Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXVIII

The Doctor Hears Something to His Advantage

Sir Louis Scatcherd had told his mother that he was rather out of sorts, and when he reached Boxall Hill it certainly did not appear that he had given any exaggerated statement of his own maladies. He certainly was a good deal out of sorts. He had had more than one attack of delirium tremens after his father’s death, and had almost been at death’s door.

Nothing had been said about this by Dr Thorne at Boxall Hill; but he was by no means ignorant of his ward’s state. Twice he had gone up to London to visit him; twice he had begged him to go down into the country and place himself under his mother’s care. On the last occasion, the doctor had threatened him with all manner of pains and penalties: with pains, as to his speedy departure from this world and all its joys; and with penalties, in the shape of poverty if that departure should by any chance be retarded. But these threats had at the moment been in vain, and the doctor had compromised matters by inducing Sir Louis to promise that he would go to Brighton. The baronet, however, who was at length frightened by some renewed attack, gave up his Brighton scheme, and, without notice to the doctor, hurried down to Boxall Hill.

Mary did not see him on the first day of his coming, but the doctor did. He received such intimation of the visit as enabled him to be at the house soon after the young man’s arrival; and, knowing that his assistance might be necessary, he rode over to Boxall Hill. It was a dreadful task to him, this of making the same fruitless endeavour for the son that he had made for the father, and in the same house. But he was bound by every consideration to perform the task. He had promised the father that he would do for the son all that was in his power; and he had, moreover, the consciousness, that should Sir Louis succeed in destroying himself, the next heir to all the property was his own niece, Mary Thorne.

He found Sir Louis in a low, wretched, miserable state. Though he was a drunkard as his father was, he was not at all such a drunkard as his father. The physical capacities of the men were very different. The daily amount of alcohol which the father had consumed would have burnt up the son in a week; whereas, though the son was continually tipsy, what he swallowed would hardly have had an injurious effect upon the father.

‘You are all wrong, quite wrong,’ said Sir Louis petulantly; ‘it isn’t that at all. I have taken nothing this week past — literally nothing. I think it’s the liver.’

Dr Thorne wanted no one to tell him what was the matter with his ward. It was his liver; his liver, and his head, and his stomach, and his heart. Every organ in his body had been destroyed, or was in the course of destruction. His father had killed himself with brandy; the son more elevated in his tastes, was doing the same thing with curacoa, maraschino, and cherry-bounce.

‘Sir Louis,’ said the doctor — he was obliged to be much more punctilious with him than he had been with the contractor —‘the matter is in your hands entirely: if you cannot keep your lips from that accursed poison, you have nothing in this world to look forward to; nothing, nothing!’

Mary proposed to return with her uncle to Greshamsbury, and he was at first inclined that she should do so. But this idea was overruled, partly in compliance with Lady Scatcherd’s entreaties, and partly because it would have seemed as though they had both thought the presence of the owner had made the house an unfit habitation for decent people. The doctor, therefore, returned, leaving Mary there; and Lady Scatcherd busied herself between her two guests.

On the next day Sir Louis was able to come down to a late dinner, and Mary was introduced to him. He had dressed himself in his best array; and as he had — at any rate for the present moment — been frightened out of his libations, he was prepared to make himself as agreeable as possible. His mother waited on him almost as a slave might have done; but she seemed to do so with the fear of a slave rather than the love of a mother. She was fidgety in her attentions, and worried him by endeavouring to make her evening sitting-room agreeable.

But Sir Louis, though he was not very sweetly behaved under these manipulations from his mother’s hands, was quite complaisant to Miss Thorne; nay, after the expiration of a week he was almost more than complaisant. He piqued himself on his gallantry, and now found that, in the otherwise dull seclusion of Boxall Hill, he had a good opportunity of exercising it. To do him justice it must be admitted that he would not have been incapable of a decent career had he stumbled on some girl who could have loved him before he stumbled upon his maraschino bottle. Such might have been the case with many a lost rake. The things that are bad are accepted because the things that are good do not come easily in his way. How many a miserable father reviles with bitterness of spirit the low tastes of his son, who has done nothing to provide his child with higher pleasures!

Sir Louis — partly in the hopes of Mary’s smiles, and partly frightened by the doctor’s threats — did, for a while, keep himself within decent bounds. He did not usually appear before Mary’s eyes till three or four in the afternoon; but when he did come forth, he came forth sober and resolute to please. His mother was delighted, and was not slow to sing his praises; and even the doctor, who now visited Boxall Hill more frequently than ever, began to have some hopes.

One constant subject, I must not say of conversation, on the part of Lady Scatcherd, but rather of declamation, had hitherto been the beauty and manly attributes of Frank Gresham. She had hardly ceased to talk to Mary of the infinite good qualities of the young squire, and especially of his prowess in the matter of Mr Moffat. Mary had listened to all this eloquence, not perhaps with inattention, but without much reply. She had not been exactly sorry to hear Frank talked about; indeed, had she been so minded, she could herself have said something on the same subject; but she did not wish to take Lady Scatcherd altogether into her confidence, and she had been unable to say much about Frank Gresham without doing so. Lady Scatcherd had, therefore, gradually conceived that her darling was not a favourite with her guest.

Now, therefore, she changed the subject; and, as her own son was behaving with such unexampled propriety, she dropped Frank and confined her eulogies to Louis. He had been a little wild, she admitted; young men so often were so; but she hoped that it was now over.

‘He does still take a little drop of those French drinks in the morning,’ said Lady Scatcherd, in her confidence; for she was too honest to be false, even in her own cause. ‘He does that, I know: but that’s nothing, my dear, to swilling all day; and everything can’t be done at once, can it, Miss Thorne?’

On this subject Mary found her tongue loosened. She could not talk about Frank Gresham, but she could speak with hope to the mother of her only son. She could say that Sir Louis was still very young; that there was reason to trust that he might now reform; that his present conduct was apparently good; and that he appeared capable of better things. So much she did say; and the mother took her sympathy for more than it was worth.

On this matter, and on this matter perhaps alone, Sir Louis and Lady Scatcherd were in accord. There was much to recommend Mary to the baronet; not only did he see her to be beautiful, and perceive her to be attractive and ladylike; but she was also the niece of the man who, for the present, held the purse-strings of his wealth. Mary, it is true, had no fortune. But Sir Louis knew that she was acknowledged to be a lady; and he was ambitious that his ‘lady’ should be a lady. There was also much to recommend Mary to the mother, to any mother; and thus it came to pass, that Miss Thorne had no obstacle between her and the dignity of being Lady Scatcherd the second; — no obstacle whatever, if only she could bring herself to wish it.

It was some time — two or three weeks, perhaps — before Mary’s mind was first opened to this new brilliancy in her prospects. Sir Louis at first was rather afraid of her, and did not declare his admiration in any very determined terms. He certainly paid her many compliments which, from any one else she would have regarded as abominable. But she did not expect great things from the baronet’s taste: she concluded that he was only doing what he thought a gentleman should do; and she was willing to forgive much for Lady Scatcherd’s sake.

His first attempts were, perhaps, more ludicrous than passionate. He was still too much an invalid to take walks, and Mary was therefore saved from his company in her rambles; but he had a horse of his own at Boxall Hill, and had been advised to ride by the doctor. Mary also rode — on a donkey only, it is true — but Sir Louis found himself bound in gallantry to accompany her. Mary’s steed had answered every expectations, and proved himself very quiet; so quiet, that without the admonition of a cudgel behind him, he could hardly be persuaded into the demurest trot. Now, as Sir Louis’s horse was of a very different mettle, he found it rather difficult not to step faster than his inamorata; and, let it him struggle as he would, was generally so far ahead as to be debarred the delights of conversation.

When the second time he proposed to accompany her, Mary did what she could to hinder it. She saw that he had been rather ashamed of the manner in which his companion was mounted, and she herself would have enjoyed the ride much more without him. He was an invalid, however; it was necessary to make much of him, and Mary did not absolutely refuse the offer.

‘Lady Scatcherd,’ said he, as they were standing at the door previous to mounting — he always called his mother Lady Scatcherd —‘why don’t you take a horse for Miss Thorne? This donkey is — is — really is, so very — very — can’t go at all, you know?’

Lady Scatcherd began to declare that she would willing have got a pony if Mary would have let her do it.

‘Oh, no, Lady Scatcherd; not on any account. I do like the donkey so much — I do indeed.’

‘But he won’t go,’ said Sir Louis. ‘And for a person who rides like you, Miss Thorne — such a horsewoman you know — why, you know, Lady Scatcherd, it’s positively ridiculous; d —— absurd, you know.’

And then, with an angry look at his mother, he mounted his horse, and was soon leading the way down the avenue.

‘Miss Thorne,’ said he, pulling himself up at the gate, ‘if I had known that I was to be so extremely happy as to have found you here, I would have brought you down the most beautiful creature, an Arab. She belongs to my friend Jenkins; but I wouldn’t have stood at any price in getting her for you. By Jove! if you were on that mare, I’d back you, for style and appearance, against anything in Hyde Park.’

The offer of this sporting wager, which naturally would have been very gratifying to Mary, was lost upon her, for Sir Louis had again unwittingly got on in advance, but he stopped himself in time to hear Mary again declare her passion was a donkey.

‘If you could only see Jenkins’s little mare, Miss Thorne! Only say one word, and she shall be down here before the week’s end. Price shall be no obstacle — none whatever. By Jove, what a pair you would be!’

This generous offer was repeated four or five times; but on each occasion Mary only half heard what was said, and on each occasion the baronet was far too much in advance to hear Mary’s reply. At last he recollected that he wanted to call on one of his tenants, and begged his companion to allow him to ride on.

‘If you at all dislike being alone, you know —’

‘Oh dear no, not at all, Sir Louis. I am quite used to it.’

‘Because I don’t care about it, you know; only I can’t make this horse walk the same pace as that brute.’

‘You mustn’t abuse my pet, Sir Louis.’

‘It’s a d —— shame on my mother’s part;’ said Sir Louis, who, even when in his best behaviour, could not quite give up his ordinary mode of conversation. ‘When she was fortunate enough to get such a girl as you to come and stay with her, she ought to have had something proper for her to ride upon; but I’ll look to it as soon as I am a little stronger, you see if I don’t;’ and, so saying, Sir Louis trotted off, leaving Mary in peace with her donkey.

Sir Louis had now been living cleanly and forswearing sack for what was to him a very long period, and his health felt the good effects of it. No one rejoiced at this more cordially than did the doctor. To rejoice at it was with him a point of conscience. He could not help telling himself now and again that, circumstanced as he was, he was most specially bound to take joy in any sign of reformation that the baronet might show. Not to do so would be almost tantamount to wishing that he might die in order that Mary might inherit his wealth; and, therefore, the doctor did with all his energy devote himself to the difficult task of hoping and striving that Sir Louis might yet live to enjoy what was his own. But the task was altogether a difficult one, for as Sir Louis became stronger in health, so also did he become more exorbitant in his demands on the doctor’s patience, and more repugnant to the doctor’s tastes.

In his worst fits of disreputable living he was ashamed to apply to his guardian for money; and in his worst fits of illness he was through fear, somewhat patient under his doctor’s hands; but just at present he had nothing of which to be ashamed, and was not at all patient.

‘Doctor,’— said he, one day, at Boxall Hill —‘how about those Greshamsbury title-deeds?’

‘Oh, that will all be properly settled between my lawyer and your own.’

‘Oh — ah — yes; no doubt the lawyers will settle it; settle it with a fine bill of costs. But, as Finnie says,’— Finnie was Sir Louis’s legal adviser —‘I have got a tremendously large interest at stake in this matter; eighty thousand pounds is no joke. It ain’t everybody that can shell out eighty thousand pounds when they’re wanted; and I should like to know how the thing’s going on. I’ve a right to ask, you know; eh, doctor?’

‘The title-deeds of a large portion of Greshamsbury estate will be placed with the mortgage-deeds before the end of next month.’

‘Oh, that’s all right. I choose to know about these things; for though my father did make such a confoun-ded will, that’s no reason I shouldn’t know how things are going.’

‘You shall know everything that I know, Sir Louis.’

‘And now, doctor, what are we to do about money?’

‘About money?’

‘Yes; money, rhino, ready! “put money in your purse and cut a dash”; eh, doctor? Not that I want to cut a dash. No, I’m going on the quiet line altogether now: I’ve done with that sort of thing.’

‘I’m heartily glad of it; heartily,’ said the doctor.

‘Yes, I’m not going to make way for my far-away cousin yet; not if I know it, at least. I shall soon be all right now, doctor; shan’t I?’

‘“All right” is a long word, Sir Louis. But I do hope you will be all right in time, if you will live with decent prudence. You shouldn’t take that filth in the morning though.’

‘Filth in the morning! That’s my mother, I suppose! That’s her ladyship! She’s been talking, has she? Don’t you believe her, doctor. There’s not a young man in Barsetshire is going more regular, all right within the posts, than I am.’

The doctor was obliged to acknowledge that there did seem to be some improvement.

‘And now, doctor, how about money, eh?’

Doctor Thorne, like other guardians similarly circumstanced, began to explain that Sir Louis had already had a good deal of money, and had begun also to promise that more should be forthcoming in the event of good behaviour, when he was somewhat suddenly interrupted by Sir Louis.

‘Well, now; I’ll tell you what, doctor; I’ve got a bit of news for you; something that I think will astonish you.’

The doctor opened his eyes, and tried to look as though ready to be surprised.

‘Something that will really make you look about; and something, too, that will be very much to the hearer’s advantage — as the newspaper advertisements say.’

‘Something to my advantage?’ said the doctor.

‘Well, I hope you’ll think so. Doctor, what would you think now of my getting married?’

‘I should be delighted to hear of it — more delighted than I can express; that is, of course, if you were to marry well. It was your father’s most eager wish that you should marry early.’

‘That’s partly my reason,’ said the young hypocrite. ‘But then if I marry I must have an income fit to live on; eh, doctor?’

The doctor had some fear that his interesting protege was desirous of a wife for the sake of the income, instead of desiring the income for the sake of the wife. But let the cause be what it would, marriage would probably be good for him; and he had no hesitation, therefore, in telling him, that if he married well, he should be put in possession of sufficient income to maintain the new Lady Scatcherd in a manner becoming her dignity.

‘As to marrying well,’ said Sir Louis, ‘you, I take it, will the be the last man, doctor, to quarrel with my choice.’

‘Will I?’ said the doctor, smiling.

‘Well, you won’t disapprove, I guess, as the Yankee says. What would you think of Miss Mary Thorne?’

It must be said in Sir Louis’s favour that he had probably no idea whatever of the estimation in which such young ladies as Mary Thorne are held by those who are nearest and dearest to them. He had no sort of conception that she was regarded by her uncle and inestimable treasure, almost too precious to be rendered up to the arms of any man; and infinitely beyond any price in silver and gold, baronet’s incomes of eight or ten thousand a year, and such coins usually current in the world’s markets. He was a rich man and a baronet, and Mary was an unmarried girl without a portion. In Louis’s estimation he was offering everything, and asking for nothing. He certainly had some idea that girls were apt to be coy, and required a little wooing in the shape of presents, civil speeches — perhaps kisses also. The civil speeches he had, he thought, done, and imagined that they had been well received. The other things were to follow; an Arab pony, for instance — and the kisses probably with it; and then all these difficulties would be smoothed.

But he did not for a moment conceive that there would be any difficulty with the uncle. How should there be? Was he not a baronet with ten thousand a year coming to him? Had he not everything which fathers want for portionless daughters, and uncles for dependant nieces? Might he not well inform the doctor that he had something to tell him for his advantage?

And yet, to tell the truth, the doctor did not seem to be overjoyed when the announcement was first made to him. He was by no means overjoyed. On the contrary, even Sir Louis could perceive his guardian’s surprise was altogether unmixed with delight.

What a question was this that was asked him! What would he think of a marriage between Mary Thorne — his Mary and Sir Louis Scatcherd? Between the alpha of the whole alphabet, and him whom he could not but regard as the omega! Think of it! Why he would think of it as though a lamb and a wolf were to stand at the altar together. Had Sir Louis been a Hottentot, or an Esquimaux, the proposal could not have astonished him more. The two persons were so totally of a different class, that the idea of the one falling in love with the other had never occurred to him. ‘What would you think of Miss Mary Thorne?’ Sir Louis had asked; and the doctor, instead of answering him with ready and pleasant alacrity, stood silent, thunderstruck with amazement.

‘Well, wouldn’t she be a good wife?’ said Sir Louis, rather in a tone of disgust at the evident disapproval shown in his choice. ‘I thought you would have been so delighted.’

‘Mary Thorne!’ ejaculated the doctor at last. ‘Have you spoken to my niece about this, Sir Louis?’

‘Well, I have and yet I haven’t; I haven’t, and yet in a manner I have.’

‘I don’t understand you,’ said the doctor.

‘Why, you see, I haven’t exactly popped to her yet; but I have been doing the civil; and if she’s up to snuff, as I take her to be, she knows very well what I’m after by this time.’

Up to snuff! Mary Thorne, his Mary Thorne, up to snuff! To snuff too of such a very disagreeable description!

‘I think, Sir Louis, that you are in mistake about this. I think you will find that Mary will not be disposed to avail herself of the great advantages — for great they undoubtedly are — which you are able to offer to your intended wife. If you will take my advice, you will give up thinking of Mary. She would not suit you.’

‘Not suit me! Oh, but I think she just would. She’s got no money, you mean?’

‘No, I did not mean that. It will not signify to you whether your wife has money or not. You need not look for money. But you should think of some one more nearly of your temperament. I am quite sure that my niece would refuse you.’

These last words the doctor uttered with much emphasis. His intention was to make the baronet understand that the matter was quite hopeless, and to induce him if possible to drop it on the spot. But he did not know Sir Louis; he ranked him too low in the scale of human beings, and gave him no credit for any strength of character. Sir Louis in his way did love Mary Thorne. And could not bring himself to believe that Mary did not, or at any rate, would not soon return his passion. He was, moreover, sufficiently obstinate, firm we ought perhaps to say — for his pursuit in this case was certainly not an evil one — and he at once made up his mind to succeed in spite of the uncle.

‘If she consents, however, you will do so too?’ asked he.

‘It is impossible that she should consent,’ said the doctor.

‘Impossible! I don’t see anything at all impossible. But if she does?’

‘But she won’t.’

‘Very well — that’s to be seen. But just tell me this, if she does, will you consent?’

‘The stars would fall first. It’s all nonsense. Give it up, my dear friend; believe me you are only preparing unhappiness for yourself;’ and the doctor put his hand kindly on the young man’s arm. ‘She will not, cannot, accept such an offer.’

‘Will not! cannot!’ said the baronet, thinking over all the reasons which in his estimation could possibly be inducing the doctor to be so hostile to his views, and shaking the hand of his arm. ‘Will not! cannot! But come, doctor, answer my question fairly. If she’ll have me for better or worse, you won’t say aught against it; will you?’

‘But she won’t have you; why should you give her and yourself the pain of a refusal?’

‘Oh, as for that, I must stand my chance like another. And as for her, why d —-, doctor, you wouldn’t have me believe that any young lady thinks it so very dreadful to have a baronet with ten thousand pounds a year at her feet, specially when that same baronet ain’t very old, nor yet particularly ugly. I ain’t so green as that, doctor.’

‘I suppose she must go through with it, then,’ said the doctor, musing.

‘But, Dr Thorne, I did look for a kinder answer from you, considering all that you so often say about your great friendship with my father. I did think you’d at any rate answer me when I asked you a question.’

But the doctor did not want to answer that special question. Could it be possible that Mary should wish to marry this odious man, could such a state of things be imagined to be the case, he would not refuse his consent, infinitely as he would be disgusted by her choice. But he would not give Sir Louis any excuse of telling Mary that her uncle approved of so odious a match.

‘I cannot say that in case I would approve of such a marriage, Sir Louis. I cannot bring myself to say so; for I know it would make you both miserable. But on that matter my niece will choose wholly for herself.’

‘And about money, doctor?’

‘If you marry a decent woman you shall not want the means of supporting her decently,’ and so saying the doctor walked away, leaving Sir Louis to his meditations.

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