Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXVI

War

We need not follow Sir Roger to his grave, nor partake of the baked meats which were furnished for his funeral banquet. Such men as Sir Roger Scatcherd are always well buried, and we have already seen that his glories were duly told to posterity in the graphic diction of his sepulchral monument. In a few days the doctor had returned to his quete home and Sir Louis found himself reigning at Boxall Hill in his father’s stead — with, however, a much diminished sway, and, as he thought it, but a poor exchequer. We must soon return to him and say something of his career as a baronet; but for the present, we may go back to our more pleasant friends at Greshamsbury.

But our friends at Greshamsbury had not been making themselves pleasant — not so pleasant to each other as circumstances would have admitted. In those days which the doctor had felt himself bound to pass, if not altogether at Boxall Hill, yet altogether away from his own home, so as to admit of his being as much as possible with his patient, Mary had been thrown more than ever with Patience Oriel, and, also, almost more than ever with Beatrice Gresham. As regarded Mary, she would doubtless have preferred the companionship of Patience, though she loved Beatrice far the best; but she had no choice. When she went to the parsonage Beatrice came there also, and when Patience came to the doctor’s house Beatrice either accompanied or followed her. Mary could hardly have rejected their society, even had she felt it wise to do so. She would in such case have been all alone, and her severance from the Greshamsbury house and household, from the big family in which she had for so many years been almost at home, would have made such solitude almost unendurable.

And then these two girls both knew — not her secret; she had no secret — but the little history of her ill-treatment. They knew that though she had been blameless in this matter, yet she had been the one to bear the punishment; and, as girls and bosom friends, they could not but sympathize with her, and endow her with heroic attributes; make her, in fact, as we are doing, their little heroine for the nonce. This was, perhaps, not serviceable for Mary; but it was far from being disagreeable.

The tendency to finding matter for hero-worship in Mary’s endurance was much stronger with Beatrice than with Miss Oriel. Miss Oriel was the elder, and naturally less afflicted with the sentimentation of romance. She had thrown herself into Mary’s arms because she had seen that it was essentially necessary for Mary’s comfort that she should do so. She was anxious to make her friend smile, and to smile with her. Beatrice was quite as true in her sympathy; but she rather wished that she and Mary might weep in unison, shed mutual tears, and break their hearts together.

Patience had spoken of Frank’s love as a misfortune, of his conduct as erroneous, and to be excused only by his youth, and had never appeared to surmise that Mary also might be in love as well as he. But to Beatrice the affair was a tragic difficulty, admitting of no solution; a Gordian knot, not to be cut; a misery now and for ever. She would always talk about Frank when she and Mary were alone; and, to speak the truth, Mary did not stop her as she perhaps should have done.

As for a marriage between them, that was impossible; Beatrice was well sure of that: it was Frank’s unfortunate destiny that he must marry money — money, and, as Beatrice sometimes thoughtlessly added, cutting Mary to the quick — money and family also. Under such circumstances a marriage between them was quite impossible; but not the less did Beatrice declare, that she would have loved Mary as her sister-inlaw had it been possible; and how worthy Frank was of a girl’s love, had such love been possible.

‘It is so cruel,’ Beatrice would say; ‘so very, very, cruel. You would have suited him in every way.’

‘Nonsense, Trichy; I should have suited him in no possible way at all; nor he me.’

‘Oh, but you would — exactly. Papa loves you so well.’

‘And mamma; that would have been so nice.’

‘Yes; and mamma, too — that is, had you had a fortune,’ said the daughter, naively. ‘She always liked you personally, always.’

‘Did she?’

‘Always. And we all love you so.’

‘Especially Lady Alexandrina.’

‘That would not have signified, for Frank cannot endure the De Courcys himself.’

‘My dear, it does not matter one straw whom your brother can endure or not endure just at present. His character is to be formed, and his tastes, and his heart also.’

‘Oh, Mary! — his heart.’

‘Yes, his heart; not the fact of his having a heart. I think he has a heart; but he himself does not yet understand it.’

‘Oh, Mary! you do not know him.’

Such conversations were not without danger to poor Mary’s comfort. It came soon to be the case that she looked rather for this sort of sympathy from Beatrice, than for Miss Oriel’s pleasant but less piquant gaiety.

So the days of the doctor’s absence were passed, and so also the first week after his return. During this week it was almost daily necessary that the squire should be with him. The doctor was now the legal holder of Sir Roger’s property, and, as such, the holder also of all the mortgages on Mr Gresham’s property; and it was natural that they should be much together. The doctor would not, however, go up to Greshamsbury on any other than medical business; and it therefore became necessary that the squire should be a good deal at the doctor’s house.

Then the Lady Arabella became unhappy in her mind. Frank, it was true, was away at Cambridge, and had been successfully kept out of Mary’s way since the suspicion of danger had fallen upon Lady Arabella’s mind. Frank was away, and Mary was systematically banished, with due acknowledgement from all the powers in Greshamsbury. But this was not enough for Lady Arabella as long as her daughter still habitually consorted with the female culprit, and as long as her husband consorted with the male culprit. It seemed to Lady Arabella at this moment as though, in banishing Mary from the house, she had in effect banished herself from the most intimate of the Greshamsbury social circles. She magnified in her own mind the importance of the conferences between the girls, and was not without some fear that the doctor might be talking the squire over into very dangerous compliance.

Her object was to break of all confidential intercourse between Beatrice and Mary, and to interrupt, as far as she could do it, that between the doctor and the squire. This, it may be said, could be more easily done by skilful management within her own household. She had, however, tried that and failed. She had said much to Beatrice as to the imprudence of her friendship with Mary, and she had done this purposely before the squire; injudiciously however — for the squire had immediately taken Mary’s part, and had declared that he had no wish to see a quarrel between his family and that of the doctor; that Mary Thorne was in every way a good girl, and an eligible friend for his own child; and had ended by declaring, that he would not have Mary persecuted for Frank’s fault. This had not been the end, nor nearly the end of what had been said on the matter at Greshamsbury; but the end, when it came, came in this wise, that Lady Arabella determined to say a few words to the doctor as to the expediency of forbidding familiar intercourse between Mary and any of the Greshamsbury people.

With this view Lady Arabella absolutely bearded the lion in his den, the doctor in his shop. She had heard that both Mary and Beatrice were to pass a certain afternoon at the parsonage, and took that opportunity of calling at the doctor’s house. A period of many years had passed since she had last so honoured that abode. Mary, indeed, had been so much one of her own family that the ceremony of calling on her had never been thought necessary; and thus, unless Mary had been absolutely ill, there would have been nothing to bring her ladyship to the house. All this she knew would add to the importance of the occasion, and she judged it prudent to make the occasion as important as it might well be.

She was so far successful that she soon found herself tete-a-tete with the doctor in his own study. She was no whit dismayed by the pair of human thigh-bones which lay close to his hand, and which, when he was talking in that den of his own, he was in the constant habit of handling with much energy; nor was she frightened out of her propriety even by the little child’s skull which grinned at her from off the chimney-piece.

‘Doctor,’ she said, as soon as the first complimentary greetings were over, speaking in her kindest and most would-be-confidential tone. ‘Doctor, I am still uneasy about that boy of mine, and I have thought it best to come and see you at once, and tell you freely what I think.’

The doctor bowed, and said that he was very sorry that she should have any cause for uneasiness about his young friend Frank.

‘Indeed, I am very uneasy, doctor; and having, as I do have, such reliance on your prudence, and such perfect confidence in your friendship, I have thought it best to come and speak to you openly:’ thereupon the Lady Arabella paused, and the doctor bowed again.

‘Nobody knows so well as you do the dreadful state of the squire’s affairs.’

‘Not so dreadful; not so very dreadful,’ said the doctor, mildly: ‘that is, as far as I know.’

‘Yes they are, doctor; very dreadful; very dreadful indeed. You know how much he owes to this young man: I do not, for the squire never tells anything to me; but I know that it is a very large sum of money; enough to swamp the estate and ruin Frank. Now I call that very dreadful.’

‘No, not ruin him, Lady Arabella; not ruin him, I hope.’

‘However, I did not come to talk to you about that. As I said before, I know nothing of the squire’s affairs, and, as a matter of course, I do not ask you to tell me. But I am sure you will agree with me in this that, as a mother, I cannot but be interested about my only son,’ and Lady Arabella put her cambric handkerchief to her eyes.

‘Of course you are; of course you are,’ said the doctor; ‘and, Lady Arabella, my opinion of Frank is such, that I feel sure that he will do well;’ and, in his energy, Dr Thorne brandished one of the thigh-bones almost in the lady’s face.

‘I hope he will; I am sure I hope he will. But, doctor, he has such dangers to contend with; he is so warm and impulsive that I fear his heart will bring him into trouble. Now, you know, unless Frank marries money he is lost.’

The doctor made no answer to this last appeal, but as he sat and listened a slight frown came across his brow.

‘He must marry money, doctor. Now we have, you see, with your assistance, contrived to separate him from dear Mary —’

‘With my assistance, Lady Arabella! I have given no assistance, nor have I meddled in the matter; nor will I.’

‘Well, doctor, perhaps not meddled; but you agreed with me, you know, that the two young people had been imprudent.’

‘I agreed to no such thing, Lady Arabella; never, never. I not only never agreed that Mary had been imprudent, but I will not agree to it now, and will not allow any one to assert it in my presence without contradicting it:’ and then the doctor worked away at the thigh-bones in a manner that did rather alarm her ladyship.

‘At any rate, you thought that the young people had better be kept apart.’

‘No; neither did I think that: my niece, I felt sure, was safe from danger. I knew that she would do nothing that would bring either her or me to shame.’

‘Not to shame,’ said the lady apologetically, as it were, using the word perhaps not exactly in the doctor’s sense.

‘I felt no alarm for her,’ continued the doctor, ‘and desired no change. Frank is your son, and it is for you to look to him. You thought proper to do so by desiring Mary to absent herself from Greshamsbury.’

‘Oh, no, no, no!’ said Lady Arabella.

‘But you did, Lady Arabella; and as Greshamsbury is your home, neither I nor my niece had any ground of complaint. We acquiesced, not without much suffering, but we did acquiesce; and you, I think, can have no ground of complaint against me.’

Lady Arabella had hardly expected that the doctor would reply to her mild and conciliatory exordium with so much sternness. He had yielded so easily to her on the former occasion. She did not comprehend that when she uttered her sentence of exile against Mary, she had given an order which she had the power of enforcing; but that obedience to that order had now placed Mary altogether beyond her jurisdiction. She was, therefore, a little surprised, and for a few moments overawed by the doctor’s manner; but she soon recovered herself, remembering, doubtless, that fortune favours none but the brave.

‘I make no complaint, Dr Thorne,’ she said, after assuming a tone more befitting a De Courcy than that hitherto used, ‘I make no complaint either as regards you or Mary.’

‘You are very kind, Lady Arabella.’

‘But I think that it is my duty to put a stop, a peremptory stop to anything like a love affair between my son and your niece.’

‘I have not the least objection in life. If there is such a love affair, put a stop to it — that is, if you have the power.’

Here the doctor was doubtless imprudent. But he had begun to think that he had yielded sufficiently to the lady; and he had begun to resolve, also, that though it would not become him to encourage even the idea of such a marriage, he would make Lady Arabella understand that he thought his niece quite good enough for her son, and that the match, if regarded as imprudent, was to be regarded as equally imprudent on both sides. He would not suffer that Mary and her heart and feelings and interest should be altogether postponed to those of the young heir; and, perhaps, he was unconsciously encouraged in this determination by the reflection that Mary herself might perhaps become a young heiress.

‘It is my duty,’ said Lady Arabella, repeating her words with even a stronger De Courcy intonation; ‘and your duty also, Dr Thorne.’

‘My duty!’ said he, rising from his chair and leaning on the table with the two thigh-bones. ‘Lady Arabella, pray understand at once, that I repudiate any such duty, and will have nothing whatever to do with it.’

‘But you do not mean to say that you will encourage this unfortunate boy to marry your niece?’

‘The unfortunate boy, Lady Arabella — whom, by the by, I regard as a very fortunate young man — is your son, not mine. I shall take no steps about his marriage, either one way or the other.’

‘You think it right, then, that your niece should throw herself in his way?’

‘Throw herself in his way! What would you say if I came up to Greshamsbury, and spoke of your daughters in such language? What would my dear friend, Mr Gresham say, if some neighbour’s wife should come and so speak to him? I will tell you what he would say: he would quietly beg her to go back to her own home and meddle only with her own matters.’

This was dreadful to Lady Arabella. Even Dr Thorne had never before dared thus to lower her to the level of common humanity, and liken her to any other wife in the country-side. Moreover, she was not quite sure whether he, the parish doctor, was not desiring her, the earl’s daughter, to go home and mind her own business. On this first point, however, there seemed to be no room for doubt, of which she gave herself the benefit.

‘It would not become me to argue with you, Dr Thorne,’ she said.

‘Not at least on this subject,’ said he.

‘I can only repeat that I mean nothing offensive to our dear Mary; for whom, I think I may say, I have always shown almost a mother’s care.’

‘Neither am I, nor is Mary, ungrateful for the kindness she has received at Greshamsbury.’

‘But I must do my duty: my own children must be my first consideration.’

‘Of course they must, Lady Arabella; that’s of course.’

‘And, therefore, I have called on you to say that I think it is imprudent that Beatrice and Mary should be so much together.’

The doctor had been standing during the latter part of this conversation, but now he began to walk about, still holding the two bones like a pair of dumb-bells.

‘God bless my soul!’ he said; ‘God bless my soul! Why, Lady Arabella, do you suspect your own daughter as well as your own son? Do you think that Beatrice is assisting Mary in preparing this wicked clandestine marriage? I tell you fairly, Lady Arabella, the present tone of your mind is such that I cannot understand it.’

‘I suspect nobody, Dr Thorne; but young people will be young.’

‘And old people must be old, I suppose; the more’s the pity. Lady Arabella, Mary is the same to me as my own daughter, and owes me the obedience of a child; but as I do not disapprove of your daughter Beatrice as an acquaintance for her, but rather, on the other hand, regard with pleasure their friendship, you cannot expect that I should take any steps to put an end to it.’

‘But suppose it should lead to renewed intercourse between Frank and Mary?’

‘I have no objection. Frank is a very nice young fellow, gentlemanlike in his manners, and neighbourly in his disposition.’

‘Dr Thorne —’

‘Lady Arabella —’

‘I cannot believe that you really intend to express a wish —’

‘You are quite right. I have not intended to express any wish; nor do I intend to do so. Mary is at liberty, within certain bounds — which I am sure she will not pass — to choose her own friends. I think she has not chosen badly as regards Miss Beatrice Gresham; and should she even add Frank Gresham to the number —’

‘Friends! why they were more than friends; they were declared lovers.’

‘I doubt that, Lady Arabella, because I have not heard of it from Mary. But even if it were so, I do not see why I should object.’

‘Not object!’

‘As I said before, Frank is, to my thinking, an excellent young man. Why should I object?’

‘Dr Thorne!’ said her ladyship, now also rising from her chair in a state of too evident perturbation.

‘Why should I object? It is for you, Lady Arabella, to look after your lambs; for me to see that, if possible, no harm shall come to mine. If you think that Mary is an improper acquaintance for your children, it is for you to guide them; for you and their father. Say what you think fit to your own daughter; but pray understand, once for all, that I will allow no one to interfere with my niece.’

‘Interfere!’ said Lady Arabella, now absolutely confused by the severity of the doctor’s manner.

‘I will allow no one to interfere with her; no one, Lady Arabella. She has suffered very greatly from imputations which you have most unjustly thrown on her. It was, however, your undoubted right to turn her out of your house if you thought fit; — though, as a woman who had known her for so many years, you might, I think, have treated her with more forbearance. That, however, was your right, and you exercised it. There your privilege stops; yes, and must stop, Lady Arabella. You shall not persecute her here, on the only spot of ground she can call her own.’

‘Persecute her, Dr Thorne! You do not mean to say that I have persecuted her?’

‘Ah! but I do mean to say so. You do persecute her, and would continue to do so did I not defend her. It is not sufficient that she is forbidden to enter your domain — and so forbidden with the knowledge of all the country round — but you must come here also with the hope of interrupting all the innocent pleasures of her life. Fearing lest she should be allowed even to speak to your son, to hear of word of him through his own sister, you would put her in prison, tie her up, keep her from the light of day —’

‘Dr Thorne! how can you —’

But the doctor was not to be interrupted.

‘It never occurs to you to tie him up, to put him in prison. No; he is the heir of Greshamsbury; he is your son, an earl’s grandson. It is only natural, after all, that he should throw a few foolish words at the doctor’s niece. But she! it is an offence not to be forgiven on her part that she should, however, unwillingly, have been forced to listen to them! Now understand me, Lady Arabella; if any of your family come to my house I shall be delighted to welcome them; if Mary should meet any of them elsewhere I shall be delighted to hear of it. Should she tell me tomorrow that she was engaged to marry Frank, I should talk the matter over with her, quite coolly, solely with a view to her interest, as would be my duty; feeling, at the same time, that Frank would be lucky in having such a wife. Now you know my mind, Lady Arabella. It is so I should do my duty; — you can do yours as you may think fit.’

Lady Arabella had by this time perceived that she was not destined, on this occasion to gain any great victory. She, however, was angry as well as the doctor. It was not the man’s vehemence that provoked her so much as his evident determination to break down the prestige of her rank, and place her on a footing in no respect superior to his own. He had never before been so audaciously arrogant; and, as she moved towards the door, she determined in her wrath that she would never again have confidential intercourse with him in any relation of life whatsoever.

‘Dr Thorne,’ said she. ‘I think you have forgotten yourself. You must excuse me if I say that after what has passed I— I— I—’

‘Certainly,’ said he, fully understanding what she meant; and bowing low as he opened first the study-door, then the front-door, then the garden-gate.

And then the Lady Arabella stalked off, not without full observation from Mrs Yates Umbleby and her friend Miss Gustring, who lived close by.

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