, we believe, usual with young ladies under such circumstances. She spoke of it to her mother in a very matter-of-fact way, and seemed almost contented at the idea of remaining at Greshamsbury till February; which was the time now named for the marriage. But Lady Arabella was not equally well satisfied, nor was the squire.

‘I half believe that fellow is not honest,’ he had once said out loud before Frank, and this set Frank a-thinking of what dishonesty in the matter it was probable that Mr Moffat might be guilty, and what would be the fitting punishment for such a crime. Nor did he think on the subject in vain; especially after a conference on the matter which he had with his friend Harry Baker. This conference took place during the Christmas vacation.

It should be mentioned, that the time spent by Frank at Courcy Castle had not done much to assist him in his views as to an early degree, and that it had at last been settled that he should stay up at Cambridge another year. When he came home at Christmas he found that the house was not peculiarly lively. Mary was absent on a visit with Miss Oriel. Both these young ladies were staying with Miss Oriel’s aunt, in the neighbourhood of London; and Frank soon learnt that there was no chance that either of them would be home before his return. No message had been left for him by Mary — none at least had been left with Beatrice; and he began in his heart to accuse her of coldness and perfidy; — not, certainly, with much justice, seeing that she had never given him the slightest encouragement.

The absence of Patience Oriel added to the dullness of the place. It was certainly hard upon Frank that all the attraction of the village should be removed to make way and prepare for his return — harder, perhaps, on them; for, to tell the truth, Miss Oriel’s visit had been entirely planned to enable her to give Mary a comfortable way of leaving Greshamsbury during the time that Frank should remain at home. Frank thought himself cruelly used. But what did Mr Oriel think when doomed to eat his Christmas pudding alone, because the young squire would be unreasonable in his love? What did the doctor think, as he sat solitary by his deserted hearth — the doctor, who no longer permitted himself to enjoy the comforts of the Greshamsbury dining-table? Frank hinted and grumbled; talked to Beatrice of the determined constancy of his love, and occasionally consoled himself by a stray smile from some of the neighbouring belles. The black horse was made perfect; the old grey pony was by no means discarded; and much that was satisfactory was done in the sporting line. But still the house was dull, and Frank felt that he was the cause of its being so. Of the doctor he saw but little: he never came to Greshamsbury, unless to see Lady Arabella as doctor, or to be closeted with the squire. There were no special evenings with him; no animated confabulations at the doctor’s house; no discourses between them, as there was wont to be, about the merits of the different covers, and the capacities of the different hounds. These were dull days on the whole for Frank; and sad enough, we may say, for our friend the doctor.

In February Frank again went back to college; having settled with Harry Baker certain affairs which weighed on his mind. He went back to Cambridge, promising to be home on the twentieth of the month, so as to be present at his sister’s wedding. A cold and chilling time had been named for these hymeneal joys, but one not altogether unsuited to the feelings of the happy pair. February is certainly not a warm month; but with the rich it is generally a cosy, comfortable time. Good fires, winter cheer, groaning tables, and warm blankets, make a fictitious summer, which, to some tastes, is more delightful than the long days and the hot sun. And some marriages are especially winter matches. They depend for their charm on the same substantial attractions: instead of heart beating to heart in sympathetic unison, purse chinks to purse. The rich new furniture of the new abode is looked to instead of the rapture of a pure embrace. The new carriage is depended on rather than the new heart’s companion; and the first bright gloss, prepared by the upholsterer’s hands, stands in lieu of the rosy tints which young love lends to his true votaries.

Mr Moffat had not spent his Christmas at Greshamsbury. That eternal election petition, those eternal lawyers, the eternal care of his well-managed wealth, forbade him the enjoyment of any such pleasures. He could not come to Greshamsbury for Christmas, nor yet for the festivities of the new year; but now and then he wrote prettily worded notes, sending occasionally a silver-gilt pencil-case, or a small brooch, and informed Lady Arabella that he looked forward to the twentieth of February with great satisfaction. But, in the meanwhile, the squire became anxious, and at last went up to London; and Frank, who was at Cambridge, bought the heaviest-cutting whip to be found in that town, and wrote a confidential letter to Harry Baker.

Poor Mr Moffat! It is well known that none but the brave deserve the fair; but thou, without much excuse for bravery, had secured for thyself one who, at any rate, was fair enough for thee. Would it not have been well hadst thou looked to thyself to see what real bravery might be in thee, before thou hadst prepared to desert this fair one thou hadst already won? That last achievement, one may say, did require some special courage.

Poor Mr Moffat! It is wonderful that as he sat in that gig, going to Gatherum Castle, planning how he would be off with Miss Gresham and afterwards on with Miss Dunstable, it is wonderful that he should not then have cast his eye behind him, and looked at that stalwart pair of shoulders which were so close to his own back. As he afterwards pondered on his scheme while sipping the duke’s claret, it is odd that he should not have observed the fiery pride of purpose and power of wrath which was so plainly written on that young man’s brow: or, when he matured, and finished, and carried out his purpose, that he did not think of that keen grasp which had already squeezed his own hand with somewhat too warm a vigour, even in the way of friendship.

Poor Mr Moffat! it is probable that he forgot to think of Frank at all as connected with his promised bride; it is probable that he looked forward only to the squire’s violence and the enmity of the house of Courcy; and that he found from enquiry at his heart’s pulses, that he was man enough to meet these. Could he have guessed what a whip Frank Gresham would have bought at Cambridge — could he have divined what a letter would have been written to Harry Baker — it is probable, nay, we think we may say certain, that Miss Gresham would have become Mrs Moffat.

Miss Gresham, however, never did become Mrs Moffat. About two days after Frank’s departure for Cambridge — it is just possible that Mr Moffat was so prudent as to make himself aware of the fact — but just two days after Frank’s departure, a very long, elaborate, and clearly explanatory letter was received at Greshamsbury. Mr Moffat was quite sure that Miss Gresham and her very excellent parents would do him the justice to believe that he was not actuated, &c, &c, &c. The long and the short of this was, that Mr Moffat signified his intention of breaking off the match without offering any intelligible reason.

Augusta again bore her disappointment well: not, indeed, without sorrow and heartache, and inward, hidden tears; but still well. She neither raved, nor fainted, nor walked about by moonlight alone. She wrote no poetry, and never once thought of suicide. When, indeed, she remembered the rosy-tinted lining, the unfathomable softness of that Long-acre carriage, her spirit did for one moment give way; but, on the whole, she bore it as a strong-minded woman and a De Courcy should do.

But both Lady Arabella and the squire were greatly vexed. The former had made the match, and the latter, having consented to it, had incurred deeper responsibilities to enable him to bring it about. The money which was to have been given to Mr Moffat was still to the fore; but alas! how much, how much that he could ill spare, had been thrown away in bridal preparations! It is, moreover, an unpleasant thing for a gentleman to have his daughter jilted; perhaps peculiarly so to have her jilted by a tailor’s son.

Lady Arabella’s woe was really piteous. It seemed to her as though cruel fate were heaping misery after misery upon the wretched house of Greshamsbury. A few weeks since things were going so well with her! Frank then was still all but the accepted husband of almost untold wealth — so, at least, she was informed by her sister-inlaw — whereas, Augusta, was the accepted wife of wealth, not indeed untold, but of dimensions quite sufficiently respectable to cause much joy in the telling. Where now were her golden hopes? Where now the splendid future of her poor duped children? Augusta was left to pine alone; and Frank, in a still worse plight, insisted on maintaining his love for a bastard and a pauper.

For Frank’s affairs she had received some poor consolation by laying all the blame on the squire’s shoulders. What she had then said was now repaid to her with interest; for not only had she been the maker of Augusta’s match, but she had boasted of the deed with all a mother’s pride.

It was from Beatrice that Frank had obtained his tidings. This last resolve on the part of Mr Moffat had not altogether been unsuspected by some of the Greshams, though altogether unsuspected by the Lady Arabella. Frank had spoken of it as a possibility to Beatrice, and was not quite unprepared when the information reached him. He consequently bought his cutting-whip, and wrote his confidential letter to Harry Baker.

On the following day Frank and Harry might have been seen, with their heads nearly close together, leaning over one of the tables in the large breakfast-room at the Tavistock Hotel in Covent Garden. The ominous whip, to the handle of which Frank had already made his hand well accustomed, was lying on the table between them; and ever and anon Harry Baker would take it up and feel its weight approvingly. Oh, Mr Moffat! poor Mr Moffat! go not out into the fashionable world today; above all, go not to that club of thine in Pall Mall; but, oh! especially go not there, as is thy wont to do, at three o’clock in the afternoon!

With much care did those two young generals lay their plans of attack. Let it not for a moment be thought that it was ever in the minds of either of them that two men should attack one. But it was thought that Mr Moffat might be rather coy in coming out from his seclusion to meet the proffered hand of his once intended brother-inlaw when he should see that hand armed with a heavy whip. Baker, therefore, was content to act as a decoy duck, and remarked that he might no doubt make himself useful in restraining the public mercy, and, probably, in controlling the interference of policemen.

‘It will be deuced hard if I can’t get five or six shies at him,’ said Frank, again clutching his weapon almost spasmodically. Oh, Mr Moffat! five or six shies with such a whip, and such an arm! For myself, I would sooner join the second Balaclava gallop than encounter it.

At ten minutes before four these two heroes might be seen walking up Pall Mall, towards the —— Club. Young Baker walked with an eager disengaged air. Mr Moffat did not know his appearance; he had, therefore, no anxiety to pass along unnoticed. But Frank had in some mysterious way drawn his hat very far over his forehead, and had buttoned his shooting-coat up round his chin. Harry had recommended to him a great-coat, in order that he might the better conceal his face; but Frank had found the great-coat was an encumbrance to his arm. He put it on, and when thus clothed he had tried the whip, he found that he cut the air with much less potency than in the lighter garment. He contented himself, therefore, with looking down on the pavement as he walked along, letting the long point of the whip stick up from his pocket, and flattering himself that even Mr Moffat would not recognise him at the first glance. Poor Mr Moffat! If he had but had the chance!

And now, having arrived at the front of the club, the two friends for a moment separate: Frank remains standing on the pavement, under the shade of the high stone area-railing, while Harry jauntily skips up three steps at a time, and with a very civil word of inquiry of the hall porter, sends his card to Mr Moffat —

‘MR HARRY BAKER’

Mr Moffat, never having heard of such a gentleman in his life, unwittingly comes out into the hall, and Harry, with the sweetest smile, addresses him.

Now the plan of the campaign had been settled in this wise: Baker was to send into the club for Mr Moffat, and invite that gentleman down into the street. It was probable that the invitation might be declined; and it had been calculated in such case the two gentlemen would retire for parley into the strangers’ room, which was known to be immediately opposite the hall door. Frank was to keep his eye on the portals, and if he found that Mr Moffat did not appear as readily as might be desired, he also was to ascend the steps and hurry into the strangers’ room. Then, whether he met Mr Moffat there or elsewhere, or wherever, he might meet him, he was to greet him with all the friendly vigour in his power, while Harry disposed of the club porters.

But fortune, who ever favours the brave, specially favoured Frank Gresham on this occasion. Just as Harry Baker had put his card into the servant’s hand, Mr Moffat, with his hat on, prepared for the street, appeared in the hall; Mr Baker addressed him with his sweetest smile, and begged the pleasure of saying a word or two as they descended into the street. Had not Mr Moffat been going thither it would have been very improbable that he should have done so at Harry’s instance. But, as it was, he merely looked rather solemn at his visitor — it was his wont to look solemn — and continued the descent of the steps.

Frank, his heart leaping the while, saw his prey, and retreated two steps behind the area-railing, the dread weapon already well poised in his hand. Oh! Mr Moffat! Mr Moffat! if there be any goddess to interfere in thy favour, let her come forward now without delay; let her now bear thee off on a cloud if there be one to whom thou art sufficiently dear! But there is no such goddess.

Harry smiled blandly till they were well on the pavement, saying some nothing, and keeping the victim’s face averted from the avenging angel; and then, when the raised hand was sufficiently nigh, he withdrew two steps towards the nearest lamp-post. Not for him was the honour of the interview; — unless, indeed, succouring policemen might give occasion for some gleam of glory.

But succouring policemen were no more to be come by than goddesses. Where were ye, men, when that savage whip fell about the ears of the poor ex-legislator? In Scotland Yard, sitting dozing on your benches, or talking soft nothings to the housemaids round the corner; for ye were not walking on your beats, nor standing at coign of vantage, to watch the tumults of the day. Had Sir Richard himself been on the spot Frank Gresham would still, we may say, have had his five shies at that unfortunate one.

When Harry Baker quickly seceded from the way, Mr Moffat at once saw the fate before him. His hair doubtless stood on end, and his voice refused to give the loud screech with which he sought to invoke the club. An ashy paleness suffused his cheeks, and his tottering steps were unable to bear him away in flight. Once, and twice, the cutting whip came well down across his back. Had he been wise enough to stand still and take his thrashing in that attitude, it would have been well for him. But men so circumstanced have never such prudence. After two blows he made a dash at the steps, thinking to get back into the club; but Harry, who had by no means reclined in idleness against the lamp-post, here stopped him: ‘You had better go back into the street,’ said Harry; ‘indeed you had,’ giving him a shove from off the second step.

Then of course Frank could do no other than hit him anywhere. When a gentleman is dancing about with much energy it is hardly possible to strike him fairly on his back. The blows, therefore, came now on his legs and now on his head; and Frank unfortunately got more than his five or six shies before he was interrupted.

The interruption however came, all too soon for Frank’s idea of justice. Though there be no policeman to take part in a London row, there are always others ready enough to do so; amateur policemen, who generally sympathize with the wrong side, and, in nine cases out of ten, expend their generous energy in protecting thieves and pickpockets. When it was seen with what tremendous ardour that dread weapon fell about the ears of the poor undefended gentleman, interference was at last, in spite of Harry Baker’s best endeavours, and loudest protestations.

‘Do not interrupt them, sir,’ said he; ‘pray do not. It is a family affair, and they will neither of them like it.’

In the teeth, however, of these assurances, rude people did interfere, and after some nine or ten shies Frank found himself encompassed by the arms, and encumbered by the weight of a very stout gentleman, who hung affectionately about his neck and shoulders; whereas, Mr Moffat was already sitting in a state of syncope on the good-natured knees of a fishmonger’s apprentice.

Frank was thoroughly out of breath: nothing came from his lips but half-muttered expletives and unintelligible denunciations of the iniquity of his foe. But still he struggled to be at him again. We all know how dangerous is the taste of blood; now cruelly it will become a custom even with the most tender-hearted. Frank felt that he had hardly fleshed his virgin lash: he thought, almost with despair, that he had not yet at all succeeded as became a man and a brother; his memory told him of but one or two of the slightest touches that had gone well home to the offender. He made a desperate effort to throw off that incubus round his neck and rush again to the combat.

‘Harry — Harry; don’t let him go — don’t let him go,’ he barely articulated.

‘Do you want to murder the man, sir; to murder him?’ said the stout gentleman over his shoulder, speaking solemnly into his very ear.

‘I don’t care,’ said Frank, struggling manfully but uselessly. ‘Let me out, I say; I don’t care — don’t let him go, Harry, whatever you do.’

‘He has got it prettily tidily,’ said Harry; ‘I think that will perhaps do for the present.’

By this time there was a considerable concourse. The club steps were crowded with members; among whom there were many of Mr Moffat’s acquaintance. Policemen now flocked up, and the question arose as to what should be done with the originators of the affray. Frank and Harry found that they were to consider themselves under a gentle arrest, and Mr Moffat, in a fainting state, was carried into the interior of the club.

Frank, in his innocence, had intended to have celebrated this little affair when it was over by a light repast and a bottle of claret with his friend, and then to have gone back to Cambridge by the mail train. He found, however, that his schemes in this respect were frustrated. He had to get bail to attend at Marlborough Street police-office should he be wanted within the next two or three days; and was given to understand that he would be under the eye of the police, at any rate until Mr Moffat should be out of danger.

‘Out of danger!’ said Frank to his friend with a startled look. ‘Why I hardly got at him.’ Nevertheless, they did have their slight repast, and also their bottle of claret.

On the second morning after this occurrence, Frank was again sitting in that public room at the Tavistock, and Harry was again sitting opposite to him. The whip was not now so conspicuously produced between them, having been carefully packed up and put away among Frank’s other travelling properties. They were so sitting, rather glum, when the door swung open, and a heavy quick step was heard advancing towards them. It was the squire; whose arrival there had been momentarily expected.

‘Frank,’ said he —‘Frank, what on earth is all this?’ and as he spoke he stretched out both hands, the right to his son and the left to his friend.

‘He has given a blackguard a licking, that is all,’ said Harry.

Frank felt that his hand was held with a peculiarly warm grasp; and he could not but think that his father’s face, raised though his eyebrows were — though there was on it an intended expression of amazement and, perhaps, regret — nevertheless he could not but think that his father’s face looked kindly at him.

‘God bless my soul, my dear boy! what have you done to the man?’

‘He’s not a ha’porth the worse, sir,’ said Frank, still holding his father’s hand.

‘Oh, isn’t he!’ said Harry, shrugging his shoulders. ‘He must be made of some very strong article then.’

‘But my dear boys, I hope there’s no danger. I hope there’s no danger.’

‘Danger!’ said Frank, who could not yet induce himself to believe that he had been allowed a fair chance with Mr Moffat.

‘Oh, Frank! Frank! how could you be so rash? In the middle of Pall Mall, too. Well! well! well! All the women down at Greshamsbury will have it that you have killed him.’

‘I almost wish I had,’ said Frank.

‘Oh, Frank! Frank! But now tell me —’

And then the father sat well pleased while he heard, chiefly from Harry Baker, the full story of his son’s prowess. And then they did not separate without another slight repast and another bottle of claret.

Mr Moffat retired to the country for a while, and then went abroad; having doubtless learnt that the petition was not likely to give him a seat for the city of Barchester. And this was the end of the wooing with Miss Gresham.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/thorne/chapter21.html

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