Dr. Wortle's school, by Anthony Trollope

Lord Bracy’s Letter

The school and the parish went on through August and September, and up to the middle of October, very quietly. The quarrel between the Bishop and the Doctor had altogether subsided. People in the diocese had ceased to talk continually of Mr and Mrs Peacocke. There was still alive a certain interest as to what might be the ultimate fate of the poor lady; but other matters had come up, and she no longer formed the one topic of conversation at all meetings. The twenty boys at the school felt that, as their numbers had been diminished, so also had their reputation. They were less loud, and, as other boys would have said of them, less “cocky” than of yore. But they ate and drank and played, and, let us hope, learnt their lessons as usual. Mrs Peacocke had from time to time received letters from her husband, the last up to the time of which we speak having been written at the Ogden junction, at which Mr Peacocke had stopped for four-and-twenty hours with the object of making inquiry as to the statement made to him at St Louis. Here he learned enough to convince him that Robert Lefroy had told him the truth in regard to what had there occurred. The people about the station still remembered the condition of the man who had been taken out of the car when suffering from delirium tremens; and remembered also that the man had not died there, but had been carried on by the next train to San Francisco. One of the porters also declared that he had heard a few days afterwards that the sufferer had died almost immediately on his arrival at San Francisco. Information as far as this Mr Peacocke had sent home to his wife, and had added his firm belief that he should find the man’s grave in the cemetery, and be able to bring home with him testimony to which no authority in England, whether social, episcopal, or judicial, would refuse to give credit.

“Of course he will be married again,” said Mrs Wortle to her husband.

“They shall be married here, and I will perform the ceremony. I don’t think the Bishop himself would object to that; and I shouldn’t care a straw if he did.”

“Will he go on with the school?” whispered Mrs Wortle.

“Will the school go on? If the school goes on, he will go on, I suppose. About that you had better ask Mrs Stantiloup.”

“I will ask nobody but you,” said the wife, putting up her face to kiss him. As this was going on, everything was said to comfort Mrs Peacocke, and to give her hopes of new life. Mrs Wortle told her how the Doctor had promised that he himself would marry them as soon as the forms of the Church and the legal requisitions would allow. Mrs Peacocke accepted all that was said to her quietly and thankfully, but did not again allow herself to be roused to such excitement as she had shown on the one occasion recorded.

It was at this time that the Doctor received a letter which greatly affected his mode of thought at the time. He had certainly become hipped and low-spirited, if not despondent, and clearly showed to his wife, even though he was silent, that his mind was still intent on the injury which that wretched woman had done him by her virulence. But the letter of which we speak for a time removed this feeling, and gave him, as it were, a new life. The letter, which was from Lord Bracy, was as follows —

MY DEAR DOCTOR WORTLE

Carstairs left us for Oxford yesterday, and before he went, startled his mother and me considerably by a piece of information. He tells us that he is over head and ears in love with your daughter. The communication was indeed made three days ago, but I told him that I should take a day or two to think of it before I wrote to you. He was very anxious, when he told me, to go off at once to Bowick, and to see you and your wife, and of course the young lady — but this I stopped by the exercise of somewhat peremptory parental authority. Then he informed me that he had been to Bowick, and had found his lady-love at home, you and Mrs Wortle having by chance been absent at the time. It seems that he declared himself to the young lady, who, in the exercise of a wise discretion, ran away from him and left him planted on the terrace. That is his account of what passed, and I do not in the least doubt its absolute truth. It is at any rate quite clear, from his own showing, that the young lady gave him no encouragement.

Such having been the case, I do not think that I should have found it necessary to write to you at all had not Carstairs persevered with me till I promised to do so. He was willing, he said, not to go to Bowick on condition that I would write to you on the subject. The meaning of this is, that had he not been very much in earnest, I should have considered it best to let the matter pass on as such matters do, and be forgotten. But he is very much in earnest. However foolish it is — or perhaps I had better say unusual — that a lad should be in love before he is twenty, it is, I suppose, possible. At any rate it seems to be the case with him, and he has convinced his mother that it would be cruel to ignore the fact.

I may at once say that, as far as you and your girl are concerned, I should be quite satisfied that he should choose for himself such a marriage. I value rank, at any rate, as much as it is worth; but that he will have of his own, and does not need to strengthen it by intermarriage with another house of peculiarly old lineage. As far as that is concerned, I should be contented. As for money, I should not wish him to think of it in marrying. If it comes, tant mieux . If not, he will have enough of his own. I write to you, therefore, exactly as I should do if you had happened to be a brother peer instead of a clergyman.

But I think that long engagements are very dangerous; and you probably will agree with me that they are likely to be more prejudicial to the girl than to the man. It may be that, as difficulties arise in the course of years, he can forget the affair, and that she cannot. He has many things of which to think; whereas she, perhaps, has only that one. She may have made that thing so vital to her that it cannot be got under and conquered; whereas, without any fault or heartlessness on his part, occupation has conquered it for him. In this case I fear that the engagement, if made, could not but be long. I should be sorry that he should not take his degree. And I do not think it wise to send a lad up to the University hampered with the serious feeling that he has already betrothed himself.

I tell you all just as it is, and I leave it to your wisdom to suggest what had better be done. He wished me to promise that I would undertake to induce you to tell Miss Wortle of his conversation with me. He said that he had a right to demand so much as that, and that, though he would not for the present go to Bowick, he should write to you. The young gentleman seems to have a will of his own — which I cannot say that I regret. What you will do as to the young lady — whether you will or will not tell her what I have written — I must leave to yourself. If you do, I am to send word to her from Lady Bracy to say that she shall be delighted to see her here. She had better, however, come when that inflammatory young gentleman shall be at Oxford.

Yours very faithfully, BRACY

This letter certainly did a great deal to invigorate the Doctor, and to console him in his troubles. Even though the debated marriage might prove to be impossible, as it had been declared by the voices of all the Wortles one after another, still there was something in the tone in which it was discussed by the young man’s father which was in itself a relief. There was, at any rate, no contempt in the letter. “I may at once say that, as far as you and your girl are concerned, I shall be very well pleased.” That, at any rate, was satisfactory. And the more he looked at it the less he thought that it need be altogether impossible. If Lord Bracy liked it, and Lady Bracy liked it — and young Carstairs, as to whose liking there seemed to be no reason for any doubt — he did not see why it should be impossible. As to Mary — he could not conceive that she should make objection if all the others were agreed. How could she possibly fail to love the young man if encouraged to do so? Suitors who are good-looking, rich, of high rank, sweet-tempered, and at the same time thoroughly devoted, are not wont to be discarded. All the difficulty lay in the lad’s youth. After all, how many noblemen have done well in the world without taking a degree? Degrees, too, have been taken by married men. And, again, young men have been persistent before now, even to the extent of waiting three years. Long engagements are bad — no doubt. Everybody has always said so. But a long engagement may be better than none at all.

He at last made up his mind that he would speak to Mary; but he determined that he would consult his wife first. Consulting Mrs Wortle, on his part, generally amounted to no more than instructing her. He found it sometimes necessary to talk her over, as he had done in that matter of visiting Mrs Peacocke; but when he set himself to work he rarely failed. She had nowhere else to go for a certain foundation and support. Therefore he hardly doubted much when he began his operation about this suggested engagement.

“I have got that letter this morning from Lord Bracy,” he said, handing her the document.

“Oh dear! Has he heard about Carstairs?”

“You had better read it.”

“He has told it all,” she exclaimed, when she had finished the first sentence.

“He has told it all, certainly. But you had better read the letter through.”

Then she seated herself and read it, almost trembling, however, as she went on with it. “Oh dear — that is very nice what he says about you and Mary.”

“It is all very nice as far as that goes. There is no reason why it should not be nice.”

“It might have made him so angry!”

“Then he would have been very unreasonable.”

“He acknowledges that Mary did not encourage him.”

“Of course she did not encourage him. He would have been very unlike a gentleman had he thought so. But in truth, my dear, it is a very good letter. Of course there are difficulties.”

“Oh it is impossible!”

“I do not see that at all. It must rest very much with him, no doubt — with Carstairs; and I do not like to think that our girl’s happiness should depend on any young man’s constancy. But such dangers have to be encountered. You and I were engaged for three years before we were married, and we did not find it so very bad.”

“It was very good. Oh, I was so happy at the time.”

“Happier than you’ve been since?”

“Well; I don’t know. It was very nice to know that you were my lover.”

“Why shouldn’t Mary think it very nice to have a lover?”

“But I knew that you would be true.”

“Why shouldn’t Carstairs be true?”

“Remember he is so young. You were in orders.”

“I don’t know that I was at all more likely to be true on that account. A clergyman can jilt a girl just as well as another. It depends on the nature of the man.”

“And you were so good.”

“I never came across a better youth than Carstairs. You see what his father says about his having a will of his own. When a young man shows a purpose of that kind he generally sticks to it.”

The upshot of it all was, that Mary was to be told, and that her father was to tell her.

“Yes, papa, he did come,” she said. I told mamma all about it.”

“And she told me, of course. You did what was quite right, and I should not have thought it necessary to speak to you had not Lord Bracy written to me.”

“Lord Bracy has written!” said Mary. It seemed to her, as it had done to her mother, that Lord Bracy must have written angrily; but though she thought so, she plucked up her spirit gallantly, telling herself that though Lord Bracy might be angry with his own son, he could have no cause to be displeased with her.

“Yes; I have a letter, which you shall read. The young man seems to have been very much in earnest.”

“I don’t know,” said Mary, with some little exultation at her heart.

“It seems but the other day that he was a boy, and now he has become suddenly a man.” To this Mary said nothing; but she also had come to the conclusion that, in this respect, Lord Carstairs had lately changed — very much for the better. “Do you like him, Mary?”

“Like him, papa?”

“Well, my darling; how am I to put it? He is so much in earnest that he has got his father to write to me. He was coming over himself again before he went to Oxford; but he told his father what he was going to do, and the Earl stopped him. There’s the letter, and you may read it.”

Mary read the letter, taking herself apart to a corner of the room, and seemed to her father to take a long time in reading it. But there was very much on which she was called upon to make up her mind during those few minutes. Up to the present time — up to the moment in which her father had now summoned her into his study, she had resolved that it was “impossible”. She had become so clear on the subject that she would not ask herself the question whether she could love the young man. Would it not be wrong to love the young man? Would it not be a longing for the top brick of the chimney, which she ought to know was out of her reach? So she had decided it, and had therefore already taught herself to regard the declaration made to her as the ebullition of a young man’s folly. But not the less had she known how great had been the thing suggested to her — how excellent was this top brick of the chimney; and as to the young man himself, she could not but feel that, had matters been different, she might have loved him. Now there had come a sudden change; but she did not at all know how far she might go to meet the change, nor what the change altogether meant. She had been made sure by her father’s question that he had taught himself to hope. He would not have asked her whether she liked him — would not, at any rate, have asked that question in that voice — had he not been prepared to be good to her had she answered in the affirmative. But then this matter did not depend upon her father’s wishes — or even on her father’s judgment. It was necessary that, before she said another word, she should find out what Lord Bracy said about it. There she had Lord Bracy’s letter in her hand, but her mind was so disturbed that she hardly knew how to read it aright at the spur of the moment.

“You understand what he says, Mary?”

“I think so, papa.”

“It is a very kind letter.”

“Very kind indeed. I should have thought that he would not have liked it at all.”

“He makes no objection of that kind. To tell the truth, Mary, I should have thought it unreasonable had he done so. A gentleman can do no better than marry a lady. And though it is much to be a nobleman, it is more to be a gentleman.”

“Some people think so much of it. And then his having been here as a pupil! I was very sorry when he spoke to me.”

“All that is past and gone. The danger is that such an engagement would be long.”

“Very long.”

“You would be afraid of that, Mary?” Mary felt that this was hard upon her, and unfair. Were she to say that the danger of a long engagement did not seem to her to be very terrible, she would at once be giving up everything. She would have declared then that she did love the young man; or, at any rate, that she intended to do so. She would have succumbed at the first hint that such succumbing was possible to her. And yet she had not known that she was very much afraid of a long engagement. She would, she thought, have been much more afraid had a speedy marriage been proposed to her. Upon the whole, she did not know whether it would not be nice to go on knowing that the young man loved her, and to rest secure on her faith in him. She was sure of this — that the reading of Lord Bracy’s letter had in some way made her happy, though she was unwilling at once to express her happiness to her father. She was quite sure that she could make no immediate reply to that question, whether she was afraid of a long engagement. “I must answer Lord Bracy’s letter, you know,” said the Doctor.

“Yes, papa.”

“And what shall I say to him?”

“I don’t know, papa.”

“And yet you must tell me what to say, my darling.”

“Must I, papa?”

“Certainly! Who else can tell me? But I will not answer it today. I will put it off till Monday.” It was Saturday morning on which the letter was being discussed — a day of which a considerable portion was generally appropriated to the preparation of a sermon. “In the mean time you had better talk to mamma; and on Monday we will settle what is to be said to Lord Bracy.”

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