I now purpose to visit another country house in Barsetshire, but on this occasion our sojourn shall be in the eastern division, in which, as every other county in England, electioneering matters are paramount at the present moment. It has been mentioned that Mr Gresham, junior, young Frank Gresham as he was always called, lived at a place called Boxall Hill. This property had come to his wife by will, and he was now settled there — seeing that his father still held the family seat of the Greshams at Greshambury. At the present moment Miss Dunstable was staying at Boxall Hill with Mrs Frank Gresham. They had left London, as indeed, all the world had done, to the terrible dismay of the London tradesmen. This dissolution of Parliament was ruining everybody except the country publicans, and had of course destroyed the London season among other things.
Mrs Harold Smith had only just managed to catch Miss Dunstable before she left London; but she did do so, and the great heiress had at once seen her lawyers, and instructed them how to act with reference to the mortgages on the Chaldicotes property. Miss Dunstable was in the habit of speaking of herself and her own pecuniary concerns as though she herself was rarely allowed to meddle in their management; but this was one of those small jokes which she ordinarily perpetrated; for in truth few ladies, and perhaps not many gentlemen, have a more thorough knowledge of their own concerns or a more potent voice in their own affairs, than was possessed by Miss Dunstable. Circumstances had lately brought her much into Barsetshire, and she had there contracted very intimate friendships. She was now disposed to become, if possible, a Barsetshire proprietor, and with this view had lately agreed with young Mr Gresham that she would become the purchaser of the Crown property. As, however, the purchase had been commenced in his name, it was so to be continued; but now, as we are aware, it was rumoured that, after all, the duke, or, if not the duke, then the Marquis of Dumbello, was to be the future owner of the Chace. Miss Dunstable, however, was not a person to give up her object if she could attain it, nor, under the circumstances, was she at all displeased at finding herself endowed with the power of rescuing the Sowerby portion of the Chaldicotes property from the duke’s clutches. Why had the duke meddled with her or with her friends, as to the other property? Therefore it was arranged that the full amount due to the duke on the mortgage should be ready for immediate payment; but it was arranged also that the security as held by Miss Dunstable should be very valid.
Miss Dunstable, at Boxall Hill or at Greshambury, was a very different person from Miss Dunstable in London; and it was this difference which so much vexed Mrs Gresham; not that her friend omitted to bring with her into the country her London wit and aptitude for fun, but that she did not take with her up to town the genuine goodness and love of honesty which made her lovable in the country. She was, as it were, two persons, and Mrs Gresham could not understand that any lady should permit herself to be more worldly at one time of the year than at another — or in one place than in any other. ‘Well, my dear, I am heartily glad we’ve done with that,’ Miss Dunstable said to her, as she sat herself down to her desk in the drawing-room on the first morning after her arrival at Boxall Hill.
‘What does “that” mean?’ said Mrs Gresham.
‘Why, London and smoke and late hours, and standing on one’s legs for four hours at a stretch on the top of one’s own staircase, to be bowed at by any one who chooses to come. That’s all done — for one year, at any rate.’
‘You know you like it.’
‘No, Mary; that’s just what I don’t know. I don’t know whether I like it or not. Sometimes, when the spirit of that dearest of all women, Mrs Harold Smith, is upon me, I think I do like it. But then, again, when other spirits are on me, I think that I don’t.’
‘And who are the owners of the other spirits?’
‘Oh, you are one, of course. But you are a weak little thing, by no means able to contend with such a Samson as Mrs Harold. And then you are a little given to wickedness yourself, you know. You’ve learned to like London well enough since you sat down to the table of Dives. Your uncle — he’s the real, impracticable, unapproachable Lazarus who declares that he can’t come down because of the big gulf. I wonder how he’d behave, if somebody left him ten thousand a year.’
‘Uncommonly well, I am sure.’
‘Oh, yes; he is a Lazarus now, so of course we are bound to speak well of him; but I should like to see him tried. I don’t doubt but what he’d have a house in Belgrave Square, and become noted for his little dinners before the first year of his trial was over.’
‘Well, and why not? You would not wish him to be an anchorite?’
‘I am told that he is going to try his luck — not with ten thousand a year, but with one or two.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Jane tells me that they all say at Greshambury that he is going to marry Lady Scatcherd.’ Now Lady Scatcherd was a widow living in those parts; an excellent woman, but not one formed by nature to grace society of the highest order.
‘What!’ exclaimed Mrs Gresham, rising up from her chair, while her eyes flashed with anger at such a rumour.
‘Well, my dear, don’t eat me. I don’t say it is so; I only say that Jane said so.’
‘Then you ought to send Jane out of the house.’
‘You may be sure of this, my dear: Jane would not have told me if somebody had not told her.’
‘And you believed it?’
‘I have said nothing about that.’
‘But you look as if you believed it.’
‘Do I? Let us see what sort of look it is, this look of faith.’ And Miss Dunstable got up and went to the glass over the fireplace. ‘But, Mary, my dear, ain’t you old enough to know that you should not credit other people’s looks? You should believe nothing nowadays; and I did not believe the story about poor Lady Scatcherd. I know the doctor well enough to be sure that he is not a marrying man.’
‘What a nasty, hackneyed, false phrase that is — that of a marrying man! It sounds as though some men were in the habit of getting married three or four times a month.’
‘It means a great deal all the same. One can tell very soon whether a man is likely to marry or not.’
‘And can one tell the same of a woman?’
‘The thing is so different. All unmarried women are necessarily in the market; but if they behave themselves properly and make no signs. Now there was Griselda Grantly; of course she intended to get herself a husband, and a very grand one she has got: but she always looked as though butter would not melt in her mouth. It would have been very wrong to call her a marrying girl.’
‘Oh, of course she was,’ says Mrs Gresham, with that sort of acrimony which one pretty young woman so frequently expresses with reference to another. ‘But if one could always tell of a woman, as you say you can of a man, I should be able to tell of you. Now, I wonder whether you are a marrying woman? I have never been able to make up my mind yet.’
Miss Dunstable remained silent for a few moments, as though she were at first minded to take the question as being, in some sort, one made in earnest; but then she attempted to laugh it off. ‘Well, I wonder at that,’ said she, ‘as it was only the other day I told you how many offers I had refused.’
‘Yes; but you did not tell me whether any had been made that you meant to accept.’
‘None such was ever made to me. Talking of that, I shall never forget your cousin, the Honourable George.’
‘He is not my cousin.’
‘Well, your husband’s. It would not be fair to show a man’s letter; but I should like to show you his.’
‘You are determined, then, to remain single?’
‘I didn’t say that. But why do you cross-question me so?’
‘Because I think so much about you. I am afraid that you will become so afraid of men’s motives as to doubt that any one can be honest. And yet sometimes I think you would be a happier woman and a better woman, if you were married.’
‘To such a one as the Honourable George, for instance?’
‘No, not to such a one as him; you have probably picked out the worst.’
‘Or to Mr Sowerby?’
‘Well, no; not to Mr Sowerby either. I would not have you marry any man that looked to you for your money principally.’
‘And how is it possible that I should expect any one to look at me principally for anything else? You don’t see my difficulty, my dear? If I had only five hundred a year, I might come across some decent middle-aged personage, like myself, who would like me, myself, pretty well, and would like my little income — pretty well also. He would not tell me any violent lie, and perhaps no lie at all. I should take to him in the same sort of way, and we might do very well. But, as it is, how is it possible that any disinterested person should learn to like me? How could such a man set about it? If a sheep have two heads, is not the fact of the two heads the first and, indeed, only thing which the world regards in that sheep? Must it not be so as a matter of course? I am a sheep with two heads. All this money which my father put together, and which has been growing since like grass under May showers, has turned me into an abortion. I am not the giantess eight feet high, or the dwarf that stands in the man’s hand —’
‘Or the two-headed sheep —’
‘But I am the unmarried woman with — half a dozen millions of money — as I believe some people think. Under such circumstances have I a fair chance of getting my own sweet bit of grass to nibble, like any ordinary animal with one head? I never was very beautiful, and I am not more so than I was fifteen years ago.’
‘I am quite sure it is not that which hinders it. You would not call yourself plain; and even plain women are married every day, and are loved too, as well as pretty women.’
‘Are they? Well, we won’t say any more about that; but I don’t expect a great many lovers on account of my beauty. If ever you hear of such an one, mind you tell me.’ It was almost on Mrs Gresham’s tongue to say that she did know of one such — meaning her uncle. But, in truth, she did not know any such thing; nor could she boast to herself that she had good grounds for feeling that it was so — certainly none sufficient to justify her in speaking of it. Her uncle had said no word to her on the matter, and had been confused and embarrassed when the idea of such a marriage was hinted to him. But, nevertheless, Mrs Gresham did think that each of these two was well inclined to love the other, and that they would be happier together than they would be single. The difficulty, however, was very great, for the doctor would be terribly afraid of being thought covetous in regard to Miss Dunstable’s money; and it would hardly be expected that she should be induced to make the first overture to the doctor.
‘My uncle would be the only man that I can think of that would be at all fit for you,’ said Mrs Gresham, boldly.
‘What, and rob poor Lady Scatcherd!’ said Miss Dunstable.
‘Oh, very well. If you choose to make a joke of his name in that way, I have done.’
‘Why, God bless the girl, what does she want me to say? And as for joking, surely that is innocent enough. You’re as tender about the doctor as though he were a girl of seventeen.’
‘It’s not about him; but it’s such a shame to laugh at poor dear Lady Scatcherd. If she were to hear it she’d lose all comfort in having my uncle near her.’
‘And I’m to marry him, so that she may be safe with her friend.’
‘Very well. I have done.’ And Mrs Gresham, who had already got up from her seat, employed herself very sedulously in arranging flowers which had been brought in for the drawing-room tables. Thus they remained silent for a minute or two, during which she began to reflect that, after all, it might probably be thought that she was also endeavouring to catch the great heiress for her uncle.
‘And now you are angry with me,’ said Miss Dunstable.
‘No, I am not.’
‘Oh, but you are. Do you think I’m such a fool as not to see when a person’s vexed? You wouldn’t have twitched that geranium’s head if you had been in a proper frame of mind.’
‘I don’t like that joke about Lady Scatcherd.’
‘And is that all, Mary? Now do try and be true, if you can. You remember the bishop. Magna ist veritas.’
‘The fact is you’ve got yourself into such a way of being sharp, and saying sharp things among your friends in London, that you can hardly answer a person without it.’
‘Can’t I? Dear, dear, what a Mentor you are, Mary! No poor lad that ever ran up from Oxford for a spree in town got so lectured for his dissipation and iniquities as I do. Well, I beg Doctor Thorne’s pardon, and Lady Scatcherd’s, and I won’t be sharp any more; and I will — let me see, what was it I was to do? Marry him myself, I believe; was not that it?’
‘No; you’re not half good enough for him.’
‘I know that. I’m quite sure of that. Though I am so sharp, I’m very humble. You can’t accuse me of putting any very great value on myself.’
‘Perhaps not as much as you ought to do — on yourself.’
‘Now what do you mean, Mary? I won’t be bullied and teased, and have innuendoes thrown out at me, because you’ve something on your mind, and don’t quite dare to speak it out. If you have got anything to say, say it.’ But Mrs Gresham did not choose to say it at that moment. She held her peace, and went on arranging her flowers — now with a more satisfied air, and without destruction to the geraniums. And when she had grouped her bunches properly she carried the jar from one part of the room to the other, backwards and forwards, trying the effect of the colours, as though her mind was quite intent upon her flowers, and was the moment wholly unoccupied with any other subject. But Miss Dunstable was not a woman to put up with this. She sat silent in her place, while her friend made one or two turns about the room; and then she got up from her seat also, ‘Mary,’ she said, ‘give over about those wretched bits of green branches, and leave the jars where they are. You’re trying to fidget me into a passion.’
‘Am I?’ said Mrs Gresham, standing opposite to a big bowl, and putting her head a little on one side, as though she could better look at her handiwork in that position.
‘You know you are; and it’s all because you lack courage to speak out. You didn’t begin at me in this way for nothing.’
‘I do lack courage. That’s just it,’ said Mrs Gresham, still giving a twist here and a set there to some of the small sprigs which constituted the background of her bouquet. ‘I do lack courage — to have ill motives imputed to me, therefore I will not say it. And now, if you like, I will be ready to take you out in ten minutes.’ But Miss Dunstable was not going to be put off in this way. And to tell the truth, I must admit that her friend Mrs Gresham was not using her altogether well. She should either have held her peace on the matter altogether — which would probably have been the wiser course — or she should have declared her own ideas boldly, feeling secure in her own conscience as to her own motives. ‘I shall not stir from this room,’ said Miss Dunstable, ‘till I have had this matter out with you. As for imputations — my imputing bad motives to you — I don’t know how far you may be joking, and saying what you call sharp things to me; but you have no right to think that I should think evil of you. If you really think so, it is treason to the love I have for you. If I thought that you thought so, I could not remain in the house with you. What, you are not able to know the difference which one makes between one’s real friends and one’s mock friends! I don’t believe it of you, and I know you are only striving to bully me.’ And Miss Dunstable now took her turn of walking up and down the room.
‘Well, she shan’t be bullied,’ said Mrs Gresham, leaving her flowers, and putting her arm round her friend’s waist; —‘at least, not here, in this house, although she is sometimes such a bully herself.’
‘Mary, you have gone too far about this to go back. Tell me what it is that was on your mind, and as far as it concerns me, I will answer you honestly.’ Mrs Gresham now began to repent that she had made her little attempt. That uttering of hints in a half-joking way was all very well, and might possibly bring about the desired results, without the necessity of any formal suggestion on her part; but now she was so brought to book that she must say something formal. She must commit herself to the expression of her own wishes, and to an expression also of an opinion as to what had been the wishes of her friend; and this she must do without being able to say anything of the wishes of a third person. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I suppose you know what I meant.’
‘I suppose I did,’ said Miss Dunstable; ‘but it is not at the less necessary that you should say it out. I am not to commit myself by my interpretation of your thoughts, while you remain perfectly secure in having only hinted your own. I hate hints, as I do — the mischief. I go in for the bishop’s doctrine. Magna ist veritas.’
‘Well, I don’t know,’ said Mrs Gresham.
‘Ah! but I do,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘And therefore go on, or for ever hold your peace.’
‘The quotation out of the Prayer Book which you finished just now. “If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first time of asking.” Do you know any cause, Miss Dunstable?’
‘Do you know any, Mrs Gresham?’
‘None, upon my honour!’ said the younger lady, putting her hand upon her breast.
‘Ah! but you do not?’ and Miss Dunstable caught hold of her arm, and spoke almost abruptly in her energy.
‘No, certainly not. What impediment? If I did, I should not have broached the subject. I declare I think you would be very happy together. Of course, there is one impediment; we all know that. That must be your look out.’
‘What do you mean? What impediment?’
‘Your own money.’
‘Psha! Did you find that an impediment in marrying Frank Gresham?’
‘Ah! the matter was so different there. He had much more to give than I had, when all was counted. And I had no money when we — when we were first engaged.’ And the tears came into her eyes as she thought of the circumstances of her early love; — all of which have been narrated in the county chronicles of Barsetshire, and may now be read by men and women interested therein.
‘Yes; yours was a love match. I declare, Mary, I often think that you are the happiest woman of whom I have ever heard; to have it all to give, when you were so sure that you were loved while you had nothing.’
‘Yes; I was sure,’ and she wiped the sweet tears from her eyes, as she remembered a certain day when a certain youth had come to her, claiming all kinds of privileges in a very determined manner. She had been no heiress then. ‘Yes; I was sure. But now with you, my dear, you can’t make yourself poor again. If you can trust no one —’
‘I can. I can trust him. As regards that I do trust him altogether. But how can I tell that he would care for me?’
‘Do you not know that he likes you?’
‘Ah, yes; and so he does Lady Scatcherd.’
‘And why not Lady Scatcherd, as well as me? We are of the same kind — come from the same class.’
‘Not quite that, I think.’
‘Yes, from the same class; only I have managed to poke myself up among dukes and duchesses, whereas she has been content to remain where God has placed her. Where I beat her in art, she beats me in nature.’
‘You know you are talking nonsense.’
‘I think that we are both doing that — absolute nonsense; such as schoolgirls of eighteen talk to each other. But there is a relief in it; is there not? It would be a terrible curse to have to talk sense always. Well, that’s done; and now let us go out.’ Mrs Gresham was sure after this that Miss Dunstable would be a consenting party to the little arrangement which she contemplated. But of that she had felt but little doubt for some considerable time past. The difficulty lay on the other side, and all that she had as yet done was to convince herself that she would be safe in assuring her uncle of success if he could be induced to take the enterprise in hand. He was to come to Boxall Hill that evening, and to remain there for a day or two. If anything could be done in the matter, now would be the time for doing it. So at least thought Mrs Gresham.
The doctor did come, and did remain for the allotted time at Boxall Hill; but when he left, Mrs Gresham had not been successful. Indeed, he did not seem to enjoy his visit as was usual with him; and there was very little of that pleasant friendly intercourse which for some time past had been customary between him and Miss Dunstable. There were no passages of arms between them; no abuse from the doctor against the lady’s London gaiety; no raillery from the lady as to the doctor’s country habits. They were very courteous to each other, and, as Mrs Gresham thought, too civil by half; nor, as far as she could see, did they ever remain alone in each other’s company for five minutes at a time during the whole period of the doctor’s visit. What, thought Mrs Gresham to herself — what if she had set these two friends at variance with each other, instead of binding them together in the closest and most durable friendship! But still she had an idea that, as she had begun to play this game, she must play it out. She felt conscious that what she had done must do evil, unless she could so carry it on as to make it result in good. Indeed, unless she could so manage, she would have done a manifest injury to Miss Dunstable in forcing her to declare her thoughts and feelings. She had already spoken to her uncle in London, and though he had said nothing to show that he approved of her plan, neither had he said anything to show that he disapproved of it. Therefore she had hoped through the whole of those three days that he would make some sign — at any rate to her; that he would in some way declare what were his own thoughts on this matter. But the morning of his departure came, and he had declared nothing. ‘Uncle,’ she said, in the last five minutes of his sojourn there, after he had already taken leave of Miss Dunstable and shaken hands with Mrs Gresham ‘have you ever thought of what I said to you up in London?’
‘Yes, Mary; of course I have thought about it. Such an idea as that, when put into a man’s head, will make itself thought about.’
‘Well; and what next? Do talk to me about it. Do not be so hard and unlike yourself.’
‘I have very little to say about it.’
‘I can tell you this for certain, you may if you like.’
‘I would not say so if I were not sure that I should not lead you into trouble.’
‘You are foolish in wishing this, my dear; foolish in trying to tempt an old man into folly.’
‘Not foolish if I know that it will make you both happier.’ He made no further reply, but stooping down that she might kiss him, as was his wont, went his way, leaving her almost miserable in the thought that she had troubled all these waters for no purpose. What would Miss Dunstable think of her? But on that afternoon Miss Dunstable seemed to be as happy and even-tempered as ever.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14