Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter V

Frank Gresham’s First Speech

We have said, that over and above those assembled in the house, there came to the Greshamsbury dinner on Frank’s birthday the Jacksons of the Grange, consisting of Mr and Mrs Jackson; the Batesons from Annesgrove, viz., Mr and Mrs Bateson, and Miss Bateson, their daughter — an unmarried lady of about fifty; the Bakers of Mill Hill, father and son; and Mr Caleb Oriel, the rector, with his beautiful sister, Patience. Dr Thorne, and his niece Mary, we count among those already assembled at Greshamsbury.

There was nothing very magnificent in the number of the guests thus brought together to do honour to young Frank; but he, perhaps, was called on to take a more prominent part in the proceedings, to be made more of a hero than would have been the case had half the county been there. In that case the importance of the guests would have been so great that Frank would have got off with a half-muttered speech or two; but now he had to make a separate oration to every one, and very weary work he found it.

The Batesons, Bakers, and Jacksons were very civil; no doubt the more so from an unconscious feeling on their part, that as the squire was known to be a little out at elbows as regards money, any deficiency on their part might be considered as owing to the present state of affairs at Greshamsbury. Fourteen thousand a year will receive honour; in that case there is no doubt, and the man already possessing it is not apt to be suspicious as to the treatment he may receive; but the ghost of fourteen thousand a year is not always so self-assured. Mr Baker, with his moderate income, was a very much richer man than the squire; and, therefore, he was peculiarly forward in congratulating Frank on the brilliancy of his prospects.

Poor Frank had hardly anticipated what there would be to do, and before dinner was announced he was very tired of it. He had no warmer feeling for any of the grand cousins than a very ordinary cousinly love; and he had resolved, forgetful of birth and blood, and all those gigantic considerations which now that manhood had come upon him, he was bound always to bear in mind — he had resolved to sneak out to dinner comfortably with Mary Thorne if possible; and if not with Mary, then with his other love, Patience Oriel.

Great, therefore, was his consternation at finding that, after being kept continually in the foreground for half an hour before dinner, he had to walk out to the dining-room with his aunt the countess, and take his father’s place for the day at the bottom of the table.

‘It will now depend altogether upon yourself, Frank, whether you maintain or lose that high position in the county which has been held by the Greshams for so many years,’ said the countess, as she walked through the spacious hall, resolving to lose no time in teaching to her nephew that great lesson which it was so imperative that he should learn.

Frank took this as an ordinary lecture, meant to inculcate general good conduct, such as old bores of aunts are apt to inflict on youthful victims in the shape of nephews and nieces.

‘Yes,’ said Frank; ‘I suppose so; and I mean to go along all square, aunt, and no mistake. When I get back to Cambridge, I’ll read like bricks.’

His aunt did not care two straws about his reading. It was not by reading that the Greshams of Greshamsbury had held their heads up in the county, but by having high blood and plenty of money. The blood had come naturally to this young man; but it behoved him to look for the money in a great measure himself. She, Lady de Courcy, could doubtless help him; she might probably be able to fit him with a wife who would bring her money onto his birth. His reading was a matter in which she could in no way assist him; whether his taste might lead him to prefer books or pictures, or dogs and horses, or turnips in drills, or old Italian plates and dishes, was a matter which did not much signify; with which it was not at all necessary that his noble aunt should trouble herself.

‘Oh! you are going to Cambridge again, are you? Well, if your father wishes it; — though very little is ever gained now by a university connexion.’

‘I am to take my degree in October, aunt; and I am determined, at any rate, that I won’t be plucked.’

‘Plucked!’

‘No; I won’t be plucked. Baker was plucked last year, and all because he got into the wrong set at John’s. He’s an excellent fellow if you knew him. He got among a set of men who did nothing but smoke and drink beer. Malthusians, we call them.’

‘Malthusians!’

‘“Malt”, you know, aunt, and “use”; meaning that they drink beer. So poor Harry Baker got plucked. I don’t know that a fellow’s any the worse; however, I won’t get plucked.’

By this time the party had taken their place round the long board, Mr Gresham sitting at the top, in the place usually occupied by Lady Arabella. She, on the present occasion, sat next to her son on the one side, as the countess did on the other. If, therefore, Frank now went astray, it would not be from want of proper leading.

‘Aunt, will you have some beef?’ said he, as soon as the soup and fish had been disposed of, anxious to perform the rites of hospitality now for the first time committed to his charge.

‘Do not be in a hurry, Frank,’ said his mother; ‘the servants will —’

‘Oh! ah! I forgot; there are cutlets and those sort of things. My hand is not yet in for this work, aunt. Well, as I was saying about Cambridge —’

‘Is Frank to go back to Cambridge, Arabella?’ said the countess to her sister-inlaw, speaking across her nephew.

‘So his father seems to say.’

‘Is it not a waste of time?’ asked the countess.

‘You know I never interfere,’ said the Lady Arabella; ‘I never liked the idea of Cambridge myself at all. All the De Courcys were Christchurch men; but the Greshams, it seems, were always at Cambridge.’

‘Would it not be better to send him abroad at once?’

‘Much better, I would think,’ said the Lady Arabella; ‘but you know, I never interfere: perhaps you would speak to Mr Gresham.’

The countess smiled grimly, and shook her head with a decidedly negative shake. Had she said out loud to the young man, ‘Your father is such an obstinate, pig-headed, ignorant fool, that it is no use speaking to him; it would be wasting fragrance on the desert air,’ she could not have spoken more plainly. The effect on Frank was this: that he said to himself, speaking quite as plainly as Lady De Courcy had spoken by her shake of the face, ‘My mother and aunt are always down on the governor, always; but the more they are down on him the more I’ll stick to him. I certainly will take my degree: I will read like bricks; and I’ll begin tomorrow.’

‘Now will you take some beef, aunt?’ This was said out loud.

The Countess de Courcy was very anxious to go on with her lesson without loss of time; but she could not, while surrounded by guests and servants, enunciate the great secret: ‘You must marry money, Frank; that is your one great duty; that is the matter to be borne steadfastly in your mind.’ She could not now, with sufficient weight and impress of emphasis, pour this wisdom into his ears; the more especially as he was standing up to his work of carving, and was deep to his elbows in horse-radish, fat and gravy. So the countess sat silent while the banquet proceeded.

‘Beef, Harry?’ shouted the young heir to his friend Baker. ‘Oh! but I see it isn’t your turn yet. I beg your pardon, Miss Bateson,’ and he sent to that lady a pound and a half of excellent meat, cut out with great energy in one slice, about half an inch thick.

And so the banquet went on.

Before dinner Frank had found himself obliged to make numerous small speeches in answer to the numerous individual congratulations of his friends; but these were as nothing to the one great accumulated onus of an oration which he had long known that he should have to sustain after the cloth was taken away. Some one of course would propose his health, and then there would be a clatter of voices, ladies and gentlemen, men and girls; and when that was done he would find himself standing on his legs, with the room about him, going round and round and round.

Having had a previous hint of this, he had sought advice from his cousin, the Honourable George, whom he regarded as a dab at speaking; at least, so he had heard the Honourable George say of himself.

‘What the deuce is a fellow to say, George, when he stands up after the clatter is done?’

‘Oh, it’s the easiest thing in life,’ said the cousin. ‘Only remember this: you mustn’t get astray; that is what they call presence of mind, you know. I’ll tell you what I do, and I’m often called up, you know; at our agriculturals I always propose the farmers’ daughters: well, what I do is this — I keep my eye steadfastly fixed on one of the bottles, and never move it.’

‘On one of the bottles!’ said Frank; ‘wouldn’t it be better if I made a mark of some old covey’s head? I don’t like looking at the table.’

‘The old covey’d move, and then you’d be done; besides there isn’t the least use in the world in looking up. I’ve heard people say, who go to those sort of dinners every day of their lives, that whenever anything witty is said; the fellow who says it is sure to be looking at the mahogany.’

‘Oh, you know I shan’t say anything witty; I’ll be quite the other way.’

‘But there’s no reason you shouldn’t learn the manner. That’s the way I succeed. Fix your eye on one of the bottles; put your thumbs in your waist-coat pockets; stick out your elbows, bend your knees a little, and then go ahead.’

‘Oh, ah! go ahead; that’s all very well; but you can’t go ahead if you haven’t got any steam.’

‘A very little does it. There can be nothing so easy as your speech. When one has to say anything new every year about the farmers’ daughters, why one has to use one’s brains a bit. Let’s see: how will you begin? Of course, you’ll say that you are not accustomed to this sort of thing; that the honour conferred upon you is too much for your feelings; that the bright array of beauty and talent around you quite overpowers your tongue, and all that sort of thing. Then declare you’re a Gresham to the backbone.’

‘Oh, they know that.’

‘Well, tell them again. Then of course you must say something about us; or you’ll have the countess as black as old Nick.’

‘Abut my aunt, George? What on earth can I say about her when she’s there herself before me?’

‘Before you! of course; that’s just the reason. Oh, say any lie you can think of; you must say something about us. You know we’ve come down from London on purpose.’

Frank, in spite of the benefit of receiving from his cousin’s erudition, could not help wishing in his heart that they had al remained in London; but this he kept to himself. He thanked his cousin for his hints, and though he did not feel that the trouble of his mind was completely cured, he began to hope that he might go through the ordeal without disgracing himself.

Nevertheless, he felt rather sick at heart when Mr Baker got up to propose the toast as soon as the servants were gone. The servants, that is, were gone officially; but they were there in a body, men and women, nurses, cooks, and ladies’ maids, coachmen, grooms, and footmen, standing in two doorways to hear what Master Frank would say. The old housekeeper headed the maids at one door, standing boldly inside the room; and the butler controlled the men at the other, marshalling them back with a drawn corkscrew.

Mr Baker did not say much; but what he did say, he said well. They had all seen Frank Gresham grow up from a child; and were now required to welcome as a man amongst them one who was well qualified to carry on the honour of that loved and respected family. His young friend, Frank, was every inch a Gresham. Mr Baker omitted to make mention of the infusion of De Courcy blood, and the countess, therefore, drew herself up on her chair and looked as though she were extremely bored. He then alluded tenderly to his own long friendship with the present squire, Francis Newbold Gresham the elder; and sat down, begging them to drink health, prosperity, long life, and excellent wife to their dear friend Francis Newbold Gresham the younger.

There was a great jingling of glasses, of course; made the merrier and the louder by the fact that the ladies were still there as well as the gentlemen. Ladies don’t drink toasts frequently; and, therefore, the occasion coming rarely was the more enjoyed. ‘God bless you, Frank!’ ‘Your good health, Frank!’ ‘And especially a good wife, Frank!’ ‘Two or three of them, Frank!’ ‘Good health and prosperity to you, Mr Gresham!’ ‘More power to you, Frank, my boy!’ ‘May God bless you and preserve you, my dear boy!’ and then a merry, sweet, eager voice from the far end of the table, ‘Frank! Frank! Do look at me, pray do Frank; I am drinking your health in real wine; ain’t I, papa?’ Such were the addresses which greeted Mr Francis Newbold Gresham the younger as he essayed to rise up on his feet for the first time since he had come to man’s estate.

When the clatter was at an end, and he was fairly on his legs, he cast a glance before him on the table, to look for a decanter. He had not much liked his cousin’s theory of sticking to the bottle; nevertheless, in the difficulty of the moment, it was well to have any system to go by. But, as misfortune would have it, though the table was covered with bottles, his eye could not catch one. Indeed, his eye first could catch nothing, for the things swam before him, and the guests all seemed to dance in their chairs.

Up he got, however, and commenced his speech. As he could not follow his preceptor’s advice, as touching the bottle, he adopted his own crude plan of ‘making a mark on some old covey’s head,’ and therefore looked dead at the doctor.

‘Upon my word, I am very much obliged to you, gentlemen and ladies, ladies and gentlemen, I should say, for drinking my health, and doing me so much honour, and all that sort of thing. Upon my word I am. Especially to you, Mr Baker. I don’t mean you, Harry, you’re not Mr Baker.’

‘As much as you’re Mr Gresham, Master Frank.’

‘But I am not Mr Gresham; and I don’t mean to be for many a long year if I can help it; not at any rate till we have had another coming of age here.’

‘Bravo, Frank; and whose will that be?’

‘That will be my son, and a very fine lad he will be; and I hope he’ll make a better speech than his father. Mr Baker said I was every inch a Gresham. Well, I hope I am.’ Here the countess began to look cold and angry. ‘I hope the day will never come when my father won’t own me for one.’

‘There’s no fear, no fear,’ said the doctor, who was almost put out of countenance by the orator’s intense gaze. The countess looked colder and more angry, and muttered something to herself about a bear-garden.

‘Gardez Gresham; eh? Harry! mind that when you’re sticking in a gap I’m coming after you. Well, I am sure I am very obliged to you for the honour you have all done me, especially the ladies who don’t do this sort of things on ordinary occasions. I wish they did; don’t you, doctor? And talking of the ladies, my aunty and cousins have come all the way from London to hear me take this speech which certainly is not worth the trouble; but, all the same I am very much obliged to them.’ And he looked round and made a little bow at the countess. ‘And so I am to Mr and Mrs Jackson, and Mr and Mrs and Miss Bateson, and Mr Baker — I’m not at all obliged to you, Harry — and to Mr Oriel and Miss Oriel, and to Mr Umbleby, and to Dr Thorne, and to Mary — I beg her pardon, I mean Miss Thorne.’ And then he sat down, amid the loud plaudits of the company, and a string of blessings which came from the servants behind him.

After this the ladies rose and departed. As she went, Lady Arabella, kissed her son’s forehead, and then his sisters kissed him, and one or two of his lady-cousins; and then Miss Bateson shook him by the hand. ‘Oh, Miss Bateson,’ said he, ‘I thought the kissing was to go all round.’ So Miss Bateson laughed and went her way; and Patience Oriel nodded at him, but Mary Thorne, as she quietly left the room, almost hidden among the extensive draperies of the grander ladies, hardly allowed her eyes to meet his.

He got up to hold the door for them as the passed; and as they went, he managed to take Patience by the hand; he took her hand and pressed it for a moment, but dropped it quickly, in order that he might go through the same ceremony with Mary, but Mary was too quick for him.

‘Frank,’ said Mr Gresham, as soon as the door was closed, ‘bring your glass here, my boy;’ and the father made room for his son close beside himself. ‘The ceremony is now over, so you may have your place of dignity.’ Frank sat himself down where he was told, and Mr Gresham put his hand on his son’s shoulder and half caressed him, while the tears stood in his eyes. ‘I think the doctor is right, Baker, I think he’ll never make us ashamed of him.’

‘I am sure he never will,’ said Baker.

‘I don’t think he ever will,’ said Dr Thorne.

The tones of the men’s voices were very different. Mr Baker did not care a straw about it; why should he? He had an heir of his own as well as the squire; one also who was the apple of his eye. But the doctor — he did care; he had a niece, to be sure, whom he loved, perhaps as well as these men loved their sons; but there was room in his heart also for young Frank Gresham.

After this small expose of feeling they sat silent for a moment or two. But silence was not dear to the heart of the Honourable John, and so he took up the running.

‘That’s a niceish nag you gave Frank this morning,’ he said to his uncle. ‘I was looking at him before dinner. He is a Monsoon, isn’t he?’

‘Well I can’t say I know how he was bred,’ said the squire. ‘He shows a good deal of breeding.’

‘He’s a Monsoon, I’m sure,’ said the Honourable John. ‘They’ve all those ears, and that peculiar dip in the back. I suppose you gave a goodish figure for him?’

‘Not so very much,’ said the squire.

‘He’s a trained hunter, I suppose?’

‘If not, he soon will be,’ said the squire.

‘Let Frank alone for that,’ said Harry Baker.

‘He jumps beautifully, sir,’ said Frank. ‘I haven’t tried him myself, but Peter made him go over the bar two or three times this morning.’

The Honourable John was determined to give his cousin a helping hand, as he considered it. He thought that Frank was very ill used in being put off with so incomplete stud, and thinking also that the son had not spirit enough to attack his father himself on the subject, the Honourable John determined to do it for him.

‘He’s the making of a very nice horse, I don’t doubt. I wish you had a string like him, Frank.’

Frank felt the blood rush to his face. He would not for worlds have his father think that he was discontented, or otherwise than pleased with the present he had received that morning. He was heartily ashamed of himself in that he had listened with a certain degree of complacency to his cousin’s tempting; but he had no idea that the subject would be repeated — and then repeated, too, before his father, in a manner to vex him on such a day as this, before such people as were assembled here. He was very angry with his cousin, and for a moment forgot all his hereditary respect for a De Courcy.

‘I tell you what, John,’ said he, ‘do you choose your day, some day early in the season, and come out on the best thing you have, and I’ll bring, not the black horse, but my old mare; and then do you try to keep near me. If I don’t leave you at the back of God-speed before long, I’ll give you the mare and the horse too.’

The Honourable John was not known in Barsetshire as one of the most forward of its riders. He was a man much addicted to hunting, as far as the get-up of the thing was concerned; he was great in boots and breeches; wondrously conversant with bits and bridles; he had quite a collection of saddles; and patronized every newest invention for carrying spare shoes, sandwiches, and flasks of sherry. He was prominent at the cover side; — some people, including the master of hounds, thought him perhaps a little too loudly prominent; he affected a familiarity with the dogs, and was on speaking acquaintance with every man’s horse. But when the work was cut out, when the pace began to be sharp, when it behoved a man either to ride or visibly to decline to ride, then — so at least said they who had not the De Courcy interest quite closely at heart — then, in those heart-stirring moments, the Honourable John was too often found deficient.

There was, therefore, a considerable laugh at his expense when Frank, instigated to this innocent boast by a desire to save his father, challenged his cousin to a trial of prowess. The Honourable John was not, perhaps, as much accustomed to the ready use of his tongue as was his honourable brother, seeing that it was not his annual business to depict the glories of the farmers’ daughters; at any rate, on this occasion he seemed to be at some loss for words; he shut up, as the slang phrase goes, and made no further allusion to the necessity of supplying young Gresham with a proper stream of hunters.

But the old squire had understood it all; had understood the meaning of his nephew’s attack; had thoroughly understood the meaning of his son’s defence, and the feeling which actuated it. He also had thought of the stableful of horses which had belonged to himself when he became of age; and of the much more humble position which his son would have to fill than that which his father had prepared for him. He thought of this, and was sad enough, though he had sufficient spirit to hide from his friends around him the fact, that the Honourable John’s arrow had not been discharged in vain.

‘He shall have Champion,’ said the father to himself. ‘It is time for me to give up.’

Now Champion was one of the two fine old hunters which the squire kept for his own use. And it might have been said of him now, at the period of which we are speaking, that the only really happy moments of his life were those which he spent in the field. So much as to its being time for him to give up.

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