Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXVII

Miss Thorne Goes on a Visit

And now began the unpleasant things at Greshamsbury of which we have here told. When Lady Arabella walked away from the doctor’s house she resolved that, let it cost what it might, there should be war to the knife between her and him. She had been insulted by him — so at least she said to herself, and so she was prepared to say to others also — and it was not to be borne that a De Courcy should allow her parish doctor to insult her with impunity. She would tell her husband with all the dignity that she could assume, that it had now become absolutely necessary that he should protect his wife by breaking entirely with his unmannered neighbour; and, as regarded the young members of her family, she would use the authority of a mother, and absolutely forbid them to hold any intercourse with Mary Thorne. So resolving, she walked quickly back to her own house.

The doctor, when left alone, was not quite satisfied with the part he had taken in the interview. He had spoken from impulse rather than from judgement, and, as is generally the case with men who do so speak, he had afterwards to acknowledge to himself that he had been imprudent. He accused himself probably with more violence than he had really used, and was therefore unhappy; but, nevertheless, his indignation was not at rest. He was angry with himself; but not on that account the less angry with Lady Arabella. She was cruel of manners, so he thought; but not on that account was he justified in forgetting the forbearance due from a gentleman to a lady. Mary, moreover, had owed much to the kindness of this woman, and, therefore, Dr Thorne felt that he should have forgiven much.

Thus the doctor walked about his room, much disturbed; now accusing himself for having been so angry with Lady Arabella, and then feeding his own anger by thinking of her misconduct.

The only immediate conclusion at which he resolved was this, that it was unnecessary that he should say anything to Mary on the subject of her ladyship’s visit. There was no doubt, sorrow enough in store for his darling; why should he aggravate it? Lady Arabella would doubtless not stop now in her course; but why should he accelerate the evil which she would doubtless be able to effect?

Lady Arabella, when she returned to the house, allowed no grass to grow under her feet. As she entered the house she desired that Miss Beatrice should be sent to her directly she returned; and she desired also, that as soon as the squire should be in his room a message to that effect might be immediately brought to her.

‘Beatrice,’ she said, as soon as the young lady appeared before her, and in speaking she assumed her firmest tone of authority, ‘Beatrice, I am sorry, my dear, to say anything that is unpleasant to you, but I must make it a positive request that you will for the future drop all intercourse with Dr Thorne’s family.’

Beatrice, who had received Lady Arabella’s message immediately on entering the house, and had run upstairs imagining that some instant haste was required, now stood before her mother rather out of breath, holding her bonnet by the strings.

‘Oh, mamma!’ she exclaimed, ‘what on earth has happened?’

‘My dear,’ said the mother, ‘I cannot really explain to you what has happened; but I must ask you to give me positive your assurance that you will comply with my request.’

‘You don’t mean that I am not to see Mary any more?’

‘Yes, I do, my dear; at any rate, for the present. When I tell you that your brother’s interest imperatively demands it, I am sure that you will not refuse me.’

Beatrice did not refuse, but she did not appear too willing to comply. She stood silent, leaning against the end of a sofa and twisting her bonnet-strings in her hand.

‘Well, Beatrice —’

‘But, mamma, I don’t understand.’

Lady Arabella had said that she could not exactly explain: but she found it necessary to attempt to do so.

‘Dr Thorne has openly declared to me that a marriage between poor Frank and Mary is all he could desire for his niece. After such unparalleled audacity as that, even your father will see the necessity of breaking with him.’

‘Dr Thorne! Oh, mamma, you must have misunderstood him.’

‘My dear, I am not apt to misunderstand people; especially when I am so much in earnest as I was in talking to Dr Thorne.’

‘But, mamma, I know so well what Mary herself thinks about it.’

‘And I know what Dr Thorne thinks about it; he, at any rate, has been candid in what he said; there can be no doubt on earth that he has spoken his true thoughts; there can be no reason to doubt him; of course such a match would be all that he could wish.’

‘Mamma, I feel sure that there is some mistake.’

‘Very well, my dear. I know that you are infatuated about these people, and that you are always inclined to contradict what I say to you; but, remember, I expect that you will obey me when I tell you not to go to Dr Thorne’s house any more.’

‘But, mamma —’

‘I expect you to obey me, Beatrice. Though you are so prone to contradict, you have never disobeyed me; and I fully trust that you will not do so now.’

Lady Arabella had begun by exacting, or trying to exact a promise, but as she found that this was not forthcoming, she thought it better to give up the point without a dispute. It might be that Beatrice would absolutely refuse to pay this respect to her mother’s authority, and then where would she have been?

At this moment a servant came up to say that the squire was in his room, and Lady Arabella was opportunely saved the necessity of discussing the matter further with her daughter. ‘I am now,’ she said, ‘going to see your father on the same subject; you may be quite sure, Beatrice that I should not willingly speak to him on any matter relating to Dr Thorne did I not find it absolutely necessary to do so.’

This Beatrice knew was true, and she did therefore feel convinced that something terrible must have happened.

While Lady Arabella opened her budget the squire sat quite silent, listening to her with appropriate respect. She found it necessary that her description to him should be much more elaborate than that which she had vouchsafed to her daughter, and, in telling her grievance, she insisted most especially on the personal insult which had been offered to herself.

‘After what has now happened,’ said she, not quite able to repress a tone of triumph as she spoke, ‘I do expect, Mr Gresham, that you will — will —’

‘Will what, my dear?’

‘Will at least protect me from the repetition of such treatment.’

‘You are not afraid that Dr Thorne will come here and attack you? As far as I can understand, he never comes near the place, unless you send for him.’

‘No; I do not think that he will come to Greshamsbury any more. I believe I have put a stop to that.’

‘Then what is it, my dear, that you want me to do?’

Lady Arabella paused a minute before she replied. The game which she now had to play was not very easy; she knew, or thought she knew, that her husband, in his heart of hearts, much preferred his friend to the wife of his bosom, and that he would, if he could, shuffle out of noticing the doctor’s iniquities. It behoved her, therefore, to put them forward in such a way that they must be noticed.

‘I suppose, Mr Gresham, you do not wish that Frank should marry the girl?’

‘I do not think there is the slightest chance of such a thing; and I am quite sure that Dr Thorne would not encourage it.’

‘But I tell you, Mr Gresham, that he says he will encourage it.’

‘Oh, you misunderstand him.’

‘Of course; I always misunderstand everything. I know that. I misunderstood it when I told you how you would distress yourself if you took those nasty hounds.’

‘I have had other troubles more expensive than the hounds,’ said the poor squire, sighing.

‘Oh, yes; I know what you mean; a wife and family are expensive, of course. It is a little too late to complain of that.’

‘My dear, it is always too late to complain of any troubles when they are no longer to be avoided. We need not, therefore, talk any more about hounds at present.’

‘I do not wish to speak of them, Mr Gresham.’

‘Nor I.’

‘But I hope you will not think me unreasonable if I am anxious to know what you intend to do about Dr Thorne.’

‘To do?’

‘Yes; I suppose you will do something: you do not wish to see your son marry such a girl as Mary Thorne.’

‘As far as the girl herself is concerned,’ said the squire, turning rather red, ‘I am not sure that he could do much better. I know nothing whatever against Mary. Frank, however, cannot afford to make such a match. It would be his ruin.’

‘Of course it would; utter ruin; he never could hold up his head again. Therefore it is I ask, What do you intend to do?’

The squire was bothered. He had no intention whatever of doing anything, and no belief in his wife’s assertion as to Dr Thorne’s iniquity. But he did not know how to get her out of the room. She asked him the same question over and over again, and on each occasion urged on him the heinousness of the insult to which she personally had been subjected; so that at last he was driven to ask her what it was she wished him to do.

‘Well, then, Mr Gresham, if you ask me, I must say, that I think you should abstain from any intercourse with Dr Thorne whatever.’

‘Break off all intercourse with him?’

‘Yes.’

‘What do you mean? He has been turned out of this house, and I’m not to go to see him at his own.’

‘I certainly think that you ought to discontinue your visits to Dr Thorne altogether.’

‘Nonsense, my dear; absolute nonsense.’

‘Nonsense! Mr Gresham; it is no nonsense. As you speak in that way, I must let you know plainly what I feel. I am endeavouring to do my duty by my son. As you justly observe, such a marriage as this would be utter ruin to him. When I found that the young people were actually talking of being in love with each other, making vows and all that sort of thing, I did think it time to interfere. I did not, however, turn them out of Greshamsbury as you accuse me of doing. In the kindest possible manner —’

‘Well — well — well; I know all that. There, they are gone, and that’s enough. I don’t complain; surely that ought to be enough.’

‘Enough! Mr Gresham. No; it is not enough. I find that, in spite of what has occurred, the closest intimacy exists between the two families; that poor Beatrice, who is so very young, and not so prudent as she should be, is made to act as a go-between; and when I speak to the doctor, hoping that he will assist me in preventing this, he not only tells me that he means to encourage Mary in her plans, but positively insults me to my face, laughs at me for being an earl’s daughter, and tells me — yes, he absolutely told me — to get out of his house.’

Let it be told with some shame as to the squire’s conduct, that his first feeling on hearing this was one of envy — of envy and regret that he could not make the same uncivil request. Not that he wished to turn his wife absolutely out of his house; but he would have been very glad to have had the power of dismissing her summarily from his own room. This, however, was at present impossible; so he was obliged to make some mild reply.

‘You must have mistaken him, my dear. He could not have intended to say that.’

‘Oh! of course, Mr Gresham. It is a mistake, of course. It will be a mistake, only a mistake when you find your son married to Mary Thorne.’

‘Well, my dear, I cannot undertake to quarrel with Dr Thorne.’ This was true; for the squire could hardly have quarrelled with Dr Thorne, even had he wished it.

‘Then I think it right to tell you that I shall. And, Mr Gresham, I did not expect much co-operation from you; but I did think that you would have shown some little anger when you heard that I had been so ill-treated. I shall, however, know how to take care of myself; and I shall continue to do the best I can to protect Frank from these wicked intrigues.’

So saying, her ladyship arose and left the room, having succeeded in destroying the comfort of all our Greshamsbury friends. It was very well for the squire to declare that he would not quarrel with Dr Thorne, and of course he did not do so. But he, himself, had no wish whatever that his son should marry Mary Thorne; and as a falling drop will hollow a stone, so did the continual harping of his wife on the subject give rise to some amount of suspicion in his own mind. Then as to Beatrice, though she had made no promise that she would not again visit Mary, she was by no means prepared to set her mother’s authority altogether at defiance; and she also was sufficiently uncomfortable.

Dr Thorne said nothing of the matter to his niece, and she, therefore, would have been absolutely bewildered by Beatrice’s absence, had she not received some tidings of what had taken place at Greshamsbury through Patience Oriel. Beatrice and Patience discussed the matter fully, and it was agreed between them that it would be better that Mary should know what sterner orders respecting her had gone forth from the tyrant at Greshamsbury, and that she might understand that Beatrice’s absence was compulsory. Patience was thus placed in this position, that on one day she walked and talked with Beatrice, and on the next with Mary; and so matters went on for a while at Greshamsbury — not very pleasantly.

Very unpleasantly and very uncomfortably did the months of May and June pass away. Beatrice and Mary occasionally met, drinking tea together at the parsonage, or in some other of the ordinary meetings of the country society; but there were no more confidentially distressing confidential discourses, no more whispering of Frank’s name, no more sweet allusions to the inexpediency of a passion, which, according to Beatrice’s views, would have been so delightful had it been expedient.

The squire and the doctor also met constantly; there were unfortunately many subjects on which they were obliged to meet. Louis Philippe — or Sir Louis as we must call him — though he had no power over his own property, was wide awake to all the coming privileges of ownership, and he would constantly point out to his guardian the manner in which, according to his ideas, the most should be made of it. The young baronet’s ideas of good taste were not of the most refined description, and he did not hesitate to tell Dr Thorne that his, the doctor’s friendship with Mr Gresham must be no bar to his, the baronet’s interest. Sir Louis also had his own lawyer, who gave Dr Thorne to understand, that, according to his ideas, the sum due on Mr Gresham’s property was too large to be left on its present footing; the title-deeds, he said, should be surrendered or the mortgage foreclosed. All this added to the sadness which now seemed to envelop the village of Greshamsbury.

Early in July Frank was to come home. The manner in which the comings and goings of ‘poor Frank’ were allowed to disturb the arrangements of all the ladies, and some of the gentlemen, of Greshamsbury was most abominable. And yet it can hardly be said to have been his fault. He would have been only too well pleased had things been allowed to go on after their old fashion. Things were not allowed so to go on. At Christmas Miss Oriel had submitted to be exiled, in order that she might carry Mary away from the presence of the young Bashaw, an arrangement by which all the winter festivities of the poor doctor had been thoroughly sacrificed; and now it began to be said that some similar plan for the summer must be arranged.

It must not be supposed that any direction to this effect was conveyed either to Mary or to the doctor. The suggestion came from them, and was mentioned only to Patience. But Patience, as a matter of course, told Beatrice, and Beatrice told her mother, somewhat triumphantly, hoping thereby to convince the she-dragon of Mary’s innocence. Alas! she-dragons are not easily convinced of the innocence of any one. Lady Arabella quite coincided the propriety of Mary’s being sent off — whither she never inquired — in order that the coast might be clear for ‘poor Frank’; but she did not a whit the more abstain from talking of the wicked intrigues of those Thornes. As it turned out, Mary’s absence caused her to talk all the more.

The Boxall Hill property, including the house and furniture, had been left to the contractor’s son; it being understood that the property would not be at present in his own hands, but that he might inhabit the house if he chose to do so. It would thus be necessary for Lady Scatcherd to find a home for herself, unless she could remain at Boxall Hill by her son’s permission. In this position of affairs the doctor had been obliged to make a bargain between them. Sir Louis did wish to have the comfort, or perhaps the honour, of a country house; but he did not wish to have the expense of keeping it up. He was also willing to let his mother live at the house; but not without a consideration. After a prolonged degree of haggling, terms were agreed upon; and a few weeks after her husband’s death, Lady Scatcherd found herself alone at Boxall Hill — alone as regards society in the ordinary sense, but not quite alone as concerned her ladyship, for the faithful Hannah was still with her.

The doctor was of course often at Boxall Hill, and never left it without an urgent request from Lady Scatcherd that he would bring his niece over to see her. Now Lady Scatcherd was no fit companion for Mary Thorne, and though Mary had often asked to be taken to Boxall Hill, certain considerations had hitherto induced the doctor to refuse the request; but there was about Lady Scatcherd — a kind of homely honesty of purpose, an absence of all conceit as to her own position, and a strength of womanly confidence in the doctor as her friend, which by degrees won upon his heart. When, therefore, both he and Mary felt that it would be better for her again to absent herself for a while from Greshamsbury, it was, after much deliberation, agreed that she should go on a visit to Boxall Hill.

To Boxall Hill, accordingly, she went, and was received almost as a princess. Mary had all her life been accustomed to women of rank, and had never habituated herself to feel much trepidation in the presence of titled grandees; but she had prepared herself to be more than ordinarily submissive to Lady Scatcherd. Her hostess was a widow, was not a woman of high birth, was a woman of whom her uncle spoke well; and, for all these reasons, Mary was determined to respect her, and pay to her every consideration. But when she settled down in the house she found it almost impossible to do so. Lady Scatcherd treated her as a farmer’s wife might have treated a convalescent young lady who had been sent to her charge for a few weeks, in order that she might benefit by the country air. Her ladyship could hardly bring herself to sit still and eat her dinner tranquilly in her guest’s presence. And then nothing was good enough for Mary. Lady Scatcherd besought her, almost with tears, to say what she liked best to eat and drink; and was in despair when Mary declared she didn’t care, that she liked anything, and that she was in nowise particular in such matters.

‘A roast fowl, Miss Thorne?’

‘Very nice, Lady Scatcherd.’

‘And bread sauce?’

‘Bread sauce — yes; oh, yes — I like bread sauce,’— and poor Mary tried hard to show a little interest.

‘And just a few sausages. We make them all in the house, Miss Thorne; we know what they are. And mashed potatoes — do you like them best mashed or baked?’

Mary finding herself obliged to vote, voted for mashed potatoes.

‘Very well. But, Miss Thorne, if you like boiled fowl better, with a little bit of ham, you know, I do hope you’ll say so. And there’s lamb in the house, quite beautiful; now do’ee say something; do’ee, Miss Thorne.’

So invoked, Mary felt herself obliged to say something, and declared for the roast fowl and sausages; but she found it very difficult to pay much outward respect to a person who would pay so much outward respect to her. A day or two after her arrival it was decided that she should ride about the place on a donkey; she was accustomed to riding, the doctor having generally taken care that one of his own horses should, when required, consent to carry a lady; but there was no steed at Boxall Hill that she could mount; and when Lady Scatcherd had offered to get a pony for her, she had willingly compromised matters by expressing the delight she would have in making a campaign on a donkey. Upon this, Lady Scatcherd had herself set off in quest of the desired animal, much to Mary’s horror; and did not return till the necessary purchase had been effected. Then she came back with the donkey close at her heels, almost holding its collar, and stood there at the hall-door till Mary came to approve.

‘I hope she’ll do. I don’t think she’ll kick,’ said Lady Scatcherd, patting the head of her purchase quite triumphantly.

‘Oh, you are so kind, Lady Scatcherd. I’m sure she’ll do quite nicely; she seems very quiet,’ said Mary.

‘Please, my lady, it’s a he,’ said the boy who held the halter.

‘Oh! a he, is it?’ said her ladyship; ‘but the he-donkeys are quite as quiet as the shes ain’t they?’

‘Oh, yes, my lady; a deal quieter, all the world over, and twice as useful.’

‘I’m so glad of that, Miss Thorne,’ said Lady Scatcherd, her eyes bright with joy.

And so Mary was established with her donkey, who did all that could be expected from an animal in his position.

‘But, dear Lady Scatcherd,’ said Mary, as they sat together at the open drawing-room window the same evening, ‘you must not go on calling me Miss Thorne; my name is Mary, you know. Won’t you call me Mary?’ and she came and knelt at Lady Scatcherd’s feet, and took hold of her, looking up into her face.

Lady Scatcherd’s cheeks became rather red, as though she was somewhat ashamed of her position.

‘You are very kind to me,’ continued Mary, ‘and it seems so cold to hear you call me Miss Thorne.’

‘Well, Miss Thorne, I’m sure I’d call you anything to please you. Only I didn’t know whether you’d like it from me. Else I do think Mary is the prettiest name in all the language.’

‘I should like it very much.’

‘My dear Roger always loved that name better than any other; ten times better. I used to wish sometimes that I’d been called Mary.’

‘Did he! Why?’

‘He once had a sister called Mary; such a beautiful creature! I declare that sometimes think you are like her.’

‘Oh, dear! then she must have been very beautiful indeed!’ said Mary, laughing.

‘She was very beautiful. I just remember her — oh, so beautiful! she was quite a poor girl, you know; and so was I then. Isn’t it odd that I should have to be called “my lady” now. Do you know Miss Thorne —’

‘Mary! Mary!’ said her guest.

‘Ah, yes; but somehow, I hardly like to make so free; but, as I was saying, I do so dislike being called “my lady”: I always think the people are laughing at me; and so they are.’

‘Oh, nonsense.’

‘Yes they are though: poor dear Roger, he used to call me “my lady” just to make fun of me; I didn’t mind it so much from him. But, Miss Thorne —’

‘Mary, Mary, Mary.’

‘Ah, well! I shall do it in time. But, Miss — Mary, ha! ha! ha! never mind, let me alone. But what I want to say is this: do you think I could drop it? Hannah says, that if I go the right way about it she is sure I can.’

‘Oh! but, Lady Scatcherd, you shouldn’t think of such a thing.’

‘Shouldn’t I now?’

‘Oh, no; for your husband’s sake you should be proud of it. He gained great honour, you know.’

‘Ah, well,’ said she, sighing after a short pause; ‘if you think it will do him any good, of course I’ll put up with it. And then I know Louis would be mad if I talked of such a thing. But, Miss Thorne, dear, a woman like me don’t like to have to be made a fool of all the days of her life if she can help it.’

‘But, Lady Scatcherd,’ said Mary, when this question of the title had been duly settled, and her ladyship made to understand that she must bear the burden for the rest of her life, ‘but, Lady Scatcherd, you were speaking of Sir Roger’s sister; what became of her?’

‘Oh, she did very well at last, as Sir Roger did himself; but in early life she was very unfortunate — just at Historia Augusta time of my marriage to dear Roger — ’ and then, just as she was about to commence so much as she knew of the history of Mary Scatcherd, she remembered that the author of her sister-inlaw’s misery had been a Thorne, a brother of the doctor; and, therefore, as she presumed, a relative of her guest; and suddenly she became mute.

‘Well,’ said Mary; ‘just as you were married, Lady Scatcherd?’

Poor Lady Scatcherd had very little worldly knowledge, and did not in the least know how to turn the conversation or escape from the trouble into which she had fallen. All manner of reflections began to crowd upon her. In her early days she had known very little of the Thornes, nor had she thought much of them since, except as regarded her friend the doctor; but at this moment she began to think that she had never heard more than two brothers in the family. Who then could have Mary’s father? She felt at once that it would be improper for to say anything as to Henry Thorne’s terrible faults and sudden fate; — improper also, to say more about Mary Scatcherd; but she was quite unable to drop the matter otherwise than abruptly, and with a start.

‘She was very unfortunate, you say, Lady Scatcherd?’

‘Yes, Miss Thorne; Mary, I mean — never mind me — I shall do it in time. Yes, she was; but now I think of it, I had better say nothing more about it. There are reasons, and I ought not to have spoken of it. You won’t be provoked with me, will you?’

Mary assured her that she would not be provoked, and of course asked no more questions about Mary Scatcherd; nor did she think much more about it. It was not so however with her ladyship, who could not keep herself from reflecting that the old clergyman at the Close at Barchester certainly had but two sons, one of whom was now the doctor at Greshamsbury, and the other of whom had perished so wretchedly at the gate of that farmyard. Who then was the father of Mary Thorne?

The days passed very quietly at Boxall Hill. Every morning Mary went out on her donkey, who justified by his demeanour all that had been said in his praise; then she would read or draw, then walk with Lady Scatcherd, then dine, then walk again; and so the days passed quietly away. Once or twice a week the doctor would come over and drink his tea there, riding home in the cool of the evening. Mary also received one visit from her friend Patience.

So the days passed quietly away till the tranquillity of the house was suddenly broken by tidings from London. Lady Scatcherd received a letter from her son, contained in three lines, in which he intimated that on the following day he meant to honour them with a visit. He had intended, he said, to have gone to Brighton with some friends; but as he felt himself a little out of sorts, he would postpone his marine trip and do his mother the grace of spending a few days with her.

This news was not very pleasant to Mary, by whom it had been understood, as it had been also by her uncle, that Lady Scatcherd would have had the house to herself; but as there was no means of preventing the evil, Mary could only inform the doctor, and prepare herself to meet Sir Louis Scatcherd.

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