Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XL

The Two Doctors Change Patients

Dr Fillgrave still continued his visits to Greshamsbury, for Lady Arabella had not yet mustered the courage necessary for swallowing her pride and sending once more for Dr Thorne. Nothing pleased Dr Fillgrave more than those visits.

He habitually attended grander families, and richer people; but then, he had attended them habitually. Greshamsbury was a prize taken from the enemy; it was his rock of Gibraltar, of which he thought much more than of any ordinary Hampshire or Wiltshire which had always been within his own kingdom.

He was just starting one morning with his post-horses for Greshamsbury, when an impudent-looking groom, with a crooked nose, trotted up to his door. For Joe still had a crooked nose, all the doctor’s care having been inefficacious to remedy the evil effects of Bridget’s little tap with the rolling-pin. Joe had no written credentials, for his master was hardly equal to writing, and Lady Scatcherd had declined to put herself to further personal communication with Dr Fillgrave; but he had effrontery enough to deliver any message.

‘Be you Dr Fillgrave?’ said Joe, with one finger just raised to his cocked hat.

‘Yes,’ said Dr Fillgrave, with one foot on the step of the carriage, but pausing at the sight of the well-turned-out servant. ‘Yes; I am Dr Fillgrave.’

‘Then you be to go to Boxall Hill immediately; before anywhere else.’

‘Boxall Hill!’ said the doctor, with a very angry frown.

‘Yes; Boxall Hill: my master’s place — my master is Sir Louis Scatcherd, baronet. You’ve heard of him, I suppose?’

Dr Fillgrave had not his mind quite ready for such an occasion. So he withdrew his foot from the carriage step, and rubbing his hands one over another, looked at his own hall door for inspiration. A single glance at his face was sufficient to show that no ordinary thoughts were being turned over within his breast.

‘Well!’ said Joe, thinking that his master’s name had not altogether produced the magic effect which he had expected; remembering, also, now submissive Greyson had always been, who, being a London doctor, must be supposed to be a bigger man than this provincial fellow. ‘Do you know my master is dying, very like, while you stand here?’

‘What is your master’s disease?’ said the doctor, facing Joe, slowly, and still rubbing his hands. ‘What ails him? What is the matter with him?’

‘Oh; the matter with him? Well, to say it out at once then, he do take a drop too much at times, and then he has the horrors — what is it they call it? Delicious beam-ends, or something of that sort.’

‘Ah, ah, yes; I know; and tell me, my man, who is attending him?’

‘Attending him? why, I do, and his mother, that is, her ladyship.’

‘Yes; but what medical attendant: what doctor?’

‘Why, there was Greyson, in London, and —’

‘Greyson!’ and the doctor looked as though a name so medicinally humble had never struck the tympanum of his ear.

‘Yes; Greyson. And then, down at what’s a the man of the place, there was Thorne.’

‘Greshamsbury?’

‘Yes; Greshamsbury. But he and Thorne didn’t hit it off; and so since that he has had no one but myself.’

‘I will be at Boxall Hill in the course of the morning,’ said Dr Fillgrave; ‘or, rather, you may say, that I will be there at once: I will take it in my way.’ And having thus resolved, he gave his orders that the post-horses should make such a detour as would enable him to visit Boxall Hill on his road. ‘It is impossible,’ said he to himself, ‘that I should be twice treated in such a manner in the same house.’

He was not, however, altogether in a comfortable frame of mind as he was driven up to the hall door. He could not but remember the smile of triumph with which his enemy had regarded him in that hall; he could not but think how he had returned fee-less to Barchester, and how little he had gained in the medical world by rejecting Lady Scatcherd’s bank-note. However, he also had had his triumphs since that. He had smiled scornfully at Dr Thorne when he had seen him in the Greshamsbury street; and had been able to tell, at twenty houses through the county, how Lady Arabella had at last been obliged to place herself in his hands. And he triumphed again when he found himself really standing by Sir Louis Scatcherd’s bedside. As for Lady Scatcherd, she did not even show herself. She kept in her own little room, sending out Hannah to ask him up the stairs; and she only just got a peep at him through the door as she heard the medical creak of his shoes as he again descended.

We need say but little of his visit to Sir Louis. It mattered nothing now, whether it was Thorne, or Greyson, or Fillgrave. And Dr Fillgrave knew that it mattered nothing: he had skill at least for that — and heart enough also to feel that he would fain have been relieved from this task; would fain have left the patient in the hands even of Dr Thorne.

The name which Joe had given to his master’s illness was certainly not a false one. He did find Sir Louis ‘in the horrors’. If any father have a son whose besetting sin was a passion for alcohol, let him take his child to the room of a drunkard when possessed by ‘the horrors’. Nothing will cure him if not that.

I will not disgust my reader by attempting to describe the poor wretch in his misery: the sunken, but yet glaring eyes; the emaciated cheeks; the fallen mouth; the parched, sore lips; the face, now dry and hot, and then suddenly clammy with drops of perspiration; the shaking hand, and all but palsied limbs; and worse than this, the fearful mental efforts, and the struggles for drink; struggles to which it is often necessary to give way.

Dr Fillgrave soon knew what was to be the man’s fate; but he did what he might to relieve it. There, in one big, best bedroom, looking out to the north, lay Sir Louis Scatcherd, dying wretchedly. There, in the other big, best bedroom, looking out to the south, had died the other baronet about twelvemonth since, and each a victim of the same sin. To this had come the prosperity of the house of Scatcherd!

And then Dr Fillgrave went on to Greshamsbury. It was a long day’s work, both for himself and the horses; but then, the triumph of being dragged up that avenue compensated for both the expense and the labour. He always put on his sweetest smile as he came near the hall door, and rubbed his hands in the most complaisant manner of which he knew. It was seldom that he saw any of the family but Lady Arabella; but then he desired to see none other, and when he left her in a good humour, was quite content to take his glass of sherry and eat his lunch by himself.

On this occasion, however, the servant at once asked him to go into the dining-room, and there he found himself in the presence of Frank Gresham. The fact was, that Lady Arabella, having at last decided, had sent for Dr Thorne; and it had become necessary that some one should be entrusted with the duty of informing Dr Fillgrave. That some one must be the squire, or Frank. Lady Arabella would doubtless have preferred a messenger more absolutely friendly to her own side of the house; but such messenger there was none: she could not send Mr Gazebee to see the doctor, and so, of the two evils, she chose the least.

‘Dr Fillgrave,’ said Frank, shaking hands with him very cordially as he came up, ‘my mother is so much obliged to you for all your care and anxiety on her behalf! and, so indeed, are we all.’

The doctor shook hands with him very warmly. This little expression of a family feeling on his behalf was the more gratifying, as he had always thought that the males of the Greshamsbury family were still wedded to that pseudo-doctor, that half-apothecary who lived in the village.

‘It has been awfully troublesome to you, coming over all this way, I am sure. Indeed, money could not pay for it; my mother feels that. It must cut up your time so much.’

‘Not at all, Mr Gresham; not at all,’ said the Barchester doctor, rising up on his toes proudly as he spoke. ‘A person of your mother’s importance, you know! I should be happy to go any distance to see her.’

‘Ah! but, Dr Fillgrave, we cannot allow that.’

‘Mr Gresham, don’t mention it.’

‘Oh, yes; but I must,’ said Frank, who thought that he had done enough for civility, and was now anxious to come to the point. ‘The fact is, doctor, that we are very much obliged for what you have done; but, for the future, my mother thinks that she can trust to such assistance as she can get here in the village.’

Frank had been particularly instructed to be very careful how he mentioned Dr Thorne’s name, and, therefore, cleverly avoided it.’

Get what assistance she wanted in the village! What words were those that he heard? ‘Mr Gresham, eh — hem — perhaps I do not completely —’ Yes, alas! he had completely understood what Frank had meant that he should understand. Frank desired to be civil, but he had no idea of beating unnecessarily about the bush on such an occasion as this.

‘It’s by Sir Omicron’s advice, Dr Fillgrave. You see, this man here’— and he nodded his head towards the doctor’s house, being still anxious not to pronounce the hideous name —‘has known my mother’s constitution for so many years.’

‘Oh, Mr Gresham; of course, if it is wished.’

‘Yes, Dr Fillgrave, it is wished. Lunch is coming directly:’ and Frank rang the bell.

‘Nothing, I thank you, Mr Gresham.’

‘Do take a glass of sherry.’

‘Nothing at all, I am very much obliged to you.’

‘Won’t you let the horses get some oats?’

‘I will return at once, if you please, Mr Gresham.’ And the doctor did return, taking with him, on this occasion, the fee that was offered to him. His experience had at any rate taught him so much.

But though Frank could do this for Lady Arabella, he could not receive Dr Thorne on her behalf. The bitterness of that interview had to be borne by herself. A messenger had been sent for him, and he was upstairs with her ladyship while his rival was receiving his conge downstairs. She had two objects to accomplish, if it might be possible: she had found that high words with the doctor were of no avail; but it might be possible that Frank could be saved by humiliation on her part. If she humbled herself before this man, would he consent to acknowledge that his niece was not the fit bride for the heir of Greshamsbury?

The doctor entered the room where she was lying on her sofa, and walking up to her with a gentle, but yet not constrained step, took the seat beside her little table, just as he had always been accustomed to do, and as though there had been no break in the intercourse.

‘Well, doctor, you see that I have come back to you,’ she said, with a faint smile.

‘Or, rather I have come back to you. And, believe me, Lady Arabella, I am very happy to do so. There need be no excuses. You were, doubtless, right to try what other skill could do; and I hope it has not been tried in vain.’

She had meant to have been so condescending; but now all that was put quite beyond her power. It was not easy to be condescending to the doctor: she had been trying all her life, and had never succeeded.

‘I have had Sir Omicron Pie,’ she said.

‘So I was glad to hear. Sir Omicron is a clever man, and has a good name. I always recommend Sir Omicron myself.’

‘And Sir Omicron returns the compliment,’ said she, smiling gracefully, ‘for he recommends you. He told Mr Gresham that I was very foolish to quarrel with my best friend. So now we are friends again, are we not? You see how selfish I am.’ And she put out her hand to him.

The doctor took her hand cordially, and assured her that he bore her no ill-will; that he fully understood her conduct — and that he had never accused her of selfishness. This was all very well and very gracious; but, nevertheless, Lady Arabella felt that the doctor kept the upper hand in those sweet forgivenesses. Whereas, she had intended to keep the upper hand, at least for a while, so that her humiliation might be more effective when it did come.

And then the doctor used his surgical lore, as he well knew how to use it. There was an assured confidence about him, an air which seemed to declare that he really knew what he was doing. These were very comfortable to his patients, but they were wanting in Dr Fillgrave. When he had completed his examinations and questions, and she had completed her little details and made her answer, she was certainly more at ease than she had been since the doctor had last left her.

‘Don’t go yet, for a moment,’ she said. ‘I have one word to say to you.’

He declared that he was not in the least in a hurry. He desired nothing better, he said, than to sit there and talk to her. ‘And I owe you a most sincere apology, Lady Arabella.’

‘A sincere apology!’ said she, becoming a little red. Was he going to say anything about Mary? Was he going to own that he, and Mary, and Frank had all been wrong?

‘Yes, indeed. I ought not to have brought Sir Louis Scatcherd here: I ought to have known that he would have disgraced himself.’

‘Oh! it does not signify,’ said her ladyship in a tone almost of disappointment. ‘I had forgotten it. Mr Gresham and you had more inconvenience than we had.’

‘He is an unfortunate, wretched man — most unfortunate; with an immense fortune which he can never live to possess.’

‘And who will the money go to, doctor?’

This was a question for which Dr Thorne was hardly prepared. ‘Go to?’ he repeated. ‘Oh, some member of the family, I believe. There are plenty of nephews and nieces.’

‘Yes; but will it be divided, or all go to one?’

‘Probably to one, I think. Sir Roger had a strong idea of leaving it all in one hand.’ If it should happen to be a girl, thought Lady Arabella, what an excellent opportunity would that be for Frank to marry money!

‘And now, doctor, I want to say one word to you; considering the very long time that we have known each other, it is better that I should be open with you. This estrangement between us and dear Mary has given us all so much pain. Cannot we do anything to put an end to it?’

‘Well, what can I say, Lady Arabella? That depends so wholly on yourself.’

‘If it depends on me, it shall be done at once.’

The doctor bowed. And though he could hardly be said to do so stiffly, he did it coldly. His bow seemed to say, ‘Certainly; if you choose to make a proper amende it can be done. But I think it is very unlikely that you will do so.’

‘Beatrice is just going to be married, you know that, doctor.’ The doctor said that he did know it. ‘And it will be so pleasant that Mary should make one of us. Poor Beatrice; you don’t know what she has suffered.’

‘Yes,’ said the doctor, ‘there has been suffering, I am sure; suffering on both sides.’

‘You cannot wonder that we should be so anxious about Frank, Dr Thorne; an only son, and the heir to an estate that has been so very long in the family:’ and Lady Arabella put her handkerchief to her eyes, as though these facts were themselves melancholy, and not to be thought of by a mother without some soft tears. ‘Now I wish you could tell me what your views are, in a friendly manner, between ourselves. You won’t find me unreasonable.’

‘My views, Lady Arabella?’

‘Yes, doctor; about your niece, you know: you must have views of some sort; that’s of course. It occurs to me, that perhaps were all in the dark together. If so, a little candid speaking between you and me may set it all right.’

Lady Arabella’s career had not hitherto been conspicuous for candour, as far as Dr Thorne had been able to judge of it; but that was no reason why he should not respond to so very becoming an invitation on her part. He had no objection to a little candid speaking; at least, so he declared. As to his views with regard to Mary, they were merely these: that he would make her as happy and comfortable as he could while she remained with him; and that he would give her his blessing — for he had nothing else to give her — when she left him; — if ever she should do so.

Now, it will be said that the doctor was not very candid in this; not more so, perhaps, than was Lady Arabella herself. But when one is specially invited to be candid, one is naturally set upon one’s guard. Those who by disposition are most open, are apt to become crafty when so admonished. When a man says to you, ‘Let us be candid with each other,’ you feel instinctively that he desires to squeeze you without giving a drop of water himself.

‘Yes; but about Frank,’ said Lady Arabella.

‘About Frank!’ said the doctor, with an innocent look, which her ladyship could hardly interpret.

‘What I mean is this: can you give me your word that these young people do not intend to do anything rash? One word like that from you will set my mind quite at rest. And then we could be so happy together again.’

‘Ah! who is to answer for what rash things a young man will do?’ said the doctor, smiling.

Lady Arabella got up from the sofa, and pushed away the little table. The man was false, hypocritical, and cunning. Nothing could be made of him. They were all in a conspiracy together to rob her of her son; to make him marry without money! What should she do? Where should she turn for advice and counsel? She had nothing more to say to the doctor; and he, perceiving that this was the case, took his leave. This little attempt to achieve candour had not succeeded.

Dr Thorne had answered Lady Arabella as had seemed best to him on the spur of the moment; but he was by no means satisfied with himself. As he walked away through the gardens, he bethought himself whether it would be better for all parties if he could bring himself to be really candid. Would it not be better for him at once to tell the squire what were the future prospects of his niece, and let the father agree to the marriage, or not agree to it, as he might think fit. But then, if so, if he did do this, would he not in fact say, ‘There is my niece, there is this girl of whom you have been talking for the last twelvemonth, indifferent to what agony of mind you may have occasioned to her; there she is, a probable heiress! It may be worth your son’s while to wait a little time, and not cast her off till he shall know whether she be an heiress or no. If it shall turn out that she is rich, let him take her; if not, why, he can desert her then as well as now.’ He could not bring himself to put his niece into such a position as this. He was anxious enough that she should be Frank Gresham’s wife, for he loved Frank Gresham; he was anxious enough, also, that she should give to her husband the means of saving the property of his family. But Frank, though he might find her rich, was bound to take her while she was poor.

Then, also, he doubted whether he would be justified in speaking of this will at all. He almost hated the will for the trouble and vexation it had given him, and the constant stress it had laid on his conscience. He had spoken of it as yet to no one, and he thought that he was resolved not to do so while Sir Louis should yet be in the land of the living.

On reaching home, he found a note from Lady Scatcherd, informing him that Dr Fillgrave had once more been at Boxall Hill, and that, on this occasion, he had left the house without anger.

‘I don’t know what he has said about Louis,’ she added, ‘for, to tell the truth, doctor, I was afraid to see him. But he comes again tomorrow, and then I shall be braver. But I fear that my poor boy is in a bad way.’

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