Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLIII

The Race of Scatcherd Becomes Extinct

It will not be imagined, at any rate by feminine readers, that Mary’s letter was written off at once, without alterations and changes, or the necessity for a fair copy. Letters from one young lady to another are doubtless written in this manner, and even with them it might sometimes be better if more patience had been taken; but with Mary’s first letter to her lover — her first love-letter, if love-letter it can be called-much more care was used. It was copied and re-copied, and when she returned from posting it, it was read and re-read.

‘It is very cold,’ she said to herself; ‘he will think I have no heart, that I have never loved him!’ And then she all but resolved to run down to the baker’s wife, and get back her letter, that she might alter it. ‘But it will be better so,’ she said again. ‘If I touched his feelings now, he would never bring himself to leave me. It is right that I should be cold with him. I should be false to myself if I tried to move his love — I, who have nothing to give him in return for it.’ And so she made no further visit to the post-office, and the letter went on its way.

We will now follow its fortunes for a short while, and explain how it was that Mary received no answer for a week; a week, it may well be imagined, of terrible suspense to her. When she took it to the post-office, she doubtless thought that the baker’s wife had nothing to do but to send it up to the house at Greshamsbury, and that Frank would receive it that evening, or, at latest, early on the following morning. But this was by no means so. The epistle was posted on a Friday afternoon, and it behoved the baker’s wife to send it into Silverbridge — Silverbridge being the post-town — so that all due formalities, as ordered by the Queen’s Government, might there be perfected. Now, unfortunately the post-boy had taken his departure before Mary reached the shop, and it was not, therefore, dispatched till Saturday. Sunday was always a dies non with the Greshamsbury Mercury, and, consequently, Frank’s letter was not delivered at the house till Monday morning; at which time Mary had for two long days been waiting with weary heart for the expected answer.

Now Frank had on that morning gone up to London by the early train, with his future brother-inlaw, Mr Oriel. In order to accomplish this, they had left Greshamsbury for Barchester exactly as the postboy was leaving Silverbridge for Greshamsbury.

‘I should like to wait for my letters,’ Mr Oriel had said, when the journey was being discussed.

‘Nonsense,’ Frank had answered. ‘Who ever got a letter that was worth waiting for?’ and so Mary was doomed to a week of misery.

When the post-bag arrived at the house on Monday morning it was opened as usual by the squire himself at the breakfast-table. ‘Here is a letter for Frank,’ said he, ‘posted in the village. You had better send it to him:’ and he threw the letter across to Beatrice.

‘It’s from Mary,’ said Beatrice, out loud, taking the letter up and examining the address. And having said so, she repented what she had done, as she looked first at her father and then at her mother.

A cloud came over the squire’s brow as for a minute he went on turning over the letters and newspapers. ‘Oh, from Mary Thorne, is it?’ he said. ‘Well, you had better send it to him.’

‘Frank said that if any letters came they were to be kept,’ said his sister Sophy. ‘He told me so particularly. I don’t think he likes having letters sent to him.’

‘You had better send that one,’ said the squire.

‘Mr Oriel is to have all his letters addressed to Long’s Hotel, Bond Street, and this one can very well be sent with them,’ said Beatrice, who knew all about it, and intended herself to make free use of the address.

‘Yes, you had better send it,’ said the squire; and then nothing further was said at the table. But Lady Arabella, though she said nothing, had not failed to mark what had passed. Had she asked for the letter before the squire, he would probably have taken possession of it himself; but as soon as she was alone with Beatrice, she did demand it, ‘I shall be writing to Frank himself,’ she said, ‘and will send it to him.’ And so, Beatrice, with a heavy heart, gave it up.

The letter lay before Lady Arabella’s eyes all that day, and many a wistful glance was cast at it. She turned it over and over, and much desired to know its contents; but she did not dare to break the seal of her son’s letter. All that day it lay upon her desk, and all the next, for she could hardly bring herself to part with it; but on the Wednesday it was sent — sent with these lines from herself:-

‘Dearest, dearest Frank, I send you a letter which has come by the post from Mary Thorne. I do not know what it may contain; but before you correspond with her, pray, pray think of what I said to you. For my sake, for your father’s, for your own, pray think of it.’

That was all, but it was enough to make her word to Beatrice true. She did send it to Frank enclosed in a letter from herself. We must reserve for the next chapter what had taken place between Frank and his mother; but, for the present, we will return to the doctor’s house.

Mary said not a word to him about the letter; but, keeping silent on the subject, she felt wretchedly estranged from him. ‘Is anything the matter, Mary?’ he said to her on the Sunday afternoon.

‘No, uncle,’ she answered, turning away her head to hide her tears.

‘Ah, but there is something; what is it, dearest?’

‘Nothing — that is, nothing that one can talk about.’

‘What Mary! Be unhappy and not to talk about it to me? That’s something new, is it not?’

‘One has presentiments sometimes, and is unhappy without knowing why. Besides, you know —’

‘I know! What do I know? Do I know anything that will make my pet happier?’ and he took her into his arms and they sat together on the sofa. Her tears were now falling fast, and she no longer made an effort to hide them. ‘Speak to me, Mary; this is something more than a presentiment. What is it?’

‘Oh, uncle —’

‘Come, love, speak to me; tell me why you are grieving.’

‘Oh, uncle, why have you not spoken to me? Why have you not told me what to do? Why have you not advised me? Why are you always so silent?’

‘Silent about what?’

‘You know, uncle; silent about him; silent about Frank.’

Why, indeed? What was he to say to this? It was true that he had never counselled her; never shown her what course she should take; had never even spoke to her about her lover. And it was equally true that he was not now prepared to do so, even in answer to such an appeal as this. He had a hope, a strong hope, more than a hope, that Mary’s love would yet be happy; but he could not express or explain his hope; nor could he even acknowledge to himself a wish that would seem to be based on the death of him to whose life he was bound, if possible, to preserve.

‘My love,’ he said, ‘it is a matter in which you must judge for yourself. Did I doubt your conduct, I should interfere; but I do not.’

‘Conduct! Is conduct everything? One may conduct oneself excellently, and yet break one’s heart.’

This was too much for the doctor; his sternness and firmness instantly deserted him. ‘Mary,’ he said, ‘I will do anything that you would have me. If you wish it, I will make arrangements for leaving this place at once.’

‘Oh, no,’ she said, plaintively.

‘When you tell me of a broken heart, you almost break my own. Come to me, darling; do not leave me so. I will say all that I can say. I have thought, do still think, that circumstances will admit of your marriage with Frank if you both love each other, and can both be patient.’

‘You think so,’ said she, unconsciously sliding her hand into his, as though to thank him by its pressure for the comfort he was giving her.

‘I do think so now more than ever. But I only think so; I have been unable to assure you. There, darling, I must not say more; only that I cannot bear to see you grieving, I would not have said this:’ and then he left her, and nothing more was spoken on the subject.

If you can be patient! Why, a patience of ten years would be as nothing to her. Could she but live with the knowledge that she was first in his estimation, dearest in his heart; could it be also granted to her to feel that she was regarded as his equal, she could be patient for ever. What more did she want than to know and feel this? Patient, indeed!

But what could these circumstances be to which her uncle had alluded? ‘I do think that circumstances will admit of your marriage.’ Such was his opinion, and she had never known him to be wrong. Circumstances! What circumstances? Did he perhaps mean that Mr Gresham’s affairs were not so bad as they had been thought to be? If so, that alone would hardly alter the matter, for what could she give in return? ‘I would give him the world for one word of love,’ she said to herself, ‘and never think that he was my debtor. Ah! how beggarly the heart must be that speculates on such gifts as those!’

But there was her uncle’s opinion: he still thought that they might be married. Oh, why had she sent her letter? and why had she made it so cold? With such a letter as that before him, Frank could not do other than consent to her proposal. And then, why did he not at least answer it?

On the Sunday afternoon there arrived at Greshamsbury a man and a horse from Boxall Hill, bearing a letter from Lady Scatcherd to Dr Thorne, earnestly requesting the doctor’s immediate attendance. ‘I fear everything is over with poor Louis,’ wrote the unhappy mother. ‘It has been dreadful. Do come to me; I have no other friend, and I am nearly worn through with it. The man from the city’— she meant Dr Fillgrave —‘comes every day, and I dare say he is all very well, but he has never done much good. He has not had spirit enough to keep the bottle from him; and it was that, and that only, that most behoved to be done. I doubt you won’t find him in this world when you get here.’

Dr Thorne started immediately. Even though he might have to meet Dr Fillgrave, he could not hesitate, for he went not as a doctor to the dying man, but as the trustee under Sir Roger’s will. Moreover, as Lady Scatcherd had said, he was only her friend, and he could not desert her at such a moment for an army of Fillgraves. He told Mary he should not return that night; and taking with him a small saddle-bag, he started at once for Boxall Hill.

As he rode to the hall door, Dr Fillgrave was getting into his carriage. They had never met so as to speak to each other since that memorable day, when they had their famous passage of arms in the hall of that very house before which they both now stood. But, at the present moment, neither of them was disposed to renew the fight.

‘What news of your patient, Fillgrave?’ said our doctor, still seated on his sweating horse, and putting his hand lightly to his hat.

Dr Fillgrave could not refrain from one moment of supercilious disdain: he gave one little chuck to his head, one little twist to his neck, one little squeeze to his lips, and then the man within him overcame the doctor. ‘Sir Louis is no more,’ he said.

‘God’s will be done!’ said Dr Thorne.

‘His death is a release; for his last days have been very frightful. Your coming, Dr Thorne, will be a comfort to Lady Scatcherd.’ And then Dr Fillgrave, thinking that even the present circumstances required no further condescension, ensconced himself in the carriage.

‘His last days have been very dreadful! Ah, me, poor fellow! Dr Fillgrave, before you go, allow me to say this: I am quite aware that when he fell into your hands, no medical skill in the world could save him.’

Dr Fillgrave bowed low from the carriage, and after this unwonted exchange of courtesies, the two doctors parted, not to meet again — at any rate, in the pages of this novel. Of Dr Fillgrave, let it now be said, that he is now regarded as one of the celebrities of Barchester.

Lady Scatcherd was found sitting alone in her little room on the ground-floor. Even Hannah was not with her, for Hannah was now occupied upstairs. When the doctor entered the room, which he did unannounced, he found her seated on a chair, with her back against one of the presses, her hands clasped together over her knees, gazing into vacancy. She did not ever hear him or see him as he approached, and his hand had lightly touched her shoulder before she knew that she was not alone. Then, she looked up at him with a face so full of sorrow, so worn with suffering, that his own heart was racked to see her.

‘It’s all over, my friend,’ said he. ‘It is better so; much better so.’

She seemed at first hardly to understand him, but still regarding him with that wan face, shook her head slowly and sadly. One might have thought that she was twenty years older than when Dr Thorne last saw her.

He drew a chair to her side, and sitting by her, took her hand in his. ‘It is better so, Lady Scatcherd; better so,’ he repeated. ‘The poor lad’s doom had been spoken, and it is well for him, and for you, that it should be over.’

‘They are both gone now,’ said she, speaking very low; ‘both gone now. Oh, doctor! To be left alone here, all alone!’

He said some few words trying to comfort her; but who can comfort a widow bereaved of her child? Who can console a heart that has lost all it possessed? Sir Roger had not been to her a tender husband; but still he had been the husband of her love. Sir Louis had not been to her an affectionate son; but still he had been her child, her only child. Now they were both gone. Who can wonder that the world should be a blank to her?

Still the doctor spoke soothing words, and still he held her hand. He knew that his words could not console her; but the sounds of his kindness at such desolate moments are, to such minds as hers, some alleviation of grief. She hardly answered him, but sat there staring out before her, leaving her hand passively to him, and swaying her head backwards and forwards as though her grief were too heavy to be borne.

At last, her eye rested upon an article which stood upon the table, and she started up impetuously from her chair. She did this so suddenly, that the doctor’s hand fell beside him before he knew that she had risen. The table was covered with all those implements which become so frequent about a house when severe illness is an inhabitant there. There were little boxes and apothecaries’ bottles, cups and saucers standing separate, and bowls, in which messes have been prepared with the hope of suiting a sick man’s failing appetite. There was a small saucepan standing on a plate, a curiously shaped glass utensil left by the doctor, and sundry pieces of flannel, which had been used in rubbing the sufferer’s limbs. But in the middle of the debris stood one blank bottle, with head erect, unsuited to the companionship in which it was found.

‘There,’ she said, rising up, and seizing it in a manner that would have been ridiculous had it not been so truly tragic. ‘There, that has robbed me of everything — of father and son; that has swallowed them both — murdered them both! Oh, doctor! that such a thing as that should ever cause such bitter sorrow! I have hated it always, but now — Oh, woe is me! weary me!’ And then she let the bottle drop from her hand as though it were too heavy for her.

‘This comes of barro-niting,’ she continued. ‘If they had let him alone, he would have been here now, and so would the other one. Why did they do it? why did they do it? Ah, doctor! people such as us should never meddle with them above us. See what has come of it; see what has come of it!’

The doctor could not remain with her long, as it was necessary that he should take upon himself the direction of the household, and give orders for the funeral. First of all, he had to undergo the sad duty of seeing the corpse of the deceased baronet. This, at any rate, may be spared to my readers. It was found to be necessary that the internment should be made very quickly, as the body was nearly destroyed by alcohol. Having done all this, and sent back his horse to Greshamsbury, with directions that clothes for a journey might be sent to him, and a notice that he should not be home for some days, he again returned to Lady Scatcherd.

Of course he could not but think much of the immense property which was now, for a short time, altogether in his own hands. His resolution was soon made to go at once to London and consult the best lawyer he could find — or the best dozen lawyers should such be necessary — as to the validity of Mary’s claims. This must be done before he said a word to her or to any of the Gresham family; but it must be done instantly, so that all suspense might be at an end as soon as possible. He must, of course, remain with Lady Scatcherd till the funeral should be over; but when that office should be complete, he would start instantly for London.

In resolving to tell no one as to Mary’s fortune till after he had fortified himself with legal warranty, he made one exception. He thought it rational that he should explain to Lady Scatcherd who was now the heir under her husband’s will; and he was more inclined to do so, from feeling that the news would probably be gratifying to her. With this view, he had once or twice endeavoured to induce her to talk about the property, but she had been unwilling to do so. She seemed to dislike all allusions to it, and it was not until she had incidentally mentioned the fact that she would have to look for a home, that he was able to fix her to the subject. This was on the evening before the funeral; on the afternoon of which day he intended to proceed to London.

‘It may probably be arranged that you may continue to live here,’ said the doctor.

‘I don’t wish it at all,’ said she, rather sharply. ‘I don’t wish to have any arrangements made. I would not be indebted to any of them for anything. Oh, dear! if money could make it all right, I should have enough of that.’

‘Indebted to whom, Lady Scatcherd? Who do you think will be the owner of Boxall Hill?’

‘Indeed, then, Dr Thorne, I don’t much care: unless it be yourself, it won’t be any friend of mine, or any one I shall care to make a friend of. It isn’t so easy for an old woman like me to make new friends.’

‘Well, it certainly won’t belong to me.’

‘I wish it did, with all my heart. But even then, I would not live here. I have had too many troubles here to wish to see more.’

‘That shall be as you like, Lady Scatcherd; but you will be surprised to hear that the place will — at least I think it will — belong to a friend of yours: to one to whom you have been very kind.’

‘And who is he, doctor? Won’t it go to some of those Americans? I am sure I never did anything kind to them; though, indeed, I did love poor Mary Scatcherd. But that’s years upon years ago, and she is dead, and gone now. Well, I begrudge nothing to Mary’s children. As I have none of my own, it is right that they should have the money. It has not made me happy; I hope it may do them.’

‘The property will, I think, go to Mary Scatcherd’s eldest child. It is she whom you have known as Mary Thorne.’

‘Doctor!’ And then Lady Scatcherd, as she made the exclamation, put both her hands down to hold her chair, as though she feared the weight of her surprise would topple her off her seat.

‘Yes; Mary Thorne — my Mary — to whom you have been so good, who loves you so well; she, I believe, will be Sir Roger’s heiress. And it was so that Sir Roger intended on his deathbed, in the event of poor Louis’s life being cut short. If this be so, will you be ashamed to stay here as the guest of Mary Thorne? She has not been ashamed to be your guest.’

But Lady Scatcherd was now too much interested in the general tenor of the news which she had heard to care much about the house which she was to inhabit in future. Mary Thorne, the heiress of Boxall Hill! Mary Thorne, the still living child of that poor creature who had so nearly died when they were all afflicted with their early grief! Well; there was consolation, there was comfort in this. There were but three people left in the world that she could love: her foster-child, Frank Gresham — Mary Thorne, and the doctor. If the money went to Mary, it would of course go to Frank, for she now knew that they loved each other; and if it went to them, would not the doctor have his share also; such share as he might want? Could she have governed the matter, she would have given all to Frank; and now it would be as well bestowed.

Yes; there was consolation in this. They both sat up more than half the night talking over it, and giving and receiving explanations. If only the council of lawyers would not be adverse! That was now the point of suspense.

The doctor, before he left her, bade her hold her peace, and say nothing of Mary’s fortune to any one till her rights have been absolutely acknowledged. ‘It will be nothing not to have it,’ said the doctor; ‘but it would be very bad to hear it was hers, and then to lose it.’

On the next morning, Dr Thorne deposited the remains of Sir Louis in the vault prepared for the family in the parish church. He laid the son where a few months ago he had laid the father — and so the title of Scatcherd became extinct. Their race of honour had not been long.

After the funeral, the doctor hurried up to London, and there we will leave him.

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